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Showing posts from 2013

Desperately seeking the West End theatre: another way finding guide...

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Another handy guide has been created to find some of the major London theatres around London, what are the nearest tube stations and how to get from them. Combined with the on-street Legible London signs, there should be no excuse for missing the 7.30 start (unless of course the show starts earlier or you spent more time than you expected dining on the pre-theatre menu)...


Created by TicketTree.com, The Theatre Break Specialists.

Panto season again: Aladdin @NewWimbTheatre

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It is panto season again and the first pantomime, Aladdin at the New Wimbledon theatre was the same production I saw last year in Richmond. It still looks great with some incredible costumes and set pieces and makes for a great (if a tad overlong) family night out.

I thought last year's production needed songs from this century and better jokes. Well this time around the songs this are more recent (such as Daft Punk's ear worm Get Lucky) and the street dance troupe Flawless, as the Peking Police Force adds some variety to the proceedings. With Matthew Kelly's very amusing turn as the pantomime dame Widow Twanky, comedian Jo Brand and some genuine west end stars with Oliver Thornton and David Bedella it is like a chocolate box of random assorted entertainment, there is bound to be something to please everyone.

Art and other urges: The Shape of Things @arcolatheatre

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The Shape of Things, currently playing at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston is a smart and good looking production that captures the banality and earnestness of Neil Labute's high concept play of young love in a university town. Ten years on from its first presentation at the Almeida, it still is an interesting observation on people and relationships and art.

Or perhaps. The lady seated next to me who was an art historian was not particularly impressed by the analysis of art. She found Labute was getting things wrong. But coming out of the the theatre, my partner commented, "That's just how people act in my hometown." The mind started to boggle about the games people in his hometown play, but he thankfully clarified he mean that people once they get into relationships change and cut people out of their lives.

And this is what makes the piece fascinating. Its observations of the four characters and their interrelationships as they talk about love, sex and art. They are no…

Hot and bloody: American Psycho The Musical @AlmeidaTheatre

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At the preview of American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre I caught last week, the audio wasn't great, the cast seemed uneasy and props were knocked over. At one point a dancer blinded by the projections seemed to fall off the stage. But there was something about this slick,  thoughtful and funny production that suggests that these are mere early days for a show that has all the makings of becoming a great new musical. The first half is too long and it could do with some more gore, but you will walk away amazed by the spectacle, style, music and performances.

American Psycho is based on the book by Brett Easton Ellis. Famous for its graphic violence and sexual content, it tells the story of Wall Street investment banker who details his life from drug-fuelled clubbing with colleagues, to obsessions over business card fonts and forays into mass murder. He is in a loveless relationship with a fellow yuppie and violent murders seem to be his release, whether they are real or imagined.

M…

Old jokes home: Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour Eat Pray Laugh

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Billed as the Dame Edna farewell show, in Eat Pray Laugh, Barry Humphries is presenting to London audiences (potentially) the last time to see his iconic characters. Watching him perform live is to see an old comic master at work. Quick fire comments fly by and jokes (no matter how old or recycled from previous shows) still manage to seem funny. But at three hours it is an overlong show that will have you thankful retirement beckons for these characters... Even if you admire his stamina for persevering through this marathon of a show.

The first character we are introduced to is Sir Les Patterson. Sir Les is meant to be offensive and he does this by having a large erection protrude through his shorts, constant spitting when he speaks and an endless stream of fart jokes. The spitting from speaking rains down on the first few rows of the audience (particularly at members of the audience in the front who don't find the act particularly funny). If you are in the spit rows, you are bes…

Art: Sara Shamma's Q and Mother and Child

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Syrian-born Sara Shamma'sQ at the Royal College of Art is an opportunity to see her work of 10 individual paintings that put together make up a frieze of 16.5 metres that explores the subject of herd mentality and that popular British pastime of queuing.

But it is not queuing for the trivial or inane (which is popular in London) but when queuing could be a matter of life or death. Shamma is attempting to capture the change in mentality and behaviour that people at war and under threat experience. Moving from one end of the frieze to the other, images pop out against the flat background using a variety of different techniques to great dramatic effect. Beauty gives way to weariness and death. The lines of people queuing evoke dehumanisation and desperation.

Syria is constantly in the news but here the atrocities are second to the dehumanising impact of war. Shamma recently fled Damascus due to the conflict, leaving behind her home and studio and now lives and works in Lebanon. This…

Free spirits and dark places: Don Juan @cockpittheatre

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Don Juan at the Cockpit theatre is a classy staging of the classic tale from Moliére with some strong performances by its young cast. It is baroque theatre at its creepiest and surrealist. You may find however that in the attempt to play up some of the spookier elements of the story, what ends up missing is the comedy from the tale.

The Don Juan legend of a wealthy libertine who devotes his life to seducing women, pretending to marry them and leaving them when they bore him. In Moliére's version of the story, he has just rejected a woman he led from convent and she promises that he will face heaven's wrath. Escaping pursuit by the woman's brother's who intend to force him to marry or will kill him, he stumbles upon the tomb of a man he previously murdered. Upon entering the tomb and seeing a statue of the man he invites him to dine with him. To his shock the statue nods. The sprits seem to be  conspiring against Don Juan's ways...

Random observations about London: The telephone box

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London is Calling - An infographic by the team at Marriott London Hotels

The Mariott have developed the following info graphic about the red telephone box in London. Telephone boxes are iconic due to their red colour and design. First installed in Kensington and Holborn, these small phone booths have come to be a well-known symbol of London. They were at their peak during the 1980s when there were around 70,000 boxes throughout the country and alongside police boxes were an acceptable form of street clutter.

But their days have been numbered since most people have mobile phones these days and BT cannot flog advertising space on them as effectively as other their more hideous modern designs can since the primary purpose of phone boxes nowadays is advertising.

You can still see the old phone boxes around central London, particularly on Bow Street in Covent Garden where the background image to this blog has been taken. Curiously they have also adapted to the challenge to be places for ad…

Sex, drugs and bewilderment: Keeler

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Keeler, currently showing at Charing Cross Theatre is a theatrical curiosity. Based on Christine Keeler's own book, Truth At Last, it gives her account of the Profumo affair. Fifty years ago this caused a scandal that led to a Secretary of State resigning and ultimately the downfall of a government.

But rather than provide new insight it highlights how insignificant her part was and the events and  those around her were far more interesting. While the intention is no doubt show how events circling around them overwhelmed them, without any understanding about the characters it is difficult to gleam anything but a vague history lesson on the topic.

Jaded and jaundiced encounters: Passing By @TristanBates

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Passing By, a rare revival of an early Martin Sherman play is an opportunity to return to the carefree days of the early 1970s New York. This is a time where being gay could get you arrested and the only disease to fear catching was either hepatitis or gonorrhea. It is a comedy of sorts, but what was groundbreaking at the time was its frank portrayal of a couple who just happened to be gay rather than a play where being gay was the whole point of the play. It is a pity that some of this context is lost in this revival at the Tristan Bates Theatre which may leave you wondering what was the show all about.

Art: Stanley Spencer Heaven in a Hell of War

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Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War presents Spencer's series of large-scale canvas panels depicting life during the war which form part of the Sandham Memorial Chapel. It is a rare opportunity to view them up close at Somerset House and appreciate them for their beauty and modernity.

The panels are based on his experiences as a hospital orderly and as a soldier, focusing on the mundane, the banal and his recollections of his experiences of the time. What is astonishing about the works is how they feel so modern yet also from a different time and place. Everyday activities such as cleaning are elevated to a form of spiritual retreat. Realism and dreamlike settings combine to astonishing effect. The altar, which could not be removed from the chapel is recreated here as well to give a sense of the scale of how the pieces worked together.

Opera Quick looks: Grand drama with Les Vêpres siciliennes #Rohvepres

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It is a spectacular and grand evening at the opera with the current production of Les Vêpres siciliennes. I caught the sixth ever performance of this production at the Royal Opera (which is also being broadcast around the world at cinemas). While it helps to understand the historical context of the thirteenth century French occupation of Sicily, even more important is understanding a grand opera, its characteristics and excesses. Once you accept all this, it is a hell of a night.

The production manages to pare back some of the spectacle in favour of focusing the story on four principals and a story of betrayal and family secrets is brought to the fore. The production is more a commentary on grand opera traditions, but works. Verdi's music with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and conductor Antonio Pappano is so stirring and rousing its tempting to want to join the revolutionaries.

There are two more nights for it to run and a handful of tickets are available. Don't miss…

No justice for minstrels but what a show: The Scottsboro Boys @youngvictheatre

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A musicalisation of a forgotten case of injustice in America's south seems like it could be a heavy night at the theatre. But the Scottsboro Boys which is now playing at the Young Vic near Waterloo, manages to be brisk and entertaining, while making some sharp observations on injustice and romanticism of Americas south. With a great songs by Kander and Ebb and some thrilling choreography by Susan Stoman it should not be missed.

The story of the Scottsboro Boys revolves around nine teenage boys who were accused of rape in Alabama in 1931. They were found guilty and sentenced to death but with the support of  the American Communist Party a series of retrials ensued over the course of the following decade. The story is presented in the format of a minstrel show, where the cast are entirely black, with the exception of the interlocutor / master of ceremonies, played by Julian Glover. The interlocutor gives the show the device to pare this complicated story back to its bare bones and …

Weaving monologues: Crowning Glory

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Crowning Glory which is now playing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East is a frank, sassy, funny and thought-provoking piece which apart from being about hair and makeup, is full of insightful observations about life - particularly the lives of black British women - and some raw emotions. The piece is told through the eyes of seven women and features a series of interwoven monologues, video projections and music asking about what is beauty, what makes people happy and in doing so also reveals their vulnerabilities and fears.

Between galleries: David Breuer-Weil's Heaven & Earth

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David Breuer-Weil, who earlier this year was exhibiting in the vast cavernous spaces under Waterloo Station is back with a new show at two art galleries in central London called Heaven & Earth. The volume of his output and ideas at the moment shows with the range of new pieces presented.

The exhibition is intended to be shown in two separate spaces, and serves as a contrast the themes on display between the near (Earth) and the far (Heaven).  Across both you will see Breuer-Weil's usual themes of the environment, a sense of belonging and enlightenment throughout. Where the familiar becomes surreal and subjects are found in strange and interesting positions... Sometimes it is as if they are in orbit.

Spinning flipping and flexing: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers tour (or @7B47BUKTour)

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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers stopped at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week. Its a fun, loud and incredibly energetic production with a terrific cast that will keep you entertained for its two hour run.

Based on a parody of the Roman legend The Rape of the Sabine Women, called The Sobbin' Women, it is set in Oregon in 1850. Adam (Sam Attwater), the eldest of seven brothers, goes to town to get a wife. He convinces Milly (Helena Blackman) to marry him that same day, as she has no family of her own. But on their return to his backwoods home she then discovers he has six other brothers, all living in his small cabin. Milly sets out to reform the uncouth siblings, who want to get wives of their own and she sees it as a way to get them out of her house. After some basic lessons the men head to town for a local dance and to meet some women. But find that all the ladies are spoken for. Returning back home and feeling down, Adam inspires his brothers after reading one of Milly's bo…

Just wait 'till you see the missus: Jekyll & Hyde at Southwark Playhouse

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It is an evening of moody atmosphere and gender reversal in Jonathan Holloway'sJekyll & Hyde, which has been re-imagined in this production currently playing at Southwark Playhouse. The director, Jessica Edwards, notes in the programme that Jekyll & Hyde is a story that is so well known and mis-remembered, it gives the team a great deal of licence to unpick its ideas and mess around with it. They have indeed and it works quite well using a range of theatrical tricks, music and some good old fashioned shocks.

Stuff happens: Love n Stuff

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A marriage and a lifetime of memories are the backdrop to a sweet, funny and often surprising comedy that is now playing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. What is astonishing about this fast paced show is that even with over twenty characters are played by two people - Tony Jayawardena and Rina Fatania (pictured right) - you walk away from the show feeling as if you understand them all and want to see them again.

Bindi and Mansoor are a popular couple on their street in Stratford. But after 45 years of marriage Mansoor has decided to swap Stratford for Delhi, shocking his wife and their friends. While he is waiting for his flight to Delhi at Heathrow Airport, Bindi conspires with their friends to make him stay. It helps that the flight has been delayed for many hours and this is the setup for the piece.

Legal horse play: Same Deep Water As Me

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Nick Payne's latest play at the Donmar, Same Deep Water As Me looks at the world of personal injury lawyers and the people who make false claims for accidents. It seems to be an attempt at farce but mostly comes off as a muddled soap opera that alternatively tries to be funny and make some serious points about sacrifices in the modern economy. None of it really works even though the cast are excellent and try their hardest to make sense of the material.

In the first half we are introduced to Andrew (Daniel Mays) and Barry (Nigel Lindsay). They are two struggling 'no win no fee' lawyers in Luton and business is a bit slow. Then Kevin (Marc Wooton), who is an old school friend of Andrew's, appears with a story about a crash with a Tesco delivery van. I could explain more but the problem with this piece is that by the time the set up is made the audience know what is going to happen. The comedy is mostly derived from attempts to make jokes from class differences and coar…

Slappers and braggers: Fleabag at Soho Theatre

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge's one woman show Fleabag is an entertaining smutty, funny and bittersweet tale. In Mydidae she was naked but here her character's soul is laid bare, as "Fleabag", a woman obsessed with sex. Everything leads to sex from a dripping stuffed crust pizza to a chance encounter with an ugly man on the tube. But amongst all the wild crazy hedonism emerges a real vulnerable person who is coming to the end of period of her life, even if she does not know it yet.

Sitting on a stool under a spotlight the piece opens with Fleabag taking an interview for an office job. It soon goes horribly wrong which then leads to her confessional-like monologue on her life. It is a life is full of asides about her ex-boyfriend, her family, casual sex and her friend, with who she ran a hamster-themed coffee shop with until her death.

Interstellar smut: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens

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Leaving the theatre singing to oneself, "glitter shoes, saved my life," I was struck how rare it is to see a new show and keep the music and lyrics in your head. But with Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens downstairs in the bowels Lounge of the Leicester Square Theatre, the song and line is repeated so often it was bound to become an ear worm. It was also plastered on the merchandising strategically placed near the exit.

From what I could understand of the plot it revolves around a sleazy cabaret club called Saucy Jacks on the notorious planet Frottage 3, where the performers become victims of a serial killer, who kills using a red slingback. With all this murder going on the club is visited by the Space Vixens who are like an interstellar Charlie's Angels who fight crime with the power of disco...

Last chance legends: A Chorus Line

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Prior to it completing its run next weekend I finally caught A Chorus Line at the Palladium. It's a simple and slick fly on the wall show about dancers wondering if this is their last shot on stage as they progress from auditions to the opening night. It is hard not to like a show with such heart and thrilling performances.

The cast are pretty good and the production is rarely dull, with its classic Broadway songs and classic theatrical set pieces. It is hard not to like Scarlett Strallen (one of the omnipresent Strallens and pictured opposite) dance and high kick her way through the Music and The Mirror as she desperately wants a job. Or see Olivier award-winning Leigh Zimmerman as Sheila, the very late twenty-something dancer who is wondering how long her run will last...

At times it is exhausting to watch the cast as they are on stage for nearly two hours (without an interval). And if it looks like hard work, that is probably because it is.

Wishful thinking: The Last Ever Musical

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Most new musicals these days are just a string of old songs cobbled together to make a not very good show. They are probably best enjoyed if you don't understand English too well so the flimsy plots and melodramas can be mistaken for something more profound. But of course nowadays most of the time the fun is really in going out to the theatre and having a night out rather than watching whats on stage... On the fringe scene, musicals are usually an opportunity to see a work that isn't going to get a commercial run, or something cheap to mount - like Jason Robert Brown's Last Five Years or I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change - and more fun to be in than watch...

With this in mind it was intriguing to go and see the new piece, The Last Ever Musical at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington. It is a new piece by Simon James Collier and music by Richard Bates. It attempts to be a musical that's a tad offensive and vulgar and send up some of the London fringe theatre s…

Pride revisited: The Pride at Trafalgar Studios

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The Pride is a thought provoking and somewhat topical piece of theatre and serves as a reminder of how rights and freedoms now taken for granted in Britain were non-existent a little over half a century ago. The past and present co-exist to tell a story about love and boundaries.

The play evolves around a complex love triangle and alternate universes between 1958 and 2013 involving the characters of Philip, Oliver and Sylvia. In 1958 Philip and Sylvia are in a loveless marriage and Oliver is Sylvia's boss. Through chance encounters and secret meetings Philip and Oliver start a relationship against a backdrop of fear and shame. In 2013 and Philip and Oliver are struggling in a gay relationship and it is Sylvia that plays a role in putting the two together.

A small walk on part: Sir Not Appearing in Spamalot West End

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Normally new media reporters just comment via various social media platforms on what they are seeing rather than what they are doing... However after recently reviewing the current production of Spamalot at The Playhouse Theatre, I was invited back to play the pivotal character of Sir Not Appearing for a Tuesday night show. Of course it is one thing to be sitting in the comfort (or reasonable comfort given the age of many West End theatres) of a theatre seat, but another to take a peek behind the scenes and see the work involved in putting on a show every night...

Nights to vaguely remember: Titanic The Musical

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Titanic is not particularly a good musical, but you could be forgiven that it is a great one with this compact staging, thrilling in-your-face performances and soaring vocals. It has just opened at the Southwark Playhouse and notwithstanding the cliches and the endless statistics (ok the largest ship of its time no doubt needs 42,000 fresh eggs) it is still makes for a worthwhile expedition to see this musical presented in London for the first time.

Under the direction of Thom Southerland, the bare essentials of the show are presented here, up close with an exceptional six-piece orchestra under the musical direction Mark Aspinall. Cast members seamlessly double as first, second or third class passengers or crew members within a blink of the eye. It is amazing to see a cast working so hard to keep things (er) afloat and even assemble parts of the ship right before you.

The staging is right into the audience with an upper level that doubles as the bridge. Presenting the characters only …

A frightfully fun afternoon: Lost Musicals and Words and Music

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I've never been to a Lost Musicals event before, but it is quite a treat, and an opportunity to catch rarely performed or obscure shows that may have been undeservedly ignored when first staged. The obscure show in question this time around was a 1932 Noel Coward revue called Words and Music.

Coward's idea, following various successes in the early 1930s was to present a revue with no stars. The songs and sketches that explore Coward's usual fascination with stars, class and manners. The show  was not the success it was expected to be and quickly disappeared. A few years later it opened on Broadway but also was not a success.

Of the sketches, one seemed particularly amusing in which children act like their parents, smoking and drinking martinis. Many of the songs have since become standards in their own right such as "Mad about the Boy." The song "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is also delivered with such freshness and energy by the cast that you feel as if…

Sex and violence: Private Lives

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Private Lives, currently playing at the Gielgud Theatre, is a sexy and bitchy night out at the theatre that is hard not to like. With a strong cast that brings out the sexual tensions and a production that enjoys lingering in the sophisticated smuttiness of it all.

The central premise is that two recently remarried divorcees meet while they are honeymooning and pick up where they left off. But they soon discover that while they can't live without each other, they can't live with each other either. It's morally wrong and the characters should be unappealing but you root for them anyway as they ditch their spouses and head off to Paris.

Site specific aimless wandering: The Drowned Man

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Site specific theatre has never seemed more pointless and inept than in Punchdrunk's latest outing, The Drowned Man. A large, cavernous space near Paddington Station is converted into Temple Pictures Studios. You are meant to wander through the spaces and discover the unfolding dramas that are inspired by the drama Woyzeck. These dramas are mostly about people on the margins of the film industry struggling to make ends meet and where high emotions that take people to the point of insanity. It could be spooky and imaginative and a little bit of fun, but instead it is executed so casually that the end product is dreary, aimless and confused.

Throughout four floors, the spaces are so large and empty, the lighting so dark that it all seems a little pointless and lacking any direction. It is all too big, too dark and too empty to be interesting.  With all the mazes and rooms with props it seems as if you have inadvertently dropped in on a fuck club on the night it is closed for hosing…

Power struggles and slow poisons: Simon Boccanegra

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Verdi's Simon Boccanegra is a great opera to get stuck into. It's full of rousing music and has a terrific story about internal power struggles, young love and family against the backdrop of the establishment of the first Doge of Genoa.

Everything has its consequences.  While Simon becomes the man of the people and crowned Doge of Genoa he discovers that his lover has died and their baby disappears. And that is just in the opening minutes of the prologue. The piece moves forward in time where young love, revenge and political intrigue take over amidst a plea for an end to internal fighting that is pulling a nation apart.

Gospel, poverty and all that jazz: The Amen Corner

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The Amen Corner, currently playing at the National Theatre is an uplifting and emotional play. Poverty, religion, hypocrisy, gospel singing and jazz feature throughout. But while it might be a predictable journey, what makes it special is the finely drawn characters and nuanced performances and observations about poverty, race and religion.

The piece focuses on fiery preacher Sister Margaret. As the play opens, she is about to go on a journey to Philadelphia to visit a congregation that needs her help. Yet her departure coincides with the return of her husband Luke and wayward antics from her son, who is staying out late with jazz musicians. Her congregation soon start calling on this hypocrisy and challenge her authority, which sets in motion a series of events that will pull Sister Margaret's world apart.

Broads and beefcake in the heat: Sweet Bird of Youth

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Florida may be hot and steamy with characters who are restless with pent up sexual tension, but the audience watching Sweet Bird of Youth will more likely be restless due to boredom. The play is a repetitive three hour piece covering lost youth, unfinished business, broken dreams and the lure of stardom over and over and over again... It's a shame really, as the publicity shots alone are fantastic and make this look like it is the sexiest show on in town at the moment rather than the longest.

The play is about Chance Williams, a bit of a drifter but also a looker with a fine set of pecs. He is played by Seth Numrich here and judging by the number of young women in the audience he is already attracting a solid fan base, which is no doubt will grow after they see him parade around the stage in his boxer briefs.

Testosterone at the Vaudeville: The West End Men

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It's a slick and great sounding night out at the Vaudeville Theatre with The West End Men (not just any men obviously). This is a show that plays tribute to a host of musicals with both conventional and jazz-infused arrangements that had the audience cheering for more.

It's great to see on the West End a show that just focuses on making some great music, peppered with a little bit of banter and fun, put together in such a great looking show (and the men aren't that bad to look at I suppose either). It has been touring (including internationally) over the past year so the format it is not new. It is only on for a month but well worth seeing this testosterone charged concert that will blast you off your seat.

Religion and fennel salad: Disgraced

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You feel like a voyeur watching Disgraced, the fiery Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Ayad Akhtar, at the Bush Theatre. Over the course of 90 minutes everything that is civilised and awfully respectable about two New York couples is gradually undone and at times the conversation is so frank and uncomfortable that you forget you are at the theatre.

It turns sour in moments over a fennel salad. As each character presents their views on religion and racial discrimination in today's modern world, they stumble and fall over their arguments and soon there is no turning back from a car crash. It is funny and topical but perhaps a little unnerving, particularly as the recent events in Woolwich bring religion and terrorism back in focus.

Chance encounters girlfriends take: Blind Date

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It is unusual to be raving about a show that nobody else will see, but Blind Date which is having a limited seven week run at the Charing Cross theatre, is an improvised show that is original and funny where no show will be quite the same, but where each show no doubt shows the magic, sweetness and humanity that arises from chance encounters.

Keeping it all together is Rebecca Northan as the optimistic Mimi, who finds herself stood up on her blind date. Rather than let that get her down, she turns to the audience to help her out. She wears a clown nose, speaks with a French accent and has a great set of legs. What then happens for the next ninety minutes is a masterclass in improvisation and working with the audience.

Northan, who hails from Canada, and her show has won several awards. She is the recipient of two 2012 Canadian Comedy Awards for "Best Female Improviser" and "Best Comedic Play" for Blind Date, a winner of the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Award f…

Lovely repeating spam: Spamalot

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The new, slightly sillier version of Spamalot which has come back to the West End turns out to be almost like an out of season panto. Given the large number of families who were there to enjoy it during half term, perhaps the show really an awfully appropriate and a surefire way for cheap laughs in the West End.

In this revised production, a few scenes have been cut and songs trimmed and more topical references have been inserted into the lyrics. It now runs only two hours including the interval, and the end result is that it feels like a snappier and faster paced show. Even if the production values aren't as lavish, the naughty words are not as frequent, or the cast as large, I much preferred this version to its original West End run.

The show is loosely based upon (or lovingly ripped off from as the show calls it) the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which lampoons King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail in the middle ages. But all you really need to know is that it…

Sneak previews and gospel singing: The Amen Corner

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This week I was lucky enough to catch a rehearsal of the first act of The Amen Corner, which starts previewing at the National Theatre next week. Within forty five minutes it is fascinating to see even in rehearsal how all the elements of the story are laid out.

The play is set in Harlem in the 1950s and tells the story of a fiery pastor Sister Margaret whose estranged husband unexpectedly returns. Combined with the antics of her son her congregation is soon in revolt against her hard line leadership.

Put it in a box: La Donna Del Lago

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It's great that the Royal Opera warns you with its subtitle to La Donna Del Lago, that it is a melodrama in two acts. There is so much going on with love, unrequited love, arranged marriages that the opera strains under the weight of its exposition... At first. But as things eventually get moving, particularly in the livelier second act, it turns out to be a memorable night of music making.

And of course there are some incredible performances. Joyce Didonato as Elena, the Lady of the Lake captures the drama and beauty of the role and stops the show with her aria "Tanti Affetti". Equally captivating was Daniela Barcellona as Malcom, Elena's lover. She makes her Covent Garden debut and handled difficult singing (and some difficult tartans) with ease. And of course there was Juan Diego Florez, who makes runs and top notes seem as if they are easy. With such fine performances the audience was on their feet cheering at the end.

Hot gossip and character assassinations: School for Scandal

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Cheap laughs and scandal never seemed so sexy and witty than in Turn of the Wheel's School for Scandal, which has been playing at the Waterloo East Theatre, transforming the theatre under the arches at Waterloo East station into a hotbed of gossip.

Eighteenth century London socialites don't seem too different from modern dayslebs with their acid tongues and bitchy banter, although is mostly undertaken in drawing rooms rather than on social media (or blogs for that matter).  The essential premise is that when wealthy Sir Oliver (played by Gately Freeman) returns from the East Indies he decides to select one of his nephews as his heir, but unsuspectingly gets dragged into various plots and sub-plots over lovers, scandals, unrequited love.

The subject matter of gossip, scandal and intrigue are given a boost by the young cast. It is delivered with such energy and enthusiasm that the barbs fly fast and it is easy to miss some of the lines if you're too busy laughing. Pip Gladw…

Under the influence: Liza on an E

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Australian performer Trevor Ashley makes his West End debut this week in his show Liza (on an E) at the Vaudeville Theatre. What could be just another pub drag tribute act is given a lift by an energetic performance, some great singing and classy big band under the music direction of George Dyer.

Ashley created the role of Miss Understanding in the original Australian production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and he has performed a variety of cabaret shows. But here the focus is on Liza Minnelli, which even though he doesn't quite look like Liza (more like a character from Little Britain perhaps), he manages to successfully channel her mannerisms and quirks. Even if you don't know her history as a performer (such as yes she really did do a duet with Donna Summer in the eighties) he covers her career with a variety of songs that makes for an evening that is is a lot of fun.

Love gone wrong and other flatshares: Love Bites

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The latest from the Love Bites series, Apartment, which ended its brief run at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden last weekend was again an opportunity for some witty reflections on the theme of love, this time with the theme of apartments being the common thread between them. The Love Bites series showcases some excellent new writing and performances from emerging playwrights, actors, directors and illustrators. It was a short evening of four plays this time around and each were funny and insightful in their own way. It is a real treat to see such a high quality writing and performances in a fringe venue and it is well worth seeking out when they stage their next instalment.

The first, Zoned Out by Craig Donaghy and performed by Thea Beyleveld was a monologue about moving in with a boyfriend who lived near Amersham and giving up her flatshare in West Hamstead, only to find out that he wanted to break up with her. It was frank and honest and knowing in a way that any Londoner could sympat…

Sexual violence and perversity in SE1: Gutted

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It is a hard hitting foul-mouthed in your face night at the theatre watching Gutted, Ricky Beadle-Blair's new play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Set in Bermondsey, South East London, it tells the story of the Prospect family and the dark secrets that drive them. It is a place where grey tracksuits and white trainers are the clothing of choice. And football, violence, petty crimes and the frequent utterances of the word "cunt" abound. At times it is exhausting to watch (and listen to). The end result is shocking at times and probably not the sort of play you would take your mother to (unless she is from South London). But it still makes for a great night of theatre.

The story focuses on four south London brothers, their relationships with each other, their girlfriends and their hard-as-nails Irish mother. When their father was alive, he subjected the eldest son, Matthew, to abuse. Their mother knew what was going on but ignored it. Matthew is good enough at footbal…

Projection and pop-ups in tight spaces: Don Pasquale

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A pub upstairs in Covent Garden is an unlikely setting for an opera, but it is part of Pop-up Opera's plan to stage opera in unlikely places. Arriving just before the proceedings there was nowhere to sit except for a front row of bar stools. Nobody was wanting to sit in the front row possibly anticipating the opera singers standing almost in front and well within deafening earshot, (and having read the publicity that also threatened to engage the audience).

On the plus side I figured these by taking a bar stool those lessons I had been taking on posture and would be put to good practice. And unlike the last time I was at the opera to see Don Carlos, there was no lady next to me insisting I keep my mobile phone and iPad well away from her as she had some psychosomatic reaction to electromagnetic fields (Royal Opera audiences can be funny like that).

Anyway the stools were pretty good to take advantage of all the action that was unfolding right in front of me. But I was not expect…

The Time Warp, muscle and fishnets: Rocky Horror Show 40th anniversary tour

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Richmond Theatre never looked so different (or young) on Thursday evening as a packed audience -  many dressed as transsexuals or something in between - filled the theatre for the tour of the Rocky Horror Show, which is in town until the weekend. When you arrive at the theatre don't be surprised so see men in fishnets and cheap wigs and ladies looking like goths. This is a show where at least half of the audience will dress for the occasion. Or at least dress to look like their favourite character from the show. The other half of the audience that didn't make an effort (myself included) felt a little under dressed...

The Rocky Horror Show is celebrating forty years since it was first produced and is still as fun as ever. But now the years of audience participation (which goes from the sublime to the obscure) has given the show a feel of an adults only panto. The audience shouts out dirty, naughty or just plain bizarre things throughout the show which gives an element of expect …

Travel can be exhausting: Travels With My Aunt

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Travels With My Aunt, a revival of Giles Havergal's adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, is currently playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory and it is an enjoyable evening and a great looking production... And the four middle aged men playing all the roles are pretty good too, although it does feel like you are watching a wonderful radio play at times...

The story is about a retired and somewhat boring bank manager named Henry Pulling. At his mother's funeral he meets up again with his Aunt Augusta and finds himself pulled into her unconventional and globetrotting life and her various male companions.

Directed by Christopher Luscombe, it is such a sophisticated production executed with great comic timing that you soon forget that all the roles are played by four actors and get swept up in the story. It is full of humorous touches that make the most of the globetrotting story. The stage is broken up into a waiting room, a train platform and a lost property office holding t…

High melodrama and aural pleasures: Don Carlo

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The Royal Opera's revival of its 2008 production of Don Carlo is a thrilling and breathtaking evening. This opera has it all. Grand spectacle, high melodrama, romance gone wrong, and enough plots and subplots for several operas. But the fine vocal and dramatic performances from the cast and thrilling sounds from the orchestra under the baton of Antonio Pappano take this revival to another level. The evening was going to be long anyway with this four hour opera, but the extra pauses due to the audience bursting into applause and cheering throughout meant helped savour every moment. And there were many of them.

Jonas Kaufman as the doomed hero Don Carlo deftly handled the role with with both vocal clarity and drama. The same can be said for Anja Harteros as Elizabeth the French princess who was to marry Carlos but has to marry his father in order to consolidate the peace between France and Spain.  As one woman quipped over ice creams at interval to another, "Well that's wha…

Sssmouldering Sunday night cabaret: Miss Hope Springs

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Miss Hope Springs has a regular Sunday night Cabaret show at The Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly. She now has a new show "Latin a la Springs" which injects a bit of bossa nova and sophistication into the Sunday night proceedings (well a double bass and a syncopated beat always sounds a bit of sophisticated if you ask me).

Miss Hope Springs is a surprise as you don't just get a cabaret show of some great songs at fabulous venue, but you get a character and a back story of a recovering showgirl who has been there and done Hollywood, done Vegas, done worse and is now here for your pleasure. Nothing is taken too seriously and everything from a her hilarious career highlights to the conventions of performing a cabaret set of jazz, pop and bossa nova standards are lovingly sent up.

Rotten tomatoes and other leakage: Desperately Seeking the Exit

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A few years ago, Peter Michael Marino managed to do what many people dream of doing. Without much trouble he managed to write a musical, get a producer interested in it and get it produced on the West End. It was 2007 and Desperately Seeking Susan had its debut on the West End with songs from Blondie.

Unfortunately the end result was that the show was a flop and the creative process left him exhausted. But he has managed to put the experience of the time into a one-man show, Desperately Seeking the Exist, which uses one of the less kind reviews of the work by Telegraph theatre critic Charles Spencer.

The show is a fascinating and mostly amusing recollection of the events in 2007 that led to the disaster. It works best when it is focusing on the anecdotes of the time, his struggles with dealing with the creative process and being a small part of a major production, and the toll it takes on his health (he develops internal hemorrhoids).

Re-emerging acts: Eve Ferret in Cabaret

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Eve Ferret, former 80's performer and occasional movie star has been doing the rounds in recent years with a series of different cabaret events at various venues across London. On Monday night this week she was at the Cabaret spot The Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly doing her thing.

Her thing has been described as part inspired by Miss Kitty Russell from Gunsmoke, but it could equally be part ingenue and part fishwife. You never know what you are going to get from one moment to the next watching her perform. It could be a soft soothing song or it could be something shouted at your general direction. It all adds a bit more thrills to a standard cabaret night out for sure.

Not quite jungle red: Britain's Got Talons

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Britain's Got Talons is an interesting concept that explores the bizarre obsession for TV talent shows, the people that make them and the people that show up on them. It is set backstage behind a notorious (and fictional) talent show. When one of the judges is murdered it is left to a lowly office assistant to investigate the murder in between making teas and taking down notes from the producers.

I was curious to see this show partly due to the concept and partly due to the number of evocative words the press release:
"...Things take a sinister twist, however, when one of the judges is found murdered in her dressing room" "Meanwhile, as office assistant Stephen pieces the clues together, the grisly truth behind the show begins to emerge..." and "A gripping tale of deceit, death and duets..." Anything that claims to be gripping, sinister and grisly sounds like a fun show to me...

Although billed as a comedy there are not many laughs in this piece, and…