Review - The Railway Children

Tucked away at the back of Kings Cross station is the Kings Cross Theatre, a structure formed of two large tents, which house the entertaining and enthralling play The Railway Children.

Based on E. Nesbit's novel of the same name, The Railway Children is the tale of three children who move to the countryside with their mother, after their father is mysteriously taken away from them. The story is a brilliant mix of humor and heart and is certainly great fun for all the family.

The children (Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis) are played endearingly by Serena Manteghi, Jack Hardwick and Louise Calf respectively, and I found their performance as a trio to be utterly perfect. Sean Hughes was also brilliantly droll as the Stationmaster Mr Perks, and the touching bond between Perks and the children was a lovely to watch. Their scenes together were never anything less than perfectly timed and occasionally extremely moving.

I was so impressed by The Railway Children. Not only was the play great fun, the whole venue has been designed in order to immerse you in The Railway Children's world. You enter via a long tunnel-like passage, the foyer is designed to look like a large railway station waiting room. There is train memorabilia adorning the walls and the bar and sweet shop feel thoroughly period too. The Audience enter the actual auditorium via one of two doors, depending on weather they are sitting on platform 1 or platform 2, and once inside and sat down (the staging is traverse and the audience of 1000 sit on either side of a train track), steam plumes around you and a conductor informs everyone via an overhead announcement when the 'train' will be departing (i.e. the show will be beginning).

The play itself is a marvel. It captures the innocence of the three young protagonists, but doesn't shy away from the harshness and austerity that surrounded them. One particularly gutting scene, in which the children collect presents for the stationmaster's birthday, and he chastises them for highlighting his family's poverty was truly heart breaking.

But what about the train? I hear you ask. Well, truly it is as showstopping as the advertisements claim. It storms out (as quickly as a steam train can storm) at the dramatic climax of act 1, whistling and steaming like crazy. It was so unique and a real treat to see the train up close, and it definitely lived up to expectations. However, I found myself more impressed by the effects that were used to simulate trains. At several points (most memorably, one took place in a 'tunnel' which was created very simply but felt magical never the less!) a rush of smoke would zoom along the tracks, with sounds accompanying it, and it really did feel as if you were sitting on the platform as a train passed you by!

In my opinion, The Railway Children is a must see piece of family theatre. The story is engaging, the characters are endearing and the effects are exhilarating. What more could you ask for?

Verdict - 4.5 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (In concert at the Royal Festival Hall)

When I first found out about this I ummed and ahhed for days... should I buy a ticket? I have been a huuuge fan of Jonathan Groff for about 7 years now, and the chance to hear him perform live in a one night only concert was hard to resist. On the other hand, the tickets were quite pricey, and paying nearly £40 for a seat at the back of the upper circle, in a giant concert hall didn't really appeal to me or my student bank balance. Add to this the fact that originally NONE of my friends were available to go with me, and the universe seemed to be saying 'no.'

However, I kept wrestling with my conscience. Would I really be alright if I denied myself the opportunity to see the performer who effectively got me interested in musical theatre to begin with?

It was decided. 
I HAD to go! 
As usual, I am so glad I finally made up my mind and decided to go, as I can now say that without a doubt this had been one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of my life. 

For those unfamiliar with the story, How To Succeed[...] is the fictional tale of J Pierrepont 'Ponty' Finch (Jonathan Groff), a young charismatic window washer who, with the help of a book entitled 'How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying', leaves the world of window washing behind and finds a job in the mail room of the World Wide Wicket Company instead. There, with the help of a secretary called Rosemary (Cynthia Erivo), Finch does his best to work his way to the top, as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, Bud Frump, the nepotism-minded nephew of the company's president J.B Biggley, is also trying to climb the career ladder, and schemes against the ambitious Finch.

Although the book did seem a little dated, and this fact was very much brought to light in the concert setting, How To Succeed[...] did have some brilliantly funny moments. I loved the voice of Finch's book, which guided the young businessman through the ruthless corporate world, and Hedy LaRue, Finch's ditzy secretary had some hilarious one liners. However, what really impressed me was the music. 

The songs ranged from ridiculously catchy to hilarious, to simply breathtakingly beautiful. 'Rosemary', a lovely duet between Finch and Rosemary near the end of act 1 was just gorgeous. Jonathan Groff's voice soared across the room and the audience hung on his every word. There were swoons aplenty and rightly so. Meanwhile, the near end of act 2 group number 'Brotherhood Of Man' had me grinning from ear to ear. It was obvious that the cast were having a brilliant time, and their enthusiasm was infectious. 

In fact, the cast was wonderful in general. Jonathan Groff clearly knew the part very well (and so he should, he played the part of Finch in a school play over a decade ago. Clearly How To Succeed[...] is a show which he very much enjoys!) and barely even glanced at his script thought the whole show. He shone vocally, his comic timing was superb and his innocence and eagerness made him impossible to take your eyes off. I was also fortunate to have seen Cynthia Erivo perform for the first time. She definitely lived up to the hype that surrounds her, delivering effortless vocals and adding charm to a rather one dimensional character. I was also drawn to Ashley Robinson, who played the devious Bud Frump. His performance was very physical, and I loved watching him slink and sulk around the stage. I wasn't familiar with him before, but I'll certainly be watching out for him more in the future. The only cast member who I felt wasn't as prepared as the the rest was Clarke Peters as J.B Biggley, the president of the company. He seemed unfamiliar with his lines and flubbed a couple of them, but given the extremely short rehearsal period for this concert, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

Although the musical itself is definitely not one I'd rush out to see again, I found the concert a hugely enjoyable event. Although with a total running time of 3 hours (!!!), both acts ran the risk of dragging, the performers did their best to make sure every second was as charming and exciting as possible. I'd do anything to see some of the performances again and I was pleased to hear that the show was recorded on the night, and from what I understand it will be aired as a radio play at some point in the future. Jonathan Groff simply has to return to the West End and I hope that if the right project comes up this does happen...and soon...please. He was a joy to watch, and for me personally seeing him perform live was a literal dream come true. I'll definitely pay more attention to concerts such as this one now, especially if the quality of the performances are as high as they were in How To Succeed[...]! 

Verdict- 4 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time (UK Tour)

Okay, I’m going to admit something…when I first read Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time, back in 2012, I couldn't get through it. So what? It’s only a dog! What’s the big deal? Looking back now, I realise that I was completely missing the point of the story, and had I persevered and gotten past the first few chapters, no doubt I’d have found the rest of the novel pretty fantastic. But sadly, thanks to 16 year old me's one act of philistinism, I had kept clear of the award winning and critically acclaimed Simon Stephens play of the same name for years. However, when the UK tour stopped off at my local theatre, I decided to book a ticket...

Without giving away any spoilers, the play follows Christopher Boone, a 15 year old boy who begins investigating a mysterious crime, against the wishes of his father. As his investigation takes him further and further away from his comfort zone, Christopher begins to unravel an even bigger mystery, which will change his whole life.

 Honestly, I was gripped from start to finish. The book is honest, touching and full of twists and turns which will definitely keep you on your toes. The moment you think you know what’s going to happen next, the plot will take another sharp turn and you’ll be just as enthralled as you were before.
For me, though, it was the impressive movement pieces which really gave The Curious Incident[…] the wow factor! I am a huge fan of the work of Frantic Assembly and as usual their choreography was breathtakingly daring. A particular standout scene for me was a scene in which physical theatre was used to bring the mad hustle and bustle of the London Underground to vivid life. This, combined with amazing visual effects, a top class set (Bunny Christie strikes again!) and interesting lighting and sound design made The Curious Incident[…] a visual treat unlike any I’ve seen in a long while. I was thoroughly wowed!

The cast were also brilliant, and I particularly enjoyed the emotionally charged and incredibly poignant relationship between Christopher (Joshua Jenkins) and his father (Stuart Laing). Their relationship was totally believable and I really rooted for them both throughout.

As soon as I left the theatre, I was wanted to book myself another ticket and see the show again. I 'd laughed and cried in equal measure (and had also done that thing where something is just so adorable that you laugh and then it turns into a sob and you’re crying before you even realise what’s happening!) and the emotional payoff at the end was well worth the wait. I may very well be one of the only people who hadn’t seen The Curious Incident[…] until now, but if you’ve somehow managed to ignore the hype as well I recommend that you overlook it no more. It’s an affecting piece of theatre which NEEDS to be seen!

Verdict – 4.5 stars 

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Sunny Afternoon

Sunny Afternoon, the much talked about Olivier Award winning musical, had naturally been on my radar for a long time. I'm not a huge fan of The Kinks and I'm not a huge fan of jukebox musicals, but I am a huge fan of British writing, as so while it wasn't at the top of my to-see list, Sunny Afternoon was a show that I was eager to check out. So when the lovely Rebecca at Official Theatre offered a couple of bloggers the opportunity to see and review the show, I jumped at the chance. 
Having rendezvoused outside the Harold Pinter Theatre with the other theater bloggers who were also seeing the show, I hurried into the theatre to take my seat. What immediately struck me as I sat down was that the actors were already onstage, wandering around, warming up their instruments. It immediately set the tone of the piece and gave the impression that we were being aloud a glimpse backstage, a theme which continued as the show began. I was also struck by the bright, clashy sets and costumes (VERY 1960s), and the stage itself which was clad from floor to ceiling in speakers, and extended in walkway form a couple of rows into the stalls. This allowed for a rather more immersive West End theatre experience than expected.

From the moment the show begins, it pulls you into The Kinks' world (the Kinks being Ray, his brother Dave and their friends Mick and Pete), beginning with their days as an unsigned band supporting a crooner, and following them as their popularity begins to gain momentum until finally they hit the dizzying heights of fame...only to be knocked back down again. Unfortunately the problem I had with Sunny Afternoon is that I was never engrossed in the show to begin with, and so as the band continued their journey, I felt disconnected, and found that I didn't really care what happened to them. This wasn't helped by the fact that a lot of the exposition dialogue was jumbled and yelled over (I found the same way about The Commitments too). In fact, I realized only at the very end of the show that I only knew the names of about 4 characters. Everyone else (even 2 members of The Kinks themselves) appeared to muddle on and off the stage randomly. This wasn't helped by the fact that many of the actors, even those who played quite big supporting roles, multiroled as different characters at one point or another. 

I realise that this review sounds quite damning at the moment, but I wasn't left completely cold. The first time Dave plays the 'You Really Got Me' powerchord and the auditorium rocks I couldn't help but smile. Similarly, when The Kinks finally play the title song and red, white and blue confetti falls from the ceiling, you could almost sense the cheer radiating from the audiences. 

However, I found the majority of the show to be rather long winded and at points just a bit dull. The first act felt rushed while the second act dragged. The title song 'Sunny Afternoon' appeared at around the hour mark in the second act, and felt like a natural point to end the show at, however, when the confetti had fallen and the audience had cheered (it seemed like a large portion of us thought that it was the end) the show continued to roll along for another half an hour (timings are of course estimated, I wasn't sitting in the theatre checking my watch every two minutes!) 

As far as the performances are concerned, I can't fault any of the actors! John Dagleish had a wonderful stage presence as Ray Davies (although I personally found the character rather one dimensional) and George Maguire looked like he was having the time of his life as Ray's younger brother Dave, the womanizing, cross dressing, chandelier-swinging party animal of the group. I can now totally see why he was awarded the Olivier for best supporting actor in a musical! 

I am still rather puzzled by Sunny Afternoon's Best New Musical win, though. Firstly, I feel like as the music was already established, receiving an award which is in part awarded based upon the quality of the soundtrack seem odd. Secondly, for me the book just didn't do anything spectacular. I thought the pacing seemed odd, and I couldn't understand if some of the lines were a nod and a wink of self awareness or genuine cheese. (At one point, during a particularly emotional scene between Ray and his wife Rasa, she says something along the lines of "stop singing so we can talk about this!"...a few awkward chuckles echoed through the theatre. It was jarring to say the least.).

All in all, I found Sunny Afternoon fun. A fairly easy going night out with a couple of great tunes to keep you company. But after all of the hype surrounding it, I went in expecting more, and left feeling a little bit disappointed. I do however realise that I appear to be part of a minority, as not only has Sunny Afternoon garnered huge critical acclaim, it has also gained a large following, and I know many theatre bloggers who love it unconditionally. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, perhaps I'm just not a big enough The Kinks fan to truly appreciate this, what I do know is that Sunny Afternoon is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and this fact makes A  LOT of people very happy!

Verdict - 2 1/2 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Thanks again to Rebecca at Official Theatre, for providing me with a ticket. I am so grateful that I got to experience this show, even if I didn't find it as affecting as other did! x

Review - Memphis the Musical

Last week I visited Memphis for the third time since it opened in October, and as if I hadn't recommended this show/dragged people along to this show enough, this time I persuaded my grandma to see it with me. I fell in love with Memphis the first time I saw it, and my second visit confirmed that love, but I can honestly say that this third visit has been the most enjoyable one so far!

If you're not familiar with the show, Memphis follows the story of a young wannabe DJ named Huey Calhoun, who is inspired by a nightclub singer named Felicia Farrell to become the first white DJ to play Rock and Roll on the radio. It's a touching and inspirational story based on true events, and will have you humming its soundtrack for days. A must see on London's West End! 

I was already extremely excited to be heading back to Memphis for the first time since January, but when I collected my tickets from the box office and saw a sign tacked to the wall telling me that Rachel John would be playing the role of Felicia (the role is normally played by Beverley Knight) I was ecstatic! As I've mentioned in my previous Memphis blog posts, I am desperate to see both alternates in the lead roles, and now I've fulfilled half of this task I've got time to see other shows before returning to Memphis again at the end of June. This is all very exciting for me, but probably not why you're reading this post, so lets move on to the show...

Honestly, Memphis just keeps getting better and better. The music is brilliant (but then, in a show which is partly to do with 'the birth of rock and roll' you'd expect nothing less!), the costumes are gorgeous (I love a good period piece and this show is full of glam 1950s dresses, each and every one of them I'd love to steal for my own wardrobe) and the cast is one of the most hard working, enthusiastic casts on the West End right now! 

On the subject of the cast, I was as impressed as I always am. It feels as if Killian Donnelly was born to play Huey Calhoun, the hapless radio DJ whose story Memphis follows. Supporting cast members Rolan Bell and Jason Pennycooke both gave solid performances too. Bell does a fantastic job of making Felicia's overwrought and sometimes downright scary brother Delray an endearing and relatable character, while Pennycooke injects piles of humour into Bobby, a janitor with hidden skills of the performing variety. I also warmed to Gladys, Huey's mom (played by Claire Machin) much more this time, and had the pleasure of seeing Waylon Jacobs play the role of Gator (the role is normally played by Tyrone Huntly). His breakout moment at the end of act 1 had me and my grandma sniffling well into the interval.

For me though, the biggest treat of the show was finally getting to see Rachel John as Felicia. Not only did she have a stunning voice and embellished Felicia's songs with her own twists, she also brought out a different side to Felicia, which I'd not seen in other portrayals. I felt that the chemistry between between Huey and Felicia developed naturally throughout the course of act 1, and John and Donnelly really savoured the tender scenes, making you root for their relationship to blossom despite the adversities they face. I also loved the way Rachel John's Felicia's confidence grew throughout the show. While Beverley Knight's Felicia radiates star quality from her entrance, Rachel John's Felicia seems slightly more reserved until she comes into her own after her standout solo 'Coloured Woman' (which brought the house down! A really affecting,empowering song, wonderfully sung and acted.). I absolutely loved following Felicia's journey and watching her struggle and grow, and this made every decision she made in act 2 particularly understandable.
I feel so fortunate to have seen Rachel John in the role, and I am definitely thinking of returning to see her in the role again (my goal is to catch a double alternate show, but the next time this is scheduled to happen is a week before I have tickets to see Memphis again anyway, so I'm not sure I can justify to cost to myself... hopefully I'll be able to work something out though. Ahh, the joys of not living in London!) 
If you haven't seen this show yet then what are you waiting for? Not only was it one of my top 5 shows of 2014, it has also been one of my favourite shows of this year as well, and my grandma absolutely adored it too! Even if you have seen it (lucky you!) I recommend a repeat visit. It looks like this cast is only getting better, and it truly has something for everyone. Sharp, impressive choreography, memorable music and some of the most truthful and awe inspiring performances you'll see ANYWHERE on the West End! 

Verdict - 5 stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Travel - Istanbul 2015

As if I hadn't already treated myself enough (seriously, I need to hide my debit card somewhere for the next few months), last week I flew out to Istanbul for a couple of days with some people from the school of arts at my university, in order to visit some of the historic sights, soak in some culture and do some generic touristy things as well. I've decided to write up a little account of the trip, which you can read below. Please excuse the lack of stageyness, but I just felt as if this incredible trip was worth a write up! My pictures were mostly originally posted on Instagram and more can be found there. (also, I'm new to Instagram and so I'm just getting used to it!).
Thanks guys x

Day 1

After a ridiculously long day of travel the previous day, we settled in to our hostel, the Sultan Hostel, and then having relaxed for a little while, we headed out into the city to visit one of the most iconic sight in Turkey, the Blue Mosque! It was an absolutely stunning building which dominated the skyline with its impressive towers and minarets. Inside, the Blue Mosque was decorated with beautiful painted ceilings and vivid red carpets. I felt very lucky to be standing inside such an ancient and important building filled with so much history.

After enjoying the Blue Mosque, my friend and I headed out in to Istanbul to explore. If history is your thing then Istanbul is a must-visit location. We worked our way around many museums and places of interest, and interestingly, many of them were free as well. Fantastic if you're hoping to see the city on a budget. 
As the day progressed, we headed out to the famous Grand Bazaar, another must-see location located along a winding alley about 10 minutes walk from the city centre. The bazaar was entirely sheltered underground and was so huge that it almost felt like a city on its own! No matter what you're looking for, you are guaranteed to find it in the Grand Bazaar. I picked up a red and gold pashmina, a Turkish tea set and a couple of knickknacks for my family and friends. All in all, a brilliant shopping experience.
After a long day out in the sun, we headed back to the hostel and, having grabbed a bite to eat in one of the many tiny cafes in the bazaar earlier, indulged in some potato wedges (adventurous, I know.) We had intended on getting an early night, but once we rejoined the group, that all changed. Instead, we had a catch up over cocktails (I veered away from my usuals (mojito or daquari) and tried an espresso martini for the first time, which I very much recommend, particularly to coffee lovers!). We also tried the traditional Turkish Hookah (a smoking pipe flavoured with fruits such as apple or peach). As my friend and I were non-smokers, we only gave it a little go, an were both unimpressed, but when in Rome...or should that be Istanbul...
Significantly later than we had intended, we headed to bed.

Day 2

After a late-ish night, we gave ourselves a lie in in the morning, but desperate to make the most of our time in Istanbul, we set off just before midday, on a 2 and a half mile coastal walk north to the Galata Bridge, and then back via the Istanbul spice market. The spice market was a wonder we hadn't anticipated. The smell of herbs, spices and various other foodstuffs filled the air completely and honestly I wanted to buy pretty much everything I saw. Turkish delight, baklava, dried fruits, nuts and various different teas were also available to purchase. After hours of wandering I settled on some spices for my kitchen at uni (you've got to liven up the pot noodles somehow!) and a tea blend called Love Tea, which looked pretty if nothing else (it comprised of a number of different dried flower heads and smelled like roses! Yum!), then, exhausted from our trek, we headed back to the hostel.
On the way, we spotted a lovely looking restaurant called the Palatium Cafe, where we stopped off for some food. Oh my gosh, we were not prepared for the deliciousness! We ordered a portion of humus, a portion of halloumi salad and a portion of vegetable couscous and spent 2 hours eating it all! The couscous was particularly delicious, and unlike what we would consider to be couscous in England. It had an almost pasta-y flavour and consistency and was served in a vegetable sauce. Wow! I could eat it for every meal! The best part was, the meal only cost us 60 lira (about £16 between the two of us), and after the meal, our waiter showed us an amazing underground cavern which had only recently been excavated UNDERNEATH the restaurant we'd just had our meal in. It was unbelievable! Talk about luck!
We found ourselves in a bit of a food coma after that, so we headed to bed for an early night. 

Day 3

We woke up early on day 3, and caught the tram to the TÜRVAK Cinema and Theatre Museum. We spent the morning looking at the headshots of hundreds of Turkish actors, and learning about the Turkish film and theatre industries. As drama students, my friend and I found this particularly interesting. Having looked around for about an hour, we headed out into the city and managed to get ourselves on a boat tour up the Bosphorus river for only 12 lira (£3) each. The tour lasted for 2 hours and was interesting and very picturesque, if a little bit long-winded towards the end. Having disembarked, we walked back through the city and found another restaurant to eat in. This one was lovely, as it was filled with beanbags which we sat on for the duration of our meal. I ate a fantastic spiced vegetable casserole, which was absolutely lovely. 
As it began to dawn on us that this was our last day in Istanbul, we decided to do something we'd been wanting to do since the start of the trip...visit a Turkish bath! On the recommendation of some friends, we headed over to the Çemberlitas Hamami, which claims to have been built in 1584. We opted for the traditional bath treatment which cost us 95 lira (about £25).
This was an unforgettable experience, and something you must do when in Istanbul. Dressed only in bikini bottoms (the idea of toplessness terrified me before we entered, but as soon as you stepped into the hamami and saw everyone was doing exactly the same thing and no one was blinking an eyelid the awkwardness dissipated), you lie down on a cloth, on a large slab of rock in the middle of a giant domed room. The room was heated to a very high temperature and was effectively a sauna. Having relaxed on the slab for about half an hour, one of the women who worked as a therapist/washer/masseuse tapped my ankle and it was time to begin the washing. First I received a full body exfoliation, then was covered in bubbly soap and scrubbed from head to toe. Then I was given a back, leg and ankle massage before finally having my hair washed. The experience was unlike any spa treatment I'd ever had here in England, and cost a fraction of the price of even a facial here! Feeling squeaky clean, I was directed towards a niche which contained cold water taps and little silver bowls. Here you are encouraged to dowse yourself in cold water, to wash off any remaining soap and cleanse yourself. My friend and I were reunited and spent about half an our here before leaving the bath. Outside, wrapped in our towels we were met by a woman who asked us what we'd like to drink. We opted for Turkish tea, followed by freshly squeezed orange juice. I felt totally relaxed and rejuvenated as we drank our drinks, and then finally dressed and left. 
Feeling as relaxed and detoxed as we were, we opted to yet again have an early night (A wise choice given our impending day of travel) so we relaxed on some cushions in the hostel downstairs, before saying goodbye to Istanbul for the last time and heading to bed! 

I had such an incredible time in Istanbul and I would honestly go back in a heart beat. We explored so much in our short time but I still feel like there was so much more to the city that we just didn't get round to seeing. I'll definitely be returning again at some point hopefully, but until then, I'm back in the UK, and back to the theatre! I've got so many exciting shows to look forward to and I cannot wait. 2015 has been pretty good so far and it looks like it's going to stay that way, for now at least.

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome