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

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Review: ‘Frightening, fatalistic and yet alarmingly funny’ ★★★ The Exorcist, Phoenix Theatre

I have to say, most of the time I find everyday life frightening enough, so I’ve never been one to seek out terror. Having said that, I’m a big fan of the classic gothic horror The Woman in Black, which is still playing at the Fortune Theatre after 25 years.

Any hope of the new stage adaption of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist being remotely like the gentle Victorian thriller was dashed early on however and I spent much of the evening watching through my fingers as a disturbing commotion unfolded.

Frightening, fatalistic and yet alarmingly funny, The Exorcist is worth the ticket price for Clare Louise Connolly’s unbelievably apt performance as the possessed 12-year old girl Regan. Perfectly sweet and innocent to begin, before the demon really takes charge, Connolly’s transformation into a cursing sexual Satan is quite remarkable. And when she is miming the dulcet tones of Sir Ian McKellen (pre-recorded as the devil), I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself that Gandalf has changed a bit.

The staging effects (with design by Anna Fleischle, illusion by Ben Hart and lighting by Tim Mitchell) are also pretty impressive – with projections including a wall of rats to make your flesh crawl and a clever use of sectional tabs – although the reliance on blinder lights and loud noise is, at times, a little too much.

Having said that, director Sean Mathias has managed to capture the feel of the 1973 film, with enough fright, tongue-in-cheek humour and downright cheesy dialogue.

But some of the acting feels a bit wooden as a result, with a need for a greater build up of suspense and for the actors to not so obviously be waiting for the stage effects to come along. However, I’m sure that will come as they get into the run.

No, The Exorcist is not a high-class dramatic piece of theatre, but it is, nevertheless a highly entertaining night out.

The Exorcist is running at the Phoenix Theatre until 10 March.

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.

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 

Review: ‘A once in a lifetime show’ ★★★★★ Kristin Chenoweth, London Palladium

There are few performers who could pack the London Palladium for a one-off concert. There are even fewer who could completely captivate the two thousand strong audience for an entire evening with just a piano as accompaniment and a collection of stories.

But Kristin Chenoweth is no ordinary performer and in a stripped back concert at the iconic Argyll Street venue she proved why she is seen as musical theatre royalty.


It’s difficult to describe just how charismatic Chenoweth is without sounding gushing. But the stage star – who is small in stature – somehow managed to fill the cavernous auditorium, reaching every corner and every person with her dazzling disposition, while maintaining a feeling of intimacy throughout.

From the very first entrance the audience erupted with adulation and after beginning with “Should I be Sweet” – which featured on her 2001 Let Yourself Go album – Kristin launched into her trademark self-deprecating and down to earth story telling.

There’s no doubt that Kristin Chenoweth is vocally one of the best in the business – her range is phenomenal and her ability to effortlessly switch from one musical style to another is remarkable – but it’s in the delivery where she really leads the field. When extracting every bit of emotion or humour from each lyric, she is able to completely connect with her audience. You could have heard a pin drop, such was the silent awe throughout the more meaningful numbers like “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and the glorious “Moon River”. Other act one highlights included an extremely emotional version of “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables, “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady – which showcased her extraordinary soprano voice – and the religious anthem “Upon this Rock” for which she was joined onstage by the Choir of the Arts Educational School.

After returning to the stage after the interval bedecked in a shimmering slip and matching thigh-high silver boots, Wicked fans were treated to the song for which Kristin Chenoweth is renowned; “Popular” (so perfectly performed it sounded as if we were listening to the original recording) before the songstress was joined onstage by another former Wicked star, Rachel Tucker for a stunning rendition of the duet “For Good”.

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There were homages to many of her influences throughout the show too (a number of who were in attendance) including British musical theatre star Elaine Paige, lyricist Lesley Bricusse, composer Andrew Lippa and director of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – for which Chenoweth won a Tony award in 1999 – Michael Mayer.

Stand out numbers in act two included a gorgeous version of the country classic “You Were Always On My Mind” mashed up with Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” and the funny little ditty “Taylor the Latte Boy” along with another belter performed with the Choir of the Arts Educational School to close the show.

You can’t help but feel like you’ve been in the presence of greatness when you find yourself anywhere near Kristin Chenoweth; such is the positive energy which she emanates and her encore performance – without a microphone –  of “Smile” left the audience in no doubt they had witnessed a once in a lifetime show. Is Kristin Chenoweth a goddess? I think so.

Photo by Danny Kaan

Review: ‘An energetic and mesmerising musical treat’ ★★★★ Hair, The Vaults

Unlike other critics, I don’t have multiple memories of watching the rock musical Hair. In fact, my only previous experience of the show was from watching the film as a teenager and I was so underwhelmed that I have actively shunned it for years. But after hearing great things about Jonathan O’Boyle’s 50th anniversary revamp at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, the transfer to the Vaults Theatre became a more appealing prospect.

