10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Nominees for the 8th annual Mousetrap Awards

BEST FEMALE PERFORMER AWARD:
Marisha Wallace as Effie in Dreamgirls
Natalie Kassanga, as Diana Ross in Motown the Musical
Patsy Ferran as Alma in Summer and Smoke
Jodie Steele as Chandler in Heathers

BEST MALE PERFORMER AWARD:
Jonny Labey, as Scott in Strictly Ballroom
John Pfumojena, as Okot in The Jungle
Kyle Soller, as Eric Glass in The Inheritance
John McCrea, as Jamie in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie Continue reading “Nominees for the 8th annual Mousetrap Awards”

Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

DVD Review: Soft Lad

“It’s your choice to play happy families”

Produced, written and directed by Leon Lopez, Soft Lad is a newly released Brit flick that takes a look at gay life in contemporary Liverpool. Twenty-two year old dancer David seems to have a bright future ahead of him having just been accepted to a prestigious dance school but a secret affair with an older man threatens to derail everything for him and those around him. For the man he’s been sleeping with for two years just happens to be his sister’s husband Jules.

David may be out but trapped in this toxic relationship (the highlight of which appears to be dirty weekends in Lake District), has barely explored his sexuality and when Jules reacts negatively to the prospect of him moving on, a trip to a gay club leads to a one night stand with the more experienced Sam. Their lustful encounter soon moves to a deeper connection, enraging Jules further but no-one is prepared for the revelations that spill during a climactic, abortive dinner party at his sister’s. Continue reading “DVD Review: Soft Lad”

Review: White Christmas, Dominion Theatre

“Never had to have a chaperone…”

There’s most likely financial reasons for opening White Christmas in early November but it certainly gave many a critic the excuse to get their Scrooge on early. Likewise, there’s reasons of integrity for treating this show like any other in terms of theatrical criticism. But it is hard not to feel that this piece of festive window dressing perhaps deserves something of a free pass as it arguably falls under the bracket of high-class panto rather than fully-fledged musical theatre (even if the ticket prices err towards the latter).

Which is basically code for saying it is undemanding good fun and you pretty much know what you’re going to get in advance – people in search of punchy narrative drive and incisive characterisation are advised to look elsewhere. I actually saw this production in an earlier incarnation on one of its Christmas trips to the Lowry back in 2012 and whilst not being blown away by it, it hit the mark in terms of festive frippery. David Ives and Paul Blake’s book lightly adapts the 1954 classic film but the real star of Morgan Young’s production here of course is Irving Berlin’s evergreen music and lyrics. Continue reading “Review: White Christmas, Dominion Theatre”

Re-review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse

“Since when are Latin people scared of heat?”

I can’t remember the exact moment when I knew I would book to see In The Heights again but it would definitely be somewhere in the first 10 minutes of watching it the first time. There was a certain amount of expectation resting on the shoulders of this production – the show was brand new to me but it was impossible to ignore the excitement of those were previously familiar with it – and so I had a little trepidatious fear that I might be swimming against the tide with this one. But I could not have been more wrong – as my original review will attest – and so I nabbed a pair of tickets for the final week within minutes of getting home!

There isn’t really too much more to say about the show than to commend it for maintaining such a magnificent level of energy throughout its run, it feels as fresh and punchy as it did last time and that is no mean feat with such a physically demanding piece as this. There’s a wonderfully teasing note on their website which says sign up here to be kept informed of the future of this production and it would be a well-deserved success for all concerned if a transfer was secured. I really hope they find a space suitable though, as whilst many may cry ‘it should be in the West End’, so much of its unique joy comes from the intimacy of this studio configuration.  

Photo: Robert Workman

Review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse

 
“My mom is Dominican-Cuban
My dad is from Chile and PR which means
I’m Chile..Domini-curican!
But I always say I’m from Queens!”

Amid the crashing and burning of ill-conceived big budget West End shows, it has been left to the smaller venues of London to carry the torch for musical theatre in the capital and currently leading the charge with what will surely end up being one of the productions of the year is the Southwark Playhouse. They secured the UK premiere of Tony winning show In The Heights which in itself is an achievement but more importantly, they assembled a team who have expertly reconceived it for the relatively intimate space to create some explosively exciting theatre.

Luke Sheppard’s production is pitch-perfect on every level. The choreography – Drew McOnie deserves every prize going – is fearless, fast and furious, Latin influences married with contemporary movement to create something that feels incredibly organic in its fluidity; Howard Hudson’s lighting is full of vibrant splashes of colour and well evokes the near-unbearable heat; and takis’ set design maximises the space brilliantly, suggesting the communal spirit and run-down feel of a hard-done-by enclave yet also finding room for a band of 8 along with a cast of 17. Continue reading “Review: In The Heights, Southwark Playhouse”