July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
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News: A version of the London marathon for musical theatre fans

It’s the London Marathon on 23rd April but a week before, The Other Palace invites you to The Musical Marathon – a one-off charity concert bringing together a variety of West End stars in aid of male cancer charity Orchid. All Tickets are £26; £26 for 26 miles, 26 songs and an unmissable night of musical talent at 7pm on Sunday 16th April.


Organised by Paul Taylor-Mills, Artistic Director of The Other Palace and producer of shows including In The Heights and The Wild Party, the show will raise vital funds for Orchid, and their fight against male cancer. The evening will be hosted by Caroline Flack and will feature performances from Louise Dearman, Tyrone Huntley, Zizi Strallen, Oliver Savile, Liam Doyle, Nathan Amzi, Kim Criswell, Liam Tamne, Christina Modesto, Emma Kingston, Lockie Chapman, Shaun McCourt and Idriss Kargbo.
Orchid is the UK’s leading charity working on behalf of anyone affected by male cancer. Established in 1996 by testicular cancer patient, Colin Osborne MBE and the oncologist who saved his life, Professor Tim Oliver, Orchid exists to save men’s lives from male cancer through a range of support services, education and awareness campaigns and a pioneering research programme.

Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward

“A hundred thousand things to see”

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw’s production hasn’t stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there’s still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.
A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand – the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there’s a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too.
But the show is called Aladdin, and there’s no escaping that he’s a dud of a character. As is his high-born love interest Jasmine, Chad Beguelin’s book surprisingly weak here. Which leaves the show at a pretty pass, for neither Dean John-Wilson nor Jade Ewen can do too much to invest any kind of real life into them or the jolly japes they work their way through – Ewen does try valiantly though to inject some kind of positive feminist message into a story that is appallingly, dare one say it unforgivingly, lacking in that respect.
You can point to the devilishly good time that Don Gallagher and Peter Howe have as the nefarious Jafar and (humanised) Iago; or to the boisterous camaraderie of Aladdin’s coterie of (male) monkeying pals, Stephen Rahman-Davies and Nathan Amzi standing out here; there really is much to enjoy here on this magic carpet ride. But for all the theatrical pizzazz, there’s not enough emotional magic to keep you soaring, tumbling, freewheeling like the best fairytales should. 
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

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Re-review: Urinetown, Apollo

“When a young girl has as many lines as I do, there’s still hope for dreams”

Though Urinetown’s run at the St James Theatre was very well-received (including here by yours truly), I have to profess to being a little surprised that a West End transfer was announced. The quirky nature of the show didn’t immediately seem to lend itself to one of the larger houses but without any mid-sized theatres in town, there’s no choice but to supersize when in reality, an extended run at the St James would have been ideal. It was sad to see the house so quiet for this midweek matinée and the run has now been shortened by a couple of weeks to allow My Night With Reg to move in so perhaps it was too hard a sell but Jamie Lloyd’s production certainly has much going for it. A few thoughts follow.

It’s nice to see a company supporting its own rather than parachuting in a ‘name’ for the sake of ticket sales and so Richard Fleeshman is replaced as the show’s hero Bobby Strong by Matthew Seadon-Young who has been there from the beginning. And likewise Julie Jupp and Alasdair Buchan will be stepping up to step into the shoes of Jenna Russell and Marc Elliott when they leave at the end of November – it’s a natural and brilliant progression route and it something that should definitely be encouraged. (Naturally the show isn’t immune to economic realities and so it is Phill Jupitus who will be coming in for Simon Paisley Day, an interesting choice but as I’ve never seen him on stage one I’m a little unsure about.) Continue reading “Re-review: Urinetown, Apollo”

Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix

“I wonder why they didn’t just change their story”

There’s always gotta be a sequel right? After the success of West End Recast earlier this year, director Adam Lenson and musical supervisor Daniel A Weiss have once again gathered a cast of West End talent with nothing better to do on a Sunday night than perform songs they wouldn’t normally get the chance to sing. And once again, they hit the jackpot with West End Recast 2, an extraordinary range of performers and performances that offer a revelatory take on what places musical theatre could go to when a few risks are taken.

Imagine Cynthia Erivo as Bobby in Company, her rendition of ‘Being Alive’ was genuinely sensational (although nothing will ever convince me that a mid-song standing ovation is acceptable) and somehow found something new in this classic that literally raised the roof. So too did Gina Beck utterly own West Side Story’s ‘Maria’, an unexpectedly affecting take that also deserves to be explored more, not least as a fascinating challenge for her vocal range. Cassidy Janson deserves a mention for going green again, though this time as Shrek rather than Elphaba, well for the most part at least… Continue reading “Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix”

Re-review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse

 

“Since when are Latin people scared of heat?”

I can’t remember the exact moment when I knew I would book to see In The Heights again but it would definitely be somewhere in the first 10 minutes of watching it the first time. There was a certain amount of expectation resting on the shoulders of this production – the show was brand new to me but it was impossible to ignore the excitement of those were previously familiar with it – and so I had a little trepidatious fear that I might be swimming against the tide with this one. But I could not have been more wrong – as my original review will attest – and so I nabbed a pair of tickets for the final week within minutes of getting home!

There isn’t really too much more to say about the show than to commend it for maintaining such a magnificent level of energy throughout its run, it feels as fresh and punchy as it did last time and that is no mean feat with such a physically demanding piece as this. There’s a wonderfully teasing note on their website which says sign up here to be kept informed of the future of this production and it would be a well-deserved success for all concerned if a transfer was secured. I really hope they find a space suitable though, as whilst many may cry ‘it should be in the West End’, so much of its unique joy comes from the intimacy of this studio configuration.  

Review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse

 
“My mom is Dominican-Cuban
My dad is from Chile and PR which means
I’m Chile..Domini-curican!
But I always say I’m from Queens!”

Amid the crashing and burning of ill-conceived big budget West End shows, it has been left to the smaller venues of London to carry the torch for musical theatre in the capital and currently leading the charge with what will surely end up being one of the productions of the year is the Southwark Playhouse. They secured the UK premiere of Tony winning show In The Heights which in itself is an achievement but more importantly, they assembled a team who have expertly reconceived it for the relatively intimate space to create some explosively exciting theatre.

Luke Sheppard’s production is pitch-perfect on every level. The choreography – Drew McOnie deserves every prize going – is fearless, fast and furious, Latin influences married with contemporary movement to create something that feels incredibly organic in its fluidity; Howard Hudson’s lighting is full of vibrant splashes of colour and well evokes the near-unbearable heat; and takis’ set design maximises the space brilliantly, suggesting the communal spirit and run-down feel of a hard-done-by enclave yet also finding room for a band of 8 along with a cast of 17. Continue reading “Review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury

“Sometimes you tell the day by the bottle you drink”

If you thought that it would be rather unlikely for me to be going to Rock of Ages, then you would have been correct. It didn’t have the instant appeal to me, not so much in the fact that it is a jukebox musical but rather that the music on which it is based is the kind of the classic 1980s rock of which I wasn’t a fan as a boy at the time nor have I become one now. But one of the joys of maintaining a blog such as this is that occasionally I am offered tickets to shows, thereby getting to see things I wouldn’t normally have considered and so broadening my theatrical horizons, so thank you very much AKA, I am most grateful. So that is how I ended up in the Shaftesbury Theatre on a Wednesday evening, being served beer at my seat, fake lighter in hand.

The show has been something of a success on Broadway and has been eagerly anticipated by fans of the show here, of whom I know a surprising number, but I knew nothing of the show itself. It centres on Hollywood rock dive The Bourbon Room which is threatened with closure by some German developers who want to ‘clean up’ the city and the effect that will have on the people who work and frequent the bar. The owner calls in a big rock star to play his final gig there before splitting with his band; a city planner wants to secure its unique place in the town’s history, and these all have an impact on the tentative and tortured love story between the barman (and would-be rocker) and the waitress (an aspiring actress). Continue reading “Review: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt”

Hoping that the above quote doesn’t ring true, this revival of Christopher Luscombe’s 2008 The Merry Wives of Windsor slips back into Shakespeare’s Globe ahead of a US and UK tour taking in Santa Monica, New York, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Richmond and Bath through to December.

The only of Shakespeare’s plays to take place in his contemporary England, it takes some of the characters familiar from the Henry IV plays, most notably Falstaff and creates a pleasing romp as he chases after the wives of two gentlemen from Windsor but doesn’t reckon on just how cunning the women are. There’s also a young couple straining to be together in the face of parental disapproval, some comedic foreigners, some funny business with a laundry basket and a whole load of farcical fun. It plays here, as nicely explained in the programme, as a bit of a forerunner of the modern tv sitcom and it really does work.

A nice thing about this play is its balanced treatment of women, with 3 strong, funny female characters all of which are played with aplomb. Sue Wallace’s Mistress Quickly is nicely knowing in her manipulation of Falstaff and compassionate in rearranging the love affairs of the youngsters. And Sarah Woodward and Serena Evans as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively are just an absolute delight as the mischievous cohorts with a visibly strong friendship. Andrew Havill’s Basil Fawlty inspired mugging as Ford fits in perfectly with the tone of the piece and as Falstaff, Christopher Benjamin wins our sympathies as well as making us laugh.

The only slight disappointments for me was the sagging of the pace in the first half and Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Gerard McCarthy as the rather bland lovers, typified by their overlong duet. William Belchamber’s fey Slender and Philip Bird’s linguistically-challenged Caius were much funnier and more interesting and there was no hint at all of the former drinking buddy of Prince Hal in McCarthy’s Fenton, meaning he came across as just dull.

As a little aside, I do find it curious programming that this sits alongside the two Henry IV plays this year. With the crossover in characters but not the casting and the fact that this doesn’t really square with the timelines of the history plays, it just sits a little odd in terms of the season as a whole. And with Allam’s Falstaff so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but compare, however this is but a minor quibble.

It is clear why this production has been revived though: it is superbly acted throughout the ensemble, it is huge amounts of fun and once it gets started it just romps through its proceedings with a vibrancy and energy that should win over audiences no matter where it plays.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 2nd October
Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews