Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace

“If this is indeed where you were heading, then it appears with all success you have arrived”

There’s something rather gorgeous at the heart of Poppy + George, a recognition that even passing acquaintances can leave as lasting impressions as the deepest of friendships; a reminder too that even if a play can be over and done with in a couple of hours, its impact can linger far beyond. So it is for the group of people who find each other in Diane Samuels’ new play for the Watford Palace Theatre, with music by Gwyneth Herbert.

Their safe haven is a warehouse deep in the East End in 1919, where Russian Jewish (with a bit of Chinese) tailor Smith plies his trade and entertains his friends nattily dressed chauffeur George Sampson and Great War veteran Tommy Johns who is trying to resurrect his fading music hall career. Into their world comes Poppy Wright, a Northern girl looking for a fresh start from a life in service, though the love she finds turns out not to be quite what she expected. Continue reading “Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace”

Review: Springtime for Henry (and Barbara), Wilton’s Music Hall

“Nobody but nobody thought that putting the life of Henry Moore into a musical was a good idea” 

It’s a real shame that Springtime for Henry (and Barbara) only ran for three performances over two nights as I’d’ve recommended it to all and sundry, not least for capturing the spirit of exactly what Wilton’s Music Hall should be used for. A highly idiosyncratic piece, described as “a fictitious lost musical reconstructed in fragments”, it’s the continuation of a multi-phase project by artist Mel Brimfield and musician Gwyneth Herbert, interrogating the relationship between sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

This it does imaginatively in a number of ways: a mockumentary format (calling to mind nothing so much as the genius behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques) detailing decades of attempts to put this show on the stage, complete with abortive scores from Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber and a high cast turnover; repurposed archive footage; a chat show section interviewing the ‘director’; and an impressively wide-ranging set of musical numbers, referencing a equally wide set of influences. The cumulative effect was very much of a variety show and that just felt perfect in the atmospheric surroundings of this oldest surviving music hall in the world. Continue reading “Review: Springtime for Henry (and Barbara), Wilton’s Music Hall”

Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording

“Could you ever be happy mama?”

In a musical theatre landscape that often seems risk-averse when it comes to new writing, even in the face of the recent efforts of old hands Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice both closing early, it is always pleasing to hear new voices being championed. And that is exactly what producer Neil Marcus did in securing idiosyncratic British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert to write the music and lyrics for The A-Z of Mrs P, along with Diane Samuels for the book. The show recently premiered at the Southwark Playhouse in a production directed by Sam Buntrock, and the soundtrack has now been released by SimG Productions.

Herbert had never seen a musical before starting to write this show five years ago and there’s a definite freshness to the way she has approached the material. The show was inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, a woman who led a complex personal life but is best known for mapping and creating the famous A-Z streetmap of London that so many still use today. Her relationship with her map publisher father was a troubled beast though and so the canvas of the story widens out beyond the streets of London, to delve into the family history of Mrs P and how it proved a driving force for her whole life. Continue reading “Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording”

Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse

“Go on, do it…”

There’s a sense of budding potential in new musical The A-Z of Mrs P that doesn’t quite come to full fruition in this production at the Southwark Playhouse, but suggests that some assiduous rethinking and re-shaping could well see any future life be more bountiful. Diane Samuels’ book and Gwyneth Herbert’s music and lyrics tell a self-described “musical fable” inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, the woman who mapped out and created the A-Z Atlas to London.

But though this may be her main claim to fame, the rest of her life was full of additional drama too. A Hungarian map-drawing father and an Irish mother who ultimately died in an asylum, her parents had a troubled marriage which impacted hugely on her and her brother’s childhood and beyond, and her lovelife was marked by failures and an abortive marriage. All of this and more is packed into the show which strains under the pressure of delivering any of its narrative streams effectively. Continue reading “Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse”

Blogged: S&S Award

“Find the words”

Set up in honour of and named after his parents Sidney and Sylvia, The S&S Award was created by Warner Brown as a celebration of new and as yet unproduced British musical theatre writing and held its inaugural award presentation at the St James Theatre on Sunday 24th November 2013. Don Black presented the prize to this year’s winners – Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie – for their show Forest Boy, of which we saw an extended excerpt but the audience were also treated to snippets from other shows in the running for this new prize.

Recent graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Gilmour and McKenzie based Forest Boy on the true 2011 story of a boy who appeared in Berlin claiming to have spent the last five years living in the woods with his father. But rather than a straight retelling, they use song and dance – movement director Emily-Jane Boyce contributing some excellent work – to explore the psychological journey of the young man, the troubled relationship with his parents, and the power of the imagination to invent and/or protect, as the truthfulness of his fantastical tale is probed by officials. Continue reading “Blogged: S&S Award”

Review: Live at Wilton’s Gala Launch, Wilton’s Music Hall

“Fate beckoned her…into a rather queer, unfamiliar atmosphere”

Entering the atmospheric entrance space of Wilton’s Music Hall for the gala launch of their Live at Wilton’s cabaret shows, my heart sank upon seeing the sign that said “due to unforeseen circumstance Hannah Waddingham is unable to perform tonight”. I’d booked mainly to see her again and having seen her at the Open Air Theatre on Tuesday watching The Comedy of Errors, I was rather disappointed but when the rest of the line-up includes Gwyneth Herbert, David McAlmont and Siân Phillips and you can call on Marc Almond for back up, you know you’re in for a good night anyway.

Live at Wilton’s is an attempt to secure the future of cabaret in London, somewhat timely with Pizza on the Park closing and Wilton’s Music Hall is laying claim to actually being the birthplace of cabaret in 1858, some 23 years before Le Chat Noir. It was an eclectic bill for sure, mixing the traditional with the ultra-modern, musical theatre with jazz, proper old-school music hall singalongs with the downright quirky. But it’s a programme that fits with Wilton’s Music Hall’s vision for its future, bringing together a vast array of talent to perform within its history-filled walls and covering all sorts of musical bases with a strong vein of storytelling running through them. And this evening displayed how it can suit so many styles of music perfectly; McAlmont’s vocal improvisations and Herbert’s ukulele-driven final number both making the most of the venue’s acoustics without microphones and being all-the-more effective for it. Continue reading “Review: Live at Wilton’s Gala Launch, Wilton’s Music Hall”