10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 nominees

Best Cast Recording
Bend It Like Beckham (Original London Cast Recording)
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)
Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan
Hugh Maynard – Something Inside So Strong
John Owen-Jones – Rise
Tim Prottey-Jones – To Do. To Be.

Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)

“And still we’re only dreaming for change, change, change…”

Any semi-regular reader will know the love I had for the late lamented musical of Made in Dagenham so my pleasure at a live cast recording being released was boundless indeed as I always thought that David Arnold’s score was one of the more under-rated parts of the production. And it is so nice to have this kind of full reminder of a much-beloved show although I have to say the first couple of times I listened to this soundtrack, I was still too filled with sadness at its early closing.

But now I’m fully in the appreciating stage and there’s lots to love here. This recording really emphasises the female voice(s) and picks out the sophistication of much of the harmony that wasn’t always immediately apparent at the Adelphi. The spit-wielding mothers of ‘Busy Woman’, the wary onlookers of ‘Storm Clouds’, the weary strikers of ‘We Nearly Had It All’, the depth of the female ensemble just sounds like a dream. Continue reading “Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“Everybody out…”

So here we have it, barely six months after opening, the machinery at Ford Dagenham has ground to a halt for the last time and Made in Dagenham has played its final performance. To say I’m gutted is putting it mildly, this was a piece of shining musical theatre that I took to my heart from the first time I saw it and again on my subsequent two revisits. You can read Review #1 Review #2 and Review #3. But the opportunity to see it one last time was one I couldn’t resist and if a show has to shutter, then the special energy of a closing night is probably the time to do it. 

And I’m so glad that we went back for more (this is the first show I’ve ever dayseated twice and you can count the number of times I’ve dayseated on one hand!) as it was a truly special night. The occasion aside, it was a genuine pleasure to see and hear the show again and the cast were on fire to a (busy wo)man. Adrian der Gregorian has never sounded better than pouring all his heart and soul into ‘The Letter’, Sophie-Louise Dann tore up the stage and her colleagues’ tear ducts in ‘In An Ideal World’, Mark Hadfield’s Harold Wilson went even further over the top (if such a thing were possible), and Heather Craney’s goofy Clare became almost unbearably heart-breaking with such emotion on show. Continue reading “Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“You can’t try and bamboozle me with choreography”

A third visit back to this most heart-warmingly lovely of shows and a fine festive occasion it turned out to be. Review #1 and review #2 can be read here and there’s little much to add that hasn’t already been said. There’s much about Made in Dagenham that is indubitably charming and the breadth of David Arnold’s score has a lovely distinct tunefulness that has really worked its way into my memory (meaning I’m the one humming along!).

Additionally the leading performances of Gemma Arterton and particularly Adrian der Gregorian have really blossomed into something quite touching – I’d always been impressed by Arterton’s Rita but der Gregorian seems to have found a new emotional level as her husband Eddie. It’s also interesting to see where the nips and tucks have come in the show – the quip about Sandra’s dad liking whiskey and Monty’s redemption are two I noticed, and Rita’s daughter’s bolstering presence during ‘We Nearly Had It All’ is also now sadly gone. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“It ain’t about the money, it’s equality”

Reader, I went back. Before it had even officially opened. A return visit to Made in Dagenham was never really in doubt and so that’s where I was on Saturday night (on the front row again, there’s really nowhere else to see the show from!) My original review can be read here and I’m pleased to report that the show really has settled into its skin to become something that ought to become a long-running success (though whether it will or not is anyone’s guess). An original British musical full of humour and heart, a little bit of Dagenham goes a long way indeed.

Getting to see it a second time was a real privilege as it meant I was prepared for the few things that had bothered me first time round and also flagged up they weren’t ever really that bad. The broad sense of humour that permeates Richard Bean’s book and Richard Arnold’s lyrics perhaps owes a little to Victoria Wood, with something of the ensemble comedy feel of Dinnerladies in there plus the mention of one of her beloved Berni Inns. And knowing it is coming makes Harold Wilson’s bizarre treatment somewhat funnier in its complete randomness, Mark Hadfield clearly having a ball. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi

“Rome may not have been built in a day but Dagenham sure was”

Based on the real-life tale of the Ford sewing machinists whose strike in 1968 kicked into motion a groundswell of a movement that shook Harold Wilson’s administration and culminated in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, Made In Dagenham is one of those rare beasts – a brand new big-budget British musical. William Ivory wrote the story up into a 2010 filmby Nigel Cole but here it is Richard Bean who has written the book, with David Arnold composing the score and Richard Thomas penning the lyrics, with Rupert Goold taking on directorial duties.

