Review: ‘Hilarious’ ★★★★ Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows, Underbelly Festival

Finding the ‘Weakest Link’ or someone ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ among our British politicians isn’t currently a very a difficult task and in Jon Brittain’s new satirical show at Underbelly Festival, the Iron Lady herself is posing some tricky questions, for the baying hoards to enjoy.

The show follows the tremendous success of Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho and this time sees the former Prime Minister, played by Matt Tedford, enlist some unsuspecting onlookers to take part in classic game shows aimed to thoroughly dis the current political climate.

Writer, Jon Brittain, has had to rewrite much of the show, with the political landscape continuing in an almost constant state of fluctuation since the show premiered at Edinburgh last year.

Alongside some dancing assistants called Strong and Stable the frivolity is maintained as the NHS, human rights and, of course, Brexit are all given a good sardonic seeing to.

There are also some fabulous faux cameo appearances from Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage and Angela Merkel, but it’s the Iron Lady (complete with perfectly coiffed hair and the obligatory wrist mounted handbag), who calls the shots in this hilarious evening of merriment.

Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows continues at Underbelly Festival until 2 July 

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Review: ‘A hilarious celebration’ ★★★★★ Liza’s Back! (is Broken), Underbelly Festival

Being the daughter of an icon can have its downsides. Despite halcyon days spent living in the Savoy Hotel and touring the world, Liza Minnelli had a tricky start in life and learned early on that having Judy Garland as your mother does not guarantee success.

Despite the many downsides Liza Minnelli grew to be a stage and screen legend in her own right and Trevor Ashley’s affectionate takeoff of the star in his acclaimed cabaret show Liza’s Back! (Is Broken) is a hilarious celebration of the unique personality.

Trevor Ashley as Liza Minnelli

Ashley’s comedy drag show offers a musical display of such a high-caliber; you almost don’t need the quips in between to string the songs together, although lines like “From the waist down I’m a man and from the waist up I’m wasted” are suitably greeted with raucous laughter. Such is his vocal prowess; the impersonator embodies the star with a powerful and authentic sound, married with enough tongue in cheek humour, to keep comedy fans on their toes.

With many of Minnelli’s classics given a masterful rendering alongside other musical theatre favourites (including a wonderful melancholic mash-up of “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “The Wizard and I” to close act one) aficionados and new comers are equally catered for and are treated to a show filled with fun and even a bit of frantic dance.

Liza’s Back! (is broken) is at Underbelly Festival from 27 June until 2 July

Review: ‘A visual feast’ ★★★★ The Wind in the Willows, London Palladium

Us Brits are known throughout the world for our classic literature and particularly for the charm and simplicity of some of our children’s works, but it’s a challenge to bring the ever-so-twee tales up to date.

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is quintessentially English, but with woodland characters rather than humans carrying the story, it makes the task of bringing the traditional riverside tale into the modern era slightly easier.

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And with the now well-established musical theatre team of Stiles and Drewe once again collaborating with Julian Fellowes – after their huge success with Half a Sixpence – audiences at the London Palladium are treated to a heartening family musical with humour at its core.

There is something for everyone in Rachel Kavanaugh’s production with enough slapstick for the little ones, teamed with an awe-inspiring set design from Peter McKintosh and an additional element of sarcasm (particularly from the excellent Simon Lipkin as Ratty) to entertain the more pessimistic theatregoers.

It’s not a show that caters particularly well for feminists however, with Denise Welch’s Mrs. Otter failing to add any girl power to the plot known for its boy’s club theme and a song in which Toad transforms into a women in order to escape prison is pretty cringe worthy.

There are however, some lovely little nods for musical theatre fans; you might recognise Toad’s Prisoner number, and the families of animals (especially the hedgehogs), are just so adorable, you can forgive the story for being a little pedestrian and staid.

Craig Mather’s Mole is wonderfully wholesome, while Rufus Hound plays the hatefully hapless Toad with a wealth of humour.

The naughty weasels, stoats and foxes – led by the rock star-like Neil McDermott – steal the show and it’s such a clever twist to have the foxes clad in huntsman attire.

This adds to what is the show’s real draw, as a spectacle, and together with an enormous steam train, which fills the stage to the meandering riverbank bedecked with reeds and rushes, this show is a visual feast.

The Wind in the Willows is at the London Palladium until 9 September

Photos by Darren Bell

Julian Clary to star in world premiere of Le Grand Mort

Julian Clary is to star in the world première of the black comedy Le Grand Mort.

