Review - Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory

When it was announced that Olivier and BAFTA award winning star Sheridan Smith would be taking on the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate factory, it seemed that pretty much every theatre fan in the UK set their sights on securing tickets for the limited run. As a result, when booking opened on the 17th of August 2015, Funny Girl became the fastest ever show to sell out at the Menier Chocolate factory, with the very last tickets having been snapped up by 10:30 in the morning of the same day! You can therefore imagine my exhilaration when I managed to book myself a premium seat for one of the show’s last previews… and then my utter dismay when, after 3 months of waiting eagerly for the day to come, thanks to a series of train delays I was unable to make it! 

Thankfully, during the preview period a few more seats at the far ends on some rows were made available, and my friend quickly snapped a pair up for us...

For anyone unfamiliar with Funny Girl, the plot follows real life stage star Fanny Brice’s transformation from anomalous wannabe chorus girl to full-blown stage sensation, and tells the story of her doomed relationship with notorious gambler Nick Arnstein. It’s a tale which spans dozens of years and countless locations, from the streets of Brooklyn to the bright lights of Broadway, and because of this, I was sceptical about how the show would play in a small space like the Menier. However, while watching the show I found that the relatively small stage allowed the audience to get up close and personal with the story and its protagonist Fanny, played by the dazzling Sheridan Smith. This is part of the reason why, although I’m ecstatic that Funny Girl will be transferring to the Savoy Theatre in April 2016, I’m glad I saw it at the Menier first. It was truly sensational to be sat just meters away from Smith as she brought Fanny Brice to life before us, and really allowed for all of the actors to give more nuanced, delicate performances. 

Sheridan Smith charmed the audience with ease from the moment she stepped on stage. Her performance as Fanny Brice was both engaging and hugely affecting. Prior to seeing Smith in the role, it was hard to imagine anyone matching the showstopping performance of Barbra Streisand, who originated the role both in the film and onstage, and while Streisand is definitely more of a divaesque powerhouse performer, Smith's voice is much more similar to the real Fanny Brice's both when singing and talking, and I personally saw a lot Baby Snooks (one of the characters which Fanny Brice famously portrayed) in Smith's portrayal of Brice, which was very exciting.

Of course, the moment everyone was waiting for was 'Don’t Rain On My Parade' which ended act 1 and was met with unanimous rapturous applause, however, 'People Who Need People' was an absolutely heartbreaking number too, while the audience laughed through the entirety of 'You Are Woman (I Am Man)' thanks to Sheridan Smith’s faultless comic timing and physical comedy prowess. Smith truly gave a masterful musical theatre performance and made it impossible to pinpoint on standout moment.

While Smith undoubtedly gave the standout performance, there was not a weak link in the whole company. The charming and silky voiced Darius Campbell cut a dashing figure as Nick Arnstein, Joel Montague was endearing as Fanny’s friend Eddie, and Marilyn Cutts was fantastically droll as Fanny’s Mother. With such an outstanding level of talent it’s no wonder that the Menier’s Christmas musicals are celebrated year after year.

All in all, I am thrilled that I got the chance to see Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory this Christmas, and while its run at the Menier Chocolate Factory is completely sold out, I’d definitely recommend checking the website if you are interested in seeing it before it transfers, as occasionally some seats do get returned and become available online. Failing that, tickets are already on sale for the West End transfer, so go and book yours as soon as possible because this show is not one to be missed! 

Review - Cats (for

Having been left bewildered by the peculiarity of Cats when I saw the UK tour last year, I struggled to put my finger on what it was that meant I didn't enjoy the show as much as I felt like I should have done. After all, I had found the dancing absolutely incredible, the singing was top notch, and the set design had really impressed me, but despite this I found myself leaving the theatre a little despondent. However, given that Cats is such an iconic music, loved by so many, I was really keen to watch it again and see if a second viewing would change my opinion, and so a few days ago that's just what I did, and lo and behold, this time I absolutely loved it! 

Review - Singular Sensations (Jon Robyns)

When Jon Robyns, a performer whom I really admire, announced that he would be appearing as part of the Singular Sensations series, I was very curious and I decided to grab myself a ticket. As well as appearing in several of my favourite shows in the past, most recently he was the alternate for the lead male role in Memphis, a show which I like quite a lot (okay, this is probably the biggest understatement ever! I’ll have seen the show 11 times by the time it closes next week!) And I had also meant to go along to several Singular Sensations concerts in the past, but for one reason or another I never quite made it.
Running for just over an hour and a half, it made for a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. Edward Seckerson hosted brilliantly, asking some interesting questions and sharing some fascinating theatre trivia. Meanwhile Jon Robyns was captivating. He shared some brilliant stories (and some very impressive namedrops!) and performed a great variety of songs throughout the course of the afternoon. At the very beginning it was a treat to hear Jon sing, accompanied by one of his Avenue Q puppet counterparts, Princeton. Later we heard some familiar songs such as ‘Moving Too Fast’ from The Last 5 Years (one of my all-time favourite musicals! For that reason this was probably my favourite song of the afternoon) which were interwoven with some songs which I was less familiar with (i.e. ‘Ink’ from Dessa Rose). He also performed ‘Left Behind’ from Spring Awakening, which features on his album. Incidentally I had intended to buy a physical copy of the album of the day, but they had all sold out, so I’ll have to make do with my digital version for now…definitely worth checking out in my opinion though.

Along with the songs and anecdotes, Jon also shared a lot of invaluable advice for young and aspiring performers, which I found genuinely helpful and motivating (I now know where to look during a singing audition, something I’d always wondered about but, at this point in my life, felt too foolish to ask!).

So all in all, I had an absolutely fabulous afternoon. A while back Mark Shenton wrote an article for The Stage about current West End leading men, and it comes as no surprise that Jon Robyns’ name appeared on the list. As well as having a fantastic voice, he also has a genuinely warm and congenial persona. I’m so glad I attended his show and am looking forward to seeing him in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang over the Christmas period.

I’m sure I’ll also be returning to the charmingly cosy Charing Cross Theatre again soon, to catch another Singular Sensations show. I really enjoyed myself and for that reason I really recommend checking out this season’s other guests too, because I’d say that an afternoon like this is a must-see for any musical theatre fan!

Review - Mad About The Musicals (UK tour)

While it obviously comes as no surprise that I am a big musical theatre fan, I have never really been interested in Musical Theatre concerts before. As much as I love the music, the idea of seeing a night of songs performed out of context never really appealed to me.  However, when the tour of Mad About The Musicals, which featured Gareth Gates as a guest singer, stopped at my local theatre, I decided to give it a go…
As far as the performances were concerned, I cannot fault anyone. Michael Courtney (who directed the show and also starred) was a funny, charismatic host and very talented and versatile performer, pulling off a faultless rendition of the thrilling song ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar, followed almost instantly by an impressively sung ‘Bring Him Home’ which garnered a particularly long and well deserved applause. Meanwhile Gareth Gates was charming on stage, and his numbers were some of my favourite of the night. The supporting cast (Rosanne Priest, Kerry O’Dowd, Nichola Lagan) each performed a number of fabulous songs too, some highlights being ‘I Still Believe’ from Miss Saigon, and ‘Think of Me’ from The Phantom of The Opera.

In fact, was impressed by the variety of songs performed. Although there were plenty of classics included in the set list, we were also treated to some songs from musicals which are lesser known to a wider audience. I was overjoyed when Michael Courtney and Gareth Gates dueted ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’ from one of my favourite musicals City of Angels. I also found it interesting that some songs which I personally would consider synonymous with certain musicals were omitted in favour of slightly lesser known ones. For example, Rosanne Priest’s Funny Girl number was ‘I Am The Greatest Star’ rather than the more widely recognisable ‘My Man’ or ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’. I also applauded the decision to include a duet from the new musical Doctor Zhivago, which recently ran on Broadway. Although I didn’t personally love the song itself, it was an unexpected inclusion that really made me sit up and pay attention.

For me though, the highlight of the evening was the Les Mis section at the end of the show, culminating in a rousing rendition of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?'. I was shocked by how affecting the music was, even with a significantly smaller cast that in the show.

While the song list and the performers themselves were first rate, I did think that some other elements of the show looked a little dated. The costumes which the women wore were lovely but not very modern looking, and looked a little out of place next to the men’s smart and fashionable suits. I also found the lighting a little bit more reminiscent of a disco than a concert, but these minor elements hardly affected my overall enjoyment of the show.  

Overall I found the whole evening very enjoyable. The songs were entertaining, the cast was enthusiastic and the audience appeared to be having a fantastic time. Not only that, but in comparison to the eye watering prices which some similar shows charge today, Mad About The Musicals was a very affordable night out. It is clear why such a great show is now in its 10th year, and given the opportunity I would definitely see it again when it next tours.

Review - In The Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda really is the man of the moment. His hugely hyped new musical Hamilton is currently making waves on Broadway, while over here in London his Tony Award winning musical In The Heights (music and lyrics by Lin Manual-Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes), last seen at the Southwalk playhouse in 2014 has just been revived at the Kings Cross Theatre.
Having missed out on the show during its initial run, and subsequently hearing it praised nonstop I was desperate to experience it for myself, and so as soon as tickets went on sale in September I grabbed one, and I've been looking forward to it ever since.

Incredibly, In The Heights not only lived up to, but in my opinion exceed the hype surrounding it. Reminiscent of Rent in several ways but at the same time markedly different, the show is largely an ensemble piece, following the lives of the inhabitants of Washington Heights during a summer heatwave. There are enough ups and downs, loves and losses to keep you engaged throughout the show, and although there are quite a few characters, each one is fleshed out and likable enough that you’ll have no trouble following every story line. Especially thanks to Luke Sheppard's tight direction. 

From the moment the first actor entered the stage I was captivated. The connection between actors and audience was unlike any I’ve experienced before. I felt as if I was a part of the action onstage, and by the end of the show it was as if I knew each of the characters personally. This was, in no small way, due to the mesmerising and endearing performance of Sam Mackay as the show’s main protagonist Usnavi. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he opened his mouth, and he sang and rapped with a charismatic flair which was a joy to watch.  Similarly, Lily Frazer as Stanford student Nina was sensational, with enviable costumes (by Gabriella Slade) and an even more enviable voice! As her parents Kevin and Camilla, David Badella and Josie Benson were a vocal team to be reckoned with, while Victoria Hamilton-Barritt stole almost every scene she was in as gossipy salon owner Daniela! The energy and talent displayed by every single cast member was just entrancing!

I was also wowed by the set design, and way the space in general was transformed. Having seen The Railway Children which is still running in rep with In The Heights at the moment, the two shows set ups couldn’t be more different. Before I even entered the theatre I was met with the sounds of atmospheric music playing, evoking thoughts of NYC, while graffiti murals and posters helped to set the scene brilliantly. Upon entering the theatre (a significantly smaller seating area than that used on The railway Children) I was impressed with how detailed and vibrant the set design was, and particularly enjoyed the use of two large movable ladders which were used to create height or signify a change in location, and were even incorporated into the shows choreography at several points.

On the subject of choreography, Drew McOnie’s movement and dance pieces were a joy to watch, adding flair to the show's already buzzing atmosphere. But it was the music that I found particularly stunning. Prior to seeing the show I was cautious about how much I’d enjoy the hiphop and rap influences of the music, as normally this kind of music would not appeal to me. However, in the case of the music of In The Heights, I was stunned. It was brilliantly catchy and so clever, the cast’s enthusiasm was infectious, and I was frequently left grinning. In fact, the title song has been stuck in my head ever since! But there were also genuinely haunting, gut wrenching moments will leave you breathless, and perhaps a little teary!

If you missed this show at the Southwalk Playhouse like I did, do not hesitate to get yourself a ticket now. The intelligent lyrics, hummable tunes, heart stopping choreography and energetic cast were faultless, and to miss out on such an exciting production is a definitely no-no! Do yourself a favour and get yourself down to the Kings Cross Theatre as soon as possible, because I have a feeling the infectious buzz surrounding the show will make In The Heights one of THE must-see productions of this autumn! 

Review - Memphis The Musical (with Matt Cardle)

If you follow me on any form of social media, or you've been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I am a very big fan of Memphis the Musical. When I first saw it during its preview period last October I fell in love, and subsequently used any excuse I could find to return again, And again. And again. I took my parents to see it, brought along my grandma, my sister and I queued for dayseats on several occasions and my theatre loving friends also embraced the obsession. In fact, I have currently seen the show 8 times and have 2 more visits planned. 

Needless to say I am quite fond of it. 

And so a few months ago when Killian Donnelly (the original West End Huey) announced that he'd be leaving the show early in order to join to cast of Kinky Boots, I was quite surprised. Especially when his replacement was announced to be non other that X Factor winner Matt Cardle. I wasn't an X Factor fan and my only knowledge of Matt Cardle was from a Now CD which he featured on, covering the Biffy Clyro song When We Collide. However, I was lucky enough to attend West End Live this summer and was treated to his rendition of Memphis Lives In Me, which frankly blew me away and exceeded all my expectations. Unsurprisingly, when I finally got round to seeing the show again I was not disappointed.

In case you aren't aware of the story, Memphis the Musical is set in 1950s Tennessee and follows a while DJ named Huey Calhoun who falls in love with a black nightclub singer called Felicia Farrell, and tells the story of the pair as they attempt to find fame and bring rock and roll to the mainstream, despite the racial tensions of the time.  

As Huey, Cardle's voice was staggeringly soulful and incredibly powerful... a perfect match for soul queen Beverley Knight whose spine-tingling vocals have won her much critical acclaim in the role of Felicia Farrell. I was very impressed Cardle's overall performance, and struggled to believe that it was his acting debut, as aside from a few accent slips he more than held his own while sharing the stage with the rest of the cast, and nailed all of the weird quirkiness of his character while remaining endearing and likable.

The show itself is just unmissable. With great choreography, fabulous music, gorgeous costumes and one of the most hardworking, enthusiastic, energetic casts on the West End, it's a crime that Memphis will be closing on the 31st October.

If you've already seen the show, please let me know what you think below, or on twitter, and if you've not yet seen it, or had the pleasure to see the cast led by Matt Cardle, then I implore you, get yourself to the Shaftesbury Theatre now. You'll have an absolutely brilliant time!

Memphis the musical closes on 31st October. Beverley Knight is due to leave the show on 17th October and will be replaced by Rachel John (read my review of Rachel in the show here). Find cast holiday information and ticket information on the show's official website. 

Review - Mamma Mia!

Although it opened in 1999, Mamma Mia! had never really been on my radar. I enjoyed the film and was fond of ABBA, but much like many of London's other long running musicals, I think I just expected it to be there forever, and so I could pretty much see it whenever I wanted to. However, at the end of the summer holidays (now a distant memory for the most part) my friend asked if I'd like to go along with her to see the jukebox favourite, and of course I jumped at the chance. 

Sophie Sheridan (Gabriella Williams) is about to wed her boyfriend at the beautiful Greek hotel her mother Donna (Dianne Pilkington) runs, and upon discovering her mothers old diary documenting the year she was pregnant, invites three men to her wedding, hoping that she will finally be able to identify her father. The story itself is a fun, somewhat unpredictable one, full of laughs, cheesiness and even a few tears. The music of ABBA fit the story perfectly, with songs such as Voulez-Vous, Lay All Your Love on Me and the title song Mamma Mia standing out as particular highlights. It was clear that the audience was loving the music, a testament to the timeless appeal of the Swedish pop sensation. 
However, it must be said that some elements appeared a little less age defying. Although I was impressed with the versatility of the set, and how reminiscent of Greece it was, I did think that it looked a little old and dated, and the same went for some of the costumes too unfortunately. I had expected a bright, glitzy, high energy romp, and found the production a little tame. I also found the sound too quiet at several points, and as such several of the big numbers had less feel good wow-factor, while ballads like The Winner Takes It All felt weak, despite the impressive vocals of Dianne Pilkington. 

All in all though, if you're looking for some harmless musical fun, Mamma Mia is a perfect candidate. Catch it on the West End or find out if it's coming to a venue near you when it tours the UK next year. 

Review - Blood Brothers (UK Tour)

Blood Brothers, Willy Russell's iconic tearjerker of a musical, is currently touring the UK, and being the massive musical theatre fan I am, naturally I returned to university a week early to catch it when it visited Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre a few weeks ago. Although I did find some elements a bit dry, there wasn't a dry eye in the house by the finale! 

Set in Liverpool, Blood Brothers tells the story of twins Eddie and Mickey, who are separated at birth, but are somehow bought together again by fate and form a strong bond which spans decades (although neither of them knows that they are actually brothers). Despite the challenges of suspending the audience's belief when adults play children's roles, both Sean Jones and Joel Benedict played their character's younger counterparts charmingly. Their boundless energy and wide eyed expressions meant that it was easy to forget the parts were being played by grown men. It was by their brilliant on stage chemistry that the audience becomes emotionally invested in the story. 

While I did find that the first act felt a little bit too long, and a little static, it helped to show the audience in detail just how great the twins bond was . The second act was definitely worth the wait though!  It was jarring, and more than a little bit heartbreaking to watch the carefree, fun loving children of act 1 grow up into the stern faced adults of act 2. In this section in particular Sean Jones shone. His portrayal of older Mickey was heart wrenching and very memorable! 

For me though, it was the music that stopped me from enjoying Blood Brothers to the fullest. The show has been so popular for so many years that I feel that this is definitely just personal preference, but I found all of the music to be quite similar, and no song really stood out for me. 

Overall I really enjoyed Blood Brothers, and I'm glad I finally saw it. While usually for me it's the music that really makes a musical special, and the songs of Blood Brothers were sadly not my cup of tea, the emotional pay off at the end though was definitely worth the wait, and the characters journeys were so enthralling that I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone who hasn't yet seen it! 

Verdict - 3 Stars

Review - King Charles III (UK Tour)

Hi guys! 

