Review: The Boy in the Dress, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Some seriously big names – David Walliams and Robbie Williams – can’t save the RSC’s new musical The Boy in the Dress at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Don’t eat my cheese”

There’s no lacking for big names behind the RSC’s big new musical The Boy in the Dress. Based on the novel by David Walliams and adapted by Mark Ravenhill, and with a score by Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Chris Heath, the pedigree is certainly there in this story about Dennis, a young football-crazy boy who decides, one day, that he’d quite like to go to school wearing a dress. But Gregory Doran’s production ends up hitting the crossbar – literally so… – and it is a little difficult to work out exactly why.

Is it in Walliams’ book, where absent mothers get entirely short shrift (as do most women, the character of Darvesh’s mum, who even gets a song, is called…Darvesh’s mum) and notions about celebrating difference only go so far – it’s OK for boys to wear dresses and win football matches, but if you buy a copy of Vogue, then you’re the target for homophobic jokes in the script. Or is it in the score which is full of strangely low-impact numbers, until an Indian man appears – cue the Bollywood song! Or someone puts on a dress – cue the disco number! It can feel that there’s not much sophistication at work here. Continue reading “Review: The Boy in the Dress, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: The D Word, VAULT Festival

The D Word proves a bit of a disappointment for me, a first at this year’s VAULT Festival

“I’m a modern man: I eat hummus and suck cock”

There’s something a bit awkward about reading that a play is deeply autobiographical after not having really believed it. So I should probably apologise in advance to Jordan Waller. His story certainly is remarkable – a gay man born of lesbian parents via sperm donation – exploring notions of identity and self when your upbringing is far from conventional. So why did The D Word leave me cold.

I think it was something to do with the tone of the show, caught somewhere between comedy routine and confessional. A brusque vein of brutally smutty humour runs throughout the hour (weirdly focused on Bible-bashing jokes at one point) that keeps the audience somewhat at arm’s length rather than embracing us fully into his story. Tales of being outed by his birth mum at 11 raise a chuckle but his growing emotional distance from his other mum Dawn once their relationship ends is left unexplored. Continue reading “Review: The D Word, VAULT Festival”

Review: La Ronde, Bunker Theatre

“If we’re going to do it, let’s fucking do it”

Sex sells. And so Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play of 10 interlinked intimate encounters has proven enduringly popular over the years – adapted for the gays, for fans of musicals, for Charlie Spencer’s libido… – and now Max Gill has taken a decidedly 21st century gender-neutral approach to La Ronde for the opening salvo in the Bunker’s second season. A giant roulette wheel dominates Frankie Bradshaw’s set and as it spins, it is thus left to chance to dictate who of the company – 2 women, 2 men – will tag in to play the next two-hander (or not as the case may be, the wheel refusing to land on one of the actors on press night). 

So from Premier Inns in Hillingdon to doctors’ surgeries, bland apartments to hot and sweaty lifts, all sorts of shenanigans play out. Tinder dates gone awry, ex-lovers unable to resist each other, sex workers going about their business, marriages gone stale, the unpredictable nature of the casting means that everything is up for grabs here and between them, Alexander Vlahos, Amanda Wilkin, Lauren Samuels and Leemore Marrett Jr do a fine job, whether it is Vlahos slipping into black PVC hotpants or Wilkins nailing each and every one of her vivid characterisations. Continue reading “Review: La Ronde, Bunker Theatre”

Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

“I’ve got nothing to look forward to”

There’s something rather apt about members of the Bugsy Malone graduating onto other productions at the Lyric Hammersmith, emphasising the ensemble feel that has taken over the building under Sean Holmes’ stewardship. And in Max Gill (a sensational Fat Sam) and Sophia Decaro (the Tallulah I didn’t see), there’re two young talents deservedly getting the chance to explore a wider range of teenage experience in Holmes’ production of Simon Stephens’ 2001 play Herons.

A brutal look at teen violence and cycles of revenge, it’s a play that’s marked by a truly shocking scene of rape, the haunting sound of which is still echoing in my mind now. Set on the Limehouse Cut, a canal in London’s East End, the ugly desolation and desperation of this world is clear from the off, a world where 14 year old Billy spends his time hiding from bullies and fishing for whatever small fry he can. Though when he becomes the catch of the day, the extent of its viciousness is exposed. Continue reading “Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

“How long have you wanted to be a singer?
‘Since I was a kid’” 

I don’t think even now I really believe that the kids in the film of Bugsy Malone aren’t actually singing – like with Father Christmas and the future for Wigan Athletic, I choose to believe. Fortunately, there’s no such doubt in Sean Holmes’ production of the show, written by Alan Parker with music and lyrics by Paul Williams, a mammoth run of which has been chosen to inaugurate the newly refurbished Lyric Hammersmith. It’s the first professional production in over a decade of this inimitable Chicago gangster classic and Holmes and children’s casting director Jessica Ronane have pulled together a group of exceptionally talented youngsters who sing live, dance, act and fire splurge guns aplenty

Having seen the show twice now, it is remarkable how different the energy was between the two sets of child performers I got to see, they’ve clearly been encouraged to establish their own mark on their roles and it’s a joy to behold. Max Gill’s Fat Sam is an absolute scene-stealing delight, absolutely nailing the comic timing and slapdash slapstick of this hapless boss whereas Sasha Gray captured more of the attention as a supremely confident Bugsy in his group; Thea Lamb’s achingly soulful voice fills her Blousey full of longing, compared to a perkier turn from Zoe Brough; and I couldn’t pick between Asanda Jezile and Samantha Allison as Tallulah, both shining as this most sardonic of songstresses. Continue reading “Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”