Review: Mack and Mabel, Hackney Empire

“I’ll pull the greatest stunt this business has seen”

I can’t be doing with supermarkets who are already starting to stock mince pies but it was hard not to feel that Christmas had come early, such were the heady delights of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s latest venture Mack and Mabel, directed by Shaun Kerrison. Ostensibly, these are concert presentations of musicals but the joy in what you actually get, the bonuses that get incorporated into the creation of genuine one-off experiences makes LMTO one of the more valuable recent additions to the London theatre ecology.

So you’ve got your cast of West End names (David Bedella, Natasha J Barnes, Tiffany Graves headlining), you’ve got your orchestra of 32 (conducted by Freddie Tapner, led by Debs White), you’ve got a chorus of 16 too. And of course you’ve got the marvellous musical, written by Michael Stewart and composed by Jerry Herman, in the atmospheric surroundings of the Hackney Empire. But not content with such riches, we also get cream pies, chorus lines, and two properly gobsmacking coups de théâtre that brought the audience to their feet. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Hackney Empire”

Review: The Hired Man, Union Theatre

“We’re not hurried, or flurried, or worried, for ourselves”

The Hired Man remains one of my all-time favourite British musicals, the lusciousness of Howard Goodall’s score simply gorgeous to listen and so any opportunity to hear it is one gladly taken. The Union Theatre’s Goodall festival a couple of years ago featured the dreaming, Love Story, and Girlfriends and you wouldn’t put it past them to host the fringe premiere of Bend It Like Beckham sometime soon, but it is the show based on Melvyn Bragg’s novel that takes the spotlight for now.

Set at the turn of the previous century in the unforgiving rural landscape of Cumbria, The Hired Man himself is the hard-working John Tallentire, a man who will turn to any aspect of working the land – above in the field or below in the mines – to support his family, but in difficult times and with the Great War approaching, life is tough. From love triangles to family tragedies, organised labour disputes to the brutal realities of war, a laugh-a-minute musical comedy this is not.

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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”