10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Family theatre in August

A rare summer in the city for me means I can take in some of the family shows on in the West End right now – Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical, The Scarecrow’s Wedding, Where is Peter Rabbit? and Monstersaurus 

“Microscopic Bobby was my wife”

Photo © TheOtherRichard

The world of Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical (suitable for 7yrs+) as imagined by director Amy Hodge and designer Georgia Lowe is a fantastically bizarre one, full of warm and witty touches that shoud delight children and adults alike. Tiny gingerbread professors, menacing sunflowers, dancing doughnuts, a rainforest of umbrellas, it is an impressive and inventive take on imaginative world-building that perfectly suits Andy Stanton’s storytelling.

All things told, it is a fairly slight tale – bears, beers, butchers, you know the usual, but there’s just such a sense of fun about the whole proceedings. The cast revel in non-sequiturs aplenty (Helena Lymbery, Steve Furst and Gary Wilmot particularly impress), Jim Fortune’s eclectic score builds in post-modern layers that further pique the interest, and the show even manages to sneak in some pretty powerful messaging among all the madness. Recommended. Continue reading “Family theatre in August”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 nominees

Best Cast Recording
Bend It Like Beckham (Original London Cast Recording)
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)
Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan
Hugh Maynard – Something Inside So Strong
John Owen-Jones – Rise
Tim Prottey-Jones – To Do. To Be.

Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)

“And still we’re only dreaming for change, change, change…”

Any semi-regular reader will know the love I had for the late lamented musical of Made in Dagenham so my pleasure at a live cast recording being released was boundless indeed as I always thought that David Arnold’s score was one of the more under-rated parts of the production. And it is so nice to have this kind of full reminder of a much-beloved show although I have to say the first couple of times I listened to this soundtrack, I was still too filled with sadness at its early closing.

But now I’m fully in the appreciating stage and there’s lots to love here. This recording really emphasises the female voice(s) and picks out the sophistication of much of the harmony that wasn’t always immediately apparent at the Adelphi. The spit-wielding mothers of ‘Busy Woman’, the wary onlookers of ‘Storm Clouds’, the weary strikers of ‘We Nearly Had It All’, the depth of the female ensemble just sounds like a dream. Continue reading “Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)”

Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“Everybody out…”

So here we have it, barely six months after opening, the machinery at Ford Dagenham has ground to a halt for the last time and Made in Dagenham has played its final performance. To say I’m gutted is putting it mildly, this was a piece of shining musical theatre that I took to my heart from the first time I saw it and again on my subsequent two revisits. You can read Review #1 Review #2 and Review #3. But the opportunity to see it one last time was one I couldn’t resist and if a show has to shutter, then the special energy of a closing night is probably the time to do it. 

And I’m so glad that we went back for more (this is the first show I’ve ever dayseated twice and you can count the number of times I’ve dayseated on one hand!) as it was a truly special night. The occasion aside, it was a genuine pleasure to see and hear the show again and the cast were on fire to a (busy wo)man. Adrian der Gregorian has never sounded better than pouring all his heart and soul into ‘The Letter’, Sophie-Louise Dann tore up the stage and her colleagues’ tear ducts in ‘In An Ideal World’, Mark Hadfield’s Harold Wilson went even further over the top (if such a thing were possible), and Heather Craney’s goofy Clare became almost unbearably heart-breaking with such emotion on show. Continue reading “Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“You can’t try and bamboozle me with choreography”

A third visit back to this most heart-warmingly lovely of shows and a fine festive occasion it turned out to be. Review #1 and review #2 can be read here and there’s little much to add that hasn’t already been said. There’s much about Made in Dagenham that is indubitably charming and the breadth of David Arnold’s score has a lovely distinct tunefulness that has really worked its way into my memory (meaning I’m the one humming along!).

Additionally the leading performances of Gemma Arterton and particularly Adrian der Gregorian have really blossomed into something quite touching – I’d always been impressed by Arterton’s Rita but der Gregorian seems to have found a new emotional level as her husband Eddie. It’s also interesting to see where the nips and tucks have come in the show – the quip about Sandra’s dad liking whiskey and Monty’s redemption are two I noticed, and Rita’s daughter’s bolstering presence during ‘We Nearly Had It All’ is also now sadly gone. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“It ain’t about the money, it’s equality”

Reader, I went back. Before it had even officially opened. A return visit to Made in Dagenham was never really in doubt and so that’s where I was on Saturday night (on the front row again, there’s really nowhere else to see the show from!) My original review can be read here and I’m pleased to report that the show really has settled into its skin to become something that ought to become a long-running success (though whether it will or not is anyone’s guess). An original British musical full of humour and heart, a little bit of Dagenham goes a long way indeed.

Getting to see it a second time was a real privilege as it meant I was prepared for the few things that had bothered me first time round and also flagged up they weren’t ever really that bad. The broad sense of humour that permeates Richard Bean’s book and Richard Arnold’s lyrics perhaps owes a little to Victoria Wood, with something of the ensemble comedy feel of Dinnerladies in there plus the mention of one of her beloved Berni Inns. And knowing it is coming makes Harold Wilson’s bizarre treatment somewhat funnier in its complete randomness, Mark Hadfield clearly having a ball. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi

“Rome may not have been built in a day but Dagenham sure was”

Based on the real-life tale of the Ford sewing machinists whose strike in 1968 kicked into motion a groundswell of a movement that shook Harold Wilson’s administration and culminated in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, Made In Dagenham is one of those rare beasts – a brand new big-budget British musical. William Ivory wrote the story up into a 2010 filmby Nigel Cole but here it is Richard Bean who has written the book, with David Arnold composing the score and Richard Thomas penning the lyrics, with Rupert Goold taking on directorial duties.

The show naturally has had a lengthy preview period (opening officially 5th November) and I saw it a week ago, not having intended to write about it, but after a couple of people emailed me to ask my opinion, I thought sod it, I’ll write it up! So take it all with a pinch of salt, I suspect the show may not be to the liking of some but I really rather enjoyed it, with its huge amiability, its cracking lead in Gemma Arterton and that crucial level of interest that comes from a true story (and one whose legacy continues today, somewhat unresolved). I’ll be going back soon but here’s what I thought first time round.

Between them, Bean and Goold seem to revel in making slightly off-kilter decisions. Making Harold Wilson an unreconstructed comedy character complete with end-of-the-pier routine with a bit of soft-show here and some salty humour there is simply bizarre, though Mark Hadfield makes a genuinely decent fist out of it. Another choice that seems rather random is the striking opening visual in the bedroom which doesn’t really play out as you think it might. Continue reading “Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi”

Review: Chicken Soup with Barley, Royal Court

“If you don’t care, you’ll die”

A playwright who hasn’t received much attention in years of late, Arnold Wesker finds two of his plays about to receive major revivals in London: Chicken Soup with Barley here at the Royal Court, where it first played in 1958 and The Kitchen will open later this year at the National Theatre. Chicken Soup… follows the disintegration of an East End Jewish family over a twenty year period but simultaneously the collapse of the Communist ideals that they and their friends espouse, starting with the Cable Street Riots in 1936 and revisiting them just after the war has finished and again in 1956 and the beginnings of the Hungarian Revolution.

At the heart of the play and barely off the stage, Samantha Spiro is never less than sparkling as Sarah, at once the Jewish mother forever making cups of tea and sandwiches for her brood as they rally round her, singing songs, making speeches and dreaming of a bright future, and also this political stalwart fiercely committed to her Socialist ideals even as others peel away from her magnetic influence and the ideal world they dreamed of crumbles away. It is her life that epitomises the Socialist dream and her passionate defence of the way she has lived her life, although coming too late in the play, is a stunning moment which ends the play powerfully. As her feckless husband, Danny Webb gives an equally affecting performance of a man who feels he has failed at life and is constantly reminded of the fact by his nagging wife and then later his children: he way he retreats into himself as illness then kicks in is often just too hard to watch. Continue reading “Review: Chicken Soup with Barley, Royal Court”