CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling

“Do we ever really know?”

Joe Sterling’s debut album Somewhere In My Mind has lingered in my iTunes folder for ages now and I’ve never quite got round to listening to it. But thanks to the randomness of the shuffle function and the inspired use of Virgin Pendolino in a rhyme, its presence reasserted itself and I gave the collection a listen. With lyricist Robert Gould, Sterling has written a couple of musicals, one of which – Roundabout – is featured heavily here, and he’s gathered an interesting collection of performers to sing their way through his first songbook.

I say interesting because it eschews many of the familiar names who pop up on this type of album and thus showcases a range of talent who may not necessarily be familiar to you or I. Rosa O’Reilly’s gorgeous pop vocal on the plaintive ‘Ships That Pass In The Night’ immediately marks her out as someone I want to know more about, Jonathan Williams find a similar purity in early track ‘Gone’ and Sterling delivers the guitar-led charms of ‘You Could Be The One, They Said’ with a lovely lightness that is persuasive and not a little attractive. Continue reading “CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling”

Review: Chess, Union Theatre

“But nobody’s rules are the same”

With music from Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus  of ABBA and conceived by Tim Rice who also contributed the lyrics, the 1980s musical Chess had grand ambitions which have never really come to fruition as it remains a show that has been revised as often as it has been revived. This new production at the powerhouse of intimate musical theatre that is the Union is a version which has been sanctioned by Rice himself as the definitive version of this story of a love triangle in the world of international chess competitions set against the backdrop of the Cold War. But the potency of an intimate venue has to be carefully captured in order to make it truly work and this is where Chess comes a little unstuck.

Ryan Dawson Laight’s design has recast the Union into a shallow thrust, the size of the theatre meaning that most of the seats end up on the sides. Not an issue at all in and of itself but Laight has a large platform take up most of the space at the rear of the stage and so much of the action is forced forward and this, combined with co-directors Christopher Howell and Steven Harris having the performers play predominantly straight ahead, results in a production that too rarely engages with the vast majority of its audience. For the handful of eight or so people facing the stage head-on, it must be marvellous but if the theatre were full, more people would actually see Florence’s back than her face during the bruisingly raw final scene – that two directors can misuse such an intimate space this way is certainly problematic.  Continue reading “Review: Chess, Union Theatre”

Review: Ragtime, Landor

“It was the music of something beginning…”

Earlier this year, it did seem that the Landor had a bit of a curse as a range of issues forced programme changes on more than one occasion, but they do seem to have hit their stride now. I didn’t catch Carousel but it seemed to go down well and that was followed an incomparable production of The Hired Man, probably one of the best shows of the year so far, so there was no pressure resting on the show following at all: Ragtime. Directed by Artistic Director Robert McWhir, Ragtime continues the Landor’s strong trend of delivering top-quality fringe musical theatre with unfeasibly large casts: over 20 people make up this ensemble! I caught a preview on a Sunday afternoon as a ticket for a tenner deal popped up on Twitter (if you’re on Twitter then think about following theatres you like as similar deals are frequently posted up there).

And I am pleased to report that Ragtime comes close to the heights of The Hired Man in creating a stunning piece of emotional drama, enlivened with some perky playfulness and all wrapped in a deliciously beautiful score (and funnily enough set in a similar time period). The opening number is a thing of pure joy, managing to cover the thematic scope of the play and fully introduce the three families around which the story turns. Terrence McNally’s book is based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow set at the turn of the twentieth century in a New York bustling with huge social change. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Landor”

Finalists of 2011 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year

Claire Chambers (Central School of Speech and Drama)
Sarah O’Connor (CPA Studios)
Craig Rhys Barlow (GSA)
Katie Bernstein (LIPA)
Taron Egerton (RADA)
Jennifer Logan (RADA)
Hannah Blake (Royal Academy of Music) 
Dom Hodson (Royal Academy of Music)
Kim Anderson (Stella Mann College of Performing Arts)
Howard Jenkins (Arden School of Theatre, Manchester)
Sam Hallion (Musical Theatre Academy)
Bronte Tadman (Oxford School of Drama)

Host: Haydn Gwynne
Judges: Edward Seckerson (Chair), Kerry Ellis, Julia McKenzie, Timothy Sheader, Sarah Travis and Anna Francolini