Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps predictably, I have anything but a lovely jubbly time at Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You can’t whack the big pineapple”

Full disclosure – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an episode of Only Fools and Horses voluntarily. I mean I’ve seen clips and I’ve probably been in a room where other people were watching it, but it was never a show that has figured in my life. So news of Only Fools and Horses The Musical didn’t bring quite the excitement it did for so many others, ensuring that this was a commercial success long before any critics got near it.

And as such, my own reaction can only be viewed through this lens. When people say ‘you don’t have to have seen the TV show to get the jokes’. I can tell you they’re having a laugh. This musical is suffused with injokes, from the pre-show announcements onwards and in some ways, rightly so (having had a similar kind of experience with Acorn Antiques the Musical in this very theatre). Continue reading “Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

CD Review: The Bodyguard – The Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording)


“Tell me what does it mean?” 
One of the more surprising recent returnees to the West End was The Bodyguard – The Musical – having played out about a year and a half at the Adelphi and then launching a subsequent UK tour, our appetite seemed sated. But where there’s an empty theatre, there’s a commercial hit to be planted therein and it arrived back in the capital at the Dominion, with Beverley Knight heading up the cast and it’s a cracker.
But as the production set out on its UK tour, that was the point at which First Night Records decided to release the world premiere cast recording of the show, meaning that it was X-Factor star Alexandra Burke who got to lay her vocals on this score of classic Whitney Houston songs and be recorded for posterity. Now I can’t lie, I enjoyed the show with Burke, with the help of a couple of bottles of wine it’s an ideal bit of Friday fun but on disc, it’s not quite the same story. 
Part of the problem – for me at least – lies in the familiarity of the score and the fact that very little is done to the majority of the songs. So the comparison between whoever is taking on the role of Rachel Marron is all the more direct with Whitney and when you’re dealing with the soundtrack of my youth in songs like ‘How Will I Know’, ‘So Emotional’ and ‘Queen of the Night’, you’d better do ‘em justice. But it doesn’t take more than 15 seconds before Burke starts to oversing, making the music ‘her own’ in the parlance de nos jours, and largely falling flat in the process. 
Houston may have become notorious for vocal embellishments, especially in her later live performances, but if you listen to the recordings, there’s a distinct purity that comes across in all parts of her register that is part of the reason why she was the success she was. Here though, you struggle to find a note Burke sustains for more than a couple of seconds, you struggle to hear her lower register as she lacks any real power there, something cruelly exposed in ‘I Have Nothing’ which lacks power even though (or maybe because) it has been transposed to a lower key. 
The saving grace of this record turns out to be Melissa James’ performance as Nicki, Rachel’s sister, as her takes on ‘Saving All My Love For You’ and ‘All At Once’ are the real deal, both outstandingly done and oozing the quality that Burke seems to be missing. And as the album closes with the iconic ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, her charmless ‘come ons’ and ‘I wanna see your hands up’ stick out like a sore thumb. Definitely a show to be experienced live with Beverley Knight rather than listened to here – you might as well just put Whitney’s greatest hits on instead.

Review: The Love Girl and the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse

“Keep working, keep working, keep working, keep working…poor bastards”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Love Girl and the Innocent hasn’t been seen in London for over 30 years and with a cast of over 50 characters, one can see the challenges facing anyone willing to take it on. It’s taken Matthew Dunster nearly 10 years but with Jagged Edge Productions and a multi-tasking cast of 16, he now brings his own adaptation to the Southwark Playhouse in an atmospheric if sprawling production that evokes the horrors and absurdities of life in the gulag.

Based on the playwright’s own experiences in the Soviet labour camps, the play is at its best in capturing the insane swirl of the prisoners as they jostle for position and privilege in the microcosm of Russian society that develops. Most have been sentenced to 10 years hard labour and so are in it for the long haul as they become part of a never-ending production line, but where they end up on it depends on their willingness to collude, corrupt and conspire to make their lives even just a smidgen better as the relentless demand for greater productivity comes from on high. Continue reading “Review: The Love Girl and the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Company, Southwark Playhouse

“Everything’s different, nothing’s changed, only maybe slightly rearranged”

Marking the first ever musical to play at the Southwark Playhouse, Stephen Sondheim’s Company is one of the few shows that didn’t receive an airing in London last year (aside from the Donmar concert version) but receives a fringe production here from Mokitagrit, who are riding high on the recent success of Double Falsehood which is now transferring to the New Players Theatre for a brief extended run. It contains some of Sondheim’s greatest songs, but with its tricksy structure and book by George Furth, I have found it a difficult show to love.

The story centres on eternal singleton Bobby who is just about to turn 35. He is juggling three girlfriends and the 5 sets of married couples that make up his best friends are keen for him to settle down, but as the show progresses through a series of vignettes that look at each couple in turn, we see that each couple has their own story, their own take on marriage and their exhortations for Bobby to give up his bachelorhood masks issues in their own lives. Continue reading “Review: Company, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Young Vic

“Jumping Jehosaphat, well if it ain’t the damndest thing I ever did see.”

Running right through to January, the Young Vic has set a lot into Annie Get Your Gun, their longest running production to date. Starring Jane Horrocks as the sharp-shooting Annie Oakley, this musical contains some incredibly well-known songs, and so would seem like a fairly safe bet.

First off, the look of the whole show really is quite arresting, and not in a good way. It instantly evokes ‘school show’ as it really does look cheap and shabby, and the lack of depth in the stage is highlighted every time there’s more than 4 people on stage as they are having to carefully negotiate their way around each other and the props without tumbling off. And on top of that, the design is really quite unsuited to the venue. Such a wide, shallow stage means that people sat towards either edge of the auditorium have severe difficulties in seeing the action when it moves to the other side. And the use of a cutaway above the stage means the front few rows miss the final scene (and the one shirtless moment!). Given that it is unreserved seating, it does seem quite unreasonable to expect people to fork out £30 and then have their view restricted. Continue reading “Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Young Vic”