Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union Theatre

“You won’t get that out a book on prison procedure
When those suits get caught on the hook, that’s when they need ya”

Bad Girls ran for eight years on ITV, covering the whole gamut of women’s prison storylines from the sublime to the senseless, and now the women of HMP Larkhall live on in Bad Girls the Musical, written by original creators Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus with music and lyrics by Kath Gotts. Taking many of the characters and fashioning its own story from a range of plotlines across the lifetime of the show, Will Keith’s production for the Union makes for an effective translation from screen to stage.

Perhaps naturally, given the size of the 17-strong company and the number of introductions that thus need to be made (even for those familiar with the TV show), the main thrust of the story takes a little time to come into focus. The corrupt practices of prison officer Jim Fenner, fond of doling out privileges in return for sexual favours, eventually crystallises the motives of the diverse cast of inmates but there’s also the slow burning relationship between lifer Nikki and reformist governor Helen that adds to a book which may seem slight but is ultimately dramatically satisfying.  Continue reading “Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union Theatre”

Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, New Wimbledon Studio

“I deal in ideals”

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles may not seem like the first choice for a musical adaptation as Hardy subjects his literary heroine to several worlds of wrongdoing, mainly at the hands of men, so it is hardly a barrel of laughs. But it is (hopefully) well established now that musical theatre isn’t always just about jazz hands and writing and directing brothers Alex and Chris Loveless are exponents of this, a recent production of The Remains of the Day being a case in point and if this production may overemphasise the archetypal Hardy mood of relentless gloom, it is fitfully intriguing.

The central relationships between Jessica Daley’s Tess and the men in her life, Martin Neely’s Alec D’Urberville and Nick Hayes’ Angel Clare are powerfully done and gripping as all three performers deliver the kind of tortured intensity of which Hardy would surely have approved. Daley brings a spritely spirit to Tess which acts as a useful balance to the misery around her and her emotional connection with Hayes’ romantic Angel is delightful to behold. Continue reading “Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, New Wimbledon Studio”

Review: Songs from the Playground, Union Theatre

“Here’s a little thing I wrote about life”

A little Sunday night treat at the Union was Songs from the Playground, a showcase of new musical theatre writer John Kristian, giving us snippets from a number of his works-in-progress and featuring a cast of performers that pleasingly contained few of the usual suspects. Don’t get me wrong, I love Julie Atherton, I truly do, but it is nice to see someone else get to do the comedy song for once 😉 And there’s a big one here in the form of ‘The Big O’ with which Catherine Digges had great, knee-trembling fun.

That song came from his revue show Hidden Talents but most of the first act focused on his first musical Vow and an adaptation of the well-known film The Holiday (although it was new to me…). Presented without introduction, it was a solid rather than a spectacular beginning to the evening, a constant flow of context-free new material is hard to fully process though Dan Looney and Bronté Barbé’s awkward teenage party encounter ‘Kiss Me’ was very well done as was Looney’s rapid rattle through ’23 Vows’. Continue reading “Review: Songs from the Playground, Union Theatre”

Review: Darling of the Day, Union Theatre

“Not on your nellie”

The fear with shows that are receiving their UK premieres some 45 years after an abbreviated Broadway run is that there is a good reason that they have continued to languish in obscurity. But London’s fringe theatres have a good record in sorting through the duds to unearth some genuine neglected treasures and chief on the musical side, is the Union Theatre. And it is there where director Paul Foster has returned, to put on Jule Styne’s Darling of the Day – which managed just the 31 performances on Broadway, wilting in the winds of change ushered in by its contemporary Hair – and whilst it may not emerge as a hugely revelatory success, it makes for an evening of gentle pleasures.

Set in Edwardian times, the plot circles around Priam Farll, an artist of note who seizes the chance to escape the pressures of fame when his valet Henry Leek dies suddenly and a mistake by a doctor allows him to swap identities. Farll then rejoices in the freedom of living a less complicated life, which includes meeting up with working class Putney widow Alice Challice through the matrimonial agency both were using, and unexpectedly ends up in love and married. But times are tight and when a plot is hatched to bring in some extra money, it arouses the avaricious attentions of art collector Lady Vale and dealer Clive Oxford who threaten to expose the whole affair. Continue reading “Review: Darling of the Day, Union Theatre”