Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
The fourth instalment in the Nativity film series, Nativity Rocks! restores a little of the goodwill squandered by the previous two sequels
“I’m wishing Father Christmas doesn’t forget where I live like he did last year”
I can’t think of a film franchise that has squandered such promise as the Nativity series. Debbie Isitt’s original film was such a sweetly unexpected success, but its magic sadly proved rather elusive as its subsequentsequels lost any of its sense of purpose or improvised charm. So the arrival of a third sequel in the shape of Nativity Rocks! (released in cinemas in 2018) came with a healthy dose of apprehension, even if the musical adaptation has rescued some of its lustre (though is that also now in danger of oversaturation , as the musical is now in its third consecutive winter tour).
For all my reservations though, Isitt had zero problem in attracting a quality ensemble as the cast undergoes something of an overhaul. So Marc Wootton’s Mr Poppy is dispatched to Australia and replaced with Simon Lipkin’s Mr Poppy (his long-lost brother), Daniel Boys is the fresh-faced teacher taking St Bernadette’s school choir through the rigours of yet another competition, with Helen George as the putative love interest, Gabriel Vick as the posh rival schoolmaster. Plus there’s Hugh Dennis and Anna Chancellor as some well-to-do parents, Ramin Karimloo as a refugee father, Meera Syal and Celia Imrie too, plus Craig Revel Horwood… Continue reading “Film Review: Nativity Rocks! (2018)”
At first glance, Ordinary Days appears just that, a simple four-hander about love and life in New York. But pay a little attention, peel back a layer or two, and there’s something much more nuanced here about the loneliness that can accompany metropolitan living, whether looking for romance or friendship, as the emotional distance we use to try and protect ourselves can sometimes end up isolating us. And also how art galleries aren’t necessarily all that… 😉 Continue reading “Review: Ordinary Days, Cockpit Theatre”
“A cheeky drink, a naughty wink,
we’ll loosen up alright”
Just like a wise man, I came late to Nativity, only getting round to watching Debbie Isitt’s film a couple of years ago but oh, how it won me over, feeling like an instant Christmas classic. (The less said about the sequel and the shocking third film, the better). So it was little surprise to hear that Isitt was adapting her film for the stage, in the form of Nativity! The Musical. And though I have once again embraced my inner Scrooge and won’t be reviewing much, if any, festive fare this year, I couldn’t resist the chance to sparkle and shine.
And I’m glad I did, even if it is a full month too early to be even thinking of anything Christmassy. Nativity remains a beautifully heart-warming story and if anything, has even more of a feel-good factor about it through all the liveness of this production. The story centres on Coventry primary school St Bernadette’s, trying to escape Ofsted-imposed special measures by beating a rival school to putting on the best Christmas show which, through the most tenuous of links, might just attract Hollywood interest and get turned into a film. Continue reading “Review: Nativity! The Musical, Birmingham Rep”
Shona White is a rather under-rated (for my money at least) Scottish actress and singer perhaps most famous for stints in Mamma Mia which were 12 years apart, but whose musical theatre credits stretch far and wide. Her 2011 album I’ll Bring You A Song, produced by Richard Beadle reflects the breadth of her career and it is this variety which is both its strength and its slight weakness.
I have to admit to finding it hard to get too excited about tracks like ‘To Sir With Love’ and Tell Me On A Sunday’s ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’. They’re sung perfectly competently but familiarity breeds a certain measure of contempt. Where this type of song choice succeeds is where the interpretation dares to be different, the sharp emotion of Chess‘ ‘Nobody’s Side’ a case in point here, so too the slowed down take on ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ from Wicked with the ever-melodious Daniel Boys.
Russell Labey and Leon Parris’s musical adaptation of Brad Fraser’s play Wolfboyplayed at a short run at Trafalgar Studios 2 in 2010 after an Edinburgh run the year before and afterwards, for reasons best known to themselves, an EP was released with just four songs from the show on the tracklisting. It’s an odd decision but on listening to the album, perhaps it is something of a blessing in disguise.
I returned to Wolfboy mainly to listen to Daniel Boys’ performance but the main takeaway is how dull and wannabe-goth the songs end up sounding. The overall aesthetic is teenage boys who have just heard Placebo do a slow song for the first time and trying to replicate the sound does precisely nobody any favours at all. And presenting excerpts like this does even allow you to grasp the story that is unfolding. making it hard to see the logic behind this release.
A Spoonful of Sherman was previously seen at the St James Theatre (as was) in April 2014 but such is the warmly nostalgic hold of the Sherman Brothers’ songwriting, it is little surprise to see it re-emerge – this time in the plush surroundings of Brasserie Zédel’s cabaret space. The show has slimmed down its personnel from 4 to 2, Helena Blackman and Daniel Boys taking up the singing duties, with third generation songwriter Robert J. Sherman stepping in once again as narrator.
And I have to say I felt largely the same about A Spoonful of Sherman – it is a stronger show when Sherman Jnr is on the sidelines. One can understand the justifiably enormous pride he has in his family’s heritage, and in bringing this show to life, but the frequent interjections to sketch biographical insight don’t quite work in this format – its the stuff of programme essays to be honest and you can’t help wonder if his role might be more usefully reduced to a choice few bon mots. Continue reading “Review: A Spoonful of Sherman, Live at Zédel”
Since finishing as runner up on Lloyd Webber’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, Helena Blackman has casually shaken off any of the negative connotations that might be associated with reality TV by establishing a career that has seen her work consistently in musicals and cabaret for more than a decade. From leading tours of South Pacific and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, to intimate shows at the Finborough and Landor, to full-on leading lady territory in two Kilworth House productions (My Fair Lady and yes, The Sound of Music), Blackman’s undoubted talent has taken the time to develop and really shine.
“If everyone’s got a big picture How come my picture’s something that I still have yet to see?”
I saw Adam Gwon’s 2008 musical Ordinary Daysdownstairs at the Trafalgar Studios back in 2011 with a grand cast that included Julie Atherton, Alexia Khadime and Daniel Boys and enjoyed it a fair bit, so news of a new production by Streetlights, People! at the transplanted London Theatre Workshop (now in the City) was glad tidings indeed. Directed by Jen Coles on the simplest of sets, decorated with a Manhattan skyline by Samantha Cates, the show’s relatable charms shine through once again.
The four-hander is a deceptively simple show – a quartet of 20-something New Yorkers are spiritually lost, swept up in what should be the romance of the city but finding that adulting isn’t quite as easy as all that. Jason is sacrificing everything for the woman he loves but Claire’s previously broken heart just won’t heal properly; grad student Deb has lost months of valuable thesis research but when struggling artist Warren finds it, she stubbornly resists any attempt at connection that he makes. Continue reading “Review: Ordinary Days, London Theatre Workshop”