News: the Mousetrap sets new bait with all-star double cast

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – the longest running show in the world, which has been suspended since the pandemic resulted in the closure of UK theatres in March 2020 – is to re-open in the West End on Monday 17 May 2021.

Two sets of casts – comprising Olivier Award winners and highly acclaimed stars of TV and film – will come together for the iconic thriller as it re-opens at the St. Martin’s Theatre on the day that Stage 3 in the Government’s “Road Map” to ease restrictions across society comes in to effect. Continue reading “News: the Mousetrap sets new bait with all-star double cast”

Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)

“Oh yes it’s not that I want to stay. 
It’s just that I don’t want to go”

My heart jumped for joy when the Union Theatre announced their revival of Salad Days as the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds classic is probably one of my favourite musicals (and following on from their production of The Hired Man too, another of my absolute faves). I loved being being able to revisit the evergreen perkiness of the show onstage and it also reminded me that I hadn’t gotten round to listening to this cast recording in a while.

My love for Salad Days started upon seeing Tête à Tête’s production of the show at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 which was such a success (eventually) that it returned in subsequent years and it is from that 2012/3 reprise that this live recording was made (which sadly means no Sam Harrison or Rebecca Caine) but it does capture so very much of what worked so well in Bill Bankes-Jones’ production and under Anthony Ingle’s musical direction. Continue reading “Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)”

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire

“He said, I’ve bought you a selfie stick. I said, do I have to do everything myself?”

I haven’t booked much Christmas-themed theatre this year in an attempt to try and reclaim a bit of a social life but also because I do find it quite hard to write reviews about pantomimes. By and large I’ve been quite lucky in the few I’ve been to in recent years, sticking to the venues who know what they’re doing (Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith, New Wimbledon) but even with this logic, my fingers were burnt a little with this year’s first festive foray.

Marking Susie McKenna’s 17th panto for the Hackney Empire, Jack and the Beanstalk is a raucous, rambling affair indeed, but one blessed with the return of Clive Rowe as the Dame, the actor famed at the only one to win an Olivier for panto. And I have to say that the audience around us were largely loving the whole thing which is kind of the whole point, even if you’re bribing the kids with handfuls of free sweets (it’s only like giving critics drinks vouchers for the interval ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Puss in Boots, Hackney Empire

“Do you want to join the pussycat chorus”

Though its position at other times of the year may seem a little precarious, Susie McKenna has built up the Hackney Empire into one of the must-see venues for pantomime in London, drawing in families from far and wide to their revitalised yet still classic take on all the old favourites. This year is the turn of Puss in Boots to get the E8 treatment but as Kat B takes to the stage drawling through a heavy Jamaican accent and exhorting us to call out ‘Puss in Boots dem’, it is soon clear that this lesser known panto has had a little tinkering.

So whilst we do have a young miller’s son Thomas, who is cheated out of his inheritance and left with just his faithful feline who finds his way into a magic shoeshop, there’s also the various members of the royal household of the kingdom of Hackneyonia to get to know, as an evil queen has taken advantage of a missing prince. Along with a good fairy and an evil witch both trying to get their way. Plus a surprisingly effective ogre. So it can be a little perplexing to work out exactly what is going on, especially when there’s two separate villains to boo and for a title character, Puss doesn’t actually have a huge amount to do. Continue reading “Review: Puss in Boots, Hackney Empire”

Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“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 of Salad 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”

DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer

“Do something special, anything special…”

This charity shop malarkey is proving to be a veritable treasure trove of theatrical goodies, of variable quality I should stress, but after the delights of Ms Paige – which will be continued shortly with an upcoming DVD review – I was given this DVD of the 1998 Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza Hey Mr Producer which cost a whole 99p from a British Heart Foundation shop in north west London. A benefit concert ostensibly put together for the RNIB but also honouring and celebrating the work of producer Mackintosh (although oddly he was involved in putting the show together – honouring himself…) by bringing together excerpts from many of the most famous shows he has been involved in and pulling together an extraordinary cast of the musical theatre glitterati, many of whom originated the roles, the like of which has rarely been seen since.

And it really does come across as something special, at times a little frustrating but it is often the way with concerts like these that tantalise with little glimpses of shows and when the calibre of performer is such as it is here, one barely minds as there is much pleasure to be had. It is impressive how much was packed into the single evening, multi-song sections from shows were interspersed with single songs from others meaning that over 20 shows were showcased here. Whether it was shows I love – Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver!, Les Mis, ones I’m ok with – Phantom of the Opera, Company or even ones I’ve never actually seen – My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, Carousel – the sequences that had more than one song worked surprisingly well, getting across something of the flavour of the shows even with the rapid pace and semi-staging. I would have loved to have seen and heard more from Anything Goes, Godspell and The Boyfriend and for Salad Days, Mackintosh’s favourite show apparently, to have gotten a proper treatment, but then I guess the three hour show would have gone on for days. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hey Mr Producer”

DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert: The 25th Anniversary

“There’s a reckoning to be reckoned”

Forming the culmination of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Les Misérables was a pair of concert versions of the show taking place at the O2 centre in Greenwich which brought together the company of companies, over 500 actors and musicians joining forces to pay tribute to this enduing classic of a show. The cast and companies of the touring production and the West End production joined with a massive choir and orchestra and a hand-picked international cast performed the lead roles in this concert presentation which was also relayed live into cinemas and later released on DVD to be enjoyed by those who chose not to go (or couldn’t get tickets).

Concert versions of shows are always a bit funny, performers singing songs to each other but looking straight out at audiences and limited opportunity for acting so they can often feel a little constrained in their presentation. Here, the cast were in full costume and projections and clips from the show used to fill in some of the gaps that the songs could not fill. And it is all really rather good if not quite the self-proclaimed “musical event of a lifetime”. Continue reading “DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert: The 25th Anniversary”

Re-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 Days has 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”

Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios

“We mustn’t say these are our happiest days, but our happiest days so far”

Despite leading with the tagline of ‘one of Britain’s best loved musicals’, I must admit to never having heard of Salad Days before this Riverside Studios and Tête à Tête production. Composed by Julian Slade and with book and lyrics by him and Dorothy Reynolds, it was apparently the longest-running musical in the West End until My Fair Lady so quite how it has passed me by until now I do not know, but I am ever so grateful that its cheery optimism is now in my life .

Set in 1954, Timothy and Jane have both just graduated from university and are facing pressure from their respective parents for him to find suitable employment through one of his influential uncles and for her to find an appropriately advantageous marriage. But anxious to make their own way in the world, they decide to get engaged to each other and to accept the first job that comes along, which just happens to be…looking after a mobile piano that when played, makes people dance uncontrollably. Predictably, the government in the form of the Minister of Pleasure and Pastime want to get their hands on this instrument of social disruption but in their efforts, the piano disappears and then events take an even more wonderfully insane turn. Continue reading “Review: Salad Days, Riverside Studios”