Review: A City break to Oxford

After a summer in London, a break to another UK city might seem like a strange choice for a weekend away. However, so many of us take for granted the rich history of our little island and the wealth of beautiful metropolises, which lie within its shores. I’ve therefore decided to try to experience more of them, while doing a bit more ‘stacationing’ over the next few years and so I began with a trip to Oxford.

Known as the “city of dreaming spires”, Oxford is famous for its architecture, culture and, of course, its education establishments. Just over two hours from Greenwich, the city offers a great place to escape the doldrums of London for a weekend of opulence.

And it really does have a feeling of wealth as soon as you clap your eyes on the majestic buildings, which litter the city centre.

But before you can get to the lavish eateries, and designer retail outlets you have to contend with one of Oxford’s other famous ‘attractions’, the traffic. If you are planning to go for a weekend, I would advise leaving as early as possible; the traffic on Fridays in and around Oxford is monstrous

I arrived at my fairly modest lodgings after a four-hour car journey (I did get a bit lost, which didn’t help) and was heartened that I was to be staying at the Holiday Inn, which additionally boasts a spar. After a tumultuous and busy few weeks at work and a stressful expedition to get there, the facilities immediately helped to loosened me up and gave me a holiday feeling right from the start.

The hotel has simple décor, but is extremely well maintained and offers a sauna, gym, steam room, Jacuzzi, treatment room and a decent sized swimming pool (unlike the tiny ones you often get in hotels). There is also an excellent restaurant on the premises, which provided a fulsome feast for my first night in residence and a huge breakfast to see me off on my city excursion the next day.

It’s also really conveniently located on the edge of the city – near to the airport – and just a stone’s throw from the park and ride, so I was able to board a bus and get into the city within 15 minutes at a cost of just £2.

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And it turned out to be a good time to visit, as fortuitously it was the annual Oxford Open Doors weekend. The festival offered free entry to many of the historic buildings and colleges and so after a fun little jaunt around on a vintage bus, I crossed the thresholds of some of the most famous buildings in the city – many of which had exhibitions and events to entertain me, but which I probably wouldn’t have made the effort to go to if I’d had to pay. I did shell out to ascend Carfax Tower however – as I had heard it was the place to go for the best views over the city and I wasn’t disappointed.

But I wasn’t just there to be educated and I made good use of the myriad of retail establishments; all situated conveniently close together and linked by a matrix of intricate back streets, which housed an abundance of continental bars restaurants and interesting little independent shops. There was even an open-air food market where you could sample cuisine from around the world and all of the big high-street retailers. With a new mall opening in October, the city centre is likely to become even more popular as a shopping destination.

Oxford did also provide me with a home from home feeling, as – a bit like Greenwich – the city contains a good amount of green space and waterside amusement amidst the exquisite historical architecture and urbanisation.

After a few more swims and an enormous final breakfast I embarked on the journey home, which with the quiet Sunday morning roads took just over two hours.

Oxford is easy to get to so you don’t feel like you’ve taken up too much of your weekend on travel time and despite it being an affluent destination; it can be experienced on a fairly humble budget.

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Ahead of launching his new EP, John McLarnon takes our Sugar Rush Quiz

Glaswegian singer-songwriter John McLarnon launches his much-anticipated debut EP ‘Thirty Two Winters’.

Combining soaring melodies and raw vocals ‘Thirty Two Winters’ acts as an exciting follow-up to John’s debut single ‘Snow Angels’, which reached number 4 on the iTunes chart upon release.

Influenced by fellow celtic songwriters Glen Hansard, Damien Rice & Foy Vance, ‘Thirty Two winters’ weaves thoughtful powerful lyrics with sweeping folk inspired instrumentation to produce an honest and exciting debut.

In addition to his songwriting, John is also an actor most recently appearing as Killick in Season Three of Amazon’s epic drama ‘Outlander’ and in West-End play ‘Apologia’ alongside Tony and Emmy award winner Stockard Channing. He also played guitarist Outspan Foster in Roddy Doyle’s hit show ‘The Commitments’ in London’s West-End.

John will launch his new EP ‘Thirty Two Winters’ at Above The Arts Cabaret Club London on 24th November, but took some time off from preparations to take our Sugar Rush Quiz.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently coming to the end of working on ‘Apologia’ at the Trafalgar Studios and writing and rehearsing new songs for my EP launch next month. 

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

I think the key thing is being honest with yourself and identifying where your strengths lie and focusing on constantly improving what makes you stand out in such a competitive business.  

What is your favourite Book?

I would say ‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland, I read it whilst travelling and it has stuck with me ever since, I also recently really enjoyed Matt Haig’s ‘How To Stop Time’.

What are you currently watching on TV?

‘MindHunter’ on Netflix at the moment, it’s my new addiction, hoping to get it finished in time for season two of ‘Stranger Things’.  

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

I’d say restaurant then the theatre or cinema…….. is that cheating? 

What’s your favourite sweet? 

I have got the sweetest of sweet tooth’s so that is a tough one but if pressed I would have to go for peanut M&Ms.  

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

When I was a kid I only wanted to be a footballer, then as I grew up I decided on an architect then ended up an actor and musician, funny old life.

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

Me and my mates were really into WWE wrestling when we were kids and I can distinctly remember knocking my best mate out with an Argos catalogue, his Mum wasn’t too pleased, however we are still friends today so all was forgiven.  

What is your proudest achievement to date?

 Finishing and releasing music I’ve written.     

What’s next? 

Launching my EP ‘Thirty Two Winters’ at Above The Arts Cabaret Club London on 24th Nov.

Tickets are on sale now and available at:

https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/john-mclarnon-thirty-two-winters-ep-launch/

New musical EUGENIUS! To open at The Other Palace 

After a successful debut concert performance at the London Palladium last year, Warwick Davis and Kevin Wood announce the full-scale production of the British cult musical “EUGENIUS!” at The Other Palace from 22 January until the 3 March 2018.

Written by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins, “EUGENIUS!” tells the story of Eugene, a teenage boy whose nightly dreams of a distant world of heroes and villains may just be the ticket to him creating his very own comic book movie in Hollywood. Joined by his best friends ‘Janey’ and ‘Feris’, our comic writing genius must discover the true meaning of growing up, finding the superhero within, saving the world from both earthbound villains and possibly those from distant galaxies, and along the way, falling in love.
EUGENIUS! is produced by legendary “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” actor Warwick Davis and features the voice of Prince Vultan himself, Brian Blessed. Warwick said, “We are thrilled to be bringing an original British musical to The Other Palace. After a tremendous concert performance at the London Palladium last summer we can’t wait to see the fully staged production. Ben and Chris have written this incredible 80’s inspired score and includes the songs ‘Go Eugenius’ and ‘Comic Book Kind of Love’, which recieved popular acclaim last year’.

The book, music and lyrics for ‘EUGENIUS!’ are written by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins. Award winning Ian Talbot will direct. Ian was previously the Artistic Director at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre for 20 years, for which he received an OBE. He has directed ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ and ‘Lend Me A Tenor’. The creative team is completed by Aaron Renfree who will choreograph, sound design by Gareth Owen, lighting by Andrew Ellis, musical supervision by Stuart Morley and musical direction by Darren Lord. Set and costume design will be by Hannah Wolfe and the show’s design features specially commissioned comic book artwork by Marvel artist, Simon Williams (Transformers, Spider Man, Marvel Heroes, The lncredible Hulk).
  

EUGENIUS! THE MUSICAL will run at The Other Palace from Monday 22 January – Saturday 3 March 2018 

A host of West End stars will gather for Sunday at the Musicals

A whole host of West End stars will gather at St. Paul’s Church (The Actors’ Church) in Covent Garden next month for a very special concert.

Entitled Sunday at the Musicals the show will be hosted by Rosemarie Ford and feature a cast of musical theatre performers together with the renowned musical pair Classical Reflection and seventy members of the London Show Choir.

The company will perform songs from past and present musicals – accompanied by pianist, Matt Pallant –  in what is expected to be a night not to be missed.

The cast will include, Emily Clare, Classical Reflection, Susan Colclough, Amanda Coutts, Lizzie Deane, Aimée Fisher, Michelle Francis, Gabriela Garcia, Jenny Gayner, Pippa Gearing, Catherine Hannay, Aimée Hodnett, Claudia Kariuki, Alex Lodge, Carolyn Maitland, Natalie Moore-Williams, Sarah O’Connor, Louise Olley, Alfie Parker, Laura Pick, Caroline Rodgers, Jordan Shaw, Elena Skye, Pippa Winslow, Alex Young

Sunday at the Musicals will take place at St. Paul’s Church (The Actors’ Church) in Covent Garden, London, on Sunday 26th November 2017. Doors will open at 7.00pm and the concert will begin at 7.30pm.

Tickets for the production, which is in aid of Marie Curie UK, can be purchased online now: www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/383903.

Review: ‘Will leave you questioning your own mortality’ ★★★ Duet for One, Richmond Theatre

Society often discusses the meaning of the phrase ‘quality of life’ and more deeply the meaning of life itself, but for most, these are merely superficial hypotheses rather than issues meaningfully thought out.

Tom Kempinski’s two hander Duet for One – which is running at Richmond Theatre this week – seeks to investigate these theorems by giving us insight into what it’s like to have an important part of our lives taken away.

The play is set in a psychiatrist’s study (with all of the obligatory accoutrements, including a lavish chaise lounge, thanks to a majestic design by Lez Brotherston) and depicts a series of appointments with a former virtuoso violinist. Stephanie (Belinda Lang) has been a musician since a young age but after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, her glittering career has come to an abrupt end. The exchanges are disquieting and yet at the same time humorous in what feels like a competent and truthful journey of acceptance.

Lang is excellent as the spoiled performer, who initially tries to hide her grief for the loss of her vocation, while Oliver Cotton as Dr Feldmann spends more time reacting rather than acting until the final instalment, but when he launches into a dialogue about the meaning of life, comes into his own and displays some real sensitivity.

It takes a bit of getting going, with Lang’s character pretty unlikable for the most part but it’s worth the wait; act two is a really interesting character study which will leave you questioning your own mortality.

Duet for One runs at Richmond Theatre until 28 October.

Carolyn Maitland will perform Songs Chosen By You Live at Zedel

West End star Carolyn Maitland will perform an intimate cabaret at the celebrated Live at Zedel, Piccadilly this weekend. The acclaimed performer – who is perhaps best known for portraying Ellen in the West End production of Miss Saigon – has created a unique show, with the set list put together from suggestions on social media.

Maitland – who recently wowed audiences as Sally Bowles in Cabaret – will be joined by some of her London stage colleagues, Marsha Songcome and Kieran Jae.

The show entitled Songs Chosen By You will feature Kris Rawlinson as MD and audiences can expert a variety of jazz, pop and musical twists all under the roof of the stunning art Novo venue.

Carolyn Maitland will perform Songs Chosen by You Live at Zedel on 28 October 9:15pm.

https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/carolyn-maitland-songs-chosen-by-you-oct-2017/106481053

Rachel Tucker to perform her biggest solo concert yet at Shoreditch Town Hall

Following a triumphant UK tour including six sell-out shows in London, musical theatre luminary Rachel Tucker performs her biggest solo concert to date at the stunning East London venue Shoreditch Town Hall.

Joined by a dynamic nine-piece band, Rachel will also perform with a choir of fifty up and coming child stars from the Stagebox Musical Theatre Choir, providing all of the necessary ingredients to create an especially magical evening.

