Archive | September, 2011

“Steps” and “Pieces of String”, Waterloo East Theatre

30 Sep

This week, the Waterloo East Theatre shows five original musicals, which were written and produced as part of the Goldsmiths College MA Musical Theatre course. I went to see two of them, Steps and Pieces of String.

Steps has a book by Ruth Carter and music and lyrics by Jen Green. It is about a Latvian ballet dancer, Elissa (Hollie Cassar), who comes to England to join a ballet company, only to find out that the company has gone bankrupt. Not knowing what to do, she accepts the offer of another ballet dancer, Kim (Claire Sharpe) to stay with her and her family in Blackpool for a while. Kim’s brother Tom (Martin Lawson) and her parents (Sid Herbert and Maggie Robson) prefer ballroom dancing and Tom even has a job offer if he gets through a ballroom dancing competition. After his partner Joanne (Jennie Jacobs) leaves him, Elissa takes over and they manage to get through it and happen to fall in love as well. However, before the finale she gets a phone call from Latvia with the offer of a principal part in her old ballet company. Initially she agrees to go back, but then decides she wants to stay. Kim also gets another job as a ballet dancer and everyone is happy.

I did enjoy it, but for me, there were just too many clichés in it and the story was far too predictable. After a couple of minutes I could guess what would be happening, and then it really did. Non of the characters were particularly likeable, mainly because they were far too one-dimensional. I don’t expect fully developed characters, 45 minutes is just too short for that, but a little more depth would have been nice. There were some nice songs in it, which served the story well and the cast was good, too.

The second musical was Pieces of String, with book, music and lyrics by Gus Gowland. It starts with two soldiers who are questioned if they are homosexual, one of them denies, the other answers back. Then the focus moves on to a family: The grandfather, Edward, has just died and the mother, Jane (Anna Lindup) tries to pack all his things up as soon as possible. There is a song about moving on and how Jane hopes that she can just move on once her father’s things are gone, in which the two soldiers join in as well. Her son Ed (Sam Harrison) is gay, but afraid of showing this in public, which leads to problems with his boyfriend Harry (Greg Airey), as does Jane’s opinion that Ed is “just going through a phase“. They argue about it, with the two soldiers singing about that  it is “better to hide away, sometimes it’s best to stay ordinary“. While Jane is still packing boxes, much to the dislike of her daughter Gemma (Natalie Giacone), a strange woman, Rose (Maggie Robson) arrives, who wants to see Edward and learns he is dead. Jane disapproves of Gemma telling her “family secrets”, namely that Ed is gay and tries to send her away. Rose tells them that her brother, Tom (Billy Cullum) knew Edward during the war. This makes it clear that the two soldiers are Tom’s and Edward’s (Matthew Seadon Young) younger selfs. She finally leaves, after giving Jane a shoe box full of pieces of string, a diary and some letters. Among Edward’s things there was shoe box with the same strange content, which they sent to each other as a sign of their (secret) love. Jane has to come to term with the fact that her father was gay, as is her son, but there is no real happy ending. Not yet anyway. While Ed and Harry make up, she still “needs a minute“.

I loved the way the two stories were intertwined and, ultimately, how Edward and Tom’s story repeated itself with Ed and Harry, with one of them being more comfortable and open about being gay than the other, but with a happier ending.  The whole story just felt relevant and real,  the characters were very well-rounded and I was gripped by them right from the beginning. I thought the songs were lovely with some very moving lyrics. My favourite songs probably were Sticks and Stones, My War Story and Standing in the Shadows  (I don’t know the actual song names, so I just guessed what they could be called). The cast was amazing, both from an acting and singing point of view. Vocally, Billy Cullum stood out though, his voice is simply incredible, but the others were great as well.

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening, but I definitely liked Pieces of String more than Steps. I asked myself afterwards which one I would go and see again if I could and my answer was clear: Pieces of String. It has everything a good musical needs in my opinion: An interesting story, some great songs and characters that move you.

Both musicals are shown one more time, namely tomorrow afternoon at 3 PM. If you haven’t got any plans, I’d urge you to go and see it. It’s worth the £8 for the ticket for sure!


The Belle’s Stratagem, Southwark Playhouse

29 Sep

The Belle’s Stratagem is a play by Hannah Cowley from 1780. Despite its initial success, it hasn’t been put on in Britain since 1888, which, I think, is a shame.

It is a great little romantic comedy and feels surprisingly modern, but not too modern. This particular production by Red Handed Theatre Company under the direction of Jessica Swale is based on three different scripts and has been significantly shortened, but it feels very compact and the story flows very well. The language has been updated, so it is easy to follow the dialogue, but it is still very much a play of its time. I also really liked the addition of more contemporary lyrics in the songs.

The cast is very strong and they work incredibly well together. Gina Beck is charming as Letitia Hardy and her voice sounds as beautiful as always. Michael Lindall is excellent as her husband-to-be, Doricourt. His portrayal of a mad man is one of the funniest things I have seen in a while. Joseph MacNab and Hannah Spearritt (Yes, from S Club 7, but I wouldn’t have recognised her if I didn’t read it in the programme) have some wonderful scenes as Sir George and Lady Frances Touchwood. Christopher Logan proves that he has excellent comic timing and is simply hilarious as Flutter, as is Cassandra Bond (Kitty Willis), especially in the masquerade scenes. For some reason, Tim Dorsett (Villers) stood out a bit for me (in a good way). He had great stage presence and seemed to enjoy every single second he was on stage.

Marc Baylis, Holly Blair, Jackie Clune, Samuel Dent, Mark Fountain, Jeremy Joyce, Nigel Munson, Robin Soans and Maggie Steed are all great in their respective parts and add so much to the overall enjoyment of the play.

I really enjoyed seeing a play I knew absolutely nothing about. It is witty, sometimes silly, but an absolute treat to watch. It finishes its run at the Southwark Playhouse this Saturday, 1 October, so grab your tickets while you still can!

Sunday in the Pub with… – MTA Fund-Raiser

28 Sep

Sunday in the Pub with… was a cabaret fund-raiser for and organised by two current students of the MTA, Lorin Jane Forster and Kieran Grant. The MTA (Musical Theatre Academy) is a unique institution which offers a 2 year fast track course in musical theatre. However, as they are a very new institution, the students at the MTA are not eligible for grants or student loans and have to fund the whole training themselves. Therefore those two students came up with the idea of this cabaret. It seemed to me that they did not expect so many people to turn up, because the venue was very crowded (and incredibly hot!), but the excellent performances on stage more than made up for that.

There was a mix of current and recently graduated students as well as some special guests. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening, but there were some songs/performers that stood out for me.

I Want A Man sung by Lorin Jane Forster and Sophie O’Shea. I love this song by Michael Bruce and they did a great job with it.

Touch of Love is a song from Dougal Irvine’s musical In Touch (which will get its first full-length performance at the MTA – exciting!) and is also on Stuart Matthew Price’s album All Things In Time. Fantastic song and performance by both Dougal Irvine and Stuart Matthew Price.

CiCi Howells sang Tim Prottey-Jones’s song Rain On Me. This was another highlight for me. I loved her voice!

In Short from Edges never fails to make me laugh and Aaron Lee Lambert (who is currently in Shrek) had the audience in stitches.

Next up were some songs from Dougal Irvine’s musical Departure Lounge. First, Robbie Durham and Kieran Grant sang Do You Know What I Think Of You? and then Steven Webb, Jack Shalloo and Stuart Matthew Price (all Departure Lounge alumni) joined Dougal Irvine on stage for the other four songs. I really enjoyed hearing them sing the songs again. Steven Webb sang Sophie and he was superb and then they all sang Why Do We Say Gay and Left Spain. My favourite however was Jack Shalloo’s Picture Book, because it was the best I have ever heard him sing it.

From Up Here was sung by all the MTA students and I really enjoyed it. Their voices blended so well and it’s a lovely song.

Tir Nan Og is another song from In Touch and I can only agree with Ziggie Sky Ward (who was great), I also fell in love with it when I first heard it.

Lorin Jane Forster sang Laurence Mark Whythe’s David’s House. I heard that song sung by someone who has already played a leading part in the West End only a couple of weeks ago, but I prefered Lorin’s version by miles. Not only does Lorin have a stunning voice, but she also acted the song. Probably my favourite performance of the evening!

Jack Shalloo came back on stage to sing a song from his album London Soul. She Takes Care Of Me is a very catchy song and I liked it a lot.

I have heard Stuart Matthew Price sing Road To Heaven before, but it is such a beautiful song that it is always a treat to hear it again.

For the last song of the evening all the MTA students came on stage again to sing Sunday from Sunday in the Park with George. It was the perfect ending for the evening and a great reminder of just how much talent had been on that stage in the past three hours.

I hope Lorin Jane Forster and Kieran Grant managed to raise lots of money and I wish them (and the other students at the MTA) the best of luck for the future. They did a wonderful job in putting that evening together and I am glad I managed to go.

Now I am looking forward to seeing some of the recent MTA graduates in the UK premiere of Nevermore in a couple of weeks…

One Fine Day, Waterloo East Theatre

24 Sep

One Fine Day is a one-man play by Dennis Lumborg and directed by Paul Taylor. After a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe it transferred to the Waterloo East Theatre in London for only three performances.

It is about a father,Eddie,  who is accused of being inappropriate with his daughter and finds himself questioned by social services and the police. To keep the disruption to his children’s lives at a minimum, he leaves the family home, but misses them so much that he decides to just kidnap them and take them on a day out to the beach. Once there, he realises how much he has changed because of the wrong accusations and because he is afraid what other people might think of him.

This play takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. There is a lot of humour in it, often because of Eddie’s imitations of other people (from his children, wife, mother, friends, the family dog, to the social workers and the police). But the jokes become rarer and we get to see Eddie’s vulnerable side, his desperation, his helplessness and his frustration and anger because nobody wants to believe him. Even though there is sort of a happy ending with Eddie moving back to his family and his wife believing in him, it leaves a bittersweet taste, because it is clear that he will always be that man.

Jake Addley, who plays Eddie, gives an incredible performance. He makes you laugh and cry, hoping that it will somehow turn out okay for him in the end. One of the most powerful scenes for me was when he is in prison and talks about how he “lost his innocence” at the beach, because he can’t be a normal, loving dad anymore and cuddle them etc. The raw emotion he displays there (and throughout the play) is almost too much to bear.

It’s one of those performances (and plays) that will stay with me for a while, because it is so thought-provoking and moved me so much. There is only one performance left, but it is a play well worth of seeing. I for one am very glad I went.

You can book your tickets here.

Honk!, Lost Theatre

23 Sep

Honk! is a musical by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and is an adaption of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. It is produced by Neil-Michael Marriott and plays at the Lost Theatre in Vauxhall. In 2000 it won an Olivier Award for Best Musical. As some other Stiles & Drewe musicals, Honk! is primarily aimed at children, but is so cleverly written that it appeals to all generations.

In this version, the Ugly Duckling is constantly teased by the other farmyard animals and is then lured away by a cat. He manages to escape and tries to get back to his mother, who was the only one who loved him despite of him being “different to the rest”. In the end he falls in love, is reunited with his mother and returns to the farmyard as a beautiful swan. So a typical fairy tale ending.

There are some lovely songs in the musical, my favourite is “Different”, which Ugly sings. It’s all about the fact that there is nothing wrong with being different, acceptance and tolerance. “Every Tear A Mother Cries”, sung by Ugly’s mother after he disappears is lovely too, as are the ensemble numbers, especially “A Poultry Tale”, “Hold Your Head Up High (Reprise)” and “Look At Him (Reprise).

The set is very simple as are the costumes. I loved the duck pond, though I felt that it looked all a bit unfinished. But sets and costumes are generally the least important factor for me. It leaves more room for imagination, but I also feel that a great production doesn’t need a fancy set/costumes to work. And Honk! in general and this production definitely don’t!

Once again, the cast is incredibly strong. First and foremost, this is true for Andrew Newton who plays Ugly. He’s got a nice voice and his Ugly was everything you’d imagine it to be and more. As I said before, “Different” was the highlight of the show for me.

Rhiannon Rose as his mother was incredible too. Wonderful voice and acting. The same is true for the other cast members Tobias James (Cat), Thomas Hewitt, Danielle Harding, Charlie England, Clare Reilly, Lindsay Richardson, Chris Carroll, Siobhan McConnon, Rachel Barker, Victoria Boden, Justine Lee, Holly Tyler and Christina Cuttell.

My only criticism is the sound. I found it very difficult to understand the lyrics sometimes, especially during ensemble numbers, because the actors were completely drowned out by the orchestra. It was particularly annoying because they were using microphones anyway, but I guess if that’s the only negative thing about the production it’s not too bad. I thoroughly enjoyed the show despite of it, it just bugged me.

Honk! finishes its run on 1 October. I’d definitely recommend it to everyone and bring your kids/friends/parents/grandparents along, too. It’s such a charming little show that will make you smile. Not one to be missed!

Betwixt, Trafalgar Studio 2

8 Sep

Better late than never! I saw Betwixt for the first time towards the beginning of its run and now agaain after some changes in the cast.

It  is not called a funny musical for nothing and the advice in the programme to not think too much and just go along with it should be taken to heart. Buf if you are prepared to do just that, you are in for two hour of blissful fun.

I find it quite difficult to say anything about the story without sounding totally daft, so I’ll just say that it is about a writer who suffers from writer’s block and, together with his new roommate, is then transported to an enchanted kingdom where he has to prove himself, finds the love of his life and eventually his confidence and new inspiration. On their way they encounter nymphs, cross-dressing mutes, a disembodied head and other fantastic characters.

While the story is  undoubtedlyvery funny, there are also more serious moments, which help to feel and root for Bailey (the write), and also Cooper (his roommate).

Bailey is played by Benedict Salter and, personally, I can’t imagine anyone else being as good as him as the “skinny ginger boy with a pencil”. He also has a very good voice, and he’s grown a lot in the role since I first saw it. They are not using microphones and he got drowned out sometimes, but I could understand him perfectly the second time. He also sings the, in my opinion, best song in the show, namely “Eyes of a Child”.

Steven Webb as his new roommate Cooper steals the show for me though. He is incredibly funny and flamboyant, but he also manages to make you laugh in one second and feel for his character in the next. The perfect example for this is the scene right before “How Do You Know (Reprise)”.

Ashleigh Gray once again shows what a beautiful voice she has, her Bavarian accent is hilarious and spot-on and she has great chemistry with the others, but her interactions with Webb’s Cooper are incredible.

Peter Duncan causes many laughs as Haydn Prince/Prince Haydn and especially as Garbo. “Fabulous Man” is amazing.

The ensemble members, Will Hawksworth, Alyssa Nicol, Vicki Lee Taylor, Rob Wilshaw and Kelly Chinery (replaced Vicki Lee Taylor on 22 August) are great, but Will Hawksworth deserves a special mention. His facial expressions (or lack of) are incredible and his comic timing is spot-on. Not only, but especially as Joan.

I have now seen both Ellen Greene and Lizzie Roper as Princess/Nymph Queen and Enchantress. They both play it completely different and therefore it’s impossible to compare them. There are some parts where I preferred Ellen Greene and others where I preferred Lizzie Roper. Having said that, I really miss the song “Between”. I’m sure they had their reasons why they cut it, but I thought it was the perfect ending and Ellen Greene’s rendition of it was breathtaking. However, I don’t think it would fit to Lizzie Roper’s characterisation. I still enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help feeling that Betwixt lost its heart with this particular cut.

The musical closes this Saturday and I strongly recommend to beg, steal or borrow (alternatively, buy!) a ticket if you haven’t seen it yet.It is one musical not to be missed, also because it all fits perfectly together: the music, the story and of course the incredibly talented cast!

Despite it being a funny musical, I left feeling all warm and fuzzy inside and I think that is because the characters are written so well that you can’t help being happy for them when they find their happy ending.

Go and see it before it is too late!