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

Advertisements

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: ‘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

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: 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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.