My Favourite Shows of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and with 2018 just around the corner, it's time for me to look back and reflect on what a great year 2017 has been. 

This year was a pretty exciting year for my blog. In June I was awarded Silver in the Kent Digital Awards, in the Entertainment Blog category, and then later in the year I was a finalist in the Favourite Blog category of the Theatre Community Awards. I'm forever amazed by the fact that people read my blog and value my opinions, and being nominated in two different awards in 2017 felt really lovely. 

In more personal news, I graduated from the University of Kent this year, with a degree in Drama and English & American Literature, and started a career in the arts, which was a dream come true. I moved to Stratford-upon-Avon for work, and so obviously I saw everything that the RSC had to offer during my time there, and visited loads of other great theatres in Warwickshire and the West Midlands too. I even wrote a few blog posts about the RSC's The Other Place, which can be found alongside some other brilliant blogs on the RSC Website. 

But enough about my personal life! I've seen some totally wonderful theatre this year and so with that in mind, here is a list of the 5 shows which had the biggest impact on me in 2017. 

5) LMTO's Honeymoon in Vegas

I thought long and hard about which show I should put at number 5 on my list. I've seen loads of great plays, musicals, ballets and operas this year, and really they all deserve to be shouted about. That being said, when I was looking back over the reviews I wrote in 2017, one kept jumping out at me, and that was my review of London Musical Theatre Orchestra's concert production of Honeymoon in Vegas. I have admired LMTO for a while now, and I really enjoy the way they take lesser known or lesser performed musicals, and bring them to life, even if it's only for a night or two. As a fan of Jason Robert Brown, I loved hearing the brilliant Honeymoon in Vegas score being brought to life by such a talented orchestra, and in the lead roles of Betsy and Jack, Samantha Barks and Arthur Darvill were a perfect pair. It seems like LMTO gets bigger and better every year, and I can't wait to see which musicals they will tackle next.  

In 2017 no show surprised me more than this one. On the surface, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour was a riotous no holds barred adventure, following a bunch of unruly ELO spouting youngster, let loose on Edinburgh during a school choir competition. It certainly had its fair share of rather outrageous content, but at its core it was something much more profound. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour was a raw and real portrayal of 6 very different teenage girls, all trying to navigate their way to adulthood in different ways. It earnestly explored some sensitive themes, such as teenage pregnancy and terminal illness, from a very realistic perspective, and it was cathartic to see such realistic depictions of young women on stage. 

The enormous hype which surrounded this show since it first opened in America was impossible to ignore, and therefore expectations were high when a London transfer was announced. Fans and sceptics alike wondered weather the fundamentally American story would resonate with audiences in Britain. Thankfully, the excitement which followed Hamilton wherever it went was more than warranted. I was struck by the extent to which Hamilton felt like a new frontier, worlds away from the usually great, but increasingly predictable mainstream musical theatre. The London production was impeccably cast, showcasing some of the most talented performers working today, and heightening the musical's already formidable songs and raps. It seems very likely that Hamilton will experience a long run on the West End, and rightly so! 

For all the talk I talk about wanting to see fresh, groundbreaking theatre, for me very little compares to a big, glitzy musical. And this year no musical was glitzier than 42nd Street. With its gloriously bright and colourful design, and incredibly talented cast, whose megawatt smiles radiated from start to finish, 42nd Street was completely irresistible. It felt like a couple of hours of pure distraction from the outside world, and I left the theatre humming and tapping my toes. Sure, it's relatively safe, and quite old fashioned, with some rather outdated aspects, but it's also unapologetically fun, and isn't that exactly what we needed in 2017?

I was completely bowled over by John Tiffany's production of The Glass Menagerie, which transferred to the West End after a run in Edinburgh during the EIF in 2016. Tennessee Williams' semi-autobiographical play offered a fascinating look into a tumultuous family trying to thrive in 1930s St Louis, Missouri. Kate O'Flynn gave a spectacular performance as the fragile young Laura Wingfield, opposite Brian J. Smith's charismatic Gentleman Caller. Not only was the story immensely touching and complex, but the production itself was gorgeously designed, and complemented the play's dreamlike quality. When it was over and the actors had left the stage, all I could do was shake my head in awe! Whilst The Glass Menagerie is certainly not a groundbreaking play by today's terms, Tiffany's production felt totally fresh and unpredictable, and made a huge impact on me. Even now, it's hard for me to put into words just how much I enjoyed The Glass Menagerie, which I ended up seeing 3 times in London. From the first time I saw it I knew it'd end up on my end of year list, and looking back on 2017 I can safely say that no show this year left an impression like this one did. 

Of course, a top 5 list is quite restrictive and although they didn't make my list I should probably mention a few more outstanding shows from 2017. I thought that Blanche McIntyre's production of Titus Andronicus at the RSC was really very emotional without being excessively gory, The Ferryman was a simmering play which bubbled over in the final act to horrific effect, and in contrast I really enjoyed the unabashedly silly The Wedding Singer which left me with a big grin on my face. 

There's no denying that 2017 has been a brilliant year for theatre, and I can't wait to see how 2018 compares. I'm particularly excited about the transfers of Strictly Ballroom, Fun Home and The King And I, all of which have been received really well elsewhere. No doubt loads of unexpectedly great pieces of theatre will crop up throughout the year too, and I'm really excited to see what's in store.

Review - Hamilton: An American Musical (Victoria Palace Theatre)

Since it opened off-Broadway in 2015, Hamilton: An American Musical has been gaining plaudits exponentially. Having been nominated for a record breaking 16 Tony Awards in 2016, and winning 11, as well as the Pulitzer prize for Drama and countless other decorations, the buzz around this particular musical theatre phenomenon has been almost impossible to ignore. 

Jamael Westman and the London cast of Hamilton
Photo credit Matthew Murphy
With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton is a sung and rapped through musical which tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, whose face can be found on the ten dollar bill. Told mostly through the eyes of Hamilton's jealous political opponent Aaron Burr, Hamilton covers the period of time between the American Revolutionary War of 1776 and Hamilton's death in 1804. It addresses many of Hamilton's biggest successes such as becoming the first secretary of the treasurer under George Washington, and his most notable failures, such as his part in America's first sex scandal, whereby he engaged in a highly publicized affair with married woman, Maria Reynolds. Although several embellishments are made to the historical events featured, Hamilton still manages to include a great deal of enlightening information about the titular character and those who surrounded him at a pivotal time in American history.

Despite its massive success on Broadway, there was no guarantee that Hamilton would have such a resonance across the Atlantic. After all, our ten pound note has the faces of Queen Elizabeth II and Jane Austen emblazoned across it, and the war for American Independence is just one of many wars which Britain fought in the 18th century, and therefore its significance carries a lot less weight over here. However, whilst the content is arguably less significant in Britain, the themes are incredibly familiar. It could be said that the unrest America faced in its infancy is not dissimilar to Britain today: torn apart by arguments about money and sovereignty in the face of Brexit, which has been a mainstay in British news since the results of the 2016 referendum. After all, the American revolutionaries' cries of "no taxation without representation" bear a striking similarity to the Brexiteers' campaign slogan that the £350 million sent to the EU each week would be better off being spent on the NHS (a slogan which has since been retracted). Similarly, the colour conscious casting of Hamilton, which highlights the diversity of both America and Britain today, feels particularly politically charged. When Caribbean born immigrant Alexander Hamilton and French military officer Lafayette high five and proclaim "immigrants, we get the job done" it's impossible not to be reminded of the Xenophobia which at least partially fuelled Britain's own brexit shaped 'revolution'. 

Regardless of how educational or reflective of the current British political climate Hamilton is, first and foremost it is a piece of mainstream musical theatre, and therefore it'd be nothing without some killer tunes and clever lyrics. A rap musical about the American founding fathers may have sounded unthinkable a few years ago, but of course the now astronomically famous Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose songwriting credits include In The Heights and Disney's Moana, has managed the seemingly impossible, and Hamilton is a triumph. 

The titular character, which the casting breakdown accurately describes as Eminem meets Sweeney Todd, sings and raps wittily, with some extremely clever and intricate rhymes showcasing both Alexander Hamilton's much lauded intelligence, and also the immensely talented lyrical skills of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Meanwhile, Hamilton's Schuyler Sisters, comprising of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler, and the lesser featured Peggy Schuyler, give off an R&B girl band vibe as they dazzle the audience with gorgeous harmonies and irresistible earworms, whilst looking for "a mind at work!" 

Rachelle Ann Go, Rachel John and Christine Allado as The Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton
Photo credit - Matthew Murphy
The London cast is filled with some of the most talented musical theatre performers working today, with Giles Terera giving a spine tingling performance as the spurned Aaron Burr, and Jason Pennycooke adding humour to the proceedings in his dual role as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. The Schuyler Sisters are a particularly enjoyable trio, with Rachelle Ann Go exuding sweetness and excitability as the lovestruck Eliza, and Rachel John commanding the stage with immense power as Angelica, the oldest sister. Christine Allado does what she can with the relatively small role of youngest sister Peggy, but shines in act two as sultry Maria Reynolds. Most notably though, the titular role of "young scrappy and hungry" Alexander Hamilton is taken on by newcomer Jamael Westman. The RADA graduate is the perfect fit, as although he seems at first to be less cocky and confident than his reputation suggests, Westman's Hamilton has an easy swagger and coolness which perfectly antithesis his intensely cerebral personality and at times fiery temper. 

Hamilton is not only a skillfully written and performed piece of musical theatre, it is also impressively designed and slickly directed. Paul Tazewell's costume design is simple yet beautiful, and merges the 18th century and present day very cleverly. In particular, the ensemble's somewhat androgynous costumes feel modern and quirky, whilst also harking back to the waistcoats, breeches and stockings popular in the 1700s. The quirkiness found in the design of the production is also seen in Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, which mirrors the hip hop stylings in the music, whilst at times giving a nod to the balls which took place in the 18th century.

From start to finish Hamilton buzzes and crackles with a bustling energy, and director Thomas Kail keeps everything moving along slickly and succinctly, despite the fact that just like Alexander Hamilton himself, the musical's pace rarely slows down. With smart and snappy lyrics, a fascinating storyline, and an energetic cast which elevates the already sublime production, Hamilton is a new musical which will be admired for years to come. 

Review - Cinderella (Birmingham Hippodrome)

Ah, 'tis the season for families to gather at their local theatre and take part in one of Britain's most iconic festive traditions - a pantomime.

This year, Birmingham Hippodrome has really gone all out with its production of family favourite Cinderella. Produced by Olivier-nominated pantomime producer Qdos Entertainment and directed by Michael Harrison, who is also directing the famous London Palladium pantomime this year, Cinderella boasts an all star cast. Pop and television star Suzanne Shaw takes on the title role, and Birmingham panto favourite Matt Slack plays Buttons, Cinders' best friend and the narrator of the piece. It's Slack's fifth year appearing in Birmingham Hippodrome's panto, and his appreciation for the city is evident in his good hearted ribbing.

The rest of the star studded cast is equally impressive. Amongst them, Wolverhampton born superstar Beverley Knight shines from the moment she opens the show, displaying her core shakingly powerful vocals as she flies above the audience as the glam fairy godmother. Starring alongside Knight, Hollyoaks actor and 2016 Strictly Come Dancing finalist Danny Mac pleases the crowd with some slick moves straight from the Strictly dance floor. This panto definitely plays to the strengths of its cast, with characters breaking the fourth wall to fawn over their talented co-stars (Matt Slack's Buttons seems particularly starstruck by Beverley Knight at one point) and it's great fun seeing so many talented individuals gracing the Hippodrome Stage and seemingly having such a great time doing so.

There's plenty of fun content to pad out the all too familiar tale of Cinderella, the scullery maid plagued by her two evil stepsisters, who transforms into a princess and attends the local prince's ball with a little help from her fairy godmother. There are more subplots than you could shake a magic wand at, and loads of hilarious skits such as a magical karaoke session which sees Beverley Knight and James Brandon of The Grumbleweeds switching voices during a rendition of Joe Cocker's Up Where We Belong. 

Loads of brilliant parody songs also feature, and provide lots of entertainment. One particular standout number is Gonna Be A Prince Like You, a parody of Ed Sheeran's Shape Of You which takes place when the Prince persuades his servant Dandini to pretend to be him so he can walk around his kingdom without being recognised. There are also the usual pop culture references typical of pantos, and plenty of references to Birmingham and the surrounding area to keep the audience happy. 

This year's Cinderella seems bigger and better than all of its panto predecessors and should definitely not be left out of any family's festive celebrations. For anyone aged 5 to 105, Birmingham Hippodrome's spectacular pantomime will undoubtedly be a truly magical experience.

Interview - Simon Lipkin (Nativity! The Musical)

'They say never work with children or animals, and we’ve got 27 kids and a dog, so we really went there. We really took on all the challenges'. 

I'm chatting to Simon Lipkin, who is currently touring the UK as Mr Poppy in a brand new musical adaptation of the popular 2009 christmas film Nativity! which tells the story of a school teacher who tries to persuade his Hollywood producer ex-girlfriend to come and see his class's Nativity. With an enviable list of acting credits in popular musical comedies such as Nicky/Trekkie Monster in the original London cast of Avenue Q, Lonnie in the original London cast of Rock of Ages, and more recently Rat in the West End transfer of Stiles and Drewe's The Wind in The Willows, the role of the fun loving teaching assistant Mr Poppy, who Lipkin describes as 'sort of Peter Pan-ish' and 'one of the kids' is a natural fit.

Having first become involved with Nativity! The Musical during workshops 4 years ago, Simon Lipkin's enthusiasm for the show is extremely palpable. Having previously seen the film and loved it, he explains that 'some things translate really well to the stage and then other things not as well, but this one was so right to be turned into a stage show' adding that 'it’s so joyous and brilliant, and the songs in it are brilliant, and they’ve embedded in a bunch of new songs that kind of work just as well. Some of them are my new favourites'. 

In recent years the number of films being adapted on stage has seemingly grown rapidly, so it's great to hear that Nativity! lends itself so perfectly to the stage. Critics and audiences have been very positive about the show, and Simon Lipkin even remarks during our interview that they have been receiving standing ovations. I query whether taking on a role in the musical adaptation of such a popular film is daunting in any way, to which Simon Lipkin replies that '[Mr Poppy] is such a well known character from the films, and Mark Wooten who plays him in the film does it so brilliantly, so it was slightly daunting.' However, Lipkin adds, 'I’ve tried to give it my twist, so it honours what he’s created, and what people love about him in the movies, but I’ve sort of put another twist on it.' In the films Mr Poppy is a very likable and very funny character. I ask if Lipkin relates to his character in any way and he answers that '[Mr Poppy is] an adult and he’s lived his life, but he’s kind of a big kid who’s held onto his imagination and likes to play, and likes to be silly. Well, not always, but a lot of the time I’m just like that'.

Simon Lipkin as Mr Poppy and Daniel Boys as Mr Maddens with the company of Nativity! The Musical
Photo credit - Richard Davenport
Having been brought up on comedians such as Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies and Tommy Cooper, Lipkin is naturally a comedy lover, and as we chat he praises the comedic aspects of Nativity! the Musical. He enthuses that 'it’s a very very funny show, it’s a true family show and there are beautiful heartfelt moments, but most of the time you’re laughing a lot.' As we chat I notice that not only is Simon Lipkin very humble and down to earth, he is also extremely appreciative of his co-stars and the creatives working on Nativity! The Musical too. 'We’ve got 27 kids in the cast, 18 performing every night, and they are brilliant! They’re like comedy gold! And the best thing is that they don’t know it'. He also praises Debbie Isitt, the writer and director of both the film and the musical, saying 'our director loves to find just normal kids who are very very funny'.

I query whether there are any challenging aspects involved with playing to a younger audience and working with such young co-stars (the actors portraying the children in the show range from 8 to 12 years old) and Lipkin is quick to explain that although it was a little daunting to begin with, once they got into rehearsals they knew that everything was going to be alright. In fact, he has nothing but good things to say about his young co-stars, remarking that 'when we were little we could play for hours and pretend that we were in a spaceship or a castle or a pirate ship, and we would believe it. Their imaginations are so intact when they get onstage and they’re in a scene. They believe it. They’re playing. They’re having so much fun that it’s infectious'.

The Company of Nativity! The Musical
Photo credit - Richard Davenport
Another brilliant thing about Nativity! The Musical is that, similarly to the film, it is very much a story based in Coventry, and that reflects in the young cast, which all come from the Midlands. When discussing this, Simon Lipkin tells me that Birmingham born writer and director Debbie Isitt is very proud of the story's Coventry setting. Lipkin shares this feeling, explaining that 'I think it’s what made the first movie so special. It was made with love and it really was home-grown. It was shot in and around Coventry and Debbie was pretty adamant that it stayed that way'. 

Now Christmas is upon us and audiences are flocking to the theatre to get a dose of festivity, I'm curious as to whether Simon Lipkin has any festive traditions of his own. He explains 'I never did a Nativity, largely because I’m Jewish and it would have been weird to do a Nativity in a Jewish Primary School, but we did lots of school plays and stuff.' He goes on to say that 'in terms of traditions, I like all of the normal stuff. Pre-Christmas is my favourite. The run up when there’s fairy lights everywhere and everyone’s a bit festive, it’s a bit cold outside, and there’s Christmas music playing.' It really is a wonderful time of year, and Lipkin summarises that 'sitting down, eating lots, having fun, and watching awful Christmas film, that pretty much sums up Christmas for me'.

Album Review - A Christmas Carol (Simon Callow with the Brighouse and Rastrick Band)

175 years after the publication of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, actor Simon Callow and the acclaimed Brighouse and Rastrick Band celebrate the classic novella with a special recording. Callow's self-written adaptation of A Christmas Carol was first seen on stage in 2016, at the Arts Theatre, and is captured superbly in audio format, with a full bodied soundtrack underscoring the narration and injecting plenty of festive warmth into it, and 19 christmas carols on a second disk providing the listener with an abundance of winter merriment. 

The story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge's ghostly visitations, which prompt him to reconsider his selfish attitude and become a better person, is a beloved christmas tale, and a staple during the festive season. This new recording fully captures both the light and darker more eerie elements of the story, with Callow's animated narration bringing each of Dickens' iconic characters to life, and the Brighouse and Rastrick Band's rich musical accompaniment imbuing the story with extra festivity and capturing the zeitgeist of the Victorian era. 

The recording is extremely atmospheric from start to finish, with some of the most memorable of the story's events being emphasised by the accompanying carols. Notably, Scrooge's glimpse into his grim future with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, is accompanied by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band's brass section leading a jolly rendition of Good King Wenceslas. It's a somewhat sinister and very effective juxtaposition, which really makes the particular moment stand out. In a similar vein, Scrooge's eventual change of heart is marked with a particularly exuberant rendition of Joy To The World, with Callow's narration merrily cutting through the sparkling melody.

Looking at Simon Callow's career, it's clear that he has a passion for all things Dickens, having played the writer multiple times on stage and screen, and written extensively about him. It's a passion which is extremely tangible in this recording of A Christmas Carol, which is narrated enthusiastically and engages the listener throughout. Callow has an excellent gift for engaging storytelling, which compliments the ghostly tale perfectly. 

Dickens' traditional festive tale can now been seen in many iterations on stage and screen, a testament to its timelessness, but whilst watching puppets or uncanny CGI comedians perform the definitive christmas ghost story, there's nothing quite like enjoying the story in its simplicity, accompanied by some wonderfully ambient christmas carols. For that reason, this recording of A Christmas Carol should be at the top of everyone's wish list this christmas. 

Review - Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (UK and Ireland Tour)

Following an impressive run on the West End, which finished in February 2017, just shy of it's 2 year anniversary, the Broadway smash hit jukebox musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is now touring the UK. With actress Bronté Barbé taking on the mantle of the eponymous Brooklyn born singer-songwriter, the touring production is as fresh and energetic as ever.

Bronté Barbé and the cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
With more than a couple of embellishments here and there, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical tells the story of Carole King's life and career, from her early days writing music with classmate and childhood sweetheart Gerry Goffin to her first ever concert at Carnegie Hall in 1971. There's love, friendship and heartbreak, and of course, plenty of brilliant music to tie everything together. Admittedly, the plot is not the most exciting or groundbreaking one, but King's impressive back catalogue provides more than enough enjoyment to fill a couple of hours.

It's impossible to resist the bouncy melodies of It Might As Well Rain Until September and Take Good Care Of My Baby. The end of act 1 also packs a punch, with King unveiling some dramatic news about her relationship with the conflicted Gerry Goffin, and joining in with fictional girl group modeled on The Shirelles, as they sing One Fine Day, voice cracking as she reels from the news. King's discomfort with her surroundings is signified through her slightly frumpy clothing, which contrasts the sleek and glamorous 1960s chic which dominates Derek McLane's set design and Alejo Vietti's costumes. Bronté Barbé does a fantastic job of portraying King, sounding and acting with inflections which mirror King's own, but never impersonating her.

The musical's B plot follows King and Goffin's friends, the songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, played by Matthew Gonsalves and Amy Ellen Richardson. Not only do the duo provide ample comedy relief, their presence also allows for a couple of additional toe tapping tunes to be included in the show, such as He's Sure The Boy I love, and You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling, the latter famously being the most played song on American Radio and TV in the 20th century!

It may not be the most historically accurate biography, but with one toe tapping tune after another, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical provides pure and simple escapism, and does justice to one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time.

Review - Sunset Boulevard (UK tour)

Followers of theatre news are likely to remember April last year when during a run of Sunset Boulevard at the ENO, actress Glenn Close fell ill and understudy Ria Jones took on the leading role of Norma Desmond, winning over audiences and receiving raves for her performance. The musical, with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has been a firm favourite with musical theatre fans for years, and the juicy leading role is one which any actress would surely love to take on. Well, now Jones is back in that role again, this time in director Nikolai Foster's touring production. Stunning audiences with her refined acting and immense vocal power, she gives a performance which is hard to forget.

Danny Mac, Ria Jones and Adam Pearce in Sunset Boulevard
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
As Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star desperate to make a return to the limelight in Hollywood, Ria Jones captivates from her very first entrance. Clad head to toe in decadent and outlandishly glamorous attire, she carries herself airily, and it is clear that she is a woman living in her own world, unaware that her audience has left her behind. As well as some enthralling acting, Jones sings the role staggeringly well. Accompanied by a sumptuous live orchestra, Jones lends her thrilling vocals to iconic numbers such as With One Look and As If We Never Said Goodbye, bringing the house down in several occasions.

Opposite Jones, Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing star Danny Mac proves himself to be a charming leading man as Joe Gillis, a down on his luck screenwriter who accidentally stumbles into Norma's home one night and finds himself thrust into her world of fantasy. His cynical narration ties the story together, and he plays his own part in Norma's illusion without hesitancy. Impressively, in a musical full of showstoppers for its female lead, Mac holds his own and performs the title number passionately, showcasing strong vocals. Following his turn as Warner Huntington III in the Leicester Curve's production of Legally Blonde last year, and more recently Gabey in the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's On The Town, it seems as if his musical theatre career is on the rise!

Aside from the masterful performances, set and costume designer Colin Richmond's gorgeous designs are undoubtedly the highlight of this touring production. Cleverly playing on the idea of Norma's life mirroring the artificial facade of Hollywood, the set pieces break apart throughout the show to reveal their fakeness. Car chase scenes are played like something from a movie, with the bare bones of a vehicle being swayed by a barely disguised stage hand whilst the road is projected on a screen behind it. Yet despite this, the production maintains a sense of old Hollywood glamour. This is further emphasised by Ben Cracknell's lighting design, which is full of glorious brightness and warmth, and serves to increase the filmic aspect of the production design.

Sunset Boulevard is undoubtedly one of the most well known and loved musicals to have ever been written, and this touring production does an excellent job of showing just exactly why that is. With countless sublime musical numbers, a wonderfully atmospoheric design and a couple of exemplary leading performances, this production of Sunset Boulevard should not be missed.

Review - 42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

'You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!' 

That immortal quote has never rung truer than today, as the classic Broadway smash hit 42nd Street taps its way back into the hearts of London audiences. At a time when atypical musicals such as the outrageous The Book of Mormon, and the rap sensation that is Hamilton, are ruling in the hearts of musical theatre lovers, it's easy to envision a good old fashioned musical like 42nd Street missing the mark and being rejected in favour of more modern hits. Thankfully though, it seems as if there is room for both old and new in the West End, as 42nd Street wows from start to finish, and never feels anything but fresh and vibrant.

The cast of 42nd Street
photo credit - Brinkhoff & Moegenburg 
The plot is your standard rags to riches fairytale. When the out of town tryout of legendary theatre director Julian Marsh's next big hit Pretty Lady is halted by the indisposition of his demanding leading lady Dorothy Brock, young chorus girl Peggy Sawyer is thrust into the limelight. Luckily the story's formula is a winning one in the case of 42nd Street, which revels in showing every single thrill and spill. It's a show about show business, and the hyperdramatic will-she-won't-she element fits in perfectly with that, and doesn't seem stale or overplayed at all. Admittedly the musical does show its age elsewhere, such as in songs like Keep Young And Beautiful, which reminds women to 'keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved'. But 42nd Street has so much deliberate hokiness and self-awareness that it could be said that the retro sexist aspects are just a reflection of the era in which the musical is set. 

It's an utter joy to see 42nd Street thriving at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It's hard to resist the megawatt smiles of the ensemble, currently the biggest on the West End, as they set the stage alight in popular numbers such as Lullaby Of Broadway and the titular Forty-Second Street. Special praise must also go to Stuart Neal as self professed temperamental tenor Billy Lawlor. He leads the gigantic ensemble in huge production numbers such as We're In The Money, a moment which is sure to delight even the most stoic audience members. However, amid all the pomp and circumstance, it is young star Clare Halse who truly steals the show as Peggy Sawyer. From the moment she stumbles onto stage unassumingly, only to reveal herself as a formidable hoofer, Peggy has her co-workers beguiled, and it doesn't take long for Halse to have the audience following suit. 

42nd Street is nothing less than showstopping in every sense. From the moment the curtain rises to reveal the 50 strong cast furiously tapping away to the opening routine, it's abundantly clear that no expense has been spared on this production. From the cast of first rate performers to the feast of spectacle which oozes from the sets and gorgeous costumes, this is what a big budget West End musical should aspire to be. It's a giant, glitzy, eye-popping production with enough energy to light up the whole of Theatreland. 

Review - An American In Paris (Dominion Theatre)

The glorious elegance of Paris meets the malaise of post war Europe in An American In Paris, which transfers to London after a hugely successful Broadway run. The production is based on the 1951 film of the same name, and is directed by Christopher Wheeldon, the acclaimed contemporary ballet choreographer. Wheeldon's expertise inflects each dance sequence with sensation, and is notable throughout the production as a whole, which moves smoothly and kinetically from start to end. Meanwhile, the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin are irresistibly charming and full of flair.

Haydn Oakley and the cast of An American In Paris
Photo credit - Johan Persson 
In a Paris racked with guilt and haunted by the events of the war, Jewish-American Pianist Adam Hochberg narrates a story in which he is curiously sidelined, about how his friend, American Lieutenant Jerry Mulligan, arrives in Paris after its liberation, and decides to stay and pursue artistic endeavours. Hochberg and Mulligan team up with Henri Baurel, the son of a wealthy family obsessed with appearances, who dreams of being an entertainer. The trio are brought together by their artistic interests, and inexorably linked by their attraction to a talented and demure ballet dancer named Lise, whose talent and spirit enraptures them all.

Bob Crowley's production design is gorgeously painted in a light dreamy pallet, which transports the audience to some of Paris' most recognisable and evocative locations. In a uniformly excellent cast of performers, Royal Ballet star Leanne Cope shines as Lise, with a sweet voice and unmatched dancing skills, which is only to be expected given her impressive career prior to her star turn originating the role of Lise of Broadway in 2015. She effortlessly sells Lise's remarkable talent as a ballet dancer to be reckoned with, and adds innocence and personality to Christopher Wheeldon's striking choreography. 

However, despite its heavenly design and mesmerizing choreography, An American In Paris doesn't quite hit every mark. Like many musicals originating several decades ago, what constitutes 'romance' within the setting of 1940s France comes of as a little bit uncomfortable by today's standards. Certainly, having three men lust after the same woman after she initially shows very minimal interest in any of them can be a little unnerving. This is made all the more noticeable as we're currently in the midst of an outpouring of allegations of sexual assault in the arts. Of course, within the context of the story, it's not intended to be anything more than an innocent tale of a woman opening herself up to love after enduring emotional trauma, but nevertheless to an audience in 2017 the story's connotations could be seen as a little uncomfortable. 

Additionally, the production maintains a sleepy pace throughout, which works in its favour in many ways, but does mean that more urgent or even just flashier moments jar with the piece's tone. Henri's act two dream sequence I'll Build A Stairway To Paradise seems to come out of nowhere, and is enjoyable but bizarre after the production has established a subdued and grounded tone throughout. Similarly, the unmistakably brave and angsty 'Laurey's Dream From Oklahoma'-esque abstract ballet sequence which brings the second act near enough to a close, is exciting and fabulously performed, but seems incongruous with the musical's mellowness, which is maintained for the majority of the show.

All of that being said, dance lovers will no doubt adore An American In Paris' gorgeous ballet scenes, which are undoubtedly the musical's main draw. Full of joie de vivre, it calls back to a time when musicals were easy breezy, but also contains a bit of bite for modern day audiences to get their teeth into. 

Interview - Belinda Lang (Duet For One)

When asked for a brief overview of her career, Belinda Lang admits, 'I've been doing this for over 40 years, I suppose I must have been in dozens and dozens and dozens of plays, and a lot of telly as well, so I really don't think I can summarise it'. An enviable answer, and totally founded. Lang has been working as an actor since 1980, and made a name for herself in the 90s, in sitcoms Seconds Thoughts and 2point4 Children. Since then her CV has filled up with a massive variety of roles across several different mediums. In fact, you may have seen her earlier this year as Aunt Eller, in the BBC's Oklahoma Proms, reprising the role she played on tour a few years ago. And now she's returning to the stage yet again, to play Stephanie Abrahams in the UK tour of Tom Kempinski's award-winning play Duet For One

Based loosely on the real life musician Jacqueline du Pré, Duet For One is the sparkling and moving story of concert a violinist who is forced to consult a psychiatrist after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a life changing disease which forces her to reevaluate her life. Being a two hander, focusing on such an affecting subject, it's interesting to hear Lang describe the play as 'actually quite funny', before adding, 'you wouldn't think it would be.' In fact, despite playing a character whose life has been shaken by such a significant health issue, Lang maintains that Duet For One is not an upsetting play to watch or be a part of.  'Of course it's moving in that it's about a person who is struggling, but she's a very feisty woman and it's the not MS that going to get her. She's not dying. She's dealing with her life, and she goes about it in a very spirited fashion'. It seems as if Lang has a lot of admiration for the character she plays, which is understandable. Especially as she adds 'it's not a play about somebody in decline, it's a play about someone learning to live with themselves as they are, rather than as they thought they were going to be.'

Due to the two hander nature of the play, Duet For One has its own specific set of challenges, not least because sharing the stage with just one other actor is hugely exposing. Even when the actor opposite you is wildly successful writer and actor Oliver Cotton. Lang explains that 'every play brings different challenges', before elaborating that 'the main challenge in this [play] is learning it, because there are only two of us so there's a lot to take in, but it's very well written so once you know it it kind of sweeps you along.' That being said, she does joke that 'it's hard remembering it all in the right order!' It's surprising and heartening to hear such a seasoned actor talk so candidly and humbly about the challenges which such a play presents, with Lang admitting that 'you can't not concentrate for a single second, and of course, when you're in a play you should be concentrating, but it's frightening to know that if you drop your concentration then the whole thing could hit the deck.'

Belinda Lang in Duet For One
Understandably, the two-hander nature of the play affects the dynamic of the relationships between actors on stage, but interesting Lang explains that it also alters the connection between the actors and audience too. 'It's very personal. The fact that there's only two of us, and the fact that it's a conversation, sucks the audience into it. They get drawn in like a vortex, and when the bits come that are quite quiet you can feel the concentration. They concentrate with you, and they go through the process with you, which they might not so much if it was dissipated by other scenes and other characters. They do seem to come on a journey with us.' 

And it's that journey which Lang describes as Duet For One's main selling point Particularly in regards to her character's exploration of her feelings, and attitudes towards her new life. Lang describes how' 'a lot of people either have been through therapy, or haven't and wonder what it's like, and this does give you a sort of bird's eye view of what can happen. Therapy is a space to explore your feelings, some of which are aggressive, and it's a safe place to let off steam. I think people who've been there would recognise it, and for other people it's quite interesting. A revelation.' 

Interview - Orlando Seale (Manhattan Parisienne)

Actor Orlando Seale is currently appearing in a work in progress production of Alain Boublil's Manhattan Parisienne at The Other Palace. Following on from its world premier in 59E59 theatres, New York, in December 2015, this piece, featuring songs from the classic French and American songbooks, tells the story of a French actress and an American musician, both of whom have a connection to Paris. 

The importance of music within the piece is paramount, and with that in mind, cast member Orlando Seale, who is currently playing Gerard in the play, took a little bit of time out of his schedule of rehearsals and performances, to talk about his own relationship to music, the experience of working on a work-in-progress, and his affinity for Paris. 

'I think the audience reactions have been really positive' Seale says of the work-in-progress nature of the piece. 'It’s not supposed to be a performance, in a sense, it more just showing 5 or 6 days' worth of rehearsals.' Fascinatingly, because of the ever changing nature of the piece, it's very likely that what audiences who come later in the run see will be very different to what audiences saw at the beginning of it. Seale explains that he does what he can to explore the piece, and revels in the evolution of the show, explaining that 'they’re taking things out, putting new things in, trying different things out, and Bruce [Guthrie] the director has been really clear with the audience about that, so the audience has been very supportive. They’ve been coming in with a spirit of understanding that this is very much a work-in-progress, and it might change radically.'

That approach very much reflects Seale's attitude towards his own musical creations, which he described as 'post punk DIY stuff'. It's refreshing to hear the actor's views on how creating music should be accessible to everyone, with him expressing that 'I like the idea of everyone making music. You don’t have to qualified in some special way to do it. Of course it helps, but it’s nice the idea that everyone can get up and sing a song.'

And Seale's musical beginnings are a result of just that, as he describes how he didn't study a musical instrument in school, but was lucky enough to be invited to join the school band nevertheless. However, his obsessions with creating music didn't start until much later, when he was living in Los Angeles, and his then-girlfriend introduced him to a whole host of amazing music. He recalls driving around L.A in his car, his own personal soundbooth, 'I’d always written poetry and things, and I started wanting to see if I could sing songs. It partly came out of feeling like I wanted to make things of my own, that weren't just dependent on being cast. I became completely obsessed and I couldn’t stop'.

Seale recalls enjoying working on music projects, and finding himself searching for a way to combine his love of music and of theatre, having never done a musical before. Whilst teaching at the Associate Studios performing arts academy he was impressed with the hard work and talent of the musical theatre students, and says that curiosity led to him seeking out more opportunities to perform in music heavy pieces. 

'When this opportunity came up I thought it’d be really fascinating to go and spend a few weeks with people who were unbelievably talented, who were at the top of their game, and see how they did things.' As a show which relies so heavily on the use of music, Manhattan Parisienne, sd you would expect, has assembled a great team for its performances at The Other Palace. Seale is quick to praise the musical talent of everyone involved, stating that he is 'really impressed by the level of musicianship of all of the players and singers who play multiple instruments, and sing, and dance', whilst also marvelling at the skills of the director, choreographer, and band.

Given the name of the piece, asking about Orlando Seale's personal relationship with the titular boroughs, and of course his answers are extremely interesting. 'I’ve not only been to Paris, I lived in Paris, and I loved it so much. I’m a massive Francophile, and I have a lot of French friends, and I was actually at drama school in Paris at The Conservatoire National Supérieur D’Art Dramatique, so I go back as often as I can. The first time I went to New York was with the RSC years ago when we were on tour, and I absolutely love it. I haven’t spent as much time there, but I’d jump on any opportunity to go back!'

Unfortunately Seale doesn't know what the future holds for Manhattan Parisienne, but suggests that the creative team are taking audience comments on board and are eager to know what works and what doesn't. He is also full of praise for the play in its current iteration, stating 'I think it’s got a lot of charm, and it’s an opportunity to enjoy the American and the French song books, in a really charming way that brings the two together. I love the subtitle that Alain [Boublil] gave it; the songs he wished he’d written. I think that’s really beautiful, and for someone who’s been involved with such enormous hits, that's a really charming and humble thing to say.'

Interview - Ria Jones (Sunset Boulevard)

'It’s taken years but it’s worth the wait.'

26 years after she created the role in a workshop which took place during one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's exclusive Sydmonton Festivals, Welsh musical theatre star Ria Jones is finally getting the chance to play the iconic role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

Having first workshopped Sunset Boulevard aged just 24, Ria Jones is thrilled to be returning to the role now. Especially because, the way she sees it, there aren't many roles out there for older women. 'I think the other one that this compares to is Mamma Rose in Gypsy, and that’s another role that I’d love to play, but apart from that there aren’t that many great female roles. I suppose there's Hello Dolly, Mame, Gypsy and Sunset Boulevard, and Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes can be played by an older actress, but there aren’t as many as when you’re in your twenties and thirties'. 

Recalling how she first became involved in the show during its conception, she says 'I was in Cats and working closely with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I heard he was writing a musical called Sunset Boulevard. I didn’t really know much more about it than that really'. But soon she would be whisked away to Lloyd Webber's house in Sydmonton, where a chapel in the grounds had been converted into a theatre. 'I spent weeks there working with other actors, creating the role and working on the very first draft, and showing the musical in front of producers, agents and friends who he’d invited over to show his new piece'. Despite loving the score, Ria was fully aware that, being in her early twenties at the time, the role of Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star in her fifties, was not a great fit. Indeed, when the show opened in the West End in 1993, Norma was played by none other than Patti Lupone. 'I jokingly said to Andrew that I’d do the revival one day' Jones laughs, 'And now I’m doing it in my own right, at the right age, and in an exciting new production.'

Danny Mac, Ria Jones and Adam Pearce in Sunset Boulevard
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
Of course, this isn't the first production of Sunset Boulevard that Jones has appeared in since her early encounters with the show. In 2016 she made headlines when she went on as the understudy for Glenn Close whilst the show was playing at the London Coliseum. Despite a whirlwind of media hysteria, and some initial grumblings from one or two audience members, by the time the curtain came down at the end of her first show, Jones had totally won over naysayers and went on to receive an influx of rave reviews from both news outlets and general audiences alike. In fact, the response was so positive that it led to her being asked to star in the UK tour. 'Andrew Lloyd Webber was so thrilled when I went on in the Coliseum. He left me a lovely message on my phone, saying how delighted he was and how unbelievable it was that the original Norma Desmond was now playing the role at the London Coliseum. He was so thrilled and so disappointed that he wasn’t there because he was in New York working on School of Rock, I think. But he heard all the reports. Michael Harrison, David Ian and Curve, the producers of the Sunset Boulevard tour, were in for my last show. I got a call the next day saying would I be interested in touring it.'

Despite being a dream role, playing Norma Desmond does come with its challenges, especially when playing the role is combined with the demands of the touring lifestyle. 'I’ve got to pace the show 8 times a week, because, especially on two show days it’s very emotional because there’s a lot of shouting as well as singing, and sometimes shouting can tire out your voice more than singing'. However, for Ria Jones, the thrill of performing in Sunset Boulevard outweighs the pitfalls of touring by far, and her enthusiasm for the show, and in particular, its music, is extremely apparent. 'The score is so beautiful, it’s a cinematic score. I think it’s one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best works. It’s certainly a favourite of mine to listen to. I often put it on just to hear the overture and the entr’acte, just gorgeous.' And interestingly it seems that the UK touring production, directed by Leicester Curve Artistic Director Nikolai Foster, is different from past productions of Sunset Boulevard in many ways as well, adding a new element of excitement for fans. 'Nikolai Foster’s vision is incredible' Jones enthuses, 'It’s breathtakingly visually, as well as sounding fabulous, because we have one of the biggest orchestras touring at the moment. We have 16 in the orchestra and with extra padding out in the keyboards, it’s going to sound like a full orchestra, and I don’t think you can do this show on anything less because it would be sad not to, because it’s so beautiful. You need to hear the strings, you need to hear the harp, because it’s written with such detail and it’s so cinematic. You need that full luscious score. With the new set, and costumes, and lighting, it’s just going to take the show to the next level.' And she's also very complimentary towards her castmates, including Strictly Come Dancing 2016 competitor Danny Mac, who she describes as 'lovely to work with', along with musical theatre performers Molly Lynch and Adam Pearce. 'It’s just a lovely atmosphere, and of course you create your best work when you’re happy!'

If Ria Jones' passion is anything to go by then the UK tour of Sunset Boulevard should be on every musical theatre fan's to-see list. Now you've read about Jones' fascinating history with the show, make sure you catch her as Norma Desmond. Details of the tour can be found by visiting

Interview - Bronté Barbé (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)

'I was always a bit of a performer' actor Bronté Barbé muses, recalling her early roots in acting. 'I remember I was Mary in a nativity play when I was three, and I decided I wanted to be Mary for the next 6 months. I was dressed as Mary and my mum had to take me everywhere as Mary – I think she was a bit embarrassed' she laughs. 

‘A bit method?’ I proffer. 

‘Oh, SO method.'

Bronté, whose previous theatre credits include Princess Fiona in the Shrek The Musical UK Tour, and Nadine in The Wild Party, may be best known to some for her appearance in the 2010 BBC talent series Over The Rainbow, which saw several young actress competing for the role of Dorothy in an upcoming West End production of The Wizard of Oz. After her elimination from the show (which was eventually won by fellow Northerner Danielle Hope), she went on to study musical theatre at Mountview, and has since been seen in many shows around the UK. Now she is taking on the role of songwriting legend Carole King, in the UK and Ireland Tour of hugely successful musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which only recently closed in London.

When discussing the challenges of bringing incredible real life music icon Carole King to life on stage, Bronté reflects that finding the character has been quite a different process. 'It's something that I’ve never done before, and it’s been a big balance between finding it for myself and obviously looking back on research, because I want to stay true to her as much as I can. It’s definitely more of an interpretation rather than an impersonation'. Inevitably portraying such an interesting character on stage has its challenges, 'it spans over a period of about 12 years, and it's sort of plotting her journey throughout that and how she changes.' she explains. It's evident that Bronté has a lot of respect and admiration for the musical and its protagonist, and she admits that some of the songs still make her emotional, stating, 'I really love You’ve Got A Friend, it’s my favourite moment in the show I think – so far. It’s really nice to sing, and it gets me every time, I think "oh god, try not to cry"'.

In fact, one of the element which has undoubtedly made Beautiful: The Carole King Musical so popular is the great songs, such as the aforementioned You've Got a Friend, as well as tunes like Natural Woman, and I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet, which punctuate the story. As Bronté confesses, 'I’ve had the Tapestry album for quite a long time on vinyl, and I had a few friends in the show – my housemate was in it, so it got overplayed in the house a little bit, but I could never get bored of it!' And it's not just a musical for people who are drawn to music from the '60s and '70s either (although those who are will definitely enjoy the selection of songs which make it into the show). As Bronté puts it, 'there are so many songs that you don’t even realise are by Carole, or Cynthia and Barry', she says, referring to the vast and surprising catalogue of songs written by both Carole King and her friends, the husband and wife songwriting duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. And Beautiful: The Carole King Musical has more to offer than just great music, as Bronté is quick to point out. 'I remember being so struck by her story when I went to see it. I didn’t know a lot about her personal life. I think she’s an amazing person'.

Of course, for musical theatre fans, the much lauded musical should not be missed on tour, but Bronté asserts that because of its source material, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical may appeal to a wide range of audiences. 'I think, or I hope, that it will bring in a wider audience, because I think everybody has heard of Carole King, or one of the songs that’s in the show'. Yes, it's a fun jukebox musical, filled with great songs, recognisable characters and a healthy dose of nostalgia, but at it's heart Bronté believes that Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is different is some way, and finishes out interview by stating 'I think you go to the theatre to escape for a bit, but also to relate, and I think it’s such an important story that should be told.'

Don't miss Bronté Barbé in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on its first ever UK and Ireland Tour.

Review - Miss Saigon (UK and Ireland Tour)

It feels like only yesterday that Miss Saigon was preparing for a West End revival, but it's been over a year since Boublil and Schoenberg's ever popular epic closed in London. Happily though, it is touring the UK and Ireland again, and leaving a string of teary eyes behind it wherever it goes.

Set during the Vietnam war and in the years of uncertainty that followed, Miss Saigon tells the story of a doomed romance between Kim, a 17 year old bar girl, and Chris, an American GI, and explores ideas about tradition, survival, and love in many different forms. Inspired by Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon is a timeless story with haunting songs and an unforgettable story, and has captured the hearts of audiences around the world since it was first seen on the West End back in 1989.

Ashley Gilmour and Sooha Kim as Chris and Kim in Miss Saigon
Photo credit -  Johan Persson
Fans and newbies can rest assured that this touring production absolutely matches up to the titanic scale of the recent West end iteration. Its hugely detailed set is so incredibly intricate that the world of the story feels totally realised, and Miss Saigon's famously scene stealing set pieces are as awe inspiring as ever!

Additionally its monumental scale is bolstered by an impressively large cast, which fills the stage with bustling life and amplifies every ensemble number. The cast shines in songs like Bui Doi, and This Is The Hour, where their talent is palpable.

What is Miss Saigon, though, without a superstar Kim? Like a beacon of light, Sooha Kim is totally transcendent in the role. With a sweet yet powerful voice, and a characterisation of the role which is full of innocence and love, her performance is beautifully nuanced and immensely touching. She carries the show with ease and has the audience on her side from the first moment she steps on stage. Having understudied the role in the West End revival before taking on the lead full time in a more recent production in Japan, it's clear that Kim is a character which Sooha Kim is connected to deeply. Her revelatory performance sticks in the mind long after the curtain comes down.

Opposite Sooha Kim, Ashley Gilmour makes a perfectly dashing Chris. An American GI with a conscious, Chris is potentially a difficult character to pitch, but Gilmour does well to make Chris sympathetic and truthful on stage. And of course, the two leads make an utterly gorgeous couple, with strong chemistry and voices which blend together perfectly.

The are so many unforgettable songs in Miss Saigon, and the several love duets between the musical's central couple are no exception. Most notable perhaps, is Last Night Of The World, a song so full of dramatic irony, and featuring such a stirring melody, it makes the rushed romance between Kim and Chris seem totally believable. However, it is I'd Give My Life For You, Kim's formidable act one closing number, which steals the show. Kim and Chris' love may be powerful, but it's motherly love which dominates the latter half of the Miss Saigon and nowhere is that more evident than in Kim's foreboding solo.

It's not every day that a touring production of this calibre comes around, and if you've not yet crossed Miss Saigon of your to-see list then there has never been a better opportunity. Miss Saigon is touring around the UK and Ireland until late 2018. Catch it at your local theatre or miss out!

Interview - Alan Pearson (Alice's Adventures Underground)

Alice's Adventures Underground, Les Enfants Terribles' bizzaro maze-like piece of immersive theatre, is unlike anything else in London right now. Every inch of the sprawling Waterloo Wonderland is packed from floor to ceiling with curious objects, Easter eggs which evoke Lewis Carroll's original stories, and mysterious details which will have audience members temporarily transported into the psychedelic world. 

But what would Wonderland be without its assortment of kooky characters? Alice's Adventures Underground is crawling with recognisable characters from the books, and one of the most iconic of all, the Hatter, is played at some performances by actor Alan Pearson. 

It's Pearson's first year in Wonderland, and as well as playing the Hatter he also performs as the Mock Turtle, the Joker, the Knave of Hearts and the Wasp in a Wig. Quite an assortment. There are, however, some other parts which he wishes he could have a crack at... 'I’d love to play the Queen of Hearts, I think that’d be a great part to play. There are so many great characters, and the puppet characters are really great fun as well - the Cat and Humpty Dumpty. I think I wouldn’t mind having a go at those.' Without a doubt, the puppetry within the show is extraordinarily clever, and showstopping characters like the fearsome towering Jabberwocky will stay with audiences long after they depart. 

But the Hatter, such a well known and loved character from the books, and woven into popular culture so deeply, is surely a holy grail character for most actors. 'I love the part of the mad hatter, but also I heard so many great things about the piece the last time it was around, it was a bit of a no-brainer really', Pearson says of his initial reaction to being involved in the production. 'I’ve never done anything to this scale. I’ve worked in improvisation before but this sort of level of improvisation where you’re transported into the world - and it is a world, it’s so vast, the space that we’re using – is something I’ve never had to tackle before'  

Speaking of the vast space, the sheer scale and detail of Alice's Adventures Underground is definitely an element which helps the production to feel so real, and for audience members the whole experience of being led through Wonderland can feel extremely disorienting in the best way possible. It's not hard to imagine that the actors in the piece must feel similarly flustered, but Pearson elaborates that despite some early hiccups, his route through Wonderland is ingrained in his muscle memory now. 'I remember in the first week we were running around flapping, lots of us had little bits of paper in our pockets just with details on to tell us exactly where to go, but it’s ingrained now. Now we look at the time and see that we’ve only got 15 seconds until our next scene, but that feels like so much time, it feels like a luxury. But initially the panic would set in, and there was a lot of running involved!' Nevertheless, the finely choreographed nature of the production, which sees several large groups of people navigating through the world at once, is immensely impressive. 'It’s down to the second, so what’s been put in place are sound cues and audio cues, and visual cues to tell the actors "okay you need to move this audience now because in ten seconds another 26 people are coming through". We make it seem very seamless and effortless without the audience members knowing at all. You get a real sense of satisfaction as an actor knowing that you’ve achieved this'.

What with Alice's Adventures Underground being such a unique night out, and very different to a lot of the entertainment which London has to offer, it's interesting to think about exactly what kind of audiences come to see the show. Pearson describes how people come for multiple different reasons, 'we’ve got a lot of creative people that come, actors and such, but also people who just like the idea of Alice in Wonderland. It’s very cult, isn’t it, I suppose.' 

Undoubtedly the crowds are flocking to the show to experience something different, and in Alice's Adventures Underground the audience's interactions do help to shape the show, 'it’s entirely unique and dependent on the audience members that come through, and what they give and offer' Pearson explains. However, as with all shows of its type, it's seen its fair share of unusual audience offerings. 'We’ve got audience members that want to come for more of the party experience, so we’ve had a few, well, a lot of drunken people come through. We had a woman who took her trousers down and pissed on the floor.' Not exactly the sort of behaviour you'd expect to find at your standard West End musical, or anywhere in fact. 'We always find it constantly hilarious because there’s so many audience members coming through each night, there’s always something which is quite strange. But I think weeing in the Tulgey Wood is up there'. It'd be hard to argue with that! 

Alice's Adventures Underground is an exciting addition to London's theatre and nightlife scene, and Alan Pearson's zeal for the production is undeniable, as he enthuses, 'I think it’s magical and the finer details are incredible, and I think everyone gets an incredibly unique experience out of it.' 

Don't miss Alan Pearson in Alice's Adventures Underground, an immersive piece of theatre which you'll want to keep on returning to again and again. 

Find out more information by visiting and read my review of the show at 

Interview - Red Concepcion (Miss Saigon)

Miss Saigon, the blockbuster musical, is back! Setting off on a tour of the UK and Ireland, the show is bound to capture the hearts of many first time audiences, as well as dedicated fans. An exciting cast of performers, old and new, has been assembled for this new tour, and amongst them is Red Concepcion. Hailing from the Philippines, where his achievements in musical theatre include the Aliw Award for Best Actor in a Musical and the Gawad Buhay Award for his performance as Adam/Felicia in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, in his UK theatre debut Red will be taking on the role of The Engineer, the devious owner of the Dreamland bar and brothel where the events of Miss Saigon begin. As he prepares to hit the road, Red Concepcion speaks about his experience of the show, what the rehearsal process has been like, and what he hopes audiences will take away from it at the end.

Red reflects on his experience so far, remarking that the rehearsal process has been ‘a little overwhelming for someone who hasn’t seen the show, and who comes from another country, because obviously the process it very different, but very exhilarating’. It may surprise people to hear that Red has never seen Miss Saigon before. ‘It went to Manila but I think I was too young to see it, but I’ve been a fan of the music for a long time. It’s beautiful, beautiful music’, he explains, ‘When I was a kid it was very big in the Philippines so I think we listened to the cassette tape. I had the whole album and I used to listen to it a lot’.

In some ways it’s possibly advantageous to be coming into the show fresh. It’s undoubtedly an iconic role, and one which frequently divides audiences. ‘The whole show is kind of a cautionary tale about war, and what war does to people, and The Engineer, although he’s funny and whimsical, more than that I want the audience to see the show to be like “if I ever find myself in war, or in a country in turmoil, or unrest, I should not turn into that guy!” Because he’s very conniving, very scheming, to get what he wants’. However, just like the rest of the characters within the musical, Red identifies that The Engineer is a victim of circumstance too. ‘He kind of has this inherent hatred of who he is. He wants to be an American, so he’s got an inherent hatred of himself, but he’s also knows and admires himself for all his cunning and his smarts, so having those two things in one person, constantly battling is very challenging, but a good challenge to be explored.’
Red Concepcion in rehearsals for the Miss Saigon UK Tour
Photo Credit - Manuel Harlan
The new tour features cast members from the West End production of Miss Saigon, such as leading actress Sooha Kim, who previously understudied the role in London before taking the lead in a production in Japan. However, it also features a load of new faces. It’s not hard to imagine that for a production so big, and with such a reputation, the pressure to get things right would be high, but as Red explains, ‘the creative team is very supportive and you can tell than they want us to do good, so it’s a very gruelling process but also a very encouraging lovable atmosphere.’ Reflecting on his experiences in rehearsals so far he laughs, ‘whenever I feel like I’m about to get stressed, everybody’s so loving and there’s really no cause to lose your mind.’

Speaking more generally about Miss Saigon, it’s not a surprise to hear his favourite part of the show to perform is The American Dream. 'It’s a show stopper, it’s so fun to do, working on it with the choreography and with the rest of the cast, I just love doing it’. Undoubtedly The American Dream, an outlandish dream sequence of a song which features countless dancers flooding the stage, along with a couple of pretty big symbols of wealthy America, is a jaw dropping and memorable highlight of the show which allows the actor playing The Engineer to cut loose for several minutes. He notes however that his favourite part of the show to watch is in fact Morning of The Dragon. ‘They pull out all the stops and they’ve got an amazing cast of dancers, and they just kill it every time’. It’s a lesser spoken about but equally breath-taking moment in the show, which shows a parade in Ho Chi Minh City celebrating the third anniversary of the reunification of Vietnam. The moment acts as a time jump within the story, and is just one of many incredible moments of spectacle within the show.

It’s partly this element of spectacle that Red identifies as a selling point of Miss Saigon. He enthuses that ‘Miss Saigon is a modern classic. There’s nothing like it in terms of its scope and its scale, the music that it has, and the storytelling that it manages to do’. And what does he hope that audiences will gain if they buy a ticket? ‘They’ll be laughing, they’ll be enjoying themselves, and thoroughly entertained, but also it’ll open their minds about a lot of things, like race, and war… everything.’

For more information visit