Review: Mack and Mabel, Hackney Empire

“I’ll pull the greatest stunt this business has seen”

I can’t be doing with supermarkets who are already starting to stock mince pies but it was hard not to feel that Christmas had come early, such were the heady delights of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s latest venture Mack and Mabel, directed by Shaun Kerrison. Ostensibly, these are concert presentations of musicals but the joy in what you actually get, the bonuses that get incorporated into the creation of genuine one-off experiences makes LMTO one of the more valuable recent additions to the London theatre ecology.

So you’ve got your cast of West End names (David Bedella, Natasha J Barnes, Tiffany Graves headlining), you’ve got your orchestra of 32 (conducted by Freddie Tapner, led by Debs White), you’ve got a chorus of 16 too. And of course you’ve got the marvellous musical, written by Michael Stewart and composed by Jerry Herman, in the atmospheric surroundings of the Hackney Empire. But not content with such riches, we also get cream pies, chorus lines, and two properly gobsmacking coups de théâtre that brought the audience to their feet. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Hackney Empire”

2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King
Alex Hassell, Henry V

Best Actress In A Play Sponsored By The Umbrella Rooms:
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things
Lia Williams, Oresteia
Rosalie Craig, As You Like It
Harriet Walter, Death of a Salesman Continue reading “2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

fosterIAN awards 2011

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayEve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)Ruth Wilson, Anna ChristieRosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull
Best Actor in a PlayBenedict Cumberbatch, FrankensteinAndrew Scott, Emperor and GalileanTrevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Dominic West, Othello
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayAlexandra Gilbreath, OthelloSheridan Smith, Flare PathSinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRyan Sampson, The Kitchen SinkHarry Hadden-Paton, Flare PathRobert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Sweeney ToddAdrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, MatildaLaura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain
Best Actor in a MusicalBertie Carvel, MatildaMichael Ball, Sweeney ToddDaniel Evans, Company
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Alastair Brookshaw, Parade
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, CompanyKate Fleetwood, London RoadJosefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalDaniel Crossley, Singin’ in the RainNigel Harman, Shrek the MusicalConnor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy For You
Nick Holder London Road

2011 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Ryan Sampson, The Kitchen Sink
An absolute gem of a performance from Sampson here, coming late in the year but leaving no doubt as to how good he was – though not “too good to be gay” as a notorious critic put it most distastefully. Tom Wells excels at his non-metropolitan gay characters and there is so much refreshing, recognisable normality here, that transcends sexuality too – God knows everyone has felt awkward at one point or another – that made Sampson’s portrayal irresistible. Throw in some wicked jokes, perfectly delivered, a love for Dolly Parton and facial expressions that speak absolute volumes, Sampson is a worthy winner.

Honourable mention: Harry Hadden-Paton, Flare Path
As part of the central love triangle at the heart of Flare Path, Hadden-Paton displayed the kind of acting performance that should ensure he remains one to watch for many years to come, whether onstage or on film. The personal side paled though in comparison with the battle he faced to conquer his private desolation at the prospect of war in order to appear as the fearless leader of men his soldiers needed him to be: wonderfully appealing.

Robert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)

7-10
Sam Swainsbury, When Did You Last See My Mother; Dominic Tighe, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller) ; Philip Cumbus, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe); James Norton, Journey’s End

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Daniel Crossley, Singin’ in the Rain
I am a little bit in love with Daniel Crossley, and yes I know he’s taken, darn you Evans. But a man who can sing well, dance like an absolute dream and play the wise-cracking sidekick role of Cosmo without seeming like a constant third wheel has to be worth it. On top of an excellent turn in Me and My Girl at the beginning of the year, 2011 was a great year for Crossley and whilst I’m sad I won’t get to see him in a new role for the foreseeable future, I am delighted that the West End will get to see him in all his puddle-splashing glory when Singin’ in the Rain transfers.

Honourable mention: Nigel Harman, Shrek the musical
If you haven’t seen Shrek the musical yet, then I am about to spoil something for you here but I can’t explain the genius of Nigel Harman’s performance as the diminutive Lord Farquaad without saying something about how he does it. Spending the whole show on his knees, he is show-stealingly hilarious and provides a much welcomed injection of pure comedy into the musical.

Connor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy for You
Nick Holder, London Road

7-10
Paul Kaye, Matilda; Terry Doe, Parade; Michael Matus, Lend Me A Tenor; Will Hawksworth, Betwixt!

Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording

“He has magic fingers”

Before it came to an untimely end, the cast of Betty Blue Eyes were able to put down their vocals for an official live cast recording which provides something of a legacy for this Stiles + Drewe show. I went to see the show two times – reviews here and here – and loved it on each occasion as a fine exponent of a truly British new musical, but I have to admit I didn’t race to buy the soundtrack when it was first released. Part of it was due to the free taster CD that was released with the Evening Standard one Friday afternoon which meant I already had just under half the songs and though I enjoyed listening to it a couple of times, it was not one to which I returned.

Though I found it to be musically a very strong show, for some reason it doesn’t quite come across as well on the recording. Whether it was the lack of accompanying visuals to up the ante or the fact that I’d seen the show quite recently, the joy I got from watching the show didn’t quite translate into the listening experience I thought it would be. In its entirety, I found it to be so retro-infused and nostalgic as to almost be too much to listen to in one go, it doesn’t quite hit the same spot although there are moments of individual brilliance in some of the songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording”

Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Pig! No pig!”

Not too much to say about revisiting Betty Blue Eyes as most everything I wanted to say was covered in my original review, and although I’m sad to say there was no Liza at this performance, I was joined by someone even better! I really enjoy watching shows I love with people experiencing them for the first time and seeing what they respond to and I was pleased to hear Aunty Jean chuckling away next to me for most of the show. But it was also interesting to see that there were sections I’d forgotten (one of the dangers of having an album sampler rather than the whole show I think) and how my emotional reactions differed: ‘Magic Fingers’ brought proper tears down my cheek and being somewhat prepared, I was able to look a bit more at the pig without being too freaked out 😉

Aside from the replacement of the lightsabers with paint brushes in ‘Painting By Heart’, I can’t say I noticed any significant changes since the preview I saw. I can’t even really say that I thought the cast looked more comfortable or polished onstage as they were in pretty good shape when I saw them. There’s still the slight feeling that a couple of the roles could be sung by stronger voices, but I would wager that it would rob the show of much of its quirky charm. Continue reading “Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Another little victory for little England”

With a book by Ron Cowen + Daniel Lipman, adapted from the story of the film A Private Function by Alan Bennett + Malcolm Mowbray and with a score by George Stiles + Anthony Drewe and marking a rare excursion back into producing from Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes is a new musical at the Novello Theatre with a lot of names credited on the poster! Set in Shepardsford, a Yorkshire town in 1947 at the height of post-war austerity (and previews, which this was, are being sold at austerity prices!), the plot follows Gilbert Chilvers a chiropodist and his frustrated wife Joyce, chafing under the restrictions of the time and who yearns to be accepted into the higher echelon of society where she believes they belong. They are not having much joy until they happen upon a secret plot by the town council to hold a feast for this elite in honour of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s impending marriage at which an illegally kept pig will be the star of the banquet. So, this being a comedy, they steal the pig.

But it is about something more too, over and above the farcical shenanigans with Betty the pig, especially in the more reflective first half. This is a society struggling to come to terms with the enduring impact of the Second World War, the melancholy ‘Magic Fingers’ in particular looking at the wives left behind, as rationing hits hard, threatening to dampen the spirit of those just trying to carry on living in hard times yet still nurturing their own dreams and ambitions. And this is where Stiles + Drewe’s score comes into its own, suffused with a beautiful warmth: it really is stuffed full of tunes, their comical songs are deliciously witty whilst advancing the story, there’s simple but affecting emotion in the balladry and more than once, I found myself just swaying along with a grin on my face (and not just because Liza Minnelli was just a couple of seats away from us). It all has that kind of nostalgic feel that makes for easy recognition and it is a score I wanted to hear again from the moment the show finished. Continue reading “Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“We don’t dance. We defend ourselves to music”

Last night’s trip to Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (with Aunty Jean, for my birthday treat!) actually marks the first time that I have seen a show that has transferred from a small venue into the West End in both of its incarnations. My original review can be read here about Charity Hope Valentine’s romantic misadventures and her continued search for her dream man in the face of constant setbacks and dastardly lotharios, and much of what I loved about it then holds true now as it is still as excellent a show.

Little has actually been changed about the production, everything is just a bit bigger really and the transitions a lot smoother, the only real difference was the fairground scene with Charity and Oscar and her vertigo where they make use of the more advanced facilities to sit on a suspended seat. Where the production does benefit from the transfer though is in the extra room for the choreography, Rich Man’s Frug and I’m A Brass Band in particular both luxuriate in the additional space offered by the Theatre Royal and Stephen Mears’ superb choreography has unfurled beautifully, maintaining the huge level of energy and vitality it pushes into the show. This is probably best exemplified in Hey, Big Spender, such a different number to the familiar Shirley Bassey version, the girls at the club sprawl over high stools, selling their wares half-heartedly with deliciously bored expressions, it is abundantly clear that this is no glamorous life and one can immediately see why Charity is so keen to escape. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket”