Review: Holy Crap, King’s Head

“Paralysis sets in every time I try to sin”

There’s something to admire in the King’s Head’s devotion to offering something different for the Upper Street theatregoer – diverse programming with a decided LGBT focus, late night slots to allow festival-friendly shows a moment in the capital and to attract perhaps a different kind of audience. With Holy Crap though, it feels like a bit of a swing and a miss.

An 8.45pm start time and a 2 hours 15 minutes run time are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times and sad to say, these are not the best of times. Written by The Heather Brothers (best known for A Slice of Saturday Night), Holy Crap aims squarely for cult status with its bad-taste scything through religious hypocrisy and (the lack of) media ethics but in all honesty, it struggles to get past the barely puerile. Continue reading “Review: Holy Crap, King’s Head”

Review: Side Show, Southwark Playhouse

“If you don’t say yes I’ll have a heart attack that will kill us both”

In what I thought was a serendipitous move, I just finished watching American Horror Story: Freak Show before going to see Side Show, but it turned out to be most unhelpful. For not only the connection (seemingly by dress) of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton with the twin heads of Sarah Paulson’s Bette and Dot pales by comparison, but the darkness of representing a ‘freak’ show is far more suited to the horror genre than this rather anaemic musical.

With book and lyrics written by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger (whose Dreamgirls finally arrives in London next month), Side Show has managed two abortive runs on Broadway since premiering in 1997, so it makes sense for Southwark Playhouse to take it on with their sterling record for reinvigorating musical theatre of varying reputations. But despite director Hannah Chissick and producer Paul Taylor-Mills’ best efforts, I’m not sure it is rehabilitated. Continue reading “Review: Side Show, Southwark Playhouse”

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 
And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 
Oakes’ book moves inconsistently around all of them and Brayson’s score does little to provide any covering connective tissue. His musical influences pull from too broad a canvas to provide aural cohesion and far too few of the songs are focused on advancing narrative – the coupling of Warden and Karen (whose surf-soaked bodies provide the iconic image) are given hardly any musical time together, quite Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill are meant to do to generate chemistry in solo numbers is beyond me. 
Robert Lonsdale and Siubhan Harrison as the other couple fare a little better but again, are more apart than together musically. What we’re left with is a grab-bag of tunes, barely scratching the surface of anything, least of all the men of G Company whose tragic fate ends up feeling like divine retribution for being horrific human beings. There’s undoubtedly some halfway striking musical moments – the startling melody of ‘Thirty Year Man’ provides real interest, Ryan Sampson’s sardonic ‘I Love The Army’ threatens to show some character but all in all, it’s little surprise we’ve gone from here to obscurity.

CD Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2015 Original West End Cast Recording)

“I’m halfway up a tree and completely in a jam.
I’m out here in a desert and nobody gives a damn”

After the abortive first run on Broadway, dubbed “a very expensive out-of-town try-out” by composer David Yazbek, a reconceived version of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown made its way to the West End in early 2015 but it only managed the same 4 months of a run there before closing in ignominy once again. Some things just aren’t meant to be it would seem.

I saw the show at the Playhouse and saw first-hand how ill-conceived this reconceived conception was and listening back to the score, you’re just reminded of how very random the whole thing is. At times, it seems on the verge of working – the manic patter of ‘Model Behavior’ is well delivered by Anna Skellern and Haydn Gwynne brings her customary class to Lucia and her lament to ageing in ‘Invisible’.  Continue reading “CD Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2015 Original West End Cast Recording)”

Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Playhouse

“The car’s OK but where’s the wheels…?”

The Broadway production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was less than a stellar success so it is little surprise that it is a majorly reworked version of the show that has opened at the Playhouse Theatre four years later. But even after all the reconstruction and renovation that has been done to Jeffrey Lane’s book and David Yazbek’s score, it is hard to feel that director Bartlett Sher has really nailed it here either.

For something based on a Pedro Almodóvar film, there’s a shocking uncertainty of tone, or more accurately a lack of any real sense of tone at all. The story in set in late 80s Madrid but there’s little concession to either this particular decade or country (though there is bafflingly one incongruously Hispanic accent). One could argue that this is a wise decision but the issue lies in that no overarching conceit of any substance has replaced it. Continue reading “Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Playhouse”

Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury

“I got the ‘ain’t where I wanna be’ blues”

Suffering the fate of a fair few musicals that have taken up residence in the slightly-too-out-of-the-way Shaftesbury Theatre, From Here To Eternity announced its early closing last year and since then the end has drawn even closer with the final date being moved from the end of April to 29th March. I wasn’t blown away by it on first viewing but I had thought I might be tempted to see it again to see how it stood up to repeated viewing and also to get another listen to Stuart Brayson’s naggingly persistent score. But to be honest, it didn’t really work out that well. 

A sadly small audience robbed the theatre of atmosphere despite the cast’s best efforts – it was however nice to see Marc Antolin doing well standing in for Ryan Sampson as Maggio – and there is no escaping the strange weighting of the show towards trying to make empathetic figures out of a largely objectionable group of people, especially in the racist, adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic bullying G Company.  Continue reading “Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury”

Review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Don’cha like Hawaii?”

From Here to Eternity marks the return of noted lyricist Tim Rice to the London stage with this new adaptation of this World War II story, probably best known in its film incarnation and its iconic shenanigans in the surf. This treatment harks back to the original novel to introduce darker elements to the story yet it has also been transformed into a traditional West End musical, which brings with it a certain style that doesn’t always sit too well together with the material.

Set in the adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and bullying atmosphere of the G Company barracks in Hawaii in the summer of 1941, Bill Oakes’ book – based on James Jones’ novel of his own experiences – has a strangely disjointed quality as it struggles to weave together its three main strands. First Sergeant Milt Warden is hot for his captain’s lascivious wife; new arrival Private Robert E Lee Prewitt is less concerned about joining the corps’ boxing team and falls in love with call girl Lorene instead; and Private Angelo Maggio spends his time ducking and diving, making a quick buck by fraternising with the island’s gay population. Continue reading “Review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre”