The Twelve Shows of the Year – 2018 edition

This year has been a fantastic year for exceptional, affecting and meaningful theatre, something that should be celebrated loudly. This Year of the Women has been characterised by, and offered a plethora of exceptional pieces promoting gender equality and women’s power, whilst giving a voice to those that typically have none. Thus, let’s look back at the best incremental productions this year…

Once again, we’ll be counting down from twelve to one, our list comprising of musicals, plays and even works in progress, with the majority of productions as per usual coming from London-based venues, though there are regional exceptions. We would also like to offer two honourable mentions, firstly to the Old Vic’s return of their truly magical production of A Christmas Carol, the ensemble of which have been providing thrilling and awe inspiring performances this festive period, as well as a mention to the Young Vic’s Twelfth Night, whose community-led, musical retelling made Shakespeare incredibly vibrant and more importantly accessible to all. But without further ado, lets begin the countdown, here’s number twelve…
12. I’m Not Running, Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre)

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David Hare’s newest work intricately intersects politics with the personal, telling the tale of a fictional 2018, using a narrative that explores personal choices and their public consequences, through a twenty year intimate friendship.

Hare spiritedly writes for female empowerment, he anatomises the current political landscape and grippingly stages what it must be like for a women in the male-dominated topography of government, particularly capturing the consensus of women feeling as if they are not being taken seriously because of their gender. A sense wonderfully encapsulated in a section when politics and leadership are arrogantly mansplained to the female protagonist, affinities with which can only truly be shared by women. Hare furthermore, does not simply skate over issues such as FGM and the NHS, he bountifully sounds off about them.’ Read the rest of our review by clicking here.

I’m Not Running runs until January 31st. Click here to book tickets.

 
11. Fun Home, Young Vic.

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Winner of 5 Tony Awards, this electrifying Broadway phenomenon staging Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel took America by storm and colourfully exploded onto the British Stage this year. The show introduces it’s audience to Alison at three stages of her life. Memories of her 1970s childhood in a funeral home merge with her college love life and her coming out.

This delicate musical wonderfully examines Alison’s relationship with her father, through which she finds they had more in common than she thought. ‘Fun Home is both tragic and completely uplifting. It is a delicate personalised piece that packs a punch and is ultimately relatable even for those that do not find themselves to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.’ The perfect way to celebrate pride month this year. Read more here.

Fun Home may have closed, but writers Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori will have yet another musical on the London stage when Violet opens in January at the Charing Cross Theatre, click here to find out more.

 
10. Wise Children, Old Vic

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A collective of collaborators brought together by Emma Rice cemented their formation this year with their first production Wise Children, from which they take their name, now touring the UK. Wise Children stages the impossible, that being Angela Carter’s last novel that spans over three generations.

It’s 23 April, Shakespeare’s birthday. Exploring the lives of Nora and Dora Chance, we join them on their 75th birthday and their father’s 100th Birthday as they reflect upon their father, or lack of a father, alongside their years in show-business providing an interesting commentary upon gender and perception, artistically contrasting utter joy with painful turmoil. ‘As a love letter to the theatre and not just Shakespeare, Wise Children wonderfully employs any and all theatrical techniques in order to exhibit the breadth of talent within the collective, from puppetry to actor-musicianship, song and dance, to burlesque, caricature and even a specifically generated gestural language similar to sign language. Each technique symbolically representative of the theatre industry and its trials, tribulations, skill requirements and unlimited boundaries.’ Read our full review here.

To find out more about the Wise Children collective or to book to see their current tour, click here.

 
9. Zelda, The Other Palace (Studio).

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With sounds similar to Post Modern Jukebox, Zelda brought the debaucherous 1920’s to The Other Palace Studio utilising an exquisite and satirical post modern score of reworked modern songs. Situated in the home of infamous flapper and socialite Zelda Fitzgerald and her husband F.Scott Fitzgerald, we meet the pair as they are throwing a party like no other… Packed with drama and wit, though the presentation was a work in progress and only semi staged, it provided so much viscerally, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a fully staged, extravagant party with huge numbers and intricate choreography to match.

With the piece filled with climactic and decisive drama, it is interesting to find that the work also has an absurdist and humorous layer to it. In the midst of these poignant moments the character’s sing modern, popularist songs such as Rihanna’s Umbrella and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy.’ To read the full review click here.

In the titular role Jodie Steele absolutely shone, and do not despair, though she has finished her stint in Heathers, she can currently be seen in Rock of Ages on tour across the country. Click here for more info.

 
8. The Lehman Trilogy, Lyttleton Theatre (National Theatre).

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Legendary director Sam Mendes returned to the National this year to direct Ben Power’s English version of Stefano Massini’s vast and poetic play. The story follows a family over three generations, a family and a company that changed the world. Providing a history of western capitalism in the scope of this famed banking family, the production following from the formation of their firm through to its collapse 163 years later, dramatically triggering the biggest financial crisis in history. With the narrative being told in three parts on a single evening this is an epic offering demonstrating the changing definition of the American Dream.

Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles provide a masterclass in acting and storytelling, effortlessly shifting from character to character between gender and age instantaneously. Engendered by the intricate revolving office space and representational style of the piece.

This illuminating and beautifully metaphoric work can be seen on Broadway next year and will then return to London for a West End run at then Picadilly Theatre in May. Click here for more information.

 
7. 100, 200, 300 Milligrams, John Thaw Studio (Tristan Bates Theatre, The Actor’s Centre)

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Presented as part of The Blacktress Season, a collaboration between the John Thaw Initiative and Blacktress UK, Gloria Obianyo debuted her self-written and directed one women show, a musical weaving of a tragic monologue. Executed magnificently, focalising her work meaningfully on mental health and responsibility.

Gloria writes with such a level of compassion and emotion, synergistically inclusive of an awarity of her audience and the story she is trying to tell, that her compositions feel immediately real and raw, particularly when entwined with a psychological, poignant monologue. Resulting in an instantaneous bond of affection and empathy being formed between her and her audience. Obianyo’s musical configurations enacting cleverly, feature pockets of witty relevant phraseology and well-crafted metaphors, something she, through her character Remi, jestingly comments upon‘ throughout, to read our full review click here.

Obianyo can currently be seen in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre, a production filled with both spectacle and exceptional acting. The piece runs until January 19th, click here to book tickets.

 
6. The Lovely Bones, Birmingham REP.

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We were lucky enough to go to a pre-show talk with writer Alice Sebold in which she enlightened us not only upon her life and work, but the intricacies of this adaptation by award-winning playwright Bryony Lavery and we must say what she has to say is both fascinating and imminently worthwhile. Here Lavery takes Sebold’s delicate world and stages it so incredibly viscerally, giving it its own soundtrack and appearance whilst sustaining its heart wrenching qualities and stylistically allowing for the non-specifities of Susie’s heaven, making it aesthetically stunning, yet simple and imaginative. In short, it can be anything you want it to be.

With Susie dead, having been abused and brutally murdered, all she can do is watch her loved ones and her murderer as they go on living, in this beautifully tragic production, Susie is consummately played by Charlotte Beaumont backed by an ensemble of extraordinary actors who multirole terrifically. The piece providing a detailed examination into humanity, eloquently juxtaposing euphoria and tragedy.

The tour unfortunately finished in November, but hopefully it will be back soon.

 
5. Network, Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre)

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‘We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore’. Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s film of the same name, saw Bryan Cranston make his British stage debut toward the end of last year continuing into this year. Cranston gave the performance of a lifetime, supported by a powerful and large cast, including exquisite performances from Douglas Henshall and Michelle Dockery.

Network depicts a dystopian media landscape where opinion trumps fact. Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston), in his final broadcast, unravels live on screen. But when the ratings soar, the network seize on their newfound populist prophet, and Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV. Utilising cameras, live feeds and projections, this big budget work did much to construct the world of television and news broadcasting upon the National stage. Directed by the incomparable Ivo Van Hove, whose work proves to be continuously magnetic and electrifying, this truly was satire at it’s best. To read our review click here.

Cranston is reprising his award-winning role on Broadway this year. Click here for more info.

Additionally, Ivo Van Hove will next be directing All about Eve starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James. Click here for tickets. 

 
4. SIX Divorced. Beheaded. LIVE!

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If you don’t know what SIX is, where have you even been? Taking the UK by storm and becoming somewhat a phenomenon with fans young and old, SIX is a girl-power, pop musical and concert experience telling ‘her-story’ from the perspective of Henry VIII’s wives and importantly includes an all female cast and band. We’ve been lucky enough to follow this production since it’s work in progress days earlier this year, having seen it at the Arts Theatre pre-Edinburgh, since then we’ve caught it again a few times in London and Kingston. Currently finishing its UK tour, SIX will be heading back the Arts Theatre for an open ended run in January.

One of the most inventive elements of the work is its experimentalism with the musical theatre form. The piece has remained intuitively not linear, moves away from providing a strictly musical theatre score and is self-aware. It allows the queen’s to speak directly to their audience and become their own storytellers, the pop-genre, concert-style becoming the force driving the narrative, this form symbiotically validating stories told by women. Proving these can be witty, clever and engaging and do not have to be about, or even include men.’ To read our newest review click here.

To book tickets for the Queen’s return to London or to find out about the upcoming Chicago production, click here.

 
3. Sylvia, Old Vic.

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Featuring a past queen of the aforementioned SIX, Genesis Lynea in the titular role, and pop royalty Beverley Knight as her mother, this offering added a further girl-power / women’s rights explosion to the theatrical landscape this year. Billed as a hip-hop musical, Sylvia tells the story of the Pankhurst family and the suffragettes, from mobilising and militancy to politics and diplomacy. With inevitable stylistic parallels to Hamilton, this musical satirically and dramatically presented as a work in progress, left audiences begging for more, particularly for a cast recording. The perfect stand for women’s rights in a year characterised and celebrated for their past bravery.

Not only is the piece powerful and motivated, there is something so eloquently personal about the production as well, perhaps because it delves deeper into the lives of these powerful women and not just their involvement in the unions, particularly that of Sylvia. This makes her intrinsically identifiable with every women in the audience, as the varied occurrences in her life, such as love, lust, passion, family issues and beliefs are practically universal. This is superbly conveyed through the costuming as well, as from the neck down we get gorgeous and detailed period costumes, but above this the actors sport modern hair and make-up, reminding us that though they are portraying women from 100 years ago, they are women of today and have the same struggles as we do.’ The production unfortunately was caught in a media frenzy, to understand why and read our comprehensive open letter and review of Sylvia click here.

Sylvia will be back, to sign up to here more click here.

Alternatively, Sylvia herself, Genesis Lynea will be choreographing new musical Club Mex at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. Click here to book. 

 
2. Hadestown, Olivier Theatre (National Theatre)

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Rachel Chavkin directs this folk-opera non-specifically modernising the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice fusing American Folk Music and New Orleans Jazz. Hadestown crucially uses myth and music to comment upon the current socio-political climate in a polished and stylised, indirect manner.

Quite simply astonishing! Hadestown is wholeheartedly urgent and relevant, beautifully executed and thoroughly entertaining, the work is wonderfully inventive and imaginatively staged.’ To read our full review click here.

Hadestown runs at the National Theatre until the end of January, before transferring to Broadway. To find out more click here.

Rachel Chavkin will next be directing The American Clock at the Old Vic, click here to book. 

 
1. Emilia, Globe Theatre.

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In this Year of the Women, the Globe Theatre in Michelle Terry’s capable hands, has delivered astonishing work, promoting change whilst demonstrating its inclusivity and diversity. Highlights include their magical Sonnet Sunday event, their inclusive production of As You Like It and their ephemeral and historical Voter’s Choice ensemble that went on to tour the country. But the most affecting and sincere offering was in fact a brand new production, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia. A dramatisation of the life and times of Emilia Bassano, told through her eyes and by a cast of entirely women, this is the story of a poet and women’s activist who was detrimentally said to have been the muse for Shakespeare’s dark lady in his sonnets.

‘…a manifesto rather than an absolute history. It chooses to focus upon the biggest issues of the today and not just simply the oppression of women… Malcolm also touches upon themes of physical abuse and violence, sexualisation and the stereotypical journey of a women, i.e birth, marriage child birth and death… Therefore, Emilia is monumental, the performances are exceptional and the underlying manifesto is timeless.’ To read in full click here.

Emilia excitingly returns to the stage this year, this time at the Vaudeville Theatre. Click here to book your tickets and remember this is essential viewing!

The Globe’s next hotly anticipated venture will be an all female version of Shakespeare’s Richard II in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in 2019. Click here to find out more. 

 

As aforementioned this year has been an incredible year for theatre decisively characterised by activism. With this in mind, we are certainly looking forward to the year ahead! Stay tuned for our article detailing the most exciting productions set for 2019.

Oh and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Review: Wise Children, Old Vic

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Wise Children is joyous, skilled and poignant.

‘What a joy it is to dance and sing!’ After a turbulent couple of years Emma Rice emerges once again to critical acclaim, holding nothing back in the launching of her new company, (coincidentally christened Wise Children after this first piece). The work Rice delivers to the stage proves Angela Carter’s Wise Children to still be relevant and provocative, using this urgent narrative to physically stage a vaudevillian love letter to the theatre in all of its elements, whilst saying something vital about the current social-political climate and performance industry. But due to her wishes; ‘I just want to be Wise Children now’, we will fixate no more upon her, but upon the piece and the company, letting them speak for themselves, after all it is a team effort. As demonstrated by the variegated talent and malleability of the ensemble throughout, a company of collaborators.

Wise Children, an adaptation of Angela Carter’s swansong and last novel, explores the theatre industry though the eyes of twin sisters Nora and Dora Chance who grow up as part of an unusual theatre dynasty in the south of London. Their life being defined by illegitimacy and seediness, glamour and graft. The work overall exploring why it is people choose to dance and sing, and the price they pay for it, the true toil of show-business. The company slimming down Carter’s original work in order to promote an overall clarity, as Rice states, she enjoys the challenge of staging the unstageable, a book that spans over three generations. Allowing for choices that prove to be smart and bold whilst helping build a well rounded and polished production.

In the present, (though we see the Chance twins at different stages in their lives), Nora and Dora are celebrating their 75th Birthday, not only is it their’s, but also their father Melchior and his twin brother Peregrine’s 100th birthday. Symbiotically it is also the 23rd April, (Shakespeare’s birthday). Kinda cool karma for this theatrical family huh? There is no coincidence here however, as an interwoven through line, Carter’s work and subsequently this adaptation, is an ode to Shakespeare; Nora and Dora’s real father being a classically trained Shakespearean actor much like his father before him. With Nora and Dora in their heyday going on to work alongside their father, (Melchior Hazard) in a Shakespearean review. Thus, the piece is hilariously inclusive of mock stagings of the bard’s work, with Nora and Dora spending much of their life living at 49 Bard Road. Carter originally taking Shakespeare’s ‘It is a wise child that knows it’s own father’, as the conceptual basis for her narrative. Melchior consistently denying his paternal right to them even when they know the truth, they hope an invite to his 100th Birthday may mean he will finally acknowledge them for who they are.

As a love letter to the theatre and not just Shakespeare, Wise Children wonderfully employs any and all theatrical techniques in order to exhibit the breadth of talent within the collective, from puppetry to actor-musicianship, song and dance, to burlesque, caricature and even a specifically generated gestural language similar to sign language. Each technique symbolically representative of the theatre industry and its trials, tribulations, skill requirements and unlimited boundaries. The work utilising intricate physicality and stylistic acting to define the company’s very own, unique theatrical practice. A clearcut and well executed manifestation, that provides both scenes of power and tenderness, as well as joyous, sassy and sexy constituents. Whilst the piece harbours dark and robust elements, it is wonderfully riotous and uplifting.

The narrative teeters on exploring tragedy through comedy, a hybrid of Shakespeare’s two genres, thus this adaptation is subversive and satirical, whilst also heartbreaking and dynamic. Surreally, yet delicately it touches upon themes of sexual abuse and miscarriage as aspect of the female experience. It is the aforementioned engendered symbolism beautifully and cleverly peppered throughout and superbly well implemented that grittily commentates upon these poignant plot points and thematics. Adding a visceral side to the piece, integral to the meaning making. First and foremost is the open-faced 50s caravan which disseminates and remains onstage central to the storytelling. Adopted as tots by Grandma Chance, the caravan becomes the protagonists’ home for the rest of their lives, 49 Bard Road to be precise, though it represents various locations throughout. It is a scaled up doll’s house, the polar opposite to Nora and Dora’s living arrangements, having never been accepted into their legitimate family they have been neglected of a perfect home, a perfect home being what a child would imagine when playing with dolls. Yet the prominence comes in the lack of permanence in the structure, not only is it situated south of the river ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, much like Nora and Dora’s placement away from the interests of their father, it is non permanent and moveable. Representative of Nora and Dora never being acknowledged by their real family and thus their continuous illegitimacy and inability to plant roots, though they hope this might change like the structure’s location could change. Whilst the link to caravan culture also provides a sense of making do with what you’ve got, something Nora and Dora effect throughout their life. It is husband and wife duo Beth Carter and Stuart Mitchell that add more intensity to this design. They provide exquisite animations which are projected, particularly onto the caravan. A poignant moment comes towards the end of the piece when Nora and Dora travel to Melchior’s party. Carter and Mitchell illustrate the journey from Brixton to Chelsea across the Thames with autonomous ease and intricacy, this section being representative of the twins’ journey to the right side of the tracks, from south to north, poverty to wealth, illegitimacy to legitimacy. Hoping this will be the first time Melchior acknowledges them as his own. This section is so perfectly simplistic, that it imprints a real sense that this is the journey to change everything, doing an excellent job to locatively elevate and highlight London in a bout of magical realism.

In conjunction with this, is the other powerful element of symbolism prevalent in the use of the butterflies. Not only are these projected, they are also brought in as puppets and mentioned within the dialogue. The butterfly becoming an allegory for the female experience, a much needed sprinkling of intersectional feminism and nod to #MeToo. (The motif introduced by actors of different ages, genders and ethnicities). Upon running into Melchior, with him refusing to listen to Grandma Chance’s plea for him to do the right thing, she tells the young Nora and Dora who he is and decides to teach them the birds and the bees. This is first and foremost an important commentary on identity and the importance of knowing where you are from. It also introduces the idea of the butterfly as the female experience. The female organ thus being referred to as the butterfly and the male organ is the aggressor. Referring to the fact that in many cases women learn to fear men, whilst men learn to be dominant. Alongside that of, women and men adjusting their behaviour around this. With this in mind, the piece ends with a placating rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, surmising the work, hammering home that girls, women even, simply want to live their lives not in fear, to live, experience and enjoy. The piece upliftingly closing on the line, said in unison, (as a commonality), ‘what a joy it is to dance and sing’. To dance and sing fearlessly, being the simple pleasure we should afford all individuals, that is the desired female experience. Thus demonstrating, that Angela Carter’s narrative still has much to say today. And Wise Children wonderfully draw this out.

Yet let’s delve more into the techniques by which they pioneer meaning making. Firstly there is a sustained level of truth in the delivery, not necessarily through naturalism but sincerity, particularly as the key to the work is, as aforementioned, the fact it is not too literal but symbolic, delivered in a highly physicalised manner. It is simple and emotional, whilst underneath the surface acting smart and sophisticatedly to embolden a particularly ideology, the level of the acting and performance exuding all else. We inherently feel Nora and Dora’s pain, wonder and enjoyment. The set and props are thus, likewise littered with integrity, the enviable detail feeding into the truth of the story, the stage for instance exhibiting dressing tables covered with objects of significance and wonder. An actual world having being built upon the Old Vic’s stage. The lighting on and off the stage space being used to perpetuate the desired location throughout. Crucially the performance techniques remain within keeping in the style of a Carter’s work. The piece overall acts like a musical review of Nora and Dora’s lives, (similar to the Shakespearean reviews they perform in with Melchior), the twins reminisce their past 75th years and it is acted out for us intermittently with song and dance, additions coming from the 75 year old Nora and Dora who address these directly to the audience, they are exuberant storytellers. This reflects not only their work with Melchior as showgirls in his Shakespearean review, but the glitz and glamour of Vaudeville. It is here that the vibrant choreography of Etta Murfitt shines. To work alongside this, the production employs the use of radio mics to allow for a series of wonderful underscorings to be played under a vast majority of the dialogue, these successfully accenting the piece and helping to engender both the Vaudevillian and storytelling aspects. With the company aiming and succeeding to sustain a Shakespearean fairytale vibe, drawn out by the bright compositions of song which invoke the use of Angela Carter’s poetry and set it to music, mixed with contemporary pieces to pin point the relevance of the thematics today. For the casting of Nora and Dora over three generations, Wise Children employs a methodology not of being gender blind, instead it is cast with eyes wide open or as Rice states ‘by spirit’ and not by gender or race. Therefore the three pairs of actors for the three generations of twins, are rivetingly not cast to look identical, but cast away from the idea of twins, demonstrating just how powerful suggestion can be. Nora and Dora being portrayed by black, white, male and female actors of all ages, making them a kind of ‘Everyman’ conceptualisation. There is a certain level of inclusivity in having even men representing the piece’s feminist values as well. Indicatory-wise, ‘N’ and ‘D’ sewn patches on all costumes are used to remind the audience who is who, as well as red dance shoes being worn by all Nora/Dora actors, demonstrating their love for performing, something in their very blood. Reappearing costumes over the decades are also visually aged to denote the passing years, a further welcomed bout of attention to detail.

