Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

A wonderfully warm-hearted production makes the regional premiere of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert a show to see at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“We dress up in women’s clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other people’s songs”

It’s easy to dismiss the jukebox musical as a lazy iteration of the form. And whilst there are shows that worthy of such a slight, there are others which deserve far better. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is one of those, a musical which has worked hard to integrate its music into its storytelling in interesting and different ways, allied with a book that is moving and funny and just a little fabulous. Directed by Douglas Rintoul for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, this production marks the show’s regional professional premiere.

One of Rintoul’s innovations is to make this an actor-musician production, a decision that pays off handsomely here. There’s a wonderful sense of democracy about this ensemble, who subsume the singing parts of the Divas here, as everyone gets a moment (or three) to shine under the Australian sun. To name but a few, a burst of stunning vocals from Molly-Grace Cutler aka Keyboard 2/Jules, the raucous slide of Natasha Lewis’ trombone, the sure-fingered delicacy of Josh Tye’s acoustic guitar (at its best as the interval comes to a close). Continue reading “Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“You can never go back to before”

Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go ‘Back To Before’ but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can’t help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland’s production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable. 

Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they’re working – Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me… If you’ve not seen the show yet, there’s a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there’s less than a month less of the run. Continue reading “Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white.”

It’s impossible to watch Ragtime right now without marvelling at its relevance to the current US presidential election campaign and the lessons that were right there for Donald Trump and his team to learn. For in many ways, the show – written by Ahrens and Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally from EL Doctorow’s novel – is about the development of the modern American nation and identifies three key groups instrumental in that societal change in women, African-Americans and immigrant communities, the very people Trump has done his damnedest to alienate.

Politics aside, what’s more significant is the magical touch that director Thom Southerland seems to have when it comes to reconceiving musicals, as his actor-musician production here at the Charing Cross Theatre is an extraordinary success. Keeping most of his 24-strong company onstage throughout amplifies the overarching humanity of its storytelling, reminding us that these are all of our stories regardless of whichever group we ‘belong’. Combined with the expert musicality onstage and an ingenious design from Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher, it’s an irresistible adaptation that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Merrie England, Finborough

“No other land could nurse them”

The Finborough’s policy of celebrating neglected British musical theatre has unearthed much of interest for fans of the genre, though it is probably safe to say that there have been as many which will remain curiosities as there have bona fide successes worthy of further recognition and reappraisal. It is thereforemost pleasing to discover that their latest rediscovery, the comic opera Merrie England, is a genuine contender for the latter category and a scream of a success.

Written in 1902 by composer Edward German and librettist Basil Hood (a man who apparently died from overwork and undereating…), the show occupies similar territory to Gilbert and Sullivan in its operetta form, considerable lyrical wordplay and complete frivolity when it comes to matters of plot. For what its worth here, the play is set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I as she visits the Mayday celebrations in the village of Windsor, an event which sends the lovelives and rivalries of everyone from monarch to villagers into haywire. Continue reading “Review: Merrie England, Finborough”

Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse

“There’s a pleasure sure, in being mad, which none but mad-men know”

Josie Rourke’s inaugural season as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse starts off with the Donmar’s first ever Restoration comedy – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Written in 1706, it is also well known as the play that is rehearsed by the convicts in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good and Rourke has assembled a truly impressive cast in order to make a splash with her debut. Plotwise, it is mainly about men who go ‘huzzah’ a lot as they try to recruit the young men of Shrewsbury into the army, balanced with two central romances which are negotiating the impact of a big inheritance on female romantic inclinations.

It’s a whole lot of bawdy fun rather than making any serious points about anything if one is brutally honest, but it is totally made by the quality of the cast. Tobias Menzies exudes charisma as the bounding Captain Plume, well partnered by Mackenzie Crook’s Sergeant Kite, and together they brazenly try to wheedle their way into the sense of duty of the male populace and sweep them off to war. Completely amoral but largely quite funny about it, the scene with the faux crystal ball reader is extremely well done, Nicholas Burns’ demonstrating some nifty moves as gentleman Worthy, and many a laugh is garnered. Most of them come though from the friendly(ish) rivalry with Captain Brazen, a rival recruiting officer who is well portrayed as Mark Gatiss nearly steals the show with an outrageously foppish performance: his vocal delivery at one crucial point was just delicious. Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse”