Review: Six the Musical, Lowry

A belated report on a family trip to the Lowry to see the touring version of the ever-exciting Six the Musical

“It’s the end of the show of the historemix
We switched up the flow and we changed the prefix”

It’s not too often that I get to go to the theatre with my whole family, so a festive trip to the Lowry to see Six the Musical was a definite treat over Christmas. And to see it from the front row too…quite the experience. I’ve seen the show one and a bit times before so I knew what to expect, but the thrill of being that close really did make a difference (even if I was convinced that Katherine Howard was going to kick me in the face at some point or other!).

And it was great to see all 10 of us really enjoy ourselves, grandparents to grandkids (and me the middle child, what else?!). Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ anarchic history – sorry, herstory! –  lesson has lost none of its effervescence or energy in this touring version. It helps of course that it is a relatively lo-tech show to run but it has clearly settled well in Salford for this Christmas sojourn as it was packed out and an extra week has been added to the schedule too. Continue reading “Review: Six the Musical, Lowry”

My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

Review: Gypsy, Royal Exchange

Because nothing says Merry Christmas like a stage mum going off the rails….! Gypsy offers a different festive treat at Manchester’s Royal Exchange

“If the cow goes, I go”

The choice of the festive musical is a big one for many a venue, and they don’t come much bigger than Broadway classic Gypsy, which director Jo Davies has tackled for the Royal Exchange (returning to Manchester after a really rather excellent Twelfth Night). It also feels a bit of a bold choice given that the shadow of Imelda Staunton looms large for many, though that was over four years ago now. And if we consider Mama Rose to be the ne plus ultra of female MT roles, well you rarely hear people complaining about the endless succession of Hamlets and Lears, so it is more than time for a new Rose to bloom.

Davies gets a lot right, particularly in terms of her collaborators. Andrew Wright’s choreography makes considered use of the space, brilliantly exploiting the intimacy of being in the round (this is definitely a show to splash out on stalls seats for) as Leo Munby’s musical direction delivers a bright, if fairly traditional rendition of Jule Styne’s iconic score. The bulb-bright flashes of Colin Grenfell’s lighting are showstoppingly effective throughout, particularly when allied with the mobile rig that dominates Francis O’Connor’s set. The sequence where ghosts of the past come to bear witness to a crucial decision by Rose is stunningly, hauntingly effective. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Royal Exchange”

2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations

The nominations for the 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards have been announced and I have a thought or two #justiceforAnneHathaway

As a publicly nominated affair, the What’s On Stage Awards always throw up an interesting set of nominations, as fanbases engage alongside theatregoers to produce an idiosyncratic reflection on the year. This year though, the nominees for the nine creative categories (Choreography, Costume Design, Direction, Graphic Design, Lighting Design, Musical Direction, Set Design, Sound Design and Video Design) have been decided by an independent panel of industry experts appointed, which has resulted in some pleasing inclusions for the likes of Equus and Small Island

Acting-wise, the focus does land a little heavily on the more famous names (plus ça change) and that Supporting Actress in a Musical category is super-crowded (the Dear Evan Hansen mothers would have been a shoo-in for me there). My only real point of issue comes with the categorisation for the & Juliet players – are you really going to nominate Oliver Tompsett as a lead and then put Cassidy Janson in the supporting category? Did you not see the show, or get any of its message at all?!

Voting for the winners is open now and closes on 27th January 2020, with the winners being revealed at a ceremony on 1st March 2020.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Edwardian Hotels

Tom Hiddleston – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Andrew Scott – Present Laughter – The Old Vic
Matt Smith – Lungs – The Old Vic
Wendell Pierce – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Laurie Kynaston – The Son – Kiln Theatre / Duke of York’s Theatre

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre

Claire Foy – Lungs – The Old Vic
Zawe Ashton – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Hayley Atwell – Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s Theatre
Sharon D Clarke – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Juliet Stevenson – The Doctor – Almeida Theatre Continue reading “2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

2019 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list

Best Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Andy Nyman, Fiddler on the Roof, Menier Chocolate Factory
WINNER – David Hunter, Waitress, Adelphi Theatre
David Ricardo-Pearce, Kiss Me, Kate, The Watermill Theatre
Kayi Ushe, Kinky Boots, UK Tour
Tom Bennett, Only Fools and Horses: The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket
Tyrone Huntley, The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre

Best Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Amara Okereke, Oklahoma!, Chichester Festival Theatre
Audrey Brisson, Amélie The Musical, UK Tour
Caroline Sheen, 9 to 5 The Musical, Savoy Theatre
Rebecca Trehearn, Kiss Me, Kate, The Watermill Theatre
Samantha Pauly, Evita, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
WINNER – Sheridan Smith, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, London Palladium Continue reading “2019 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list”

Review: The Boy in the Dress, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Some seriously big names – David Walliams and Robbie Williams – can’t save the RSC’s new musical The Boy in the Dress at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Don’t eat my cheese”

There’s no lacking for big names behind the RSC’s big new musical The Boy in the Dress. Based on the novel by David Walliams and adapted by Mark Ravenhill, and with a score by Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Chris Heath, the pedigree is certainly there in this story about Dennis, a young football-crazy boy who decides, one day, that he’d quite like to go to school wearing a dress. But Gregory Doran’s production ends up hitting the crossbar – literally so… – and it is a little difficult to work out exactly why.

Is it in Walliams’ book, where absent mothers get entirely short shrift (as do most women, the character of Darvesh’s mum, who even gets a song, is called…Darvesh’s mum) and notions about celebrating difference only go so far – it’s OK for boys to wear dresses and win football matches, but if you buy a copy of Vogue, then you’re the target for homophobic jokes in the script. Or is it in the score which is full of strangely low-impact numbers, until an Indian man appears – cue the Bollywood song! Or someone puts on a dress – cue the disco number! It can feel that there’s not much sophistication at work here. Continue reading “Review: The Boy in the Dress, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: West Side Story, Curve

No doubt about it, Nikolai Foster’s production of West Side Story for Curve Leicester is damn close to musical theatre perfection

“Could it be, yes it could
something’s comin’, something good”

The Royal Exchange may have gotten there first this year but Nikolai Foster’s production of West Side Story for Leicester’s Curve proves an absolute triumph. Going down a similar route of featuring brand-new choreography, here by Ellen Kane, the familiar becomes something refreshing and new and hugely emotionally satisfying. From its opening moments which set the anti-immigrant tone like never before, through Musical Supervisor Sarah Travis’ incredible treatment of this iconic Bernstein score, to Kane’s sensational set-pieces which fill every inch of the Curve’s stage, this is damn close to musical theatre perfection.

It works so well because for all of the epic sweep of its Romeo and Juliet-inspired story, this is a very intimate reading of it. Jamie Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse really are exceptional as the ill-fated lovers Tony and Maria, delivering an unforced chemistry that is sweetness personified. Theirs is a heady, instant passion that feels so natural as to be entirely captivating. Their flirting is delicately but determinedly done – there’s no mistaking what ‘Tonight’ holds here – and something ignites in them when together. And as understated as their acting is, magic happens when they start to sing. Muscato’s ‘Maria’ is as good as I’ve ever heard in my life, as natural as breathing and then taken up to the heavens with a touch of wonder with his deeply expressive tenor. And Ivelisse’s thrilling soprano imbues ‘I Feel Pretty’ with just the right amount of character to refresh its familiar rhymes. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Curve”

10 questions for 10 years – Duncan Clarke

Based in York and Edinburgh, arts PR Duncan Clarke has been responsible more than most for getting me out of London

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    Funnily enough 10 years I decided to take the decision and leave my job as the Communications Officer at York Theatre Royal and start up Duncan Clarke PR. Being based in Yorkshire, I knew that there was so many great theatre companies in the region and yet very few theatre publicists – so it just made sense to start up on my own. I must admit I was really nervous about making the move but what kept me going was the brilliant from people within the industry and the support from my amazing wife.

    Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Duncan Clarke”

Review: Mame, Hope Mill Theatre

There’s still a reason Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK for 50 years but this lavish Hope Mill Theatre production and a spectacular Tracie Bennett give it a damn good try

“Your special fascination’ll
prove to be inspirational
we think you’re just sensational”

In some ways you have to admire the ambition in reviving a show that hasn’t been seen professionally in the UK for 50 years. In others, you wouldn’t be blamed for blurting ‘what are you thinking’! The ever-adventurous folks at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre have done just that with this revival of Mame, hoping to find a glitzy neglected diamond in the rough. (And when oh when will they transfer their lovely take on Little Women to London like so many of their other shows.) 

Director Nick Winston’s wisest decision is to mount it with a lavishly decadent production that you don’t often see on the fringe, especially with the likes of Tracie Bennett (so excellent in Follies recently) heading the cast. Getting to see a performer of the calibre of Bennett, with a voice like that, in such intimacy as this, is a rare treat and even singing a minor Jerry Herman score, is a genuine theatrical thrill.
Continue reading “Review: Mame, Hope Mill Theatre”