Category: Review


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There’s almost too many fabulous attributes to Wicked that make it the success it is. Twelve years after opening in the West End, Wicked is coming to the end of its second UK tour, just opening in its penultimate venue at the Millenium Centre, Cardiff (which was suitably illuminated green for the event).

Amy Ross takes the lead as troubled green teen Elphaba, with Charli Baptie as her nemesis-come-best-friend Glinda. We witness Elphaba’s struggles and talents through university which eventually lead her to meet her idol, the Wizard of Oz. After discovering his disappointing lack of power and the corruption he has instigated within Oz, Elphaba is forced into hiding, triggering a chain of events that lead her to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West.

Ross gives a powerful performance as Elphaba, delivering the right amount of stubborn, angry and vulnerable that makes the role so iconic. ‘The Wizard and I’ is a highlight for Ross, and she gets to flex her belting vocals at several points throughout the show. Of course, ‘Defying  Gravity’ is another chilling moment which Ross performs with astonishing verve. It’s this mid-point where Wicked really grabs its audience and ends with the first act with sucker-punch dramatic spectacle. Ross portrays Elphaba’s downfall beautifully and her pre-melting goodbye to Glinda in the second act is emotionally charged.

We also learn the history of another famous figure of Oz, Glinda the Good. It’s intriguing to see Glinda’s manipulative and selfish side played out, as it can sometimes come across as over-exaggerated, played too much for the comedy and ‘silliness’ of Glinda. She works best when she is grounded, as she becomes a far more sinister, smiling enemy, one that we have all surely come across. Glinda is redeemed throughout the production as her love for Elphaba is genuine, but she allows her jealousy to cloud her intentions. What is intriguing about Wicked is it is not so much a clear-cut story of Good vs Evil, as is outlined in Baum’s original novel. Wicked blurs the lines between good and evil and shows the familiar characters as conflicted, mistake-making humans.

Aaron Sidwell gives a good performance as Fiyero, mixing privileged posh-boy with sensitive romantic. Kim Ismay cuts a formidable figure as Madame Morrible, and you can’t help but like Steven Pinder as the Wizard, despite all the double-handed treachery.

Wicked casts a dark and political shadow over the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz, twisting our pre-conceptions and challenging us to question our judgements. It does all this with a magnificent score and a generous splash of spectacle.

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Image result for thick as thieves theatr clwydTwo people. One room. Just over an hours running time.

It was all quite simple. A minimal set, consisting of just a desk and chair, played in the round. But Thick as Thieves is evidence of just how powerful drama can be.

Within the short playing time, we meet Gail. Hard on her luck, fresh out of prison and desperate to get her kids back, Gail rocks up at old friends Karen’s office in need of her help. Karen is head of children’s services and, although Gail initially pretends it is a spontaneous visit, it quickly becomes very clear that she has a hidden agenda. The next hour is packed full of twists and turns and powerhouse performances from Polly Frame as Gail and Siwan Morris as Karen. Through echoing sound bites and moody instrumentals you are absorbed into Gail and Karen’s world and find it hard to pull yourself out even at the very end.

As Gail lets slip information that she knows Karen’s address, and subsequently has been visiting the school Karen’s daughters attend, we see a power struggle between the two, represented by a tilting performance platform, as secrets are unearthed, and Karen’s safe and secure world is rocked.

The opinions of the audience towards both characters change through the play, with the audience being asked to judge each woman, and then questions their judgement just a few minutes later. Karen appears to be ‘one of those mums’, (family car, baby yoga, hummus and carrot sticks), whilst Gail initially comes across as a selfish and unreliable mother. Our opinions are challenged at several points – are Gail’s actions as sinister as they first appear? Or is she acting in the interest of her own children?

It transpires the two share a traumatic past, with Karen particularly bearing the brunt of a careless and violent upbringing. Her story about her short career as a teacher is particularly chilling, as she describes teaching the children of life’s pain and injustice. The play raises interesting themes, such as motherhood and the lengths a parent will go to in order to satisfy their ‘addiction’ to their children.

By the end of the play, just when you think you have experienced every emotion, you are confronted with hope, as Karen’s covert helping of Gail is revealed and Gail remains determined to win back her children. Amongst the angst and darkness, it is refreshing to be left with a glimmer of hope that our characters can succeed in what they want, and move on from the trauma of the past. Siwan Morris and Polly Frame are electric, particularly during the more fraught moments.

Bleak, tense and chilling in parts, Thick as Thieves is a must-see.

It’s easy to see why this is the most widely performed play written by a female playwright. With a simple storyline told in an unconventional, non-linear way, and featuring 4 strong, challenging role which would be a gift to any actor, My Mother Said I Never Should is a classic tale of hope, loss and family secrets.

The story follows four generations of the same family though various stages of their lives. There’s Doris, at the top of the family tree, taking a firm, stoic approach to post-war parenthood with her daughter Margaret. As Margaret grows up and moves to London, we see her raise her own daughter Jackie, and struggle with a family tragedy. Later, rebellious Jackie has a teen pregnancy, and allows Margaret to raise her daughter, Rosie, as her own, allowing Jackie to pursue her career.

As time flits between eras, secrets are buried and unearthed, and the bond between the four women is tested.

The cast of four are brilliant in their respective roles. Carol Dance gives a firm performance as Doris, convincingly show Doris’ progression from an excited newlywed, to a wizened, cynical pensioner. The chemistry is particularly good between Dance and Felicity Houlbrooke, who plays her Great-Grandaughter, Rosie. Houlbrooke plays Rosie with a suitable naivety, and even at one point mimics Rosie’s baby cry (which was weirdly realistic). Kathryn Ritchie (Jackie) and Connie Walker (Margaret) are electric in their stand-off scenes, as Margaret struggles under the pressure of keeping Jackie’s secret.

One of the most moving threads is the death of Margaret, who is seen to put off medical appointments in favour of work shifts and helping her family, but eventually passes away. Throughout the story Margaret puts others before herself, eventually harbouring some resentment towards her daughter Jackie. Margaret’s death paves the way for the reveal of Rosie’s real mother, though it’s sad that Margaret isn’t around to see this, as she battles with her feelings over the idea through the story.

The main thread of My Mother Said I Never Should is gripping enough, and it’s interesting to see the story unfold in a way that isn’t chronological. This adds depth and emotion to scenes set in the past, as the audience has knowledge of what is to come for the characters. It’s not without its faults though. The scenes set in the wasteland, which are interspersed between the main narrative, aren’t easy to access and at times seem too surreal. They don’t seem to serve much purpose, and the story itself is strong enough without them. However, these scenes were imaginatively played out, making good use of the space and various objects in the junkyard to set the scene.

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‘It’s a film isn’t it?’ ‘No, it’s a book.’ ‘It’s very dark, I think…’

Everyone I spoke to prior to seeing this show seemed to have a different opinion, and I didn’t quite know what to expect when I headed to my favourite theatre last week.

Playing in the Emlyn Williams the theatre, The 39 Steps proved to be a night of ridiculous comedy, and the perfect antidote to a long week.

Set in the round, the space was transformed creatively from a living room, to a hotel, to a car, to a speeding train. Using very few props the talented cast (of just four) took us on a journey across Britain, as we followed unlucky Richard Hannay, on the run from the law after he is mistaken for a murderer. The many madcap characters are brought to life using a clever blend of physical comedy and imaginatively used props and costumes.

The whole story is played for laughs, with every inch of comedy eeked out of the script. At times, it’s ridiculous but never really grating.

Part of the fun was watching the actors juggle with their own characters. They swapped roles before our eyes and there were several moments which felt unique to the evenings performance. The fourth wall is broken several times, including a lovely moment when Hannay escapes through one door for the remaining actors to confidently assure the audience that ‘it’s in the round’, before Hannay bursts in through another door and is captured.

We were sitting in the front row, directly in front of a smaller stage, which was used as a hotel bedroom, giving us a very intimate slice of the action. Just when we thought we’d escaped any audience participation, we were doused with ‘snow’ in the closing moments. Lovely.

