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Monday, 29 May 2023

REVIEW: Aspects of Love at the Apollo Theatre

Whilst theatre takes on many guises nothing can match the unbridled splendour of a West End production. The bright lights of Shaftsbury Avenue now play host to a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love. With such a formidable creative line-up there was no doubt this musical would deliver the goods. The multi-award-winning Don Black contributes lyrics as does Charles Hart, who collaborated with Lord Webber on the wildly successful Phantom of the Opera. The show first aired in 1989 and hit Broadway the following year. It has enjoyed periodic revivals and national tours since then, but this sumptuous new production raises the musical to new heights.

The story concentrates on love, life and romantic dramas we call affairs of the heart. Alex Dillingham (Jamie Bogyo) meets and instantly falls in love with the beautiful and charismatic actress Rose Vibert (Laura Pitt-Pulford). However Rose becomes smitten with Alex’s uncle George (Michael Ball), who has an occasional mistress Giuletta (Danielle De Niese) in tow. Rose and George later have a daughter Jenny (Anna Unwin), who falls in love with her older cousin Alex. The lives of the five principal characters are traced over a seventeen-year period. Relationships ebb and flow as they weave a tangled emotional web.

REVIEW: Rose at the Ambassadors Theatre

When entering a theatre for a monologue, or one person-performance, I often feel quizzical, with a sense of unease. How can a single human effectively capture and hold an entire audience’s attention for over two hours? The answer, an actor with masterful skill and talent, which is precisely what pours out of the wonderful Dame Maureen Lipman, currently starring in the West End transfer production of ‘Rose’ at the Ambassadors Theatre for a limited run. 

Having starred in an online production of the show early in the pandemic, Lipman is now captivating theatre fans across London with her dynamic portrayal of the title role. The original production of Rose was produced at the National Theatre and on Broadway in 1999.

To date, I was yet to see a monologue that equally enticed and entertained me throughout the entire performance, and Rose certainly didn’t disappoint to deliver on either of these points. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane at The Alexandra Birmingham

Eerie, mystifying and visually spectacular! The acclaimed National Theatre production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane exudes the bizarre and wonderful; a beautiful combination of story-telling, comedy and dark twists.

Based on the 2013 Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, the Ocean at the End of the Lane is a tale of magic, memory, loss and survival. Based on the memory of a 12-year-old boy, the story follows his journey of friendship with a young girl – a magical and courageous being. After the loss of the young boy’s lodger, a flea on the edge of their world tries to creep its way in. From here, the child’s world crashes down upon him; the flea taking over every aspect of his life. The only person he can turn to are his new friend Lettie and her kooky mother and grandmother. Together, they plot to save his family from the manipulation of the flea named Ursula – a heroic attempt with a touch of Gaiman’s renowned book and film ‘Coraline.’

Sunday, 21 May 2023

REVIEW: Brokeback Mountain at the Soho Place

Whether you’ve read Annie Proulx’s original short story or seen the film, Brokeback Mountain remains iconic. A story of a forbidden love between two cowboys spanning 20 years. In this latest adaption from playwright Ashley Robinson, we’ve got a 90-minute compacted story about cowboys Jack Twist (Mike Faist) and Ennis Del Mar (Lucas Hedges) and their secret relationship. 

The set design from Tom Pye is immediately striking, with the small stage the Soho Place offers, Pye makes excellent use of the stage by combining three sets in one. The kitchen, bed and campfire. A rundown Wyoming room helps us immediately imagine the time frame and the campfire helps to visualise Brokeback in front of us and immerse ourselves in the scene. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

REVIEW: Heathers at The Alexandra Birmingham

Dark, camp and completely unstoppable! Heathers seems to be the phoenix of the musical world: a non-stop conveyer belt of endless cast changes and new UK tours; rising from the ashes and getting stronger with each new lease of life. This current touring production is no exception. 

Based on the late ‘80s cult film of the same name, Heathers is a black comedy centring around three popular girls at high school – all named Heather. Like every cliché stereotype of an American, bitchy teenage girl, the Heathers rule the school and go out of their way to ruin the lives of others: think Mean Girls but before the internet era. Our protagonist Veronica, an intelligent misfit with hopes of going to Harvard, gets sucked into the soulless pit of adolescent power and gains a superficial friendship with the Heathers in exchange for her talent for forging handwriting. In the commotion of hiking her way up the high school hierarchy, Veronica stumbles across the new kid at school; a brooding, literary-quoting teenage boy with a mysterious and seductive flare. JD – as he calls himself, entices Veronica into a series of dark actions, resulting in multiple murders, disguised as suicides. 

REVIEW: Once On This Island at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Once on this Island has a really special and important message for us in 2023. With crimes being committed every day against non-white communities and with the current backlash the trans community are facing, this is a story that could teach our society a lot. The consequences that segregation can cause are brutal and this really lifts a mirror to the world we’re living in today. 

Beautifully told by the cast and creatives, this is a simple production that utilises the narrative and writing to do most of the work, and luckily it’s brilliant, so it just emphasises the work that Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music) have created.

REVIEW: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying at the Southwark Playhouse

Ever sat and wondered just how to succeed in snapping up a ticket to a truly fabulous musical in London? The answer is right in front of you, and is currently thriving at Southwark Playhouse!

Revived for the first time in London since 1963, 60 years on ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying’ is back in the West End, but this time, explored through a refreshing new lens. 

As a regular attendee of the Southwark Playhouse, I was thrilled to be invited along to the press night of their latest production. The venue, which I like to see as a melting pot for innovative, and boundary-breaking projects and productions acts as an effective home for Director Georgie Rankcom’s adaptation of the Frank Loesser & Abe Burrows’ classic. 

REVIEW: Glory Ride at the Charing Cross Theatre

One of the joys of theatre is the discovery of stories that are previously unknown to us. Some may be aware of Gino Bartali, the renowned Italian cyclist who won the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia in the 1930s. But few will know of his remarkable exploits during the Second World War. As a famous cyclist, Bartali was able to move freely and communicate with the resistance movement. He used the frame of his bike to smuggle false ID papers across Italy. As a result, many Jews were saved from persecution under the infamous regime of Benito Mussolini. Bartali was, however, modest about his achievements and played down his role during the war. He once said ‘The good is done, but it is not said’. He was equally dismissive of formal recognition adding ‘certain medals hang on the soul, not on the jacket’.

The story begins in 1935 and Florence is in the grip of the murderous black shirts. Gino Bartali (Josh St. Clair) is showing promise as a cyclist and Mussolini’s regime are quick to claim him as one of their own. He wants to stay out of politics, unlike best friend Mario Carita (Fed Zanni) who joins the Army and rises quickly through the ranks. They soon become rivals for the affections of artist Adriana Bani (Amy Di Bartolomeo); but she is immediately drawn to the gentle spirit of Bartali. As war breaks out Cardinal Dalla Costa (Niall Sheehy) sees how Italy’s champion cyclist can help the persecuted to safety. Bartali is on good terms with Carita, who is now a major and can help him move outside the curfew. He agrees to help knowing the risk to his own safety and accusations of collusion with the fascists.

REVIEW: 4000 Miles at the Minerva Studio, Chichester Festival Theatre

In sharp contrast to Noel Coward’s classic The Vortex in the main house at Chichester, Amy Herzog’s 2011 play at the Minerva Studio opposite is a touching and engaging tale of love, grief and growing old which is beautifully played by the small cast on a glorious setting of ninety-one-year-old Vera’s Manhattan flat led by the delightful Eileen Atkins. 

When nineteen-year-old Leo (Sebastian Croft) arrives at his grandmother’s flat unexpectedly in the middle of the night after cycling across America from the west coast to the East, a curious revealing relationship develops. We learn that Vera’s husband died ten years prior and that they were both passionate communists and she has lived alone since staying in contact with her neighbour, Jenny by phone. He is a wayward son who during his epic cycle ride has witnessed the death of his friend Mica in a car accident and responded by continuing the journey alone without contact with his family. She is feeling her age with occasional memory loss, and often “can’t find the words” and a frail frame as she moves unsteadily and quietly around the flat. He is awkward and isolated from friends and family with no money and no clear future. Yet as he stays over the weeks, a strong bond develops between them as we see in episodic scenes their companionship develops and he grows up visibly under her influence.

REVIEW: The Vortex at the Chichester Festival Theatre

Noel Coward wrote, directed, and starred in his 1924 production of The Vortex which was seen at the time as scandalous with its depiction of sexual vanity, implied homosexuality and cocaine abuse but was a commercial success. Written in three acts it, like so many of Coward’s plays are full of acerbic witty lines and reflects the social elite and theatrical types that he mixed with at the time, It feels in the 21st century a classic timepiece of an era and a social group that although they probably exist today is far less familiar to the Theatre going public. The challenge for Director Daniel Raggett is how to bring it to life on the thrust stage of the Chichester Theatre in a way that engages a modern audience. His solution is to crush the action into a ninety-minute dash to the end spiralling down a metaphorical vortex as the luscious period furniture of the opening act is stripped away on a spinning revolve to leave us focused on the central mother and son.

The mother and son in question are played by real-life mother and son, the wonderful Lia Williams as Florence Lancaster, and Joshua James as Nicky. It is a masterstroke of marketing and gives the roles a sense of authenticity but as in other filial acting relationships also inhibits the performance. Williams is magnificent in the first act, dressed in her flying jodhpurs and bouncing with energy, she dominates the eclectic mix of visitors to her flat and flaunts her relationship with her latest young flirt Tom (Sean Delaney) despite the presence of her husband David (Hugh Ross). As she says, “David grew old, and I stayed young”. She is a social butterfly revelling in the attention and loving life without a hint of regret or even a suggestion of ageing desperation that might be driving the behaviour. When James returns home and announces his engagement to Bunty (Isabella Laughland) and that he is “gay, witty and handsome” before they realise that Tom was previously engaged to Bunty, he triggers the “vortex of beastliness” that follows.

Sunday, 7 May 2023

REVIEW: Eurovision: Your Decision at Wonderville

It's almost that time of year, Eurovision! And this year it's being held on home turf, so what better way than to celebrate with a camp and fun live theatrical experience?! Well, ‘Eurovision: Your Decision’ is just that. 

A parody of all things Eurovision, this show takes us through some of the most iconic numbers we’ve seen over the decades, with accompanying VTs, two hosts, an audience vote and a mockery of the International vote givers, this really is just a bundle of laughs. 

A cast of four perform all of this and believe it or not, they pull it off! It is very clear that the show's budget is certainly reflected in the costumes and the wigs but it all fits in with the style of this show and is all part of the charm. Whilst it takes perhaps 10 minutes to get into it and understand where the humour is coming from, past the second number they had the audience on their side completely. 

Thursday, 4 May 2023

REVIEW: F**cking Men at Waterloo East Theatre

Written in 1897 and not publicly performed until 1920, La Ronde by German playwright Arthur Schnitzler, is a tale as old as time about sex and connection. In its naissance, it caused controversy and wasn’t performed for over twenty years due to its premise revolving around ten characters in ten scenes just before or after having a sexual encounter. Each character represents all levels of society to comment on class, monogamy, intimacy and, well, the spread of syphilis. The whore sleeps with the soldier, the soldier with the Parlour Maid, the Parlour Maid with the Young Gentleman… and so on and so forth. F**cking Men is Joe Dipetro’s retelling of the classic. He has chosen to set it in modern-day America instead of late nineteenth-century Vienna and interprets each character as a different man navigating their sexuality within the gay community and hook-up culture. Examples of the contemporary treatment of the characters have a young man turning tricks in secluded public places to replace the whore, a tutor as the Parlour Maid and a high-profile reporter as the Count. It translates nearly too easily.

Finding a comfortable home at the intimate Waterloo East Theatre until June 18, F**cking Men returns to London since its debut here 15 years ago. It has been reworked to keep up with the changing times and in both its long and short lifespan manages to comment on itself as well as the literature legacy it’s drawn from. The appointment of a young director, Steven Kunis, keeps this latest version from feeling outdated and hits the right note on many fronts. The human urge for love might remain consistent but the way we love is not. Apps and cancel culture dictate many of our moves or lack thereof. Likewise, the discord around HIV has changed enormously over the years within the gay community and is served modestly but well in the work.

Wednesday, 26 April 2023

REVIEW: Dancing at Lughnasa at the National Theatre

The National Theatre has the expertise and the resources to do full justice to classic plays and this revival of Dancing at Lughnasa (the harvest festival in Ireland), which I first saw at the Lyttleton in 1991 with Frances Tomelty and Alec McCowen, is a testament that they can deliver beautifully staged, brilliantly acted drama that charm and enthral the audience. Yet though I recalled the title and was charmed by it the first time, I had no memory of the characters, or the story so came to this revival fresh.

Brian Friel’s best-known play is exquisitely staged on the large Olivier stage creating a perfect setting of rural Irish countryside a walk away from Ballybeg with its rolling hills, mature trees and fields of wheat surrounding the quaint cottage shared by five sisters. It perfectly captures the idyllic atmosphere of the summer of 1936 when the world outside was changing with war in Spain and manufacturing replacing the traditional homespun skills. The absence of walls for the cottage cleverly gives an intimacy to the small room they spend so much time in but also allows us to clearly see their reactions as they listen or peer out at what is happening in the garden. I’m not sure any commercial theatre could stage a play so perfectly and this is surely what we should expect from our National Theatre.

REVIEW: Jules and Jim at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Unless you’re a fan of classic French literature or the films of François Truffaut, Jules and Jim will be a new and rewarding experience. Adapted from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, it tells of a real-life love triangle in free-spirited Paris before the First World War. We begin in 1907 with Jules (Samuel Collings) as an expatriate German writer living in Paris. He meets Jim (Alex Mugnaioni), a native Parisienne whom he recognises as a kindred spirit. They live a carefree and bohemian existence. The pair write and discuss the complexities of relationships in cafes and bars. Female acquaintances are liberally shared without concern or jealousy.

Jules and Jim travel around Europe as the mood takes them, especially in Greece, where aesthetic beauty combines with the climate and appreciation of women that surround them. There is the flawless Lucie and spontaneous Odile, but even they cannot match Kath (Patricia Allison), and a smile that would bewitch the two friends forever more. Kath soon marries Jools, and they settle for domesticity with two young children to raise. However, Jim remains firmly in the third corner of the friendship, eventually becoming a ménage à trois. The First World War puts the two friends on opposite sides of the conflict as their respective nations fight for supremacy. The post-war years are challenging as Jules and Jim reunite, with Kath inevitably at the centre of their universe. But can their friendship survive the past, present or for that matter, the future?

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.

Thursday, 20 April 2023

REVIEW: Ain't Too Proud at the Prince Edward Theatre

Ain’t Too Proud opens at the Prince Edward Theatre after a hugely successful run on Broadway and across America, the story follows the “life and times of the Temptations”, a band that you most definitely know the music of. The show swept up in the 2019 Tony Awards nominations with a very impressive 12 nods however only took home one award for Sergio Trujillo’s choreography.  

The show is brought to us by the creators of Jersey Boys, the Juke-Box musical hit that’s been playing to packed crowds up and down the country pretty consistently since 2008. It’s very clear that the success of that stage adaptation has tried to be replicated in this production; whilst it ultimately is a very different journey involving different themes the basis of the musical is a carbon copy. So whilst I was excited to see this on stage I was left slightly disappointed because I felt like I’d seen all of it before. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

REVIEW: Snowflakes at The Park Theatre

‘Snowflake’ … either a term for a piece of snow with an Intricate design, or an insult to those easily offended. Whatever you associate it with, Robert Boulton’s societal statement ‘Snowflakes’ comes packing a punch, woke and all. 

In a world influenced by social media, contract killers Marcus (Robert Boulton) and Sarah (Louise Hoare) are tasked with the job to eradicate the offensive to appease the offended. An interview that ends with a life-or-death vote determines the outcome. The newest interviewee, disgraced writer Anthony Leaf (Henry Davis) is standing trial for crimes accused. 

With the help of a modernised set, a simple yet effective hotel room from the designer (Alys Whitehead) helps to add to the current time frame and allows us to feel we’re watching a show that could very well be set this very day. Along with modern costumes, it all adds to the current societal age. 

Saturday, 15 April 2023

REVIEW: The RSC's Hamnet at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The story of Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son is a powerful one of grief and separation guilt although Maggie Farrell who wrote the book on which the play is based had very little documentary evidence to guide the story, so she had to effectively join the dots and imagined the scenes between Shakespeare’s known marriage to Agnes (pronounced here ann-nez) Hathaway and his subsequent success over a decade later as a playwright in London. Both stories take their time in setting up the large number of characters connected to their stories which makes the first Acts rather linear and narrative based but both explode when the tragedies strike and the human impact is laid before us in a way that it is impossible not to be moved by.

At the heart of the play is the relationship between Agnes, played so beautifully by Madeline Mantock and Will, played by Tom Varey. She wonderfully portrays her seduction & love for Will, then the challenges of 16th-century childbirth (with the recollection of her own mother’s death in childbirth), the loving care for a seriously ill child and the horror, grief and guilt over her child’s death. It is an intensely powerful and simply staged scene in which Hamnet dies and is buried which creates an image that stays with you long after you live the Theatre. The three children are very well acted creating distinctive stage presences, Harmony Rose-Bremner is the older sister Susanna, a serious irritated child in contrast with the younger sister Judith, played by Alex Jarrett and her twin brother Hamnet, Ajani Cabey who are playful and caring eleven-year-olds. If anything, we deserved and wanted to see more of Hamnet and his relationship with his family and his appearances, like his life were too short.

Thursday, 13 April 2023

REVIEW: Titanic the Musical at the Mayflower, Southampton

It is 111 years since the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton and sank a few days later on the morning of 15th April 1912 with the loss of over 1500 people. Many families in the City were affected by the event although it often remained an unspoken story in those families for years after. It is therefore very special that this musical based on the event should return to the City to start a new tour in the anniversary week of the tragedy. The emotional connection to the Southampton crew families is drawn out so clearly in the closing scenes as the rescued passengers face the list of names that lost their lives before singing a powerful reprise of the best number in the show "Godspeed Titanic". It provides a climatic conclusion to a production that in this restaging connects with the audience through its storytelling and well-acted characterisations.

The musical was written by Maury Yeston and Peter Stone and won Tony's on Broadway in 1997 but was not staged in the UK until 2013. This production started to great acclaim in the intimate venue of the Southwark Playhouse under the direction Thom Southerland and has grown in this remounting. The Mayflower stage is one of the largest outside the West End, and the sheets of metal and rivets that back the stage and proscenium arch echo the ship and frame the scenes which are mainly depicted by the lighting and some authentic-looking props and furniture. It means the scenes flow seamlessly from one to another and maintain an even pace, or perhaps even speeding up as the ship's speed is increased from 19 knots to 23 knots despite the ice warnings.

REVIEW: Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial at the Ambassadors Theatre

Nothing is guaranteed to fill more column inches than a good old-fashioned libel trial where reputations are made, lost and ultimately buried. If only they realised: a story dies if you just let it be; today's headlines are tomorrow's footnotes as an endless stream of gossip fills the void. But for a privileged few it becomes an irresistible plaything. Social affirmation and public vindication are strong weapons when you have a name to protect. Football WAGs Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy fell out in specular fashion when a simple 'sting' exposed a troublesome 'leak'. This excellent production picks the story up as the trial begins.

It went off big style in October 2019 when Rooney (Laura Dos Santos) exposed Vardy (Lucy May Barker) as the source of leaks from her Instagram account. Having blocked access to all other followers fake stories were planted to see if they appeared in the papers. Sure enough, they did and Vardy was caught by the proverbial offside trap. So the legend of Wagatha Christie was born in the full glare of tabloid publicity. Vardy launched a libel action against Rooney in June 2020 and the scene was set for the warring WAGs to do battle. They hire big-hitting barristers Hugh Tomlinson QC (Jonnie Broadbent) and David Sherborne (Tom Turner) with Mrs Justice Steyn (Verna Vyas) as the inscrutable presiding judge. Halema Hussain and Nathan McMullen are the roving pundits who also double up in various supporting roles.
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