Alice Underground at The Vaults – 11th April 2015

17 Apr

For some reason I seem to end up watching Alice in Wonderland based shows a lot lately. From the stunning Then She Fell in New York to Alice: A new musical (a workshop production) to the latest immersive adaption of Lewis Carroll’s popular novel which has just started previews at The Vaults in London.

Alice Underground is a journey into the strange world that is Wonderland with all its unique inhabitants. And even though you meet familiar characters on your way this is not your classic Alice in Wonderland story. According to the show’s artistic director this Wonderland is based 150 years after Alice fell down the rabbit hole. The Queen has banned all nonsense and different factions are fighting.

aliceunderground4

The audience decides which path to go by choosing “Eat me” or “Drink me” early on in the show. After that there is no more personal choice of where to go which makes this show less free in terms of exploring than for example a Punchdrunk show.
Without spoiling too much I can say that there are 4 different routes you may end up on but after your first choice you can’t influence which of the next two available routes you will be sent on.

aliceunderground2

You will watch the majority of the show in a group of 14 audience members. Each group wanders from scene to scene, sometimes sharing a scene with another group right up to the huge tea party scene and the final trial. While each scene I encountered had something special and unique some moments definitely stood out for me. A special mention for the mock turtle scene which was haunting and beautiful and – even though there was no interaction involved – really made me feel like I was actually in Wonderland.

aliceunderground1

The cast work incredibly hard yet they make the whole thing look so easy and while the show must be a logistical nightmare to put on it runs incredibly smooth especially considering I attended the third preview. Yes, there were a few timing issues but these did not take anything away from the overall experience and will surely be sorted once the cast and crew have had time to settle into the show some more.

The set is impressive and Les Enfants Terribles have made the most of the rather small spaces. It never felt cramped even though you do end up walking through some rather narrow corridors.

aliceunderground3

Be aware that there are pieces of audience interaction, some of which you can’t really choose to avoid (I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil too much). So if this really isn’t your thing you might want to skip this production. However, if you want to take a unique trip down the rabbit hole and meet Alice and all her wonderful friends in Wonderland then make sure to head to The Vaults and experience Alice Underground.

Alice Underground is booking at The Vaults until 30th August 2015. For more info and to book tickets visit http://www.alice-underground.com/.
Please note, there is a children’s version of the show designed for 5 to 10 year olds called Adventures in Wonderland and the Wonderland Sessions (on Mondays only) too.

Tooting Arts Club’s Sweeney Todd – 21st March 2015

25 Mar

I was gutted I missed out on seeing Tooting Arts Club’s Sweeney Todd at Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop last year. Sweeney Todd is one of my favourite Sondheim shows and the idea of seeing it in an actual pie shop sounded simply fantastic.

So once a transfer to the West End was announced I just had to book tickets despite a rather steep rise in ticket prices. Harrington’s has now found a temporary home on Shaftesbury Avenue, right next to the Queen’s Theatre. You enter through an unimposing door and quickly find yourself in the theatre bar. This is where the magic starts. The whole room has been decorated with old photos and drawings of barber shops and the like. One frame shows the letter Sweeney Todd sends to Judge Turpin, a prop from the original production which has even been signed by Stephen Sondheim himself.

sweeneytodd1

The auditorium is a replica of Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop. The audience sits on benches which are fitting for the location but are not going to win a comfort award. The biggest issue with this kind of seating is the view though. Even those seats that are not classed as restricted view will require some turning around and leaning in order to catch all of the action.

However, what the show lacks in comfort it makes up in atmosphere. Watching the story unfold around you really is a unique experience. You might find yourself up close with Sweeney Todd or Mrs. Lovett. Or maybe Tobias will use your head to advertise Pirelli’s miracle elixir.

sweeneytodd2

Jeremy Secomb leads the cast as Demon Barber of Fleet Street. His Sweeney Todd is dangerous and full of hate. He sees nothing but his need for revenge. Jeremy Secomb sings the challenging score with ease and is by far the most raging Sweeney I have seen so far. That combined with the small space the show is performed in makes his portrayal intense and gripping. Siobhan McCarthy’s Mrs. Lovett is loud, forceful and at times almost cheerful. She is the perfect counterpart for Jeremy Secomb’s angry Sweeney.

The rest of the cast is strong and works well in this site specific production. Especially Nadim Naaman’s Anthony and Zoe Doano’s Johanna are amongst the best portrayals I have seen of both parts.

sweeneytodd3

One of the things that surprised me the most was the sound. What musical director Benjamin Cox has achieved with just piano, violin and flute is impressive. Those three instruments in combination with eight strong voices definitely do the score justice.

Most murders are pulled off with a sudden burst of red light while Pirelli is strangled in the middle of the audience (literally). The use of red light instead of blood does not make the actions seem less gruesome and brutal and when Sweeney Todd reappears after a murder with blood on his face you can’t help but shiver.

The intimate nature of the performance make key aspects of the story feel even more intense. When Anthony sits next to you yearning for Johanna or Tobias stares straight into your eyes while singing about murder you do experience a deep connection to the characters.

If I could change one thing in this production I would have the performers stay in character when they mingle with the audience before the start of the show and at the end of the interval. Personally I think that would make the whole experience even more gripping and would give the audience a chance to be a part of the world of Sweeney Todd.

sweeneytodd4

But this is no criticism of the show as it stands and I highly recommend you go and check this production out. If you enjoy Sondheim and want to see one of his most famous shows like you’ve never seen it before you have to visit Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop at its temporary home on Shaftesbury Avenue. And yes, you can get pie and mash there before the start of the show but it needs to be pre-booked so make sure to take that into consideration.

Sweeney Todd at Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop on Shaftesbury Avenue is running until 30th May 2015. Book your tickets here and make sure to check out the work of Tooting Arts Club.

Missing Unplugged – Queen Elizabeth Hall – 20th March 2015

23 Mar

It took me a while to decide whether I should attempt to write about this show considering I have never seen it like it was meant to be seen. As pointed out to us before the performance Gecko’s Missing is a highly technical show using floating set elements, various props and light effects and in this unplugged version we obviously got none of that. To be fair though we did get a few props which despite having been made last-minute out of things the company could get their hands on really added to the charm of this performance.

missing1

Missing production photo

For those of you who have not been following Gecko’s story over the past two weeks here is what happened: On Friday the 13th of March a fire broke out at Battersea Arts Centre destroying the Grand Hall (luckily other parts of the building could be saved). Gecko’s show Missing was in the middle of a two-week run at Battersea Arts Centre and their set, props and costumes were in the Grand Hall when it burned to the ground. Most of these things were handmade and had been developed over years. It was the devastating loss of a show that was scheduled to start touring around the world this year.

Determined to save their show Gecko started a Kickstarter campaign. They reached their fundraising goal of £5.000 in less than a day. Seeing the support and love for their company and the show – not just through Kickstarter but also through various offers of help they received in the days after the fire – Gecko decided they wanted to put on a show.

Missing production photo

Missing production photo

And this is how I found myself inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall just a week after the tragic fire. The free tickets for the event had sold out in a day and the venue was buzzing with excitement. The performance we got to see was simply called Missing Unplugged and it was just that: A bare bones version of Missing with little props, no light changes and lots of improvisation. But what this performance lacked in set and technical finesse it more than made up with talent, skill and the absolute will to not let the spirit of Gecko be broken by what had happened.

missingunplugged2

Rehearsals for Missing Unplugged

Missing tells the story of Lily, a woman whose soul is in decay and who seems to be trapped in today’s high speed society. She builds up the relationship with her husband in a rush but the pair are like strangers when they are alone, unable to sit together comfortably. She meets an Italian-speaking man (a psychologist maybe?) who helps her figure out what is wrong with her. Lily starts to revisit her childhood in an attempt to revitalize her soul. We see glimpses of the relationship between her parents – her British father and her Spanish mother, a Flamenco dancer. By looking back at her childhood Lily manages to identify what is missing in her presence.

All characters in the show are vocal and while they speak in various European languages it is easy to understand them through their physicality. And for me this is the core beauty of Gecko’s work. Their visual storytelling is one of a kind. Gecko manage to establish characters the audience can identify with even though they don’t understand all that is spoken. A lot of this is due to the wonderfully talented performers who manage to draw you in and take you on a journey.

missingunplugged1

Gecko on stage at the end of Missing Unplugged

Personally I found this bare version of Missing to be absolutely gripping and beautiful. Since I haven’t seen the full production I cannot compare the two but I can say that I left the Queen Elizabeth Hall full of love for this extraordinary company and their stunning way of telling a story through movement. Missing Unplugged was a truly extraordinary event which showed that in the end it’s not about the fancy sets and props but about real talent and passion.

If you feel like helping Gecko to bring Missing back to life please contribute to their Kickstarter campaign. These guys and girls really are worth supporting.
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2060502382/bring-missing-back-to-life

For more info about Gecko and their work please visit http://www.geckotheatre.com and make sure to follow them on Twitter @GeckoTheatre .

Suntan live at Battersea Park Studios (former Sphere Studios) – 6th March 2015

8 Mar

It’s been more than a year since Ryan Molloy’s sell out gig at the Hippodrome Casino in London. Since then he has finished his 6 years run as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys in London’s West End and reprised the part to rave reviews on Broadway. In between his fans could catch him playing the hilarious interior designer Horace in Fings ain’t what they used t’be at the Theatre Royal Stratford East.
And now Ryan Molloy is back in London and ready to introduce his fans to his band Suntan.

Suntan are Ryan Molloy (vocals) and Douglas Horner. The band has been around for a while but appearances have been sparse. After recording some new songs Suntan were back on stage at London’s Battersea Park Studios (former Sphere Studios) last Friday. The private gig showed what Suntan are all about: Funky music and great entertainment.

Those of you who only know Ryan through his musical theatre credits might be surprised by Suntan. The band’s music couldn’t be further away from anything you’ve seen and heard Ryan do in musical theatre. Suntan’s music feels fresh and Ryan’s vocals give the songs a certain edge that makes them stand out. And while the band certainly focuses on danceable tunes they also master ballads like the melodic “Watchtower”.

For many people Ryan Molloy is “that guy who played Frankie Valli” which is no surprise considering the amount of time he has spent performing the part in London and New York. So it might come as a shock to some to see him do something so completely different. But personally I feel he is finally back doing what he loves most. Seeing him perform with Douglas Horner, singing all those catchy songs, he seemed to be completely in his element and totally at ease with himself. And that is one reason it is such a joy to watch Suntan on stage. Ryan Molloy and Douglas Horner clearly enjoy what they are doing and they certainly have the talent, the energy and the songwriting skills to match their enthusiasm.

After the intimate showcase at Battersea Park Studios I really hope more people will get the chance to experience Suntan in the near future. I think the world is ready – it’s time to introduce the twist.

Check out some clips of the gig below and make sure to follow Ryan Molloy on Twitter @molloyofficial and Facebook for all the latest info on upcoming appearances.

I’d also like to give a special shout out for the lovely people at Battersea Park Studios who made everyone feel so welcome.

 

 

Top Hat (UK Tour) – New Theatre, Oxford

16 Feb

I love classic American dance musicals. I grew up watching Gene Kelly movies and I always adored great dancing. So I don’t really know why it took me so long to check out Top Hat, a show that has been in the West End for a while before embarking on a UK tour last summer.

But no matter how long it has taken me, I’m glad I finally managed to see this wonderful show. Top Hat is pure entertainment, a slightly cheesy but never boring evening out.

tophat2

The cast is led by Alan Burkitt (Jerry Travers) who sings and dances his way through the story with such ease it is hard to take your eyes off him. He is charming, lovable and cheeky and quite simply a joy to watch.

