Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse

As unlikely a Proclaimers musical may seem, this gorgeous production of Sunshine on Leith at West Yorkshire Playhouse is probably the best thing I’ve seen this year

“Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness”

Is a jukebox musical still a jukebox musical when you don’t know most of the songs? You feel that most people would be hard pressed to name more than two songs by The Proclaimers and so it is part of the genius of Stephen Greenhorn (writer) and James Brining (commissioner and director) that they managed to fashion something so perfect, that somehow still feels so familiar, from the back catalogue of the Edinburgh brothers.

Sunshine on Leith was first seen at the Dundee Rep in 2007 and though it has toured Scotland a few times since, it has rarely been seen south of the border. So who else to revive it but Brining himself for West Yorkshire Playhouse. And what a straight-up, fantastic success it is. London has seen its fair share of big musicals open this month but none have made me cry, never mind feel so much as this. Continue reading “Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Album Review: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)

 

“We’ll never close…”

I was sad to see Mrs Henderson Presents close prematurely in the West End, having enjoyed it both there and in its first run at the Theatre Royal Bath, but pleased that we at least had a cast recording to remember the show by. I have to say though, that this was one of those occasions where just listening to the musical failed to capture what made it work on stage. 

The period charms of George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s pastiche-laden score feel rather old-fashioned on record – not simply in the age that they are trying to evoke but in its very nature. Without the visual, it soon becomes clear that there isn’t a huge amount of narrative drive in the songs, they set the mood of the piece well but don’t tell much of a story on their own. Continue reading “Album Review: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)”

Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward

“Everyone loves a bit of filth” 

I really enjoyed Mrs Henderson Presents when I saw it last year in Bath, it came 13th out of all the shows I saw in 2015, so I was most delighted to hear that it would be transferring into the West End. It managed the journey with its main cast almost entirely intact, Tracie Bennett, Ian Bartholomew and Emma Williams all there, just Mark Hadfield dipping out to (re)join The Painkiller and replaced by Jamie Foreman, and its opening at the Noël Coward Theatre has been largely very well received. 

And second time around, it pleased me just as much as the first. Terry Johnson’s direction of this ineffably British show (as with Andy Capp, playing the spoons is up there with the Union Jack) and from my memory, I don’t think that much has significantly changed (though I’ve seen a lot in the intervening 7 months…). That means that the shonky narrator/compere role is still there, which still wears thin quickly, but it also means that its generosity of spirit and warmth of heart is very much present.  Continue reading “Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward”

fosterIAN awards 2015

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayLia Williams, Oresteia Letitia Wright, EclipsedThusitha Jayasundera, My Eyes Went Dark
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, hang
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn
Lara Rossi, Octagon
Best Actor in a Play
John Heffernan, Oppenheimer David Morrissey, HangmenChiwetel Ejiofor, Everyman
Jamie Samuel, Plastic Figurines
Eelco Smits, Glazen Speelgoed
Angus Wright, Oresteia
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayDaisy Haggard, You For Me For You T’Nia Miller, EclipsedPriyanga Burford, The Effect
Estella Daniels, Octagon
Rosalind Eleazor, Plaques and Tangles
Sally Rogers, Hangmen
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayJohn Simm, The Homecoming David Moorst, Violence and SonHarm Duco Schut, Glazen Speelgoed
Johnny Flynn, Hangmen
James Garnon, As You Like It (Globe)
David Sturzaker, Nell Gwynn
Best Actress in a MusicalNatalie Dew, Bend It Like Beckham Katie Brayben, BeautifulTracie Bennett, Mrs Henderson Presents
Jennifer Harding, The Clockmaker's Daughter
Debbie Kurup, Anything Goes
Kelly Price, Little Shop of Horrors
Best Actor in a MusicalGiles Terera, Pure Imagination Matt Henry, Kinky BootsIan Bartholomew, Mrs Henderson Presents
Killian Donnelly, Kinky Boots
Scott Garnham, Grand Hotel
Alex Gaumond, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalEmma Williams, Mrs Henderson Presents Amy Lennox, Kinky BootsAnita Dobson, Follies
Anna Francolini, wonder.land
Lauren Samuels, Bend It Like Beckham
Lorna Want, Beautiful
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalEmmanuel Kojo, Show Boat Ako Mitchell, Little Shop of HorrorsMatthew Malthouse, Mrs Henderson Presents
Ian McIntosh, Beautiful
Jamie Parker, High Society
George Rae, Grand Hotel

2015 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical


Best Supporting Actor in a Play

John Simm, The Homecoming

Anyone who has seen Doctor Who knows Simm can do menacing but it has never been as appealing as it is here, giving Lenny a directly sexual charge that fair flew off the stage. I’m no big fan of Pinter but I could watch this performance over and over.

Honourable mention: David Moorst, Violence and Son
If it’s good enough for the Oscars (Alicia Vikander as Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl, gurl?!), it’s good enough for me. As the younger half of the titular pair, Moorst was heartbreaking, and horrific in the same moment, a thoroughly complex performance for a thoroughly complex part. 

Harm Duco Schut, Glazen Speelgoed
Johnny Flynn, Hangmen
James Garnon, As You Like It (Globe)
David Sturzaker, Nell Gwynn

7-10

Jolyon Coy, Creditors; David Mumeni, Lela & Co.; Pearce Quigley, The Beaux’ Stratagem; Luke Thompson, Oresteia



Best Supporting Actor in a Musical


Emmanuel Kojo, Show Boat

You may think that you know the song ‘Ol’ Man River’ but Kojo’s incandescent rendition(s) of this standard imbue it with an extraordinary power that is just memerising. Don’t wait for a transfer which hasn’t been confirmed yet, get to Sheffield while you still can!

Honourable mention: Ako Mitchell,
Little Shop of Horrors
‘Here he is folks, the leader of the plaque!’ I’ve seen Mitchell in a range of roles but as dastardly dentist Orin Scrivello DDS, he really unleashed his devilishly fun side with memorable results.

Matthew Malthouse, Mrs Henderson Presents
Ian McIntosh, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Jamie Parker, High Society
George Rae, Grand Hotel

7-10

Paul Harwood, Singin’ In The Rain; Stephen Matthews, Anything Goes ; Sam O’Rourke, The Smallest Show on Earth; Renato Paris, Close To You

Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath


“Where’s that damn woman?”

That woman is of course Laura Henderson, a rich widow who in 1937 decides to save the Windmill Theatre from closure and together with Jewish entrepreneur Vivian Van Damm, introduces a continuous variety revue called Revudeville. And seeking to keep their nose ahead of their competitors, nudity is added to the bill, a la Moulin Rouge though unprecedented in the UK, but the censorship battles with the Lord Chamberlain’s office pales into insignificance once war breaks out and the theatre becomes a landmark, refusing to close even as London is battered by the Blitz. 

Terry Johnson’s book for Mrs Henderson Presents wisely adapts Martin Sherman’s screenplay from the film of the same name to create a more tightly encapsulated world centred on the backstage lives of the theatre folk. It dives straight into the main story from the outset and switches things about just enough to keep anyone familiar with the film on their toes. And George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s score dances around the period beautifully, pastiche songs evoking the 30s spirit perfectly with a smattering of vaudevillean fun here and driving musical theatre anthems there, always remaining tuneful.  Continue reading “Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath”

Review: My Fair Lady, Crucible


“Men are so decent, such regular chaps”

‘Tis a truth that ought to be universally acknowledged that some of the best musicals in Britain are being produced outside of London. Places like Chichester Festival Theatre and Leicester Curve are regularly coming up with the goods, but one of the most reliable of regional theatres has been Sheffield’s Crucible and under Daniel Evans’ stewardship, their Christmas shows have become absolute must-sees. Last year’s Company was sensational, the year before Me and My Girl blew me away and this year, Lerner and Loewe’s all-time classic My Fair Lady gets a long awaited revival and it is a show I have never seen before on stage.

One of the lovely things about seeing well-known songs in their original context is that it can refocus the lyrical meaning. For me this was most apparent in the utterly gorgeous rendition of ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ by Carly Bawden – rather than the grand set-piece I think I was expecting, it’s an understated exhalation of wonderment at the evening just passed and Bawden is gorgeous in it. The large-scale numbers do come though: ‘Get Me To The Church On Time’ is delivered with the highly charismatic Martyn Ellis at the front and soon turns into a cracking fest of tap-dancing; ‘With A Little Bit of Luck’ has a subtler but no less impressive appeal; and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’s’ hopeful charm had me at ‘ello. Continue reading “Review: My Fair Lady, Crucible”

Re-review: Matilda, the Musical – Cambridge Theatre


“Never again will I doubt it when my mummy says I’m a miracle!”

More so than with straight plays, I find musicals tend to benefit from re-views (as opposed to reviews!). There’s just more to take in with book, music and lyrics all demanding the attention, especially if they’re richly detailed, staging and choreography offering much inventive potential and by no means least, a wide range of performances, which altogether offers a lot to soak in on a single viewing. Returning to a show also offers the opportunity to reassess one’s initial reactions to it, and so it was with the RSC’s Matilda, the Musical which has now made its long-awaited transfer from Stratford to the West End.

I saw the show at the beginning of the year, fairly late in the run, so had been unable to avoid the effusive praise coming from all angles and the sense of anticipation that came along with it. So predictably, whilst loving the show, there was a nagging sense of a slight disappointment too, which mainly stemmed from it not matching up with my childhood memories of the book and how I thought the show would go. It was still a strong 4 star show for me though, just not quite the saviour of musicals it was being acclaimed as, and so though I was pleased it gained the transfer it deserved, I felt little need to revisit the show. Continue reading “Re-review: Matilda, the Musical – Cambridge Theatre”

CD Review: Matilda the Musical


“When I grow up, I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up”

Darn it darn it darn it. I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to go and see Matilda the Musical once it had made its long-awaited West End transfer from the now-defunct Courtyard in Stratford to the Cambridge Theatre. Not because I didn’t like it, I really did (though not quite as much as others) – you can read my thoughts here – but because of the eye-watering ticket prices: the vast majority of the stalls and dress circle are £60 or more, rear stalls coming in at a mere £50. That pretty much made up my mind for me but on purchasing which has now been released on CD, I have fallen well and truly back under the spell of this show and so it looks like I will have to do some careful budgeting next month!

When it was first announced, the marriage of individual Australian comic Tim Minchin with Roald Dahl’s source material seemed the ideal match but I don’t think anyone could have imagined just how well it would work. The score is simply joyous, the lyrics perfectly crafted – witty enough to make adults laugh and carefree enough to perfectly evoke childhood thinking and the combined package fits together in a way that one imagines that Roald Dahl would be proud of. Chris Nightingale’s full-bodied orchestrations give depth to the music, especially in the swirling sections of incidental music that are included (that’s probably my one criticism is that not enough of that is kept in here) and an enthusiastic cast give marvellous voice to these quirky but perfectly suited songs that will undoubtedly leave a smile on your face. Continue reading “CD Review: Matilda the Musical”

Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Chichester Festival Theatre


“Be a clown, be a clown, the whole world loves a clown”

I’m often asked what my favourite genre of theatre is and I usually make vague noises about liking all of it (farce and puppetry aside obviously) but there is no denying that the shows I truly love the most are big old-school musicals stuffed full of show-tunes and tap-dancing: sheer escapism wrapped up in cosy familiarity. I’m not entirely sure where this came from as these weren’t the shows (or films) of my childhood but this is turn has brought its own pleasures as I’ve been able to see shows like Hello, Dolly!, Salad Days and On the Town for the first time in amazing stage productions without knowing what to expect and consequently being blown away. Earlier this year, the Crucible’s Me and My Girl planted a strong marker for musical of the year but having now seen Singin’ in the Rain at the Chichester Festival Theatre, the competition is definitely hotting up.

There are similarities: the open thrust stage here, as in Sheffield, is just perfect for big expansive dance numbers, especially when they are this well-choreographed, and also able to play on an intimacy with the audience that most London theatres would kill for; and Daniel Crossley is in both, he may be in a supporting role here but to my mind, he is one of our best all-rounders, I could watch him dance for days; and they’re both ‘out-of-town’ shows, I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes, but it is hard to shake the feeling that had they originated in London, they’d be less ensemble-oriented, less fun and more cynically post-modern. Continue reading “Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Chichester Festival Theatre”