I just wanted to say...

I just wanted to say...

Picking up where we left off...

TheatrePosted by Pete Aug 24, 2016 21:56
It's been quite a while since I wrote on this blog, in fact since the last post I've changed jobs completely, which coincidentally was some 18 months ago...

Things have changed.

I look at the reviews from previous productions from the early stages of my time here in London, as an eager graduate dying to be apart of the London Theatre scene.

I'm delighted, no thrilled to say that I'm now the Producer of the Lyric Hammersmith, West London's largest producing theatre and arguably one of the most provocative, thought provoking and imaginative theatres in London, if not across the region.

I've spent time this evening revisiting this blog, looking back perhaps at the naivety of my younger days, but I think it's important to sit and acknowledge how throughout all that desire, that want to be a part of something...

I can stand and say I certainly am.

It took this revisit to take the time to acknowledge that.


x



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Without You - Anthony Rapp

TheatrePosted by Pete Sep 11, 2012 15:14

The one with the guy from Rent?

Anthony Rapp is an American actor who got his lucky break for originating the role of Mark in Jonathan Larson’s Rent. Rapp worked with Larson which started as a stage reading in 1993 before this progressed into a three week studio run. Larson however died the night before the opening night and the cast, including Rapp decided that the world premiere of the show, be a straight forward run through. The cast however couldn’t contain themselves, and charging from the electric atmosphere of an audience which included Larson’s parents, by the time La Vie Boheme was played the cast took to the stage to perform the show they had been rehearsing and developing with their dear friend. In turn the show transferred to Broadway in 1996 closing in 2008.

Rapp presents this one man show of 'Without You' which comes after he penned a book of the same title in 2006. Despite being 16 Years since the death of Larson and the incredible opening debut of Rent, Rapp performs the account with the emotional fragility that would have you believe it was the first time he was telling the story. There's real emotion and a sense of anguish within his performance that silences the room, and has the audience hanging on every word.

After the narrative of what saw the change in “Rappy’s” career from the inevitable jobbing actor role, serving mochas in Starbucks the story starts to focus more on Rapp’s personal life and his relationship with his dying mother. He skillfully presents others in his life with consistent and believable voices over the course of the 80 minute production. Whether or not they are accurate in representation, I guess only few would know, but it is important to specify that these personas Rapp dips in and out of are not caricatures but seem genuine, enough so to bring a tear as he enacts an emotion felt 'last goodbye' with his mother.

A strong knowledge of Rent and it's music would be of a distinct advantage to the audience, as the narrative is interjected seamlessly with snippets from the famous score, in which you can't help but think, “that’s thee actual Mark in front of me”. The latter half of the show however opens up to a wider audience, although I am certain an audience will be fully aware of who they are seeing, and that being the sole reason for their attendance.

For the musical theatre fan, the show doesn't disappoint in serving up a look at Rent, and the themes it explores, by a man who was there, and has lived it ever since. It is pretty extraordinary how the man, Jonathan Larson, who proclaimed himself to be "the future of musical theatre" at a birthday party for Rapp, would die the night before his show was due to open. The Meniere encapsulates that special atmosphere of being let in to a part of musical theatre history and this only becomes a greater energy as Rapp, who is in fine voice, fills the room with strong vocals which don't falter and more than exceed any expectation from previous recordings.

The show is emotionally charged and credit to Anthony for finding the energy to perform such a piece daily, which delves deeply into personal accounts of losing loved ones, his own sexuality and success. As he takes to the stage to sing Without You, I imagine many a tear had been shed, and Rapp more than deserves the applause that rings out in the room.

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Olympic Opening Ceremony

TheatrePosted by Pete Aug 14, 2012 11:37

The one that I was in?!

After trying for tickets in all the events, opening ceremony, diving, cycling track, 100m final, closing ceremony, all seemed lost and that it was unlikely that I was going to make it to the Olympic Park for London 2012.

Sat at my desk covered in headshots, and a pile of casting admin to do, an email came through from my housemate with the subject line… “Be in London 2012”. A link in the email opened up to audition for one of the thousands of roles in the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.

Filling out a comprehensive online application form, making small lies about my abilities to horse ride, fire eat and rollerblade… oh come on we’ve all done it, I clicked send and waited. I had “retired” from performing but I thought it would be selfish to hide away when the country needs me, I mean I was the giraffe that couldn’t dance in “Giraffe’s Can’t Dance”, *takes a bow and offers autographs*.

After waiting a long time, and trying to desperately encourage some of my friends to give it a go too, in which none took my offer, I had my first audition. Rummaging through an old box of Pineapple dancewear (I’m joking – or am I??!) I was mortified that the audition would be 25 stops on the district line away from my house in Bromley-by-Bow, and what a nice place that is. However when you’re holding mass auditions for a project on this scale the epic film studios at Three Mills where the whole Larkhall Prison was created for Bad Girls, is just the kind of thing you need.

Five hours later, with a lot of freestyle dancing emulating my best sweaty club moves without the aid of alcohol, becoming best friends with a gaggle of middle aged women who thought my hair was adorable whilst reminding them of their own boy at home, I was back on the tube home and in my element.

Second round, and I can’t quite believe it, gone are all my mumsy friends and I find myself in a room of younger youth… it’s hard to make crap jokes when surrounded by people who were born in the 90’s. To make it worse the routine has jumped from a simple box step and a grapevine to moves I have only seen Diversity do on Britain’s got Talent… right at this moment I can hear Amanda Holden stamping big red crosses across my face. Upon leaving the studios with some 400 others, I make a call to the parents to say that my Olympic Dream is probably over and I don’t expect to hear from them again…. All I wanted to do was wave a flag!

A good six to eight weeks pass, in this time I’ve applied to be a Games maker, London Ambassador, General Olympic Fluffer!! the idea of not being involved has oddly become a bit of an obsession but the rejection felt too raw, the final nail in the coffin of my big comeback that only weeks ago wasn’t an option. Then I received an email… “we’d like to offer you a role in the London 2012 Opening Ceremony in the role of Amazing Dancer”. I must stress that Mr Boyle wrote “Amazing” I didn’t make that up.

Armed with my leg warmers, dance shoes, and jock strap – too much?, I took myself off to my first rehearsal.

PANIC!!!!!!

Upon arrival, and waiting in a queue that stretched nearly as far as the long walk from the station I appeared to be a good 12 years older than the children around me. After sending several texts to friends saying there’s been a huge mistake I realise that actually I’ve been stood in the wrong queue and of course I wouldn’t necessarily be working with a group of young “superstars”. A quick sideline took me into a room where I was one of the oldest…. but not a whole decade older.

5 punishing hours later, when I’m usually sat with a glass of vino watching the Oliviers I fear there has been a mix up of numbers at the audition and some other person should be in my place. Cast as a street dancer and having a team of “uber” cool dance captains with names I could never pull off spending the afternoon trying to get this ginger haired lad to loosen up and throw away any inhibitions of getting my “groove on” in order to perform for the Queen and the rest of the world.

Despite the fear, and many friends asking me “what the hell are you doing”, I kept on trekking out at the weekend to Bromley-by-Bow, then to the secret outdoor rehearsal venue in Dagenham, secret because you wouldn’t want anyone to know that’s where you were spending your weekends, before finally joining forces with the entire group, some 10,000 volunteers for rehearsals in the Olympic Stadium.

Spending my days working in a production office, I couldn’t help but think about the sheer scale of this project, this Olympic operation. 10,000 people, 10,000 Costumes, 10,000 people to teach a routine to, 10,000 to tell how to exit, and that’s just the performers let alone the thousands of athletes, a helicopter with a skydiving Queen in it, the huge lighting design and a huge theatre set within the temporary stage. It all starts to get a bit too much.

128 hours of rehearsal later, on top of the day job and juggling moving house, I’m sat in costume in the Olympic Park with new friends thinking it’s likely after this performance I’ll be the new George Sampson. The 30 minute walk from our holding area to the stage felt extremely overwhelming, triumphant almost, the site of all these normal people in a variety of wacky costumes about to perform for over a billion people… it was here, it was about to happen.

The energy of walking back stage of the Olympic Stadium, listening to 80,000 people cheering, laughing and applauding the scene before, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever have that feeling again, as the curtain flew open and the “voice” in our headsets cued our group we stepped out into an arena with an atmosphere which, if could have been collected would have powered London for the next 2 years.

A blink of the eye, and 20 minutes felt like 20 seconds.

People of all backgrounds and nationalities, Lawyers, Students, Project Managers, Nurses, Police Officers, Charity Workers, we were all here and under direction of Danny Boyle, a man who made everyone feel a part of the whole process with his down to earth personal approach that brought the whole group together and feel proud to represent their country. It sounds horrifically cheesy, and it’s the stuff American TV is fuelled upon, but the feeling of euphoria as we left the stadium, seeing the faces of the crowd as we exited through the stand became overwhelming, and as a friend who three months ago our paths would have never of crossed hugged me, the tears just started to fall.

I quickly realised that street dancers don’t cry and so readjusting my pants I got my swagger on to join the rest of the crew for a night out of celebration. We had done it and from the reaction of twitter and the newspapers, the world had loved it. The night involved a group of us recreating our moves to the delight of commuters at Oxford Circus, a flash mob I would never of thought I’d be a part of. I also received many a text and phone call of excitable friends who had screamed at the TV as a glimpse of my backside had made the broadcast… not quite the side I wanted to show with the world, but broadcast all the same.

Three days later I am sat back in the office chair, waiting for the call to be in the next Dizzee Rascal video, or for Diversity to offer me a place in their crew… they haven’t rung yet, but I know they will.

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Search for a Twitter Star

TheatrePosted by Pete Jul 11, 2012 17:42

The one that started with a man pretending to be a producer on Twitter?

He’s the twitter sensation who drinks “too much dom”, has a “Lloyd Webber glove puppet” and sleeps in “phantom pyjamas” and has over 18,000 follows… and nobody knows who he actually is. In fact the “theatre impresario” has created quite a storm in theatrical circles as many have tried to work out who this person, who has such a clear inside knowledge is. In truth it’s more fun not knowing, and rather amazing that this account of amusing theatre tweets led to become an event in the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. @Westendproducer and lead producer @mrtonygreen teamed up to launch a search for a Twitter leading man, and Twitter leading lady, asking hopefuls to upload their best singing on youtube. I was amazed to learn they had had over 600 entries to be a part of the producers search stemming from across the UK. Whittled down via a host of industry professionals and through a voting campaign through twitter I now found myself sat amongst a host of fans and supporters in The Lyric Theatre awaiting to meet the ten finalists… whilst also not knowing what to expect at all.

As the lights dimmed and a masked figure took his seat in the box, complete with Valjean teddy and famed bottle of Dom Perignon, a voice over announced the arrival of the ten contestants. Wearing different coloured t-shirts you’d be forgiven in thinking that you had just sat down to watch the final of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BBC search for Joseph. Singing their hearts out to “A star is born” the voiceover duly announced each twitter hopeful. It’s at this point I learnt just how serious the nature of this competition would be.

Host Aled Jones bounded on stage to tell us all to keep our phones ON!! Informing us twitter would play an integral part of the voting system and encouraged us to tweet our thoughts throughout the show using the hash tag #sfatslive.

@jacqui_archer: So weird being able to tweet! #sfatslive

What’s interesting is that the audience becomes quite giddy at being allowed to break the biggest taboo of theatre etiquette and what is often the most frustrating act of going to a performance becomes the norm as the audience members’ faces have a faint glow as they frantically type their opinions with immediate response.

@bernadettaaa: The Finalists are amazing singing together #sfatslive

The contestants then took to the stage one by one to perform for the panel of judges. Rest assured the crowd by this time have been wound up into a frenzy of good feeling and support, each act would have been able to of gaged their performance instantly as they headed to the wings by searching twitter. The response from the audience was electric and all received hearty applause, none more so than @mikewooster who had an army of fans who instantly rose to their feet upon his final note.

The celebratory atmosphere however had not quite made it to the separate boxes for the four industry judges. @louisedearman @mikedixonmusic @gemmalowyhamil and the croaky @davidkingshows didn’t quite seem to share the apathy of the excitable audience. Their harsh and firm analysis of each performance very often silenced the auditorium, David King often damming the direction of the performances and telling another “you should go back to college”. Upon reaching the announcement of the crowned winners Aled Jones asked Gemma Lowy Hamilton if the pair would make it to become West End Stars, surely in the nature of this twitter production you just say yes, but instead after an uncomfortable silence managed to splutter a few words about “with further training”. By making the show interactive the judges had no place to hide as the audience furiously tweeted about their verdicts.

@dannylane94: cannot BELIEVE what I’m reading re: some of the judges comments. Those poor people – making their WE (west end) debut & everything!

@craftymiss: some of these judges are tough #sfatslive

@rosiebaker10: Been left feeling disappointed with judges @ #sfatslive Too much unnecessary criticism resulted in a bad atmos(phere). They were ALL brilliant.

The frustration of the critical judges was only emphasised by an agitated @westendproducer himself who flailed wildly in his box. During the interval the masked producer shouted over to me that we had met before, and whilst looking into his eyes for clues as to who he was, he told me of his frustration that not all were in the same spirit as he. I still have no idea who is before you ask.

Fortunately as the audience all tweeted furiously as to whom they didn’t want to put through to the final four or in some cases…

@jamespenford: can’t we vote for our least favourite judges? #sfatslive

… the audience returned to their seats as the host of backing singers sang us into act two with “I want to make Magic” from Fame. As the votes were counted and verified Louise Dearman took a quick costume change and stood centre stage to treat the audience to a fantastic rendition of “Astonishing” from Little Women, showing all the finalists how to do it. After rapturous applause Jones returned to the stage to whittle the contestants off and bring the ten to four.

The twitter feed then reopened allowing the audience to vote for their favourite remaining act including @benvivianjones who bizarrely after his performance of “Stranger in this world” from Taboo had been described as an out of control shower head.

As the audience tweeted their winners Associated Studios presented two girls who sang outstanding renditions of “Once Upon a Time” from Brooklyn and “Here’s where I stand” from Camp lead the audience to cheer heartily and the grumbly David King proclaimed that he could take any of the two girls and put them in his shows in Las Vegas.

The crowned winners of the first Search for a Twitter star, an idea that I’m not sure even the muse behind the show would have imagined would reach a West End Theatre, were the delightful Felipe Bejerano @felipebejarano_ and the wonderful Kara Bayer @karabayer. Both seemed overwhelmed at the title of Twitters Leading Man and Lady and amongst other prizes from Industry including Spotlight membership they then took to the stage to sing respective duets with Jon Lee and Kerry Ellis, both met to ecstatic applause from the audience.

From the light-hearted theatre based twitter account to the West End Stage I think it’s incredibly important to understand what this event was about and what it achieved. A hugely enjoyable evening for all concerned and the opportunity for people outside London to get in on the action -even if they weren’t inside the walls of the theatre. The standard of the production was high and I’m sure although they seemed to put a downer on proceedings, the panel to wanted to be fair and realistic in their analogy, though Dearman was met with cheers when in the second half she announced she would keep a positive spin on her criticism.

Congratulations to all for dreaming big, and producing an evening entertainment that offered an opportunity for the audience to get involved in a truly unique way. #dear

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Liza Minnelli

TheatrePosted by Pete Jun 28, 2012 17:23

The one where Cabaret came alive?

It’s a difficult one, because as Liza Minnelli declared to the audience sat under ponchos in the siling rain, “I better hit that note or it’ll be ‘off with her head!” she should have been beheaded some sixty times. The legend often sang every note other than the one intended and screeched her way through the songs that had made her the icon we all know.

But bizarrely as someone who is most critical of these performance flaws, it didn’t matter. As I sat with beads of rain water dripping from the peak of my emergency poncho… the people in the courtyard surroundings of the palace of Henry VIII were her to see the legend, the daughter of Garland, the girl who married a man as crazy as herself. The concert for most was the opportunity to say “I saw Liza Minnelli perform” as in reality the opportunity would probably never arise again.

Her song about the spelling of her name… “that’s how you spell Minnelli” drew woops of joy from the audience of faithful fans, and entertained those who were new to her music. Although when she took the stage for Cabaret, and Maybe this time… despite the strain to reach the money notes, it was clear that audience were all on the same page and taking in every moment of the musical star.

With anecdotes of her time on the stage, including a quick characterisation of the time she stepped in to play Roxie Hart to an unknowing audience in Chicago in 1975 the audience hang on ever word. What’s more surprising is the girl who proclaims “I keep bustin’ stuff” is even on the stage before us at all. After two hip replacements and a recent knee injury, Minnelli struggles to drag her chair into position and ill fitting trousers see her hoist her waistline at every given opportunity.

What is interesting about this critique is that Minnelli manages to redefine the rules. Whereas it would be easy to slate the performance it simply wasn’t about that. Legends are not often created in an industry that is so densely populated by new artists every day. Despite the rain and pitchy performance, the audience took comfort and enjoyment to see a woman whom as soon as she entered the stage left her age in the wings and did what she has known all her life… put on a show and perform.

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Ragtime: Open Air Theatre

TheatrePosted by Pete May 29, 2012 17:17

The one that caused all the controversy?

Ragtime the Musical with book by Terence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is a gritty affair set at the turn of the 20th Century following the lives of three separate families as they face the trials and tribulations of life, whether it be issues with wealth, poverty, freedom or prejudice that has an impact on their journey through life. The piece in itself deals with all of these issues with scenes of Police brutality, racial attacks, the journey of immigrants on their quest to find the American dream, and the strains on wealthy military families with the absence of a father figure.

Director Timothy Sheader has created something incredibly ambitious and taken the work to a new level that brings the text up close and personal to the very modern day. A realisation by the final verse of the finale, “Wheels of a Dream” drawing a lump to your throat that this piece is as relevant to issues discussed of the period, to those today. Sheader’s interpretation cleverly introduces the cast in present modern day attire that reflects the change in society, military, parents, PA’s, nurses are all present and form a mix of ethnic backgrounds. These characters in the present transform to their role at the turn of the century to perform the story. Clever costume changes and notable attention to detail to each era by Laura Hopkins aid the interpretation and provoke thought as Sheader makes the decision not to change the sex or race of the performer in their transformation from present day. For example Sophia Nomvete takes the role of Booker T. Washington, displayed as a successful Politian of the modern day, the transformation sees her play the male role for the story of “Ragtime”. Where debate rises from having cross casting, particularly on a production set so clear by boundaries of race prejudice, the production adds the extra dimension that times have perhaps changed.

This is only emphasised by a huge billboard of President Barack Obama with the words “Dare to Dream” looming over the playing space acting as a reminder of a changing time in present day, particularly during a scene where four fire officers deface a car during a racial attack that sees the vehicle trashed, sprayed with insults and ditched in the river due to the owner being a black citizen by Irish workers who have had to learn to “deal with” the insults they receive. The design by Jan Baussor however adds yet another dimension to this complex piece. The Regents Park theatre has been quite literally blown apart, the billboard obliterated in the centre with a mound of a host of appliances and modern references to McDonalds and Disneyland littered through the space. A vast amount of dusty concrete is shadowed by a huge symbol of industry and the modern world with a blue crane. As Tateh an immigrant arrives with his daughter in search of a new life, standing high in the cavity of the billboard looking over the space, you’re prompted to think whether the ideology of the “American Dream” or indeed our own Cameron manifesto of “We’re all in this together” is really all it’s cracked up to be.

The interpretation of this production doesn’t shy away from a message they are trying to evoke from their audience. I have great admiration to the creative team for headlining straight into an unknown and having the vision to be daring, creative and inventive with a wonderful piece. Others may argue that the text doesn’t require the effort in searching for new complexities, particularly as Ragtime deals with many of them already without the references to life today, but I couldn’t help but appreciate that a team have created something new and visually exciting to prompt debate and discussion.

As setting and the style of performance come under strong scrutiny its vision is supported by a fantastic cast who complete this evening of theatrical delight for the senses. The score which is lead under the tight baton of Nigel Lilley, fills the space with a 30+ strong cast who resonate through the park giving a tingly sensation at the power of the song and the lyrics they sing. My only criticism is that with such anthems comes such incredible skill musically, and it would have been a joy to have seen the orchestra rather than them hiding in the leafy undergrowth.

Rosalie Craig presents the warmth of her role as mother, as she develops from the military wife whom follows the decisions of her husband to making many of her own that would change things forever. The mothering instinct taking over the societal expectation of whom to associate with, only makes her beautiful rendition of “Back to Before” all the more powerful. Real beauty and emotion cries out in Claudia Kariuki’s portrayal of Sarah with a tingling performance of “Your Daddy’s son” which has the audience teetering to explode into applause. Both performances earn the accolade from the audience. Emma Goldman is strongly performed and characterised by Tasmin Carroll on her trusty Brompton Bicycle whilst Stephane Anelli delights as Harry Houdini, with inventive entrances throughout the set and earning the applause as he successfully frees himself from a strait jacket hanging upside down mid-air.

The production should be praised for the brave and adventurous interpretation that alongside the thrill of outdoor theatre brings excitement to the Regents Park venue. The original Broadway production opened to a mix of reviews and I expect this will be of no exception. For me the creativity of a director with a cast who more than deliver make for a piece of theatre that will have me thinking in weeks to come.

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Posh

TheatrePosted by Pete May 22, 2012 17:20

The one were Posh people don't say Totes because its degrading?

By the interval of The Royal Court’s West End transfer of Posh by Laura Wade, my flatmate leant over to ask, “Pete, are you alright?” and the truth was, I wasn’t. In fact throughout the course of the act one I had become more and more anxious and nervous as the elaborate characters played out before me. The tension within the writing moved as an undercover sleuth as to the viewer what could possibly go wrong about a play set around a dinner table. This however didn’t help me try to second guess the action as line by line seemed to slot into place with an outcome that could be played out.

What added to the building anxiety is that this production comes from a truth, with links to the wealthiest men, and those on stage in “The Ryott Club” not too dissimilar to that of a dinner club our very own Prime minister and London Mayor were once members, the notorious Bullingdon Club. After watching the production and researching, my thoughts only became more confused that actually, and rather naively there is a world out there, where this kind of behaviour in the great aristocracies actually exists. When we thing of trashing restaurants or hotel suites, we instantly refer to the low waged, or unemployed for such antics yet the difference is that once the “riot” has occurred, the wallets come out to compensate and repay for all damages.

As the writer, Laura Wade has created a wonderful pastiche of real characters, giving us a glimpse into a lifestyle. Obviously their mannerisms are slightly dramatized but the humour of the piece comes from the language of the character. For example the stereotype would believe the music of choice would be Mozart and Tchaikovsky yet the opening number to LMFAO’s “I’m sexy and I know it” with vocals in plumb voices, not only makes you realise that everyone listens to modern chart music, and also aides to bring the setting of the piece to current day. The fantastic routine which see’s Anthony Ward’s design of oil paintings come alive as these young rich men prance and lure the audience to a sense of insecurity and feeling that “We’re one of you guys”.

Director Lyndsey Turner manages the ten “loveable rogues” and presents real life qualities of the Riot Club. It would be easy to exploit the stereotype of the Oxbridge elite, but the real people before you add the building tension of what happens when the rules of the dinner state you have to down your drink on every toast, no one can leave the room, and if you need to vomit you must do so in a bag. The first few moments of the scene establish these various regulations and set up nicely through the use of a new member, Harry Lister Smith played by Ed Montgomery who allows the audience to catch up with this group as he tries so desperately to make the right impression.

Throughout the meal various characters are introduced who create the every day, The Landlord, played by the fantastic Steffan Rhodri, his daughter, and a prostitute. I spent the act after listening to the dinner talk wondering which one of these characters would ultimately fall foul to these “hoodies in tuxedos”. I won’t go into the finer detail of the explosion that occurs as act two draws to a close, but after an impassioned speech by Alistair Ryle, played superbly by Leo Bill, as he snaps at the fact the class system always favours the poor or the middle and the top are always the enemy.

The play is truly wonderful, with a perception of the upper class rife the piece humorously presents several arguments of a side of life society wouldn’t listen to essentially, blared by the ideal of “you have money so shut up”. It’s an incredible concept that encouraged great debate, but for myself that idea that such behaviour should exist is slightly astonishing, yet worryingly you can perhaps understand it. General the moaning of money and always being short is of common conversational topic within my peers, they were disgruntled that they were forever left to foot the bill, they had to surrender to the National Trust for all to see their homes, and if they had the money why couldn’t they buy things and have it their way.

(spot David Cameron & Boris Johnson)

The conclusion of act two leaves you satisfied after the build up but only left me wanting to know more, the meeting of two characters at the curtain deliberately left wide open. The performance is a tight unit of ten fantastic interpretations, also forming as an acappella group of find vocal form to aide scene changes and passing of time, the men present light relief with a host of well known modern hits from the chart, including Maroon 5 “Move’s Like Jagger”.

What lures with the sense of comedy and security only turns nasty and brutal as the class of societies is presented in a less familiar way. Watching many theatre productions often leaves you desensitised but this production really woke up my theatrical appetite in a performance that will stay with me for some time.

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Pirates of Penzance

TheatrePosted by Pete May 21, 2012 17:18

The one that has a technicality over a leap year?

Pirates of Penzance has sailed into the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick. The Gilbert and Sullivan classic romps its way through an amusing storyline full of slapstick and farcical revelations all set within the parameters of an operatic score. The audience get little time to absorb this notion as the production moves at a rate of knots with a host of pirates, who are all near the exact same height, parading round the stage with gusto!

A quick summary of the plot centres around Frederick, played by Owen Pullar, whom upon his 21st birthday completes his apprenticeship with a band of Pirates and takes the option to leave them and upon doing so meets the daughter of a Major General, Mabel played by Elsie Bennett and instantly fall in love! Complications as you can image arise resulting in Frederic discovering he should actually serve another 63 years with the pirates due to being born on a leap year, and Mabel opting to wait for him at the ripe old 84.

Set on the pint sized set by Christopher Hone, the tabard is transformed uniquely into the galley of the ship with a series of pulleys, barrels and all things nautical it’s easy to forget you’re perched in a seat above a pub. Elsie Bennett as Mabel delights with beautiful tones in her voice and is in every way the leading lady, her presence on stage is very much felt as she works her way through her vocal numbers.

The ensemble are all very strong musical theatre performers. Cymbal crashing Benjamin Vivian-Jones, Gareth Mitchell, Rossana Canzio, and Mark McManus present enjoyable scenes as the “Tarantara” chuntering police men, delivering a comedic routine of well thought out choreography that has the audience laughing along.

A key highlight to the piece, that mustn’t go unmentioned, is the moment the entire cast swamp the tiny stage to join Roger Parkins as the Major General, performs the tongue twisting “I am the very model of a Modern Major General” with ease despite spitting out several words a second. Parkin’s scene stealer easily earns him the biggest applause of the night leading to a rousing rendition at the curtain call.

However, for all that is wonderful about this production especially within the characterisation of the ensemble, the battle between the Pirates and Police Officers came second to the battle of the band and the performers. At times Musical Director Andre Refig seemed to fight to gain control of the piece, with the performers struggle to make entrances together as a group. I stress this only happened on a few occasions but none the less should be addressed to ensure a flawless performance.

Pirates of Penzance is a fun evening out that promotes a wealth of young talent who bring this 1880 production to a new modern audience with a fresh interpretation.

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Love, Love, Love

TheatrePosted by Pete May 15, 2012 16:03

The one that uses a Beatles song to reunite two characters?

Love, Love, Love is the latest play by Mike Bartlett and is currently resident at The Royal Court, as we know the theatre has a great success rate in transferring into the West End and Broadway after a run in its Sloane Square abode. I suspect this new domestic drama from Bartlett will too see life after the run in Chelsea backed by the wealth of four and five star reviews it has been littered with.

Taking place in three concised acts each act presents a key era of the life of a pair, the result of the baby boom. Ben Miles as Kenneth & Victoria Hamilton as Sandra present their characters in act one as young 19 year olds in London before act two shows us them as a family unit in the 1990s before act three shows a reconciliation of divorce and the pair are reunited in 2011 in their retired 60s.

This piece works and enthrals so much as the audience can easily relate to the production in many ways. Throughout the acts there are many quips that lend themselves to the audience of London, Sandra proclaims in the bedsit of act one “Families are boring – that’s why London was invented, so you could move away” a gesture that sends the audience into a fit of laughter.

Miles and Hamilton work effortlessly together to show all aspects of the relationship. At first we learn of the free spirited, revolutionary aspirations of two, studying in Oxford but fully aware that they are the future of the country, they are the change. Indulging in a drug culture, because times are different, Sandra who visits to continue a date with Kenneth’s brother Henry, by Sam Troughton, only to be enticed by the same ideals of Kenneth, who displays the changing ideas of society and in music.

Act two repeats the opening of act one essentially as a younger being, their son, played by George Rainsford “rocks out” to the next generation of music – history repeating. An unrecognisable Miles enters with their daughter, Claire Foy, and a slice of family life is portrayed along with all the strains of life that come with it. Heightened representations of the “I hate you” teenager as documented countless times thanks to Harry Enfield and his creation of Kevin, and the transformation of Kenneth and Sandra as the wild childs of the 60s, now seen as well to do parents working long hours in city jobs. Sandra proclaims “Something’s gone wrong – we live in Reading” again to the rapturous laughter of an audience that can understand how things change.

The revelation of Divorce is all too familiar of the nineties and we are left with the somewhat covered storyline of the teenage girl, recently dumped, running away to the bathroom and slitting her wrists.

Act three and the bringing together of Kenneth and Sandra is spurred on by a meeting organised by their daughter Rosie who is now 37. Thirty Seven and still renting. Upon demanding “buy me a house” her justification for this is that the generation of the baby boomers, didn’t enjoy the country, they bought it and were now sitting on all the money and all the property with now possible progression for the next generation.

Design by Lucy Osborne perfectly and dramatically reinvents the space to adopt to the time period and grows with the characters as the set transforms in its entirety upon the curtain rising at each act.

The acting throughout the production is incredibly well presented with all actors tackling issues with the genuine reality that draws the audience allowing them to be sympathetic to the scenario presented before them. What is difficult as a younger member of the audience is, sat amongst an older audience, those who match Kenneth and Sandra, is that whilst the majority laughed loudly as the very notion of Rosie demanding a house, I recoiled in fear of myself being in the situation come 37, I’d certainly hoped in my own life plan, that by 37 I would certainly be in a more financially stable environment… perhaps Ill end up in Reading after all.

As much as the production promotes healthy discuss as the battle of the generations I would be more than inclined to view this production again with a different audience, and it would be truly fascinating to gage the opinion of what this piece is saying, and how different people interpret the performance, based on their own understanding of how they fit into society.

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The Kings Speech

TheatrePosted by Pete May 14, 2012 17:24

The one about a King who finds it difficult to make a speech?

With its run drastically cut short I quickly made the effort to make sure I caught this production in the final week at The Wyndhams theatre. After being hailed with glorious reviews across the board it’s difficult to understand why this production served its notice early and closed the doors.

The production which charts the transition from George V to the reluctant George VI taking the throne after his brother advocated. The problem the country had with their new successor, who never expected to become King, is that he suffered from a crippling stammer. At a time when the Royal family realised that they couldn’t just “sit on a horse and wave” the birth of the radio opened avenues for the reigning monarch to address his people across the country. This becomes very difficult when every word can become a chore.

The beauty of this production is the 100% truth of its content. George VI or Bertie as he was affectionately known by his family did suffer from a stammer. His wife, Queen Elizabeth sourced a vocal specialist and settled for a Australian immigrant Lionel Logue. With the truth of this story being so interesting there is a great deal of responsibility when presenting such a work. This is where the production earns its stars. Charles Edwards who has the incredibly difficult honour of portraying King George VI does so in an astounding performance. I cannot imagine the work and research that had gone into his development of this character as the stammer, which is such an unnatural affliction in the everyday comes across as a natural curse upon the stage. You don’t doubt that the actor before you actually suffers from the inability to get his words out and this is no mean feat to perform this convincingly. Emma Fielding takes the takes the role of Queen Elizabeth and does so with all the poise and grace you would expect of our dear Queen Mother yet creates a personality that we of course would not see. Jonathan Hyde takes the role of Lionel Logue the failed Australian actor who finds himself with the most extraordinary client. Allowing no airs or graces when within his company and striving for the unthinkable to become equals when in session, a serious of humorous events unfold as we witness Logues somewhat unorthodox methods to help the King speak.

With a host of splendid performances you can only wonder why they didn’t get people through the door. My only feeling is that no matter how skilled the performance the timing of this production is just too early from the film starring Colin Firth cleaned up across all the award ceremonies in the last year. As good as the performances are in the flesh, with West End ticket prices soaring, and a script that mirrors the screenplay considerably, you may wish to view in the comfort of your home with a bottle of red for three quarters the price in the theatre for a glass, and watch “Mr Darcy” create one of his finest roles.

This by no means belittles the achievement by such a talented cast, it is just unfortunate that the production came too early for people to want to revisit the story.

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Spring Awakening

TheatrePosted by Pete May 14, 2012 13:51

The one where a girl has sex not knowing that she'd make a baby?

****WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS****

We’ve all been there, sat in Church Halls, school halls, local community theatres ready for a couple of hours of the local butcher banging out his best rendition of “Who will Buy” whilst you clap heartily and throw roses when your housemate walks on stage with their one line and resumes position at the back of the stage dressed as a “villager” for the remaining sixty minutes of act one. So I understand the fear and dread some may have when being asked along to an amateur production.

Fortunately SEDOS Amateur Dramatics are changing that perception with their production of Sheik & Sater’s Spring Awakening. The musical which stormed Broadway became the Marmite of the West End but none can deny the cult following the production has gained. With extreme themes of teenage angst, this episodic production follows a group of children in a rock adaptation to the controversial 1892 German play by Frank Wedekind. The show explores the inner turmoil of sexuality, in an era where “keeping up appearances” pushed the conversation of relationships deep into the unknown, the production deals with issues of pregnancy, teenage suicide, gay relationships, atheism, child brutality, and a defunct education system. So it’s not a whole barrel of laughs and “Get me to the church on time”.

As we take our seats in a transformed Bridewell Theatre, surrounded by a forest of trees, wooden flooring and a light installation of an array of neon its already quite clear that we’re not about to watch a “do it yourself” production. In fact from the off it is clear that director Chris Warner has worked very hard to create a highly polished production… much better than certain productions of this show I have recently seen. What you gain from watching this is that the standard of performance is incredibly high, and this is credit to the people who work various jobs in the day for coming in on an evening to give performances with such energy, commitment and above all talent to rival many theatres across the Fringe. It’s unfortunate you ever have the notion you’re going to an amateur production at all as by the interval the conversation around the bar is all about how good the show is, and “I can’t believe its am dram” as is the very word is a disease.

The high production values ring out within the songs that are vocally demanding yet, under the baton of Musical Director Ryan Macaulay, the rich harmonies fill the theatre. In particular the cast showcase their vocals in the beautiful closing rendition of “Purple Summer” which leaves the audience enrobed in the tingly feeling of something special. Joe Penny as Melchoir delivers a leading performance as the young man who has “worked it all out” not to be controlled by the system, his characterisation is believable and sets up his charming interpretation of “Left Behind” at the funeral of Moritz. Played by Anthony Hagan, the part of Moritz at times felt a little too stagey for my personal preference yet there is no denying that Hagan has a firm grasp on his musical numbers and actually his death was full of emotion and created a poignant moment many who have played the role never manage to reach. The ensemble are all extremely talented with standout performances by Andrew Newton as the sexually active Hanschen, and Aisling Ridge as the innocent and pure Wendla, however Lisa Pilkington as Ilse really steals the show and makes the audience sit up and listen. Her vocals in “Blue Wind” and particularly the opening of “The Song of Purple Summer” literally have the audience melting as her rich raw vocals fill the space and draw the audience in.

With all the clichéd themes and issues this musical ploughs through it is no mean feat for anyone to perform and get right and even by the end of the show the audience disperse wondering if they liked the content of the show or not. One thing however is unanimous and that is that SEDOS have got this production very right. If this high standard can be achieved from evening rehearsals from a cast of enthusiasts then I think producers and actors across the profession may need to pull their socks up and take note.

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The Vocal Orchestra

TheatrePosted by Pete Apr 25, 2012 17:50

The one with Seven people, seven microphones, and no instruments…

Yet there are moments of The Vocal Orchestra’s performance where you’d be mistaken to think you were sat in the middle of a club with a pumping bass line and killer vocals. What you realise however is that you’re near the River Thames sat in a giant upside down purple cow called The Udderbelly and for one whole hour, every noise, every sound, every salute to some of the biggest names in music come from seven preppy performers who take differing roles to create a thick lush sound of harmonious bliss.

Billy Boothroyd & Robin Bailey display find melodic talent as the tenors to the group. Johanna Jolson, Claudia Georgette, and Harriet Syndercombe Court take the higher registers whilst Ross Green delivers some incredible bass tones… the kind that shake through your body and you become adamant that it can’t be a human voice. Grace Savage however is a wonder to watch, taking on the role of “beats” this young performer is presented as a human drum kit, keeping the group together as seven sing out to various tunes.

But really how interesting can a beat boxing show be, Directed by Shlomo, the Guinness World Record holder and World Loopstation Champion? Well I have to say I wasn’t convinced until you actually see… HEAR this spectacle for yourself. What is clearly evident about this performance is how well this Septet work together and you cannot underestimate the amount of rehearsal that must have taken place in order to reach this standard. All seven are completely dependent on each other to deliver the vocals that have the audience a gasp, or indeed whooping with delight as they pull off renditions of Daydream, Sweet Dreams and a stunning performance of Hallelujah. If one performer is pitchy it’s going to affect six other complex vocal lines.

The show also promotes a great deal of fun, not your average “orchestra” or indeed “choir, the seven parade around the stage with slick routines, humorous parodies and all in all take the audience along with them as they go from song to song. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an episode of Glee, that couldn’t be more insulting to a company who eat auto tune for breakfast… you really need to hear to believe.

The production is high value and has great branding that is reflected across the video projections to the very mics each performer holds, the group are certainly worth the feeling you get as you leave. The buzz was quite enjoyable. They could quite easily wipe the floor if they were to go on Britain’s Got Talent and send dear Simon Cowell’s eyes into a blur of pound signs, but I think, and particularly after their headlining act at Udderbelly is through this “Vocal Orchestra” will go on to greater and bigger things.

It has to be heard to be believed… GO!

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Oedipussy

TheatrePosted by Pete Apr 19, 2012 13:13

The one that turns a Greek Tragedy into James Bond? It’s brash, vulgar, silly, energetic, and perhaps a tad bit long, Spymonkey theatre company leap about the stage at The Lyric Hammersmith in tiny loin clothes to present their twisted interpretation of the Greek Tragedy Oedipus. The opening after a faux introduction to the company as people, set the scene with an amusing rendition of an opening spoon of James Bond, thus presenting Oedipussy.

I’ll admit as the cast entered the stage I had no idea what to expect from Spymonkey and I was actually inclined to purchase tickets after learning of Kneehigh’s Artistic Director Emma Rice and writing partner Carl Grose being involved with this project.

Now to describe the performance… erratic is the immediate word that springs to mind. The production presents a sort of competitive attitude within the performers to gain the most stage time and perform as brash and loud as the previous. As I am sure this is intentional the joke soon wears thin, particularly by the end of the production. There are many a moment where the audience is in fits of laughter, for example Aitor Basauri’s double act as both shepherds, particular in the trial scene is very amusing. Other jokes including getting the theatre to sing-a-long with a rendition of “Leprosy’s not funny” left me thinking… no, it’s not.

The random nation of the production, with asides to the audience, theatrical in jokes, and general silliness, could be described to that of an episode of Family Guy, but whereas the television programme is 23 minutes of quick fire wit, the show felt like the jokes dragged the performance over what was necessary. The first act in particular could have been shortened and I would have been more than happy for the whole production to have been an hour and fifteen, straight through.

Saying that, the second half with a fantastic death sequence to the tragic end of the story, really is worth the wait and build up. Petra Massey creates a fantastically amusing, but equally shocking hanging image. There are many wonderful images and theatrical techniques, as a virgin to Spymonkey’s style, I’m not sure whether these were a standard of the company or if they were heavy influences by Rice. Emma Rice has developed a house style for Kneehigh and elements of this appear within the show. The use of falling leaves, the blood splats across the white floor, and red ribbons alongside some staple choreography moves all bring a smile to the eye for their clever use of storytelling skills.

For all the vulgar, in your face crudeness of this production the audience is made up of a dedicated banned of young followers who clearly enjoy exactly what they present. The start of the show sees the company introduce themselves and cite from a damming review from The Scotsman, where the “middle aged” performers indulge in being nothing more than silly. The performance is then a salute to what is read as a critical review, but actually states exactly what the company are of which they are very proud.

This production which seeks elements of Morecambe and Wise mashed with Shooting Stars, is a perfect introduction to a younger theatre audience and allowing a Greek Tragedy to keep their attention for the full performance.

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Birds of a Feather

TheatrePosted by Pete Apr 17, 2012 12:23

The one where three icons of 90’s television reform live on stage?

1989 home across the UK had the famous Irving Berlin tune “What’ll I do” sung by Berlin himself, rang out in living rooms and remained stuck in the heads of viewers for 102 episodes, spread across nine years! Birds of a Feather was a TV sitcom that charted the lives of Sharon and Tracy, two friends brought together as their husbands had been jailed for armed robbery, and their sex craved upper class neighbour Dorien Green, played by Lesley Joseph. The last episode of this ground breaking show, ground breaking as it was the first production aired by the BBC to feature the lives of three women, aired on Christmas eve 1998.

Fourteen years later, a team of producers have struck lucky, and I am sat in Richmond Theatre awaiting Birds of a Feather – Live on Stage. Following recent 90’s stage adaptations of Keeping up Appearances and Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies, Birds of a Feather offers something that these previous adaptations have failed to offer… the original line up live in the flesh. As a result the air is of excitement in the theatre foyer is electric as an eclectic mix of pensioners and mid-twenty something’s file in to take their place.

“This could be a disaster” my companion leaned over, but as soon as the original opening credits projected on the curtain began, they had the audience in the palm of their hands. Pauline Quirke revives her role as Sharon, a much slimmer figure of her former self in the 90s but still wearing the oversized t-shirts and baggy trousers Sharon is known for, Linda Robson steps back into the role of Tracy, and it’s like we’ve never been away. The great thing about this production is that the writing team, Gary Lawson and John Phelps, with original sitcom writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, have kept the characters true to who they are. There’s no radical changes to how they act, talk, what they say, it’s literally like we are catching up with old friends.

Quirke has her comic timing down to a fine art delivering some of the best and most scathing bitchy lines to her co-stars to roars of laughter from the audience. Robson plays Tracy who over the years has grown to be an over protective mother who has spun a whole load of lies to her son, played by Robson's actual son in rotation with Quirke’s son, in order to keep him from knowing the truth about his father… watch the lie unravel with great hilarity.

Lesley Joseph enters the stage amidst jokes about her age as the fabulous Dorien Green. Sporting a tight mini dress, with huge locks of bouffant black hair, the audience woops with applause as her quick fire wit shoots down Sharon as quick as Sharon sent her the abuse. Twenty minutes in the audience get the frame they were waiting for, all three women brought together.

The show isn’t going to change the world, but the writing, which is very topical and fresh up to date is bursting at the seams with line after line of good comic talent. The nature of the production feels like a natural progression to the existing story, but I would argue that a new comer to the world of Birds of a Feather would enjoy the antics of three older ladies getting themselves out of a potential murder plot and family dramas.

The key to this production is that they haven’t messed with a formula that works, and the result is an audience who leave the theatre beaming after a good evening of well executed entertainment. Go see it for a trip down memory lane, or to enjoy some good laughs at a comedy that is current and will have you smiling all the way home.

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Gypsy

TheatrePosted by Pete Apr 16, 2012 17:45

The one with the ultimate pushy parent?

In a day of “everyone wants to be famous” with shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor “showcasing” talent of a younger age each series you can’t help but think of the push parent waiting in the wings making sure their youngster does every turn and hits every note that they collectively have been working on together. However in Gypsy, a musical with Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents the character of Momma Rose cemented the role of stagey parent way back in 1959 and is still as relevant today!

Director Paul Kerryson and Leicester Curve have revived this production which featured in London in 1973. The production which has had countless revivals on Broadway seemingly works as the theme of the production, despite being some 60 years old, is just as entertaining today and popular within the industry of everyone being able to recall an account of such mothers. Which brings the impossible situation of casting the role, Momma Rose has been played by many great Broadway stars including Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone so who could take on these huge shoes and succeed.

Enter Caroline O’Connor. I am very pleased to say that O’Connor delivers the role of Rose with all the poise and conviction of a caricature of a stagey mother, but with the warmth, and the stark reality as she concludes the piece with her rendition of “Rose’s Turn”, in which the audience applauded for a great length of time. It would be very easy to play this part for laughs, and over dramatise the character but O’Connor performs the role with a believability that actually all she wants is for her children to have the life she never had.

At a time where Vaudeville is on the way out and Burlesque is the next big thing. Rose continues blinkered by her own determination that her babies are growing up, and Vaudeville is dying out. Her full on approach to ensure her troupe get seen by every talent scout, often by storming the stage, only further remove herself from how she might push her daughters away. At a turning point in the piece where child “star” Dainty June played by Daisy Maywood elopes with fellow performer Tulsa, who may I add performed by Jason Winter gave the audience a sensational dance routine as the boy who has aspirations of a modern dance act, left Rose bereft. A beautiful moment where the realisation kicks in is quickly taken away as Rose turns and decides that Louise, played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt becomes her latest project.

On a misunderstanding in a booking, Louise’s show is booked into a Burlesque joint and much to Rose’s objection money for the failing Vaudeville crowd is tight and so they must perform. The style of show is exemplified as three overtly confident women, Mazeppa by Lucinda Shaw, Electra by Jane Fowler and Tessie Tura by Geraldine Fitzgerald take us through the raunchy and highly entertaining “You gotta get a gimmick” as number that has been performed countless times.

As Louise becomes the star, and long term love interest Herbie realises Rose will never marry him, as she is deeply married to the industry, Rose suddenly finds herself as the mother who isn’t needed anymore, so where does that leave Rose.

Kerryson has created a superb revival of a show that deserves the bright stars that have littered the reviews. O’Connor takes you on an emotional journey where you cannot, despite all the drama and determination, feel for her and her situation.

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Spamalot: On tour

TheatrePosted by Pete Apr 10, 2012 16:43

The one that is completely Bonkers?

Spamalot opened at The Palace Theatre in the West End in 2006 and played out in the heart of theatre land for three years. Since then the production which is based on the series of movies and sketched by the team of Monty Python has opened in eleven other countries and is currently on a UK tour. I caught the production as it rolled into Richmond at the Richmond Theatre.

Now I was fortunate to see the lavish and quite wonderfully bonkers production when it was in the West End in it’s first year, which makes writing this review quite difficult as to compare the productions would be unfair, particularly as both are so different in terms of setting, cast, and overall experience.

The first thing that strikes me about this version of this production is the set. The pop up book design by Hugh Durrant, screams touring production as its simplistic design of a two sided castle and backdrop do little more than to create a level to for the cast to stand on, and little more. it’s a shame that a production that is so entirely bonkers isn’t given a set for the cast to really play about on. Sadly it’s not just the set that has been cut back in its transition to the touring production. The cast size too has been dramatically cut, where once there was a chorus line of leg kicking girls the tour brings just two who frantically run off stage and remerge to play another role with several quick changes. Likewise () is quite possibly the most overworked in the show as he plays opposite practically every principal character. Adam portrayal of the young Prince Herbert who falls for Lancelot is particularly entertaining displaying a wonderful high register to great comic effect. His dance as a nun is also very entertaining and as mentioned he continuously reappears on stage bringing a new character for the audience to enjoy. The ensemble work very hard to create a full stage of characters but unfortunately, and not through their best efforts, the real “bang” of the musical numbers falls a little short without a bigger team of performers.

Bonnie Langford makes an alternative Lady of the Lake from some of the larger than life predecessors of the role. Hannah Waddingham and Jodie Prenger are both bold and brashy performers who really know how to belt the part of the diva! It took some convincing for the pint sized Langford to win me over with her performance, but upon reflection she is arguably the biggest “diva” of the lot, and this is reflected in her rendition of “Diva’s Lament” What she lacks in belt, she surely makes up for in range, and there is something about her persona that has a natural ooze of theatrical star. Its unsurprising to find that her CV spills out across a full page in the programme with a vast range of credits, Langford is also very striking as she models the range of glittering attire.

The gawffs of laughter from the audience clearly represented an older clientel and I suspect that many come from the loyal army of fans who adore Spamalot and everything Eric Idle. The show has never been ashamed of bad gags, jokes that make you groan and songs that take a satirical look at musical theatre in general. “The Song that goes like this” helped the show become a success before many even saw the show, with societies and West End lovers choosing to perform this song at every given opportunity and cabaret evening.

Six years on from when the material was first performed some of the jokes feel a little dated, granted I wasn’t a huge fan of the films, but can appreciate that the show is enormous fun. However in the transition to the touring production in which act one is just 43 minutes, and I couldn’t believe I was standing outside the theatre at 9:24pm all done and dusted, it seems that so many corners have been cut. The panto-esque production, with star casting and simple choreography works well when done in excess, you’re able to fully immerse yourself in the barmy scenes of fish slapping and hot pant wearing gay disco when the stage is alive and full of a cast performing at you. This production feels a little rushed and before you get the chance to let go and go with it… its over.

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Company: On Broadway

TheatrePosted by Pete Mar 21, 2012 11:49

The one that had a whole host of Broadway stars in? I and could watch in a cinema?

My friend sent me email, “Pete do you want to watch the Broadway production of Company with me on Sunday?” My initial thought was, my goodness he has won the lottery and we’re flying to New York. Then I wondered if it was on DVD… it isn’t, but when I heard it was at the cinema I nearly wet myself! My favourite Sondheim AND popcorn! Admittedly I was having a geek out over an MT show… and fortunately the cinema held several others who were beaming at the prospect of seeing a sold out limited, fully staged production of a show that only had four performances, in New York!

£15 is the cheapest plane ticket I’ve ever bought!

This production of Company was to be like no other, partly because of a great big 55 piece orchestra by the name of The New York Philharmonic, accompanying the cast… but the cast starred people such as Neil Patrick Harris, Jon Cryer, Christina Hendricks and wait for it… Patti LuPone.

We were in for a treat. And a treat it was. It would be easy to assume this production would be a simple stand and sing but this is far from the case. LuPone joining the cast in a kick line makes you realise how much of a gem this is! Director Lonny Price brings out the best of one of Sondheim’s best productions. A piece that is some 40 years old seems timeless as the audience were laughing loudly… I even found myself urging to applaud at the screen.

Neil Patrick Harris as the 35 year bachelor Bobby is outstanding. A true MT performer Harris is just watchable for all the right reason, and carries the journey of Bobby and more so ties the various couples he meets in a perfect performance that climaxes with a stunning rendition of Being Alive, the final line deserves the accolade the American audience are so keen to give him.

There really is so many magical moments in this production, that really enforce the reason it is still regarded as a great piece of musical theatre. The pairings of each couple were fantastic and each pair worked so well within each other’s performance but also collectively. It is so unbelievably difficult to believe that the cast rehearsed separately in all different parts of the country and only brought it together on the day of the first performance, when the show’s production quality is flawless.

Katie Finneran has the tremendous task of tackling the character of Amy and delivering thee performance of “Not Getting Married Today” With greats such as Caroline Burnett performing this number they’re big shoes to fill, but Finneran makes it her own, winning the audience when marching up to conductor Paul Gemignani and promptly snapping his baton.

As more and more of the excited Sondheimites in the cinema started applauding the screen, it started to become harder to resist, opting for a polite few seconds of patter to acknowledge each point of applause. Then Patti Lupone “arrives” as Joanne and give the most extraordinary performance of “Ladies who lunch” promptly drowning the front row of the audience with her vodka stinger at the end of the performance… the audience went absolutely mental and took a good 4 minutes before the play could resume as the Lincoln Center exploded.

The opportunity to bring an exciting production to the masses was fantastic and a genuine buzz of excitement was encapsulated from the moment I entered the cinema foyer. I’ve never quite experienced it. The benefit of having my comfy cinema seat in London is that actually due the epic size of the theatre I was fortunate to have several camera angles, close ups, and frames of the entire cast that many in the audience would struggle to see.

However as amazing as the production was, the idea of actually being there would have been incredible with an electric atmosphere hailing a wonderful presentation with a truly one off cast.

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Sister Act the Musical

TheatrePosted by Pete Mar 20, 2012 16:21

The one about a girl who witnesses a murder and ends up hiding in a convent with Nuns?

Sister Act the Musical became the musical marmite of the West End when it opened, pride of place at The London Palladium. Now several years on the show is touring the UK with a new cast, a new set, and some new numbers… and I’m raising my voice on how grateful I am.

I had forgotten how much fun this production is, and find myself yet again singing the songs over and over in my head and taking every opportunity to play the songs on my iPod at every moment. You will usually find me quite scathing about musicals which have derived from film mainly due to the poor plotlines that have been filled out with lame unmemorable songs that aid or do little to move the story along. What is fantastic about Sister Act, is that story is entertaining, the music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Glenn Slater are creative and inventive, and there are tonnes of characters to keep enough variety in the show and even the most grumpy of audience member amused.

Patina Miller who created the role of Deloris Van Cartier, the famed role of Whoopi Goldberg, became a huge success and later went to open the Broadway production in the same part. Miller gave a fantastic performance which no one could doubt probably aided the success of the run. Thinking this performance could not be match the producers must have been absolutely delighted when 25 year old Cynthia Erivo walked into the audition room. Erivo gives a performance to rival and dare I say beat that of Miller. The pocket rocket of a girl sings with such gusto the disco diva sound has you dancing in your seat whilst her belt in the more emotionally sensitive songs leads you to really feel the turmoil of her character. Once more, and this is echoed across the company, the energy of the performance is infectious and even a notorious quiet matinee crowd, found themselves whooping along and applauding loudly.

Julie Atherton takes on the role of Sister Mary Robert, and her rendition of “The Life I never led” is a wonderful moment of Musical Theatre as she draws the audience in on the Wycombe Swan stage. Kadiff Kirwan took on the comedic role of Police officer Eddie, and danced heartily through the quick changing costume number “I could be that guy” to great appreciation. There was a genuine pairing between Kirwan and Erivo that made the final kiss even more rewarding.

When a production goes on tour there can often a conception that the production will get dumbed down and lack the drive that a West End Production can offer. I can safely say how wrong this theory is with this stunning shiny production of Sister Act, with promotes more energy and entertainment that a lot of the current shows in residence in London.

A great afternoon.

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100 Word Plays

TheatrePosted by Pete Mar 10, 2012 16:33

The Royal Court theatre is current open for submissions, and call for entries of a certain theatrical challenge are rife and adorning the walls of foyer and bar, in this established Sloane Square residence.

The challenge, write a play bout anything using no more than a 100 words. The play title is not included in the 100 words but all stage directions take up the limited count. Here's my submission...

Keep Going
By Peter Holland

Man in tight spotlight, wearing sport kit.

- just ninety more! No excuses, eighty six!

Voice in darkness

- I really can't.

- I don't want to hear it, seventy two, keep going!!

- I'm over it, it's too much

- you're not even half way, fifty SEVEN

- urgggh

Silence

- you still there?

- (straining) yeah.... Just about

- keep going, it's worth it... Think of the pay off THIRTY SIX

- PLEASE CAN WE STOP

- NO!! I won't let you TWENTY FIVE

- this is too much

- come on you fat bas...

Lights up revealing man with ninety nine chocolate bar wrappers around him.

Faints.

Blackout

- ONE HUNDRED

For more of these plays visit the Royal Court or check out the website 100wordplays.com

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Crazy for You!

TheatrePosted by Pete Mar 08, 2012 16:04

The one where a man wants to quit banking to be a dancer?

Bobby Child played by Sean Palmer is the young man with a dream to ditch working in banking and be the star of the stage dancing. Work however, the preferred occupation of his mother, played by the wonderful Harriet Thorpe, send him to Nevada to take possession of The Gaiety Theatre as payments by Polly Baker played by Clare Foster had not been kept.

Fortunately for Polly, Bobby’s passion for the theatre and his wannabe dream of being a dancer take’s over as well as his desire for her affections. Through various twists and turns he poses as theatre producer Bela Zangler to put on the show, and win over Polly’s heart but all comes to close to unravelling as the real Bela Zangler played by David Burt comes to town, followed closely by his mother.

Crazy for you is very much a play of will they won’t they… of course they will. Written by George and Ira Gershwin with book by Ken Ludwig the piece is very in keeping with the style of the era. Lavish productions with lots of show girls, but many of the references of the producers of theatre along with the life of an actor are still as true today as they have ever been. I wouldn’t be surprised if down the line Bela Zangler becomes Cameron Mackintosh.

Practically all the songs in this production are well known. Thanks to the charm and stand alone quality of these numbers by Gershwin, the audience are practically singing along to numbers such as I got Rhythm, Slap that Bass, Embraceable You and a superb rendition of Someone to Watch over me, by Clare Foster.

As with any production of the era though, it is the choreography that hands down steal this show. Stephen Mear had his work cut out with a show that has number after number of the most infectious tap routines, I am happy to say with a cast of over 20 filling the stage, and great to report of all shapes and sizes rather than the skinny boy stereotypes across the West End, Mear’s has created dance that you cannot help but be in awe of. The rousing company numbers along with the more subtle duets of Foster and Palmer really do give a variety to the piece and showcase the talent on stage. Theatre such as this, and the recent revival of Singin In the Rain are what the term Triple Threat is all about, as these talented casts sing, act and tap the hell out of the West End.

My only complaint is that, as expected in a Gershwin musical, the piece is just that bit too long, with the second half starting to lose its way a little, but generally the energy of the performance keeps you gripped, with many an audience member showing how little rhythm they hold clapping out of time at the end.

A delicious treat on the unknown arrival of Harriet Thorpe on stage made this evening of camp entertainment complete and a nice trip down to a time gone by. With the Shrek’s and Legally Blondes of the world performing you’d be forgiven for proclaiming… “they don’t make them like that anymore”

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