Charlotte Gooch plays Dale Tremont with grace and elegance. Seeing her and Alan dancing together certainly is worth the ticket price alone.

tophat3

The two leads are joined by a brilliant supporting cast. Rebecca Thornhill is wonderfully feisty as Madge Hardwick and Sebastien Torkia’s Alberto Beddini is hilariously funny. If only he got to show off his great voice in more than just one song. A special mention goes to John Conroy as Bates who really owns the dry humour in the show.

tophat1

The star of the show is the choreography. It doesn’t get much better than seeing the whole company dancing to some of the most glorious musical songs ever written. The story may be a little thin and predictable but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. In this show the story simply supports the magic of song and dance that come together so perfectly in this timeless classic.

The set – while maybe a little dated by now – fits in with the style of the time and provides the perfect surrounding for this musical experience.

tophat4

Top Hat is exactly what a musical should be like – it’s funny, heartwarming and entertaining. It has great dancing, songs that stick in your head and a cast that is mesmerising to watch. What can I say? They just don’t make them like this anymore.

You can catch Top Hat on tour until 25th July 2015. For more info and tour dates visit http://www.tophatonstage.com.

Instructionally Invited at Vault Festival

10 Feb

How do you review a show that makes no sense, has no proper storyline and leaves you completely confused but is so entertaining and ridiculously hilarious you can’t help but be amazed by what you have just witnessed?

That’s the dilemma I’m facing right now. Instructionally Invited is an immersive piece of performance art – I’m struggling to refer to it as “theatre” – currently on at Vault Festival. Its first run at The Space last summer received mixed reviews and I can see why.

ii2

If you are entering this show expecting any kind of narrative you will most likely come out disappointed. With Instructionally Invited Gruff Theatre offer an immersive experience in which you are the guest at a completely mad party. I don’t want to give too much away which is why I won’t go into any more detail.

“So if this show doesn’t even have a plot why should I go see this?” you probably ask yourself now. The answer is simple: Because you will experience and hour of absolute madness and will leave the room with a big smile on your face. “The Beings” as the characters in the show are called are funny, weird, a little gross but always entertaining – a bunch of comical eccentrics. Don’t expect them to make any sense even though they are behaving strictly by the rules – if only we had the slightest idea what these rules were about.

ii1

Audience participation is part of this performance and although you won’t be humiliated in front of a crowd you have to be open for some rather strange requests. There are not many shows in which you end up with your ear on another audience member’s shoulder and being required to dress up in a scruffy coat might seem a bit strange too.

Personally I enjoyed Instructionally Invited a lot and judging from the huge smiles I saw on my fellow audience members’ faces I’m guessing so did they. However, I do think this show will only appeal to a rather limited audience. Regular theatre goers might miss an actual story and I can see that a few of the interactive bits will put some people off.

If you enjoy immersive / interactive theatre in general and are open for something smaller and more experimental than all those big scale productions put on by Punchdrunk, Secret Cinema etc. then please go and visit “the Beings” at Vault Festival.

Instructionally Invited is running until 15th February. For more info and to book tickets visit http://www.vaultfestival.com/project/instructionally-invited/

Find Gruff Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter @GruffTheatre .

Then She Fell at Kingsland Ward at St. Johns, New York City

26 Jan

Let me begin this review by pointing out that it is impossible to do Then She Fell justice with words. The moment you enter the former outpatient building of Greenpoint Hospital in north Brooklyn you become part of a strange and fascinating “Wonderland” and the next two hours feel like a dream.

tsf5

A show can’t get more immersive than this adaption of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. With only 15 audience members per show this is an intimate and very personal experience. You are checked in by a nurse bearing a clipboard planting the suspicion that you might be a patient in a mental institution. After a short introduction the audience is picked up – some one at a time, some in small groups – and let to different rooms of the building. From now on everyone will experience a different show making this a completely individual journey. You will meet Alice, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter amongst other characters.

tsf3

Most of the words in the show are by Lewis Carroll and if you explore the rooms you will find his poems and prose in drawers. If you are unfamiliar with Alice in Wonderland the whole experience will probably be highly confusing, maybe even frustrating. Nothing is explained as you are lead from room to room, encountering character after character. Everything seems to happen in a dreamlike daze – the fact that several scenes include alcoholic drinks might have something to do with that (you have to be 21 to attend the regular shows, however there are special non-alcoholic shows for the younger audience).

tsf4

Then She Fell makes you feel like a child watching adults and their self-important, social rituals that make no sense but are both creepy and thrilling. The show addresses the love of Lewis Carroll for Alice Liddell, amongst other things, a love that seems uncomfortably erotic when you look at photographs he took of the young girl. But Then She Fell does not dwell on these images. Lewis Carroll becomes a character amongst the characters he created. He is a part of Wonderland just like Alice and all the others.

There is no way to describe the scenes you discover while walking through the building without giving some of the magic away. So all I will say is that you might find yourself as participant in a completely mad tea party, you might end up taking dictation for the Hatter or have a very personal conversation with Alice about your first love.

tsf2

Some might say Then She Fell feels like a two hours Punchdrunk one on one. A lot of the things you will see are performed for you and only for you at that very moment. You will be invited to participate and even though you don’t get to choose your journey yourself everything you see and discover feels unexpected and new.

Then She Fell is a unique and quite simply wonderful experience that is worth every penny. Smaller and more intimate than Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More and The Drowned Man this show guarantees interaction and complete immersion. You might feel slightly uncomfortable to be in the center of the performers’ attention at first but once you allow yourself to settle into Wonderland you will feel an unbelievable thrill.

tsf1

Then She Fell is a mad journey through Wonderland, an insane rollercoaster ride that will sweep you off your feet and occupy your thoughts for days and weeks after you have left the building. All you have to do is follow the rabbit hole.

Then She Fell takes place at The Kingsland Ward at St. Johns. For more info visit http://thenshefell.com.

Blog stats 2014

30 Dec

Time for the annual stats post and another huge thank you to everyone who has read, commented on, liked or shared my posts.
Wishing you all a brilliant start into 2015. x

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 35,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The theatrical 2014 – A look back

23 Dec

Seriously, how fast has this year come and gone? Feels like yesterday that I was planning my first theatre trips of 2014.

On the theatrical side 2014 has been a true rollercoaster. First there were two major cast changes and in one case even a theatre change. The Original London Cast of Once played their last performance on 8th March 2013. It has been such a joy to watch these brilliant guys and girls on stage at the Phoenix for a year. And even though Once remains truly wonderful the show lost something very special on that Saturday in March.

once1

once2

Just a day later it was the end of an era. Ryan Molloy played his final performance as Frankie Valli in the London production of Jersey Boys. It also marked the end of Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre and the end of my time as a regular at the show. What an emotional weekend and something I feel privileged to have been a small part of.

ryan

A Musical highlight of the year has to be In the Heights at Southwark Playhouse. I remember watching the show on Broadway back in 2009 and thinking it was an ok but not outstanding musical. That completely changed when I saw the Southwark Playhouse production. I was in awe from start to finish. One of the best fringe productions I have seen in my life.

On the straight play side the excellent production of Of Mice and Men at the Birmingham Repertoire Theatre deserves a mention especially because I sadly didn’t get round to writing a review. I generally adore this play and it was a delight to see such a wonderful version of it.

The annual West End Live event once again had its place in my theatre diary in June. Representing Musical Theatre Review I was a photographer for the weekend with the opportunity to witness various performances up close. Take a look at some of the pictures I took here.

A through and through life-changing experience (in terms of my theatre life) occurred in early March. I attended Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man at Temple Studios. It took me about 3 weeks to come to terms with what I had witnessed but from that moment on I was hooked. This was my first immersive theatre performance and it was both exciting and scary. Being inside Temple Studios felt like being in a different world. I was late to the party (The Drowned Man had been running since summer 2013) but this show literally opened a new theatrical world for me. From March to July all other shows had to take a step back. It was about The Drowned Man during those months. And yes, I still miss Temple Studios.

tdm2

tdm1

In September I was lucky enough to fly over to New York and see Ryan Molloy reprise the role of Frankie Valli, this time in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys. A huge thank you to Ryan at this point for being all around brilliant and for making me feel so welcome. I even got to stand on a Broadway stage (I had to mention this, a very special moment).

And what else beside Jersey Boys could I watch in New York but Punchdrunk’s Sleep no more at the McKittrick Hotel. I adored the show and urge all of you to go check it out if you get the chance. I’m flying back to the Big Apple in January for several more hours inside the McKittrick Hotel and can hardly contain my excitement.

snm1

snm2

The last London theatre highlight of the year turned out to be Here Lies Love at the National Theatre – one of the most upbeat shows of the year that just pulls you in. I highly recommend you go and see it if you can get a ticket for the rest of the run.

It really has been an exciting theatrical year and I am happy and thankful I got to spend so much time doing what I love: Watch and experience shows. It’s been a joy to support so many talented performer – some of which I have known for years. A special thanks goes out to all the wonderful Punchdrunk performers for making 2014 so absolutely unique – neither The Drowned Man nor Sleep no more would have been even half as amazing without all those talented people.

Well, that’s it for 2014 I guess. I have no more theatre trips planned during the last few days of the year but the theatrical 2015 is shaping up nicely already.

I would like to thank all performers who have given up their free time to take part in my blog Q&As, everyone who has contributed to this blog in any way and, of course, all of you who have been reading my theatre ramblings throughout the year. I really appreciate the comments, likes and shares – thank you!

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year. X

Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales – Bargehouse / Oxo Tower – 13th Dec 2014

22 Dec

I went to see Grimm Tales at Oxo Tower for two reasons: Firstly because the idea of “immersive fairytales” sounded quite appealing and secondly because I had heard great things about the set and let’s be honest, when it comes to site specific productions a great set usually wins me over straight away.

The audience will see 5 out of 6 tales on most evenings (although I have heard that sometimes only 4 stories are shared while on a few occasions all 6 stories are part of the evening). It seems to be pretty much pot luck which stories you end up seeing which might be a bit annoying for potential repeat visitors who want to make sure they catch all 6 stories (hint: Ask when checking in at Oxo Tower and make sure you get different coloured wrist bands on your second visit).

grimm2

The stories themselves are well told and most fall into the more unusual and less known Grimm fairytales. While everyone knows “Hansel and Gretel” stories like “The Three Little Men in the Woods” and “Thousandfurs” are probably unfamiliar to the majority of the audience.
Aimed at audiences ages eight and above the stories are told through acting and conventional storytelling by the performers making this an interesting mix of theatrical performance and narration.

And while the cast does a great job bringing the fairytales to life – special mention for James Byng who steals the show at the frog in “The Frog King or Iron Heinrich” –  the secret star of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales is the set. Rooms over several floors inside the Bargehouse at Oxo Tower have been filled with old furniture, antique lighting, paintings, old toys, books and more, the floor covered in blackened (fake) wood chip. It’s a wonderfully detailed work you get to explore after the last story of the evening has been told – and yes, they allow photography at that point (obviously not during the performances).

grimm3

Although Grimm Tales is not immersive as the title promises (I’d class it as site specific or promenade) it is without a doubt a magical evening for everyone who loves fairytales.

Some advice for everyone planning to watch the show: There is a free coat check but I suggest you hold on to your jacket and scarf. It does get quite chilly in some parts of the building. And while the entry time on your ticket will either state 7pm or 7:15pm (for evening performances) the actual show won’t start until 7:30pm. So unless you want to linger in the bar area for a while there is no point getting there too early.
As for the best places to sit during the different stories: I’d avoid the far end of the benches in each room.

Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales is playing at the Bargehouse / Oxo Tower until 15th February 2015. For more info and to buy tickets go here: http://grimm-tales.co.uk/

Follow the show on Twitter @grimmtales_UK

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers