Interview - Greg Barnett (Fantastic Mr Fox)

A brand new musical adaption of children's bedtime classic Fantastic Mr Fox is currently touring the UK. Adapted by playwright Sam Holcroft as part of the Roald Dahl centennial celebrations in 2016, the show is directed by Maria Aberg and features music by Arthur Darvill and lyrics by Darvill, Holcroft, Darren Clark and Al Muriel. 

Greg Barnett as Mr Fox in Fantastic Mr Fox
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
Of course, Roald Dahl's works have become popular subjects for stage adaptation in recent years, with both Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory having made waves in the West End and overseas. Clearly Dahl's work remains as popular today as always, so such now seems like as good a time as any for the wily Mr Fox to make his stage debut. 

'It has a nostalgic effect on all the adults we speak to after the show' says actor Greg Barnett, who is currently starring as the eponymous Mr Fox. Barnett has been touring with the show since it premiered last November at the Nuffield Southampton Theatres. A co production with Curve, Fantastic Mr Fox promises to be fun for all the family, a sentiment which Barnett confirms, saying 'it's very much for everyone, everybody goes out having enjoyed it'. That's certainly something which many shows based on Roald Dahl books seem to have in common. It's impressive that the story of an anthropomorphic fox's attempts to outsmart three horrible farmers should be a tale which attracts such a wide variety of audiences. In fact, Barnett says that he thinks of the show as 'like a Pixar Movie or a Simpsons episode where the little ones get the humour on one level and the adults get it for a totally different reason' but, Barnett emphasises, 'they're all laughing at the same gag'.

The cast of Fantastic Mr Fox
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
The show is undoubtedly suitable for the whole family, a testament to Dahl's original story, which remains as popular and relevent today as ever. 'Whenever I speak to people and tell them what I’m doing they say it’s one of their favourite books, or they say "my little boy or my little girl is reading that in school at the moment!" It seems to be one of those books that’s in everyone’s psyche.' Barnett explains, also confessing 'It’s one of my favourite Roald Dahl stories'.

But what's it like to play the famous role, notably taken on by George Clooney in the 2009 Wes Anderson Fantastic Mr Fox movie? Barnett is largely unfazed by the perceptions audiences may have based on the film, of course 'it makes life a bit harder when you’re in the role George Clooney played, but we’re so different to the film that it doesn’t feel like a burden'. He is, however, under no pretences about the responsibility the production has to do the characters, and their story, justice, musing 'It’s a massive thing to take on because it’s so iconic'. But audiences shouldn't be worried, as Barnett is quick to praise the creative team, as well as his fellow actors, who were 'willing to play, and find the fun and the truth within the writing, which had already done most of the work for us to be honest'. 

Undoubtedly Sam Holcroft was tasked with a daunting challenge in adapting the words of one of the most celebrated children's authors of all time, but Barnett says that when reading the script he knew he wanted to a part of the production, because 'anything to do with Roald Dahl is going to be fun to be involved in' and 'the adaptation that Sam Holcroft has written is just absolutely stunning, a really lovely modern take on the original Roald Dahl book', so die hard Dahl fans have nothing to worry about!

It seems as if Fantastic Mr Fox is in great hands all round. Greg Barnett's passion for the show is evident as he enthuses that 'it’s got a feelgood factor' and 'a nice fresh, vibrant energy that really lifts you up'. With such a devoted cast, and an impressive creative team, Fantastic Mr Fox seems a worthy project to commemorate 100 years of Roald Dahl.


Don't miss Fantastic Mr Fox on it's UK tour. Find out more information by visiting www.fantasticmrfoxlive.com

Review - The Full Monty (UK Tour)

Fans of the 1997 cult hit rejoice! Screenwriter Steven Beaufoy's stage adaptation of The Full Monty is just as riotous and racy as its film counterpart, with plenty of gags and an uplifting ending that will have audiences cheering and whooping in their seats!

The cast of The Full Monty
Photo credit - Matt Crockett
For those who are somehow unfamiliar with the critically lauded film, set in post-industrial Sheffield, The Full Monty tells the story of six out of work men who decide to form a striptease act as a way to make money. The idea is the brainchild of Gaz, an ex-steelworker struggling to  pay child support, who ropes in his best friend Dave, a former crane operator, and his young son Nathan, and together the trio recruit a ragtag group of down on their luck gents to complete the Chippendale-esque line-up.

The story lives or dies on the believability of the bond between its ensemble cast, and thankfully The Full Monty tour is cast excellently. The fellowship of the characters is reflected in the brilliantly believable chemistry between the actors, who work together very well, and manage to avoid falling into the trap of just impersonating the iconic performances of their onscreen counterparts. While hardly a dead ringer for Robert Carlyle, Gary Lucy, star of soaps such as Hollyoaks, Eastenders and The Bill is charmingly scrappy as Gaz, while Kai Owen is dynamic and convincing as Dave, who has his relationship and body confidence issues. The pair's bromance is extremely true to life, and it's refreshing to see such a heartfelt friendship portrayed on stage. 

The rest of the cast is just as brilliant, with Andrew Dunn's pitiable straight man Gerald getting plenty of sympathy as well as his fair share of chuckles, and Louis Emerick giving a downplayed but hilarious performance as Horse, meanwhile Anthony Lewis is thoroughly endearing as suicidal security guard Lomper and Chris Fountain is a great final addition to the line-up as confidant and well-endowed Guy. The group bare all, both literally and figuratively, as not only does The Full Monty tell the story of a group of wannabe strippers, it also touches on some enduringly pertinent issues such as homosexuality, depression, suicide, worker's rights, and body image. Despite the frivolity of the main story, the undercurrent of bleakness and insecurity which marred the late 1980s is very much apparent. Despite this The Full Monty is first and foremost a cheeky but never lascivious feel good story with tons of laughs and buckets of heart. 

There's a unique and irresistible nostalgia elicited from plays like The Full Monty, set at a time when life was incredibly rough for a large number of people, and featuring a bunch of normal folks from working class backgrounds who band together to make the best of a bad situation. This has been played out time and time again, with another similar notable example being Billy Elliot which achieved widespread success at the cinema and in the theatre too. But the sense of community portrayed in shows like Billy Elliot, The Full Monty and many other stories, is timeless. 

In this day and age, when the country seems divided yet again, The Full Monty is a great reflection of the solidarity which people can almost always rely on in times of need, making a tour of this particular show timely indeed. The play doesn't really bring anything new to the table, so fans of the film should adjust their expectations accordingly, but it is great fun nonetheless, and with plenty of cheekiness dispersed throughout, it has its fair share of fresh laughs and a big finish which does not disappoint! Hot stuff indeed...

Review - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK Tour)

Almost 50 years after its premiere, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is still as popular as ever, attracting audiences of all ages and playing to full houses up and down the country. The titular dreamcoat is currently being sported by X Factor winner Joe McElderry, who returns to the role this year after a stint in 2016. He stars opposite Lucy Kay, a Britain's Got Talent alumni best known for her classical singing, who takes on the role of the narrator.

The cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Photo credit - Mark Yeoman
Joe McElderry's clean cut look and radiant grin make him a perfect teen idol Joseph aesthetically, but it's his excellent voice which make McElderry's turn as the eponymous dreamer so commendable. His show stopping rendition of iconic ballad Close Every Door on its own is almost worth the price of admission. It's just a shame that at times the production's zealous band overpower vocals, making the sung through musical slightly harder to follow. 

There are some really brilliant numbers in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Of course everyone is familiar with Any Dream Will Do, but Jacob and Son, and One Less Angel in Heaven are also earworms worth mentioning. Lloyd Webber has certainly always known how to write a catchy tune. The show is full of toe tapping numbers, in musical styles ranging from country to calypso! There's even an Elvis Presley inspired rock and roll number for Pharaoh in act two, as well as a rather fun Charleston inspired number. The various music styles, and accompanying props and costumes, make the whole show extremely bizarre, but also help to create a fun party atmosphere. 

Although at some points this production does seem a bit cheap and cheerful, amid the dizzying myriad of lights, corny '90s boy band choreography, and blindingly bright costumes, the slightly outmoded elements are scarcely noticeable. 

Of course, this production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat isn't perfect, not least because the musical itself is hardly a musical theatre masterpiece. In fact, it's a total cheese fest with lots of posturing, jumping up and down and inviting the audience to clap. However, at the end of the day it's good clean family fun that will no doubt provide many youngsters with their first taste of musical theatre, and which continues to be a beloved show to both theatre fanatics and casual audiences. It's hard to criticise a show as joyful as this one, and so regardless of its outlandish unconventionality, and economical production design, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is worth seeing at least once! 

Find more information at www.kenwright.com/microsite/joseph

Review - Death Takes A Holiday (Charing Cross Theatre)

The UK premiere of Death Takes A Holiday is the latest of Thom Southerland's offerings as artistic director of the Charing Cross Theatre. Set in Northern Italy in the summer of 1922, the story begins when the Grim Reaper spares a young woman's life, and decides to become human for one weekend in order to try and comprehend why people fear death.  

Chris Peluso and Zoë Doano in Death Takes A Holiday
Photo credit - Scott Rylander
Just as epic scale was powerfully presented on a tiny stage in the acclaimed European premiere of Titanic the Musical which ran last year at the Charing Cross Theatre, Death Takes A Holiday feels grand and rather luxe. Elegant and sophisticated costumes by Jonathan Lipman, and glorious atmospheric lighting by Matt Daw, give the whole production an attractive Mediterranean glow. 

The production as a whole cannot be faulted. Aside from a couple of scenes where too many chairs makes the whole stage look cluttered, resulting in a few chairography heavy transitions, Death Takes A Holiday is as slick and polished as has come to be expected from production at the Charing Cross Theatre during under Thom Southerland's direction. 

It's just a shame that the story itself lacks a certain spark and, despite its exploration of poignant themes such as loss and heartbreak, feels rather trivial. The relationship between Death and Grazia, the young beautiful woman whose life he spares, feels rushed and somewhat unbelievable from the outset, as Death claims to save her life because of her overwhelming youth and vitality, thus suggesting that no other bright young things ever met an early demise before her. 

It also feels like there are too many superfluous characters, who seem interesting but don't make much difference to the outcome of the plot at all. For instance, pilot Eric Fenton, the best friend of Grazia's deceased brother, is introduced near the end of act 1, sings one of the most affecting songs in the show and then almost instantaneously becomes irrelevant again. 

Of course, the idea of Death deciding to become a human is an undeniably interesting premise, and the potential for some brilliant fish out of water comedy is not ignored, to begin with at least.  As Death parades around in his human guise, in the body of recently deceased Russian Prince Nikolai Sirki, his exploration of what it means to be human is rather enjoyable to behold. Especially as he waxes lyrical about eating eggs for breakfast, and discovers human lust after an encounter with a sensual housemaid. However, these lighter scenes feel very much at odds with the dark, voluptuous romance between Grazia and Death, and as such the latter character quickly starts to feel like a hybrid of Jack Skeleton and the Phantom of the Opera. 

Nevertheless, Chris Peluso is the perfect leading man for the role, with an imposing presence and a silky voice versatile enough to effortlessly tackle Maury Yeston's soaring score. Similarly, Zoë Doano's pure tone suits the youthfulness of Grazia, and it's lovely to see pluckiness in her portrayal of the young lover, despite the disadvantages that her age and gender afford her in the somewhat outdated story. 

Additionally, although it is not the strongest or most memorable of Maury Yeston's compositions, Death Takes A Holiday's sumptuous score is full of rich, goose bump inducing harmonies and contains plenty of light and shade, which is perfectly apt for a musical about life and death. 

It's a shame that a brilliantly atmospheric production with such a strong cast can still feel underwhelming, as on aesthetics alone Death Takes A Holiday cannot be faulted. Ironically and somewhat inexplicably the production just lacks a certain spirit. The performances are well worth a listen, and fans of chamber musicals will no doubt adore Maury Yeston's opulent oeuvre, but as a whole the show seems to be missing something, and ends rather abruptly, in a finale which lacks drama and emotion, despite a rousing accompanying score. 

Review - The Glass Menagerie (Duke of York's Theatre)

Having begun its journey at the American Repertory Theatre in 2013, transferred to Broadway and received Tony Award success, then crossed the pond last summer to entertain audiences at the Edinburgh International Festival, John Tiffany’s acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie has finally arrived in London’s West End.

Kate O'Flynn as Laura
Photo credit - Johan Persson
It's no wonder The Glass Menagerie is considered by many to be Williams' greatest achievement as a playwright. The emotionally shattering memory play perfectly balances humour, intrigue, heartbreak and desire as it tells the story of a family in tatters, trying desperately to thrive despite their multitude of hindrances. 

Based on Williams himself, Tom Wingfield's desire for creativity and freedom repels him from his family, and his sister Laura, living with a limp as a result of childhood illness, is a fragile and isolated creature living inside her own world. The products of depression era America, both siblings are dreamers in their own ways, at odds with their woebegone homeland. 

Watching over her forlorn family is Amanda Wingfield, an erstwhile Southern Belle who hides a multitude of pains and regrets behind a bright, comely smile. Struggling to eek out a living on Tom's warehouse salary and the pittance Amanda earns by selling magazines over the phone to her acquaintances, the Wingfield family's plight is a serious one. Despite Amanda's attempts to disguise their troubles, both emotional and monetary, the truth is always looming over them like the portrait of Mr Wingfield, the absent husband, which hangs in the family apartment. 
The cast of The Glass Menagerie
Photo credit - Johan Persson
Making her West End debut, the exquisite Cherry Jones is a force to be reckoned with as the domineering matriarch of the Wingfield family. Her exuberance and gaiety flickers on and off throughout the show, occasionally revealing a glimpse of the anxiety which lies underneath her well rehearsed charm. Meanwhile Michael Esper is engaging as Tom Wingfield. Balancing a multitude of conflicting tormenting emotions, it's clear he's not just a drunkard blindly stumbling into his absent father's footsteps, but rather a young man desperate to escape an oppressive existence, menial job and soulless town. Both actors do excellent jobs of making their characters sympathetic, while maintaining their individual complexities.

However, it is Kate O'Flynn who undoubtedly steals the show as mawkish Laura. The endearing gawkiness which Amanda Wingfield does her best to erase is perfectly calculated in O'Flynn's performance. An unconventional yet apt comparison to the mournfulness of Laura's emotional arc would be watching a child let go of a balloon in slow motion. The tragic, heartbreaking inevitability of her fate is almost too much to bear. She shines especially brightly in act two, which centres around Laura's encounter with a gentleman caller. Brian J. Smith's overly confident yet kind hearted Jim O'Connor is the perfect foil for Laura, and the tenderness radiated from the bittersweet couple is enough to move anyone to tears.

Just as Tom offers the audience 'truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion' in his opening monologue, this perfectly crafted production captures the fantastical, dreamlike quality of The Glass Menagerie, and amplifies it tenfold. 1930s Missouri is brought to vivid life through Bob Crowley's set design. The Wingfield family's apartment feels small and humble, and along with the iconic fire escape, a pool of dark water which surrounds their hexagonal apartment on all sides epitomises the confinement each character struggles with throughout the play. 

The striking set design is coupled with gorgeous lighting by Natasha Katz. Wistfully delivered narration is lit in cool blue, and muggy everyday St Louis is lit like a faded photograph. However, at night the sky is enchanted with glimmering stars, reflected in the water around the Wingfield apartment so it almost appears to float in the night sky. 

There is an awful lot to admire about John Tiffany's beguiling production of The Glass Menagerie. Watching it is like ascending a staircase in the dark. Gut wrenching at every turn. As ennui is faultlessly contorted into enrapture it becomes abundantly clear that this show is nothing short of wondrous. In every sense. 

Visit theglassmenagerie.co.uk for more information about this production