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: 100, 200, 300 Milligrams, John Thaw Studio, (Tristan Bates Theatre, The Actors Centre)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Obianyo’s voice is a unique gift, glorious in tone, range and power it lends itself to a series of different styles, soaring and filling the space wonderfully, yet her song writing ability is something to be considered far more superior.

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 in her piece 100, 200, 300 Milligrams. Remi, a budding musician, is the parent of her parent, and by that we mean her mother suffers from a form of schizophrenia and often refuses to take her medication, resulting in her continuously turning away carers and eventually being sectioned, meaning Remi is often responsible for her mother and has been since she was a child. An increasingly difficult amount of pressure for a young adult, something Remi is now buckling under.

Though she self-proclaims that the dialogue needs work and it does in places, lacking some clarity and logic here and there, (something that may well be attributable to nerves also), what was provided by Obianyo in this manifestation of the work was for the most part aptly plaintive, juxtaposed by moments of endearing humour, that in part resembled a stand-up comedy performance, giving Remi a characterful and warming persona, a light to the darkness of the mounting pressure physically shown in the more consequential and impassioned sections of despair, where Remi tries to appease her mother. These feelings good and bad bubbling inside of her, are thus shown staggeringly by Obianyo’s own prolific acting abilities. Something she should be wholeheartedly proud of, we’ve never seen someone perform so powerfully, moving both themselves and us to tears in the process.

Most importantly 100, 200, 300 Milligrams truthfully considers what it is is like to be a young carer and admirably traverses the themes of mental health and suicide in an anecdotal manner. It delicately takes the concept of youth and explores what being a young carer means in relation to this. Such as the effects of losing your childhood through having to look after someone, juxtaposed with the needs of a young adult. Touching upon the urge to escape and explore the world, whilst delving into the euphoria of sex and relationships. Something Remi reveals she has done, but then as she explains, her obligations taint this due to their mental and physical constraints upon her life. Constraints that mean she battles both the stigma of having a ‘crazy’ mother and the difficulties of her mother’s non-compliance. Though the thematics are weighty, the delivery was nothing but charming and moving. Here, it is worth mentioning the wonder of Remi’s world that Obianyo effortlessly crafted, which warmly invited us in. This is Remi’s story, so you are in Remi’s room, hearing directly from Remi herself and it is incredibly personable. The engendering of Remi’s world, was not only built through a personal direct address, but also via the use of the stage space. The platform enacting as her bedroom, which, as a result, appeared remotely messy, filled with personal items, shoes, pens, paper and scraps of songs she had been writing. Yet the space simultaneously was distinguishable as the set up for a music gig, with both a mic and guitar stand, instruments and amp. Giving a reflection to Remi’s personality and aspirations, (as a musician and creative mind), whilst also practically providing the means to weave music into the piece, with Remi singing, writing and rehearsing here to pass time. Ultimately, it presented a safe space for the character to talk about her situation, a space that was hers. The bedroom setting was also the location of the plot, with the character retreating to her room to wait for the carers to arrive, her presence being required as means to let them in, as her mother had been refusing to whilst she had been away on tour. This sense of waiting beautifully accented the piece, with a ticking clock forming a continuous soundscape.

The only apparent criticism is the dialogue, as earlier mentioned it needs to be more developed and refined. An overall flow, as well as a cause and affect methodology must be applied in order to help in the earning of tension buildingm simply so Remi’s outbursts don’t appear as 0-100’s without much cause, giving us a greater understanding and reasons to feel empathy for her. She is already so likeable as a character, but just needs a coherent voice and means behind her. On the flip side, as aforementioned, the score was truly eloquent and beautiful, with Obianyo proving herself to be an exceedingly talented musician, playing guitar tempestuously whilst even navigating percussion at the same time. She surprisingly goes as far as to demonstrate her abilities as a looping artist, layering samples and harmonies on top of each other and even splitting a few beats along the way. A skill that to perfect live is particularly difficult, yet Obianyo, having demonstrated her pure talent, utilises it further for comedic effect in composition ‘I feel shit’. Another stand out songs are ‘Give Me A Reason’ and the upbeat, ‘Hey Momma’ number, in which Remi envisions the best possible, but totally fantastical scenario in which she can ask her mother to take her meds. If you want something to compare the overall vibe to, you could look to Charlie Fink’s Cover My Tracks which played limited performances at The Old Vic last year before touring. This stark comparison only provokes us into asking, when and where can we get an EP? The music is equally as, if not more stunning that the Noah and the Whale frontman’s and he released his music beforehand, don’t leave us hanging!

100, 200, 300 Milligrams was presented as a work-in-progress at the Tristan Bates Theatre in the John Thaw Studio for two nights only as part of the Blacktress Season. It is written, composed and produced by Gloria Obianyo. The Blacktress Season showcases the voices of identifying Black British Womxn from October to December, a John Thaw Initiative in collaboration with Blacktress UK for new writing/works in progress. To see what else is on click here.

To conclude, we ultimately hope Gloria Obianyo develops her piece further and presents it to audiences again soon. To visit Gloria’s soundcloud click here.

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Review: Blink, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Blink is a compelling and witty unconventional love story. Performed sincerely and jovially, the composition of the work presented by director Samantha Robinson delicately built something both exquisite and charming, the perfect dysfunctional romantic comedy.

Sophie’s father’s death leaves her with a void to fill and two conjoined flats in Leytonstone. Having been made redundant, she fixes up the lower flat which was her father’s and awaits a new tenant. Falling into a lonely routine of video games and trash TV. Jonah, a Quaker living on a farm finds hidden inheritance left to him by his mother, her words willing him to use it to go out and experience the world away from the sheltered lifestyle of ‘a self-sustaining religious community’, he travels to London and coincidently, through an estate agent, rents from Sophie, living beneath her. Sophie’s grief has pushed her into a position of loneliness, whilst Jonah’s inexperience, naivety and placement in a new city means he fails to connect with other living beings, except for a mange-ridden Fox in the garden. Sophie watches Jonah, Jonah watches Sophie. Something beautifully demonstrated with unseen glances towards the other, between sections of dialogue enigmatically directed straight out to the audience, facilitating the sense that though they are both present with each other, they are by choice not present, simply watching and not engaging. Brilliantly enacting the way people often passively act towards each other online.

As mentioned above Phil Porter’s work gravitates around the theme of watching (voyeurism), it is therefore rightfully so packed with symbolic references to seeing, following and visual stimuli, making for an interesting exploration into what it is like to be watched, particularly in the digital age, an era where the ‘me generation’ has emerged, creating content that can be stalked online by anyone. With many affairs now being conducted over social media, there is a shift in how human connection can be ignited and sustained, Porter thus examines this in an intriguing manner from a unique deeply symbolic perspective. Creating these characters that form a bond without even actively engaging with one and other. 

Opening with a comparison between the eye of a rabbit, that has been tracked and hunted, to a camera lens, an object that could juxtaposingly, be used in the act of stalking, it therefore questions whether trailing someone, encouraged or not and however innocently, can flourish into love, or if it only facilitates obsession. Set firmly in the present, the piece oozes relevancy, taking this phenomenology of the digital age and cementing it further within the universal themes of loneliness and grief, the powerful performances on top of this making for a deep rooted meaningful delivery. The two universal feelings forming the basis of a set of coincidences causing ‘lovers’ Sophie and Jonah to somewhat-distantly meet. Examining not only death and it’s impact, but more widely on London culture perpetuating a struggle-through-grief attitude, as well as expediting a deafening loneliness due to its fast pace. The ominous echo of the two thematics: (loneliness and grief) is first and foremost excellently manifested by the empty black box space, dressed only with flooring and chairs. The chairs as moveable objects, not only imaginatively and instantaneously create setting, but also convey the increasing proximity of Sophie to Jonah, as one begins to stalk the other. Sophie orchestrating and playing up to the attention received, as Jonah, having watched her through a screen at first, begins to follow her every move, an interesting dynamic, conveyed stupendously well here. The direction formulating a kind of disconnected flirting, the actors beautifully conducting the character’s delight and intrigue towards the audience and not towards each other, with a series of well-timed looks and expressions. This incites almost a comical game of cat and mouse, the tension heightening as they place the chairs closer and closer to each other, but never quite touch, the lack of physical connection demonstrating their refusal to directly converse. The actors hilariously move and dart past each other without even an ounce of acknowledgement, a kind of non-present presence. The superb pacing of these scenes establishes a rush in excitement and fascination much like in a new romance; Jonah becoming more daring and serious even, in his pursuit of Sophie, revelling in the fact she doesn’t know he’s there, (or so he thinks) and Sophie delighting more and more, (an upwards spiral out of grief), in taking them on various excursions, enjoying the sensation of being watched as it seems to give her a new purpose. This scintillating physicalisation of the game of flirting is thoroughly entertaining and cleverly built up, a million miles away from the earlier tender scenes of Jonah watching Sophie on the baby monitor she anonymously gave to him. We see him in awe as he watches Sophie eat an apple, fixated on the screen. Robinson accomplishes direction to highlight Porter’s theme of voyeurism astoundingly, after Jonah intricately describes her every move consumed by what he sees, Georgia Halford, (Sophie) then vividly recreates every move, indicating it is her he is watching in tandem to explaining how it feels to be on camera here. This powerful visual excellently denotes the start of the character’s connection, a moment of poignancy, triggering them doing everything together without truly being together. It is the performance of these delicate moments that creates a genuine feeling of care and tenderness between the two, we see motifs in which the two actor’s physicalities match, they almost mirror each other engendering a sense of companionship, for instance they excitedly shift in their seats and smile in close proximity, simulating watching TV together, showing the two to be content in simply knowing that the other is there. But as always looking outward to their audience to show they are not truly together. A feeling that is built musically throughout with the composition and soundscapes provided by musician Roel Fox, his music is light and delicate, a weaving of tenderness throughout. A sensation echoed throughout with the lighting, beating on and off the actor’s faces often in time to the music and dialogue, a stunning and reactive design. 

Robinson and Assistant Director Natalya Micic, take the visually symbolic nature of Porter’s play and run with it. First and foremost placing the kindled love between the two protagonists in the set and props, visually displaying it. Sophie anecdotally explains at the start of the piece, how her dad cared for her so much that he would fulfil even the most ridiculous request, recalling how he placed her bed on the lawn after a dental operation so she could breath in the fresh air allowing the grogginess to clear. Jonah reminds her of her dad, (with her earlier mentioning their similarity in movement), and thus when Sophie returns home from hospital in their timeline, Jonah copies what she told him her father did and we physically see an enactment of him moving the bed, from it being propped up side of stage and lifted onto the AstroTurf covering the stage space, followed by him making it. This staged act of compassion elegantly symbolises love and human connection, something that by this point is brewing between Jonah and Sophie. It is then the location of which they share their first kiss and begin to get intimate. Similarly we are shown Jonah’s wellies from the farm, as he introduces us to his sheltered life on in Yorkshire as a Quaker. We only see them again when Sophie banishes Jonah back to his flat downstairs, his intensified behaviour and obsession becoming too much for her, she hands the wellies back to him to signify things returning back to the way they were before, just knowing the other is there. 

Ashley Gyngell is wonderful, he unfalteringly captures Jonah’s bewilderment, innocence and naive charm. But is overall unprecedentedly animated and comically gifted. His counterpart Georgia Halford is likewise a powerful and formidable performer, grasping and conveying a semblance of genuine grief and pain. She is a pragmatic and talented storyteller, both also excellently multi-rolling at points. Whilst it is Samantha Robinson’s direction that foments the telling of this story so genuinely and presently. An absorbing and humorous story for our time. 

Writer: Phil Porter 

Director: Samantha Robinson 

Assistant Director: Natalya Micic 

Lighting Designer: Sam Thomas 

Music: Roel Fox 

Producer: Camille Wilhelm 

Sophie: Georgie Halford 

Jonah: Ashley Gyngell 

Spotlight On: Stitchin’ Fiction, Theatre Delicatessen

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Kicking off Theatre Deli’s Mindful Season, Stitchin’ Fiction brought its original new writing night back to the Deli Studios on Finsbury Avenue this past Monday. The evening is in essence quick-fire as it involves casting, rehearsal and performance all being done then and there. Made by creatives for creatives, Stitchin’ Fiction is a free, non-profit platform that helps not only writers in getting their work on its feet, but provides actors a chance to perform publicly and directors an opportunity to flex their artistic muscles, imparting a collaborative experience that culminates in a bout of networking, (and of course socialising, it’s not all work and no play).

For a guide, a typical Stitch’ Fiction event runs like so…
● Writers/Directors and Performers Arrive
● Industry Q&A
● Assigned Speed Casting – Get your packs and groups
● Rehearsal Workshopping Time
● Audience Arrive: Public Scratch Performance 7:30pm
● Audience/Participant Q&A

Fostering a supportive collective of likeminded individuals, Stitchin’ Fiction’s atmosphere is electric, it’s inspiring to see individuals congratulating total strangers and friends alike, whilst sharing their thoughts, opinions and complements constructively. Something perfectly drawn out via the informal, yet respective bar environment. This nurturing and safe atmosphere is incredibly important in helping the next generation of artists not only to flourish but also to connect. Especially as the performance industry can feel so inconceivably lonely when you feel as if you know no one. With this in mind, Stitchin’ Fiction remains informal and an open forum, providing an opportunity for creatives to not only question the writers after all four pieces have been staged, but also to plug their own work. This particular evening also fostered a sharing session on the subject of mindfulness, keeping in line with kickstarting the Theatre Deli’s season, (whilst the selected pieces all ran along the thematic of mental health as well). This sharing session, acknowledging not only the mental struggles of being human but also those from within this field of work. Highlighting the incredibly supportive tone that Stitchin’ Fiction engenders, as there were so many positive suggestions thrown out there, from meditation and deleting apps that make you contactable 24 hours a day, to creating an ‘appreciated’ email folder and also simply taking time to focus on breathing.

The mindfulness thematic also provided the reasoning behind our compère for the evening providing everyone with trigger warnings before certain pieces, a tentative but much needed moment to make sure everyone was a-okay. Monday 24th saw stagings of: Broken Thing by Colette Cullan, The History of Wrong Guys by Marika Visser, Director’s Cut by Alex Kennedy and Last First by Martin Keady. Broken Thing is a poignant and piquant exploration into our inherent programmed concealment of mental health issues and addiction, directed sincerely by Grace Irvine and performed exquisitely by Helen Rose Hampton joined by George Weightman. Up next was The History Of Wrong Guys, an up-to-date, exceedingly relevant recount of the highs and lows of online dating, the chatty dialogue of it excellently drawn out by director Rachael Bellis and actor Jessica Lucia Andrade. Later we were then treated to Director’s Cut, a witty explorative narrative into the psyche of an actor and all of the anxieties that come with the audition and performing processes. Performed amicably by Emma Louise Burdett and Charlotte Raimes, directed by Helena Jackson. Finally this was followed by Last First an emotional manifestation of the grieving process and letting go, particularly referencing suicide, performed magnificently by Carrie Cohen, Lil Davies and Joel Smith. Directed proficiently by Nieve Hearity. All of the semi-stagings thus displayed layers of wit and inventiveness, delivering something unique and fresh to the gathered audience. The evening enacting like an uplifting sharing session that involved and illicited involement from more than just the creatives that initially took part. Making it easy to see how this night is able to spark and encourage new avenues and opportunities into the arts for those from all walks of life. Especially as the evening is not elitist or constricting, they as the mention, simply ‘let their artists do what they do best’.

Stitchin’ Fiction is a much needed and very much welcome platform, to support the enterprise and find out more click here.

 

Stitchin’ Fiction events are hosted and ran by the skills and expertise of the SF Team, Resident Directors and Standbys – without whom these events would not be possible:
Mei Mac, Kate Goodfellow, Robert Boulton, Steven M J Laverty, Ashley Hardman, Jess Warshaw, Doug Rutter, Fumi Gomez, Ciéranne Kennedy Bell, Nieve Hearity.

Stitchin’ Fiction was also conceived in 2014 by Elizabeth Williams.

 

An Open Letter // Review: Sylvia, The Old Vic

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Yesterday The Stage published an article explaining how due to cast illness and the need to keep developing the show, The Old Vic’s newest production Sylvia, presented in collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, Kate Prince: The ZooNation Company and 14-18 Now, had to cancel it’s press night and perform a stripped down concert version instead. The feature was simply a news piece stating that there would be a future life for the show, but not a direct extension, due to 17c opening at the theatre shortly. However, upon sharing the write-up through their social channels an abundance of criticism flooded in for the production, and we thought that as there are no real reviews out there to defend this wonderful cast and creative team, that it was our duty to say something.

Sylvia is a historical repurposing of the narrative around the humble beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement and their eventual acquisition of the vote for women, rotating on the axis of the formidable Pankhurst family. It is delivered musically through hip-hop and brings together a multitalented and ethnically diverse ensemble of actors. Focussing upon Sylvia Pankhurst and her vital role in the campaign for women’s rights, yet delving further into the price it cost her, commenting upon how the passion and politics tore her entire family apart.

This year marks 100 years since the suffrage movement encouraged and subsequently celebrated the passing of The Representation of the People Act, allowing women aged 30 and over with a certain amount of property to vote. As well as extending the local government franchise to include women aged 21 and over. However with women still struggling worldwide to secure true equality with that of men, this subject matter is outwardly politically urgent, shedding a light on gender imbalance then and now. This production is thus reactive, fitting into the canon, as identified by The Independent, of ‘woke musicals’. A new wave initiated by, but not limited to Hamilton. These new wave works are ‘at the forefront of conversations around race, gender, sexuality and identity’ without being reliant on presenting something classic or traditional. It seems these intuitive pieces are representing the sentiment of the Millennial and Gen Z generations, who want to both be challenged and want art to outwardly challenge the way things are. But it is for this reason that this very commentary had to be written. Sylvia is all of the above, but not only does it immediately challenge gender issues, it converses on the subject of sexuality, not shying away from the rumours of Christabel Pankhurst’s speculated affliction for women. But most importantly, much like Hamilton, it comments upon race, bolstering a diverse cast, many of which are BAME actors, playing historical figures who would of course have been white. As writer and choreographer Kate Prince states this isn’t a documentary, it’s art. So why should they appear 100% historically accurate? ‘We’re not addressing an even playing field here. If there needs to be a long period of time where we ask more black and Asian actors to take leading roles, then why not. We have to redress that imbalance.’ Despite this there are still ridiculous gripes over Beverly Knight portraying Emmeline Pankhurst being publicly shared, many of which appeared in the comments section of The Stage article via their Facebook page. And this is exactly why BAME actors should be portraying these characters. For. For so many years minorities have been viewed as inferior, well clearly and disgustingly so, by some they are still viewed in that respect, so of course they should star in a show about searching and fighting for equality, just as they and their ancestors have been doing for generations. It is as much about the historical struggle for gender equality, as it is about the on-going battle against racial underrepresentation and discrimination. Furthermore, Sylvia utilises the vehicle of hip-hop as it has excellent storytelling tendencies, a form developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans in the 1970s. With the genre having been developed by BAME individuals, then they are evidently the best to perform within the chosen style.

However, this is not where the internet trolls stopped. Others decided to turn on The Old Vic calling the whole affair a shambles and scorning them for even being bold enough to try to put the production on. How dare people comment in such a manner upon a work they more than likely haven’t seen and if they did see it, they didn’t see it in it’s final glorified form or appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into it. These are more than likely middle class, over the age of 60 theatre-goers that don’t speak for the masses and are used to seeing the same old recycled straight plays written by white English or American males. Go back to Windsor, the next generation of theatregoers sincerely and with open arms welcomes woke musicals into the theatrical landscape.

We luckily saw Sylvia on a fully staged night, featuring the entire cast and though we know it still has to be reworked, we thought we’d share what we perceived regarding this incarnation as it blew our freaking minds! First and foremost the production documents Sylvia’s work alongside her sister Christabel and mother Emmeline for the Women’s Social and Political Union, it navigates the turmoil the family fell into as the union became more and more militant, (e.g bombs, arson, suicide). A notion subtly indicated through Prince’s wondrous contemporary choreography that thrills and excites, exceeding all else in excellence, it thus bolsters through-lines of militaristic movements and motifs such as salutes and then the standing to attention. The sentiment of the WSPU of ‘deeds not words’ encouraged many to act out and subsequently be arrested, again suggested through the choreography in the recurring imagery of the binding of the hands behind one’s back. It is for this reason, Sylvia falls out of favour with her mother and sister, becoming resistant to this militancy and their focus on winning the vote for the elite minority of women rather than for the many, aligning herself with the socialist Independent Labour Party instead. She, upon explosion from the WSPU, helped to form the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1914. Therefore the production delivers the historical narrative truthfully and viscerally, bringing to the forefront the multitude of elements and activists that filtered into women eventually getting the vote in 1918, situating the piece broadly within the political landscape as it highlights Sylvia’s socialist tendencies, her close and presumably romantic relationship with Keir Hardie, leader of the Labour Party and further follows Winston Churchill’s early career and his opposition towards suffragism, as allegedly instructed by his mother. It is a consequential in-depth exploration of class politics and intersectional feminism. The political thematics alluded to by the staging, the raised rostra used to elevate actors, is suggestive of a political podium used by politicians to deliver speeches to the masses. Ultimately, the piece doesn’t just provide a sluggish recantation of the facts and themes, Sylvia is incredibly abrasive, witty and poignant, as well as inclusiveness of this high-stakes, thrilling narrative. With a varied, dynamic and triumphant score, it is simply unfaultable, add in the breath-taking choreography and it’s a winning formula for sure.

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. We begin by learning about her close relationship with her father and brother, as well as her fondness for art, we see her personal opinion on matters whilst she tries to measure up to her family’s expectations and a romance blossom between her and Keir Hardie, before watching Sylvia distance herself from her family and subsequently start her own ménage. This makes Sylvia 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. Furthmore although the costumes appear uniform, suggestive towards the militaristic sentiments of the WSPU, each female actor adorns a slightly different and unique skirt, again humanising them as individuals who stand together as one. At the centre of this piece is a complicated family, the Pankhursts, The staging of their trials and tribulations humanises them into more than just a name in a textbook, they each exhibit an unshakeable desire for something more than they have. Though they are eventually splintered, their unending passion for the cause forces the over arching theme of female solidarity and empowerment to loom large, emotively shown in the large group numbers in which the female ensemble come together to oppose the male dominance enforced over them. Musically, as aforementioned the score is variegated, it bolsters gorgeous and powerful accapella numbers, tense and soaring ballads, clever yet hilarious rap sections, sweet and sombre duets and those all important hard-hitting group numbers staged excellently with Prince’s vivacious choreography. The show, having been billed as a hip-hop musical, rotates around the genre, incorporating elements such as grime, R&B, gospel, funk and soul but even goes as far as to reference famous artistes such as Jay-Z, Eminem and Dizzee Rascal. A cast recording recording is urgently needed. Standout moments, (though there are a plethora), include the plaintive end of Act One depicting the 1910 Black Friday demonstration, here the Suffragettes stand hand in hand forming a long chain and are repeatedly and heart-breakingly beaten down by the law enforcement whilst they sing in unison a rousing and rallying cry, as well a certain character’s anti-suffrage rap portions which are to put it bluntly farcical, but expertly delivered both comically and technically. This production urgently does not shy away from the gritty reality of the fight. At the end of the day women died for this cause. Sylvia therefore tastefully and artistically stages Emily Davison’s suicide in front of the King’s Horse, as well as the force feeding endured by many in prison followed by their subsequent suffering under the Cat and Mouse Act. It is hard to watch, but these sections, detrimental to the narrative and to the understanding of the magnitude of the acts, are expertly done.

Finally, the actors. There is so much to be said about this remarkable ensemble, but it is difficult to convey how polished and committed they were in words. Beverly Knight is stone-faced and despotic as the ambitious Emmeline Pankhurst, as usual her voice is utopian. Similarly, Genesis Lynea in the titular role has a distinct and dextrous vocal ability, managing to blaze through some complicated and wordy raps without batting an eyelid, she has an pragmatic and subtle acting style that draws her audience in creating an unbreakable and sincere bond between herself and them. As her sister Christabel, Witney White delivers a courageous and layered performance of a character complicated by her sexuality and a desire to leave a mark in history at any cost. As Sylvia’s love interest Keir Hardie, John Dagleish wields a sweet sincerity, matched by the unique and quaintness of his voice. Dagleish develops an honest picture of a man convoluted by his moral desire to do the right thing whilst up against harsh opposition from within his own party. Delroy Atkinson’s Winston Churchill, matched the man’s famous characteristics perfectly resulting in an infallible caricature. Similarly Jade Hackett is satirical and uproarious, formidably pandering to her fully engaged audience. Carly Bawden, Verity Blythe and Izuka Hoyle, the foremost and latter us having seen previously, are all adept and charming performers who evolve into their various roles instantaneously and do not fail to provide enchanting performances with unshakable vocals. The rest of the ensemble are equally as thrilling, each brandishing superb musicality, physical strength and enviable comedic abilities.

To conclude, Sylvia is a ridiculously good time, crafted to perfection and provides endless meaning-making, whilst remaining historically accurate. We cannot wait for the show’s future as theatre like this is so important and urgent.

 
Kate Prince & Priya Parmar – Book
Josh Cohen & DJ Walde – Music
Kate Prince – Additional Music
Kate Prince – Lyrics
Josh Cohen & DJ Walde – Additional Lyrics
Kate Prince – Director & Choreographer
Ben Stones – Designer
Natasha Chivers – Lighting
Clement Rawling – Sound
Jessica Ronane CDG – Casting
Michael Henry – Musical Supervisor/Vocal Arranger
Josh McKenzie – Musical Director/Band Leader
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille – Associate Director/Choreographer
Andy Purves – Associate Lighting
Nell Ranney – Baylis Assistant Director

Delroy Atkinson – Winston Churchill
Carly Bawden – Clementine Churchill, Annie Kenney
Verity Blyth – Adela Pankhurst, Mrs Scurr
John Dagleish – Keir Hardie, Lord Curzon
Jade Hackett – Lady Jennie Churchill, Edith Garrud, Narrator
Todd Holdsworth – H. G. Wells, Silvio Corio
Izuka Hoyle – Emily Davison, Lillie Hardie
Beverley Knight – Emmeline Pankhurst
Genesis Lynea – Sylvia Pankhurst
Jaye Marshall – Dance Captain
Tachia Newall – Lloyd George, Lord Cromer, Narrator
Maria Omakinwa – Ada
Karl Queensborough – Harry Pankhurst, Sir Almroth Wright, H.H Asquith
Ross Sands – George Bernard Shaw, Richard Pankhurst
Witney White – Christabel Pankhurst
Elliotte Williams-N’Dure – Flora Drummond

 

Review: Zelda: A Post Modern Musical (Workshop), The Other Palace Studio

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

There will be no experience more ephemeral than Zelda: A Post-Modern Musical at the Studio of The Other Palace. This respectivity makes it veraciously difficult to try and write about something that will never be again. Although it may help to shape the next incarnation or convince investors to invest and an audience to attend. We as human beings try so hard to capture and document everything, particularly theatre, whether that be through reviews, articles and interviews, photographs, cast recordings or video archive documentations and cinema broadcasts. But these can never truly reflect the experience, as it first and foremost lacks liveness. A live performance thus acting as a dialogue with the audience, the actors reacting to the imminence of the crowd before them. And as each audience changes this means no one performance can ever be the same as the last, even though it is of the same show with the same actors. However with Zelda: A Post Modern Musical there is an added ripple to this, as a workshop the piece was constantly being rewritten even after each semi-staged performance and is probably still being done so now.  Supervening that the piece we witnessed on the Friday night of The Other Palace stint can never be even closely replicated again, therefore though this review talks about a performance, it should be taken as a review of an idea that will hopefully fall in front of an audience once again. Furthermore as a workshop showing, the piece actively requires imagination, with scripts in hand, representative costuming and props, a description of the action circulated beforehand and the commentaries of what it should look like ongoing. Nevertheless, the piece shone as it was almost effortless to imagine being in the swinging 1920s, (the decade of the piece), at an extravagant party in New York, the imagined profligacy reminiscent of the recent Immersive Ensemble’s The Great Gatsby in London and Broadway’s newest opening, Moulin Rouge. Meaning there is great potential with a full staging to craft an entirely new theatrical world, this world hopefully fostering a truly beautiful and dynamic work with some sizzling choreography and excessively voluptuary design.

Zelda is written by Victoria Gimby, based upon an idea by Christopher Clegg and focusses upon loose cannon Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of famous Gatsby writer F.Scott Fitzgerald, meaning it’s not surprising the imagined setting is like Gatsby especially as he supposedly wrote much of his work from real instances and as the piece mentions, from Zelda’s diaries. Zelda highlights the titular character’s socialite frivolity and wildness alongside her ambition, naivety and inner demons. Set during one of the pair’s ‘famous parties’ it breeches the supposed problems within their marriage such as infidelity, Zelda’s declining mental health, alcoholism and their financial crisis, Scott being unable to sell his latest novel, alluding to the fact his work was not popular until after his death and that he wrote short stories to sell in order to fund their decadent lifestyle, the pair being seen as New York celebrities of the 1920s Jazz Age. Yet the fact the piece chooses to tell her story and not his, his name being the one that we all know, puts the work highly on trend. A part of this new Her-story genre, historical retellings and reimaginings that choose to tell the story of the little known woman or women behind the prominent man. Repurposing history to tell a different side. Zelda like many other Her-stories arrives with perfect timing, within the Year of the Women. 100 years since Suffrage won women the right to vote and though the battle for equality worldwide rages on, theatre pieces like this one are doing their bit to tell stories where women are at the forefront. For instance Emilia recently opened at Shakespeare’s Globe telling the story of Shakespeare’s dark lady, whilst Six returns to the Arts Theatre this month recanting the misfortune of Henry VIII’s wives told by them and Sylvia is about to open at the Old Vic focussing on Sylvia Pankhurst and the battle for the vote. Each giving power back to the woman.

As aforementioned, Gimby, with some artistic license, breeches the supposed problems within Zelda and Scott’s marriage, allowing for proliferated drama and tension with an overall exciting narrative. She adroitly uses character’s to signify these struggles. Scott is his own worst enemy so he represents his own alcoholic tendencies, whilst the MC signifies the pair’s self-deprecating party nature and Max, Scott’s editor symbolises their financial worries, he is concerned about the pair’s spending and when Zelda learns of the crisis she tries to sell her own work via Max, demonstrating her often belittled ambition and her overshadowment by her husband, with Scott reacting violently. Ernest Hemingway, friend of Scott and a man deeply disliked by Zelda, is thus the placeholder for the couple’s infidelity, he relishes in telling Zelda about an affair her husband is having and reminds her of the affair she had with a pilot in France. And finally Zelda represents her own demon, her mental health. She historically spent years of her life in a mental hospital having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is alluded to towards the end of the piece as she breaks down in utter despair, her world crashing around her, yet she chooses euphoria in her own new world away from Scott as she struggles to, but eventually let’s go of him.

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. Making the work a Jukebox Musical, but don’t think of cheesy Mamma Mia-esque performances, with the songs shoe horned in. Think Post Modern Jukebox, Ben Papworth’s musical arrangements present the songs with a 1920s swing and Jazz treatment, it is here Zelda becomes a Post-Modern Musical, self-referential to the style of the period setting, with modern subject matter. The tension is instantly broken with the absurdity of the song, yet the arrangements are exquisite and of such a quality that you are instantaneously pulled back in, especially when the insane harmonies and mashups hit. Though there is a small part of us that wonders would original music be better? Although is it worth sacrificing the dynamic that has already been crafted so well? Maybe not. Yet it is worth mention some of the more high voltage scenes did seemed rushed in this initial staging and therefore some of the poignant moments simply need to be held for longer and the transitions from which more artfully crafted.

However, overall Zelda is looking like an exciting, fresh British musical which we cannot wait to re-emerge. Now for a note on this particular performance, though the casting will inevitably change and swell for a larger staging, the small cohort of eight actors should be applauded, they facilely multi-roled and nailed the complexity of the music well within the written style whilst maintains the party atmosphere. Dougie Carter as the MC/Ernest Hemingway and Matt Corner as F.Scott Fitzgerald were both particularly enigmatic, but Jodie Steele as Zelda, (as seen recently in Heathers), absolutely stole the show. She was abrasive yet innocent, brash, bold, kooky and brimming with clarity. Her voice is astonishing, yet her characterisation and physicality exude all else, leaving her a force to be reckoned with. This group collectively managed to tell and sustain this invigorating new narrative dextrously, whilst Ben Papworth’s three-man band also did a commendable job of emanating the 1920s Jazz Age. So, to find out more about Zelda: A Post-Modern Musical click here.

Written by: Victoria Gimby
Based upon an idea by: Christopher D. Clegg
Arranged & Musically Directed by: Ben Papworth
Additional Arrangements by: Sean Green
Directed by Jessica Williams

Rosalind: Geri Allen
Max: Chris Aukett
MC/Ernest Hemingway: Dougie Carter
F.Scott Fitzgerald: Matt Corner
Young Man/Pilot: Chris Jenkins
Sara/Tallulah: Laura Mansell
Eleanor: Esme Sears
Zelda Fitzgerald: Jodie Steele

Piano: Ben Papworth
Bass: Eric Rupert
Drums: Isis Dunthorne

 

Review: Bring It On, Southwark Playhouse

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

The British Theatre Academy’s most recent production is an absolute triumph. The piece is vibrant, uproarious and filled with some incredible young talent.

Bring It On at the Southwark Playhouse cements the 2018 rise of American high-school, film-assimilation musicals, with the crowd wild and raucously cheering along to yet another teen movie taking to the London stage this year. Legally Blonde, following Elle Woods, a sorority girl who fortuitously embarks upon a law career in pursuit of love recently closed, having toured the UK to rave reviews, followed quickly by fan favourite Heathers at The Other Palace now set for a West End Transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, the retro show paradorically twisting the meaning of the term ‘social suicide’; leaving Bring It On hot on the heels of the other two, providing British audiences with yet another American high-school drama adapted from film in a musical format, (whilst a Broadway transfer of Mean Girls the Musical is also rumoured for next year). But what is it that makes this type of configuration the winning formula? As stated by the Evening Standard, ‘big music suits big feelings’, the exacerbated feelings of a teenager from the endless sense of not fitting in to first romances, this intensified emotional subject matter lends itself perfectly to the larger than life, musical art form. Having been plucked from her cheer squad and moved to another school, the show follows the desperation of Campbell Davis as she tries to navigate a rougher school and take back the cheerleading trophy that would have rightfully been hers, ambition clouds her and she loses a sense of her identity, until she finally sees the bigger picture. That it’s the memories and the friends you make that matter, not a ‘stupid trophy’. Along the way to cheerleading nationals, Campbell and her new found friends and enemies explore serious socio-political themes such as white privilege coupled with the class divide, body positivity, coming of age, identity, the moral compass and even sexuality. These focusses, thus providing all the necessary ingredients for a good musical, not mention a catchy, modern score and comical, yet relevant book. The music fostering Lin-Manuel Miranda’s signature hip-hop vibes, with enough to please any of his diehard fan’s expectations, (the show obviously being sold on his name, it appearing top of the creatives on the show’s promotional work). The journey in pursuit of passion prevalent in teen movies is not only an intensifier as aforementioned, the methodology which the Evening Standard elucidates on, actually places ‘an epic story on a small canvas’, allowing for the deployment of ‘Shakespearean-style machinations in the struggle for power’, lending itself perfectly to the musical format as the powerful speeches from the films can be set to music for even greater emotional effect, which we see in many of Campbell’s poignant musical asides. Finally this format also allows for complex characters and often flawed protagonists, as these are people still learning about morals, not to mention the school syllabus. Campbell is just that, she as earlier mentioned loses sight of herself in a jealous rage using her new found friends to get what she wants, but is ultimately a good person, seeing the error of her ways she comes back stronger and crucially with friends at her side. Therefore Bring It On is an exciting coming of age musical to say the least, brought to audiences musically by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt, with Lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green and a Book by Jeff Whitty.

This British Theatre Academy production is directed and choreographed by Ewan Jones, with musical direction from Chris Ma. Regarding the overall staging, it is important to note that the bright pink and yellow design worked perfectly, as it not only oozed vitality, a reflection of the piece, the lockers literally screamed the high school setting, whilst working practically as a costume and prop store. Allowing for the oh-so necessary swift transitions in this fast-paced, energetic production. The few set pieces wheeled onto stage representatively worked well in indicating setting and had quick malleability as they could be added and removed in seconds. These also affixed a secondary level, that could be utilised for the purpose of stipulating status and power, important thematically as aforesaid. But most decisively the stage was clear and as wide of an area as the Southwark Playhouse’s large space could provide with an audience, allowing for big and bold choreography and several ‘cheer stunts’. Though at points this flashy choreography was precise and impressive, it did not always seem to show off the best of the performer’s talents and despite the musical being about cheerleading it did not have a proportional number of cheer tricks, maybe the venue was in fact too small for this large-scale production. Though they ambitiously did the best they could with the space. Performance-wise Ma and Jones, have helped to create and foster pure gold. Robyn McIntyre’s Campbell is wondrously vulnerable and her vocal clarity is impressive. At her side, as Campbell’s love interest Randall, Haroun Al-Jeddal is charming and invigorating, his voice is also exquisite. But even more exceptional in vocal ability is Kristine Kruse who portray’s the awkward and loveable Bridget, another transferred student given a fresh start, which she, unlike Campbell wholeheartedly seizes. Kruse displays some of the best comedic abilities we’ve seen in a while, she is euphoric, confident and believable whilst being completely hilarious. Similarly, Isabella Pappas’ feisty Skylar, your stereotypical, fictional high-school cheerleader is comedy gold, she also has a killer voice to match. Ashley Daniels and Clark James are comparably ones to watch, both have great voices and physicality, but crucially capture Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip hop presage. Following on, Matthew Brazier’s characterisation is something to be envied, his La Cienega, ‘Broadway’s first transgender high school student’ is flawless. It is intriguing to watch him add his own kinks and flare to Jones’ choreography, his portrayal makes the character unapologetically fierce and relatable, a much needed role model. Other principals: Chisara Agor, Sydnie Hocknell, Mary Celeste, Claire Cleave and Samuel Witty likewise work incredibly hard and pull off ‘soul-shaking, risk-taking’ performances, the clever and witty nature of which, is a testament to Director Ewan Jones.

That is not to say that this production is quintessential. It still needs work. Vocal projection suffered a lot. This may have just been the mics and sound operation, as we could visibly see mics displacing themselves from the actor’s foreheads due to the sheer heat in the venue. It could also be beneficial for some to undergo more endurance training to help with this as well. Likewise, at points performers did not seem totally confident with the tricks, a probable side-effect of this being the first preview, so not something to necessarily critique yet. Thus, to conclude, was this production perfect? No. But does that matter? Of course not. The thing about these young actors is they are still growing and learning, but for them to step out on that stage and deliver the level of performance they did, we well and truly commend them. Each and every one of them shows immense potential. Besides the prevalent talent, the show is also apposite, jovial and musically exceeds. Click here to book now, you won’t regret it.

 
Creative Team –
Director/Choreographer
Ewan Jones
Musical Director
Chris Ma

 

Cast –
Lillian Abey, Chisara Agor, Haroun Al Jeddal, Matthew Brazier, Lauryn Bryan, Katie Burrows, Mary Celeste, Morgan Howard Chambers, Eithne Cox, Ashley Daniels, Angeli De La Cruz, Charlie Fisher, Abigail Gilder, Clair Gleave, Ellie Goddard, Sydnie Hocknell, Amy Howell, Clark James, Georgina Jones, Zoe Karl, Kristine Kruse, Millie Longhurst, Robin McIntyre, Mary Moore, Billy Nevers, Isabella Pappas, Nathaniel Purnell, Tamsin Smith, Ailsa Spangler, Madison Sproston, Ben Terry, Grace Venus, Samuel Witty

 

Thompson, J. (2018). Heathers, Bring It On and Mean Girls come to the stage: Why teen movies make brilliant musicals. London: Evening Standard. [internet resource]. Accessed: 03/08/2018.