The 2016 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best actor
Sir Kenneth Branagh The Entertainer, Garrick Theatre
O-T Fagbenle Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, National Theatre, Lyttelton
Ralph Fiennes The Master Builder/Richard III, Old Vic/Almeida Theatre
James McArdle Platonov, Chichester Festival Theatre/National Theatre, Olivier
Ian McKellen No Man’s Land, Wyndham’s Theatre

Natasha Richardson Award for best actress
Noma Dumezweni Linda, Royal Court, Jerwood Downstairs
Helen McCrory The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre, Lyttelton
Sophie Melville Iphigenia In Splott, National Theatre, Temporary Theatre (a Sherman Theatre production)
Billie Piper Yerma, Young Vic
Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard Continue reading “The 2016 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)

“This is always such a rush”

Some musicals are slow-burners. They may not hit you with their full force on first viewing but rather repay revisits and repeated listens to cast recordings to unfurl the depth of their appeal. So it was for me with Legally Blonde, and also with Ghost the Musical – a show I saw twice in the West End and again on its 2013 tour, liking it more and more each time.

And a large part of that was the way in which Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart’s pop/rock-based score took its time to sidle its way into my affections, not necessarily the kind of music that would appeal to me but ultimately proving irresistible in its finest moments. And it is remarkably diverse too, pulling in from a wide musical palette whilst stamping out its own identity as something refreshingly different from your typical musical theatre score. Continue reading “CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)”

Review: The Flick, National

“Sometimes I worry that there’s something really, really wrong with me but that I’ll never know exactly what it is.”

Already garlanded with a Pulitzer Prize and bolstered by articles insisting that “slow theatre” is a thing, it is clear that we’re meant to think that Annie Baker’s The Flick in all its 3 hours plus glory is close to the Second Coming. The reality is a play that it is just a very long time in a theatre for deliberately muted rewards. And it is deliberate, it is precise. Along with frequent collaborator and director Sam Gold, the simple act of mopping up the floor of a movie theatre is strictly regimented, the many pauses surrounding it measured down to the last, slow, tick of the second hand. 

The Flick is set in small-town Massachusetts in a run-down, single-screen cinema and lets us follow the lives of regular folk that work there, three people living humdrum lives in a humdrum world. At 35, Sam has worked there the longest but he’s still just sweeping popcorn; 24 year old Rose has been promoted over him to projectionist but her spiky exterior belies a vulnerable uncertainty; and just turned 20 and taking a break from college, Avery is dealing with emotional issues that set him at odds with his co-workers, especially once a pseudo-love-triangle starts to form.  Continue reading “Review: The Flick, National”

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick

“I do feel it gone, But know not how it went”

Perhaps one of the biggest lures of the newly established Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and its year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre is the return of Dame Judi Dench to the stage, playing Paulina in their opening production of The Winter’s Tale. One of the pre-eminent Shakespeareans of this or any age, the run largely sold out in advance proving the astute business sense but with Branagh and Rob Ashford co-directing this oft-described problem play, does it make artistic sense?

And I’m not 100% sure that it does, this doesn’t feel like a production that one will remember as a classic of our time. It is undoubtedly a difficult play to mount, the chilly stateliness of the first act’s Sicilia contrasting strongly with the permissive post-interval (and 16 years hence) Bohemia and with a rambling plot full of statuesque tragicomedy, it’s a hard one to love. Branagh and Ashford keep things more or less traditional, and of course excellently spoken, but rarely soul-stirringly good. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick”

Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“It’s just relief to suspend my disbelief”

It feels a bit like I’m cursed when it comes to Ghost the Musical. I booked it at the beginning of the year to see the original cast before they went to Broadway and Sharon D Clarke injured herself so I missed her and this time round, eager to see Mark Evans’ acting and musical talent / damn fine abs *delete as appropriate, we arrived at the theatre to find his understudy was on. It is not the end of the world when that happens of course but it is sometimes a disappointment when one is looking forward to seeing a particular person (though it helps that there’s videos like this to fall back on) and as it turned out, when I saw the name of the understudy – Spencer O’Brien – I was actually quite pleased as he is someone I have great residual affection for as he was in the cast of the superlative Salad Days the Christmas before last.

And though my feelings about the show were decidedly mixed when I saw it last – review here – I’d listened to the soundtrack quite a bit since then and discovered that it really is a grower. I really like a good proportion of it and so was quite happy to revisit the show, with the bonus of a new cast and a companion that had not seen it before, and in the end I found that I actually enjoyed it much more. The key for me and the soundtrack helped immensely here, is to think of it as a chamber musical, a small intimate piece essentially for four characters, and let the rest simply glide by in a rush of neon light and slow-motion walking.   Continue reading “Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly”

Review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“You in danger gurl!”

In the story of Ghost the Musical, it is the character Molly who is the ‘gurl’ in danger, but it turned out to be the woman saying it, Sharon D Clarke’s Oda Mae Brown who should have paid heed as a broken foot has ruled her out of the show for a while now and possibly out of the Broadway transfer too. I was particularly gutted as she was one of the main reasons I had booked to see the show, to catch the original leading cast before they trot over to New York to open the show there, and Clarke had been cited as one of the main attractions of the show.

As the show premiered in Manchester, my parents were amongst the first to see it and I even got my dad to write about his opinions for me on this very blog. But even despite his qualified recommendations, I couldn’t quite work up the enthusiasm to fork out for the show and it was only this imminent departure of Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman that got me there (which is ironic in itself as I don’t really see what all the fuss is about with Levy and Fleeshman struggled for me in Legally Blonde). But off to the Piccadilly I went with my mixed feelings, along with a pleasingly diverse crowd of theatregoers, and I left with mixed feelings too. Continue reading “Review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly”

Guest Review: Ghost – the Musical, Opera House Manchester

I owe all sorts of things to my parents, not least my love of theatre to which I was introduced from an early age, and though our tastes coincide on many things (Propeller’s Richard III being the most recent example), they vary on others and I was quite surprised when they announced that they were going to see Ghost – the Musical in its premiere run at the Opera House in Manchester. So, I prevailed upon my father to write up his thoughts in advance of my trip to see the show when it moves down to the Piccadilly Theatre in London on 22nd June and so I present to you, unedited, the real Mr Foster 😉

Sometimes, it pays not to expect too much. That way, you stand a chance of being agreeably surprised, as I was by how much I enjoyed ‘Ghost – the Musical’.

Whoopi Goldberg apart, I was no big fan of ‘Ghost – the Movie’, so I wasn’t anticipating that a musical version sticking very faithfully to the film screenplay would appeal all that much. However, the show is visually spectacular and features some impressive performances by a strong cast. Dave Stewarts’s songs, though not particularly memorable (I didn’t come away humming any of the tunes), are well crafted and listenable. With one clunking exception, of which more below, the weaving of the songs into the storyline is skilfully done.

The lead performances are very good. As in the film, Oda Mae Brown is crucial, because she gets most of the best scenes and lines, and Sharon D. Clarke is outstanding in the role, with terrific stage presence, good comic timing and a rich, deep, soul singing voice. Her introductory number ‘Are you a Believer?’, sung with her two assistants, is a cracker (for older readers, think The Pointer Sisters ‘It’s Raining Men’) and her final routine, ‘I’m Outta Here’, was my favourite bit of the show.

Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy are engaging and likeable as Sam and Molly. Both have really good singing voices, even if they did tend to get a bit ‘shouty’ (especially Fleeshman) as some of the songs reached a loud climax. In fairness, they at times had to compete with an overloud band. Their first song ‘Here Right Now’ lifts the start of the show after a rather sluggish opening scene and the excellent ‘Rain / Hold On’ gets Act 2 off to a flyer. I also liked Molly’s solo ‘With You’.

The rest of the cast provide solid support. Andrew Langtree as the baddie Carl is a better actor than singer; Adebayo Bolaji is spectacular as the subway ghost; and the ensemble provide energetic backing to many of the musical routines.
Visually, the show is terrific, with an imaginative set, superb lighting and some dazzling special effects. The set is basically a box, but all of the walls move in and out to create other scenes and the walls are video screens, used particularly well to give pace and energy to the street and subway scenes. There are also conveyor belts across the stage and these are used effectively in the crowd scenes.

There are some flaws. As already indicated, the first act is a bit slow to get going and the sound balance is poor on some of the songs, meaning the singers are struggling to make themselves heard and the lyrics are difficult to make out. For me, the show’s worst feature by a distance is the song ‘Ball of Wax’. It is sung to the newly-dead Sam by a chorus of ghosts and is a jokey ‘you’re a ghost now’ number. Coming as it does after a dramatic murder scene, done with some clever special effects, the song is completely out of place and spoils the atmosphere they have worked hard to create.

Notwithstanding these reservations, ‘Ghost – the Musical’ is an engaging and entertaining watch. It is playing to packed houses in Manchester and every performance has apparently received a standing ovation (it certainly did the night I was there). Not sure I’d go that far but it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Rob Foster