The finalists of The Offies 2019

Some decisions that reflect my own nominations for the year, many others for plays I haven’t seen and as ever, some curious choices too.

DESIGN
COSTUME DESIGN
Gabriella Slade for Six at the Arts Theatre
Jonathan Lipman for Harold & Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre
Pam Tait for Rothschild & Sons at the Park Theatre

SET DESIGN
Bethany Wells for Distance at the Park Theatre
Francis O’Connor for Harold & Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre
Simon Daw for Humble Boy at the Orange Tree Theatre Continue reading “The finalists of The Offies 2019”

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

A wonderfully warm-hearted production makes the regional premiere of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert a show to see at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“We dress up in women’s clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other people’s songs”

It’s easy to dismiss the jukebox musical as a lazy iteration of the form. And whilst there are shows that worthy of such a slight, there are others which deserve far better. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is one of those, a musical which has worked hard to integrate its music into its storytelling in interesting and different ways, allied with a book that is moving and funny and just a little fabulous. Directed by Douglas Rintoul for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, this production marks the show’s regional professional premiere.

One of Rintoul’s innovations is to make this an actor-musician production, a decision that pays off handsomely here. There’s a wonderful sense of democracy about this ensemble, who subsume the singing parts of the Divas here, as everyone gets a moment (or three) to shine under the Australian sun. To name but a few, a burst of stunning vocals from Molly-Grace Cutler aka Keyboard 2/Jules, the raucous slide of Natasha Lewis’ trombone, the sure-fingered delicacy of Josh Tye’s acoustic guitar (at its best as the interval comes to a close). Continue reading “Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. Continue reading “Review: Network, National Theatre”

Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)

“Oh yes it’s not that I want to stay. 
It’s just that I don’t want to go”

My heart jumped for joy when the Union Theatre announced their revival of Salad Days as the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds classic is probably one of my favourite musicals (and following on from their production of The Hired Man too, another of my absolute faves). I loved being being able to revisit the evergreen perkiness of the show onstage and it also reminded me that I hadn’t gotten round to listening to this cast recording in a while.

My love for Salad Days started upon seeing Tête à Tête’s production of the show at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 which was such a success (eventually) that it returned in subsequent years and it is from that 2012/3 reprise that this live recording was made (which sadly means no Sam Harrison or Rebecca Caine) but it does capture so very much of what worked so well in Bill Bankes-Jones’ production and under Anthony Ingle’s musical direction. Continue reading “Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)”

Review: Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross

“I’m Death. 
‘And you’re on holiday?’”

The ways in which the titles of shows are worked into the script are a source of endless amusement and new musical Death Takes A Holiday is no exception, pointing up as it does the ridiculousness of the show’s conceit. Based on the 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza, which has been adapted for the silver screen a few times, most recently in the Brad Pitt stinker Meet Joe Black, Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan’s book tells the story of what happens when Death falls head over heels for an Italian duke’s daughter and so decides to take a couple of days annual leave to follow through,

Posing as a Russian prince, he joins the aristocratic family at their Lake Garda country pile, ostensibly to learn about human emotions but truth is, there’s only one he’s that keen on. And given that the main object of his study, Grazia, is a fan of the moody gothic look – despite being engaged to someone else – there’s little doubt as to whether will be alone when he returns to the day job at the end of the weekend. It’s a curious lack of dramatic imperative for a show running over two hours, especially since there’s the potential to have a proper love triangle, instead Maury Yeston’s expansive score is left to fill the gaps.  Continue reading “Review: Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross”

Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

“We had such hopes…”

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera decamped to the Royal Albert Hall for 3 performances, the highlights of which were spliced together to give a full CD/DVD release package which contains as full a rendering of the entire score as it currently available. Maybe it was a rush job though as the sound quality on this CD really isn’t good enough for it to be genuinely recommendable, even for a live recording. 

I also had mixed feelings about the production itself. I just can’t get on with Sierra Boggess’ voice, her soprano voice always erring to the too shrill for my liking and the vibrato she employs has all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Christine isn’t the strongest-written of roles at the best of times and Boggess just feels too emotionally vapid to be the inspiration of such all-conquering adoration as she is served with in this story. Continue reading “Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall”

Review: The Sound of Music, Curve

“My heart should be wildly rejoicing”
 

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s undeniable classic of a score, Paul Kerryson’s outgoing musical production as Artistic Director, a shining light of the British musical theatre taking on an iconic leading role – the ingredients are certainly there for something magical to appear this Christmas in Leicester. But to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed by this version of The Sound of Music, whilst recognising that it is perhaps a choice in terms of failsafe festive programming.

Kerryson has been responsible for some brilliant reimaginings of West End stalwarts – most recently Chicago and Hairspray – but it is immediately apparent here that this is going to be as traditional as they come, even old-fashioned in its insistent reliance on flying cloths in Al Parkinson’s pastel-hued design. They undoubtedly have a spatial grandeur (the stained-glass reflections in the abbey in particular) but they also sap the pace of the production terribly as they’re wangled into place time and time again. Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Curve”

Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“There is joy in the air so begone with dull care”

There’s always something of a delicious pleasure in being able to revisit much loved productions and so it proved with Tête à Tête’s production of Salad Days which proved to be a slow-burning but considerable success at the Riverside Studios two winters ago. The Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds penned musical is a true old-school English classic, highly tuneful (even if you don’t know any of the songs before you go in, I guarantee you’ll be able to hum at least of three of them as you leave) and somewhat barmy in its daffy plotting which takes one of the most unexpected turns I think I’ve ever seen in a show.

But what makes it soar into musical theatre heaven is the entirely straight bat with which Bill Bankes-Jones directs the whole affair. There’s not a drop of cynicism to be found in this Hammersmith studio, from the cheery earnestness of Timothy and Jane, its leading couple who leave university to find love through a magic piano (I did say it was daffy) to Quinny Sacks’ wonderfully effervescent (and inclusive) choreography to the joy of hearing such a large ensemble singing entirely unmiked. It is simply just joyous. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”

Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse

“It means the journey ahead might get shorter, I might reach the end of my rope”

Hardly the sunniest of topics for a musical, Jason Robert Brown’s Parade is based on the true 1910s story of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman who is accused of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a 13 year old employee in his factory. How the trial unfolds in Atlanta, Georgia and its impact ripples out, characterises a Deep South rife with virulent anti-Semitism, whipped up by a sensationalist media and fomented by opportunistic politicians and Leo, with his wife Lucille, are swept along with the inescapable tide. This new production is presented in the Vault at Southwark Playhouse, a dark spare space of shadowy arches and echoing sound.

It is a beautifully complex score – one which would reward repeated listening I imagine – pulling in influences from a diverse range of sources, evoking emotion well but more crucially constantly pushing the story forward. Because if there’s a weakness it is that the central premise is fairly limited, the same points are made repeatedly in lieu of much by the way of actual drama. But directed by Thom Southerland, the show really sparkles when it centres on the marriage between Brooklynite Leo and Southern gal Lucille, his bookish dullness captured well by Alistair Brookshaw and contrasted by the openness of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s stunningly-voiced wife whose relentless drive to clear his name wakens a new, deeper love between the two. Continue reading “Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond

“You can’t make a Ham-e-let without breaking some eggs”

I always tend to write less about shows the second time I see them, but in this particular case there is even less than usual as it was only three days since I saw Hamlet! The Musical. But with no future plans for the show currently confirmed and one of the funniest experiences in a theatre thus year so far, it didn’t take much convincing to make me journey back over to Richmond for second serving of Danish delight.

My original review is here and unsurprisingly there’s no change in my response to the show, other than to say it stood up to a second viewing extremely well even so close to the first time, it still got the laughs (and I was probably that annoying guy who was giggling in advance of the funnier jokes) and generated a huge warmth from the audience once again. Continue reading “Re-review: Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond”