Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)

I thoroughly enjoy getting to revisit the dark delights of new British musical The Grinning Man

“Laughter is the best medicine”

I loved The Grinning Man in both its incarnations – from Bristol’s Old Vic to the West End – and so I was most pleased to hear that it would be immortalised in vinyl, or whatever the digital equivalent is… A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Tom Morris) is always a thing to cherish, even when it is a queerly dark a thing as this. 

It’s a live recording which has its pros and cons. Personally, I like hearing the response of a live audience, particularly in response to the devilishly dark humour of Julian Bleach’s Barkilphedro. And the raw passion you hear in the voices of Louis Maskell and Sanne den Besten as tragic lovers Grinpayne and Dea feels all the more urgent for not having that studio polish to rub off some of the more emotional edges. Continue reading “Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)”

Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

This regional UK premiere of Once the musical should see you falling slowly towards Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in order to book your tickets!

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

I’d forgotten just how much I like Once. I saw it a couple of times in its 2013-15 West End incarnation (review #1, review #2) and its atypical subtlety was a big hit for me, particularly in the gentle mood cultivated by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and lyrics. The fact that it isn’t a brassy balls-out West End musical might explain why it has taken a little time for its regional premiere to emerge but mercifully, that time has now come.

For that, we have co-producers Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich to thank. And director Peter Rowe’s actor-musician production slips into the groove perfectly, as warm and comforting as a pint of Guinness or three in your favourite old man’s pub – and occasionally just as rowdy as well. With Enda Walsh’s book taken from John Carney’s original film, its bittersweetly romantic tone feels perfect as autumn descends. Continue reading “Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios

A great transfer for a great British musical, The Grinning Man impresses in this transfer to the Trafalgar Studios

“A tale so tragic it could only be true”

I’m no real fan of the Trafalgar Studios to be honest – its seating can be cramped, its angles severe, the toilet situation far from ideal, plus the coffee machine there takes an inordinate amount of time to produce a drink. But credit where it is due, director Tom Morris and designer Jon Bausor have done a fantastically inventive job in reconceiving the space to suit the anarchic energy of The Grinning Man, first seen in Bristol last year (and my favourite musical of the year, too).

A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Morris) based on a Victor Hugo novel, it’s a macabre tale to be sure, but one suffused with a real magic too. And Morris gives it an immediacy which scrubs away much of the distance that audiences can feel in the old Whitehall Theatre as cellists appear through walls, performers clamber into the stalls to sing, couples walk as if on air…

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Hear some of the songs from The Grinning Man, done rather differently

 

“First you must come with me and see what I’ve found”

The producers of The Grinning Man must have been really really happy when Hamilton announced that it was delaying its opening night so that it would fall into the same week as theirs. Fortunately, The Grinning Man gets in first and has a few days’ grace and it is also taking a little inspiration from the hit Broadway show in the way it is presenting its score. So where Lin-Manuel Miranda called in mates like Alicia Keys, Usher, Kelly Clarkson and The Roots for The Hamilton Mixtape, The Grinning Man has released a set of clips of West End stars and celebrities singing their own versions of some of the songs from the show.

It’s an intriguing move, especially as Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler’s score is not yet widely known, but it is also a fascinating one as the likes of Matt Lucas and Hannah Waddingham, Kelsey Grammer and Louise Dearman put their own stamp on some of the best tunes whilst never straying too far from the gothic darkness of the source material. Continue reading “Hear some of the songs from The Grinning Man, done rather differently”

Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

“In you, I found all the pleasure and pain I could ever hope to feel”

All the best birthday celebrations go on for a while and Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary programme has been no exception, featuring productions from each of the four centuries of the theatre’s life. I took in the Lesley Manville opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night earlier in the year and returned to the South West with great anticipation for the 21st century strand of work, which is the macabre, and excellent, new musical The Grinning Man

Based on the Victor Hugo novel L’Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), the show tells the dark tale of Grinpayne, a young man mutilated as a child who scrapes a living as part of a carnival troupe with his adopted family. Grinpayne keeps the lower part of his face covered but the highlight of the fair comes when he reveals his scarred ‘smile’, a sight that moves people in unpredictable ways, not least the royal family in whose intrigues Grinpayne finds himself increasingly embroiled. Continue reading “Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

“Could you ask as much from any other man?”

Andrew Lloyd Webber sure doesn’t make it easy – for his support of new musical theatre in taking over the St James Theatre to making a transatlantic dash to the House of Lords to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor, it’s hard to know where to stand. His status in the British theatrical establishment remains largely unchallenged though and it is to the 46-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park have turned for their big summer musical, directed this year by Timothy Sheader. 

And how do you play a 70s rock opera for today? You bring onboard shit-hot creatives like Tom Scutt and Drew McOnie to reinvent it for 2016. Scutt’s design choices make a virtue of the timeless iron structure that edges the stage. The company arrive in luxury sportswear, its loose silhouettes and muted earth tones akin to a Kanye West fashion show with which McOnie’s contemporary choreography meshes perfectly. Later scenes feature the glitter-covered muscularity of something like a late night Brighton Pride, a smattering of Xerxes from the film 300 and all out Sink the Pink excess during the whipping sequence. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre”

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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Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Novello

Direct from Broadway and originally written as a skit for a stag party, The Drowsy Chaperone (a musical within a comedy it claims) comes to London delivering 90 minutes of huge amounts of fun, though not quite the Elaine Paige star vehicle one might have imagined.

The show itself has a relatively simple plot, following the wedding day of pampered starlet Janet Van De Graaff who is about to give up show business to marry the dashing Robert Martin on the estate of ditzy Mrs Tottendale. Making life a little difficult for them is an array of odds and sods each with their own agendas, Janet’s producer who wants to stop the wedding, the outrageous Adolpho, Janet’s gin-drinking titular chaperone and a whole load of others beside. But where the show stands out is having it all narrated by Man in Chair. Continue reading “Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Novello”