Category: Reviews


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‘I don’t want realism! I want magic! Yes magic!’

Isn’t that why we all go to the theatre? Escapism with a touch of magic. Well perhaps A Streetcar Named Desire wasn’t the ideal play for my Friday night escapism. Having been some years since I studied the play at university, I was vaguely familiar with the plot but the modern day production by ETT at Theatre Clwyd added a fresh new take Tennessee Williams’ classic play. Theatrical magic, yes, but a darker and more disturbing magic than I anticipated. The twisted story of desperation, pretence and vulnerability left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and provided plenty to think about well into the weekend.

Image result for a streetcar named desire theatre clwydStreetcar is the story of troubled southern belle Blanche Dubois who wrestles with her past and insecurities as she stays with her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley. It’s clear from Blanche’s arrival that she is running away from trouble but as the events catch up with her, and she is confronted by Stanley, the plot takes a sinister turn, leading to the productions most uncomfortable sequence. The brutality of Stanley’s actions left the audience numb and it was hard to sit and watch as the set was stripped bare to reveal Blanche screaming under a burning hot shower.

Patrick Knowles plays Blanche’s attacker, Stanley. A beer-swigging lads-lad who is desperate to state his masculinity over his wife and sister-in-law. In this production, there is no sympathy for Stanley. The Brando charm has well and truly gone, and Knowles plays Stanley with an arrogance and childishness that could be found at many local boozers.Image result for a streetcar named desire theatre clwyd

The set design for this production is basic but effective. The two rooms that we see on stage provide a claustrophobic pressure-cooker for the action to unfold. The use of music is extremely effective, as distorted versions of ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie provide a soundtrack to Blanche’s unravelling and Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ injects a small moment of fun before Stanley literally pulls the plug on it.

The relationship between Stella and Blanche, played by Amber James and Gough respectively, seems slightly forced initially but becomes more believable as the play grows. Blanche’s fierce protectiveness over Stella is evident as she tries to convince her to leave Stanley, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for Stella by the end of the play, as she loses her sister and finds herself trapped with a violent lover.

The stand out performance comes from Gough though. The final sequence of her leaving the shower and breaking down in the apartment makes for very uncomfortable viewing and it must have been a tough place for Gough to visit night after night. As Blanche is taken away, the distorted, hazy mindset of Blanche is portrayed well by the staggered blocking of the cast and sharp bursts of disjointed dialogue. Gough plays her vulnerability and raw fear in this sequence in a way that haunts you well after the lights have faded.Related image

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Image result for the assassination of katie hopkinsThe provocative title alone suggests that this new musical aims to stoke discussion and reaction, and it offers up a plethora of issues for debate. Centred around the hypothetical murder of famous loud-mouth Katie Hopkins, Assassination boldly explores the nations’ reaction to the death of the divisive public figure. The sensational title itself is a reflection of the controversial columnist’s style. You would be forgiven for initially expecting this play to be an attack on Hopkins, with the storyline perhaps acting as a dark fantasy for those against her outlandish and often offensive views. However, this is not the case. This is a clever, well-thought-out production. Assassination is by no means a love-letter to Katie Hopkins, but it is also not afraid to defend her.

The play actually does not feature Katie Hopkins as a character, but uses her controversial persona to explore what she stands for. Essentially, Assassination is about free speech. Through a mash-up of vox pops, ‘live’ interviews, CCTV footage and voicemails (all performed by a highly skilled cast), we hear the stories of Kayleigh and Shayma. Young journalist Kayleigh is tasked with the tough job of composing a dossier of good deeds carried out by Hopkins, following her death.  Through her investigations she begins to see Hopkins as a strong, confident woman who had a firm grasp of her own views and wasn’t afraid to share them. Though Kayleigh makes it clear she doesn’t agree with some of the opinions Hopkins expressed, she begins a campaign to remember Hopkins for who she was and not what she said. Alongside this, we see the story of Shayma, a trainee Lawyer who is frustrated by the media coverage for Hopkins’ death, which completely overshadows a tragic chain of events that led to the death of 13 migrant workers on the same night. Both narratives weave seamlessly around each other and against a backdrop of venom from those who hated and supported Hopkins.

