Review: 35mm – A Musical Exhibition, The Other Palace Studio

“Why must we justify? 
Let’s defy their forms and fixtures…”

There’s something about choosing a song cycle as your form that automatically feels like a declaration that the entertainment that lies ahead is going to be a mixed bag, some hits and the possibility of some misses in a willfully diverse collection, loosely connected by an overarching theme. And so it proves with Ryan Scott Oliver’s 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, currently getting a short run in The Other Palace’s studio space.
The hook here is that the 15 songs are each inspired by a photograph taken by Broadway photographer Matthew Murphy, allowing for the exploration of any (and all) aspect of human nature and the adoption of any musical style he wishes. An exponent of new musical theatre writing, Scott Oliver calls to mind something of the complexity of Michael John LaChiusa’s compositions and equally brings the same kind of challenges. 
For this is modern musical theatre, probing into rock and folk as much as showtunes and pizzazz, and as with any collection so mixed, there are going to be some songs which work much better for you than others. 35mm can thus prove a rather uneven show to experience particularly as the connection to the photographs doesn’t always feel as fully exploited as it could be, especially lyrically.
Adam Lenson’s production has cast wisely though, meaning that even if a track isn’t musically your bag, its performance is guaranteed to be engaging. Maisey Bawden, Gregor Duncan, George Maguire, Christina Modestou and the Stage Debut award-winning Samuel Thomas all take their moments – Thomas’ ‘Cut You A Piece’ and Modestou’s ‘The Party Goes With You’ got my personal vote, and ‘The Seraph’ is a hauntingly beautiful number that Duncan and Thomas really shine.
So it ain’t a traditional musical and to criticise it for not being so is to miss the point – 35mm is doing something different here and it should be appreciated for that. That doesn’t automatically make it a perfect show but it does make it an interesting one.
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 30th September

Review: Another Night Before Christmas, Bridge House

“Would it help if you sat on my lap?”

My
 decision not to see many festively-themed shows this year ran into my commitment to supporting new musical theatre writing as far as Another Night Before Christmas was concerned, so it was a rare trip down to the Bridge House Theatre in Penge for this. With book and lyrics by Sean Grennan and music by Leah Okimoto and a rare talent for attracting a top-notch cast – this two-hander stars Olivier award-winning George Maguire and Rachael Wooding – the scene is set for this alternative festive fare.

Though it has to be said, it doesn’t prove to be that different in the end. Social worker Carole manages one last act of kindness on her way home from her work Christmas do, but her plans to flop on the sofa and do nothing on Christmas Eve are well and truly disrupted by a visitor. For the man she gave the party leftovers to has rocked up on her doorstop and is claiming that he is, well, Father Christmas himself. Unable to turf him out into the cold, she soon finds him trying to whittle away at her cynicism and getting her to believe.
So it’s a bit formulaic to say the least, but Guy Rettalack’s production is also very good-natured and that takes it a long way. Okimoto’s score swings with jazzy inflection and a good deal of humour, especially in the song ‘Kill Der Bingle’, and Grennan’s script is also full of laughs, many of them cheesy but hey, it’s the season for it. And Wooding and Maguire both work the intimacy of this pub theatre well, two strong voices and plenty of charisma for days, they might just make a believer out of the biggest of Scrooges.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 23rd December

CD Review: MS. A Song Cycle

“I wish you didn’t have to be in pain” 
 
Multiple Sclerosis affects over 100,000 people in the UK alone. 

 

One of the accusations often levelled by detractors of musical theatre is that it is fanciful, frivolous stuff, unable of taking subjects seriously. And whilst the form undoubtedly can have its lighter moments, I’d challenge anyone to listen to this new song cycle inspired by women living with multiple sclerosis and remain unmoved. MS. A Song Cycle is the brainchild of lyricist Rory Sherman, who has worked with SimG Productions, musical supervisor Ellie Verkerk and 14 different teams of composers and performers to create a delicately but undeniably powerful collection of stories, that gain in that power from being sung so beautifully as they are here.
 
More than two to three times more women are affected than men
 

Review: The Buskers Opera, Park

“The future’s ripe for those who mix
Their artistry with politics”

John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has already inspired one musical adaptation – Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, a new production thereof opening later this month at the National – and finds another in Dougal Irvine’s The Buskers Opera, receiving its world premiere here at the Park Theatre. And if its timing might be slightly off in that regard, it couldn’t be more bang on the money on the London mayoral election day, featuring as it does, corrupt politicians and ruthless media magnates seeking to advance their agenda on an unsuspecting populace.

Set in the strange potential-filled moment that was the 2012 Olympics, Jeremiah Peachum is said mogul with Mayor Lockitt in his pocket, determined to milk it for all it is worth – the only thing standing in their way is half-social justice warrior, half-street busker Macheath, strutting at the head of protest group The Ninety-Nine Percenters. That said, getting one over the fat cats isn’t always as satisfying as getting one’s leg over and as he plays off his wife Polly against the mayor’s daughter Lucy and a few more besides, a thrill-seeking society is encouraged to make judgement. Continue reading “Review: The Buskers Opera, Park”

2015 Laurence Olivier Awards winners

Best New Play 
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett – Almeida / Wyndham’s
Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The Nether by Jennifer Haley – Duke of York’s
Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton – Aldwych

Best New Musical
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter
Beautiful – Aldwych
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
Memphis – Shaftesbury

Best Revival 
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham’s
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse / Apollo
Skylight – Wyndham’s
The Crucible – Old Vic Continue reading “2015 Laurence Olivier Awards winners”

2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett – Almeida / Wyndham’s
Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The Nether by Jennifer Haley – Duke of York’s
Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton – Aldwych

Best New Musical
Beautiful – Aldwych
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
Memphis – Shaftesbury
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter

Best Revival 
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham’s
My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse / Apollo
Skylight – Wyndham’s
The Crucible – Old Vic Continue reading “2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

Continue reading “2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

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”

Review: Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter Theatre

 

To the tune of ‘Waterloo Sunset’

“First on in Hampstead, now Harold Pinter, this is a musical
‘Bout how The Kinks did, become a huge band, back catalogue got full
So a show, it got wrote
Joe Penhall’s book and, Ray Davies’ music, tell us their ups and downs

Brothers Ray and Dave and their friends Mick and Pete, oh
They really, really wrote some good music though, lots of it sounds the sameStalls in the theatre, have regular seating, apart from front and rear
Where seats are nailed down, round cabaret tables, chairs that don’t move are weird
But the show, it is strong
Three hours fly by, telling the story, most entertainingly
John Dagleish is good as Ray, George Maguire’s Dave too
But really, really Ed Hall’s cast is all fine, Dominic Tighe is mine

Went with my friend Chris, liked it but I wish, I could have brought my dad
Music is more of, his generation, would have made him feel glad
But I will, see him soon
And maybe I’ll take him, one day to this show, it’s bound to run and run

Sunny Afternoon’s fine.”

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May
Photo: Kevin Cummins
NB: in all seriousness it is most enjoyable, even for someone who still can only really recognise 4 songs by The Kinks even though this is the second time I’ve seen the show. The accapella rendition of ‘Days’ is a spellbinding moment (pictured below) and I suppose it would have been nice to have had a little more of that musical invention though I’m just being extremely picky now. The soundtrack has been recorded by the cast and is available to buy here, feel free to buy me a copy đŸ˜‰