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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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

The Wind in the Willows – Vaudeville Theatre – 13th December 2014

17 Dec

I think I was about 10 when I read Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind in the Willows. It’s one of those classic children stories that never really leaves your head – a simple tale of friendship and adventure but told with so much heart and soul it just stays with you forever.

I was curious to see the story of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad brought to life on stage. The Wind in the Willows is the Royal Opera House’s seasonal dance show – aimed at families with all the magical features you’d expect. There’s snow falling on the stalls, a chase through the auditorium with Toad finally being arrested in the Dress Circle bar, butterflies, a toy-like motorcar and a Narnia-like wardrobe (which leads to Toad’s gypsy caravan). The story is told through dance accompanied by live music and narrated by Alan Titchmarsh as Kenneth Grahame – the imaginer (because “author” is too plain a word) of this fantasy world.

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Martin Harvey finally returns to the London stage to take on the part of the charming Ratty. His dancing is mesmerising and I’m sure his smile alone can melt hearts. It’s wonderful to have him back in the West End if only for a few weeks.

Sonya Cullingford’s Mole is cute and nervous but will do anything to help his friends. And who would have thought it was possible to bring pure elegance to a dance routine while dressed in baggy trousers. It’s a joy to watch her on stage – simple as that.

Ira Mandela Siobhan is wonderfully grumpy as Badger. He manages to show off both the aggressive and the protective side of Badger who doesn’t hesitate to go on a journey to help his friends in their battle against the weasels.

Cris Penfold’s Toad has a childish delight in everything new. It’s hard to be mad at him for stealing a car and almost running over Badger when you see his wide grin and energetic dancing.

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A special mention has to go to Ewan Wardrop for his hilarious portrayal of both Chief “Elvis” Weasel and Gaoler’s Daughter – two parts that couldn’t be more different.

This is a family show that is never cheesy. It has a bit of everything: Great live music that brings the story to life, likeable characters, some fabulous villains, wonderful choreography, puppets (because lets face it, we all love a little red weasel puppet), interval action and the most stunning cast. On top of that the sets and costumes are outstanding and really set the tone for this heart-warming show that’s cheerful all the way through. If you enjoy beautiful dancing and want to escape into a magical world The Wind in the Willows is the show for you. It’s a delight to follow Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad on their adventures and not only children will leave the theatre with a big smile on their faces.

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The Wind in the Willows is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until 17th January 2015.
For more info click here. Best available tickets can be found here.

First Once trailer featuring Ronan Keating released

4 Dec

The multi award winning musical Once has released their very first trailer featuring new Guy – Ronan Keating – and Jill Winternitz as Girl.

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Ronan joined the cast just under two weeks ago and has received some great reviews. Check out my views on his performance here.

Ronan Keating and Jill Winternitz as Guy and Girl will lead the cast in Once The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre until 21 March 2015.

 

Book your tickets for Once here: http://www.oncemusical.co.uk

For more info follow @OnceMusicalLDN and check out the show on Facebook.

Ronan Keating’s Guy – a first verdict

25 Nov

Having a new lead join one of your favourite shows can be both exciting and a bit scary. I always try and approach change with an open mind. But I admit the news of Ronan Keating joining the West End cast of Once the musical had me worried.
Somehow it seemed wrong to have a “name” in this show – a former boyband member with no experience in theatre. So yes, when I sat down to watch the show I was expecting the worst. However, before I go into detail I am going to say overall I ended up being pleasantly surprised by Ronan Keating’s Guy.

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I enjoy the boyish charm he brings to the role. His Guy is sweet and undeniably cute – maybe almost too cute but that’s down to everyone’s personal preference. Ronan’s voice has a lovely tone – one I’ve always enjoyed – but personally I don’t think he has the vocal range to do all of the songs justice. Don’t get me wrong, I like hearing him sing and I appreciate he adapts the songs slightly to fit his voice. But “When your mind’s made up” has lost a bit of its magic with Guy singing very low-key and being almost drowned out by Billy (Tim Prottey-Jones) and the Bank Manager (Jamie Cameron). Ronan’s low-key version of “Falling Slowly” works to a certain extend but personally I miss the powerful higher notes. On the other hand I really enjoy his take on “Sleeping” and apart from the slightly cut notes at the end his “Leave” is nice to listen to. And now and then he will suddenly go for a wonderful and long note (“Falling Slowly” and “Falling Slowly reprise”) that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up because it’s so intense and beautiful.

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As you can see his singing is a bit of a hit and miss in my opinion – there are some great and some not so great bits. The acting on the other hand is really interesting to watch and unlike any other Guy I’ve seen. Ronan’s Guy is a bit like a scared puppy – the character seems to have no self-confidence at all. This would never have worked for Declan Bennett’s or Arthur Darvill’s Guy but Ronan manages to pull it off. It’s a different take on the role and not one everyone will enjoy. But I like to see the shy Irish busker being bossed around by the little Czech Girl (played by the wonderful Jill Winternitz).

The one thing I enjoy immensely is Ronan’s natural Irish accent. It really gives the character that little extra something. I think Ronan generally has a wonderful talking voice – it’s very smooth and warm.

A few off-putting bits thanks to very keen Ronan Keating fans in the audience: Some loud cheers when Guy first appears on stage at the end of the pre-show and whooping when Guy takes off his trousers in the middle of act one – personally I don’t think either fits into the subtle show that Once is. But obviously that’s not something I’ll blame Ronan for.

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Ronan Keating will never be my favourite Guy and I’m not the biggest fan of his take on some of the songs. But I can assure everyone that he is not “wrecking” the show and he is not making it the “Ronan Keating One Man Show” either. It’s obvious how much he enjoys being in Once and I have to give him credit for taking on such a demanding role and pulling it off rather well after just a week in the show.
I think he still needs some time to settle into the role and once he does he will be a great addition to this show. Actually, to a certain extend he already is and I look forward to seeing him develop in the role in the months to come.

For more info on the show go to: http://www.oncemusical.co.uk/.

Immersive – the new theatrical “in” word

11 Nov

Is it just me or has immersive become the “in” word to describe theatre productions over the past year or so? I asked this question on Twitter the other day stating that most shows that call themselves immersive don’t even fit into that scheme.
A site specific production is not automatically immersive. The same goes for a promenade performance. I get the feeling a lot of people (even those who work in theatre) just don’t know what immersive actually means. Either that or we are talking about producers selling a product knowing fully well customers won’t get what they paid for.

The Drowned Man (Punchdrunk)

The Drowned Man (Punchdrunk)

I watched a production of Titus Andronicus a few weeks ago. The show was staged in a car park and called itself immersive. I loved the show and was impressed by the modern and unusual approach to the material. But Titus Andronicus in a car park was not immersive. It was a promenade production, simple as that. I spoke to one of the performers about this and he agreed that there was no way this production could be called immersive. After all immersive is more than getting a hug or a handshake from a performer and watching the performance while walking through or standing in the middle of the set.
Most so called immersive shows are site specific and/or promenade productions – be it Titus Andronicus in a car park or Here Lies Love in a club-like venue. Some of them may have certain immersive elements but very few shows that are advertised as immersive actually deserve that label.

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Titus Andronicus – Promenade but not immersive

So what makes a show immersive then? It’s quite simple: An immersive show makes you feel part of the story. It’s not to be confused with an interactive show in which you actually take part in the story and in which your decisions might even change the course of the show. Even though immersive shows usually have aspects of audience interaction, the audience doesn’t actually decide anything. You feel like you are in the story, performers interact with you, it looks like you are a part of what is happening. But everything you see and everything that happens is choreographed and very much controlled. And that is the beauty of immersive shows. They draw you in and make you feel part of them but they never let you take control in any way. Still you will end up thinking about your experiences for days, weeks, maybe even months. Immersive shows often have a much bigger impact on the audience than other kinds of shows.

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A performer who has been working with Punchdrunk (the “Gods” of immersive theatre) for years once told me about “The Drowned Man” (Punchdrunk’s last London production and a prime example of an immersive show): “This show is not interactive. We (the performers) and the director decide the course of the performance. The audience is a part of this but they have no influence in what happens in the show. We just make them believe they do.”

That sums it up quite well I think.

Then She Fell, another great example of an immersive theatre production

Then She Fell, another great example of an immersive theatre production

 

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