Review: The Story / Hela, Theatre503

The Other Room’s The Story and Hela make a delightful and daring double bill of Welsh drama at Theatre503

Do’s dim hawl ’da ti adael,
You don’t get to leave,
Do’s dim hawl ’da ti anghofio pwy wyt ti
You don’t get to forget who you really are”

A brilliant idea this – Cardiff’s OG pub theatre The Other Room has gathered up the three plays that made up their recent The Violence Series and sent them out on tour. They’re mainly visiting Welsh venues but there’s also a stop at Theatre503, allowing London audiences a highly tempting taster of the quality of work available at the other end of the M4.

I caught two of the three – The Story and Hela being presented in a double bill, Matthew Bulgo’s American Nightmare making up the set of dystopian dramas. That said, you have to wonder at what point we stop calling it dystopia and simply call it tomorrow, a pressing sense of disturbing resonance and relevance that is particularly brought out in Tess Berry-Hart’s The Story. Continue reading “Review: The Story / Hela, Theatre503”

Film Review: Judy (2019)

Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold

“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”

As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.

But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to. Continue reading “Film Review: Judy (2019)”

Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”

Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Moralising, heteronormative rubbish. Bohemian Rhapsody really serves its nominal subject very poorly indeed.

“No-one knows what Queen means because it doesn’t mean one thing”

Most everything you need to know about Bohemian Rhapsody is contained within the fact that Brian May and Roger Taylor were engaged as consultants on the film, intimately connected enough to be able to steer the direction of the movie in the way that they wanted. And so any hope of an independently-minded biography of queer icon Freddie Mercury disappeared behind a PG-friendly hagiography of Queen.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter. The film scored huge commercial, if not critical, success, snagging 4 Academy Awards along the way, but it still doesn’t make it right. How are you going to put your name to a film that is filled with inaccuracies? Because those inaccuracies put yourself in a better light, allowing you to show that you were tolerant of Mercury’s sexual proclivities and later AIDS diagnosis but that you were a finger-wagging Cassandra at his pursuit of a life outwith the heteronormative. Continue reading “Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)”

Review: & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre

Late 90s pop is always my jam so a musical that features it is always going to be a winner. The brilliant & Juliet is so much more besides as well though, don’t miss it at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

“You hear my voice, your hear that sound
Like thunder, gonna shake the ground”

What if Juliet didn’t die? And what if the writer and producer of some of the most iconic pop music of the last two decades (think Britney, Backstreet Boys, Céline, Katy Perry, Robyn, Kelly Clarkson, P!nk just to name a few) decided to lend his back catalogue of songs to a new musical dedicated to her? The result is & Juliet, a slice of energetic and hugely entertaining musical theatre that explodes with joy at the Shaftesbury Theatre. 

David West Read’s smartly self-aware book employs a metatheatrical twist as we open with William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway having a barney about the ending to his latest play Romeo and Juliet and she persuades him to give her a bash at writing a new one with him. Thus we pick up in Verona where Juliet reclaims ‘…Baby One More Time’ from Darius and declares her intention to flee to Paris with her best gal pals and flirt with some foreign guys. But as William and Anne tinker with their plotting, the fractures in their own relationship come to the fore, causing some major new plot twists. Continue reading “Review: & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Album Review: & Juliet (Original London Cast Recording)

Capturing so much of effervescent fun of the show, the Original London Cast Recording of & Juliet should be on everyone’s Christmas list

“Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than f**kin’ perfect

When it comes to jukebox musicals, cast recordings can be a little hit and miss, depending on how the albums thrive (or otherwise) divorced from their theatrical contexts. Fortunately with & Juliet, a show I absolutely adored, the result is definitely more hit than miss. Having seen the show, it is a fantastic counterpart to my memories and every time I listen to it, it spurs me to look at ticket availability and ask myself how many times is enough…

The vibrancy of the production translates surprisingly well onto disc. The raucous energy of ‘Blow’ is one giant party, you’ll never hear ‘It’s My Life’ the same way again and the mash-up of ‘Problem’ and ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ remains an absolute standout, anchored by Miriam Teak-Lee’s confident delivery and Jordan Luke Gage’s pop freshness. Teak-Lee really is superb throughout, power and passion invested in every song, treating Max Martin’s with the artistic integrity it thoroughly deserves. Continue reading “Album Review: & Juliet (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Chiswick Playhouse

A genuinely updated I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a really rather lovely thing at the newly renamed Chiswick Playhouse

“The groom tried to stroke me
While we danced the Hokey Pokey”

Expectation can be a funny thing. A revival of Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts’ musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change was the choice to christen the newly renamed Chiswick Playhouse (the Tabard as was) but as I caught a version with a luxury cast and terrible venue choice a few years ago, I wasn’t hugely enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing the show again.

But Charlotte Westenra’s production emerges as a really rather lovely thing, benefitting from an updating that does a fantastic job of retooling the show for a contemporary audience. There may be those who roll their eyes but the incorporation of same sex storylines and stronger female voices, while still maintaining the integrity of the book, genuinely makes it all the more powerful. Continue reading “Review: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Chiswick Playhouse”

Review: The Green Fairy, Union Theatre

New musical The Green Fairy is a bleak but bold experience at the Union Theatre, featuring the unmissable, almighty voice of Julie Atherton

“So how are you, aside from being an alcoholic”

The Green Fairy announces itself as “a queer pub musical” which sounds like a genre that should have existed for years already and certainly feels like one rich with potential. And in the hands of debut musical writers Jack Sain (book, music and lyrics) and Stephen Libby (lyrics) together with dramaturg Hannah Hauer-King, it proves intriguing, even if the final effect is considerably more Once than Old Compton Street.

Which is a good thing because this musical fully embraces its intimate actor-musician ensemble and  in a still all-too-rare occurrence, focuses on the L (or perhaps the B) in LGBT+. It is open mic night at newly refurbished pub The Green Fairy and knowing her estranged daughter is going to be singing, Jo turns up to the place where she used to work and live and drink, and where the ghosts of her past – her girlfriend, her husband, her childhood best friend – still linger on. Continue reading “Review: The Green Fairy, Union Theatre”

Review: Soho Cinders, Charing Cross Theatre

This amiable revival of Soho Cinders makes for an alternative festive treat at the Charing Cross Theatre

“Hoping for the hum-drum,
Is that aiming high”

I have great affection for Stiles & Drewe’s musical Soho Cinders, from its concert beginnings to a starry Soho Theatre production to a warm revival at the Union Theatre, its escapist fun nature and tuneful score remain quietly appealing. And it is that last Union production that has been reconceived for a new run at the Charing Cross Theatre, featuring some of the same cast members and beefed up with newcomers from Six and Jamie.

The show is a loose LGBT+ adaptation of the Cinderella story, updated to a contemporary London setting, albeit an improbably affordable and innocent pre-smartphone age. Robbie is a young man struggling to make ends meet with his Old Compton Street laundrette and consequently dallying with a sugar daddy, despite simultaneously hooking up with prospective mayoral candidate James Prince, who just happens to have a fiancée. It’s a daft plot but amiable, even if it doesn’t bear too much close scrutiny (clandestine meetings in Trafalgar Square?!). Continue reading “Review: Soho Cinders, Charing Cross Theatre”

Not-a-review: Botticelli in the Fire, Hampstead Theatre

Blanche and Britney ought to be a winning combination bur Botticelli in the Fire at the Hampstead Theatre is a damp squib

“They’re going to kill you. They’re going to worship you, don’t get me wrong. But they are going to kill you”

I’ve long been a fan of Blanche McIntyre and so appreciate any opportunity to see her direct away from the RSC. Jordan Tanahill’s knowingly chaotic Botticelli in the Fire is full of all kinds of riotous energy and queer representation but for me, it just wasn’t the one.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Botticelli in the Fire is booking at the Hampstead Theatre until 23rd November