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Sunday, 27 November 2022

REVIEW: Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

Cinderella is a classic children’s pantomime tale that has delighted audiences for decades. It is the epitome of the Pantomime genre with a comic Buttons, an earnest Dandini distributing invitations, the magic of the transformation into a ball gown and Shetland ponies pulling a carriage. You meddle with the stock characterisations as your peril which was obviously the starting point for the writer Leo Butler and Director Eva Sampson at Stratford East as they junked these elements and bodily reset the title in East Egypt. And why not? Well, how does setting it there, thousands of years ago, bring it into the modern day? Like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella playing with the audiences’ expectations is a great risk so you need to be very confident that your adaption will enthral and excite young families and offer the same shared joy as the original.

Their diverse audience certainly seemed to be up for it from the start and although some audience members seemed to be laughing when there was not even an obvious gag, the production swept us along in a brilliantly funny, inventive and wholly satisfying show. It quickly dispensed with prior expectations and showed a real sense of the essence of pantomime and a strong storytelling narrative which supported the heart-felt thoughts of believing in yourself with an underlying pollical message.

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Wednesday, 23 November 2022

REVIEW: Love Goddess, the Rita Hayworth Musical at the Cockpit Theatre


‘LOVE GODDESS The Rita Hayworth Musical’ at The Cockpit is a show with admirable intentions and ultimately, a loving tribute to Rita Hayworth, one of the formidable stars of the Hollywood golden age. The passion and heartfelt for her story are undeniably present in the cast of five multi-disciplined performers, but, unfortunately, it fails to push any boundaries to make this anything more than a light retelling of the starlet's life.

It began its life as a one-woman show called ‘Me, Myself and Rita’, created and performed by Almog Pail in 2017, it has since transformed into a two-act musical. Still starring Pail as the title role, she is now joined by Simon Kane (Orsen Welles and Harry Cohn), Imogen Kingsley-Smith (Young Rita), Jane Quinn (journalist Jules Graham and Hayworth’s mother Volga Cansino) and Joey Simon (Fred Astaire and Hayworth’s Father Eduardo Cansino). The show follows the life of Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino, from her days as a child dancer in Brooklyn to her breakout roles in Hollywood, her iconic portrayal of Gilda and finally her tragic defeat from Alzheimer’s disease. Intertwined within her career highlights are failed marriages, abuse and ultimately the story of a woman who never really wanted to be famous. Pail wrote the original play after her own family’s experience with Alzheimer’s which is a touching parallel and personal connection present in the work.
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REVIEW: Rapunzel at the Watermill Theatre


The story of Rapunzel, the beautiful woman with golden hair who is locked in a tower is best known as one of the Brothers Grimm’s 1812 fairy tales and for its famous line “let down your hair” to give access to her room. Annie Siddons has developed the story into a full-blown Christmas children's entertainment aimed at primary school kids but with a few elements for their parents too by giving an entire back story to the Prince who becomes Rapunzel’s suitor. In this version at the delightfully intimate Watermill Theatre near Newbury in Berkshire, we meet the Duchess (Miiya Alexandra) who has two sons, Paulo (Roddy Lynch), the ambitious evil brother and Patrizio (Loris Scarpa), her favourite son and chosen heir to the Kingdom. Rapunzel finds herself caught up in the battle between them.

The story has many dark elements with baby Rapunzel’s abandonment, her locking up alone for years, the blinding of Patrizio, Paulo chopping off his own finger and the burial of the finger as well as plenty of assaults and abuse, yet it is staged in such a delightfully comical and creative way that it hardly disturbs even the youngest in the audience and constantly amuses the adults. There are some elements of Pantomime added like the song sheet and audience interaction but generally, it is pitched as a joyous children’s show. Occasionally some adult comedy is shoehorned in like a sketch about inflation or the appointment of a Bunny as Chancellor and a special adviser, but they fall short of parody or satire and feel lame and unnecessary.
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Sunday, 20 November 2022

REVIEW: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking



Deborah Moggach’s book These Foolish things inspired a surprise hit 2012 film starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and a 2016-2020 TV series featuring Wayne Sleep, Paul Nicholas, and Selina Scott. Both benefited from placing these familiar faces in the actual setting of an Indian Hotel and showing their experiences in the wonderful culture around it. She has now adapted her book for the stage for a UK Tour until June 2023 with 22 more venues ahead as well as a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary in December before the publicity claims a West End Transfer. The challenge in this latest version is to capture the heat and cultural atmosphere of Bangalore in a single set of the hotel courtyard without seeing the places around it that feature in the video versions.

The characters on stage are the same as in the film and it is difficult to shake off the memories of that stella cast of Dames, but the touring cast has a good pedigree too and after a slow start, they establish themselves in their own right. The stage version may rely a little too much on stereotypical British old-age pensioners abroad and cultural references to Delhi belly and the Indian caste system as a shorthand to establish the characters and their pasts in an alien setting but once it settles down and the relationships are established the second half explodes into an emotionally engaging and touching exploration of the challenges of growing old and the attitudes required to enjoy the benefits of all their life experience. Those older audience members will respond to the cast of elderly pensioners while young members will respond to the call centre workers who ultimately unlock the emotions. 
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REVIEW: Mrs Warren’s Profession at the Theatre Royal Bath

George Bernard Shaw left an incredible legacy of classic plays including the wonderful Pygmalion (written in 1913) and the tragic St Joan (written in 1923), but Mrs Warren’s Profession predates them both written in 1893 but was not fully performed due to its discussion on prostitution until after they were staged in 1925. Each has strong female roles at the centre of their stories. There are similarities in the way in which the central women In Pygmalion and Mrs Warren’s Profession are transformed from impoverished lower-class girls into successful high-society ladies. Each of the ladies has a rebellious streak against the authority figures within the stories.

The play’s suppression for thirty years seems rather ludicrous today with Mrs Warren’s success as a brothel Madam and co-owner with houses in Brussels, Vienna and Budapest alluded to rather than explicitly discussed. The surprise today is that Shaw imagined this entrepreneurial success back in the 19th Century in what appears to be simultaneously a dig at capitalist activity and also the hypocrisy of the criticism of prostitution at a time when there were limited female employment opportunities and women were expected to marry for financial security in return for sex with their husbands while those who sought financial independence or escape from poverty through prostitution were looked down upon. Its social commentary may still be relevant today, but the play lacks the wit of Oscar Wilde, and the production always hit all the right notes. 

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