Album Review: Scott Alan – Anything Worth Holding On To

“When you feel like you just slept through all the best years of your life”

This 8 track EP may seem like slim pickings at first glance – a handful of these songs appeared on Scott Alan’s last album What I Wanna Be When I Grow Up and one is an instrumental of a song already on there. But further examination shows us what is actually happening here, this is the first time that Alan has released a collection that features only himself, rather than the multi-talented cast that he is able to call on to sing his ever-growing songbook. And for that instrumental, the aching tunefulness of the title track of Anything Worth Holding On To makes it more than worthy of the focus.

The focus here is intimately personal. The collection of songs traces the writer’s struggles with depression and faces up honestly to the difficulties of being a composer of new musical theatre in a world that too easily defers to the familiar. The solo voice of Alan thus serves a dual purpose – it simplifies matters, and costs, for a new record, but it also provides a stunning connection with the material that hasn’t always been present before, a real sense that these are genuine emotions lying behind the work, lived in in the most intimate of ways.  Continue reading “Album Review: Scott Alan – Anything Worth Holding On To”

Review: The Hired Man, Mercury Theatre

“You take yourself with you, wherever you go”

Sampling the best musical theatre that this country has to offer can prove to be a time-consuming business as it is increasingly the case that some of the best work is being done by theatres outside of London. Sheffield, Chichester and Leicester have all made it onto my theatres that I regularly visit now and after this stellar in-house production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man (in a co-production with Leicester’s Curve), it seems that Colchester’s Mercury Theatre might be joining that list.

It helps that the show can lay claim to being one of the best new British musicals of recent decades – Goodall’s sweeping, folk-tinged score marries strikingly with Melvyn Bragg’s book, based on his own novel inspired by the tough life of his grandfather in the Cumbrian hills, and what results is a work of hugely elegiac beauty. Stretching from 1989 through to 1921, The Hired Man covers a definitive period of British history in depicting the often grim realities of life in the more rural areas of the country at a time of great social and economic upheaval.  Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Mercury Theatre”

Review: One Man Two Guvnors, National Theatre

“My honour has been fiddled with”

I’ve spoken before about the unwiseness of booking for shows that you don’t fancy even though they have very appealing casts and that goes double when it is a form of theatre that you know you can’t stand. Yet despite this, I still booked a pair of £12 tickets for One Man, Two Guvnors at the Lyttelton in the vain hope that I might be won over. For as you may or may not know, farce is one of my least favourite styles of theatre, I rarely find it funny, though I have tried, but this is compounded here by the casting of James Corden in the central role, a man whose ubiquity and public persona I find most objectionable. So why on earth did I book? Good question, but it was in the interests of trying to keep my theatrical experiences as broad as possible, the promise of a wonderful sounding supporting cast and the intriguing addition of songs by Grant Olding being introduced into the mix.

Based on the Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, Richard Bean has relocated the play to 1960s Brighton, thus mixing its commedia dell’arte origins with a British sitcom sensibility and augmented by the ever-present in-house band The Craze who provide musical entertainment before the show starts and during the interval as well as interspersing the action. The plot, for what it’s worth, concerns Francis Henshall, a (assumedly) cheeky chappy who’s down on his luck with no money and a huge appetite. He falls into a job as a minder for a gangster Roscoe Crabbe who is in town to collect £6,000 and then as chance would have it, he gets a second job working for a guy called Stanley Stubbers who is staying in the same hotel. But all is not what it seems: Roscoe is actually his twin sister Rachel in disguise as Roscoe was murdered by her boyfriend and she wants to collect the money to run away with her beloved, who just happens to be Stanley who is in hiding from the police. This being a farce, Francis then has to keep the two from discovering each other though they are staying in the same pub as he wants to keep the two pay packets and thus be able to eat and get his end away. Continue reading “Review: One Man Two Guvnors, National Theatre”