The finalists of The Offies 2018

The finalists of the The Offies 2018 have been announced and as ever, there’s much of interest there, in the choices made and the breadth of Off West End theatre celebrated. Play-wise, I’m delighted at the love for The Revlon Girl and An Octoroon here, nice to see the Bunker’s Eyes Closed Ears Covered rewarded too, plus Will Pinchin’s work in Frankenstein.
 
With the musicals, I’m not down with the love for Promises Promises, an ill-judged revival that added nothing to the conversation (and even less in these #MeToo times) and I’m disappointed that none of the boys of Yank! were recognised. The rest of the Southwark Playhouse’s spectacular year does get the appropriate plaudits though, with Superhero, The Life and Working all getting multiple nominations.
 
And lastly, at times it can seem like all you have to do is sing in your bathroom and you get an Offie nomination 😉 so it is interesting to see how the numbers break down, albeit somewhat vaguely. These 80 or so finalists have apparently been whittled down from over 350 nominations from over 190 shows – there’s clearly just a lot of Offies love to share. Should you wish to join in said sharing at the IRL award ceremony on Sunday 4th March at The Albany, Deptford, you can buy tickets here.

Continue reading “The finalists of The Offies 2018”

2017 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play


Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
How to split these three? Why would you even want to. Their effortless grace, their ferociously detailed complexity, their heart-breaking connectivity, all three will live long in my mind.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn’t followed Ink into the West End I’m not sure.

Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle

8-10
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman; Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; Rosie Wyatt, In Event of Moone Disaster

Best Actress in a Musical

Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
A second three-way tie? Hey, it’s my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing ‘Send in the Clowns’ for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker’s uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.

Honourable mention: Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn’t begin with J…, Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there’s any justice, should continue the Hope Mill’s admirable record of London transfers.

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T’Shan Williams, The Life


8-10

Carly Bawden, Romantics Anonymous; Sandra Marvin, Committee; Marisha Wallace, Dreamgirls;

2017 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Thinking about this most well-received of plays, it is the role of Aunt Maggie Faraway who lingers most in my mind, the elegiac beauty of her speeches an elegant way of folding in traditions of Irish storytelling and emphasising the deep bonds of family. Breathtaking work from Brennan.

Honourable mention: Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)
When done well, Olivia is one of my favourite Shakespearean roles and the statuesque Kennedy didn’t disappoint with a highly-sexed take on the character which embraced all the physical potential of her height.

Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O’Flynn, The Glass Menagerie

8-10
Susan Brown, Angels in America; Jessica Brown Findlay, Hamlet; Denise Gough, Angels in America

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Tracie Bennett, Follies

All I have to say is ‘I’m Still Here’. I’M STILL HERE!

Honourable mention: Rachel John, Hamilton
Only the tiniest of margins separated these two and it’s only really the fact that she’s not Renée Elise Goldsberry that held John back from the title.

Christine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie


8-10
Nicola Hughes, Caroline or Change ; Cathy Read, Little Women; Sharon Sexton, Bat Out of Hell

Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the nominations for the 2017 awards, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony on Sunday 15th October. 
 
 
How many of these did you see, and who do you think should win?
 

Best new play
Half Breed by Tash Marshall, Talawa Theatre Company and Soho Theatre
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Box of Tricks
Wish List by Katherine Soper, Royal Court and Royal Exchange Theatre

Best musical production
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Theatres
Caroline, Or Change, Chichester Festival Theatre
Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange Theatre Continue reading “Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards”

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees

unsuspecting bring us these
secret little tragedies”
Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.
It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents.
Kushner has real fun playing with form – the cast list includes The Washing Machine, The Bus, and three people playing The Radio – but there’s deadly serious intent at work as we’re spared nothing of the indignities of a life in servitude. Following on from her bravura work in The Life, Sharon D Clarke offers another compelling performance as Caroline, silently furious at life and particularly anguished by her inability to connect with the winds of change that her best friend (the brilliant Nicola Hughes) and her teenage daughter (the equally good Abiona Omonua) are both riding.
Longhurst emphasises the vast array of influences that makes up Tesori’s all-encompassing score – the hints of Motown, the klezmer sound of the clarinet, the deeply-felt spiritual underpinning the African-American experience – and it sounds like a dream. It looks good too in Fly Davis’ period-detailed set under Jack Knowles’ keenly observed lighting, and the quality of the ensemble is evident from top to bottom – Lauren Ward, Jennifer Saayeng, Ako Mitchell, Beverley Klein…I could name them all. A stirring revival of a soaring show.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Booking until 3rd June

Review: The Life, Southwark Playhouse

“I’ve done everything that a body can do.

But how goddamn much can a body go through?”
There’s a moment early on in The Life where Sharon D Clarke’s been-around-the-block-and-then-some Sonja has a moment akin to Jenna Russell’s ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’ in Grey Gardens where she utterly and completely steals the show with an outstanding musical number, the likes of which will scarcely be bettered all year. Here it is ‘The Oldest Profession’, a world-weary but witty run through life working on the streets which is just bloody fantastic. But lest you worry that this is a musical to glamourise prostitution, all that good feeling is instantly shattered by a scene of brutal cruelty from her pimp which leaves you in no doubt as to how (melodramatically) serious The Life is.
Set on the seedier side of 42nd Street in 1980s New York, David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman’s book remembers Times Square before it became tourist-friendly and follows a group of people just trying to get by in this callous world. Queen is turning tricks and saving money to move on out of this world but when her lover Fleetwood, a troubled Vietnam vet with a habit, blows half her stash on his stash, it’s clear that something drastic needs to happen. Angered by new arrival from the sticks Mary, aided by longtime friend and co-worker Sonja, and abetted by the malicious Memphis, Queen is spurred onto a course of ambitious but tragic action.
It’s a sordid and occasionally desperate world but one that director Michael Blakemore, who also helmed the 1997 Broadway production, shows us also has hope and heart. Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography really plays up the sense of camaraderie between the working girls, led superlatively by Sharon D Clarke’s mother hen-of sorts in Sonja, with vivid bursts of character – especially from Jalisa Andrews and Lucinda Shaw – showing the unconventional family dynamic they cling to. And on the fringe of the group with her eyes firmly fixed on the exit, T’Shan Williams’ determined Queen is a maelstrom of intense emotion, increasingly trapped by her situation but never entirely beaten.
As the men in their lives, David Albury’s out-of-his-depth would-be pimp Fleetwood is perfectly pitched up against Cornell S John’s malevolent old-hand Memphis and as the wheeler-dealing Jojo who acts as a narrator of sorts, John Addison has a nice moral equivalency about him. Coleman’s score, with lyrics by Gasman, is boldly tuneful and sounds sprightly under Tamara Saringer’s musical direction. Justin Nardella’s set design attempts a lot in the limited space of the auditorium and largely pulls it off, though Nina Dunn’s video projections are an unnecessary addition, especially when Nardella has provided such eye-catching (and definitely PG-rated) costumes.
At this final preview, the company looked to be in extremely fine form and a rapturous reception from the audience was certainly well deserved. The second act does stretch a little too languorously though, incorporating a couple of musical numbers that add little to the main thrust of the narrative for little discernible benefit, but it’s a small cavil in an otherwise enjoyable evening.   
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Tristram Kenton
Booking until 29th April

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 
That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end. 
At its heart was a trio of devastating performances from Badria Timimi, Rosie Cavaliero and Mark Bonnar, gradually unpeeling the layers of shocking damage perpetrated on them in their youth and how their entire lives were impacted in one way or another. And Adeel Akhtar, Nigel Lindsay and Charlie Condou as their partners respectively, finding out the truth at pretty much the same time as us, provided a great route into the unfolding mysteries of the case. 
And investigating, Walker’s DCI Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Khan offering contrasting views on the ethical certainties of digging into such cases, the nature of moral relativism of punishment and, in one of the much-needed lighter moments, the importance of being able to deal with misguided drunken sexual advances in the best possible way. Brutally affecting in the final analysis and superbly acted, there’s no danger of forgetting just how good Unforgotten is – commission series 3 now!

Series 2 of Unforgotten will be released on DVD on 6th March 2017

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Next week sees the 9th Gay Art Festival GFEST start, an eclectic showcase of art, films, and performance work by LGBTQI artists from London, UK and beyond. There’s all sorts to choose from – full details here – with this year’s theme being OUT [in the Margins] and some of the things piquing my interest are European films Jonathan and Brothers of the Night, at Rich Mix and Arthouse Crouch End respectively, and trans documentary The Pearl on at Rich Mix on 15th November. You might be interested in their performance night at the RADA Studio on the 19th November too, a 2 hour double bill of LGBTQI music and dance narratives. Visit their website at www.gaywisefestival.org.uk.


One of the more exciting pieces of casting news was the announcement that the original cast of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone – the glorious Deborah Findlay, Linda Bassett, Kika Markham, and June Watson, will be reuniting for the show’s revival early next year. Escaped Alone (my review here) will play a short run in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs 25 January – 11 February 2017, skip over the Atlantic for a wee run at BAM Harvey Theater, New York starting on 15 February and then returns to the UK to go on a national tour 7 March – 26 March to The Lowry, Salford Quays; Cambridge Arts Theatre and Bristol Old Vic.


I suppose a few people might be interested in the return of David Tennant to the stage in Don Juan in Soho... 😉


I’m not 100% in love with the venue, more for the journey through the casino to get to the room, but Leicester Square’s Hippodrome Casino has announced a star-laden set of concerts to follow up on recent successes including Jeremy Jordan, Titus Burgess and Michael Ball. You’ll be able to see Murder Ballad’s Kerry Ellis on 20th December, Memphis’ Matt Cardle on 17th February, Sharon D Clarke – so good in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – on 10th March, and the luscious Oliver Tompsett, recently in Guys and Dolls, on 24th March. More info here.


Congratulations to Andrew Thompson, whose play In Event of Moone Disaster was announced as the winner of the biennial Theatre503 Playwriting Award. Chosen from a shortlist of five and from a longlist that stretched over 52 different countries, Thompson won a nifty £6,000 and will see his play produced as part of his prize.


Hang out the bunting too for the New Diorama Theatre, who won this year’s Empty Space Peter Brook award.


And an interesting snippet from across the pond about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Broadway version of the show, starring Christian Borle as Charlie and scheduled to open Spring 2017, will cleave closer to the Gene Wilder-starring film with Willy Wonka appearing “much earlier in the production, starting the show by welcoming children and guests to his sweetie empire” and “more classic songs from the film that were left out of the London production, as well as new songs by Shaiman and Wittman. Audiences can expect yodeling from Augustus Gloop as he enjoys a mid-breakfast snack of 50 chocolate bars, plus a number called ‘Strike That, Reverse It’ highlighting Wonka’s constant mental frenzy”.

CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)

“This is always such a rush”

Some musicals are slow-burners. They may not hit you with their full force on first viewing but rather repay revisits and repeated listens to cast recordings to unfurl the depth of their appeal. So it was for me with Legally Blonde, and also with Ghost the Musical – a show I saw twice in the West End and again on its 2013 tour, liking it more and more each time.

And a large part of that was the way in which Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart’s pop/rock-based score took its time to sidle its way into my affections, not necessarily the kind of music that would appeal to me but ultimately proving irresistible in its finest moments. And it is remarkably diverse too, pulling in from a wide musical palette whilst stamping out its own identity as something refreshingly different from your typical musical theatre score.

So there’s a gently acoustic vibe to songs like the romantic ‘Here Right Now’ and more pragmatic ‘Life Turns On A Dime’ with leads Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy both sweetly impressing, a more frenetic energy to Oda Mae Brown’s numbers, especially the disco-ish ‘Talkin’ Bout A Miracle’ which the excellent Sharon D Clarke knocks out of the park, and downright oddities like ‘Focus’ and ‘Ball of Wax’, the latter of which which has now been rightly excised from the touring version of the show. 
For me, the highlight of the score comes slap bang in the middle as either side of the interval, things become beautifully angsty. Standout ballad ‘With You’ is gorgeously essayed by Levy, leading into the sprawling splendour of ‘Suspend My Disbelief/I Had A Life’ which soars into the interval. And once we come back ‘Rain/Hold On’ maintains that emotional intensity in its almost rock-opera stylings.
Throw in the repeated musical motif of ‘Unchained Melody’ which is excerpted and interpolated at key moments, none better than the shimmering gorgeousness of the tear-jerking finale, and it becomes a cast recording that richly rewards replays and which is perhaps even better than the show from whence it came.