Well worth a visit for the laughs, The 39 Steps is a fun evening of clever, innovative comedy, that’ll have you cheering for Hannay right to the end.

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Summer Holiday is weird.

There are lots of good points, but on the whole I found it odd.

I’m not familiar with the film, so maybe it’s that. I walked into the Storyhouse knowing only the incessantly upbeat title track and that the film featured Cliff Richard. In Cliff’s role, Don, was Ray Quinn, who did a sound job as the lead. He’s got a good voice and he can certainly move. Don’s friends are a mixed bunch, varying in oddness, with Matt Trevorrow standing out as Cyril, Don’s lazy, but confident buddy. Don and his friends renovate a London bus and travel across Europe, picking up a girl group and reluctant famous singer on the way. Sophie Matthew plays Barbara with gentle naivety. Taryn Sudding also adds fabulous humour, giving Velma-Von-Tussle-realness, as Barbara’s overbearing mother, Stella.

The standout feature of the production is the choreography. It’s imaginative, fast-paced and carried out with expert precision by the cast. There were plenty of foot-tapping wow-moments. The set is simple but effective, with the double decker bus taking centre stage.

It’s the story that is weird. I know that, being written and set in the sixties, it is going to have aged, but there’s quite a few holes to pick in the narrative. For a show that is billed as a feel-good production, some of it is just uncomfortable. Running away from her mother, Barbara disguises herself as a fourteen year old boy and is invited to travel on the bus by the group of twenty-somethings (Wouldn’t happen in 2018!). I was assured during the interval that Barbara isn’t fourteen but it is still a bit weird when Don, believing she is fourteen, steps out of the shower and asks her to hold his towel whilst he tucks in his ‘old chap’. It’s all played for laughs but…..ewww. For a squeaky clean family show, there’s also a surprising amount of crotch tugging and erection jokes.

The audience were familiar with most of the songs (I could tell by the out of tune singing behind me), and the (on-stage) singing was very strong. Again, it’s in terms of story that the show falls flat. Some of the songs make sense, but some are shoehorned in with zero subtlety. For example, when the gang stumble upon a distraught Italian bride who doesn’t speak English, they decide to use the ‘universal language of music’ to find out what her problem is. So they sing ‘Living Doll’. Why?!

If you’re after a fun and fluffy (if utterly confusing) night at the theatre, Summer Holiday is for you.

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June 2018. I’m sat in baking hot Trafalgar Square, in a crowd of thousands, watching Motown the Musical perform at West End Live. I like motown music, but, honestly, I wasn’t compelled to see the show until this moment.  Performing a medley of songs from the show, the cast were incredible and the enjoyment from the crowd was palpable.

Flash forward to August 2018 and I’m taking another trip down south to the West End, this time accompanied by two friends. We’d chosen Motown as our show (thanks again to TodayTix, best app ever), deciding that we’d know most of the songs. (We were correct!)

The production wasn’t perfect. It got off to a rocky start with the sound for dialogue being too quiet and the music too loud. It was also quite tricky to grasp what was going on at first, as the time shift between Motown’s 25th anniversary party and Berry Gordy’s early years wasn’t always clear. However, Berry had opened his first studio and Martha and the Vandella’s were sashaying around the stage for a vibrant, goosebump-inducing performance of ‘Dancing in the Street’, Motown really found its soul.

Motown has a very talented ensemble cast who take on many roles throughout the production. Stand out stars have to be Jay Perry (from S Club Juniors, would you believe?) as Berry Gordy and Natalie Kassanga as Diana Ross. Kassanga became Diana Ross and anyone who didn’t know any different would be forgiven for thinking they were watching the real deal.

Motown is essentially the love story between Gordy and Ross, whilst Gordy faces the troubles of building his empire. The show also addresses plenty of politics of the era, and the effect events such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King and President Kennedy had on the artists. The first act builds to a moving performance of ‘What’s going on’ by Carl Spencer (playing Marvin Gaye), as we see the stars reacting to the tragedies of the era.

It’s fun to spot the many famous faces that pop up throughout the story (Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye to name a few). Motown puts the music centre stage and the live band and super-skilled artists do a fantastic job of bringing the music to life. Musical highlights include ‘Dancing in the street’, the Jackson five medley and ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’.

With energetic versions of familiar songs sung by extremely talented performers, it’s easy to see how Motown has remained so popular over its three year run. Although the story might sink in parts it’s definitely a slow burner, and by the end you’ll be on your feet. It’s a must for any fan of Motown music.

Goosebumps – 3

Stars –  ****

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Perhaps it’s because I missed out on the 80’s phenomenon that was Fame, being a child of the nineties, but I found the 30th anniversary touring production to be a bit of a mixed bag. Set in a New York school of Performing Arts, the story follows a bunch of wannabes as they negotiate the perils of being a Stagey in the 80s.

Led by Mica Paris as the home room teacher Miss Sherman, there’s no doubt about it that Fame does boast a very talented cast. Keith Jack shows off his impressive vocals in his role as serious thespian Nick. Jorgie Porter, of Hollyoaks fame, is able to demonstrate her dance skills in the role of snooty Ballet dancer Iris. Stephanie Rojas delivers a powerful performance as fame-hungry Carmen, and performs the title track with spine-tingling ease. Fame has a very strong ensemble, made up of mesmerising dancers and a cast that perform their own instruments throughout (which always adds a special something to any production).

The problem, for me, lies with the story. Maybe I’m just a bit too close to being a millennial to appreciate it, but parts of the story just didn’t sit right with me. For the first few minutes, when the characters are finding out they’ve been accepted to ‘PA’, I really struggled to piece together what on earth was going on! The first act seemed to be a mash up of events with a scattering of rubbish jokes in between. Then, just a few tracks in, I couldn’t quite believe I was listening to a song about a hard-on.

There are lots of characters who are likeable (hard-on singer not being one of them), such as Serena, the nerdy girl who longs to be with Nick and hapless but talented Schlomo, who is another audience favourite. Particularly heart-breaking is the scene where Schlomo meets Carmen after her return from L.A., which Simon Anthony plays very movingly. I should also mention the ‘Teacher’s argument’ duet, between Miss Sherman and dance teacher Miss Bell which was electric (but I’ve always been a sucker for a good musical argument).

Another big problem lies with the character of Tyrone. Jamal Kane Crawford can certainly move, that’s for sure, but I found it hard to sympathise with Tyrone after he refers to two separate female characters as ‘bitch’. After the second incident, when he has angrily squared up to Miss Sherman and shouted in her face, we are expected to clap along and enjoy a bouncy, jolly tune about how Tyrone wants to make it as a dancer. I didn’t want to cheer for him. I wanted him to sod off.

Whilst it is an enjoyable night out, the story does seem to be a bit of a mess, but it’s more so a fault with the script than the performers. For me, the show does improve as it plays out, with a stronger second act, building to a cracking finale. The whole cast performing ‘Bring on Tomorrow’ is genuinely stirring, especially for those who have ever been part of a theatrical clique. In this production, the curtain call to the famous title track was brilliant. The whole audience were on their feet, it was like being at a concert, and Mica Paris brought the house down. There were plenty of hardcore Fame fans in the audience whose enjoyment was very clear, so perhaps if you’re an avid fan of the film or TV series, this is for you. If you’re not, I’d still recommend going, for a night of live music and dance from a super enthusiastic cast.

Image result for torchwood the victorian ageSomething magical has happened. After years in a Torchwood-drought, I have discovered Big Finish. Creating original Torchwood audio-stories, the seven plays I’ve heard so far have been fantastic, and an excellent consolation to the lack of Torchwood on TV. It has been great to welcome Gwen, Ianto, Jack and Rhys back, as well as characters who played a smaller role in the TV series, such as the formidable Yvonne Hartman who makes a gloriously sassy return in Torchwood: One Rule. The story arc of the Conspiracy has proved to be interesting, especially as each episode focuses on the Conspiracy from various viewpoints and in differing depth. One minor thing to complain about is the lack of answers to the Conspiracy plot thread. In a couple of episodes it’s not even mentioned and I’m hoping we get more answers in the next few releases.

