Review: [title of show], Above the Stag

Four cracking performances make [title of show] a musical highlight of the month at the Above the Stag Theatre, more than holding its own with the West End

“A musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”

In a month full of major West End musicals opening, [title of show] is a glorious example that bigger isn’t always better. In the studio at the Above the Stag Theatre, something special is on offer, perfectly suited to the intimacy of the space and highlighting some pretty serious musical theatre talent about which we should be shouting as loud as we do those with their faces on billboards on the Strand.

Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen’s (music and lyrics) meta-musical of musical theatre injokes as it depicts two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. And looking for inspiration, they decide to write a show about two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, using their own words verbatim and bringing two friends onboard as well.  Continue reading “Review: [title of show], Above the Stag”

Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’, VAULT Festival

Some moments of musical genius in The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’ at the VAULT Festival – worth searching out where you can

“Not so much a variety act, more a mid-life crisis”

There are some moments of musical genius in The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’. A witty take on Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’, a kazoo-aided bossa nova-inflected version of Alanis Morisette’s ‘You Oughta Know’, a gorgeous uke-heavy rendition of Lily Allen’s ‘Fuck You’. And the medleys – who’d’ve thought ’99 Problems’, ‘My Name Is…’ and The Fresh Prince theme song could all be rapped at the same time and still work, same too with ‘I Predict a Riot, ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Here’s Comes the Hotstepper’. Real kudos to whoever did these arrangements.

The repertoire belongs to cabaret act The Martini Encounter who have been disbanded for years. The promise of cold hard cash tempts them out of retirement for one last performance at the Carol Vorderman Playhouse in Little Rimming on Sea, but history weighs heavy on this trio and recriminations spill forth at every opportunity. As they recount the odd tale of their glory days and the many tales of their downfall, you feel the wheels might fall off this bandwagon at any moment. Continue reading “Review: The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’, VAULT Festival”

Review: Call Me Fury, VAULT Festival

Out of the Forest’s Call Me Fury, looks like it might become another hit show for this award-winning company

“Forget everything you know”

Fresh from their Offie-award winning success and more significantly, being named in my top 10 shows of last year, Out of the Forest Theatre return swiftly with their new play Call Me Fury, presented here as a work-in-progress by writer Sasha Wilson. And once again, she urges us to reconsider what we think of as history, whilst constructing a new narrative that seeks to redress some of that patriarchal imbalance.

This time it is the Salem Witch Trials that are the primary target, though Wilson’s forensic eye layers in so much more besides. Notions of women not being believed in courtrooms, men abusing positions of power, lies gaining a terrible currency through all levels of society – there’s a terrible timelessness to so much of the way that women have been and still are treated, history needs to teach us better but it has to be the right history. Continue reading “Review: Call Me Fury, VAULT Festival”

Review: I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t, VAULT Festival

A gameshow gone hilariously, tragically wrong – I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t is full of promise at the VAULT Festival

“Which is better or worse…?”

David Attenborough or Michelle Obama? Magic or science? Going along with the majority or sticking to your own guns? The interactive element of I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t requires some fun decision-making but also offers up something interesting about the psychology of audiences when confronted with even the most harmless of choices.

Dirty Rascals’ I Want You To… takes the form of your archetypal TV game show from an era gone by, as three contestants compete for the accolade of Most Admirable Person. But the contest proves far from benign as the desire to win corrodes into a desperation to be approved, laying bare the ultimate hollowness of seeking such approval from others.  Continue reading “Review: I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t, VAULT Festival”

Review: Marmite, VAULT Festival

My second open relationships in gay couples play at this year’s VAULT Festival, Marmite reveals a writing team with something to say about modern life

“Do you have a condom?
‘I have a Twix wrapper'”

After a meet-cute at the bar in a Bristol Wetherspoons, which sees them both dump the people they’re actually there on dates with, the future for Dylan and Eddie looks peachy. Both in their early 20s with chemistry rocketing off the chart, they’re soon living together and discussing how they’re going to get through Eddie’s sister’s hen do. But life’s never quite as simple as that, and an innocuous question about exclusivity reveals a fundamental difference in their approach to sex and love.

Hallam Breen & Phoebe Simmonds’ Marmite follows Open as another exploration of open relationships in gay couples at the VAULT Festival but ultimately, its strengths are most evident in depicting the minutiae of modern gay life. Theo Walker and Ned Costello both have an easy charm about them and as they navigate the ‘getting to know you’ stage, there’s something quite touching in their innate fondness for each other, deepened by their varying revelations about coming out to family (or not), and their contrasting views on Cher. Continue reading “Review: Marmite, VAULT Festival”

Review: Leia and the Roman, VAULT Festival

The form of the rom-com gets mixed up in Leia and the Roman at the VAULT Festival

“We can’t break up over a Star Wars film”

Is the point at which you introduce roleplay into a relationship a healthy expression of developing desire or a sticking plaster over things going wrong. At first, it seems like it’s the former for Ed and Kate (and when your man looks as good as this centurion, we’re all winners!), but it’s soon apparent that all is not well here. It’s not just that Kate has dressed up as Princess Leia from The Last Jedi rather than Return of the Jedi, but neither really seems to be sure what the costumes are actually for.

Sally O’Leary and James Saville’s play Leia and the Roman tackles the world of modern )straight) dating with something of a coolly  unsentimental eye. Kate and Ed find themselves in a rut even after just a couple of years, unable to even decide on what takeaway to get without squabbling. And as is so often the case, it takes an innocuous argument that snowballs into something worse to force them to dig deep into the truth about where they both are emotionally. O’Leary and Sam Jenkins-Shaw are both really good here, even making us believe the script’s lies about ham and pineapple pizza. Continue reading “Review: Leia and the Roman, VAULT Festival”

Review: The D Word, VAULT Festival

The D Word proves a bit of a disappointment for me, a first at this year’s VAULT Festival

“I’m a modern man: I eat hummus and suck cock”

There’s something a bit awkward about reading that a play is deeply autobiographical after not having really believed it. So I should probably apologise in advance to Jordan Waller. His story certainly is remarkable – a gay man born of lesbian parents via sperm donation – exploring notions of identity and self when your upbringing is far from conventional. So why did The D Word leave me cold.

I think it was something to do with the tone of the show, caught somewhere between comedy routine and confessional. A brusque vein of brutally smutty humour runs throughout the hour (weirdly focused on Bible-bashing jokes at one point) that keeps the audience somewhat at arm’s length rather than embracing us fully into his story. Tales of being outed by his birth mum at 11 raise a chuckle but his growing emotional distance from his other mum Dawn once their relationship ends is left unexplored. Continue reading “Review: The D Word, VAULT Festival”

Review: Can-Can!, Union Theatre

As a dance musical, Can-Can! is a high-kicking delight at the Union Theatre

“My cheeks are clenched”

Courtesy of choreographer Adam Haigh, there is some seriously impressive dance going on at the Union Theatre right now. You might expect some good moves from a musical Can-Can! but the full company sequences that book-end the show are full of verve and vitality and some jaw-dropping moments, which are all the more impressive for taking place on a stage as intimate as this.

Phil Setren’s production wisely scatters more dance performances throughout the show, ensuring that we’re never too far from a routine, as the rest of the musical is something of a mixed affair. A grab-bag approach to its construction means it often feels scattered – based loosely on Pinero’s Trelawney of the Wells but moved to Paris, its populated with both real life figures from La Belle Époque and fictional characters. Continue reading “Review: Can-Can!, Union Theatre”

Album Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter (2019 Studio Cast Recording)

Webborn and Finn’s cracking new musical The Clockmaker’s Daughter receives a delectable Cast Recording treatment that features the likes of Ramin Karimloo, Hannah Waddingham, Christine Allado and Fra Fee

“Come gather round!
Come gather young and old
Tall and small…
Come gather all!”

I was a huge fan of Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn’s musical The Clockmaker’s Daughter when it premiered at the Landor back in 2015, and loved getting to revisit the show when Trinity Laban’s final year students mounted the show a year later. So news of a cast recording was excitedly received in the Clowns household, especially once the company was revealed, featuring the likes of Ramin Karimloo, Hannah Waddingham, Christine Allado and Fra Fee. 

And with those stalwart supporters of new musical theatre Auburn Jam at the helm (Joe Davison producing) and David Ball Productions executive producing, the album sounds like an absolute dream. The show describes itself as “a musical faerytale” and the richness of the score reflects the considerable folk heritage of the British Isles, utilising Celtic influences as it is set in the fictional Irish village of Spindlewood but widening out its focus to produce something joyously universal. Continue reading “Album Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter (2019 Studio Cast Recording)”