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Still got it suckers: Chicago @Phoenix_Ldn

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Corruption, greed and murder never seem to go out of style in Chicago. The Kander and Ebb musical returns to the West End’s Phoenix Theatre after a six year hiatus. It’s pretty much the same show that burst onto the scene in the late 1990s. Back even though it was a revival people saw it resonate with the trial of OJ Simpson. Twenty years on the President of the United States is purportedly a urophiliac. Hookers and porn stars paid off as fast as a the National Enquirer can catch and kill a story.  And you no longer have to be good or competent to rise to the top. Everything old seems new again. And this show is still a hell of a ride. With the sexy costumes and choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse”, the show oozes sex, rhythm and sensuality.  If you’re not familiar with the show other than the gelded movie with Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones you’re in for a treat. If you’ve seen it all before you can lie back and enjoy the performances by Sarah Soetaert and Josefina Gabriell…

A mother’s touch: H.R. Haitch @TheUnionTheatre

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If there is one thing to admire about H.R. Haitch, it is it’s impeccable timing. Opening at The Union Theatre on the week of the Royal Wedding could confuse people for thinking this musical comedy is a topical satire. Alas, it’s not. The piece premiered in 2015 as a workshopped performance. Three years on, with its convoluted plot, songs that stop the show dead and running gags that fall flat... It could do with a few more workshops. For reasons that are unclear it’s set in a parallel universe in 2011. Mouthy common barmaid Chelsea (Tori Allen-Martin) meets secret prince Bertie (Christian James). They fall in love and plan to open a catering business. Until duty calls, and for reasons that are also unclear, he has to reveal his identity.It’s hard to understand the romance. Chelsea comes across as a motherly figure to Bertie. But I guess it takes all sorts. She also says more about why she hates the royal family than anything else. But Tori Allen-Martin makes the most out of underwritt…

Living pretty: Nightfall @_Bridgetheatre

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Living in the country never looked better than in the sumptuousproduction of Nightfall. This play about life in rural Hampshire is currently playing at the Bridge Theatre. Desginer Rae Smith has created a farm backdrop that is beauty to behold even before any of the actors speak. Which is just as well since the night I saw it the show was delayed as one of the actors was caught in a very urban predicament: delays on the London transport network. Chis Davey’s lighting also evokes the sunsets over Hampshire. But looks are deceiving as nobody wants to be there. Dad’s dead and left a pile of debt. The son, Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) is trying to make the farm work by siphoning off oil from a pipeline that cuts through the property. His best mate Pete (Ukweli Roach) is out of and jail helping him with his criminal enterprise.  The daughter, Lou (Ophelia Lovibond) is drifting in and out of jobs and a relationship. And mum (Claire Skinner) would rather just lounge about, barefoot, drinking a fi…

More towels please: Soap @UnderbellyFest

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Circus acts as part of the Underbelly Festival on the Southbank are always a highlight of the programme. Adding bathtubs, water and a hint of nudity is definitely a winning formula. And it makes for good clean fun (this show is aimed at all ages).Soap which originated in Germany has been touring around the world. But for the first time it’s in the round in the Spiegeltent. The effect pushes you right up close to the action. So close that you can see the muscles tense and flex on the performers. The cast run through a variety of bath-time themed circus feats. There’s Vanessa Alvarez as a foot juggler of bath towels and guitars. Anton Belyakov thrills with handstand on what appears to be a very slippery Villeroy and Boch bathtub. Lena Ries contorts within one. Adem Endris juggles on top of one. Daniel Stern rises above one on straps. And Moritz Haase wows with a thrilling Trapeze finale as water rains down from above. Marie-Andrée Lemaire is on hand for comic relief. And Jennifer Lindshie…

Best laid plans: Gracie @Finborough

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It’s a whirlwind life for Gracie. The title character in this piece who is its storyteller and survivor. She was born into a polygamous religious cult, taken across the US border at the age of eight after her mother became the wife of an elder there. The eighteenth wife. As she reaches fifteen she hopes for a husband who is sweet and kind. And not too old. But those controlling her life have other ideas. The European premiere of Joan MacLeod’s work has been playing at the Finborough Theatre on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. While it is a work of fiction, it’s packed full of evocative detail that it feels like it could be true. Especially with Carla Langley’s engaging performance in the title role. Over the course of an 90 minute monologue she moves from childlike optimism to fear and entrapment then hope following an escape.  It’s part adventure, part mundane life and part horror story. Particularly as it becomes clear of the life set out before her as part of “God’s plan”. Or rather, …

On my own: Chess @LondonColiseum

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The Cold War, phoney Americans, thoughtful Russians and the game of chess. All all backdrops in Chess the musical. It’s a curious rock opera about everyone out to make it on their own. And to hell with anyone who gets in their way.  It’s playing a limited run at the home of the English National Opera’s London Coliseum. Written by Tim Rice with music by ABBA’s Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus, maybe it is a show about solitude. Itis a must see for ABBA fans. It allows you to wonder what the band might have sounded like if they carried on into the eighties with its rock ballads and intricate melodies.  It’s the first West End production of Chess in 32 years. And while the show has had many changes over the years, it works best when it flashes its early eighties origins. It looks gorgeous with its neon-inspired outlines and large projections. Adding the forces of the English National Opera Orchestra and chorus it sounds sublime. But even paring the story back with minimal dialogue comes w…

The Will Young show: Strictly Ballroom @TeamPiccadilly

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Love is in the air in Strictly Ballroom, currently playing at The Piccadilly Theatre. It’s the musical based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 movie about a boy daring to dance his own steps in the cut-throat world of amateur ballroom dancing. The movie was full of irony and light-heartedness with its corny follow your heart and ugly duckling storylines. Here the musicalisation hits this message over your head as if you’re watching the fall of communism.
Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen in the lead roles as the unlikely dance couple give the show style and pizazz. He’s a rebel, she’s an ugly duckling. There is also a thrilling paso doble dance sequence to close the first act. They even get to sing two lines and sound terriffic. But the show is superfluously narrated by Will Young. He’s also the band leader singing all the songs. While this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, here it gives the impression you’re watching the Will Young musical. And often his light vocals are lost in the theatre. The decisi…

Fear and loathing in London: Grotty @BunkerTheatreUK

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Daring to go where no other Lesbian comedy drama does, Grotty takes you to the underworld of the London lesbian scene. No subculture is left unturned and no mind game is left unplayed. It’s weird, creepy and funny. And currently playing at The Bunker.Written and performed by Izzy Tennyson, she introduces you to the world of London lesbian scene. It’s a scene that takes place in “a couple of little sad old basements that drip with sweat and piss.” At this point it’s tempting to scour your surrounding just to reassure yourself this basement theatre is not one of them. It’s lovely and worth a visit for it’s provocative stories. Including this one. Tennyson plays Rigby, a young girl with two girlfriends. One named Toad (Rebekah Hinds) who likes lesbian bingo and curry. The other’s named Witch (Grace Chilton) who is a tattooist and likes putting Rigby in a dog collar. Both have very nice flats and strange proclivities that Rigby indulges for reasons that aren’t always clear.Rigby is a clown…