REVIEW: ‘With a bit more development, could be a smash hit show’ ⭑⭑⭑ Amelie, New Wimbledon Theatre

Getting to watch a brand new musical is like unwrapping an unexpected gift. There is a mixture of excitement and trepidation and some of the thrill is about being part of the process itself. It’s rare to see something new on the quite the scale of the new musical version of Amelie, but this production is so wonderfully extravagant, that just the staging is a feast for the senses.
Based on the 2001 film Amelie follows the fortunes of a girl whose dreamy ideals filter through her whole existence until you’re not sure what is fantasy and what is reality.
It stars AudreyBrisson as the impish and day dreamy Amelie who, gives an incredibly charming performance, which encapsulates the fairytale like qualities of the character perfectly.
Danny Mac provides the brooding love interest Nino, with an equally strong performance and they are ably supported by an excellent ensemble cast of actor/musicians.
The only real issue is that it’s too long. At almost three hours including an interval most audiences will start to get restless before the end and with a portion of the action in act two adding nothing to the flighty story, a good half an hour could really be cut without too much trouble.
That said, this is a stunning production with some mesmerising performances and with a bit more development, could be a smash hit show.

REVIEW: “A punky production that is well worth a watch” ⭑⭑⭑⭑ American Idiot, New Wimbledon Theatre

The 10th Anniversary production of the Green Day musical American Idiot is visiting the New Wimbledon Theatre this week. And with an all-star cast audiences are being treated to a bit of a rock master-class.

First staged on Broadway in 2010, American Idiot is based on Green Day’s Grammy Award winning album of the same name and follows three disillusioned youths trying to find a meaning to their existence following the 9/11 terror attacks. One heads to the big city and immerses himself with the underclass, one joins the army and the other plays house with his pregnant girlfriend.

It’s all very grimy and laddie, with the camaraderie of young men fully played upon including lots of crotch grabbing and head-banging. But with Green Day’s biggest hits forming the soundtrack, you can’t help but be drawn in and even moved by their antics.

Songs like the beautiful “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and the hauntingly apt “When September Ends” take on a real poignance. That is helped by the exuberant and committed young cast led by Tom Milner, who brings a truthful vulnerability to the role of Johnny. He is well matched by the gravelly voiced Luke Friend as St. Jimmy, the exceptional Joshua Dowen as Tunny and the brooding Samuel Pope as Will.

Despite relatively little stage-time, X Factors Sam Lavery also makes an impact as What’s Her Name.

American Idiot isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but with hugely impactful songs performed by such a sensational cast is a punky production that is well worth a watch.

American Idiot is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 18 May.

REVIEW: “Fantastic fun” ★★★★★ West End Eurovision, the Adelphi Theatre

Despite being based in one of the biggest cities in the world, the West End has a fantastically close-knit community. And when it comes together to raise money for charity, it’s hard to beat.

The 9th annual Make A Difference Trust (MAD) West End Eurovision illustrated this in swathes, with a sparkly, spangly, high-camp show that was not only extremely entertaining, but also highlighted the important work the charity provides both in the UK and further afield.

This year’s contestants took turns to recreate a Eurovision classic and were judged by some titans of the industry in the shape of Bonnie Langford and Wayne Sleep alongside former Blue Peter presenter Tim Vincent and West End newcomer Amber Davies.

Building on a legacy of over 25 years of fundraising by the theatre industry, The Make A Difference Trust raises funds for HIV and AIDS projects that build awareness and provide care, support and education in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa. They put on a number of very popular events each year including the highly acclaimed West End Eurovision.

For the 2019 spectacular, the cast of Only Fools and Horses kicked off proceedings with a high camp and hilarious version of “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”. The cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie brought some youthful exuberance with energetic dance, acrobatics and day-glow makeup, followed by the cast of Aladdin, who performed “Monsters” with breathtaking choreography. It was then MAMMA MIA!‘s chance to shine with a hilarious routine, which had everyone thinking things had gone horribly wrong, only to realise that the mishaps were part of a great slapstick dance routine.

Act 2 started with a truly iconic performance by four of the cast of Follies, who sang in French and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better the cast of The Phantom of the Opera brought the audience to their feet with a stunning vocal and visual performance. The final team to take to the stage had their work cut out to follow the fabulous Phantom rendition, but Wicked won over the audience with a high energy expertly choreographed version of “Wild Dances”.

The judges all relaxed into their roles as the evening whipped along and the banter and innuendo between them and the excellent MC Richard Gountlett, was a real highlight.

This year’s UK entrant Michael Rice really impressed when he performed the song we hope will change our fortunes at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest and Eurovision superstar Dana International took to the stage to lip-sync a couple of her most well-known hits while the judges deliberated and the audience were given time to cast their vote.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie took home the award for best ident (voted for by the public) while The Phantom of the Opera won Best Costume. Wicked received the judges award, but it was The Phantom if the Opera who were the worthy overall winners, taking the West End Eurovision title for the second year in a row.

MAD really know how to put on a show and ensure that it’s fantastic fun, while maintaining the important reasoning behind the event.

You can take a look at all of the fundraising MAD do here. 

REVIEW: ‘Packs a punch’ ★★★★ Hair, New Wimbledon Theatre

benidorm live

REVIEW: ‘Riotous’ ★★★★ Benidorm Live, New Wimbledon Theatre

People just love familiar things. A musical with well-known hits and a stage show adapted from a beloved film are always easier to fill with adoring punters.

And with the new live version of Benidorm, the producers are ticking all of those familiar boxes. Fans of the comedy television show are treated to some of their favourite characters played by original cast members in this riotous two-hour stage adaptation and even if you’re not familiar with the premise, you won’t be able to stop a smile creeping across your face at some of the hilarity.

Yes, it’s cheesy and lots of the innuendo is unsophisticated and obvious, but it is played with such panache by this all-star cast that you can’t help but be entertained.

Sherrie Hewson shows real class as Joyce, while Adam Gillen and Tony Maudsley make a fabulous double act as Liam and Kenneth and Shelley Longworth and Jake Canuso provide great support. But it’s Janine Duvitski who really steals the show, with simply stunning comic delivery that will have you roaring with laughter.

Benidorm Live is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 15 March


cat millsom

REVIEW: ★★★★★ ‘A heartwarming and incredibly moving piece of theatre’ From Afar, Vault Festival

Grief is an important but difficult subject to tackle through art. Its impact is so devastating and yet so different from person to person that any representation can become divisive. In David Coverdale’s new play however, it is dealt with in an extremely sensitive manner, which leaves the audience with a shared sense of sad satisfaction.

The short one-woman play is performed by the excellent Catherine Millsom and centres on Agnes, a slightly troubled postal worker who has a fascination with the written word and it’s importance in bringing joy through letters and cards. We are given an insight into an ordinary life in which a bereavement has had a devastating impact on personal growth.

The beautiful portrayal by Millsom along with honest script and great direction by Ashliegh Packham make this a heartwarming and incredibly moving piece of theatre.

From Afar is running as part of the Vaults Festival at the Travel Through Bookshop until Saturday 9 March.

REVIEW: ‘An entertaining show performed by an excellent cast’ ★★★ Rock of Ages, the New Wimbledon Theatre

There’s a veritable feast of shows to evoke 80s nostalgia currently touring the country. And after both Dirty Dancing and Fame have entertained audiences at the New Wimbledon Theatre, this week it’s the turn of Rock of Ages to bring the questionable fashion sense and dubious hair styles for an outing.

Rock Of Ages was made famous by the 2012 film, which starred Tom Cruise and ran in the West End for two years gaining a cult following. But this is its first return to the capital since it closed in 2013 and it’s interesting to see how theatre has moved on in the interim.

A show with these ideals would be difficult to stage in the West End these days, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the humour allows the story to bob along without too much emphasis on the outdated and, at times, distasteful themes.

Musically, it is an absolute winner with power ballad after rock anthem masterfully maneuvered into the plot and performed with absolute aplomb by the fantastic cast.

Strictly Come Dancing star Kevin Clifton loses his boy-next-door reputation and fills the role of love-rat Stacee Jaxx with rock star charisma and incredibly impressive vocals. Jodie Steele is fabulous as the wannabe actress Sherrie, while Luke Walsh brings a real charm to the role of Drew. There are vocal gymnastics performed throughout this show by the hugely talented cast, with Pop Idol star Zoe Birkett impressing as Justice and both Rhiannon Chesterman and Andrew Carthy taking their time to shine. Lucas Rush as the narrator Lonny really steals the show however, with a honed ability to break the fourth wall just at the right moments with cheeky charm and pizzazz in abundance.

Yes, some of the humour is very base and downright out of date, but this is still an entertaining show performed by an excellent cast, so definitely worth a watch.

Rock of Ages is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 2 March. 

Paul Merton as Widow Twankey and Pete Firman as Wishee Washee. Credit Craig Sugden

REVIEW: “Another dazzling success” ★★★★ Aladdin, New Wimbledon Theatre

Like many people, the local pantomime was my first foray into the world of theatre and it’s a yearly tradition I’ve always tried to maintain. As the New Wimbledon is now my home theatre, it seemed only right to make this my first of the season.

They have a reputation for providing locals with celebrity filled Christmas extravaganzas and this year’s production of Aladdin is no different. Think dazzling sets, stunning costumes and even some amazing 3D imagery and you’ll be on the right track.

The star turns this year are a mixed bag with comedian Paul Merton, really just playing himself, but with notable expertise at hiding the grown-up jokes amongst the silliness. He is joined by recent Strictly Come Dancing contestant and boy band star Lee Ryan, whose portrayal of the eponymous hero is rather stiff. You get a feeling he’s not entirely solid with his lines, lyrics and dance moves for the most part. They are both completely over shadowed by the excellent Pete Firman as Wishy Washy, whose grasp of the genre is in every way a masterclass. His engagement with both young and old is beyond reproach and his natural delivery is in equal parts heartwarming and hilarious.

They are well supported by Linda John-Pierre as the Empress (stunning vocals), the Genie of the ring played by Cassandra McCowen and the delightful Lauren Chia as Jasmine, but the girls are really put in the background in this production. That is until the end when Jasmine proves she’s no pushover in a lovely modern twist on the story.

Special mention must also go to the thunderous Adam Pearce, whose Abanazer is a real ruthless treat.

This is another dazzling success from The New Wimbledon Theatre and a must for those young and old to see in the area over the festive period.

Aladdin is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 6 January. 

Photo by Craig Sugden.

Summer and Smoke at Almeida. Matthew Needham (John Buchanan and Patsy Ferran (Alma). Photo credit Marc Brenner. (13)

REVIEW: “Expert direction, stunning design and some truly wonderful performances” ★★★★★ Summer and Smoke, The Duke Of York’s Theatre

Tennessee Williams is know for his tense and invigorating work, but Summer and Smoke has never been held in the same esteem as his more famous plays like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. But Rebecca Frecknall’s production, which was a sell out success at the Almeida might go somewhere to remedy that.

And quite apart from the fact that this is a very different and fresh take on the text, it can mostly be attributed to the central performance from the outstanding Patsy Ferran. From beginning to end Ferran’s Alma, a repressed and confused preachers daughter, is a torrent of torment. It’s a hugely impressive portrayal, which makes the pull between high morals and adolescent desires obvious and yet never overdone. There’s just the right amount of subtle comedy pared with a wide-eyed naivety to make Alma easy to adore. She is matched well by a brooding Matthew Needham, who masterfully meanders through the complexities of the young doctor John.

And I must talk about the pianos, which form part of the set enveloping the action, expertly engineered throughout by the exquisite ensemble. I’ve never knowingly seen or heard the strings of a piano bowed before and the underscoring effect is both eerie and electrifying.

This production of Summer and Smoke really cements the idea that taking another look at texts that have previously been cast aside is well worth it. With expert direction, stunning design and some truly wonderful performances, this is a must see this season.

Summer and Smoke is running at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until 19 January 2019. 

Photo by Marc Brenner

REVIEW: A “cheesy dance-fest” ★★ Dirty Dancing, The New Wimbledon Theatre

I must one of the few people who grew up in the 80s to have never watched Dirty Dancing all the way through. I’ve tried to a couple of times because when you say you haven’t a collective gasp rings around a room, but the action has never managed to engage me for more than about 10 minutes. The live stage show would be different though right? Sadly not. It turns out that the reason I’ve never been able to engage with this widely beloved story is because it’s really quite naff! The current touring production, which is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week blatantly highlights the huge gaps in the plot of this cheesy dance-fest, while bizarrely trying to replicate the movie’s most famed scenes.

It’s a strange one; electric dance routines expertly performed by an exuberant cast, but woven together with some of the most awful script, direction and acting I’ve seen on a professional stage. I can only assume that the huge cardboard set, which enables the strange inclusion of the log scene is just to tick a box for fans because it does nothing to help drive the dreary story.

There are some good performances and both lead singers (who I can’t name check, because they aren’t credited properly in the programme) show some real flair, while Jonny and Baby, AKA Michael O’Reilly and Kira Malou, gallop through their numbers with verve, until eventually you get to the bit the audience has all been waiting for, the “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” lifting part. It’s only then that the auditorium really comes alive having been in that unfortunate position for much the previous two hours of not knowing if they are meant to be laughing at or with the cast.

I guess this show is for fans of the film and those who are looking for their favourite bits recreated on stage will get them. But if you’re after high quality musical theatre, you need to look elsewhere.

Dirty Dancing is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 24 November.