To conclude the talent in the Wise Children company is exceptional, the team have created a new theatre practice that is unique to them, seamless and breathtaking. The possibilities are simply endless for the collective as they are already so accomplished and sure of themselves. The story they bring to life here, is thoroughly entertaining, polished and extremely urgent. A must see! There is one week of Wise Children left at the Old Vic, before it heads out on tour across the country. Click here to book.

Written by – Angela Carter
Adapted and directed by – Emma Rice
Set and Costume Design – Vicki Mortimer
Lighting – Malcolm Rippeth
Sound and Video Design – Simon Baker
Composer – Ian Ross
Choreography – Etta Murfitt
Animation – Beth Carter and Stuart Mitchell
Puppetry Designer – Lyndie Wright
Puppetry Director – Sarah Wright
Fights – Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown

CAST:
Young Peregrine – Sam Archer
Young Melchior – Ankur Bahl
Musician – Stu Barker
Showgirl Nora – Omari Douglas
Young Nora – Mirabelle Gremaud
Musician – Alex Heane
Melchior – Paul Hunter
Showgirl Dora – Melissa James
Young Dora – Bettrys Jones
Wheelchair/Lady Atalanta/Blue Eyed Boy – Patrycja Kujawska
Nora – Etta Murfitt
Grandma Chance – Katy Owen
Musician – Ian Ross
Peregrine – Mike Shepherd

 

Review: Company, Gielgud Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

Marianne Elliott’s hotly-anticipated, gender-amended revival of Company has finally landed in the West End.

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical commentary is a comedy about life, love and marriage. Focalising on societal expectations and conventions, it follows Bobbie, an unmarried 35 year old whose friends can’t help wondering why. Originally a man, Bobbie is in this production a women, played by the indomitable Rosalie Craig, the musical not only dives into her lack of commitment and string of unsuccessful dates, but examines the relationships of her friends, peeling back the layers to see if their unions are as perfect as they appear to be. This brand new reimagining is thus ultimately an exploration into the life of the independent modern women, examining the tribulations of dating and casual sex today alongside the real yearning to procreate that many women experience in their 30s. With this in mind, Company is designed with a modern feel to it, Bunny Christie creates a wonderfully cinematic, aesthetically stunning stage design. One that moves and breathes with the cast, it pulls images back as others come forward into focus, similar to Christie’s recent work on the National Theatre’s The Red Barn. Consisting of moving white light blocks that connect and part seamlessly, each housing the set pieces and creating the various locations, the visual engendered here is clean and modern, locating the work in the present, after all with the gender amendments the piece aims to be both apposite and postulating, but these visuals dextrously have more to say than just this. Bobbie’s apartment is a small white block, the first we see, it’s size says much about the cost of living in the city as as a single working professional, living off of one salary and not two. Especially as Bobbie is slowly joined by her friends in the space, her apartment feeling more and more claustrophobic. This not just reflecting the apartment’s size and economic burden, but furthermore, the pressure her friends consistently put upon her, comparing their own seemingly perfect lives in relationships to her lonelier existence. They question the viability of being 35 and single, particularly as she reaches this doomsday milestone. This disseizing pressure, coinciding with the impending milestone being comically further perpetuated later when the room is consumed by two giant 35 balloons, filling the space around Bobbie, her friends entering the apartment and struggling to get around them. The design, thus beautifully and detrimentally encapsulates Bobbie’s internalisations. It is as if she thinks of something, we see a twinkle in her eye and as if by magic the set pieces come together and we know what it is, all through the tempered simplicity of a delivered visual. A particularly harrowing motif comes straight after the opening section in Bobbie’s apartment, once sufficiently filled with her friends they leave slowly, the apartment box glows red and we hear a baby cry. This is Bobbie’s aching and empty womb, demonstrated as her apartment stands empty and bare, it is a powerful optical of her desire to reproduce before it is too late. Aside from this the design also throws up a stark comparison between Bobbie and her ‘loved-up’ friends; her apartment is stark, white and empty aside from a table and chair, whilst their’s are bigger and filled with objects, the emptiness representing her lack of emotional connection to another human being and resistance to building a life with someone else yet. Christie can only be congratulated for her receptive and meaningful design, one that smoothly glides in creating both spectacle and elucidation. (A particularly stunning ocular is that of the train sequence during Another Hundred People, the moving carriages create powerful platforms for Liam Steel’s stylistic, connective and wonderfully raw choreography).

As earlier mentioned Rosalie Craig is indomitable. Her delivery of the seminal number, Being Alive, in which the protagonist decides to thrust herself into the world and experience it all, from being afraid of getting her heart broken to finding out what happens when you decide to love and be loved, is groundbreaking. She exhibits both power and control, demonstrating infallible vocal abilities whilst performing with sincerity and determination. Craig engendering both empathy and semblance with the character, a truly remarkable delivery of this newly designed Bobbie, the modern women. A sense that is consistent in Craig’s performance throughout, she is a true star from her power to genuine emotivity. Alongside her is Broadway royalty Patti Lupone in the role of Joanne, a part she performed in the filmed 2011 New York Philharmonic concert staging, alongside Neil Patrick Harris. Joanne is the cynical older friend of Bobbie and the source of much of the dry humour within the piece, something Lupone revels in. Though her performance is intuitive, skilled, witty and adept, with Lupone exhibiting equally as enviable vocals to those of Craig, this is not her show. It is well and truly Rosalie Craig who commands the stage, and though Lupone’s comedic timing is heavenly, it is difficult to appreciate it with fans screaming and cheering for her every time she enters the stage space and even each time she does something remotely of interest. We wish we were able to appreciate her craftsmanship more.

Though Marianne Elliott does much to make this a modern and provocative piece with an abundance of comedy and meaning making. The musical itself, albeit packed with satire, lacks the wow factor and this is not Elliott’s fault, her contemporary direction and decisions for this adaptation are exquisite, whilst Christie’s design is a breath of fresh air. It is the original book and score that lack pizazz, whilst there are a few standout numbers there is simply not much of a plot or high stakes at play. Yet it is worth mentioning the wonderful performances and passion exuded outwardly by the performers does much to give the lack of drive a pulse. Jonathan Bailey somewhat steals the limelight as blushing bride Amy, (now renamed Jamie). Jamie considers not marrying his fiancé Paul, (Alex Gaumond), with Bailey delivering a unique and positively intoxicating rendition of the famed number ‘Getting Married Today’. Elliott playing with the hilarity of Jamie turning down his right to get married despite same sex marriage only recently becoming lawful and by this point the musical reaches a certain level of brashness and in-your-face derision. Gaumond and Bailey’s chemistry is also impeccable, their performances instinctual and refined, with a sprinkling of comedy gold dust. Alongside them, Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes as enigmatic and riotous couple Harry and Sarah, likewise bolster excellent chemistry and consummate comedic timing. Bobbie’s boyfriends, (formerly girlfriends), George Blagden (PJ), Richard Fleeshman (Andy) and Matthew Seadon-Young (Theo) deliver a succinctly innovational and farcical version of ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy’, magnificently polished with detail.

Company inadvertently wasn’t for us, yet we do see the universal appeal and appreciate the artistry. This Sondheim extravaganza runs until 22nd December, click here to book.

 

ROSALIE CRAIG -BOBBIE
PATTI LUPONE – JOANNE
MEL GIEDROYC -SARAH
JONATHAN BAILEY -JAMIE
GEORGE BLAGDEN – PJ
ASHLEY CAMPBELL -PETER
RICHARD FLEESHMAN -ANDY
ALEX GAUMOND – PAUL
RICHARD HENDERS – DAVID
BEN LEWIS – LARRY
DAISY MAYWOOD -SUSAN
JENNIFER SAAYENG – JENNY
MATTHEW SEADON-YOUNG -THEO
GAVIN SPOKES – HARRY
MICHAEL COLBOURNE -UNDERSTUDY ANDY, PJ & THEO
FRANCESCA ELLIS -UNDERSTUDY JOANNE & SARAH
EWAN GILLIES – UNDERSTUDY PAUL, PETER & JAMIE
GRANT NEAL – UNDERSTUDY DAVID, HARRY & LARRY
JAIMIE PRUDEN – UNDERSTUDY JENNY & SUSAN

 

STEPHEN SONDHEIM – MUSIC & LYRICS
GEORGE FURTH – BOOK
MARIANNE ELLIOTT – DIRECTOR
LIAM STEEL – CHOREOGRAPHER
JOEL FRAM – MUSICAL SUPERVISOR & CONDUCTOR
BUNNY CHRISTIE – DESIGNER
NEIL AUSTIN – LIGHTING DESIGNER
IAN DICKINSON – SOUND DESIGNER
DAVID CULLEN – ORCHESTRATOR
SAM DAVIS – DANCE ARRANGEMENTS
CHRIS FISHER – ILLUSIONS
MIRANDA CROMWELL – ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
CAMPBELL YOUNG ASSOCIATES – HAIR, WIGS & MAKE-UP DESIGN
ALASTAIR COOMER CDG -CASTING DIRECTOR
CHARLOTTE SUTTON CDG – CASTING DIRECTOR
RACHEL BOWN-WILLIAMS & RUTH COOPER-BROWN LTD – FIGHT DIRECTORS

 

Review: Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Having opened in 2015 at the Adelphi Theatre and now also out on tour, Kinky Boots, a high energy Broadway transfer set in a Northampton shoe factory and based on the film of the same name, is a glittery, musical extravaganza of celebration. Roistering the fundamentals of unapologetically being who you want to be and bolstering an emotional message of acceptance. In January 2019, this in-your-face yet sincere production will close its rhinestoned doors for the last time and be replaced by an alternative Broadway transfer, Waitress. Having made it into The Guardian’s 30 shows to see this Autumn, let’s analyse the current West End production and deduce why you should catch it before it’s too late.  

Kinky Boots is on the surface a non-stop party with high-energy ensemble numbers, dressed with flashy choreography and dazzling costumes, but skin-deep the production fosters a message promoting uniqueness and ratification. The narrative follows Charlie Price, a man who seems to have no idea what he wants to do with his life. With his father having suddenly passed away, Charlie is bequeathed and left to run their inwardly collapsing family shoe factory in Northampton, despite having little interest in shoes and having begun to start a life in London with his incredibly driven girlfriend Nicola. Charlie’s efforts to save the factory and the jobs of those he’s grown up around, cements a message of loyalty and as a result of all of this, an unusual friendship forms between him and a drag queen he coincidentally meets named Lola. The pair, thus working together to design Kinky Boots, boots for the drag market able to withstand the weight of a man. And we watch wistfully as the factory workers go on to accept Lola into their working environment. The ensuing plot thus touches upon not only the LGBTQ+ community and drag culture, but other universal themes such as the ideology of living up to an expectation, as well acceptance, tolerance and being unafraid to stand out in whatever capacity makes you feel comfortable. Delving deep into and commenting on the concept and construct of masculinity and the ridiculous ideas prevalent today behind ‘what makes you a man’. Alongside a view into the still prevalent antiquated attitudes against gender illusion and performance. Making for an incredibly meaningful and relevant show, masqueraded into the remarkable pop score written by Cyndi Lauper. There are therefore the much needed catchy numbers promoting equality and change, alongside the ballads that delve deep into the feelings behind these notions, (referring to what it is like having to fill your father’s shoes for instance, one of many similarities and parallels between both Charlie and Lola, an methodology sewn throughout). All of Lauper’s songs being artfully written and beautifully executed. 

Harvey Fierstein’s book is bodacious, witty and intelligible, not only does it take note of its audience, it is connective and provocative whilst outwardly lighthearted and packed with zealous humour. The delivery of which by Simon-Anthony Rhoden, (Lola) and Oliver Tompsett, (Charlie) is paramount. The last time we saw this production with the original West-End cast, the deliveries of much of the jocularities were being rushed and their relevance and hilarity lost. Rhoden in particular does much to freshen this up, bolstering excellent comedic timing and tempered enthusiasm. Whilst Oliver Tompsett shines as the complex tragic hero Charlie, a character who suffers for his own hubris, but is ultimately saved by his friends. Both men’s voices are unequivocal, Rhoden delivering Lola’s required diva vocals to perfection smoothly hitting all of the high notes and blasting through the ballads. Whilst Tompsett is at ease in Charlie’s mellow soliloquy’s, perfectly matching his physicality to collapse in on himself in shame, whilst he like Rhoden confidently and dexterously blazes through his more upbeat rock solos. The chemistry between the pair is pure dynamite. 

Jerry Mitchell’s direction and choreography on top of all of this makes for a dynamic and meaningful undiluted piece, that cements a thoroughly feel good factor. Whilst the ensemble performing around the two leads are resilient and infallible. High praise goes to understudy Suzie McAdam who played Lauren, (Charlie’s factory sidekick who sustains a hopeless crush on him), McAdam is enigmatic and perfectly captures the character’s gawkiness, giving an extraordinary delivery of ‘The History of Wrong Guys’. Whilst Jordan Fox as Harry, Charlie’s childhood friend, exhibits ample vocals, vivid charm and excellent physicality. Cordelia Farnworth as Nicola is also likewise stunning, demonstrating high-powered vocals and excellent characterisation as the steel-faced, determined fiancé of Charlie. 

Kinky Boots is overall entertaining, but more than anything it will make you both feel and learn something, whilst providing an astonishing, camp and glittery spectacle of course! What’s not to love? Click here to book now before the boots walk out of town…

 

 

Lola – Simon-Anthony Rhoden

Charlie Price – Oliver Tompsett

Lauren – Natalie McQueen

Don – Sean Needham

Nicola – Cordelia Farnworth

George – Antony Reed

 

 

ENSEMBLE

Abbey Addams, Jak Allen-Anderson, Jed Berry, Jonathan Carlton, Louis Clarke-Clare, Momar Diagne, Daniel Downing, Jemal Felix, Jordan Fox, Rosie Glossop, Robert Grose, David Haydn, Keith Higham, Ben Jennings, Robert Jones, Graham Kent, Suzie McAdam, Emma Odell, Christopher Parkinson, Hannah Price, Jon Reynolds, Tom Scanlon, Anna Stolli, Olivia Winterflood

 

 

YOUNG CHARLIE & YOUNG LOLA

Young Charlie – Theo Collis

Young Lola – Josiah Choto

Young Charlie – Jude Muir

Young Lola – Zion Gardner

Young Charlie – Charlie Underhill

Young Lola – Temba Mliswa

Young Charlie – Fred Wilcox

Young Lola – Samson Wakayu

 

 

Book – Harvey Fierstein

Music & Lyrics – Cyndi Lauper

Director & Choreographer – Jerry Mitchell

Musical Superviser, Arranger & Orchestrator – Stephen Oremus

Scenic Design – David Rockwell

Costume Design – Gregg Barnes

Lighting Design – Kenneth Posner

Sound Design – John Shivers

Hair Design – Josh Marquette

Review: I’m Not Running, Lyttleton Theatre (National Theatre)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

‘David Hare’s weak satire has nothing to say’, The Stage’s Tim Bano on the National Theatre’s I’m Not Running, published 10th October 2018.

Bano’s dissection of Hare’s newest piece ultimately lacks one important feature. The viewpoint of a woman. Bano neglects to identify that Hare spiritedly writes for female empowerment, he anatomises the current political landscape and grippingly stages what it must be like for a women in the male-dominated topography of government, particularly capturing the consensus of women feeling as if they are not being taken seriously because of their gender. A sense wonderfully encapsulated in a section when politics and leadership are arrogantly mansplained to the female protagonist, affinities with which can only truly be shared by the women. Hare furthermore, does not simply skate over issues such as FGM and the NHS, he bountifully sounds off about them. 

I’m Not Running is Pauline Gibson’s agonising story of decision, she has transcended from a doctor to the inspiring and superfluously popular leader of a local health campaign and independent MP. Now, back in contact with her ex-boyfriend Jack Gould, a stalwart intent on running the Labour Party, she must decide where to go from here. Does she run for the leadership of a party she isn’t even in, sacrificing her private life and putting herself in the way of much scrutiny, whilst symbiotically giving up on her peace of mind by having to constantly think about and battle issues and adopt a stance on more than a single ideology; or does she run away, leaving it all behind. Bano is right in one respect, as he says, I’m Not Running has a clever, witty double meaning, firstly it refers to the act of running for a position of power, the Labour leadership. The work opening with Pauline having it publicly proclaimed by her ex-Labour party press agent, that: ‘Ms Gibson is not running’. But it is also figurative in the sense that she is running away from her past. I’m Not Running, thus beautifully and intelligibly does not stay in the present, intriguingly delving into sections of Pauline’s past as she tries to make her decision; from nursing her alcoholic mother and her university days with Jack, to her first days as a junior doctor. Though all of these instances are part of her make-up, it is as if she is running from them, searching for something more tangible, to build something more. As well as demonstrating how all of these past instances will and are being scrutinised now she is in the public eye. It is for this reason we see a transgression in her character, in early scenes of her past she appears very likeable and girl next door-ish, eager to please and thrive. And though she retains her charm in the present day and an air of inspiration, she has undertones of fire, a sense of world-weariness and anger. She is likeable but evidently collected and headstrong, the opposite of stereotypical female characters often exhibited in male written pieces of drama. This characterisation is fantastically sustained by Siân Brooke, a consummate actor who deserves an abundance of praise for her resilient delivery of a strong female influence, her Pauline is bold and unique, a women, who despite all of the set backs wants to make a positive difference, Brooke’s conveyance of her complexities, pains and passions exuding all else. John Nathan of The Metro, criticises the depth of the character: ‘Yet the focus is on the personal rather than the political.’ Again here is a failure to acknowledge that politics and private lives cannot be separated, something Hare appears keen to provide discourse on. Everything we learn about Pauline’s life would be aired for the world to see the minute she says she is running, taking a firm place in landscape of national party politics, thus the work is all about whether this is worth it for her. 

It is here that the design of Ralph Myers, Paul Arditti, Jon Clark and Jon Driscoll artfully comes into play. With the smoothest and most seamless revolve we’ve seen, the set, three white sides of a cube repeatedly rotates to reveal a new setting inside of it each time: a hospital ward, Pauline’s mother’s bedroom, her uni halls, Jack’s office e.t.c. Between these epic scene changes we witness multi-cam interviews of Pauline and others close to her from throughout her career being projected onto the cube, beautifully moving from wall to wall as it spins. This methodology has been insanely perfected. The result of which provides a gritty symbolism pointing towards the media’s heavy handed involvement in politics, as every detail of a politician’s private life is broadcasted and they are somewhat obliged to take interviews and respond to criticism. Something also noted in the open and closing media conferences within the piece. A bright lighting state almost blinding those stood centre stage behind the news mics in both cases. A light of scrutiny, representative of the public eye. The dialogue, wittily bombarding them with piercing questions that take no notice of a refusal to answer, much like the media’s usual lack of empathy. Delivered wonderfully and pointedly by the ensemble of actors from the wings also on mics themselves, a cacophony of voices. With Jack and Pauline also being watched from all angles, even by the on set of media crew, at funeral. It is from the very first media conference that Hare sets the tone for a piquant, sharp, gritty yet satirical marvel. He writes to be representative of today and raw, ‘a moral temperature of the times’ and mirrors what the political landscape is like, or would be like for a potential female leader of Labour, particularly as the party seem to have an archaic reluctance to consider and elect female leadership. Further delving into a commentary and acknowledging Labour’s residual focus on process rather than in votes, juxtaposed with the character of Jack. Jack as a potential labour leader, fits the role less so than Pauline. He is of little moral compass, putting political ambition before emotional honesty, (for instance calling feminists ‘stupid and lazy’). Pauline on the other hand, is incited by her own morality, wishing to save her hospital, she ultimately decides that inequality can only be fought through party allegiance, though accepts the moral implications she may face in this. 

Though it is fair to say that Hare’s showing of the past pulverantly explains Pauline’s drive, dealing with her alcoholic mother as she wastes away the result of having been in a abusive marriage, becoming addicted to a man who is no good for her, fighting for a hospital she has studied and strived to be a junior doctor at, and in the present watching a promising and morally strong talent die in her arms unable to save her, there is a small disconnect. With Hare ultimately not quite enunciating how these actions directly urge Pauline on. Though they do give her an abundance of character and provide a considerable understanding of her feelings and intensities. 

Asides from Siân Brooke’s astonishing performance, Joshua McGuire, as Pauline’s press officer and Amaka Okafor as Meredith, a young Westminster worker in Jack’s office are both enigmatic, sincere and versatile performers. Whilst Alex Hassel’s Jack Gould is decisively slimey and decorous. Their performances intertwine with phenomenal writing and a wondrous design, resulting in piece that is both throughly entertaining and powerful, a political excursion for our time.

I’m Not Running is on at the National Theatre until 31st January 2019. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

 

 

Director – Neil Armfield

Set Designer – Ralph Myers

Costume Designer – Sussie Juhlin-Wallén

Lighting Designer – Jon Clark

Sound Designer – Paul Arditti

Music – Alan John

Video Designer – Jon Driscoll

Company Voice Work – Charmian Hoare

Associate Set Designer – Tim Blazdell

Staff Director – Cara Nolan

 

Siân Brooke, Alex Hassell, Joshua McGuire, Amaka Okafor, Liza Sadovy, Brigid Zengeni, Roisin Rae, Owen Findlay, Harry Long, Nadia Williams.

Review: Eugenius, The Other Palace

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Fan favourite Eugenius recently announced a West End transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre, but then tragically days later the news was retracted due to a key investor pulling out. With these announcements coming in unison with the that of yet another Broadway transfer, Dear Evan Hansen, alongside Waitress, Come From Away and the already playing Hamilton and (originally off-Broadway) Heathers, is there still a glimmer of hope for new British musicals? The simple answer is yes, with Six having announced its return to London for an open ended run, again at the Arts Theatre in 2019. But the real answer is no, we need much more like it and more support for new creators. Support that clearly fell though for Eugenius. But let’s delve into why Eugenius is so popular and why it would have worked well on the West End…

Eugenius is a self-aware, humorous and witty work, with catchy songs to boot. It, as a coming of age tale, clasps tightly onto topics of relevancy prevalent in the next generation of theatre fans, such as: feeling as if you don’t fit in and questioning if you have the guts or even talent to reach for your dreams. Particularly taking note of the current phenomenology of teens who are musical theatre fans proclaiming themselves as, and taking ownership of the title: ‘geek’, i.e ‘theatre geek’ or similar lexis appearing in their social media bios. Alluded to in the song G.E.E.K., the show loudly exclaiming that geeks are hugely creative and talented individuals with much to offer. Eugenius draws on a fan base from the generation that: cosplay, draw fan artwork, write fan fiction, cover or lip sync to songs and explore many more creative enterprises to share their afflictions. It is for this reason Eugenius has been designed as wonderfully self-aware, it acknowledges that it is itself, a geeky, awkward and satirical musical, creatively and intricately designed to juxtapose and pay homage to 80s films, sci-fi and superheroes alongside references pointing towards various iconic musicals such as Blood Brothers and Les Miserables, intertwining these together to promote a message of empowerment through uniqueness and passion. Whilst being overall thoroughly uplifting, ‘a lightning bolt of joy’. It is through this overall message of empowerment and positivity that Eugenius has cultivated a kind of cult following of those seeking a place they can fit it and be their self, the show promoting and facilitating this ‘safe-space’ for them.

The piece follows Eugene, Janey and Feris, three friends who ‘reach for the stars and discover the superhero inside themselves’. They are not the most popular kids at school and as a result feel somewhat downtrodden, but are by no means down and out, despite this Janey forces Eugene to submit his comic book ideas to a Hollywood producer. What ensues is the production of a film that strays far away from Eugene’s original intentions, in its wake questioning if he will have the strength to stand up for himself and his friends. Alongside this, there is what seems to be a bilateral plot, following the adventures of Eugene’s characters Tough-man, Super-hot Lady and the Evil Lord Hector. This plot line stages the life of Tough-man from his origin story onwards adjacent to happenings in Eugene’s life. However all hell breaks loose when the two narratives collide, a hero must emerge to save the movie studio and the rest of the world. This imaginative plot device makes for an interesting and enthralling chronicle.

Not only is this musical conceptually and referentially uplifting. Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ book is piquant, satirical and strong, whilst their songs are of another world. Clever, catchy, inadvertently unafraid and unapologetically unique, wistfully influenced by the 80s era. Design-wise, Eugenius is also infallible, the show utilising a series of projections which are artfully done to truly pay homage to the cinematics of the 80s, added to by a plethora of the colourful, bold and brash lighting choices with additional smoke and haze. The strings of light connected to the stage and filtering out across the auditorium creating a truly marvellous spectacle, physically connecting its audience at levels to the stage and story. In other productions at The Other Palace the stage space has been an issue, particularly for shows like Eugenius with a large ensemble and a multiplicity of locations to create. But the built up and multi-levelled stage works excellently to divide the space, allowing for the development of various locations across the stage, an effortless methodology allowing Tough-man’s narrative to run in unison with Eugene’s. This also alleviates room for the ensemble to spread across and onto different levels and thus, not appearing too busy or crowded in sections of exuberant choreography. Choreography that is energetic and stylistic, it’s simplistic charm at points allows for it to be remembered by fans within the audience and repeated back at the end of the piece. This interaction between the performers and their audience engendering the cult following, the fan’s ability to take part physically empowering them. The costuming is also exquisite and detailed, a rainbow of fluorescent colour palettes and very much symbolic of the intended 80’s superhero genre.

Yet it is the performances that astound. Each member of the company outwardly projects an enormous semblance of power, confidence and passion, committing 110% to the delivery, an enviable amount of dedication and talent. Our three ‘geeks’ Laura Baldwin (Janey), Daniel Buckley (Feris) and Rob Houchen (Eugene) are all energetic, with phenomenal voices and control. Buckley is particularly effervescent fostering a Jack Black-esque vibe. Alongside them is Scott Paige as Theo the Hollywood lackey. Paige is wonderfully camp, with attuned comedic abilities and pizazz. Other stand out performances come from Neil McDermott (Evil Lord Hector), Emily Tierney (Carrie/Super Hot Lady) and Alex Bourne (Lex). Though the entire ensemble thrill with vitality.

Eugenius is as self proclaimed a ‘shot of musical adrenaline’ and you only have until October 21st to catch it. Click here to find out more. And remember if you don’t shoot for the stars shoot higher!

 

 

Laura Baldwin – Janey
Daniel Buckley – Feris
Scott Paige – Theo
Alison Arnopp – Space Diva/Mrs Truthstretcher
Rob Houchen – Eugene
Neil McDermott – Evil Lord Hector
Emily Tierney – Carrie/Super Hot Lady
Alex Bourne – Lex
Simon Thomas – Gerhard/Tough Man

Christopher Ragland, Titus Rowe, Laurence Alex Tranter, Ben Darcy, Dilllon Scott-Lewis, Lauren Cancannon, Amy West, Sasha Wareham.

 

Book, Music and Lyrics – Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins
Director – Ian Talbot
Assistant Director – Anthony Houghton
Musical Supervisor – Stuart Morley
Musical Director – Darren Lord
Choreographer – Aaron Renfree
Lighting Designer – Andrew Ellis
Original Sound Designer – Gareth Owen
Sound Designer – Dan Samson
Associate Sound Designer – David Beckham
Set and Costume Designer – Hannah Wolfe
Casting Director – Jim Arnold CDG
Creative Consultant – Michael Jibson
Producers – Warwick Davis, Kevin Wood, George Wood

 

Review: Stories, Dorfman Theatre, (National Theatre)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

Powerful, intriguing, funny and symbolic, but ultimately dazed and confused. Leaving space for disparity between composition and performance.

Nina Raine instinctively takes her piece from the beginning of life, (childhood), to it’s middle and the ability to create it, right to through to the end of it, all via the narrative of one women, Anna. Anna is a 39 year old, recently single woman with a ticking body clock and evident aching womb. Having, as a twenty something, watched her elderly landlady die, she is now nearly 40 and childless, determined to have a child before it’s too late, perceiving that she has wasted, and doesn’t have time to find a suitable partner in order to have one with. Allowing for an interesting examination into the bravery behind what is like to want to conceive a child without a partner to share in your endeavours, against a comical imagining of what it would be like to approach men who may also want a child outside of romance. Locating the matter meaningfully on the more serious plain of the implications of using a sperm donor, bringing a child into this world without a father or even knowledge of a father, hinging this onto the wider topic of identity. A wonderfully thought provoking conceptualisation.

This witty and hugely symbolic piece cleverly centres itself on the medium of stories. Much like life, these must crucially have a beginning, middle and end. Stories also forming an important part of being a parent, with adults often connecting with their offspring by telling them bedtime stories at the close of each day. Not only providing the title, but a stimuli for much of the beautifully executed symbolism. Anna’s friend Beth, has a daughter and Anna, whilst staying at their house indulges in her appreciation of imaginative stories. As the piece moves on the Girl becomes a part of Anna voicing her internalised responses to situations and as a plot device to move the narrative along, it is as if she is both passively listening to Anna’s story whilst also acting as part of it. Alongside this, Anna also reverts back to her childish, primitive behaviours, she has an urge that she will stop at no means to scratch irrespective of the feelings of those around her. We therefore are treated to motifs of her becoming almost childlike, (sitting on her mother’s knee for instance). The lighting is also intriguing in this respect; as a scene closes, the lights consistently fade to black whilst a constant light remains on Anna’s face, the darkness closing in around her. This in a way creates an image much like she is in a womb, she is the only thing inside herself. Yet the most beautiful and symbolic tableaux closes the piece. As Anna is about to inseminate herself on a bed centre stage and ‘see what happens’, she is bookended by the Girl in her bed, the location of her bedtime stories and Natasha, Anna’s landlady who has died with Anna at her side. The start and end of life surround her.

However, as much as the piece is packed with provocative questions and intricate analogies, there is an amount of disparity as it doesn’t quite flow. The writing is clever, but packed with a multiplicity of over-complicated and compounded sentences employing the use of elaborate lexis as if Raine was trying to show off her intelligence, which she no doubt holds. The result is an unnatural sounding dialogue that does not reflect everyday conversation. Perhaps done knowingly to convey the ridiculous-seeming nature of Anna’s request in approaching men to father her child, yet remaining un-connective with the naturalistic attempt at the delivery of it. This naturalism is also much in contrast with the epic set, that has elements sliding on and off and coming up through the floor. It’s white colouring doing much symbolically to represent paper, the blank canvas upon which Anna can write her story upon, choosing for herself and on her own terms, if and how to bring a child into the world. Similarly, there was an abundance multi-rolling which contrasted the naturalism and felt unnecessary, (though it was skilfully executed). This only worked in Sam Troughton’s case, emblematically having him play all of the possible father’s to Anna’s baby. Highlighting Anna’s desperation as she goes through every man she knows, in this sense any man will do. They are all ultimately and satirically the same, able to, but not necessarily willing to give her what she wants. The lack of identifiable differences between the men Anna would like to have a child with, reflecting the life of a donor child, not knowing who their father is, his identity, or truly theirs.

Claudie Blakley is sensational, tapping into the pain and frustration Anna feels and conveying it so genuine and heart-wrenchingly. She is enigmatic, tender and passionate, an intuitive performer. Alongside her, Sam Troughton is wonderful, an exceedingly malleable and a bodacious actor able to grasp much of the satire and humour with ease. Sylvie Erskine as the Girl also deserves a mention, for her dynamic and skilled performance displaying an amplitude of clarity. The rest of the cast are similarly exhuberant and cognent, particularly Brian Vernel.

This is Anna’s story, ‘the fertilisation of an idea’. See it artfully, despite being somewhat disjointed, performed at the Dorfman Theatre until November 28th. Click here for more information.
Director – Nina Raine
Designer – Jeremy Herbert
Lighting Designer – Bruno Poet
Music and Sound – Alex Baranowski
Movement Director – Jane Gibson
Company Voice Work – Charmian Hoare
Casting – Amy Ball

Anna – Claudia Blakley
Felix/Tom/Lachlan/Danny/Corbin/Rupert – Sam Troughton
Joe/Peter/James – Brian Vernel
Paul/Dad – Stephen Boxer
Beth/Julie – Thusitha Jayasundera
Mother/Natasha/Jenny – Margot Leicester
Girl – Sylvie Erskine, Beau Gadsdon, Katie Simons