Saturday, 26 January 2013

Les Miserables: Why I'm Miserable

I'm normally a massive fan of musical films. One of my favourite (if not my absolute favourite) films of all time is West Side Story, and I adore The King and I, Calamity Jane, The Producers, Chicago, I could go on for hours...They're a fantastically light-hearted and entertaining way of opening up the world of musical theatre to those unable to get to a theatre to see the real thing. When I heard that they were making a film version of Les Miserables, however, I couldn't help but feel a sudden pang of panic amongst all of the excitement. 'Why?' I hear you ask. Because, despite being one of the all-time greats and a much-loved production on stage, as well as one of my personal favourites, I wasn't entirely convinced that this iconic musical could be pulled off on the big screen. Yes, the film has been applauded by the critics, but it just doesn't quite do it justice for me. Here's why after seeing the film, I think I was unfortunately proved right:

                                                                     Casting Russel Crowe

Let's not kid ourselves here, I never doubted that poor Russel's singing would be atrocious, (think  Pierce Brosnan's sorry attempt in Mama Mia), but whilst he can just about carry a tune acceptably, his vocals are more embarrassing dad than Javert. What was most disappointing about his performance though, was that whilst I never expected the casting of Russel Crowe as Inspector Javert to be an inspired decision in any way, I at least thought he'd be able to act his way though the role. After all, he is a three-time Academy Award nominee, winning it on one of those occasions. In reality I was underwhelmed by his seemingly dry and tired, almost uninterested acting. It's a shame Javert is in so many scenes because I was dreading every one of them. Unconvincing and quite emotionless, I felt no sympathy for the character which is a stark contrast to how I felt when watching the show on stage. He spends too much time trying to perfect the burning glare that he neglects to evoke any other emotions at all. No doubt his casting was a stunt used by many a director, using a big name to draw in more of an audience, who had "no idea that Russel Crowe could sing!". Sorry folks, he can't, and judging by this performance, he's losing his touch as an actor too!

Changing the role of Eponine (albeit slightly)

This was a low point in the film for me. In the stage show, Eponine, despite her love for Marius, helps him to find where Cosette lives, and later makes the dangerous journey to give Valjean Marius' letter for Cosette, which ultimately results in Eponine's death. Whilst this isn't entirely true to Victor Hugo's novel, and in fact the  film comes closer in it's portrayal of Eponine's story, Eponine's sacrifice despite her love for Marius is what makes her such a loved character, and her death much more devastating than in the film. In the film, we see Eponine hide a letter that Cosette has written to Marius, telling him of their flight to England (flight in the fleeing sense!), which she only gives to Marius with her dying breath. True, this is in fact what happens in the novel, however, Eponine's character then seems to be selfish, and her jumping in front of a bullet meant for Marius seems more of martyrdom to satisfy her guilt, then an act of selfless undying love. I'm normally all for fierce fidelity when it comes to adapting novels, however in this case I do believe the film would have done better to take a leaf out of the stage show's book and show Eponine's real sacrifice and struggle with her love for Marius. What's more, there simply wasn't enough of Eponine in the film. When asking young girls who have seen the stage show who they most connected with, the majority would scream Eponine, yet the focus of this film is entirely on Amanda Seyfried's Cosette. A fantastic actress, yes, but just another big name to tick off the spot the star list that runs through the film. Samantha Barks won the role of Eponine in the film, because she was so popular amongst fans when playing the character on London's West End. Cameron Mackintosh was so impressed by her, that he handed her the role in the 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena. When she was on screen, she thoroughly impressed and is more than capable of doing true justice to Epoinine's tragic plight and torn conscience. Unfortunately, however, she never really had enough time.

                                                                                     That horrendous new song

I admit I was intrigued when I heard that they were writing a new song to go into the film. The Les Miserables soundtrack is, of course, an epic emotional roller coaster of desperation, despair, love, comedy and tragedy, so I was in two minds about an addition to something I already see as perfect. Still, if it's as good as the likes of 'Bring Him Home', 'Stars', 'I Dreamed a Dream', 'On My Own', 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' and of course 'Do You Here the People Sing', not to mention 'One Day More'...okay, so basically every song, then it doesn't matter right? The problem, however, is that the new song 'Suddenly' is just so...awful. Valjean sings this song in a carriage after rescuing young Cosette from the Thernardiers, singing of his delight at suddenly having someone in his life to share his love with, but the song itself feels as if it has just been dropped into the film and is really quite pointless. Another decision made to get fans of the show to come and see the film with the promise of a new song, the lyrics are mediocre at best, the melody doesn't really set the emotions running and it really did seem needless. I have a copy of the stage show's soundtrack, and if this sorry attempt at a song is all that will be added to the movie soundtrack, I won't be buying it.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter just weren't funny (or awful) enough!

The purpose of the Thernardiers is to offer light relief to an other wise (let's face it) really rather depressing story. Everyone dies, the good guys lose their battle and there really is very little hope. Without the comic relief of Monsieur and Madame Thernardier, the audience would be left completely drained emotionally by a barrage of desperation and despair. This common as muck, disgustingly awful but hilariously witty and cunning double act very much make up one of the highlights of the stage show. The audience can't wait for their appearances and they often get more of a cheer at the end than many of the main characters. However, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter was a prestigious pairing that promised so much and yet offered so little to the film. Baron Cohen's slips between French and English accents may have been an attempt to seem quirky and humorous, but was really rather pointless and gave nothing to the development of the character. I'm not saying they weren't funny at all, on the contrary, they did show rare sparks of humour in 'Master of the House' and in other scenes, but unfortunately they really didn't deliver the slimy, loathsome, hilarious characters that we see in the stage show. Unfortunate, and extremely underwhelming!

That's not to say I didn't thoroughly enjoy the film. I laughed, I cried, I even got goosebumps a few times ('I Dreamed a Dream' and 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'). The film is up for a host of awards and should at least win some of them. The casting of Hugh Jackman as Valjean and Anne Hathaway as Fantine was absolutely perfect. Incidentally, if she doesn't win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress I might well throw a tantrum! Despite my qualms with the film's portrayal of Eponine, Samantha Barks was wonderful, Adam Tveit was rousing as Enjolras and Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried were brilliant as Marius and Cosette. The fact that all of the actors sung live on set gave the film a gritty, raw feel with emotional honesty and exposed the actors wonderfully. The special effects were suitably impressive, the score is sheer beauty and the cinematography was pretty great too. I left the cinema impressed much of the film,  but I also left feeling significantly underwhelmed by other aspects, which really was a big shame!

Monday, 12 November 2012

REVIEW: 'Pinch Me Is This Real?', Loserville, Garrick Theatre, 26/10/2012

It's important to know what you're getting when you go to see Elliot Davis and James Bourne's new jukebox musical Loserville. It's essentially a story for teenagers, about teenagers.

Set in a high school in 1971, the musical tells the story of Michael Dork, a computer geek working on being the one to discover how to send and receive messages between computers. Michael falls in love with new girl and fellow nerd, Holly, much to the annoyance of his best friend Lucas, and is ridiculed by the school jocks, Eddie and his friends, who steal his work and try to make the break through themselves. It is up to Michael and his friends to try and win the race to reveal their new technological discovery before Eddie, and so win their 'ticket out of Loserville'. If it sounds a bit 'same old' and unoriginal, it's because in truth, it is. It's the kind of story that gets shown every week on American high school programmes, and one that most teenagers could have made up themselves. In fact, the show seems to carry the theme of being like a comic or a cartoon. That's not to say it wasn't entertaining though, even if it did leave a little to be desired.
The show is basically inspired by former Busted member, James Bourne's Son of Dork album 'Welcome to Loserville', and in fact most if not all of the songs are taken straight from the album. The music isn't bad, but one can't help feeling like they are basically sitting through a Son of Dork Concert with a storyline, which essentially they are. The songs are delivered wonderfully. The leads all have fantastic voices and ranges, but the lyrics are unfortunately, like the story line, quite unimaginative. Nick Winston's choreography, on the other hand, is innovative imaginative and exciting, and delivered extremely well on stage.

The highlight of the whole production is the staging and set design. The set is quite metallic and futuristic, and it cleverly appears to reflect the appearance of the inside of a computer. It's also multifunctional. The cast can move and change the set between and during scenes to connote different settings, and the use of cardboard cut outs with cartoon images on them is an inspired way of replacing props and other expensive set changes.
 The talent on display was at a high level too. Aaron Sidwell as Michael Dork was suitably Geeky, and carried himself very well as the lead. His vocal range is impressive too, but unfortunately as with many of the characters, the audience doesn't really form a strong emotional connection and so it's hard at times to sympathise with the character.

Eliza Hope Bennett is also very talented in the role of Holly. She plays the torn soul well and has a lovely tone to her voice, but again her's is a character who the audience struggle to bond with. This is probably more a fault in the writing than with the actors themselves, who performed very well.

Stewart Clarke as Eddie is extremely funny, and possibly one of the more talented of the cast. He is able to make the audience prefer the bad guy to the heroes, and is wonderfully self-obsessed and arrogant. He, along with Robbie Boyle  and Matthew Bradley as his sidekicks Huey and Chuck are brilliant in their roles as brainless, egotistical jocks, with more muscle than brains, and highly amusing. The problem with the character of Eddie, however, is that at the end, whilst getting his comeuppance, he doesn't actually go through any character development.
However the stars of the show are Daniel Buckley as Marvin, and Lil' Chris as Francis, two of Michael's nerdy friends. This duo make a thoroughly entertaining pair of Star Trek obsessed, socially awkward Geeks, and play the funniest characters in the show, but they disappear towards the end and it would be better if they appeared more in the second act.

This show deserves three stars. It serves it's purpose - to entertain its target audience of children and young teenagers - well, but the story and lyrics are unimaginative and unoriginal. The cast are extremely talented, many have recently graduated and are making their professional West End debuts, and deal with the mediocre script well, but it is hard to get excited about the plot or characters when the audience struggle to form any emotional bonds with them. While the production does have some saving graces - the choreography and the set design - most of the songs are easily forgettable. Unfortunately, the cast's talent far outweighs the quality of the production, and it's doubtful that the show will enjoy a long or successful run when the theatre was hardly filled.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

REVIEW: 'Amazing How Potent Cheap Music Can Be', UCL Drama Society Freshers' Plays, Mojo and The Actor's Nightmare, The Garage Theatre Workshop, 04/10/2012

If ever you’re struggling for something to do one evening, I strongly recommend that you go and watch one of the University College London Union Drama Society’s many productions at the Garage Theatre. The Garage Theatre Workshop is a small yet practical performance space perfect for the fringe plays produced there. Cosy and intimate, you are always able to connect to the drama. The society has a reputation for producing high quality performances with an excellent calibre of acting and directorial talent, so when I was given the opportunity to see the plays for free I jumped at the chance.

Thursday night found me in the audience for two of this year’s Freshers’ plays. The third play ‘The Lieutenant of Irishmore’ was being shown on Friday and Saturday, so unfortunately don't feature in this review. Put together in little more than five days with a company of freshers raring to show off their talent to their older theatrical peers. In such a short space of time one would assume that this group of newbies might struggle to pull themselves together and produce something watchable. Nevertheless they thrived under the pressure and captivated an audience who had queued outside for half an hour in anticipation of some well delivered theatre.
The first hour and the first play saw us transported back to the 50’s Soho nightclub scene in Jezz Butterworth’s 1995 black comedy, ‘Mojo’. The plot centres on a group of nightclub workers thrown into turmoil when their boss is murdered by local gangster Sam Ross. Directed by Natalie Denton and Philippa Douglas, the play explored dark themes of drugs and violence whilst balancing them with lighter comedic moments, which the performers handled rather well. That isn't to say there weren't a few hiccups. On occasion the pauses between lines were just a little bit too long, whilst the play’s dramatic climax seemed slightly rushed, despite the messy excitement of exploding blood capsules! On the other hand, nerves certainly didn't seem to be an issue for the performers. The performer in the role of Skinny was really quite funny, with an accent rather Frank Spencer-esque that never ceased to make the audience giggle. The actor playing Potts had such a dominant stage presence that it was hard for the audience not to be drawn in by his confidence. However the stand out performer in this particular play was the girl playing Baby, the nightclub owner’s psychotic daughter, who bewitched the audience with her disturbed nature, provoking a cross between shocked gasps and nervous laughter.

The second of the two plays was slide-splittingly funny. I mean, hysterical. My stomach muscles hurt and my cheeks ached after watching Christopher Durang’s comical short play, ‘The Actor’s Nightmare’. Inspired by dreams actors often have in which they are performing in a play yet can’t remember their lines, the plot revolves around George Spelvin, an accountant who finds himself in a theatre about to go on stage with absolutely no recollection his lines, attending rehearsals or of being an actor. What follows is a series of ‘scenes’ from different plays in which George struggles to follow the script or the story and ends up hilariously ad-libbing for the entire ‘scene’. The brilliant climax of the play leaves the audience guessing the outcome, as the play comes to an ambiguous end. Director Trevor Anderson perfectly cast the production with a group of slick, quick and thoroughly entertaining individuals who came together to provide the audience with an hour of painfully funny and professional theatre. It would be hard to pick out one individual in a cast so perfectly in tune with one another, and even the one forgotten line was hilariously covered with some quick thinking ad lib. However, the star of the performance and indeed the night was most definitely Vincenzo Monachello in the role of George, whose cluelessness, panic and humorous soliloquies were a delight to watch. His ability to captivate the audience when alone on stage was outstanding, and the other performers evidently benefited from having such a talented lead.
I'm giving the two plays collectively four stars. The UCLU Drama Society is well known and respected for their smaller, Garage Theatre plays, and if the level of quality fresher talent on show in these plays are anything to go by this success will continue long into the future.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

REVIEW: 'We're Living in the Middle of the Ocean on a Rusting Box on Stilts!' - SEALAND, Wilde Theatre, Berkshire, 24/072012

Have you ever looked at the current economic crisis and wanted to escape? Dreamt of running away to a safe haven? A Utopia? What if the search for your little slice of heaven took you to the middle of the ocean, completely abandoned, on an old oil rig? Last week I went to see SEALAND performed at the Wilde Theatre in South Hill Park, Berkshire, to discover whether paradise really can be found in the most unimaginable place on earth. Written by Luke Clarke and making up the second part of my double feature on this talented individual and the recently graduated students of East 15 Acting School, I found myself engrossed in one man's dream to create the perfect escape, and absolutely horrified by the results.

Let me start by painting the scene. Ted and his son have started a small colony on an abandoned oil rig named Sealand, to escape the pessimism and restriction of broken Britain. They are joined by Liz and Gary, an alcoholic, and their daughter Sarah. The play cleverly explores the interpretations of what makes a utopia, and how far humans are willing to go to preserve their slice of paradise. In essence, the script is an extremely interesting psychosocial study, which one wouldn't be surprised to see televised on the prime time slot one evening. The play is dark, tense and challenging to the audience's morals, yet immensely witty. Where Luke Clarke has excelled in his writing and direction, is that he has created characters that relatable to the audience, with just the right amount of spice and personality to create a boiling pot of emotions and tension that such an isolated and claustrophobic setting will explode. Can we condone the actions that take place in this isolated setting? And is it Britain that is broken, or its people?  On entering the theatre, you truly are isolated with the characters in the middle of the ocean, met on stage by subtly aquatic and sombre lighting and a single platform comprising the oil rig. The scenes play out either on deck or below deck, and the seemingly small set cleverly opens up to reveal the lower level, but the result is still claustrophobic, making the atmosphere perceivably tense, perfectly creating suspense from the offset.

And yet the set is also very flexible. The characters are able to fish off the sides with rods, lift, lock and close trap doors, and the barrels and chests not only aid the nautical feel, but they are also extremely easy to arrange in different scenes, to create variety with the passing of days. For such a small and claustrophobic set, where the actors truly are just a few feet from each other at times, there is a breathtaking amount of adaptability in each new scene. We see the characters cook, fish, stargaze and rave on the smallest of sets, and yet size and movement is by no means an issue.

In fact, there isn't much about the play that hinders the performance, or that dramatically needs changing. At times, the sound mixing was a little questionable, particularly in the opening scene during a storm, over which it was very difficult to hear the actors dialogue. Perhaps some scene changes were also a little abrupt. However, these are small issues that are most definitely easily addressed and resolved, and no doubt will be for the show's true run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

What is refreshing about the show, is it's originality. Not just the concept and impeccable writing from Clarke, but the sheer talent on show from a group of performers freshly out of drama school. Many of them in fact, performed like seasoned professionals, owning the stage and commanding the audience's attentions and emotions.

The star the show by far for me was Jess Stone playing Sarah, the teenage daughter of Gary and Liz. Undoubtedly, Sarah's is the most humorous character, provoking laugh out loud moments, particularly when teasing Alex about his sexual inexperience and naivety. What Jess brings to the character is a perfect balance between rebellious teenager, frustrated young woman and vulnerable girlishness. Far from just being funny, Jess plays the serious scenes seriously well. The audience truly feels for her mistakes and her desperation to break away from the poisonous atmosphere and she definitely has the most commanding stage presence of all the performers.

The character of Alex, Ted's son, played by Ed Pinker, also offers the audience light relief from the stormy atmosphere on stage. The audience laughs along with Sarah's teasing, but Ed Pinker's charm and innocence often makes us laugh with and not at Alex. I see this character as the conscience of the play. The moral glue around the other more dysfunctional characters, yet the audience most definitely enjoys watching him be led astray and the hilarious outcome it provokes. The highlights of Pinker's performance and the play in its entirety are the aftermath of the rave with Sarah, and Alex's performance of Sealand's national anthem.

Janet Etuk in the role of Liz, is not only the mother of the play and the characters, she's the human element of the piece. Janet brings a soft and kind nature to the mix of characters, drawing sympathy and empathy from the audience. Her's is definitely the character with the most sadness, the most distress, yet she quietly endures and admirably perseveres. Whilst possibly the most understated of the characters and performers, Etuk commands a remarkable presence on stage. When she speaks, you pay attention, when she speaks, you listen, and when she speaks, you feel.

Gary is an important role in the play, without having as much stage time as the rest of the characters. Seamus Bradford demonstrated great control of his emotions when desperately trying to overcome the character's frustrations, anger and alcoholism. I would have like to have seen perhaps a little more development with this character, but the audience is allowed brief glimpses of the character's softer side in a touching scene shared between Gary and Sarah.

Daniel Ainsworth is domineering and controlling as Sealand leader, Ted. Trying desperately to hold on to and maintain his dream of a perfect life away from Britain, away from unemployment, violence and crime, Ainsworth successfully pushes the boundaries of the audience's emotions and morals, when his extreme actions lead to a very disturbing and exciting climax. Perhaps moments in the play could be handled more delicately, however Ainsworth's performance does split the audience over who the support and sympathy should go to.

The play is without a shadow of a doubt incredibly deserving of four stars. For the first piece of writing and direction Luke Clarke has professionally showcased, it is both triumphant and deeply emotional. Tense and dramatic. Witty and incredibly challenging. Making for a play that is both thought provoking and entertaining. Minor issues can be easily ironed out before the show gets into full swing on its Edinburgh run, and the wealth of talent on stage from performers recently graduated is immense and awe-inspiring. Capturing the audience's imagination, challenging the depths of our emotions and morals, this play is a dead cert to be very popular at the Fringe, and I have no doubt that a successful run will very quickly materialise for this talented group of artists.

For details on how and where to see SEALAND, go to the Fringe website:

Monday, 16 July 2012

INTERVIEW EXCLUSIVE: Luke Clarke - Actor, Director, Writer

For the past few months I've been sitting at my computer, watching the number of people coming to this blog to read my reviews grow and grow. The response has been fantastic, and I'm so excited that my little project is getting some recognition from the theatre world on Twitter too! Wondering how I can make Theatre Focus even more diverse, and how I can offer something more than reviews and countdowns of songs, the thought hit me: why not do interviews?!

So here I am with my first ever interview on Theatre Focus as part of a double feature on my first interviewee, and who better to be answering my questions than actor and director Luke Clarke? 22 years old and originally from Nottingham, England, Luke has spent the last four years training at East 15 Acting School for a BA Hons Acting and Contemporary Theatre. The road has been a long and interesting one, and now Luke has taken time out of his busy schedule to kindly give this exclusive interview. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed preparing it!


Abby: First of all Luke, congratulations on completing your final year of Contemporary Theatre training at East 15 Acting School. How has the experience of training at a formal drama school helped you to grow as a performer?

Luke: It has given me the chance to explore and experiment with what kind of a performer and artist I want to be, and given me the skills to create my own work and approach the industry not just as a performer but also as a creator. Mainly though it has served as a safe place to fail, fail and fail again!

Abby: Last December you were over in Georgia performing the National Theatre Studio project ‘Touch Me’ at the Georgian National Theatre in Tbilisi. How did acting in another country compare to Britain?

Luke: Theatre in Georgia is extremely traditional, so performing in a wildly experimental show over there was very interesting. We decided not to alter the process of the show for their tastes, and to stay true to what we wanted to make. The reception was very varied...some hated it out right, others loved it! In The Idiots Theatre Company we explore the idea of playing ourselves and tweaking and heightening parts of our own personalities to explore a theme. The decision not to play a “character” was something I think audiences over there had a hard time getting their head around.
Abby: Can you tell us what ‘Touch Me’ is about and what your role was?
Luke: Touch Me was a show we wanted to make that explores the idea of what it means to grow up and become an adult. Most of our research lead us to the idea of people actively wanting connection with other humans, whether than be through sex, love, family or friends. The battles we win or lose trying to gain these connections are ultimately what lead to our emotional development into adulthood. The show follows six young adults as they progress through memories of their lives. My role was that of a young man seeking to find his place in the world by covering up his issues with ego and confidence, but this ultimately leads to the unravelling of those barriers.

Abby: Are there any plans for another run of the show? Would you like to reprise your role?
Luke: The show attracted a lot of media attention over its content and the challenging issue we tackled. The show's future is being discussed at the moment, but I would love to reprise my role and make further progress with the show we made.
As a teenager, you were a member of The Nottingham Youth Theatre. Did being a member of such a company teach you anything before you applied to drama schools?
Luke: My time there taught me the importance of the ensemble. Working together for the benefit of the ensemble and not your own is the most important lesson an actor can learn. The Youth Theatre never had much money, so we all wrote, choreographed and created the shows ourselves. I couldn't have asked for a better preparation for the industry I'm going into.
Abby: You've also been back in recent years to help direct and choreograph their summer productions. How important has this been to your journey so far, and is directing something that you might consider doing more of?
Luke: My time directing at the Youth Theatre has been very helpful. Working with young people is always a challenge and you learn on your feet very quickly the approach you need to control and direct a show the right way. Directing and writing is developing more and more into a passion of mine. I’ve always sort creative input even when just acting, and I am now hopefully moving out into the industry with the skills and tools I need to create my own theatre.
Abby: You’re a pretty busy person at the moment! You recently wrote and directed ‘SEALAND’ which is a completely new play, and has been recognised by winning the Scottish Daily Mail Commendation Award and the East 15 Acting School Alumni Award. Can you talk a little about the plot and its conception?
Luke: The story follows Ted and his son who have left “Broken Britain” behind them. They’ve had enough of the corrupt government, the poor health service and the greedy banks. They start a simpler, happier life in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They create the new nation of 'SEALAND' and their first new members arrive: Gary, Liz and their daughter Sarah. The two families work on turning their newly inhabited sea-fort into a peaceful utopia...but not everyone’s happy. A perfect nation needs perfect people, and as problems arise we find out just what Ted is willing to do to preserve his slice of paradise.

Abby: An interesting concept...

