2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Little Women in concert, Playhouse

“Little women grow”

Little Women is one of those enduring classic stories that has continued to resonate with people whether through its published form or on the screen with several fairly well-received televisual and film adaptations. It hasn’t quite managed to make the same leap theatrically though, numerous stage treatments have tried and there’s at least two musical versions – one of which played at the LOST Theatre just last year – to which can be added one more, this time by Steven Luke Walker. Walker chose to showcase his adaptation through the medium of the Sunday evening concert, taking advantage both of the empty Playhouse Theatre and the free nights of many a West End performer to put on something of an all-star show.

Louisa May Alcott’s tale of the lives and loves of four New England sisters may be set during the American Civil War, but there’s a homespun simplicity to their overlapping stories which remain firmly in the personal sphere. Walker’s music has perhaps a more contemporary feel than one might have expected but it attempts to evoke the right spirit across a number of genres. In some cases, he has hit the nail on the head with twinkling gems like First Impressions, Helena Blackman delivering comedy perfectly, and the soaring duet between Sarah Lark and Nikki Davis-Jones, both in gorgeous form. Elsewhere though, other songs felt like they needed to be much more tightly focused, Walker indulging in a few too many purely decorative vocal riffs and frequently allowing songs to drag on a little too long. Overall though, I found Walker’s music rather agreeable and most aptly for a show about sisterhood, he is most adept at writing beautifully for multiple voices. Continue reading “Review: Little Women in concert, Playhouse”

CD Review: The Music Box – the music and songs of Gareth Peter Dicks

I find it hard to resist certain things, and albums showcasing new musical theatre writing with all-star ensembles singing them have been a particular weakness for me this year. The latest temptation was Gareth Peter Dick’s debut album The Music Box which I liked the look of mainly because it was nice to see a rather different line-up of singers rather than the usual suspects lining up and names like Richard Dempsey, Laura Pitt-Pulford and Katie Rowley Jones got me to part with my money quite easily.

Dick is a Nottingham-based composer who has a range of diverse projects on the go: Ancient Egypt, Jack the Ripper and wartime dramas all seem to feature in shows, though I’m not sure how widely they’ve been produced and his was a new name to me. But one I was instantly intrigued by and could well be one to look out for. His rather eclectic musical palate takes in driving power ballads, Gothic pop numbers and some atmospheric instrumental pieces and creates an album that is undeniably a tiny bit insane, but really rather entertaining with it. Continue reading “CD Review: The Music Box – the music and songs of Gareth Peter Dicks”

Album Review: Scrapbook – The Songs of Robert Archibald and Verity Quade

“Don’t want to be dependent on a wink, a smile, or kiss.”

At the beginning of the year I unexpectedly caught a fun cabaret Scrapbook Live, showcasing the work of musical theatre writers Robert Archibald and Verity Quade, which I enjoyed considerably even though I hadn’t heard the CD from which much of the material was taken: Scrapbook – The Songs of Robert Archibald and Verity Quade.

Having now downloaded it, I gave it a listen over the last week and in some ways, it is a bit of a double-edged sword having seen the live gig. It gave me that nice sense of recognition with some of the more memorable songs which made it a fascinating listen, but it also reminded me of the energy that accompanied the renditions of the songs and the live accompaniment. I have to say I wasn’t a fan of much of the orchestrations on the CD, it sounds a little bit too processed, too artificial, keyboards instead of pianos but then that’s just what I prefer. Continue reading “Album Review: Scrapbook – The Songs of Robert Archibald and Verity Quade”

Review: The Belle’s Stratagem, Southwark Playhouse

“In short, ‘tis one universal masquerade but where all assume the same disguise of dress and manners”

When I first heard that director Jessica Swale was doing a new play at the Southwark Playhouse, my heart skipped a little tiny beat as her last work in London, the excoriating Palace of the End, was a truly astounding theatrical experience and one that ranked a mighty third in my list of everything I saw last year (271 shows for the record). That the play she was putting on was The Belle’s Stratagem, a Georgian comedy of manners by Hannah Cowley, gave me momentary pause but then I quickly remembered that Swale had previously mounted The Rivals, by Cowley’s contemporary Sheridan, to great effect in a raucously inventive production back in January last year at this same venue.

I was lucky enough to catch a small production of one of Cowley’s other plays, A Bold Stroke for a Husband earlier this year, and so I was a little more familiar with her history than most. A playwright who became one of the most successful of either gender in her day which is quite extraordinary given how little rights Georgian women had and just how forward-thinking her message of female empowerment was. Despite this, her plays quickly fell out of favour after her death, meaning that even The Belle’s Stratagem, her most successful work, has not been seen in London for over 200 years. Continue reading “Review: The Belle’s Stratagem, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Kissing-Dance, Jermyn Street

“I concluded from your airs and manners that you were bred in Tufnell Park”

The Kissing-Dance is a Howard Goodall musical with lyrics and book by Charles Hart which is based on the 18th Century Oliver Goldsmith classic comedy She Stoops To Conquer. Set over one long night in Nonesuch, somewhere in the English countryside on All Fools’ Eve, it’s a story of comic misunderstandings as a London suitor is fooled into believing his prospective father-in-law’s house is an inn by the cheeky Tony Lumpkin, causing his intended to test his honour with her own scheme to foil her mother’s plans for her, whilst other secret affairs are revealed, missing family jewels cause consternation and general mayhem ensues until the sun finally rises again.

Following on from the well-received but prematurely-closed Love Story, The Kissing-Dance reveals a slightly more playful side to Goodall’s composing, embracing an English pastoral influence which allied to the wit of much of Hart’s lyrics, makes this really quite a sprightly affair. There are moments that feel almost like Gilbert & Sullivan, especially in the multi-layered finale to Act 1 with its many counterpointed melodies creating a harmonious delight. It wasn’t always so successful though, the title song feeling a little out of place with the rest of the show and not helped by being sung by the servants oddly, a small thing but still a bump in an otherwise smooth ride. Continue reading “Review: The Kissing-Dance, Jermyn Street”

DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert

“There’s a reckoning to be reckoned”

Forming the culmination of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Les Misérables was a pair of concert versions of the show taking place at the O2 centre in Greenwich which brought together the company of companies, over 500 actors and musicians joining forces to pay tribute to this enduing classic of a show. The cast and companies of the touring production and the West End production joined with a massive choir and orchestra and a hand-picked international cast performed the lead roles in this concert presentation which was also relayed live into cinemas and later released on DVD to be enjoyed by those who chose not to go (or couldn’t get tickets).

Concert versions of shows are always a bit funny, performers singing songs to each other but looking straight out at audiences and limited opportunity for acting so they can often feel a little constrained in their presentation. Here, the cast were in full costume and projections and clips from the show used to fill in some of the gaps that the songs could not fill. And it is all really rather good if not quite the self-proclaimed “musical event of a lifetime”. Continue reading “DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert”

Review: Christmas with…Rebecca Caine & Nathan Martin, Waterloo East

“If I’m in town I want to be the toast of it”

Trying to carve out a niche in the crowded South Bank market, the Waterloo East theatre has turned its eye to cabaret with a set of Sunday night gigs leading up to Christmas. With their special guests, this Sunday saw Rebecca Caine take to the stage, fresh from an afternoon run in Salad Days, with Nathan Martin accompanying her on the ivories and lending vocal support too.

Much of the first half was taken up with showcasing material from her album Leading Ladies which celebrates leading ladies from the musical theatre stage from the first half of the twentieth century, names like Gertie Lawrence, Jessie Matthews and Lizbeth Webb. So we were treated to Coward classics like ‘One Life To Live’, ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’, ‘You Were There’ and a beautiful ‘I’ll See You Again’, dedicated to the late great Joan Sutherland and her sparkling cadenzas alongside excerpts from the Jessie Matthews repertoire like ‘Over My Shoulder’, ‘Tinkle Tinkle’ and ‘Gangway’. Caine recounted several anecdotes about these women between songs clearly demonstrating her passion for this era and these women and adding nice subtleties to her interpretations. Continue reading “Review: Christmas with…Rebecca Caine & Nathan Martin, Waterloo East”