Friday, 29 December 2017

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017

As ever, the wait for the end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances has to continue until I've actually stopped seeing theatre in 2017. But in the meantime, here's a list of 11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017, the things that first pop into my mind when someone says 'what did you enjoy this year'. For reference, here's my 2016 list, 2015 list and 2014 list.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

20 shows to look forward to in 2018

There's all sorts of big productions arriving in the months to come (Long Day's Journey Into Night, the return of Amadeus, PATTI LUPONE!) but I'm using this spot to highlight some of the shows on the London fringe and around the UK (and Amsterdam...) that have piqued my interest and which I hope to get to review.

So in no particular order...

1 Oedipus, Toneelgroep Amsterdam

Robert Icke.

Hans Kesting and Marieke Heebink.

That is all!

2 Tiny Dynamite, Old Red Lion

It's always interesting to look back at earlier works of writers who have gone on to bigger things and January offers the first chance in 15 years to see this Abi Morgan play, with a cast that includes Niall Bishop, Eva-Jane Willis and Tanya Fear.

3 Othello, Liverpool Everyman

With Golda Rosheuvel taking on the title role, Gemma Bodinetz's adaptation promises to shake up Shakespeare in a most fascinating way.

4 Oranges & Elephants: The Musical, Hoxton Hall 

A new all-female musical about two rival female gangs in Victorian London? Well go on then! From an idea by Lil Warren and directed by Susie McKenna in the imposing surroundings of this East End landmark, this piece headlines their Female Parts festival.


5 Broken Glass, Watford Palace

The Tricycle's revival of Arthur Miller's neglected classic was an absolute highlight of 2010 and it is a production that has stuck long in my mind - so, not much to live up to! Charlotte Emmerson leads the cast here in a production that marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

6 Sasha Regan's All-Male Iolanthe, UK tour to be announced

These all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions have been great fun but for my money, Iolanthe was by far the best, finding a way into the conceit that is both highly effective and deeply moving. So it's great to see that it will be touring the UK 2018, watch this space for more details.

7 The Space - One Festival, The Space

Packed with unforgettable stories, bold new writing and world premieres, 19 brave performers take to the Space’s stage in this final year of the One Festival which celebrates solo performances in all its variety.

8 Wonderland, Nottingham Playhouse

Beth Steel's play was first seen at the Hampstead with an extraordinary design coup, so it will be interesting to see what Morgan Large does with the space for its regional premiere in the area where it is set.


9 The Cherry Orchard, Bristol Old Vic/Royal Exchange

A Bristol Old Vic and Royal Exchange Theatre co-production featuring a new translation of the play by Rory Mullarkey. the twin titanic talents of Kirsty Bushell and Jude Owusu at the head of this ensemble should make this a must-see.

10 Trust, Gate

Jude Christian is one of our most exciting and innovative directors, so to see her working in the intimate space of the Gate again is something not to be missed, especially with this acclaimed German play.

11. Caroline or Change, Hampstead

A much deserved transfer for this stunning musical, which was one of my top shows of 2017 as Sharon D Clarke continues a gorgeously rich vein of form in recent years.

12 Chip Shop Chips, Box of Tricks UK tour

Theatre and fish'n'chips - a match made in heaven. The exciting Box of Tricks company are taking this Becky Prestwich play out to a vast range of unconventional venues and I really hope I get to see it, and not just for the chippy tea...

13 Happy Days, Royal Exchange

The combination of Sarah Frankcom and Maxine Peake has already been proven to be one of the UK's most electric collaboration and this time, they're turning their hand to Samuel Beckett.

14 Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice, The Other Palace

This is the two-time Tony Award nominee and two-time Golden Globe Award winner's debut cabaret and her "husky alto" seems tailor-made for it - this should be an intimate delight.


15 The Last Ship, UK tour

This musical by Sting didn't quite have the life on Broadway that it was aiming for (though I did quite like it myself) and being a most British show, it ought to do extremely well on this tour. I look forward to seeing who is cast in it.

16 The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse

Donmar productions hardly need more exposure but the cast for this Peter Gill revival makes it definitely worth your attention, with the likes of Jonathan Bailey and Ben Batt onboard, it'll be good.

17 Great Expectations, UK tour

What more could you need than this pic of Nichola McAuliffe as Miss Havisham to convince you to see this?!


18 The Assassination of Katie Hopkins, Theatr Clywd

The clickbaity nature of the title aside, this new musical by Chris Bush and Matt Winkworth about truth, celebrity and public outrage looks like it could tap into something very telling about our society. Could see my first trip over to Mold...


19 Frost/Nixon, Crucible

The iconic Donmar production of this Peter Morgan play was 'before my time' so the chance to see it - in Sheffield - is one that I am certainly interested in taking. Jonathan Hyde and Daniel Rigby take on the roles of the duelling pair.

20 Foul Pages, Hope

I promise I am interested in the play as well, but there are promotional images and there are promotional images that are relevant to my interests. Matthew Parker's directorial choices are always interesting pieces and this fresh take on Shakespearean history looks set to continue that.


What has captured your attention so far? And is there anything else you think I should have in the diary? Let me know, and happy 2018 theatregoing.


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace

"A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists, 
Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is"

Change doesn't just happen, it has to be ushered in by visionaries determined to shake up the status quo to allow the rest of us to shuffle in in their wake. This is true of many things but particularly when it comes to diversity in our theatres, which makes it pleasing that this first production of Hamilton outside of the US has maintained its commitment to multiracial casting in its depiction of the travails of ill-fated Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. 

Sure, shows such as Motown the Musical and Dreamgirls offer much-welcomed opportunities for performers of colour. But its the vision of the likes of Michael Buffong and Talawa casting an all-black Guys and Dolls and Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail making this decision that allows those performers to get the kind of credits on their CV that would otherwise never be gained. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Advent Competition: win three month's subscription to Digital Theatre


As it is Christmas, the generous folks over at Digital Theatre have offered up a great prize of three months subscription for full access to all of Digital Theatre’s shows for one lucky reader.

You will have access to over 65 productions, the majority of which are exclusive to DT, including: Simon Russell Beale in The Tempest, Paapa Essiedu in Hamlet and Antony Sher in King Lear, all from the Royal Shakespeare Company; Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet in All My Sons; Richard Armitage in The Crucible; David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing; operas and ballets from the Royal Opera House and the English National Ballet; and concerts conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and starring the London Symphony Orchestra.

All you have to do to enter is finish this phrase in the best way you know how - "all I want for Christmas is..." Email your entry to ianfoster32@gmail.com, and if you like my Facebook page and/or follow me on Twitter, you will get an extra entry into the competition for each. 

The competition closes at midday on 24th December and the winner will be notified by email. 


Review: The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios

"A tale so tragic it could only be true"

I'm no real fan of the Trafalgar Studios to be honest - its seating can be cramped, its angles severe, the toilet situation far from ideal, plus the coffee machine there takes an inordinate amount of time to produce a drink. But credit where it is due, director Tom Morris and designer Jon Bausor have done a fantastically inventive job in reconceiving the space to suit the anarchic energy of The Grinning Man, first seen in Bristol last year (and my favourite musical of the year, too).

A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Morris) based on a Victor Hugo novel, it's a macabre tale to be sure, but one suffused with a real magic too. And Morris gives it an immediacy which scrubs away much of the distance that audiences can feel in the old Whitehall Theatre as cellists appear through walls, performers clamber into the stalls to sing, couples walk as if on air...

Gif review: Five Guys Named Moe, Marble Arch

"Ain't no party like a Five Guys party"

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Re-review: Dreamgirls, Savoy

"You want all my love and my devotion"

As Dreamgirls goes into its second year in the West End and has just welcomed a new cast into the Savoy, what better time to revisit this most glittering of musicals. I must admit to going in with something of a sceptical mindset last time around, both in trying to resist the hype and letting thoughts of ticket prices and imported US leading ladies play on my mind. But all such things aside, this really is a belter of a show, a glowing, full-throated roller-coaster of an experience.

Marisha Wallace, Moya Angela and Maren Mav now share the role for which Amber Riley has won pretty much every award going and tonight's Effie was the delightful Wallace, a powerhouse of a presence who pretty much nails it from start to finish. Another visitor from Broadway Brennyn Lark's Deena is well played but I really loved Asmeret Ghebremichael's Lorrell, possibly becoming the brightest of the Dreams despite the way the script goes. And off the men, Joe Aaron Reid's Curtis remains a villainous delight. 

It's always lovely to see ensemble members be rewarded for their hard work and both Tosh Wanogho-Maud and Kimmy Edwards have made the leap, now playing Jimmy Early and Michelle Martin respectively. And the production as a whole remains as slick and shiny as it did when it first opened - with all those crystals, how could it not! Keep your eyes peeled for deals on the off-chance they pop up, or take a chance on TodayTix's daily lottery - it's worth the shot. And if that weren't proof enough, here's some productions shots courtesy of Dewynters.


Review: The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Birmingham Rep

"I want those puppies"

I can be accused of a fair few things but not a lack of adventurousness. It's no secret that I am no great fan of puppets but I do try and test my prejudices on a fairly regular basis, something made spectacularly easy at this time of year as theatreland's interpretation of family-friendly festive fare apparently means puppets for everyone! 

The main reason though for travelling to Birmingham Rep for The Hundred and One Dalmatians was to see Gloria Onitiri's Cruella De Vil, an actress who I've enjoyed following since the Avenue Q days more than a decade ago now. And she did not disappoint with this most iconic of characters, ferociously dramatic and unapologetically dark, she's an absolute force of nature on this stage. The rest of the production around her didn't quite land as effectively though, for me at least.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Review: Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

"Prenez vos chocolats...et mangez-les"

Like the squares of chocolates handed out for us to magically access automatic translation, there’s a bittersweet note to much of Romantics Anonymous. And it is perhaps predictably that Emma Rice scores one of her biggest hits on Bankside with a musical that couldn't be more Emma Rice if it tried. As it is, it fits perfectly into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, shaking up the established order once again as she brings amplification and neon lights along with the huge generosity of spirit of this show, uncompromising to the end in her relationship with the Globe.

Romantics Anonymous was adapted by Rice from the French-Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes, and takes a wonderfully Gallic spin on your typical romantic comedy. Jean-René has inherited a chocolate factory, Angélique is a chocolatier par excellence in need of a job, they seem perfectly suited for each other but both are chronically, painfully shy. She faints if she has to speak to people, he has precisely zero confidence and even in the act of finally striking up a relationship together, both working and personal, their awkwardness is a constant threat to their happiness.

Review: Thark, Drayton Arms

"Have you ever met anyone who’s seen a ghost?
'No; but I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t met someone who has...'”

Matthew Parker is best known as the Artistic Director of the Hope Theatre but this production of 1920s Aldwych farce Thark sees him go west, to the Drayton Arms pub theatre, a lovely fringe theatre adrift in a sea of luxury car dealerships. The show features a company of recent graduates from Drama Studio London where Parker teaches and marks his first directorial interjection into farce and what a fruity affair it is.

From the multiple slamming doors to its night-shirted shenanigans, horny aristocrats to hopeless romantics, the plot is a rightfully a proper trifle of a thing. Hector Benbow wants nothing more than to have dinner with his fancy piece, his nephew Ronny wants to declare his love for Kitty, his butler wants to get home to visit his new baby and none of them are prepared for the early return of his wife Lady Benbow.

Film Review: Crooked House (2017)

"The murderer is never the one you initially suspect"

A real treat here for fans of Agatha Christie as Crooked House is one of the few novels of hers that has yet to be adapted for the screen. With a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price and Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the latter of whom also directs, a curious release strategy sees it materialise on Channel 5 in the UK despite it being blessed with the kind of castings and high production values that you'd've thought would be destined for the cinema.

The story begins as so many of them do, with a murder. This time it is wealthy 80-some tycoon Aristide Leonides who kicks the bucket and the finger of suspicion doesn't know where to point as it could any one of the disillusioned family members who also lived in the sumptuous family pile. His grand-daughter secures the services of a private investigator to look into the case discreetly and thus the mystery begins.

Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

"I know your moustache..."

What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie's most famous whodunnits? Well if you're Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles - blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you're Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he's directing himself, there's a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn't happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble.

Hear some of the songs from The Grinning Man, done rather differently

"First you must come with me and see what I've found"

The producers of The Grinning Man must have been really really happy when Hamilton announced that it was delaying its opening night so that it would fall into the same week as theirs. Fortunately, The Grinning Man gets in first and has a few days' grace and it is also taking a little inspiration from the hit Broadway show in the way it is presenting its score. So where Lin-Manuel Miranda called in mates like Alicia Keys, Usher, Kelly Clarkson and The Roots for The Hamilton Mixtape, The Grinning Man has released a set of clips of West End stars and celebrities singing their own versions of some of the songs from the show.

It's an intriguing move, especially as Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler's score is not yet widely known, but it is also a fascinating one as the likes of Matt Lucas and Hannah Waddingham, Kelsey Grammer and Louise Dearman put their own stamp on some of the best tunes whilst never straying too far from the gothic darkness of the source material.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Review: The Twilight Zone, Almeida

"We're not looking for a needle in a haystack but for an alien in a diner"

There's a scene in the second half of The Twilight Zone which is almost unbearably, poignantly astute on the subject of race relations in the US. Never mind that it was written in the 60s, it says so much about the America of today that it can't help but chill the bone about the predictability of the baser notes of human nature. It is though, the only moment in this theatrical adaptation of the classic TV show that registered any real impact with me.

Anne Washburn (she of the extraordinary Mr Burns) has fashioned this play out of eight of the stories told by The Twilight Zone and presents them as if shuffling a pack of cards. Some stories broken up and interwoven with each other, some told in toto, all seeking to disrupt and disturb with shocks and scares and no little amount of wry humour too. It makes for a strangely suitable piece of counter-intuitive festive programming but ultimately felt insubstantial to me. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Brockley Jack

"We'll put some ginger in the good lady's gravy"

After The Box of Delights last week, I got to take another trip back into childhood favourites with this adaptation of Joan Aiken's 1962 novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase at the Brockley Jack. Part of her Wolves Chronicles (my favourite of which, pointless trivia fans, is Black Hearts in Battersea) set in an alternate 1830s England, here an invasion of wolves is terrorising the countryside just at the moment that two young cousins have been abandoned into the care of a governess with sinister plans.

Already a tale of stirring adventure, the joy of Russ Tunney's adaptation for the stage is that it revels in its theatricality, taking a much different but no less effective route. So a company of five take on the numerous roles, original compositions (by The State of Things' Elliot Clay) and folk songs haunt the storytelling, and there's much used of shared narration, enhancing the already magical feel. And with a cleverly designed set (by Karl Swinyard) that allows for the inventive evocation of train carriages, stately home boltholes, silvery forests and more besides, there's much to enjoy here.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Review: Pinocchio, National

"Do you want puppets?"

No matter the weather, as you walk into the Lyttelton's auditorium for Pinocchio, you’ll find that it is snowing. A simple trick but one that inspires just the right childlike wonder for an adaptation of such a popular fairytale, but it is also a sense of magic that John Tiffany's production of Dennis Kelly's adaptation sometimes struggles to hold onto, as darkly disturbing as it is exuberantly heartfelt.

That darkness comes from several directions. The narrative cleaves closely to the moral instruction of a fable so Pinocchio's struggle with the dark side is presented as a straight-up choice between good and evil - make the wrong choice in dealing with the Fox or the Coachman and things could end up pretty grim, as we witness in a particularly brutal bit of puppet mutilation (it shocked even me!).

Review: Beauty & The Beast (A Musical Parody), King's Head

"What would Jane Austen do?"

Having embraced my inner Scrooge this Christmas by deciding not to see any productions of A Christmas Carol or any pantos either, my resolve was tested by the return of Fat Rascal to the London stage, a young company devoted to create "fresh and funny feminist musical theatre" and whose ode to the vibrator was an unexpected pleasure (ooh-er) last year. This year they're blessing us with fewer sex toys in the form of Beauty & The Beast (A Musical Parody).

And not just any Beauty and the Beast, a gender-swapped one that gives us a Jane Austen-obsessed Beau, a swash-buckling Siobhan in place of Gaston and a Beast who is no less fearsome for being of the female variety. And though it is in the late-night slot at the King's Head, bookwriters Robyn Grant and Daniel Elliot never make the mistake of overloading the smut (as many an adult panto is wont to do), preferring instead to just be really, really funny.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Review: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, Hope

"Jamie stayed and explored Peterborough, which has a Waitrose. He can’t resist a good Waitrose”

From the minute you walk into the Hope for A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, you know something special is afoot. Chairs are draped with blankets and cushions, bowls of Quality Street twinkle like fairy lights, and we're heartily greeted like old friends by the couple whose front room we're entering. It's a warmly convivial beginning to a warmly convivial show.

A Curmudgeon's Guide... is based on a book by the late, lamented Guardian diarist Simon Hoggart, where he collated some of the more extreme examples of the Christmas round-up-of-the-year letter that people have received. Gently poking fun at the humblebrags and hubris they contain, Scott Le Crass has fashioned an intimate two-hander which looks lightly at that all-too-human need to share.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Review: Thirty Christmases, New Diorama

"Don't be a prick at Christmas"

As many of us lurch from swapping random Secret Santa gifts at office parties to necking eggnog at pantos (just me?!) in preparation for the culinary bliss that is my dad's Christmas dinner, it is easy to forget that the festive season is necessarily a happy one for everyone. And it is this feeling that Supporting Wall's Thirty Christmases (in association with Arts at the Old Fire Station and the New Diorama) is concerned with exploring, through this bittersweetly wry and affecting comedy.

Written by Jonny Donahoe and directed by Alice Hamilton, it's the story of siblings Jonny and Rachel who haven't spent Christmas together in nearly ten years due to a big falling out. Through the efforts of their mutual friend Paddy, they've come together to delve into their shared past to try and work out their issues, for it turns out they've never actually had a conventional Christmas at all, due to a chaotic upbringing by their single-parent socialist firebrand of a father.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Review: Little Women the Musical, Hope Mill

"Somethings are meant to be"

Finally made my first trip to the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester's fringe powerhouse which has been firing transfers down to London with quite the regularity. I wanted to experience the theatre for itself though and having heard great things about Little Women the Musical, didn't want to miss out in case this is the one that doesn't actually make its way south (although it should, it really should!).

With a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, this musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel is a wonderful piece of adaptation. Streamlining plot whilst simultaneously enriching character, it translates the travails of the four March sisters into a warm and witty couple of hours and naturally makes you cry just as much it gladdens the heart.

Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange

"The passengers were bound to resist"

Michael Buffong's reinterpretation of Guys and Dolls, a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Talawa Theatre, is just that, a bold re-envisioning of the classic musical that consequently comes up with something different. That's the point. So it may take a second to recalibrate, to adjust to these portrayals of familiar characters but in doing so you get to embrace something fresh and new and really rather exciting.

Moving the show from Times Square to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in 1939 allows Buffong to employ an all-black cast, infuse Frank Loesser's score with jazz and gospel (new orchestrations by Simon Hale) and introduce a vibrant choreographic vision (by Kenrick Sandy) that draws on several decades of dance history. The result is less-concept heavy than you might expect and often, explosively good fun.

Album Review: Rachel Tucker - On The Road (Deluxe)

"Will I ever be more than I've always been?"

Proving that you don't need to win the reality show that you're in to set your career, and that it's your talent that matters, Rachel Tucker's success is testament to just how far hard work and a hella big voice can take. Headlining shows in the West End and Broadway, including playing Wicked's Elphaba in both, 2017 has seen her play a series of dates on a UK tour with musical director Kris Rawlinson, which in turn produced an album - On The Road - which has recently been digitally released with some bonus tracks in a deluxe edition. 

Reflecting the diversity of a live show, the record opens with a potency and confidence that could see her take her place among the Rat Pack as she swings confidently through classics like 'Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable To Lunch Today)' and 'The Candyman'. New musical theatre gets a look in with the searching emotion of Dear Evan Hansen's 'Waving Through A Window' and then the intensity is dialled down for a moment with Randy Newman's heartbreaker 'When She Loved Me'.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Review: Daisy Pulls It Off, Park

"Buck up kiddies"

Theatres that aren't putting on pantomimes face something of a dilemma - what do you do to ensure you capture audience attention in this most lucrative of seasons? Some theatres like the Almeida programme counter-intuitively whilst others go for alternatively festive fare (see Wilton's Music Hall and the Christmas-set The Box of Delights).Or you can do what the Park have done and put in family-friendly fare like Daisy Pulls It Off.

It's a nifty move as this type of play - an Olivier winner from 1983 no less - fulfils much of the same purpose as panto, in its endearing daftness as it evokes a world of 1920s jolly-hockey-sticks adventuring and in its slyly subversive sense of humour which manages that thing of making the kids laugh on the one level and letting the parents get their giggles in a naughtier, bawdier way. It's all rather silly but good fun with it.

Midlife Crooner Crisis Album Reviews

With Top of the Pops cruelly taken away from us, I've rarely much of a clue as to what in the charts. But I doubt even the most knowledgable of experts could have predicted that one of 2016's biggest albums would come from the presenter of The Chase. Chasing Dreams ended the year as the second biggest UK debut and perhaps unsurprisingly given his key demographic, achieved that with predominantly physical sales.

So the arrival of a follow-up was never in doubt but it brings with it competition, from a whole raft of middle-aged white male presenters seeking to tap into those CD sales. And me being the kind soul that I am, I've listened to some of them, mainly so that you don't have to...as it's not a field overflowing with the kind of music that floats my boat. Each to their own though. 

Album Review: Anton Du Beke - From The Top

"Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?"

There doesn't seem to be anything that can stop the dead-eyed determination of Anton Du Beke to try and become the kind of all-round entertainer that his website proclaims him to be. Best known for his regular mid-season finishes on Strictly, he's dipped his toes into the world of presenting (whatever happened to Hole in the Wall...) and now it is the record industry that has to avert its eyes politely for a wee while.

Released in time for Christmas, From The Top contains zero surprises. If you were thinking of getting for someone who likes him, then they are going to be satisfied. Du Beke has an inoffensive smooth tone that suits the more undemanding choices of standards here ('Beyond The Sea', 'More', 'It Had To Be You'), Strictly singers Lance Ellington and Hayley Sanderson make guest appearances as does Connie Fisher, and there's bags of that inimitable charisma of his.

Album Review: Alexander Armstrong - In A Winter Light

"I was following the pack"

Alexander Armstrong has many a string to his bow - actor, comedian, presenter and singer - and following a couple of albums that have hit the Top 10, he now makes the move that seem de rigeur for the middle-aged male entertainer this year, in releasing his first Christmas album In A Winter Light

The album is nearly completely stymied by its song selection, misguidedly mishmashing its genres so that we're taken from traditional carols to easy listening to the Fleet Foxes to original compositions pastiching them all. A different kind of performer might have been able to tie such a collection together but there's a stiff formality to Armstrong's singing that means he is not the one.

Album Review: Bradley Walsh - When You're Smiling

"I'm living in a kind of daydream"

No-one could accuse Bradley Walsh of resting on his laurels. Between hosting The Chase, appearing in his regular Peter Pan panto and preparing to become one of the 13th Doctor's new companion, it's a wonder he's managed to find time to record a new album. But such was the success of his first that you could guarantee this was a trick not to be missed and so When You're Smiling is now selling well in the few places that still actually sell CDs.

And it is a perfectly serviceable album that is as enjoyable to listen to as these things get. Walsh has a richly strong voice but more importantly, a keen sense of what is suited to it. So we get an album full of standards from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong, plus a smattering of hits from musicals such as Cabaret, The King and I, and Guys And Dolls.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton's Music Hall

"The wolves are running, Kay Harker"

There'
s a wonderfully rough magic to Justin Audibert's production of The Box of Delights that makes it the perfect choice for Wilton's Music Hall's festive show. And it is one that will have extra resonance for those of a generation similar to my own, whose childhood TV watching centred on a VHS copy of the 1984 TV adaptation, whose use of graphics and green screen hasn't necessarily aged all that well (see around 14.30)...

The nods to the occasional naffness of that design (a car that turns into an aeroplane!) were much appreciated but such is the warmth and wit of the theatrical invention here, that it is hard not to be won over by Piers Torday's adaptation of John Masefield's 1935 fantasy novel whether you're familiar with it or not. And though it flirts with the odd sinister undertone, the abiding feel is one of adventurous derring-do and festive cheer, fit for whatever family you have around you.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Review: Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse

"I am not the man I thought myself"


There's a knack to finding the kind of long-neglected plays that respond well to a revival, as opposed to the ones that are deservedly collecting dust, and Ashley Cook's Troupe seem to have nailed it. Making a name for themselves with the likes of Rodney Ackland's After October and James Shirley's The Cardinal, Troupe has now turned to JM Barrie - best known of course for sharing the same birthday as me, oh, and Peter Pan - to shine a light on the little-performed 1917 play Dear Brutus.

It is undoubtedly a curious thing. It is set in a country house where the Puckish figure of its owner - Robin Hooper's Lob - has invited a group of strangers for the weekend, with the intention of luring them into the enchanted wood that appears every midsummer to explore the lives that they might have led. A piece of magic-infused escapism that shifts tonally between whimsical frivolity and real psychological acuity, tear-jerking drama and comic romps and as such, can feel hard to pin down. 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Review: Austentatious, Piccadilly

"I am nine and ten, NINE AND TEN"


It's no secret that I do enjoy a bit of improv and alongside The Showstoppers, Austentatious are surely one of the most reliably entertaining and inventive of companies in the field. Regular readers will know that I'm a big fan, regularly attending their monthly residency at the Leicester Square Theatre and so I was delighted to find out that they've gone for an upgrade and for the next few months, you can find them in one of the grander houses of the West End at the Piccadilly Theatre.

If you're new to the game, audiences get to suggest the title of a lost Jane Austen work like below



and once one is picked - tonight's was We Need To Talk About Emma - the company of six (from a larger rotating crew of eight) set about creating an entirely new literary masterpiece from scratch, relying on nothing but the surreal swerves of their imagination. And without fail, they are simply hilarious. 

Album Reviews: Marisha Wallace - Soul Holiday / Leslie Odom Jr - Simply Christmas (Deluxe Edition)

"Drive the dark of doubt away"

By all accounts, Marisha Wallace has had quite the couple of weeks. Taking over as Effie White in Dreamgirls, delivering a cracking performance on the Strictly results show and somehow finding the time to fit in two solo concerts to support the launch of her debut album Soul Holiday. I was otherwise occupied on Sunday but I have been able to listen to the album and it is a delightfully warm and happy collection, destined to put smiles on faces this Christmas.

As the title suggests, the dominant mood is a soulful one and it is one which reinvigorates this familiar material with a fresh spirit. Festive standards like 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' and 'The Christmas Song' shimmer with new feeling, 'Do You Hear What I Hear' somehow becomes more glorious, and a subtle take on 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' with British jazz pianist Ross Stanley is a truly beautiful affair, deeply heartfelt throughout.