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”

The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards winners in full

New play
Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward, Hope Mill
How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris, Royal Exchange
Narcissist in the Mirror by Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival – WINNER
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Home

Opera
Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM
La Cenerentola, Opera North, the Lowry
The Little Greats, Opera North, the Lowry
The Snow Maiden, Opera North, the Lowry – WINNER Continue reading “The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards winners in full”

Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester

“Smile a rented smile, fill someone’s glass
Kiss someone’s wife, kiss someone’s ass”

Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.

And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career.  Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester”

Review: The Wedding Singer, Curve

“Pour a double gin,
here’s to your double chin”

Back when Adam Sandler was, you know, tolerable, he did rom-coms like 1998’s The Wedding Singer and where even moderately successful films go, musical theatre adaptations surely follow. Tim Herlihy adapts his own screenplay along with lyricist Chad Beguelin, and original music comes from Matthew Sklar, and the result is a perfectly competent piece of musical theatre which is fun without ever really being fantastic.

Opening at Leicester’s Curve ahead of a 8 month long UK tour (dates and venue at the end of this review), you can see where Nick Winston’s production has made its key decisions – Francis O’Connor’s set has its eye on quick get-outs and so Jack Henry’s video projections do a lot of the heavy lifting in setting the 80s milieu. And the casting mixes West End reliability with TV name recognition, the cherry on the cake of course being Ruth Madoc. Continue reading “Review: The Wedding Singer, Curve”

Review: Grease, Curve

“It’s still familiar to me
Sends a thrill right through me”

It’s a funny thing, returning to a show you know so well even if you haven’t seen it for maybe 2 decades. My abiding memory of seeing Grease as a child was Shane Richie corpsing after accidentally knocking the bosom of a co-star and then being singularly unimpressed that this happened every single night. And since then, I’ve never felt the need to see it on stage, whether on tour or in its intermittent West End appearances where, if memory serves, it became one of the guiltier culprits of stunt casting. 

But Nikolai Foster’s musical theatre experience and tenure at Leicester’s Curve as its AD piqued my interest and quenched my doubts sufficiently to make the trip to Rydell High and chang chang changitty chang sha-bop, darn me if it isn’t a rather good time. It does require you putting a measure of scepticism to one side in the show’s questionable message about changing who you are but it does also make you think about who we change for – it’s easy to forget that Danny has already fallen for Sandy by the time she decides to transform, is she changing for him, for herself, or to fit into the Pink Ladies?  Continue reading “Review: Grease, Curve”

Review: Wipers, Curve

“Please God, help me not to make a complete fool of myself,”

Wipers – a garbled mispronunciation of Ypres – is a hugely fascinating piece of writing, co-produced by Leicester’s Curve, Watford Palace and Coventry’s Belgrade theatres and pleasingly playing in all three cities. For it is inspired by the real-life story of Khuddadad Khan, the first South Asian soldier to be awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery in the First World War, where no less than a million South Asian soldiers were active on the battlefield, previously relegated to a footnote in history but rightfully brought to our attention here.

Wounded by an attack in the first battle of Ypres that killed most if not all around him, Khan’s resilience held off enemy fire to long enough to protect the remnants of the British forces, among them the four soldiers of this play. Seeking refuge in a barn, they await hoped-for reinforcements, the noises of (the unseen) Khan’s weapon periodically discharging echoing around as they cleave together over a long night. But there’s not just four men, they’re a British officer and three Indian soldiers, with all the tension and torque that brings.  Continue reading “Review: Wipers, Curve”

Review: Mary Poppins, Curve

“Anything can happen if you let it”

It is becoming increasingly clear that a show isn’t a show if a Strallen isn’t involved, even as an usher, and it is now the turn of Zizi to ascend to the role of leading lady, taking the title role in a mammoth UK tour of Mary Poppins which has started at the Curve in Leicester and which is already booking through to this time next year. And it isn’t too hard to see why such confidence has been invested in the future of the show when it is as stupendously good a piece of musical theatre as this.

I never got round to seeing the show in the West End – Julian Fellowes’ book building on P.L. Travers’ original books as well as the Disney film and composing duo Stiles + Drewe adding to the iconic score by the Sherman Brothers – and it’s an age since I saw the film so it really did have all the glorious impact of being a fresh new show for me but even if you did manage to see it, the lure of this fresh new production ought to tempt you along to one of the cities where it is playing to relive the joy. Continue reading “Review: Mary Poppins, Curve”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Curve Studio

“I tell what ought to be the truth“

I’ve only been to the Studio at Leicester’s Curve Theatre a couple of times but I’ve never seen it done up this much like a proper theatre with a balcony and all but such it is for Nikolai Foster’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, his first at the venue where he is now Artistic Director. Tennessee Williams’ classic receives a rather traditional, if youthfully inclined, interpretation here which thus can’t help but pale a little in comparison to Benedict Andrews’ extraordinary reimagining for the Young Vic last year.

