Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Smooth operator: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying @wiltonsmusichall


It feels a little like a high school musical with its clunky sets and actors cast in roles too old for them. But I still found How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at Wiltons Music Hall a lot of fun. Part of its fun is the memorable performance by Marc Pickering as the ambitious young executive.

Here you get the impression he is relying less on boyish charm and more on being sly and cunning to get ahead. Given the space of Wiltons he can look you in the eye and let you know he is out to get what he wants.  He also gives the classic songs in the show a fresh interpretation that feels as if they should be on an album.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Its all about Audra: Audra McDonald @lsqtheatre


It is fair to say that Audra McDonald with her multiple Tony awards and unique voice and personality is a living Broadway legend. You shouldn't miss any opportunity to see her on stage and she is in town for few days performing at the Leicester Square Theatre.

She'll be back in London in the summer is reprising the Billie Holliday role in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. As her West End debut this is shaping up to be a a much anticipated event. It was due to happen last year but had a postponement as she and husband Will Swenson were expecting a baby. Now these Leicester Square Theatre concerts will add to the buzz.

Now the baby is backstage it's time to get down to some fine music making. What is exciting about her is not only her musicianship and personality but her ability to champion new music. This has always come through in her recordings (of which I seem to have collected all of them - which probably makes me a bit of a fan).

The format of these shows is her long-time friend and accompanist Seth Rudetsky serves as the host and accompanist. They sing and then chat. It's simple yet effective.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Long time coming: Chinglish @parktheatre


It's the little things that make all the difference in Chinglish, a slick and funny play currently at the Park Theatre. In David Henry Hwang's comedy, which opened on Broadway in 2011, Chinese-American relations, corruption and commerce are in focus.

But a funny thing happened in the five or so years since the play opened. America as led by its new leader is a country on its knees awaiting to be made great again. It may be firing missiles but they're hitting the least strategic targets possible.

And while America is impotent, China is the country the world is turning to for answers on the environment, the economy and manufacturing. So much so that some are wondering if the policy of the new administration is to make China great again.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is repositioning the country against the slouch on the couch. It could be the man, but it could be the country. And higher import duties and a corruption crackdown has ended Chinese tourists returning from Europe loaded with luxury goods.

It makes a few poorly translated signs about "the slippery are very crafty" seem like insignificant details in a broader cultural war. It all matters as what hangs on this comedy is the assumed preference for Western goods and know-how. Maybe this is the price to pay for being so topical six years ago. So as a historical piece it is a fascinating and funny account of a bygone era.

Stompin' at the Palace: This Joint Is Jumpin' @theotherpalace


In the basement space of The Other Palace there's a whole lot of jumpin', stompin' and jazzin' going on. It is not so much a theatrical piece but homage to the great jazz legend Fats Waller.

The artists pay tribute to the life and music of Fats Waller through song, dance and a small and largely insignificant plot device. But it's the music making that will leave you with the lasting impression.

There's music director and co-creator Michael Mwenso’s cool jazz vocals which combined with his band The Shakes are a sensation.  Mathis Picard’s on the piano, Ruben Fox on tenor sax and Mark Kavuma on trumpet each have some terrific moments.

But the highlight is the London debut of Broadway legend Lillias White. She is the cats pyjamas with her charm and ability to give meaning from the seemingly most insignificant lyric.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

The Corsican Job: Sublime @Tristanbates

With Sublime, the premise of a new heist drama and a promise of it being a provocative play is hard to resist. Its short run at the Tristan Bates Theatre has ended but there were some things to admire about the piece by by Sarah Thomas.

The story is that the heistess, Sophie, is back in town. And she's got one week to pull off three jobs to pay back the Corsicans. It's assumed knowledge that you don't want to fuck with the Corsicans. But if you have been to Corsica you probably will understand that immediately.

She enlists her brother Sam to help her. But Sam is trying to lead a straight and boring life with his mousy new girlfriend Clara (Suzy Gill). But there is so much sexual chemistry between the two you begin to wonder what sort of siblings they are.

Monday, April 03, 2017

It's not the work, but the stairs: The Life @swkplay


Whores with hearts of gold are back on stage with this slick and star-powered production of The Life at Southwark Playhouse.

It's a musical about the sleazy underworld of prostitution and pimps of the 1970s / 1980s New York set to songs from the 1930s. Well, it felt like they did, and it was hard to tell which one was out of place.

But even if the piece isn't a documentary of sex workers in the city, it presents a joyful set of tarts and pimps as an opportunity to celebrate being alive. Or at least being alive enough to take seven men in a single night.

Combined with a great cast and one of the best looking and best sounding productions in the Southwark Playhouse make it a worthwhile trip.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Bang pop kapow: Big Guns @YardTheatre


 It's bad enough walking about the back streets of Hackney alone on a quiet mid-week evening without having to worry about a man with a gun. But after seeing Big Guns at The Yard Theatre that's all I was thinking about.

The man with a gun features a lot in writer Nina Segal's piece. It's part fear and part celebration of a culture of violence. Actually it is mostly fear. With a backdrop of pop culture references, pornography, terrorism, milkshakes and popcorn.

It's all topical as the banter moves between one violent act and the next. It is a two hander and opens with Two (Debra Baker) and One (Jessy Romeo) sitting in what could be a cinema. Wearing 3D glasses and stuffing their faces with popcorn.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Drain the swamp: The Frogs @JSTheatre


The search for a great playwright to rescue society seems an odd subject for a musical-comedy. But these are no ordinary times we are living in. A frog called Pepe is now a symbol for the alt-right movement. So now may be the time for a show where frogs appear to be a symbol of conformity, distraction and mediocrity.

The Frogs was an ancient Greek comedy from 405 BC by Aristophanes. It became a short musical piece performed in the Yale Swimming Pool in the 1970s by Burt Shevelove. And it is now a somewhat fully fledged musical thanks to Nathan Lane's obsession and fascination with the piece. It is having its UK premiere at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Kosher cougars: A Dark Night in Dalston @ParkTheatre


No matter what your religious or cultural background, all you need is a warm hearted older woman to perk you up. And chewable painkillers. And tea in a paper cup. These are all important in A Dark Night in Dalston which is currently playing at Park Theatre.

In the piece Council estate resident Gina brings in a young devout Jewish man lying outside her flat for a plaster and hot cup of tea. Some of the lads on the estate roughed him up after he was visiting the local slapper.  It wasn't so much as anti-Semitism as robust local banter.

Anyway while she is tending to his cuts and bruises and offering him tea the sun sets. And so he can't go home as it's the sabbath.  He doesn't want to face his father and he doesn't want to face his fiancee. Gina is an ex-nurse and full-time carer. But what care does young Gideon need? What draws him to Dalston in the first place since he comes from Stanmore? Couldn't he find what he was after in Kilburn?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mad as duck: The Monkey @theatre503


A debt, a bad nickname and an obsession Reservoir Dogs come into focus in John Stanley's funny and dark play The Monkey at Theatre 503.

Stanley notes that he has distilled the four characters in the piece from the larger than life characters he has encountered. They bring to life the many traits of London's sub-culture of addiction and criminality. It's part of the Homecoming's season of new writing by prisoners and ex-prisoners. The stories are about getting out and going home.

But what is fascinating in this hilarious piece is how he has created a unique character in Terry. Terry (or Tel as his mates call him) has left Bermondsey and trying to leave his old past behind. But an old mate Thick-Al owes him money (or a monkey)  His mates think he has a bit of screw loose but also that he is a soft touch.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Flashers, savages and gluttony: You're Human Like the Rest of Them @finborough


It's a bizarre, odd sort of world. Nothing makes sense. Gluttony, communism, flashers in cemeteries. It's all laid bare in You're Human Like The Rest of Them. Three short works by B.S. Johnson playing at the Finborough Theatre. The three pieces include two world stage premieres of pieces originally broadcast on television and radio and the first production in over forty years.

B.S Johnson was a radical and an experimentalist.  He wrote plays, poems and novels. A collection of his films are also available. His pieces are about the big themes of life, death, religion. Nothing is quite like it seems. In 1973 a month after completing a short filmed piece called Fat Man on a Beach (well he probably was a little overweight but that title seemed an exaggeration), he committed suicide.  Since then his work has developed a bit of a cult following. Given the theatricality and originality of his works it is surprising that there has never been a staged performance of them. Until now.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Talking about an evolution: Darwin's Tortoise @SpanishTheatreC


Just what would happen if a nearly two-hundred year old tortoise stood up and started walking around.  Bearing witness to the great events and catastrophe's of the twentieth century?

Well naturally she would want an historian to recount it all. Or at least correct what he had already written.

And thus is the central premise of Darwin's Tortoise by Juan Mayorga, with an English translation by David Johnson. It's currently playing at the Cervantes Theatre.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Daddy's girl: I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard @finborough @praysohardplay


Family ties are at their tenuous best in I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard at the Finborough Theatre. It's a great title for a play and refers to when you really hate someone for what they did, you pray for them. The piece charts the damaged relationship between a successful playwright and his aspiring actor-daughter.

Sharp and shocking, at times it feels like you're eavesdropping on a famous neighbour that you know is a little unhinged. And you can't help but keep listening.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Keep on truckin': The Understudy @Canalcafe


With the Oscars now over, the self-congratulatory season of handing out awards for movies has ended for another year. The Understudy at The Canal Café Theatre seems relevant.

It's a funny take on how theatre and film seem to be at times competing art forms. But in the end it is always about money.

Jake is a big star. He has had a hit action movie open but he is currently on Broadway in a three hour Kafka play. Jobbing actor Harry is going to be his understudy. Stage manager Roxanne has to get them through a rehearsal but it turns out Harry and Roxanne have a history.

And so sets the scene for debates about the worthiness of theatre versus the cheap thrills of the screen.

Life upon the wicked stage: The Wild Party @theotherpalace


The St James Theatre gets a new name and a hot new show that never lets up with The Wild Party. They dance, they sing, they party as if it were 1928.

Based on a notorious poem by Joseph Moncure March, Michael John LaChiusa with George C. Woolfe turn it into a sung through musical vaudeville.  Kander and Ebb did something similar with Chicago, but it always felt tongue in cheek. Here it's as if the tongue is planted in some other filthier crevice. It's darker. And dirtier. And sometimes horrific.

Set over the course of a party hosted by two vaudville performers, it revels in sex and sleaze among their show-biz friends. People arrive. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They have sex.

And with director choreographer Drew McOnie's dance and movement, the piece feels provocative, relentless and breathtaking. Perhaps it isn't a party to suit all tastes. But its frenzied pace, complex score and terrific lineup of talent make it hard to ignore, even if you feel like you need to shower after seeing it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

You're Never Fully Dressed: Beau Brummell An Elegant Madness @EuropeanArtsCo @jstheatre


No matter how stylish you might be in your heyday, in the end you'll end up a bit daft and alone in a bathtub. That seems to be the central message in Beau Brummell, an Elegant Madness. It's currently playing at Jermyn Street Theatre.

The man famous for creating an understated mens style - dark coats, full length trousers, white shirts, cravats - is now living in dubious quarters in Calais. He switches between dreaming of making up with his old friend the Prince of Wales (now George IV) and contemplating suicide.

The play opens with Brummell (Seán Brosnan) in a bathtub about to cut his throat. Or at least threatening to do so. His vallet (Richard Latham) rushes in and manages to take the blade away from him. But his long suffering valet is not quite suffering as you would expect. And so beings this two hander that is part history lesson about the man and a reflection of the times.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Monster chills: Frankenstein @Blackeyedtheatr


There are more than just the usual chills in Blackeyed Theatre's Frankenstein. And it wasn't due to the lack of any perceptible heating at Greenwich Theatre last week during a particularly bitter cold snap.