Assassination is a refreshing, original production. The set consists of two screens which present the live TV interviews, CCTV footage, transcripts of phonecalls and singing emojis. For a show with such a huge concept, the set and staging is all very minimal. With just these screens and a handful of props, the cast and crew manage to recreate the hi-tech world of the internet where the story can unfold.

The complex strands of the plot are pulled tightly together by an incredible cast. Each actor takes on multiple roles with ease and, amazingly, makes each one easily identifiable just through their performance. Amy Booth-Steele is instantly recognisable as Theresa May despite not looking anything like her or even mentioning her name. Kirby Hughes also deserves recognition for her excellent performance as she was a late addition to the cast, taking over part way through the run. Hughes’ performance was slick and finely tuned, the only the clue to her joining the cast during later stages being the insert in the programme. As a small ensemble, the cast worked perfectly together to bring this story to life. The natural delivery of the lines, with actors talking over each other and self-correcting, really stood out and provided some very genuine moments.

Despite the click-bait title, The Assassination of Katie Hopkins is not what it might seem. It is not just a retaliation by offended lefties. This is an intelligent discussion, an exploration of free speech that covers all bases. We experience the fallout of Hopkins’ death from the perspective of the perpetually furious, the seemingly mild-mannered but secretly-smug liberal, those who form an opinion just to plaster it across Twitter, and those too terrified to comprehend what Hopkins’ death means for them.

In world where hate can be spread at the touch of a button, this is a vibrant, modern production with an important message, that deserves a wider platform.

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On the surface, Hairspray is a vibrant shot of colourful campery. But after my trip to Venue Cymru on the weekend, I found myself delving a little deeper into a musical that provided the soundtrack to my later teens.

After first seeing Hairspray in London in 2007, thoughts of comparing that wonderful production to the latest tour scratched at my mind from the moment ‘Goodmorning Baltimore’ began. Although this production was a fine incarnation of the bouncy,  but far-from-fluffy musical, it paled slightly in comparison to the original London run. It felt like I was watching a watered down version. However, there were still plenty of gems to enjoy.

Whilst Rebecca Mendoza gave a comedic, gurning take on Tracey Turnblad, her portrayal erred on the side of panto. The clearly rehearsed ‘spontaneous laughter’ between Norman Pace and Matt Rixon as Wilbur and Edna added to the pantomime taste that wasn’t so apparent in the original London production. Though they were both excellent in their roles, but the panto-banter sort of let their big duet down.

I felt Brenda Edwards should have been perfect casting for the role of Motormouth Maybelle, but although she blew the audiences socks off every time she sang (hitting each note with pitch-perfect ease), she chose to portray a gentler, simpering side to Maybelle that I didn’t expect. Maybelle is a strong and confident woman. Queen Latifah played her! Her name is ‘Motormouth’ for God’s sake! Edwards seemed to lack bolshiness to really deliver in her role. This only really shone through when she sang.

Layton Williams was a delight as Seaweed, slaying ‘Run and Tell That’ with his trademark backflips and mid-air splits. Gina Murray also wowed as Velma Von Tussle, giving new depths to the campy villain. Having seen Tracy Bennett play Velma perfectly in London (and of course the wonderful K-Cheno in Hairspray: Live), I was skeptical about whether Murray would be able to bring anything new to Velma, but she added a new confidence and sexiness to the character. She didn’t hit one wrong note during any of her songs.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a big bundle of fabulous fun, great family entertainment for a Saturday night, but the production fell foul to the increasing trend of projected set pieces. I can see how it lowers and eases production costs but to me it just waters down the whole production and, unfortunately, cheapens it. Perhaps I’m being unfair by comparing it to a previous production. In it’s own right, this is an excellent performance but it’s only when looking at previous incarnations that the cracks begin to appear.

Finally, let’s talk about the ending. I’m sure before the 2007 movie everyone was thrilled that Tracey wins Miss Teenage Hairspray. But surely anyone watching the stage version post-movie will be more than disappointed that it’s not Inez who takes the crown. Many noticeable additions from the movie appear in the stage show but the ending remains unchanged. After listening to the strong messages of the show for two hours, it just doesn’t sit right that the white girl gets the glory.

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‘If you’re in the Maldives but all you can think about is the office, you might as well save your money.’

Ruby Wax dropped into Theatre Clwyd last week. We went expecting comedy, and Ruby provided plenty of that, but we also left bolstered by a great sense of positivity, support and intelligent discussion.

The focus of Wax’s latest tour is her most recent book, ‘A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled’. Ruby’s story is an inspiring one. Years of depressive episodes lead to a breakdown several years ago which spurred Ruby on to investigate what makes her brain tick. Having successfully acquired a masters in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University, Ruby has begun spreading the word of her recovery (though she makes it clear it is very much still a work in progress) and coming to the aid of others.

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As someone who has experienced anxiety since a child, a lot of messages from Wax’s tour (and book) seem to finally put my own frustrating feelings into words. For example, Wax talks about how our brains haven’t caught up with our bodies when it comes to our evolution, and our minds simply can’t cope with the hectic lifestyles we live today. On some level, our minds still work in a primitive state, constantly attending to our survival. She talks about how the endless lists and information from our complex lives clog up our brains, which are exhausted from sorting the useful information from the trivial. As someone who is constantly feeling like they are sprinting on life’s treadmill, sweating away and about to fall off, this makes a lot of sense.

‘We are dropping from exhaustion from no other reason than we are trying to keep up with next guy…..who’s keeping up with the next guy, who’s heading toward a full nervous breakdown.’

Wax talks about social media and its impact on our wellbeing. Though she is openly pro-technology, she emphasises the stress social media puts on our relationships and need to be ‘successful’.

The main message of Wax’s tour and book is to be present. To take time out from our busy schedules to stop and fully experience what is going on around us. At the theatre, Wax gave us some handy tips to help slow our minds down and tune ourselves in to the present moment. Although the Antony Hopkins theatre is quite large, Ruby created an intimate and relaxed atmosphere, openly taking questions form the audience and not being afraid to digress into an anecdote. Ruby likens mindfulness to a muscle in the brain which must be exercised each day in order to reap the benefits. As we left the theatre, there was a feeling of hope and positivity, as many of the audience admitted to experiencing some level of mental illness. Through her unique charisma and personal experiences, Ruby had gently encouraged the audience to keep going and understand that they are not alone. This was more than a comedy show, as we left armed with plenty of food for thought and a clearer idea of what mindfulness is all about.

It’s Wales Comic Con season – one of my favourite times of year. Unusually for Wales, it’s a glorious day, which makes the always-cheery Comic Con atmosphere even more potent.

We’re lucky to have such a positive event in Wrexham, especially one that celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. For such a special occasion the organisers had pulled out all the stops to attract some huge names (Val Kilmer, Hayley Atwell, Sylvester McCoy to name three). The unfortunate last-minute cancellations which often blight this kind of event did nothing to dampen spirits, and when I arrived on Saturday the excitement was palpable.

When I first started coming to Comic Con about six years ago, I remember I had to queue for 3 hours just to get inside. I’d since become savvy to this and made it a tradition to arrive extra early and enjoy the parade of cosplayers from a spot near the front of the queue. This year I was naively relaxed about the need to queue and, after arriving just after 11am, I joined a queue so long it showed me parts of the Glyndwr Campus I’d never seen before (and I studied there for three years). Despite the mega-queue, there were very few complaints and organisers worked super-hard to get everyone inside in just over an hour. Shout out to all the cosplayers who must have been absolutely sweltering in their heavy costumes (Stormtroopers, Lady Olena Tyrell, Marvin the Martian and Catwoman to name a few!)

The main hall was packed to bursting and I fought my way past superheroes and the odd villain to get to my favourite stall, Goblin Dreams. This is a real gem of a stall which has some truly gorgeous things to offer, especially the handmade mini costumed dragons. This year I bought a beautiful Phantom of the Opera dragon to add to my collection.

One thing that I did notice this year was that due to the huge crowds within the main hall the access for wheelchair users was poor. There may not be much the organisers of WCC can do about this but I did notice a lot of people struggling to move through the hall. It did make me think whether WCC need to reconsider their venue. Glyndwr University is a perfect spot for this event so I wouldn’t suggest moving but perhaps expanding across the campus. Although Welsh weather is never reliable, it was a beautiful day so it would have been nice to see more outdoor events. The heat was so stifling inside the main hall and the vendors tent that it became uncomfortable to stay indoors for too long. It would have been good to see organisers think on their feet and expand into the outdoor spaces.

The crowds and queues, however, just go to show the success and growth of the event over the last ten years. People are travelling from all over the country to Wrexham and that is fantastic. However, it is sad to see the guests capitalising on that growth, as I couldn’t help recalling my first visit, when selfies were free and autographs were averaging at £15. This weekend some guests were charging fans £20 for selfies and £30 for autographs. I suppose they have to make their money somehow! Some of the guests were sat alone when I wandered through, which did make me wonder if people were too scared to talk to them through fear of being charged per word.

Cynical gripes aside, I do really love this event and I am being very picky. I always take away from Comic Con a feeling of safety and community. In recent years there has been a notable increase in police presence but, in my opinion, that is unnecessary as there is never any noticeable trouble (besides with all those Stormtroopers strutting round, there’s no need for police). It’s not just physical safety, but the safety to be whoever the hell you want. You could rock up dressed as a Pikachu and no one would judge. Everyone is welcome and it’s just what our town needs.

 

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A last minute dash to the West End resulted in Saturday night at the Prince Edward Theatre. Disney’s Aladdin was spectacular – a bouncy, vibrant musical and a special treat for any fan of the Disney film.

Everything from the set pieces to the costumes is big, bold, and classic Disney, screaming Disney from the moment the curtain rises. The decision to add extra characters, such as Aladdin’s friends, does sit a bit oddly at first but his pals prove their likeability during the second act.

This script fizzes with wit in moments, mostly during the Genie’s scenes, however it does feel slightly panto in parts, particularly during Jafar and Iago’s front of curtain scenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially given the shows target audience are children, but it does seem a bit unexpected,  when compared to Disney’s other hit, The Lion King.

Aladdin was played with heroic charm by Antony Hewitt and Jade Ewan was perfect as Princess Jasmine. Admittedly, the Genie is the star of the show. Just as the first act is starting to dip, the lamp is rubbed and out pops Trevor Dion Nicholas with his fast-firing jokes and impressive magic tricks. ‘Never Had A Friend Like Me’ is the definition of a show-stopper with an extended arrangement, extravagant tap routine, vanishing male lead, and appearing showgirls, all accompanied by a riffing genie. It’s enough to leave even the Disney-adverse humming the chorus days later.

It’s not just the Genie’s magic that adds an extra special charm to the production. There were ooohs and aaaahs a plenty when the magic carpet actually floated around the stage with not a string in sight. It took a bit of googling to discover how it’s done, but the clever use of modern tech adds a whole new world of magic to the show.

Overall, Aladdin is a dazzling diamond in the West End. A real cave of wonders.

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Image result for miss saigon I walked into the Palace theatre knowing nothing about Miss Saigon, but I left with a haunting soundtrack flickering through my mind. Whilst the story of Miss Saigon is simple, Sooha Kim and Ashley Gilmour make stunning work of captivating the audience as Kim and Chris. I was struck by how quickly the audience cared about them, particularly Kim, whose naivety and innocence is performed beautifully by Sooha Kim. Whilst the doomed romance between Kim and Chris makes for plenty of drama, it’s the score that gives Miss Saigon its real power. From the dramatic opening as Kim’s village is attacked to the thunderous rumblings of the finale, each song whips up the tragedy and emotion perfectly. ‘The Last Night of the World’ was the only song I was familiar with prior to watching, but the intense crescendo of the song wasn’t the only musical piece that left me with goosebumps. Gilmour gave a vulnerable performance during ‘Why God Why?’ and Kim’s ‘I Still Believe’ was pitch perfect in every way.  But it wasn’t all drama – thankfully Red Concepcion was on hand to provide some light relief as the sleazy Engineer, delivering every vulgar comment with extra grease. This was a production where every cast member was giving their all – even the helicopter earned a round of applause!

The most poignant theme of Miss Saigon isn’t the heart-breaking relationship between Chris and Kim, but the desperate lengths Kim will go to in order to protect her son, Tam. It’s a story about the strength of love, but not necessarily the story you were expecting.

 

Image result for How not to be a boy In the last year I’ve been lucky enough to experience two works of art that have really ‘spoken to me’, having never really understood the phrase before. The first was the touring production of Rent in October 2016 (after which I spent several weeks sobbing). The second was How Not to Be A Boy by Robert Webb.

I knew from pre-publicity that this book would be right up my street, and I was correct. Not only was the main thread relatable, but How Not To Be A Boy is beautifully and passionately written by Webb. I absorbed this book. It was actually ‘unputdownable’.

How Not To Be A Boy is Webb’s memoir with a focus on the pressures he encountered to conform to society’s ideas of masculinity. Webb writes honestly about his upbringing and childhood, and with hindsight is able to identify some of the dangerous messages he was given which effected his adult life. It begins with his closeness to his mother and difficult relationship with his father, and ends with his modern day struggles to steer away from following his father’s path.

Webb’s discussions on gender go beyond the ‘blue for a boy and pink for a girl’ debate, and he relives insightful anecdotes, (some warm, some hilarious, some tragic), in a way that had me unable to resist the urge to fling my hands in the air and shout ‘Amen!’.

Webb talks about the patriarchy, and how the rules and gender stereotypes created by society are damaging to both women and men. A striking moment is when he talks about how ‘clever’ boys and girls are viewed by society. He notes how when labelled ‘clever’, girls have to respond with how hard they’ve worked for it, whilst boys are expected to shrug it off, as if it all came naturally. If you’re a boy who does well at school, excuses have to be found for this ridiculous behaviour, and often you’re labelled with having no common sense. ‘He’s a clever lad, no common sense though.’ (How many times did I hear that growing up?)

A common thread throughout  is of males suppressing their emotions. One of the most heart-breaking parts of the book comes at the mid-point, where Webb tells of the loss of his mother. Webb writes about his grief and suffering so eloquently that it’s frustrating to comprehend why we are constantly told to ‘man up’ and hide our true feelings. We’ve all had experiences with this, to various degrees, and it’s important that Webb highlights the problem in his book. With almost three quarters of suicide victims in the UK being male, it’s of vital importance that we breakdown the ‘man up’ culture and talk about our problems, as Webb does in university. The patriarchy strikes again by enforcing a false notion that only females open up and talk about their feelings. What a dangerous message. Webb talks candidly, and admirably, of his battles with suicidal thoughts and his subsequent therapy sessions, in a way that may give hope to many.

How Not To Be A Boy also brings to light just how old fashioned words such as ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are. As Webb explains, all they do is conjure up archaic stereotypes which, in 2017, are unnecessary. He describes masculinity as a repressive process which needs to be recovered from and explains how the term only really means ‘not being a woman’. Why not a woman? Women are strong, brave, loving, thoughtful, sensible, loyal, trustworthy and millions other admirable adjectives so….why do we have to avoid being like that? Why do we need these words?

The restrictions that we live under should be blindingly obvious, but Webb unmasks these hideous stereotypes with flair and style, adding his own thoughts, warm humour, and prompting many outbursts of ‘YES!’  from this reader. In an era where people are angry at clothes shop for removing labels, and the walls of gender stereotyping are being slowly eroded, How Not To Be A Boy is essential reading and a book I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Right, it occurred to me that this year I have seen a lorra lorra theatre and, ridiculously, have only written about a few shows. So to catch up, this week I’m giving you four fast reviews for the productions I missed, but really did deserve to be talked about…..

Wonderland, Venue Cymru, LlandudnoImage result for Wonderland the musical

I’ll start with Wonderland because it’s got a bit of a tragic story.  I saw this in Llandudno in June and it was spectacular. Wonderland is the familiar story of Alice given a modern twist. Alice is a 40-something divorcee with a teenage daughter who enters Wonderland via a dodgy lift in her apartment block. She doesn’t take the trip alone as she’s joined by daughter Ellie and awkward love-interest Jack. Whilst in Wonderland they’re encouraged to go through the looking glass, a magical archway that exposes the other side of their personalities (cue Alice becoming stern and sensible and Jack transforming into a confident charmer.)

Wonderland boasted many memorably songs, particularly ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and ‘Finding Wonderland’, sung with passion and energy by a very talented cast. Rachael Wooding was a powerhouse as Alice, revealing Alice’s faults and insecurities poignantly. Bree Smith gave a cracking performance as the sassy Queen of Hearts, slaying with her performance of ‘Off with their heads’. Ben Kerr and Francesca Lara Gordon were also brilliant as the March Hare and Mad Hatter, giving us refreshing twists on the classic characters. The set pieces were gorgeous, fully immersing into the crazy world of Wonderland where anything is possible. Most striking was the way the famous tale of  Alice was re-worked into a modern setting, giving the characters (particularly Alice) a bit more depth along the way. Wonderland was a work of art and must-see, modern musical.

However, just a couple of weeks after seeing Wonderland, the tour was cancelled due to problems behind the scenes. There’s plenty of speculation online, but, whatever the reason, it’s a great shame that the hard work, commitment and talent of the cast and crew will go unseen.

Les Miserables, Queen’s Theatre, London

Image result for les miserablesThis was a bucket-list show that lived up to all of my expectations, and beyond. The star of the show is its musical score and I was not disappointed to hear Claude-Michel Schönberg’s music played by a live orchestra. ‘At the end of day’ saw the full cast launch into action with breath-taking harmonies whilst ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ gave the audience goosebumps you could strike a match on. Simon Gleeson was made for the role of Jean Valjean, whist Hollie O’Donoghue was perfect as Eponine, giving a beautiful performance of ‘On My Own’. Katy Secombe and David Langham stole every scene as the dastardly Thenardiers, providing much needed comedy amongst all the tragedy! The revolving set works really well, seamlessly taking the story across France and through the ages. The battle sequence in the second act is particularly stunning, with tense performances (and gun fire!) keeping the audience well on the edge of their seats. At one point it took all my will not to cover my eyes. The deaths during this battle scene are especially heart breaking (no spoilers), and many gasps were heard as the barricade revolved to reveal the true carnage. Les Miserables remains packed with emotion throughout and it ends in spectacular fashion with the beautiful finale. There’s no question as to why this show has been around for so long. It’s a must-see and a show that I’m sure I’ll revisit.

Don Juan in Soho, Wyndham’s Theatre, LondonImage result for don juan in soho

Sex, drugs and David Tennant – what’s not to love? Though, admittedly, the main pull to this production was, initially, that is starred a certain former Time Lord, I was pleasantly surprised to find a sparkling script and stellar performances waiting for me at Wyndham’s Theatre. Updated to 2017 and relocated to Soho, Don Juan tells the story of a privileged, hedonistic party-goer as he sleeps his way around London, picking up plenty of hookers and cocaine along the way. David Tennant was, of course, fantastic as the titular bastard, unleashing his inner-Russel Brand and being fantastically horrid to every other character, including his loyal aid, Stan, played excellently by Adrian Scarborough. The relationship between Stan and DJ is surprisingly endearing, though Stan, on the edge of a breakdown, is desperate for DJ to pay him so he can retire, he can’t help but stay by DJ’s side. Don Juan in Soho is strikingly contemporary, with references to the ‘strong and stable’ government we find ourselves trapped under today as well as several witty remarks about American politics. DJ deliciously berates the world we live in, stating social media, fake news and lying politicians as factors of a crumbling society in one passionately performed monologue that had the audience on the verge of shouting ‘Amen!’. DJ tries to explain to Stan that life is all about pleasure – shamelessly seducing the chavtastic Lottie (a brilliant comic performance from Dominique Moore) in a hospital whilst simultaneously trying it on with grieving bride Mattie in one ridiculously outrageous scene. Don Juan in Soho was theatre at its best as it forced the audience to think before they left their seats. It was engaging from the first moment, topical and surreal, and definitely one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Image result for the curious incident of the dog in the night-timeA really touching story told in a refreshing, and visually brilliant, way. Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog has been killed and takes it upon himself to solve the mystery. His mission sees him uncover a family secret, which in turn takes him to the terrifying world of Central London. Scott Reid was phenomenal as Christopher, giving a truly powerful performance, particularly as Christopher’s condition begins to take control. The modern and tech-heavy set pieces drew us in to the story using clever effects (a green box giving the effect of a football match on TV, a remote control train bringing London to life before our eyes) to add an extra fizz to the already sparkling performances. Surprisingly, Christopher has uncovered the culprit by the interval, leaving the second act to explore the secrets of Christopher’s family and the effects his ‘behavioural problems’ have on his loved ones. Anyone who doesn’t feel prickly-eyed throughout Act 2 is incapable of emotion. The emotional energy of the performances is sometimes borderline unbearable, and the sequences in London are also quite overwhelming, as we experiences flashing lights, loud noises and almost nightmarish scenes, we’re forced to view the world from Christopher’s point of view. This is a play that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

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‘Darkness, grief and unspeakable sorrow.’

Well…not quite. Darkness, yes, but there were plenty of laughs at the WMC in Cardiff on Friday night. I’ve been reading a lot on twitter about The Addams Family musical so I was really excited when, by pure luck, I bagged two tickets for last Friday.

As the orchestra struck up the familiar theme tune, what was initially clear was just how well cast this show was. Samantha Womack is a perfect Morticia – cool and sultry throughout – whilst Cameron Blakely makes a terrific Gomez. Both actors have sizzling chemistry together (proven with a sexy tango) and match each other with each witty punchline. They both resurrect these iconic characters perfectly. Perhaps surprisingly, ‘Love’ is a key theme of this production, most prominently the love between a family, and Blakley shows Gomez’s love for his daughter,Wednesday, beautifully, particularly during the song ‘Happy/Sad’, where he reflects on the memories he has of his young daughter, such as the first time she set fire to the Jehovah’s witness, evoking the dark humour we associate with the family.  (Another example, when Alice asks if the Addams’ have a little girls’ room, Gomez responds with ‘We did, but we had to let them go.’)

At first, Wednesday’s (Carrie Hope Fletcher) change of character is a bit awkward, but all becomes clear when Wednesday belts her showstopper number ‘PRelated imageulled’, explaining that her change is a result of her love for Lucas. As the show progresses, it becomes clear Wednesday’s sadistic side is still lurking as she tortures her brother and gets very excited about potentially shooting Lucas in the head with her crossbow (all in the name of love, of course).

Valda Aviks was also fantastic as Granny, particularly during her ‘Full Disclosure’ speech. It was a smart move to address the ambiguity around Granny’s connection to the family from the cartoons and movies, by having Morticia refer to her as Gomez’s mother before Gomez retorts with ‘My mother? I thought she was your mother?’.

 

Les Dennis gave a great performance as Fester and his story thread of being in love with the moon was typically ‘Addams’ and, at the end, quite sweet. Dickon Gough also deserves a mention for his scene-stealing performance as Lurch. Lurch doesn’t speak but became a clear audience favourite thanks to Gough’s comic timing and surprising hip action in the finale number. (One complaint – where was Cousin itt?!). The main cast are supported by an excellent cast of ancestors, complete with choreography reminiscent of Thriller.

As well as the familiar quirky characters, the show boasts a catchy score. Andrew Lippa nails the new music and each number feels very natural to the characters. In particular, the opening number ‘When you’re an Addams’ is a definite ear worm and the final number, ‘Move towards the darkness’, will haunt you after you leave your seat.

What’s also impressive is the way the gothic Addams mansion is brought to life on stage via moving staircases and hidden entrances. The suspended moon above the Addams family home creates an eery and dramatic scene.

Overall, The Addams Family is a treat for theatre fans with a gorgeous score, fantastic visuals and a stellar cast.

Watch the opening number here

Watch the trailer here

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