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!)
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.
I revisit long-runners The Mousetrap, Les Misérables and Wicked, and come to a decision (of sorts) about the future of this blog
“Here’s to you and here’s to me”
Well 2019 has been an interesting year so far and one full of significance – I’ve turned 40, this blog has turned 10 and it’s all got me in a reflective mood. Personally, professionally, is this what I want to be doing? Do quote a Netflix show I haven’t even seen, does all this bring me joy…? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve revisited a few long-running shows in the West End to consider what cost longevity.
The longest running show in the West End is The Mousetrap – 66 years old with over 27,000 performances and their answer to keeping going is to not change a single bit – has the show even ever cast a person of colour? My limited research suggests not… On the one hand, it’s a policy that does seem to have worked and that record is a mighty USP, although does the number of empty seats at the St Martin’s that afternoon suggest a waning of interest finally? Continue reading “Blogged: long-running shows and long-running blogs – what does the future hold”
Who knew that Leeds would be a musical theatre hotspot this December but between The Girls and this Music & Lyrics and West Yorkshire Playhouse production ofChitty Chitty Bang Bang, it’s been the place to be for big, warm-hearted musical fun. This is the first new version of Chitty Chitty… since its original 2002 West End production and its many regional tours but in James Brining’s clever and wondrous adaptation, it’s thoroughly revitalised and as lovely as any cherry peach parfait.
Ian Fleming’s novel was adapted by Jeremy Sams, via Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes’ own reshaping of the story for the cinema, and with a glorious score from the Sherman Brothers (as if they could do any other kind) beefed up with new songs by them as well, it captures much of the Disney noir feel of the film whilst bringing its own depths too. I’d forgotten how much sadness there was in the tale and that’s something Brining never lets us forget, even whilst delighting us with flying cars and fun. Continue reading “Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse”
“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”
It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distressstarted life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford.
With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed? Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”
“Pardon me, is everybody here? Because if everybody’s here, I want to thank you all for coming to the wedding, I’d appreciate your going even more, I mean you must have lots of better things to do, and not a word of this to Paul, remember Paul, you know, the man I’m gonna marry, but I’m not, because I wouldn’t ruin anyone as wonderful as he is”
Sondheim revues can feel two a penny – Putting It Together played the St James just a couple of months ago – but Ray Rackham’s Just Another Love Story has a real ace up its sleeve in the return of 2010’s Best Actor in a Musical fosterIAN award winner Sam Harrison to a London stage. His turn in Salad Dayswas an absolute treasure and being able to hear him sing again was something I couldn’t resist, so I made my way over to Fulham to the London Theatre Workshop above the Eel Brook pub.
The show is a real labour of love for Rackham, having evolved over several incarnations in the past couple of years and now including over 40 Sondheim songs from the widest range of his back catalogue, delving into rarities just as often as his more popular shows. They’ve been carefully stitched together into a free-flowing musical tapestry which includes solos, duets, medleys and even a bit of choreography to bring the music to life, celebrating the music of Stephen Sondheim by creating their own love story from his work. Continue reading “Review: Just Another Love Story, London Theatre Workshop”
“There is joy in the air so begone with dull care”
There’s always something of a delicious pleasure in being able to revisit much loved productions and so it proved with Tête à Tête’s production ofSalad Days which proved to be a slow-burning but considerable success at the Riverside Studios two winters ago. The Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds penned musical is a true old-school English classic, highly tuneful (even if you don’t know any of the songs before you go in, I guarantee you’ll be able to hum at least of three of them as you leave) and somewhat barmy in its daffy plotting which takes one of the most unexpected turns I think I’ve ever seen in a show.
But what makes it soar into musical theatre heaven is the entirely straight bat with which Bill Bankes-Jones directs the whole affair. There’s not a drop of cynicism to be found in this Hammersmith studio, from the cheery earnestness of Timothy and Jane, its leading couple who leave university to find love through a magic piano (I did say it was daffy) to Quinny Sacks’ wonderfully effervescent (and inclusive) choreography to the joy of hearing such a large ensemble singing entirely unmiked. It is simply just joyous. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”
“It’s true I’ve been led an amazing dance, but why should I ever complain? If I could be given a second chance, I’d live it all over again”
One of the greatest pleasures of writing this blog has been being able to really champion the shows that really move me, the ones that I heartily recommend to everyone in my phonebook the moment I come out of the theatre and so it was in early December with this delightful musical. The ‘little show that could’,Salad Dayshas risen from fairly quiet beginnings to becoming one of the hottest tickets in town and their last few weeks have been playing to packed houses. Whether it was the snowy weather in December, or the length of time it took to persuade critics to visit Hammersmith I don’t know, but the press reviews took a long time to emerge and trickled out slowly from late December onwards. What impact this had I don’t know, but this has been, from my point of view, a genuinely huge word-of-mouth success which I think is testament to just how good a show it is.
It really is so very well put-together in all aspects: the book is genuinely funny which helps of course and delivered so cleanly and earnestly by all concerned, the songs are catchy and tuneful and the structure of the show with its plentiful brief reprises lends an air of familiarity with the music even on first listen, the costumes feel authentic and the design pitched just right. And as commented before, Tête-à-Tête’s casting has been spot-on in gathering an ensemble capable of singing beautifully, un-miked into the large auditorium whilst executing Quinny Sacks’ inspired choreography. Every single aspect of this production from the entrance to the breakfast eating sequence, the people walking through the park, the club scenes and Mark Inscoe’s interval patter, feels carefully thought through and perfectly judged. Continue reading “Re-review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”
So 2010 is very nearly over and I can honestly, hand on heart, say that I managed to see every single play that I wanted to see this year…all 271 of them. It was a mostly highly enjoyable experience, although writing about all of them came close to tiring me out on a couple of occasions…I might try to see a bit less in 2011 but we’ll see, I’m not sure I’ll be able to cut down!
What I particularly loved this year was the reaffirmation of the strong ensemble in so many plays. After a lot of recent kerfuffle about big stars dominating the West End, it was gratifying to see shows like All My Sons, After the Dance, Broken Glass, Clybourne Park, Tribes, all doing so well with fantastic group efforts and quality acting across the board rather than relying on star names. Continue reading “2010 in summary, including 2010 fosterIAN award winners”