Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)

I thoroughly enjoy getting to revisit the dark delights of new British musical The Grinning Man

“Laughter is the best medicine”

I loved The Grinning Man in both its incarnations – from Bristol’s Old Vic to the West End – and so I was most pleased to hear that it would be immortalised in vinyl, or whatever the digital equivalent is… A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Tom Morris) is always a thing to cherish, even when it is a queerly dark a thing as this. 

It’s a live recording which has its pros and cons. Personally, I like hearing the response of a live audience, particularly in response to the devilishly dark humour of Julian Bleach’s Barkilphedro. And the raw passion you hear in the voices of Louis Maskell and Sanne den Besten as tragic lovers Grinpayne and Dea feels all the more urgent for not having that studio polish to rub off some of the more emotional edges. Continue reading “Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)”

Review: The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios

A great transfer for a great British musical, The Grinning Man impresses in this transfer to the Trafalgar Studios

“A tale so tragic it could only be true”

I’m no real fan of the Trafalgar Studios to be honest – its seating can be cramped, its angles severe, the toilet situation far from ideal, plus the coffee machine there takes an inordinate amount of time to produce a drink. But credit where it is due, director Tom Morris and designer Jon Bausor have done a fantastically inventive job in reconceiving the space to suit the anarchic energy of The Grinning Man, first seen in Bristol last year (and my favourite musical of the year, too).

A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Morris) based on a Victor Hugo novel, it’s a macabre tale to be sure, but one suffused with a real magic too. And Morris gives it an immediacy which scrubs away much of the distance that audiences can feel in the old Whitehall Theatre as cellists appear through walls, performers clamber into the stalls to sing, couples walk as if on air…

Continue reading “Review: The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Made In Dagenham, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“Don’t treat us girls like a poor relation

Made in Dagenham, in Dagenham – it seems like a no-brainer but it’s quite the statement of intent from incoming Artistic Director at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Douglas Rintoul. It’s also a bit of a departure for a director who has previously won awards for writing hard-hitting monologues about gay Iraqi refugees (the exceptionally good Elegy) but taking a West End musical that didn’t quite become the hit it deserves and taking it home, refining it into an actor-musician production along the way, turns out to be quite the treat.

I can’t deny that I loved the show when it played at the Adelphi – heck, I saw it four times (review #1, review #2, review #3, review #4 of the final night) and I believe it deserved better treatment from the critics. But the past is the past and coming to the show with fresh eyes, and ears, too Richard Bean’s book and David Arnold’s score, it responds powerfully to the new treatment here (co-produced by the Queen’s and the New Wolsey Ipswich where it heads next), smaller in scale obviously but more intimate too, rawer in its emotions to an ultimately devastating effect.  Continue reading “Review: Made In Dagenham, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Re-review: Once the musical, Phoenix

“It’s a complicated thing, this…love”

One of the more pleasing success stories of the West End has been the endurance of Once the musical. Tucked away in the Phoenix Theatre where the huge Crossrail works have limited its footfall somewhat, I feared its subtle charms might get washed away by its brasher neighbours but it is now about to celebrate a year’s worth of performances and is booking through to July 2015. With Arthur Darvill stepping into the shoes of ‘Guy’, a role he has played on Broadway, it seemed as good a time as any to revisit the show which made it into my top 20 shows of the year.

Whereas The Weir explores rural Irish life through the intimacy of an old man’s pub where everyone knows everyone and their business, Once takes place in the comparative bright lights of Dublin, a bar likely somewhere off of Grafton Street with a greater diversity of people. Bankers rub shoulders with burger flippers, gay men alongside Czech immigrants, and all are united by the gift of quietly stirring music and the sharing of stories. From the pre-show onstage bar with its jamming session to the yearning emotion of the climax, this is as gorgeously mellow as a West End musical gets. Continue reading “Re-review: Once the musical, Phoenix”