The challenges of the space are clear though in the sometimes challenging acoustics of the studio which, combined with an unstinting commitment to heavy accents, poses audibility issues throughout the production. Which is a shame as it really does look good – Michael Taylor’s set design perfectly evokes the faded grandeur and stifling intimacy of the French Quarter and Guy Hoare’s lighting suggests all of its carnivalesque atmosphere with its twinkling fairy lights and sultry red hues. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Curve Studio”

Review: Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ The Musical, Curve

Reviewed by Ian Foster Aged 35 ¾ 

“I’m a Mole and not a mouse”

Pre-show
7pm
Just seen the director Luke Sheppard, urgh he’s way too much younger than me.


7.10pm

Just seen the writers Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger, they’re practically children too. Apparently they all met at uni – they may be winning now but I reckon I did more pub crawls than them though.


7.18pm

I LOVE that the programme is attached to the book itself so for just £5, you get both. You get the feeling Sue Townsend would definitely have approved. (And she did approve of the show, being an active part of the creative process until the sad news of her death last year.) 


7.27pm

There’s four kids sharing the role of Adrian, and three for the other three major kids’ roles. Tonight we’ve got
Adrian – Joel Fossard-Jones 
Barry – Harrison Slater 
Nigel – Samuel Small 
Pandora – Imogen Gurney 
I bet they’re ridiculously talented. I hate young people. Why didn’t my parents put me on the stage as a child, I could have been Wigan’s answer to Bonnie Langford.
Showtime – First half
7.33pm
Aw man, there’s a puppet dog. Why puppets, why? Don’t they know I don’t like ’em and am only pretending to be halfway ok with them now…


7.45pm

Those schoolkids! Rofl as the kids might say. 


7.47pm

I really do love Rosie Ashe.


7.58pm

Unsurprisingly, the young actors really are very good. Gurney’s sauntering self-entitlement as Pandora is cracking and Samuel Small as Nigel will definitely be one to look out for.


8.04pm

Tim Rogers’ fold-out set design works really well, I bet he was born in the 90s or something, urgh. 


8.20pm

Just remembered, Kirsty Hoiles (Adrian’s mum) sang a seriously lovely song by Elliot Davis called Still, I should put it on a playlist when I get in. She’s good here too. 
Interval

8.40pm

Aw, I’m rather enjoying this. Whether deliberate or not, the echoes of other musicals play really nicely – I got affectionate hints of Billy Elliot’s ‘The Letter’, Matilda’s ‘Loud’ and Les Mis’ barricades but the old-school Hollywood charm, via lacrosse, of ‘Look At That Girl’ was probably the best bit thus far. 


8.48pm

I want an ice-cream but I’m too cheap to get one. I never get one these days. Where’s your mum when you need her?
8.56pm
Spot-check on the audience around me, they’re all liking the show. They’re also loving the ice-cream, I knew I should have splashed out, grr.

Second half
 

9,03pm

Am loving Amy Booth-Steel’s work, as always and especially with this vivacious multi-roling, but I’d love to see her take a dramatically different choice of role next. I’m excited to see her show her versatility.


9.12pm

The lighting by Howard Hudson is particularly good, taking us in and out of the moments in Adrian’s mind – these diary-writing moments are possibly too few and far between though, Adrian’s voice really is one of the most iconic bits about the character and it’s not always front and centre in the show here. 
But without making it a one-boy-show, how to fix it? 
Good question, we’ll come back to this later. 
No we won’t, it’s too hard.


9.46pm

Can’t help but feel the second half isn’t quite living up to the first. The episodic nature of the show, borrowing from the episodic nature of the book natch, seems to have lost a little of the energy that propelled us to the interval. I hope they’ve got something up their sleeve.


9.50pm

They do, the nativity scene. I would happily pay just to see this sequence again. 


10.00pm

Well there you have it, a show with lots of lovely moments in it and a lot of potential. Fossard-Jones makes a great bespectacled leading man but too often it feels like he’s a bystander in what is meant to be his story. But there’s something apt about seeing a show so connected to Leicester here at the Curve, with its admirable record of nurturing new musical theatre writing, and I’m glad to have been a part of it. Even if so any talented young people were involved. 😉
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th April