Review - City of Angels - Donmar Warehouse (previews)

Question: Where can you find Hadley Fraser, Tam Mutu, Rosalie Craig, Samantha Barks, Rebecca Trehearn and countless other West End stars all under one roof?

Answer: The Donmar Warehouse, where they are performing in an incredible new staging of City of Angels, a musical with a book by Larry Gelbart and music and lyrics by Cy Coleman and David Zippel. But good luck getting a ticket, the production (which played it's first preview on Saturday the 6th December),  has been sold out for months now. However, if you are REALLY eager to see the show, like I was, and you are prepared for a few minutes of extreme stress on a Monday morning, then you could as I did, try purchasing Barclay's Front Row seats, which are released every Monday at 10am on the Donmar's website. However, as so many people are eager to see the show, and there are only a very limited number for each performance, you'd better get in quick!

Luckily though, I was one of the lucky few who managed to secure a ticket for the 2nd preview on Monday 8th December, and I'm so glad of that! My seat, Circle A8, was a front row, side facing seat on stage left, and from there I had an absolutely perfect view of the stage. That being said, the Donmar is such an intimate space that I can't imagine many seats have anything less than a perfect view).
If you are unfamiliar of the story, as I was, then here is a description of the show from the Donmar's website -

'Hollywood comes calling for a New York novelist. The offer is too good to refuse: adapt the private detective protagonist of his books into a big-screen hero. The siren song of Los Angeles is a dangerous temptation and while his movie plays out in black and white, his new life is all-too colourful.' (plot summery from the +DonmarWarehouse website)

Hadley Fraser played the novelist; a slightly geeky, cardigan wearing, unsuccessful affair-having push over named 'Stein', while Tam Mutu played his literary persona, the handsome, brandy sipping, cigarette smoking womanizer, Detective Stone. Clearly, everything that Stein longs to be and more, Stone has an influence over his creator that only increases as the story progresses. The rest of the cast multirole as characters in both Stein's novel and his real life. Notably, the incredibly talented Rosalie Craig played both Stein's business-minded wife Gabby, and Stone's old flame, the alluring nightclub singer Bobbi. Part of the fun of the show is spotting the similarities between Stein's characters and the people who inspired (or become inspired) by them. 

Perhaps the most awe inspiring element of the production though, was the music, which I was blown away by. From the first note, every song oozed 40's glamour and seduction. As Bobbi, Rosalie Craig wooed the audience with her rendition of 'With Every Breath I take'. Her performance was a incomparable masterclass in musical theatre. Alternatively, Rebecca Trehearn's sarcastic performance of 'You Can Always Count On Me' was both hilarious and heartbreaking, a real standout number in a show jam packed with brilliant songs. Unsurprisingly, Hadley Fraser gave a flawless vocal performance, as did Tam Mutu, and when the pair performed together and played off one another, the result was nothing short of breathtaking. The final song ('I'm Nothing Without You') was one of the most joyful, brilliant songs I've ever had the pleasure to hear performed live, and I was grinning as I left the theatre! The rest of the cast all gave brilliant vocal performances too, with the omnipresent Angel City Four ensemble group (Kadiff Kirwan, Sandra Marvin, Jennifer Saayeng and Jo Servi) keeping everything running smoothly. 

As far as other production elements were concerned, the show was a period clothing fanatic's dream,I wanted to take home every character's wardrobe! The set design was also brilliant, quite minimalist (except for the large bookcase that formed the back of the stage), and set changes happened mostly at the hands of ensemble members who wheeled desks and chairs around left, right and centre. There was a gorgeous act 2 surprise in the form of a magnificent grand piano, but I'll keep the details of that a mystery for those who already have tickets!  

The idea of two stories running parallel to one another was inspired, and worked remarkably well on this occasion (The show reminded me vaguely of a film noir take on The Last 5 Years at some points!). Although, there were points when I found myself getting a little bit lost, especially due to the fact that sometimes fictional characters and their real life counterparts shared too many similarities and for a split second it was hard to tell weather you were inside Stein's novel or not. I also found that occasionally there was too much sound on stage and it was hard to focus. On the occasions where Stein was typing at his typewriter, and characters on the stage were speaking or singing, and there was music playing too, there seemed to be too much going on and the vocals were drowned out. However, I'm sure that this is an issue that will be ironed out before opening night. I also noticed that some actors appeared to be underused, with Samantha Barks, Nick Cavalier and Cameron Cuff going long periods of time without making an appearance, but this is an issue with the book, and not with this specific production, and was only an issue as their performances were so brilliant that it would have been nice to see more of them, but not necessary I suppose. 

I'm so happy to have nabbed those illusive Barclay's Front Row tickets, and if you don't have a ticket I seriously recommend that you try your luck every Monday morning. The show runs until February 9th so you'll have plenty of tries. Personally, I have fallen in love with the ingenious book, the gorgeous music and the talented cast, and would go back tomorrow if I could. An extended run or transfer to a different theater would be a dream come true for me, but sadly, not all great shows can be seen by everyone and I predict that once this show is gone, it's gone, so SEE IT if you can! 

Verdict - 5 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Edit - August 2015
In response to recent events, I would like to state that this preview review was posted solely for personal use at the time of publication. This blog began as a hobby, and for this reason I was not familiar with embargos or the etiquette surrounding reviewing previews. Even so, this review was posted with the word PREVIEW in the title, so that it would be clear that my comments may not fully reflect the content of the show later in previews or on/after press night. Having now become more a more professional theatre blogger, I would like to state that unless specifically agreed, no preview reviews will appear on this site, and any posts which contain references to or comment upon preview performances will continue to be clearly labelled as such. Thanks for your support!

Throwback - NT Live:Frankenstein

I've talked before about my love of National Theatre Live, and of my love of cinema releases of stage productions in general, and so when my uni hired out a screen at the local cinema so that the English Literature undergrads could see the National Theatre's 2011 production of Frankenstein, I jumped at the opportunity and grabbed a ticket for both myself and my equally enthusiastic English and Classics studying friend!

What initially attracted me to this particular production was the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller alternated the roles of Frankenstein and his monster. I thought that this was an incredible acting feat in itself, and the short documentary about the production that played before the play began really reiterated that.

The filmed production which I saw featured Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Frankenstein and Johnny Lee Miller as the Monster. The pair were absolutely glorious in their roles. I loved Miller's childlike curiosity, and the way that it juxtaposed with his horrific, dark side. Cumberbatch too was brilliant, though I would have liked to see his monster, as I feel the Doctor was very much the epitome of the character that Cumberbatch has sadly been typecast as. That being said, his performance was nothing short of excellent. Naomi Harris was another wonderful addition to the cast! Although she played Cumberbatch's wife, a relatively small role, she acted so subtlety and emotionally, the performance she gave was really heartfelt.

As you would expect of a National Theatre production, the set design and costume was absolutely top notch. The addition of a part-mechanical, part-physical-theatre-y steam train entering the stage not only looked awe inspiring, but made for one of the most exciting scene changed I have ever experienced.

Sadly though, there were elements which I did dislike, such as the addition of an uncomfortable rape scene near to the end. It felt gratuitous, added for the sole purpose of shock value, not because it was necessary or helped the audience to understand the characters involved any better than they did beforehand.

As a whole though, the production was enjoyable, fresh and remarkably well acted.

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Throwback - Antigone UK Tour (Pilot Theatre, Derby Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East)

When I was informed that Roy Williams' new adaptation of Antigone was a not-to-be-missed show for my uni course, I have to admit I was really excited. I'm a sucker for a modernised retelling, and Antigone was a play that I had studied way back at Key Stage 3, and loved! I bought my ticket well in advance and when the time came for me to see the performance, I couldn't wait.

Stepping in to the theatre, I was immediately draw to the set. It was a dark, metallic structure reminiscent of a futuristic Doctor Who episode. Quiet, clunky, tinny noises were echoing from somewhere backstage, and smoke was trickling ominously down from the stage and in to the first few rows of the audience. The overall effect was sinister and forbidding. 

However, from the moment the action on stage began, I was taken out of the moment. Firstly, for whatever reason, be it the fact that the volume of the music was suddenly increased, or that the actors were not wearing microphones, the first few lines of the piece were completely inaudible (This was an issue whenever anything remotely scary/tense was happening on stage - and I was only sitting in the third row!). When the music finally did quieten down, and the audience could get some clue as to what was happening, they were met with Roy Williams interesting dialogue. Every character's lines were peppered over generously with slang which made it difficult to understand anything of what was going on. Regardless of status or situation, throughout the performance actors grimaced their way through (probably not short of) thousands of colloquialisms which 99% of the time didn't even make sense or seem to fit the character at all. I'm really sorry to say that the effect was laughable in retrospect. Not even the performers seemed to believe what they were saying. One character which particularly comes to mind was Mark Monero's menacing Creo. He gave a brilliant performance, and physically he oozed terrifying coolness, but his lines were made up of an overabundance of fillers and idioms that had an almost comical effect. Even Savannah Gordon-Liburd as the eponymous main character (obviously renamed 'Tig', because, y'know, slang'n'stuff) was afflicted by the less than brilliant dialogue issues. It seemed forced. It was unnecessary. I was less than impressed. 

Overall, I was disappointed. The original story is brilliant and lends itself perfectly to a modern retelling, and the majority of the cast was talented and charismatic. Unfortunately though, when all of the elements came together the result was less than brilliant. 

Verdict - 1 Star

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Throwback - Book of Mormon (November 2014)

Okay so I'm very into musical theatre, and for years I found it hard to point at one musical in particular and say "that's my favourite!" But then I was introduced to The Book of Mormon, and all of that changed. 2 years later, I can definitely say that I am OBSESSED with that show, like I've never been obsessed with any other. So when my friend asked me if I'd like to go with her on her birthday to see the show again, this time with the currently leads, I agreed wholeheartedly!
If you aren't aware of the show at this point, then a) where have you been for the past 2+ years? and b) get booking right now! The story follows two Mormon teenagers as they head to Uganda on their mission, their aim being to baptize as many Ugandan people into the Mormon church as possible. Unfortunately though, once they arrive they realise that their mission isn't going to be as easy as they envisioned.

The show starred American leads Billy Tighe as perfect Mormon boy Elder Price, and A.J Holmes as his hyperactive and unpredictable mission brother Elder Cunningham. Stephen Ashfield played the closeted Mormon district leader Elder McKinnley, while Lucy St Louis played Nabalungi (the role normally played by Alexia Khadime). The main cast was utterly top notch, and the ensemble was outstanding, especially the ensemble of Ugandan villagers whose frank line delivery and super enthusiastic dancing got some of the biggest laughs of the night. Billy Tighe's Elder Price was very different to other interpretations which I had seen. He was very angry, self righteous and mean and it worked perfectly, especially when paired with A.J. Holmes' super sunny, likable and bouncy Elder Cunningham, who you root for from the moment he steps on stage. Tighe's impressive and hilarious performance of You and Me (but mostly me) solidified his character as selfish, deluded and downright brilliant, while Holmes' end of act 1 number Man Up was so enjoyable that you could FEEL the audience buzzing in their seats. The chemistry between the pair was glorious! Lucy St Louis was also wonderful as Nabalungi, her innocence and naivety was very sweet, and she absolutely shone during her act 1 solo Sal Tlay Ka Siti. Her heartbreaking reprise of Hasa Diga Eebowai was a standout moment too.  Of course Olivier award winner Stephen Ashfield was brilliant as Elder McKinnley, and his solo during the fan favourite number 'turn it off' had me in tears of laughter. Truly this cast is one of the strongest on the West End right now.

The show was still as enjoyable this time as it was the last, and I found myself laughing points where I hadn't done previously, as a result of the new cast members fresh takes on the character.

I can't wait to return to the Prince of Wales theatre to see this hilarious show again, though with ticket prices starting at almost £40, I doubt I'll be going back for a while!

Verdict - 5 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Throwback - The Wild Duck @ The Barbican

Okay so in the midst of pretty much all of my first essay uni deadlines, I saw a lot of great theatre (and some not so great) but due to my immense disorganisation, I never reviewed any of it. Until now!

I was fortunate enough to win a pair of tickets to see The Wild Duck at the Barbican, thanks to  +WhatsOnStage's weekly twitter competition (which is definitely worth entering by the way). So on Friday 31st October, while the rest of my housemates dressed up for Halloween, I headed up to London to meet a friend, grab some Wasabi (also highly recommended! According to London students it's the place to eat, and I can't say I disagree!) and see the show.

'Hjalmar lives in a flat with his wife, senile father, visually impaired daughter and a duck. Still he’s reasonably content, until his old friend Gregers returns to town, armed with disturbing revelations that threaten to blow their lives apart.' (plot summery from The Barbican website)
Now, despite being a fan of Ibsen's writing, prior to winning the tickets I know almost nothing about this production other than the fact that it was a reimagining by Simon Stone. The plot didn't really jump out at me, and I wasn't exactly buzzed for it beforehand. Having said that, I really enjoyed it! The plot was very relevant to present day issues, touching on corruption, affairs and confusion surrounding paternity in a way which was both effectively dramatic, and thoroughly entertaining.

What was particularly striking for me though, was the staging. Almost all of the play's action is performed inside a large glass case on stage. Although the 'glass case' was quite a ham-handed metaphor for the play's themes, it did a great job of allowing the audience to be a fly on the wall, especially during some of the darker, more uncomfortable moments. It also highlighted an element of the plot which this play is quite famous for. Typically Ibsen's play focused on the Bourgeois society, yet The Wild Duck followed the lives of mostly lower middle class people. For an Ibsen fan like me, it was an interesting and refreshing twist on what I was used to seeing. 

The cast was made up of a number of very talented actors, although the two performances with stood out to me were those of Dan Wyllie as Greggers Werle and Anita Hegh as Gina, Hjalmar's wife. I loved the fact that although Greggers was the first character the audience was introduced to, you were never sure whether to empathise with him or not. All of his actions, although questionable, somehow seemed justified. Hegh's performance stayed with me though, due to the raw emotion with which she performed. Even in one scene where her character did nothing but slump against the glass case distraughtly, my eyes were still draw to her. Of course, the star of the show it has to be said was the live duck which appeared in multiple scenes, splashing and waddling and causing multiple unexpected laughs (the actors played against the duck very well, and despite the unintended comedy of multiple actors getting slashed quite violently in one scene, I never felt that this distracted for the performance at all.) 

All in all, the show was definitely worth a watch, and I thank +WhatsOnStage and +Barbican Theatre for my free tickets. A delightful yet devastating way to spend Halloween.

Verdict - 3 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Method in Madness (Entita Theatre)

Perhaps one of the most intriguing of Shakespeare's female characters, Ophelia is a challenging role for any actress who crosses her path, so when a bright eyed young American movie star travels to London to make her West End debut playing the iconic role to a war torn audience, surrounded by a company of less than welcoming actors, it's no surprise that while trying to find Ophelia within herself, MiM's unnamed heroine begins to realise Ophelia's spirit may be easier for her to latch on to than she had though.

Set during WWII, Entita's Method in Madness features a fascinating array of characters including a cocky young Hamlet, using a confident exterior to hide from his inner cowardice induced guilt, a panic stricken mother reaching out over the pacific ocean to her husband and daughters thousands of miles away from her home in the American South, finding her fear mollified in her handwritten letters, and even the spirit of Ophelia herself, young and playful but with a hint of mischief in her eyes, haunting the young American as she struggles to overcome her fears and dive into the role.

Having never heard of Entita before, I was curious as to how they would execute their claim that they make Shakespeare accessible to all audience members, and I must say I was very impressed. The audience is truly taken on a ride with central character, and through that they learn with her how challenging and ultimately all-consuming taking on the role of Ophelia can be.

The use of physical theatre during the piece was particularly engaging. From the very beginning actors slide, stretch and swing over, under and around each other, giving the effect of a bustling street. Much like the play's heroine, the audience doesn't know weather they are coming or going. It's a jarring and yet very effective opening scene. Throughout the piece, the company use physical theatre in a number of unique and interesting ways. One notable scene included the central character surrounded by transparent 'mirrors', which were being spun by the ensemble. As the pace of the spin picked up, the actress became more and more erratic and hopeless and as an audience member I felt myself empathising with the young woman and her struggle. During another scene, the young actor playing Hamlet, usually oily and cocky, breaks downs in fit of anguish and iniquity after finding a white feather in his dressing room; the symbol of a coward. It was only when this scene ended that I found I was holding my breath in a mixture of fear and anticipation. Every move that the actor made during his breakdown was executed as if it was the only thing that could be done in the moment. It was as if words could not capture the emotions of the character, and the deepest internal thoughts and feelings could only expressed through the body. It seemed perfectly natural within the highly stylized piece, and was interesting too, as it played on a concept that even those audience members who were not familiar with physical theatre could understand. It reminded me of those moments when you are so angry or sad or stressed that you can't speak, you can only flail your arms around and slam doors and break things, and for this reason I think that that scene was most one of the most powerful in the show.

As far as the actors involved are concerned, I was hugely impressed with the focus each actor held, and the control that they showed during the demanding physical scenes. I was completely taken in by each and every character, and it was for this reason I believe the piece affected me so deeply.

In short, every actor and/or drama student should see this show. It tells the story of a young woman's struggle to find a character within herself, a struggle which every actor inevitably goes through. However, it's breathtaking physical theatre scenes, strong story and unpredictable ending make it a hugely entertaining show for anyone. I can't wait to see which Shakespeare play is given the Entita treatment next!

Verdict - 3 1/2 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Matilda the Musical - October 19th 2014

Matilda was the show at the very top of my ‘want to see’ list and so when I visited a friend in London it seemed like a perfect opportunity to finally cross another show off my ever-growing list! Especially given the offer of £5 day tickets for 16-25 year olds provided you queue outside the box office for them.

We woke up at 6 in order to get in line for half seven, where unbelievably there were already people queuing. Then the waiting began. We waited for two and a half hours but finally the box office opened and we were able to go inside and purchase our tickets!! AHHH!!! Having done that, we retreated to Café Nero for a while, then had some lunch and returned to the theatre ready for the show to begin.

Our Matilda was Violet Tucker, who was absolutely outstanding. She spoke so clearly and was so confident and such a brilliant actress, especially during the stories. Her singing voice was so clear too, and I found her Matilda to be very, very likeable and she’s a very talented young performer. Speaking of the stories… Wow I cried a lot…Even more so during My House where Lara Denning gave a stunning performance as Miss Honey. I loved the way the Acrobat and Escapologist parts were both staged and performed. The lighting was outstanding and really atmospheric, the music was hugely emotive and Antony Lawrence who played the Escapologist had a really powerful voice. Really those parts were probably my favourite!

Other cast members included Craige Els who was hilarious and yet simultaneously terrifying as Miss Trunchbull, Lucy Jane Adcock who was the understudy for Mrs Wormwood (her Loud was so enthusiastic I thought she was going to kick herself in the face!), James Clyde who played Mr Wormwood brilliantly, Lisa Davina Phillip whose Mrs Phelps often vocalised just what the audience was thinking, Jason Winter (who I had previously seen in Wicked), and Tommy Sherlock (who I had also seen in the ensemble of Wicked) as Rudolpho and the Doctor respectively! That being said, every member of both the adult and child ensemble was outstandingly enthusiastic and it really made everything much more magical.

The set design was wonderful too. The way the tiles towered over you made you feel very small and the bright colours made you feel very childlike. I loved how creative and just plain cool the set looked, even from our seats in the upper circle!

Overall, the show was brilliant! So, so enjoyable and considering our tickets cost us only £5, a very affordable day out too!

Verdict - 4 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Memphis the Musical (previews) - October 18th 2014

Having already seen the Broadway proshot and heard the cast album too many times to count, I had extremely high hopes for Memphis, and I wasn’t disappointed. The show only played its first public performance just over a week ago, and it’s still in previews right now, but my god, everything was perfect!

The cast…oh, the cast was incredible. Killian Donnelly played Huey Calhoun, a young man from Memphis who became the ‘first white man to play rhythm and blues for a mainstream audience’. Although his character is fictional, he is based on real DJs from the 1950s. Killian Donnelly’s performance was just outstanding, he was so endearing and adorable and I loved his characterisation. It was VERY different to Chad Kimball’s take on the role, but equally enjoyable. He gave an extraordinarily strong performance throughout the show, but his rendition of Huey’s big act 2 number Memphis Lives in Me was just something else entirely! It was truly one of the most outstanding live performances I’ve ever heard in my life. Donnelly’s voice is so powerful and emotive and characterful too! I could listen him sing that song over and over again (hint hint…West End cast album request!). Playing opposite Killian Donnelly, in the role of beautiful young singer Felicia Farrell was Beverley Knight. I really liked Beverley’s voice already, and have a soft spot for her because she’s from a place very close to where my parents come from, but I had no idea how outstanding her acting was. Oh my gosh she was extraordinary. I LOVED her take on Felicia, because she was so strong and so determined. Her performance of Coloured Woman was just breath-taking, literally. I didn’t dare even blink through it because I was scared I’d miss some little detail of her performance. I literally couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She also had an outstanding number of outfits, and her Felicia always looked so lovely. I was in love with every costume she wore!

Coming to other members of the cast, first and foremost, I have to mention how blown away I was by Tyrone Huntley who played the barman Gator. He was just brilliant. His vocals at the end of act one during Say a Prayer just blew me away. On the subject of that song, it was so, SO well performed and so emotional, and possibly one of my favourite scenes in the show. It was heart-breaking and emotional and the ensemble shone magnificently during that particular song. Stunning. (I did notice a minor lyric change in one song but thinking back I can’t for the life of it remember what it was!)

There wasn’t a weak link in the cast as far as I’m concerned. I did initially feel that a couple of actors had been miscast, but once I got settled in to the show I forgot all of my initial worries and found that each cast member was as talented as the last. Special mention however, must go to Jon Robyns who performs in the ensemble and is also the alternate Huey (and I WILL be going back to see him in that role at some point!). I really love Jon Robyns as a performer (he’s probably best known for playing Enjolras on the 2011 Les Mis UK tour cast album alongside John Owen Jones, Gareth Gates and Earl Carpenter, but also played Princeton/Rod in the original London cast of Avenue Q and has appeared in a number of other shows since) and therefore found myself drawn to him during ensemble scenes. He did appear as Perry Como, Gordon Grant and a number of other minor characters, but I was just excited to see him perform, so that was a personal highlight for me. (oh, one thing I noticed… there were no trapdoors so the actors from the shop scene were brought onstage via a panel that slid across the stage. Also, during the ‘the ride never stops’ part of Radio, the box didn’t raise up, and Huey instead got on to the balcony via the stairs at stage right? Not sure why?),

Music-wise, I was just in love with everything about the music prior to seeing it, but hearing all the songs performed live with a totally different cast is obviously a very different experience. Wow, the music is good… It’s fun, it’s catchy, it fits the period in which the piece is set and each song captures the tone of the scene in which it is performed perfectly! If you haven’t, go and listen to the cast album right now!!!

