- a place to discuss absolutely anything theatre related!

As someone whose life revolves around the theatre quite a bit, I'm lucky enough to have surrounded myself with close friends who almost all share the same interests as me. There's nothing I enjoy more than discussing what shows people have booked to see, how many times the second understudy Elphaba has performed this year or how early to start queuing in order to get a good seat at the Southwark Playhouse. However, I've slowly come to the realisation that not everyone outside of my close circle of friends is actually interested in talking about the theatre 24/7.

I know, I know! Shocking, right? It turns out that my grandma actually doesn't really care about who is going to be the new Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, my housemates aren't that interested in speculating about which musical Beverley Knight might star in next, and no one at my friend's flatmate's surprise birthday house-party is really that bothered by how long I had to wait in the Miss Saigon dayseat queue last weekend. Hmph!

Thankfully though, there is a new online forum filled with people who want to discuss all of these things and more on a daily basis, and that forum is called TheatreBoard. 

TheatreBoard features sections discussing Musicals; Plays; Performers and following member demand, a new area dedicated to Opera and Dance. Conversations already cover dozens of productions including West End, fringe and touring; alongside topics as diverse as badly behaved audiences to theatre technology and a live chat planned for the upcoming Olivier awards. 

Following the announced closure date of the old whatsonstage theatre discussion board (a board which I had been a member of for more that 3 years) a number of board members volunteered their time, expertise and even their own money in order to ensure that theatre fans new and old had a place to discuss theatre and keep up to date with theatre news. It was really heartening to see such a passionate display from the theatre loving community, and the resulting TheatreBoard forum is absolutely brilliant,

All year round the UK delivers an exceptional wealth of live theatre in venues ranging in size from over two thousand seats down to the most intimate studio spaces. TheatreBoard aims to support informed, varied and vigorous debate among those who love theatre.

So if you're like me, and you find yourself boring your workmates to death with weepy stories about how your favourite show is closing soon, or killing every party you are invited to by only requesting tracks from the Hamilton OBCR then sign up to TheatreBoard for free today and join over 600 other theatre fans who are all just as annoyed about the scourge of people talking through overtures and unwrapping sweets noisily as you are!

Review - Mrs Henderson Presents (Noel Coward Theatre, London)

When the recently widowed Laura Henderson purchases The Windmill Theatre, she comes up with an idea to pull audiences in... create an act in which women pose as nude statues stage. Based on the 2005 film of the same name, Mrs Henderson Presents is a brand new musical, which tells the story of Mrs Henderson and follows the lives of several of her theatre's employees, during the years leading up to World War 2. 
I must admit, before seeing this show I'd never seen the film before, and had tried to stay away from almost everything to do with this show, as I wanted to go in completely blind. This is a decision I am very pleased that I made, as while there were some moments of predictability in the plot, there were also a lot of surprises. One of the biggest surprises for me (which might sound astonishing given the plot outlined in the official synopsis of the show) was just how much nudity the piece featured. But I am happy to report that every nude scene was presented very tastefully. I was also happy to note the undertones of body positivity which ran throughout this show. 

However, despite the extent to which the formation of the nude statue acts appeared to be the main storyline, thus prompting several emotional moments (such as a particularly striking scene at the end of act 1) centered around it, the biggest downfall of Mrs Henderson Presents was that it never really decided what story it wanted to tell. The plot revolved around around so many characters that I never really formed much of a connection with any of them, and this meant that all of the moments which should have been gutwrenchingly emotional ended up feeling a little bit flat. 

But what about the music? Well, there were a few standout numbers, such as the title number and Emma Williams' breathtaking If Mountains Were Easy To Climb, but there were also a good number of songs that all sounded very similar, and quite a few occasions were several songs seemed to blur into one. I also felt as if some of the vocal skills of the cast were not utilised to their fullest effect, as several of the songs were rather pedestrian. That being said, the performances of the stoic yet ostentatious Tracie Bennett as Mrs Henderson, and the captivating Emma Williams as the reluctant star of The Windmill Theatre were an absolute joy to watch.

Photo credit - Tristram Kenton
All in all, Mrs Henderson Presents was a lovely musical with a fabulous cast. Even though it had its faults, it was wonderful to see a new British musical on the West End. 

Review - Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre, London)

Having taken Broadway by storm and transferring to the West End to rapturous praise, Kinky Boots was very much on my radar, but until this weekend I just hadn't found the time to see it. I finally decided to queue for dayseats (£25 for front row tickets) to see what all of the praise was about, but sadly, I'm afraid that Kinky Boots just didn't quite do it for me. 
When Charlie Price's father, the owner of Price and Son's shoe factory, dies suddenly, young Charlie Price must step up and save the factory from bankruptcy. When a chance meeting with drag performer Lola inspires Charlie to create a line of specially designed boots, it looks like his father's factory might be saved, but only if Lola, Charlie and the factory workers can put aside their differences and work towards a common goal. 

Now, I must start by saying that there is a lot to love about Kinky Boots' glossy West End transfer. Gregg Barnes' costume design is striking (there is certainly no scrimping on sequins), some of Cyndi Lauper's songs are quite fun if a little bit too pop-y and American for a show set in the midlands, and the actors and musicians are top class. I was also quite fond of some of the choreography, and at the end of act 2 a feel good finale was certainly delivered. 

Despite not loving Matt Henry's acting performance as Lola, there is no denying that his voice is marvelous. Amy Lennox is also brilliant as Lauren, a brassy but lovable factory worker with a thing for the new Mr Price, whose solo History of Wrong Guys was funny and relatable. Other reviews have praised West End performer Killian Donnelly (last seen leading the cast of my favourite show in recent history, Memphis) for his performance as Charlie Price, but at the performance I saw the role was played by understudy Paul Ayres, who gave the most notable performance without a doubt. A charismatic performer with impeccable comic timing, who sung the score effortlessly, and shone in standout numbers such as Step One and Soul of a Man, I was shocked that I'd never seen Paul Ayres in anything before, despite his impressive list of credits. Needless to say I'll be looking out for whatever he does next. 

However, despite all of this, for me Kinky Boots lacked a compelling storyline and felt a bit too predictable and fluffy.There were a couple of punchy moments, but they just missed the mark and failed to make me truly care about much of the conflict. It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly what is was that I didn't connect with, but for some reason, Kinky Boots left me feeling a bit flat. 

I'm glad I saw it, and I'm almost certain it'll bag countless more awards in the future, but for me Kinky Boots just didn't quite hit the spot. 

Review - Hand To God (Vaudeville Theatre, London)

When Jason, a teenager grieving the passing of his father, makes himself a sock puppet companion named Tyrone, he only intends to use his new friend as a prop at a church group organised by his mother.  But all hell breaks look as Tyrone quickly develops a demonic mind of his own, and seems hell bent on turning his Jason's quiet, subordinate personality upside down. 

The comparisons with Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon which Hand To God garnered during it's award winning run on Broadway are understandable. The show features several hand and rod puppets doing very un-family friendly deeds a la Avenue Q, and raises important questions about our relationship with religion in much the same vein as The Book of Mormon. However, Hand To God feels totally different to both of these shows, and this is partly due to the fact that the emphasis is not placed on the puppets or the incessant blasphemy, but on the human relationships within the story. For a play with so many absurd moments of comedy, there were also several really strikingly touching moments, particularly in act 2. 

As Hand To God's central character(s), Harry Melling (who has well and truly shed the 'Harry Potter star' label, a feat which many of the show's other actors have yet to achieve) gives a wonderfully convincing performance. He is instantly personable as bumbling pushover teen protagonist Jason, but the vocal and physical performance presented when he brings satanic sock puppet Tyrone to life is really the most engrossing part of the show. In fact, some of the most impressive scenes are those in which Jason and Tyrone are alone on stage, and Melling showcases a skillful mastery of puppetry and physical comedy, frequently single handedly carrying the performance for several scenes at a time and effortlessly portraying both characters simultaneously. His performance is so affecting and multi-layered that it is impossible to tell whether Tyrone is really a possessed sock puppet at all, or really just an externalisation of Jason's grief and frustration. This is perhaps the most interesting idea posed to the audience in playwright Robert Askins' delightfully wicked dramedy. Janie Dee and Kevin Mains also share some brilliant scenes together as Jason's mother Margery and her trouble-making puppetry class student, and Neil Parson is hilarious as the exasperated Pastor Greg. Meanwhile, Jemima Rooper is endearing as Jason's classmate Jessica, but sadly she is slightly underused throughout the play.  

What I found most appealing about Hand To God was the fact that it featured consistent moments of comedic brilliance, and yet still felt like a slow burn, building towards a totally unpredictable finale. The plot itself raises so many meaningful and relevant questions that is impossible to write it off as just another raucous and gimmicky play designed purely to shock. Yes, it is completely outrageous, and also surprisingly a tiny bit terrifying, but every single absurd moment felt totally justified. In fact, given it's reputation, I was actually expecting Hand To God to be a bit more of a laugh-a-minute type play, but while the jokes came slightly less frequently that I was expecting, this in no way took away from my overall enjoyment of it. 

While it's certainly not for the easily offended, Hand To God really is an unmissable play. If your experience is anything like mine then you'll leave the theatre with your heart racing and a huge grin on your face! Startling and hysterically funny and yet surprisingly touching, it is one of the cleverest plays I've seen in a long time. 

Thanks to Stagedoor for organising a fantastic blogger event and being lovely enough to provide me with a ticket to see the show. I had a fantastic time! Find out more about the Stagedoor app here.