Album Review: Imaginary

Released by SimG Records, the cast recording for the National Youth Music Theatre’s Imaginary is just a lovely thing indeed 

“You have to grow older…but you don’t have to grow up”

Commissioned, produced and performed by the National Youth Music Theatre, new musical Imaginary had a short run at The Other Palace last summer, during which this live recording was made. Proceeds from this record release will be ploughed back into NYMT as they are a charity with no core funding, despite the exceptional work they do with so many.

With book & lyrics by Timothy Knapman and music & lyrics by Stuart Matthew Price, Imaginary’s concept is a beautifully simple one and hidden in plain sight, as Sam struggles to deal with starting secondary school and what that means for his only real friend Milo and the truth about their connection. And in the fashion of all the best kids’ shows, there’s much for the grown-up kids as well (and I’d wager they’ll be the ones wiping more tears away).  Continue reading “Album Review: Imaginary”

Review: Midnight, Union Theatre

A striking new musical at the Union Theatre based on Elchin’s Citizens of Hell, Midnight is enthralling, entertaining and exciting 

“If these walls could talk, well they’d probably just scream”

We all like to think that we would be part of the resistance if we were living under a repressive regime but the truth is, that kind of pressure is unimaginable unless that suffocating terror is a part of every waking moment, where life or death decisions mean exactly that. This is the milieu that Midnight exists in – Soviet Azerbaijan as 1937 draws to a close – where every knock on the door brings with it the threat of the secret police.

Based on Elchin’s play Citizens of Hell, Laurence Mark Wythe (music and lyrics) and Timothy Knapman’s (book and lyrics) musical adaptation is so very good at translating the eerie strangeness of this world and is a supremely confident new musical to boot. Essentially a three-handed psychological thriller, Kate Golledge’s production is superbly enhanced by the use of a ghostly actor-musician ensemble who complement and complicate the existence that our central couple have set up for themselves. Continue reading “Review: Midnight, Union Theatre”

Album Review: Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)

“What’s a few more minutes to wait…a little longer”

 
Confession time – I’ve had this album for an unforgivably long time, mainly because I managed to forget about it, despite the fact I was meant to be reviewing it. D’oh, and sorry Mr G. And more fool me, because Before After is just lovely, a tragic but hopeful love story, an unconventional timeline and swooning piano and strings orchestrations throughout, it might as well have been tailor-made for me!

Written by Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman, Before After follows the love story between Ami and Ben through all its trials, as the meet-cute we’re presented with at the top of Act 1 is actually at the mid-point of their story. She recognises him as the love of her life; he hasn’t a clue who she is due to a car accident that wiped his memory; and though she keeps schtum, she asks him out for a drink to see what might happen. Continue reading “Album Review: Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)”

Review: Midnight, St James

“If these walls could speak, they’d probably scream”

It’s not every day that you get an invitation to a musical set in Azerbaijan so I was certainly intrigued to hear about Midnight, receiving a workshop presentation by Aloff Theatre and directed by Matthew Gould in the cosy space of the studio at the St James Theatre. With book and lyrics by Timothy Knapman and music and lyrics by Laurence Mark Wythe (probably best known for Tomorrow Morning), the musical is based on the play Citizens of Hell by Azerbaijani writer Elchin (who for a day job just happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister there!).

Set in Baku in 1937 with the Soviet Union in gripped in the midst of Stalin’s Great Terror, every knock on every door brings with it the fear of being disappeared by the NKVD. And this New Year’s Eve is no different as a husband and wife pace about their flat, debating how – or if – to celebrate when friends and neighbours have been tortured and executed. When the knock finally comes, it isn’t necessarily who they’re expecting but the eventual chilling realisation of who their visitor is and the chaos he can unleash is even worse.  Continue reading “Review: Midnight, St James”

Re-review: Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond

“You can’t make a Ham-e-let without breaking some eggs”

I always tend to write less about shows the second time I see them, but in this particular case there is even less than usual as it was only three days since I saw Hamlet! The Musical. But with no future plans for the show currently confirmed and one of the funniest experiences in a theatre thus year so far, it didn’t take much convincing to make me journey back over to Richmond for second serving of Danish delight.

My original review is here and unsurprisingly there’s no change in my response to the show, other than to say it stood up to a second viewing extremely well even so close to the first time, it still got the laughs (and I was probably that annoying guy who was giggling in advance of the funnier jokes) and generated a huge warmth from the audience once again. Continue reading “Re-review: Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond”

Review: Hamlet! The Musical – Richmond Theatre

“When I think about Denmark and the way things used to be”

It’s Hamlet, but not as you know it. Originally an Edinburgh Festival hit in 2001, returning in 2010 and now developed under the auspices of the Royal & Derngate to a fully fledged hour and three quarters production, Hamlet! The Musical takes a delightfully irreverent look at this Shakespearean classic in an adaptation that is highly inventive, supremely silly and one of the funniest things I have seen this year.

Where it succeeds is in some really sharp writing, there are plenty of genuine laughs in here alongside the broader comedy, and the engagement of a highly enthusiastic and talented cast of familiar faces. Jack Shalloo’s (recently very good in The Kissing Dance) daft teenager with stars in his eyes makes a very appealing leading man and Mark Inscoe’s (huge amounts of fun in Salad Days) doubling as an Elvis-inspired ghost and a devilish Claudius were both excellently good. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet! The Musical – Richmond Theatre”

Review: Gilbert & Sullivan – All At Sixes And Sevens, King’s Head Theatre

“A man is most successful when he knows the extent of his limitations”

Gilbert & Sullivan: All At Sixes And Sevens is a new play taking the late slot at London’s Little Opera House, aka the King’s Head. It is a rather odd set-up in which W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan meet up in Heaven, in the modern day, still estranged, to reflect on their often tempestuous creative partnership. This they do by recounting old stories and anecdotes, illustrated by snippets from a large range of songs from their repertoire, including Iolanthe, HMS Pinafore, The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Mikado, Princessa Ida, Utopia Limited, Ruddigore, and The Grand Duke.

Rather surprisingly, it worked extremely well as a charming form of both tribute and biography, looking back at how they worked as a team, the things that drew them together, the conflicts that pulled them apart and the suggestions of how they actually felt about each other. And the way in which the music was integrated, random lines, verses or even more of songs which illustrated the point they were making was often beautifully done. It was perhaps less successful when it strayed into the more surreal comedy around being in Heaven and getting a little self-referential, it wasn’t quite as clever as it thought it was and to be honest, it didn’t need to stray down this path.

Kevin West’s twinkle-toed and twinkle-eyed Gilbert was my favourite of the two actors, playing the grudging curmudgeon well as the grumpier of the pair, the one less willing, at least initially, to forgive the past as he detailed the slights which had obviously kept him in bad humour. He did much of the heavy lifting with the singing too, rolling out more than one of the infamous patter songs with great confidence and a winning manner. Colin Baldy as Sullivan though was also goo, impressing with accomplished accompaniment from the piano as well as singing, though he was slightly less appealing as the seemingly needier of the pair, always the one pushing for more of everything.

I suspect that this will really only appeal to Gilbert & Sullivan fans: its format rewards those with a little knowledge of the music already, without that it is just a story being told with some random lines from some random songs thrown in for good measure. But with the Union’s all-male Iolanthe soon to be revived at Wilton’s Music Hall, HMS Pinafore to open as a main show here at the King’s Head and the ENO’s Mikado just opening, this provides a nice opportunity to see some of Gilbert & Sullivan’s work at a different slant, lightly enhanced with biographical touches and a genuine warmth for its subjects.

NB: It was only my second show at the King’s Head since its reinvention and it just happened to be a late one again, but I do wonder how sustainable this current run of programming is. Both 10pm shows I have attended have been very sparsely attended indeed and although this one was early in the run, it was a real shame to see it play to so few: perhaps they should limit it to fewer shows a week?

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: free cast sheet available
Booking until 19th March