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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

Insane in the membrane: Yeast Nation, The Triumph of Life @swkplay

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A musical about yeast conjures up all sorts of things about what it could be. Is it about a nation's obsession with home baking during a lockdown? Or is it the latest infection outbreak? No, it's neither of these. Instead, it is a rock musical about the unicellular organisms living in the primordial soup. Purporting to be the oldest story of all time (as it’s probably hard to go back further than single-cell organisms), It's part rock musical, part history lesson, part Greek chorus and part bonkers. And it's currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse . Narrated by Jan, the unnamed, it tells the tale of a series of salt-eating yeasts (all called Jan) at the bottom of the primordial soup/sea. They are in stasis, following careful strictures, so they don't reproduce or change. They sing a catchy tune called stasis is the membrane and live a balanced life with the soup around them.  But not all yeasts are satisfied with stasis. And when some yeasts rise to the top to

It's a kind of magic: The Sorcerer's Apprentice @tsamusical

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  The story of the Sorcerer's Apprentice is updated to modern tastes in this funny and engaging new family musical. Here a father and his rebellious daughter discover their magic and save their town from a bunch of brooms while making a few observations about parenting, science and the environment.  Filmed at the Southwark Playhouse in February, it's also a reminder about what we're still missing from live theatre. While it's great to see a new show streamed online, you also have to let your imagination remind you where there would be applause and laughter from this energetic and thoughtful production. Hopefully, we will get the chance to see this show live someday.  Written by Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost, the story takes place in a small northern town called Midgard. It's on the brink of environmental destruction due to the endless search for prosperity. Eva, played by Mary Moore (making her professional stage/streaming debut), is a school dropout. But she

Little grey pills: Be More Chill @theotherpalace

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What do you do when you're a gawky young teenager trying to fit in? If you get the chance to take a particular pill from a shoe salesman that will make you more popular, why wouldn't you? And so begins an science fiction take on the high school story about trying to fit in. Where it's hard to be yourself when the voices inside your head are telling you how to fit in.  And these voices  have an uncanny resemblance to Keanu Reeves from The Matrix. With an enthusiastic cast, infectious music and a quirky take on the high school musical genre, it's fun even if you're not a devotee of the book or the social media phenomena. It’s currently playing at The Other Palace . Be More Chill is based on a book by Ned Vizzini, which drew on his experiences at high school. Vizzini struggled with anxiety and depression throughout his life, and it led to his death by suicide in 2013. The story translates remarkably well to stage capturing in song the doubts and struggles of th

Musicals on the precipice: Queen Of The Mist @Charingcrossthr

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When sexagenarian Anne Edison Taylor becomes the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, she thinks it will lead to fame and fortune. But achieving recognition is one thing. Maintaining it is harder. Particularly if you're a bit boring. Or old. Or a woman. And it's 1901 by the way. Thoroughly modern women didn’t exist back then. Nor could they vote. Queen Of The Mist is an unconventional musical for an unusual subject. It’s currently playing at Charing Cross Theatre . Against the backdrop of anarchists, suffragettes and presidential assassins, a woman designs her own barrel and goes over Niagara Falls as a way to make money and financial independence. A feat that no one else had yet achieved. Yet fame is fleeting, and things don't work out how she envisaged. Her Manager Frank Russell (Will Arundel) runs off with the barrel. People lose interest in her story. Suffragettes dismiss her as a carnival act. And she ends up spending the rest of her life (and m

A room with a song: The View Upstairs @Sohotheatre

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The View Upstairs imagines a dialogue between the trailblazers of the LGBT+ community and today's self-absorbed gender-fluid Millennials. The dialogue is through a series of songs by Max Vernon that veer from soft rock, disco and glam. It has some wry observations about what has and hasn't improved for the community since the 1970s. So the conversation becomes more like a musical theatre bitch slap to anyone who takes for granted the right to be themselves. It's currently playing at Soho Theatre . Set in 2017, internet influencer and conflicted fashion designer Wes (Tyrone Huntley) has fled New York for New Orleans. He's bought a building intending to show off his work. But he's either mixed his citalopram with his cocaine or trapped in a time warp as he found himself back in 1973. And the building he bought was the site of a largely forgotten arson attack on the gay bar Upstairs Lounge that killed 32 people. This had been the deadliest attack on the LGBT+ comm

Reality bites: Summer Street @WaterlooEast

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Shows that call themselves hilarious are setting a high bar for themselves. Summer Street the hilarious Aussie soap opera musical, alas does not live up to its name. Despite the enthusiastic cast, and a title song that will remain an earworm long after you've left the show. It's currently playing at Waterloo East theatre . The premise is that a few years after the cancelling of the first (and ever) soap opera with musical numbers, its stars reunite for a one-off episode. The years have not been kind to the former cast members. Drugs, drinking or dirty costumes seemed to have befallen them. But the "secret" plan is to make this reunion show more geared to the reality era. It works best when it's just a silly soap opera where the cast doubles as partners and parents of various characters on the neighbourhood street. But many of the jokes fall flat, and it also misses the opportunity to make others - such as the cast doubling various roles or how hideous

Holding out for a hero: Eugenius @TheOtherPalace

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You get the sense you’re witnessing the birth of a new cu lt musical at Eugenius. Some audience members appear to know the choreography, songs and b ad jokes in advance of those experiencing it for the first time. And this isn’t such a bad thing. Particularly with its supercharged cast and uplifting eighties-inspired soundtrack this show rocks. It’s back at The Other Palace after a successful run earlier this year.  The book music and lyrics are by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins. The songs are inspired with their upbeat eighties sound. Keyboards, sax solos and electric guitars abound. And there are a mix of ballads and hilarious songs to keep things irresistible. But they have to compete with a convoluted story seems like a mash up of Blood Brothers, Rock of Ages and Galaxy Quest. Teenage boy Eugene (Rob Houchen), dreams of a distant world where superhero Tough Man and Super Hot Lady fight against the Evil Lord Hector. His nerdy friends Janey (Laura Baldwin) and Feris (Daniel Buckley) e

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

Love in concert: Broken Wings

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Love, like new musicals can be fleeting. And tragic. Broken Wings had a short run this week at the Theatre Royal Haymarket . Semi-staged and with a nine-piece orchestra it was an opportunity to bring to life the concept album. Although given the lacklustre staging and curious lack of drama, listening to the album proves more entertaining. Written by Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan, the piece is based on Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s poetic (and semi-autobiographical) novel. It’s your typical boy meets girl but girl is sold to another influential family. Told through flashbacks we know from the outset that all will not end well. It opens New York City, 1923 where the older Gibran (Nadim Naaman) looks back on two decades to early 1900s Beirut. There the story begins with his return to Beirut after studying in America. As his younger self, Rob Houchen and his soaring tenor vocals are a delight to hear, even if his physical appearance makes it a struggle to see how he grows up looking like

There’s something about Elena: It Happened In Key Key West @CharingCrossThr

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This isn’t your typical West End Musical at the Charing Cross Theatre . Creepy German radiologist Von Cosel treats a woman, Elena, for tuberculosis. She dies. Two years later he digs her up and lives with her. Parading her about, propping her up for the following years, Weekend At Bernies style.  He’s convinced that she is the vision of the woman he would spend his life with. As she decomposes, he imagines a life of bliss. On one level it’s not a very convincing musical. The score at times seems to mimic Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s also overlong with superfluous exposition. But there’s something likeable about this musical. It’s polished and has some terrific performances. Other famous necrophiliacs were weird. You’d never want to eat a curry from Dennis Nielsen. Nor would you want to be a hospital patient when Jimmy Saville was around. But Von Cosel was seen as mostly harmless. The fake news of the day pinned him as a hopeless old romantic. They put Elena’s do-it-yourself mummified body

A mother’s touch: H.R. Haitch @TheUnionTheatre

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If there is one thing to admire about H.R. Haitch, it is it’s impeccable timing. Opening at The Union Theatre on the week of the Royal Wedding could confuse people for thinking this musical comedy is a topical satire. Alas, it’s not. The piece premiered in 2015 as a workshopped performance. Three years on, with its convoluted plot, songs that stop the show dead and running gags that fall flat... It could do with a few more workshops. For reasons that are unclear it’s set in a parallel universe in 2011. Mouthy common barmaid Chelsea (Tori Allen-Martin) meets secret prince Bertie (Christian James). They fall in love and plan to open a catering business. Until duty calls, and for reasons that are also unclear, he has to reveal his identity. It’s hard to understand the romance. Chelsea comes across as a motherly figure to Bertie. But I guess it takes all sorts. She also says more about why she hates the royal family than anything else. But Tori Allen-Martin makes the most out of underwrit

The Will Young show: Strictly Ballroom @TeamPiccadilly

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Love is in the air in Strictly Ballroom, currently playing at The Piccadilly Theatre . It’s the musical based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 movie about a boy daring to dance his own steps in the cut-throat world of amateur ballroom dancing.  T h e movie was full of irony and light-heartedness with its corny follow your heart and ugly duckling storylines. Here the musicalisation hits this message over your head as if you’re watching the fall of communism. Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen in the lead roles as the unlikely dance couple give the show style and pizazz. He’s a rebel, she’s an ugly duckling. There is also a thrilling paso doble danc e sequence to close the first act. They even get to sing two lines and sound terriffic. But the show is superfluously narrated by Will Young. He’s also the band leader singing all the songs. While this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, here it gives the impression you’re watching the Will Young musical. And often his light vocals are lost in the theatre. The

Ripe and appealing: Bananaman @Swkplay

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What’s striking about Bananaman is how the cast are determined to make sure you’ll have a good time with this incredibly silly yet appealing show. No joke is too old or no sight gag is overlooked. It’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse . Along the way they also sing a few good tunes in this new musical by Leon Paris. You’re likely to leave the theatre humming the song Bananaman on your way home. Possibly because it is sung so many times.

Lost in the city: Ordinary Days @OrdinaryDaysLDN @draytonarmsSW5

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Life goes on whether you like it or not in Ordinary Days. A great little musical currently running at the Drayton Arms Theatre . At first glance this story of two couples coming together could be confused for yet another quirky New York-y musical... Like the dreary I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change or I Love You Because. But Adam Gwon’s songs explore loneliness and wasted time in a big city and give this piece a lot of heart. And perhaps a few tears. The premise if four people lost in New York and coming together. They find something about each other and themselves in the process. There’s Warren (Neil Cameron) the struggling artist and cat sitter. Deb (Nora Perone) the student with an implausible thesis. Jason (Taite-Elliot Drew) who’s moving in with his girlfriend. And Claire (Natalie Day) who’s making room for her boyfriend, but not much. Through a series of songs each character gets to tell their story. The songs, like their lives, are at first compartmentalised. But over the c

Remote arguments: The Marriage of Kim K @arcolatheatre @marriageofkimk

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The Arcola Theatre's annual Grimeborn Opera Festival opened this year with Leoe & Hyde's The Marriage of Kim K . It contrasts the life of Kim Kardashian and her brief marriage to basketballer Kris Humphries with the different backgrounds of the count and countess in Mozart's opera. But this piece really boils down to who has the remote control in the living room. There is a third couple in the proceedings - Amelia and Stephen. She is a law student and likes to watch trashy television and he is a composer who wants to watch something more challenging. You would think they would get a tablet and headphones and stream like everyone else. But this story was added after composer and director Stephen Hyde fell for his leading lady Amelia Gabriel. So a show about a reality show becomes its own reality show. It's so meta it is enough to do your head in.

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.

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 .

Playing in a rock and roll band: Muted @mutedmusical @BunkerTheatreUK

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  Muted, a new British Musical explores grief and loss through music. It's playing at the new theatrical space in Southwark known as The Bunker . While it still feels as if it is a work in progress, it's prospects look good. Perhaps just like the characters within the piece. Muted tells the story of teenager Michael. He is a singer in a band on the brink of stardom. But after his mother dies in a hit and run accident he quits the band and stops speaking. Three years on his former band mate Jake is trying again for a shot with the band. And Lauren, Michael's ex who is now with Jake has been enlisted to try and get him to speak. But soon this drama proves as difficult to deal with as it is to describe...

Previewing: The Mirror Never Lies @cockpittheatre

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Coming up next week for one week at the Cockpit Theatre is The Mirror Never Lies . The musical is returning to London after a one-off concert performance at RADA. It’s based on Barbara Pym’s novel, The Sweet Dove Died and will take you back to swinging 1960s London. Secret loves, tangled relationships with a dramatic score combine to tell the story of a woman of a certain age who is fiercely resisting the changes all around her. Director and playwright Joe Giuffre has written Glamorous Nights, based on the life and music of Ivor Novello, followed by The Grifters and The Mirror Never Lies. Composer of film and theatre, Juan Iglesias has created film scores original music for a diverse range of movies, theatre and media. In the UK, he is a regular collaborator with film director James Bushe and playwright Eddie Coleman. The Mirror Never Lies is at the Cockpit Theatre from 14 November to 18 November only. You can sample the music in advance .

Eat, sleep, report, repeat: Groundhog Day @oldvictheatre

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Could Groundhog Day at the Old Vic be the most fascinating piece of theatre on in the West End this summer? Based on a much-loved movie it isn't particularly groundbreaking as musical. Nor will you leave the theatre humming too many of the tunes. But a series of performances (including by the two charismatic leads Andy Karl and Carlyss Peer ) take this show to another level. Based on the Bill Murray movie, the show follows the same plot. Phil is a sarcastic weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over. He is stuck in a time loop reporting on whether a large rodent (the groundhog) can predict an early spring. So he starts making the most of the situation. He sleeps with every woman in town, he steals, he cheats death. But after craziness and depression set in he focuses his efforts on improving himself and getting the day right.