And packed into the dingy bowels beneath Waterloo station I found a show full of life. Performed in a semi immersive manner – the audience surrounding the playing area frequently makes up part of the action – the musical is executed to perfection by an extremely talented young cast.

Hair follows a group of disillusioned young hippies in the late sixties, who are struggling with the prospect of being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. We are shown the moral battle of one in particular, Claude (played with an extraordinary subtly by Robert Metson) who – along with his tribe of peace-loving friends – expostulates the merits of going to war. Should he be a patriot (and honour his family) or stick to his own guns (if you’ll pardon the pun), burn his draft card and stay in America to protest for peace?

The story is really pretty flimsy and the effort to bring it up to date with some audio of recent politics doesn’t really fit. But it’s the music that’s the real winner in this show and with a fantastic band (led by Gareth Bretherton) filling the dungeon-like auditorium with soft-rock melodies, you feel as if you’re in a trendy club. Songs like “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In” are given a renewed energy by William Whelton’s electrifying choreography, which has elements of pastiche mixed with more modern movements to give an affectionate nod to previous incarnations.

And when it’s performed by the tremendous cast – with vigour and conviction – the result is an energetic and mesmerising musical treat.

Hair is running at the Vaults Theatre until 13 January

Review: ‘A fiendish feast’ ★★★★★ Young Frankenstein, Garrick Theatre

With the celebration of Halloween becoming more and more part of the British psyche the West End has really delivered this year with not one, not two, but three shows which are set to feed the insatiable hunger of horror fans.

For hardcore horror you’ll have to wait for the Excorcist to open at the Phoenix Theatre, but in the meantime you have two monster comedy musicals to choose from in the form of The Toxic Avenger at the Arts Theatre and Young Frankenstein just down the road at the Garrick.

Having been unimpressed by The Toxic Avenger when it had its European premiere at Southwark Playhouse last year, I decided to instead get my fiendish fix from Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and I was not disappointed.

Lovingly ripping off the budget horror movie genre, the musical is based on the 1974 film and ran for two years on Broadway to mixed reviews.

But it’s been revamped by Brooks for the UK market and after a run in the North East comes to London feeling fresh and new but with the winning structure of a classic musical comedy.

Think Carry on Screaming with a soupçon of Me and My Girl and you’ll get the idea. There’s an abundance of near knuckle titillation and silliness, but with great music, a solid story and some utterly fantastic performances.

Leading the way is Hadley Fraser, whose Frederick Frankenstein (he’s very particular about the pronunciation) follows in his notorious monster making uncle’s footsteps with the encouragement of his henchman Igor, played by standup comedian Ross Noble.  You’d expect Noble to have impeccable comic timing but what is unexpected is his masterful grasp of the other stage disciplines. Their duet “Together Again” sets out the stall for a night of high-energy dance and song, which I loved so much, I would happily watch again this week.

They are matched with some perfectly pitched frivolity from Summer Strallin (the “Roll in the Hay” sequence is so wrong it’s somehow right) and a bit of comedy gold from a pair of stage stalwarts in the shape of Lesley Joseph and Patrick Clancy.

And then there’s Dianne Pilkington, who plays Frankenstein’s spoiled socialite fiancé. She may not be on much but my goodness does she take the limelight when she is with some stonking numbers including the innuendo filled “Deep Love” with the creature, which had me crying with laughter.

And I guess I should mention the creature, who is played so convincingly by Shuler Hensley that I found myself rooting for him in the infamous “Putting on the Ritz” scene, completely forgetting that there is a renowned musical theatre star inside the grizzly façade.

Young Frankenstein is a fiendish feast, which I would like to indulge in again and again.

Young Frankenstein is booking at the Garrick Theatre until 10 February 2018 

Review: “When Clifton starts to dance and you can feel a ripple of excitement reverberate around the auditorium” ★★★★ Flashdance – The Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

If you yearn for the days of sudden saxophone solos, double denim and leg warmers, you won’t go far wrong with the new production of Flashdance, which will well and truly yank you back to the joys of the 80s.

Flashdance – The Musical is based on the 1983 film, which gained cult status mostly due to its iconic soundtrack – including the academy award-winning song “Flashdance…What a Feeling” – and raunchy dance routines.

Get ready for an enormous dose of cheese, but performed with so much energy and passion that you can forgive the superficial nature of the story and just wallow in the joyful exuberance of a high energy and thoroughly entertaining night out.

And one of the main reasons for the show being so watchable is its leading lady Joanne Clifton, who plays the steel worker-come-nightclub performer Alex Owens.

The former world showdance champion and current Strictly Come Dancing winner, shows her mettle, with a really breathtaking performance. You can’t watch anything else when Clifton starts to dance and you can feel a ripple of excitement reverberate around the auditorium. Her singing’s not bad either and fits well with costar Ben Adams’ classic pop vocals.

The supporting cast is also pretty good and Matt Coles’ choreography keeps an 80s air, without it feeling outdated. There are also some good comedy turns from Sasha Latoya as the sarcastic care worker and Rikki Chamberlain as the hapless club owner Harry, while Hollie-Ann Lowe puts in a great performance as the tragic Gloria.

This isn’t a show for anyone looking for any theatrical depth, but if you’re after a fun and frivolous night immersed in the 80s, you’re on to a winner with Flashdance – The Musical.

Flashdance – The Musical is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 7 October and at the Orchard Theatre Dartford from 9 – 14 October

Review: ‘You won’t find a more joyful show in the West End’ ★★★★★ Five Guys Named Moe, Marble Arch Theatre

I’ve got a lot of history with Five Guys Named Moe. I only went to see the original 90s West End production by accident after Piaf starring Elaine Paige was cancelled and I found the Louis Jordan musical at the Lyric Theatre as a last-minute alternative.

And it ignited a love within a musical theatre-loving, trumpet playing teenager, which has endured. The cast recording formed one of the soundtracks of my youth, so when I heard the Clarke Peters’ musical was to be revived once again; I couldn’t wait to be transported back to the magnificent New Orleans nightclub.

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This time a brand new pop-up theatre has been built to house the production, so as soon as you cross the threshold you feel as if you are in another age, with a band playing above the bar on a veranda and an utterly spellbinding atmosphere.

The auditorium itself is much more opulent than the pop-up theatres which were previously used up at Kings Cross too and if you’re very lucky you will be seated in the Bull Ring, with a conveyor belt revolve moving around you throughout the performance.

And what a performance it is, with the classic songs of Louis Jordan – who was known as the King of the Jukebox – expertly played by the onstage band and his clever and funny lyrics given the perfect voice by six wonderful actors at the top of their game.

Five Guys Named Moe follows the story of Nomax (Edward Baruwa), a chap who has broken up with his girlfriend, is down on his luck and has found solace at the bottom of a bottle. A group who emanates from his radio (Ian Carlyle, Idriss Kargbo, Dex Lee, Horace Oliver and Emile Ruddock) sets about changing his ways and saving him from destitution.

Classic like “Choo, Choo, Ch’boogie” and “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie” are given modern vigor with Andrew Wright’s choreography and the cast performs its socks off, leaving you with a sense of elation.

With its stomping numbers and hilarious interplay, you won’t find a more joyful show in the West End.

Five Guys Named Moe is running until 17 February 2018 

Review: “There’s a real classic in town” ★★★★ Salad Days, Union Theatre

If, like me, you’re a big fan of musicals, it’s likely that you will have a hit list of shows; revered masterpieces that you hope will be revived so you’ll get to experience them at least once, writes Nicky Sweetland.

Recently I’ve managed to tick off a couple (with wonderful productions of Side Show and The Wild Party) but with the return of the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds’ Salad Days at the Union Theatre, there’s a real classic in town.

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The 1950s musical is well-known for its glorious and uplifting score, with songs like “It’s Hush Hush” and “We’re Looking for a Piano” immediately putting a smile on your face.

But if you look closely beneath the froth and frivolity you’ll find a huge amount of social comment. Written in the post war era, there are observations of the classist system and the pressures of entitlement as well as an insight into a time before the decriminalisation of homosexuality and all cleverly disguised as a kitsch and gentle piece of musical madness.

And it is completely bonkers. We find Timothy and Jane at the end of their university education wondering what the future holds, with overbearing parents breathing down their plummy necks. Timothy must find a job and Jane a husband, but after happening upon a magic piano, their fortunes take a different tack and a fairytale adventure ensues.

Director Bryan Hodgson extracts every inch of comedy from the script and, along with some vibrant choreography from Joanne McShane, there’s an addition of some jaunty innuendo to help alleviate the dated feeling of the action.

It’s magnificently over done, with Lowri Hamer steadying the ship as the enchanting Jane and keeping up the sunshiny pace throughout. Laurie Denman is charming as Timothy, although his somewhat cloudy diction does mean the dialogue is lost at times.

The musical highlight is provided by Maeve Byrne in an energetic Cleopatra Club scene and even with the ‘weird factor’ ramped up in act two (with the appearance of some aliens), the story is filled with touching subtext and intricate characters if you are observant enough.

Salad Days is at the Union Theatre until 9 September 

Photos by Scott Rylander