Review: Brass the Musical, Mountview at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre

My second version of Brass the Musical in a week – Mountview students at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre do an impressive job with this moving WWI musical

“War turns everything on its head”

It’s not often that you get the chance to compare and contrast two contemporaneous productions of the same musical but that is exactly what you can do right now with Brass the Musical. Sasha Regan at The Union Theatre opened her version this week (review here) and now a group of Mountview students are having a crack at it at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre. I was particularly tempted to return to the show as the show’s writer Benjamin Till – an alumnus of Mountview himself – is also on directorial duties.

It was fascinating to see the show for the second time in a week as the approaches by each director offered up intriguingly different interpretations. Till clearly benefits from the resources of one of the UK’s leading drama schools and so is able to conscript a band to meet the demands of his brass-heavy score, fill his stage with bodies and get them to execute some pretty nifty choreography (by Simon Hardwick). The contrast is huge with the Union, where studied intimacy is the watchword even though the company is only fractionally smaller.   Continue reading “Review: Brass the Musical, Mountview at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre”

Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre

Brass the Musical at the Union Theatre is a powerfully moving celebration of sacrifices made, of service offered, of music itself – beautifully done

“Just until our lads come back”

There’s a neat symmetry to the life of Brass the Musical thus far. Originally commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, its professional London premiere now marks the Armistice Centenary. Benjamin Till’s musical, with additional lyrics from Nathan Taylor and Sir Arnold Wesker, thus serves as a powerful tribute to those who served, both at home and on the frontline.

What is particularly gorgeous about Brass is how it is suffused with the joy of music. Its power to bring people together (as in the characterful ‘Forming a Band’), its potential to lift spirits (the marvelous storytelling of ‘Whistle Billy’), its ability to express something deeper beyond just words (the haunting vocalese at the trenches). And as an expression of the musical theatre form, it works beautifully in deepening an already profoundly moving piece of history.  Continue reading “Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre”

Review: Beyond the Fence, Arts Theatre

“We are Greenham”

For all the hoopla surrounding the genesis of Beyond the Fence – “a musical conceived by computer and substantially crafted by computer” – one does have to wonder would any of us have noticed had we not been informed in advance. The show is the product of a wide-ranging experiment to use artificial intelligence (including a computer system called Android Lloyd Webber) to crunch actual intelligence (about well over 1,000 musicals) to come up with the ideal book, music and lyrics for a machine-tooled West End hit.

Naturally, it isn’t quite as simple as that as the extensive credits (included below for your convenience) demonstrate, the results of all this considerable data analysis actually being shaped or curated into fully fledged musical theatre form by human hands, specifically those of Benjamin Till and Nathan Taylor (they who made their nuptials into Our Gay Wedding: The Musical). Thus Beyond the Fence was born, the response to the statistically-most-likely-to-come-up-with-a-winner scenario “what if a wounded soldier had to learn how to understand a child in order to find true love?” Continue reading “Review: Beyond the Fence, Arts Theatre”