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: 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: 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: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre

This Sell A Door tour of the excellent puppet musical Avenue Q shows just how well it is standing the test of time

“You should be much more careful when you’re talking about the sensitive subject of race”

I do love Avenue Q. It was one of the first musicals that I fell in love with after moving to London, tracking it throughout its West End-theatre hopping run with multiple visits (a recap can be found here) and then popping in here and there to catch the occasional touring version. And it is a show to which my reactions have shifted: 13 years ago when I first saw it, its quarter-life crisis was directly recognisable; a little way down the line now, I’m the one saying ‘these kids are so much younger than me’ about this youthful company!

Premiering in 2003, the show – music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty – benefited hugely from coming into life in a slightly more innocent pre-social media time, a moment when Generation X didn’t face half as much opprobrium as millennia are forced to shoulder nowadays. And revisiting the show now, as this Sell A Door production kicks off a major UK tour scheduled to last most of the year, it is just lovely to be reminded of simpler times, of such uncomplicated good feeling. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, VAULT Festival

You will never hear Keanu Reeves the same way again, Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is a hilarious highlight of the VAULT Festival

“I don’t do maths, just cheekbones”

The more you think about it, Cate Blanchett probably is the mortal enemy of Tilda Swinton. Such are the thoughts that will run through your mind as you ponder the many and varied delights of Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, the kind of extended comedy sketch that really shouldn’t work but turns out to be second-Oscar-winningly good.

Byron Lane’s play is the kind of thing that defies description, or rather description fails to do it justice. I could say bubble-wrap coat but that’s nothing compared to the swishiness of it in real life, Similarly, the wearing of lace tablecloths and scarves…both moments of inspired comedy and that’s just scratching the surface of Tilda’s outfit.   Continue reading “Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, VAULT Festival”

Review: Bleach, VAULT Festival

An arrestingly forthright show about life as a rent boy, Bleach proves one of the VAULT Festival’s more compellingly acted one-man show

“Do I look like a piece of meat to you”

Truth be told, there’s not the hugest amount of originality to Dan Ireland-Reeves’ Bleach  – the literal ins and outs of an aspiring rent boy feel two-a-penny (though maybe that speaks more to the kind of plays I pick to see…) – but what does set it apart is the fierce commitment with which he performs his monologue, and the unsparing complicity he demands from us as his audience.

That kind of connection is vital to the success of a one-man-show, to create the kind of atmospheric storytelling that pulls the audience into the palm of their hand and then dares them to look away. And that’s what’s on offer here with the story of Tyler – a young lad from the sticks who moves to London and, tired of scratching a living as a waiter in Chinatown, hops over Shaftesbury Avenue to become a rent boy in Soho, as you do. Continue reading “Review: Bleach, VAULT Festival”

Review: Di and Viv and Rose, White Bear Theatre

Flying Rabbit Productions’s Di and Viv and Rose at the White Bear Theatre is a smart production of a play that has endured well

“I’ll be alright – won’t I?”

Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose is a play I’ve loved since its 2011 debut in the downstairs space at the Hampstead Theatre, from whence it graduated to the main house and from there into the West End. At each spot, it has been blessed with some superb actors – Nicola Walker, Claudie Blakley and Tamzin Outhwaite, Gina McKee and Anna Maxwell Martin, Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell – so I was intrigued to see how it would fare in this off-West End production by Flying Rabbit.

And I have to say it stood up really rather well, a mark of the strength of its writing. The play follows the developing friendship between three women thrown together as undergraduates who move to a houseshare in which a real kinship is formed, connections which are tested by the trials and tribulations not only of student life, but through into the ‘real’ world as well. Did the Spice Girls really get it right? Does friendship never end…?  Continue reading “Review: Di and Viv and Rose, White Bear Theatre”

Review: Yours Sincerely, VAULT Festival

Letter-writing never seemed so much fun as in the hugely likable Yours Sincerely at the VAULT Festival

“They say the art of letting-writing is dead”

Any show that references Céline Dion’s epic key change in ‘All By Myself’ is onto a winner, nevermind featuring a lip-sync there of. So I was always going to be well-inclined towards Will Jackson’s Yours Sincerely. But there’s something more here too, a generosity of spirit that makes it a show I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  

When Will finds that he has accidentally nicked 300 2nd class stamps from the Post Office, his instinctive response is to revive the lost art of letter-writing. So he pens missives to old flatmates, ex-boyfriends, childhood crushes, family members, customer service departments…no one is safe. And he reads us those letters, and their responses, a picture of a young man at a crucial point in his life emerges. Continue reading “Review: Yours Sincerely, VAULT Festival”

Review: VELVET , VAULT Festival

VELVET proves a powerful piece investigating #MeToo from a gay perspective at the VAULT Festival

“People say I look like Tom Daley without the body”

Tom’s had a big break in getting the lead in a fringe play right out of drama school, he’s just moved in with his banker boyfriend of three years, and he couldn’t be happier. Ish. He’s even attracted the attentions of a big casting director but when Tom rejects his less-than-professional advances, he finds himself trapped in a nightmarish downwards spiral. 

VELVET is written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe and taps directly into the #MeToo movement, approaching it from a slightly different angle. Tom may be cute and fit but acting is a cut-throat profession that mostly pays peanuts and as such, leaves far too many people open to exploitation. And sure enough, as he promotes his play on Grindr, Tom is drawn into a dangerous game. Continue reading “Review: VELVET , VAULT Festival”