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Yet Another Top 10 for 2016! 

We started 2016 with the determination to see one different production per calendar month. 

Personally I managed 24 over the 12 months. 

In addition there were the shows that we returned to having seen them in 2015 and the long runners that we went back to after a break of a couple of years. 

Then there were the reapeat visits, school productions, concerts etc so that takes me to 55 theatrical ‘events’. 

I’ve tried to compile a top 10 of my ‘never seen until 2016’. It’s not been easy and I may look back on this in months to come and change the order but here goes!

10: Legally Blonde – Curve

9: Sideshow – Southwark

8: Mormon – Prince of Wales

7: Funny Girl – Savoy

6: Showboat- New London

5: Groundhog Day- Old Vic

4: Titanic – Charing Cross

3: Allegro – Southwark

2: Toxic Avenger – Southwark

1: She Loves Me – Menier

As I said it was tricky and there were a few others I wanted to include. The Hired Man in Concert was fantastic but as a one off event I haven’t included that and Curious Incident and Roadshow could easily  have been contenders. Yes it is hard to believe that until 2016 I hadn’t seen Curious, Mormon or Legally Blonde!

Posted in Musical Theatre, Reviews, theatre

The Hired Man in Concert

Cadogan Hall.
Thursday 22nd September 2016

I’ve been aware of Howard Goodall’s musical adaptation of The Hired Man, part of Melvyn Bragg’s Cumbrian Trilogy for around 20 years. It’s a work I’ve returned to over the years; it’s a musical I’ve never had the pleasure  to see staged in any form and something that now I regret not devoting enough time to. 

So when MD and  Conductor Andrew Linnie mentioned that this version was in production I immediately knew I would be in attendance; even before tonight’s hugely talented cast had been  announced. 

The opening, Song of the Hired Men has long been a favourite and as soon I heard the opening notes I knew the audience were in safe hands for the evening. I’ve never seen Andrew musically direct and conduct before and I have to say he himself was fascinating to watch; dynamic, confident, responsive and obviously completely aware of  the strengths of everyone on the stage. 

The roles of Emily (Jenna Russell) and John Tallentire (John Owen – Jones) were beautifully sung.  The stage direction by Samuel Hopkins serving not to detract from the score, lyrics and projections but to be a whole entity, enhancing and drawing the audience into the lives of the characters. There was no over sentimentality here; just a stark realisation of what life on the land and subsequently in the mines and at war was like. 

The music itself is deeply evocative of the Cumbrian landscape with its mountains and valleys always reflected in the score. Emily’s  unhappy yet often spirited resignation to what her life now holds and Jackson’s advances towards her whilst John is away are all swept along through the beautifully rich score.

Act two brings more of the same musical richness and carefully crafted lyrics with Seth’s (Stewart Clarke) political activism and the story being taken forward by May (Evelyn Hoskins) and Harry (James Moore). The troubling and fatal sounds of war were made visual by carefully crafted projections providing a backdrop that was emotionally moving. 

The book reflects how family dynamics had to change due to events taking place through a swathe of time and it was good to see that the narration was still reflective of this in the concert version. 

At the back of my mind throughout the evening and leading up to it was the question ‘How?’ The team behind this concert production have produced such a success in very limited rehearsal time alongside their other projects.  They have  designed programmes, flyered and publicised the event themselves and they are not yet known to be well known names in the industry. (I am convinced this will change though). Yet they managed to secure narration from the author himself, Melvyn Bragg and hugely successful performances from a stellar cast who could not be more suited to their roles. This is such ensemble piece that it is incredibly difficult to name any ensemble members as being stand out performers due to the very high standard of all involved; however I found Jessica Parkinson’s, Sally,  to be a surprising and beautiful discovery and the soloists in Day Follows Day, another favourite from the show, were so well suited to the music.

 An aconplished and proficiently directed  orchestra and a backdrop of well crafted projections in a beautifully intimate venue made for an evening of pure enjoyment. The audience loved this production, the standing ovation was richly deserved and the only regret is that it was on for one night only. 

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Funny Girl

Savoy Theatre

Tuesday 1st June, 2.30pm

With a score by Jule Styne and echoes of its predessessor, Gypsy, Funny Girl does not fail to provide the audience with bold, emotional numbers; perfect vehicles for a star performer. At a time when many productions are moving away from the use of fuller orchestras, the depth of the overture and entr’acte, and indeed the use of the orchestra throughout the show,are to be lauded.  The original book, written by Isobel Lennart sets a clear narrative throughout the first act, seeing Fanny grow from unsuccessful chorus girl to a seasoned theatrical performer; strong in her chosen career and her relationship with Nick Arnstein. The second act is rather more ambiguous and, knowing the story of Fanny Brice, appears to have aspects that are left unresolved. This lack of clarity for the audience, despite later additions and revision to the book, from Harvey Fierstein, has been overcome by the strength of this production itself. 

Having booked to see Funny Girl purely because: a) it’s Funny Girl, so why wouldn’t you? And b) because we couldn’t get tickets for it’s Menier run I wasn’t affected by a great desire to see any particular cast member. Instead I was in to watch purely on the strength of the original work. 

Natasha Barnes, currently covering in the absence of Sheridan Smith was an absolute joy to watch. From the moment she appeared on stage you could feel the entire audience supporting her. A case of life mirroring art was definitely prevalent and she left a sense that she certainly is a star in the making. Everything was given in this performance; comic timing, facial expressions, mannerisms all having us transfixed. Her renditions of the well known numbers including  I’m the greatest star, People, Don’t Rain on My Parade were sung with an air of vulnerability and showed the humanity of Fanny Brice, rather than someone with a desperate need to perform at any cost. Natasha Barnes was certainly in touch with the emotions of the character through these big numbers but also displayed power and strength. 

The onstage chemistry between Fanny and Nick Arnstein, played by Darius Campbell worked well. Arnstein is an interesting character who left me pondering; is he a complete ne’er do well gambler and chancer or is he pushed by Fanny’s increasing success to gamble in order to prevent him being  a ‘kept man’? I was never totally convinced either way but he was a charmer. 

With designs by Muchael Pavelka and direction from Michael Mayer, Funny Girl has great production values that enhanced but did not draw attention away from the fantastic performances given by entire cast. The standing ovation at the end was entirely deserved. My only regret is not to have the time to see this again. 

Posted in Musical Theatre, Reviews, theatre

Thank goodness for half term

I’ve not been here for a while mostly due to my real life dominating everything but also due to not actually being in a theatre  but it’s half term and the week went from only one show booked in the diary to four being planned…

Today marks a return visit to Doctir Faustus and I’m hoping I feel the same way about it as I did the first time. Sitting higher up this time should provide us with a different perspective though. 

Tomorrow sees us back at Jersey Boys and I’m pretty sure I will bash out a review with the help of the stagey daughter although quite how objective she will be, I couldn’t say. 

Wednesday has to be the trip I’m most looking forward to as its a long awaited visit to see Funny Girl. I booked this whilst it was still at the Menier and regardless of the possibility of Ms Smith transferring with it. So this week we will see her understudy and it won’t bother me a bit. 

The theatrical week finishes with a visit to Tom the musical at the New Alex in Birmingham. We’re really looking forward to catching up with old Commitments alumni, John and Dan in this but watch this space incase a mini review comes out!

After this week there is nothing booked until September. A feeling that I don’t much enjoy especially as there are a growing number of productions I’m overly keen to see. Oh and there is always Westend Live weekend…..

Posted in Musical Theatre, theatre, Uncategorized

What to see next….

There would appear to be a growing list of things to see soon or book ahead for. It’s a bit aspirational as I’ve no idea where to find the time for this lot or indeed the funds!

  • Titanic
  • Aladdin
  • Radio Times
  • Ragtime
  • Show Boat (for a 2nd time)
  • The HP plays
  • Les Mis with a Hollie as Epinine date
  • Kinky Boots (with new cast)
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Threepenny opera
  • An American in Paris
  • School of Rock
  • Million Dollar Quartet (tour)
  • Sound of Music (tour)
  • Sunny Afternnoon (tour)
  • Commitments (tour)

Wow I hadn’t realised it would be that long a list!

And the things booked already:

  • The Hired Man Concert
  • Sideshow
  • Commitments (tour)

Slight imbalance between to book and already planned!

I’m sure there’s something vital I’ve missed off my ‘to see’ list. 


Posted in theatre

Show Boat

Saturday 30th April 19.30

New London Theatre

Show Boat promised to be an ‘old style’ musical that had been bought up to date from its 1927 origins. My initial thought was that this would be a difficult task. In reality what is seen on stage makes it look stunningly simple.There is no contrived modernisation of the work and indeed there is no further resolution of the issues of race and ethnic background that the original production addressed in such a ground breaking manner. This production does,however, perfectly combine both the black and the white characters together in dance and movement; drawing attention to what earlier productions had not done in such a strong statement. It left us with a stark realisation of why the original Show Boat broke so many rules at the time. 

Emmanuel Kojo’s rendition of Ol’ Man River certainly demonstrated the nature of slavery and the sense that it had gone on forever and would continue to do so. He conjures up a a feeling of longing for change coupled with quiet resignation. 

Sandra Marvin as Queenie shows us a strong character, rather than simply a jovial cook, who was fiercely proud of her heritage and we undoubtedly believe that Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man was derived from her roots. Indeed it is Queenie who reminds the younger generation of how to dance it correctly. 

Together the pair had great timing and chemistry; we really cared for these people who were resilient, determined but caring and positive. 

In terms of musical style Show Boat is more operetta than more modern shows. Certainly the heroine, Magnolia pays more than a nod to this. Here she is played by Gina Beck who was a joy to watch and hear. 

The choreography is beautiful throughout and the set prices are exhilarating serving to drive the forward the action. The story in this particular production remains strong. 

All in all Show Boat was a great night out, the teen who is often opinionated about her great love for Sondheim over Hammerstein, enjoyed it thoroughly. Although I’ve only written about several of the cast specifically all the ensemble were flawless. 

The only disappointment I had was that for such a great show, with excellent reviews,the audience were lacking in numbers. Our upgraded seats (from restricted view dress circle to slightly off centre stalls) were a bonus for us but actually I’d much prefer to have seen a theatre full of people experiencing such an important show. 

Posted in theatre

Toxic Avenger

Toxic Avenger

Southwark Playhouse

Saturday 23rd April  19.30

There’s something to be said for going into a venue and a show completely fresh. Aside from listening to the songs of Toxic Avenger (with Music by David Bryan and Lyrics from Joe DiPietro) and being vaguely aware of the story we weren’t really sure what to expect. We’d been promising ourselves a trip to Southwark Playhouse and this seemed the perfect opportunity.

It has to be said at this point that Hermione had been refusing to listen to it as it had been recommended by her mother and the husband had left our company for an evening with Pinter curtesy of the Old Vic.

A minimal, paired down set and very small cast meant that this production was clearly going to rely on the music and the book for setting the scenes and guiding us through.

What followed was a riotous comedy that never takes itself seriously. There are hilarious nods in the direction of Phantom, Les Mis, Rocky Horror and Little Shop of Horrors. It’s a fast paced show that sends itself up, plays to the audience cleverly and had us in tears of laughter for much of the time.

Performance wise no one could have been faulted. Mark ANderson and Hannah Grover are make for a great pairing with entertaining characterisations of Melvin and Sarah. A shout out must surely go to Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels who have the job of playing multiple characters including Sarah’s female friends, at break neck speed with flawless comic timing. Lizzii Hills as the mayor and Melvin’s mother provided us with a fantastic performance for the face off that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

All in all this is a musical that doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Yes there are messages to be taken from it but it packs in the laughter. It’s cartoon like as indeed it should be without being over the top.

This performance, I believe was the second preview and certainly didn’t feel that way. Is it too early to request a West End run?

