My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

The Public Acts programme produces another winner in As You Like It at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, community theatre at its absolute best

“All the world’s a stage
And everybody’s in the show
Nobody’s a pro”

I knew it would take something special to tempt me out of my summer hiatus and given that last year’s Pericles ended up being my show of the year, odds were that this year’s Public Acts production would be the one. And sure enough, Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery’s adaptation of As You Like It at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch was another truly joyous event, a real celebration of community theatre and all its glorious power to involve, instruct and inspire.

And with a company that totals over 100 people, it is not hard to see why. Just the mere fact of seeing that many people on a stage is enough to warm the cockles, particularly when it genuinely embraces diversity in race, ability, age and more. Throw in an ebullient, musical take on Shakespeare’s comedy and a creative team clearly relishing letting their imagination run wild and the result is completely beguiling, emotionally true and really quite affecting – they were tears of happiness honestly! Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

One of my favourite musicals – Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man receives a well-realised new revival courtesy of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre

“I can peel my own orange”

From the Landor to the Mercury to the Union, via the NYMT and all-star Cadogan Hall concerts, there’s no doubting that Howard Goodall’s British folk musical The Hired Man is one of my all-time faves. Musically, it is so beautiful that you can’t really argue against the marketing material claims that it is “the best British musical in 40 years” (though I might demur and say Top 5…).

It is now the turn of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre to revive the show, some 35 years old now, in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre. And Douglas Rintoul’s fully actor-musician production is brimming with good ideas which serve the material well, teasing out a universality to its message which can sometimes feel hemmed into its Cumbria setting. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

The finalists of The Offies 2019

Some decisions that reflect my own nominations for the year, many others for plays I haven’t seen and as ever, some curious choices too.

DESIGN
COSTUME DESIGN
Gabriella Slade for Six at the Arts Theatre
Jonathan Lipman for Harold & Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre
Pam Tait for Rothschild & Sons at the Park Theatre

SET DESIGN
Bethany Wells for Distance at the Park Theatre
Francis O’Connor for Harold & Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre
Simon Daw for Humble Boy at the Orange Tree Theatre Continue reading “The finalists of The Offies 2019”

Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

This regional UK premiere of Once the musical should see you falling slowly towards Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in order to book your tickets!

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

I’d forgotten just how much I like Once. I saw it a couple of times in its 2013-15 West End incarnation (review #1, review #2) and its atypical subtlety was a big hit for me, particularly in the gentle mood cultivated by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and lyrics. The fact that it isn’t a brassy balls-out West End musical might explain why it has taken a little time for its regional premiere to emerge but mercifully, that time has now come.

For that, we have co-producers Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich to thank. And director Peter Rowe’s actor-musician production slips into the groove perfectly, as warm and comforting as a pint of Guinness or three in your favourite old man’s pub – and occasionally just as rowdy as well. With Enda Walsh’s book taken from John Carney’s original film, its bittersweetly romantic tone feels perfect as autumn descends. Continue reading “Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Abigail’s Party / Abi, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Atiha Sen Gupta’s response piece Abi make for a stirring double bill at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

“Of all the decades to stuck in, the 1970s, really?!”

Yes sir, she can boogie. Rights issues may mean that Donna Summer has been replaced with Baccara but as Melanie Gutteridge’s Beverly shimmies around her front room, there’s a beautiful lightness and freedom to her that we never get to see again. For the neighbours are coming round, and her husband’s running late, and she’s no lagers in – the lot of a suburban social-climbing hostess sure ain’t an easy one, but not even she could predict how this evening will turn out.

Mike Leigh’s 1977 play Abigail’s Party is surely to be considered a British classic. And as it is set in Romford, it makes great sense for Douglas Rintoul to stage it at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch (in co-production with Derby Theatre, Wiltshire Creative and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg). And if there is a slight sense of reverence to this production – there are no great departures from the original – there’s something extremely satisfying in seeing it receive such loving treatment as here.  Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party / Abi, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

A wonderfully warm-hearted production makes the regional premiere of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert a show to see at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“We dress up in women’s clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other people’s songs”

It’s easy to dismiss the jukebox musical as a lazy iteration of the form. And whilst there are shows that worthy of such a slight, there are others which deserve far better. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is one of those, a musical which has worked hard to integrate its music into its storytelling in interesting and different ways, allied with a book that is moving and funny and just a little fabulous. Directed by Douglas Rintoul for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, this production marks the show’s regional professional premiere.

One of Rintoul’s innovations is to make this an actor-musician production, a decision that pays off handsomely here. There’s a wonderful sense of democracy about this ensemble, who subsume the singing parts of the Divas here, as everyone gets a moment (or three) to shine under the Australian sun. To name but a few, a burst of stunning vocals from Molly-Grace Cutler aka Keyboard 2/Jules, the raucous slide of Natasha Lewis’ trombone, the sure-fingered delicacy of Josh Tye’s acoustic guitar (at its best as the interval comes to a close). Continue reading “Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Rope, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“I have committed passionless – motiveless – faultless – and clueless murder”

Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play Rope has a special place in my heart for it was the 2010 Almeida production that properly introduced me to the marvel that is Bertie Carvel and Roger Michell taking that theatre into the round – when such things were still a novelty to me – was a properly memorable experience. So the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch had a job to do and Douglas Rintoul’s expertly-tooled revival has much to commend it.

The story centres on the nefarious antics of two idly rich Oxford undergrads who murder a fellow student just for the hell of it, in pursuit of some Nietzschean ideal. And not just that, they host a dinner party hours after they committed the deed and stuff the corpse into a chest which they then use as a dinner table, even going so far as to invite the victim’s mother. Darkly comic throughout, the play soon winds up into something of a proper thriller as the pair walk a very dangerous line. Continue reading “Review: Rope, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Made In Dagenham, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“Don’t treat us girls like a poor relation

Made in Dagenham, in Dagenham – it seems like a no-brainer but it’s quite the statement of intent from incoming Artistic Director at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Douglas Rintoul. It’s also a bit of a departure for a director who has previously won awards for writing hard-hitting monologues about gay Iraqi refugees (the exceptionally good Elegy) but taking a West End musical that didn’t quite become the hit it deserves and taking it home, refining it into an actor-musician production along the way, turns out to be quite the treat.

I can’t deny that I loved the show when it played at the Adelphi – heck, I saw it four times (review #1, review #2, review #3, review #4 of the final night) and I believe it deserved better treatment from the critics. But the past is the past and coming to the show with fresh eyes, and ears, too Richard Bean’s book and David Arnold’s score, it responds powerfully to the new treatment here (co-produced by the Queen’s and the New Wolsey Ipswich where it heads next), smaller in scale obviously but more intimate too, rawer in its emotions to an ultimately devastating effect.  Continue reading “Review: Made In Dagenham, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”