Review - Alice's Adventures Underground (The Vaults)

We're almost halfway through 2017, and London has already seen so many brilliant pieces of theatre, from searing new plays to joyful musicals, and everything in between. However, if audiences are looking for an artsy night out which offers something a bit different, then the answer to their theatregoing dilemma lies in The Vaults underneath Waterloo station, in the sprawling and fantastical world of Wonderland. 

Richard Holt (Hatter) and Phillipa Hogg (March Hare) in Alice's Adventures Underground
Photo credit - Rah Petherbridge 
Yes, the 2015 Olivier Award nominated Alice's Adventures Underground is back, and very literally bigger than ever. The vast and labyrinthic world of Wonderland has yet again been brought to vivid life in an incredibly ambitious piece of immersive theatre which will inspire awe in all who dare to venture down the rabbit hole. 

Audiences are shepherded into Wonderland together, via a room filled to the rafters with eerie Victorian curio. After taking the plunge into Wonderland itself they are met by non other than the White Rabbit,  and are soon siphoned off in different directions, after either eating a growth inducing sweet or drinking a shrinking potion, and subsequently being sorted into a suit (either hearts, diamonds, clubs, or spades) which they swear loyalty too throughout their time in Wonderland.

There are dozens incredible and eclectic characters inhabiting Wonderland, each of which is brought to life through the use of outlandishly designed costumes and makeup, as well as some impressive puppetry. No matter which route is taken, or which suit is selected, audiences are bound to have a blast as they are lead into the bizarre and nonsensical world of Wonderland, and treated to a number of memorable performances, such as a gravity defying gymnastic routine courtesy of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, a sombre musical number performed by the Mock Turtle, and even an invitation to join the Hatter, Dormouse and March Hare for tea. 

If only there were enough time to visit every single room, and interact with every single character within the story. Happily though, each group of audience members is taken on their own individual journey, and given enough time in each room to really take in the wondrous world which they are permitted to inhabit, if just for a short while.

Whilst wandering through the unfathomably numerous rooms, each of which are filled with an almost unbelievable level of detail in set design, lighting and sound design, it's almost impossible to imagine how many different rooms there are to explore within the production. Of course the individual paths of each group overlap occasionally, but for a large portion of the time audiences embark on journeys within relatively small groups, and rarely cross each other. 

There really is nothing else in London right now quite like Alice's Adventures Underground. The multitude of different potential paths through Wonderland make it a truly unique piece of immersive theatre which audiences will want to lose themselves in again and again. 

Visit www.alice-underground.com/aau for more information

Review - The Red Shoes (UK Tour)

Inspired by the 1948 film which took inspiration from a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of the same name, Matthew Bourne's sumptuous ballet is a treat for both fanatics and cautious first timers. The Red Shoes tells the story of a young woman named Victoria Page, who dreams of becoming the world's greatest dancer. It explores the pressures she feels as a rising star in the Ballet Lermontov, where she is overseen by possessive impresario Boris Lermontov, and pursued by struggling composer Julian Craster. It's a dark and enchanting adventure, featuring themes of passion, ambition and obsession, which is guaranteed to set hearts racing. 

Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page in The Red Shoes
Photo credit - Johan Persson 
Matthew Bourne has deservedly earned a reputation for creating unique and unexpected new takes on classic tales, from an all-male Swan Lake to The Car Man, a steamy updated adaptation of Carmen, and so it comes as no surprise that The Red Shoes is just as thrilling. Every scene is filled with gorgeously choreographed moments, such as a whimsical scene set by the beach in glamorous Monte Carlo, and a circus strong man number which takes place on stage at a low rent variety show in a dingy London theatre. Every scene, and every bit of choreography perfectly evokes the time and location, which gives the whole production a vintage charm. 

Lez Brotherston's gorgeously chic costumes and lavish and versatile sets help to further define 40s epoch, and give the The Red Shoes an opulent aesthetic. Each character has their own defined personality, which is imbued into the choreography and externalised in their costumes, with each dancer in the Ballet Lermontov possessing their own totally individual look. 

Taking on the role of Victoria Page, Ashley Shaw is a graceful dancer who portrays both the young dancer's great talent and her vulnerability expertly. Her character goes through a spectrum of emotions, and Shaw's talent as both a beautiful dancer and a wonderfully emotive actor is spellbinding to behold. Similarly Dominic North as Julian Craster, an aspiring composer and Victoria's love interest, instantly enamours the audience to him, and portrays his character's emotional journey with plenty of vitality. In fact every single character is so clearly defined that at any given moment on there's a little character interaction that could easily go unnoticed, which serves to give the whole production a bustling energy and urgency. 

Much like the eponymous red shoes themselves, Matthew Bourne's ballet could easily go on and on entertaining audiences forever. A glittering triumph which will bewitch audiences from beginning to end, The Red Shoes is a truly unmissable.

To find out more information visit new-adventures.net/the-red-shoes

Review - Don Juan In Soho (Wyndham's Theatre)

The legendary figure of Don Juan has been moulded and remoulded a thousand times in order to fit a multitude of different ideas. Patrick Marber's take on the seductive lothario sees DJ, a middle aged gent with zero regard for the men and women around him, attempt to elude the brothers of a woman he pursued, married and then promptly abandoned, as they try to persuade him to abandon his womanizing ways. The events of the play are overseen by Stan, DJ's hapless chauffeur and servant, who only sticks to his job because he is owed tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid wages. 

David Tennant in Don Juan In Soho
Photo credit - Helen Maybanks
Marber's adaptation plants DJ as the villain of the piece, objectifying women (and, on some occasions, men), emotionally manipulating his servant, and mercilessly tricking and teasing whomever he pleases. He's a terrible example of a human being, and yet alluring and almost impossible to hate, despite Stan's frequent pleas that the audience does not succumb to his charms. 

As the eponymous philanderer, David Tennant is very much the star attraction. Charming and charismatic, Tennant makes even the most audacious actions seems less affronting. Admittedly he seems to lack the truly mean streak which the script alludes to, but he makes for a beguiling villain nevertheless, as he casts an alluring spell over everyone he meets, and even has the audience wrapped around his finger by the end of the play. Sharing much of his stage time with Adrian Scarborough's Stan, the pair make an interesting double act, with Scarborough acting as a mouthpiece for the audience by commenting and drawing attention to DJ's never ending barrage of misgivings. 

The production design is slick enough, but for a play set in seedy Soho, is all seems a bit clean and safe, with only a little glimpse into the bawdy neon lights and inescapable pulsations of Soho nightlife granted towards the end. Additionally Don Juan In Soho seems to be lacking in several other areas. The production features multiple dance numbers which feel underpowered and out of place, some of the jokes are rather tasteless, and the final scene seems to come from an entirely different and much more otherworldly play. 

The somewhat juvenile jokes also grate after a while, and a scene in which DJ attempts to bribe a homeless man into blaspheming against Allah feels decidedly misjudged, mean spirited and just plain uncomfortable. And of course, the sleazy way in which DJ regards every woman he meets is hard to defend. Of course, he is the villain of the play and so it is understandable that his actions may come across as inappropriate, but Marber's script tries so hard to endear the audience to him, even giving him a redemptive monologue towards the end, in which he bemoans the new generation's self centered and social media obsessed lifestyles, despite his criticisms seeming tired and overdone.

A bizarre and bawdy dark comedy saved by the winning performances of Tennant and Scarborough, Marber's Don Juan In Soho lacks a certain darkness and subtlety, but is a fairly entertaining night in spite of its pitfalls, as long as audience members aren't too easily flustered. 

Find out more information by visiting www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/don-juan-in-soho

Interview - Charlotte Kennedy (Les Miserables)

Actor Charlotte Kennedy may currently be starring as Cosette in the West End production of mega musical Les Miserables, a role which most sopranos would kill for, but she's not your typical stagey musical theatre star. 


Labelling herself as 'an underlying stagey', the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts graduate decided on a career in musical theatre as a teenager. 'I didn't really start until I was about 15. I played the cello since I was 7 and I'd had singing lessons, but I hadn't actually done musical theatre until quite late on' she says of her early musical interests. But although she may have entered the world of musical theatre much later than many other young actors, the deciding factor behind her transition into musical theatre was very similar to others. 'I did a show and got the bug and it changed it all for me'.

Having graduated from a top drama school, Kennedy joined the cast of Les Miserables, where she originally covered the role of Cosette, before eventually taking over as the principle, a responsibility which she says she found 'quite daunting' to begin with. Having been on the West End for 32 years, Les Miserables' characters are totally iconic, and Cosette has definitely been played by a number of hugely impressive musical theatre names, including Rebecca Caine, who originated the role in 1985, and Amanda Seyfried who appeared in the 2012 Tom Hooper film adaptation. The character certainly has an interesting history, but Kennedy reveals that this element did not really weigh on her mind when she first took on the role, stating that 'in a way I was so nervous that I didn't really think about the part that I was playing, and how many people had played it before'. Far from dwelling on past iterations of the part, she explains that 'it's lovely to be able to find new things with it, and do it differently to the ways people have done it before, and put my own stamp on it'.

Les Miserables is undoubtedly an exciting show to be a part of, and it certainly has its super fans too, but what is it that has made the show so popular, and kept audiences coming back? Kennedy has a pretty good idea, explaining that 'I think a lot of people can relate to it. If you look at what's going on in the world at the moment I think that Les Mis is very relevant. It's about an uprising, and people fighting for what they believe in, and I think in the world right now there's a lot of that'.

Kennedy also reveals that her favourite part of the show is One Day More, the unmistakably powerful and poignant song which brings the curtain down on act 1. 'I love One Day More because even though Les Mis has the main characters like Jean Valjean, Javert and the Thenardiers, One Day More is the only part of the show when everyone is on stage'. Quick to label the show as an ensemble piece, Kennedy praises the song, and the way in which it brings the entire cast together. She explains that 'there are amazing solo performances but without the ensemble the show would just not be the same. It's such an ensemble piece that it relies so heavily on everyone else, and that's why I love One Day More. Everyone's there. Everything comes together.'

It's obvious that Charlotte Kennedy is having a fantastic time starring in Les Miserables, and so when considering what she might like to do once her time in the cast comes to and end she admits that 'to be honest I'm just making the most of this at the moment because I never thought that I would have this opportunity. But I'd love to do all of the big soprano roles like Glinda or Christine. One day that would be something that I'd aspire to do.' 

Who knows what will happen when tomorrow comes, but for now you can catch Charlotte Kennedy as Cosette in the West End production of Les Miserables. To find out more information about the show visit www.lesmis.com

Album Review - Golden Days (Kerry Ellis and Brian May)

The 13 year long professional relationship between Kerry Ellis and Brian May has certainly been a busy one. The unlikely pair have worked together on numerous musical collaborations in the past, and are now back again with a brand new musical offering in the form of Golden Days, an album which combines Ellis' unmistakable vocals and May's musical expertise in exciting and somewhat unexpected ways.

West End leading lady Kerry Ellis is perhaps best known for her multiple appearances as Elphaba in Wicked, both in London and on Broadway, meanwhile Brian May may be most recognisable as the lead guitarist of Queen. The pair's collaborations began after Ellis starred as Meat in We Will Rock You, the bizarre smash hit Queen jukebox musical. Since then they have worked together on multiple projects, including Anthems, Ellis' debut album, which May produced. 

This April sees the release of their most recent album. Undoubtedly a diversion from the songs which the musical theatre star's fans may expect, Golden Days includes a couple of reimagined show tunes, such as If I Loved You from Carousel, which is without doubt a highlight on the album. A perfect melding of Ellis' voice and May's musical expertise, the easy going and melancholy musical classic is a nice respite from the more unrelenting 'retro-psychedelic' songs, penned by Ellis and May, which feature heavily on the album. 

The pair have certainly defined their own unique musical style. Combining powerful rock vocals and a more relaxed musical accompaniment, the whole of Golden Days has a very retro sound. Love In A Rainbow, the opening number which Ellis and May wrote themselves, is a great example of this. While it is not the most enrapturing song on the album, it does set the tone of Golden Days absolutely perfectly, telling listeners exactly what to expect from the 13 track long album. 

Other standouts include I Who Have Nothing, a classic soul hit which Ellis' gruff and growly vocals add intensity and drama to, as well as Parisienne Walkways, guitarist Gary Moore's signature song, which acts as a great showcase for both Ellis and May's strongest fortes.

It's a shame that at times Ellis' voice sounds slightly overproduced, and while this does not divert from the obvious natural talent of the vocalist, it seems unnecessary and a little distracting. Additionally, while it's clear that May and Ellis' songwriting is solid, a couple of the tracks do sound quite similar to one another. Similarly, the inclusion of such notable songs as Born Free and Can't Help Falling In Love is lovely but feels like space wasted on an otherwise atypical tracklist. 

While it may not be for everyone, fans of Ellis and May's past collaborations will no doubt love Golden Days' invigorating and unconventional sound. With covers of musical theatre staples, soul classics and a couple of completely new original songs, there's certainly variety and talent to admire. 

Golden Days will be released on 7th April 2017. Order your copy from Amazon here smarturl.it/GoldenDays_amz

Review - Out Of Order (UK Tour)

Playwright and actor Ray Cooney is celebrating an unbelievable 70 years in show business, and what better way to do it than with an updated version of his award winning 1990 farce Out Of Order. Having enjoyed a long run on the West End and bagged the 1991 Olivier Award for comedy, it's clear that, at least 25 or so years ago, Cooney's own brand of farcical comedy was hitting the spot for some. Unfortunately though, in 2017 Out Of Order has lost the charm it must have once possessed, and feels decidedly stale. 

James Holmes and Andrew Hall in Out Of Order
Photo credit - Darren Bell
Starring a cast of well-known faces such as Andrew Hall, Shaun Williamson and James Holmes, the comedy follows the antics of Conservative junior minister Richard 'Dickie' Willey, as he attempts to cover up an affair with Jane Worthington, a typist for the Labour Party, after a body is found wedged in the sash window of their hotel room. Hijinks ensue of course, and as the slimy politician tries his best to cover up his indiscretions as best he can, more and more people are dragged into the mayhem. Misunderstandings, malfunctions and mistaken identity give Out Of Order plenty of promise, but unfortunately the play never really elevates above its predictable beginnings, and as such it becomes a trouncing slog, with an overblown runtime padded by unsavoury jokes, and plenty of sexism and homophobia thrown in for good measure. 

The fact that the play begins by introducing the audience to 'Mr Willey' should be all the warning anyone could need that Out Of Order's brash humour isn't exactly for everyone. Certainly plenty of mileage is gotten from the unfortunate surname of the smarmy politician protagonist. The production may boast an updated script, which brings the political aspects of the play into 2017, however while references to May, Corbyn, Trump, and Twitter come thick and fast, all in all Out Of Order feels hugely outdated, with its broad, in yer face, and decidedly unmodish jokes not helping in the slightest. 

Slightly troubling for this updated version is the misogynistic language and content, which jars considerably in 2017. All three female characters are presented as nagging annoyances who double up as sex mad fanatics, ready to jump into bed with the first man who asks. Additionally, and equally uncomfortably, laughs are elicited from the outraged gasps of the hotel's stuffy manager, when he mistakenly believes he has discovered two men engaging in a sexual act in a hotel room, and subsequently insists that they leave. It's clearly meant to be a bit of fun, but comes across as mean spirited for the most part.

The success of companies like Mischief Theatre has proven that there is still very much an appetite for farce when done right, but Out Of Order has sadly not been given a sharp enough update, and feels decidedly out of place in 2017. The star cast perform gamely, and throw themselves into the chaos, especially in the second act, but when all is said and done this painfully old fashioned comedy is pretty indefensible.

For more information go to cooneyonstage.com

Review - The Wedding Singer (UK Tour)

Based on the hit 1997 movie, which starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, The Wedding Singer is a laugh a minute musical comedy with tons of poppy 80s inspired songs which are guaranteed to leave audiences clamouring for more! Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, this new UK tour stars Jon Robyns as the eponymous wedding singer Robbie Hart. Robyns is joined by a top notch cast including Cassie Compton, Ray Quinn and Roxanne Pallett. 

Cassie Compton and Jon Robyns in The Wedding Singer
Photo credit - Darren Bell
Set in 1985, The Wedding Singer follows one time aspiring rock star turned wedding singer Robbie Hart, who is deterred from singing after being left at the altar by his fiancee Linda, but subsequently sparks up a friendship with waitress Julia, the girlfriend of a smug wall street banker.

Jon Robyns is the perfect actor to lead such a fun musical. Singing and dancing with relentless energy, he's exceedingly watchable as the down-on-his-luck musician, and shines during the show's comedic moments. Memorably the showstopping number Casualty Of Love sees Robbie lead an eclectic group of wedding guests in a song and dance number so audacious that it totally annihilates a poor couple's wedding reception. The number is gleefully irreverent, and a real high point in the show.

Starring as love interest Julia, Cassie Compton's cutesy portrayal is extremely likable too, and together she and Robyns form a couple which is impossible not to root for. Roxanne Pallett is also impressive as Julia's pink bob sporting friend and fellow waitress Holly, and showcases some high octane vocals during the first act's closing number Saturday Night In The City, meanwhile Ray Quinn is suitably slimy as Julia's fiance.

Nick Winston directs with precision, ensuring a swift pace which emphasises the nonstop madcap fun of the plot. Jokes and 80s pop culture references, knowingly sprinkled throughout Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy's book, are gratefully received, and only help to further enhance the cheesy over the top tone which is maintained at all times. 

To further intensify the fabulously 80s world of The Wedding Singer, Francis O'Connor's costume design accurately emulates the thrift shop chic trend of the time. The whole show exudes a bright, kitschy aesthetic which really helps to amp up the nostalgia, and will no doubt have people wondering why crimped hair ever went out of style? 

It's not going to change the world, but there's absolutely no way audiences will leave The Wedding Singer without mega watt smiles on their faces. A party which no one will want to leave, this show will have fans dancing down in the aisles!  

To find out more information visit theweddingsingermusical.co.uk