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The male gaze: Turning the screw

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It's been a while since trips to the theatre. I've been busy. But it's nice to see that it's the creative process that is at the heart of Kevin Kelly's Turning the Screw. And what gives rise to it. It's a dramatisation of the creative process leading up to composer Benjamin Britten's premiere of his opera, The Turning of the Screw. With deadlines approaching, Britten seems stuck over melodies and unsure about completing the piece for its summer premiere. But the selection of twelve-year-old choirboy David Hemmings in the leading role of Miles within the opera is the spark that motivates him to complete the piece. And his presence may stir other feelings, too. It's currently playing at the Kings Head Theatre .  Britten's fascination with young boys has been the subject of a detailed book, Britten's Children. The book suggests that Britten saw himself as a young boy of 13. It's almost as if he saw himself as Peter Pan, albeit if Peter Pan was a

Little rocks: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes @TheUnionTheatre

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Two ladies looking for wealthy men to marry might seem like an unusual musical for revival in this #metoo era. But with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the Union Theatre transforms into a bubbling 1920s escapist fantasy. Amongst the froth, there are also some shrewd observations about harassment and survival in a man’s world. And with a terrific cast, exhilarating dance numbers and a fabulous set and costumes, it has to be one of the best things to see on the fringe right now. The tale of blonde gold-digger from Little Rock may be forever associated with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Walking into the Union Theatre with its red stage feels like a reminder this is the show where Marilyn performs Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend. But the musical, which dates from an earlier, more risque time has a lot more to say than the film. Unwanted advances, criminal charges and a revolutionary device that will change the face of fashion. It’s all here among some exuberant musical numbers. The

Rough trade: Market Boy @theuniontheatre

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In Market Boy, the market is free and full of life lessons. Never dull. There’s no time to dwell on why you’re there as there’s merchandise to move and money to be made. And maybe a girl to impress. It's currently playing at the Union Theatre . The show opens in the early 1980s at Romford Street Market. It’s the era before online deliveries and fashionable farmers markets selling fresh produce. This is a rough trade. And Boy (Tommy Knight), lands a job selling women's shoes. Under the apprenticeship of Trader (Andy Umerah), he learns a thing or two about shoes, selling to the women of Romford, and closing a deal. David Eldridge’s play, first seen at the National Theatre over ten years ago, whisks you on a journey through the eighties from boom to bust. With over fifty characters, all are loveable rogues with hearts of gold. And they have a thing or two to teach the Boy. What this show lacks in epic scale (or characterisation), it makes up with enthusiasm and energy f

For the boys: The Pirates of Penzance @WiltonMusicHall

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It’s still a man’s world in Cornwall. Or so it is in Sasha Reagan’s all-male version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Ten years on from it’s first presentation, the show is still full of humour, energy and resourcefullness. And staged among the period features of  Wilton’s Music Hall , it's a perfect match. Over the years I’ve missed all the all-male cast versions staged by the Union Theatre . There’s been Iolanthe, The Mikado and HMS Pinafore. Which is too bad. What they lack in feminine presence they make up with in comic timing, energy and vigour. The show never misses a chance to bring out the humour in the situation, while still remaining largely faithful to the original material. It’s a resourceful production too. Simple props like a broom turn into a horse. Which is then fed a carrot. In a most amusing way.A ladder and some fabric become a pirate ship on the high seas (or at least on English Chanel). And no doubt the all-male cast doubling a

Racing with the clock: Around The World In 80 Days @TheUnionTheatre

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Around the World in Eighty Days at the Union Theatre is a youthful and energetic interpretation of Jules Verne’s novel. It’s silly and fun. And suitable for younger audiences over the holidays too. If you’re prepared to explain the scenes in an opium den and a rousing number about the virtues of polygamy.  Travel can be exhausting. In this piece adapted by Phil Willmott and Annemarie Lewis Thomas, there’s little time to dwell on the adventure. And each stop seems livelier than the next. No sooner as they stop in a particular city there’s a big song and dance extravaganza, expertly sung and executed. And then they’re off again. But you get the gist of the story anyway. Even if you shouldn’t think too much about it. Phileas Fogg (Sam Peggs) wagers a bet with his fellow members of his club that he could travel the world in eighty days. With his French valet Jean Passerpartout (Connor Hughes). Along the way they rescue a princess (Jasmin Minjoot) and get help from an English missionary Mi

Keep it gay: Twang!! @TheUnionTheatre

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Any time of the year you can watch Oliver! on television. Lionel Bart’s musical take on the tale of Dickens made him a fortune and is memorable for its music and a slick movie musical. A few years later under the influence of alcohol and LSD he wrote Twang!! A notorious and expensive disaster than ran for only 43 performances, it would cost him his fortune. But rest assured the Union Theatre hasn’t resurrected a curiosity for the benefit of musical theatre aficionados. As amusing in its own way that would be. This Twang!! is new. Or at least with a story that makes some form of sense. With a new book by Julian Woolford and updated orchestrations by Richard John, it’s a chance to see a lost Lionel Bart musical. The premise is that after years of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor Robin Hood has lost his twang. It’s a bit like the Middle Ages equivalent of mojo. It’s now his merry men who do most of the heavy lifting. Meanwhile Much, the millers son, has run away from home. He

Carmen follies: Carmen 1808 @TheUnionTheatre

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Carmen died twice for me last week. The first time at the Royal Opera. Barrie Kosky’s black, minimalistic yet infuriating production of Carmen has large chunks of plot read to you in French. The effect stops the action dead and bores the audience to death.  Then there was this Union Theatre production. Here in Carmen 1808, Carmen’s working for the resistance and standing up to the French during the atrocities of the Peninsular War. But it’s a passionless 90 minutes of political posturing.  The inspiration has been taken from the Goya’s Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo. There’s probably a great story about Goya and his transition to his black period. But it would have been nice to leave Carmen out of all that.  Bizet’s Carmen is sensual and sexy. Sexual politics not hard politics is what’s at stake. Here it’s given a flat musical treatment that feels part Les Miserables and part Allo Allo. Gypsies join the partisans to support the king, the ladies work in a cigarette factory (despite

Drifting on edge: Heartbreak House @theuniontheatre

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Heartbreak House, currently playing at the Union Theatre , is a glorious production with a strong cast. Funny, a little bit bonkers and intriguing. But too bad George Bernard attempts to layer everything with meaning and substance. Afterall underneath various subplots there are sharp observations about British indifference. These seem as relevant now as it was when the piece premiered in 1919. It opens with Hesione (Helen Anker), a bohemian Edwardian hostess inviting her friend and protégé Ellie (Leanne Harvey) to a weekend at her father’s house. She wants to prevent Ellie from marrying an older industrialist, Boss Mangan (JP Turner). And so she’s arranged a gathering of friends to prevent it from happening. Hesione’s father is the eccentric and cantankerous Captain Shotover (James Horne). He made his money in munitions and is trying to invent a weapon to explode enemy dynamite. They need a new invention as the money’s running out. Complications arise when Shotover’s estranged daughter

Music and monarchists: Blondel @TheUnionTheatre

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The legend of Richard the Lionhart's dubious rescue from captivity by his minstrel Blondel is the subject of this rock musical by Tim Rice and Stephen Oliver at the Union Theatre . With its youthful cast it's well sung and funny in a pantomime sort of way. It's a pity that our hero Blondel ( Connor Arnold ) comes across less as a rock star and more of a folk singer in this version. It could do with a throbbing beat and a few guitar riffs to keep the action moving. But you'll find a few wry observations about austerity which will seem as relevant as when the show first premiered in 1983.