Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

“The world is hard, the world is mean

It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”

I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.

The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)”

TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2

“You are a curiosity”

American versions of Shakespeare (whether his plays or the man himself) are always worth looking up, even if only for a chuckle and new TNT TV series Will is certainly no exception. There’s some weight behind it – it was created by Craig Pearce, the longtime writing partner of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and has Shekhar Kapur, who directed the award-winning Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, directing and executive producing and in the role of the Bard himself, there’s a potentially star-making role for British newcomer Laurie Davidson.

I watched the first two episodes and they sure make an arresting introduction. You feel Luhrmann’s influence almost immediately as this is no antiquated version of a sedate Elizabethan London, but rather it is one shot through with bright colours and a punk-filled attitude. Literally so, as they have conceived the burgeoning theatre scene of the time as being akin to the contemporary(ish) world of punk rock – theatres filled with patrons in leather and mohicans, the soundtrack filled with the Clash and drunken singalongs to Lou Reed.  Continue reading “TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2”

CD Review: Bad Girls (2007 Original London Cast)

“We’re all banged up without a bang”
Maureen Chadwick, Ann McManus and Kath Gotts’ musical adaptation of long-running TV show Bad Girls only lasted a couple of months in the West End back in 2007 but they still managed to get out a cast recording (and a DVD too, though I’ve not been able to track that down yet). My first experience with the show was with the Union’s fringe production earlier this year and I have to say, I really enjoyed myself.
Sadly, I don’t think this recording quite captures the joie de vivre that the show gave me. It actually highlights the randomness of Gotts’ score, both musically and dramatically. David Burt’s Jim Fenner is a case in point here – Burt plays up the devilish charisma which is his forte in suavely slick numbers like ‘Jailcraft’ and ‘The Key’ yet for all his old-school Hollywood charm, we have to buy him as the sexually predatory villain of the piece.

To be fair, that’s an extreme example but such inconsistency is indicative of Bad Girls as a whole and the songs aren’t really strong enough to stand up on their own here, switching from heartfelt spiritual to vaudeville to flat ballads. Julie Jupp and Rebecca Wheatley do their best as the Julies with comic number ‘Life of Grime’ but it doesn’t pop as it did onstage; so too with Yvonne’s glammed-up number ‘A-List’, Sally Dexter’s powerful voice deserving a better calibre of material.
But for all my head says this doesn’t work, my heart has been softened by the memories of that Union production and I can’t help but be a little seduced into this trashy life of crime – the 80s power pop of ‘The Baddest and the Best’ is pretty much the definition of guilty pleasure. Maybe one to borrow off a friend rather than buy outright.

Review: Hidden in the Sand, Trafalgar Studios

“When I put Neil Diamond on, people leave the shop”

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus may seem like an unlikely backdrop for a love story but in James Phillips’ self-directed Hidden in the Sand, it serves well as the catalyst for an emotional personal odyssey that stretches across Europe and over decades. Alexandra Chrysostomou’s happy life in the northern Cypriot port of Famagusta was ripped from her when the Turks invaded – there was barely time to collect a few precious belongings before fleeing with her sister Eleni, at a stroke reduced to the level of refugee. Eventually constructing a new life for herself in London, running a shop and subsisting on the memories of love and home, the prospect of a new relationship forces her to confront some of the more painful aspects of the past.

Sally Dexter’s Alexandra and Scott Handy as new beau Jonathan trace the nervous steps of a new relationship beautifully. As more mature souls, already bruised by life, their hesitant flirtation and subsequent opening up to one another is sensitively, superbly drawn. Her tempestuous Mediterranean spirit is almost too large for life, his linen-clad quietness the perfect foil to her broccoli-cooking ways, but she can’t escape the shadows of the version of the past that she has erected for herself, to protect herself, to delude herself into thinking the way things were was the way she wanted them to be. On her own she might get away with it, but the presence of her photo-journalist niece and indeed Jonathan means that reality can’t be escaped. Continue reading “Review: Hidden in the Sand, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”

Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre

“You know, Aslan, I’m a little disappointed in you”

Aiming to be one of the theatrical events of the summer (although it has always seemed more of a Christmassy story to me), Rupert Goold has turned his customary directorial flair to his own adaptation of CS Lewis’ quintessential English classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But in choosing to mount this production in the threesixty theatre in the grounds of Kensington Gardens, a rather unforgiving purpose-built circular tent, the show faces an uphill struggle from the start to try and create the sense of theatrical magic and wonder that is needed to transport us through the wardrobe along with the four Pevensie children. NB this was a preview performance.

The show is clearly aiming to be a family-friendly spectacular, the varied inhabitants of Narnia are evoked through a cross between Lion King puppetry and Cirque du Soleil physicality – imaginatively done if that’s your sort of thing, though readers of this blog will know it is not mine, at all – but the soulless atmosphere of the space leads to a rather sterile feel which the cast rarely overcome. Even Adam Cork’s music fails to get the pulse racing (the website says ‘the production is a play but does feature some live music and a pre-recorded fully orchestrated soundtrack’ so we’re clearly in “play with songs” territory rather than fully fledged “musical”) as the rather anodyne songs make little lasting impression and the muddy sound design meant there was precious little lyrical clarity. Continue reading “Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, Young Vic

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

The Young Vic continues to be allergic to the idea of people just using the main entrance into the auditorium to take their seats: people who have booked for Hamlet have been advised to turn up 30 minutes early in order to take in the ‘pre-show journey’. But whereas withGovernment Inspector and Beauty Queen of Leenane, it was just being guided a different way within the building, here we are guided out of the theatre and taken round the back entrance to wind our way through the corridors backstage past some rooms which have been dressed up with non-responsive cast members sitting around before reaching the seats, it adds very little to the experience (aside from getting us wet on the way there) and ultimately seems a pointless exercise. The most remarkable thing about this section was that the gym had a massive sign that talked about rules for ‘Excercise’: someone at the Young Vic needs to get their spell-checker switched on.

But to the play, labelled one of the theatrical events of the year as it features the return to the stage of Michael Sheen in what is Jerusalem director Ian Rickson’s Shakespearean debut. And as is often the case with such an oft-performed classic, an interpretation has been imposed upon the material to try and cast it in a different, and newly revelatory way. Once the seating area has been located, the uniformed orderlies, utilitarian grey carpet and circle of plastic chairs hint at what is to be revealed, as a ghostly prologue with Hamlet gazing on his father’s coffin before it is lowered into the ground, leads into the opening scene which takes place as if in a therapy session. For as it turns out, Elsinore is, I think, a mental asylum in the late 1970s and so the play takes on a new perspective on madness. I say new, I mean it borrows heavily from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Young Vic”