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: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)

“We’ll never close…”

I was sad to see Mrs Henderson Presents close prematurely in the West End, having enjoyed it both there and in its first run at the Theatre Royal Bath, but pleased that we at least had a cast recording to remember the show by. I have to say though, that this was one of those occasions where just listening to the musical failed to capture what made it work on stage. 

The period charms of George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s pastiche-laden score feel rather old-fashioned on record – not simply in the age that they are trying to evoke but in its very nature. Without the visual, it soon becomes clear that there isn’t a huge amount of narrative drive in the songs, they set the mood of the piece well but don’t tell much of a story on their own. Continue reading “Album Review: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)”

Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward Theatre

“Everyone loves a bit of filth” 

I really enjoyed Mrs Henderson Presents when I saw it last year in Bath, it came 13th out of all the shows I saw in 2015, so I was most delighted to hear that it would be transferring into the West End. It managed the journey with its main cast almost entirely intact, Tracie Bennett, Ian Bartholomew and Emma Williams all there, just Mark Hadfield dipping out to (re)join The Painkiller and replaced by Jamie Foreman, and its opening at the Noël Coward Theatre has been largely very well received. 

And second time around, it pleased me just as much as the first. Terry Johnson’s direction of this ineffably British show (as with Andy Capp, playing the spoons is up there with the Union Jack) and from my memory, I don’t think that much has significantly changed (though I’ve seen a lot in the intervening 7 months…). That means that the shonky narrator/compere role is still there, which still wears thin quickly, but it also means that its generosity of spirit and warmth of heart is very much present.  Continue reading “Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath

“Where’s that damn woman?”

That woman is of course Laura Henderson, a rich widow who in 1937 decides to save the Windmill Theatre from closure and together with Jewish entrepreneur Vivian Van Damm, introduces a continuous variety revue called Revudeville. And seeking to keep their nose ahead of their competitors, nudity is added to the bill, a la Moulin Rouge though unprecedented in the UK, but the censorship battles with the Lord Chamberlain’s office pales into insignificance once war breaks out and the theatre becomes a landmark, refusing to close even as London is battered by the Blitz. 

Terry Johnson’s book for Mrs Henderson Presents wisely adapts Martin Sherman’s screenplay from the film of the same name to create a more tightly encapsulated world centred on the backstage lives of the theatre folk. It dives straight into the main story from the outset and switches things about just enough to keep anyone familiar with the film on their toes. And George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s score dances around the period beautifully, pastiche songs evoking the 30s spirit perfectly with a smattering of vaudevillean fun here and driving musical theatre anthems there, always remaining tuneful.  Continue reading “Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath”

DVD Review: uwantme2killhim (2013)

“Everyone is being followed”

A rather successful foray into the world of internet chatrooms, somewhat akin to Enda Walsh’s Chatroom, Mike Walsh’s uwantme2killhim invites descriptors such as darkly compelling and timely as it follows two teenagers sucked into a morass of online deception. Directed by Andrew Douglas, it takes a fairly traditional approach to representing digital communication – they speak as they type, which let’s face it, a lot of us do anyway – but the complications thrown up by their actions are thoroughly modern.

Based loosely on a true story, the film opens with Joanne Froggatt’s fervent Detective Inspector trying to work out why Mark has stabbed John, a schoolmate supposed to be his friend. We then loop back to the beginnings of Mark’s venturing into chatrooms and in particular with his friendship with Rachel, who turns out to John’s older sister. She’s in a witness protection program and has a violent boyfriend but Mark has fallen head over heels and will do anything for her. And ultimately he does do anything for her. Continue reading “DVD Review: uwantme2killhim (2013)”

Review: Love Story, Union Theatre

“Hey, I never liked it when you cried”

The Howard Goodall season at Sasha Regan’s Union Theatre continues with a revival of what could possibly be one of my favourite new musicals of recent times so no pressure there then. It is a tricky show to get right though, Stephen Clark’s book (from Erich Segal’s original story) speeds through the entire life of this tragic relationship at a relentless pace and so care does need to be taken to ensure the audience is fully engaged from the off and are kept fully onboard throughout.

In some way, the overall approach to Love Story here lacks the kind of propulsive energy that Clark’s book sorely needs. Regan curiously leaves lots of dead space in and around her scenes, far too many moments of awkward silence during transitions which are difficult in such a small space as this – the impact of Jenny communing with the spirit of her dead mother is somewhat muted by the sound of her heels as the ghost walks away… Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Union Theatre”

Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre

“It’s not what I expected.
Is it what you expected?”

I doubt it was fully the intention of bookwriter Adam Mathais and composer Brad Alexander to suggest Dante’s circles of hell in the unconnected stories of their song cycle See Rock City And Other Destinations but there are moments when it might feel like it. The show purports to show vignettes of people searching for the meaning of life and love against the backdrop of different US landmarks with no real connection between them all save the shadowy presence of the Tour Guide, lurking at each scene.

In reality, we get fragments of stories accompanied by a handful of songs each which a youthful company try their hardest to make register but few really succeed. They’re hardly helped by a format which allows so short a time to establish their characters and a score which seems intent mainly on showcasing a wide range of musical styles rather than really forming any sort of narrative push or wider coherence to the scattered storytelling. Nor does Graham Hubbard’s direction really help us to find any connective tissue that might help the piece hang together more effectively. Continue reading “Review: See Rock City And Other Destinations, Union Theatre”