Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Album Review: Leading Ladies - Songs From The Stage

"Lock the door and stop complaining
Gather 'round and listen well"


Between them, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight and Cassidy Janson have racked up Olivier Awards and accolades aplenty and their mutual respect has led to them joining forces to create musical supergroup Leading Ladies. And working with producers Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan through East West Records (Warner), their debut album Songs From The Stage is about to be released.

Across the 14 tracks of the collection, there's a variety of approaches as they tackle songs from a wide range of musicals. Each singer gets a couple of solo numbers, and they all chip in with backing vocals on some of those, but the highlights come when the trio sing together. And none more so than on an utterly transcendent version of Carole King's 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' whose close harmonies are goosebump-inducingly extraordinary, the marriage of their voices a perfect alchemy.

Album Review: Helen Power - Enraptured

"There is joy in the air
So be gone with dull care"

What to do to make your album stand out in a crowded marketplace of musical theatre-related albums? Get Auburn Jam's Joe Davison in to do your arrangements, that's what. A glimpse at the tracklisting of Helen Power's new album Enraptured may not initially suggest a great adventurousness but on first listen, its playful and subtly daring nature soon become apparent.

A relaxed take on Porgy & Bess' Summertime is a strong opener, full of bold musicality and Power's confident soprano, but it's the next of couple of tracks that set out the vision here. A Latin-inflected 'The Sound Of Music' has no right to be effective but as Davison introduces silky bossanova rhythms and elastic double-bass lines, it's impossible to resist its easygoing charm. And if less radical, his Bond-esque re-arrangement of the title track from The Phantom Of The Opera is no less exciting, its duelling brass section and violins building to a breathless climax that thrills just as much as Power's soaring top E.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review: Drip, Bush

"Dive, dive, dive right in
Dive, dive, dive, dive, dive right in..."

On the one hand, I think I'd like to see Tom Wells really surprise us with something completely different. But on the other, he does what he does so bloody well that I kinda never want him to stop. Drip sees him playing with form, as it is a one-man musical but thematically, we're once again in the world he has explored so affectingly in plays such as Me As A Penguin, The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts

Our protagonist is Liam, a 15 year old from South Shields who has moved to Hull cos his mum is seeing a guy named Barry who lives there. Making fast friends with Caz, the 'other queer student' at school, he throws himself into helping her with the annual project prize presentation that she is so desperate to win. Only thing is, she's planning Hull's first synchronised swimming team and Liam can't swim... 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: Network, National Theatre

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore"

With Network, Lee Hall's adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale - a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston - has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he's going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling 'prophet'. 

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers - as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers' box...the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. 

The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys...?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent - between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they're bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace's Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts.

But not content with filling our stockings thus, they've gone through their contact lists to find a frankly astonishing array of guest stars to accompany them across the entire run, making it nigh-on impossible to choose just one night to go along.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Review: No Place Like Hope, Old Red Lion

"Remember, hope is a good thing. 
Maybe the best of things. 
And no good thing ever dies"

On a night when the big West End opening of the evening is an absolute testosterone-fest, it is rather gratifying to see people actually doing something about it, to try and start to redress the balance in their own way. Producer Holly Donovan is one such shining light, using her own negative experiences of gender bias to act as an impetus to finding a play that passed the Bechdel Test and then building a production around it that uses an all-female creative team.

Callum McGowan's No Place Like Hope is that play and what a delicately moving thing it is, depicting an unlikely friendship between two women reeling from the tragedy that life has thrown at them. Becca is a troubled young woman who is carrying out her community service at a hospice and Anna is a cancer patient there and from inauspicious beginnings, a kinship is recognised as they each find in the other something to cling onto, something that might alleviate their despair.

Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse

"We're a dying breed"

Obviously, the choice to stage David Mamet's ode to toxic masculinity Glengarry Glen Ross was made long before the hashtag #MeToo shattered the blinkers of anyone unaware of what men have been getting away with. But it feels indicative of a theatrical culture that has reflected and reinforced a societal imbalance - all-male plays, written by men, directed by men, lauded by prize ceremonies and thus easy targets (and safer bets) for revivals, a self-perpetuating loop that doesn't seem to even be coming close to stopping. 

