News: line up for New UK Musicals launch concert

A fine array of West End stars will perform new musical theatre songs to celebrate the launch of NewUKMusicals.co.uk

You’ll of course be aware of New UK Musicals thanks to my recent interview with the site’s founder Darren Clark and he’s now called on some of his more famous friends to help him round off the launch in some style with an all-star concert on 23rd June, highlighting some of the best new musical theatre composers around. 

The cast includes: Rachel Tucker (Wicked, Come From Away), Tyrone Huntley (Jesus Chris Superstar), Rebecca Trehearn (Showboat, City of Angels), Zizi Strallen (Mary Poppins), Tori Allen Martin (The Season), Luke Baker (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), Yazdan Qafouri (The Band, The Wicker Husband), Claire-Marie Hall (Operation Mincemeat), Harrison Knights (BBC One’s All Together Now), Molly Lynch (The Light in the Piazza) and award winning comedian Sooz Kempner. Continue reading “News: line up for New UK Musicals launch concert”

News: Line-up announced for Finn Anderson virtual concert

The Barn Theatre has announced an all-star line up for their second virtual concert, The Barn Theatre Presents: The Music of Finn Anderson, which will celebrate the work of the Scottish musical theatre composer Finn Anderson.

The concert, which will be hosted by Barn Theatre producer Jamie Chapman Dixon, will be the second of the Barn Theatre in Cirencester’s new virtual concert series, The Barn Presents, which celebrates the work of emerging British musical theatre composers.

Finn Anderson previously collaborated with the Barn Theatre on the music and lyrics for the theatre’s 2019 world premiere of Alan Pollock’s new version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starring Olivier Award nominee Patrick Ryecart (The CrownThe King’s Speech). He is also an Off West End Award nominee for his musical Islander and was recently announced as 2020’s Cameron Mackintosh resident composer at the Lowry and Hope Mill Theatre.

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Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre

Gorgeous new folk musical The Wicker Husband is perfectly situated at the Watermill Theatre and simply must be given more opportunity to soar post-crisis

“Once upon a withy on the edge of a deep damp swamp, nestled in the arms of a winding river, stood a pretty little town…”

Snuck in under the radar for this one as I’ve been looking forward to The Wicker Husband for a long time. Four years in fact, since I first heard a snippet of the score but as ever in the world of writing a new musical, the show has been in development for more than twice that time. Further upping my anticipation was the success of composer/lyricist Darren Clark’s last major project The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which was only my very favourite show of last year.

Together with book-writer Rhys Jennings, their adaptation of a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones has a bewitching quality that is eerily compelling and in the tradition of all the best fairy tales, has no problem in going very dark. Along with my mortal fear of eerily humanoid puppets, it makes for a much more chilling night at the theatre (for me, at least) but one which is ultimately beautifully human too, as Charlotte Westenra’s production reminds us why fables have endured for so long. Continue reading “Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre”

Quick Review: Operation Mincemeat, Southwark Playhouse

I end up liking, rather than loving Spitlip’s Operation Mincemeat at the Southwark Playhouse

“Step to the left
Jump to the far-right”

I’m very much the Johnny-come-lately to Spitlip’s Operation Mincemeat, revived here at the Southwark Playhouse after a run at the New Diorama last year which saw them slowly build up a head of steam that has resulted in award-winning success. I had my opinion swayed by a couple of people who didn’t enjoy it but with their return, I decided to go along and make up my own mind.

In a nutshell, I thought it was good, excellent in places, but quite a bit too long. Based on a real-life secret mission from WWII, it plays fast and loose with the conventions of musical theatre to create something that defies genre. From song to song we move through a wide range of MT references – a bit of Hamilton here, The Producers there, and it all sounds great – there’s just a lot of it and its focus isn’t always the sharpest. Continue reading “Quick Review: Operation Mincemeat, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Mites / Dutchman, Tristan Bates Theatre

Mites and Dutchman make for a provocative pair of plays currently running at the Tristan Bates Theatre

“What are you prepared for?”

The publicity for James Mannion’s new play Mites ricochets between psychological thriller and bleakly absurdist comedy and it is a tension that epitomises much of the whole experience. In a world of mysterious workmen, anthropomorphic cats and talking dust mites, the playwright also seeks to situate a serious discussion about mental health and domestic abuse, a combination which ultimately satisfies on neither front.

Claire Marie Hall’s Ruth is at the centre here, an unreliable narrator of sorts as we try to ascertain whether we’re in the realm of fantasy or cold hard reality. A pest controller arrives and declares he is her missing husband returned to her. Her cat isn’t so sure and tells her so. The layers of confusion work insofar as challenging assumptions about mental health and the frequent shakiness of the grip we want to show the world we have.  Continue reading “Review: Mites / Dutchman, Tristan Bates Theatre”

Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)

I thoroughly enjoy getting to revisit the dark delights of new British musical The Grinning Man

“Laughter is the best medicine”

I loved The Grinning Man in both its incarnations – from Bristol’s Old Vic to the West End – and so I was most pleased to hear that it would be immortalised in vinyl, or whatever the digital equivalent is… A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Tom Morris) is always a thing to cherish, even when it is a queerly dark a thing as this. 

It’s a live recording which has its pros and cons. Personally, I like hearing the response of a live audience, particularly in response to the devilishly dark humour of Julian Bleach’s Barkilphedro. And the raw passion you hear in the voices of Louis Maskell and Sanne den Besten as tragic lovers Grinpayne and Dea feels all the more urgent for not having that studio polish to rub off some of the more emotional edges. Continue reading “Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)”

Review: The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios

A great transfer for a great British musical, The Grinning Man impresses in this transfer to the Trafalgar Studios

“A tale so tragic it could only be true”

I’m no real fan of the Trafalgar Studios to be honest – its seating can be cramped, its angles severe, the toilet situation far from ideal, plus the coffee machine there takes an inordinate amount of time to produce a drink. But credit where it is due, director Tom Morris and designer Jon Bausor have done a fantastically inventive job in reconceiving the space to suit the anarchic energy of The Grinning Man, first seen in Bristol last year (and my favourite musical of the year, too).

A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Morris) based on a Victor Hugo novel, it’s a macabre tale to be sure, but one suffused with a real magic too. And Morris gives it an immediacy which scrubs away much of the distance that audiences can feel in the old Whitehall Theatre as cellists appear through walls, performers clamber into the stalls to sing, couples walk as if on air…

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Review: Aladdin, New Wimbledon

“I’m anybody’s for a pint of semi-skimmed and a walnut yoghurt”

Coming out of Puss in Boots, I said this will be the last panto I see this year. Oh no it wasn’t… The New Wimbledon has built up a reputation to rival the Lyric Hammersmith and the Hackney Empire in London pantomimes, producing slickly professional productions starring high-profile names such as David Hasselhoff, Dame Edna and last year, Priscilla Presley. This year though, the celebrity wattage is homegrown in the form of Jo Brand, who takes the role of the Genie of the Ring in Aladdin

And with someone who actually understands what pantos are all about (Presley’s air of bemusement at the whole shebang was hilarious), the dynamic of the show feels like a properly old-school affair. Brand’s hugely dry wit makes her perhaps too laconic a presence for the kids but she certainly makes the adults laugh, the presence of two Britain’s Got Talent acts lends a variety feel to the whole affair and in Matthew Kelly’s Widow Twankey, there’s a game dame indeed. Continue reading “Review: Aladdin, New Wimbledon”

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.