Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of York’s

Many a musical has received a facelift, but none quite so dramatic or misguided as Rent Remixed, setting up shop at the Duke of York’s. William Baker (director) and Steve Anderson (musical arranger) are perhaps better known as part of the creative team behind Kylie Minogue but are responsible here for reinterpreting Jonathan Larson’s much loved Rent for a younger generation.

The original itself is a rough reworking of La Bohème, celebrating the lives of a group of sexually ambiguous, bohemian New Yorkers, eking out a living on the breadline and devastated by the arrival of HIV and AIDS. And whilst this is ostensibly the same show, the process of ‘remixing’ has ended up with curious results. Continue reading “Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of York’s”

Review: Christmas in New York, Lyric

Continuing my obsession with all things Avenue Q or at least vaguely connected, we trotted off to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to Christmas in New York, a show of Christmas music ranging from traditional carols to thoroughly modern musical theatre numbers. The Q connection comes from Julie Atherton who alongside Paul Spicer is a founder member of Notes from New York, the company behind this annual show whose remit is to promote contemporary musical theatre composers.

It was a highly enjoyable evening in which the talent onstage was clear with a range of West End stars, singing a mix of solos, duets and group numbers accompanied by a large choir giving huge glorious voice to several of the songs. Spicer and Atherton fronted up the ensemble but they far from hogged the limelight as many others, like Emma Williams, Melanie La Barrie and Oliver Tompsett, got their turn too.

The only downside was our unfamiliarity with much of the material: it was akin to going to see a gig by someone you really like who just sings songs from a new album that you don’t know. Amongst the traditional carols and the Sondheim, Berlin and Rodgers number were intertwined with new composers like Michael Bruce, Charles Miller, Grant Olding and Ann Hampton Callaway whose material kind of passed me by a little without knowing more about it. There must have been over 30 songs performed in the big theatre and I would have preferred the stronger connection that might have developed in a more intimate venue.

The musical version of Twas the Night Before Christmas was great fun though and it was a highly entertaining night altogether. A great demonstration of fresh new talent working on the stage and a nice alternative to the endlessly repeated usual Christmas tunes.

Review: Cloud Nine, Almeida

Every year, my sisters and I are treated to a Christmas show by our Aunty Jean and with the scheduling difficulties and train timetables (they all live in the North-West), our choice ended up being Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the Almeida, a somewhat different choice to our usual fare, but one which proved to be enjoyable nonetheless.

The first act is set in a nineteenth century British colony somewhere in Africa where all manner of subversive behaviour threatens the traditional Victorian moral code, which with its male colonisation of women is hardly a bed of roses for everyone. Then the second half shifts to Clapham Common and the sexually liberated 1970s, but we retain the same characters, 25 years down their personal timelines. So the contrast in their behaviour is huge and a range of sexual and gender politics issues explored. Continue reading “Review: Cloud Nine, Almeida”

Review: Shadowlands, Wyndhams

To be honest, I had to be somewhat dragged to see this show. I remember the film Shadowlands being out at the cinema and along with The Remains of the Day (also featuring Anthony Hopkins) neither one appealed to my teenaged self and that mentality remained with me even as this adaptation of William Nicholson’s play arrived at the Wyndhams Theatre. And boy am I glad that I allowed myself to be persuaded. I absolutely loved it and ended up crying bucketloads for almost the entire second half!

For the few who don’t know the plot, it concerns classic English novelist CS Lewis and his late-developing romance with American poet Joy Gresham, its an unexpected relationship for both of them, starting as a correspondence and then blooms into marriage. However Lewis’ Christian faith is severely tested when Joy is diagnosed with terminal cancer and everything he believed in is turned on its head.

As the central couple, Charles Dance and Janie Dee are simply resplendent, utterly convincing in the portrayal of their relationship. Dee captures the strength of character of this feisty woman which hides a certain loneliness that she ultimately fills and Dance is just mesmerising with a quietly powerful and striking turn as a man who every certainty in life is changed, firstly for the better and then for the worse with a heartbreaking intensity. The play also has fun in showing the repressed nature of so many men of the era, especially in the cloistered lives of Oxford dons, typified by John Standing’s gruff professor and Richard Durden’s buttoned-up brother of Lewis.

So an unexpected delight and one of the most moving things I’ve seen all year: highly recommended.

Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward

I suppose I’m getting close to groupie status now, but what can I say, I really love this show! Again, not a huge amount to report in how Avenue Q remains a completely guilt-free feel-good pleasure and still as funny as ever, look in the archive for more in-depth writing. It was, however, pleasing to see that whilst Clare Foster was covering for Julie Atherton, I really didn’t mind too much and ended up being quite impressed by her performance. The debutants in the cast didn’t fare quite as well for me.

Making her professional stage debut in the role of Christmas Eve, Jennifer Tanarez is having something of a baptism of fire and she does look a little overwhelmed. Her nerves were far too apparent, resulting in her missing too many comedic notes but as her accent is completely garbled and unfocused, she fails to capture the lyrical dexterity and emotion needed to really deliver ‘The More You Ruv Someone’ effectively and that song is the key to Christmas Eve. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward”

Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida

Directed by Michael Attenborough who is clearly looking to throw the light on lesser known playwrights here in the UK, Clifford Odets is regarded as a modern great and as important as Eugene O’Neill in the development of modern drama yet arguably remains relatively unknown here.

Awake and Sing is set in the Depression era and following the fortunes of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, it centres around the huge matriarchal figure of Bessie, played by no other than Rizzo herself, Stockard Channing. She keeps her family close around her but they are a motley crew: her husband is a depressed failure, her father is a revolutionary dreamer, her son is disillusioned with life and her daughter has got herself knocked up. In economically incredibly difficult times, Bessie has to make tough decisions to secure the future she desires for everyone, even if it means over-riding their own wishes and desires. Continue reading “Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida”

Review: The Enchantment, National Theatre

Does context make a difference? Not knowing anything about Victoria Benedictsson, the Swedish writer of The Enchantment, would leave you thinking that this is just another tale of Nordic emotional angst, the doom and gloom we know from the likes of Strindberg and Ibsen. But there’s much more to it than that: Benedictsson herself had a scandalous affair with a critic which ended badly in him rejecting her both sexually and artistically and she consequently committed suicide just months after completing this play in 1888. Her story then formed the inspiration for both aforementioned writers: the seeds of both Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler could be said to arise from here.

The Enchantment is probably best described as semi-autobigraphical, clearly heavily informed by her own experiences but not a strict representation thereof. Caddish sculptor Gustave Alland captures the heart and mind of Louise Strandberg whilst she is recuperating in her brother’s Parisian art studio. She tries to forget him by fleeing back to her native Sweden and a life of domestic drudgery, but temptation is strong and she returns to surrender to an utterly unsuitable affair that cannot end happily. Continue reading “Review: The Enchantment, National Theatre”

Review: Les Misérables, Queens Theatre

No matter how many times I see this show, it never fails to move me: I just love it. It is like Teflon and I will not hear anything bad said about it: a great position for a wannabe reviewer I’m sure but hey, it’s my blog! On its revolving drum set, Les Misérables tells a story of romance and revenge set against the backdrop of the French revolution, two men pursue a vendetta over decades whilst revolutionaries fall in love and die in battle. And boy is it dark, one sometimes forgets just how dark it gets with death never far from any of the characters, making it compulsive viewing.
As a musical, I think it is one of the most rousing that there is. The ensemble numbers are just huge, and there’s so many of them that I get goosebumps virtually every 10 minutes. Do You Hear The People Sing, Red & Black, Look Down and possibly the best song in a musical ever, One Day More, all of them winners. And then there’s the solos, so many of them unfortunately famous as talent audition staples, but in their right context I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own are beautifully moving and Bring Him Home, when performed well as it is here, is a thing of falsetto wonder.


Vocally, Cassie Compton was stunning as Eponine, really making the most of her ensemble parts as well as the solos, On My Own is of course excellent but even her small but vital contributions to One Day More were brilliant. Melanie La Barrie as a pouting, bawdy Mme Thénardier is a comic delight but I was a little underwhelmed by Watson and Baruwa as Marius and Enjolras, not sure what it was but they weren’t convincing me.
But this is Valjean’s show as John Owen-Jones simply owns it with a vocally superb performance and massive stage presence which is all the more remarkable considering how many times he must have played this part by now. Playing off him as Javert is Hans Peter Janssens who more than holds his own with his stern looks and voice, perfect for his rigid approach to applying the law.
I don’t imagine that any review of Les Misérables would change peoples’ minds about seeing this show. It is such a part of the everyday consciousness that you’ll know by now whether you like it or not, and whether you’d spend money to see it. For my own part, I think it continues to satisfy with its evergreen moments of broad comedy, heartbreaking tragedy and life-affirming fidelity.

Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Ambassadors

Starting off at the Menier Chocolate Factory and transferring to the West End at the Duke of York’s, Little Shop of Horrors now has its third home in London at the Ambassadors and I have finally gotten round to seeing it. And boy am I glad that I did.

It is a very sweetly composed story, straddling that not-so-well-trodden boundary between sci-fi and romance. Seymour, a down-on-his-luck orphan just scraping by in grim urban Skid Row, finds a special plant which happens to appear during a solar eclipse and suddenly everything in his life starts to improve. The flower shop where he works becomes more successful, he sees a way to rescue the girl he loves from afar from a violent relationship, but as always, there’s a downside to all of this and in this case, it is that the plant is a living, carnivorous one with a particular yen for human blood. Continue reading “Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Ambassadors”

Review: The Hothouse, National Theatre

Pinter is one of those playwrights who I know I ought to like but I’ve never really got it with his plays, never had that light-bulb moment that made me see what others do in him. So quite why I let myself get talked into going to The Hothouse, a play he wrote in 1958 but didn’t get produced until 1980, I do not really know.

It is set in an undetermined institution, somewhere between mental institution and convalescent home I think, which is run by a staff who have more problems than those at Holby City and Casualty combined. When the governor decides to try and solve some of the problems when Christmas Day sees one inmate dying and another giving birth, it sets in chain a set of events that reveals how rotten each member of the staff is, no-one ends up being free from blame and an increasingly sinister tone leads to a bitter ending. Continue reading “Review: The Hothouse, National Theatre”