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.

Friday, 25 May 2012

REVIEW: 'One Glass of Cider and She's Anybody's' - Abigail's Party, Wyndham's Theatre, London, 21/05/2012

For a theatre fan, living in London truly is a blessing. Not only are you able to pick and choose from the best quality performances and productions in the world on iconic stages graced by some of theatre's finest, but if you happen to miss something special, you can bet your bottom dollar that you'll be presented with the chance of seeing it very soon. This was the case for me and 'Abigail's Party', written by Mike Leigh. It was playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory last year, but the play is so well known and so well done that it sold out too quickly for me to get a ticket. Needless to say, when I discovered that due to popular demand it was being reprised at the Wyndham's Theatre, I snapped the hand off the internet ticket vendor (so to speak), and thanks to a great cast and production team I couldn't be happier to have done so.

The play is a satirical comedy set in 1970s Essex, focusing on the three different tiers of the middle class. Beverly Moss and her husband Laurence are aspiring social climbers, who invite their new lower-middle class neighbours, Angela and Tony, over for drinks, along with upper-middle class neighbour Sue. Sue's daughter Abigail is having a house party, which is the cause of much discussion and distress throughout the night. Whilst the gathering starts off quite stiffly and cold, it soon livens up with flowing alcohol, music and flaring tempers and frustrations. Over the course of the night Beverly flirts more and more overtly with Tony, and argues more passionately with Laurence, ending in a fatal last scene. Through the conversations shared between the characters the  prejudices, competitiveness, fears and hopes and obsessions of the protagonists revealed to the audience.

The set design by Mike Britton was absolutely spot on, so credit is most definitely due. Picture a typical 1970s living room: garish orange and brown patterned wall paper, white rug, leather sofas and wooden storage shelves. There was even a colour changing fibre optic lamp. Tacky and distasteful, the set wonderfully reflected a social climber's view on what can be considered classy. The lighting, it must be said, was also very appropriate, subtle and warm, inviting the audience into Beverly's living room.

Now on to the cast. I've had the pleasure of watching Jill Halfpenny before in Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre, so I was expecting a great comical performance. She didn't disappoint. Far from it, she really let loose and had fun on stage, and that reflected in the audience's reaction to her Beverly. Humorous, bossy, slightly intimidating, and far from classy, the highlight of the performance was most definitely when Beverly starts dancing around the living room, making a fool of herself to everyone else but herself. Her constant nagging and berating of Laurence is both funny and irritating, but I have to admit that I actually felt quite sympathetic towards the character, who is definitely putting on a facade. Beverly is a character who aspires to climb the social class ladder, and perhaps feels a little unfulfilled by not having children, which Jill Halfpenny managed to subtly play to perfection. The bright green dress was an excellent costume choice too. Beverly's character is always seeking to be the centre of attention and with that on, she most definitely was.

Andy Nyman's portrayal of Laurence was a fitting opposite to Jill Halfpenny. Irritable and at times hilariously erratic, it was a pleasure to watch those two quarrel and attempt to score points against each other. There was something about the way Nyman played the role that made you pity him, being stuck with Beverly, but on the other hand it was evident on stage that deep down the characters have great affection for each other, even if they drive each other around the bend. I do feel however, that his performance in the final scene was a little too melodramatic for the rest of the play, and moved far too quickly for the audience to really feel any sympathy.

I found myself laughing most at Susannah Harker's character, Sue. Divorced and bringing up a rebellious teenage daughter, Harker brilliantly conveyed Sue to be a bit of a walkover really, who, despite large amounts of alcohol, remains uptight and quite prudish and proper to the end. Evidently intimidated and overwhelmed by Beverly, there was a slight but not overly obvious tremor in Sue's tonality which I thought was a touch of genius by Harker. Obvious discomfort in being invited to the party, and greatly dominated by Beverly throughout the play, Harker more than held her own on a stage packed with great talent.

Natalie Casey is definitely an actress to be watched. She caught my attention as soon as she walked on stage, playing the role of Angela. Uncouth, unrefined and slightly clueless, Angela is such a frustrating character, however amazingly this is never irritating. Quite the contrary, this trait is what makes her so humorous. Frankly, Natalie Casey did a wonderful job playing the still quite young Angela, who I feel is seeking acceptance into the lower middle class she has recently joined. Casey delivered her comical lines seamlessly and was so watchable on stage. Like Andy Nyman, I felt that she was a little overexcited and thus extreme in the final scene of the play. However this can be forgiven by her consistent performance throughout the rest of the production.

Joe Absolom's role was the smallest, but that doesn't reflect the talent that he contributes to the production. The character of Tony is a man of few words or strong opinions, but from Absolom's performance I felt that this perhaps that is because he is overshadowed by his wife Angela, an interesting revelation to me half way through watching the show. The problem with Tony is that he marries too young and what Absolom conveyed so well was a silent and untold feeling of a lost youth, resulting in Tony's apparent resentful and brooding nature.

The beauty of this play is that, as a situation comedy, it is able to effectively keep the atmosphere and attention of the audience whilst the action remains in one place. The actors on stage played off each other extremely well and that shows in the lack of a stand out performance; they were all just so well suited to each other. I'm giving this production of 'Abigail's Party' four stars out of five. Mike Leigh's writing is without a doubt truly funny, without being crude or forced as some comedies can be, but the manner of the production means that, I feel, it is only really at home in a more intimate theatre. The play and its characters are so relatable because they reflect the lives, problems and aspirations of so many of Britain's middle class not just in the 70s, but today also. I understand why this production sold out so quickly at the Menier, and it is more than worthy of its West End run. I implore you to go and see it while there are seats available, or you will most definitely regret it!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

In the Spotlight: East 15 Acting School - 11/05/2012

Last Friday afternoon, (11/05/2012) I received a message from a friend of mine, who is in his final year of studying Contemporary Theatre at East 15 Acting School in Loughton, Essex. The message was a last minute invite to the showcase performance the final year students were giving at the East 15 theatre, involving two 15 minute scratch performances, one a play, the other a musical both written by current students, and 30 minutes of improvised theatre based on the suggestions and shout outs from the audience. A few months ago, I travelled to see the play my friend had written be performed by some of the students and I had been very impressed with the talent and professionalism I had seen on display, so I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to see some more! Rather than writing a review of what I saw, I think it best to write more of a report, explaining what was on show, who was performing, and generally celebrating the talent that is still pouring out of Britain's drama schools today.

The evening began with a 15 minute two-man play called 'The 8th Wave', written and directed by student James Ernest. Set in a hostage situation, Mathew (Nasi Voustas) is tied to a chair by Brian (Luke Clarke). Watching the play we see the relationship between captive and kidnapper develop over a conversation about smoking habits. Edgy, slightly scary yet at times comical, it's amazing how in just 15 minutes of watching someone eating beans on toast and chatting almost amiably with a hostage about cigarettes can be so captivating.

The next 15 minutes was quite different in comparison, this time I was watching an exert of a musical called 'Young at War' by Anthony Stephen Springhall, Daniel Brewerton, Matt Wall and Matt Lapinskas. The music was original and fitted well with the theme of the plot. After a rousing rally in the town hall a young man (Adam El Hagar) enlists in the army and sets off for war in 1914. The goodbyes were moving and the musical arrangements and harmonies were pretty. The full musical is proposed as a production to take part in the 100th anniversary national remembrance of World War One in 2014, and if the 15 minute snippet I saw is anything to go by, I think it'll be greeted very warmly.
The final 30 minutes of the evening was by far the most exciting, as we got to see the students completely improvising based on audience suggestions. All of the third year contemporary drama students present on the night took part, and they managed to create ideas that were funny, original and energetic, if at times a little mental. In the final moments we had both Jesus King of the Jews and Shesus King of the Shoes on stage singing in 'Drug Trafficking the Opera'. Each new concept was introduced by Head of Contemporary Acting Uri Roodner, who was very helpful in explaining dramatic styles, as well as encouraging the audience to really challenge the performers. I thought they all did really well, even making 'Meerkat Manor' fun and interesting. The improvisation skills weren't just evident in the acting though, with some of the students taking instruments on to the stage, managing to create music on the spot which completely fitted the stories and songs being created on stage.

As I said before, this isn't a review, just a report of what I saw, and it was a great learning curve for me as an amateur critic to be invited to see the makings of some of Britain's future talents and stage performers. It was an enjoyable experience, and the students at East 15 Acting School really should be commended for their talent, energy and obvious passion for their field. I imagine many will go on to be very successful in their careers, and I wish them all the best of luck as their final year of training comes to an end

The performers on show were:

Daniel Ainsworth
Patricia Blixen
Luke Clarke
James Ernest
Adam El Hagar
Aiden James
Melissa Johns
Lily Levin
Daniela Pasquini
Richard Perryman
Nicola Rainford
Anthony Stephen Springhall
Jessica Stone
Louise Trigg
Nasi Voustas
Jasmine Woodcock Stewart

Pictures taken from the East 15 website

Monday, 7 May 2012

REVIEW: 'Love should be used, not fallen into!' - Dangerous Liasons, The Oxford Playhouse, Oxford, 04/05/2012

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine suggested that we take small trip up to Oxford for the evening, see the University of Oxford Student production of Dangerous Liaisons and get a few drinks to escape the stress and hopelessness of exam revision. I'm very glad she did, an enjoyable evening was had by all and I have been presented with the opportunity to write my first review of a straight play on Theatre Focus. I therefore feel obliged to open this review with a brief thank you to Gabs Kofi for such a lovely idea you "totes" awesome person, (sweeping the fact that she mentioned on several occasions throughout the night that I had to give her a public thanks). So, now that the formalities are out of the way, on to the review.

 Set in the 18th century, shortly before the French Revolution, Dangerous Liaisons is based on the epistolary novel of the same name by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The book one of the most controversial novels in European literature, on a par with Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lolita, and was in fact banned for quite some time. The story is one of manipulation, seduction and revenge, using the ideas of love and sex as weapons, which ultimately ends in demise and tragedy. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals and ex-lovers, use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, as a part of their cruel and dangerous games. The Vicomte wishes to seduce the Marquise, who as a result manipulates him into seducing innocent women as sport. The Vicomte gets a young girl named Cécile pregnant, and comes to the realisation that he has fallen in love with his other conquest, Madame de Tourvel, and yet under the jealous instruction of the Marquise, he rejects her, leaving them both heartbroken. The Marquise reveals to Danceny, a young boy in love with Cécile that is was the Vicomte who got her pregnant, resulting in a dramatic duel to the death.

As a supporter of amateur productions, I was quite intrigued as to how well the student production would run. Whilst there were patches of weakness overall I was quite pleased with the show. As the audience entered we were greeted on stage by an elegant and typical French salon, however it was not in the model of 18th century France, but 1938 pre-war France. Chairs and tables at either corner of the stage suggested we would be watching a split stage, and I wasn't wrong. The staging aptly reflected the luxuriousness and privilege of French wealthy classes, and I didn't mind how it sometimes felt a little claustrophobic, as it tied in well with the manipulation and traps in the plot. I was however, relieved when the set was opened out during the duel scene. Not only shifting from and inside setting to an outside setting, I truly felt as if the secrets, the manipulation and the deceit of the plot was being let out with it, allowing for the dramatic and enthralling climax.

Interestingly, the Musical Director Nicholas Howley was on stage from start to finish, sat at a grand piano, but unfortunately whilst Howley is undoubtedly a talented musician, the atmospheric music being played before the play started was washed away somewhat by the anticipation and buzz of the audience. What's more, in between almost every scene, a small piece of incidental music would be played on the piano, greeted all too often by a black out or a semi-blackout, which I admit grew a bit irksome and tedious by the end of the show. I found myself crying out for a different device to be used during the transitions of scenes as the pacing seemed to be thrown down a couple of pegs each time.

I want to briefly mention that this particular production is a completely new adaptation, written and realised by Director Christina Drollas. Credit where credit is due I think she did a very good job at bringing together a script that was both humorous, ambitious, engaging and at times cheeky. Her jump to 1938 France didn't detract from the overall plot, in fact, it reflected how such activity and immorality can be seen in any societies or class in all eras.

I have to say I was very impressed by the sheer wealth and quality of talent that was on display in this production, although I also feel that the male performances slightly overshadowed those of the females. The highlight of the production was without a doubt Ziad Samaha, whose portrayal of the Vicomte de Valmont was at times so natural, he had my two friends admitting to falling and I quote, "hopelessly" in love with him themselves. Charming, provocative, persuasive and extremely watchable, his natural manner and comfort on stage was evident for all to see, and I would go so far as to say that he wouldn't look out of place treading the boards in a professional production one day. Iago immediately springs to mind! The other actors did a pretty good job too. Daniel Draper as the noble, valiant and altogether rather endearing Danceny was another strong performance. As was Jordan Waller, who managed to tackle the sickly sweet and over-attentive Belleroche with good humour and charm.

There were some good performances by the actresses as well.Whilst Alice Porter did well as the Marquise de Merteuil, at times she seemed a little forced and overwhelmed in her scenes with Samaha. The Marquise is a character who should be deliciously seductive, manipulative and evil. I picked up on the manipulation well, but for me the character just wasn't played with enough bite or allure. For once I felt it needed to be sexed up a little bit, but she did well in her scenes with Cécile, playing the doting friend yet secretly plotting her ruin. I was particularly impressed with Claudia King's Cécile de Volanges. She captured her naivety, innocence and girlish beliefs in love well, and dealt well being on stage with the show-stealing-Samaha. In fact, most of the performers did well not to be too outshone. Ella Waldham as Madame de Tourvel was able to embody her character's turmoil and resistance before bravely shifting to dependence and heartbreak, an ability that I wasn't expecting and was pleasantly surprised by.

All in all, the production was very well done and definitely deserves three stars. The cast dealt well with the explosive themes in the play, and were able to capture the audience and lead them down the path of manipulation until the play's climax. It was done so well, in fact, that I found myself almost disappointed when the Vicomte met his untimely if somewhat deserved comeuppance, as he was the character I found to be most engaging and entertaining. The production provided humour, and was genuinely fun to watch. While I do feel there were elements that could be improved, for an original student adaptation, it felt quite professional and polished, and I was very impressed.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

50 Most Beautiful Songs of Musical Theatre (Part Two)

So here I am again with the next ten songs on my list. Remember, they are not in any particular order in relation to each other or in relation to previous songs posted, and they are only taken from shows that I have personally seen, or that I have been shown by other people. So here we go with the next 10:

As if We Never Said Goodbye - The iconic song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, a 1993 musical adaptation of Billy Wilder's 1950 film noir of the same title. The plot revolves around Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen who is still living in the past in her decaying mansion on Los Angeles Street. Joe Gillis, a young screenwriter crosses her path, and she sees in him an opportunity to make her comeback to the big screen, but whilst romance follows, so to, inevitably, does tragedy. At this point of the show Norma has returned to her old production studio to drop in on the set the current film there. In this moment, she feels nostalgic, returning to an atmosphere fond and familiar where she believes she will be accepted again. The tragedy in this song is that although she has found happiness here, this is not the return to the screen that she hopes for. I could have chosen a wealth of performances for my video link: Patti LuPone the London original, Elaine Paige whose voice is always outstanding; but instead I've opted for the original Broadway Norma, Glenn Close, whose performance earned her the Tony for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1995.

Fallen Angel - I'm not a huge fan of them, so this is the only song from a jukebox musical that I am allowing onto my list, because quite frankly (excuse the pun), Jersey Boys, telling the story of The Four Seasons, is the only jukebox musical that I have enjoyed every aspect of. Opening on Broadway in 2005, and the West End in 2008 at the Prince of Edward Theatre, the production has won four Tony Awards and an Olivier Award, as well as opening in other major theatre cities across the globe. This song comes at a point in the story where things seem to be looking up. Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudino have paid off Tommy DeVito's debts, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons continue to be successful, but the story soon turns tragic when Frankie's daughter Francine dies from a drug overdose. In this song, Frankie mourns, makes peace with, and says goodbye to his daughter in a truly beautiful and heartbreaking moment in the production.

Maybe I Like it This Way - From Andrew Lippa's off-Broadway production of The Wild Party in 2000, based on American poet Joseph Moncure March's 1928 poem of the same name. The musical follows a party held by Vaudeville performers Queenie, a showgirl and Burrs, a clown. Their fiery and dysfunctional relationship is brought to light during the course of the party, at the hands of Mr Black, who Queenie falls for. Tragedy ensues and a dramatic denouement scene makes this musical a must see for all lovers of fringe theatre. This particular song comes at a moving in the party. Queenie is soul searching, unable to decide if she is truly unhappy with Burrs or if she in fact prefers her relationship to work like this. The characters aren't exactly the most lovable, indeed, they all have their faults, but they are also some of the most human characters. Lippa's intriguing score which mixes jazz with Vaudeville won a Drama Desk Award, and the original cast included modern day Broadway legends such as Julia Murney, Brian D'Arcy James, Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs. The show later enjoyed a run at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and again in 2008 in Brooklyn.

Tell Me on a Sunday - Tell Me on a Sunday is the title song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's 2003 one-act, one-woman musical of the same name. Previously the musical was the first act of the 1982 show Song and Dance, which incorporates both music and ballet (as the title implies!) The production tells the story of 'the girl' who moves to New York and later LA from England in search of love and success, and the failed romances she engages in along the way. As you would imagine, this song chapters yet another break up in 'the girl's' quest for love, yet for me what makes this song truly beautiful is the pure simplicity with which it is delivered, allowing for the actress to truly explore her emotions and put her personal stamp on the song from her experiences. To be honest, I struggled to find a video version that I liked or wasn't by Sarah Brightman, so here's Denise Van Outen singing it on Parkinson, prior to her run in the show.

Now and for Always - Now perhaps you're thinking this is a very odd choice of song, but I think it beautifully tells the story of true friendship and loyalty, to the point where it made me fully understand and appreciate those closest to me (okay, a little cheesy I'll admit, but still true). From A.R.Rahman and Matthew Warchus's 2006 musical The Lord of the Rings, perhaps the most expensive production to grace the West End thus far, costing around £12million, at this point in the story (which I'm sure you're all familiar with), Frodo and Sam have broken from the rest of the Fellowship on their way to Mordor, and are reminiscing about the Shire and singing of how thankful they are to be able to make this desperately gruelling journey with their closest friend. Now whilst this was by no means one of the best shows I've ever seen, trying to squeeze the story of three books into one play, (the script was a little weak, and it was rather long - 3 acts in total), the whole visual spectacle and staging of the show was breathtaking, and the score by Rahman (Bollywood, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours etc.), Christopher Nightingale, and Finish folk band Värttinä is quite unique and definitely one of the show's strong points. First opening in Toronto Canada for just a few months in 2006, winning 7 Dora Awards, and then in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from 2007 to 2008, the production gained mixed reviews, though it was relatively popular amongst audiences and gained 5 Olivier nominations, not winning any. Here's a video of the original Toronto and London Frodo (James Loye) and Sam (Peter Howe) singing the song, although unfortunately it's not the whole song.

Loose Ends - This song is on the list because I feel as though I have a strong personal connection with the song, that comes from John Dempsey and Cameron Mackintosh's 2000 musical The Witches of Eastwick, based on the novel by John Updike. The story is based around the lives of Alex, Jane and Sukie, who are bored with their mundane and overly scrutinised lives in the village of Eastwick. One night, they all wish for a man to come and spice up their lives...but they get a little bit more than they bargained for in the form of the devilish Darryl Van Horne! This song is Sukie's attempt to comfort the newly orphaned Jennifer, with her own experience of never knowing her father. Being an orphan myself, I found it both beautiful and heartbreaking hearing Dempsey's lyrics, and it is for that reason, and perhaps not the musical qualities of the song that it is on my list. The show was nominated for four Olivier Awards in 2001, but failed to win any, before having short runs in Australia, Russia and the Czech Republic, to mixed reviews. The 2007 production in Virginia fared much more favourably, as did the 2008 UK tour, but it has yet to return to a major stage.

Being Alive - Gasp...I know, it's another Sondheim...but I just really love this guy and just as a warning, there are a few more of his to come in future posts! Sondheim's 1970 musical Company opened in Broadway to rave reviews, so it's no surprise at all that it went on to be nominated for FOURTEEN Tony Award, winning six, and has enjoyed successful US tours, Broadway revivals and stints in the West End and Australia since. The plot actually comprises of short vignettes played out in no chronological order, all linked by the celebration of the protagonist Bobby's 35th birthday. The production was one of the first to deal with adult themes and relationships. Bobby is a single man who is unable to commit to steady, long term relationships, and is frustrated by his best friends who are all married couples. This song comes at the end of the show, when Bobby finally realises that he does actually want someone to share his life with. 1995 London revival was also nominated for several Olivier Awards, and won three. Perhaps a return to the West End is a little overdue!!! Here's Raul Esparza, the 2006 Broadway revival Bobby singing the song. How incredible is this...the actors are playing the instruments!

Papa, Can You Hear Me? - Ok so this is technically from a musical film, but I think this song HAS to be on this list. It's emotional, it's beautiful, it's slightly hypnotic, and it was sung by the legend that is Barbra Streisand. From the 1983/4 film Yentl directed by Streisand, based on Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer's play of the same name. The story is about a Polish Jewish girl who dresses up as a man (a la Twelfth Night) in order to be educated in Talmudic Law after her father dies. The film's score was composed by Michael Legrand won the Academy Award, and Streisand became the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director. The theme of the song speaks for itself. Yentl is singing to her late father, seeking help and guidance in her attempt to study at a Jewish religious school. I think with this song I should just let you hear for yourself why this song has made the list.

So in Love - From Cole Porter's 1948 Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate, the show within a show based on Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew. The musical was awarded five Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, and has since enjoyed success on the West End, and revivals in both London and New York, as well as an Italian version in Bologna in 2007. The 1953 film version was also very popular. I was lucky enough to see the 2001 West End revival production at the Victoria Palace Theatre when I was about 11 years old and I can remember finding many of the songs comical and uplifting. The plot revolves around the cast of a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew,  directed by and starring Fred as Petruchio and his ex-wife Lilli as Katherine. This song comes relatively early in the show. Lilli receives flowers and a card from Fred, originally intended for another woman but mistakenly delivered to her instead. As a result she declares that she is still in love with Fred, although she later finds out about the mistake. Originally sung in 1948 by Patricia Morison, the song has been recorded by many artists, including Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Shore. This video is from the 1999 Broadway revival, and features Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Younger Than Springtime - Another Rodgers and Hammerstein blinder here from the 1949 musical South Pacific. I have to say, this is probably third in my list of their musicals, but it still has some fantastic songs, and it's considered to be one of Broadway's greatest musicals, winning ten Tony Awards, and a further seven for the 2008 revival. The 1958 film was also successful, being nominated for three Academy Awards and two Golden Globes. Set on a South Pacific island during World War two, the plot follows navy nurse Nellie, who falls in love with a French plantation owner named Emile. Emile is sent to spy on the Japanese, and Nellie who originally rejected him realises that she cannot be without the man she loves. This song is actually sung by an American Marine Lieutenant who has fallen in love with a Tonkinese girl named Liat. I chose this song rather than Some Enchanted Evening for example, because it defines the naivety and idealistic nature of young romance. The show opened at the Majestic Theatre Broadway before moving to the Broadway Theatre in 1953, and has also enjoyed runs at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Barbican Theatre in London, as well as both US and UK national tours. Here's familiar Broadway and Glee actor Matthew Morrison singing the song in 2008.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

REVIEW: 'Everything's Coming Up Roses!' - Gypsy, The Curve Theatre, Leicester, 30/03/2012

Here she is boys! A long overdue revival of Gypsy, tackled brilliantly by Paul Kerryson at the  Curve Theatre in Leicester. I've been wanting to see this musical for a very long time, and this was a highly awaited and anticipated opportunity that I could not ignore.

So first let's talk about the Curve Theatre. It's a theatre I had previously never been to, and I must say that I was really missing out on a fantastic performance space. The theatre is modern and architecturally an inspired setting for theatre. Perhaps not somewhere one would conventionally expect a production of Gypsy to be staged, the theatre served the show well, and it is definitely a theatre that I highly recommend to anyone in the East Midlands area if you are looking for a cultural night out.

The story is based on the 1957 published memoirs of the famous 1930s/40s burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee (Louise), focusing on the stage act put together by her over bearing mother Rose, and staring Louise's younger sister June. After June elopes and the act starts to fail, Rose tries to continue the act with Louise as the star, however her singing and acting are not good enough, so Louise turns to striptease, discovering she has a talent for it, and becomes a highly celebrated burlesque dancer. The musical, whose book is written bu Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, charts the life of Louise as she is pushed from theatre to theatre on the Vaudeville circuit by her 'ultimate show business mother' Rose, who lives her own failed dreams of being a Vaudeville actress through her young daughters. The original Broadway production directed by Jerome Robbins opened in 1959 at the Broadway Theatre was nominated for eight Tony Awards, but failed to win any, making it highly ironic that the musical is now regarded by many critics as being one of America's greatest, with one even going as far as to say it is the American musical theatre's answer to King Lear.

The set, designed by Sara Perks was adequate, with a catwalk style extension over the orchestra pit lined with light bulbs adding depth and dimension to the stage. Of course, in a show where much of the action takes place in theatres a red curtain is compulsory, but what really intrigued me was the use of monochrome ad boards as the main vehicles for the set. It didn't exactly scream of the true setting of the story; a dying Vaudeville. Whilst these ad boards did serve well in breaking up scenes, perhaps a more typical set could have captured the audience and brought them into the lives of the characters a little more.

Musical Director Michael Haslam handles Styne's score brilliantly. The exciting, heavily brass based overture immediately draws you into the production and excites a sense of nostalgia harking back to the 'Golden Age' of Hollywood and Broadway. The balance and precision in such complex songs as 'Some People', 'Everything's Coming Up Roses', and of course 'Rose's Turn' are tackled effortlessly and it was thrilling even to hear the transitional music between scenes mirroring the sounds of a steam engine, truly reflecting the characters being dragged from one stage to another across the country.

Now the character of Rose is one of the most complex and challenging in musical theatre, and I truly believe that the right to play such a role needs to be earned by a seasoned and truly remarkable actress who can then justify such a casting with a performance of epic proportions. Okay, so I may be going I little over the top, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that Caroline O'Connor suits the domineering Rose incredibly well, and deserves all praise due to her. She truly is sublime as the pushy stage mother, carting her children across America in search of fame and success. Not only this, but O'Connor is vocally superb in all of her challenging musical numbers, with show stopping performance of 'Rose's Turn'. I found the breath taken from me as she completely embodied Rose and excellently portrayed her breakdown onstage. An absolute powerhouse of a performance, from a truly glorious actress.

There was also a fantastic onstage relationship between O'Connor and David Fleeshman, who plays Herbie, Rose's love interest and the children's agent. Whilst Fleeshman's American accent was noticeably weak, his acting most certainly made up for it. Heartwarming, endearing and lovable, your heart breaks along with his when Herbie comes to the realisation that Rose will never truly be able to love him more than show business.
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is cast in the role of Louise, and plays the transition from the shy, innocent, vulnerable Louise we see in Act One's 'Little Lamb' to the headstrong, self-assured, successful and independent Gypsy Rose Lee in Act Two's 'Let Me Entertain You' beautifully. Hamilton-Barritt is exceptionally talented and at times steals the show when O'Connor is not onstage.

Credit must also be given to the highly talented supporting cast, who interchange roles seamlessly. Daisy Maywood is incredibly talented in the role of Dainty June, and whilst her stage time is rather limited, she performs her songs and choreography very well. Particular mention though, should be given to the trio of Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jane Fowler and Lucinda Shaw, whose hilarious performances in the comedy number 'You Gotta Get A Gimmick' is easily one of the highlights of the show. However, I can't finish without giving a special mention to the extremely talented children in the show, playing Baby June, young Louise and the rest of the children in Rose's troupe. They deal well with opening the show, handling some tricky choreography from David Needham with great flair and gusto.

Overall, I'm giving this revival of Gypsy four stars out of five. The set design may be a little lacking, but the casting is perfect and this is an opportunity to see a truly talented group of performers in one of musical theatre's finest shows, at a wonderful theatre. Perhaps the second act is stronger than the first, but this is where the transition of Louise to Gypsy occurs and the catharsis is played out. The production is running at the Curve Theatre in Leicester until the 15th April, so there's not much time left, but if you can, I really urge you to book tickets and see this show.

Photography by Catherine Ashmore and Pamela Raith