News: Sunday at the Musicals to return

A new version of Sunday at the Musicals will return to The Actors’ Church in London on Sunday 22nd November at 5.30pm and 8.00pm. The concert will feature a large cast of West End singers who will perform songs from popular musicals to raise funds for Acting for Others.

The performances will be hosted by Sarah-Louise Young and the company, subject to availability natch, are: Kelly Agbowu, Kacey Ainsworth, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe, Charlie Bull, Colin Burnicle, Matthew Croke, Janie Dee, Nicole Raquel Dennis, Sue Devaney, Leanne Garretty, Rebecca Gilliland, Lisa Gorgin, Melissa Jacques , Claudia Kariuki, Natalie Kassanga, Sejal Keshwala, Anna McGarahan, James Meunier, Ceili O’Connor, Rosa O’Reilly, Mira Ormala, Sarah O’Connor, Charlotte O’Rourke, Sara Poyzer, Sophie Reeves, Joshua St Clair, Liam Tobin, Shona White, Pippa Winslow and Benjamin Yates.

Tickets for the new Sunday at the Musicals concert at The Actors’ Church can be booked here.

TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carters rock though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 3 Episodes 1-3

The Crown returns with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies at the helm, and Helena Bonham Carter stealing the show

“Everyone at the Post Office is delighted with the new profile”

Gotta get those hits…who knows how far behind I am, given I’m 9 hours ahead of the UK at the moment, but I thought I’d jot down my initial thoughts on the first three episodes of series 3 of The Crown (all written by Peter Morgan and directed by Benjamin Caron), as Netflix kindly offered them up as holiday entertainment. (And since I’m away, I’ve been a little insulated from all the Prince Andrew drama, which from over here almost feels like a random bit of guerilla marketing).

  • I wonder if I have a little hangover from just how good Claire Foy was, but I’m 100% feeling Olivia Colman in the role yet. She doesn’t seem quite as subsumed into the character, in the way that Foy’s every minutely detailed movement seemed to be. That said, there’s some scorching moments when Jason Watkins’ Harold Wilson dares to suggest her response to the Aberfan tragedy is lacking.
  • The excellent Tobias Menzies hasn’t really had enough screen time yet to have his Prince Philip make an impact, though I’ve every faith.
  • The casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret is inspired, the extravagance of the character is perfectly suited to her but she’s bringing a real depth at the same time. 
  • And I have to say I miss Matthew Goode’s hugely erotic insouciance as Antony Armstrong-Jones, Ben Daniels’ much more wearied take hasn’t quite ticked my boxes yet.

Elsewhere, the headlong rush through the years means that we’re doomed to the smallest contributions from some excellent actors – Samuel West’s Anthony Blunt and Angus Wright’s MI5 bod were gone too soon, though I live in hope of more from Penny Downie’s Duchess of Gloucester, Aden Gillett as Richard Crossman and Sinéad Matthews as Marcia Williams (seriously, her accent is a thing of pure beauty).

And given the budget is allegedly in the many millions, it certainly looks a treat once again. From glistening palatial lushness to agonisingly destroyed villages, these are fully realised worlds no matter how short a space of time we end up spending in them. Caron’s direction also makes room for a more uncomplicated cinematic as well though, choosing iconic visual to close out each episode – the regal silhouette, juxtapositions of Margarets old and new, the children playing. This is a Crown that has lost none of its lustre.

Photo: Sophie Mutevelian

Review: Mame, Hope Mill Theatre

There’s still a reason Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK for 50 years but this lavish Hope Mill Theatre production and a spectacular Tracie Bennett give it a damn good try

“Your special fascination’ll
prove to be inspirational
we think you’re just sensational”

In some ways you have to admire the ambition in reviving a show that hasn’t been seen professionally in the UK for 50 years. In others, you wouldn’t be blamed for blurting ‘what are you thinking’! The ever-adventurous folks at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre have done just that with this revival of Mame, hoping to find a glitzy neglected diamond in the rough. (And when oh when will they transfer their lovely take on Little Women to London like so many of their other shows.) 

Director Nick Winston’s wisest decision is to mount it with a lavishly decadent production that you don’t often see on the fringe, especially with the likes of Tracie Bennett (so excellent in Follies recently) heading the cast. Getting to see a performer of the calibre of Bennett, with a voice like that, in such intimacy as this, is a rare treat and even singing a minor Jerry Herman score, is a genuine theatrical thrill.
Continue reading “Review: Mame, Hope Mill Theatre”

Review: 9 to 5, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“I might just make it work”

As frothy as 9 to 5 the Musical may seem, it shouldn’t be underestimated as a piece of theatre that puts three women front and centre in its narrative – it can feel like these sadly remain as few and far between in the 1980 of the original film as it does in the 2017 of the UK fringe premiere of its musical adaptation. And reflecting that, director Joseph Hodges and casting director Harry Blumenau have really done the business in selecting a terrific trio to lead their show.

Pippa Winslow’s Violet leads from the front with a wonderfully wry wit and poised determination, Amanda Coutts’ Judy blossoms in self-confidence throughout to nail her 11 o’clock number, and Louise Olley’s Doralee is an utterly radiant stage presence, delivering the kind of direct eye contact that could leave a boy questioning his sexual preferences. And together, these three secretaries at Consolidated Industries tackle workplace misogyny in their own inimitable way. Continue reading “Review: 9 to 5, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

Review: Hamlet, Almeida

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” 

The enduring image of Robert Icke’s Hamlet is family – the repeated motif of group of three cleaving together haunts the production as much as Hamlet’s father himself. From the instant and intense bond established between Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes, Icke makes striking emotional sense of the respective grief and ferocity of the latter two, powerfully played by Jessica Brown Findlay and Luke Thompson against Peter Wight’s twinkling charm as their father.

And Icke also gives the tragic visual of Andrew Scott’s Hamlet trying to rebuild his original family unit, joining hands with his mother and the ghost of his father in the midst of the closet scene, willing Juliet Stevenson’s Gertrude to see what he sees, to put things back the way they used to be. And in a stunning montage for the final scene, these trios reform, emphasising the innate happiness of one and the deep tragedy of the other. It is deeply, deeply felt. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Almeida”

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women’s theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I’m very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2017”

Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”


Despite never having seen or read Strangers on a Train, I seemed to carry a strong idea of what the plot would entail. So of course I was disappointed to find out that the play wasn’t actually about two men deciding to kill each other’s wives on a long journey on the rails and that the action actually left the train carriage pretty early on. Expectations aside, I was also a little surprised at just how cinematic Robert Allan Ackerman’s production was, a veritable film noir brought to life in all its tense monochrome glory.


But for all the gloss that Tim Goodchild’s ever-revolving set and Peter Wilms’ frequent projections bring, there’s a curious lack of effective theatricality to Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. The fateful initial meeting between Laurence Fox’s Guy and Jack Huston’s Bruno is charged with homoerotic tension as the latter teasingly offers to kill the former’s unloved wife if he will reciprocate by offing his overbearing father. Yet this isn’t something that is played out in the psychodrama that follows, exploring the effects on each man of perpetrating their crimes.


Indeed, we’re offered very little reason to empathise with either of them, neither is presented in a likeable light but neither actor really makes a convincing case that their emotional turmoil is something we ought to engage with. Fox’s stilted Englishness feels uncomfortably awkward throughout and though Huston is better as the free-wheeling Bruno, their story just doesn’t rouse anything beneath the surface. That the show has to rely so greatly on the volume of Avgoustous Psillas’ sound design to get its shocks is symptomatic of its inherent heavy-handedness. 

Supporting roles offer a little light relief – Imogen Stubbs’ vampish mother, Miranda Raison’s glacial femme fatale, Christian Kay’s intrepid PI – but the bloating running time sees diminishing returns as the melodrama increases, especially as the interminable second half crawls to its dénouement. I would warrant that Strangers on a Train has solid enough credentials to ensure that it will be enough of a success but on this evidence, it is hard to suggest that it is that welcome an addition to the West End. 

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 22nd February

Review: The Secret Garden, King’s Head

“For in the earth, the charm’s at work”

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden was first made into a musical in the early 1990s with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon but despite an RSC production in 2000, it remains a rarely-performed work. Aria Entertainment and Knockhardy Productions are seeking to redress that with a concert version playing Sunday and Mondays at the King’s Head Theatre Pub. The story focuses on Mary Lennox, the sole survivor of a cholera attack in her home of the British Raj who unceremoniously shipped back to her closest remaining relative, a disinterested uncle who lives in a vast stately home in Yorkshire. Initially ill-tempered and stubborn, she finds her calling in the restoration of a neglected garden which awakens not only her own good nature but the ailing spirit of her uncle and her sickly cousin Colin 

Although billed as an intimate concert, the reality of Matthew Gould’s production is closer to a semi-staged performance, a choice that has both its benefits and drawbacks. It allows a company of 18 to be utilised effectively, flowing around the small stage space and giving full voice to the sweeping harmonies of Simon’s score. But it also unnecessarily complicates matters as it introduces more elements of the show without their full context, meaning the relationships between the characters aren’t always clear, the nuances of the shifting time periods are lost, the budgetary constraints highlighted.

Which is a shame as when the focus is on the music, The Secret Garden really is an excellent production. Simon’s compositions have a graceful drama and a playful humour, akin to some of Howard Goodall’s work, and they are played exquisitely by David Keefe’s four strong band, wind instruments and cello combining beautifully. And there is excellent singing onstage too, across the board. From the earthy Yorkshire humour of Rachael McCormick’s Martha and Jordan Lee Davies’ Dickon – both names to watch out for – to the experience lent by returning original RSC cast members Amanda Goldthorpe-Hall and Freddie Davies, a vivid sense of emotion comes across from the inhabitants of the Yorkshire manor, elevating this children’s tale into something genuinely stirring.

Zoë Curlett’s Lily haunts the show with a benevolent presence and a crystalline vocal – the use of ghosts and spirits really is a fascinating part of the show, Mona Goodwin’s Ayah also impresses – and as her still-grieving widower, Alexander Evans is highly affecting with a hushed vocal wracked with guilt and pain. And in the roles of Mary and Colin which are alternated, Ana Martin and Zac Donovan came pretty close to stealing the show. Donovan’s wide-eyed charm is just lovely to watch, but there is something exceptional in Martin’s performance that makes me sure that we will be seeing much more of this actress in the future. Mary is a challenging role, onstage for large swathes of the show during which she undergoes a considerable emotional journey but Martin took it all in her stride with a confidence and professionalism that belies her 13 years. Of particular note was the way in which she sang with her various duetting partners, always closely working with them and the ensemble around her, demonstrating an impressive maturity that will surely stand her in good stead for the future.

Minor misgivings about the semi-staging aside, this production of The Secret Garden really does offer a remarkable opportunity to hear an excellent, if somewhat neglected, piece of musical theatre, delivered to an excellent standard. What one might miss in narrative clarity is more than made up for by the exhilaration of hearing such a large, un-miked company in beautiful harmony at close quarters.

Booking until 17th March

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Old Goat Song, Lion and Unicorn

There’s a clever bit of word-play with the title of new musical Old Goat Song which will be readily apparent for those with a knowledge of some Ancient Greek, though the rest of us may need a helping hand. The word tragedy roughly translates as ‘goat song’ and the central character of this show, a widower in his 70s, refers to himself as the ‘old goat’, though the overall tone of the musical is less tragic than wistfully nostalgic. 

Bill Fast’s life since his wife died has not been the happiest and he is now seriously unwell. Living with his abrasive sister Cora who is enforcing a low-cholesterol diet, he seeks refuge in a local diner and soon becomes besotted with Cara, a 17 year old waitress there. As he edges ever closer to death, his relationship with her becomes increasingly entangled as the gifts he gives her become ever more grand and the feelings that start to move to an uncomfortable place. Continue reading “Review: Old Goat Song, Lion and Unicorn”