Review: Brief Encounter, Empire Cinema Haymarket

Perfect for the ‘incurably romantic’, Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter is a glorious piece of theatre at the Empire Cinema Haymarket

This is my whole world and it’s enough, or rather it was until a few weeks ago”

How we change over a decade. When Kneehigh’s Brief Encounter was first announced to take over the cinema on Haymarket, I went to maybe one play a month and was the proud owner of a Cineworld card, so was disgruntled that my West End film options were being curtailed. I did not see the show.

Fast forward 10 years, I can’t remember the last film I saw in a picturehouse, the cinema has been taken over by Empire, and director/adaptor Emma Rice has had quite the ride herself over the last few years. So who can blame her for returning to happier times, happier memories, in reviving this much-loved production. Continue reading “Review: Brief Encounter, Empire Cinema Haymarket”

Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre

“How can I hope to make you understand”

Though my life has long been filled with musicals, Fiddler on the Roof has never been the one. I’ve only ever seen it the once (2013’s touring version) and though I quite enjoyed it then, I can’t say I was hankering after seeing another production. And though Daniel Evans’ hands are sure indeed when it comes to classic musicals, I found something rather uninspired both about the choice of programming it for his new Chichester home (although it is an absolute banker) and in his production.

It is perfectly decent, and the quality is solidly good throughout. Omid Djalili is an effective presence as Tevye, Tracy-Ann Oberman is very good as Golde, and it is always nice to see Louis Maskell onstage. But Evans is a director (and artistic director) who has made my heart sing with glorious revivals such as My Fair Lady and Show Boat (and Company and Me and My Girl) and I missed that kind of magic emanating from the unforgiving vastness of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s main stage. Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Muted, Bunker

“When I’m with you, normal rules don’t 

I have to admit that seeing pop-rock on the description of a show always gives me a little pause, my preference always tending towards a genteel piano and strings arrangement when it comes to my musical theatre. So it was a pleasure to discover that I really enjoyed Tim Prottey-Jones and Tori Allen-Martin’s score for Muted, a musical previously known as After The Turn while in development by Interval Productions.

And it is a fascinating show too, with a book by Sarah Henley which unfolds around the story of Michael, a young musician on the verge of a big break whose life is shattered when his mother is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Rendered mute by the loss and under the care of his uncle, his life only begins to show signs of restarting when an ex-girlfriend comes to visit and we see just how much the death reverberated around this group of people. Continue reading “Review: Muted, Bunker”

Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall

“Flawless charmers
Every one”

An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée of Follies in Concert, a semi-staged version of the Sondheim show directed by Craig Revel-Horwood for just two performances with an all-star cast, featuring none other than Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski. Having never seen the show before, I have nothing to compare it too but after hearing the score played by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the inimitable Gareth Valentine, I suspect I may never need to hear another version! 

The set-up of a reunion concert for an old theatrical troupe as per James Goldman’s book works wonders for the show and especially this production. There seemed to be real joy and appreciation amongst the company as they watched their colleagues each take their turn to reprise their former glories – Anita Harris and Roy Hudd’s light-hearted skip through ‘Rain on the Roof’, Stefanie Powers’ glamorous swish through ‘Ah, Paris!’, Lorna Luft’s quirky take on ’Broadway Baby’, Betty Buckley raising the roof with a soaring ‘I’m Still Here’ – whether the onlookers were acting or not, seeing them give each turn hugs, kisses and standing ovations felt real. Continue reading “Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall”

CD Review: Words Shared With Friends

“I’m not a man who finds gestures of affection the natural thing to do”

Over the past decade or so, writer and lyricist Robert Gould has worked with a wide range of composers from across the globe and amassed quite the contact list of performer friends, so the progression to recording a collection of his songs feels like a natural one. Words Shared With Friends thus takes in collaborations from the USA to Sweden and Israel, with excerpts from eight different shows and some stand-along songs, and features a roll-call of exciting musical theatre talent including the likes of Laura Pitt-Pulford, Kit Orton, Joe Sterling and Rebecca Trehearn. 

The 16 numbers range from impassioned musical theatre to straight up pop-rock songs and through the diversity, it is the British composers who shine most. Sarah Galbraith and Kit Orton duet gorgeously on ‘I Cannot Lose You’, a newly written song from Orton’s own My Land’s Shore; Joe Sterling breezes through the effortlessly perfect pop of ’Reasons’ from the self-penned Roundabout; and Ben Stott captures the bruised fragility of Ben Messenger’s ‘Here It Comes Again’, a ruefully beautiful ballad of self-reflection and resignation.  Continue reading “CD Review: Words Shared With Friends”

CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling

“Do we ever really know?”

Joe Sterling’s debut album Somewhere In My Mind has lingered in my iTunes folder for ages now and I’ve never quite got round to listening to it. But thanks to the randomness of the shuffle function and the inspired use of Virgin Pendolino in a rhyme, its presence reasserted itself and I gave the collection a listen. With lyricist Robert Gould, Sterling has written a couple of musicals, one of which – Roundabout – is featured heavily here, and he’s gathered an interesting collection of performers to sing their way through his first songbook.

I say interesting because it eschews many of the familiar names who pop up on this type of album and thus showcases a range of talent who may not necessarily be familiar to you or I. Rosa O’Reilly’s gorgeous pop vocal on the plaintive ‘Ships That Pass In The Night’ immediately marks her out as someone I want to know more about, Jonathan Williams find a similar purity in early track ‘Gone’ and Sterling delivers the guitar-led charms of ‘You Could Be The One, They Said’ with a lovely lightness that is persuasive and not a little attractive. Continue reading “CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling”

Review: Once, Phoenix

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

Unusually for a West End musical, Once gently pulses rather than powerhouses its way into the affections, beating very much to its own unique rhythm with a sublimely sensitive story of the power of music and the pain of untimely love. From the working bar on stage that welcomes the audience into the auditorium of the Phoenix with a makeshift ceilidh to the presence of quality names like Enda Walsh and John Tiffany, it is immediately clear that this is no ordinary film-to-stage transfer.

Augmented and adapted by Walsh, the book covers the brief but intense journey of a guy and a girl, named Guy and Girl, who connect strongly but find that what they can sing to each other, they cannot say once the music has stopped. He’s a busking vacuum cleaner repairman missing his girlfriend in New York, she’s an unhappily married Czech mother searching for purpose and when she spots his potential, starts up a project to get him to record a demo but their feelings soon threaten to pull them onto the cusp of new possibility.  Continue reading “Review: Once, Phoenix”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

Review: Lost In Yonkers – Watford Palace

“It’s not so important that you hate me, it’s only important that you live”

Neil Simon’s play Lost in Yonkers starts in August 1942 and after their mother dies of cancer and their father has to take on a job away from home to pay off the debts for her treatment, young teenagers Jay and Arty Kurnitz find themselves deposited at the door of their grandmother’s flat on top of a sweet shop in the city of Yonkers. But there’s no warm family embrace waiting for them, Grandma Kurnitz barely spoke to her son and initially doesn’t even want to take in her grandchildren. She finally relents and so the boys stay there for a year, learning a whole new set of life lessons as she rules the roost with the harshest rod of steel and they get reacquainted with the aunts and uncles they hardly know.

Trapped with no chance of escape, the trials and tribulations of Jay and Arty are highly amusingly played by Jos Slovick and the playful Keith Ramsay, the misfortune of their situation more than tempered by their teenage concerns and constant mini-battles against the strictness of their new life regime. Some light relief comes in the form of the presence of their childlike Aunt Bella, their dodgy Uncle Louie and the later arrival of Aunt Gert complete with random speech impediment and the boys find themselves fitting into an entirely new family dynamic and one which their presence subtly changes. Continue reading “Review: Lost In Yonkers – Watford Palace”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over”

2011 really has been a fantastic year for fringe musicals in London. Theatres south of the river like the Landor, the Union and Southwark Playhouse have delivered works of great precision and concentrated passion, but at this late juncture in the year, the team Upstairs at the Gatehouse have redressed the balance northwards with an audaciously thrilling production of Frank Loesser’s classic Guys and Dolls, the first fringe version of it to be seen in London. Noo Yoik gangsters, gamblers, showgirls, missionaries and compulsive eaters all come together as guys chase unattainable dolls and other dolls try to get their guys down the aisle whilst they’re trying to organise a little gambling tournament. And of course it is all accompanied by one of the most glorious scores in musical theatre – no mean feat for a fringe venue to attempt.

The space above the Highgate pub has been opened up marvellously in Racky Plew’s traverse staging which allows Martin Thomas’ free-flowing design to cleverly work in the limited space yet make it feel ideally suited to the purpose. But the main beneficiary of the staging is Lee Proud’s choreography which is outrageously daring (people in the front row are safe, but may flinch!) and breathtakingly executed with style and accuracy by the 12-strong ensemble, the tall drink of ginger ale that is Paul Bullion stood out most for me. From the striking opening routine to the iconic leaping dance of the dice-rolling men to the teasing turns from Miss Adelaide and her counterparts, this is pure quality across the board and incredible to see at such close quarters. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”