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Showing posts from 2017

The not-so merry widow: Ballroom @Waterlooeast

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There's a terrific band and a real nice crowd... So one of the opening songs goes. Not all the magic is here in this lost musical of loneliness and rediscovering life. But as a vehicle for a star performance by Jessica Martin, it's great.

Martin plays lonely widow Bea who runs off to a ballroom and finds herself living life again. She's vulnerable, she's stunning and she has a great singing voice. It's currently playing at Waterloo East Theatre.

Talks preview: Preservation during conflict @WorldMonuments

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As part of a series of talks about heritage in conflict zones, on Tuesday 16 May at the Royal Geographic Society World Monuments Fund Britain presents Zaki Aslan, Director of ICCROM-ATHAR - an international body that works to conserve cultural heritage in the Middle East. Zaki Aslan will provide significant insight into the state of heritage in the region and discuss how the world’s nations could help more with conservation. The evening will be introduced by Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage at DCMS.

This event follows the 2015 inaugural talk World Monument Fund talk in which Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Director-General of Syrian Antiquities, visited the UK for the first time. With the recent news that Palmyra in Syria has just been freed from ISIS for a second time, Maamoun Abdulkarim will join the lecture by video to give us the very latest position on his country’s besieged cultural heritage.

Conflict continues to dominate the Middle East and we regular…

Beautiful at the ballet: No Place For A Woman @Theatre503

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No Place For a Woman combines music, movemement and storytelling to present a haunting tale on human emotions and the desire to survive. And that despite it all, everything really is beautiful at the ballet. It's currently at Theatre 503.

Written by Cordelia O'Neil, this two-hander brings out the fine detail of two women's lives that are intertwined during conflict. It is set in Poland at the end of the Second World War, but there is something universal about the themes that make you feel as if it could be any time or place during conflict.

The premise is that as allied forces are interviewing the two women a story emerges. The wife of a prison camp commandant was throwing a party and she asks her husband to get champagne. But instead he brings home a ballet dancer from the camp. And they keep her.

Swinging and projecting: Soho @PeacockTheatre #sohotheshow

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A journey through London's soho with its street workers, artists, drag queens and everyday people is the theme of Soho. It is a  physical movement spectacular at the Peacock Theatre for a brief run.

Acrobats, dance and projections combine with a throbbing soundtrack to make for a breathtaking evening.

At times there is so much going on that it's hard to know where to look. But it's a slick piece of circus artisty and projections

The bizarre and the demented: Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road @Trafstudios

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Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road is a great title for a play. And it's a laugh out loud hour or so of bizarre antics. After a run in January at the White Bear Theatre it's at Trafalgar Studios. They've transformed the space into a dump of a motel and it's a fabulous experience. There are stains on the walls, mismatched furniture and endless country music.

It's difficult to describe the plot without giving away some of the surprises. It opens with JD (Keith Stevenson). He's a friendly kind of hillbilly living in this grimy place. Mitch (Robert Moloney) arrives answering an ad JD's placed in the paper looking for a roommate. Mitch has lost his job, his girlfriend and his apartment and so is desperate. But he's surprised to find JD living in motel. And then arrive the neighbours. There's the cranky old Flip (Michael Wade), the owner of the motel. Then there's meth-head Marlene (Melanie Gray) and her hot-headed boyfriend Tommy (Alex Ferns).

Will…

Needs a little more mascara: Madame Rubinstein @Parktheatre

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Madame Rubinstein at Park Theatre should be a camp romp covering the rivalry between Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and Revlon. But instead it is a dragged out affair that has few laughs and some  unintended ones.

The jokes are so stale you could think that John Misto wrote it in the 1950s rather than the present day.

Miriam Margolyes as Rubinstein looks the part and has fun with the role. But in the end she can't do much with a lumbering script and odd looking production. Frances Barber as Arden is terrific as her foil but doesn't get much to do other than look fabulous in fur.

Sisters doing it to themselves: Everything Between Us @Finborough

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If a playwright ever wants to get the undivided attention of the audience, opening with: "Fuck you, you fucking bitch, I'll tear your fucking eyeballs out ya cunt!" sure does the trick.

And so begins an explosive 70 minutes of Everything Between Us by David Ireland. It's having it's English premiere playing in repertoire with Late Company at the Finborough Theatre.

It's about the conflict in post conflict Northern Ireland and the conflict between two sisters. Both unionists and both divided. But its power lies in how it can be funny and provocative at taking aim at Northern Ireland conflict and the people caught in it.

Trauma and light: The Braille Legacy @CharingCrossThr

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I suspect the inspiration for the musical the Braille Legacy currently playing at Charing Cross Theatre is to explore a young man's determination to read and learn.

But instead we get a lot of political intrigue and some unintentionally hilarious musical moments as children disappear after medical experiments go wrong. All set to music.

This is a new musical by Sébastien Lancrenon and Jean-Baptiste Saudray and translated by Ranjit Bolt. It's lush and listenable, but curiously lacking in any emotion or point.

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

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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.

Its all about Audra: Audra McDonald @lsqtheatre

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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 lo…

Long time coming: Chinglish @parktheatre

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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…

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

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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.

The Corsican Job: Sublime @Tristanbates

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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.

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

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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.

Bang pop kapow: Big Guns @YardTheatre

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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.

Drain the swamp: The Frogs @JSTheatre

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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

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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?

Mad as duck: The Monkey @theatre503

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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.

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

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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…

Talking about an evolution: Darwin's Tortoise @SpanishTheatreC

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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.

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

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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.

Keep on truckin': The Understudy @Canalcafe

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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

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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 n…

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

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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.

The Monster chills: Frankenstein @Blackeyedtheatr

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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.

Cattle class: Dubailand @Finborough

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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.

Brief recollections: Throwback @jacksons_lane @SilverLiningCo_

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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

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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.

Dirty stop out: Dirty Great Love Story @ArtsTheatreLDN

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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.

It becomes her: Death Takes A Holiday @charingcrossthr

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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.

Cheap locker room talk: Promises Promises @swkplay

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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

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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.