I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK
Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…
1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL!
2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective.
3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.
4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.
5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge? Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”
Ahoy sailors, if what you thought the world of musical theatre was missing was the opportunity to be trapped on a boat for four days with a load of wealthy musical theatre fans, then worry no more. Stages – the Musical Theatre Festival at Sea has now been announced, a four night cruise from Southampton to Amsterdam and back, with entertainment from the likes of Michael Ball, Beverley Knight, Lee Mead, Christina Bianco, Sophie Evans, John Owen-Jones and the Showstopper guys.
It looks like it could be hilariously good fun – red carpet arrival onto the ship, masquerade balls and workshops and Q&As with the performers. But it sure ain’t cheap, prices starting at £609 with the taxes added on, though as it doesn’t set sail until 15th October 2018, there’s time to start saving those pennies. For me though, you can consider this my not-so-subtle hint to Floating Festivals
that they obviously need a blog review of their cruise and that I am the one for the job.
Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”
“You can’t let the pipes play you, you play the pipes”
After their residency at the Apollo, the Showstopper team have skipped along to the Lyric where they have been performing their brand of improvised musical on a random selection of Mondays, roughly every three weeks. If you’re new to their work, Showstopper is created anew on the night, suggestions garnered from the audience for the title and the various styles of musical theatre in which the songs will be improvised. And it is always extremely good fun and frequently hilarious, hence my multiple visits over the years.
This evening we saw Greece!, a tale of aspiring thespians, goats, mischievous demi-gods, mysterious rambling women and some impressive pipes, set at the base of Mount Olympus and other assorted ancient Greek venues. And musically we went from Gilbert and Sullivan to West Side Story to Andrew Lloyd Webber, though the highlights were the Hamilton-style love duet (big up to Andrew Pugsley and Pippa Evans) and a truly lovely Waitress-inspired number which although ostensibly a comic number about Dionysus, possessed a strikingly powerful musicality (led by the divine Ruth Bratt). The perfect way to liven up a Monday evening.
Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Future performances: Monday 15 May 7.30pm; Monday 5 June 7.30pm
“We’re going to have to tell the vicar”
The 2017 London Jam is a festival of improvisation presented by The Showstoppers, in association with Extempore Theatre & Something for the Weekend, featuring a wide range of improv stars from across both the UK and the world – the improvised Ibsen troupe from Norway being the unlikeliest inclusion there. Naturally, we went along to see our beloved Austentatious and as ever, they did not disappoint.
Regaling us with the tale of Fear and Fascination, full of illicit hat-wearing, malevolent vicars with a predilection for flashbacks, and sheep-loving surprises, this was the team at their best, taking their time with a slow start to to tease out some utterly surreal story strands. The bit of audience participation was unexpected good fun, but it was the surprise murder and the group’s stunned reaction and subsequent glee that made it one of the best unknown Jane Austen novels I’ve yet seen.
“Who needs men?”
In advance of the return of the real Glenda J (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty…) in Deborah Warner’s King Lear for the Old Vic, The Glenda J Collective proved to be most entertaining. There’s no real connection (indeed I’m not entirely sure where the name comes from) but more importantly, The Glenda J Collective can call itself an improv supergroup and not be anywhere near overstating its case, featuring as it does the luminary talents of Josie Lawrence, Pippa Evans, Ruth Bratt and Cariad Lloyd.
And as with any improv show, it takes a far better writer than I to capture the ephemeral nature of the quickfire comedy which comes in the form of non-stop sketches and songs (the group is accompanied on keys by the fabulous Duncan Walsh-Atkins) that flow uninterrupted for a good hour. Suffice to say that it was consistently funny, frequently hilarious and often sidesplittingly genius. From a talking CD player (hello Toshiba…) to the 2 Wisconsin radio DJs coming up with songs for the other 2 performers to make up on the spot, Lawrence’s tie to Cariad Lloyd’s pregnancy bump, it was a cracking hour and one I hope to revisit as soon as new dates are announced.
Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Further dates hopefully to be announced…soon?
“What’s it gonna be Paul, what’s it gonna be?”
The beauty of improvised musical show The Showstoppers is that you can go as many times as you want as they make it up fresh for every performance. So even though I saw two performances on their press day last week, I was more than happy to go again this Sunday evening, this time to experience the delights of Jim’s Soggy Bottom.
A tale of love and Russian politics in the Bake-Off tent with numbers in the style of The Boy From Oz, Sweeney Todd, Urinetown and Jesus Christ Superstar among others, it was highly entertaining as always. Ruth Bratt continues to be a hoot but Pippa Evans has been in a real rich vein of form recently to nab MVP for me. Worth a trip if you’ve not been yet and worth a revisit if you have!
“We even got the dinosaurs in there”
It’s perhaps a sign of the times that an element of variety has crept into theatreland. Where the West End is usually dominated by plays and musicals, we’ve seen the likes of Vegas-style revues like Sinatra and magic shows like Impossible extend its entertainment remit and now we can add improv shows to the list and not only that, improvised musicals. Created by Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery, The Showstoppers have been making up musicals on the spot for eight years now, regulars in Edinburgh and smaller venues like the King’s Head and the Charing Cross Theatre but they’ve now made the significant leap to the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Their routine is a simple one – a brand new show at every performance (we were invited to the matinee and the evening show to prove just that) inspired by suggestions from the audience and embroidered into life by 6 performers (from a company of 12) who literally make it up there and then. The first of the day’s shows was Puck Off, a tale of love and wings in an Irish fairy grotto with a jive-talking Puck; the second was The Lyin’ King, set in the jungle that is the Daily Mail’s offices. But in some ways, the details don’t really matter as the show is remade every night from the variety of responses from the stalls and the unexpected swerves that come in their telling. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper, Apollo”
“Ooh look at my spices”
A first trip back in ages to Showstopper and instant regret that I’d left it this long. I think perhaps I saw them too many times too close together so I took them for granted but regardless, their brief engagement on the South Bank ahead of an Edinburgh run enabled me to rectify this. The Showstopper company are an improv group who specialise in making up musicals on the spot, taking audience suggestions for titles, musical theatre styles and random plot points and somehow weaving them together into comedy gold.
Tonight’s show was GunWharf Souk, set in 1945 the long-established Little Morocco area of Portsmouth, where sailors on shore leave find their heart captured by the locals even though their warship is waiting to take them back to the Pacific. As with much comedy, you kinda need to be there to hear how funny it is and I can assure you that it is quite simply hilarious to watch these talented performers (Ruth Bratt is a comedy genius, Pippa Evans also brilliant too) improvise so randomly and expertly from love songs to Lloyd-Webber, Sondheim to (Gilbert &) Sullivan.
“I’ve seen all sorts of things in pub theatres…”
Tonight saw a very special version of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, currently playing Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre, as it featured none other than fairy godfathers and inspiration to theatre bloggers across the nation, the West End Whingers as special guests. As a critics show, it took a slightly different format: whereas normally the audience are encouraged to shout out scenarios, musical styles and plot developments at the beginning and a show is improvised from there by the ensemble, here our invitees had been asked to write a review of a play from their imagination that does not currently exist and so that was the show that was then developed put on by the team, who were blissfully unaware of what was coming their way.
The show was Dametastick!! a tale of two theatrical divas, narcoleptic Andromeda Dench and Philomena Smith with a wooden leg, old drama school chums from the Rah-Dah estranged after marrying the same man, though at different times but now both in the twilight of their careers auditioning for the same part in The Grapes of Froth, a production being put on a pub theatre with pretensions of becoming an opera house and directed by the man who had been married to them both. Highly silly, highly amusing and enlivened even further by the requirements of the plot, including a tap routine whilst eating cream crackers, a grape-treading number that involved yodelling and a coup de théâtre at the finale which was so amazing it couldn’t even be mentioned until the very moment it came to pass. At least those were the things I could remember, the Whingers really packed a lot into their allotted 80 minutes! Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! with the West End Whingers, Kings Head Theatre”
Showstopper! the improvised musical is a highly entertaining show which promises a brand new musical every night, improvised on the spot by its company. The premise is simple: a theatre producer has just 70 minutes to produce a musical on the spot and invites the audience to make suggestions for the theme of the show, its title and a number of musical styles to be incoporated into the show.
On this night at the Leicester Square Theatre, we were treated to T-Rexctasy, a tale of love and dinosaurs, featuring songs in Disney, Sondheim and country and western styles amongst others. It was extremely silly, and lots of fun, and you soon realise that the story, such at it is, really isn’t that important and the joy of this is in watching the performers interact and bounce off each other in entertaining and often hilarious ways. Lucy Trodd was the star of this particular show, but Ruth Bratt and Adam Meggido as a double act and Pippa Evans made a very funny group of villagers and all of the performers were on fine form. NB: If you do go, do make lots of suggestions as it makes it more fun, and they thrive off responding to the curveballs people throw at them, plus you only get to make suggestions at the beginning. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical”