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Sunday, 30 July 2023

REVIEW: Ride at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant

In a world filled with familiar shows that pedal out the same old story time and again, Ride shines as a beacon of originality, artfully weaving the little-known history of Annie Londonderry into the most extraordinary and exciting musical experience. Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams have skillfully crafted a captivating narrative that transcends time and place, touching on subtle feminist themes, the power of storytelling, and the complex relationship between reality and self-perception. But don’t worry; it’s done in a fun, fascinating, and fabulously fantastic way that makes the story even more compelling that it already is.

That story is that of Annie Londonderry who, on the back of a wager that may or may not have actually happened (she is the most unreliable of narrators, as we come to find out), carries out the astonishing feat of cycling solo around the world. And this was in 1894. And she’s a woman. And now she’s home and wants to tell her story (and get a job as a journalist in the process). That’s impressive, but it goes deeper than that. Ride shows Annie Londonderry as more than just a record-breaker on a bike – she’s a real person and she’s just as complicated as the rest of us.

Tuesday, 4 July 2023

REVIEW: Then, Now, Next at the Southwark Playhouse

New musicals with new songs are an increasingly rare sight in a genre dominated by revivals and greatest hits packages. But just occasionally a new musical has the potential to cut through the fringe and strike out on the West End stage. ‘Then, Now and Next’ could follow the same trajectory as 'Six' with the right promotion and some delicate tweaks. The Southwark Playhouse steals the honours yet again with the World Premiere of this new piece by Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyns.

The story pivots on the life and loves of Alex Shaw (Alice Fearn) and the two partners who came to dominate her life; Peter Connors (Peter Hannah) and Stephen Hayes (Joaquin Pedro Valdes). The story flashes back and forward as a satisfying plot gradually unfolds. Two key phases alternate as snapshots of Alex aged 30 and 40 illustrate a complex emotional landscape. In the present, Alex is ensconced in a seemingly happy relationship with the goofy but lovable Peter. They have a young son and Peter is itching to slip a ring on Alex's finger. He is the definition of solid and dependable. But Alex is still haunted by the memory of Stephen who may be her greatest love. She is conflicted by a man who makes her comfortable and the memory of a lover who genuinely excited her. The narrative explores the tantalising ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ in life. However hard we try fate always takes a hand in our destiny, but should we let the past stop us from looking forward?

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

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. 

Monday, 12 December 2022

REVIEW: Who's Holiday at the Southwark Playhouse

It came without ribbons, it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. Yet this year if you visit the Southwark Playhouse, you will find a fresh tale that is legendary, no doubt! 

As someone who unashamedly identifies as a festive fanatic, I was thrilled to attend the press night of Who’s Holiday by Matthew Lambardo, currently making its European debut at the Southwark Playhouse in London until 7th January 2023. 

The one-person show, starring Ru Paul’s Drag Race royalty and fan favourite Miz Cracker, re-introduces us to everybody’s favourite Who, Cindy-Lou Who, except this time, she is all grown up, and not so innocent! As you take a trip back to Mount Crumpit, we check in with this not-so-small Who, as she reflects on that infamous night she met the Grinch, and the whirlwind adventure of events that has led to her not-so-festive, isolated reality. 

Monday, 17 October 2022

REVIEW: The Canterville Ghost at the Southwark Playhouse

‘Tall stories’ was founded in 1997 by Toby Mitchell and Olivia Jacobs who have created and adapted productions for audiences of all ages ever since. The award-winning theatre company are recognised for their ability to combine original music with effective and immersive storytelling. The company have previously adapted Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales for their production of ‘Wilde Creatures’, so it seemed natural for them to adapt one of his ghost stories for the Halloween season.

The Canterville Ghost (1887), was the first of Oscar Wilde’s short comedic stories to have been published. The plot revolves around a family who moved to a castle which is haunted by the ghost of an English Nobleman who had resided in the castle 300 years before. This ghost had murdered his wife and then been tortured and starved to death in the chamber by his wife’s brothers. Jacobs and Mitchell’s adaptation intertwines with the ‘Old Music Hall’ genre. We meet four Victorian music hall performers who act out Wilde’s story alongside their own individual music hall acts; The Comedian (Matt Jopling), The Illusionist (Callum Patrick Hughes), The Psychic (Katie Tranter), and The Compere (Steve Watts).

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

REVIEW: Anyone Can Whistle at the Southwark Playhouse

How exactly does a gifted composer like Stephen Sondheim follow up three smash hits on Broadway; especially when one of them was West Side Story, a seminal work that set the benchmark for all that followed it? Astronauts that fly to the moon do not even begin to describe the dilemma in which he found himself, as Anyone Can Whistle opened at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in April 1964. Negative reviews sadly killed the show off after only 9 performances. In the US critics appear all-powerful and the public will take it hook line and sinker. In the UK, audiences are more likely to make up their own minds and see the show before passing judgment. But its stage history since then has been patchy and inconclusive. This new production from The Grey Area and Alex Conder bubbles with confidence and a sureness of touch so typical of a Sondheim musical. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

REVIEW: The Woods at the Southwark Playhouse

It seems to be that any David Mamet play tends to have the same similarities to its predecessors and successors. Enough so that if you get out your Mamet bingo card you’ll soon find yourself ticking off the usual trademarks, swearing, shouting, sexual references, and indeed, Sexism rather quickly. ‘The Woods’, Mamet's ninety-minute battle of the sexes gets that card well and truly stamped through an emotional turmoil involving a boy and girl's trip to a remote cabin.

It’s very simple, the storyline. Nick (Sam Frenchum) and Ruth (Francesca Carpanini) attempt to enjoy some alone time within the cabin; however, it quickly becomes apparent that the duo may not be as compatible as they think. As more and more niggles and throwaway comments here and there come out, it soon becomes an explosive back and forth between the pair.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

REVIEW: Indecent Proposal at the Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse is an exciting small venue to visit with the black box space transformed on every visit, great legroom and an exciting and innovative programme. Their latest show is Neil Marcus’s production of Jack Engelhard’s book Indecent Proposal which was made famous by the 1993 film of the same name starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. However, writer Michael Conley has gone back to the book and created a tale with music by Dylan Schlosberg. They creatively have given all six characters a singer/songwriter backstory so that they perform their songs as singers not as characters randomly bursting into song. It is a clever structure but, in some ways, limits the character development and story as they can’t interact naturally with the other characters but merely sing at them from the stage or while busking.

Jonny and Rebecca have been together for ten years and are still very much in love. They both work in the casino and music venues of Atlantic City. Jonny is a regular supporting act at the Ruckus room of Oasis Casino resort where hostess Annie Poole seems to let anyone on stage for a song. They are tempted into a relationship by suave rich former singer Larry who is thinking of buying a record label and has the money to get everything he wants. Heidi and the sixth character the busker are bystanders who get to add their musical voice. It is a simple set-up; what is more important money or love and is there a price to be paid in the pursuit of both. The writers seek to set this period piece from the 1980s in the 2021 context of the #MeToo campaign but it still feels that Rebecca is the pawn in the sandwich until she breaks free to carve her own path. They did not wholly convince me that they were deeply in love and her sudden change of mind when she dresses up to meet Larry was not wholly convincing either. This is the central pillar of the story and the structure of the piece focusing on the songs inhibits the development of the narrative.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

REVIEW: Yellowfin at the Southwark Playhouse

‘A Sashimi Knife of a play’ as described by director Ed Madden is a completely fitting way to reflect on this piece. Sharply detailed, but definitely Old School. The real strength being the writing by Marek Horn which is the back bone of the piece- it’s witty, jarring and when looked at visually on the page tantalising for an actor and creative team to unpick, carve out and probe.

It’s really good writing, put simply it is about what happens when the fish go away and half of the world is under water. With this depiction you’d expect the stage to be set in a suitable fractured and sophisticated way to not only support the razor sharp writing and delivery of the company but also an opportunity for the director to use their skill and ability to showcase our industry post pandemic. However, a lack of imagination and a lack of listening as well as collaboration seem apparent.

The set is a courtroom, suggesting in its sloping sides maybe the hull of a boat or perhaps even the shape of a tin of canned tuna- nodding to the sacred last hope to finding out: “Where did the fish go?” and the harrowing tomb of Calantini’s brother.


Wednesday, 29 September 2021

REVIEW: Anything is Possible if You Think About it Hard Enough at the Southwark Playhouse

Small Things Theatre Company’s latest show is a lyrical and beautifully staged tale of love and loss. ‘Anything is Possible if You Think About it Hard Enough’, charts Alex and Rupert’s love story from the tender and clumsy meeting, courting, falling in love and eventual pregnancy. 

Rupert, a self-confessed ‘numbers man’, a Mother’s boy, who says things like ‘twerp’ and fiddlesticks’ bumps into Alex, a self-possessed young woman armed with charming and witty one-liners. The synchronicity of their chance encounter on the underground reinforces Rupert’s belief and faith in the power of numbers and patterns, like geometry, an alignment out which there is order in the world. The slick and satisfying delivery would convince even the most cynical theatre-goer in this instance of the same. 

However, when 1+1 doesn’t = 3 and their baby is stillborn, they are catapulted into grief. 

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

REVIEW: John and Jen at the Southwark Playhouse

John and Jen takes place in the USA spanning from 1985 to 2022. The musical opens as we are introduced to siblings Jen (Rachel Tucker), at 7 years old, cradling her baby brother, John (Lewis Cornay) in their secret attic (designed by Natalie Johnson). Time passes quickly as we see the pair’s relationship dynamic change from vowing to protect each other from their abusive father to being a stereotypical teenager embarrassed by her younger brother to Jen going to college and leaving John behind to ‘hold the fort’. Supposedly years down the line, John begins to idolise his father and becomes extremist in his patriotic views and decides to join the forces.

The story slows to a more welcome pace as the musical becomes more sombre towards the end of the first act when John passes away after fighting in the war. 

Sunday, 1 August 2021

COMING HOME: Oli Higginson, who will be starring in The Last Five Years at the Garrick Theatre in September

Pocket Size Theatre and Liza Heinrichs (Captured by Liz) have teamed up again and created our new series 'Coming Home'. In this new piece, we look at the reopening of Theatres in London and around the country and celebrate our industry coming back. We got together some performers who will be some of the first to return to theatres and created this piece to bring some positivity to the theatre industry which has been through one of the toughest years in our lifetime. Whilst it is important to acknowledge the hardships we've all gone through, it's important we pull together as a community and celebrate our beloved industry finally coming back! 

If there's one name in Musical Theatre, that has popped up and made everyone aware of who they are very quickly, it's Oli Higginson. Having actually trained as an actor at Guildhall, rather than in musical theatre, he made an absolute splash playing Jamie in The Last Five Years at the Southwark Playhouse. The show was playing before the lockdown and was actually one of the few shows that got to play its final performance on the evening of the 16th March 2020. But this wasn’t the end of the road for the show. After rave reviews, the show returned in October 2020 and was also filmed and streamed at the beginning of 2021. It has also recently been announced that Oli and his co-star Molly Lynch will reprise their roles for a West End transfer. The Last Five Years will play at the Garrick Theatre from the 17th of September to the 17th of October 2021. 

For his role in The Last Five Years, Oli was nominated for the Stage Debut Award for Best Performer in a Musical and also for an Offie Award for Best Lead Performance in a Musical. But even though he is a new name on the scene, he’s certainly been busy! As well as his performance in The Last Five Years, Oli has appeared in The Haystack at the Hampstead Theatre, Maggie & Ted at the White Bear Theatre, has played John in the hit Netflix show Bridgerton (in which he his reprising his role for its second season), layed Colin in The Pursuit of Love for the BBC and will be playing Saul in This Sceptered Isle for Sky Atlantic which is due for release in 2022. 

Sunday, 23 May 2021

COMING HOME: Lewis Cornay, soon to be starring in John & Jen at the Southwark Playhouse

Pocket Size Theatre and Liza Heinrichs (Captured by Liz) have teamed up again and created our new series 'Coming Home'. In this new piece, we look at the reopening of Theatres in London and around the country and celebrate our industry coming back. We got together some performers who will be some of the first to return to theatres and created this piece to bring some positivity to the theatre industry which has been through one of the toughest years in our lifetime. Whilst it is important to acknowledge the hardships we've all gone through, it's important we pull together as a community and celebrate our beloved industry finally coming back! 

Lewis Cornay is someone with fingers in many, many pies (his words, not mine). With a fantastic career in musical theatre, he also works as a writer and photographer. Not long before theatres shut their doors, Lewis was appearing in the West End production of The Book of Mormon and had just left the show in Feb 2020 after a year with the production. He’s also appeared in Just So at the Barn Theatre, was in the UK Tour of Titanic the Musical, played Ryder in Paw Patrol Live and as a child appeared in The King and I, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. 

We met with Lewis fresh from the announcement that he’ll be starring in John & Jen, the world premiere of the brand new updated musical from Andrew Lippa, Tom Greenwald and Jason Robert Brown. We shot with him at the Southwark Playhouse which is where the show will be running from the 28th July to the 21st August 2021. He’ll be starring opposite musical theatre legend Rachel Tucker and will be under the direction of her partner, Guy Retallack. 

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

REVIEW: Money at the Southwark Playhouse (Online)

In lockdown, we have all got used to logging on to zoom calls for meetings and experienced the difference between these virtual meetings and real face to face ones especially when it comes to difficult decisions. Isla Van Tricht uses this situation to craft a very well written debate about the ethics behind a funding decision of a small local charity. It has the feel of a cross between the real-life Jackie Weaver's Handsworth Council zoom meeting and the Kids Company Charity that spectacularly ceased operations in 2015. 

The zoom call is the Trustees meeting of the Nyoni Youth and Community Project, a small local charity supporting young people, breaking down discrimination and cycles of destructive behaviour. Their rather clumsy motto is "Lift others up, so they can lift others up". As in so many real-life charities, fundraising has been curtailed by Lockdown, NYCP is short of cash when the Anders Corporation Foundation offers a transformational size donation of £1 million, five times the normal annual expenditure. Taking the money, it seems, is a no brainer decision as it will allow the Charity to expand to the next level, but does it matter where the money came from or how it was secured as a donation or what the donor might expect in return for the cash? 

Thursday, 28 January 2021

REVIEW: Public Domain at the Southwark Playhouse (Online)

“We came here to find friends, and just like that I felt a little less alone” 

Poignant lyrics from the opening of Public Domain a new musical which looks at online connections. 

Written and performed by Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke, this new two-hander musical takes you on a journey through the world of social media following 2 vloggers and featuring some unapologetic Facebook satire. 

The show is written entirely using online content such as tweets, Youtube videos and Instagram posts. Every lyric and line is taken directly from the internet and social media whilst following the two aspiring influencers who feel surprisingly relatable. The teenage characters both contain attributes we probably all encompass in one way or another and give an unfiltered insight into the positives and negatives of the online world. 

Saturday, 17 October 2020

REVIEW: The Last Five Years at the Southwark Playhouse

The Last Five Years at the Southwark Playhouse received rave reviews with numerous 5-star ratings flying around, with the Southwark Playhouse being a breeding ground for incredible revivals there was no doubt in my mind that this one would live up to the reviews it received, and it certainly did! 

Following a couple, Cathy and Jamie, we watch the journey of their relationship unfold on stage but in a very unique way. Cathy's side of the story is told backwards and Jamie tells his from beginning to end. Similar to that of Merrily We Roll along, of which I personally am not a fan of, this form of storytelling is used wonderfully in this piece. 

Only familiar with a couple of the songs (bad musical theatre fan!), I was really interested in seeing this piece in its entirety. The use of Cathy's story being told backwards was such a powerful tool in the storytelling, as it unfolds you understand the pain and hurt but also, as they’re told separately, begin to form your own opinion of what you’re seeing. 

Being a huge fan of Jonathan O’Boyle, his work on this musical certainly does not disappoint. There is so much in this piece that is so thorough and detailed that this review could easily be a 27-page analysis. But I won’t bore you, all I have to say is see it for yourself. 

Thursday, 22 August 2019

REVIEW: Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse

Dogfight an early musical from the powerhouse duo Pasek and Paul, written just before Dear Evan Hansen. Having previously played at the Southwark Playhouse for the Off West-End debut in 2014, five years later it returns to be performed by the British Theatre Academy. With a five piece band accompanying this intimate, no-interval performance, this show certainly takes you on a journey.

The show is set in 1963 on the eve of three young Marines being deployed to Vietnam. However, when Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose and enlists her to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she opens his eyes to the power of love and compassion and rewrites the game for him.

Dogfight in itself has a lot going for it as a musical – the score is absolutely gorgeous, and a great story - but for me writing wise there are flaws. Ultimately it feels as a show about twenty minutes too short (there are characters I’d have loved to have got to know more about before the abrupt end), although obviously this is not anything that can be added, but I also think it could have done with an interval – there wasn’t enough constant tension in the script to make me feel like a no-interval decision added anything.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

REVIEW: Once on this Island at the Southwark Playhouse

After making its Broadway debut in 1990, Once on this Island was revived in 2017 with a Stella cast. Although the production did transfer to the UK in 1994 we have yet to see the Broadway Revival come over to London. But this production, by the British Theatre Academy, is the net best thing.

The British Theatre Academy has been around for almost 30 years, providing accessible professional theatre training to young people from all walks of life. This is the companies 5th year presenting a summer season, this year we’ve had Footloose and My Son Pinocchio. Jr perform at the Southwark playhouse with Once on This Island and Dogfight following. 

Whilst this production does resemble quite a lot of similarities to the 2017 Broadway revival, this adaptation is still fresh and exciting. 

Monday, 5 August 2019

REVIEW: My Son Pinocchio Jr. at the Southwark Playhouse

The British Theatre Academy was founded by Mathew Chandler aimed at offering young performers under the age of 23 a chance to develop their skills and confidence. This season they present five shows, four at Southwark Playhouse and one at the open air theatre at Minack in Cornwall. 

My son Pinocchio jr is a stage version of the Disney film of 1940 and later TV film, and includes some of the songs from that film. In particular there are lovely renditions of "When you wish upon a star" and "I've got no strings". It's hard to fail to create, with this charming father son story , Disney music and hoardes of enthusiastic kids, a delightful touching stage show.

It is simply set in the round using very large boxes to hold props and create platforms and has the feel of a children's playroom with the kids acting out the story to each other. The large wooden wardrobe becomes an entrance but also provides the costumes for the various characters that they portray. Five toys are gently flown out when we are taken into the flashback of Pinocchio's life.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

REVIEW: Fiver at Southwark Playhouse

It’s so important to support new writing where you can as the Musical Theatre industry gets harder and harder to break in to and the west end becomes more and more commercial. 

Hence, we jumped at the chance to see Fiver at Southwark Playhouse. This new musical written by Tom Lees and Alex James Ellison follows the story of a humble five pound note as it passes through the hands and pockets of people in London. Often unnoticed and obviously unaware, the fiver is present for significant moments in each person’s life – whether it be an appreciation of their skills as a street performer; the start or end of a relationship; or the simple realisation that they can afford a bed for the night.

Admittedly, I went into the, extremely hot, venue with reservations about the show based purely on the storyline. Now, I can’t say my initially thoughts were entirely wrong or untrue as the book definitely needs some work, as does the number of ballads in the show. However, I was definitely pleasantly surprised. 
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