REVIEW: ‘A truly beautiful piece of theatre’ ★★★★★ Brief Encounter

When you watch the classic black and white film version of Brief Encounter you are struck by the simplicity. There are no modern effects or over complicated plots just a solid story great characters and a fabulous soundtrack.

And in adapting the movie for the stage Emma Rice has managed to perfectly capture that beautiful simplicity, with a breath-taking and visually stunning production.

The show has enjoyed successful runs in Birmingham and Salford, but now comes to London and has found the perfect home at the Empire Cinema Haymarket. The adaptation marries the 1936 play Still Life and the 1946 film, so a cinema feels like its perfect home. And as an added bonus, the seats are much more comfy than at many of the traditional old West End theatres.

And Rice’s meticulous attention to detail with this production will leave you on the edge of seat throughout. Every ounce of heartbreak and comedy are worked through to their maximum potential, with the tiniest little element pounced upon.

And the ingenious mixture of projection by Jon Driscoll and set by Neil Murray frame this ensemble piece with a clean, fresh and yet impressive backdrop allowing for some visually stunning set pieces.

The story revolves around a couple (played by Isabel Pollen and Jim Sturgeon) who after a chance meeting realise they have fallen in love and begin a torrid affair.

But quite apart from the love story at the centre of the action, there are an abundance of incidental characters that take on a huge part, with the station staff becoming the stars of the show. Beverley Rudd’s blousy cafe owner and Dean Nolan’s stationmaster make a handsome pairing as do the young whippersnappers Lucy Thackeray and Jos Slovick. But the real genius is the fact that they also all multi role with lightning quick changes and provide most of the music too; a mixed soundtrack of classic love songs.

The clipped English accents of the lead characters and stiff upper lips are very of their time, but they actually add to the affectionate pastiche of the performances.

All in all Brief Encounter is a truly beautiful piece of theatre and a definite recommendation.

Brief Encounter is running at the Empire Cinema, Haymarket until 2 September. 

Photo by Steve Tanner.

good girl

REVIEW: ‘An outstanding piece of observational theatre’ ★★★★★ Good Girl, Trafalgar Studios

The funniest standup routines always feature material, which is relatable. There’s something very comforting about laughing at mutual misfortune after the event. The shared suffering evokes a strange kind of empathy, which is extremely satisfying.

And Naomi Sheldon has managed to completely capture this feeling in her one-woman show at Trafalgar Studios. Good Girl isn’t a standup routine, but more an amusing collection of anecdotes put into a one-act theatrical production. But for anyone who didn’t necessarily tread the conventional path as a teenager, the stories Sheldon depicts will provoke a fond and, at times, uncomfortable retrospect.

It’s a very genuine and earnest narration of a girl, who has often struggled to vocalize her frustrations and confusions about the adult world and as Sheldon is both the writer and performer, it is very brave to showcase some of the confessional material.

But what Sheldon perfectly portrays is the comedy and tragedy of everyday life. I’m sure most of us are able to look back on our teenage years and laugh at some of the woeful decisions we made. And judging how bad you’re feeling based on how much ABBA it takes to cheer you up is something I’m totally down with.

Good Girl is an outstanding piece of observational theatre that manages to find both the humour and heartbreak in our human experiences.

Good Girl is running at Trafalgar Studio 2 until 31 March. 

REVIEW: A ‘Feast of Fun’ ★★★★ Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Richmond Theatre

I remember my mum and dad watching the classic television show Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em when I was a child. And although I didn’t understand all of the jokes, I do remember finding it very funny, if not a bit strange.

The 70s TV show – by Raymond Allen – inspired Guy Unsworth to write an adaptation for the stage, which is currently touring the country and has brought some mayhem to Richmond Theatre this week.

The comedy play takes on a single episode in the life of the ill-fated Frank Spencer – played by Joe Pasquale. His ever-tolerant wife Betty has discovered she is pregnant and at the same time Frank is pursuing a new career as a magician. A cacophony of catastrophe ensues when his mother-in-law and her new beau arrive for dinner and the BBC turn up to do a feature.

