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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

Colour and Light: Anyone Can Whistle @swkplay

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What’s hard is simple. What’s natural comes hard, so the lyrics in the title song, Anyone Can Whistle. But this production,  currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse , takes one of the more challenging Sondheim musicals and makes it seem effortless and straightforward to enjoy. And they deliver it with endless enthusiasm and panache. It’s a bonkers story about a town that comes up with a miracle to attract tourists and improve its prospects. Up to this point, the only thing going for it was its sanitarium for the socially pressured (otherwise known as the Cookie Jar). These people, known as the cookies, are non-conformists. Yet they seem to be happier than anyone else in the town. But as the show progresses, its none too subtle digs at religion, authority, politics, and conformism can make your head spin about what institution it is taking on.  The best thing is to let much of the absurdist story fly over your head. After all, even Sondheim critiqued it for being too clever . But t

Attracting attention: Amour @charingcrossthr

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Amour is about the brief charming life of an ordinary man who discovers he can walk through walls in 1950s Paris. With music by Michael Legrand, it’s a whimsical fantasy that it’s hard to dislike. As the piece says, “There’s magic in the air” even if the lyrics translated into English bring the piece crashing back to reality. It’s having its UK professional premiere at Charing Cross Theatre . At the centre of the piece is an earnest young man Dusoleil (Gary Tushaw), who lives alone in a flat in Montmartre, dreaming about his neighbour Isabelle (Anna O’Byrne), who is married. He’s a hard worker in the civil service who gets his work done so he can write a letter to his dear mother. But one day during a power outage he discovers he can walk through walls. So he decides to put his new talents to good use to become a latter-day Robin Hood, winning the hearts of the locals and Isabelle. The lyrics become predictable that it’s tempting to play a guessing game. You just know when the l

Axes to grind: Violet @charingcrossthr

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A game of poker, a greyhound bus trip and a few stops at whorehouses of America lead to salvation. Or so it appears in Violet, a musical getting its UK premiere at Charing Cross Theatre . An inspired production set in the traverse and a stellar cast are somewhat let down by a superficial story. And sound that made it difficult to hear what people were singing about. Violet is set in 1964 North Carolina.  It's about a young woman who was disfigured as child when her father was careless with an axe. With her life savings she travels on a bus trip across the country in search of a miracle healer and tele-evangelist in Oklahoma. Along the way she strikes up a friendship with benefits with two young soldiers. With this setup I was half expecting a Dogfight on the bus . But instead of some kinda time, things are kept bright and sweet with its bluegrass score by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley. But soon the sweetness becomes relentless. By the time you're half way through you&

The cat mashes the hat: Seussical @SWKplay

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Seussical is a mash-up of Dr Seuss stories i nto a musical extravaganza that’s short in length and long on spectacle. It’s 75 minutes of flair, dazzle and fun songs. Perfect for little people, or people with little attention spans. It’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse . It’s a condensed version of the musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and based on the stories of Dr Seuss. Trimmed from it’s bloated original form, it allows the show with it’s catchy broadway songs to be fun without being too dull or sentimental. This version focuses on the stories Horton Hears a Who and Horton Sits on the Egg. Both of these stories focus on a well-meaning elephant who gets more than he bargained for by the other animals in the jungle. And there’s a girl who gets the “thinks” too much for her own good. The cat in the hat acts as the mischief-making ringmaster. Here he’s played by the mischievously entertaining Marc Pickering. With his deadpan expressions, he only has to look aroun

Still got it suckers: Chicago @Phoenix_Ldn

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Corruption, greed and murder never seem to go out of style in Chicago. The Kander and Ebb musical returns to the West End’s Phoenix Theatre after a six year hiatus.  It’s pretty much the same show that burst onto the scene in the late 1990s. Back even though it was a revival people saw it resonate with the trial of OJ Simpson. Twenty years on the President of the United States is purportedly a urophiliac. Hookers and porn stars paid off as fast as a the National Enquirer can catch and kill a story.  And you no longer have to be good or competent to rise to the top. Everything old seems new again.  And this show is still a hell of a ride. With the sexy costumes and choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse”, the show oozes sex, rhythm and sensuality.  If you’re not familiar with the show other than the gelded movie with Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones you’re in for a treat.  If you’ve seen it all before you can lie back and enjoy the performances by Sarah Soetaert and Josefina Gabr

Easy Extensions and free love: Hair #jointhetribe @thevaultsuk

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Last week marked the fiftieth anniversary of Hair . It's the original rock / concept musical about hippies, the anti-war movement and Western hypocrisy. And with this slick and seductive production, you would have to be a member of the alt-right to not want to join the tribe and get up and dance. The cast, the music, the production and the performances make this not just a must see show, but one that deserves repeat viewings. You get a sense of the freshness and fun that must have amazed and shocked audiences fifty years ago. The underground space of The Vaults at Waterloo have been transformed into an immersive enclave for the alternative. There's a strong ensemble cast with seductive vocals (and bodies). There's also a terrific sound from the band under the music direction of Gareth Bretherton.

The man in the rubber mask: The Toxic Avenger @toxicavengeruk

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An eighties rock ballad score and a terrific energetic cast make  The Toxic Avenger  a lot of fun. It’s back in London at the Arts Theatre. With just a small cast of five performers, they change characters, change sex and mutate. All while singing an eighties inspired rock score. It’s amazing and exhausting to watch. The story is meant to be B-movie schlock. In Tromaville New Jersey, a nerd metamorphasises into a toxic superhero after being dumped into some New Jersey sludge by some jocks. He had discovered his local evil Mayor’s plans to use the town as a dumping ground for toxic waste from New York. Or something like that. And he falls in love with a girl. Who is blind. But the story is probably not as important as the people performing in it. Since they’re determined to show the audience a good time.

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.

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

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.

Hairography: Vanities: The Musical

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  The secret of lasting friendships is really about having the correct fitting wig. Well, I think that's what it is after catching Vanities: The Musical. It's a musical valentine to soap opera dramatics and retro hair styles currently playing at  Trafalgar Studios . The show is given a heavy injection of talent with the performances by its three leading ladies. While this makes it very watchable, you are left wishing there was just something more in the material.

Cunning vixens and dopes: Allegro @swkplay

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There is no time to lose in Allegro at the Southwark Playhouse . It is a whirlwind tour of a man's life from birth to mid life. But along the way there is much to admire in this early Rodgers and Hammerstein piece. Allegro was first performed in 1947 is having its professional European premiere finally in 2016. For whatever reasons it did not capture the imagination of the public at the time. Maybe it is it is because it is a character study and a none too subtle dig at city life. But perhaps with the passing of time the story has more resonance and its innovations can be appreciated.

Earthly delights and other short stories: The Secret Garden

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The Secret Garden Spring Version is a fun and emotional foray for young people into the world of musical theatre. Or those who are hesitant at experiencing overblown musicals from the 1990s. It is currently playing currently sharing the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End. Creators Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman have reduced the running time of the piece to 75 minutes for younger performers. They have stripped out much of the adult brooding from their original work and focus on the younger characters. By doing so it gives the piece pace and energy and with a young enthusiastic cast the show really feels alive.

The sex is in the beat: Kinky boots @kinkybootsuk

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I finally caught up with Kinky Boots , which is currently playing at the Adelphi theatre in London. The show is the Full Monty meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It's a show with terrific songs, great cast and fabulous outfits. However the story is a bit predicable. It derives its formula plot from the film of the same name. But thankfully as an added addition are a collection of songs written by Cindy Lauper that range from folk, pop and disco. On top of this are some very impressive (albeit kinky) boots.

Fringe youth: Thoroughly Modern Millie @LandorTheatre

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There is so much energy in this production of Thoroughly Modern Millie that even if a projector malfunctioned and a spot light crashed, nothing dims the performances of this young, good looking cast. This is a song and dance show. And on more than one occasion did this small and resourceful cast wow with high kicks and perfect pitch in the intimate space of the Landor theatre . Sam Spencer’s fabulous choreography makes this show a thrill to watch. Sitting up close to the performers as they sing and dance their hearts out gives the show an added level of excitement and gives a new perspective to the piece.

Pulling all the stops out: Gypsy

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Gypsy has been running since April, and four months in Imelda Staunton’s performance as the mother of all stage mothers is still fascinating, exciting and exhausting to watch. It's amazing showcase in stamina, guts and determination, and that's just working with the material. Staunton previously managed to give new meaning and depth to the role of Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Here she gives a dramatic sense of determination and vulnerability to the role. And what lingers after the show is her exquisite vocals that give a velvety depth to the character. While there is an album from the show , after hearing her sing in this show I really want to hear her  sing jazz standards. Afterall she knows how to writhe every possible meaning out of a lyric.

Moderately modern Milly: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers @OpenAirTheatre

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Fancy footwork and star performances from Alex Gaumond and Laura Pitt-Pullford make Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a memorable and magical night out... Assuming it doesn’t rain... Don’t let the central premise of mountain men who kidnap women to make them their brides put you off. While it is typical battle of the sexes stuff, the women hold the upper hand throughout. Besides there are enough tuneful songs and spectacular (and at times jaw-dropping) dancing that propel the story at breathtaking speed, that there is little time to think too much about the plot.

High on the hills: The Sound of Music (uk tour)

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Watching  The Sound of Music  on tour is really an opportunity to indulge in comfort entertainment. As Maria and the Mother Superior in the stage production sing about crisp apple strudel in the early part of the first act you realise that it is a Pavlovian response to get all warm and fuzzy about the show. Apart from getting a taste for strudel it will have you recalling when you first saw the movie... Or first dressed up as Ray (a drop of golden sun) to the first singalong. Everyone did that right? This is probably a good thing, as take away fifty years of cultural repositioning the show is a bit of a non-event. Take away the film’s lovely Salzburg locations and the long lingering shots between the Captain and Maria, on stage you have the entire romantic plot condensed into a short speech by infant Gretel to Maria towards the end of the first act.

Ice cream and other treats: She Loves Me @LandorTheatre

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It has been a week since I caught She Loves Me at the the Landor Theatre, but there is something so sweet, perky and fun about this show that it lingers with you long after you have seen it. Perhaps the terrific cast headed by Charlotte Jaconelli and John Sandberg helps. There is so much enthusiasm in the performances that you can't help but like it. It is a show about mistaken identity, scandal and intrigue. The story revolves around a little shop in Budapest and two of its employees. Although they are constantly at odds with each other, through a personals advertisement, they inadvertently become anonymous pen pals. Soon romance starts to develop. The work is based on a play by Miklos Laszlo that would become The Shop Around the Corner and the inspiration for such films as You've Got Mail.

Cold dark killers: Assassins @menchocfactory

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Finally caught Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory. This dark and grim piece of musical theatre is re imagined as a funfair where the cast of would-be and actual assassins of US Presidents tell their stories like a bunch of grim clowns. But it comes across heavy handed and lacking much irony. Staging a musical with this subject matter is always going to be a challenge, but both the material and the production don't really dig too much into the obsessive gun culture that is part of the country's DNA. Compared to The Scottsboro Boys , another musical based on an unpleasant subject, there is none of the bitterness or outrage presented ironically as a song and dance musical.