Review: &Juliet, Manchester Opera House

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

We predict a hit!

Starting it’s ‘out of town’ try out before transferring to London’s West End, &Juliet opened with a bang at Manchester’s historic Opera House last night. This incredibly witty and immensely comedic musical, bolsters a soundtrack of 30 pop anthems, a ridiculously talented cast and a design to die for. Making it a must see event in either Manchester or London.

The show is set up on the premise that William Shakespeare, (Oliver Tompsett) has just finished writing Romeo & Juliet, but his wife Anne Hathaway, (Cassidy Janson) has other ideas. What ensues is a femme-positive and wonderfully inclusive musical remix that smashes all gender stereotypes as Anne sets about writing the show she wants to see. Which just so turns out to be a meaningful comedy and not the dark, dark tragedy Shakespeare is so keen to write. &Juliet thus beautifully re-imagines this Shakespearean classic, making an interesting commentary on Shakespeare and Anne’s marriage, as the pair begin to spar over what is to happen in the play and draw various comparisons between themselves and the star-crossed lovers. The show also intriguingly gives a nod to Shakespeare as an actor-writer with a share-hold in an acting company by having the couple write themselves into their new play, the opening showing the pair surrounded by a company of players. Throughout, Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson have fantastically fiery chemistry that offers up a lot of opportunity for both comedy and depth. Tompsett’s William Shakespeare is remarkably flamboyant, mischievous and narcissistic, his delivery of the ‘world’s greatest playwright’ who wants it his way, is a perfect mansplaining and hard-headed counterpart to Cassidy Janson’s Anne Hathaway, who is incredibly witty, smart and independent. Anne is a bold, self-assured, rationalising character who just wants to see a women given a choice for once, rather than the passive character’s her husband has previously written – who are often told what to do. Janson delivers Anne effervescently with great clarity and witticism. Both Janson and Tompsett ultimately provide powerful vocals and comedically rich performances as they fumble about the stage together, their character’s playfully manipulating the story.

The mise en scène narrative that the pair devise, therefore starts with Juliet having awoken to find Romeo dead and instead of ending it all, she chooses to go on living. We get to follow her as she, (along with friends), seeks something more, tries to escape the will of her parents and almost makes the same mistakes. It is, like any good Shakespeare, subversive and full of twists and turns with various sub-plots, love stories and disguises. Thus, David West Read’s writing is a triumph, he has managed to reimagine and create complex characters that are exceedingly relatable and fresh. His book is a clever, vibrant and raucous ode to the bard with a modern twist that can symbiotically be seen as a meaningful parody. Juliet reclaiming her story asserts itself as the perfect girl-power take-back for this generation. Though at times the piece dances on the edge of pantomime, the level of comedy is groundbreaking and the storyline, inspired. As far as the music is concerned, as aforementioned the piece contains 30 pop classics, but &Juliet is no jukebox musical. Max Martin, (Dominic Fallacaro and Bill Sherman)’s choices and arrangements are strong, unique and impassioned, they interweave throughout the story effortlessly, propelling on the plot and artfully emoting. Whilst enraptured, it is easy to forget that all of these popular songs exist outside of this show, the incited delivery and obvious fresh arrangements ensure that they feel as if they were written for it. All of which is staged by the invigorating direction of Luke Sheppard, which certifies that the comedy and vibrancy of Read’s book packs-a-punch and is well-sustained and balanced, whilst allowing room for tender and understated moments to also trickle through, enacting to be as powerful and sincere as those of high intensity, or of visible teem. Additionally, Jennifer Weber’s choreography accents the arrangements flawlessly, her work is energetic, bold and connective. Allowing for beautifully ensemble-led work and aesthetically pleasing moments of awe.

The overall approach, thus fuses a new fiction, the historical past and today’s socio-political climate, the intent being to create a retrospective Shakespearean comedy for our times, which looks back to look forward, with the objective of promoting both female empowerment and the dismantling of the patriarchy. So whilst the music, choreography and dialogue are modern, (a critical choice to the ensure work’s relevance to its audience), the setting is still the 1590s. A necessity to allow Shakespeare and Anne to appear as characters and ringmasters, using fact and artistic licence to allow the audience look at Shakespeare critically, (as a potentially blinkered man who probably wrote without considering a women’s perspective). Not only does it show how far we’ve come towards gender equality since the time of Shakespeare, it dictates just how far we have to go, with many women internationally still in Juliet’s position, fighting for the freedom to take back their own story. Thus, this fusion is intricately shown in the representative costuming and design. Bright and modern coloured doublets, hose, corsets and tunics combine with baseball jackets, headphones, SnapBacks and sunglasses. Whilst hydrolic lifts, a revolve, confetti, coloured washes of lighting, projections and various modern set pieces – either lowered from the flies or carried in by the ensemble, combine with other design elements that do much to nod towards the playhouses of Shakespeare’s day, (in particular the Globe, or the modern reconstruction of it). For example, the projections often appear like ‘the Heavens’ painted onto the false ceiling of the Globe’s stage, whilst two colonnades flown down from the flies look very much like those that also reside on the stage there and the white wreath of flowers propped up centre-stage at Romeo’s funeral looks similar to the modern Globe’s circular logo, which represents the reconstructed theatre building. Furthermore, the walls around the edges of the stage are shown to be falling into disrepair and a balcony, like the one from which Juliet was wooed by Romeo looms centre stage, this is a gritty indication towards the ‘new fiction’. Juliet will/is tearing down her story and reclaiming it. Shown in her rousing number Roar as she finally takes control and subsequently rises in a new balcony, the railings including some padlocks similar to love-locks left at Juliet’s balcony in Verona, denoting Juliet as a female hero to look up to, as so many do when they pilgrimage to Verona to leave her letters. Therefore the design by Soutra Gilmour (Set), Andrzej Goulding (Video & Projection), Paloma Young (Costume) and Howard Hudson (Lighting) is beautifully representative, it’s modern flavour is a necessity to make the narrative ultimately relatable, whilst the historic allows us to look back at Shakespeare contrarily and for the use of Shakespeare and Anne as a vehicle for the narrative. Regarding Young’s work there are a few other enigmatic design elements that are worth mentioning. Throughout, Janson and Tompsett wield a quill in their hand dependent on who’s character is writing the narrative at that point, when Juliet finally takes back her story and ascends on the balcony, she is revealed to be wearing a doublet and hose, the top half of which is an intricate embellished golden quill, she literally wears the trousers and is the playwright of her own destiny here. The piece also does a lot to break gender stereotypes, Romeo’s initial costume is mainly pink, accented by a flowery pink backpack, the costume Juliet wears opposite him is, in contrast, a blue trouser suit. This seems like a pretty basic statement on the whole ‘pink for girls’ and ‘blue for boys’ gender stuff by swapping them over, however there is a delightful subtly in the fact that this moment can be compared to May (Juliet’s best friend’s)’s initial purple costume. As the gender-ambiguous character, there is something so tempered and pure in the signifier of them wearing a costume colour that is a mixture of the two colours the male and female Romeo and Juliet wear. The character of May, not only adds an air of inclusivity, they are also a great nod to Shakespeare himself who often toyed with subverting gender in his work, though of course, not in the same way. Arun Blair-Mangat plays May with a certain maturity and sincerity, though the character is somewhat naive, Blair-Mangat also manages to capture the uncertainty the character has in them-self and the rawness of the pain May has evidently experienced. He also has a particularly rich and unique voice. However, it does also feel like May was slightly underwritten, they disappear for a large proportion of Act 2 and their exact trajectory is partially unclear. May struggling with which toilet to go to followed by their rendition of I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman suggests the character is in the process of transitioning to be a woman, yet May later joins a boy-band. Would a girl in transition realistically agree to this? Therefore it is easier to try and understand May as simply gender-fluid, as aforementioned in the show, is it really any of our business which, if any gender they ascribe to?

Finally onto the rest of the individual performances. Looking into the credits of the entire cast, it is plain to see that they are pretty much all veterans when it comes to big musicals, something that is mind-blaringly obvious in the deliveries, as every single cast members can quite simply be regarded as sensational. Leading the company as Juliet, is the powerhouse that is Miriam-Teak Lee. Her voice is out of this world, with impeccable control and an immense range she battles from huge belting song to huge belting song, she will hence force be known as the riff queen. Her delivery is edgy, sharp-witted and enviably confident, she makes Juliet the Herculean hero that every girl should and will want to be, a self-assured, fiesty, independent woman that Shakespeare could never write. Whilst opposite her, Jordan Luke Gage’s vein, pouty, love-rat Romeo is a hilarious counterpart, Gage also displaying his wondrous vocal tonality. Tim Mahendran’s Francois, the self-effacing son of french nobility, like May has a great sense of naivety about him. Mehendran’s performance, like Blair-Mangat’s, has a purity and sincerity to it, the pair displaying infinite chemistry with one another, sharing in several well-crafted tender moments. However, the true award for on-stage chemistry goes to David Badella, (Lance – Francois’ Father) and Melanie La Barrie, (Juliet’s Nurse). The pair are intoxicating together, La Barrie, with her sardonic wit and enviable comedic timing and Badella, with his charm and silky voice. Their deliveries of the rekindled lovers are definitely a highlight! Whilst the ensemble of players surrounding them are strong, proving themselves to be multifaceted performers and a tight-knit collective, successfully moving set pieces, hitting the choreography hard and adding wondrous vocal depth, they do feel somewhat under-utilised. Particularly as they are often left loitering at the sides. Despite this many of them did manage to continuously pull focus, particularly Grace Mouat, Jocasta Almgill, Kirstie Skivington, Antoine Murray-Straughan and Kerri Norville.

To conclude, we have a revitalised hero on our hands and her name is Juliet. This female-positive show has it all, from the writing to the design to the delivery, the execution of it provides an inspirational, witty musical for our times, filled to the brim with relevance and passion not to mention its abundance of pop songs. Romeo Who? &Juliet runs in Manchester until Saturday 12th October and then on to London. Click here to book now for Manchester and here for London.

 

Cast:

Juliet- Miriam-Teak Lee

Shakespeare – Oliver Tompsett

Anne Hathaway – Cassidy Janson

Lance – David Badella

May – Arun Blair Mangat

Romeo – Jordan Luke Gage

Nurse – Melanie La Barrie

Francois – Tim Mahendran

Company of Players – Jocasta Almgill, Josh Baker, Ivan De Freitas, Rhian Duncan, Danielle Fiamanya, Kieran Lai, Nathan Lorainey-Dineen, Jaye Marshall, Grace Mouat, Antoine Murray-Straughan, Billy Nevers, Kerri Norville, Christopher Parkinson, Dillon Scott-Lewis, Kirstie Skivington, Alex Tranter and Sophie Usher.

 

 

Music and Lyrics – Max Martin & Friends

Book – David West Read

Director – Luke Sheppard

Choreographer – Jennifer Weber

Set Designer – Soutra Gilmour

Lighting Designer – Howard Hudson

Costume Designer – Paloma Young

Sound Designer – Gareth Owen

Video & Projection Designer – Andrzej Goulding

Wig Designer – Linda McKnight

Musical Director, Additional Orchestrations & Arrangements – Dominic Fallacaro

Music Supervisor, Orchestrator & Arranger – Bill Sherman

Associate Director – Anna Fox

Associate Choreographer – Kendra Horsburgh

Casting Director – Stuart Burg CDG

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Review: The Feeling, The Other Palace Studio

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸

Presented by Monsteers Artistry in the intimate space of The Other Palace Studio, The Feeling written by Kyra Jessica Willis was dubbed ‘a new dark comedy musical’. Though the work tackled many social issues and fought fiercely to create tangible characters in the six friends the narrative revolved around – each with their own problems and differences, the musical quite clearly needs a lot of work and doesn’t quite feel as dark as the title suggests. It has gritty moments, but lacked either a shock factor or an engendered deep tragedy that had been truly built up to.

Monsteers are a young, British talent agency and collaboration of creative minds who garnered their name by merging two of their inspirations: Marilyn Monroe and West-End star Danielle Steers. Here, they collaborated to present a uniquely British, millennial-centric, jukebox musical featuring many modern rock, indie and pop classics. The piece, dramatically focussing on toxic relationships between mates and lovers, followed six problematic friends: Edie, Kasey, Jessie, Lexie, Archie and Mel, each with their own unique source of misery. However, unfortunately its sporadic and fleeting superficial conversations between characters meant it struggled to build the necessary levels of sincerity and believability, leaving its audience somewhat uninvested in both the narrative and the characters. As far as characterisation goes, this simply didn’t stretch too far beyond the two-dimensional. Which is a shame, as the writing posed a worthy attempt, there were several enigmatic moments of both depth and comedy, whilst the intent was good, aiming to shed light on social problems such as mental health, addiction, suicide, unrequited love and unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps part of the problem was the songs and their placements, these seemingly came from no where and weren’t always built up to, or interwoven well into the narrative. The changes from dialogue to song were also made severely abrupt as they were often accompanied by stark lighting changes and the loud beating of the piano, the sound and lighting thus neglecting to form a gentle incline into the musical sections. Furthermore, to its detriment, occasionally the choices of song didn’t quite fit the engendered mood. Thus the premise was strong, the format and design just didn’t quite lend itself to the proposed narrative. Perhaps a naturalistic play would have worked better, as the characters are reasonably relatable, with everyone knowing someone like at least one of the friends. From the shy and reserved cafe owner Mel to the cutting and sarcastic addict Jessie, or the sweet and nerdy love interest, Jamie.

Staging wise, the direction by George C. Francis did provide some vibrant moments, where characters had heated or tender exchanges, peppered with tension and passion. Francis ultimately utilising the small space well. But in direct contrast to this, there were also many rushed moments with the actors hurriedly bustling in or out of playing space that ultimately fell flat. As well as far too many directed exchanges between characters in the background, meaning attention was often drawn away from those in the foreground singing a ‘soliloquy’ to the actors residing behind them. These ‘knowing glances’ were both repetitive and distracting. As far as individual performances go there were a few diamonds in the rough. Firstly, Halie Darling’s Mel, the owner of the café they frequent throughout, is wonderfully naive and righteous. Darling’s performance showcases balance and clarity whilst remaining  understated, perfect for the character’s reserved nature. Whilst George C. Francis’ nerdy Jamie was both charming and adorable, his chemistry, (as Mel’s love interest), with Darling was particularly strong. Chloe Hazel’s obsessive and bitter Edie chasing after her ‘stolen ex’ Kasey, was perfectly sharp-witted and powerful at times. Her voice along with PJ Tomlinson, (Kasey) and Sean Erwood, (Archie) delivered some of the best vocals. It’s plain to see, that most of the issues with the rest of the performances would be easily rectified with more character development, in both the text and the rehearsal process.

To conclude, Monsteers Artistry show some creative promise, they just need to work on their craft to get the overall form right and with that, sincerity and proficiency will come.

 

Cast:

Kasey – PJ Tomlinson

Archie – Sean Erwood

Lexie – Pippa Lea

Mel – Halie Darling

Jessie – Kyra Jessica Willis

Edie – Chloe Hazel

Jamie – George C. Francis

Holt – Chris Barton

 

Writer and Producer – Kyra Jessica Willis

Director – George C. Francis

Associate Director – Chris Barton

Musical MD – Connagh Tonkinson

Casting – Tara Jones

Stage Manager – Adeane Hardy

Review: Macbeth the Musical, White Bear Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

Stage Splinters are a vibrant theatre company who premise their work as the telling of ‘untold stories’. Whether that be an old tale in a totally new way, or the staging of an entirely new narrative. They intend to be definitive storytellers who create worlds for their audiences and most importantly, provoke thought. Well it can’t get more fresh and exciting than a boldly re-imagined version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The narrative here, is presented congruently in puppet and song form by only four actors, the adaptation taking on a unique perspective by determinately focussing on how the other characters are affected by Macbeth’s actions. It sounds bonkers and let us be there first to tell you, that it is!

Adapted by Chuma Emembolu and Ruth Nicolas, this new musical-comedy is wonderfully self-aware. It juxtaposes satire, smut and profanity with a largely operatic score and classic tale, condensing the narrative to cover the main plot points. Instead of dwindling on Macbeth himself, it explores the non-speaking, (or barely-speaking) characters such as the women and servants. Not only does this make the story more accessible, (the narrative arc of Macbeth‘s ascension to corruptive power remaining simplified and easy to follow), the characters developed behind the crown provide an abundance of depth and weight to the story, engendering more empathy than Macbeth ever could as a man who was tempted to kill by fate and subsequently falls into descent. A clever and enigmatic concept taking Macbeth from tragedy to comedy.

Stylistically, the work seemingly pays homage to the puppetry and essence of Avenue Q. Firstly in the phenomenal design of the puppets. Much like the Lyon Puppets servicing the many productions of Avenue Q around the world, the puppet design here, showcases vibrantly coloured, geometric, human-like figures, their shape and features fiercely resembling the residents of Avenue Q. These, like Lyon’s are operated by a single rod with one arm posed, as a double rod, or instead, they are a live hand puppet. Additionally, much like Avenue Q, the piece is a conundrum of versatile actors successfully multi-rolling. With assistance, they occasionally even change characters whilst onstage. Furthermore, as aforementioned there is an abundance of satire, wit and profanity making the production as outspoken and unapologetic as Avenue Q is. This devised work blisteringly not shying away from the problematics of the source material. Instead it cleverly pokes fun at the moral ambiguities or rashness of the character’s decisions and their variegated motivations. The result is a severely modernised production that allows for a comparative view between then and now to be drawn, another wonderful step closer to making Shakespeare accessible to all. It wittily touches on topics such as toxic masculinity, rape culture and the corruptive nature of power. Design-wise, much like Avenue Q, television screens are hung and utilised to present various cartoon storyboards, helping to situate scenes or move the narrative along. These intricate, sketched animations are also underscored well by the sound design.

Unfortunately, what Macbeth the Musical doesn’t have from Avenue Q, is it’s score. This is practically none existent. Which is kind of an issue for a piece billed as a musical. There is an abundance of songs, but unfortunately no stand-out or remotely memorable compositions materialise. In fact, most of the numbers sound exactly the same and though there are moments of glimmering harmony, for the most part it regrettably sounds like operatic wailing with no real purpose or structure. The operatic style, does however give a charming nod towards the story being a timeless classic. Subsequently, this style doesn’t particularly show off the actors voices well either. Although it is apparent Eloise Jones and Red Picasso have exceptional vocal talents. However, this isn’t to say the performances weren’t strong. The cast prove themselves to be wonderfully versatile and adroit performers. Eloise Jones’ Lady Macbeth is formidable, she is a powerful and expressive performer displaying beautiful intricacies in her physicality and demeanour. Whilst Elliott Moore’s comedic timing shines, he is a smart and emphatic actor. Alongside them, Bryony Reynolds and Red Picasso are exceedingly dexterous performers, able to instantaneously switch between personas whilst adding a vividness to their delivery. Reynold’s Rose, the servant girl is an especially enchanting character, delivered beautifully and brilliantly written/directed. 

Macbeth the Musical certainly needs a lot of work, it felt a little rushed in parts, somewhat diminishing the humour and meaning-making and definitely lacked a sizzling score. However, it has moments that are incredibly humorous or poignant and is a good concept. All it needs is a little development. The show runs at White Bear Theatre until Saturday 7th September, click here to book now.

 

 

Creatives:

Director: Chuma Emembolu

Adaptation: Chuma Emembolu and Ruth Nicolas

Stage Manager: Sophia Start

Assistant Director: Gwenan Bain

Music: Stefan Potiuk

Lighting and Sound Design: Chuma Emembolu Animation: Lizzy Rogers

Movement Director: Eloise Jones

General Manager: Faye Maughan

Associate Producer: Laura Shoebottom

 

 

Cast:

Elliott Moore: Macbeth, John

Eloise Jones: Lady Macbeth, Madison, Agnes, John

Bryony Reynolds: Rose, Breanna, Duncan

Red Picasso: Macduff, Conleth, Banquo, Agnes

Review: The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre.

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Are you in The Life? The View UpStairs is an emotional, moving, titan of a musical, displaying both euphoric and heart-shattering qualities, it stages the real-life events of the 1973 arson attack at the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans. The musical initially situates itself in the present, but soon takes audiences and Wes, an unsuspecting millennial influencer, back to 1973. To when the building Wes has just bought in order to try and fulfil himself and build his fashion ‘brand’, was a seedy gay bar filled with liquor, soul, community and prayer, this of course, is the UpStairs Lounge. The bar, all though it was real, is here representative of the many gay bars of the period which were a safe-haven (Some Kind of Paradise), for marginalised LGBTQ+ individuals. Though a sanctuary on the inside, these were still vulnerable to hate crime or police raids, i.e The Stonewall Inn. The View UpStairs much like it’s title takes a comparative ‘view’ of gay rights then and now. Determining, that though progression has been made, there is still an equally as bad spread of hatred from bullies, anti-gay laws, uncongenial political stances, to hate crimes and suicide rates. Have we really come as far as we think?

Over the course of a single night in the bar, Wes not only meets the regular cliental but experiences the violent reality of the period regarding the gay community and even falls in love for the first time, his world is finally tangible, not a fake online fairytale. The tragic content expectantly leads to a severely affecting piece, yet The View UpStairs offers up a place to build from, stories to tell and a fight for equality to continue, remaining ultimately uplifting and strong in its promotion of positive change. Sustaining a level of honesty and delivering an incandescent representation of LGBTQ+ culture. Thus, Max Vernon’s creation under the direction of Jonathan O’Boyle soars, the piece is so raw, jubilant and emotive that it feels as if it has a living, breathing soul of its own. A truly moving spectacle. The songs are earnestly catchy and soulful, imminently representative of the heart of the characters portrayed in the piece, whilst the choreography is ambitious, filling the small space with sharp, dynamic and of the period sequences. Fabian Aloise has done incredible work on this one. In conjunction with outstanding direction and choreography is the design, Lee Newby is a visionary. You feel as if you are peering through a window into a real 70s bar, aided by Nic Farman’s vigorous lighting design, engendering the required smoky, sepia-toned atmosphere.

As far as performances go, The View UpStairs has some of the strongest around. The ensemble of ten are energetic and malleable, they are hardworking individuals who manage to mesh together incredibly well. Both Carly Mercedes Dyer, (Henri) and Cedric Neal, (Willie) demonstrate irresistible vocal control and wondrous voices, two powerhouses who know how to control an audience with nothing but a look. Whilst Tyrone Huntley and Andy Mientus as star-crosses lovers Wes and Patrick are positively wide-eyed, conveying their character’s youthful naivety and complexities perfectly. Their performances are two of the most potent in raw honesty and conviction, whilst their voices are each stirring and unique. Garry Lee as Freddy, a wanna be, Latino drag sensation and Victoria Hamilton Barritt as Inez, his surprisingly supportive mother, have great chemistry. Lee is wonderfully flamboyant whilst Barritt remains impenetrable, garnering solid comedic timing and displaying a phenomenal voice. Declan Bennett gives a rousing performance as Dale. Dale struggles with instability and anger problems, having had to rough it on the streets. Bennett thus conducting the character’s frustrations strikingly well. Similarly Joseph Prowse and Derek Hagen are also very diligent performers. Whilst John Partridge as Buddy, the bar’s closeted piano player with a wife and kids, pulls much of the focus. Partridge ebbs and flows with the music crouched over the piano, the rocky quality of his voice and his general physicality doing much to generate a tormented Elton John vibe towards Buddy’s persona. His anguish, yet absolute euphoria in his ability to be himself in the UpStairs Lounge is brilliantly brought to life by Partridge, who is simply astonishing.

To conclude The View UpStairs is a must see for the summer, the writing of Wes is perhaps a little cliché-millennial leaving him as somewhat two-dimensional, but all is forgiven as the rest of the work and the delivery of it is mind-blowing! BOOK NOW it’s only on for a short run!

 

Max Vernon – Book, Music & Lyrics

Jonathan O’Boyle – Director

Fabian Aloise – Choreographer

Bob Broad – Musical Director

Lee Newby – Set & Costume Designer

Nic Farman – Lighting Designer

Adam Fisher – Sound Designer

Will Burton CDG – Casting Director

Richard Mawbey – Wigs Designer

Alister Hawke – Fight Director

James Dobinson – Orchestrator

Ruthie Stephens – Associate Choreographer

Jessica Richardson-Smith – Costume Supervisor

Patrick Gracey Productions – General Management

Seb Cannings for Gary Beestong Events & Theatre – Production Manager

 

Tyrone Huntley – Wes

Andy Mientus -Patrick

Carly Mercedes Dyer – Henri

Cedric Neal – Willie

Declan Bennett – Dale

Derek Hagen – Cops / Realtor

Garry Lee – Freddy

John Partridge – Buddy

Victoria Hamilton Barritt – Inez

Joseph Prouse – Richard

Review: Keala Settle Live, Club 11 – Lola’s Underground Casino, The Hippodrome Casino

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

If you don’t know about them, Club 11 regularly provide affordable, high-quality, intimate and ephemeral sharings from Broadway and West End performers alike. Delivering wondrous, once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences in unique locations, encounters that will simply never be replicated again. This past Thursday it was the turn of Keala Settle, (selling out in a matter of minutes), who having rushed straight from performing in Hugh Jackman’s live show, The Man. The Music. The Show. at the O2, delivered an epic powerhouse set. The perfect mix of showtunes and contemporary music, Settle choosing to first perform several self-arranged songs from her ep, Chapter One released in 2017. Alongside homages to both Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, Settle not only demonstrating her humility but her extreme vocal prowess. Intertwined with witty rebuttals and numerous standing ovations, she truly verified that she knows how to work a crowd, letting her superhuman talents speak for themselves.

In this very special cabaret evening she was supported by an exquisite band and incredible singers Kayleigh McKnight and Jenna Lee James, (all of the aforementioned can be seen live with Hugh Jackman). Speaking of which, Settle was warmly cheered on by her tour cast mates, friends and family, resulting in a genuinely humbling atmosphere and series of magical, dynamically-charged and high-energy performances. The set also including Waitress’ She Used To Be Mine and Enough is Enough, (The Last Duet) sung with Kayleigh McKnight. There’s not much more to say, if you get the chance to see Keala Settle perform live, go! Her delivery is unparalleled. Oh and check out Club 11 for more explosive cabaret sessions, click here.

Review: Amélie the Musical, The Watermill Theatre// New Wimbledon Theatre

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Amélie the Musical, The Watermill Theatre.

Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Masterfully created, delicately stylistic and emotionally real.

Amélie, based on the five-time Oscar nominated, French art- house film of the same name, is an uplifting Parisian tale about human connection, through both solitude and love. It follows Amélie from her unusual childhood, to her present day escape to Paris, a city in which she works in a cafe, examining the world going by around her. It is Amélie’s aberrant ability to see the positive side of anything with her abundant curiosity and quietly observing nature that leads her into a cycle of anonymously helping the city’s inhabitants one by one, ‘like Lady Di’. A chain reaction that soon sparks Nino’s interest and the game of cat and mouse is afoot. With a whimsical score and tantalising design, the show has the complete winning formula, an exceedingly talented cast, wit and humour to boot and a faultless composition.

Hartshorn-Hook and Selladoor’s new production seen at The Watermill Theatre is a absolute triumph.Audrey Brisson is delectable, she delivers Amélie’s story with measured sincerity and passion, a twinkle in her eye throughout, not to mention her voice is stunning. Supported by a mind-blowingly talented cast of actor-muso’s, all of whom portray a wide assortment of characters with ease and frivolity, there really isn’t anything this company aren’t capable of. What we are left with is a perfectly charming, audacious and uplifting tale, conveying the fragility of the human condition and jovial sentiment of the film, enacting much like an intimate treasure trove full of wonder and surprise, driven by intertwining narratives, intricate and affecting moments of detail, and exciting bursts of choreography and puppetry. The atmospheric impression and folk-pop score is much like that of Once The Musical or even Come From Away. This magical, feel-good masterclass in musical theatre is quite simply unmissable, the skill level is off the charts and sincerity envious.

Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

We caught up with Amélie once more to see how it’s scaled up for a national tour, going from playing to a 220 capacity on a much smaller stage at The Watermill in Newbury, to that of 1600+ seats here in its London-based venue and we are pleased to say that the show remains intrinsic in its intimacy and intricacy. The measured moments of silence and exceedingly inventive puppeteered or choreographed sections affect and endure as before. The set having been opened out, now leaves more room for the actors and their various instruments at weave and intertwine between each other, the cast (having been joined by a few fresh faces, now numbering 16 actor-musos in total) thrive in their larger, but not too large, playing space.

Regarding the overall affect of Madeleine Girling’s set, the design is incredibly malleable whilst faithful to both the film and overall stylistic sentiment of the piece; remaining the same throughout, the set pieces can be moved and changed to create various locations such as the Two Windmills Cafe, (Amélie’s place of work), the Paris metro and all things in between as Amélie runs around the city to accomplish small acts of kindness. Yet the contestants are the most poignant, Amélie’s window leading to her room and the photo-booth. Her circular window looms over the playing space a signifier of her solitude and place of safety that she often retreats into and dreams within. The photo booth alternatively remains as a connection between her and love interest Nino, as the location of their first encounter. Yet the photo booth, much like the pianos becomes so much more, all three turning and adapting to become various other locations, such as the sex shop in which Nino works, a merry go round, tobacconists, phone-booth and front doors to name but a few. A playful offering. Girling proving herself to be both innovative and bold, creating a practical and exciting set that also engenders the Parisian backdrop through it’s art-deco composition.

Audrey Brisson is still a sparkling dream! Her characterisation is unparalleled whilst her voice is simply stunning, there could be no other Amélie. Equally, Danny Mac‘s Nino is wondrously understated and pure, his vocal tonality just pours into you. As previously, the ensemble are the most talented performers around, quadruple threats each unique, providing a range of characters and caricatures. As aforementioned, the piece retains the sprit of the film, visually through both its set and sepia lighting, a foggy haze that captures the art-house idea of Paris phenomenally well. Whilst over all the film’s sentimentality is delivered by the inherent surrealism and blunt humour in the direction, amalgamated by the wacky costumes and use of wondrous puppetry and movement.

A particularly beautiful through-concept is Amélie’s heartbeat, we hear it when her heart ‘fills with love’ at the point of what she sees as affection from her father, the result is a fast melodic motif, made of racing violins, drums and keys with a series harmonised vocal beats. The sound bite recurring on each and every occasion in which she sees Nino, even before she can decipher her feelings, we know what they are. Demonstrating her inward expression, plus the difficulty of her own vehemence and struggle to communicate her emotions. All whilst the piece is colourfully communicated and moved along by the ensemble, who are not only all indomitable performers, they are equally vehicles for the plot, clear narrators in Amélie’s sporadic journey between secret acts and toying with Nino, wonderful grounding points for both the stylistic nature of the work and overall narratorial arc, connecting point A to point B.

To conclude the work is portentously inventive, brimming with talent and enviously unique. Pure and simply beautiful and unmissable. Now embarking on a national tour! Click here. 

Cast –
Audrey Brisson – Amelie
Chris Jared – Nino Quincampoix – Watermill performances.
Oliver Grant – Lucien/Mysterious Man.
Samuel Morgan-Grahame – Joseph/Fluffy.
Sioned Saunders – Gina.
Johnson Willis – Collignon/Dufayel.
Caolan McCarthy – Hippolita/Elton John
Faoileann Cunningham – Georgette / Sylvia
Kate Robson-Stuart – Suzanne
Josh Sneesby – Blind Beggar / Gnome
Jez Unwin – Raphael / Bretodeau
Rachel Dawson – Andamine / Philomene

 

(Tour changes)
Danny Mac – Nino Quincampoix – on tour
Sophie Crawford – Gina
Nuwan Hugh Perera – Jean-Yves
Chris Jared – Raymond
Charlie Magalit – Cecile
Emma Jane Morton – Delphine

 

Daniel Messé – Music and Lyrics
Nathan Tysen – Lyrics
Craig Lucas – Book
Michael Fentiman – Director
Madeleine Girling – Design
Tom Jackson Greaves – Choreographer
Barnaby Race – Orchestrations and arrangements
George Francis – Musical supervision and direction
Elliot Griggs – Lighting design
Tom Marshall – Sound design

 

Review: Club Mex, Hope Mill Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

As many of you avid theatre fans may know, hidden away in the Ancoats area of Manchester is a rustic-looking, musical theatre metropolis and imperatively successful fringe theatre venue, quaintly named Hope Mill Theatre. This warehouse space has been artfully renovated in order to facilitate the presentation of innovative new productions, whether these are intelligible, well-thought out revivals or brand-spanking new works. Aptly self tag-lined as a ‘factory of creativity’, Hope Mill has thus become a kind-of Mecca for outstanding British musicals outside of London, and Club Mex was no exception to this rule.

This sassy and scintillating, immersive night club experience took audiences on a wildly poptastic, Mexican party-holiday to Cancun. Think The Inbetweeners, (well a female version), mixed in with flavours of Love Island and Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, all set to a hell-raising pop score reminiscent of many club classics. With spine tingling vocals and flashy choreography, this witty new production can only be commended for its display of talent and for the way it fully absorbed its spectatorship, enveloping them into the action and providing something truly explosive.

Club Mex, a girl-power, coming of age comedy sees Mel and her two best friends take to the dance floor, alongside the audience, on a hen-do they are certain to remember despite all of the booze, sex and hangovers. Wonderfully heart-warming and vivacious, it is an emotional rollercoaster filled to the brim with hysterical moments of clever comedy, impending tragedy and uplifting instances of euphoria. Amounting to a guilty pleasure-esque level of entertain-ability and inescapably relatable narrative, commendations must thus be given to writer Tamar Broadbent and composer John-Victor for their stellar work. Whilst Julie Atherton’s direction is infallible, breathing life into the piece and gifting it with the immersive nuances needed for the engendering of the club atmosphere. Whilst the versatility of the design, complete with a DJ booth, two long platformed stages leading to a hotel room, the space being decked out in neon strips of lighting and framed by projections aplenty, allowed for the creation of varying party locations, whilst specially adding to overall immersivity of the performance, (particularly the club-style lighting). Resulting in a magnificently atmospheric side to the work.

It is difficult to find anything to hate, the young cast were all faultless in performance, hitting each accent of the choreography, energetically bounding around the performance space and audience, whilst humorously delivering the barrage of witticisms embedded within the script. Most importantly each and every one of them showing off their vocal prowess through the punchy musical numbers written by John-Victor, all commanding the stage and as a result seeming eerily at ease when toying with their audience. Jade Johnson’s Mel is a joy, she is vocally stunning and endlessly powerful, whilst Alison Arnopp is equally as vigorous and strong. Alvaro Flores’ Antonio ultimately providing the cherry on top of the carefully constructed comedy drive.

To conclude this self aware piece isn’t mind-blowing, but it still absolutely shines as it knows it is there simply to provide a light-hearted, fun evening out peppered with TV-esque levels of comedy, and it does just that! Whilst of course boosting a wide array of talent and hit after hit in the song department. We hope this short run wasn’t the end for Club Mex and look forward to another visit to Hope Mill soon.

To find out what else is happening at the theatre click here.

 
Composer: John-Victor
Writer: Tamar Broadbent
Director: Julie Atherton
Choreographer: Genesis Lynea
Set & Costume Designer: Emma Bailey
Sound Designer: Max Hunter
Lighting Designer: Francis Clegg
Musical Director: Sarah Morrison
Casting by Pearson Casting.
Produced by Global Musicals, in a co-production with Aitch Productions.

Jade Johnson – MEL
Alison Arnopp – TIFF
Emma Louise Hoey – LOU
Alvaro Flores – ANTONIO
Jeremy Sartori – JOSH
Bradley Connor – GRAHAM
Jonathan Cordin – Ensemble
Jessica Shaw – Ensemble