Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange

Aletta Collins’ new choreography is just one of the highlights of a most successful West Side Story at the Royal Exchange

“Sleep well and when you dream
Dream of me”

For an undoubted classic of the musical theatre, West Side Story really isn’t revived all that often but 2019 seems determined to rectify that. The Curve have announced it as their Christmas show, Ivo van Hove is reimagining it on Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is remaking the film for good measure. But getting the (beautifully balletic) jump on all of them is Manchester’s Royal Exchange, whose revival is the first to be performed with new choreography replacing the iconic moves of original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

And only naturally, Sarah Frankcom’s production soars when it puts Aletta Collins’ new moves front and centre. They are certainly recognisably inspired by Robbins but there’s an unmistakeable freshness that is just beautiful to watch and there’s something great about the fact they’re all doing it in Converse. The repeated ronds de jambe are iconic in their own way, an emotional grace is suffused throughout, and hints of contemporary nod to the physicality of two warring gangs, coiled bodies poised on Anna Fleischle’s climbing frame design. Fleischle has also maximised the floor space of the Exchange to great effect, the aesthetic is pure dance and it works. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: The Distance You Have Come, Cockpit

A Scott Alan song cycle promises much but The Distance You Have Come doesn’t quite deliver at the Cockpit Theatre, despite its excellent cast

“I deserve to be seen
This dream feels way overdue”

Scott Alan’s reputation as a songwriter is without question. Over a number of albums over the last decade (a fair few of which I’ve reviewed here), he’s been able to count on an extraordinary array of performers to bring his music to life, songs which are unafraid to chart the lows as well as the highs of living, loving, losing, dreaming… The Distance You Have Come sees him maintain that quality of guestlist in a live setting, as he entwines together over 20 of his compositions into a song cycle.

It proves a curious enterprise though, one which doesn’t quite cohere in a way that the quality of these songs deserves. Alan wrote the book for the show, as well as directing, and you do wonder whether an outside perspective might have helped. The book tries to do an awful lot in the space of a few snatched sentences between songs and its ambition feels somewhat unnecessary if the show is to be a song cycle rather than a fledgling musical. Continue reading “Review: The Distance You Have Come, Cockpit”

fosterIAN awards 2017

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayHattie Morahan/
Kate O'Flynn/
Adelle Leonce,
Anatomy of a Suicide
Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle
Best Actor in a Play
Ken Nwosu, An OctoroonAndrew Scott, HamletAndrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Cyril Nri, Barber Shop Chronicles
Sam Troughton, Beginning
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayBríd Brennan, The FerrymanKate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O'Flynn, The Glass Menagerie
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayFisayo Akinade,
Barber Shop Chronicles
Brian J Smith, The Glass MenageriePhilip Arditti, Oslo
Gershwn Eustache Jnr, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Patrice Naiambana, Barber Shop Chronicles
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America
Best Actress in a MusicalJanie Dee, Follies AND
Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music
AND Josie Walker,
Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Amie Giselle-Ward, Little WomenSharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T'Shan Williams, The Life
Best Actor in a MusicalGiles Terera, HamiltonScott Hunter/Andy Coxon, Yank! A WWII Love StoryJohn McCrea, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero
Jamael Westman, Hamilton
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Tracie Bennett,
Follies
Rachel John, HamiltonChristine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJason
Pennycooke,
Hamilton
Mark Anderson, The Grinning ManFred Haig, Follies
Cornell S John, The Life
Chris Kiely, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Gareth Snook, Romantics Anonymous
Obioma Ugoala, Hamilton

2017 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon

It is great news indeed that this Orange Tree production will be gaining further life in 2018 with a transfer to the National Theatre in the summer. I really hope that as much of the original cast comes with it, especially Nwosu who anchored the complex ideas of the show with confidence and clear-sighted integrity. 


Honourable mention: Andrew Scott, Hamlet

In the parlance de nos jours, Scott managed that most difficult of things to really make this most-well-known of roles his own, his collaboration with Rob Icke breathing a conversationally, contemporary life into the part that was utterly mesmerising.

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Cyril Nri, Barber Shop Chronicles
Sam Troughton, Beginning

8-10
Bryan Cranston, Network; Conleth Hill, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; James McArdle, Angels in America

 

Best Actor in a Musical

Giles Terera, Hamilton

In the midst of all the hype and expectation that was the first preview, and in a production that had no right to be that polished and on-point, there was no doubt in my mind about who the star of the evening was. Terera’s Burr feels very much his own creation and delivers a well-deserved push into the limelight for this most charismatic of performers – I suspect this won’t be his first award.

Honourable mention: Scott Hunter/Andy Coxon, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Hitting the right time and place, I first saw Yank! in the afternoon of London Pride and a happier, gayer Clowns I could not have been. And at its heart is the epic, tragic romance of Stu and Mitch, brought to beautiful life by Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon respectively.

John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero
Jamael Westman, Hamilton

8-10
Alastair Brookshaw, A Little Night Music; Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris; Dominic Marsh, Romantics Anonymous

Not-a-Review: Hair, Vaults

“No more falsehoods or derisions”

I went into Hair with as open a mind as I could muster but it really isn’t my cup of (herbal) tea at all, particularly in a production like this one which felt overly concerned in making sure we were all having ‘a good time’.  That may be in keeping with the hippy schtick but doesn’t cut to the core of any of the many more serious issues which it ends up skating over rather too thinly. Plus the score (still) doesn’t do anything for me. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th January

The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys…?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent – between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they’re bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace’s Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts. Continue reading “The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast”

Re-review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross

“I know it’s difficult to imagine it now
Here in a world that’s going mad
But picture the two of us

On some lazy day
When bombs away
Is just a game kids play”

Not got too much more to say about the gorgeous Yank! A WWII Love Story that I didn’t already say in my rave review from the beginning of the run (but blimey how those lyrics up top resonate in a different way now!). It’s been great to see the show getting such good reviews and fantastic word of mouth, not the easiest of things for an original new musical to achieve, and I always knew that I’d be paying a second visit to the show before it finished. You’ve got a couple more opportunities yourself and as if you needed any more convincing – here’s a video of the lovely Andy Coxon singing one of the show’s more emotional numbers. 

 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Claire Bilyard
Booking until 19th August

Review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross

“We’re in a battle we never planned”

Seeing Yank! A WWII Love Story on the day that the streets of London were thronged with people celebrating Pride made what was already a strong show into a properly special occasion. Joseph and David Zellnik’s 2005 musical was first seen in the UK at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre which, with its collaborations with Aria Entertainments, has fast become a real fringe powerhouse (their production of Hair also transfers to London later this year) and with James Baker’s assured direction and James Cleeve’s rapturous musical direction, it is easy to see the love happening here.

Yank! was written by the Zellniks as a deliberate homage to the musicals of the 1940s but it is a Second World War love story with a difference. Beginning as a rites of passage tale for the barely 18 year old Stu who finds himself drafted into the army in 1943, the story grows in stature as his first real taste of the outside world is accompanied by his tumbling head over heels for his handsome fellow conscript Mitch, the revelation that those feelings are reciprocated, and then the crushing realisation of the impossibility of living their lives as proud gay men, whether within the army or without. Continue reading “Review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross”

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”