Tag Archives: Billy Cullum

“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!

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Spring Awakening, UK Tour

10 Jun

When Frank Wedekind’s play Frühlings Erwachen – Eine Kindertragödie was published in 1891 it caused a scandal and it wasn’t until 1906 that it was performed at the Berliner Kammerspiele under the direction of Max Reinhardt. For decades it had been banned or subjected to censorship due to its alleged obscene content.

While some people claim that the play is now dated, I couldn’t disagree more and this musical adaption shows that it is still as relevant as it was when Wedekind first wrote it. Suicide is one of the most common causes of death among teenagers, teenage pregnancies, peer pressure – it all still exists.

I must admit that I wasn’t won over by the musical when I saw it during it’s very short West End run a couple of years ago. I liked the songs, but it didn’t move me in any way. I’ve read the original play many times and it’s one of the most intense and thought-provoking plays I know, but the performances left me completely cold.

That, however, has changed now. I thought this cast was phenomenal. Victoria Serra (Wendla) has a lovely voice and was very believable. Both Billy Cullum (Moritz) and Jonathan Eio (Melchior) have strong voices, but is was their acting that impressed me most. It was so honest and sincere, I personally don’t know how they manage to go through all these emotion every day (or even twice a day). And Then There Were None, Don’t Do Sadness, Left Behind and Those You’ve Known were the highlights of the show for me.

James Benn (Hanschen) and Zachary Morris (Ernst) worked very well together, and for once there was no laughing during their scene in Act II.

I liked Anna McGarahan’s voice in The Dark I Know Well, it blended so well with Jill Armour’s (Ilse), but I still think that the staging of this song is dreadful. It just didn’t work for me and lost all its impact.

Daniel Buckley (Otto),  Natalie Green (Thea), Jess Mack (Anna), Dale Page (Georg), Jane Stanton (Adult Woman), Robert Eyles (Adult Male) were good too, though they have less to work with than the others.

The only weakness of the production is, in my opinion, the direction. Some of it works really well, but other scenes (such as the aforementioned The Dark I Know Well and the graveyard scene) just don’t and are awkward to watch. The talented cast make up for this, however, and I’m glad I saw it.

I did wonder though, to what extent the German surnames and their meanings are lost on an English audience. Not that it’s really important, it just crossed my mind.

Edges at the Landor Theatre

1 Jun

I went to see Edges at the Landor Theatre tonight. It is a musical by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul about coming of age and self-discovery and is put on by the Notion Theatre Company, which was founded by two Arts Ed graduates, Michaela Cartmell-Hull and Billy Cullum,  to create more opportunities for graduates.

In short (no pun intended): it was great! It is one of the most talented casts I’ve ever seen and they worked so well together. It is very different to the show I saw two years ago at the Union Theatre, mainly because then it was a cast of four and there was a story fitted around the songs, which followed those four characters. This production features a cast of 18 incredibly talented young actors and actresses, whose vocals gave me goosebumps more than once.

I don’t want to single anyone out, but I’ll quickly go through some of my highlights.

“Caitlyn and Haley” was sung by Michaela Cartmell-Hull and Emily-Jane Morris. It is a beautiful song about two sisters slowly growing apart.

“I Once Knew”, about the death of their mother, is one of those songs that you can’t get out of your head for a while and was very well sung by two of the men.

“Man of my Dreams”, sung by Emily-Jane Morris again, is a hilarious song about, as the title already says, the man of her dreams.

The absolute highlight for me though was “Part of a Painting”, mainly sung by Lewis Grant, who was joined by the rest of the male cast members. It’s such a beautiful song itself, but the voices blended so well together that it was pure joy to watch/listen.

The only aspects of the show that I was less keen off were parts of the choreography. While it was very well done, I thought that it would have been better without the dancing in-between songs. It just tended to look cluttered, which is obviously due to the limited space at the Landor and might work better in another venue.

All in all, this is a wonderful production and I’m sure I’ll see many of the cast members in other productions in the future. It finishes its run this Sunday,  5th June, so you better be quick with booking tickets for it! You won’t regret it, I promise!