Review: Tobacco Road, VAULT Festival

Playing like an unofficial adaptation of Peaky Blinders, Incognito Theatre’s Tobacco Road is a mixed bag at the VAULT Festival

“We should tell them how we got here
We’ll have to start all the way at the beginning”

While we wait for the inevitable offical theatrical adaptation of Peaky Blinders, an unofficial one emerges in the form of Tobacco Road. Incognito Theatre’s play, directed by Roberta Zuric, has an impressive visual flair to it (choreography by Zak Nemorin) and is undoubtedly inventively staged, it just lacks originality.

Delving into life as a gangster in the immediate aftermath of the Great War, the play pulls out theme after theme in an attempt to give voice to the kind of stories that don’t get enough airtime. But as another and then another is pulled out of the hat – it’s hard to be a woman, it’s hard to be a gay, it’s hard to be a drug addict – too little get the attention they deserve. Continue reading “Review: Tobacco Road, VAULT Festival”

2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see

With less than a week to go before the 2019 VAULT Festival opens, I wade my way through the catalogue and come up with 20 shows I think you should catch – in their own words

Now in its seventh year, VAULT Festival returns this year from 23rd January to 17th March with a broad and diverse programme of more than 400 shows in a range of atmospheric venues throughout Waterloo. And as ever, the remit is to be as big and bold as impossible, with the festival featuring theatre, comedy, cabaret, immersive experiences, late night parties, and much more besides.

It can be a little overwhelming to figure out what you want to see, the majority of shows run for a week (Wednesday to Sunday) so you’ll need to move pretty sharpish once you’ve decided – there’s the VAULT Combo deal which saves you money booking more than one show, and some 241 deals available through the Stagedoor app. And to help you, I’ve identified 20 shows (and it could have been so many more!) that appealed to me and asked them to sell themselves in 10 words or less in order to grab your attention.  Continue reading “2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see”

Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“I don’t know if you are illusion”

Hoping for a ten from Len and to avoid the dreaded dis-sah-ter from Craig, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom arrives for its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Best known in its 1992 film version, it actually began life as a play in the mid-1980s when it became big in Czechoslovakia as well as Luhrmann’s native Australia and perhaps appropriately, it is now Drew McOnie who takes the directorial chair, the choreographer-director’s rising star an ideal fit for a musical all about dance.

And what dance it is. We’re in the world of competitive ballroom dancing and we’re treated to a wide range of routines from rehearsals to all-out performances and much inventive work in-between, especially where mirrors are involved. And in all this freedom of expression, there’s a crystal-clear distillation of the story’s message in the sheer joy of dancing for fun and the power of following an individual path. But the show isn’t just dance, it’s words and music as well and there, it is less sure-footed.

Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: High Society, Old Vic

“Not bad for a 35 year old”

Kevin Spacey’s swansong as artistic director at the Old Vic doesn’t open officially until next week but I only have a handful of days left for the above quote to remain pertinent to myself so I’m writing up High Society now – the usual disclaimers about previews apply. Maria Friedman’s directorial debut was the highly critically acclaimed Merrily We Roll Along so it makes sense for her to return to the world of musical theatre with this Cole Porter classic, given added spin here as the venue remains in the round.

It’s a funny old piece though, Arthur Kopit’s book is based on Philip Barry’s 1939 play The Philadelphia Story and follows the trials of Tracy Lord (I didn’t know they had Tracys in the 1930s), a rich socialite about to get married who suddenly finds herself with three suitors – her dull fiancé, a charismatic tabloid journalist and her dashing ex-husband. As the pre-wedding parties start and the champagne flows liberally, there’s decisions to be made and some of Porter’s finest songs to be sung but little real fizz, to start with at least. Continue reading “Review: High Society, Old Vic”

Re-reviews: Di and Viv and Rose / Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

 

“It was a ball, it was a blast
It was a shame it couldn’t last”

A half-term jaunt down to London for Aunty Jean saw us take in a couple of shows I was happy to revisit. I remain as affectionately inclined towards Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as I ever have done, its traditional bonhomie remains as watchable as ever and there’s just something comfortable about the whole affair which remains hard to resist. Even whilst not being Robert Lindsay’s biggest fan (seriously, is he being paid by the pelvic thrust?!) the shimmering star quality of Kat Kingsley and the affable appeal of Alex Gaumond more than compensate. And the bumbling charms of Ben Fox, the third Chief of Police since the show started – job security in Beaumont-Sur-Mer is clearly not strong 😉 – prove the ideal foil for Bonnie Langford’s knowingly charismatic Muriel.

And we also made a more-timely-than-we-realised trip to Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose which posted closing notices pretty much as we left the matinée. It feels a real shame as it is such a sprightly production of a sparkling play which certainly deserved better audiences but for whatever reason, it just didn’t connect. I’ve written more about the show on my three previous visits (link here) but I’d definitely recommend trying to catch it before it closes, not least for some of the most joyous dancing onstage (which forms the perfect counterbalance to My Night With Reg) and Jenna Russell’s glorious performance as the hugely-generous-of-spirit Rose. 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th March

Di and Viv and Rose
Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 14th March

Re-review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy

“It’s important to be artful”

Celebrating recent cast changes, both intentional (Bonnie Langford and Gary Wilmot in for Samantha Bond and John Marquez) and unexpected (Alex Gaumond hastily replacing Rufus Hound), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is approaching its one year anniversary in the West End with a renewed energy. And with the changing strengths of its leading players, it also feels like quite a different show, one which is well worth (re)visiting.
 
My original review can be read here and much of it still holds true. This isn’t the show to reinvent the musical form but nor is it trying to, rather it is a treat of the old-school variety as David Yazbek’s bouncy music and lyrics carries along Jeffrey Lane’s conman-based book on a ray of retro Riviera-infused sunshine. A wink to the audience here, meta-theatrical jokes there, a whole deal of hamminess from Robert Lindsay everywhere, this is a show that knows exactly what it is and revels in it. Continue reading “Re-review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy”

Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy

“He sang my name and it rang out just like some major chord.
If music be the food of love, he ate my Smorgasbord.”

Things didn’t start off well. Applauding an actor’s arrival onstage is something I can’t ever imagine finding ok and when that actor is Robert Lindsay, well, it felt even more inexplicable. But then I never watched My Family so my main points of reference for him have been Onassis and The Lion in Winter, a dubious pair of plays indeed. Nor have I seen the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical adaptation of which sees him return to the stage, here at the Savoy after well-received out of town tryouts, so there was more than a little apprehension mixed in with my anticipation.

But any doubts were soon allayed by the effervescent energy of an old-school but fresh-feeling production by Jerry Mitchell. First seen on Broadway in 2004, Jeffrey Lane’s book and David Yazbek’s music and lyrics sits happily in the sun-kissed French Riviera where con men are two a penny. And in Beaumont-sur-Mer, the two are Lawrence Jamieson, the reigning king of the con, and Freddy Benson, the brash upstart who would take his crown. First they compete for tricks, scamming whoever they can for whatever they can, and then they unite to form a double act with, hopefully, double the profits as they identify the lucrative mark of US heiress Christine Colgate. Continue reading “Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy”

Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”

Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“We don’t dance. We defend ourselves to music”

Last night’s trip to Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (with Aunty Jean, for my birthday treat!) actually marks the first time that I have seen a show that has transferred from a small venue into the West End in both of its incarnations. My original review can be read here about Charity Hope Valentine’s romantic misadventures and her continued search for her dream man in the face of constant setbacks and dastardly lotharios, and much of what I loved about it then holds true now as it is still as excellent a show.

Little has actually been changed about the production, everything is just a bit bigger really and the transitions a lot smoother, the only real difference was the fairground scene with Charity and Oscar and her vertigo where they make use of the more advanced facilities to sit on a suspended seat. Where the production does benefit from the transfer though is in the extra room for the choreography, Rich Man’s Frug and I’m A Brass Band in particular both luxuriate in the additional space offered by the Theatre Royal and Stephen Mears’ superb choreography has unfurled beautifully, maintaining the huge level of energy and vitality it pushes into the show. This is probably best exemplified in Hey, Big Spender, such a different number to the familiar Shirley Bassey version, the girls at the club sprawl over high stools, selling their wares half-heartedly with deliciously bored expressions, it is abundantly clear that this is no glamorous life and one can immediately see why Charity is so keen to escape. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Sweet Charity, Menier Chocolate Factory

“You know, for a broad, you’re real classy”

Continuing their run of reviving classic musicals for Christmas, the Menier Chocolate Factory have turned their attentions to Sweet Charity this year. Stuffed full of instantly recognisable songs like ‘Big Spender’ and ‘Rhythm of Life’ by Cy Coleman and Bob Fosse’s inimitable choreography, the story of Charity, a girl trying to escape her life as a dancehall hostess and find a decent man is one of the classic movie musicals and so my expectations were high. And I am pleased to say they were largely met.

Tamzin Outhwaite is a revelation here, (to me at least) never having watched anything with her acting I’d had my doubts, but she really is very good here. A brilliant comedic actress, her scenes trapped in the closet and at the diner were laugh-out-loud funny, but she was also effective at conveying the joie de vivre that gets Charity through the trials of life without being at all cheesy. Her singing was consistently good plus she has some great dancing skills.

Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Menier Chocolate Factory”