Review: Soho Cinders, Charing Cross Theatre

This amiable revival of Soho Cinders makes for an alternative festive treat at the Charing Cross Theatre

“Hoping for the hum-drum,
Is that aiming high”

I have great affection for Stiles & Drewe’s musical Soho Cinders, from its concert beginnings to a starry Soho Theatre production to a warm revival at the Union Theatre, its escapist fun nature and tuneful score remain quietly appealing. And it is that last Union production that has been reconceived for a new run at the Charing Cross Theatre, featuring some of the same cast members and beefed up with newcomers from Six and Jamie.

The show is a loose LGBT+ adaptation of the Cinderella story, updated to a contemporary London setting, albeit an improbably affordable and innocent pre-smartphone age. Robbie is a young man struggling to make ends meet with his Old Compton Street laundrette and consequently dallying with a sugar daddy, despite simultaneously hooking up with prospective mayoral candidate James Prince, who just happens to have a fiancée. It’s a daft plot but amiable, even if it doesn’t bear too much close scrutiny (clandestine meetings in Trafalgar Square?!). Continue reading “Review: Soho Cinders, Charing Cross Theatre”

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Mikado, Richmond

(c) Scott Rylander

“They are not young ladies…”

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Sasha Regan alighted on a winning formula with her stripped-back all-male takes on Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas and has toured the likes of The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore the length and breadth of the country and even to Australia. So it is little surprise to see her turn to The Mikado (or The Town of Titipu) to see if lightning can strike again with joyous shout and ringing cheer.

The production is set in the grounds of a 1950s-ish school camping trip, a canny move which neatly sidesteps some of the Orientalism issues and refocuses G+S’s satire on the English political establishment. And with the score for solo piano confidently played by musical director Richard Baker, the harmonious meld of the 16-strong company sounds like a dream, and don’t look half bad either delivering Holly Hughes’ effervescent choreography. Continue reading “Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Mikado, Richmond”

Review: Soho Cinders, Union Theatre

“Why don’t handsome princes
Practice what they preach”

Though there’s nothing ostensibly Christmassy about Stiles + Drewe’s Cinderella remake Soho Cinders, it was still a little odd to see the show debut at the Soho Theatre in the height of summer in 2012. This revival at the Union Theatre is a little more festively timed and through Will Keith’s direction and Joanne McShane’s choreography, provides a level of entertainment to rival even the best of pantomimes.

The book, by Drewe and Elliot Davis, puts a gay spin on the story – fresh-faced escort Robbie is our Cinderella, closeted bisexual London mayoral candidate James Prince his Prince Charming, and older gay man (and client) Lord Bellingham just one of the flies in the ointments of their happy ever after. But though we’re in the world of contemporary London politics, there’s also a pair of ‘ugly’ sisters and a ball that everyone wants to attend to ensure some of that Cinderella magic sticks. Continue reading “Review: Soho Cinders, Union Theatre”

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Hackney Empire

“The gentleman is quite right. If you please” 

If you have seen one of Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, then you know exactly what you’re getting with HMS Pinafore; if you haven’t, then there’s many a pleasant surprise in store. This production of the evergreen show has been seen before, at the Union in 2013 and on tour in 2014 but is being reprised here for another UK tour stretching from Yorkshire to Cornwall and it remains as refreshing as a Fisherman’s Friend.

Regan’s approach sees Sullivan’s score stripped back to solo piano, musical director Richard Bates doing sterling work from the keys, and Gilbert’s book performed by a set of 16 strapping sailors, the conceit here being performance as a way of passing the time, to lift spirits flagging a little after receiving letters from their loved ones. It’s a canny framing device and one which works effectively with hardly any tinkering with the plot at all. Continue reading “Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Hackney Empire”

Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union

“You won’t get that out a book on prison procedure
When those suits get caught on the hook, that’s when they need ya”

Bad Girls ran for eight years on ITV, covering the whole gamut of women’s prison storylines from the sublime to the senseless, and now the women of HMP Larkhall live on in Bad Girls the Musical, written by original creators Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus with music and lyrics by Kath Gotts. Taking many of the characters and fashioning its own story from a range of plotlines across the lifetime of the show, Will Keith’s production for the Union makes for an effective translation from screen to stage.

Perhaps naturally, given the size of the 17-strong company and the number of introductions that thus need to be made (even for those familiar with the TV show), the main thrust of the story takes a little time to come into focus. The corrupt practices of prison officer Jim Fenner, fond of doling out privileges in return for sexual favours, eventually crystallises the motives of the diverse cast of inmates but there’s also the slow burning relationship between lifer Nikki and reformist governor Helen that adds to a book which may seem slight but is ultimately dramatically satisfying.  Continue reading “Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union”

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Union Theatre

“We’re sober, sober men and true”

The Union’s all male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan has become a reliable institution on the theatrical calendar and this year is no exception with their revival of HMS Pinafore (Or The Lass That Loved A Sailor) which they last delivered back in 2007. This interpretation starts off onboard a ship in the 1940s as a group of young sailors are killing time on their bunkbeds. As one strikes up a tune on his handy recorder, so the show slides into place as a little amusement for these men and it’s a neat way of subtly justifying the all-male conceit, with makeshift costumes just thrown together from whatever is at hand, playing up the inventive feel of the whole enterprise.

And with Regan’s sure hand at the tiller, Lizzi Gee’s choreography sweeping across the deck and Chris Mundy’s nimble fingers billowing the musical sails, it makes for a successful voyage across the Southwark seas. The playfulness of the concept makes for guileless pleasures – the nifty twist of a neckerchief turns a sailor into a sister (or a cousin, or an aunt) and Gee makes the most of the ensemble’s physicality with routines based around skipping ropes and press-ups, and the interlocking movements of different groups is beautifully realised using the sheer simplicity of Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design. Continue reading “Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Union Theatre”

Review: Darling of the Day, Union

“Not on your nellie”

The fear with shows that are receiving their UK premieres some 45 years after an abbreviated Broadway run is that there is a good reason that they have continued to languish in obscurity. But London’s fringe theatres have a good record in sorting through the duds to unearth some genuine neglected treasures and chief on the musical side, is the Union Theatre. And it is there where director Paul Foster has returned, to put on Jule Styne’s Darling of the Day – which managed just the 31 performances on Broadway, wilting in the winds of change ushered in by its contemporary Hair – and whilst it may not emerge as a hugely revelatory success, it makes for an evening of gentle pleasures.

Set in Edwardian times, the plot circles around Priam Farll, an artist of note who seizes the chance to escape the pressures of fame when his valet Henry Leek dies suddenly and a mistake by a doctor allows him to swap identities. Farll then rejoices in the freedom of living a less complicated life, which includes meeting up with working class Putney widow Alice Challice through the matrimonial agency both were using, and unexpectedly ends up in love and married. But times are tight and when a plot is hatched to bring in some extra money, it arouses the avaricious attentions of art collector Lady Vale and dealer Clive Oxford who threaten to expose the whole affair. Continue reading “Review: Darling of the Day, Union”

Review: Curtains, Arts Ed

“Critics! Who’d make a living out of killing other people’s dreams?”

I could have been on the stage. Indeed I was, briefly as a shy teenager, but playing the piano for shows was a much more appealing option for me and so the world was left sadly bereft of what could have been the definitive Hamlet for our generation. Fortunately though, we are not lacking in acting talent and it is being well-nurtured at drama schools like Arts Ed where I went to catch this undergraduate production of Kander & Ebb’s Curtains. I was particularly keen to see it as the choreography was done by Andrew Wright, the gentleman who did the deed for my favourite musical of last year, Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi and I thought I might be able to convince him to give me a tap dancing lesson in the interval.

Anyway, the show Curtains had a bit of a sad genesis. The original concept came from Peter Stone but he died before he completed the book so Rupert Holmes was brought in to rewrite it but when Fred Ebb also passed away before it had been finished, Holmes and Kander had to step in to finish off the lyrics. But it is not a melancholy show, far from it. It is a ‘musical comedy whodunit’, a send-up of murder mysteries set backstage at a theatre where a spectacularly bad leading lady is murdered after her first night in a Western version of Robin Hood. It is then up to a musical-theatre-loving detective to catch the murderer, save the show and fall in love with the girl of his dreams before the new opening night keeping the entire cast and crew and a rogue critic with far too much time on his hands, under suspicion. Continue reading “Review: Curtains, Arts Ed”