Review - Matilda the Musical (Cambridge Theatre)

Oliver, Annie… Matilda?
 
The cast of Matilda the Musical
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
 Almost 10 years after its premiere in Stratford-upon-Avon, Matilda the Musical is still as fresh and fun as ever, and with a film adaptation rumoured to be in the works, it surely won’t be long until the Royal Shakespeare Company’s golden goose becomes as ubiquitous as the likes of family favourite musicals Annie and Oliver.

Adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s book, Matilda the Musical tells the story of a 5 year old genius named Matilda Wormwood, who seeks refuge from her TV and microwave dinner loving parents with the kindly Miss Honey, and rallies her classmates to help take down the school’s bullish head teacher Miss Trunchbull.

Before the show even begins, the world of Matilda the Musical is already apparent, thanks to Rob Howell’s sprawling set design, which covers the proscenium arch with scrabble tiles which spell out little Matilda the Musical themed clues. The whole stage is a pop-up book come to life – kooky, primary coloured, and well matched by some pretty zany costume designs. Matilda’s mum, an amateur ballroom dancer and box-dye enthusiast, is kitted out in an eye-popping pink and purple number, whilst Miss Trunchbull’s drill sergeant-chic blazer and culottes cast a foreboding shadow over the otherwise vivid world.

And the musical isn’t all style over substance (contrary to the doctrine of Matilda's appearance-obsessed mum, who isn't afraid to assert that 'looks are more important than books!). Dennis Kelly’s book is endearing, with some moments of excellent comedy alongside the standard child friendly toilet humour. And the vibrant music by Tim Minchin solidifies Matilda the Musical as a cut above the rest. From Matilda’s synonymous solo Naughty, to the fist pumping heck-yes war cry of Revolting Children, when Matilda and her classmates finally stand up to the tyrannical Trunchbull, there’s not a song in the show that doesn’t jump out off the stage.

There may be plenty of family shows to entertain audiences in London right now, but few radiate the megawatts of joy that Matilda the Musical produces night after night. It's well and truly a must-see musical!
 
I was invited to review Matilda the Musical thanks to seatplan.com

Review - Rosmersholm (Duke of York's Theatre)

Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm is a politically charged tragedy swelling with a melancholy which seeps from every nook.

Hayley Atwell and the cast of Rosmersholm
Photo credit - Johan Persson
In a small Norwegian town, on the eve of an election which sees the conservative status quo challenged by radical new liberalist thinking, widowed atheist John Rosmer, formerly a well-respected pastor, wavers between embracing modern thinking, and buckling under the history and tradition which his family name, and home, is built on. On one side of the argument is his friend, and former companion to his deceased wife, Rebecca, whose intellect and self-sufficiency is at odds with the patriarchal thinking of the old. However, on the other side Rosmer’s brother-in-law Andreas Kroll campaigns for the ruling class to remain in what he sees as its rightful place. As both sides’ campaigning increases in ferocity, Rosmersholm becomes an epicentre of chaos, both personal and political. 

Tom Burke and Giles Terera in Rosmersholm
Photo credit - Johan Persson
Ian Rickson, former artistic director at the Royal Court Theatre, has done an extraordinary job of bringing this rarely performed Ibsen gem to the stage. Really, it could have been written yesterday. Rosmersholm is the perfect play for 2019, capturing the utter chaos of post-Brexit Britain, and the fervent tidal wave of fake news which notably swelled up in the run up to the 2016 US presidential election and has continued to wreak havoc politically ever since. 

Rae Smith's production design brings the bleakness of Rosmersholm to life; dozens of portraits hang on the walls and act as a constant reminder of the house’s proud history, meanwhile a grim line of grime and peeling paint trailing the bottom of the walls betrays the ghost of a flood which ravaged the house a year ago. That waterline, and the house’s accompanying disarray, acts as a constant symbol of guilt for Rosmer, as it betrays the upsetting and somewhat scandalous conditions of Rosmer’s late wife’s death; suicide by drowning, in the house’s adjacent millrun.

Giles Terera and Hayley Atwell in Rosmersholm
Photo credit - Johan Persson
The spectral canvas of the house is adorned with vivid, impressive performers in the play’s central trio. Hayley Atwell's Rebecca West is as enthralling & unreadable as characters get, engaging Tom Burke's disengaged John Rosmer in a precarious tug-of-war; do what's right or do what's safe. Meanwhile Giles Terera’s Kroll exudes an agitated energy as a member of the ruling class who intends to keep the lower societal classes subjugated. Yet another aspect of the play which feels uncomfortably familiar today. 

Holding a mirror up to modern day issues, while providing a glimpse into gender, society and politics of the late 1800s, Rosmersholm proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ibsen’s smart, sophisticated dialogue is in good hands with the trio of star leads, in a production which captures today’s rocky political climate scarily well.

I was invited to review Rosmersholm thanks to London Box Office 

Review - Mamma Mia! (Novello Theatre)

If the grey London evenings are getting you down, head down to the Novello Theatre and take a trip to sunny Greece with Mamma Mia! Catherine Johnson, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ irresistible jukebox musical hit.

The cast of Mamma Mia!
Photo credit - Brinkhoff & Mögenburg
The sunny West End staple, which has been running for 20 years on the West End, has most definitely reached icon status, inspiring two movies, and countless international productions around the world. And it’s easy to see why.

Mamma Mia! is an easy musical to love. The fun and fairly lightweight plot is bursting with ABBA bangers, and the cast certainly revels in the musical’s over the top energy and zest. From wetsuit clad groomsmen dancing in synchronicity to Lay All Your Love On Me, to a neon hazed dream sequence accompanied by the cool synthy Under Attack, Mamma Mia! is certainly not short on zany musical numbers, choreographed for peak dancefloor copycattery by Anthony Van Laast. Does Your Mother Know That You’re Out is a vivacious highlight, and the musical’s concert-like finale seals the deal, ensuring that the audience leaves on a high.

The cast of Mamma Mia!
Photo credit - Brinkhoff & Mögenburg
At 20 years old, Mamma Mia! is one of the oldest musicals on the West End, and at times it does show its age. Mark Thompson’s Ionian blue and white set design perfectly evokes Grecian summer on the fictional island of Kalokairi but looks a bit washed out. The glaringly 90s costumes however are delightful and add massively to the musical’s overall nostalgia factor.

This is a musical which shows no sign of slowing down. At this point it’s basically part of the fabric of London’s West End; a delight from start to finish. Seen it before? (Here we) go again!

I was invited to review Mamma Mia! thanks to London Box Office 

Review - 9 to 5 the Musical (Savoy Theatre)

This year, 10 years after it opened on Broadway, Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick’s 9 to 5 the Musical has finally made it to the West End. Based on the 1980 film of the same name, it tells the story of Violet, Doralee and Judy, three exasperated colleagues who join forces to try and banish sexism from their office.
 
The cast of 9 to 5 the Musical
Photo credit - Craig Sugden
Patricia Resnick’s book offers plenty of laughs, but also addresses, amongst other things, the gender pay gap, workplace harassment, and the bias against working mothers. All of which are issues which continue to make headlines today. The script’s puerile humour won’t be for everyone, but 9 to 5 the Musical certainly has its moments.

It also, obviously, puts its female stars front and centre, and wisely so as they are undoubtedly 9 to 5 the Musical’s strongest asset.
 
Caroline Sheen, Natalie McQueen, and Amber Davies in 9 to 5 the Musical
Photo credit - Pamela Raith
Amber Davies is sweet as young soon-to-be divorcee Judy, showing up for her first day of work looking like a child who raided her mother’s wardrobe, and with the naivety to match. She starts off unassuming, but ends up lifting the roof off the Savoy Theatre with Get Out and Stay Out, an empowering up tempo war cry which Judy delivers to her skeevy ex-husband.

Natalie McQueen is just as tremendous as Doralee, a “Backwoods Barbie” who has to prove that there’s more to her than meets the eye after facing relentless hostility from her female co-workers as well as relentless sexual abuse at the hands of Brian Conley’s lascivious CEO Franklin Hart Jr (Perfectly slimy and extremely gravelly voiced, so much so that at times he’s barely comprehendible). Bold, brassy, and hysterically funny, McQueen’s Doralee is a total scene stealer.
 
Brian Conley and Natalie McQueen in 9 to 5 the Musical
Photo Craig Sugden
Caroline Sheen completes 9 to 5 the Musical’s central power-trio as Violet, a strung out yet assertive single mother trying to make it to the top in her male dominated workplace. Her budding romance with a younger male colleague may not be the most compelling side plot, but she’s otherwise a fantastically well-rounded and dimensional heroine, and foil to the inimitable Bonnie Langford’s waspish Roz Keith.

The production is bolstered by comically 80s production design. The set which is bright and visually appealing, if a little bit sparse on the Savoy Theatre’s deep stage, with roll-on set pieces which betray the production’s past life on tour but are otherwise perfectly functional. Video design by Nina Dunn is sleek and vibrant, and while a Dolly Parton video cameo is evidently shoehorned in where it isn’t necessarily needed, having her pop up to sing a little bit of the title song is an undeniably upbeat crowd-pleasing moment.
 
It may not be the most robust or profound musical on the West End right now, but 9 to 5 the Musical offers a huge dose of girl power, which is sorely needed in 2019.

Review - West End Live Lounge: WOMAN (The Other Palace)

To coincide with International Women’s Day, West End Live Lounge presented WOMAN; a powerful celebration of women in the world of music.

Emma Hatton at West End Live Lounge
Photo credit - Nick Brittain (Brittain Photography)
Featuring an eclectic song list ranging from evergreen musical sensations like Carole King, to modern day chart toppers such as Little Mix, there was definitely something for everyone to enjoy. West End Live Lounge creator Shaun McCourt assembled a line-up of talent that could any musical theatre fan’s attention, featuring headliners Louise Dearman and Emma Hatton alongside a whole host of outstanding vocalists.
 
Accompanied by the Live Lounge Band under the musical direction of Sam Coates, the performances were invariably jawdropping, with highlights included recent Bat Out Of Hell alumnus Simon Gordon’s rendition of Lady Gaga’s Oscar winning Shallow and Jennifer Tierney's performance of All By Myself which began as a beautiful yet unassuming ballad before building to a face-melting finale. Finally, sensational vocal trio Divalution’s rendition of Little Mix jam Power ensured that the concert ended on the highest of a high notes!
 
It may have been nice to hear more mainstream female pop offerings, as a number of iconic 00s performers were notably omitted, but with the runtime pushing 3 hours already, and a set list which kept audiences guessing from start to finish, a follow-up concert ought to be considered in order to squeeze in the likes of Rhianna, Lily Allen and Beyoncé.

Presented by the indomitable affable Samuel J Holmes, whose panto inspired patter kept the concert running slickly, West End Live Lounge’s latest offering was a resounding Sunday evening success.

Going out - Gingerline's The Grand Expedition

At 4pm on an unusually sunny February day, I receive a clandestine text message. Its contents is fairly cryptic; just the name of a tube station and a set of walking instructions to guide me towards the location of my fast approaching evening adventure.
 
Photo credit - Rob Greig
Gingerline’s latest immersive dining venture The Grand Expedition is shrouded in secrecy, but when I arrive at a rather shady looking carpark with a tentative friend in tow, I know immediately that we’ve come to the right place. We’re met by a small gathering of equally clueless fellow ticketholders, who are slowly but surely being ferried in to an unassuming warehouse building. I’m given a green wristband to dictate my vegetarianism (my friend, an omnivore, is given a different colour) and then we too are ushered inside.

Like stepping into Narnia, the drab outdoors melts away, and we’re welcomed warmly into a pastel coloured storybook world. A small but mighty team of hosts work with military precision to seat us and our awestruck fellow diners beneath a canopy of vintage hot air balloons, and then just like that we’re off on a grand expedition…
 
Photo credit - Rob Greig
Over the course of the evening, we traverse the world from the comfort of our seats, as a small army of gibberish waffling aeronauts entertain us with dancing, slapstick comedy and mime, and even a couple of silly games to get us out of our seats and mingling with our fellow adventurers. The performers, who double up as waiters, work tirelessly to preserve The Grand Expedition’s madcap foodie fun, and although their flying goggle sporting aeronautical adventurers do occasionally resort to cultural stereotypes in order to convey a sense of place, their committed performances are certainly worthy of plenty of praise.
 
Photo credit - Rob Greig
Interspersed with the fun and games, we sample 5 courses of delectable cross continental fodder, served up in increasingly kitschy ways. Our plates burst with flavour, whilst our surroundings shift and evolve, immersing us deeper into the expedition. We’re even called upon to do a bit of DIY food presentation at one point; serving up our own pelmeni dumplings on a bed of borscht ketchup. As a result, we’re soon chatting chummily with our fellow dining companions, as we’re whisked further and further from home.

Every mouth-watering course brings something new to the dining experience, with each plate building on the one that came before it, despite drawing on culinary influences from every corner of the world. From the quaint to the downright otherworldly, by the time we come down from our indulgent gastronomic high, our taste buds have clocked some serious air miles!

Review - [title of show] (Above The Stag Theatre)

First produced off-Broadway in 2006, [title of show] is a post-modern musical with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and a book by Hunter Bell, which documents its own creation in preparation for entry into the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
 
The cast of [title of show]
Photo credit - PBG Studios
One interesting aspect of [title of show] is that its four central characters are based entirely upon the musical's original cast; creators Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, and their collaborators, actors Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff. In Director Robert McWhir’s production, actors Jordan Fox, Michael Vinsen, Kirby Hughes, and Natalie Williams take on the roles of Jeff, Hunter, Heidi and Susan. Uniformly charming and extremely funny the quartet of actors bring the autobiographical musical to life remarkably well, transporting the audience back to 2004. Their onstage chemistry as an ensemble is pitch perfect, rooting the unusual and at times rather unstructured material in reality, and giving the audience something to latch on to as the events of the musical unfold.
 
The cast of [title of show]
Photo credit - PBG Studios
[title of show] revels in its parred down, stripped back nature, placing its actors centre stage at all times and demanding a constant air of spontaneity from them. Happily, the performers bring it in spades. Fox and Vinsen make a snappy duo as the bickering yet brotherly leading men, whilst Hughes and Williams are equally entertaining as self-professed secondary characters Heidi and Susan, whose self-aware second act duet is a musical highlight. A special mention must also go to Associate Musical Director Oli George Rew, as [title of show]’s long suffering musician.

This is a meta musical which musical theatre aficionados will love. As well as delivering plenty of laughs, it also offers an insightful glimpse into the process of creating a new musical, from its inception all the way through to opening night… and beyond.

Review - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)

On September 11th 2001, one harrowing terrorist attack changed the course of history irreversibly, sending shock waves across the world and ushering in a new era of suspicion, anxiety and insularity. It's in the shadow of that unforgettable day 18 years ago that Irene Sankoff and David Hein's surprisingly jolly musical sensation Come From Away flourishes, proving that even in moments of unimaginable horror, human kindness will prevail.

The cast of Come From Away
Photo credit - Matthew Murphy
Rarely do such infectiously heart-warming musicals arrive on the West End, drawing audiences in with genuine warmth and heart, and leaving them feeling utterly fulfilled. 

Come From Away explores what happened when 38 planes from all over the world were forced to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, during the shut down of American airspace following the 9/11 attack. Telling the true stories of the almost 7000 displaced and overwhelmed ‘plane people’ and the Gander natives who welcomed them with open arms, Come From Away is a heartening musical which exemplifies the absolute best of humanity, from its infectiously catchy opening number Welcome To The Rock, right up until the spirited on-stage band plays the audience out at the end. 

The cast of Come From Away
Photo credit - Matthew Murphy
Stitched together by an earthy folk rock score, Come From Away is a patchwork of different stories, told by an incredible ensemble cast. Every character bursts with life, from Gander's gruff yet amicable mayor Claude Elliott, to budding romancers Nick and Diane; a Brit and a Texan who meet whilst trapped on the tarmac at Gander International Airport. Rachel Tucker shines as Beverley Bass, American Airlines’ first female captain, who gives the audience a glimpse into the work of the heroic airline crew rallying together to get people home. Bass' gutsy solo Me and the Sky is just one of the musical's many heart stopping moments. 

The remarkably frank and human script demonstrates the mushrooming dread felt by Gander’s permanent and temporary dwellers, of course, but the friendships and romances formed in the small town in the days after the 9/11 attack take precedence, and so there’s no shortage of roistering song-and-dance numbers to drive the musical’s message of love and kindness home. 

Review - West End Women (Cadogan Hall)

It may only be February, but 2019 is already looking set to be an amazing year for musical theatre, with Broadway showstoppers like Waitress, Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen on the horizon, and home-grown musicals such as Six and the recently announced & Juliet making waves too. Aside from showcasing the breadth of the musical theatre genre, this theatrical line-up shares one other notable trait; they all feature an assortment of strong female characters in their ranks. And what better way to celebrate this vital leap in the right direction than a look back at almost 100 years of women in musical theatre?
 
Enter West End Women, Lambert Jackson Productions’ one-night-only celebration of some of musical theatre’s most memorable female characters, brought to life by an assortment of musical theatre superstars. 
 
The cast of West End Women
Photo credit - Michael Xavier
Headlining the concert were Rachel John, Lauren Samuels and Celinde Schoenmaker, three of the West End’s most dependable, versatile and spectacularly talented names. All three were given plenty of chances to shine in solo and group numbers. Rachel John delivered a hair raising rendition of Summertime from Porgy and Bess, whilst Lauren Samuels performed Never Enough from the 2017 hit film The Greatest Showman, and former The Phantom of the Opera star Celinde Schoenmaker revisited the mega musical to treat audiences to its ingénue Christine Daae’s star-making aria Think of Me.

Not only was West End Women a stunning showcase for the talents of its headlining performers, it also shone a spotlight on the stars of the future. Several up-and-coming musical theatre voices were on display, including Lauren Shields, Kayla Carter and Martha Boon, who opened the concert’s second act with Chicago’s vicious Cell Block Tango, Brady Isaacs who commanded the stage singing A Piece of Sky from Yentl, and Talia Robens, whose rendition of Everything I Know from In The Heights was a striking tearjerker.
 
The students of MX Masterclass, West End favourite Michael Xavier’s musical theatre training school, were equally impressive, bringing buckets of energy and pizazz to Blow Gabriel Blow from Anything Goes and America from West Side Story, accompanied by a peppy orchestra under the baton of Adam Hoskins.

Despite the omission of several famous female-led musicals, West End Women was a magical musical theatre celebration. The concept was solid, the performances were uniformly faultless, and the audience was left tapping their toes at the joyful and empowering finale, I’m A Woman!

Review - Avenue Q (UK Tour)

Its closing number may reassure audiences that “everything in life is only for now”, but Avenue Q, the uproarious comedy which infamously beat musical monolith Wicked to the Best New Musical Tony Award back in 2004, has been doing the rounds in the UK since it first premiered in London 13 years ago! And now it’s back, touring the UK under the director of Cressida Carré, and fuzzier than ever.
 
The cast of Avenue Q
Photo credit - Matt Martin
Telling the story of 22 year old graduate Princeton, who moves to New York’s to figure out his purpose in life and finds himself living amongst a host of zany humans and puppets, Avenue Q is a pretty unique beast. Positioning itself as x-rated The Muppets or Sesame Street parody, it’s ingeniously zany and riotously racy, but there’s a surprisingly touching moral buried deep amongst all of the fur.

