2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations

As we move towards the year end, so award season gets into full swing and What’s On Stage have now revealed their nominations celebrating everyone who works in theatre apart from sound designers and musical directors. As ever, these awards tend to work around which fanbase can weaponise the strongest and so there’s lots of love for shows which might not necessarily be troubling many other shortlists…

Still, am liking the recognition for Milly Thomas and Dust, Es Devlin’s luminous set work for Girls & Boys, and Six and The Grinning Man getting into the cast recording category (though can’t quite work out how Come From Away fits into there as well…). And it’s a bit sad that the way their eligibility period works means that Hamilton comes up against Company, making the supporting actress/actor categories ridiculously difficult to choose between.

You can vote here until 31st January, and winners will be announced on 3rd March.

Continue reading “2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Re-review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo

Michelle Visage joins Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and it is just as much fun as you’d imagine

“Tell it like it is but they don’t wanna know it.
Life don’t owe you no you owe it”

Having just celebrated its first birthday in the West End (a pleasant surprise to see such a musical thriving there), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is starting to make the kind of moves that will hopefully see that success continue. Layton Williams will be stepping into Jamie’s killer heels when John McCrea finishes his award-winning turn at the front, and some borderline-stunt casting got me back to the Apollo no worries.

Chucking Michelle Visage into the cast is actually a rather inspired move. Regardless of what you think of her, her friend-to-the-gays credentials are beyond reproach, particularly where drag is concerned. and Miss Hedge is the kind of supporting role that doesn’t pull too much focus while still offering a couple of opportunities to shine. And Visage does seem to have settled right into the company.

Continue reading “Re-review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo”

Re-review: A singalong Bat out of Hell, Dominion

We go back to the singalong Bat out of Hell at the Dominion Theatre but find diminishing returns

“Can’t you hear the choir now?
Listen to the animals sing”

Just a quickie for this repeat visit to Bat out of Hell, as the allure of the singalong performance was once again too strong. I don’t know if Tuesday night was the best choice though, as the Dominion Theatre was lacking in bodies and in atmosphere, at least in our part of the stalls, which kind of detracted from the communal spirit which was so enjoyable last time around.

I wonder too if the news of the show’s closure has dampened some of the enthusiasm. As D-day (5th January) draws closer, some of that intensity might return but for me, the performance level was weaker than I’ve previously seen. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton carry the show even more now and that means you only feel their absence all the more when they’re not on stage. Nothing really rocks, nothing really rolls…

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Specular
Bat out of Hell is booking at the Dominion Theatre until 5th January, one more singalong performance is scheduled for 31st December 

Re-re-review: Company, Gielgud Theatre

I can’t keep away from Marianne Elliott’s award-winning Company, and it richly repays the rewatching

“A festive atmosphere pervades the room”

Hot on the heels of its double Evening Standard-award winning weekend, Company remains in sparkingly good form. And from the seats in the dress circle box (a bargainous £20 if you can find ’em), the slightly restricted view matters not a jot as the extreme proximity means you have something of the intimacy of watching a show at the Donmar. Which in a show of this quality means that there’s all sorts of detail that you can see, which isn’t immediately apparent from the back of the stalls.

Some of my key revelations from this visit (not necessarily restricted to things that we discovered by being close) : Continue reading “Re-re-review: Company, Gielgud Theatre”

Review: Hadestown, National Theatre

Way down in Hadestown at the National Theatre is one of the best musicals of the year

“Damned if you don’t. Damned if you do.
Whole damn nation’s watching you”

I loved Hadestown so much that I had booked to see it for a second time before I even got home from the first. Read more about that trip here, including me trying the National’s new smart caption glasses, and read on for a review that focuses properly on Anaïs Mitchell’s brilliant musical here. An adaptation of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, developed with director Rachel Chavkin, it riffs on the myth by relocating the action to a dive bar in the Deep South and redefines hell for our capitalist age. And they fill the Olivier with music, such music, that transforms Hadestown into the kind of experience that lingers long in the mind. 

Mitchell’s score succeeds so much because it establishes such an identity for itself that it dares you not to be seduced into the world of the gods, or at least New Orleans. At its best, its simply elemental – ‘Way Down Hadestown’ has the kind of tune that sounds like it has always existed and will not quit your brain anytime soon. And as you collect the influences – hints of Jason Robert Brown on ‘All I’ve Ever Known’, the Johnny Cash-esque call and response of ‘Why We Build The Wall’, the straight up musical theatre emotion of ‘Wait For Me”s chorus, to name but a few – you realise a new form of Americana has evolved here. Continue reading “Review: Hadestown, National Theatre”

Review: Hadestown, via smart caption glasses at the National Theatre

I try out the new smart caption glasses while watching Hadestown at the National Theatre and am blown away both by the show and the frankly amazing technology 

Eurydice knew how to survive
Orpheus…knew how to live”

The exceedingly kind folk of the National Theatre allowed me to go and see Hadestown a few days after the press night, as I was most keen to have a try of the Smart Caption Glasses which were brought into circulation on Friday. Acclaimed as “a revolutionary new way for people with hearing loss to enjoy performance”, for once the blurb more than lives up to its billing as I found them to be truly innovative and potentially life-changingly good. 

Without wishing to open a whole can of worms about access and diversity within the critical community, it has to be said that as a (deaf) reviewer, I never get to go to captioned performances. If and when they’re scheduled, the timetables just don’t allow for it, so – as in most of my daily life – I make do. I hear what I hear and guess the rest. So the idea of this facility becoming available was one I was most keen to investigate at the earliest opportunity.  Continue reading “Review: Hadestown, via smart caption glasses at the National Theatre”

Winners of the 2018 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

BEST ACTOR in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group
Bryan Cranston Network, National Theatre (Lyttelton)
WINNER – Ralph Fiennes Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre (Olivier)
Ian McKellen King Lear, Minerva Chichester & Duke of York’s
Colin Morgan Translations, National Theatre (Olivier)
Kyle Soller The Inheritance, Young Vic & Noël Coward Theatre

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS in partnership with Christian Louboutin
Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy Barton, Bridge Theatre
Carey Mulligan Girls and Boys, Royal Court
Cecilia Noble Nine Night, National Theatre (Dorfman)
WINNER – Sophie Okonedo Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre (Olivier)
Lia Williams The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse Continue reading “Winners of the 2018 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: Fanatical, Playground Theatre

If the music doesn’t quite grab you like it should, Fanatical is still an enthusiastically warm-hearted show at the Playground Theatre

“It took too long
It cost the earth
It drove me nuts
And it was worth it.”

Matt Board and Reina Hardy’s new musical Fanatical taps into the apparently unstoppable rise of comic-book culture, but takes a refreshingly uncynical slant on the subject, particularly where its fan-base are concerned. The notion of comic cons full of cosplaying superfans might leave you cold but as we discover here, they’re places full of potential and meaningful interaction for kindred souls – is it really so different from a pub full of grown men all dressing up in the same football or rugby shirt…?

This particular comic con(ference) is for the fans of comic book-turned-TV show Angel 8, but the organisation of it has been far from smooth sailing for uber-fan Trix. She’s worried that the show’s creator might not make it to the venue, and is ill-prepared to deal with his idiosyncratic ways once he does. There’s also rumours of an undercover reporter in the crowds, penning a hit piece on the easy target of geeks. And along the way, there’s many a life lesson to be learned, by us as well as them. Continue reading “Review: Fanatical, Playground Theatre”

Review: Brass the Musical, Mountview at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre

My second version of Brass the Musical in a week – Mountview students at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre do an impressive job with this moving WWI musical

“War turns everything on its head”

It’s not often that you get the chance to compare and contrast two contemporaneous productions of the same musical but that is exactly what you can do right now with Brass the Musical. Sasha Regan at The Union Theatre opened her version this week (review here) and now a group of Mountview students are having a crack at it at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre. I was particularly tempted to return to the show as the show’s writer Benjamin Till – an alumnus of Mountview himself – is also on directorial duties.

It was fascinating to see the show for the second time in a week as the approaches by each director offered up intriguingly different interpretations. Till clearly benefits from the resources of one of the UK’s leading drama schools and so is able to conscript a band to meet the demands of his brass-heavy score, fill his stage with bodies and get them to execute some pretty nifty choreography (by Simon Hardwick). The contrast is huge with the Union, where studied intimacy is the watchword even though the company is only fractionally smaller.   Continue reading “Review: Brass the Musical, Mountview at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre”

Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre

Brass the Musical at the Union Theatre is a powerfully moving celebration of sacrifices made, of service offered, of music itself – beautifully done

“Just until our lads come back”

There’s a neat symmetry to the life of Brass the Musical thus far. Originally commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, its professional London premiere now marks the Armistice Centenary. Benjamin Till’s musical, with additional lyrics from Nathan Taylor and Sir Arnold Wesker, thus serves as a powerful tribute to those who served, both at home and on the frontline.

What is particularly gorgeous about Brass is how it is suffused with the joy of music. Its power to bring people together (as in the characterful ‘Forming a Band’), its potential to lift spirits (the marvelous storytelling of ‘Whistle Billy’), its ability to express something deeper beyond just words (the haunting vocalese at the trenches). And as an expression of the musical theatre form, it works beautifully in deepening an already profoundly moving piece of history.  Continue reading “Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre”