Review: When Midnight Strikes, Drayton Arms

“Strike up the band, make it piping hot”

MKEC Productions have been carving out a niche for themselves in conjuring fringe productions of lesser-known musicals and in Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds’ When Midnight Strikes, directed by Marc Kelly, they’re onto a winner. Set in a Manhattan apartment on New Year’s Eve 1999, a plush dinner party looks set to career off the rails as the hostess has discovered that her husband is cheating and the guests are just about to arrive.

Admittedly, Hammonds’ book is a tad sketchily drawn – 11 partygoers and the waitress/actress serving them all jostling for space, and so naturally not all get a fair whack at the wheel of the main narrative. And set so specifically at the millennium, its humour and reference points feel weirdly dated, with an almost US sitcom feel. What Kelly’s production does do though is highlight that it is still a set of potentially vibrant character studies and so the company respond by each seizing their moment. Continue reading “Review: When Midnight Strikes, Drayton Arms”

2015 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Linda Bassett for Visitors at The Bush and the Arcola Theatre
Laura Jane Matthewson for Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse 
Shannon Tarbet for The Edge Of Our Bodies at The Gate

Best Supporting Female
Leila Crerar for Martine at Finborough Theatre
Vicki Lee Taylor for Carousel at Arcola Theatre
Thea Jo Wolfe for Singing In The Rain at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Best Male
Patrick O’Kane for Quietly at Soho Theatre
Harry Lloyd for Notes From Underground at The Print Room, Coronet
Robin Soans For Visitors at the Bush and Arcola Theatre Continue reading “2015 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre

“War is hell
Why rebel
You can’t change things on your own”

There’s something simply exquisite about The Return of the Soldier, an intimate chamber musical tucked away into the Jermyn Street Theatre that might just be one of the best things I’ve seen this year. Granted, it may contain a checklist of some of my favourite things – the experience of women in wartime, a score for piano and cello, Laura Pitt-Pulford – but they combine into something above and beyond, a powerful meditation on the psychological effects of war on those not at the front, a valuable reminder in a year that commemorates the start of the First World War that the impact of war ripples through all levels of society.

Tim Sanders’ book adapts Rebecca West’s novel from 1918, a piece of literature that emerged directly from the author’s experience during wartime, to give us characters – but particularly women – with rich emotional lives. Captain Christopher Baldry has returned from the frontline with shellshock and instead of falling into the arms of his upper-class wife Kitty, his memory has obliterated her and so it is the earthier charms of early love Margaret that he craves. She’s stuck in an unfulfilling marriage herself so is faced with conflict when asked to help cure his amnesia, knowing full well that to do so will end her nostalgic fling.

Continue reading “Review: The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre”

Music Review: Julie Atherton – A Girl of Few Words & Simon Burke – Something About Always

Here’s a couple more CD reviews of two of my favourite theatrical performers and both cracking CDs which I recommend.

Julie Atherton – A Girl of Few Words

Possessed of one of the finest voices currently working in musical theatre if I say so myself, Julie Atherton captured my heart from the first time I saw Avenue Q and I’ve been under her spell ever since. This CD, featuring the songs of composer Charles Miller, marks her solo recording debut

I love most every song on here, but ‘If You Were Mine’ is particularly beautiful, the piano-led ‘Be Careful’ is excellent and the collaboration with Paul Spicer, ‘Someone Find Me’ is a fun duet, their friendship clear from the ease with which they harmonise and the final climbing chorus is just lovely. And if you’re lucky, there’s a nod to her most successful show, with a bonus track of ‘There’s A Fine Fine Line’ included, Continue reading “Music Review: Julie Atherton – A Girl of Few Words & Simon Burke – Something About Always”

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.