Monday, 21 August 2017

Review: Against, Almeida


For

Against

  • Amanda Hale being excellent in an all-too-rare excursion to the stage
  • Ben Whishaw being Ben Whishaw in his Whishawy way, even if it's not quite enough to enliven the play
  • Whishaw briefly in his pants, if you like that sort of thing
  • An intelligently sparse design from ULTZ
  • Did I mention Amanda Hale? She comes close to making it all worthwhile

  • The running time
  • The comparative lack of depth to Christopher Shinn's writing which in no way justifies the above
  • The range of issues which touched upon but not interrogated despite the above
  • The structure of the play which exacerbates the above
  • The inherent misogyny in the writing which only allows men to talk about these issues, however unsatisfactorily
  • The cheap potshots at political correctness, seemingly designed for the Cavendishes and Purves of this world
  • Did I mention the running time?



Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Album Review: USHERS: The Front Of House Musical - (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

"I'll be an inspiration
A musical sensation"

The cast recording for USHERS: The Front Of House Musical was released in advance of its 2014 run at the Charing Cross Theatre but ever the trail-blazer ;-), I saw the show a few months before when it played at the then newly inaugurated Hope Theatre. There, its homespun charms won me over, with its tales of drama in the theatre but not the onstage kind, rather it is the Front of House staff in the spotlight here.

Written by Yiannis Koutsakos, James Oban and James Rottger, and simply orchestrated for Lee Freeman on the piano, it is a short and sweet cast recording but one which wisely makes a virtue of it. These aren't particularly epic songs or grand stories but intimate pieces and personal tales of love and betrayal, audience members and interval ice-creams, and so they suit the smaller focus that they're given here.

Album Review: Songs From The Musical Wolfboy (2010)

"So tell me what are you in for?

Russell Labey and Leon Parris's musical adaptation of Brad Fraser's play Wolfboy played at a short run at Trafalgar Studios 2 in 2010 after an Edinburgh run the year before and afterwards, for reasons best known to themselves, an EP was released with just four songs from the show on the tracklisting. It's an odd decision but on listening to the album, perhaps it is something of a blessing in disguise.

I returned to Wolfboy mainly to listen to Daniel Boys' performance but the main takeaway is how dull and wannabe-goth the songs end up sounding. The overall aesthetic is teenage boys who have just heard Placebo do a slow song for the first time and trying to replicate the sound does precisely nobody any favours at all. And presenting excerpts like this does even allow you to grasp the story that is unfolding. making it hard to see the logic behind this release.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Review: Salad Days, Union

"I'm gay and I'm breathless and I'm jubilant and I'm dancing"

As fizzy as a sherbet dip, as baffling as the rules of cricket, as delightful as the finest afternoon tea, Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds' Salad Days is quite possibly the best classic British musical you haven't heard of. I only came across it for the first time myself with Tête à Tête's superlative production at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 but instantly tumbled for its many charms and when the show came back in 2012, so I giddily went back. Now it is the turn of the Union Theatre to revive the musical and hopefully win over some new converts.

And it well could do so, given how successful Bryan Hodgson's production is here. Much of its beauty comes from the thoroughness of his vision, the detail and thought that has gone into its every aspect. Creatively, Catherine Morgan's design wisely maximises space, the better to let Joanne McShane's gorgeous choreography with its cherry-picking of early twentieth century dance influences let rip. And placing the band at the rear addresses a good deal of the sound issues that affected The Hired Man, as well as providing a nifty solution to getting into outer space.

Album Review: Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)

"When we must cross over

Who knows what we'll find"

A 90s musical of an 80s film - nostalgia has a lot to answer for but it was to Maltby Jr and Shires' 1996 adaptation of the Tom Hanks-starring film that producers turned for their big Christmas musical at Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin. Morgan Young's production also had a short run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and with the creation of this UK cast recording, you wonder whether further plans were in the pipeline for the show.

I'm not holding my breath though, as it doesn't really sound like that much of a winner. Shire's score is painfully dated, Maltby's lyrics provide little spark and as a whole, Big the Musical just sounds a bit twee, a bit inconsequential. There's little sense at all of the songs driving the narrative, they're more an inoffensive, intermittent distraction, taking way too long to inch over to even just to 'pleasant' on the scale.

Album Review: Noel Sullivan – Here I Go Again (2014)

“Don’t be afraid, to let them show”

Noel Sullivan will forever be a member of Hear’say first and foremost to me, the product of one of first of this generation of Saturday night music talent show - Popstars – but since then, a career in musical theatre has beckoned and it is on that, rather than his pop star life, that his debut album concentrates. At a swift 9 tracks, he runs the gamut of his theatrical CV (What A Feeling, Grease, Rock of Ages, Flashdance, Priscilla...) but also throws in a couple of singer-songwriter moments lest we forget his versatility.

It’s nice to see Sullivan maintain strong links with his cast-mates from various shows as he’s a generous duet partner who really shines when sparking off someone else. A funky scratched-up take on ‘You’re The One That I Want’ with Lauren Samuels is sultry indeed, a powerful rendition of ‘Here And Now’ features the glorious Victoria Hamilton-Barritt in fine form, and Cyndi Lauper’s evergreen ‘True Colors’ twinkle once more with the added participation here of Richard Grieve and Graham Weaver.


Saturday, 19 August 2017

Album Review: Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)

“A lot of people have lost faith in America”

I quite like the film version of Chicago but was surprised by the extent to which I had internalised its soundtrack upon listening to this London Cast Recording from 1997. Part of that lies in the fact that it is good few years since I’ve seen it onstage but there’s no excuse really, for a theatre nut like me. And sure enough, surrendering to the thrill of Ruthie Henshall and Ute Lemper here was a genuine pleasure and a great way to revisit Kander & Ebb’s score.

Henshall’s Roxie and Lemper’s Velma are surely among the best that these characters have ever been sung. The unrelenting stunt casting that kept the show a West End presence perhaps devalued the music a bit but in these hands, with these voices, you come to really appreciate the emotional complexity and proper darkness of these women and what they’re forced to do in order to keep their head above water and then some.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Review: Blue Stockings, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Yard Theatre

"A woman who expends her energy exercising her brain does so at the expense of her vital organs, leaving her unfit for motherhood"

I'd forgotten how enjoyable Jessica Swale's Blue Stockings was though more fool me, as we've long been big fans of hers chez Clowns. The play - her first - premiered at the Globe back in 2013 and since, has become deservedly beloved of GCSE syllabuses and drama groups up and down the land. So it is not an unsurprising pick for part of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain's East End residency at the Yard Theatre but what may surprise is just how damn good this production is.

Blue Stockings is set at the turn of the last century in the hallowed grounds of the University of Cambridge, Girton College to be precise, the first to admit women. But they're only allowed to study, not actually graduate like their male compatriots who they are matching grade for grade, academic achievement for extracurricular exuberance, and under the tutelage of Principal Elizabeth Welsh, a quartet of students are determined to use that foot in the door to blow it right off its hinges. 

Re-review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross

"I know it's difficult to imagine it now
Here in a world that's going mad
But picture the two of us
On some lazy day
When bombs away
Is just a game kids play"

Not got too much more to say about the gorgeous Yank! A WWII Love Story that I didn't already say in my rave review from the beginning of the run (but blimey how those lyrics up top resonate in a different way now!). It's been great to see the show getting such good reviews and fantastic word of mouth, not the easiest of things for an original new musical to achieve, and I always knew that I'd be paying a second visit to the show before it finished. You've got a couple more opportunities yourself and as if you needed any more convincing - here's a video of the lovely Andy Coxon singing one of the show's more emotional numbers. 


Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Claire Bilyard
Booking until 19th August

Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon


A village. A dragon. A damsel in distress.

Into the story walks George: wandering knight, freedom fighter, enemy of tyrants the world over. One epic battle later and a nation is born. As the village grows into a town, and the town into a city, the myth of Saint George, which once brought a people together, threatens to divide them. Rory Mullarkey creates a new folk tale for an uneasy nation.

John Heffernan plays Saint George; the cast also includes Suzanne Ahmet, Jason Barnett, Julian Bleach, Luke Brady, Paul Brennen, Joe Caffrey, Paul Cawley, Richard Goulding, Gawn Grainger, Tamzin Griffin, Stephanie Jacob, Olwen May, Victoria Moseley, Conor Neaves, Amaka Okafor, Sharita Oomeer, Jeff Rawle, Kirsty Rider and Grace Saif.

Directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire), with design by Rae Smith, choreography by Lynne Page, lighting design by Bruno Poet, music by Grant Olding, sound design by Christopher Shutt and fight direction by Bret Yount.

Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.

Saint George and the Dragon is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Plays Award

Full cast announced for Young Marx


1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.

Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx.

Rory Kinnear plays Marx and Oliver Chris, Engels. The production reunites the creative team behind Richard Bean’s smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors, with direction by Nicholas Hytner, design by Mark Thompson, music by Grant Olding, sound by Paul Arditti and lighting by Mark Henderson.

And joining Kinnear and Chris is Nancy Carroll (Jenny von Westphalen), Laura Elphinstone (Nym), Eben Figueiredo (Schramm), Nicholas Burns (Willich), Tony Jayawardena (Gert "Doc" Schmidt), Miltos Yerolemou (Barthélemy), Duncan Wisbey (Fleece/Darwin), Scott Karim (Grabiner/ Singe), Alana Ramsey (Mrs Mullett), Sophie Russell (Librarian), Fode Simbo (Peter), William Troughton (Constable Crimp) and Joseph Wilkins (Sergeant Savage).

And in an interesting move to collaborate with what seems like a major new competitor, National Theatre Live will be broadcast Young Marx on 7 December.




Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

"Open your eyes, I got a surprise!"


It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn't one I've given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan's score was "highly tuneful if not instantly catchy" so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that 'ping' of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here - leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to.