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Saturday, 11 December 2021

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas which means it’s panto season once more…oh yes it is! After a year where most pantomimes were cancelled or had an unexpected, limited run it feels extra special for the magic of this beloved festive tradition to return. This Festive season The Hackney Empire, famed for their pantomimes over the years, brings the classic fairytale of “Jack and the Beanstalk” to life. 

I felt a warm welcome to my first experience of this iconic venue from arrival, especially warm as the interior was trimmed with wreaths and beautiful trees. The Panto programme is full of colourful pictures, games and puzzles for children (and most likely the adults too) to enjoy playing along with. I attended a 1.30 matinee which meant that the majority of the audience was very excited school children. The anticipation for the show was heightened with cast members dressed as newspaper sellers appearing on different levels of the theatre followed by a much-enjoyed countdown! 

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

REVIEW: 9 to 5 - the Musical at the New Wimbledon Theatre

"Dreams and plans are in the making, success is out there for the taking…wish it was as simple as it sounds”, a lyric from the musical’s opening song that launches this story of ambition against adversity. '9 to 5' is Dolly Parton’s musical version of the legendary film she starred in alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in 1979. The movie became an iconic snapshot of office life and inequality as three women face patronising and degrading treatment from a chauvinistic boss. The popularity and lasting legacy of the movie seems the perfect recipe for a musical adaptation and Dolly is the perfect person to make it happen. 

Originally premiering on Broadway in 2009, '9 to 5' has since enjoyed success on tour and most recently had its London premiere at The Savoy Theatre. This October the latest tour hits the road starting at The New Wimbledon Theatre. After passing across the red carpet I was given a complimentary programme and drinks were served in a “Cup of Ambition” in a nod to the title song of the show. 

It would be rare to be at a wedding disco or a karaoke night without hearing Dolly’s iconic Oscar-nominated song '9 to 5', so as the orchestra strikes up the opening chords the audience are immediately transported back to the 1980s. Dolly famously used the sound of her fingernails to replicate the tapping of a typewriter as an introduction to the tune. As a huge treat to her many fans in the audience, Dolly herself appears on screen to introduce the show and characters. Dolly gives a wink and signature giggle when she introduces Doralee, the character she played herself in the film. 

Saturday, 2 October 2021

REVIEW: The Pleasure Garden – A Vauxhall Musical at the Above The Stag Theatre

It’s an unusual privilege to be able to visit the real setting of a performance before watching but with “The Pleasure Garden” it would be hard not to. Just around the corner from The “Above The Stag Theatre” you’ll find the famous “Pleasure Gardens” the musical’s title depicts. Now a fairly run of the mill park area, a notice board depicts the elaborate and extraordinary history these Gardens hold. Visiting here before the performance raised my anticipation and interest to find out the intriguing past of this historic treasure chest. 

Entering “Above the Stag” gives me the familiar warm atmosphere I always experience when in the LGBTQIA+ theatre. The friendly staff provided the audience with free glossy programmes that gives information furthering the knowledge the park noticeboard had displayed. The programme tells that the history of the area goes back as early as 1600 when the space was known as The New Spring Gardens and had famous visitors including diary keeper Samuel Pepys. In the 18th century, the area reached high popularity, now called the Pleasure Gardens, with its unorthodox classless policy meaning that this really was a place where all areas of life, rich or poor, could mingle. Reading this pre-show heightened my curiosity for what was to come. 

When entering the theatre, the set is surprising as it is covered in building fences and construction working signs telling you to “Wear your mask” (An all too familiar notice of 2021). Knowing the history of the Gardens this is not what I expected to see but the musical begins in the present day with two builders finding a locket from the past leading to them pondering where it had originated from. With the words of a wise homeless man (The first of many characters played by the comically versatile Steve Watts), there are clues and suggestions of the past glories of what has now become a building site. The audience is then transported back in time as the fences are removed and fairy lights illuminate to the sound of, “When the lights go on at Vauxhall” to reveal a magical set suggesting the mystique and excitement of the Pleasure Gardens. 

Saturday, 27 March 2021

REVIEW: Remembering the Oscars starring Aljaž Škorjanec and Janette Manrara

Any fans of BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” will know that for the last 9 years Aljaž Škorjanec and Janette Manrara’s are one of the nation’s favourite couples. For nearly a decade now they have been lighting up the screens with their charismatic personalities and unbelievable ballroom dancing skills. When they are not waltzing across the Strictly ballroom in the second half of the year, Aljaž and Janette have been touring the country with special dance shows. Starting with “Remembering Fred Astaire”, followed by “Remembering The Movies”, last year they were geared up to hit the road again with their latest venture “Remembering The Oscars”. Sadly the Covid pandemic struck and the show had to be pulled, a year later and the tour is still unable to go on tour so as a spectacular consolation the highlights of the show have been specially filmed into a joyous hour stream. 

Filmed at both London's Apollo Theatre and The Bournemouth International Centre, Aljaž and Janette pack an incredible amount of choreography and styles into the hour whilst paying homage to many classic films that have either won or been nominated for Academy Awards over the decades. From the black and white era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “The Gay Divorcee” to modern musicals such as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in, “La La Land”. There is fun additional video footage of the pair paying tribute to films such as "Rocky" and "Flashdance". 

Sunday, 13 December 2020

REVIEW: The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas at The Charing Cross Theatre

The festive season is upon us and as we head towards the end of what has been an unusual and extraordinary year, the need for some Christmas fun is more relevant than ever. This December such an event arrives at The Charing Cross Theatre with the festive family show, "The Elf who saved Christmas!" Before arriving at the theatre, I pass by the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree and the London lights putting me in the festive spirit. This jolly atmosphere continues to the sound of festive hits from Slade, Dolly Parton and Band-Aid as you take your seat. 

From my arrived at the theatre I was reassured by the safety measures the theatre are adhering to in social distancing times. My temperature was checked outside before being encouraged to apply some hand gel. Masks were kept on throughout the show whilst seats and rows were spaced out for extra safety. 

The set of a sofa, rocking horse and side cabinet created a cosy wintery abode vibe with a backing screen adding to the scene. One child was so excited about the set that the second their parent wasn't looking he managed to rush onto to stage to have a go on the rocking horse. From the start, you felt that a happy environment had been set up as an appealing festive treat for children.

The show is a Christmas Elf two-hander with Neil McDermott playing the effervescent Figgy opposite Gina Beck as enthusiastic Cupcake. Neil and Gina met 20 years ago and the friends not only star as the two elves but they wrote the show too, adding an extra charming quality to the show.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

REVIEW: Ghosts of Stanley Halls at The Stanley Halls

Halloween approaches and so does the desire to experience a spooky evening. “Ghosts of Stanley Halls” is just the answer offering a scary, immersive experience held at The Stanley Halls themselves. An immersive experience is an impressive feat at the best of times but during such restrictive times I was eager to find out how this could be achieved. 

Opened in 1903 The Stanley Halls is an ornate building that stands out in the heart of South Norwood. Created by British architect and inventor William Stanley, the halls were built to provide the local community with a public space for concerts, plays and lectures. Knowing the history of the venue adds gravitas to the occasion forcing me to imagine the rich history of people and events that have taken place here over the last century. 

The Halloween spirit felt immediate, arriving on a moonlight night, and being led to the outside bar area with glowing pumpkins and the sounds of seasonal hits such as “Ghostbusters” and “Thriller”. The anticipation of a horror filled night started to bubble like a witch’s cauldron. 

As the show is a walk-through immersive experience the show is being held in batches of small groups, with roughly 12 in our group. Before entering the experience, a tour guide gave us a rundown of the rules and regulations ensuring that all Government Guidelines had been adhered too. In addition to ensuring that we keep our face masks on at all times we were told that each room in the experience had white crosses spaced apart on the floor for each person or social bubble to stand on with a comfortable amount of space in between crosses. In addition, we were asked to ensure that whilst moving through the experience we keep two metres from each other. This worked surprisingly successfully, and I was impressed that I felt that guidelines were being met whilst not sacrificing the atmosphere of the piece. 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

REVIEW: Next Thing You Know at the Garden Theatre

“I want to be the main course”, the central sentiment of a group of friends in their late 20’s finding their way in the hubbub of New York life. This story comes in the form of the musical, “Next thing you know”, at Vauxhall’s Garden Theatre. With book by Ryan Cunningham and music and lyrics by Joshua Salzman the musical first ran to acclaimed success off-broadway in 2011. From the moment you arrive at The Eagle every measure is in place to ensure a safe, socially distanced experience. The theatre itself is outside at the back of the venue although you are well covered and heated with just the odd sound of a speeding motorbike or police siren to remind you that you’re in a garden area.  

The piece explores the lives of four friends in The Big Apple exploring their ambitions and regrets primarily in the setting of a New York dive bar. Endearingly explained before the performance started the audience was told that the director had specifically chosen 4 graduates of 2020 to give a ray of hope to students that have entered the performing world a year of unprecedented difficulty in the theatre world. This was a heartwarming way to start the performance and you sensed the audience were willing the actors to do well from the start.
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