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REVIEW: ‘At times heart-breaking, but ultimately liberating’ ★★★★ Beautiful, The New Wimbledon Theatre

It’s easy to forget just how much impact Carol King has had on pop music. The composer wrote over 100 Billboard Top 100 hits. And the musical about her life and featuring some of her back catalogue became both a Broadway and West End hit. Now touring the UK and being staged in Wimbledon this week, the show hasn’t been pared down for the tour and with an arsenal of recognisable songs, still remains a fantastically entertaining piece of theatre.

King’s is a somewhat simple story in truth, a young girl who strives for musical greatness, but who prioritises love and family along the way. She is played with absolute charm by BrontéBarbé, who brings a real innocence and vulnerability to the role along with some truly stunning vocals. Her husband and collaborator is given a charismatic rendering by Kane Oliver Parry and the often fractured relationship sizzles whenever they are onstage. They are supported well by Amy Ellen Richardson and Matthew Gonsalves as song writing contemporaries Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann and by a fantastic ensemble who energetically portray pop starts of the era from Neil Sedaka to The Drifters.

This is a great show for fans of 60s music and with a story that is, at times heart-breaking, but ultimately liberating at its core, remains a relevant piece of theatre.

Beautiful is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 26 May. 

Photo by Craig Sugden

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REVIEW: ‘Some moments of real brilliance’ ★★★★ 3Women, Trafalgar Studios

With the increased discussion about what feminism in society, a play looking at its meaning to three generations of women is a brave study. And with Katy Brand’s new comedy you get an interesting insight into the journey British women have come along over the past 50 years.

In 3Women, we are given a snapshot of the lives of a baby boomer, her granddaughter, a millennial, and a member of the forgotten generation X on the eve of her wedding. It’s an interesting mix and Brand has taken the extremes and squashed them together in a sometimes-uncomfortable watch, with fractured relationships laid bare and parental guilt put on display.

But with Brand’s humour infused and some exceptional performances from the three lead cast, there are some moments of real brilliance.

Anita Dobson thrives as the hardened mother figure, whose constant disapproval of her daughter leads to some hilariously caustic one-liners, while Debbie Chazen plays the lovable bride to be with real charm. And Maisie Richardson-Sellers teenage swagger is brilliantly done.

There is however times when the trio feels a bit too caricatured and the story too contrived, but overall, this is a relatable play, with some very funny and clever writing throughout.

3Women is running at Traflgar Studio 2 until 9 June.

REVIEW: ‘A must see’ ★★★★★ Much Ado About Nothing, Rose Theatre, Kingston

As Shakespeare’s works go, Much Ado About Nothing has to be one of the silliest. But its simple, superficial characters and ludicrous storyline make it much easier to plonk into any setting.

And that’s what Simon Dormandy has done at the Rose Theatre Kingston. The production, which opened in the middle of a spring heat wave this week, is pertinently set at a luxury spa on a Mediterranean holiday island. Think MAMMA MIA! mixed with Made in Chelsea and you’ll get the idea. It’s all about mafia culture and the patriarchal society, which works extremely well as a contemporary piece, with the story, becoming a complex mishmash of romantic comedy and Godfather-style intimidation between warring family factions.

But it’s in the humour where this play will really win you over, and despite the occasional bit of over exuberance; the comedy is done with real flair.

Leading the way is television star Mel Giedroyc, who will soon begin rehearsal to join Broadway star Patti Lupone in the West Production of Company. And Mel shows her mettle with this performance, with perfect comedy timing and a good grasp of the character of Beatrice. She is well matched by John Hopkins as Benedick, whose clowning is excellent. But this is very much an ensemble production and from the dastardly Don all the way down to the lowly musicians every inch is wonderfully thought out.

Special mention must also go to designer Naomi Dawson, whose multi-layered set is awe-inspiring.

For Shakespeare lovers and theatre beginners, this is a production that’s a must see.

Much Ado About Nothing will run at the Rose Theatre Kingston until 6 May 2018

REVIEW: Classy, slick and captivating: Kiss Me Kate, Brit School

I’ve seen a few productions of Kiss Me Kate before, both professional and non-professional and to varying degrees of success. That’s due to the fact that although on the surface it appears to be a classic musical comedy, with extracts of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew interwoven, it takes a clever director and talented cast to ensure the action is crisp and at a good pace.

So, I have to admit that the prospect of seeing a school production didn’t fill me with much hope. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Brit School’s Kiss Me Kate was a classy, slick and captivating presentation.

And that’s in no small part down to the commitment of the cast. Filled with vibrancy throughout, the ensemble totally nailed it and you could feel and electricity reverberating around the auditorium during the big company numbers.

With so many accomplished and mature performances I can’t mention everyone, but particular congratulations must go to Tyler Baker, who led the cast with a masterful portrayal of Frederic. Vocally majestic, with unbelievably astute comic timing, I can’t find enough superlatives to describe his excellent performance. A depiction, which many professionals would be proud of; Tyler is definitely a star of the future. He was well matched by Mollie Pizzoferro, who’s glorious voice and waspish charm made their scenes together utterly enchanting. So mature were their performances, that set malfunctions merely allowed them to further explore their repertoire, leading to some fantastically funny and fast ad-libs.

I must also give huge congratulations to director Simon Stephens, who extracted every inch of humour from the book and to Corin Miller, whose choreography was breathtaking. The dance break in “It’s Too Darn Hot” really upped the ante and had audience’s pulses racing. I loved the use of sheet music to create a shuffle sequence too.

Steven Geraghty’s band also added to the professional feel, and although the set looked hand drawn, it just added to the charm of the piece.

All in all, The Brit School’s production of Kiss Me Kate was a real winner and i’ll be keeping my eyes out in the West End for these stars in future.

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.

https://www.cavernclub.org/events/event/richard-hadfield/

https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/whats-on/seasons-greetings-with-richard-hadfield