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”

The 2017 Ian Charleson Awards nominees announced – time for an update?

Nominees have been announced for the 2017 Ian Charleson Awards:

Ellie Bamber for Hilde in The Lady from the Sea, Donmar Warehouse
Daniel Ezra for Sebastian in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Tamara Lawrance for Viola in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Rebecca Lee for Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Watermill, Newbury
James Corrigan for Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare Royal Shakespeare Company
Ned Derrington for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe
Sope Dirisu for Coriolanus in Coriolanus, Royal Shakespeare Company
Arthur Hughes for Lucius in Julius Caesar, Crucible, Sheffield
Douggie McMeekin for Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic
Natalie Simpson for Duchess Rosaura in The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse
Hannah Morrish for Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Company

The focus of the award is on roles in classical theatre – yours Ibsens, your Chehkovs, your overwhelming number of Shakespeares – but you do wonder whether there’s something about the kudos automatically granted here. Though there is diversity in the names selected here, the very notion of ‘classical’ as determined by the theatrical establishment seems to work against its actual ecology, at least as it relates to modern Britain.

I mean to not at all dishonour the legacy of Ian Charleson, but I do wonder whether the awards that bear his name recognise the bias that its limitations impose. If the Quentin Letts farrago shows us anything, it shows us how entrenched some of these attitudes are. But it also serves as a reminder that actors of colour (and women to some of the same extent) are ill-served by the ‘canon’.

I’m all for celebrating and highlighting the work of great young actors but I want all of them to be included. And yes, that makes the scope considerably wider but surely its time to acknowledge that there’re amazing actors who have never performed Shakespeare, and might never do Chekhov, but who are more than worthy of the kind of recognition offered here. 

Review: Instructions for Correct Assembly, Royal Court

Some stunning design work elevates new play Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court

“Of course they’re a bit more unreliable, these flatpack ones”

Instructions for Thomas Eccleshare’s Instructions for Correct Assembly

Step 1

Take a Verity Bargate Award-winning (for Pastoral) playwright and give him his Royal Court debut with a gently futuristic play about families and failures and robot surrogates.

Step 2

Find a director with real previous in quirky stagings at the Royal Court (Goats, Who Cares, Teh Internet is Serious Business) and a designer up for the challenge of maintaining the ingenious and striking look of current main house productions with its middle-class modernity.

Step 3

Up the ante by introducing illusionist Paul Kieve into the mix to put together some properly mind-boggling trickery and have a crack stage management team under Kate Aisling Jones’ leadership support actor Brian Vernel in accomplishing said illusions.

Step 4

Pull together a top-notch cast including the always good Mark Bonnar (returning to the stage after six years) and the wonderful Jane Horrocks.
Continue reading “Review: Instructions for Correct Assembly, Royal Court”

Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre

This weekend only, John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky deliver conversation and concert realness at the Leicester Square Theatre in London

“Passionate as hell 
But always in control”

I hadn’t originally intended to go and see John Barrowman in this intimate concert setting but my Aunty Jean is a big fan and so decided to make a day trip out of it, and I got to go along for the ride. This micro-run of three performances fell under the aegis of Seth Rudetsky’s intermittent Broadway @ Leicester Square Theatre series, mixing performance with conversation to create a unique and relaxed vibe.

Barrowman’s force of personality means the anecdotes flow out of him with barely any prompting from the wonderfully acerbic Rudetsky but with such a storied career, he’s certainly earned the right to tell them. Continue reading “Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre”

Beyond circus: Even When I Fall + Circus Abyssinia – Ethiopian Dreams

Such are the cultural riches in London that there’s scarcely time to discover everything that’s on, never mind see and review it all. So choices inevitably have to be made and mine tend to fall on the side of theatre – the likes of dance, opera and circus falling by the wayside. But it is something of a vicious circle. My rationale is that I don’t feel I have the expertise, the language, to speak about those other art forms with the same confidence that I express my opinions about theatre; but since I don’t go, I’m not building up that knowledge base, that necessary experience.

So when a serendipitous set of invites fell my way, I thought I’d spend a Sunday starting to rectify that a little, as far as circus is concerned. And the thing that properly caught my attention here was that both involved defiantly non-traditional approaches to the art-form, we’re a long way from The Greatest Showman here. First up was documentary film Even When I Fall by Sky Neal and Kate McLarnon, part of the Roundhouse’s CircusFest and a thoroughly sobering look at the circumstances that led to the founding of Circus Kathmandu, Nepal’s first and only circus. Continue reading “Beyond circus: Even When I Fall + Circus Abyssinia – Ethiopian Dreams”

Review: All I See Is You, Octagon Studio

Nowt so queer as gays up north – All I See Is You is an affecting period LGBT romance at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton 

“If I never walk again, I don’t care”

The Octagon are certainly getting their money’s worth out of Ben Occhipinti. In the main house, he’s directing East is East and down the stairs in their studio theatre, he is also helming the premiere of Kathrine Smith’s All I See Is You. And where the former is looking at mixed race families in Salford in the 70s, this play turns its focus on to the experience of gay men in the 60s.

Those men are Ciarán Griffiths’ Bobby and Christian Edwards’ Ralph, whose meet-cute takes place in a toilet cubicle and soon turns into a smouldering mix of sexual compatibility and serious potential as they tumble hard for each other. But in a world where homosexuality has yet to be decriminalised, where societal prejudice is so deeply ingrained, it’s clear this is a love that will have to be fought for. Continue reading “Review: All I See Is You, Octagon Studio”

Review: East is East, Octagon

A brilliant turn from Jane Hazlegrove anchors this powerful revival of East is East at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton

“Funeral’s on Friday, they’re having salmon…”

On the one hand,  it is great to see another production of Ayub Khan Din’s evergreen East is East, as sharply observed and comically astute as ever in this production at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre. But on the other, it is a sad indictment that the British theatrical establishment hasn’t been able to conjure up a similarly successful play that looks at race and multiculturalism in the 20-odd years since it was written.

Nevertheless, director Ben Occhipinti gets his revival just right, capturing much of the mood of a 1970s Salford where Pakistani father George and English mother Ella are raising their seven children who are all dealing differently with the unique pressures that come with a mixed race heritage. And he has cast it beautifully – Kulvinder Ghir’s George full of irascible pride, Jane Hazlegrove’s Ella brilliantly, expertly moving in her (almost) infinite patience. Continue reading “Review: East is East, Octagon”

Album Review: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls

Featuring a pleasing amount of new musical theatre writing, Carrie Hope Fletcher releases her debut album When The Curtain Falls

“Who you are is how you’re feeling”

Fresh from winning her second What’s On Stage Award, racking up her third novel, vlogging regularly and quite possibly plotting world domination, Carrie Hope Fletcher has now released her debut album When The Curtain Falls. A pleasingly varied tracklisting sees her cover as much new musical theatre writing (shoutout for the brilliant Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) as age-old classics, combined with a few family favourites to make an engaging collection.  

There’s a innate prettiness to Fletcher’s voice that makes it extremely easy to listen to. And it is an over-riding characteristic across the album, which is fine when it comes to the likes of the sweetly lovely ‘Times Are Hard For Dreamers’ from the short-lived Amélie or the Disney tracks here, or smoothing the edges off of Jason Robert Brown’s ‘What It Means To Be A Friend’.  Continue reading “Album Review: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls”