Review - Top Hat (UK Tour)

If you're longing for a musical that provides the whole package (great acting, terrific singing and outstanding dancing) then the Top Hat UK tour is not to be missed. Although when I booked my seats (and ended up in the front row thanks to the Marlowe Theatre's discovery ticket scheme) I was really only looking for a way to fill a couple of spare evenings which I'd otherwise have spent refreshing twitter all night and trying (and probably failing) to resist the call of Dominos, Top Hat completely blew me away and I would say that it is currently one of the most enjoyable shows I've seen this year! 
Following the classic tale of mistaken identity seen in the 1935 RKO picture of the same name which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, Top Hat's UK Tour is filled with enough hilarity, glitz and glamour to keep you thoroughly entertained throughout.

The cast are all hugely energetic, but special mention must go to Alan Burkitt, who stars as Jerry Travers. The charismatic Burkitt's broad smile is infectious, his facial and physical Astaireisms are incredible and his dancing seemed effortless! He stars opposite Charlotte Gooch as Dale Tremont. The pair have incredible chemistry, and their showstopping duet 'Cheek To Cheek' is a standout performance in a show which brims with showstopping numbers! 

In fact, the dancing in Top Hat is first rate all round. My personal favourite song, 'Puttin' on the ritz' featured flawlessly synchronized tapping (I'm a total tapoholic to this show was a dream come true all round) and irresistibly catchy lyrics that'll definitely have you tapping your toes in your seat. Meanwhile, in act 2 'The Piccolino' was an atmospheric and entertaining number that had me wishing I'd not given up my dance lessons so early. The entire cast are fully committed and incredibly talented. Not to mention the rich orchestra, which provide gloriously jaunty music throughout. 

Top Hat's tour also features an incredibly elaborate set and possibly some of the most beautiful costumes I have ever seen. In fact, attention to detail is what really sets this tour apart from some of the others which I've seen this year. While I mentioned that Jersey Boys and Shrek, although wonderful, felt stripped back (as is the case with many tours, understandably), when watching Top Hat you could easily believe that you'd been transported to the West End! 

I very rarely return to shows multiple times (with exceptions made for my absolute favourite shows), but I can honestly say that if I had not already booked my train home, I would have seen Top Hat again the very next day without hesitation. If you're longing to be dazzled in the theatre this year, then look no further than Top Hat, which is touring the UK until 25th July. 

Verdict - 5 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

As a sort of present to myself for getting through my second term at uni without becoming having a nervous breakdown myself, I grabbed a cheap seat to see the West End adaption of Pedro Almodovar's Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown last weekend while I was waiting for my train home (thankfully, The Playhouse Theatre had a bigish cloakroom, my suitcase was bulging!). Unfortunately, although there were some enjoyable elements, for the most part, I left the theatre two and a half hours later almost wishing I had gone straight home!
The plot basically follows a woman named Peppa (Tamsin Greig), whose lover Ivan leaves her without explanation one morning. Peppa spends almost the entire musical running around sheepishly, looking for Ivan and not doing much else. In the midst of this Peppa's best friend, a hapless model named Candela (Anna Skellern) accidentally begins a relationship with a terrorist, and rushes to Peppa for advice. Running parallel to the Peppa storyline (and subsequently crossing over into it) is the story of Ivan's unstable and unpredictable wife Lucia (Haydn Gwynne), who is filing for divorce after many years of separation.  If that doesn't seem like enough plot for one musical, there are several other character, each with stories of their own. The shifty feminist lawyer (Willemijn Verkaik, a fiery saving grace in this rather slow burning show), The taxi driver who partially narrates the story, and Lucia's son Carlos (Haydn Oakley) and his fiance (Seline Hizli) also feature.

The first song sets us up in 1980s Madrid, but as soon as the song ends we're transported to a stark white set without much charm, and introduced one by one to a myriad of characters who almost all speak in RP accents. There is almost no indication of location for the rest of the musical. Setting Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown in Madrid felt like almost a last minute addition for the sake of it, much like quite a bit of the production actually.

In terms of the music, I found the songs of Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown to be rather forgettable. The only song I could hum from the show now would be the opening number, Madrid, and the only reason for that is because I'd heard the song before in one of the promotional videos released for the show, The rest of the songs all merge in to a sea of talk-singing, yelling and slurring. As far as I'm concerned, there doesn't appear to be a standout song at all.

I was also surprisingly disappointed by the cast. I'd been a long time fan of Tamsin Greig, and still do consider myself a fan, but I wasn't convinced by her performance as Peppa. She spent the majority of her time on stage stumbling around like a drunken Bambi on ice, stammering and laughing nervously. This routine became tiring very quickly. Haydn Gwynne was also exhausting to watch as Lucia, as she appeared to do nothing but shout for the whole show. A woman on the verge she may have been, but an undeveloped one for sure. Jerome Prandon also seemed odd as Ivan. As the character at the heart of so much drama, you'd expect him to have some likable features, but unfortunately when he finally appeared in all his  glory he did nothing but sidle around stage like a panto villain and spout cliches. Negativity aside there were some impressive performances given by a couple of cast members. Aside from Willemijn Verkaik, who upstaged everyone's vocals through just one solo sung line(?!), Anna Skellern gave a good performance as cutesy Candela, while Haydn Oakley shone with impressive vocals and endearing characterisation as Lucia's pushover son Carlos. Unfortunately thought, all three performers were criminally underused. and despite these performances I still found the musical extremely slow. 

In fact many elements seemed added in for the sake of it. There was a random toreador who appeared to serve no purpose, Peppa being an actress was irrelevant and appearance of the taxi driver was overly convenient and pointless. The script was infuriatingly predictable and longwinded and the characters were mostly unlikable.

I hate to talk so negatively about shows, but I have to be honest in this blog, and I did not enjoy myself much at all. I am sad however to hear that it will close next month, as I am aware that with some audiences this show has been received much more favorably. It does go to show however that everyone's tastes are different, and has proven to me that maybe there are some musicals which I don't enjoy quite as much as others! Who'da thunk it?

Verdict - 1 star

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Made In Dagenham

Ahhh, Made in Dagenham, a show which has become infamous in the last couple of months. As a new British musical, many believed that it should have had much more support than it did. The West End is currently full of Jukebox musicals and shows which have transferred from Broadway, and while these shows are undoubtedly fantastic, none which I have seen recently have affected me in quite the same way Made In Dagenham did. Having seen the show for the first time on its closing night, I wish I’d seen it much earlier so I could have told everyone how enjoyable it was, despite its flaws!
The musical follows the ladies who worked in the Dagenham Ford factory in the late 1960s, led by Rita O’Grady (The magnetic Gemma Arterton) as they campaign for equal pay, and to have their jobs as stitchers recognised as skilled. However, their campaign is not supported by everyone, and Rita and co. soon find their way barred by a number of different problems, from family disagreements to financial issues and even the intervention of the American owner of Ford, the fight is not easy for the Dagenham ladies, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from striking!

Hailed as a comedy musical, I must say that while some elements were actually quite funny (for example, the scene featuring the song Cortina, which had me in stitches) there were others which in my opinion, just did not work. There was a lot of swearing for example, which raised the age limit of the musical and seemed a bit excessive. To appeal to a family audience the swearing could perhaps have been toned down. I also found Mark Hadfield’s caricatured portrayal of Harold Wilson to be more grating than entertaining.

Musically, aside from a couple of interesting numbers, Made In Dagenham was rather impressive. A list of showstopping numbers included Sophie-Louise Dann’s incredibly belted In An Ideal World, Adrian Der Gregorian’s heartfelt The Letter and Gemma Arterton’s final speech as Rita O’Grady, leading in to Stand Up, which brought the whole audience to its feet. I’m not ashamed to say I was crying for at least the last 10 minutes of the show. I also loved Sorry I Love You, a sweet song sung by Adrian Gregorian and Gemma Arterton in act 1. It was sickly sweet and adorable and helped to make Rita’s husband Eddie a relatable, likeable character.

The costumes were also beautiful. I’m a big admirer of retro and vintage clothing (I’m in love with everything that Lorna Want wears inBeautiful and everything in Beverley Knight’s sequin-filled Memphis wardrobe too!) and so Made In Dagenham’s costume by Bunny Christie was a dream for me. Dressed in bright colours and multitudes of patterns, Gemma Arterton’s Rita is a walking, talking ad for 60’s fashion. Meanwhile the orange trouser suit worn by another character in the finale was my number 1 costume crush of the show!

The Olivier Award nominated set design also by Bunny Christie was commendable too. I loved airfix model-esque car parts and the conveyor belts which swung pieces of metal around to create a realistic interior to the factory, while the huge clock face inside the prime minister’s office was also strikingly impressive.

All in all, although I’d hardly call Made In Dagenham one of my favourite shows, it is charming, relevant and very enjoyable, and most definitely did not deserve to close after only 5 months on the West End! Let’s hope there’s a UK tour on the horizon!

Verdict - 3 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Sweeney Todd at Harrington's Pie and Mash Shop on Shaftesbury Avenue

Tooting Arts Club’s production of Sweeney Todd at Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop in Tooting was a show I was absolutely desperate to see last year. The idea of seeing this legendary show inside the oldest pie and mash shop in London seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately though, for several reasons, I missed it. I was absolutely gutted! Until earlier this year it was announced that thanks to the persuasion of none other than Stephen Sondheim himself, the production would be transferring to London’s West End for a limited period, and the interior of Harrington’s was going to be reproduced in its entirety too. I was not missing out again, so I took a deep breath, mentally added a 0 or two to my bank balance, and bought myself a ticket.

And thank god I did!
I honestly could not imagine Sweeney Todd being staged differently now. From the shadowy, candlelit corners where the beggar woman lurks, to the steep ominous steps that lead to Sweeney’s shop, and even the slightly cramped seating benches at which the audience sit, every single element is perfect.

Prior to seeing the show, I was interested to see how scenes not set within the pie shop would be staged. Subsequently I was impressed by the way in which places such as Joanna's room and Fogg's Asylum were established through the use of clever lighting changes which isolated certain areas of the room, candles to give the areas more atmosphere or warmth, and sound effects to give extra context. The production as a whole delineates the bleak, darkness of Victorian London and is a fabulous example of poor theatre done absolutely right.

As the demon barber, Jeremy Secomb oozes terrifying coldness. He stares down the audience with an unnerving, dead eyed glare which is enough to put even the most comfortable audience members on edge. No one is safe from the swing of Sweeney’s razors either. Secomb jumps on to tables, slides along benches and threatens the throats of several unsuspecting spectators, with terrifying unpredictability. One minute he’s crying, the next he’s laughing manically. He gives a truly incredible performance. While delivering a show stopping of rendition of Epiphany I was stuck by the power behind his voice, and the way in which he makes Sweeney a simultaneously sinister and sympathetic character. Meanwhile, Siobhan McCarthy brings the perfect amount of comedy to her portrayal of the sinister Mrs Lovett, and has a fabulous voice to boot. As a duo, Secomb and McCarthy are outstanding.

Nadim Naaman is effortlessly charismatic as Anthony, a sailor who saves the life of Sweeney Todd and then falls in love with Joanna Barker, a shut in but spirited young woman played perfectly by Zoe Doano. The pair’s duet Kiss Me was a hilarious tongue twister of a song, and a real act one highlight. 

I was honestly blown away by every single performance in this hugely memorable production. I loved Joseph Taylor as the endearing Toby, Kiara Jay wowed the audience with her versatility, playing both the Beggar Woman and Pirelli, while Ian Mowat was a hilariously oily Beadle Bamford and Duncan Smith a creepy Judge Turpin. And when not playing their individual characters, the actors became a multitude of ensemble members. It was amazing to see how Sweeney Todd, a musical often known for its large scale, could be performed by such as small company. The wall of sound created by just 8 actors and 3 musicians was incredible and a testimony to their talent.

I am so, so pleased that I had a chance to see this incredibly innovative production. It’s definitely an audience experience that will stay with me. Immersive theatre at its finest! 

Verdict - 4 1/2 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Coursework, Cooking and CABARET - A Quick Update...

Oh my goodness, it feels like years since I last stepped foot inside a theatre! Not as an audience member at least. I can’t believe I haven’t blogged since the 1st of March. However, although it was incredible, I haven’t spent the last month-and-a-bit recovering from the awesome Assassins at the Menier ChocolateFactory (...a few days, maybe!) No, I’ve actually been quite busy as of late. Aside from the litany of coursework deadlines I’ve been faced with, I’ve also been performing in The University of Kent Musical Theatre Society’s production of Cabaret as everyone’s favourite lady of the night, Fraulein Kost, at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury. This was actually my first time performing with the society, and I couldn't have wished for a better show, or a more talented cast, to share my inauguration with.

Aside from that, I’ve also been writing a few articles for London Theatre Direct recently, which has been fun, particularly on April Fool’s Day. However, being an hours train journey away from theatreland when it’s so late into the term that you have to reconsider whether a pack of own-brand digestives is really necessary is not a healthy place to be. For this reason I’ve also managed to get myself a new job... kind of. It’s a casual babysitting job, but every little helps at this point. Especially given that my trusty old mobile mysteriously disappeared on my walk to uni a few weeks ago, meaning that I’ve had to invest in a new phone too.

In a bid to keep me from splurging my last few pennies on theatre tickets (my local theatre is blessed with so many amazing touring productions that even if I had unlimited money there wouldn’t be enough time to see everything I’d want to see) I’ve also been experimenting with cooking more adventurously, using a vegetarian cookbook which my mom bought me as a going-to-uni present last year. I’ve made some great meals (if I do say so myself) including couscous stuffed peppers, butternut squash enchiladas and my personal favourite, poached eggs Florentine with spinach and cheddar…on a bagel!  Yum!

Thankfully though, I do have a couple more theatre trips coming up before the end of term. This weekend I’m off to see the West End transfer of Tooting Arts Club’s production of Sweeney Todd in the pie shop on Shaftesbury Avenue, followed by the final performance of Made in Dagenham in the evening. I’ve also got a ticket to see Top Hat at the Marlowe Theatre, and finally I’ll be dropping in to The Playhouse Theatre to see Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown on my way home, although it stupidly hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have my suitcase with me and I had to ring up the theatre in a panic to ask if there would be anywhere for me to drop it off. Thank goodness for the cloakroom!

After Easter I enter my final term as a first year student, so I’ve no idea what sort of stuff I’ll be seeing. In a perfect world, I’d love to see the How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying concert, starring Jonathan Groff, which is playing in London for one night only in May, and I’m also eyeing up High Society at The Old Vic and the UK tour of The Car Man, which my favourite ballet dancer Dominic North is due to star in. For now though, I am mostly looking forward to seeing my family for the first time since Christmas, and sheltering away from all shops/Starbuckses/ shows until the next student loan payment comes through, so I can stop worrying about money, pay my rent and then see what happens next!

Charlotte xx

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

"Soon, says a whisper, arise arise,tomorrow belongs to me..." 
The lyrics to the final song of act 1 in Kander and Ebb's Cabaret are absolutely chilling!