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: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre

Some of the beauty of Flowers for Mrs Harris gets lost at Chichester Festival Theatre but it remains a striking new musical

“It’s a work of art… something not real, made to make you feel”

I had much love for Flowers for Mrs Harris when it premiered in Sheffield a couple of years ago, and so I was delighted to see Daniel Evans deciding to revive it at his new abode over in Chichester. My only cavil came with the placing of this most heartfelt musical in the vast space of the Festival Theatre rather than the intimacy of the Minerva where it might perhaps have been better served.

So much of the beauty of the show (book by Rachel Wagstaff from Paul Gallico’s novel, music & lyrics by Richard Taylor) comes from the fact that it isn’t a bells and whistles epic. It is something far more subtle that truly celebrates the ordinary in extraordinary, as Clare Burt’s charlady Ada Harris dares to dream of owning a Christian Dior dress and in working to achieve that dream, illuminates the lives of those around her.

Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre”

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”

Hear some of the songs from The Grinning Man, done rather differently

 

“First you must come with me and see what I’ve found”

The producers of The Grinning Man must have been really really happy when Hamilton announced that it was delaying its opening night so that it would fall into the same week as theirs. Fortunately, The Grinning Man gets in first and has a few days’ grace and it is also taking a little inspiration from the hit Broadway show in the way it is presenting its score. So where Lin-Manuel Miranda called in mates like Alicia Keys, Usher, Kelly Clarkson and The Roots for The Hamilton Mixtape, The Grinning Man has released a set of clips of West End stars and celebrities singing their own versions of some of the songs from the show.

It’s an intriguing move, especially as Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler’s score is not yet widely known, but it is also a fascinating one as the likes of Matt Lucas and Hannah Waddingham, Kelsey Grammer and Louise Dearman put their own stamp on some of the best tunes whilst never straying too far from the gothic darkness of the source material. Continue reading “Hear some of the songs from The Grinning Man, done rather differently”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

National treasure Matthew Kelly and West End superstar Josefina Gabrielle are to star in the brand-new stage adaptation of The Box of Delights, possibly the creepiest children’s tv show ever and one which is indeliby etched on my psyche. This original production is the first time Poet Laureate John Masefield’s festive classic has been reimagined for the stage, and will be brought to life by an ensemble cast in the gloriously Christmassy surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall.
 
Joining Kelly and Gabrielle as part of the stellar cast will be Mark Extance, Safiyya Ingar, Tom Kanji, Samuel Simmonds, Rosalind Steele and Alistair Toovey.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the nominations for the 2017 awards, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony on Sunday 15th October. 
 
 
How many of these did you see, and who do you think should win?
 

Best new play
Half Breed by Tash Marshall, Talawa Theatre Company and Soho Theatre
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Box of Tricks
Wish List by Katherine Soper, Royal Court and Royal Exchange Theatre

Best musical production
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Theatres
Caroline, Or Change, Chichester Festival Theatre
Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange Theatre Continue reading “Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards”

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”

fosterIAN awards 2016

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayJuliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary StuartUzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The MaidsGemma Arterton Nell Gwynn,
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Harriet Walter, The Tempest
Best Actor in a PlayO-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey's Black BottomLucian Msamati, Ma Rainey's Black BottomPhil Dunster, Pink Mist
Paapa Essiedu, Hamlet
Rhys Isaac-Jones, Jess and Joe Forever
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus
Danny Sapani, Les Blancs
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayJade Anouka, The TempestLizzy Connolly/Amanda Lawrence, Once in a LifetimeNadine Marshall, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Tanya Moodie, Hamlet
Siân Phillips, Les Blancs
Rachael Stirling, The Winter's Tale
Susan Wokoma, A Raisin In The Sun
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPeter Polycarpou, Scenes from 68* YearsAnthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildRudi Dharmalingham, Mary Stuart
Dex Lee, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Nick Fletcher, The Deep Blue Sea
Jonjo O'Neill, Unreachable
Alan Williams, Mary Stuart
Best Actress in a MusicalJenna Russell, Grey GardensClare Burt, Flowers for Mrs HarrisSamantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I'm Getting My Act Together...
Best Actor in a MusicalLouis Maskell, The Grinning ManAko Mitchell, RagtimeDeclan Bennett, Jesus Christ Superstar
Dex Lee, Grease
Hugh Maynard, Sweeney Todd
Charlie Stemp, Half A Sixpence
Mark Umbers, She Loves Me
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJennifer Saayeng, RagtimeVictoria Hamilton-Barritt, Murder BalladJosie Benson, Sweet Charity
Sheila Hancock, Grey Gardens
Rachel John, The Bodyguard
Katherine Kingsley, She Loves Me
Gloria Onitiri, The Grinning Man
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJulian Bleach, The Grinning ManTyrone Huntley, Jesus Christ SuperstarAdam J Bernard, Dreamgirls
Daniel Crossley, Sweet Charity
Stuart Neal, The Grinning Man
Dominic Tighe, She Loves Me
Gary Tushaw, Ragtime

The 2016 fosterIAN award winners


Pleasures were few and far between in 2016…


Round-up of the 2016 fosterIANs

Best Actress in a Play
Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart

Best Actress in a Musical
Jenna Russell, Grey Gardens

Best Actor in a Play
O-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actor in a Musical
Louis Maskell, The Grinning Man

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Jade Anouka, The Tempest

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Jennifer Saayeng, Ragtime

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Peter Polycarpou, Scenes from 68* Years

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Julian Bleach, The Grinning Man

And my top 10 plays of the year:

1 Mary Stuart
2 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
3 Minefield
4 Escaped Alone
5 A Raisin in the Sun
6 Pink Mist
7 Steel Magnolias
8 The Grinning Man
9 Jess and Joe Forever
10 BU21

2016 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical


Best Actor in a Play

O-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Full of potent rage but rendered impotent by the race politics of 1920s America, Fagbenle’s powder-keg of a performance is etched on my mind in all its revolutionary rage and the punch in the stomach of the finale proved one of those moments I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Truly superb.

Honourable mention: Lucian Msamati, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
I ummed and aahed over whether to categorise this as a lead or supporting performance but ultimately there’s no denying how pivotal a role Toledo is. And how powerful Msamati was in it, starting off a superlative year for him in which he’s taken the National by storm.

Phil Dunster, Pink Mist
Paapa Essiedu, Hamlet
Rhys Isaac-Jones, Jess and Joe Forever
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus
Danny Sapani, Les Blancs

8-10
Gregory Ashton, Two Short Plays About Gays; Hans Kesting, Kings of War; Michael Socha, This Is Living


Best Actor in a Musical

Louis Maskell, The Grinning Man
As damaged soul Grinpayne, Maskell had the unenviable task of conveying the deep emotions of his character with much of his face obscured but through his sensitive acting and gorgeous vocal work, he perfectly captured the bittersweetly romantic tone of this Gothic hero. Surely, surely, we haven’t seen the last of this show.

Honourable mention: Ako Mitchell, Ragtime
The fact that Ragtime straddled the US presidential election only heightened the power of its message and at its heart, Mitchell’s Coalhouse Walker Jnr on his journey of aspiration destroyed by intolerance felt like a beacon for so much more than Ahrens and Flaherty could ever have dreamed.

Declan Bennett, Jesus Christ Superstar
Dex Lee, Grease
Hugh Maynard, Sweeney Todd
Charlie Stemp, Half A Sixpence
Mark Umbers, She Loves Me

8-10
Fra Fee. The Wind in the Willows; Ashley Robinson, Floyd Collins; Michael Xavier, Sunset Boulevard