Mary Shelley's tale is given a theatrical flourish in this adaptation by John Ginman. Percussion instruments underscore the tension and the monster is depicted by a giant puppet. He isn't particularly hideous and that makes you even more sympathetic towards him.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cattle class: Dubailand @Finborough


There is a line in the play Dubailand about all the astronauts around the world looking down and seeing people in Dubai. The implication is they will see these masters of the universe. Labourers earning loads of money. Expats in offices making a bundle. But they will see tiny people of insignificance. That's the point of the play. Whether you're a labourer or marketer, you're all the same. You're second or third or fourth-class citizens. And don't forget it.

The play by Carmen Nasr is running at The Finborough Theatre on Sundays Mondays and Tuesdays. It was first performed there as a staged reading in 2015.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Brief recollections: Throwback @jacksons_lane @SilverLiningCo_


You leave Throwback by circus troupe Silver Lining thinking, hmm they're a frisky lot. Some circus acts want to show sexy. Others want to show brawn. These young men and women seem to just want to play... And show off a little...

But that's ok. They do incredible acrobatic work - hanging, flying, spinning while also managing to sing, act and tell stories. 

What does the fox say: Run The Beast Down @Finborough


It is a hedonistic and hectic life in this one-hander about a man called Charlie. He can't sleep. He lost his job and there is this fox following him about. It's playing now at the Finborough Theatre.

Played by Ben Aldridge, you are never quite sure what is real and illusory. But there's a thrilling and pulsating soundtrack by Chris Bartholomew underscoring the madness that makes it a trip worth taking down the foxhole.

It opens with Charlie finding that his girlfriend has left him and he lost his city job. He is living in a partially gentrified council estate and the neighbours cat has gone missing. But after that things begin to get a bit weird. The nights become something for his imagination to run wild. Soon paranoia, fear and destruction take over.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Dirty stop out: Dirty Great Love Story @ArtsTheatreLDN


Dirty Great Love Story at the Arts Theatre is casual sex described through poetry. After a one night stand two hopeless romantics then spend the next few years trying to avoid each other. While speaking mostly in rhyming verse.

The only problem with this premise is that if the rhyming isn't particular clever you have a bit of a problem what the point of it all is. Even Pam Ayres is funny. Here it is mostly perplexing and the verse gets in the way of everything else.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

It becomes her: Death Takes A Holiday @charingcrossthr


A terrific story and some fine singing from its sexy leads makes this encounter with death enjoyable. But you get the feeling that that this near death experience could be more enjoyable if the music was not so repetitive and loud. It's currently playing at Charing Cross Theatre.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cheap locker room talk: Promises Promises @swkplay

Songs by Burt Bacharach and a great cast can't conceal the paper-thin story and an awful lot of what probably is best described today as locker room talk in Promises Promises. It's currently playing at Southwark Playhouse.

It's based on Billy Wilder's film The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. It's about a young man who sees a way of climbing the corporate ladder by lending out his apartment to executives for brief encounters.

But in the translation from screen to stage, it feels slow and repetitive. At three hours it draws out the drama and loses the comedy with the relentless locker room talk, superfluous songs and dialogue.

Hopes for 2017: The Doppel Gang @tristanbatestheatre



Things I am hopeful about for theatre this year after catching The Doppel Gang at the Tristan Bates Theatre:

More shows featuring the music, drama and comedy of music hall. 

The Mother Goose panto at Wilton's last year gave a few quick flashes of music hall style with a few numbers. Here this show is set in the pre-television era where an evening's entertainment is a night out at the theatre. It's a lost art that could do with being resurrected.

More borrowing of classic comedy sketches that don't involve Monty Python. 

There is a Faulty Towers Live show that is winding its way around Australia as part of John Cleese's pension plan. But there are is plenty of other comedy that could be recreated, borrowed, or repurposed. The Marx Brothers are a case in point.