Monday, 29 May 2017

Review: Snapshot, Hope

"I wouldn't know what to do in a darkroom"

Budding (and broke) photographer James and his relationship dramas lie at the heart of George Johnston's new play Snapshot. His barely-out banker boyfriend Daniel pays the lion's share of the bills but has problems sharing his feelings, his new benefactor Frank has as many designs on being a sugar daddy as a genuine supporter, and old college friend and aspiring actor Olivia can't keep away either. 

Structurally, there's an interesting idea in the play as short scene follows short scene - flashing like the titular snapshots - and providing a non-linear jigsaw to piece together. But James McAndrew's production loses it in the transitions, more interlude-like than immediate and highlighting the fragmented fragility of the storytelling.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Review: While We're Here, Bush

"I’ve been alive for so long and I haven’t got anything to show for it"

I'm not saying I want Barney Norris to write an all-out farce but it would be fun to see him stretch his considerable literary talent beyond these tales of gentle melancholy that he does so well. While We're Here doesn't technically suffer for being in immediately recognisable territory but equally, it doesn't possess the aching soul that made Visitors a spectacular success. 

The ordinary lives under the microscope here are Carol and Eddie's, lovers from 20 years ago who reconnect when she finds him sleeping rough in their hometown of Havant. Under these strange new circumstances, Norris looks at whether relationships can ever be rekindled or is late-in-life happiness just a myth. Directed by regular collaborator Alice Hamilton, While We're Here inaugurates the Bush's new studio space.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Album Review: Everybody's Talking About Jamie Concept Album

"I'm smoking hot
Cos I got the lot
And what I got
You have not"

What better time to give the concept album for Everybody's Talking About Jamie a proper listen than on my way back to Sheffield, albeit to see a different show. Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae's musical was a deserved sell-out success earlier this year and to accompany it, this recording of some of the songs, sung by the composer, a couple of the performers and some special guests was available to purchase in the foyer and is still around online. It truly was a cracking show and what this record shows, it is also a stronger score than you might initially give it credit for.

'If I Met Myself Again' is possibly the best track that Dusty Springfield never sang. A torch song of the highest order, replete with plaintive brass motif, Josie Walker (as Jamie's mum) nails the ruminative mood with real heart and zero self-indulgence, it really is a gorgeous song. Walker's second moment in the spotlight comes with 'He's My Boy', a no less moving expression of maternal love in all its restrained passion. Jamie himself - John McCrea - only gets a brief moment to shine on its reprise 'My Man Your Boy' which is a bit of a shame as as emotive a number as it is, it doesn't capture the effervescent star-making quality of his lead performance.

Album Review: Dan & Laura Curtis - Overture

"When the playbill’s gone and your ego’s died, how you gonna feel"

I'm of course naturally inclined towards composing duo Dan & Laura Curtis as the quote that is proudly blazoned across their website is one of mine. It came from my review of their collection Love on 42nd Street which was a pocket-sized treat which stands in real contrast to Overture - The Music of Daniel and Laura Curtis, which brings together well over 20 Broadway and West End stars to fill a double-album's worth of new material.

And their grandly orchestral ambition (not for nothing is the album called Overture) is well realised here. Divided into two 'acts', the pair stretch their songwriting muscle over a range of genres and subject matters but they're most comfortable, and effective, when turning their hand to stirring string-laden balladry. The simple elegance of Rachel John's 'I Won't Let You Go' epitomises this beautifully with its soaring grace, surely a cabaret standard in the making.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

In his first season as artistic director of Theatre N16, Scott Ellis presents a slew of new writing.

Olympilads by Andrew Maddock, produced by Lonesome Schoolboy and directed by Niall Phillips, reunites the team that presented He(art) at Theatre N16 earlier this year. Theatre N16 executive director (and former artistic director) Jamie Eastlake will present his new show Deadline Day by John Hickman and Steve Robertson: a bitter sweet tale about football, greed and the North-South divide.

Ten emerging artists debut a selection of original and varied works exploring feminism today in Maiden Speech: A festival of fresh feminist voices. Theatre N16 will also produce a new play by Sarah Milton, directed by Scott Ellis.

