Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

Not-really-a-review: The Writer, Almeida

Playing with form, Ella Hickson’s The Writer is a bold new production from Blanche McIntyre at the Almeida. This review also plays with form…

“I want awe. I feel like I need blood. All the time. And anything less than that makes me feel desperate. It makes me feel like I want to die.”

Miss Vanjie
Miss Vanjie

Miss…Vanjie

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
The Writer is booking at the Almeida Theatre until 26th May
PS: I did really enjoy, I’m just going to let other people do the heavy lifting in probing it apart!

Review: Chicago, Phoenix

Chicago returns to the West End at the Phoenix Theatre but is this the ideal 21st birthday present?

“He had it coming”

There’s a lot to like in this revival of Chicago (Josefina Gabrielle, Sarah Soetaert) but not quite enough to get the heart pounding (an ill-at-ease Cuba Gooding Jnr). Take a read of my 3 star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Chicago is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 23rd June

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theatro Technis

The Acting Gymnasium present a music festical-inspired take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theatro Technis

“Goblin, lead them up and down”

With an ensemble comprising of 12 nationalities, the Acting Gymanium are currently performing three plays in rep at Mornington Crescent’s Theatro Technis. And it was a contemporary music festival-inspired take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  adapted and directed by Gavin McAlinden, that tempted me the most

The festival setting is an inspired idea as far as the quartet of lovers is concerned. The heady rush of drug fuelled shenanigans is a good fit for these four and the actors respond well to the treatment, particularly John Celea’s Demetrius and Dorian Hasani’s Lysander whose lovelorn antics for Helena verge on the hysterical. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theatro Technis”

Review: Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok, Stratford Circus

Beautiful and brutal, Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok plays Stratford Circus before continuing on a tour of the UK

I invited you into my past… And you invited me into your future

It’s always a pleasure to investigate East Asian stories on our stages, an occurrence that remains all too rare in British theatres. This Royal Exchange Theatre, Yellow Earth and Black Theatre Live co-production goes some small way to address that, embarking on a UK tour after a successful run in Manchester and you hope it encourages similar work of this quality.

Based on Helen Tse’s memoir Sweet Mandarin, In-Sook Chappell’s  Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok probes into the family history of the three generations of women behind the famous Manchester restaurant also named Sweet Mandarin. With food, and a love of food, at its centre, it is a frank and sometimes brutal exploration of East Asian history, viewed through the prism of the individual. Continue reading “Review: Mountains – The Dreams of Lily Kwok, Stratford Circus”

YouTube: The Grass Is Always Grindr / A Gay Victorian Affair

I was introduced to (and deeply impressed) by Dragonflies Theatre a while back when I saw The HIV Monologues and so I’ve been keeping an eye out on what they’ve been doing ever since. One of their newest project is this three part webseries – The Grass Is Always Grindr – the first instalment of which you can now see below.

Commissioned by 56 Dean Street with support from Wandsworth Oasis, the series see writer Patrick Cash and director Luke Davies delving deep into Grindr and questioning what the hook-up app is doing to the community and the ways in which we communicate to each other.  Continue reading “YouTube: The Grass Is Always Grindr / A Gay Victorian Affair”

Review: The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse

Visually striking, an anarchic take on The Country Wife at the Southwark Playhouse

“Write as I bid you, or I will write ‘whore’ on your face”

A swift run through The Country Wife as it is finishing its residency at the Southwark Playhouse this weekend and I’m not too sure I got on with it all too well. Luke Fredericks’ vibrant production for Morphic Graffiti certainly has a muscular visual appeal but I’m not convinced it offers a case for a revival of William Wycherley’s play.

Originally a Restoration comedy, it has been updated to the world of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s. And in it, randy upper class people chase other randy upper class people and… well, that’s about it. Whether through the shift in era or something more deliberate, the women of the story find themselves front and centre, particularly pleasing as it is about them asserting their sexuality.

Continue reading “Review: The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve

Emma Williams reconfirms her star status in this 80s musical adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman at Leicester’s Curve Theatre ahead of a UK tour

“Way to go, Paula! Way to go!”

From its opening number (which provides an unsettling reminder that Status Quo actually had a decent tune or two), this major new musical of An Officer and a Gentleman shimmers with a sense of real quality. Some might demur at the notion of a movie remake peppered with a random assortment of pop songs from the 1980s but the resulting piece of theatre is highly enjoyable.

This is down to the integrity and craft of Nikolai Foster who rightly takes this source material (book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen from his original screenplay) seriously. We may be in 1982 but there’s no jokey visual gags about that decade here, just an over-riding sense of life on the edge for the working class community of Pensacola, Florida, looking on at the US Naval Aviation Training Facility that dominates their city. Continue reading “Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve”

Review: Bat Out of Hell, Dominion

Serving up more Meatloaf, Bat Out of Hell returns to London at the Dominion with a new-found subtlety…

“Some nights you’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before or will again”

I jest of course – there ain’t nothing subtle about Bat Out of Hell, apart from the slight price rises on the merchandise stall. Newly installed at the Dominion Theatre, after runs in Manchester, Toronto and at the Coliseum last year, it has lost little of the bizarre, baffling energy that saw it find a very devoted audience.

And they’ll be pleased that leads Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington return, the new cast members slot in effortlessly, and the inimitable vocal prowess of all is still ear-splittingly breathtaking, under Michael Reed’s musical supervision. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton remain the show’s secret weapon, stealing the thunder like a punked-up Jack and Karen. Continue reading “Review: Bat Out of Hell, Dominion”

Review: Tina the Musical, Aldwych Theatre

Adrienne Warren absolutely shines in Tina the Musical at the Aldwych Theatre, though the bio-musical form has its limitations here

“It gets bigger baby, and heaven knows”

Mamma Mia has a lot to answer for. The jukebox musical is clearly the legacy project that people are looking to once music stars have retired or disbanded (or not even then, in some cases). But whether they take a fictional route (a la Viva Forever or Son of a Preacher Man) or go bio-musical (a la All Or Nothing), it really isn’t easy to make it work that well. 

Newly opened at the Aldwych Theatre, Tina the Musical has the credentials to make you hope it can do just that. Directed by Mamma Mia’s Phyllida Lloyd, written by Olivier winner Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, and with the almighty back catalogue of Tina Turner to call on, there’s a thrilling sense of energy here which is perfectly encapsulated in the star-making performance of  a fricking amazing Adrienne Warren. Continue reading “Review: Tina the Musical, Aldwych Theatre”