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Bear with me: Stitches @TheHopeTheatre

What if your teddy bear could talk? My ten-year-old self would think that to be excellent. My more recent self would think it was a high-concept buddy movie with Mark Wahlberg. But in Stictches, Jonathan Blakeley's monologue, which he has written and performed, traces the life of his beloved Chloe, from when she was first given to him by her grandmother, wrapped with a red ribbon. It becomes a story not just about a cute bear (or maybe that should be rough, shaggy-looking bear given the performer’s appearance) observing life but an exploration of life and all of its stages. It's currently playing at the Hope Theatre .  The bear is not warm and fuzzy; he is a bit of a character and tough-talking, but also a bit anxious about being accepted and then discarded as nothing. But he is there to bear witness as she navigates the complicated facets of growing up and having a life. Ultimately, the bear has to deal with being consigned to a box with her other memories until circumstances

Theatre: Imagine This

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Imagine This... A show with its own serviettes...

Tonight was the first night after press night for Imagine This at the New London Theatre and I decided that I would introduce my musical-loathing friend Lorna to it. Well, a musical about a theatre troupe in a Warsaw ghetto circa 1942 is different, so I was thinking she might be up for something a little gritty and a little less gooey gowns and showgirls. Or at least perhaps something akin to Life is Beautiful meets Fiddler on the Roof.

Press night Wednesday may have been buzzing but on Thursday there was a distinct sense that the audience was a bit thin on the ground. It's a pity as it is a great new show. The story is about a theatre troupe in the ghetto performing a musical based on the story of Masada. Things get interesting when a member of the resistance has to hide within the troupe and peform a lead role. And there begins the play within a play, with both commenting on the past and the present.

A lot of very predictable debate appeared in the Guardian and The Times about whether it trivialises the holocaust, as if there is only one way to treat history like this: traditional music and minor key harshness (whatever the hell that is). While it isn't a perfect show, this view misses the point of the second act entirely where things really get interesting and it feels almost is like a morality play. The show was also criticised for its upbeat ending, but I thought it was ambiguous enough to not suggest any particular outcome other than death being preferable to enslavement...

Ok so it isn't a light bit of entertainment... But it is still a musical and that calls for music that is emotional, likeable characters, tension and drama, and a great cast. Unlike many new shows that have opened in London (not based on a movie or a jukebox collection), this show has all these things. And the structure of the play within a play while very simple, was also very well done. Leila Benn Harris and Peter Polycarpou were particularly good in their lead roles.

At intermission I mentioned to Lorna that the couple who walked by us looked like they weren't coming back for the second act. "You know, people who walk out of the theatre and don't come back at intermission," she commented, "really should take a good look at themselves and think maybe they should stop going to the theatre!"Maybe she had a point, but I made a mental note not to introduce her to the Whingers. Of course, Lorna never had to sit through the second act of Gone With the Wind... Nobody should ever have to suffer that much...

I did warn her that in the second act it would all end in tears, but we were both glad we stayed and it is a memorable and moving musical experience... Whatever the future has in store for the show, it is worth catching... Discounted tickets are available too...

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