Posted in theatre

Doctor Faustus

img_6249Doctor Faustus

Duke of York’s Theatre, London

Saturday 23rd April, 14.30

Having had a previous glimpse into the directorial mind of Jamie Lloyd and having been informed during rehearsal period that this version would be yielding a “few surprises” we kept an open mind prior to seeing this version. Quite how different it would prove to be; I don’t think we were totally prepared for!

This is a production that hits you from the moment you arrive; the red themed lobby, the inspired music choices and the cast members on stage as the audience settle themselves down.

And so with a flickering of lights we entered the world of Lloyd’s Faustus. A confusing dark world inhabited by demons and spirits where violence, nudity, superficiality and bodily fluids take over. The movement of characters through the set complements the original language of Marlowe and I particularly found myself gripped by the portrayal of the seven deadly sins by Tom Edden.  Faustus played, as the entire world must  now know, by Game of Thrones star Kit Harington, I felt to be somewhat  down playing the language of Marlowe. Subsequently had the effect of making even the original text more ‘every day’ rather that decried in the way that, for example, Shakespeare often is. Perhaps that was the point all along; yet another modernising device? I am unsure but my feeling is that Mr Harington will undoubtedly settle even more into the meter of the language.

But what of the modern Colin Teevan reworking that has been dropped in to replace the whole horse section of the original text? A bold move and one that has divided opinions including those in our family. Personally I loved it; taking from it the fact that it is a huge device to satire the modern age of celebrity culture and the path which people have already gone down. The selling our souls to a media frenzy, bankers, celebrity and fast paced lifestyle with no clear way to redeem ourselves. The only issue I really had with it was that the language was not inventive enough. Simply using explicit profanities against the church does not prove to be as clever as the original language where Faustus mocks the Catholic church.

No Cooper trip to the theatre ever takes place without a decent debate and we are still talking about the rewrite. The husband was not a fan of the writing;  the original play being his favourite dramatic workand the 14 year old also was not sold on it. Hermione is developing her own, often strong, opinions and found herself unhappy with the new writing much preferring the original sections. This in itself is interesting from a theatre goer of the next generation who on the surface one would expect to prefer the newer work. (What can I say; she’s a little different, my daughter and she’s clearly her father’s child!)

Jenna Russell we all felt played a unique Mephistopheles,  manipulative, sexy and with a fantastic voice. The music throughout this production is a bold and captivating move and in fact the whole soundscape adds depth which is rarely used to such effecting your traditional plays. The set is another Soutra Gilmour triumph and we all found the fact that you can see through to the back of the theatre to be very clever. It is indeed a set and production that clearly indicates our demons and indeed our own hellish nightmares are all around us.

The production finishes in a a return to the Marlowe text, a level of violence that I feel may at this point have been unnecessary and slightly less blood than I had braced myself for. The demise of Faustus is not a spectacular fall from grace by this point as everyone knew that it was coming but I’m also not sure by this point if we were meant to care that the end was nigh for him.

This new production is clearly designed to provoke, shock, entertain ( depending on your sensibilities) and draw in a younger audience. It’s an acquired taste; an intense spectacle that is more Pulp Fiction and punk culture than some might feel comfortable with but how clever to take something first performed in 1592 and fling it into our broken modern age.

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Promises to be kept

The whole review/ writing about/ commenting upon different theatrical experiences could be a minefield. Here’s what to expect!

  • Musings
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Connections
  • Considered opinion
  • Positivity
  • My view of the whole experience from start to finish. 

What you WON’T get:

  • Rudeness
  • Unnecessary personal comments
  •  Gossip 
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It’s a bit of a test

The idea of writing my theatre related  thoughts has been something I’ve thought of doing for a while. A sort of dumping ground for the thoughts I currently share with people fairly close to me? who tend to converse rather than judge, and a scrappy notebook. 

It’s a pretty difficult decision to make. Will I have time? Will anyone bother to read? Will I unintentionally offend anyone? But probably the most common thought of all: will I be thick skinned enough to cope with those who deride any comments I make in an destructive  or personal manner? Only time will tell.