Everything that can go wrong does; mother-in-law gets legless on homemade wine, the house falls apart and the dinner blows up, but the great thing about this and the original television series is the heart warming human story at the centre. We’ve all felt a bit like Frank Spencer at one time or another and Joe Pasquale does a great job of capturing the anxiety and sensitivity of the character.

That said, one of the things I remember so well about Michael Crawford’s portrayal of Frank Spencer, apart from the classic beret and trench coat, was the awkward physicality and athleticism and Pasquale doesn’t fully grasp the physical comedy side with his performance.

Sarah Earnshaw brings some real warmth and composure to the role of Betty however, while Susie Blake is absolutely hilarious as the rampant, sloshed mother-in-law. There is also great support from David Shaw-Parker as the kindly Father O’Hara, Chris Kiely as the wet behind the ears Desmond and Moray Treadwell, who dual roles as the pompous Terry Luscombe and slightly seedy David Worthington.

Simon Higlett must be congratulated for the set design, which helps to add slapstick fun and Jenny Arnold for the choreography; the final sequence with the three Franks on the stairs and the finale routine to Mud’s “Tiger Feet” are a real highlight.

I can see how this wouldn’t be for everyone; lots of the humour is a bit dated and rather silly, but if you’re after an easy night out watching amusing and familiar characters, you’ll enjoy this feast of fun.

Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em continues to tour the UK. You can find all the information and tour dates here.

the best man

REVIEW: ★★★★ ‘Thought-provoking and thrilling’ The Best Man, The Playhouse Theatre

We seem to have resigned ourselves to the fact that using drama is the only way to fully explore our feelings about politics these days. In fact within dramatisations you can often find a seemingly more politically stable world.

That’s certainly the case with The Best Man by Gore Vidal, which premiered on Broadway in 1960 and opened at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End last week.

The play, which boasts an all-star cast, provides an interesting insight into the American political process and despite being written over 50 years ago, it feels like a contemporary and hugely cynical comment.

Set in a Philadelphia hotel room, the play follows two candidates battling to gain the presidential nomination, with Bill Russell – played by Martin Shaw – the apparent front-runner. Shaw plays the smooth and sophisticated politician with aplomb and glides through the silky dialogue utilising the infamous rule of three.

His opponent is a much more brash and obstinate self-made man, played with grit by Jeff Fahey. The pair makes an interesting match and their dubious morals and political tactics feel frighteningly realistic. As do their first ladies – the stiff and distant Alice Russell (Glynis Barber) and the noisy Mabel Cantwell (Honeysuckle Weeks) – who the chaps only really seem to consider as mandatory accouterments.

Their only real moral guidance comes from the outgoing president, played with real class by Jack Shepherd and the forthright committee chair, who is given an abundance of perfectly timed caustic wit by Maureen Lipman.

Writer Gore Vidal, who stood twice for office himself, is acutely perceptive about the dog-eat-dog world of politics and The Best Man feels like an accurate representation, with just enough artistic license to make a thought-provoking and thrilling stage show.

The Best Man is running at the Playhouse Theatre until 12 May.

Review: “An outstanding theatrical concoction with all the right ingredients”★★★★★ John Partridge Stripped

Taking to the stage on your own at an intimate venue is no mean feat. But performing a self penned show about your life, your accomplishments and your heart-breaks to an audience within touching distance is a very brave move and one only attempted by someone at the very top of their game.

And that is where John Partridge is, despite a year filled with tragedy and torment, right up there, at the top of his game.

John was first inspired to write the show entitled Stripped following the death of his mother and he has taken all of his emotion and wrapped it up into an outstanding piece of theatre, which I can honestly say is one of the best solo shows I have ever seen.

I say theatre, because like Tony Award winner Frances Ruffelle, who is world renowned for her solo shows, John Partridge doesn’t perform a mere cabaret, he takes you on a roller coaster journey through story and song, which will have you crying with laughter one minute and sobbing the next.

But it’s not just the writing and production of the show, which is of the highest quality, John Partridge also proves that there are few ahead of him when it comes to performance.

Accompanied by a two-piece band and with excellent vocal support from Emma Linders, John performs standards including “Truly Somebody” and “I Am a Chandelier” and gives a masterclass in acting through song keeping the audience completely captivated.

There is a wonderful short film to add another dimension to the piece too, which charts aspects of his life from when he first went to the Royal Ballet School as a nine-year-old and finishes with what he hopes to become as a mature man.

And his newfound sobriety is also openly talked about, but not dwelled upon. When John performs a song he wrote for his mother, it is a heart-breaking moment, but that’s what makes the intimacy of the show all the more poignant. You are invited to join John for a celebration and with some hilarious moments and uplifting song and dance numbers also included, Stripped is an outstanding theatrical concoction with all the right ingredients.

Review: ‘His succulent vocals tease the melodies and give the illusion that you are hearing a song for the very first time’ ★★★★★ Richard Hadfield, Flora Indica

Richard Hadfield is fast becoming one of the UK’s favourite jazz singers. Since leaving Collabro – the musical theatre boyband, with whom he won Britain’s Got Talent – the young crooner has grown in confidence and really established himself as a solo performer.

And now that he’s really found his niche market, in the run up to Christmas, Hadfield is putting on shows in some of the most well-known music clubs in Britain, including the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool.

As a prelude to this career defining performance, the troubadour was called upon by Made in Chelsea star Julius Cowdrey – with whom Richard is currently co-writing an EP – to play a one-off gig at the Flora Indica restaurant and I went along to enjoy the sultry sounds, while sampling some of the cuisine.

Flora Indica in Kensington is an interesting venue. Opulent and ancient, but with a twist, both with the food it serves and the design within. Having a young star perform some old-time classic jazz standards perfectly compliments this juxtaposition. When coupled with Richard Hadfield’s knack of finding cool jazz rhythms in almost everything, the gathered cool cats of Chelsea were in for a treat.

Accompanied by JJ Stilwell on double bass and Liam Stevens on piano, Hadfield opened proceedings with a nod to his love for musical theatre in the form of a mashed up version of “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Pink Panther”. His succulent vocals tease the melodies and give the illusion that you are hearing a song for the very first time. This beautiful rendition was followed by some real classics, with “Witchcraft”, Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, the Frank Sinatra favourite “Fly me to the Moon” and the glorious “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” all beautifully performed.

But it wasn’t just the oldies, as Richard proved his versatility by wonderfully executing some modern melodies too, including Calvin Harris’s “How Deep is Your Love”, Sam Smith’s “Too Good at Goodbye”, Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” with heavy double base to the melody of “Fever” and mixed up with a bit of “Just the two of us” for good measure.

The set was finished off in style with another Sinatra classic “My Way”, which had the hugely enthusiastic Thursday night crowd on their feet in appreciation.

Richard Hadfield is definitely one to watch and with an EP on the horizon and some impressive gigs just around the corner, the future looks bright for this hugely talented vocalist.

Richard Hadfield will perform at The Cavern Club In Liverpool on 3 December and Pizza Express Live in Holborn on 16 December.

Nicky Sweetland joins the team at London Theatre Bookings and The Theatre Café

London Theatre Bookings and The Theatre Café are delighted to announce that Nicky Sweetland has joined the company as a Sales and Marketing Executive.

The multi-award winning ticket agent – which opened The Theatre Café on Shaftesbury Avenue in 2015 – is hoping the appointment will further increase their online presence. By employing Nicky – who has worked as an entertainment journalist over the last three years for The London Weekly News, The South London Press, The Greenwich Weekender, Broadway World, Theatre.London and BBC Radio Kent – the company plans to implement an extensive schedule of live events in the intimate venue, including Q & As, Café takeovers and performances from some of the biggest stars of the West End.

