Review: Side Show, Southwark Playhouse

“If you don’t say yes I’ll have a heart attack that will kill us both”

In what I thought was a serendipitous move, I just finished watching American Horror Story: Freak Show before going to see Side Show, but it turned out to be most unhelpful. For not only the connection (seemingly by dress) of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton with the twin heads of Sarah Paulson’s Bette and Dot pales by comparison, but the darkness of representing a ‘freak’ show is far more suited to the horror genre than this rather anaemic musical.

With book and lyrics written by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger (whose Dreamgirls finally arrives in London next month), Side Show has managed two abortive runs on Broadway since premiering in 1997, so it makes sense for Southwark Playhouse to take it on with their sterling record for reinvigorating musical theatre of varying reputations. But despite director Hannah Chissick and producer Paul Taylor-Mills’ best efforts, I’m not sure it is rehabilitated. Continue reading “Review: Side Show, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Corbyn the Musical – The Motorcycle Diaries, Waterloo East

“Do it for Islington”

You make theatre, musical or otherwise, out of political satire at your peril. Last month at the Waterloo East Theatre saw UKIP! The Musical, written last year, already feel like a period piece and at the same venue, Corbyn the Musical – The Motorcycle Diaries has now opened, written more recently but still unable to keep up with the fast-moving and quite frankly ridiculous state of modern British politics and the media coverage thereof. 

It’s not so much that Corbyn the Musical feels dated but rather that the nature of its comedy means that you want it to be as up to date as possible as the days when Corbyn’s every action was decried as a front page gaffe seem to have passed. This show is competing in a market where the likes of Merton and Hislop are able to quickly respond to, for example, Ken Livingstone being cornered in a disabled loo having to defend his views on Hitler (a subject surely ripe for a one-man musical epic) and as such, lacks the requisite contemporary bite. Continue reading “Review: Corbyn the Musical – The Motorcycle Diaries, Waterloo East”

Review: Andy Capp The Musical, Finborough

“I ought to be ashamed of myself”

So sings Andy Capp throughout his eponymous turn in Andy Capp The Musical, a knowing nod to thoroughly misogynistic nature of the character and its unremitting political incorrectness. And it is this that emerges as the strangest thing about making a musical out of him, rather than the fact that it is based on a feather-light comic strip by Reg Smythe that has long blessed the pages of the Daily Mirror. For the show emerges as something really rather charming, even whilst Capp remains thoroughly unreconstructed.

A workshy native of Hartlepool, where he’s managed over 30 years without a job, Capp chooses instead to rely on wife Flo’s earnings for his considerable beer money, lavishing more attention on his racing pigeons than her. With illustrated stories that are generally just three panels long, Trevor Peacock’s book thus has to open out the story to the friends and neighbours around them, counterpointing a flashpoint of marital strife with the forthcoming nuptials of Capp’s nephew Elvis and the lovely Raquel. And this it does well. Continue reading “Review: Andy Capp The Musical, Finborough”

Review: Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace

“What does it feel like when you’re dancing?”

I got to revisit Billy Elliot the Musical as part of its 10th birthday celebrations this year and huge amounts of fun it was too – more than I was expecting actually since having seen the show before. But despite having run for a decade now, the production feels as fresh and exciting as ever, undoubtedly still “one of the best shows in town”. The full review can be read on Official Theatre here.   

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Booking until 17th December 2016, for now

DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live

“When the stars look down and know our history”

And what history there is to behold – a run in the West End which has stretched for nearly a decade now, a company that ranges from ages 6 to 84 (surely a record!), a live broadcast to cinemas worldwide which was the first event cinema release to top the UK box office and which contained a finale that brought together 25 young men who have all played the role of Billy. That recording of Billy Elliot the Musical has now been released on DVD so that the theatrical experience can now be recreated in the comfort of your own home and allows to see the detail that you may have missed from your seat in the Victoria Palace Theatre.

That’s the crucial bit really. For all those that worry that filmed recordings are going to replace live theatre, there does seem to be a missing of this salient point that not everyone sees the show from prime seats in the centre stalls. The magic of the theatrical experience can and is tempered by uncomfortable seats and unfortunate viewing lines – so a DVD offering close-ups and other unique shots offers a much-welcomed addition to that experience – and as reasonable a deal as £105 is for a family ticket (the starting price I should add), £15 or so enables a necessary widening of access to a show, which captivate a new audience so much they decide to book tickets – this isn’t a zero-sum game. Continue reading “DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live”

Christmas music 2013

A Very West End Christmas

A rather special project, A Very West End Christmas has gathered up a group of nearly 50 musical theatre performers to record an EP of 5 Christmas classics for a number of charitable causes – Great Ormond Street’s Giggin’ for Good, West End Fests for CRY UK and The Band Aid Charitable Trust. It’s a steal at £3.95 for the EP and with some seriously great talent onboard, assembled by co-producers Kris Rawlinson and Darren Bell, it’s a mostly very good listen.

The strongest numbers are, a little perversely, actually the ones which don’t feature the full choir. Michael Xavier croons perfectly through ‘The Christmas Song’ (although it is sad that there is no accompanying video of him roasting his chestnuts…), Chloe Hart and Jeremy Hart have lots of fun in a swinging ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, and there’s an interesting arrangement of’ O Holy Night’ featuring Sabrina Aloueche, Jodie Jacobs and Katie Payne (though that song will always belong to Hannah Waddingham for me).  Continue reading “Christmas music 2013”

Review: The Glorious Ones, Landor

“Actors can never get enough love”

The Landor Theatre in Clapham scored a major success with the Ahrens and Flaherty musical Ragtime last year and subsequently have begun to explore some of the lesser performed shows from their repertoire. February saw their first piece Lucky Stiff getting an airing and now it is the turn of their most recent collaboration from 2007, The Glorious Ones, in its European premiere.

We follow a theatre group in Renaissance Italy as they ply their trade in commedia dell’Arte, enacting their ‘improvised’ scenes with their stock characters – from whom they are not so distinct any more – and so through these, we find out about their loves and lives as actors on the road. Flaminio Scala founded the troupe and is a master at the broad, bawdy comedy, but finds that tastes are changing as its crudeness is eschewed for a turn towards scripted theatre and younger players challenge his leading man status and struggles to deal with the change. Continue reading “Review: The Glorious Ones, Landor”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over”

2011 really has been a fantastic year for fringe musicals in London. Theatres south of the river like the Landor, the Union and Southwark Playhouse have delivered works of great precision and concentrated passion, but at this late juncture in the year, the team Upstairs at the Gatehouse have redressed the balance northwards with an audaciously thrilling production of Frank Loesser’s classic Guys and Dolls, the first fringe version of it to be seen in London. Noo Yoik gangsters, gamblers, showgirls, missionaries and compulsive eaters all come together as guys chase unattainable dolls and other dolls try to get their guys down the aisle whilst they’re trying to organise a little gambling tournament. And of course it is all accompanied by one of the most glorious scores in musical theatre – no mean feat for a fringe venue to attempt.

The space above the Highgate pub has been opened up marvellously in Racky Plew’s traverse staging which allows Martin Thomas’ free-flowing design to cleverly work in the limited space yet make it feel ideally suited to the purpose. But the main beneficiary of the staging is Lee Proud’s choreography which is outrageously daring (people in the front row are safe, but may flinch!) and breathtakingly executed with style and accuracy by the 12-strong ensemble, the tall drink of ginger ale that is Paul Bullion stood out most for me. From the striking opening routine to the iconic leaping dance of the dice-rolling men to the teasing turns from Miss Adelaide and her counterparts, this is pure quality across the board and incredible to see at such close quarters. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”