End of the Line Theatre, one of Hull Truck's supported companies, will present Poverty Porn by Catriona Kerridge, followed by a series of military-themed plays (including IED by Martin Mcnamara and Last Man Standing by Judith Cole). Last Man Standing will be run as part of Theatre N16’s First Credits scheme, which will give 7 new graduate actors their first professional experience in the industry.

After the success of The Snow Queen, Theatre N16 will also produce a new telling of Peter Pan, adapted by Frankie Meredith, to play during October half term.

The season will also see the return of N16 Presents: 4 emerging writers will receive 2 months of support culminating in a showcase of 4 brand new short plays.

Scott Ellis says: “My first season puts writers and fine writing at the forefront of every production. I am excited to include 2 brand new commissions, which I will direct myself; returning writers, from the most successful of recent N16 productions and exploring fresh new voices at the cutting edge of the London Fringe scene.”

Theatre N16 is a trailblazing London fringe venue, focused on producing and programming top quality new writing and selected existing works. Theatre N16 is proud of their commitment to the welfare and development of creatives, operating under an Equity Fringe Agreement. This promoting and nurturing of talent means that Theatre N16 is a bastion for development within the context of a society in which the arts are increasingly struggling to stay afloat.



Casting has been announced for Kevin Elyot's play Twilight Song at the Park Theatre this summer. Directed by Anthony Banks, Twilight Song was Elyot's final play before he passed away in June 2014. Set in London, the comedy tracks a family's hidden secrets from 1967 to the present day. The premiere coincides with the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised private homosexual acts between men over 21 in England and Wales.

It will star Adam Garcia, who was last seen on stage in Kenneth Branagh's The Winter's Tale, as Skinner/Gardener, Bryony Hannah (Call the Midwife) as Isabella, and Paul Higgins (Line of Duty) as Barry/Basil. They will be joined by Philip Bretherton as Harry and Hugh Ross as Charles. Elyot's previous work includes The Day I Stood Still at the National, Mouth to Mouth at the Royal Court, and My Night with Reg for which he won an Olivier and Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy.

Twilight Song runs at the Park Theatre from 17 July to 12 August, with previews from 12 July.


Evening Standard Emerging Talent Award winner and Olivier Award nominee Tyrone Huntley (Jesus Christ Superstar) just announced as a special guest for Willemijn Verkaik’s one-night West End concert on Monday 31st July at 7.30pm.

Tyrone Huntley recently received rave reviews for his performance as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre) which won him the 2016 Evening Standard Emerging Talent Award. He was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical and a Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical (both 2017). He is currently performing as C.C White in Dreamgirls (Savoy Theatre) alongside Amber Riley. 

In a follow up to her critically acclaimed 2015 sold out solo concert in The Ambassadors Theatre, Willemijn makes a triumphant return to the stage, performing as herself in a celebration of the most iconic songs that have defined her career to date, as well as showcasing some never before performed material alongside her friends and fellow leading lights of musical theatre.

Originally from The Netherlands, Willemijn Verkaik rose to fame as the voice of Elsa German and Dutch version of Disney’s Blockbuster Frozen. She is currently playing Elphaba as part of the 10 year anniversary cast of Wicked in the West End. She has played the role in 4 countries and after making her Broadway debut in 2013, is the only actress to have performed the role in three languages. Before returning to the West End, Willemijn played a successful run as Kala in Disney’s Musical Tarzan in Germany. 

Joining Willemijn and Tyrone Huntley will be the previously announced Savannah Stevenson, Suzie Mathers and Celinde Schoenmaker.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Get well soon Fred Haig aka Not-A-Review: On The Town, Open Air Theatre


"Just when the fun is starting,
Comes the time for parting"

Fred Haig must have thought that this was his year after landing starring roles in two of the big musicals of the summer but during Monday evening’s performance, he sustained an injury to his foot which has now been confirmed as a fracture. Sadly, this means that he has had to withdraw from On The Town at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park (the second actor to do so after Jeremy Taylor withdrew during rehearsals due to injury) and will be replaced by his understudy Jacob Maynard. We'll have to wait and see if he recuperates in time to play Young Buddy in Follies at the National.