And why should it, one might argue. Sam Yates' production is astutely cast and tightly wound as it visits the world of Chicago real estate. Firstly through a set of short duologues in a Chinese restaurant in which we variously meet a set of salesmen and discover their place in the pecking order. And then after the interval, they're all brought together in their office (an impressive almighty set change from Chiara Stephenson) which has been broken into and where all the frustrations and feelings they've been bottling up now come tumbling free. 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Review: Contractions, ND2

"We have a duty of care to all our employees"

I may not be a Deaf Critic but I am a critic who is partially deaf, a state of affairs positions me rather uniquely when it comes to appreciating Deafinitely Theatre's latest production - a bilingual version of Mike Bartlett's 2008 two-hander Contractions. Bilingual as a matter of course, as all of Deafinitely's productions are in using British Sign Language and English but bilingual too as a provocation, in that director Paula Garfield uses neither language continuously.

So as we sit through a series of business meetings between a brutally officious manager (who signs) and corporate wannabe Emma (who both speaks and signs), there's an ingenious sense of dislocation, of delayed and incomplete comprehension, which is as incisive a theatrical representation of what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world as I could ever imagine. And it is a fascinating way to portray the brutal acuity that typifies much of Bartlett's small-scale plays and their sharp dialogue.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Album Review: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe - Together Again

"I hang suspended
Until I know
There's a chance that you care"


It is no secret that I am no great fan of a booming tenor and so it was little surprise that Michael Ball and Alfie Boe's album Together was not really my cup of tea. But it was however what many other people wanted and following its success and reaching number 1 in the charts, the pair have collaborated again to produce the imaginatively titled Together Again. And in the spirit of open-mindedness, plus the acknowledgement that there's a more adventurous tracklisting, I steeled myself to listen.

I have to hold up my hands and say I was pleasantly surprised by more than a few of the songs here. The first two-thirds of 'The Rose' are genuinely spine-tinglingly lovely and even when the bombast kicks in for the finale, it stills maintains a heartfelt sincerity. A stroll through 'White Christmas' is marvellously restrained and all the more effective for it. Even the big band swing through 'Bring Me Sunshine' has a gentleness to it that allows both men to demonstrate their performative range.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Cast for the West End transfer of Girl From The North Country announced


Conor McPherson's Girl From The North Country was an absolutely glorious thing at the Old Vic this summer and I'm pleased to see that its relatively slow-burning success has translated into a West End transfer. It is also gratifying to see that many of the original cast of this Bob Dylan musical (or play with songs if you're precious like that) are remaining with the production, especially Shirley Henderson and Sheila Atim, who I suspect we should be looking out for come awards season.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Album Review: Sheridan Smith - Sheridan

"Feels like we could go on for forever this way"

Over the past decade, Sheridan Smith has established herself as one of the UK's finest actresses. From comedies such as The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Gavin & Stacey, she has graduated to BAFTA-winning success in Mrs Biggs, Cilla and this year's exceptional The Moorside. And onstage, she's a 4-time Olivier Award nominee and 2-time winner, being recognised for her work in both plays - Flare Path - and musicals - Legally Blonde. Now she has the music world in her sights as she releases her debut album Sheridan.

There's returns to the material that has justly made her reputation. Her impassioned take on Cilla Black's swinging 'Anyone Who Had a Heart' remains an absolute joy and a full-throated rendition of Funny Girl's 'My Man' recalls the energy of her Fanny Brice. It feels she is most at home in the torch song arena though, and whether in the oldies (Timi Yuro's 'Hurt', The Carpenters' 'Superstar') or newer tracks (Rufus Wainwright's 'Dinner at Eight'), the tone of her lower register glows with charismatic warmth. With producer Tris Penna and co-producer, arranger and musical director Steve Sidwell, there's a real appreciation for the collation of music that suits Smith and really does create a harmonious whole.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Review: Nativity! The Musical, Birmingham Rep

"A cheeky drink, a naughty wink,
we'll loosen up alright"

Just like a wise man, I came late to Nativity, only getting round to watching Debbie Isitt's film a couple of years ago but oh, how it won me over, feeling like an instant Christmas classic. (The less said about the sequel and the shocking third film, the better). So it was little surprise to hear that Isitt was adapting her film for the stage, in the form of Nativity! The Musical. And though I have once again embraced my inner Scrooge and won't be reviewing much, if any, festive fare this year, I couldn't resist the chance to sparkle and shine.

And I'm glad I did, even if it is a full month too early to be even thinking of anything Christmassy. Nativity remains a beautifully heart-warming story and if anything, has even more of a feel-good factor about it through all the liveness of this production. The story centres on Coventry primary school St Bernadette's, trying to escape Ofsted-imposed special measures by beating a rival school to putting on the best Christmas show which, through the most tenuous of links, might just attract Hollywood interest and get turned into a film.

Review: Heisenberg - The Uncertainty Principle, Wyndham's

"Why are you still talking to me?"

As a vehicle to launch the new producing venture, Elliott & Harper Productions, Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is an odd thing. A new play by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott, it's a piece of writing that feels caught in the wrong moment as the outpouring of revelations around sexual harassment (and worse) threaten a tectonic shift in gender relationships and, hopefully, the way they are portrayed in our culture.

Thus it feels hard to accept a retread of the May-to-December trope, weighted in favour of the older man getting a younger woman natch, and the re-emergence of the manic pixie dream girl in lieu of the more nuanced character hinted at beneath the eccentric trappings. There's no subversion of expectation as a rather predictable plot winds through its 90 minutes and the suggestion of quantum physics informing the play feels more like window-dressing compared to the structural ingenuity of say Copenhagen or the chaos theory-influenced Constellations.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Review: The Trap, Omnibus

"The predictability of human desperation is incredible"

Set over a long night of the soul for the employees of a payday loans company, Kieran Lynn's play The Trap is described as "a biting new comedy". And for once, it does actually provide a fair few laughs, of the decidedly darkly comic sort, as it simultaneously shines an uncompromising light on the seedier end of capitalist society - the market for short-term loans and the predatory way in which the most-in-need are tempted in.

We open with Tom and Clem breaking into an office to steal money from a safe there, and it soon turns out that they are disgruntled employees trying to pull a fast one. But Lynn's trick is to show how the perils of debt stretch far and wide and so they are eventually joined by branch manager Alan (gambling addict) and regional manager Meryl (mortgaged to the hilt) who are also searching for an quick route to assuage their financial woes.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Review: The Exorcist, Phoenix

After a premiere in Birmingham last year...

Sean Mathias' production of The Exorcist has resurfaced in the West End just in time for Hallowe'en in the hope of recreating the chills and thrills of the 1973 movie, despite the fact that it is notoriously difficult to get horror right in the theatre.

Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead

"What does one do with the pickled walnut?"

The Hampstead's failure to engage properly with issues of female creative representation on its main stage (out of seven shows for 2017, only one was written by a woman and none were directed by women) has meant it has dropped off my must-see list of theatres. But on reading the synopsis of Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude - adapted by Nicholas Wright, directed by Jonathan Kent, designed, lit and sounded out by men too natch - with its lead female protagonist, I was persuaded to revisit my stance.

And in some ways, I'm glad I did. For that leading character, Miss Roach, is played by the ever-marvellous Fenella Woolgar and she's partnered by Lucy Cohu, another favourite actress, and there are moments in this gently played Second World War-set story that shimmer with effectiveness. Bombed out of her home by the Blitz, Miss Roach ("I do have a first name, but I don't encourage people to use it") finds herself swept up in a different type of conflict at the Henley-on-Thames boarding house where she now resides.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Review: Imagine This, Union

"There's singing, there's dancing, and all the Jews die in the end"

The West End production of Imagine This lasted for barely a month in 2008, so it usually one of the first shows named when it comes to lists of notorious flops. Which might explain, at least partly, why it has taken nearly a decade for anyone to go near the show again, that honour going to first-time director Harry Blumenau who is now mounting the musical at the Union Theatre, in a well-cast production seeking to reassess that reputation.

For me, as a first-timer to the show, it didn't feel hard to see why it didn't succeed. Glenn Berenbeim's grimly stoic book is set in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 where a group of actors are trying to lift spirits by staging a play. And not just any play, it's the story of the siege of Masada, a historical act of Jewish resistance and thereby flicking the v-sign to the Nazis. But Berenbeim attempts to gild the lily by throwing a would-be epic romance which ultimately cheapens the narrative fatally.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Review: Insignificance, Arcola

"Knowledge is nothing without understanding"

I loved chemistry at school, enjoyed biology too but for some reason, my brain could never wrap itself around physics. So when two characters in Terry Johnson's play Insignificance started discussing the specific nature of the theory of relativity - albeit through the medium of toy trains and helium-filled balloons - I was thrown back to the mild panic of Mr Byrchall's classroom and the general feel of 'I just don't get it!'.

But Insignificance is not a play about physics and the two characters aren't just any random people. It's 1954 and though they're officially named The Actress and The Professor, we can - with reasonable confidence - infer that they're Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein. And they're intermittently joined by her husband Joe DiMaggio - The Ball Player - and Joseph McCarthy - The Senator, for a fantasia on the nature of celebrity that is occasionally quite dazzling.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Review: When Midnight Strikes, Drayton Arms

"Strike up the band, make it piping hot"

MKEC Productions have been carving out a niche for themselves in conjuring fringe productions of lesser-known musicals and in Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds' When Midnight Strikes, directed by Marc Kelly, they're onto a winner. Set in a Manhattan apartment on New Year's Eve 1999, a plush dinner party looks set to career off the rails as the hostess has discovered that her husband is cheating and the guests are just about to arrive.

Admittedly, Hammonds' book is a tad sketchily drawn - 11 partygoers and the waitress/actress serving them all jostling for space, and so naturally not all get a fair whack at the wheel of the main narrative. And set so specifically at the millennium, its humour and reference points feel weirdly dated, with an almost US sitcom feel. What Kelly's production does do though is highlight that it is still a set of potentially vibrant character studies and so the company respond by each seizing their moment.

Re-review: The Lorax, Old Vic


Two winters ago if you went to the Old Vic,
Your life would have been filled with something fantastic.
A musical treat fit for all of the fam'ly,
The Lorax is as good as such a show could be.

Returning for half-term with some new cast members,
The musical's just as good as I remember.
It's heartfelt and funny and really quite moving,
A powerful message but not too reproving.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Review: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket

"It’s a serious novel. It’s a central text of world literature.
'Basically it’s S&M porn'"

What a charged moment for Venus in Fur to open into. As the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein revelations continues to reverberate around social media and perhaps even society at large, a play about the sexual dynamic between an actress and and a director and the erotic power play that emerges out of her audition feels...challenging. Intriguingly written, thought-provokingly staged and superbly acted, it nevertheless left something niggling at me.

David Ives' play was extremely well received off- and on-Broadway at the beginning of this decade and it has a tricksy cleverness to its meta-textual construction and surfeit of theatrical in-jokes. A brash young playwright has spent a long day auditioning for his adaptation of Venus in Furs, an 1869 novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who literally put the masochism in S&M. Arriving late and swearing like a trooper, Vanda pleads for the chance to be heard but as an eventual audition becomes a read-through, little is as it seems.

Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre


Good things come to those who wait! I hadn't booked for Young Marx at the brand new Bridge Theatre for a couple of reasons. I was still hoping that I might get a response to my email to the PR and despite a cast that includes the splendid Nancy Carroll and the delicious Oliver Chris alongside lead Rory Kinnear, Richard Bean just really isn't my cup of tea. 'Don't you love farce?' Not much my dear...
  
So when an email popped into my inbox offering a sneak preview of the show and an opportunity to be the first ever audience in the theatre for a pre-preview test run of the new venue and its facilities, then I knew it was meant to be. Turns out I do love a farce, at £7.50 a ticket.

Cast for the Royal Exchange's Guys and Dolls announced

The Royal Exchange in Manchester have really been upping the ante as far as their Christmas musicals are concerned. Last year's Sweet Charity was a stonker, their Into the Woods was something special, and 2014/15's Little Shop of Horrors was basically perfection. This year see them tackle Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in a co-production with Talawa Theatre Company and by the crin (as my Aunty Mary would say - a bit of Wigan dialect for you there...) just take a look at this bushel and a peck's worth of beauties! 

Cast for the Almeida's Twilight Zone announced


The Almeida have revealed the cast for their forthcoming Christmas show The Twilight Zone which promises a different take on seasonal fare! Directed by Richard Jones and adapted by Anne Washburn, responsible for the brilliant mindfuck that was Mr Burns, I reckon this will be one to look out for.

Cast includes: Oliver Alvin-Wilson, Franc Ashman, Adrianna Bertola, Lizzy Connolly, Amy Griffiths, Neil Haigh, Cosmo Jarvis, John Marquez, Matthew Needham, and Sam Swainsbury,

Monday, 16 October 2017

Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC

"Je veux changer d'atmosphère"

30 years or so into a career that has seen her win two Olivier awards (so far - I'd watch out for her to be at least nominated for Follies, if not more), it seems remarkable that Janie Dee at the BBC is actually Dee's debut album. But though there may not be recorded evidence, she is a highly accomplished and experienced cabaret performer among her many skills, and it is from these shows that the material has been drawn for this record.

Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios with Auburn Jam Records, the track-listing thus embraces a broad array of songs and styles, all connected by the smooth consummate skill of one of our more under-rated Dames-in-the-making. From Kander and Ebb to Bacharach and David, Stevie Wonder to Spike Milligan, Dee takes us on a journey of hugely sophisticated charm that proves mightily hard to resist, marshalled by MD Steve Clark.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Full list of 2017 UK Theatre Awards winners

The full list of winners of this year's UK Theatre Awards have been announced and you can find them below:

Best Presentation Of Touring Theatre

Nuffield Southampton Theatres for the world premiere touring musical production of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox

Best Show for Children and Young People

The Snow Queen, New Vic Theatre

Best Director

Gemma Bodinetz, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse new repertory season

Review: The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory

"People don’t really want to be told the truth"

Just as The Father comes along with The Mother, The Truth is followed by The Lie. British theatre's amour fou for Florian Zeller continues apace with another of his comedies making it over to London but are we approaching diminishing returns as we delve deeper into his back catalogue? Director Lindsay Posner and translator Christopher Hampton clearly don't think so as they return to the Menier Chocolate with The Lie but I'm not so convinced.

The production got off to a rocky start when James Dreyfus had to withdraw due to illness, though choosing Alexander Hanson as his replacement provides a little extratextual spice as he stars opposite his wife Samantha Bond as married couple Paul and Alice. As we meet them, they're havering over a dinner party they're hosting that is meant to start imminently - Alice wants to cancel it as she just saw Michel kissing a woman who wasn't his wife Laurence but their early arrival takes the decision out of their hands.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Gif Reviews: B + Victory Condition, Royal Court

The Royal Court continues to shake things up under Vicky Featherstone's reign, offering two shorter plays (though not for the price of one) which are running in rep. Guillermo Calderón's B and Chris Thorpe's Victory Condition are both interesting in their own ways but whether it was me being grumpy, a slightly flat atmosphere or something more, neither drama really did it for me. So we're keeping it brief!

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

How to respond to a week such as that? Defer to those more fearlessly eloquent, and listen.





Emma Rice's tenure at Shakespeare's Globe is winding to its close - the outdoor season is done but there's still a winter's worth of programming in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to get through. Musical Romantics Anonymous will be one to watch out for and now that casting has been released for Anders Lustgarten's The Secret Theatre, directed by Matthew Dunster, looks to be another fascinating entry.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review: Beginning, National Theatre


"I feel like my life's turning on the toss of a coin"

There's something about the sweet spot as the embers of a house party start to die out - people lingering behind usually there for a reason (as in the prettiest boy I ever did kiss), conversations that delve right into the deep stuff. And so it is for Laura and Danny in David Eldridge's new play Beginning - it's 2.40am and he's the last one left at the housewarming do at her new pad in Crouch End.

But it's not quite as simple as that (it never is - that boy moved to LA). Both firmly middle-aged, the weight of Laura and Danny's potential encounter is revealed to be ever more significant as they edge towards a truth that there might be more than just a quickie on the cards, that the spark of a connection they both might be feeling could be the beginning of something more and not just a reaction to the intense loneliness they're both feeling in this modern world. They've just got to get to that point.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review: Young Frankenstein, Garrick

"Though your genitalia
Has been known to fail ya
You can bet your ass on the brain"

It's alive...barely. Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein staggers into the West End after some more time on the operating table since its 2007 Broadway opening (2 new songs are among the changes made) and a short run in Newcastle to tighten the bolts. But for a piece of new musical theatre, it is so desperately old-fashioned that you half expect Russ Abbot and Bella Emberg to pop up and do a turn.

Given that Brooks is now over 90 and that the film on which it is based dates from 1974, it is perhaps little surprise that it feels dated. But also given director/choreographer Susan Stroman's close collaborative relationship with him, the opportunity to be necessarily brutal about what works and what doesn't feels to have been lost, lightning really hasn't struck twice for the creators of The Producers. 

Album Review: Jason Manford - A Different Stage

"I'll gather up my past, and make some sense at last"

Unless you've caught him in tours of The Producers or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or in occasional TV performances, you might not know that comedian Jason Manford can sing. He's even tackled Sondheim, stepping into the role of Pirelli in the Staunton/Ball Sweeney Todd for a while back in 2011, and so it is little surprise that his debut album A Different Stage should turn out be one of showtunes and standards.

Manford's voice emerges as a solid and mannered instrument and clear as a bell, his singing veers towards the precise. This is most effective on the likes of Chitty's 'Hushabye Mountain', sung sweetly with former co-star Rosanna Bates and And much of the material tends towards the booming inspirational anthems beloved of his friend Alfie Boe - 'This Is My Life', 'This Is The Moment', 'The Impossible Dream', all effective if a little similar.

Review: Graeme of Thrones, Charing Cross

"It's going to be Hodorable..."

If you haven't seen an episode of Game of Thrones, I'm not entirely why you would want to come and see a show that spoofs it lovingly if relentlessly. The blurb for Graeme of Thrones mentions it could be seen as "an introduction for the unenlightened" but let's be frank, to expect a rapid-fire comedy show to catch you up on seven seasons of intricately plotted fantasy drama and enable you to get such puns as the one above is to make you as naive as, well, Ned Stark.

But for the initiated, there's lots to enjoy in this madcap which rattle through an inordinate amount of material in its 90 minutes and still barely scratches the surface of the Seven Kingdoms. From its hilarious re-enactment of the opening credits to the arrival of actual dragons*, John-Luke Roberts, Nicola Lamont and Ross Spaine work overtime to take us from Westeros to Essos and back and cover as much of the plot as they can shoehorn in, along with jokes at many of the tropes it fully embraces.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Review: In Event of Moone Disaster, Theatre503

"If an alien came and said they'd whisk you away a thousand billion miles, to a different planet, but you'd never come back, would you go?"

There's something rather delicious about the winner of the Theatre503's International Playwriting Award hailing from Sunderland but a Mackem Andrew Thompson is, and what a winner In Event of Moone Disaster proves to be. The title derives from the interesting tidbit that speechwriters at the time had to prepare for the Moon landing going wrong and though the play uses space travel as a springboard to examine three generations of a family whose destiny seems somehow tied up there in the stars.

So we encounter Sylvia on the night of the Moon landing, in awe of the possibilities it heralds; we meet Neil and Julie in the present day trying to conceive; and in 2055, Sylvia's granddaughter is preparing to become the first person to walk on Mars. And as we see how past actions influence future possibilities, a more pressing journey of gender equality emerges as the main theme in this feminist sci-fi epic (with heart). What does the freedom to 'have it all' actually look like, has what we're willing to sacrifice changed over the years, have we even progressed but at all? 

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

National treasure Matthew Kelly and West End superstar Josefina Gabrielle are to star in the brand-new stage adaptation of The Box of Delights, possibly the creepiest children's tv show ever and one which is indeliby etched on my psyche. This original production is the first time Poet Laureate John Masefield’s festive classic has been reimagined for the stage, and will be brought to life by an ensemble cast in the gloriously Christmassy surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Joining Kelly and Gabrielle as part of the stellar cast will be Mark Extance, Safiyya Ingar, Tom Kanji, Samuel Simmonds, Rosalind Steele and Alistair Toovey.

Jo Brand has been announced as the headline act for a charity comedy night at Richmond Theatre. The evening of comedy will raise funds for national charity SeeAbility and features Adam Hills, host of Channel 4's The Last Leg and Live at the Apollo regular, Seann Walsh.

Richmond Theatre will host ‘Stand Up for SeeAbility' on Monday 30th October, where Jo Brand will also be joined by Sally Phillips from Bridget Jones's Diary and award-winner Mark Simmons, as well as Sarah Louise Keegan and John Moloney. It will all be introduced by former Paralympian, Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond MBE.

SeeAbility is a 200-year-old charity with strong local roots to Richmond. They provide extraordinary support for people with learning disabilities and autism across Surrey and the South of England, and champion eye care for adults and children with learning disabilities.


The critically acclaimed (not least by yours truly) production of The Grinning Man, directed by Tony award-winning Tom Morris (War Horse) and based on the classic Victor Hugo (Les Misérables) novel, The Man Who Laughs, will take over Studio 1 at Trafalgar Studios from 5 December, following a hugely successful autumn 2016 premiere at Bristol Old Vic. Tickets will go on sale on Wednesday 11 October.

This romantic gothic musical love story, set in a fantastical world with a dark heart, is brought to life by Kneehigh writer Carl Grose (Dead Dog in a Suitcase) and “powered by an outstanding score” (Sunday Times) by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler. And in great news, the cast is led once again by Louis Maskell (2016 Best Actor in a Musical fosterIAN winner), in the title role of Grinpayne, and Julian Bleach (2016 Best Supporting Actor in a Musical fosterIAN winner), who plays Barkilphedro, a vengeful clown with a heart of lead. 

Lead casting has been announced for a 2018 UK tour of Terence Rattigan’s classic family drama, The Winslow Boy - directed by Olivier Award-nominated Rachel Kavanaugh. Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses, Grantchester) stars as Grace Winslow wife of Arthur Winslow, played by the swoonworthy Aden Gillett (House of Eliott, Holby City), the father who embarks on an extraordinary campaign for justice for his son.

The tour opens at Chichester Festival Theatre on February 8th 2018 and sees Mark Goucher once again present a classic drama straight from seasons at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Birmingham Rep. The Winslow Boy follows acclaimed productions of The Kings Speech and Single Spies (the latter also directed by Kavanaugh). The production is set to visit other leading UK drama houses including Bath Theatre Royal, Oxford Playhouse, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Salford Lowry, Cheltenham Everyman Theatre, Brighton Theatre Royal, Belfast Grand Opera House, Richmond Theatre and Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre.

And just in case you were wondering what Harry Hadden-Paton is up to (and quite frankly, who isn't), well of course he's making his NY stage debut in the Lincoln Center revival of My Fair Lady as Henry Higgins opposite Lauren Ambrose as Eliza Doolittle, Norbert Leo Butz as Alfie Doolittle, and Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Higgins, aka the Menier Christmas musical I would have liked to see.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Review: Medea, Written in Rage, The Place

"Maman est avec vous
Maman est avec vous 
Pour toujours…"

Nothing becomes Medea (or at least this version of her) as much as her entry into the world. Into a liminal space shrouded in smoke, summoned by a clarion call from the ether, an unknowable shape emerges. Obscured by lush swathes of fabric, movement governed by improbably high platforms, this figure casts extraordinary shadows (stunning lighting work from Chahine Yavroyan) until they arrive centre stage to finally deliver their story.

And though Euripides' enduring classic may be familiar, it's not likely one has heard it told quite like this. Medea, Written in Rage was reimagined by the Haitian-French Jean-René Lemoine and has been translated and adapted here by Neil Bartlett, to be performed by the Frenchman François Testory. A dancer and singer of some considerable renown, he submerges us into a queered-up, highly-politicised sonic experiment of a piece which is, at times, hugely arresting.