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.

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Review: Anna, Dorfman Theatre, (National Theatre).

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

The Dorfman Theatre, in a turn of magnificent place-making manifests into a 1968 German Surveillance Centre, complete with headsets to listen in and a two way mirror. Ella Hickson’s new play Anna is not only a benevolent thriller, the design added by Ben and Max Ringham creates a theatrical atmosphere that has never been seen (or heard before). This is innovation in theatre.

As with any good thriller, there are a plethora of serious spoilers involved, but we were told ‘KEEP US SAFE’ ‘NO SPOILERS’, so, we of course won’t ruin the ridiculously well-written, suspense filled twists and turns of Hickson’s masterpiece. That being said, what we can tell you is that the trajectory is thrown off kilter by several gut-wrenching plot distortions, the likes of which engage and shock aplenty. Anna is set in East Berlin in 1968, just prior to the toppling of the wall. The work intriguingly focussing on what it was like to live under the communist rule of the German Democratic Republic. A time riddled with suspicion and fear over who to trust and who was listening, hence the surveillance thematics and the mentions of the party being a ‘safe space’. The action all takes place on one evening which we watch from Anna’s perspective. She and husband Hans are hosting a party at the suggestion of his new boss. The evening having been arranged for Hans’ work colleagues to celebrate his promotion. The guests subsequently arrive, whilst Anna’s mother’s unjust death in 1949 at the hands of Russian soldiers comes back to the forefront of her memory, the unexpected ensues as the two events collide.

As aforementioned the evening is shown from her perspective, this is intricately and beautifully built through the miraculous design, particularly that of the sound. Anna is mic’d and her audio is amplified and thus, all we hear, played directly into our headphones, (the reason for which comes abundantly clear). This creates an ASMR-style cacophony of sound, the perfect nod to this viral trend featured heavily on Youtube right now. The style allowing us to not only hear what Anna can hear, but her breathing, speaking and the sound of her movements combined, creating a listening experience that almost allows us to feel her movements through sound. This combine wondrously with the set design as its orientation blocks the bathroom, hallway and bedroom of the flat from total view, whilst the kitchen and lounge are central and visible, so when Anna is hidden spaces we are only able to listen in, engendering a scintillating sensation of spying, much like the reality of the time. Perpetuated further by the division of the stage, (Anna and Hans’ flat) by a perspex panel, parting the audience from the actors, the couple’s windows becoming a two way mirror through which we can look in and spy. Furthermore it is the moments Anna is out of view that build an exhilarating juxtaposition, whilst she is speaking of tragedy and loss, the party continues and the guests are shown to be jovially enjoying themselves, utter turmoil is contrasted by recreational enjoyment.

Much like Rosmersholm, (now playing the West-End, Duke of York’s Theatre), the piece ultimately pits politics against the personal. In Anna’s case political affiliation and involvement is secondary to personal ambition, much like many independent female character’s that have gone before her, she is willing to act in a typically ‘masculine’ manner, demonstrating the volition to sacrifice her morals for hot-headed revenge, however just it seems. And in this powerful role Phoebe Fox is an absolute joy, a maelstrom of emotion and utterly convincing, supported by a superb ensemble. Anna is one hour of pure thrills and physical gasps. With the most adroit innovations in design seen this year! You won’t want to miss it, click here to book now. 

 

Cast
Phoebe Fox – Anna
Paul Bazely – Hans
Michael Gould
Diana Quirk
Lara Rossi
Nathalie Armin
Max Bennett
Jamie Bradley
Georgia landers
Dwane Walcott

 

Creatives
Author: Created by Ella Hickson, Ben and Max Ringham (story by Ella Hickson)
Composer: Ben and Max Ringham
Director: Natalie Abrahami
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting: Jon Clark
Sound: Ben and Max Ringham
Movement: Anna Morrissey

 

Review: A German Life, Bridge Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Maggie Smith triumphantly returns to the stage! Captivating as ever, she sensationally holds the crowd in the palm of her hand from start to finish. Illiciting an instantaneous, well-deserved standing ovation in response.

‘Maggie Smith, alone on stage’. This aforementioned statement about the production that features on Bridge Theatre’s website, is perhaps the perfect description of A German Life. Christopher Hampton’s new play is just this, Maggie Smith, a magnificent storyteller, on her own terms telling the story of a German life, from it’s humble beginnings, through to it’s glory days and finally to its decent, using the vehicle of a direct address memoir to vibrantly convey this life in its totality. And this is not just any German life we are talking about, the testimony here, is that of famed short-hander, typist and secretary for propaganda propeller Joseph Goebbels, Brunhilde Pomsel. Drawn from Christian Krönes, Olaf Müller, Roland Schrotthofer and Florian Weigensamer’s 2016 documentary interviewing Pomsel, (also entitled A German Life), Hampton uses his writing to toy with the idea of the human condition, from an ingrained selfish ability to turn a blind eye to injustice or believe in a scapegoat, resulting from a lack of empathy or inclination to care, combined with the governing classes ability to withhold or falsify information, sound familiar? Our Brexit senses are tingling! Set in 2016, (the year of the EU vote), the character ironically remarks how ‘the people’ would never fall for a cover up today like the allusion before the atrocities of the concentration camps. The title itself, A German Life, does much to paint Pomsel as an ordinary German, though extraordinary due to her association to one of the most evil men in history, she was by her own admission much like many Germans of her time, duped by the higher powers into thinking nothing bad was actually happening. ‘I had no idea what was going on. Or very little. No more than most people…’. This presented ordinary nature of the character, is thus nuanced-ly represented through Anna Fleischle’s design. Pomsel is sat at an ordinary table, within an ordinary kitchen, drinking an ordinary cup of tea and ordinarily indulging in a little cognac as the evening progresses, losing herself in her story. The deeper she goes into her reminiscing, the further she gets away from the kitchen and the present day, it’s as if she is envisioning her past. Fleischle, therefore cleverly makes the table at which she sits mechanically edge slowly towards the front of the stage throughout the performance, whilst the remaining set pieces move further away, falling into the background. A movement that is so slick and unassuming that it is almost impossible to document during the piece. A beautiful visualisation of the transgression of Pomsel’s life and story, as well as a physical wiping away of the setting that does much to sinisterly suggest these kind of things could happen anywhere at any time.

The play itself displays the ageing Pomsel, sitting in a kitchen, she, disorientated by her years and experiences stumbles chronologically through her life, which spanned the twentieth century. From labouring to make ends meet as a secretary in Berlin during the 1930s, through her many employers including a Jewish insurance broker and the German Broadcasting Corporation, to the eventuality that was, Joseph Goebbels and the repercussions past that. Jonathan Kent’s valorous direction sees Smith endearingly and humorously bring Pomsel to life, (Hampton aptly ensuring that there are several one-liners to wondrously accent the vibrancy of the character). Brunhilde Pomsel is there in the auditorium with you, Kent, Hampton and Smith ensure it. Whilst Fleischle echoes this, her design floods Pomsel’s table with newspapers and pages of writing, an indicator of her work in both Broadcasting House and in the Press offices, particularly her typist abilities, the cognac she places on the table demonstrates some of the frivolity she enjoyed under Goebbels, whilst the books demonstrate not only her intelligence, but the education she could have had, should her father have allowed her to study past the age of 15. Small visual glimpses into a variegated life. Something Paul Groothuis’ sound also cohesifies with, a subtle integrity. He chooses to sprinkle beautiful sound bites throughout, without overdoing their frequency. These are enkindled echoes of Pomsel’s life, for instance we hear the roar of a crowd formed after Hitler was made Chancellor, a rally Pomsel was dragged to by an a boyfriend at the time, as well as parts of a speech made by Goebbels, Pomsel again being forced to attend due to her avocation. Sewn throughout Groothius’ work is astonishing and so very apt for the overall sincerity and tenderness of the piece.

To conclude, the composition is well-balanced and deeply enthralling. Smith expectedly astonishes, whilst both the direction and design around her make it so. A German Life is a moving, momentous must see!

 
Cast
BRUNHILDE POMSEL – Maggie Smith

Creative Team
DIRECTOR – Jonathan Kent
WRITER – Christopher Hampton
DESIGNER – Anna Fleischle
LIGHTING – Jon Clark
SOUND – Paul Groothuis

 

Review: Grief is The Thing With Feathers, Barbican Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Wayward Productions see’s Enda Walsh’s enigmatic adaptation of Max Porter’s award-winning novel land blindingly onto the Barbican Stage. This exhilarating proverbial staging written and directed by Walsh, intelligibly manifests grief, from the very sensation of it, to its affect on the human condition. The remarkable delivery of which, leaves audiences both shocked and enthused.

Situated in a London flat, GITTWF introduces it’s audience to a father. A father not unlike any other parent of young children, except here we are presented with a man that is consumed by sadness. Left lost, empty and despairing, he glances towards his family’s future now that his wife, the mother of his children has suddenly died. Imagining it to be filled with endless streams of sympathetic visitors and a thick, black emptiness. However, whilst he and his two young boys face their desolation, they are visited by Crow – described as the ‘antagonist, babysitter, trickster and healer’. A ‘sentimental bird’ that is drawn to the grieving family and somewhat menacingly threatens to stay until they no longer need him. (This threat, enforced by a ‘mythical’ being, is aberrantly reminiscent of that of the walking of the monster in Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls, which received its own stage adaptation last year). Both, on stage, wonderfully enacting as theatrical epics, intertwined with emotion and poeticism aplenty.

Cillian Murphy, is absolutely exquisite his ability to shape-shift between character’s, changing from the romantic grieving father to the abrasive visiting Crow, is unparalleled. The father, bereaved and anxious, struggling to write a book on Ted Hughes whilst fumbling to look after his sons, is played tenderly and inwardly by Murphy, a passionate yet muted characterisation, that is deeply juxtaposed by his portrayal of Crow. Charging around the space, Murphy here, dynamically commands the atmosphere and displays an extreme amount of skilled athleticism and charisma. Achieving the transition between the two by the simplicity of a hooded black dressing gown, Murphy dextrously metamorphoses into Crow, amending his entire physicality. As Crow he adopts a stooped posture, splaying his feet and bounds on and off furniture and stage levels alike. He even bursts into the audience, breaking the fourth wall and physical stage boundary, through this act the character reminds us that the circumstances in which he is visiting are universal, prolongedly experienced by all. This undeniably adept physical transformation is also accompanied by an intriguing modification in voice, effectuated by the amplification of Murphy’s vocalisations through various microphones, whilst the actor himself reforms his tonality to display an energised lower, rougher quality. His skill tumultuously accenting the fabulous sound design of Helen Atkinson.

Walsh’s inspired decision to have Murphy play both characters, unites the human and animal worlds, demonstrating that their is not much difference between the two. That in both, whilst grief sets in, survival is still a priority. Furthermore, the Crow’s inhabitants emphasises the curative essence of poeticism, nature being a regular feature in liturgical works. The Crow becoming a mythological outlet and at points symbol for the family’s grief. He is a vehicle for the pure fury that the father feels at the premature loss of his wife, as well as the helper who drowns out the sadness that clings and attacks the father’s tender reminiscings of fond memories.

That being said this production is that of excess and theatrics. Something that at times becomes detrimental to the piece. Walsh cleverly, does a lot with the help of the other creatives to generate a sensory overload, importantly with no clear natatorial structure, using the vocal amplifications and Teho Teardo’s compositions, combined with Will Dukes exceedingly detailed and well-crafted projections and Adam Silverman’s dynamic lighting. Resulting in a submerging wall of sound and visual spectacular. Though this sensory overload is key to engendering the overwhelming and at points incapacitating sensation of grief, (something this creative team crafts faultlessly), the result is that it can be difficult to understand Murphy and the direction of the work, leaving the point to get somewhat muddled underneath the hyperactive mutterings of Crow. (Particularly on the projection side of things, as from certain seats these become indecipherable). Nonetheless, the sentiment and atmospheric technique is genius. These profuse afferent sections are wonderfully contrasted by the romantic and anxious recollections of the father, where we hear recordings of his late wife’s voice or see images of her, whilst the father fights to keep it together. A powerhouse performance from Murphy on both accounts, ensues.

Yet, the secondary star of the show is the design. Will Duke’s projections do much to bring the metrical nature of Porter’s novel to life, despite being of a monochromatic persuasion, they are wonderfully vibrant working with the sound design and Walsh’s pockets of poetic speeches to bring to life the mythology and animal iconography of Porter’s original in a stylised manner. Whilst also doing much to illustrate the extent of grief on the human psyche. Alongside these are the exciting intricacies of Jamie Vartan’s design which are prevalent and important. The variegated levels provide the perfect playground for Crow to bound upon and state his presence, whilst the flat, though realistic in contrast to the character of Crow, becomes the perfect white canvas for not only Duke’s artistic intent, but for the family to grow and learn upon, they find teachings in both the tragedy itself and Crow’s lessons, learning to live again and to function as a family unit of three, their anger and naivety can cause messes, (messes we physically see), but the tidying back to white and starting again is possible, (something we again witness). A beautiful message, that it is possible to build something from despair and that you can try as many times as you need to get it to work. Laid on top of this is Adam Silverman’s detailed and at times subtle lighting. A particular favourite is the unassuming cross, a shadow often projected onto the lower back wall, next to the first door. It appears much like a tombstone, an ever-present reminder of death and of the person they are missing. The fact it disappears every so often, suggests that grief though painful does dissipate with time and becomes ever more fleeting.

To conclude, GITTWF is phenomenally well acted and designed, it packs a punch, but remembers to contrast it’s spectaculars with more sustained moments of clarity. It simply needs to slow itself down at points to allow it’s technical skill and execution to speak for itself. To find out more about the production click here. grief sim the thing with feathers

 

Max Porter – Text
Enda Walsh – Adaptation and Direction
Teho Teardo – Composer
Jamie Vartan – Design
Christina Cunningham – Costumes
Adam Silverman – Lighting
Helen Atkinson – Sound
Will Duke – Projection
Cillian Murphy – Actor

Review: Orlando, Pit – The Vaults, (Vaults Festival 2019)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸

A charming and vivacious exegesis on love, identity, time and of course, Virginia Woolf.

Having surmised the entire plot of Virginia Woolf’s classic 1928 novel Orlando, published just a year shy of the Great Depression, Lucy Roslyn goes on to deliver a witty, if somewhat jumbled and misguided comparison of ‘her own’ circumstances to those of Orlando. She both imagines the character as if in front of her, suggesting what Orlando would say when experiencing the world today, whilst symbiotically taking on that role herself and acting as the character. We’re sure there is meant to be a clever commentary on the ideology behind characterisation and the adoption of different guises here, but unfortunately it gets lost as we scramble to try and understand the point to Roslyn’s nebulous conversationals. It’s kind of ironic that the piece starts with her asking when and how does a play start? and how do we define the beginning and the end? when it’s difficult to define her version of Orlando, was it simply an analytical delivery of the plot, mixed in with a modern comparison? Or was the offering deliberately vague as an overall commentary on identity and labels? It’s a long stretch, but as Roslyn navigates the changes in gender of the character and ‘her own’ choice to shy away from the label of bisexuality, we begin to understand the overarching theme of identity as a choice. Orlando could therefore have been presented as deliberately open to interpretation, open to be what you want it to be. As much as the novel promotes being seen for who you choose to be.

Despite this, Lucy Roslyn herself is a competent and exuberant performer and storyteller, commanding the space well whilst dynamically holding her audience’s attention, making it all the more frustrating that the work seems to have no solid through-line. Don’t get us wrong a through-line exists and there are interesting explications on the aforementioned thematics, whilst Roslyn fosters a genuine warmth on the subject of love and lost love. The piece just needs more focus and overall clarity. It does however craft a beautifully balanced love-letter to Woolf’s original novel, building on the motifs and symbols found within. Allowing for an acknowledgement of the novels relevancy even today, a stand against the ‘identitarian bullshit of 2019’.

Orlando plays until Sunday at Vaults Festival. Click here to book.

Written and performed by Lucy Roslyn
Directed by Josh Roche

Producer: Jessie Anand
Designer: Sophie Thomas
Lighting Designer: Peter Small
Sound Designer: Kieran Lucas

Review: Drought, Pit – The Vaults, (Vaults Festival 2019)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Hauntingly beautiful!

Theatre-maker Kate Radford is a true artist, visionary and storyteller. Navigating the ancient mythology surrounding Caenis, a woman known for her beauty, charm and knowledge, Radford veraciously explores what it is to be a women, through the lenses of both consent and expectation. Utilising this age old story of submission as a vehicle for her bright, bold and witty sound offs, noting of the tale’s consistent repetition and the fact it should be dutifully learned from. No doubt inspired by this erupting #MeToo era.

From the offset it is abundantly clear that Radford is an immensely talented spoken word writer and performer. Regaling her audience with an informative and well-crafted anarchistic dialogue, she speaks with masses of passion and conviction in metered prose, rightfully leaving her spectators in awe. Not only is her dialogue impeccable, she is also insanely musically gifted, turning her talents to song throughout and blending her chosen styles expertly. The spoken word, storytelling and musicianship mix with digital aspects to bring this retelling prominently into the modern age and pinpoint its utter relevancy. With this in mind Radford spiritedly utilises a looping system to craft vibrant soundscapes, layering variegated sounds and colourful harmonies, whilst projections of images and landscapes help further to locate Caenis’ story. Sound and visualisations thus engender a series of exciting ‘digital landscapes’, these digital vistas gently entwine and cohere to the explored thematics. Caenis’ narrative traversing both water and sand, ocean and desert, wet and dry, the drought and not, yes and no, a simple black and white explorative, yet raging discussion on consent. These elements all therefore surmise into an atmospherically powerful piece that promotes the generation of new narratives for women, an end to this ‘drought’ as it were.

The story does at points somewhat deviate from Caenis’, making it intermittently difficult to follow. However this is forgivable as the character’s experience can be seen as that of a universal female experience, the work promoting the need for a change away from this. The crafted soundscapes also tend to drown out Radford, though again, at points this is necessary to promote a sense of women being seen as ‘secondary’, not the heroes of their own story something simply to be had by men.

To conclude Kate Radford is hugely talented and Drought is an artistic delight, beautifully blending Ancient mythology with performance genres and digital elements aplenty. You can catch the show at Vault Festival until Sunday, click here to book.

 

Written and Performed by Kate Radford
Video composition and design by Kate Radford
Photography – Bryony Good
Associate Artist – Laurence Alliston-Greiner

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