It is a real shame for Haig as I was at the show on Monday, scarcely believing that we actually had lovely weather for the first musical this year at the Open Air. And Haig's appealingly charismatic Chip, along with Lizzy Connolly's vibrant Hildy, was among the highlights of Drew McOnie's production and he seemed to be very much on top of the choreography. It is a dance-heavy show, and in McOnie's hands doubly so and as so many in this venue, it is one that benefits from being seen as night falls, to behold the full beauty of Howard Hudson's lighting which is gorgeously conceived.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review: Julius Caesar, Crucible

"Why, saw you anything more wonderful?"

Robert Hastie's opening salvo as the new Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres might not immediately quicken the pulse as we've hardly been lacking for productions of Julius Caesar. But it is soon apparent that this is a canny director at work, making his mark on the Crucible Theatre and how its space is used, on our notions of how Shakespeare is traditionally interpreted, establishing what looks like exciting times ahead for Sheffield.

With designer Ben Stones, Hastie opens out the stage into a space of transformative and unpredictable power - the modern political arena is evoked with its UN-style chambers and mod-cons but it is just as much the powder-keg of changeable public opinion. And the way in which the two intersect, feed into each other, thus feels as informed by hatemongering Sun or Daily Mail headline-grabbing antics as it does by the words of a sixteenth century writer.

Casting announced for Theatre Royal Bath's Racing Demon

Theatre Royal Bath Productions has announced full casting for David Hare’s Racing Demon, directed by Jonathan Church, and ssemingly deliberately designed to challenge my resolve to not see the production which runs from Wednesday 21 June to Saturday 8 July.


As previously announced Olivier Award-winner David Haig will star as Lionel Espy in the multi-award winning play. He will be joined by Sam Alexander, Michelle Bonnard, Anthony Calf, William Chubb, Paapa Essiedu, Ian Gelder, Andrew Fraser, Rebecca Night, Amanda Root and Ashley Russell.

Four clergymen seek to make sense of their mission in inner-city London whilst facing their own personal crises. There’s Lionel Espy, a cleric whose faith is wavering as his parishioners dwindle; tabloid-hounded gay vicar Harry Henderson; ‘Streaky’ Bacon, a genial reverend with a taste for tequila, and a charismatic young curate, Tony Ferris whose arrival is set to fan the flames, whilst his sexual relationship with his lover turns to ash. The day of judgement is at hand for all.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's Globe

"I would you were as I would have you be"

Emma Rice's Summer of Love got off to a slightly sticky start at the Globe with a mystifying take on Romeo and Juliet from Daniel Kramer and as we move onto Twelfth Night, which she is directing herself, there's a similarly uncompromising attitude in place. For the production reminded me nothing so much as a camp episode of Monarch of the Glen (sadly not Monarch of the Glum) and whilst it is often fun to watch, it's not always the most effective treatment.

Rice's iconoclastic approach is there from the get-go - a prologue set onboard the SS Unity before its shipwreck sees the company dancing merrily to Sister Sledge. And once in this decidedly Celtic Illyria, Orsino has a Lionel Richie mullet, Andrew Aguecheek is a would-be b-boy, serenades are played on cassette decks...why we're in 1979, as good a time as any to explore cross-dressing hijinks of gender exploration. 

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.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


Hollywood and Broadway icon Stockard Channing will return to the London stage this summer, to star in a new production of Olivier Award winner Alexi Kaye Campbell’s acclaimed drama Apologia, directed by the multi-award winning Jamie Lloyd.

Opening at the Trafalgar Studios on 29th July, Apologia will see the Tony and Emmy Award winning actor performing in the West End for the first time in over a decade. Channing's hugely popular film and TV credits include starring roles in The West Wing, The Good Wife, her Oscar® and Golden Globe nominated role in Six Degrees of Separation, and the iconic role of Rizzo in the film Grease. An acclaimed Broadway and West End star, Channing’s most recent performances on Broadway, It’s Only a Play and Other Desert Cities (a “peerless” performance -NY Times, for which she was nominated for her seventh Tony Award), have affirmed her position as a true theatrical legend.

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a compelling drama about the importance of family and the pressures commitment and principles exert on it. Apologia follows his critical success with The Pride and his acclaimed plays Sunset at The Villa Thalia at the National Theatre and The Faith Machine at the Royal Court Theatre.

Stockard Channing plays Kristin Miller, a firebrand liberal matriarch of a dynamic family, who is presiding over her birthday celebrations. An eminent art historian, Kristin’s almost evangelical dedication to her career and her political activism has resulted in her sons - Peter, a merchant banker, and Simon, a writer - harbouring deeply rooted and barely suppressed resentments towards her. The fissures in her relationship with them are brought to the fore by the recent publication of her memoir.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Not-a-Review: Madame Rubinstein, Park


"You can screw my husband but nobody screws my business"

Short on time this week and Madame Rubinstein finishes its run this week so I'm cheating with this one and just going to say that it is a shame that John Misto's starrily-cast three-hander isn't as much fun as the photo might suggest.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Simon Annand
Booking until 27th May, returns only

Monday, 22 May 2017

Review: Assata Taught Me, Gate

"That boy is a revolutionary, he just doesn’t know it"

Frankie Bradshaw's design for Assata Taught Me at the Gate Theatre is nothing short of wondrous, with its turquoise walls patched with corrugated iron, faded tiles on the floor. Along with Jack Weir's lighting, all the colourful character of old Havana is evoked, along with the complex history right up to its contemporary situation. And it is in the modern day there that we find Assata Shakur, a woman who has the infamy of being the first woman to make the FBI's Most Wanted list.

Shakur (mother of Tupac FYI) really does live in political exile in Cuba but Kalungi Ssebandeke's play is a work of fiction, imagining the relationship that develops between her and a young law student to whom she starts to teach English. Kenneth Omole's Fanuco isn't aware of who his teacher is, the backstory with which we're briefly acquainted as the show opens but as their lessons progress, it is increasingly clear how diametrically opposed the pair are.

Review: BLUSH, Soho

"Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock."

Charlotte Josephine's BLUSH makes its way to the Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and ahead of a tour across the South of England (and Birmingham). And it's a play that manages to hit two of my bugbear phrases in theatre writing, in that it is both 'darkly comic' and 'extremely timely'. But though reviewers and publicists may desperately overuse both terms, it doesn't make it any less true here.

BLUSH is concerned with revenge porn, weaving together five stories of people who have found themselves swept up in this most modern of afflictions. An older sister looks on helplessly as her 18 year old sibling has intimate photos published online by a boyfriend, a father struggles with his porn addiction, a jilted lover is surprised at the reaction she gets when she posts her ex's nudes, Josephine and her co-performer Daniel Foxsmith show us the many ways in which the issue can impact our lives.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Hope

"There is no God
There are no miracles"

Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle marks its 40th anniversary this year and so it's as good a time as any to revive this dark drama that was so controversial on its release that the BBC banned it from its original Play For Today slot. It eventually played at Sheffield Crucible a year later and though it received a powerfully acted production (Tessa Peake-Jones, Rupert Friend) at the Arcola in 2012, Matthew Parker's revival for his Hope Theatre feels perfectly poised to capitalise on its relevance to our fractured society.

Though written and set in the late 70s, Potter's depiction of far-right politics, racism and homophobia, religious intolerance feels horribly recognisable. The way in which one character rationalises his decision to join the National Front has chilling new currency in this post-Brexit world and the supercilious smile that another character occasionally bares to the audience reflects nothing so much as the arrogance of Nigel Farage. Potter's dramatic form of evil is naturally much more timeless but you can't help but draw the parallels here. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo

"I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary"

I wasn't intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn't the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there's no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.

And I'm glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End's early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada.

Film Review: Their Finest

"He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won't remember you"

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God's sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it's a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Comedy Review: Adam Kay - Fingering A Minor On The Piano, Soho

"I'm like a medical Anne Frank"

The title of Fingering A Minor On The Piano apparently stems from former doctor turned comic Adam Kay trying to ensure that none of Nicholas Parsons' audience stayed on to watch the show when the two were programmed back-to-back at Edinburgh last year. It gives nothing away about what the show actually is, a fast-paced hour of journal readings from Kay's hospital diary interspersed with musical punchlines, building to a gut-punch of a climax that flies the flag for our beleaguered NHS.

It's a strong combination - there's endless dark humour in the snippets of life as a medical professional, climbing the ranks from inexperienced house officer to registrar in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, as he deals with any number of complaints from eye-wincing penis injuries to spots on the tongue (taste buds!) whilst acknowledging the strains it puts on trainee doctors with their 16 hour days and the struggles it imposes on trying to maintain a normal life and relationship at the same time.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon

"Hold your decaying
Hear what we're saying"

Sad to say, what I'm saying is that I was not a fan of The Addams Family at all. After a cracking opening number which promises oh so much, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's book grinds to a juddering halt in a first half which does nothing but interminably set the scene. And Andrew Lippa's score offers little respite as it fails to really nail any definitive sense of identity and ends up really rather forgettable. Things do pick up a tad post-interval but it's too little too late by then.

It all could have been so much better. The Addams Family are an iconic set of characters, previously immortalised on cartoon strip, on television and on film, a legacy which goes some way to explaining the commercial success of the show on Broadway in the face of a scathing critical reception. But classic characters need classic storytelling and here, they're marooned in a schmaltzy neverland which captures nothing of the golden age, nor has anything to say to audiences today.

Review: Whisper House, The Other Palace

"That doesn't look good, 
it doesn't bode well, kid"

The reinvention of the St James Theatre into The Other Palace continues, but with the curious choice of another US musical, this time the European premiere of Whisper House, written by Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow. Curious because it is an oddity of a show that rarely makes the case for its place in this new home for developing musical theatre, heaven knows there's British musicals aplenty that would have benefited from this slot in the programme.

For Adam Lenson's production certainly tries its creative best with the material. Andrew Riley's circular design is an arresting and inventive use of the space, projections are thrown onto the back wall to transport us to Maine in the midst of the Second World War, illusions attempt to conjure the supernatural. But the problem lies in a story that is far too slight and a pop-rock score that is jauntily loud for something trying to be a ghost story.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

"When that I was a little boy"

Even with the best of intentions, it can be a little too easy to forget that there's more to LGBT+ than just the G. Representations of gay men are increasingly common in our theatres but pickings are slim if we look towards the lesbian, bi, and transgender characters and stories. So it's interesting to see directors turning to Shakespeare, and specifically Twelfth Night, to address that in a couple of high profile productions this year. Simon Godwin shifted the nature of Malvolio's illicit passion by casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, and now Jo Davies has moved along the acronym by casting transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O'Donnell as Feste at the Royal Exchange.

And far from any suggestion of a gimmick, it's a deeply sensitive, nuanced take on the role that breathes a real sense of contemporary life into the show. Her experience on the cabaret circuit shows in the ease with which she entertains her audience, whether onstage with the text or bantering off-book with the stalls crowd in the interval, but as funny as she is, there's a depth to her stage presence too. An extra-textual moment where she clocks the cross-dressed Viola in the dark with a hint of recognition, the gorgeous melancholy with which the resonance of her final song grabs you - "when I came to man's estate...", this is the verse sprung to life anew.

Review: Winter Hill, Octagon

"Heroism is danger and risk, and frankly, until now, it’s been male"

Plays set in places I knew well as a child unexpectedly looks like it might be one of the theatrical memes of the year - Years of Sunlight explored the history of the neighbouring town where I learned to swim and now we have Timberlake Wertenbaker's new drama Winter Hill, named for the West Pennine peak that was the location of many a childhood walk. 

Wertenbaker's play is set on the Winter Hill of the near future, as opposed to the not-so-near past, where a chunk of the land has been sold to developers who are constructing a luxury skyscraper hotel there, set to completely alter the way that the hill dominates the landscape and the town of Bolton below it. As a local women's reading group sneaks onto the building site to have their meetings, hidden agendas bubble to the surface to make matters a little more serious than whether they've got enough wine to get through the evening.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review: The Philanthropist, Trafalgar Studios

"I'd much prefer to have honest criticism than your, if you don't mind me saying so, negative remarks"

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays has proven quite an interesting one to keep to hand as it has often made me choose to see things I wouldn't necessarily normally have gone to (with both good and bad results). The result of consultation with 800 playwrights, actors, directors, theatre professionals and arts journalists, the list purports to give us the 100 most significant plays of the 20th century, a subjective exercise at the best of times and one which throws up some real curveballs, like this play.