The award for worst blogger ever goes toooooooo... me! (*applause* *screams from the audience* *my mom faints!*) 

Eugh! It seems every one of my posts starts with an apology recently, but at last (!) all of that is about to change! I've moved into my new house, bought a new computer and actually organised my life. Now all there is left to do is get the wifi up and running and normal service should return! In the meantime, I've got a huuuuge backlog of shows to write up about, starting with King Charles III, which started it's UK tour a few weeks ago...

What will happen when our Queen dies? It's a question that I'd not really considered until I saw King Charles III. This is probably because for all my life, Queen Elizabeth has been a constant, unvarying element of my national identity, and one which I never really paid that much attention to. However, Mike Bartlett's award winning play deals with a what if situation unlike any that I'd ever considered. What if Prince Charles became King? Would he be just a new face on our currency, or would he defy conventions and try to take a more active role in the running of the country? Bartlett's play asks these questions and many more, in a surprising satirical play which had me gripped from start to finish.

What immediately stuck me about this play was how eery the atmosphere created onstage was. You could almost feel the unease in the air, hear the yells of the angry and disorientated public just outside, see the sweat on the brow of our new monarch (played authoritatively by Robert Powell). This was created by a clever use of lighting, sound and semiotics. Very often the lights remained dim, and only two large, archaic candles lit the area. 

I also enjoyed the range of characters encountered. Although Mike Bartlett's use of almost Shakespearean language, characters and tropes seemed unusual at first, a few clever moments of masterful writing meant that everything clicked into place. The way modern day slang and colloquialisms were interspersed seamlessly was nothing short of masterful! 

Although at times some of the characters and situations tended to go a little bit over-the-top and became unrealistic, for the most part the play sustained a tension which build into a shocking conclusion! 

Verdict - 4 Stars

Review - Sweet Charity (In Concert at Cadogan Hall)

On the 21st August, I was invited by a friend to see a concert performance of the popular musical Sweet Charity at Cadogan Hall. I was familiar with the music of Sweet Charity (having covered a large number of the songs in my singing lessons) but had never seen the musical as a whole. Intrigued, I went in knowing very little about the story.
In short, Sweet Charity follows a young taxi dancer named Charity Hope Valentine, a lady with several unhappy relationships behind her, as she searches for romance in New York City. It's a fun tale full of ups and downs, coincidences which could only be found in musicals, and a ton of wonderful, recognisable songs.
As the title character, Denise Van Outen was charismatic and likable, with a strong singing voice and engaging stage presence. The way she kept looking out at the audience and sharing her thoughts and feelings with them ensured that everyone was fully on her side. Although the concert format of the show allowed for script usage, Denise (who had by far the biggest part and the most lines to learn) barely glanced at it throughout the show. This allowed for a smooth , evenly paced show (unlike the extremely long, drawn out How To Succeed In Business concert, which I saw earlier this year, where scripts were relied on much more heavily!
Michael Xavier, who I had previously had the privilege of seeing in Assassins earlier this year, was yet again one of the most impressive highlights of the show. His voice was fantastic and he absolutely nailed his character's comedic moments. For me, he absolutely stole the show!
In the roles of Nickie and Helene, two taxi dancers and Charity's best friends at the club where they all work,  pop star Kimberley Walsh and West End star Kerry Ellis gave lovely performances. I did think that they were rather underused, especially as their duet Baby, Dream Your Dream was a sweet song full of gorgeous harmonies, but this is an issue with the book rather than the specific production. Overall, I found their scenes very enjoyable. The same can also be said for Rodney Earl Clarke as Daddy Brubeck. His song, The Rhythm of Life, was definitely one of the most memorable songs of the evening, and without doubt received the biggest round of applause. It was an electrifying, intense and quite hilarious opening to act 2 that really took everyone by surprise.
I was also thrilled by the performances of the ensemble members, comprising of Arts Ed students. They all gave top notch, professional performances and held their own next to the other, more seasoned performers on stage. Of course, this is exactly what you'd expect from students studying at one of the most prestigious drama schools in the UK, but it was exciting to think that those young actors will no doubt be cropping up everywhere once they've graduated.
All in all, I found the evening hugely enjoyable. The cast was first rate, the music (provided by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra) was excellent, the musical itself was very enjoyable, and it was great to see a semi-staged production of a show which hasn't been seen on the West End since 2011!
Verdict - 4 stars
Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - The 39 Steps

Having opened in 2006, The 39 Steps is not exactly a show that screams 'review me', and yet given that it sadly closes on the 5th of September and I myself have only just seen it, I wouldn't want anyone else to miss out on seeing this hilarious show like I almost did!
Based on Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant spy drama of the same name, The 39 Steps may connote drama and intrigue, but in this stage adaptation the story in given a comedic spin which really helps to bring the perhaps outdated elements of the plot into the 21st century. It's also given a relatively short running time of just 1 hour 45 minutes, meaning that far from dragging, or trying to translate every scene from film to stage, The 39 Steps moves along at a brisk pace, which really ramps up the excitement and urgency which the spy drama element of the plot creates.
The play's hero Richard Hannay (played with gusto by the charismatic Daniel Llewelyn-Williams) is inadvertently pulled into the middle of a top secret mission, which the fate of the nation depends upon. He is joined by a whole host of characters ranging from a German secret agent to hapless Scottish Policemen. Impressively, all 150 characters within the show are played by just 4 (very versatile and energetic) cast members! As a result the audience in treated to a multitude of hilarious moments where more characters are required on stage than there are actors to fill the roles, and subsequently there are man moments where multirole-ing comes into play in the most ingenious and hilarious ways!
As a comedy, there is no doubt that this Olivier Award winning play succeeds. There are moments of genuine laugh-out-loud humour, and plenty of giggles throughout the show too. It's definitely a play I'd take visiting family or friends too, as it's pretty safe and family friendly, but still features a little bit of adult humour which would no doubt go over younger children's heads.
There are jokes, sight gags, some slapstick comedy and an exciting, fast paced storyline, laced with love and drama. Don't miss out!
Verdict - 4 stars
The 39 Steps closes on September 5th. If you've not seen it yet then you can book tickets here.

Reviewing previews - yes or no?

Hi guys!

This will only be a quick post as I only landed in England a few hours ago after two weeks on holiday in Turkey, but I've been following the drama surrounding the newspapers who published reviews of Hamlet at The Barbican before press night, and subsequently, the uproar in the blogging community as a result of these actions being branded blogger-eque by some, and just wanted to consolidate my thoughts (which I posted over on twitter) into a quick post, so you all know where I stand.

When I began this blog in October 2014, it was solely for my own use. I wanted to practice my reviewing skills as I knew I'd be using them a lot while studying Drama and English Literature at uni. I posted online copies of all of the articles I'd written for my Sixth form magazine, and then began reviewing all the shows that I saw, regardless of whether they were local productions, tours, West End shows or anything else even remotely theatre-y. I shared them on twitter afterwards as it was the easiest way to tell my friends and family about what I'd been seeing. At this point, while I followed a lot of larger theatre blogs such a West End Frame and West End Wilma, I wasn't aware of the larger theatre blogging community (the fabulous #LDNtheatrebloggers and #UKtheatrebloggers) and I was very surprised when people I didn't know began reading and commenting on my blog posts.

During my first few blogging months, I saw two shows during previews, and subsequently posted my thoughts in a review form on this site. The first show, Memphis the Musical, was one I had been eagerly anticipating for months, and the second, City of Angels, was one which I very luckily managed to bag a Barclays Front Row ticket for, as it had sold out months in advance.

At this point, I wasn't aware of embargoes, and didn't realise that reviewing previews was not the done thing. However, I also has a VERY tiny audience, had paid for my tickets and was not being paid or rewarded for sharing my thoughts. I didn't see myself as a "theatre blogger", just a theatre fan who happened to also have a blog. I didn't receive any complaints as a result of posting both of these reviews (possibly due to the fact that I had next to no page views), and several actors read/retweeted my writing. One even put up a link on his Facebook page, which made me (the young, naïve blogger) very excited indeed. And that was the end of that.

However, after coming into contact with the #LDNtheatrebloggers via twitter, I decided to take a more professional approach to my blog. I ditched (for the most part) the gushing, in favour of a (slightly) more analytical tone, and quickly learned the theatre bloggers etiquette. I also became aware that reviewing previews was not really the done thing, and so swiftly stopped doing that as well. The last thing I wanted was for my past efforts as a rookie blogger to tarnish my reputation later on!

I know that a lot of theatre bloggers, myself included, would like to be seen as knowledgeable and reliable sources, and  as such, I now try to conduct myself in a professional manner, both in the theatre, and when writing my review or blog posts. Although I have not posted any other preview reviews aside from the two I already mentioned, I now make a conscious discussion to wait until press night (or afterwards) to post my thoughts.

That being said, I am a blogger, not a journalist, and I don't have the privilege of being invited to review every single new show in London. If I want to see as much as possible, then for monetary reasons previews become pretty much my only viable option.

At the end of the day, I really don't know enough to say for certain where bloggers stand in the argument. On one hand, we (for the most part) pay for our own tickets, form totally unbiased opinions of the shows we see, and, like the majority of audience members, we aren't sitting in the best seats in the house. We are normal audience members, and have a right to post what we like (as far as I know). What's the difference, after all, between sharing your thoughts on twitter, and sharing them in a blog post? I'd say that the majority of people who see a show in previews comment about it on some form of social media, and there is no way of censoring every single audience member who steps into the theatre before press night, is there?

However, if I as a blogger have dealings with the show directly, am invited to press nights or blogger nights etc. Basically, if I get invited to review the show, then jumping the gun and reviewing a preview beforehand is a huge no-no and the thought would never even cross my mind!

Those are just my thoughts though, and if I'm wrong then please do correct me in the comments! Although I am ecstatic with how much this blog has grown in the last few months, I'm still quite new to the world of blogging (I don't reach my first birthday until mid October!) and certainly don't know everything there is to know on the subject yet.

Thanks for the support, and for the fascinating conversations on the subject over on twitter too!

Charlotte xx

Theatregoing on a budget - The antidote to my blog break

Hi guys!
I can't believe how long it's been since my last post! I've just been so busy, and frankly too hard up to afford, well, anything recently. My housemates and I are moving house and so I've had to dole out so much money in the last few weeks.


Deposits, insurance and summer rent certainly aren't cheap.

For this reason, when I read a blog post entitled 'Do You Go To The Theatre?' on ThoroughlyModernMaisie's blog, it really resonated with me. As a theatre blogger, it's easy to feel left out and inadequate if you're not going to the theatre 3 or more times a week  and reviewing every single show. Especially when your twitter timeline seems to consist of new blog posts every time you check in.

Blog envy gets to us all. It's understandable.

But really, if you can't afford to go then you can't afford to go. Especially if, like me, you're not based in London and have to commute in on the train in order to see the shows which everyone is raving about.

That being said, London is not the be all and end all with regards to seeing fantastic theatre, and certainly by looking for ways to see more in my local area I've been able to fill that West End shaped gap when things have gotten a little tighter moneywise.
Consequently, I've decided to put together a list of hints and tips about how to see amazing theatre without having to sell a limb or forsake a weeks food shop. To regular theatregoers some of the points on this list may seem a bit obvious, but hopefully some of the information on here is helpful to someone. And so, without further ado, here it is...

1) Explore the power of the Student I.D.
I am very fortunate in that I currently live and study in a city which has not one but two brilliant local theatres, and both of them offer some form of student ticket deal. Theatres offering a percentage off the price of tickets for students is not uncommon, but my local theatre (The Marlowe in Canterbury) has a fantastic programme which enables young people aged 16-26 to access brilliant seats (often in the front stalls or first few rows of the upper circle) for prices starting at just £8!!! I've seen countless tours and fantastic one off performances at The Marlowe Theatre for the price of a night out or a cake and a coffee in Costa. This is an AMAZING example of a student ticket deal that actually makes theatre affordable for students, and as such I hope more theatres around the UK adopt a similar scheme. It may be worth investigating whether theatres near you offer a similar sort of deal because honestly it has opened so many doors for me and allowed me to see shows which I may have otherwise been hesitant to take a chance on.

2) Never underestimate a drama student.
If you go to uni or really live anywhere near a university, then you'll probably have at least been made aware of the student productions which are produced, directed and star drama students (or members of a drama society). Often these student productions will be very well acted, high quality shows, and are always fairly cheap to attend! Not to mention you may have the opportunity to witness new writing or experience a play which is staged more infrequently. I think by now every student theatre group has done Romeo and Juliet and Hedda Gabler to death and have had to dig a bit deeper! Fantastic for everyone involved!

3) Investigate unconventional venues
Pubs, clubs, forests, parks, even public toilets! Often local companies stage the most innovative, exciting productions simply out of necessity. It's worth checking out local notice boards/twitter pages etc. and exploring theatrical experiences that you perhaps weren't aware actually existed.

4) National. Theatre. LIVE.
Need I say more. See the show completely unobstructed.... from the comfort of your local cinema!

5) The cheapest options are not always the terrible ones
In fact, they're almost always not terrible.
Okay for regular theatregoers this is probably the most obvious point on the list, but I remember a time not that long ago when I bought massively overpriced seats, miles away from the stage, and was just willing to accept that when seeing a West End show, that was the way it was.
When I take a trip down to the West End, I ALWAYS sit in the cheapest seats possible. I'm a student, there's no way around it. But as strange as it may sound to some people, the cheap seats are very rarely terrible... I mean ... REALLY terrible. If you really want to see a show but you're not sure about taking a risk when ticket prices are so steep, sitting in the cheap seats is your best option. Again, this might sound obvious, however, I am always shocked by the amount of people who splash out of £70 seats when three seats along or one row behind you can get a ticket for a third of the price. You could always check out Seatplan for honest seat reviews in London venues if you want to be certain you're not going to be staring at a pillar for 2 and a half hours.
Aside from this, there's the option to get dayseats for a number of West End shows (very often these are in the front row and are normally around £20-25 so if queuing in the morning is doable for you then I'd fully recommend it.). Not to mention a load of student ticket schemes that operate in London theatres, such as the RSC Key, National Theatre Entry Pass and Menier Chocolate Factory Golden Tickets to name but a few. Yes, theatre in London is expensive, but there are nearly always ways to cut costs while maintaining an enjoyable theatregoing experience.

I'll be honest, I do find this post a bit sad. It may be a fact of life, and has been ever since I began going to the theatre, but unfortunately, there is no way to avoid the fact that theatregoing IS an expensive hobby. While I hope I've helped to prove that ways to see great theatre locally, and avoid unnecessary expenses, it is rather unfortunate that as far as the masses are concerned, the epicentre of all buzz-inducing theatre is still London.
However, I hope that this post has helped to prove that there are ways to see theatre without breaking the bank. There is only so much that we as audience members can do though, and I do feel that in order to attract younger audiences, theatres need to radically adjust their accessibility, and tailor themselves towards a younger audience. Otherwise I fear young people may be further deterred from attending the theatre full stop.

How horrendous!

But what do you think? Is theatre in London more well regarded by the masses? Do you find the theatre inaccessible because of price, or because of any other reason actually? Let me know here or on Twitter if you'd like.
*  *  *
Right, that was long but fun. If you're still reading them I really hope you've enjoyed this post. Yes, it was a bit different my usual stuff, but hopefully I'll be posting regularly again soon. I've got some really exciting shows coming up in August / September, and then I'll be back at uni at which time business will resume as usual! Finally!

Thanks for sticking with me this long though guys,

Charlotte xx

Star For A Day - Elphaba

Hotel Direct are currently running a fabulous competition which allows theatre bloggers to envision themselves as a character from a West End play or musical, and design their perfect day out in London. For me, a character who I not only adore but also think deserves a lovely relaxing daytrip is Wicked's Elphaba, the green witch who is often cruelly labelled 'Wicked Witch Of The West'. She lives a pretty humble life normally, and dedicates a lot of her time to the protection of animals, which, while an admirable feat, is surely a bit draining after a while. Therefore, If I were to live as Elphaba for a day I'd want to experience things I've NEVER felt tried before!


Protecting animals is something that Elphaba feels very strongly about, and so the first stop of the day would be ZSL London Zoo, who envision 'A world where animals are valued, and their conservation assured'. I'd call in on the Lions and Monkeys and watch the eagles and hawks defy gravity in the Bird Safari, however I'd probably avoid the aquarium, as getting wet is the last thing I'd want!

After visiting the animals, I'd pop over to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium and indulge in some pre-theatre tea and savoury treats, whilst surrounded by cats (!!!), before whisking myself off to the Cambridge theatre to see Matilda the Musical. The story of a bookish young girl who discovers that she has magical powers and uses them to bring down a tyrant isn't dissimilar to Elphaba's own life story, and so I think she'd find Matilda's tale a truly inspirational one!
My last stop before bed would be at the Zenna Bar where I'd indulge in a truly magical cocktail. After enjoying a classic cocktail with a unique and unexpected twist, in the twinkling, candlelit and palatial cocktail bar (whose azure walls are reminiscent of Oz's own Emerald City!) I'd make my way back to my hotel to reflect on the day and read for a little while, before drifting off to sleep.

What about you? If you were a star for a day who would you be and where would you want to go? Why not write up your own itinerary and enter Hotel Direct's competition too! I'd love to read about where some of the West End's other biggest and brightest characters would spend their down time!
Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Miss Saigon

I have a confession to make...until this week I had never seen Miss Saigon! I know, I know, a self confessed musical theatre obsessive who had never seen what is often referred to as one of the best musicals of all time! Shocking! Luckily, a few days ago I, along with several other #LDNtheatrebloggers, were given the opportunity to see the newest cast in action at The Prince Edward Theatre, and so thankfully I am now enlightened!
Set during the Vietnam war, the story follows a young Vietnamese bar girl named Kim, who falls in love with an American GI named Chris. He promises to save her from her unhappy life, but before he can help the pair are torn apart by the fall of Saigon! The story is certainly not easy going, in fact, by the end of this epic tale (with a runtime of 2hrs50 including interval) I found myself a bit drained. Perhaps it's Miss Saigon's ability to pull on its audiences heartstrings so effectively that has helped maintain it's popularity for more than 25 years.

In the lead role, Eva Noblezada was a sweet Kim with an effortlessly beautiful voice and a magnetic stage prescence. From her first entrance she had the audience under her spell and was an absolute marvel to watch. Similarly, Chris Peluso made Chris a sympathetic character, which meant that when he had a difficult choice to make, the audience felt his struggle. The pair's duet, 'Last Night Of The World', was so sweet and did a fantastic job of getting everyone on board with their love at first sight. The rest of the cast did a fine job (we saw the full cast minus Jon Jon Briones and Siobhan Dillon. The roles of The Engineer and Ellen were played by Christian Rey Marbella and Claire Parrish.) and I was particularly struck by the honesty and power behind the performance of Sangwoong Jo as Kim's fiancé Thuy.

Given the show's frequent comparisons to another Boublil and Schonberg epic, Les Miserables, I went in expecting a show with incredible scale, and was not disappointed. The huge ensemble helped to give each scene a sense of vastness and chaos, and the amazing lighting effects and large impressive and detailed set pieces thoroughly transported the audience into wartime and later post war Vietnam.
For me though, the element which I was most impressed by was the music! I adore a good sung-through drama and Miss Saigon was brimming with amazing emotional and affecting songs. 'I Still Believe', 'Why God Why' and 'Movie In My Mind' were particularly gutwrenching, 'The Wedding Ceremony' was just beautiful, 'Kim's Nightmare' was perhaps the most tearkerking few minutes of the whole show, and while I did find it a little jarring (although I think that's probably the point), the penultimate song, The Engineer's 'The American Dream' was a showstopper that I really didn't expect! Frankly, there were too many jawdropping moments to count.

Although I did find the story a bit bitty and disjointed, and I felt the ensemble numbers could perhaps have been performed with a bit more enunciation as at points vocals seemed a bit jumbled and muffled (although this may have been a sound problem rather than a problem with the cast) I found Miss Saigon to be a surprising, harrowing and unpredictable show with georgous sets and lighting, memorable music and a brilliant cast.

Oh, and THAT helecopter scene was as epic as everyone says it is!

Head over to The Prince Edward Theatre to catch the new cast of Miss Saigon in action. Just make sure you've packed plenty of tissues in your bag!

Verdict - 3.5 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

West End Live 2015

West End Live, an event which boasts of a free weekend of musical theatre in trafalga square, was an event I'd been dying to experience for several years, so when my musical theatre obsessed friends suggested we all take a trip down to London for the weekend I whole heartily agreed! Looking back now, I can't believe we missed it for the past couple of years! There is no better event on a musical theatre lover's calendar!
I headed down on the train, met my friends at the station and got into the queue at about 8:40. There were already loads of people queuing at both entrances, but when the gates were opened at just after 10am, we managed to grab a spot about 30 rows from the stage and dead centre! Result!

Throughout the day we were treated to some absolutely fabulous performances, some from shows I was already a fan of, and some from shows I'd not seen before. I loved seeing the 30th anniversary Les Mis cast in action, turned into a proper Righteous Brothers fangirl during the Beautiful: The Carole King Musical set, enjoyed the Miss Saigon performance which wowed everyone and, of course, adored the  Memphis performance, especially as we got to see 3 songs from that particular show including the final song, the crowd pleasing  'Steal Your Rock And Roll!'

We stayed for as long as possible at the event, but had to leave a little bit early in order to check into our youth hostel and freshen up before our evening outing to Memphis (what else could it be?)
The show was, of course, fabulous! It was my 5th visit but one of my friends had never seen it before so it was brilliant to hear what she thought of it afterwards! I won't be writing up a seperate recount because I feel as if every other thing I post on here is Memphis related! We saw the full principle cast, minus Rolan Bell, (Delray was instead played by Simon Ray Harvey) and as usual everyone was top notch! It was nice to see Killian in the role of Huey one last time before he leaves for Kinky Boots, but I digress...back to West End Live...

On day 2 due to the fact that we'd stayed overnight in London we were able to join the queue much earlier. In fact, we were one of the first groups of people there. This was fabulous, as when the gates opened at midday we managed to secure a place in the front row, at the very far left of the stage! The view was amazing and totally worth the early start and long wait!
We stayed for the whole day this time and witnessed too many wonderful performances to count! The Billy Elliot number 'electricity' was an incredibly powerful tearjerker (I need to see that show soon!), Let It Be's The Beatles set was rediculously fun, John Owen Jones made a surprise appearance and the West End Cabaret near the end of the day was wonderful too (Ben Stock and Caroline Sheen's rendition of 'Suddenly Seymour' had me longing for a production of Little Shop Of Horrors which I never knew I wanted). Of course, for me, the best performance of the day yet again came from Memphis. Felicia understudy Rachel John wowed the crowd with a rendition of 'Coloured Woman' which literally brought me to tears!
Then we got our very first taste of Xfactor's Matt Cardle as Huey, singing one of my favourite numbers from the show, the showstopping 'Memphis Lives In Me'. I had been sceptical but he really impressed me! He even went for the 'D' at the end if the song! A promising introduction indeed!
West End Live ended with an amazing surprise- a Rock Of Ages cast reunion! Host Oliver Tompsett announced that he would be singing 'Don't Stop Believing' from "Flock Of Cages", which was incredible to begin with, and even more so when ex cast members including Natalie Andreou, Nathan Amzi and Simon Lipkin to name but a few joined the stage. The atmosphere surrounding the performance was AMAZING and it really made the end of the event memorable.

Sadly, the weekend had come to and end though, which meant saying goodbye to my friends and heading home. Still, the weekend was absolutely the most enjoyable time I've had in ages and I cannot wait to check out some of the shows we caught a glimpse of at the event! I'll definitely be heading down again next year. Can it be June 2016 now, please?

Charlotte x

Were you at West End Live this year? What were your favourite performances?

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Oklahoma UK tour

I'm a sucker for an old classic family musical. The Sound of Music was my childhood jam, I went through a long Calamity Jane stage (even bought myself some saspirella cordiel once. I probably still have the bottle somewhere today!) and Oklahoma, being one of my dad's favourite musicals as well as one of mine, was frequently ringing through the house. Imagine my joy then, when the UK tour of Oklahoma arrived at my local theatre, The Marlowe. 

Set in Oklahoma just after the turn of the 20th century, Oklahoma follows headstrong Laurey, a farm girl stuck between two men; proud but playful cowboy Curly and quiet, frankly  unnerving hired hand Jud Fry. As far as family entertainment goes, Oklahoma is a fun and compelling ride!
The show was led by the charming Ashley Day as Curly. I'd previously had the pleasure of seeing Ashley as Elder Price in The Book Of Mormon when he undstudied the role, and was very impressed with his portrayal. I already knew that he had a fantastic singing voice (which very much suited the Rodgers and Hammerstein music of Oklahoma) but at first I thought perhaps he was too clean cut for Curly. However, as soon as his first scene with Laurey ( Charlotte Wakefield) began, my concerns were quashed. He played upon Curly's teasing, boyish nature, which fleshed out his portrayal and made he and Laurey's love hate relationship believable. 

I think one thing that makes Oklahoma so popular (aside from the iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs) is the huge array of characters, and the UK tour cast were absolutely brilliant in that respect. Lucy May Barker was hilarious as Ado Annie, and her (impressively sung) 'can't say no' was met with rapturous applause, meanwhile James O'Connell's Will Parker was endearing. The pair were a perfect match. Statuesque Nic Greenshields was an imposing Jud Fry, and Belinda Lang won over the audience almost immediately with her big, raucous and spirited portrayal of Aunt Eller. As casting goes, Oklahoma was pretty much perfect! 

I do wish, however, that we could have seen more of Drew McOnie's fabulous choreography. The infamous dream ballet was brilliant in its tension and sense of foreboding and there were a couple of other entertaining sequences throughout the show, but unfortunately they seemed few and far between. I also found it odd that for well over half of act 1 there was no set change and very little change in lighting. Many of the scenes and songs seemed to take place in the front yard of Laurey and Aunt Eller's house just for the sake of it (such as 'Kansas city') but perhaps this was only brought to my attention because I'm so familiar with the film. Nevertheless, a change of scenery when the plot moved into the smokehouse home of Jud Fry near the end of act 1 was very welcome. 

All in all, Oklahoma was a fabulously fun romp, with equal measures of tension and hilarity. Although the production perhaps lacked the pizzazz that other recent tours have had, I've no doubt that this crowd pleaser will entertain the whole family!

Verdict - 3.5 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Memphis the Musical (Double alternate show)

If you've been following my blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that I am particularly fond of Memphis the Musical. The music is a mix of toe tapping numbers and powerful ballads, the choreography is incredible and the story is full of ups and downs, comedy and drama. For me Memphis is everything a great musical should be, and more. I first saw the show all the way back in October, while it was still in previews, and it's been wonderful revisiting it every couple of months and seeing how elements have developed, and how the cast have gotten more and more amazing in their roles every time! 

I am totally in love with the Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly in the main roles, however, from my very first visit I was also very keen to see both alternate's takes on Huey and Felicia too, and so when I noticed that both leads were due to be off on a Saturday, I made a spur of the moment decision to see the show again.

Day seating was my best friend that day! Although I had to get on the slow train up to London at 5:40am (!!!) to get in the queue for 7:30, when the box office opened at 10am, I managed to buy two almost central front row stalls seats (I decided to treat my sister to an early birthday present) for £20 each! I definitely recommend day seating for this show, as the view was utterly fabulous! 
I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the show was incredible! I raved about it in my last 3 reviews/recounts, so really this post is more of a recount than a review. I do however, want to talk about the Huey and Felicia alternates, Jon Robyns and Rachel John! 


BB14, I could't have asked for better!
I saw Rachel on my last visit and totally loved her portrayal, and so I was very keen to see her in the role again. Her Felicia was strong and confidant and a little bit sarcastic which was fun, but there was also a vulnerability to her portrayal which was really interesting to watch. As before, her vocals were totally mind blowing. I loved all of the little touches she gave her character, which made her seem believable and made her interest in Huey and his propositions more understandable too.  

Jon Robyns was totally brilliant as Huey. The role itself is very over-the-top and funny (and at times a little bit odd) and Jon's Huey totally embraced this and lent in to the weirdness, but never went too far, which was perfect. He definitely made the character his own, with little traits/looks/expressions that were hilarious. There were so many little moments that were just wonderful (such as a mimed interaction between Huey and Bobby while he was in the radio booth (I've no idea what the technical name for that is!) during 'Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday Night.') Little details like this which I hadn't noticed when I'd seen the show previously really helped to make this cast and this visit memorable. 

I was excited to spot this new poster on the tube.
It's great to see future principle Huey Matt Cardle
in costume. Unfortunately the Memphis programes don't feature
understudy slips, which is a shame. The programmes
for Wicked have cards inside with a picture of the understudy
in costume on it, which is a wonderful idea that I wish more
shows would think about replicating. 
The chemistry between the two leads was very strong and compelling and I really, really rooted for them to be together. For this reason, many of the dramatic moments in the show were particularly shocking and/or emotional! I loved the way Huey fawned over Felicia and how Felicia playfully made fun of him. (And I loved the pair's Eskimo kisses (I have never seen that before! It was very cute!)). Overall, as a pairing, there is now no doubt who my favourites are! Jon Robyns and Rachel John are my Huey and Felicia dream team for sure! 

Honestly, no matter who you see in the lead roles, Memphis the Musical is a must see show! I am looking forward to seeing it again next week (my friends and I planned our post West End Live entertainment months before I found out about this scheduled double alternate show. I don't normally return to a show again so quickly, but I'm still ecstatic to be going back again so soon!) and I'll be catching the show again no doubt after X Factor star Matt Cardle takes over from Killian Donnelly in the role of Huey on July 6th). Memphis has become one of my absolute favourite shows, and I cannot recommend it enough! Go, go, go if you get the chance! 

Verdict - 5 stars!

(Information about the cast can be found on the Memphis the Musical website)

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome