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.