Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Play that song again: Blind Man's Song @ThePleasance


Theatre Re's Blind Man's Song is a fascinating meditation on the subject of dreams and immagination. For just over an hour you are mostly entranced by the story unfolding before you.

As the theatre opens you are informed that the best views were from the back of the theatre. This was intriguing (and counter-intuitive). But here the seating has been reduced at The Pleasance, making the space more intimate than usual.

Taking my seat, I couldn't help but notice the eerie haze that hung over the stage at the begining. What space were we staring at?

The main character, a blind musician soon enters. The space turns out to be his room. He is tapping about to find his way and soon this becomes the soundtrack.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Adult themes and other tunes: Closer Than Ever @ThePheasantry


Closer Than Ever, which had a brief run at The Pheasantry last week, was a musical appreciation of the more serious works of Richard Maltby Jr and David Shire. With its provocative subject matter and jazz infused score I am hoping it won't be long before we see it return.

Closer Than Ever follows on from Maltby and Shire's earlier revue, Starting Here Starting Now. The latter had songs of innocence and wit, here the stories are more reflective about the compromises, disappointments and other charms of adult life.

Getting old, mid-life crises, sex during lunch breaks. It's all laid bare here. Many of the songs had been intended for shows (five of them were cut from the musical Baby). Others were musical ideas that Maltby had been compiling over the years. It is intriguing that many of these songs don't seemed to be performed much as cabaret standards. Given many of the songs dramatic and comic potential hopefully this revue will inspire more mining of the Malby and Shire music book.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Man caves: Blue On Blue @TristanBates


The vagaries of co-dependency, self harm, rehabilitation and a lot of blue language is the subject of Blue On Blue. But what sets the piece apart are the strong performances by its leads as they explore the traumas past and present in a man's world.

Written by Chips Hardy, the piece is getting a revival at the Tristan Bates theatre. It is a dark piece which doesn't always land its jokes given the seriousness of the subject matter. But it's worthwhile all the same.

Always look on the bright side: My Mother Said I Never Should @St_JamesTheatre @tinyfiresltd

My Mother Said I Never Should is a night to remember at the St James Theatre. An epic and detailed character study, lively performances and a great production makes this revival a must see.

Charlotte Keatley's play covers the opportunities, disappointments and secrets of each generation of women in this character study. There are no men on stage here, but they are often the subject of the discussion. Each scene is so economically written; giving insight and meaning about their choices and challenges. It's also clever as it puts the audience in their shoes and has you reflecting on your own family and their experiences.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Quick snatches: The Future of Sex @wardrobensemble


The sexual revolution wasn't quite as it seemed in this style over substance account of sex in the seventies (or should that be present day)?

The Wardrobe Ensemble had a hit in Edinburgh last year with this show that goes beneath the hype of the sexual revolution, only to find that things were just as awkward then as they are now.

Narration, inner monologues and jump cuts to the present day pepper this story of a group of young people discovering sex in the 70s.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Comment: Remembering and recognition for awards Season in Theatre... including #alsorecognised


Awards and accolades are a great way of remembering some of the great performances of the past year. Assuming that you can remember them...

There is so much stuff that is great to see in London that whittling anything down to a shortlist of three or four seems a tad cruel.

Still it is great that there is a small but growing group of awards to recognise. The Oliviers and The Whats On Stage Awards cover the big end of town, but there is also the Also Recognised Awards.

It's less glamorous than those two and winners only get to pose with a selfie. Set up by My Theatre Mates Mark Shenton and Terri Paddock, they celebrate lesser-known but worthy talent in fields overlooked by other awards bodies. This year's winners included a number of winners or nominees from the Olivier Awards. But there were also some differences.

Bugsy Malone, which lost out to Gypsy for Best Musical Revival at the Oliviers, won for Best Ensemble Performance.

Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Winter’s Tale received the award for Best Shakespearean Production. And another Branagh production, All On Her Own, saw Zoë Wanamaker win for Best Solo Performance.

Natalie Dew, nominated for Best Actress in a Musical at the Oliviers, took the award for London Newcomer of the Year for her musical debut in the leading role of Bend It Like Beckham.

The Phantom of the Opera won Best Twitter Engagement and Peter Pan Goes Wrong won Best Show Trailer. Best Show Poster went to the imagery used to advertise Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play The Motherfucker With the Hat.

The Donmar Warehouse won Theatre Event of the Year for its live election night broadcast of James Graham’s play The Vote.

And in a new category Best Musical Cabaret, went to Scott Alan and Cynthia Erivo for their intimate cabaret evening at the St. James Studio.

But with so much talent on stage in London, perhaps we need more awards categories to recognise other crucially important aspects to enjoying the theatre.

Hair, make-up, lighting and costumes never seem to get the recognition they deserve for shows. Ditto shows that rely on visual or sound effects, or projections.

Then there are the specific traits actors have to have to fulfill the requirements of a role. Whether they are playing a character with an accent or staying in shape. Best accent or fittest body could be a fun shortlist.

There is also the venues themselves. Some of the theatres in the West End are a delight to visit. The St James Theatre in Victoria is worth a visit just to admire the marble staircase. The Vaudeville Theatre, where Hand To God is playing, had a great bar refurbishment. And the Adelphi, currently home to Kinky Boots, has a terrific set of refurbished urinals (modern yet in keeping with the look and feel of the place).

Something to consider until next year. Along with giving the Oliviers a proper live broadcast when it moves to Royal Albert Hall...

The Human Pile: Closer by Circa @CircaPresents @UdderbellyFest


Closer, by circus troupe Circa opens the London Wonderground on the South Bank with an intimate yet spectacular show about the power and strength of the human body.

 There is beauty in this stripped back circus extravaganza of human acrobatics that flow seamlessly from one to another.

A simple staging, with a few chairs and spotlights open up to an incredible array of performances. The effect is mesmerising as the performers make the impossible seem effortless.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Crying, talking, sleeping, walking: Russian Dolls @KingsHeadThtr


The life of two vulnerable women come together and fall apart in Kate Lock's Russian Dolls.

The way the British treat the young and the old is laid bare here. It is a terrific piece full of humour and warmth. But it never lets you forget that that if this is how good it gets for vulnerable adults and young people in this country, then there is plenty more we could be doing.

Brief encounters: X @Royalcourt


At some point in the third act there is a constant shouting of the word X. "X, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, x, " the characters exclaim. Constantly.

As a means to explain the loss of space and time in this futuristic story about a voyage to pluto, it is effective. But it also feels a bit like the rest of the piece. Relentlessly repetitive.

The story is that a spaceship to Pluto has lost its way and the crew slowly realise that all concept of time and continuity has been lost. They have no idea where they are, or the present or the past.

It looks great, with its 2001 a space odessey inspired set and projections. And I was chuffed to see that in the future everyone is wearing Vivobarefoot shoes. I think they are very comfortable and sensible even for the present day.

But the piece with a teasing and mysterious first half promises more than it ultimately delivers. I'm not sure having the cast running about screaming makes for a great night at the theatre.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Read the: Labels @stratfordeast



Joe Sellman-Leava's one man show is a fascinating look at how the use of words out of curiosity, fear and hostility have impacts. His power is in his ability as a storyteller to hook you in on his argument and walk in his shoes. In roughly sixty minutes he hooks you in on his story and the story of his family.

Sellman-Leava was born in Gloucestershire but his family has connections to Uganda and India. This background leads to constant inquiries about where he was from. And saying Gloucestershire is not the response people expect. This leads to an exploration about why we seek to label people.