My most recent adventure with Big Finish, Torchwood: The Victorian Age, was one of my favourites. The story features Captain Jack Harkness on secondment to Torchwood London (based beneath the Natural History Museum) in the early days of the institute. It’s a real character piece for Jack and enables us an insight into his life before he ran our beloved Cardiff branch. He’s still the same old Jack; battling danger with the usual cheeky swagger and charm. Though there is the small matter of taking care of Queen Victoria that’s making Jack sweat.

After witnessing the outbreak of a deadly creature, Queen Vic invites herself along on the chase and gives Captain Jack a run for his money as she helps to save the world. As a staple part of Torchwood canon, it’s good to have the founder of the institute interact with Jack and have her own adventure. Rowena Cooper gives a top-notch performance as the monarch, delivering her scathing lines with no-nonsense, stiff-upper-lip Britishness that makes you want to cheer ‘Rule Britannia!’.  It’s also nice to see the softer side to Queen Victoria (as we first glimpsed in the Doctor Who episode ‘Tooth and Claw’) as she comforts the mother of an injured girl, and through her growing respect for Captain Jack.

The themes of regret and loss run deeply through the story and there are plenty of references to living and enjoying the time we have left on Earth. Putting an alien that can cause de-ageing at the touch of its hand against a Queen who is frustrated by her age and desperate to rule her beloved country for longer, is an interesting concept. Just like the TV series, Torchwood reminds us that life is for living and Jack continues to emphasise how dangerous his job is. ‘There isn’t always another time,’ he gently warns Queen Victoria, echoing the ethos of the programme.

Victorian Age is classic Torchwood. It my be on a new platform but it’s still the same cheeky, but deadly, Torchwood, full of fan-favourites and bonkers scenarios. Because of course, only Captain Jack Harkness could destroy an alien whilst flirting with it.

 

Image result for everybody's talking about jamieLimited Edition. Thursday night special. I headed down to my favourite local theatre to catch the one-off live screening of Everybody’s talking about Jamie. I knew very little about the show beforehand. I’d seen the cast perform at West End Live and thought they were very good but, whilst I appreciated the music I had heard,  I couldn’t help but feel this show wasn’t going to be my thing. I know. I’m full of shame for judging it but I think it’s important to admit my preconceptions because….I was bloody wrong.

Everybody’s talking about Jamie was fantastic.  A lively, hilarious, sucker-punch of a show that struts its stuff unapologetically for a glorious two and half hours. The script, by Tom Macrae, is one of the best in the musical theatre I have heard. Witty, sharp, full of acerbic lines from Jamie, but never in a way that is too forced. The way the characters interact always feels very natural and nothing ever seems cringey or false. It’s refreshing to see a modern, original musical where the characters don’t use plummy RP or grating false american accents. This is Sheffiled! The setting brings the production down to the earth, but makes it no less fabulous.

John McCrea is an absolute star in the title role, serving up sass, high kicks and prom queen realness. Jamie’s pain at being rejected by his (bastard) father (played by Ken Christiansen) is palpable, and the fall out from his Dad’s criticism is devastating. Christiansen is also brilliant within his role as Jamie’s homophobic, anti-drag father who struggles to accept his son for who he is. We all know a ‘Jamie’s Dad’, unfortunately, and Christiansen portrays the tough role well. Jamie’s mum is played by Josie Walker, who wins the audience over from the moment she sets foot on stage. Anyone who didn’t have a tiny tear (and wish there mother would sing about them like that!), during ‘He’s my boy’ is made of pure stone. Shobna Gulati also adds glamour and hilarity in the role of Jamie’s alternative parental-figure, and his mum’s best friend, Ray. Lucy Shorthouse plays Jamie’s meek ‘fag hag’, Pritti, to perfection and has a lovely singing voice to boot. The whole cast as an ensemble are something special and you can tell they have worked incredibly hard to build this production into the success it has become.

Dan Gillespie Sells has created one of the best musical theatre scores. Interestingly, each song doesn’t sound like it should be from a stage show. Any one of them could be played on the radio and no one would think any different. From the opening, upbeat earworm, ‘Don’t even know it’, to the heart-breaking, ‘He’s my boy’, Gillespie Sells shows he has a fantastic talent and creates a perfect score for the story.

The message of Jamie is so important. Through its story of drag queens, frustrated teachers, loyal mothers and confused teens, it encourages you to be whoever you want to be – whether that’s a flamboyant drag artist or studious medical student. It’s a vibrant, modern musical that I know the sixteen year old me would have loved. Though I had my doubts, Jamie has strutted its way confidently into my top five and taught me a valuable lesson – I have to get myself to London to see it live.

Jamie is a killer production, with mesmerising choreography, some wicked one-liners and a heart-warming story that urges its audience to get out of the darkness, and into the spotlight. Image result for everybody's talking about jamie

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Home, I’m Darling is a fresh, original play from Laura Wade with all the makings of a classic. Directed by Tamara Harvey, Home, I’m Darling, is funny, thought-provoking and, in parts, quite sinister, and it certainly leaves the audience with plenty to mull over.

Katherine Parkinson plays Judy, a former business woman who has taken voluntary redundancy to spend six months living the life of a fifties housewife. Problems arise when six months turn into three years, and an obsessed Judy is struggling to hide her money woes from her husband, Jonny. As the couple have to choose between living the frugal, fifties life of their dreams or facing their problems in the twenty-first century, they also have to deal with Jonny’s confused feelings for his boss, Alex, and his desperation to get that important promotion. As the plot unfolds, there are plenty of hilarious moments from women uncomfortable in their time. Judy’s mother laments over her own mother’s post-war suspicions, including when a new dairy product came to Britain. (‘My poor mother. Frightened of a yoghurt’). Then, there’s Judy, who has totally lost touch with the present day. (‘People standing in doorways sucking on a biro’.)

Parkinson gives an electric, and poignant, performance as Judy. When we meet her she is the epitome of perfection, serenely cooking breakfast in her gingham palace, before waving her husband off to work with a peck on the cheek. As the story unravels, so does Judy. Near the end of the play she is dishevelled and terrified at the prospect of stepping foot into 2018 (she doesn’t even know what ‘Bake-off’ is!’). Although some might be frustrated at her retreat into this male-dominated world of a fifties housewife, Judy maintains that it is her choice, therefore it is a feminist choice. She is likeable and you can’t help but feel sorry for her as she makes mistake after mistake in a desperate attempt to keep her fantasy alive.

Judy’s friend Fran acts as a mouth-piece for the audience, gently questioning Judy’s choices and even dipping her toe into the fifties pool herself. Fran’s husband Marcus undergoes quite the transformation as he moves from cheeky, ‘huggy’ chappy, to creepy sleezeball. Drysdale gives an excellent performance as Fran, particularly as she is torn between the love for her husband and the allegations set against him. Sian Thomas is striking as Judy’s frustrated, former-hippy mother, Sylvia, who is fraught at the prospect of her daughter living the ‘repressed’ lifestyle she fought against. Sylvia’s monologue about the forgotten drawbacks of the fifties, and the ridiculousness of modern nostalgia from those who weren’t even alive in the era, is particularly fantastic and delivered so passionately and naturally that it is easy for the audience to forget they were watching a scripted performance.

Home, I’m Darling is a rare thing of beauty. There were no stand-out performances, (although Parkinson was, of course, incredible) because every cast member was a joy to watch. Everyone was playing with honesty which led to a very natural and believable production. It’s not just the acting. Everything about it dazzles. Home, I’m Darling opens up many hot topics for debate, from an uncomfortable case of sexual harassment in the workplace, to the reasons behind Judy’s obsessive, almost fetish-like passion for her fifties fantasy, to the grey-area of Jonny’s feelings for Alex.

Home, I’m Darling is a modern think-piece that will leave you chuckling and jiving long after the curtain call.