Luke: The show is based on a true story and from me wanting to explore the idea of utopia. I was interested if anyone could actually escape the current economic crisis and what would happen if they did. It also examines human behaviour in extreme isolation and the strength of family.

Abby: I saw the play at the East 15 Debut Festival earlier this year and I absolutely loved it! Is it reassuring to get such a positive response before you take the play up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August?

Luke: It’s always reassuring to receive praise for the work you create, but there is always more work to be done. I was very critical when it came to revising the show for the Fringe. I stripped the plot back to its core, and re-wrote the play with a more focused look at the story I was trying to tell. You may find it very different from the last time you saw it, and hopefully you'll think it’s improved!

Abby: What are the dates and venue for the show? And where can Theatre Focus readers heading up to the festival find the link for tickets?
Luke: It runs from the 3rd to the 27th of August. It’s in ZOO venues Monkey House and starts at 5:15pm. You can book through the Fringe website

Abby: If you could act in your dream role, what would it be and why?

Luke: My focus at the moment is on writing new and experimental theatre and I have to say that I find it so much more interesting creating new characters than inhabiting old ones. Saying that...I would never pass up the opportunity to play Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes. I'm an avid fan of both series.

Abby: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

Luke: It has to be taking SEALAND up to the Fringe. Nothing beats seeing something you have written and developed over two years finally be able to reach a real audience. It makes all the cups of coffee and sleepless nights worth it!

Abby: As a recent drama school graduate, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far? And what advice can you give to any aspiring actors reading this interview?

Luke: The most important lesson I have learned is to never give up. Projects only fail when you let them, and there is no problem that can’t be solved through hard work. My advice is if you can find anything that gives you the same satisfaction that acting does then go and do that! It is a seriously hard profession not only to train in but also to make a career out of. To do it you need an undying passion for the arts and to be at least a little be mental or stupid...or both!!!

Abby: Finally, you’ve obviously got a long and successful career ahead of you, but what are your immediate plans and career goals?

Luke: Hopefully a tour of SEALAND, and the development of the theatre company I have founded with Anthony Springhall, The Alchemist. I also have some projects lined up with The Idiots Theatre Company. Beyond that I hope to write a new show for next year's Fringe Festival, based on Time Travel.


A massive thank you from Theatre Focus to Luke Clarke for taking the time out to give this interview! If you're interested in seeing SEALAND, written and directed by Luke, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival between the 3rd and the 27th August, you can find information on the show and booking at

Alternatively you can catch a preview performance of the show before it heads up to Edinburgh, at the Wilde Theatre in South Hill Park Arts Centre, Berkshire on Tuesday 24th July at 8pm. Information and booking at

If you want to know more about the show or Luke's Theatre Company The Alchemist, you can find them on Facebook at!/TheAlchemistTheatreCompany

You can read the second part of this double feature on Luke Clarke, my review of SEALAND, next week!

Pictures provided by Luke Clarke and The Alchemist Theatre Company

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Branching out

Hello followers,

This is just a quick post to let you know that if you use Wordpress you can find Theatre Focus on there too. Just go to

Also note that the link below is just a validation code so I can put Theatre Focus on more blog sites!

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Monday, 11 June 2012

REVIEW: 'Giving the Nation a New Syncopation', Ragtime, The Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 25/05/2012

Picture a beautiful warm evening at the end of May, light from the sunset streaming through the leafy green trees of Regent's Park. A perfect setting for theatre wouldn't you agree? Under the leadership of Artistic Director Timothy Sheader, the Open Air Theatre has won the last three consecutive Olivier Awards for Best Musical Revival, so when I booked a ticket for this year's summer musical, 'Ragtime', I was anticipating a show with equal promise and success as its predecessors 'Hello Dolly', 'Into the Woods' and 'Crazy for You'. The production itself was wonderful, with a fantastic set, exciting staging and vibrant company, but unfortunately it is let down slightly by the less than exciting plot in comparison to previous years. Nevertheless, an enjoyable evening was had, and the enchanting surroundings of the Open Air Theatre is enough to distract anyone from a bit of a shaky story.

'Ragtime' is a musical based on the 1975 novel of the same name by E.L.Doctorow, with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally. The story, set in the early twentieth century, follows the events of the lives of an upper-middle class or 'wasp' family living in New Rochelle, New York, A Latvian Jewish immigrant and his daughter, and a black ragtime pianist and his wife and baby. Attempting to link rag music with the near-impossible aspiration of achieving the American Dream, the characters lives intertwine to show the difficulties, prejudices and social divides at the time. There are also a few cameo appearances in the plot from various historical characters, such as Harry Houdini, Henry Ford and J.P.Morgan. Whilst being quite tragic, rather than being moving, I feel that the musical tries too hard to push its way into the pedestal category of all-time American greats. That isn't to say that the music isn't fantastic, the jaunty rhythms and soulful ballads of rag music are very entertaining, and there are still a few moments of heartbreak.

As previously mentioned, Jon Bausor's set was creative and thought provoking, with the period story being played out in a modern day rubbish tip, signifying the broken aspirations of so many Americans failing to achieve the American Dream. What was most striking, however, was the torn Obama's 'Dare to Dream' billboard poster, and consumer goods signs which subtly challenged the audience into comparing the struggles of recession-hit America today with the America of ragtime. This juxtaposition of the past and present is explored further through the costume changes. Cast members first arrive on stage in modern clothing before changing into their period costume, again changing at the end of the piece. A very relevant decision by Costume Designer, Laura Hopkins.
Perhaps the most spectacular part of the production however, was the live escape of Harry Houdini whilst dangling upside down from a wire on a crane.

Rolan Bell's portrayal of ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker was powerful, and he was very much the dominant figure on stage during his scenes. Whilst Bell wasn't the strongest vocally on the night, there were elements of pain and struggle in his tone that was quite moving, particularly after the death of Sarah. Incidentally, Claudia Kariuki who plays Coalhouse's wife Sarah, had a beautifully rich and soulful voice that blended well with Bell in songs such as 'Wheels of a Dream' and 'Sarah's Brown Eyes'.

John Marquez did very well in the role of Latvian immigrant Tateh, chasing the American Dream and searching for a better life for his young daughter. Marquez conveyed the selfless devotion of a doting father quite touchingly, and also brought brief elements of humour to a rather unfunny script. In fact, Tateh is perhaps the one of the few characters the audience feels warmth towards, and his progression from poor street seller into film director is a very welcome touch of light in an otherwise quite heavy story.

Rosalie Craig as Mother is the performance that was by far the most rounded of the production. I've had the pleasure of seeing her before in the 'Lord of the Rings' musical at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane a few years ago, so I knew that I could expect vocal perfection from her, but I was also very intrigued and excited to be seeing her in a role that has a bit more meat to it acting wise. I certainly wasn't disappointed. During the song 'Back to Before', Craig masterfully showcased her marvellous vocal range, gorgeous tone and perfect phrasing, leaving the audience in awe of her talent. In fact, as well as many gasps I can say I noticed a fair few tears being wiped away by my surrounding audience members. Moreover, in every scene Craig wore her heart on her sleeve, drawing the audience in emotionally to her sympathetic and endearring character. Clearly not just a fantastic voice, Rosalie Craig has also established herself as a wonderful leading lady in this performance.

Once again, I have to give a special mention and much deserved credit to the child performers of the production. Rory Fraser as Little Boy and Oriana Pooles gave very professional and accomplished performances, and I was very impressed by their abilities to maintain perfect American and Eastern European accents respectively throughout the performance. Two talents that will definitely shine in the future.

Overall, I'm giving the show three and a half stars. I very much enjoyed the staging of the performance, and the talent on show was incredible, however I feel that the fantastic production is let down somewhat by the rather mediocre storyline. After three glorious years, I fear the sun has set on the award-winning musical revivals of the Open Air Theatre. Nevertheless, in such a magical setting in the heart of one of London's most beautiful parks, it's extremely hard not to fall under the spell of Timothy Sheader's inspiring work. Following 'Ragtime', the summer season will move on to Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', and with many of this cast staying on, and in such remarkable surroundings, I imagine that it will be most successful indeed.