How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

I make my own suggestions about interpretations of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that could have been included on his new compilation album Unmasked

“They must have excitement, and so must I”

In a world of Spotify and iTunes and other online music services, compilation albums ought to have died a death. But the enduring success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series puts the lie to that, showing that while the idea of curating your own content is tempting, many of us prefer to let someone else do it for us.

So Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to release new anthology Unmasked is a canny one in that respect (read my review here), tapping into the desire to have a nicely pleasant set of musical theatre tunes to pop on in the car. And as with any compilation, it’s as much about what hasn’t been included as what has, that stands out. Continue reading “How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked”

Review: Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre

 

Rather fittingly, my first ever visit to the magnificent feat of civil engineering that is Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre was for new musical Tiger Bay (Y Sioe Gerdd). And not just any musical, one based in and on the very area where it is playing, the docklands of Tiger Bay at the turn of the century, when the industrial revolution sent shudders through every level of society. Socio-political unrest not being known for getting the crowds in though, book-writer Michael Williams has fashioned a multi-stranded narrative with truly epic ambitions.

So there’s coal men fighting to improve working conditions, African immigrant labour complicating the picture by undercutting them, racism emerging as an ugly thorn, child labour being abused, suffragettes agitating for the vote, and the richest man in the world (the Third Marquess of Bute) who has turned to crystal balls to try and find his missing son. What emerges is a prototype vision for a multicultural society in all its myriad complexities and inequalities, connected in an all-too-human way by circumstance and some stonking great choruses.

Aiming for the epic, Tiger Bay certainly succeeds in terms of its scale. Director Melly Still fills her stage with a cast of nearly 40 and Anna Fleischle’s looming industrial design, whilst a 15-piece orchestra led by David Mahoney fleshes out Daf James’ bold score. Musically, it wears its influences proudly as well it might – original musicals have their work cut out for them well before they approach the levels of musical innovation of, say, London Road, and there’s something about the familiarity here that works on an innately comforting level, as earworms drill into the brain.

Surprises are sprinkled through though, offering texture and contrast – the female harmonies of the shopgirls, the African and Arabic influences that occasionally break free of the melting pot (aided here by Melody Squire’s choreography). Dom Hartley-Harris’ South African widower Themba is a triumphant leading man and his duet with Vikki Bebb’s kindly Rowena, ‘Taste of Home’, is a real highlight as a relationship starts to grow between them. Naturally she’s engaged to someone else, Noel Sullivan’s villainous O’Rourke, who is in turn still taken by Busisiwe Ngejane’s lady of the night Klondike.

The power in Sullivan’s voice is best served in the numerous polyphonic numbers, when the full company unites to great effect and Ngejane stands out pretty much every time she sings, such is the character in her tone. Ruby Llewellyn’s young whippersnapper Ianto is a gift of a part for such a talented youngster, Suzanne Packer delivers wonderfully as the comic relief and making a return to his native South Wales, John Owen-Jones is a striking, if slightly under-used, presence as the Marquess, his expansive tenor always thrilling to listen to.

As it comes precariously close to reaching a third hour, there’s no doubting that Tiger Bay needs a keen edit though. At over 30 musical numbers, the score is a tad over-stuffed but narratively too, there’s work that could usefully be done. To tighten up the storytelling but also to completely excise some of the less involving subplots to allow more room for emotional engagement with the key characters and let the more of the plot breathe (I’m still not entirely clear how the labourers’ issues got sorted out).

That said, chatting to audience members around me at the interval and at the end, I really got a sense of how much they appreciated the ‘localness’ of the show, pointing out some of the references I hadn’t got, filling in the gaps in my knowledge about Bute and his father – it is things like that that make me appreciate seeing shows with proper audiences rather than the artificiality of a press night crowd. It also got me to thinking how James and Williams have been rather canny with the writing of Tiger Bay, balancing local colour and just enough detail with a larger universality that will serve it well (after some editing), should the show to gain further life outwith this relatively short run.

Running time: 2 hours 47 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Polly Thomas
Booking until 25th November

 

 

 

Tiger Bay – 13th November 2017

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Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

After over 178 productions and over 28,000 audience members through the door since moving to the Bedford in 2015, Theatre N16 is looking for a new home from December 2017. Whilst they search, you can support the folks there by donating here.
Theatre N16 was set up in 2015 to be a stomping ground for new companies and a place to try out new work, offering affordable deals on rehearsal and performance space. It has offered a ground-breaking, risk-free deal to all companies, which 95% of our guests have taken, guaranteeing that creatives do not leave our space owing the venue money. This is all under the auspices of an Equity Fringe Agreement, with Theatre N16 one of the few London venues to have signed up to the deal to guarantee pay to all creatives working for the venue.


Live at Zédel have launched their Autumn/Winter season at The Crazy Coqs and it’s heaving, once again, with incredible new talent and established acts from across a whole host of disciplines including live music, musical theatre, cabaret, comedy and spoken word. John Owen-Jones, Tiffany Graves, Clive Rowe, Anne Reid and Dillie Keane are just some of the names on offer.


Nina Sosanya has joined Suranne Jones and Jason Watkins in the cast of Bryony Lavery’s Frozen.


Rehearsals began this week for the next show at the Gate, Suzy Storck – directed by celebrated French director Jean-Pierre Baro in his debut UK production, the cast features Kate Duchêne, Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jonah Russell and Theo Solomon, in this haunting new play from Magali Mougel.


Artistic Director Josie Rourke and Executive Producer Kate Pakenham have announced three new productions at the Donmar Warehouse for late 2017 and through to 2018: a new play by Amy Herzog, Belleville, a revival of Peter Gill’s modern classic, The York Realist, and a new production of William Congreve’s Restoration comedy The Way of the World.
  • The Donmar will host the UK premiere of American playwright Amy Herzog’s acclaimed play Belleville. The production will star James Norton and Imogen Poots as New York newlyweds living in Paris, opposite Faith Alabi and Malachi Kirby. Belleville is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst who is making his Donmar Warehouse debut.
  • Donmar Associate and Sheffield Theatres Artistic Director Robert Hastie returns after his hit productions of My Night with Reg and Splendour to direct a revival of Peter Gill’s The York Realist. Revived 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, The York Realist will star Ben Batt, Lucy Black, Lesley Nicol, Katie West and Matthew Wilson., and will be a co-production with Sheffield Theatres.
  • The final production will be William Congreve’s Restoration comedy The Way of the World. James Macdonald returns to the Donmar after his acclaimed production of Arnold Wesker’s Roots, directing Linda Bassett who will play Lady Wishfort.
  • Donmar Associate Artist Tom Scutt will curate Donmar on Design, a week-long festival celebrating the power of design in theatre, and the designers who make it happen.

Album Review: Surrounded by the Sounds – the music of Tim Prottey-Jones (2011)

“She screamed, I think – it was hard to hear”


Surrounded by the Sounds – the music of Tim Prottey-Jones is the second of actor/writer Prottey-Jones’ albums featuring a whole array of his West End pals, but the third that I’ve reviewed (see reviews of More With Every Line and To Do. To Be.) It features songs from two of Prottey-Jones musicals – Once Bitten and After The Turn – and has a decidedly more pronounced rock feel to it than either of his other collections.
As such, it didn’t quite tickle my fancy in the way that I might have liked, especially since To Do. To Be. had impressed me. And it’s not that this is a collection of bad songs, they’re just not my cup of tea. Such guitars, much rock, so not wow. Even when the tempo slows a little into ballad territory, as with Michael Xavier’s Chance In A Lifetime or Jodie Jacobs’ Colour Me, it is still just too monotonely guitar-heavy for my liking.

Round-up of news and other interesting things

In the wake of a global shift in politics that saw reality star Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States of America, Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign win the majority and the Conservative party seek out a deal with the DUP, Theatre Renegade is proud to present a one-off gala, In Response To… Politics.

With performances from critically acclaimed performers including Pippa Nixon, Madalena Alberto, Gloria Onitiri and Nigel Richards, In Response To…Politics will take place on 24th July at The Other Palace Studio and feature a number of pieces each designed to directly respond to the current political turmoil.

Ryan Forde Iosco, Artistic Director of Theatre Renegade said;
“Many countries, our own included are seeing a huge shift in their political landscape and fear and hate have been the leading force behind several recent campaigns. This evening will see the theatre community come together in solidarity to respond and raise its voice in solidarity.”
All profits from the evening will be donated to the charity Liberty, to protect civil liberties and promote human rights.


Among the writers taking part are: Georgia Fitch (Fit and Proper People – RSC/Soho Theatre, I Like Mine with A Kiss – Bush Theatre and Dirty Dirty Princess – National Theatre Connections), Hassan Abdulrazzak (Baghdad Wedding – Soho Theatre and BBC Radio 3, The Prophet – Gate Theatre, winner of the 2008 George Devine Award) and Camilla Whitehill (Where Do Little Birds Go – VAULT award winner/Underbelly/Old Red Lion, Mr Incredible – VAULT award winner/Underbelly, currently under commission with the Bush Theatre).

Among the directors taking part are: Rafaela Marcus (Pericles – Shakespeare’s Globe, Boeing Boeing – Sheffield Crucible, Lucy Atkinson (The Enchantment – US Premiere at Here Arts in New York, Tristan Bernay’s Testament – Vaults) and Nathan Crossan-Smith (Runner Up for the JMK Award 2017 and Deutsche Bank Award for Dramatic Art 2014 winner for Tipping Point)


Staying at The Other Palace, there’s also a special concert in memory of the late MP Jo Cox.

The evening, titled A Barricade for Batley, will feature a cast including Fra Fee (The Ferryman), Joanna Riding (The Girls), David Seadon-Young (An American in Paris), Matthew Seadon-Young (Beautiful), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins), Madalena Alberto (Evita) and Joel Montague (School of Rock).

Money from the concert will got towards a school production of Hear The People Sing, which is 
being produced by Donna Munday and Nick Evans in Cox’s former constituency of Batley and Spen.

This November, Tiger Bay the Musical – Wales Millennium Centre’s biggest in-house production to date – will premiere in Cardiff with Welsh singer and actor, Noel Sullivan returning home to join the lead cast.

Noel, who hasn’t performed on stage in Wales for almost two years, takes on the gritty role of Harbour Master, Séamus O’Rourke in Tiger Bay the Musical, a story of the notorious underworld of Wales’ capital at the turn of the 1900s.

Playing the ambitious opportunist, exiled from Africa to make his fortune through unsavoury means on Cardiff Docks, will be a change in direction for Noel, whose theatre repertoire includes a string of romantic leads, such as Danny Zuko in Grease and Galileo in We Will Rock You.

A Wales Millennium Centre production in association with Cape Town Opera, Tiger Bay the Musical is set in 1900s Cardiff at a time of unrest between the workers heaving coal in the docklands, known as Tiger Bay, and the Bute Dock Company and merchants of the Coal Exchange they afforded.

A fictional story of revolution, reconciliation, courage and love, the award-winning creative team – composer, Daf James, writer Michael Williams and director, Melly Still – have remained sympathetic to the reality of the era which includes forming a predominantly Welsh cast.

Noel will join award-winning and record breaking West End and Broadway performer, John Owen Jones who plays John Crichton-Stuart, Cardiff’s richest man tormented by loss.

Rising star Vikki Bebb, a Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate from the south Wales valleys, will play Noel’s love interest, Rowena Pryddy, a shop girl with suffrage ideals. Plus, Welsh school girls Louise Harvey from Rhiwbina and Ruby Llewellyn from Llantrisant will share the role of tenacious water boy, Ianto.

The world premiere of Tiger Bay the Musical will take place on Wednesday 15 November 2017 at Wales Millennium Centre and will run until Saturday 25 November 2017. Tickets on sale now at tigerbaythemusical.com

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home

“Give me this moment, this momentous moment”

 

I was excited by the prospect of a new John Owen-Jones album but the reality of Bring Him Home – A Collection of Musical Favourites was, I have to say, a little disappointing. For it is something of a greatest hits affair, collecting together tracks from three of his previous albums – Unmasked, Rise and his self-titled album and adding in just the three new songs.
 
Those tracks are Miss Saigon’s ‘Why, God, Why?’, West Side Story’s ‘Maria’ and ‘Suddenly’, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil especially for the filmed version of Les Misérables. Only the last of these has any real interest as something particularly new, although fans will enjoy the personal connection Owen-Jones has to the others (drama school audition song, and first show he was in onstage).

Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


Ahoy sailors, if what you thought the world of musical theatre was missing was the opportunity to be trapped on a boat for four days with a load of wealthy musical theatre fans, then worry no more. Stages – the Musical Theatre Festival at Sea has now been announced, a four night cruise from Southampton to Amsterdam and back, with entertainment from the likes of Michael Ball, Beverley Knight, Lee Mead, Christina Bianco, Sophie Evans, John Owen-Jones and the Showstopper guys.

It looks like it could be hilariously good fun – red carpet arrival onto the ship, masquerade balls and workshops and Q&As with the performers. But it sure ain’t cheap, prices starting at £609 with the taxes added on, though as it doesn’t set sail until 15th October 2018, there’s time to start saving those pennies. For me though, you can consider this my not-so-subtle hint to Floating Festivals that they obviously need a blog review of their cruise and that I am the one for the job.


The Young Vic has announced the rest of the cast of Wings directed by Natalie Abrahami, playing in the Main House from 14 September. Joining Juliet Stevenson is Lorna Brown, Kelle Bryan, David Emmings, Nicholas Gasson, Richard James-Neale, Emily Mytton, Mary Sheen and Emily Wachter. Find out more about them below. 
Lorna Brown 2Lorna Brown makes her Young Vic debut in Wings.Recent theatre credits include:  Bodies, Torn (Royal Court); Things of Dry Hours (The Gate); The Oresteia (Almeida / West End); Little Light (The Orange Tree); Medea, Blurred Lines, Damned by Despair (National Theatre); Crowning Glory(Stratford East); Fear (The Bush); Clybourne Park (Royal Court / West End); Short Fuses (BOV) and Once on this Island (Hackney Empire / Tour).
Film credits include: The Lady in the Van, Taking Stock and Les Miserables.Television credits include: Chewing Gum, Holby City, True Love and Outnumbered.
Kelle Bryan makes her Young Vic debut in Wings.Kelle Bryan BW
Recent theatre credits include: 
 The Exonerated (Charing Cross Theatre); Cinderella (PHA); Rebellion (ODAC Ltd); The Extra Factor (No. 1 Tour); Torn by Femi Oguns (Arcola Theatre); Cinderella (Catford Broadway Theatre); The Brothers (The Drum Theatre / Hackney Empire); Bouncers by John Gober (Berkley Players); Jack and the Beanstalk (Channel Theatre) and My Fair Lady (Manchester Palace).
Film credits include: The Naked Poet, In the Mix and The Virus.Television Credits include: Me & Mrs Jones, The Knot, The National Lottery, The Brothers and Glitter Ball.
David Emmings BWDavid Emmings makes his Young Vic debut in Wings.Recent theatre credits: The Missing Light (The Old Vic); Emily Rising (Little Angel Theatre); Sleeping Beauty (Bristol Old Vic);The Elephantom (National Theatre / West End); Something Very Far Away (Unicorn Theatre / International Tour); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bristol Old Vic / Spoleto Festival USA),  Father Christmas (Lyric Hammersmith); The Confetti Maker (New Diorama Theatre) and War Horse (National Theatre / West End). Film credits: The Homeless Polar Bear, Sherlock Holmes and Alice. Short Film credits: Brilliant and Mime Poker.
Nicholas GassonNicholas Gasson makes his Young Vic debut in Wings.Recent theatre credits include: Entertaining Mr Sloane, The Caretaker and  Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (London Classic Theatre / Tour); The Dumb Waiter, The Lover, The Picture of Dorian Gray (European Arts Company Tour); Talking Heads (Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds); James and the Giant Peach (No. 1 Tour); Season’s Greetings (Mill Theatre) and Pink for a Boy (Oldham Coliseum). Television credits include: Merlin, EastEnders, Doctors, Shadow in the North and Private Life of an Easter Masterpiece.
Richard James - Neale BWRichard James-Neale makes his Young Vic debut in Wings.Recent theatre credits include: The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe); Watership Down (Watermill Theatre); Peter Pan (Regent’s Park Open Air); Othello (Frantic Assembly / UK Tour); Emil and the Detectives (National Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Tooting Arts Club); Charlotte’s Web (Derby Theatre); Pygmalion (Old Vic) and In Doggerland (Theatre 503). Film credits include: The Legend of Tarzan, Dragon, When I’m Gone, Nadya’s Circus and The Situation.Television credits include:  Thanks For The Memories, Atlantis and The Insiders.
Emily Mytton 2 BWEmily Mytton makes her Young Vic debut in Wings.Recent theatre credits include:  My Brilliant Friend (Rose Theatre);  Magic Flute(ENO);  Medea (Almeida Theatre); From Morning to Midnight, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, WarHorse  and His Dark Materials (National Theatre); The Empress and The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe (RSC); The Drowned Man and Tunnel 228 (PunchDrunk); World Cup 1966 and The Creation of the Violin (BAC); The Lesson (Theatre O); Beasts and Beauties (Hampstead Theatre); The Chimp that Spoke (David Glass Ensemble) and Red Ladies (Clod Ensemble).
Mary-Sheen BWMary Sheen makes her Young Vic debut in Wings. 
Recent theatre credits include: The Importance of Being Earnest (Politiker Productions); The Sonnet Walk (Globe); Losing It, A Fine Line and Courting Disaster (Soho Theatre); The Fastest Clock in the Universe (Sweetspot Theatre); Hyacinth Blue (Clean Break Theatre); 84 Charing Cross Road  and She Stoops to Conquer (both which she won Derby Evening Telegraph Actress of the Year, Derby Playhouse). Television credits include: Foyle’s War, Southcliffe, The Last Note, The Innocence Project and Dirty Filthy Love. Film credits include: United Strong Alone, The Last Upper, Barley Sugar and Skin Deep.
Emily Wachter BWEmily Wachter makes her Young Vic debut in Wings.Recent theatre credits include: My Brilliant Friend (Rose Theatre); Swallow (Traverse Theatre); Britain’s Best Recruiting Sergeant, Caucasian Chalk Circle (Unicorn Theatre); Bedroom Farce (Salisbury Playhouse); The Humans (Avignon Festival); From Morning to Midnight (National Theatre); Rats’ Tales (Manchester Royal Exchange); Pride and Prejudice (Theatre Royal Bath); Doctor Foster (Menier Chocolate Factory) and Julius Caesar (RSC).
Television credits include: Pyschoville, Compulsion and Judge John Deed.Radio credits include: Maiden’s Trip, Sagrasso, The Way We live Right Now and High Table, Low Orders.
Wings by Arthur Kopit, direction by Natalie Abrahami runs in the Main House of the Young Vic from 14 Sept – 28 Oct. Tickets available to book now

WE ARE NOW PRESENT A DYNAMIC FESTIVAL EXPLORING NEW METHODS OF PERFORMANCE-MAKING THAT CREATIVELY USE TECHNOLOGY 


Featuring work and performances from emerging creative talent and established names, We Are Now Festival will explore brand new methods of immersive experience at Rich Mix, Shoreditch

Date: 1st – 2nd September
Location: Rich Mix, Shoreditch
Info: www.wearenowfestival.com


  
We Are Now – Open Senses @ Juju’s Bar & Stage 2017
We Are Now festival takes place at Rich Mix Shoreditch 1st and 2nd of September, exploring the creative use of technology in performing arts to create sensory experiences. The two day event will host a dynamic programme of boundary pushing theatre, interactive installations, 1-1 virtual reality performance, interactive audio theatre and a late night show harnessing the sonic capabilities of the Tesla Coil. Performing over the course of the weekend will be the likes of Circa69, XFRMR by Robbie Thomson, Silvia Mercuriali, Tit4Twat Theatre, Produced Moon and exhibits from graduates of Digital Art Computing at Goldsmiths. Tickets are £55 for the full weekend with day passes starting at £25, and individual shows starting at £5. For info visit www.wearenowfestival.com


This one of a kind event will highlight emerging creative talent alongside established names with the aim of offering artists a platform to push the boundaries of their specialism, whether it be art, theatre or performance, that showcase the endless creative possibilities of technology in performing arts.

Internationally renowned Circa69 will be premiering their groundbreaking VR theatre experiences to enthral festival goers in London, whilst Tit4Twat will perform their critically acclaimed ‘Losers’ show – one of the highlights of the Camden fringe this year. A main highlight of the event, Cryptic’s Robbie Thomson will explore the possibilities of harnessing the Tesla Coil as a musical instrument with his XFRMR show. We Are Now kicks off with the opening theatre show on the Friday, a work in development from Sleight Of Hand supported by Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol and Theatre Delicatessen. This will be paired with a post-show Salon Talk led by academics, psychologists and theatre makers which will explore the use of technology as a tool for empathy and creativity.

We Are Now was established by Megan Kieran; a creative producer with a passion for exploring the use of technology to connect to other people and the world in general. She says 
“We are very excited to present this year’s programme for We Are Now. The work is incredibly strong and truly represents where we can go with this sensational next wave of performance. We hope to immerse audiences, to invite new sensations and experiences and to provoke thought and discussion around how we can reclaim our use of technologies and harness their creative potential.”

We Are Now is supported by Arts Council England and is a winner of the DBACE Awards for Creative Enterprise 2017. For more info visit www.wearenowfestival.com

Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace

“Blame it on the gin”

There’s no doubting the visual flair that choreographer Drew McOnie is able to conjure in his work – In The Heights and Jesus Christ Superstar being just two recent examples – and so it is no coincidence that his move into directing has begun with dance-heavy pieces. Strictly Ballroom lit up the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before Christmas and now The Wild Party opens up the programming at The Other Palace, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rebranded St James Theatre.
Michael John LaChiusa’s musical version is not the first adaptation of Joseph Moncure March’s epic poem to hit London this year – that title goes to the Hope Theatre’s two hander from last month. But it does have its own tunes presented as a vaudeville, a real mish-mash of every 1920s style you can think of and more, which makes for a bold and brash evening – especially as performed by this lavishly assembled ensemble – but ultimately, one of little staying power. 
March’s jazz-age tale of a tempestuous couple holding a gathering to end all gatherings allows for a real parade of vivid caricatures to come passing through in search of gin, blow, sex and some defining characteristic or other. Sometimes this works, as in the hypnotic moves of Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea’s gender-flipping couple, and Dex Lee’s animalistic sexuality but sometimes, you’re left craving more than the shallowness that the writing too often falls back on.
Even Frances Ruffelle and John Owen-Jones as Queenie and Burr, the couple hosting the revels in the hope of filling the void in their relationship, struggle to deepen their leads, and the splendid talents of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Simon Thomas are ill-served as the friends and lovers who crash tragically into the night. Everyone is good, that goes without saying, and it looks a treat, but McOnie needs to be wary of letting style rule over substance. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 1st April

9 of my top moments in a theatre in 2016

The end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances should be on their way soon, once the food coma has abated, but to tide you over, here’s my list of 9 of my top moments in a theatre over 2016, the things that first come to mind when someone says ‘what did you enjoy this year’. For reference, here’s my 2015 list and 2014 list.

The ‘arrival’ of the Hope Theatre

I’ve been gazumped by The Stage in recognising this Islington fringe theatre for a stellar year but it is no more than Matthew Parker and his team there deserve. Over the course of 2016, intelligent and exciting programming has made the Hope into a must-see venue for me, no mean feat in a market already full of fringe venues and new ones opening every time you look up. From promoting new writing to astutely chosen revivals, scorchingly personal writing to themed seasons culminating in delightfully campy lesbian musicals, this theatre has been on fire all year long and has made me excited to see every single thing they put – and there’s precious few places, large or small, that can say that.

Wizards and magic and owls, oh my

I’d have to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child again before deciding officially whether it is a great piece of drama or not, but there’s no doubting that it is a stonking piece of theatre and the atmosphere at the very first shows was something quite amazing to be a part of, even from the back row of the balcony. The romantic sweep of Christine Jones’ set and Steven Hoggett’s movement, John Tiffany’s endlessly imaginative direction and of course, the masterfully jaw-dropping effects from Jamie Harrison. It felt like something I’d never seen before and in the case of Sprocket the Owl, it was something no-one else saw either! 

(c) Stephen Cummiskey

Miriam Buether turning the world upside down

It’s incredible that in the same month that I saw Harry Potter, a play at the Hampstead Theatre matched it for simply astounding set design. Miriam Buether’s work on Wild was jaw-droppingly good and what I was particularly proud of on a personal level, was how I managed to reference it in plain sight in the review, yet still managing to avoid spoilers.
See also: opening in the same month, Bob Crowley’s design for Aladdin was impressive against such stiff competition

The Hired Man brought to orchestral life

I knew the concert version of The Hired Man at Cadogan Hall would be good, but I wasn’t prepared for just how emotional it would be. Hearing Jenna Russell and John Owen-Jones duetting on ‘No Choir Of Angels’ took me to the edge, being joined by Matthew Seadon-Young for the soaring ‘If I Could’ pushed me right over to leave me quietly sobbing for most of the interval.

Discovering Lorraine Hansberry, for myself

Before March this year, I’d never seen a Lorraine Hansberry play and seeing two in a month – Eclipse’s touring A Raisin in the Sun and the National Theatre’s Les Blancs – absolutely blew me away. Both will rank very highly in my end-of-year list but more than that, I enjoyed finding my own way into loving Hansberry’s work. It’s all very well being told someone is good (even when that someone is my mum, who has ranked Raisin… as one of her favourite plays for a while) but I much prefer forming these opinions for myself and now I can hand-on-heart agree that Hansberry’s was a superb talent.

The glorious rise of Noma Dumezweni

There’s something beautiful in seeing karmic justice being served, especially to an actor who you’ve admired for a goodly while. Noma Dumezweni may not have been a household name at the beginning of the year but the trifecta of stepping into the lead role of Linda at a moment’s notice, making her directorial debut in I See You, and then nailing her inspired casting as the adult Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has seen her profile rise stratospherically. Most impressive of all the serene grace with which she has handled all manner of racist trolling on Twitter.

Finally getting ‘Satisfied’

In a most rare example of restraint from myself, I had the Original Cast Recording of Hamilton for something like a year without listening to it, knowing that I would be doing my damnedest to see the show. And sure enough, with several months planning and the help of a generous birthday gift, I got to see the original cast live at the Richard Rodgers Theatre whereupon I experienced the absolute genius and glory of Renée Elise Goldsberry’s ‘Satisfied’ completely unspoiled. Without exaggeration, one of the best moments of musical theatre ever written.
See also: getting to relive the sumptuous harmonies of Jessie Mueller, Kimiko Glenn and Keala Settle in ‘A Soft Place To Land’ from Waitress thanks to the wonder of Broadway cast recordings

(c) Pascal Victor

Isabelle Huppert being Isabelle Huppert

I’d argue that Isabelle Huppert is one of the finest actors in the world and what is particularly exciting about her is that she rarely takes easy, predictable decisions in her choice of collaborators and material. From films such as Elle to La Pianiste, she always provokes and so perhaps it was no surprise that a rare UK theatre appearance would be equally challenging. If anything got me through the nearly 4 hours of Phaedra(s), it was the undeniable electric star quality that she radiates, no matter what she’s doing.
See also: getting to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart is always a pleasure, even if I had to suffer Pinter for the privilege

Holding the curtain in Derby 

A personal one here but one that still makes me chuckle. Back in March, I was invited to Derby Theatre to see the double bill of Look Back in Anger and response piece Jinny but the train I was booked on was cancelled. I got on the next one, knowing that time would be extremely tight, but I wasn’t expecting that when I got to the station, the wonderful Heidi from Derby Theatre bundled me into her car along with Mark Lawson, Michael Coveney and some other bloke, drove us to the stage door, where we were rushed into the theatre where they had held the beginning of the performance for our arrival! Not bad for a two-bit blogger 😉

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women’s theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I’m very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.


Persuasion, Royal Exchange

Another literary adaptation in the North-West and another where the choice of director is instrumental in its inclusion here. Jeff James (La Musica) has worked closely with Ivo van Hove as an associate director and so the thought of what he might be cooking up for this world premiere of Jane Austen’s novel is most exciting indeed.


3 Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible

Described as a coming-of-age story with a twist, Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s new musical is the last show in the final season of Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship in Sheffield and true to form, it looks to be a brave and important piece, once again giving voice to those who aren’t necessarily normally heard in this genre (cf: Flowers for Mrs Harris).


The Convert, Gate

Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed was my play of the year in 2015 and so it’s great to see her work returning to the Gate Theatre, exploring another piece of recent African history that will doubtless be once again uncompromisingly thought-provoking.


5 BU21, Trafalgar Studios,

I loved BU21 when it opened at Theatre503 last year so it is great to see Stuart Slade’s ingeniously inventive play getting a well-deserved transfer into the West End here. Set in the aftermath of a fictitious terrorist attack, it’s disturbing and absolutely essential.

Narvik, HOME Manchester and then UK tour

A new play with songs by Lizzie Nunnery, inspired by tales from naval veterans and stories of her grandfather’s time in the Navy, this show comes courtesy of Box of Tricks, a company whose utterly beautiful Plastic Figurines ranked highly in my 2015 list. I won’t be catching this until its final venue in the tour so look out for it in February and March.


He(art), Theatre N16

Andrew Maddock had a good year last year – his in/out (a feeling) and The We Plays both impressed at the Hope Theatre – and his latest looks like an interesting proposition too. It’s playing at the Theatre N16 which, of course, is in Balham (right by the station).


a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), Royal Court

The talk may be about Jez Butterworth’s latest selling out but for my money, a new debbie tucker green play is where the excitement lies in what looks to be a fascinating year ahead at the Royal Court.


good dog, Watford Palace and then UK tour

Arinzé Kene’s return to writing with this tiata fahodzi production is sure to be one not to miss as he tackles the realities of growing up in a multi-cultural society.


10 I Capture the Castle, Watford Palace and Bolton Octagon

Dodie Smith’s novel is a rather lovely thing so the idea of its eccentric Englishness being captured in a musical is one that certainly appeals. Book and lyrics are by Teresa Howard, music is by Steven Edis and Brigid Larmour directs.


11 Obsession, Barbican

I know I said I’d try to keep off the beaten track with this list but Jude Law guesting with Toneelgroep Amsterdam? Er yes please!!!


12 Hamlet, Almeida

Similarly – Andrew Scott and Robert Icke! Plus Juliet Stevenson not budging from where she is just now.


13 Holding The Man, Brockley Jack

I saw this play not knowing a thing about it back in 2010 and no word of a lie, I wept in my seat until the Trafalgar Studios had pretty much emptied. So this production doesn’t have too much to live up to, honest, aside from being one of the best gay plays I’ve ever seen.


14 We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary, Albany

Keeping things queer, Inky Cloak’s new show looks like another vital piece of LGBT+ theatremaking, spotlighting the crucial importance of queer spaces and highlighting why club culture matters on a political, emotional and human rights level at the very time when it appears to be most under threat in an ever-gentrifying London.


15 An Octoroon, Orange Tree

I don’t know too much about this Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play aside from some people getting very excited about it and the fact that director Ned Bennett has the kind of exciting mind to make it unforgettable one way or the other.


16 The Wild Party, The Other Palace

In his infinite wisdom, The Lloyd-Webber has decided to rename St James Theatre as The Other Palace but the more interesting thing about his takeover of the venue is its focus on musical theatre. Its opening season begins with this Michael John LaChiusa piece which has been cast amazingly to the hilt, a must-see if only for Donna McKechnie.

17 Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre,

This Fringe First Award winning production, written by Richard March and Katie Bonna, combines drama and poetry, rhythm and rhyme in a laugh-a-minute exploration of modern romance but has caught my eye due to its winning cast of Felix Scott and Ayesha Antoine who ought to make a most charming couple indeed.


18 Cyrano, New Vic and then touring nationally

Another mention for Deborah McAndrew here with this new adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s romantic comedy Cyrano de Bergerac, which is the first of three productions Northern Broadsides will be staging to celebrate its 25th anniversary year. Adapting the verse freely to ape the vigorous swashbuckling of the musketeers, this shows a good nose for good drama.


19 The New Nigerians, Arcola

Written by Hackney-born writer Oladipo Agboluaje and directed by Rosamunde Hutt, this world premiere of a gripping tale of conflict and compromise, setting the scene for a political revolution in 21st century Nigeria is an exciting piece of programming as part of the Arcola’s Revolution season.


20 Junkyard, Bristol Old Vic, Clwyd Theatre Cymru and Rose Kingston

A Headlong musical? Sure! Especially when it has been written by Jack Thorne.