The first live Q & A hosted by Nicky – with Tony Award Winner Kristin Chenoweth last month – gained over 15,000 live views and with the venue building in popularity with both stage stars and fans alike, the programme of special events is likely to gather a large interest.

Nicky Sweetland and Kristin Chenoweth

Nicky Sweetland commented, “I’m hugely excited to be working for London Theatre Bookings and I’m looking forward to putting the Theatre Café well and truly on the map. With our plans for more live Q & As, and events, The Theatre Café is going to become a destination for stagey aficionados from around the world, so keep an eye on our social media platforms and website for more details.”

Chief Operations Officer, Ryan Woods added, “I am so pleased Nicky has joined us to grow our social and web platforms across London Theatre Bookings and The Theatre Café. Nicky shares our passion and vision for The Theatre Café. January marks three full years the café has been open. We’ve achieved so much but there’s more to come; it’s very exciting! ”


Review: ‘Christian Slater steals the show’ ★★★ Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse Theatre

I’m sure anyone who has experienced a career in sales understands that it’s no bed of roses. David Mamet’s classic play-which was first performed in 1983- highlights the struggle of a sales force, in which there is inevitably an ‘I in team’.

Glengarry Glen Ross highlights the plight of a group of real estate agents desperate to top the sales leaderboard, earn their commission and gain a bonus in an aggressive competition to ensure they close the deal and keep their jobs.

Washed up salesman Levene (Stanley Townsend) tries to convince office manager (Kris Marshall) to throw him some more leads, while Aaronow (Don Warrington) is pressured by oily Moss (the sinister Robert Glenister) to break into the office. But it’s the ruthless Roma (played by Hollywood star Christian Slater) who steals the show in this otherwise rather gentle production. His aggressive, yet charismatic portrayal perfectly pitches the juxtaposition having your colleagues as your competition.

The problem is that under the direction of Sam Yates we never really see the full depth of the characters and get to grips with their motivation. It all feels just a bit too superficial and some of the quicker dialogue sequences seem stunted and overly forced, which results in very little build up of suspense in act one.

Act two remedies that to some extent when we are invited into the office and the exchanges become more like realistic workplace banter, but I was left feeling like I wasn’t entirely sure what the point of it all had been.

Glengarry Glen Ross is running at the Playhouse Theatre until 3 February 2018


ALL over the country, people will be marking November 5 with fireworks and parties. For some, that might have something to do with Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. For many others, though, they’ll be celebrating the release of the concept album recording of a brand new British musical.

TESS, featuring lead vocals by Siobhan Dillon, Tam Mutu and Simon Bailey, will be officially unveiled to the public on Sunday, November 5.

Written by composer Michael Blore and award-winning playwright Michael Davies, the musical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the d’Urbervilles is going live on the show’s website as part of a drive to get the musical fully staged. Followers and fans can sign up to join #TeamTess and be given free access to listen to the whole show.

Set in the Wessex so beloved by Hardy, TESS tells the devastating story of Tess Durbeyfield, daughter of a poor villager who fatefully discovers that they may be related to the ancient aristocratic d’Urberville family. As Tess is sent to seek respectability with her new-found relatives, she embarks on an emotional and dramatic journey that leads to love, loss and ultimate tragedy.

With casting by Anne Vosser, the title role on the album is sung by West End and Broadway star Siobhan Dillon, who first rose to fame in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hunt for a Maria in The Sound of Music. She recently played opposite Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard at English National Opera and on Broadway and before that appeared as Ellen in Miss Saigon.

Tam Mutu, who plays the villainous Alec d’Urberville, is another Broadway and West End favourite. He alternated the role of the Phantom in Love Never Dies with Ramin Karimloo, starred as Anatoly in Chess and won a clutch of awards as Javert in Les Misérables.

Simon Bailey, who sings the role of Angel Clare, played Bob Gaudio in the West End production of Jersey Boys and is about to embark on the show’s national tour. He’s played Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, Enjolras in Les Misérables and Pharaoh in Joseph and is a founder member of Teatro, Theatreland’s first supergroup.

Other cast members include Jacqueline Tate, currently playing Mme Thénardier in Les Misérables, James Dinsmore (Adding Machine, Corbyn The Musical) and Olivier Award-winner Nathan Dowling (Jerry Springer The Opera) alongside a chorus and orchestra of professional singers and musicians.

Lyricist Michael Davies said: “It’s been a wonderfully exciting journey to get to this point, and we couldn’t have wished for a better cast and technical team. We’ve had amazing support and encouragement from the likes of Sir Tim Rice and, as he delicately points out, what we now need is a producer.

“If you see Sir Cameron, do let him know…”

Ahead of the opening of Rules For Living at Rose Theatre Kingston, Ed Hughes takes our Sugar Rush

Ed Hughes has a string of stage credits to his name, but is perhaps best known for his television work, which includes appearances in Ripper Street, Drifters, The Honourable Woman and Wallander.

Ed will plays Adam in the English Touring Theatre, Royal & Derngate, Northampton and Rose Theatre Kingston’s production of Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living, but took some time off from rehearsals to take our Sugar Rush Quiz. 

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What are you currently working on?

Rules for Living by Sam Holcroft, directed by the amazing Simon Godwin. A very funny play about a family gathering on Christmas Day where it all starts out well and rapidly deteriorates. I play Adam one of the sons. It’s a great part and the response from the audience has been pretty crazy with the amount of laughter. 

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

Perseverance and faith. There have been times when I have been out of work for extended periods and the doubts start to creep in, whether I will ever work again? Should I try something else? Just by keeping going, working on what I can control, and having faith that it will turn around it always has done. For every low moment it always balances itself out. Also being a bit stubborn helps at times! 

What is your favourite Book?

I have a few but 100 years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I had never been to Colombia when I read it in my twenties and I found it magical and intensely moving. I never dreamed that I would see the world he paints. I then met my wife Andrea Pelaez who is a Colombian choreographer and have been many times, the book has always stayed with me. I have now read it in Spanish which took a while but was even more beautiful.

What are you currently watching on TV? 

Billions. I am a box set junky and on tour you have lots of down time in different towns or between shows so have been ploughing through “Billions”. I have always loved watching Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis. I prefer shows that make you think not just entertain and this is a cracker.

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

Having a toddler means I haven’t gone anywhere very much. So right now am craving a night out at the cinema to see Blade Runner with my wife. When the tour of Rules for Living finishes this is the plan (if it’s still showing).

What’s your favourite sweet? 

I have a chocolate addiction going on so really anything I can get my hands on at times. If I had to pin it down then a pack of Giant Chocolate Buttons.

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

A cricketer. I played cricket for England U19 young colts so all my time was spent playing sport all over the place from the age of 14-19. But then I decided to go to Drama School at 18 and got into The Guildhall School of Music and Drama so that put an end to the cricket.

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

I grew up in the country near Ipswich so spent a lot of time with friends on farms we used to drive a Citroen 2CV around at the age of 12 and had air guns which was pretty crazy thinking back but a lot of fun at the time.

What is your proudest achievement to date? 

Playing Fred Silvester in the original production of This House at the National Theatre. We opened at the Cottlesloe Theatre (now Dorfman) and it kept growing from there to the Olivier and West End. It was a special play by James Graham and group of people with Jeremy Herrin directing. I felt very proud of the show and all we did.

What’s next?

I direct as well as act, so am directing A Chorus Line at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama for their final year musical in January. We are in the design process at the moment and will start doing auditions soon. I always love to juggle multiple projects at the same time and to get the chance to work on a classic musical is a privilege.


Rose Theatre Kingston

7 – 18 November

Box office: 020 8174 0090