Led by MD Kris Rawlinson, Rachel will showcase some of the musical theatre classics she has become famous for and material from her recent tour, as well as brand new material from her ‘On The Road’ sessions.

Rachel Tucker rose to fame as a finalist on the BBC One show ‘I’d Do Anything’, winning heaps of praise from both Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, subsequently embarking on a nine month run on Broadway as lead role ‘Elphaba’ in the smash hit musical Wicked, more recently reprising the role in the West End as part of Wicked’s special 10th anniversary cast.

Rachel received critical acclaim in a range of roles in some of the West End and Broadway’s best shows, including creating the role of Meg Dawson on Broadway in rock icon Sting’s musicals Last Ship, which was lauded as one of New York Times top ten performance of 2014.

This one-off solo spectacular with full live band will be directed by her husband Guy Retallack, renowned for his work on an eclectic range of productions including new plays, devised work, musicals, opera and classical concerts, as well as his achievements as a sought after acting coach.

Rachel Tucker will perform at Shoreditch Town Hall on 17 November

Review: ‘Fast becoming a renowned jazz virtuoso’ ★★★★★ Emma Hatton, Pizza Express Live

Although best known for her leading roles in the West End, Emma Hatton started her musical journey as a jazz singer and it’s with jazz and blues music that she admits to being most at home performing.

And in her latest solo show – at the new Pizza Express live in Holborn – the songstress performed a wonderfully mixed programme of jazz, blues and even some rock, but with the odd show tune also mixed in to ensure her musical theatre fans were content.

Emma Hatton has just finished playing the iconic role of Eva Peron in the West End production of Evita, but is perhaps best known for portraying the green witch Elphaba in the musical phenomenon Wicked.

But despite being an acclaimed leading lady, you’ll be struck by how grounded and humble Emma is, something which came across as she talked about the songs she was singing and the reasons for choosing them.

The new Pizza Express Live has a much better set up than the other two I have visited in Chelsea and Soho, with the staging area much more central, allowing for a better view for those in attendance. The four-piece band – led by MD Sean Green – comfortably filled the performance area and provided an extremely good quality sound throughout, taking their moments to shine, but never overpowering Emma’s vocals.

After starting with a rousing version of James Bay’s “If You Ever Wanna Be in Love”, followed by a gorgeous interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet”, Emma performed a truly magnificent rendition of Imelda May’s “Black Tears”; her powerful vocals fitting the soaring melody to perfection.

Other act one highlights included a tribute to the late Glen Campbell – with a wonderful version of the country classic “Wichita Lineman” – and a couple by Sara Bareilles, with “City” (and some amazing riffs!) and “I Didn’t Plan It” from the musical Waitress.

Act two had a much more chilled vibe going on and after the James Bond theme “License to Kill” – originally performed by Gladys Knight – the audience was treated to a great version of “Hey Laura” by one of Emma’s more modern influences, Gregory Porter.

The singer really showed her versatility by seamlessly switching from one style to another and with her slight West Country twang, chatted about her teenage obsession with Macaulay Culkin before performing The Temptations classic “My Girl”.

Heading back into musical theatre, Emma then performed an emotive and extremely potent rendition of “Burn” from the new American musical Hamilton, before finishing the show with the upbeat crowd-pleaser “You Got It” by Roy Orbison.

The real highlight was left for the encore however, when the band whipped up a storm and Emma belted out the Prince anthem “Purple Rain”, leaving the audience in raptures.

Emma Hatton is a real star of the stage, but with her solo cabaret performances is also fast becoming a renowned jazz virtuoso.

After the huge success of the number 1 Christmas collaboration with Anthony Strong Merry Christmas Darling, the pair will join forces again to release a new EP later this year and you’ll be able to see them perform together at Christmas in Leicester Square on 14 December. 

 

Photo by Troy David Johnston

 

 

Kander and Ebb’s The Rink to return to the London stage

Kander and Ebb’s The Rink will return to the London stage for the first time in 20 years.

The new production of The Rink will play at Southwark Playhouse for a limited season from 25 May to 23 June 2018 and will be directed by Adam Lenson and choreographed by Fabian Aloise.

Anna, an Italian housewife who runs a roller-skating rink on the Eastern seaboard, is about to sell it to developers until her estranged daughter, Angel, returns after a long absence, hoping to save the rink and patch things up with her mother.

The Rink originally premiered on Broadway on 9 February 1984, starring Chita Rivera as Anna and Liza Minelli as Angel.  Rivera won the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her performance. The show premiered in London at the Cambridge Theatre on 17 February 1988, starring Josephine Blake and Diane Langton as Anna and Angel respectively.

Adam Lenson most recently directed 35mm: A Musical Exhibition (The Other Palace) and Superhero (Southwark Playhouse). His other recent directing credits include Whisper House (The Other Palace), Songs For A New World (St James Theatre, 20th Anniversary Production), The Sorrows of Satan(Tristan Bates Theatre), Disgraced (English Theatre Frankfurt) and Dark Tourism (Park Theatre). In 2016, Adam was the recipient of a Kevin Spacey Artist of Choice Award, for which he is currently developing Wasted, a new rock musical based on the Brontës which had a workshop production at West Yorkshire Playhouse in October 2016.

Adam said of directing The Rink, “I have long admired the ingenious work of Kander and Ebb and to get to direct this rarely seen masterpiece is a true privilege. Most people are only familiar with their most popular hits Chicago and Cabaret, but The Rink is as innovative as it is underrated and truly pushes the form of musical theatre. I cannot wait for audiences to see this beautiful and complex story.”

Fabian Aloise most recently choreographed the UK National Tour of Our House and the European Premiere of Stephen Schwartz’s Working at Southwark Playhouse. Fabian was resident choreographer on Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre, and associate choreographer on the Australian production. Prior to this, Fabian was associate choreographer to Arlene Phillips on We Will Rock You in Belgium, and associate choreographer to Ann Reinking for US and International tours of Fosse.  He choreographed The 24 Hour Musical at The Old Vic for Kevin Spacey and Jamie Lloyd, and Off-West End productions of Bright Lights Big City and The Drowsy Chaperone.

The Rink will run at Southwark Playhouse from 25 May to 23 June 2018.

Review: ‘A fascinating insight’ ★★★★★ Ink, Duke of York Theatre

As someone who has worked extensively with a number of ex-tabloid hacks, I have to say, the prospect of sitting through a play depicting the rather unsavoury breed didn’t strike me as an attractive prospect. But what Ink at the Duke of York Theatre offers is a fascinating insight into the history of British Newspapers in a powerful and yet, at times, humorous production, performed with absolute aplomb by a great cast.

Written by James Graham, Ink depicts an evolutionary moment for the red-top newspapers, when an ambitious businessman by the name of Rupert Murdoch (Bertie Carvel) purchases The Sun and along with his editor Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) revolutionizes the media industry as we now know it. They were to blame for the first sensationalist reporting and for the advent of the page three girl.

And in this snapshot, we see the burgeoning relationship between the two men, with an occasional hint of a conscience, which is mostly outweighed by the desperation to succeed at all cost.

Carvel is almost unrecognisable as Murdoch: such is his transformation into the powerful mogul. His performance is quite remarkable as the sneery, slimy and yet charismatic tycoon whose ambition drives his employees to make questionable decisions on taste and decency in print.

Coyle, on the other hand, manages to gain sympathy with his portrayal of Lamb, who is so worried about not topping the readership leaderboard that he will print almost anything in order to win favour.

And I have to say, they are both much more lovable than the hardened and unscrupulous media men I have had to endure throughout my career, but I don’t think anyone wants to watch a play about them.

Ink is playing at the Duke of York Theatre until 6 January