Review: A Song Cycle for Soho, Soho Theatre

“If you’re feeling low low, get down to Madame JoJo’s”

Featuring the vocal talents of Michael Cantwell, James Gillan, Niamh Perry and Claire Moore, and showcasing the work of musical theatre writers both established but primarily up and coming, A Song Cycle for Soho marks yet another feather in the cap for Mercury Musical Development, Simon Greiff and their sterling support for the genre. MMD has long been an invaluable resource for British musical theatre writers and Simon Greiff through SimG Productions has been tireless in his promotion of younger names and so there is something very apt about their collaboration here.

A Song Cycle for Soho developed out of Andrew Brinded’s original book which cast a bit of a sideways glance at Soho, an area of central London that is teeming with debauchery,history, character and a whole lot more besides. 16 set of songwriters were then invited to compose works that captured the multitudinous quirkiness of life in Soho and the result is a collection of songs that cover history, both recent and long ago, and the modern day; comedy, quiet tragedy and the whole gamut of crazy emotions inbetween. Continue reading “Review: A Song Cycle for Soho, Soho Theatre”

Review: The Songs of My Life – an evening with Peter Polycarpou

“We can’t forget that they are all our children too”

Peter Polycarpou has had a long and varied career but I will always remember him as Chris Theodopolopoudos from Birds of a Feather, a show I hated yet always seemed to watch when I was younger. So seeing him in a range of roles since I’ve started theatregoing has been a case of rehabilitation of my perception of him and one which I have rather enjoyed. Thus I was quite happy to go along to a one-off concert – The Songs of My Life, an evening with Peter Polycarpou – which celebrated his life and career at the Garrick Theatre this Sunday evening with a range of special guests and choral support from London drama schools.

A proud character actor, rather than a leading man, as Polycarpou’s own programme notes start off by saying, the list of shows in which he has actually starred makes really rather impressive reading: Miss Saigon, Oklahoma!, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Love Story… So as well as being treated with songs from these shows, sometimes with a bit of a twist – I loved being able to hear some of Howard Goodall’s Love Story again, Jos Slovick and Rebecca Trehearn filling in on ‘Phil’s Song/Summer’s Day’, a rousing ‘Bui Doi’ closed the main part of the evening, ‘It’s A Scandal’ received an amusing Cockney makeover and ‘Master of the House’ was transplanted to a Greek taverna to great effect – we also got a set of amusing anecdotes, amassed from a lifetime of experience. Performers often relish the freedom in selecting their own playlist for such shows, meaning they get the chance to sing songs their characters never did. And so Polycarpou gave his ‘Johanna’, from the West End-bound Sweeney Todd, and a quietly moving ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’. Continue reading “Review: The Songs of My Life – an evening with Peter Polycarpou”

Album Review: London Road cast recording

“Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”

Capitalising on the unexpected runaway success of London Road, the National Theatre have now released a cast recording of the verbatim musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork. I revisited the show last week – review can be read here – and so it was quite nice to be able to get this more permanent reminder. It is such an unconventional suite of music but as with anything, repeated exposure brings about a kind of familiarity and so the musical vocabulary used here has now been assimilated, its complexity less bamboozling now and a greater appreciation easier to reach.

The show looks at the sense of community that is built up amongst the residents of London Road in Ipswich as the impact of the murder of 5 prostitutes flows out around them: the road had been where the prostitutes touted for business and it eventually turned out that the murderer, Steve Wright, had recently moved into a house on their street. But the play avoids sensationalism and focusing on the murders and murderer by centring on this group of residents and how they felt as the murders were happening and then their lives turned upside down by the revelation that Wright was living in their midst and the media furore that surrounded the ensuing trial. Continue reading “Album Review: London Road cast recording”

Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)

 

“If you make your house look nice, if you feel good about where you live, you’ll en- you’ll enjoy life a whole lot better”

I hadn’t intended to revisit London Road at the National Theatre even as it scored a much-deserved extension to its run: I adored its daring invention and its deep empathy for its protagonists when I first caught the show at the Cottesloe, but when a ticket on the ultra-bargainous row T popped up on the website (seriously, this is one of the best theatre tips you will get) I just couldn’t resist returning. And it was well worth it. It is such a unique show with surprising levels that it was a real pleasure to take it in a second time, from a different seat too, to soak in some of the details that had passed me by first time round and gain a slightly different perspective on it too.

My original review can be read here and it is interesting looking back at what stood out for me about it on first viewing and how much my opinion was reinforced second time around. Kate Fleetwood and Clare Burt broke my heart all over again with their portrayals, but I really did notice how good everyone is in the show, Rosalie Craig too but particularly the men whom I previously neglected a bit, Hal Fowler struggling to get a word in edgeways, Paul Thornley’s handsome normality, Duncan Wisbey’s blokiness. And having heard the music once, it was interesting to see how much familiarity there was given how untraditional the score is, the repetition of key phrases having earwormed their way into my brain, combined with some just beautiful harmonisation: London Road in bloom is probably the prime example of the quirkiness and emotional power of the music and highly effective in demonstrating early on the potential of this verbatim musical artform.

Continue reading “Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)”

Review: London Road, National Theatre

“It’s given us a common cause…”

London Road, with book and lyrics by Alecky Blythe and music and lyrics by Adam Cork, is a show emerged out of an experimental workshop at the National Theatre, pairing unlikely collaborators to create new pieces of musical theatre. What they focused on was a series of interviews Blythe carried out with the residents of London Road, Ipswich, at the time when police were hunting for a serial killer after five women were found murdered. Why she chose that street was because it was where the murderer lived but her focus was not on him or the victims, but rather the people on the periphery, how the whole thing had affected the other inhabitants and as she revisited them months later, what their response as a community was. The show plays in the Cottesloe and this was a preview performance.

Alecky Blythe is an exponent of verbatim theatre, particularly a technique created by Anna Deavere Smith, whereby she interviews her subjects and then creates theatre by reproducing their words and vocal inflections faithfully, right down to the ums and aahs and you knows, in the performance. Working in the musical form has necessitated a slight departure from the pure verbatim form but also allows for the injection of a little dramatic license in adding emphases and repetition to what could be termed the key phrases of the chorus. Adam Cork’s music fits into the same idea of trying to replicate the speech patterns and feelings and remaining as true to the material as possible, rather than composing a musically coherent score per se, he’s created a series of responses to the text. Continue reading “Review: London Road, National Theatre”

Music Review: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe

Now for something a little different. Whilst on holiday, I listened to a lot of music whilst lying by the pool, and I’ve been raving about much of it since my return so I thought I’d pop a couple of brief cd reviews on here, mainly musical theatre records or at least cds by musical theatre people. And if it’s well received, I’ll work my way through my cd collection!

Continue reading “Music Review: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe”