Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Showstopper! the improvised musical is a highly entertaining show which promises a brand new musical every night, improvised on the spot by its company. The premise is simple: a theatre producer has just 70 minutes to produce a musical on the spot and invites the audience to make suggestions for the theme of the show, its title and a number of musical styles to be incoporated into the show.

On this night at the Leicester Square Theatre, we were treated to T-Rexctasy, a tale of love and dinosaurs, featuring songs in Disney, Sondheim and country and western styles amongst others. It was extremely silly, and lots of fun, and you soon realise that the story, such at it is, really isn’t that important and the joy of this is in watching the performers interact and bounce off each other in entertaining and often hilarious ways. Lucy Trodd was the star of this particular show, but Ruth Bratt and Adam Meggido as a double act and Pippa Evans made a very funny group of villagers and all of the performers were on fine form. NB: If you do go, do make lots of suggestions as it makes it more fun, and they thrive off responding to the curveballs people throw at them, plus you only get to make suggestions at the beginning. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical”

Review: Speaking in Tongues, Duke of York’s

Speaking in Tongues is the second play by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell to open in recent months in London, following the Almeida’s production of When The Rain Stops Falling. That play was well-received, rapturously so by yours truly, and this play was made into a film in 2001 called Lantana which happens to be one of my all-time favourite films, so safe to say I was somewhat looking forward to this production opening in the West End at the Duke of York’s theatre.

Ostensibly, this play is centred around the disappearance of a woman and the subsequent police investigation, but in reality it is much more about the fragility of human relationships and the ways in which we betray each other. Nine characters feature in Speaking in Tongues in a tangle of adulterous liaisons, betrayals, unexpected connections, confessions and interviews. These are all presented in a variety of formats which may take the viewer by surprise especially with a big shift as the second half starts, but stick with it as it does all become clear. Continue reading “Review: Speaking in Tongues, Duke of York’s”

Review: Gina Murray & Anna-Jane Casey, Late Night Cabaret at the Delfont Room

I had to think a while before posting about my experience here on Saturday night, but ultimately I have been convinced that it is the right thing to do. The late night cabaret shows have been a semi-regular feature at the Delfont Room in the Prince of Wales theatre for a while now, and have starred other such luminaries as Janie Dee, Hannah Waddingham and the cast of Avenue Q. This Saturday saw the turn of Gina Murray and Anna-Jane Casey to take the stage, but it was not to be an enjoyable evening for me.

One or two numbers into the show, Anna-Jane Casey launched into a joke about country & western music and a group of deaf men, which was accompanied by I assume what she considered to be an amusing impersonation of how deaf people talk, which was then repeated several times. Ironically, I don’t even know what the punchline of the joke was since Ms Casey’s delivery was not sufficiently good to reach the side of the room, and the laughs that were being generated as much from her impersonations as the content drowned her out. Continue reading “Review: Gina Murray & Anna-Jane Casey, Late Night Cabaret at the Delfont Room”

Review: Prick Up Your Ears, Comedy

Despite its name, Prick Up Your Ears is actually billed as a new play by Simon Bent, which uses Joe Orton’s diaries and John Lahr’s biography to take a closer look at the private lives of the playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell. Starting in 1962, the play follows the journey of the two men who dreamt of dominating the literary world together and how their paths took wildly differing turns, culminating in a brutal and tragic end.

The action here takes place solely in the Islington apartment that Orton and Halliwell shared, with occasional interjections from their landlady Mrs Corden. Bent’s take on the story is that as Orton’s star rose he was more than ably helped by Halliwell, indeed his success was dependent on him, and that formed the crux of their relationship, giving extra meaning to Halliwell’s subsequent depression and Orton’s treatment of him. I’m not sure that this interpretation worked for me and to be honest, I remain to be convinced. Continue reading “Review: Prick Up Your Ears, Comedy”

Review: Our Class, National

Our Class is a blistering look at the Polish collusion in the atrocities of the Second World War from Polish playwright Tadeusz Słobodzianek, presented here in a new version by Ryan Craig (although given this is a world premiere and someone else is credited with the literal translation, I’m not quite sure what ‘version’ actually means). Taking the Jedwabne massacre as its focal point, a massacre of the entire Jewish population of a village long thought to have been carried out by the Nazis but recently discovered to have actually been the actions of the local Polish people, the play is an attempt to try and understand how the villagers could have turned on each other in such a way and subsequently kept the terrible secret. It does this by following a class of Polish schoolchildren, some Catholic, some Jewish, starting in 1925 and working its way through to the modern day.

I have to admit to initially having my doubts as the play opened with adults pretending to be schoolchildren which is never nice to see, but there was enough humour present to see the scene through as they all talked about what they wanted to be in the future. The cast of ten actually play their characters throughout their lifespan and so my doubts were quickly dispelled as the classmates grew up throughout the 1930s with the twin shadows of Soviet and Nazi invasions shattering their childhood dreams and ultimately setting them against each other to brutal effect. Continue reading “Review: Our Class, National”

Review: Enron, Royal Court

Premiered this summer in Chichester and now making the move to Sloane Square’s Royal Court, Lucy Prebble’s second play Enron has achieved a quite astonishing level of success. Bolstered by four- and five-star reviews earlier this year, the entire run at the Royal Court sold out before opening and a West-End transfer has already been announced. Fortunately, the play lived up to its billing and provided a highly entertaining and educational evening.

Telling the story of Enron, a much-feted energy corporation whose surprise collapse in 2001 leaving billions of dollars of debt, Prebble has done a fantastic job in making the subject of financial manoeuvring very accessible and engaging, whilst never patronising her audience, and her work is given extra strength due to the current state of the economy and our subsequent realisation that this was not an isolated incident as first believed. Continue reading “Review: Enron, Royal Court”

Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National

Mother Courage and her Children sees Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner reunited once again at the National Theatre as part of the Travelex £10 season. Brecht’s play of a woman who is determined to make a profit from the war that surrounds her, even as that same war takes her children from her one by one, has been freshly translated by Tony Kushner and Warner has utilised the vast space of the Olivier to great effect to create something quite unique.

It is a fairly lengthy beast, the first half alone is two hours long, but neither I nor my companion felt that it dragged at all, I found the songs kept it quite pacey, and felt much the same during the second half (a mere hour long). There wasn’t that high a level of dropout after the interval which was quite nice to see and there was a strong reception for the players at the end. Much has been made of the introduction of Duke Special and his band but I have to say I thought by and large it worked. Personally, I was not as keen on the rockier numbers, despite Shaw gamely rocking out, but was genuinely moved by some of the slower numbers, especially when he was duetting with other characters. Continue reading “Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National”

Review: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the latest film adaptation to hit London’s West End, taking up residence in the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Not having seen the film, I had to be informed that this adaptation is actually much closer to the original Truman Capote novella than the Hollywood version, so namely there is much less coyness about how the leads make their money and the timeframe is restored back to 1943. A young writer, Fred, makes his way to New York City where he meets Holly Golightly “a charming, vivacious and utterly elusive good-time girl” who lives in his building and we follow their developing relationship for a year, in the shadow of World War II and her need for a rich sugar daddy.

Events did not start off well by the first main scene seriously evoking the recent corpse of Too Close To The Sun with some pointlessly fast revolving sets, followed by a metal lampshade that lost control and clanged endlessly against a bit of the set, and then by a cringeworthy dance routine which left most of my party helpless with the giggles. This triple threat should have warned us to leave then and there: the evening did not get any better. Continue reading “Review: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre

Ending this year’s run of shows at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is a revival of the Jerry Herman musical Hello, Dolly! It is a classic piece, and its presentation here is respectful of that and delivers a straight up rendition mercifully free of irony. Hello, Dolly! is not for people who claim that they don’t like musicals. It is old-school Broadway singing and dancing through and through and about as much fun on a stage as you could imagine: there is no place for cynicism here.

Admittedly, I did not see it in the heights of summer when one might expect a slightly better chance of sunshine, but one did start to question the methods of the Open Air Theatre on rainy days, as the stagehands were made to work extremely hard, wiping down the stage diligently four times in 45 minutes before the actual start of the show. One began to feel so sorry for them as it seemed every time they finished a new shower would begin. Fortunately, the sheer joy of the production meant that the conditions were soon forgotten.

Continue reading “Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Shawl, Arcola

With the lure of an Oscar-nominated actress and within walking distance of my flat, it did not take much to convince me to go and see The Shawl, a short but punchy play by American playwright David Mamet. The venue was the Arcola Theatre, the innovative Hackney venue which is pioneering a wide range of sustainable activities including the attempt to become the world’s first carbon neutral theatre.

The play is about a conman-like psychic John, played by Matthew Marsh, who is attempting to fleece Miss A out of a large inheritance, whilst teaching his young protégé Charles the tricks of his trade. Miss A has her own agenda in visiting the psychic though and Charles is less interested in real learning than just making a quick buck. Over four short acts, the issues of trust and betrayal in the shadow of greed are examined and the question is asked “is there such thing as an honest charlatan?” Continue reading “Review: The Shawl, Arcola”