It was written specially for him by four-time Olivier Award nominated writer Stephen Clark (Martin Guerre, Zorro, Love Story, and the play Stripped, which won him a Stephen Jefferson Award), who died at the age of 55 last October.

In his super stylish, sterilely beautiful Notting Hill kitchen, Michael is preparing dinner for two. As he meticulously cuts the vegetables with almost a surgeon’s precision, he talks, with knife-like wit, about cases in history where the human body has continued to prove useful even after death. As he slices and chops, one wonders who is coming for dinner and what the main course might be. When Tim, his young guest arrives, they engage in a series of funny, thrilling but searingly dangerous mind games, as they try to unravel the reasons why they are both there. Only when the games turn deadly do they catch a glimpse of the sadness and loss within each of them, that enables them to at least begin to connect with the truth, using whatever damaged shreds of humanity they still have left.

Julian Clary said: “In 2010 Stephen Clark took me out to lunch in Camden and told me he’d like to write a play for me. How lovely, how flattering, how unusual! Over the following few years I got the occasional email from Stephen saying ‘I haven’t forgotten the play!’ but I decided he’d
probably thought better of it. We were both busy with life, work and in Stephen’s case, some serious health issues. Then, one day in 2013, it arrived. A funny, dark, beautiful play…Le Grand Mort will take me so far out of my comfort zone I may never return.”

Director Christopher Renshaw said: “Through our many collaborations, Stephen Clark and I became very close friends. Someone with whom I shared absolute trust, not only in our work but in our lives. A brave, honest, brilliantly funny man, who faced the many health challenges of his life without a single complaint. An inspiration. It is so very sad for me that Stephen will not not be here for the first production of Le Grand Mort, but I know he will be watching from somewhere, sipping a glass of good red wine, absorbing and encouraging every moment of rehearsal, as he always did.”

Julian Clary is a comedian, entertainer and author, who has toured across the world with his one-man shows. He became a household name in the late 1980s, and remains one of the country’s most popular entertainers. Julian has appeared on numerous popular TV shows including Sticky Moments, Terry and Julian, Strictly Come Dancing, QI, Have I Got News For You and Celebrity Big Brother, which he won in 2012. He also hosted his own natural history series, Nature Nuts, for ITV and paid tribute to the life and works of his idol Noël Coward for Sky Arts’ Passions series. Julian has starred in West End productions of Taboo, Olivier Award-winning Cabaret and Cinderella at the London Palladium, which broke box office records. In 2016, he extended his critically acclaimed UK tour, The Joy of Mincing, and this year published the third instalment of his hugely successful children’s book series, The Bolds.

Le Grand Mort will première at Trafalgar Studios from Wednesday 20 September – Saturday 28 October.

Monster musical to hit the Arts Theatre

Following a sold-out UK premiere at Southwark Playhouse, when it received 6 Off West End Award nominations including Best Musical, acclaimed rock musical ‘The Toxic Avenger The Musical’ is to transfer to the Arts Theatre for a strictly limited 10-week season from Thursday 28 September.

‘The Toxic Avenger’ is the brainchild of the Tony Award-winning creative team behind the smash hit West End musical ‘Memphis’, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, an original founding member and keyboardist/vocalist for rock giants, Bon Jovi.

Prior to the London season, the production will have a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – full details to be announced soon.

Based on Lloyd Kaufman’s cult 1984 comedy schlock-horror Troma film, “The Toxic Avenger”,  ‘The Toxic Avenger The Musical’ tells the story of the citizens of  Tromaville, who are crying out for a hero… Enter nerdy Melvin Ferd the Third, an aspiring earth scientist, determined to clean up the state’s major toxic waste problem. When a corrupt Mayor and her government goons get wind of his plans, they vow to stop this heroic feat. Melvin is attacked and tossed into a vat of toxic waste… transforming him instantly into The Toxic Avenger, New Jersey’s first
superhero!

Toxie is a 7-foot mutant freak with superhuman strength and a supersized heart to match. He’s out to save heavily polluted New Jersey, end global warming, win the heart of the prettiest (blindest) librarian in town and get home in time for dinner!

Prepare to laugh, scream and sing to songs including ‘Who Will Save New Jersey?” “Get the Geek”, “Thank God She’s Blind” “Hot Toxic Love” and “Choose Me, Oprah!” as ‘Toxie’ rocks the house and saves the day!

The Toxic Avenger is running at the Arts Theatre from Thursday 28 September
– Sunday 3 December.

Bat Out of Hell star Christina Bennington takes our Sugar Rush Quiz

After a hugely successful run at the Manchester Opera House, Bat Out of Hell the Musical has taken London by storm. The musical – with music by Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf – has proved popular with both critics and audiences alike, while its two young leading actors – Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington – have gathered multiple plaudits for their portrayals of the love struck pairing of Strat and Raven.

Christina Bennington previously impressed London theatregoers as Kim/cover Magnolia in Show Boat at the New London Theatre and took some time off from her busy performance schedule to take our Sugar Rush Quiz.

Andrew Polec as Strat and Christina Bennington as Raven in BAT OUT OF HELL credit Specular

What are you currently working on?

Bat out of Hell The Musical

 

What is the one thing that has helped you to become successful? 

Good friends and family

 

What is your favourite Book?

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

 

What are you currently watching on TV? 

I’ve most recently been watching the Netflix series Girl Boss

 

Would you choose the cinema, theatre or a restaurant for a night out? 

Theatre I guess…and a restaurant

 

What’s your favourite sweet? 

Dark Chocolate

 

What did you want to be when you were a child? 

An Opera Singer

 

What was the naughtiest thing you did when you were a child? 

Stealing stuff from my siblings

 

What is your proudest achievement to date? 

This musical

 

What’s next? 

I’m going to Toronto with Bat out of Hell The Musical in October

Bat Out of Hell The Musical is at the London Coliseum until 5 August 

Photos by Specular

We talk to Grammy nominated Sisters Grimm ahead of their new show Voices of the Amazon at Sadler’s Wells

After the phenomenal success of Inala, performed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sisters Grimm will return to Sadler’s Wells next week with their brand new dance musical set in the Amazon Rainforest.

The company, which was conceived almost ten years ago by Grammy-nominated Ella Spira and former Royal Ballet dancer Pietra Mello-Pittman, will present their new show Voices of the Amazon with the help of Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons – who provides the voice over – and the Royal Ballet’s First Artist Nathalie Harrison, along with a cast of 16 dancer singers and musicians.

The creators took the idea for the new dance production from a visit to Brazil, where they saw for themselves the impact of the continued deforestation.

Pietra Mello-Pittman told us, “We went to Brazil and visited lots of cities but we ended up in the Amazon Rain Forest. We witnessed for ourselves the effects of forest fires and deforestation and we thought that we’d really like to try to work it into the narrative.”

Voices of the Amazon follows the story of Beleza; a water spirit, whose search to find a cure for her dying sister takes her on a journey deep into the forest.

Unlike the Grammy nominated Inala, the international cast of performers will undertake all of the elements of the production and Pietra said, “[They are] all singing, all dancing, all hanging from bits of fabric, performing circus skills and spinning on their heads as well.”

Composer Ella Spira has collaborated with Brazilian songwriters to ensure lyrically both the native Portuguese and English languages are reflected in the soundtrack. She gathered the inspiration for the melodies from some of the awe-inspiring sights she witnessed when in the Amazon Rainforest and fellow creator Pietra explains, “You just feel the emotion of the score”.

Sisters Grimm, Pietra Mello-Pittman (left) and Ella Spira (right) on stage at Sadler’s Wells with The Sweet London Life Editor Nicky Sweetland

The pair met through a mutual friend in 2008 and found almost immediately that they had a common goal, “We shared the same ambition with what we wanted to create, which was to fuse our backgrounds of classical music and classical ballet but really fuse it with a whole load of other disciplines and unite people from different backgrounds and create really spectacular shows.” Pietra said.

Ella has written the score for Voices of the Amazon (after her Grammy nomination for Inala), Pietra is directing the production and Helen Pickett (Resident Choreographer for Atlanta Ballet and former dancer with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt) has joined the company to provide the choreography.

They are hoping the new show will be relevant – with some political leaders recently disputing the impact if greenhouse gases on the world’s climate – and will inspire audiences to take note of global environmental issues, while entertaining with an engaging narrative.

Ella Spira explained: “We hope they’ll leave feeling like they’ve had a really good night. We focus on having big choral singing that really hits you, so you have this immediate emotional engagement with it and we want people to leave feeling a bit more engaged with the amazon. It is a kind of folk tale and it is fairytaleish, but it’s beautiful. It’s also about letting go of differences between people and having everyone and everything coming together and respecting everything.”

Voices of the Amazon will receive its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells from 4 to 8 July and the production is supported by WWF and the Eden Project along with science consultant Alexander Van Tulleken (CBBC’s Operation Ouch, Channel 4’s How to Lose Weight Well).

Following the run at Sadler’s Wells, the show will perform at Latitude Festival 13-16 July and Singapore 28-30 July. There are also plans to go to Australia and Hong Kong then do a UK Tour either later this year or early next year, including performances at the Eden Project.

Voices of the Amazon is at Sadler’s Wells from 4 to 8 July.

West End favourite, Alison Arnopp takes our Sugar Rush Quiz

Alison Arnopp recently graced the London stage when she portrayed Julie in the celebrated production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Donmar Warehouse. The talented performer is not only an acclaimed actress however, and has trained in both classical singing and musical theatre. She was part of the fabulous showcase performance of the new musical Eugenius! at the London Palladium and also took on the role of Dusty Springfield in a show charting the singer’s career at the Charing Cross Theatre.

Next weekend Alison will take to the stage at The Phoenix Artists Club to present her brand new solo cabaret show entitled I Made You a MixTape, but took some time off from rehearsals to take our Sugar Rush Quiz.

What are you currently working on?

I Made You a MixTape- it’s a cabaret inspired by all the music I have swapped with exes over the years…! It’s been lots of fun rooting out my favourites and the cabaret covers everything from folk to opera and jazz to country music.

 

What is the one thing that has helped you to become successful?

The people I surround myself with- supportive friends, great teachers, encouraging agents, a decent therapist….and sticking with it.

 

What is your favourite Book?

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

 

What are you currently watching on TV?

I have just started watching GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) on Netflix.

 

Would you choose the cinema, theatre or a restaurant for a night out?

Usually a comedy show of some sort- improv or stand-up.

 

What’s your favourite sweet?

Chocolate please.

 

What did you want to be when you were a child?

A trapeze artist. I’m not sure I fully understood what that entailed.

 

What was the naughtiest thing you did when you were a child?

We had a vegetable garden and my friend and I would mix up the soil and water and apply it to stones like we were icing cakes- I managed to convince my younger sister to eat mud. Sorry Carol.

 

What is your proudest achievement to date?

Writing my and performing my own play RE-HUMAN in a beautiful little caravan to small groups of strangers. The response was wonderfully unexpected and it was a really intimate and rewarding experience.

 

What’s next?

I’m performing with the RSC at the Barbican as we transfer our recent production of The Tempest there for the summer. I’m also co-writing a show of original songs about friendship and doing as much improv as I can fit in!

 

Alsion Arnopp is performing I Made You a MixTape at The Phoenix Artist Club on Sunday 2 July https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/GKLIHI

Review: ‘Fascinating’ ★★★★ Terror, Lyric Hammersmith

There must be law to keep our society functioning, if not we would have anarchy. If someone breaks the law they must be brought to justice. Few of us would question these statements and yet when morality blurs the boundaries of the law, who can make the final judgment?

This conundrum forms the basis of Ferdinand von Schirach’s Terror, at the Lyric Hammersmith in which the audience is asked to become the jury on an ethically complex case of murder.

A fighter pilot has been called upon to escort a plane, which has been hijacked. If he doesn’t take action, the plane – which is carrying 164 passengers – will crash into a football stadium filled with 70,000 spectators. Despite orders to the contrary, he shoots the plane down, killing all 164 passengers but saving thousands in the process.

But how can one man decide the fate of the 164 and who can decide if their lives were less or more important than the 70,000?

It’s a very difficult dilemma and what’s ingenious about von Schirach’s play is that – just like a real jury – we are presented with pure facts and given full disclosure from both the prosecution and defence attorneys (with impassioned performances from both Emma Fielding and Forbes Masson) before we use the power to establish the soldier’s destiny.

There are few plays around at the moment that feel more pertinent and an eerie silence rings throughout the auditorium for much of the performance as we are given testimony from a military colleague, from the wife of one of the doomed aeroplane passengers and from the defendant, Lars Coch (played very straight by Ashley Zhangazha), who is steadfast in his belief that he did the right thing.

The play is translated from the original German text and set in a German Court, which means much of the debate is over whether Coch has broken the law and contradicted the constitution. This means some of the arguments couldn’t be perused here (Britain doesn’t have a constitution), but the dialogue does still have significance to the climate in the UK at the moment and the division between certain echelons of society.

It’s, at times, stifling with Anna Fleischle’s grand set design looming high over the auditorium as if in judgment and giving an imposing feeling of separation between the audience and the cast. It is nevertheless, a fascinating piece of drama and despite any preconceptions – when the audience is allowed to recess – they most spend the 20-minute interval in debate with their parties about which way they will vote (sound familiar?).

Of course, if we are just deciding whether the pilot broke the law or not, the judgement has to be guilty, but morality and emotion are what sets humans apart from other species and as such, they rarely fail to influence our decisions.

Using consoles attached to the theatre seats, we make our judgments and on the evening I attended, humanity prevailed with 62% of the audience choosing a not guilty verdict.

Terror is at the Lyric Hammersmith until 15 July 

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Casting announced for Five Guys Named Moe at the brand new Marble Arch Theatre

Underbelly Productions have today announced full casting for a brand new production of Clarke Peters’ Olivier Award-winning and Tony-Award nominated musical, Five Guys Named Moe. The production will open on 14 September 2017 in a new temporary theatre in Marble Arch, London.

Edward Baruwa will play Nomax and the ‘Moes’ will be played by: Ian Carlyle (Four-Eyed Moe), Dex Lee (Know Moe), Idriss Kargbo (Little Moe), Timothy Martin (Big Moe) and Emile Ruddock (Eat Moe).

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Underbelly have also released the first look at how the inside of the new Marble Arch Theatre will look. Specifically designed for the production will be reminiscent of 1940s New Orleans Jazz clubs, occupying the whole space. There will be cabaret table seating in the centre of the space with a drinks table service.

In addition to the theatre, there will be a connecting foyer designed in the style of a New Orleans courtyard with hanging atmospheric foliage, festoon lighting, a beautiful bespoke bar, a performance area for a jazz trio and concession stands selling popcorn, sweets, snacks and merchandise as well as a cloakroom area.

Five Guys Named Moe was first seen at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1990, it transferred to the West End and played for four years, subsequently playing on Broadway from 1992. Clarke Peters’ career defining musical features the irresistible hits of trailblazing ‘King of the Jukebox’ Louis Jordan, including Early In The MorningIs You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby, Choo Choo Ch’Boogie and Saturday Night Fish Fry. The soundtrack of soul, blues, gospel and early r ‘n’ b is performed on stage by a live band.

The production, which is to be directed by Peters himself,  is currently booking from 29 August to 25 November 2017, with an Opening Night on 14 September.

Five Guys Named Moe will be directed by Clarke Peters (The Wire, Treme, Person of Interest, Porgy and Bess, The Ice Man Cometh) with musical staging and choreography by Andrew Wright (Half a SixpenceSingin’ in the Rain, Guys and Dolls), inspired by Charles Augins’ original choreography, set and costume design by takis (Side Show, In The Heights, Hairspray, The Good Person of Sichuan), lighting design by Philip Gladwell (The James Plays, Cymbeline, Trainspotting, After Miss Julie, Hairspray), sound design by Ben Harrison (Cabaret, Dreamboats and Petticoats, Dancing in the Streets, The King & I, Starlight Express, Blood Brothers, Soul Sister) and musical supervision from Steve Hill (Fame, RENT, The House That Nat Built, Bent, Hair).

Cameron Mackintosh said: I am really thrilled that Underbelly are producing a brand new production of Five Guys Named Moe in London later this year. It’s a show that brought fun and joy to audiences in the West End for many years so it’s great to see its return for its 25th Anniversary. I am particularly excited that this new production is being staged in a Spiegeltent theatre specifically tailored for Five Guys so that Underbelly’s unique style will give audiences and the show a special intimate experience which will definitely make it the best party in town – a party which I’m delighted to support Underbelly in throwing.”

Clarke Peters said: “It’s a rare and wonderful thing to have the chance to direct a show that not only you have created but also performed in. It’s a show that is very close to my heart and soul and is so much of who I am. It’s an honour to return to it on its 25th Anniversary and reimagine the show in this new theatre space; one which is perfect for creating a closeness and dynamic energy between the story and the audience. Further to this it’s a treat to be working with a fantastic creative team and I can’t wait to transport audiences into the magical world of rhythm and blues. This rhythm will lift one and all from their blues!”

Robert Davis, Westminster City Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Business, Culture and Heritage said: “Westminster City Council is delighted to be working with Underbelly Productions to bring Five Guys Named Moe to Marble Arch in its very own, bespoke theatre. Bringing this internationally acclaimed musical to this world-renowned, iconic space is a truly mouth-watering prospect that will further increase the cultural offer available to residents, businesses and visitors throughout the City of Westminster.  To quote the show itself; ‘Let The Good Times Roll!’”

Five Guys Named Moe is at the Marble Arch Theatre from 29 August – 25 November 2017 

Photos by Graham Michael