News: Bard from the Barn announced

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester have announced a new Shakespeare series which sees the Bard’s beloved monologues reimagined to fit into modern day lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. The series will release a new monologue every weekday to the Barn Theatre’s FacebookYouTube and Twitter accounts, beginning 20th April 2020.

The series, which is co-produced by actor Aaron Sidwell, director Hal Chambers and the Barn Theatre, forms part of the Barn Theatre’s free Behind The Barn Door streaming service, which airs on their FacebookYouTube and Twitter accounts. The series is production co-ordinated by company stage manager Emma Smith. Continue reading “News: Bard from the Barn announced”

Re-review: All change on the Strand for Dreamgirls and Kinky Boots

All change on the Strand for Dreamgirls and Kinky Boots post closing notices at the Savoy Theatre and Adelphi Theatre respectively, and I revisit both.

“Never let ‘em tell you who you ought to be
Just be”

Come mid-January, the Strand will look a fair bit different for theatregoers as both Kinky Boots and Dreamgirls have posted advance closing notices, leaving the Adelphi and the Savoy respectively on the same date, Saturday 12th January.  As sad as it is to see any show close though, both of these musicals have had a fairly decent run (Kinky Boots opened in August 2015, making it nearly 3 and a half years; Dreamgirls in November 2016, reaching two) and given how merciless the commercial market can be, I think both productions can hold their head up high with their West End runs.

And getting ahead of the game with those closing notices means that people still have many the opportunity to catch either or both of these shows before the final curtain. (I should add too, that both shows have announced that they will be touring the UK going into 2019.) I’ve paid both a revisit relatively recently and am happy to report that they both remain well worth seeing, due to some mighty fine performance. Oliver Tompsett has only just stepped into the role of Charlie Price but he is nigh-on perfect casting and his majestic voice suits Cyndi Lauper’s score down to a T and he’s clearly getting on well with Simon-Anthony Rhoden’s impressive Lola. Continue reading “Re-review: All change on the Strand for Dreamgirls and Kinky Boots”

Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester

A lively and emotional actor-musician production of The Secret Garden marks a fantastic debut for the brand new Barn Theatre in the Cotswolds

“I heard someone crying…
Maybe it was me”

After three years renovation and development work, the Barn Theatre in Cirencester opens its doors with a fresh and spirited actor-musician take on The Secret Garden. A passion project of artistic director Iwan Lewis (who once appeared in a youth production of the musical in the town), the 1991 Tony-winning musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s novel (book and lyrics by Marsha Noman, music by Lucy Simon) has been curiously under-served in terms of major revivals (I saw a fringe version back in 2013) and so proves a canny choice for a new venue seeking to attract an audience. 

It is clear to see that time and thought, and resources, has been invested into the Barn to make it to help it succeed. So Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s lighting design, with all its delightful hidden surprises, benefits from a properly swanky lighting rig that would be the envy of pretty much any off-West-End theatre; so too PJ McEvoy’s projections looking highly professional as they move us around Misselthwaite, from dusty, disused ballrooms to briar-filled nooks.

But for all the technical strength, this Secret Garden blooms because of the creative work that has been ploughed into it. The physical aspects of McEvoy’s design have a deliberately rustic feel, suiting time and place well, reflected in the nature of Elliot Ditton’s puppets. The evocation of an inquisitive robin is gorgeously done but it is the way in which Simon’s score has been thoroughly reinvented that reinforces how this production, and the venture at large, is about about mimicking the Great White Way than creating a new Cotswolds Way. Continue reading “Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester”

Review: The Burnt Part Boys, Park

“I watch women every Sunday tend a row of empty graves
Wives of men whose bodies never left company caves”

Another quickie as I continue to catch up with the openings I missed whilst on holiday. Receiving its European premiere here at the Park, The Burnt Part Boys continues the surprising number of musicals about mining (Floyd Collins alone would have scratched the itch, never mind Billy Elliot) and true to form, is musically really quite interesting. Chris Miller’s score folds in bluegrass and folk influences as befits its West Virginia setting and is certainly the strongest part of the show.

Mariana Elder’s book follows the impact of a tragic mining disaster on the hillside community of Pickaway – several men were killed and their bodies trapped underground but ten years later, news breaks that the mine is to be reopened, causing varied responses from the sons who lost their fathers. And particularly from brothers Pete and Jake, the former stealing some dynamite from his older sibling – now a miner himself – to force his own solution. Continue reading “Review: The Burnt Part Boys, Park”

Review: Pipe Dream, Union

”You wonder where your heart can go”

As unlikely as it seems, there are still Rodgers and Hammerstein shows that have never been performed in the UK and in the hope of unearthing a little gem, Sasha Regan’s Union Theatre took on the 1955 flop Pipe Dream and given it the chamber treatment. Some of the songs may be familiar from State Fair which was recently very well-revived by the Finborough and unfortunately, it’s a comparison which does Pipe Dream few favours, as I couldn’t help but feel that this show had little to really commend it and pretty much deserves the obscurity in which it has languished.

Based on two John Steinbeck novels, Sweet Thursday and Cannery Row, the show focuses on the deadbeat end of society – prostitutes and layabouts populate this Depression-era world, an innovation which popular wisdom would have was too outrageous for 1950s audiences. The problem seems more to be the coyness with which Rodgers and Hammerstein treat this though – Suzy the heroine of the show works in the local whorehouse yet the conservatism of the writing never explains it properly, and this cripples her burgeoning relationship with marine biologist Doc which forms the backbone of the show, their pairing stuttering and staggering over obstacles which are never quite clear. Continue reading “Review: Pipe Dream, Union”

Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse

“It means the journey ahead might get shorter, I might reach the end of my rope”

Hardly the sunniest of topics for a musical, Jason Robert Brown’s Parade is based on the true 1910s story of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman who is accused of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a 13 year old employee in his factory. How the trial unfolds in Atlanta, Georgia and its impact ripples out, characterises a Deep South rife with virulent anti-Semitism, whipped up by a sensationalist media and fomented by opportunistic politicians and Leo, with his wife Lucille, are swept along with the inescapable tide. This new production is presented in the Vault at Southwark Playhouse, a dark spare space of shadowy arches and echoing sound.

It is a beautifully complex score – one which would reward repeated listening I imagine – pulling in influences from a diverse range of sources, evoking emotion well but more crucially constantly pushing the story forward. Because if there’s a weakness it is that the central premise is fairly limited, the same points are made repeatedly in lieu of much by the way of actual drama. But directed by Thom Southerland, the show really sparkles when it centres on the marriage between Brooklynite Leo and Southern gal Lucille, his bookish dullness captured well by Alistair Brookshaw and contrasted by the openness of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s stunningly-voiced wife whose relentless drive to clear his name wakens a new, deeper love between the two. Continue reading “Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse”