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Wednesday, 26 April 2023

REVIEW: Abigail’s Party at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

As the action starts in the latest production of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, you can’t help but feel a prickling sense of anticipation. This marvel of 1970’s British social dysfunction has once again graced the stage, proving that the party never truly ends, it simply finds a new host.

Drenched in nostalgia and plenty of gin, Abigail's Party invites us into the garish living room (designed with impeccable 70’s bad taste by Bek Palmer) of Beverly and Laurence Moss, a suburban couple who could give a masterclass in passive-aggressive warfare. They are hosting a soiree, a get-together for the neighbours, and, as is often the case when people are thrown together in this way, no one really wants to be there – not even Laurence, and it’s his house. Only Beverly is truly at ease, wafting from one guest to the next, offering them ‘just a little top up’ and trying to persuade them to eat the ‘cheese and pineapple ones’ she’s thrusting into their faces.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

REVIEW: Animal Farm at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley

George Orwell’s novels seem to have this incredible ability to always stay relevant. Animal farm, for instance, Orwell’s satirical novel about power, class and greed continues to stay current despite being published back in 1945. Telling the story of a group of animals who decide to stage a revolution and claim the farm for themselves from the farmer, with the dream of freedom and equality for all animals. 

The subject material could be seen as heavy, almost too much for a younger audience. Particularly the theme of nazism, the vilification of an enemy and the propaganda that follows. 

What’s interesting here is the show, partnered with ‘Children’s Theatre Partnership’, would almost have you expect it to be a childish take on the themes. Yet the show does expertly well in catering to an audience of all ages with the ability to be educational to the youth and still portray the themes and messages that covey within the book.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

REVIEW: The Addams Family at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

After pining to see one of Andrew Lippa’s most famous musicals for years, I had such excitement and high expectations for Aria Entertainment’s production of The Addams Family.

Based on the fictional family cartoon by Charles Addams and later film franchise by Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson, The Addams Family follows the story of Wednesday Addams, the daughter of a satirical and kooky family who relish in the macabre and odd. After falling in love with a conventional and preppy young man Lucas, the pair arrange a dinner for their parents to meet - leading to an evening of ghoulishly sour events that nearly cause the breakdown of each family. The show combines the dark and eccentric with classic camp comedy, providing a show that will make you want to die with laughter.

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

REVIEW: Hairspray at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

With this tour and last summer’s residency of a different production at the London Coliseum, it seems we’re never far away from a squirt of Hairspray. The story concerns Tracy Turnblad’s desire to become a star on the local TV dance show in her home town of Baltimore in 1962 and how she encounters and deals with racism and body shaming along the way. The serious underlying issues combine with great tunes and a frothy, comic topping to make this an enduring classic. 

If you’ve not seen it before you’ll find Marc Shaiman’s tunes are instantly appealing and energetically delivered by the on-set band. By the way, the sound was great. Loud but not over-bearing and great balance between vocals and band, which sounds obvious not all shows get this right. 

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Pocket Picks: Our top Pantomimes of 2021!

Pantomime is one of the greatest British festive traditions, bringing so many people to theatres; some for the first time and some as a yearly tradition. We look back at some of the pantomimes we've reviewed here at Pocket so far this year and pick out some of the highlights! But even though we're choosing our favourites, we must send our admiration to all those involved in theatre across the UK, whether in a panto or anything else. With closures happening all over due to the pandemic yet again, it has reminded us how privileged we are to get to experience the joy that is live theatre. So keep supporting your local venues, and go see a panto!

"...this year we’ve got a couple of proper names in the always good value, Bonnie Langford and Lee Mead. Along with Myra Dubois as the wicked fairy, Lloyd Hollett as Muddles, the Court Jester, Claudillea Holloway as the princess and Joelle Moses as the Queen, this combination proves to be the best overall cast I can recall." 


Wednesday, 8 December 2021

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

I’ve seen some great stars in panto at the Churchill over the years – Ronnie Corbett, Lionel Blair, Russ Abbot – but in more recent times such experienced performers have tended to be replaced by people who, in front of their name on the poster, have the words ‘CBBC’s…’ or ‘Emmerdale’s…’. To be fair some of them have been pretty good, but this year we’ve got a couple of proper names in the always good value, Bonnie Langford and Lee Mead. Along with Myra Dubois as the wicked fairy, Lloyd Hollett as Muddles, the Court Jester, Claudillea Holloway as the princess and Joelle Moses as the Queen, this combination proves to be the best overall cast I can recall.

Claudillea Holloway looks so genuinely happy to be the princess, with a radiant smile. And her voice is quite beautiful. As her mum, Queen Voluptua, Joelle Moses exudes a regal authority and knocks out some terrific notes of her own. She’s been Motormouth Maybelle in a production of Hairspray and I’d have loved to see her in that part.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

REVIEW: Chicago at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Chicago proves why it's been around for a while and it is definitely here to stay. This black box production uzes class and establishes itself as a classic musical theatre piece. If you’ve not seen Chicago, where have you been?! This version of the show opened in London back in 1997 and has refused to leave our stages and this production validates exactly why. 

This has to be one of the classiest shows on the circuit at the moment and even though the style of the show could be of an acquired taste, it sure has something for everyone. With impeccable choreography, humour pouring through it and relevance to our lives today this show is what the country needs. 

The light humour in the piece carries through and with the talented cast it's very easy to watch but then when the harder hitting moments come, they hit pretty hard. In a world where celebrities are created through social media and, arguably, have no ‘real’ talents, this shows message and meaning carries through to modern-day. 

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

REVIEW: Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Three drag queens travel across Australia to a casino in Alice Springs on their unreliable bus, Priscilla, so one of them can meet his six-year-old son for the first time. On the way they encounter prejudice of various sorts from the locals in some remote outback watering holes. This they diffuse, with varying degrees of success, by performing their act, which consists of miming to disco classics in outlandish costumes.

Priscilla, originally a film then in 2006 a musical, was ground-breaking in its previous incarnations, featuring gay and transgender characters as its protagonists. It probably opened the door to shows like Kinky Boots and Everyone’s Talking About Jamie. It arrives now in a different time, with the world of drag queens now more open and visible to general audiences through those shows and on TV the likes of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. But it still retains its original intention of proclaiming the rights of gay and transgender people and this is still, sadly, a necessary message. 

In this aim the show is often successful, with the leading lady Bernadette (Miles Western) dealing with transphobia and homophobia via waspish put-downs or, in one case, swift physical violence. The overall light-hearted tone, set largely by the impressively staged musical numbers, also creates a warmth around the three leads who, in most conventional settings, would seem out of place and outlandish. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

REVIEW: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

You could be forgiven for assuming that the stage show of the classic 70’s sitcom ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ would stick so closely to its television roots that it could miss the mark with the new age, comedy loving, audiences of 2020 but you would be wrong. 

The stage adaptation surrounding a day in the life of the, much loved, chaotic, and unintentionally witty Frank Spencer (complete with signature beret and trench coat) is a laugh a minute from start to finish. 

Written by Guy Unsworth & Raymond Allen and directed by Guy Unsworth himself, the production begins its 2020 tour at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. The show begins with the classic theme tune which pays homage to the original TV series. The theatrical revival begins much like the 1970’s episodes. The vicar is coming round, Frank’s had another failed day looking for work and his loving but worrier wife Betty is at home with big news that she is expecting.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

REVIEW: An Evening of Marvin Gaye at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Wayne Hernandez heads a 10 person line-up (seven in the band and two backing singers) in this Marvin Gaye tribute concert which is strong on musicality.

Wayne Hernandez’s claim to fame is being a member of the Kingdom Choir which sang at Harry and Meghan’s wedding. He’s certainly an impressive singer. I don’t make any claims to be anything other than casually aware of Marvin Gaye’s work, but judging him against the songs I was most familiar with I would say he is not attempting to recreate the exact sound, either vocally or in terms of the band. But this is not to criticise. He and his band take the familiar and make it fresh, with an energetic drive from having both drums and percussion combining with Hernandez’s rich vocals.

Even for the casual listener there are enough familiar songs to keep them coming at regular intervals - How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You), Ain’t That Peculiar, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On and many more.

Monday, 20 January 2020

REVIEW: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Beautiful the musical starts its new national tour at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. Riding on the back of an Olivier award winning West End run. It’s a straightforward biographical juke box musical telling the little known story of Carole King who, with her partner/husband Gerry Goffin, wrote dozens of chart hits which have become the sound of popular music – Will You Love Me Tomorrow?, The Locomotion, Up on the Roof, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman and heaps more. She then went on to become a star performer in her own right. Those coming late to the party may also know of her as the writer and performer of the theme tune to the TV series Gilmore Girls, in which she also appeared.

Although the juke box/biography form is used in a completely conventional way, what sets this show apart from others is the sheer quality, quantity and variety of songs written by King and her friends cum rivals Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who wrote You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, the most played song of the 20th century).

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

REVIEW: Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

A marvelous Christmas present has arrived at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley in the shape of Christopher Biggins. As panto stars, TV presenters and ex boy/girl band members are all very well, but a proper panto deserves a proper panto star, which is what Biggins undoubtedly is.

His is a twinkly presence as Widow Twankey, appearing in a series of costumes and wigs ranging from the extravagant to the bizarre. He is effortlessly at ease with the audience. Indeed his first ‘scene’ is not really part of the show, just an informal chat identifying school groups, brownies and those celebrating birthdays. Throughout the show he totters about the stage and is both hilarious and a little vulnerable.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

REVIEW: The Girl on the Train at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

The Girl on the Train gives as its source both the Paula Hawkins novel and the Dreamworks film. The latter, I suspect, is almost purely a financial credit as this is very much an English-set telling of the story. The only American element being the atmospheric but out-of-place train horn sound effect which, sadly, you will not hear on your commute on Southeastern.

The plot concerns alcoholic commuter Rachel (Samantha Womack) who becomes a key person of interest in a murder enquiry. Her observations of some of the suspects from her train window and her unreliable memory of what happened on the night of the murder prove vital. This is all tangled-up in the marriage of her previous husband and the murdered woman’s relationship with him and her analyst.

Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, The Girl on the Train, in both film and novel versions, builds the tension because our protagonist is removed from the action. We have to guess along with them what’s really going on, based on the distant and fragmented glimpses into events in other people’s lives. 

Thursday, 10 October 2019

REVIEW: Grease at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Grease. A word that has many meanings but always makes you instantly think of the 1971 hit musical before anything else. It is arguably one of the most famous musicals to date and is regularly performed all around the world to sold out venues and no specific target audience. 

Grease; The Musical is currently being staged at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley until Saturday October 12th. However, it’s a slightly fresh take on the classic and being honest - it’s about time! 

I was immediately taken aback by the size of the stage at this side street theatrein Bromley. The stage is absolutely massive and luckily, thanks to scenic designer Colin Richmond, does not swallow the set and the production. In fact - quite the opposite. The, rather large, set consists of the obligatory set of bleachers, school gym apparatus and an elevated recording studio for Vince Fontatine amongst other pieces that move around to create different environments. The set also includes the most famous car in the world - Greased Lightning! 

Friday, 30 August 2019

REVIEW: Cabaret at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

To say this production of Cabaret doesn’t shy away from the darkness of the era in which it is set is an understatement. It positively embraces it. In doing so the awful rise of the Nazis is made more real and the resonances with our 21stcentury world more powerful.

Rufus Norris’s direction sets out to unsettle us. Despite the jolly banjos and honky-tonk piano in the band playing Kander and Ebb’s oh-so accessible tunes, the setting in a Berlin ‘Kabaret’, the Kit Kat Club, is unnerving from the start. John Partridge as Emcee establishes the tone as he welcomes us, peering eerily from an out-sized camera iris (a reference to I Am a Camera, the play on which the show is based). Throughout he gives a hugely committed performance, becoming more weird and perverse with each number. Like the stories about frogs gradually boiled to death by slowly heating water, we too are gradually seduced by the apparent glamour and sparkle of the entertainment he presents for us, only too late realising the awful truth about the story we are being told.

Oblivious to what’s going on around her is Sally Bowles. She blithely ignores the news and the evidence of her own eyes, simply seeing the Kit Kat club where she performs as a vehicle for her own talents. Played by Kara Lily Hayworth, we see Sally grow through her songs. Her multi-layered interpretation shows us Sally Bowles as performer, as naïve, as vulnerable and, in the title number towards the end of the show, as awakening to what the world is really like.
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