News: Casting and extension announced for The Ocean at the End of the Lane

As rehearsals begin today, the cast is announced for the West End transfer of the National Theatre’s critically acclaimed production (not least by me) of The Ocean at the End of the Lanebased on the best-selling novel by Neil Gaiman, which will extend its run at the Duke of York’s Theatre to 23 April 2022.

The 16-strong cast is: Ruby AblettJames Bamford (Boy), Emma BownCharlie CameronJeff D’SangalangKieran GarlandSiubhan Harrison (Ginnie Hempstock), Miranda HeathPenny Layden (Old Mrs Hempstock), Tom MackleyCharleen QwayeGrace Hogg-Robinson (Sis), Laura Rogers (Ursula), Nicolas Tennant (Dad), Nia Towle (Lettie Hempstock) and Peter Twose.

Adapted by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd, The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 23 October. Due to popular demand the limited run will extend for a final 10 weeks until 23 April 2022. Continue reading “News: Casting and extension announced for The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)

“Oh yes it’s not that I want to stay. 
It’s just that I don’t want to go”

My heart jumped for joy when the Union Theatre announced their revival of Salad Days as the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds classic is probably one of my favourite musicals (and following on from their production of The Hired Man too, another of my absolute faves). I loved being being able to revisit the evergreen perkiness of the show onstage and it also reminded me that I hadn’t gotten round to listening to this cast recording in a while.

My love for Salad Days started upon seeing Tête à Tête’s production of the show at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 which was such a success (eventually) that it returned in subsequent years and it is from that 2012/3 reprise that this live recording was made (which sadly means no Sam Harrison or Rebecca Caine) but it does capture so very much of what worked so well in Bill Bankes-Jones’ production and under Anthony Ingle’s musical direction. Continue reading “Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)”

Review: The Hairy Ape, Old Vic

“I ain’t on oith and I ain’t in Heaven, get me? I’m in de middel tryin’ to seperate em, takin all de woist punches from bot’ of ’em”

Fans of Bertie Carvel have certainly been rewarded with his recent burst of activity – he starred in Bakkhai at the Almeida, had a major role in BBC drama Doctor Foster and now returns to the theatre to lead this revival of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape. The play is described as a classic expressionist masterpiece and whilst that might be overstating things ever so slightly, it does give a useful pointer to the heightened theatricality of the drama and of Richard Jones’ production. My 4 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.

Running time: 95 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 21st November

Review: West Side Story, New Wimbledon Theatre

“There’s a place for us”

For me, West Side Story occupies that most special of places in that I can’t remember life without it. It’s a film I’ve loved to watch and a score I’ve loved to listen to since I was kneehigh to the proverbial and it is a love that has remained undiminished. I saw the last international tour of the show twice at Sadler’s Wells and so had thought I’d give this one a miss as it was more or less the same production, but the casting news for the extensive UK tour that followed meant I couldn’t resist a cheeky trip to the New Wimbledon to see it on its way.

Joey McKneely’s excellent production is well-contained within Paul Gallis’ brooding set design which forms the perfect backdrop for showcasing Jerome Robbins’ inimitable choreography which feels as fresh as it has ever done, not least because of the sheer timelessness of the gorgeous songs. ‘Somewhere’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Maria’, ‘I Feel Pretty’, ‘America’…the list goes on and given the huge enthusiasm from the fresh young ensemble gathered here, one can see the magic continuing to go on for generations of potential musical-lovers to come.  Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester

“Thou call’st thyself a hotter name than any is in hell”

One of the big ticket numbers in the Manchester International Festival this year has to be the return of Kenneth Branagh to Shakespeare, with him taking on the role of Macbeth in a production that was surrounded in secrecy and full of advisory warnings to the lucky few with tickets such as “don’t wear any dry-clean only outfits”, “you may not leave your seat once it has started” and possibly the toughest given its 2 hour interval-free running time, “no toilets in the venue”. That venue has now been revealed to be St Peter’s Church in Ancoats, a deconsecrated space used by the Hallé orchestra to rehearse in and whilst the toilets may be five minutes away at Murray’s Mill where tickets are collected from, any fears of emerging from the show drenched in mud and/or blood were left unfounded.

One can see straightaway though why the warnings have been made. The audience is placed in traverse either side of an earth-covered aisle and within moments of the start, a huge battle rages just inches from the audience with rain pouring, mud churning and sparks flying as swords clash. It’s an incredibly visceral start to a frequently breath-taking production – co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford – which successfully marries tradition with innovation, reinvigorating rather than reinventing Shakespeare’s timeless tale of the corrupting influence of power and ambition. Ashford’s eye for theatrical spectacle is combined with Branagh’s acute Shakespearean expertise and together, create something uniquely special. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester”

Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“There is joy in the air so begone with dull care”

There’s always something of a delicious pleasure in being able to revisit much loved productions and so it proved with Tête à Tête’s production of Salad Days which proved to be a slow-burning but considerable success at the Riverside Studios two winters ago. The Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds penned musical is a true old-school English classic, highly tuneful (even if you don’t know any of the songs before you go in, I guarantee you’ll be able to hum at least of three of them as you leave) and somewhat barmy in its daffy plotting which takes one of the most unexpected turns I think I’ve ever seen in a show.

But what makes it soar into musical theatre heaven is the entirely straight bat with which Bill Bankes-Jones directs the whole affair. There’s not a drop of cynicism to be found in this Hammersmith studio, from the cheery earnestness of Timothy and Jane, its leading couple who leave university to find love through a magic piano (I did say it was daffy) to Quinny Sacks’ wonderfully effervescent (and inclusive) choreography to the joy of hearing such a large ensemble singing entirely unmiked. It is simply just joyous. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”

Review: Don Juan Comes Back From The War, Finborough Theatre

“I feel I’ve done something unforgivable. But I don’t know what it is.”

Playwright Ödön von Horváth had the kind of life that one couldn’t make up. A child of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, he settled in Germany in the 1930s and though a fierce critic of the Third Reich, remained there to document the rise of Nazism. After years of violent repression, he finally made it to Paris before the outbreak of war but was killed by a falling branch on the Champs-Élysées as he was on his way to the cinema. Consequently, many of his works were never performed in his lifetime such as Don Juan Comes Back From The War – now presented at the Finborough in a new version by Duncan Macmillan.

Here the famed lothario has been transplanted to a defeated Berlin at the end of the Great War, thoroughly worn out by the war mentally and physically, he returns from the battlefield to resume his life of decadent debauchery. But as he works his way through the hordes of grasping women desperate for a piece of this paragon of masculinity as his reputation would have you believe, his spiritual malaise grows as it becomes apparent that things are not as they were before and though he has tried his best to ignore them, his actions have sometimes terrible consequences. Continue reading “Review: Don Juan Comes Back From The War, Finborough Theatre”

Re-review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“It’s true I’ve been led an amazing dance,
but why should I ever complain?
If I could be given a second chance,
I’d live it all over again”

One of the greatest pleasures of writing this blog has been being able to really champion the shows that really move me, the ones that I heartily recommend to everyone in my phonebook the moment I come out of the theatre and so it was in early December with this delightful musical. The ‘little show that could’, Salad Days has risen from fairly quiet beginnings to becoming one of the hottest tickets in town and their last few weeks have been playing to packed houses. Whether it was the snowy weather in December, or the length of time it took to persuade critics to visit Hammersmith I don’t know, but the press reviews took a long time to emerge and trickled out slowly from late December onwards. What impact this had I don’t know, but this has been, from my point of view, a genuinely huge word-of-mouth success which I think is testament to just how good a show it is.

It really is so very well put-together in all aspects: the book is genuinely funny which helps of course and delivered so cleanly and earnestly by all concerned, the songs are catchy and tuneful and the structure of the show with its plentiful brief reprises lends an air of familiarity with the music even on first listen, the costumes feel authentic and the design pitched just right. And as commented before, Tête-à-Tête’s casting has been spot-on in gathering an ensemble capable of singing beautifully, un-miked into the large auditorium whilst executing Quinny Sacks’ inspired choreography. Every single aspect of this production from the entrance to the breakfast eating sequence, the people walking through the park, the club scenes and Mark Inscoe’s interval patter, feels carefully thought through and perfectly judged. Continue reading “Re-review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”

Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“We mustn’t say these are our happiest days, but our happiest days so far”

Despite leading with the tagline of ‘one of Britain’s best loved musicals’, I must admit to never having heard of Salad Days before this Riverside Studios and Tête à Tête production. Composed by Julian Slade and with book and lyrics by him and Dorothy Reynolds, it was apparently the longest-running musical in the West End until My Fair Lady so quite how it has passed me by until now I do not know, but I am ever so grateful that its cheery optimism is now in my life .

Set in 1954, Timothy and Jane have both just graduated from university and are facing pressure from their respective parents for him to find suitable employment through one of his influential uncles and for her to find an appropriately advantageous marriage. But anxious to make their own way in the world, they decide to get engaged to each other and to accept the first job that comes along, which just happens to be…looking after a mobile piano that when played, makes people dance uncontrollably. Predictably, the government in the form of the Minister of Pleasure and Pastime want to get their hands on this instrument of social disruption but in their efforts, the piano disappears and then events take an even more wonderfully insane turn. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”

Review: The Crucible, Open Air Theatre

“I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you”

It really is a good time to be an Arthur Miller fan in London: All My Sons is receiving rave reviews at the Apollo Theatre and now you can see The Crucible at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in a chilling new production of a play.

The Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts are shocked when a group of their young girls are caught dancing in the woods and one of them falls into a coma. Accusations of witchcraft soon start to fly and as the hysteria mounts and a full-blown witch-hunt ensues, vendettas about land and money, and also of the heart, are pursued sub rosa as events snowball to a shockingly brutal conclusion. The struggle between truth and righteousness, between protecting self-interest and rising to the need of the greater good, is personified in the Proctor family, John and Elizabeth. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Open Air Theatre”