Like it’s notorious sibling The Book of Mormon (songwriter Robert Lopez co-wrote the music for both, before bashing out the tunes for a little Disney film called Frozen), Avenue Q makes fun of just about everybody, and does so with abandon. But it feels loving, in a way, and definitely prompts a bit of self-reflection from its audience, after they’ve finished wiping away their tears of joy.
 
The cast of Avenue Q
Photo credit - Matt Martin
With such a reliance on the use of puppetry, Avenue Q is a show which lives or dies on the ability of the actors to breathe life into their primary coloured puppet counterparts. Thankfully, Lawrence Smith, who multiroles as both the musical’s protagonist Princeton, and his neighbour Rod, a closeted republican banker, undoubtedly has a brilliant grasp of the physicality the role requires, and is completely hilarious and a fabulous singer to boot. Likewise, Cecily Redman is endearing and sweetly voiced as Kate Monster, a Kindergarten Teaching Assistant who catches Princeton’s eye.

Avenue Q is the ultimate laugh-out-loud musical, with catchy songs aplenty, and a book chock-full of cheeky jibes. Deliriously funny, it’s the perfect antidote for the grey malaise of 2019.

Review - Kinky Boots (UK and Ireland Tour)

Kinky Boots, Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's bubbly, big-hearted musical hit, has been entertaining audiences in London since 2015, and after a massively successful West End run, it’s now heading out on tour to bring its timeless story of love and acceptance to the masses.
 
The cast of Kinky Boots
Photo credit - Helen Maybanks
Inspired by a true story, Kinky Boots follows the exploits of Charlie Price who, after a chance encounter with a vivacious drag queen named Lola, sets out to save his family’s shoemaking factory from ruin.

From start to finish, Kinky Boots is a complete delight. Led by the remarkably talented Joel Harper Jackson and Kayi Ushe as Charlie and Lola, the entire cast brim with effervescence. Jackson brings boyish charm to the musical’s everyman role, and Ushe is a pillar of magnetism as Lola, the metaphorical sun around which the rest of the characters orbit.
 
The cast of Kinky Boots
Photo credit - Helen Maybanks
Radiating an infectiously joyful energy, Kinky Boots is both a tantalising musical hit and a glitzy catwalk, which parades Gregg Barnes' bedazzled costumes remarkably. Lola is constantly kitted out in eyepoppingly vibrant designs, as are the Angels, Lola’s troupe of bubbly drag queens.

The touring production more than stands up to its recently departed West End counterpart, filling every inch of the stage with life. Sure, the plot is pure cotton candy fluff, but combined with Cyndi Lauper’s sparkling tunes, the resulting cocktail is simply irresistible.

If there’s one musical which is guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face, it’s Kinky Boots.

Going Out - West End Brunch at Studio 88

Musical theatre lovers who aren't content with just enjoying musicals at lunch and dinner time will be pleased to hear that Studio 88 has launched a West End Brunch which combines a tasty two course brunch menu and bottomless prosecco with performances from wonderfully talented West End stars.

Photo credit - Paul Torode
Set within the heart of Theatreland, Studio 88 is a perfect host for West End Brunch. The venue is sleek and swanky, and when my friend and I arrived for the inaugural brunch, a Wicked themed affair, we were met with the sound of musical theatre tunes blasting out whilst excited brunchers perused the menu and sang along to their favourite songs. 

We were seated on a table at the side of the stage, offering a fantastic view of the band, and the dancefloor. Unfortunately a pillar blocked the front of the stage area, meaning that the performers were slightly obstructed from view, but after I'd finished eating I happily perched myself at the bar to get a better look.

Brunch was utterly delicious. I opted for avocado toast with a poached egg; a brunch staple which really impressed me. The avocado was seasoned well and the egg was perfectly poached, and we were even offered some orange juice alongside it, in addition to the bottomless prosecco on offer. After the main brunch course we were offered dessert and I opted for a sweet key lime pie. The dessert menu was decidedly less expansive than the brunch course, which had included options such as pancakes and maple syrup, eggs benedict and yoghurt and granola, but nevertheless I enjoyed my key lime pie very much.

Photo credit - Paul Torode
Our compare for the afternoon was ditsy drag cabaret artist Topsie Redfern, who entertained all of us brunchers with a few jokes and dazzling showtunes, before introducing the three Wicked alumni performers for the afternoon. Elphaba understudy Laura Emmitt was first on stage, and what a fantastic way to start. In addition to her rendition of intense Wicked classic No Good Deed, we wowed us with songs from other shows she'd previously appeared in, as well as some of her all time favourites. Her Don't Cry For Me Argentina from Evita was particularly impressive. 

Kane Oliver Parry was up next, duetting with Laura Emmitt on As Long as You're Mine, Elphaba and Fiyero's romantic act 2 duet. He also got the crowd bopping along to Queen's power ballad I Want To Break Free. Parry shared that he understudied the role of Galileo in a We Will Rock You arena tour, and told a story about the first time he got to play the role in front of an audience. It was an added treat to hear anecdotes from the performers as well as just performances, as it made the brunch feel more casual that a regular concert or cabaret.

Photo credit - Paul Torode
The final performer was Steph Parry, who is currently understudying the lead role of Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street, and made headlines recently when she was called to understudy Donna in Mamma Mia whilst she was performing in 42nd Street, when the lead and understudies all fell ill. Parry previously understudied the role of Morrible and so while she didn't give us any Wicked (well, she jokingly sang Morrible's preamble to The Wizard And I, much to everyone's amusement), she did knock everyone's socks off with Mamma Mia hit The Winner Takes It All. 

A West End themed brunch is an excellent idea, brilliantly executed at Studio 88. Although I was caught off guard by the sometimes overwhelmingly loud music, which made any brunch conversation a struggle, and found sightlines an issue at times too, the execution of the event was seamless in all other aspects. The food was first rate, as were the performances, and the prosecco never stopped flowing. 

Review - True West (Vaudeville Theatre)

It’s the 80s, and somewhere in the oppressively hot suburbs of SoCal, Ivy League educated screenwriter Austin sits hunched over a typewriter, penning his latest screenplay and periodically stopping to give the potted plants surrounding him an obligatory spritz of water.

Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West
Photo credit - Marc Brenner
It’s in this environment of simmering pressure, where life (and livelihoods) balance precariously on the precipice, ready to give in at any moment, that True West blooms and wilts. Sam Shepard’s family drama, a 1983 Pulitzer Prize finalist, explores the rocky reconnection of two estranged brothers. The aforementioned Austin is a mousy type, dressed in variations on beige, he’s nervy and dweeby, and thoroughly intimidated by Lee, his older brother. Lee has a prickly feline quality to him, like an alley cat on the prowl. And he’s got an idea for a screenplay too.

Harkening back to the time of the pioneers, who headed West in search for land and gold, the play’s title acts as a metaphor for the dilemma each character faces. Austin is financially stable but craves freedom, whilst Lee is a roaming criminal who seems to harbour a secret desire for financial security and normalcy. Austin’s screenplay is a romance, described as a period piece. It’s leagues away from the wild adventure of the blockbuster Western Lee pitches, and leagues away from the sort of life Austin comes to realise he wants.

Johnny Flynn in True West
Photo credit - Marc Brenner
As the warring brothers Austin and Lee, Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn respectively hold the piece together with strong, charismatic performances, but both characters feel rather two dimensional, as does the force which drives them. Shephard’s script suggests that the brothers are on the verge of trading places, as Austin discovers a vicious reckless side to himself, but the idea never fully forms.

As a result, the play ambles towards its finale, with no clear sense of where it is going. Although each individual scene is entertaining enough, they all connect rather disjointedly, and beyond the surface levels of humour and angst, haphazardly stitched together, there’s not much to latch on to in True West.