My photo
Contact me at

26 June 2013


Once the Musical
West End Production
Phoenix Theatre, London
Wednesday 26th June 2013
My second visit to this beautiful musical in just 5 weeks is simply a matter of chance but one I am very grateful to have been on the receiving end of, as the stunning achievement by a flawless cast moved me once again. 
This is a simple, unassuming and absorbing show that deserves to be seen.  Not one for lovers of glitzy, showy numbers or thrill-a-minute plotlines, as Once the Musical cannot claim to have either, but what it does have is a heart.

Read my original review here

24 June 2013


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Original West End Production
Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
Monday 24th June 2013

One of Roald Dahl's most popular stories, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory enjoys a lavish new interpretation as a full-scale musical written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Book by David Grieg and directed by Hollywood legend Sam Mendes.  Set to delight audiences with it's big budget production values this is one of the most anticipated new musicals of the year.

Opening with a projected animation of glorious Quentin Blake illustrations describing the manufacturing process of the humble chocolate bar, we are then welcomed into the life of the Bucket family.  All four grandparents in one bed, holes in the roof, cabbage soup for dinner and a television run by an exercise bike, the staging is entirely reminiscent of Dahl's original descriptions and somehow works cleverly as both a cramped slum and enormous stage-filling set.  As the Golden Ticket competition is announced we meet the other ticket winners one by one, each individually characterised with their own musical style.  It isn't until the close of the act that we first meet the unnervingly odd confectioner himself, Willy Wonka, who welcomes the children and their guardians through imposing gates large enough to keep out the BFG.  The second act is then devoted to their tour of the factory: the Chocolate Room, the Inventing Room, the Nut Room, the Television Room and, of course, the Great Glass Elevator, all wonderfully brought to life with some staggering set changes carried out behind projected images of corridors allowing the action to continue to flow seamlessly.

Performances are top-notch with a stand out turn from Douglas Hodge as the sinisterly charming Wonka.  Energetic with a comedic glint in his eye he gives a beautiful rendition of the classic 'Pure Imagination' from the original 60s film.  Nigel Planer is bumblingly lovable as Charlie's endearing Grandpa Joe flanked by an excellent trio of other grandparents, whose dance routines from their hilariously flexible beds were joyously entertaining.  Little Charlie Bucket himself was given a sweet characterisation by Louis Suc, an absolute star who captured the innocence and integrity of Charlie perfectly.  It is the Oompa-Loompas who steal the show for me however, the staging of which has been kept a tightly held secret and didn't fail to deliver on comedy and ingenuity.

This is a wonderfully entertaining production that children are bound to adore.  It's biggest challenge however will be the stiff competition from the other Dahl-based new musical that is already gracing the West End and Broadway, and enjoying every deserved moment of glory.  Matilda the Musical is vastly more intelligent in every way: more intelligent humour that will appeal to parents as well as their children, a more intelligent score that delights and surprises at every turn, a more intelligent set that uses smaller, simple shifts in lighting and pop-up items from the ingenious stage floor to create as much impact as a full set change, even a more intelligent protagonist in the wonderful little genius Matilda compared to the smiling naivety of the day dreaming Charlie. 

This isn't to say that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fails because of it's relative simplicity; 'clever' theatre isn't what everyone is looking for.  The relatively old-fashioned glitz and impressive scale of this production will be what appeals to some, and it does it completely brilliantly.  Both shows are well worth a see if you can afford it, and hopefully will both be around for some time to come.  

14 June 2013


Sweeney Todd
Shenfield Operatic Society
Brentwood Theatre
Friday 14th June 2013

Sondheim is a notoriously tricky composer to deliver, and Shenfield Operatic Society's courageous choice of Sweeney Todd must have presented an array of challenges.  Recently revived by the Chichester Festival and then enjoying an acclaimed West End transfer just last year, stars Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton both won awards for their memorable performances as the bloodthirsty barber and his encouraging co-conspirator.  Big inspiration for Shenfield as they embarked on this tricky project.

The intimacy and flexibility of the Brentwood Theatre auditorium allows for an imaginative approach to the staging, the enormous revolving cube dominating the space creating an essential upper level as well as an ominously overbearing shadow across the acting space.  The well constructed chair and trapdoor worked smoothly, and the stage was well managed to ensure the correct cube positioning and furniture placement was carried out efficiently within the timing constraints of the music.  The separate platform used for Johanna's room was not to the same standard however; the decoration and furniture chosen not nearly grand enough for the rich, powerful Judge Turpin's home. 

Some costume worked well, with Todd and Mrs Lovett both ideally dressed, and the Beggar Woman particularly good with some excellent make-up.  However there were some noticeably ill-fitting items which were worn uncomfortably, and considering the regular reference to Johanna's hair the wig looked very untidy.  There was some nice use of lighting, especially during the split scene of "Kiss Me" toward the end of Act 1 and to evoke the seaside during "By the Sea".  The sound levels were also good, and the band worked extremely hard throughout this sung-through show to produce an excellent quality of musical accompaniment, under the leadership of Adrian Ure as Musical Director.

An enthusiastic chorus did a particularly good job with the tricky score, rousing in the opening "Ballad" and the repeated echoes throughout.  At particular moments the ensemble moved as one, creating an eerie tone for this atmospheric piece.  

This commendable chorus work backed up a sharp cast of principals, led by David Pridige in the title role.  Sweeney Todd was played with a vengeful, dramatic concentration in an engaging interpretation with a vocal performance to match.  Kerry Cooke shone as Mrs Lovett, her ready smile becoming chilling as she reveals her enterprising idea, and on picking up the timing her sparkling soprano was glorious.  Ian Southgate was superb as sailor Anthony, his beautiful voice making the tricky switches in range and pace seem easy; a captivating characterisation.  His Johanna, played by Lauren Ramshaw, brought a wide-eyed and slightly wild fear to the role, handling the timing well despite struggling with some of the notes.  Joanna Hunt played young Tobias, a boy's role often played by a girl, and despite her voice not quite managing the power to sing above the crowd during the Marketplace scene, she did a heart-wrenchingly charming job with "Not While I'm Around" in Act 2.  Judge Turpin was given a fittingly creepy characterisation by Hugh Godfrey, whose concentration was evident although it held him back somewhat from really absorbing the character.  Quite the opposite was true of David Ward, who entirely embodied The Beadle creating a slimy and genuinely hateful character and singing with confidence and skill.  The tough operatic role of Pirelli was taken on by Rick McGeough, whose characterisation was well studied despite the vocals required not suiting his range.  Louise Byrne did a commendable job as the Beggar Woman, her beautiful singing voice soaring and her frantic physicality suiting the part well, although her diction tended to slip in the small sections of dialogue becoming difficult to understand.

This was an enjoyable and accomplished production, directed by Louise Hunt, which must have proven a challenge to all involved.  A worthwhile step away from the usual lighthearted fare of amateur musical theatre, and one that certainly entertained throughout.   

12 June 2013


The Sound of Music
Springers AODS
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 12th June 2013

The remarkable story of the Von Trapp family's escape from an occupied Austria in 1935 is heart-warmingly familiar, as are the characters, scenes and songs from this time-honoured Rogers and Hammerstein musical, which has a special place in so many people's hearts.  This feel-good show, made a cult classic through the ever popular Julie Andrews film version, is brought sparklingly to life in the Civic by a hard working cast.  

Production values are high with some delightful design throughout, particularly the wedding at the Abbey and that beautifully framed final moment on the mountain.  Some winning costume choices too, the congregation of monochrome nuns, the children looking adorable in their curtain-esque play clothes, Maria in a beautifully fitting wedding dress.  The sound levels however were disappointing, the beautifully sung harmonies of "Preludium" at the opening spoilt by volume mismatches and sections of dialogue missed through tardy cues.  The follow-spot cues too should blend into the scene unnoticed by the audience but they became a distraction at times.  With so many scene changes into various locations the organisation of the stage management was important, and although executed smoothly there were too many periods of dark silence - a simple underscore could help to make the waiting time less obvious and would be effortlessly manageable by MD Ian Myers and his flawless band.

Kayleigh McEvoy was glorious as the effervescent Maria, characterised to almost Disney-fied appeal she was full of energy with an ease and grace throughout.  Her singing voice was magnificent as the demands of this almost non-stop role were met with skill and confidence.  A real talent, Kayleigh will be an asset to her Classical Singing course at Guildhall next year.  Mat Smith was solid as her handsome suitor Captain Von Trapp, singing "Edelweiss" with enough charm to win the audience over into a patriotic singalong.  Catherine Gregory's classy rendition of "Climb Every Mountain" matched her tender characterisation of Mother Abbess, ably flanked by Nicola Myers, Natalie Schultz and Sara Mortimer as the Sisters asking "How do you solve a problem like Maria?".  For me, there were standout performances of the hateful Baroness from a wonderful Olivia Gooding, whose effortless acting style made for a refreshingly natural performance, and Barry Miles as a genial Uncle Max in a witty and engaging characterisation.  Given the two musical numbers that did not make the film version, they had a tough job to win round an expectant audience, which both actors achieved with captivating skill.  The children, selected from the society's talented youth group Offspringers, were enchanting.  Mae Pettigrew's elegant Liesel, Bethan Evans' confident Brigitta and Bernice Bushell's smiling Marta all delightful alongside their capable and enthralling on-stage siblings. 

Another accomplished show from this friendly society, who do themselves proud with the bonded ensemble feel to their accessible productions.  Another chance for the Offspringers to join in too perhaps as we look forward to their next production, Whistle Down the Wind.

10 June 2013


The Amen Corner
National Theatre Production
Olivier Theatre
Monday 10th June 2013

The National Theatre's latest production of James Baldwin's The Amen Corner has generated a captivating piece of epic scale theatre under the direction of Rufus Norris, despite the script taking somewhat too long to get going.

We join a Sunday morning service with pastor Sister Margaret preaching to her enrapt congregation in their shabby upstairs tabernacle, her style fierce and righteous, until we gradually begin to see her life disintegrate around her.  Unexpectedly, her deserted husband Luke arrives, bringing with him memories of past tragedies and instigating her only son's decision to fly the nest and become a Jazz musician rather than following in her footsteps.  Meanwhile, rather than supporting her through this difficult time, her congregation turn on their pastor, seeing only hypocrisy in her years of pious teachings.  The piece is overridingly cynical, almost parodying the excessive fervour of these followers, although manages never to be patronising.

Some glorious choral gospel singing woven and blended into the spoken passages are integral to the overall tone of the production, and there are some accomplished performances to draw the audience into this corner of 1950s Harlem.  Marianne Jean-Baptiste is glorious as Sister Margaret, seeming to relish in her return to the British stage.  Her sister Odessa is played with effortless charisma by Sharon D Clarke, and Cecilia Noble gives a fantastically memorable performance as Sister Moore.  

An impressive production that very much succeeds in production values and performances.  Although it is somewhat let down by a wordy script that takes too long to make it's point, there is too much to enjoy for this to be a hindrance to an entertaining evening.

05 June 2013


The History Boys
Made in Colchester
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Wednesday 5th June 2013

The original National Theatre production of Alan Bennett's play, about a group of post A-Level schoolboys preparing for interviews at the Oxbridge colleges, starred the late Richard Griffiths and has launched glittering careers for many of the unknown boys from that original cast and subsequent film version - Dominic Cooper, Russell Tovey, Jamie Parker, Samuel Barnett, James Corden - names that are now gracing our theatres and television screens on both side of the Atlantic.  An endearing script captures a point in time for these young men, and the teachers who in their own unconventional styles manage to inspire them.

Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director of the Mercury still in his first season, directs this excellent in-house production following his memorable success with The Hired Man earlier this year.  The ideally cast group of fresh faced young men playing the university hopefuls produced some fantastically entertaining performances and most importantly generated a feeling of camaraderie and friendship on stage that is so key to the success of this play - especially prevalent during the hilarious French scene. 

Scott Arthur was joyously self-confident as the arrogant Dakin, with intelligence, charm, wit and good-looks in abundance and the ego to match.  Hanging off his every word as he gazed longingly across the crowed classroom Phillip Labey was heart-wrenchingly sweet as love-struck Posner, with a smooth singing voice that was especially touching during "Bye Bye Blackbird".  Max Gallagher also stood out as the religious voice of reason with his versatile portrayal of piano-playing Scripps.  Their teacher Hector, played with constant energy by Stephen Ley, is their unconventional inspiration, teaching them how to be better, more rounded citizens rather than solely aiming them at the immediate goal of university places like his far younger colleague Irwin (an excellently composed performance from Freddie Machin).  

The staging of this piece was key to the overall feeling of a top-quality professional production. The revolving set design to allow for fast, smooth location changes, the names of past boys scrawled across the tops of the walls representing the rolling stream of students these rooms and teachers see and inspire each year.  The detail of the lighting effects; slatted blinds in the Headmaster's Office, window muntins in the old-fashioned classrooms; help to evoke memories of the institutions we all remember and were effectively executed here with subtlety and precision.

An inspirational, life-affirming play, capturing a positive angle on the lives of late-teenage youths.  How fortunate the people of Colchester are to have such high quality theatre on their doorsteps.  This Made in Colchester production is another fantastic example of the exceptional progress being made at the Mercury, and long may it continue. 

03 June 2013


Henry V
Globe on Screen
Cineworld, Braintree
Monday 3rd June 2013

The Globe on Screen showings at cinemas across the country are an ideal (and more comfortable!) way to catch up with performances that audiences might - due to distances, finances or timings - otherwise miss.  Similar productions can be seen at the cinema from the Met Opera and the National Theatre, among others.  Not a replacement for live productions, the atmosphere is no where the same and one cannot fully appreciate the majesty of the Globe, for example, from a dark room in Braintree, but a positive outreach they certainly are.

Jamie Parker's Hal is exemplary and an absolute joy to watch.  This play is unmitigated royal propaganda and his performance of a merciful, witty, modest and charming King fits the tone of the piece ideally.  His strength and inspiration on the battlefield are enough to rouse the entire audience to fight by his side, with one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches delivered to utter perfection.  Later his endearing fumblings while wooing the young French princess show a more human side to this heroic regal figure, with a performance by Parker that also wooed the captivated audience.  A strong group of players to accompany this excellent portrayal too, with stand out comic performances from the Welsh Captain Fluellen by Brendan O'Hea, and an intricately timed and hilariously energetic performance of rascal Pistol by Sam Cox.  

This is a perfect example of what the Globe does best, and I wish I had managed to catch such a fantastic production live.  However, thanks to the excellent filming by the Globe on Screen, I was able to enjoy these unmissable performances anew - a welcome development in theatre accessibility.