Written by Christopher Hampton in 1970, The Philanthropist was conceived as a response to Molière's The Misanthrope, it's the lead character's unflappable amiability that causes havoc around him here. But for all the intertextuality, it feels a horrendously dated piece of writing that you can scarcely believe has had revivals in 2005 at the Donmar and 2009 on Broadway. With the likes of Simon Russell Beale and Matthew Broderick at their helm, they may have been better acted but in its gender politics, in its treatment of sexual abuse and suicide, how this play has got the reputation it has is beyond me.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

"Household rules and small decrees
unsuspecting bring us these
secret little tragedies"

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre's longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is...). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst's direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven't quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she's a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it's a difficult one to resist despite - or maybe because of - all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Over in Canary Wharf, The Space Theatre might not necessarily be one that is on the radar of many London theatregoers but the announcement of their summer season ought to tempt the theatrically curious out East as it is full of goodies, not least a revival of Mike Bartlett's excellent Contractions.

Find a selection of some of productions that have caught my eye below

  • The UK premiere of MAD MAN SAD WOMAN by award-winning Chilean playwright Juan Radrigán is a haunting piece giving voice to the voiceless; finding beauty, laughter, and dignity in lives amongst the rubble.
  • Employing elements of visual and physical theatre, live folk music, and a design inspired by the Scandinavian landscapes, UK/Swedish company Romantika explore men’s reluctance to express their emotions in WHAT LIES BENEATH. Tormented by grief, a man flees to the mountains. Suffering from hypothermia, he descends into a hallucinogenic state.
  • Hippana Theatre’s frantic and twisted version of Molière’s THE MISER is a multi-lingual production explodes with acrobatics, slapstick, mask and mime to show the descent of a family provoked by the tyranny of a greedy father.
  • A Summer double bill sees Liver & Lung Productions present contemporary, topical new work. SARAH, SKY AND 7 OTHER GUYS is a raw exploration of love, life and libidos in which Sarah and her Indian gay best friend Sky embark on a journey of sordid sexual encounters and hilariously painful events. SUBMISSION is a new play about identity, sexuality and ideology as Sameer, a young British Pakistani, struggles to reconcile his sexual desires with his Islamic roots and values.
  • Caroline Buckley’s bold and sassy musical, GRAB ‘EM BY THE PUSSY, is set in a world where women are objectified daily. Join outcast Maisy on her quest to be fondled, with plenty of unusual musical numbers along the way...
  • False accusations also feature in THE WITCH’S MARK, winner of the Festival Spirit Award at the 2017 VAULT Festival. Agnes Sampson is accused of witchcraft, tortured, beaten and forced to confess her guilt. But Agnes has powers she was not aware of. Timothy N Evers’ play is a graphic, haunting tale of one woman’s resistance against the forces determined to destroy her.
  • Formed at the National Youth Theatre, all-female company the Wonderbox Collective make their Space debut with A WOMB OF ONE’S OWN. 18 yearold Babygirl struggles with unsympathetic hospital receptionists, newfound independence, uncertain religious beliefs, and the hidden grief that comes with making a difficult choice. This ambitious new production uses humour and sensitivity to shine a light on the still-taboo theme of unwanted pregnancy.
  • Filthy COW Theatre present ECLIPSED - first staged in 1992, Patricia Burke Brogan’s debut play was one of the first dramas to show the real life plight of the women incarcerated inside Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries.
  • And all new female collective VOLTA take a darkly comic look at the employee/employer relationship in Mike Bartlett’s critically acclaimed play CONTRACTIONS. First staged at the Royal Court, the play arrives at the Space for a well-deserved Off West End revival.

Album Review: Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording (2017)


"The time has come for my dreams to be heard"

That it took so long for the UK premiere of Dreamgirls to arrive (35 years after its original Broadway opening), it is little surprise to see that it has taken a mere few months for the Original London Cast Recording to appear, released by Sony Masterworks Broadway today (Friday 12th May). Capitalising on the show's extraordinary success at the Savoy (read my review here) and the two Olivier Awards wins for Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) and Adam J. Bernard (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), this double-album was recorded live in the theatre over four performances in February 2017 with no additional studio re-recordings or musical overdubs.

The choice to go for a live recording is an interesting one. There's an undoubted raw energy that comes from the material not just being sung but being performed that makes certain numbers really pop. And then there's the double-edged sword that is the audience reception - on the one hand it can be spine-tingling effective to hear how enthusiastically the work is being received but on the other, it doesn't always translate without the accompanying visual and let's be honest, the recording doesn't gain anything from having Amber Riley's entrance applause so volubly present.

Album Review: Lea Salonga - Blurred Lines

“I'm on your magical mystery ride"

Recorded during her Feinstein’s/54 Below residency last year, Lea Salonga’s live album Blurred Lines is a sometimes surprising but always classy affair indeed. Effortlessly mixing standards with contemporary pop songs, devising interesting new song pairings and encapsulating her varied stage career in medleys, this was clearly a very well put-together show and thankfully, much of its magic has translated onto disc. 

Accompanied by Jack Cavari on guitar and musical director Lawrence Yurman on piano, there’s a real beauty in just luxuriating in Salonga’s interpretation of her material. She’s a singer in full control of every aspect and colour of her voice and that comes across in the gorgeous restraint and considered intelligence of her readings. She can riff like the bolshiest of Broadway divas but knows full well that she doesn’t need to.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Production shots for Ibsen Huis

"Moeten we hier als op de Wallen in lingerie gaan zitten?"

Time pressures (and priorities) being what they are, when one is on holiday celebrating one's birthday, my review of Simon Stone's Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam won't be ready for a couple of days. So in the meantime, follow the lovely Hans Kesting's gaze past the break and feast your eyes on some of the production photos from Jan Versweyveld.

(c) Henri Verhoef

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

TV Review: King Charles III, BBC2

"I ask no less than power to achieve my will in fair exchange for total service to the state"


Uneasy lies the head that waits for the crown. Mike Barlett's King Charles III was a deserved award-winning success when it took the Almeida by storm in 2014, transferring into the West End and then Broadway, later touring the UK and Australia too. Its success lay in the conception of a Shakespearean future history play, written in verse but set in a world recognisably our own, where Prince George is nonchalanting eating croissants, Queen Elizabeth II has just passed and before he has even been crowned, Charles finds himself in a constitutional crisis of his own making. A bold but welcome move from the BBC to commission a version then.

Directed as it was onstage by Rupert Goold and adapted by Bartlett (the narrative has been telescoped down by over an hour), it re-emerges as a powerful, pacy drama, a fascinating look into how the relationship between monarchy and government could so easily shift at a time of transition, anchored by an achingly nuanced performance from Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role. The ache is of course deepened by the actor's death last month but that sadness shouldn't overshadow the quality of his work here, masterful in his command of the verse, mesmerising as a man trapped by history.

Review: Escape the Theatre, Millbank Tower

There's something inevitable about ending up at something called Escape the Theatre but that analysis aside, a half-price offer with Time Out led our regular team of intrepid escape-the-roomers to Millbank Tower, fortified by a Bloody Mary or two. There, you can find an interesting twist on the locked room genre in that this challenge is a large team-based one - you could be one of up to 15 trying to solve the puzzles, competing against another team against the clock.

The premise of Escape the Theatre is that you've been invited to a swanky film premiere and as we enter the auditorium for an exclusive pre-film event, the lights go off, the doors are locked and a decades-long mystery is unveiled. There's a lot to get to grips with and just 45 minutes in which to do so in order to, dun dun duuuuh, escape the theatre.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Review: A Lie of the Mind, Southwark Playhouse

“Love… its a disease that makes ya’ feel good. While it lasts. Then, when it’s gone, yer worse off than before you caught it”

Despite being blown away by True West, something about Sam Shepard makes me a little wary. I liked rather than loved Fool For Love and ultimately steered clear of the recent Buried Child and it was with a little trepidation that I allowed myself to make my way into A Lie of the Mind, produced here at the Southwark Playhouse by the folks at Defibrillator Theatre. Part of the problem I think lies in my antipathy towards the American dream as a narrative driver, in all honesty I often find I could care less about characters who are constructed around it. So a production has to do a lot to create the kind of context that makes me care and I'd say that director James Hillier just about manages it here, albeit with a couple of reservations.

In rural Montana, a part of the declining American West, the fallout from a particularly vicious episode of the brutally abusive marriage between Jake and Beth plays out. He's retreated back to his childhood bedroom and she is recovering from her substantial injuries at her family's cabin and in parallel, we track - through the most abstracted of ways - the dysfunctional family bonds, their violent legacies and the crucially unexpressed love, that have led them to this point and which appear to offer little alternative beyond.

Figures of Speech, a major new digital project by the Almeida

Ever pioneers in pushing the boundaries of theatrical enterprise (to wit, the durational readings of The Iliad and The Odyssey), the Almeida Theatre has launched Figures of Speech, a major new digital film project interrogating the vitality of speech, rhetoric, and what visionary leadership sounds like. Conceived by Rupert Goold and directed by Anthony Almeida, Figures of Speech will, deep breath, "place history’s greatest speeches centre stage through a series of films read by a network of actors and young leaders released online, building a tapestry of dynamic voices and ideas from across the world as a dramatic response to social crisis". 

The first suite of films, being released on a day-by-day basis from today, features speeches delivered by American politician Harvey Milk spoken by Ian McKellen; Nelson Mandela spoken by Lucian Msamati; Virginia Woolf spoken by Fiona Shaw; AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser spoken by Nicola Walker; and Labour Party Politician Neil Kinnock spoken by Ashley Walters. And throughout the year, the Almeida will release more of these films, accompanied by additional material exploring the speeches, the context within which they were first delivered and the choice to revive them in 2017. 

The site will feature guest-authored articles and filmed reactions from each speech’s performer alongside an audience made up of people from local communities that have direct connections to the themes explored. To complement each speech, inspiring young leaders aged 15 - 25 from across London have been invited to respond to Figures of Speech and deliver a speech of their own, crafted through an Almeida Participation programme, inviting previously unheard voices to share the platform. 

Which I'm sure you'll agree sounds rather quite exciting indeed, a fresh way at looking at politics and leadership in these tumultuous times, and exploring something of the changing nature of what it means to be an orator in the 21st century. And as a treat for you - yes, you! - you can find snippets of some of the forthcoming films below. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Review: Paper Hearts, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

"What would Barbara Cartland do?"

After a successful run in Edinburgh last summer and ahead of a tour in Germany this coming summer, new British musical Paper Hearts arrives in Highgate at the always charming Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre. Written and composed by Liam O'Rafferty, it is a boldly conceived piece for a debut musical and one which takes an ambitiously fresh spin on the rom-com genre.

Set in The Final Chapter, an independent bookshop with a devoted local clientele, Atticus Smith splits his time between working in the shop and being a frustrated writer. But when an online retail giant threatens to swallow the business whole, he is finally spurred into action, not least by the fact that his estranged father is behind the takeover, but also by the arrival of attractive management consultant Lilly Sprockett.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Review: Pete 'n' Keely, Tristan Bates

"It's us again"

Emily Bestow's technicolor set design for Pete 'n' Keely is one of those which fully exploits the transformative possibilities of the Tristan Bates' black box, converting the space into a convincing evocation of a swingin' Sixties television studio. That studio is currently home to pop duo Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens who soared up the charts with their winning charm and captured the hearts of a nation when they got married. Five years down the line though, fame has cooled, they're divorced and the first time they've met up since, they're filming a live reunion special on TV.

Thus we get a variety show format that allows the pair to fill us in anecdotally on their shared past through the medium of popular song, at least when their barely concealed present animosity doesn't interfere. For there's a multitude of unresolved issues that need to be dealt with if they're to make it to the end of the programme, never mind consider the future beyond it. Appropriately enough for the era, Pete 'n' Keely is a rather gentle show and Matthew Gould's production here possesses a warmly nostalgic glow that is well essayed by performers David Bardsley and Katie Kerr.