Memphis is now open at the Shaftsbury Theatre, and I recommend you buy your tickets asap, because I predict that it wont be long until Memphis is a firm favourite with theatre enthusiasts and casual fans alike!

Verdict - 4 1/2 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Edit - August 2015
In response to recent events, I would like to state that this preview review was posted solely for personal use at the time of publication. This blog began as a hobby, and for this reason I was not familiar with embargos or the etiquette surrounding reviewing previews. Even so, this review was posted with the word PREVIEW in the title, so that it would be clear that my comments may not fully reflect the content of the show later in previews or on/after press night. Having now become more a more professional theatre blogger, I would like to state that unless specifically agreed, no preview reviews will appear on this site, and any posts which contain references to or comment upon preview performances will continue to be clearly labelled as such. Thanks for your support!

Throwback - Book of Mormon (June 2014)

Okay, so where do I begin? Book of Mormon has been on my radar ever since the famed Tony Award performance that had everyone singing ‘HELLO…MY NAME IS ELDER PRICE!!!’ for well over half a year at every opportunity! Since then my love for this show has been steadily growing until BAM (!) it opened in the West End last year… With the HIGHEST ticket prices I had ever seen! Still, I was determined to see it! Yet my lack of money and the fuss it takes to get down to London kind of put me off, so I stayed content with my CD until one fateful day my sister said that infamous phrase “I’ll buy you Book of Mormon tickets for Christmas if you want.” … .. . ARGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

Fast forward half a year and here we are! Yes, last Wednesday I finally saw Book of Mormon for the first time ever! And it was GLORIOUS! The show, headlined by the gorgeous Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner, is performed in the beautiful, towering building that is The Prince of Wales Theatre. A stunningly designed building with one of the best seating layouts I have ever seen! (Seriously, my sister and I were sitting in Stalls O37 and O38, in the 2nd from lowest price band (okay, so they were like £50 per person, but for Book of Mormon let’s just enter the realms of fantasy for a few minutes (you’ll have to get used to that with this show!) and pretend that they are cheap seats!)

Before I begin my review/recount, another thing you may or may not know about me is that Gavin Creel is one of my favourite male musical theatre performer. Ever. In fact, he was another big draw initially, as the prospect of finally seeing my favourite singer perform live in one of my favourite musicals was intensely exciting (you should have seen me during the Olivier Awards.…’sobbing’ is an understatement!). However, on the day my sister and I saw the show, the preshow voiceover announced that ‘in today’s performance of The Book of Mormon the role of Elder Price will be played by Ashley Day’…A slight blow? NOT AT ALL (if anyone is ever angry that they see an understudy then they are not the sort of person whose opinion on theatre is one you’ll want to hear!)! Ashley Day really was incredible in the role of Elder Price! He was the perfect mix of cheesiness, Ken Doll-iness, and hilarity, and he really bought the role to life! For me the highlights of his performance included a HILARIOUS Spooky Mormon Hell Dream (he pretended to be hypnotised by the donuts and jumped around like a cat on a BBQ…I was in stitches), a really strong ‘I Believe’, and the most brilliant OTT emotive facial expressions, especially during ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ and ‘turn it off’. Jared Gertner gave an equally strong performance as Elder Cunningham. He was really endearing and adorable, with the best comedic timing! His ‘Man Up’ was stunning. A real showstopper to end the first act! Contrastingly, his performance in the “Breakup Scene” was really genuine and heartfelt (I felt myself welling up a little bit!). Of course, for me, ‘Baptise Me’ was his finest moment. The song is tricky…push it too far in one direction and it becomes over the top and farcical, push it too far in the other and it becomes creepy. But Jared Gertner and Alexia Khadime managed the strike the balance and the song was both hilarious and heartfelt (plus, if you have / will see the show with this current cast, listen out for Alexia’s growl…predominantly in the line ‘I’m wet with salvation!’ … WOW!) This brings me to Alexia. Another one of my favourite performers, Alexia gave a stunning performance as Nabalungi! She was so cute at the beginning, and her Sal tlay ka siti was so beautiful. I was instantly drawn to her as both a character and a talent. During the sad reprise of ‘Hasa Diga’ I was truly shaken, the song swelled with anger and disappointment, and in the following scenes you saw Nabalungi’s transformation from naïve young girl to strong disillusioned young woman. It was wonderful. And then we have Stephen Ashfield, playing the fan favourite character Elder McKinley! Ahhhhh, he is beautiful, and talented. I was in love with his Elder McKinley because he was so off the rails, barely keeping himself together. I was a bit scared for him to be honest! ‘Turn it off’ was stunning! ANOTHER show stopping number! My gosh was the quick change impressive. The audience loved it, I felt butterflies! THIS is why I love theatre. It was a magical moment, matched by Stephen Ashfield’s very strong vocals. Equally in ‘I Am Africa’ I was tickled by his hilarious facial expressions! (Just before he baptized the first villager (is it Mafala?) he looked over to the other Elders with a huge ‘OH MY GOSH…GUUUYYYYYSSSSS!!!) Look on his face before pulling himself together! Ach…He was brilliant (Can you tell…I’m a big fan!)

Terel Nugent played Mafala and he was hilarious! His scenes with Nabalungi were so lovely and toned back, while ‘Hasa Diga’ was CRAZY! If there were ever a moment in my life where I could say I *Ahem* “lost my shit” it would be at the swelling chorus of ‘Hasa Diga’ oh my gosh! (Well, that and the first time I saw ‘Loud as the hell you want’ from Avenue Q performed live, but that was more sheer disbelief than anything else!) But yes, I loved his Mafala, his comic timing was amazing!

I also have to talk about Hugo Harold-Harrison (with the greatest name EVER!) as Jesus/ Joseph Smith, because he was so great too! (He had a slight line flub “making the truth or not” which he covered so flawlessly that you’d never know, but at the stage door his disdain was obvious. Bless him!) His ‘You’re a dick’ line was brilliant, because it seemed so fresh! Meanwhile his Joseph Smith death was brilliantly cheesy too.

AND YES CHRIS JARMAN! He played General Butt Fucking Naked with such conviction that you could barely laugh at his ridiculous name. In fact, he was pretty scary. “I will get butt fucking naked…and do this!” was terrifying (wow, that guys brain! I mean…wow!) but he was such a sweetheart at the stage door! (Having lent my pen to a girl who didn’t have one so that he could sign her programme he gave it back to me and thanked me, then turned to my sister who has a beautiful silver patterned biro, and said ‘Well I can see why you didn’t want to lend that one out, it’s really nice!’ Awww!)

As for the ensemble… they were amazingly strong. The thing I love about the Book of Mormon ensemble it that they aren’t just a unit used to fill space and provide backing vocals, they all have individual characters and they all play their own part! I loved Ashley Samuels’ Doctor (‘blows my freaking/fucking mind…’ can sometimes go a bit crazy, but his was so controlled and awesome. Very impressive, with such a lovely voice!)

So yes. This is more of just a ‘Charlotte fangirls…’ review than anything, but the show was just so incredible! I can’t believe it’s over though, and needless to say I’ll be seeing it again as soon as possible! For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I advise you do! Don’t listen to what some people would have you believe…the show may be boundary pushing and at some points a bit racy and offensive, but my gosh does it have a great message, and the last song ‘tomorrow is a latter day’ really hammers that home!

Highlights of the show for me included-
The beautiful set design and lighting which you can truly appreciate when sitting in the audience! Even the curtain at the beginning was decorated gorgeously with a big blue sunset! And the starry sky during ‘Sal tlay Ka Siti’ gave the scene even more of a Disney Princess “I want…” feel than it already had! (also the starburst lights during ‘You and me (but mostly me)’, and the flashing after General BFN shoots that guy in the head!)

Okay so the songs were obviously amazing! (I was already a big Robert Lopez fan (Avenue Q ftw) but Trey Parker and Matt Stone were also involved, and despite the fact that I was never a South Park fan in the slightest, dare I say these three are a dream team!
ASHLEY DAY!!!!! What a star. In Spooky Mormon Hell Dream my love for his performance was solidified! He was hilarious!

…IN FACT, THE WHOLE CAST!!! Everyone was incredibly strong (as you would expect)but seriously, I can’t just single one person out! Everyone was amazing!
Joseph Smith American Moses. So Elder McKinley was just dancing along and then all of a sudden his face just dropped and I died. He mirrored the whole audience in that scene! Then by the end Elder Price had transitioned from disappointed and disgusted through bemused and finally he was just thoroughly entertained. He was laughing hysterically!

‘Hello…my name is-’ You sang it, didn’t you? Ahhh, THAT SONG is something else.

Verdict - 5 Stars

Throwback - Wicked (July 2014)

Oh Wicked…Wicked, Wicked, Wicked…Wiiiiiickeeeeeedd! Where can I begin? On Monday 14th July I saw Wicked for the third time at the Apollo Victoria theatre, London, with my friend Jess and it was AS magical as it was the first time, if not more so!

We sat in the circle in seats O44 and 45 and had a pretty much perfect view of the whole stage. I was so, so excited to see the cast because my absolute favourite female musical theatre performer Willemijn Verkaik is playing the lead role of Elphaba right now and this would be my second time seeing her! Wowee, she was amazing, as I expected. Her voice was so powerful, especially in No Good Deed, and in the more emotional moments, such as I’m Not That Girl and As Long as You’re Mine her voice was so emotive! I can actually not get over how talented she is! Her English accent is actually flawless now as well, and she really nailed the comedy! During ‘what is this feeling’ on the line “every little trait however small […]” she did this hilarious sarcastic impersonation of Glinda’s faffing actions and I couldn’t stop giggling! Acchhhh, she is incredible! Sadly, when my friend Jess (who I have to thank for this ticket as she got them as part of a gift package for Christmas) and I returned home we found out the news that Willemijn would have to cut her run short due to illness/injury and so would be leaving this Saturday instead of in October as planned. That makes me even more grateful to have seen her perform again, before she takes her much needed break (she’s been in the role on and off since 2007 guys!) but yes, all in all she was amazing and truly my favourite Elphaba ever! I was also happy to be seeing Savannah Stevenson as Glinda again! Glinda is a character who occasionally annoys me, I don’t know precisely why and it’s not anything to do with the actresses, there’s just something about the character that I find quite irksome, however, Savannah is amazing! Her voice is so lovely, and she is hilarious in Popular. I also found her ‘just wear the frock, it’s pretty!’ line to be really funny and she put on this extra high voice on the word ‘pretty’ and really elongated the ‘yyyyyy’ sound! Savannah and Willemijn’s For Good was extremely sad and emotional, I was tearing up a little bit because they are so, so good together! But oh my gosh you guys, Jeremy Taylor’s Fiyero though! He is incredible, I loved him because he and Willemijn had such good chemistry, and he was kind of a little bit dorky too, making the comedic lines (e.g. ‘the other castle’ and ‘you’ve been Galindafied’) really cute and hilarious! His voice is brilliant and his dancing was great, he gave a really endearing and energetic performance and I think he is up to now my favourite actor in the role (I’d previously seen Ben Freeman (2012/13 cast) and Samuel Edwards (Jeremy Taylor’s Understudy) who were both very good too, but I just really love Jeremy Taylor’s characterisation!) It was fun to see Sam Lupton as Boq (he’s hilarious and again, really endearing, and I love his voice too, especially in MotWH…It sound’s strange but the only way I can describe it is that his vibrato is full of…character? Thaat really makes no sense, but there is just something about his singing voice that is just so characterful, he tells a story and is very emotive. He’s just very good! Equally Katie Rowley-Jones was Nessa and I’ve seen her all three times I’ve seen the show and she was VERY likeable. I told her at the stage door that Nessa was my favourite character and she said ‘Thank you, she’s my favourite character too’ which was cute! I just love the way she shows the difference between act one and act two Nessa, her act one is really conscientious and quiet, while act two is very stony faced and sad. I like how she doesn’t really play Nessa as a child because she’s not, she’s a young adult, and you can see how her experiences have shaped her, you feel sorry for her as well as feeling distain towards her. I have a lot of love for Nessa and for Katie in the role! The rest of the cast was great, the ensemble was ridiculously strong, and their vocals were perfect! I never want any of them to leave! Over all the performances were all so, so strong, this cast is truly remarkable!

Scenes which stood out to me were Wicked Witch of the East because A) that is my favourite scene in the show and it was acted really well and B) I love the wardrobe “quick change” and I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers, but that scene I think wows a lot of people, and even if you do know how it is done (thanks, gobby lady at the stage door Feb 2014 who awkwardly spoiled it for literally everyone when talking to Sam Lupton, who looked extremely uncomfortable!) it is still awesome. Naturally, No Good Deed was amazing; I am always surprised by how breath-taking that scene is. As Long as You’re Mine was very emotional and the end of that scene when Fiyero stumbles back in the wind and the whole theatre feels like it’s shaking before it blacks out is just AMAZING! I forgot that that actually happened and it was just so cool! I also loved Dancing through life. The choreography is so fun, and right at the beginning when Fiyero throws Boq’s book, the book flew up really high, pretty much to where the stairs at the side stop! (Fascinating, I know!)

Honestly I could probably talk about every scene/ song forever but I won’t bore anyone with that! What I will say though is that if you get a chance to see this cast perform (Kerry Ellis is taking over from Willemijn from Saturday) then totally do because they are a really strong cast. And if you haven’t seen the show full stop (I know a lot of people have, but equally a lot of people haven’t had the opportunity/it doesn’t appeal to a lot of people) then definitely go I you can, because it is a really fun night out, and what you think you’ll see and what you actually do see are wildly different!

All in all, Wicked was incredible and I’m so thankful that Jess took me with her!

Verdict - 5 Stars

Throwback - Wicked (August 2013)

Wicked is one of the most popular shows on stage, and not without good reason. The show is currently celebrating its 10th year on Broadway and its 7th year on the West End, and this year it embarked on its first UK and Ireland tour. Boasting over 90 awards internationally, its draw is understandable. For this reason, when I went to see Wicked this summer I was obviously very excited! Not only did Wicked’s reputation precede it, but it had also been on my to-watch list for about four years.
Possibly the biggest draw is Wicked’s consistently talented cast. The performance I saw featured notable Wicked star Gina Beck in the role of Glinda, and brilliant understudy Hayley Gallivan in the role of Elphaba. Beck was hilarious and heart-warming, while Gallivan was incredibly powerful. Her performance of Defying Gravity was show stopping!
The stage looked incredible too of course, and I often found myself drawn the way the actor interacted with the sets, especially during actor Ben Freeman’s show stopping rendition of Dancing Through Life, where the ensemble’s exceptional dance skills were showcased.
In fact, the ensemble were one of the most connected and impressively energetic I have seen in a show, however, my personal favourite performance of the night came from Marc McBride, ensemble cast member and understudy Boq, who made the occasionally annoying role extraordinarily likable with his bouncy movements and childlike tone. A star!

Overall I was extremely impressed with this production of Wicked, and was extremely grateful that many of the cast members came to the stage door after the performance. It gave a few audience members an opportunity to congratulate cast members and ask some questions (We received some useful tips for Harriet Thorpe, the cast’s Morrible). Overall the production was brilliant, the ticket process were reasonable and the experience as a whole will be something I won’t be forgetting in a hurry! 

Verdict - 4 1/2 Stars

Throwback - The Tiger Lillies: Lulu – A Murder Ballad

If you think you’ve seen unusual theatre then think again, because The Tiger Lillies latest show (a concert style costumed Brechtian ballad based on the plays of Frank Wedekind) will change your perception of a five star show forever!

The first thing you notice when the curtain rises is the empty stage, decked out with only a piano, drum set and a saw. The lighting is pale and low, casting shadows over the faces of the actors, who are already in position at their assorted instruments. There is a beat, and the lead singer, costumed in a scruffy costume suggestive of period dress steps forward towards a microphone located dead centre stage. He pauses, looks around at the terrified theatre-goers, exhales into the mic, a long, scratchy breath, and the piece begins.

Before long, it is apparent that the piece’s unusual nature is not for everyone. There is a heavy Brechtian influence, with the actors creating sound effects on stage, addressing the audience and using projections to suggest location. It is less of a play, or musical, and more of an extended monologue set to music and accompanied by a single dancer, representing Lulu through a combination of ballet and jazz dance. To some extent it could even be likened to a rock concert, though, it is certainly unlike any you are likely to see again.

Unsurprisingly, several audience members left in the first act, but possibly before they’d given it a chance. Once you get past the oddball staging and haunting falsetto vocals which contrast the gruff, vile appearance of the actor/ musicians, the piece takes on a life of its own and you find yourself transported to Victorian London, where misdeeds take place in the shady slums, wives beat their husbands and murders stalk the streets, looking for prey.

This is certainly not your average night out at the theatre! You’ll come out confused, scared and disgusted, but believe me when I say you’ll not see anything else like this!

Throwback - Antony and Cleopatra at the Swan Theatre, RSC

Antony and Cleopatra is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragic love stories, it charts the relationship of Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra, two lovers who find their duty as leaders and their status as lovers cashing with the most tragic of outcomes. The RSC’s production was both visually stunning enough and stripped down enough to be enjoyable for both avid theatre goers and more casual theatre fans.

The play was staged in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s smaller Swan Theatre, which made for a very intimate performing space and audience seating area too. As an audience member I felt immersed in the action, with the actors addressing the audience directly throughout the piece and often using the aisle to enter and exit the scenes. This helped to enhance the intimacy of the piece, and also gave the impression of secrecy, as it felt like the audience were almost eavesdropping on the scene before them. This was particularly effective given the storyline of a forbidden romance between the eponymous protagonists.

With regards to casting, I was particularly impressed with the way which the American and English casts worked together. It both reflected the cultural divides of the characters within the play, and allowed for a different acting style. American actors tended to address the audience more colloquially and acted more freely. Notably, Cleopatra (Joaquina Kalukango) was entertaining as the barefoot, heroine, lolling on her rather more uptight lover Antony, and rushing around, almost childlike in her portrayal. Another notable actor was Chukwudi Iwuji, playing the hugely entertaining an empathetic Enobarbus. His performance was hugely memorable, and he was hugely engaging, in fact, to some extent the energy flagged when he was not on stage. His role in the memorable final scene, and probably the standout scene to the play, was that of a death mask sporting omnipresence, dancing an enchanting African dance, accompanied by drums, played on stage in a Brechtian style. This final scene left a wonderfully surreal final image in the heads of audience members, and certainly left me feeling impressed.

The play was a hugely enjoyable two and a half hours and definitely entertaining enough for me to consider buying another ticket and recommend the play to others, and although it has since closed in Stratford, it is open in Miami at the moment and is moving to New York in two weeks. Those who can should not hesitate to see this wonderfully exotic RSC production.

Throwback - Richard II at the RST

It sounds like a dream come true; watching the RSC staging one of my favourite plays and having David Tennant playing the eponymous lead role. I was certainly looking forward to the performance, and so were my friends and fellow Shakespeare nerds. In particular I was looking forward to watching how the play would be reinterpreted, as at a preshow talk the co-director was particularly insistent that this performance had completely reinvented the way the play was staged.

As far as reinterpretations go, I wasn’t hugely taken aback by the performance. Of course, every new director brings something new to a performance, but this show did nothing particularly spectacular. That being said, the show as a whole was hugely enjoyable. I was instantly intrigued by the wonderfully simplistic stage and the use of live singers in the performance. These elements gave the show a very raw, archaic feel that superbly matched the tone the dark, natural feeling light gave the stage.

The costume, hair and makeup also deserve a special mention. Every characters appearance shed light on their personality, from vain Richard’s flowing locks and cream and gold tunics to herculean Bollingbroke’s grimy, earthy armour, every costume told a story.

Of course, this review would not be complete without mentioning the actors in the piece. Naturally, David Tennant who played the title character was extraordinarily engaging and held the audience through the entire performance, even when the Richard became slightly pathetic and childlike. He was the star of the show, and with good reason. Unfortunately, Nigel Lindsay (Bollingbroke) never managed to command the stage in the same way and as such the character felt relatively weak, despite his war-torn appearance. Antony Byrne (Mowbray) gave a grand yet short lived performance that definitely left a lasting impression; he commanded the stage in a manner that Lindsey sadly never matched.

All in all, the performance was hugely enjoyable, and although some elements fell flat, overall, it was thoroughly entertaining. With a resource as valuable as the RSC just a short drive away, I would definitely recommend seeing as many plays there as possible. As this performance proves the production is always exceptional.

Throwback - Othello (NT Live)

Theatre on film, is it a good or a bad idea? Well, before I attended my first NT Live screening last week I wasn’t sure what I thought of the idea, but on reflection I can’t believe I ever had doubts.

So firstly, let’s talk about Othello as a play. If you haven’t read it then I won’t spoil it, because it is a play that you simply must read! There are so many twists and turns that a short synopsis could never do it justice! However just to give you some context, here is the plot overview as given by the Nation Theatre…

 “Othello, newly married to Desdemona who is half his age, is appointed leader of a military operation to defend Cyprus from the Turks. Iago, his ensign, passed over for promotion in favour of young Cassio, persuades Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair.”

I think the first thing I need to mention is that this particular performance was staged in a modern setting, with the soldiers wearing modern soldier costumes and the civilians all sporting some fetching chinos and boat shoes (clearly an attempt at contemporary clothing, however the effect was laughably ‘hipstery’. I expected to see Desdemona tweeting pictures of herself with a Starbucks against the backdrop of a Cyprian warzone at some points, however, this particular scene never materialised). That’s not to say that the staging doesn’t work well. It does. In fact, I think the fact that it works so well demonstrates the ability of Shakespearean texts to stand the test of time, and also the genius mind of Director Nicholas Hytner. The characters seemed perfectly at home in the contemporary setting, and the issues that the text addresses complemented this setting too.

Now, time to discuss the cast, possibly the most important element of a performance. In the particular production I was most excited to see Rory Kinnear, a favourite actor of mine, take on the sinister role of treacherous Iago. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Kinnear’s brilliantly creepy Iago is the best I’ve ever seen. Even when he’s not talking his presence is still felt. As for Adrian Lester, I believe this was a role that he was born to play! He captivates the audience and embodies everything that Othello is! Jonathan Bailey and Lyndsey Marshal are also notable in their roles as Cassio and Emilia respectively!

Of course the production was wonderful, as one would expect of the National Theatre in its 50th year. I honestly have no real negative points to this production; it was exactly what I hoped for in a production of this fantastic play. Spectacular!