Review: Spring Awakening, Hope Mill

Fresh faces do much to highlight the energy of Spring Awakening at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre

“You ain’t seen nothing yet – gonna teach you right”

In many ways, the teenage energy of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening is a great match for the youthful verve of Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre. The creative upstarts of this fringe powerhouse are maintaining its burgeoning reputation extremely well and with this raucous take on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, look set to continue.

Luke Sheppard’s production hangs on its superb casting, drawing talent fresh from drama school (Darragh Cowley and Teleri Hughes) as well as a couple of more experienced hands (Ragtime’s Seyi Omooba) And the company fill the stage with a rough-edged vitality that marks out lots of potential for musicals to come. Continue reading “Review: Spring Awakening, Hope Mill”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2016 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
American Psycho – Original London Cast Recording
Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined – Original London Cast Recording
Funny Girl – Original London Cast Recording
Half A Sixpence – 2016 London Cast Recording
Kinky Boots – Original West End Cast Recording
Mrs Henderson Presents – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Allegiance – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Color Purple – New Broadway Cast Recording
Fiddler On The Roof – 2016 Broadway Cast Recording
Lazarus – Original Cast Recording
On Your Feet! – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Waitress – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album / Non Cast Recording
Cheyenne Jackson – Renaissance
Lin-Manuel Miranda – The Hamilton Mixtape
Idina Menzel – idina.
Kristin Chenoweth – The Art of Elegance
Nadim Naaman – Sides
Samantha Barks – Samantha Barks

Album Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)

“Let’s be clear, there’s nothing ironic
About our love of Manolo Blahnik”

So in a slightly odd turn of events, as Rupert Goold’s American Psycho opens for previews on Broadway, the London Cast Recording of the Almeida’s Winter 2013/14 production is finally released. That London run was well-received by me, so much so that I went back (not just to post the pics of one of its nifty ad campaigns) twice and Duncan Sheik’s music was a big part of that, very much appealing to the 80s kid in me.

Sheik’s score is bathed in a glossy sheen of electronica, predominantly made up of original songs but also featuring covers of some 80s classics – Human League, Tears for Fears, even Phil Collins in radically reharmonised version of ‘In The Air Tonight’. And it’s the ideal partner for this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel and surprisingly, it holds up really well, even without the vivid visuals (not least of Matt Smith’s abs). Continue reading “Album Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)”

Review: The House of Mirrors and Hearts, Arcola Theatre

“There’s beauty in the breaking of things”

Despite sounding like a lost novel by Gabriel García Márquez, The House of Mirror and Hearts is actually something a lot closer to home, although no less rare, an original British musical. Written by Eamonn O’Dwyer and Rob Gilbert with music and lyrics by O’Dwyer too, it is the tale of a household torn apart by grief, where secrets have been held unspoken for nearly a decade, and resentments allowed to fester into toxic antipathy. The arrival of a nerdish lodger threatens to upset the fragile balance but it is far from clear if this will bring release to the Keanes or just another seven years bad luck and misery. 

Developed by Perfect Pitch and co-produced with Aria Entertainment, it is clear that much love and care has gone into nurturing this piece of musical theatre into life, in all its challenging, angular beauty. O’Dwyer’s score has a pleasingly complex bent to it – those who judge musicals by their instant hummability will be left (mistakenly) disappointed – full of intensely unexpected harmonies and contrapuntal melodic lines that demand rapt attention and richly reward relistens (head to the Arcola’s website where 8 of the songs can be heard) – the music emerges as a thing of a jagged beauty. Continue reading “Review: The House of Mirrors and Hearts, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Happy Ending, Arcola Theatre

“To be or not to be. That is not the question. The question is how to be”

What does cancer look like to you? If it is personified as a dancing Spaniard with crab claws for hands, then I might just have the thing for you. Billed as “a musical-comical fantasy about a subject that people don’t talk about”, Happy Ending runs the risk of becoming a show that people won’t dare to talk about due to a series of baffling decisions pertaining to almost every aspect of a production that is challenging to watch. Naturally, a show about cancer is never going to be easy but it is the misjudgements rather than the subject matter that prove most difficult.

It shouldn’t be like this. The show is based on playwright Anat Gov’s own experience with the disease, which took her life in 2012 and as such, is suffused with acutely observed detail (the overwhelming amount of supplementary medicine, the different coping mechanisms people develop, the mordant humour on the ward) that will be horribly recognisable to many. But in Hilla Bar and director Guy Retallack’s adaptation, something is significantly awry and most crucially, it is with the piped-through musical numbers – which can be counted on the fingers of one hand – by Shlomi Shaban and Michal Solomon.

Continue reading “Review: Happy Ending, Arcola Theatre”

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida Theatre

“Is everything alright Patrick?”

Third time round for this show, so little to add to my original review and then the subsequent brief re-review. One of my new year’s resolutions is to embrace seeing the shows I love more than once – there’s so much theatre in London and beyond that it has often felt like a crime to view things again rather than going to see something new and though that hasn’t changed, the joy of rewatching things recently has been particularly great. In that spirit, when a random cheap ticket popped up on the Almeida’s website, the prospect of seeing American Psycho again was irresistible. 

Some pieces of theatre impress with the depth of their profundity, whilst others glisten with their immediacy, and American Psycho most definitely fits into the latter category. It’s almost like an extended music video with its 80s pop score, extraordinary visual impact and kinetic choreography (I’m on the lookout for a club in which people actually do that ‘hands in the air’ dancing) and the fast-moving pace of Rupert Goold’s production means its thrills are akin to the rush of a rollercoaster and for me, endlessly reconsumable. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £5, and worth the purchase for its great content
Booking until 1st February, run sold out but day tickets and there’s often returns available on the website, checking late at night works

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida Theatre

“You’ll see why Santa loves the snow”

It’s turning out to be quite the month for revisits of shows – I had a pair of tickets for American Psycho which I passed onto a friend after I was lucky enough to be invited to the press night, thinking it would be fairer to let someone else get to see the show as it was sold out. But after a drunken night out and some research on my phone, we discovered a few stray tickets (assumedly returns) were available for purchase on the Almeida’s website and after an evening of lemonades, my benevolence wasn’t quite so persistent…

My companion hadn’t seen it so I didn’t feel quite as guilty as I might have, and I really enjoyed the show so was looking forward to seeing it again, even after a relatively short interval. My thoughts from last time are here and so I’ll just concern myself with a few observations here. Matt Smith clearly loves an adlib, the revolve broke down again and he flirted a little with the stagehand trying to fix it; in the final number, it is actually Ben Aldridge doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the singing; and it really is impressive how effective Sheik’s score is in focusing almost entirely on setting the mood of the piece rather than furthering the narrative. Continue reading “Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida Theatre”

Review: American Psycho, Almeida Theatre

“But the truth is no-one ever dare says,
You can never go wrong with the right Hermès”

The prospect of a musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ cult classic of a novel American Psycho, already memorably filmed with Christian Bale, was enough to get the tastebuds salivating, well before it was announced that outgoing Doctor Who actor Matt Smith would be taking on the lead role which meant that tickets were suddenly like gold dust. And it is rather pleasing to be able to say that they are rightfully a hot ticket – not just because of an excellent lead performance by Smith as the nihilistic serial killer Patrick Bateman, but because this production – an Almeida Theatre and Headlong co-production in association with Act 4 Entertainment – is imbued with sheer quality from top to pert bottom.

Set in the midst of late 80s consumerism gone mad, Bateman is a New York banker obsessed with living the high life and living it better than his colleagues as they try to out-do each other with their ability to get tables at the hottest restaurants, work out to get the tightest abs, dress in the coolest designer clothes and win the all-important battle of the business cards. He’s got a society girlfriend too, Evelyn, but all the superficial glamour and glitz disguises a hollow core, emptier than his beloved 80s power tunes, and in order to fill the void within himself, Bateman has become a serial killer on the sly, butchering his way through any number of people that annoy him but still never really finding satisfaction. Continue reading “Review: American Psycho, Almeida Theatre”

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”