Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange

Aletta Collins’ new choreography is just one of the highlights of a most successful West Side Story at the Royal Exchange

“Sleep well and when you dream
Dream of me”

For an undoubted classic of the musical theatre, West Side Story really isn’t revived all that often but 2019 seems determined to rectify that. The Curve have announced it as their Christmas show, Ivo van Hove is reimagining it on Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is remaking the film for good measure. But getting the (beautifully balletic) jump on all of them is Manchester’s Royal Exchange, whose revival is the first to be performed with new choreography replacing the iconic moves of original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

And only naturally, Sarah Frankcom’s production soars when it puts Aletta Collins’ new moves front and centre. They are certainly recognisably inspired by Robbins but there’s an unmistakeable freshness that is just beautiful to watch and there’s something great about the fact they’re all doing it in Converse. The repeated ronds de jambe are iconic in their own way, an emotional grace is suffused throughout, and hints of contemporary nod to the physicality of two warring gangs, coiled bodies poised on Anna Fleischle’s climbing frame design. Fleischle has also maximised the floor space of the Exchange to great effect, the aesthetic is pure dance and it works. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange”

Review: Chicago, Phoenix

Chicago returns to the West End at the Phoenix Theatre but is this the ideal 21st birthday present?

“He had it coming”

There’s a lot to like in this revival of Chicago (Josefina Gabrielle, Sarah Soetaert) but not quite enough to get the heart pounding (an ill-at-ease Cuba Gooding Jnr). Take a read of my 3 star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Chicago is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 23rd June

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire

“He said, I’ve bought you a selfie stick. I said, do I have to do everything myself?”

I haven’t booked much Christmas-themed theatre this year in an attempt to try and reclaim a bit of a social life but also because I do find it quite hard to write reviews about pantomimes. By and large I’ve been quite lucky in the few I’ve been to in recent years, sticking to the venues who know what they’re doing (Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith, New Wimbledon) but even with this logic, my fingers were burnt a little with this year’s first festive foray.

Marking Susie McKenna’s 17th panto for the Hackney Empire, Jack and the Beanstalk is a raucous, rambling affair indeed, but one blessed with the return of Clive Rowe as the Dame, the actor famed at the only one to win an Olivier for panto. And I have to say that the audience around us were largely loving the whole thing which is kind of the whole point, even if you’re bribing the kids with handfuls of free sweets (it’s only like giving critics drinks vouchers for the interval ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire”

Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre

“Please don’t cry, dry your eyes, wipe away your tears”

Despite naming it my show of the year in 2011 (or maybe because of that), I’ve not been back to see Matilda the Musical since it opened at the Cambridge Theatre four years ago. I had such the perfect emotional journey with the show that I just didn’t want to alter that experience by going back and risking it being something of a disappointment, especially with such impossibly high standards to live up to from that amazing original cast and Bertie Carvel’s iconic Mrs Trunchbull.

Four years is long enough though I think, and when the opportunity to revisit the show presented itself, I accepted the offer with just a little trepidation. Those nerves were quickly dispelled, even as soon as entering the theatre to witness the infectious enthusiasm of an audience of all ages, and the reassuring sight of Rob Howell’s design with its multi-coloured letters strewn across the set. And as Laurie Perkins’ orchestra launched into the familiar strains of ‘Miracle’, my heart leapt and I wondered how I had left it this long. Continue reading “Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre”

Review: A Chorus Line, Palladium

“Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch…again!”

When I was learning to play the piano as a young’un, we had a book of tunes from the movies which included ‘One’ and ‘What I Did For Love’, both from A Chorus Line. I’d never seen the film (and still have not) but I loved both of those songs and so practiced hard to be able to play them well. But even when a new production of the show was announced earlier this year, the temptation to go and see it was never too strong. Part of that came from the venue – the Palladium is a most unforgiving of theatres if you don’t have a front centre stalls seat – but there was also a sense that its conglomeration of backstage stories might be a little dated in a world where the audition process has repeatedly been laid bare on our television screens.

I perhaps wasn’t alone in feeling this way as the production was forced into publishing early closing notices, meaning it shutters at the end of this week. But in forcing my hand and making me book via a bargainous deal that got us into the middle of Row C of the stalls, I belatedly came to realise that the show is much better than I thought it would be and perhaps deserves a longer life than it has had. Its set-up is simplicity itself – seventeen Broadway dancers audition for eight spots on the chorus line for a musical and as the director takes them through their paces, we get to hear the tales of these hopefuls, their dreams and aspirations, their fears and frailties, in some cases their most intimate stories about what dance and being a dancer means to them. Continue reading “Review: A Chorus Line, Palladium”