The show naturally has had a lengthy preview period (opening officially 5th November) and I saw it a week ago, not having intended to write about it, but after a couple of people emailed me to ask my opinion, I thought sod it, I’ll write it up! So take it all with a pinch of salt, I suspect the show may not be to the liking of some but I really rather enjoyed it, with its huge amiability, its cracking lead in Gemma Arterton and that crucial level of interest that comes from a true story (and one whose legacy continues today, somewhat unresolved). I’ll be going back soon but here’s what I thought first time round.

Between them, Bean and Goold seem to revel in making slightly off-kilter decisions. Making Harold Wilson an unreconstructed comedy character complete with end-of-the-pier routine with a bit of soft-show here and some salty humour there is simply bizarre, though Mark Hadfield makes a genuinely decent fist out of it. Another choice that seems rather random is the striking opening visual in the bedroom which doesn’t really play out as you think it might. Continue reading “Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi”

Review: The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Some people are happy and some people are lonely, mean and sad. You strike me as the second kind”

Families – who’d have ‘em? Not Ben Lyons that’s for sure, as in his upscale New York private hospital room where his terminal cancer has reached crisis point, the cacophony that arises when his wife and two children are around his bed is enough to make anyone reach for the morphine button. Nicky Silver’s Broadway hit The Lyons, transferred here to the Menier Chocolate Factory, is one of the most vicious and spikiest dark comedies you’ll see all year – this isn’t so much a family united in tragedy as further shattered by it.

It’s occasionally cruel, it’s sometimes funny, more often than not it is cruelly funny – audacious in the jabs that these people make towards their ‘nearest and dearest’. Isla Blair’s Rita is sat by the bed planning how to redecorate the living room and the sibling rivalry between Charlotte Randle’s daughter Lisa, in an alcohol-recovery programme with a turbulent relationship history, and Tom Ellis’ son Curtis, shunned by his father due to his sexuality and with his own unique relationship problems, starts from the minute they arrive at the hospital, warring over the size of their respective gifts.

What Silver shows is how wrapped up people get in their own personal tragedies, how the wounds that cut one’s own flesh will always hurt more than someone else’s, even if theirs are fatal. So despite being the reason that they have all convened, Nicholas Day’s Ben is often just a spectator in the war of attrition between all four of them – dark secrets being dragged out, deeply held frustrations being aired, a brutal sense of scores being settled in a lifelong struggle. But for all the darkness, glimmers of light are allowed to shine through in a slightly more reflective second half.

The theatrical ancestry of the show feel directly drawn from plays like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but what director Mark Brokaw brings is a televisual feel that also makes it cousins with something like Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. It’s not that the Lyons start to gain our sympathies but rather that once the atmosphere subsides a little, the characters, and the actors, are allowed to flourish more and suggest their depth. 

Randle’s Lisa is transformed by the prospect of a simple kindness towards a man, Ellis’ Curtis has a late Damascene where he realises the change he needs to make to his life, even Blair’s sharp Rita offers something of a clue to her demeanour. It’s not enough to really create an emotional connection to the characters, but that would recast the play into more of a tragedy and shift the balance right off-kilter whereas right now, they are few things funnier playing in London. Not a play for those of a delicate disposition, but a bracing piece of blistering comic writing that deserves to be seen.


Running time: 2 hours (with interval) Booking until 16th November
Photos: Nobby Clarke

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Steel Magnolias, Richmond Theatre

“I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free”

The prospect of a stage version of Steel Magnolias, populated by a motley crew of British actresses from stage and screen, filled me with equally with dread and anticipation as I am a big fan of the film (one of Julia Roberts’ best performances). But curiosity won the day and for my first trip back to the theatre after a trip away, I made my way to Richmond Theatre to be transported to 1980s Louisiana and delve into the trials and tribulations of Truvy, M’Lynn, Shelby and co.

Robert Harling’s story was originally a play (sadly inspired by the death of his sister) and though the expanded action of the film may be more familiar, the play’s limitation to Helen Goddard’s perfectly 80’s-hued beauty parlour across four acts is structurally sound and works extremely well. This salon forms a gathering place for six women and over a period of three years, we see the ebb and flow of life and how the mutually supportive atmosphere helps all of them in one way or another as they variously look for and selflessly give strength to one another.  Continue reading “Review: Steel Magnolias, Richmond Theatre”