Nicky’s Showbiz Diary: It’s been Show busy!

This column is a little later than usual, purely down to my busyness, or showbusyness as I like to call it. Over the last week I have seen seven shows, conducted five interviews and also met my first deadline for the Greenwich Weekender.

I’ve also done two restaurant reviews and hobnobbed with the stars at the Chelsea Flower Show as well as recording my weekly segment for BBC Radio Kent.

My feet have barely touched the ground and with three deadlines in Dorset looming my writing head has become a little frazzled.

It’s been fantastic but with a house move also getting ever closer, I have begun to panic about getting everything done.

Luckily there’s always a helpful person around to advise you on how best to manage your workload. I’ve had at least eight people ask if I’ve thought about writing a list and I’ve had to stifle my sarcasm about the wonderfully in-depth counsel!

Anyway, the shows I’ve seen lately have been a mixed bag. I watched the tour of The Play That Goes Wrong (excellent), The Addams Family (sensational), Richard III (a bit slow), The Color Purple in concert (amazing), Samantha Barks Live, with special guest Kerry Ellis (great), Judy! (fantastic) and a show I’m not going to mention, because it was so bad, I had to leave at the interval for fear of a hysterical attack.

I watch a lot of amateur shows, so I’m used to things occasionally being rough around the edges, but this ‘professional’ production was so poor, I felt it best not to pass comment on it at all.

The Celebrity count has been very high this week too, because I went to Chelsea Flower Show on Press day.

Sadly, I was on my own so I couldn’t engage in the hilarious celebrity touching game and there were few famous faces I hadn’t seen before. I guess I’ve got so used to seeing celebs now, that it would take the likes of Madonna, Kylie or RuPaul to really get me excited.

Joan Collins looked amazing among the roses in the main Pavilion however and Kelly Brook seemed very friendly as she supped on bubbly. It was nice to see Peter Kay again wandering around in the sunshine and I was a bit in awe of Paralympic Gold Medalist Ellie Simmonds.

I always find it funny that if you walk with confidence, people assume you’re someone worth looking at and take a second glance to check whether you’re famous or not, so yes, I did pretend to be someone, with my head held high. It’s the simplest little games, which amuse me!

Next week, a work experience minion is joining me in the form of my teenage daughter, so my London trip will be filled with food and drink stops. I’m seeing Wicked again (well, 26 times just isn’t enough!) and Woyzeck at the Old Vic, starring John Boyega. I’m then off to see Miss Meena and the Masala Queens at Greenwich Theatre, which looks fabulous.

You can read all of reviews and interview on my website and follow me on Twitter for all of the latest news @NickySweetland


Review: “An interesting and inspirational piece of theatre, which you’d be a fool to miss” ★★★★★ Judy!, The Arts Theatre

Following a highly acclaimed run at Southwark Playhouse Ray Rackham’s biopic musical play about the Hollywood icon Judy Garland is back and has lost none of its charm, writes Nicky Sweetland.

The name of the show has changed from Through the Mill to simply Judy! and at the Arts Theatre, the performers are faced with a traditional pros arch stage rather than the thrust, which gave a real closeness with the audience when the show was at Southwark last summer.

Helen Sheals, Lucy Penrose and Belinda Wollaston in Judy! at the Arts Theatre. Photo by Lara Genovese

Somehow they have managed to keep an intimate feel to the production however, with everyone’s favourite ‘girl next door’ portrayed with such an astonishing depth, that you can’t help but be drawn in.

Rackham has an astute talent for layering stories, with his previous stage success Apartment 40C interlocking tales across decades. The interwoven plots within Judy! see three eras of the performer’s life and career, expertly portrayed by a trio of ultra talented actresses, who illustrate the star’s many struggles behind her successes.

West End debutante Lucy Penrose plays Garland at the time when she was given her break in showbiz at the tender age of 12, before shooting to stardom when cast as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. Penrose has developed into a formidable force since first being cast in the show and her every movement and facial expression are perfectly pitched to exude the essence of the young star without it being an impersonation.

Belinda Wollaston gets possibly the most difficult task when giving us Judy in her Palace Theatre Days, a time when at the age of 29, she was already seen by many as being past her best. Wollaston’s sensitive and impassioned performance – particularly when delivering her Palace Medley – is simply breathtaking.

Not to be outdone by her younger cohorts, Helen Sheals also unleashes some powerhouse vocals to play CBS Judy, bringing a huge dose of humour balanced with fragility to the well-known star.

This is billed as a play with music (rather than a musical) and the emphasis is very much on the intricate and well-timed dialogue, but when the famous standards – including “Get Happy” and “The Man that Got Away” – do come along, my goodness do they bring the house down, with each of the Judys giving momentous and inspiring renditions.

There are also some impressive performances by the supporting cast, with Perry Meadowcroft as George Schlatter and Carmella Brown as Judith Kramer, ensuring it’s not just the ‘Talent’ that takes the limelight and with each ensemble member doubling up as the house band, there is a wonderful sense of support and camaraderie, which emanates from the stage.

Judy! is a heartwarming show about a much-loved legend played with aplomb by a hugely talented cast. If you’re a fan of Judy Garland, it’s a must see, but even if you’re not, this is an interesting and inspirational piece of theatre, which you’d be a fool to miss.

Judy! is at the Arts Theatre until 17th June 2017. 

Judy! star Lucy Penrose takes our Sugar Rush Quiz

Following a hugely successful run at Southwark Playhouse last year, a show celebrating the life  and career of Judy Garland will transfer to the West End next month. Entitled simply Judy! the show will once again star a trio of talented performers who portray the icon in an overlapping story of three ages of Judy. Lucy Penrose is playing Young Judy, an innocent girl filled with hope and excitement as she heads toward her life-changing performance in The Wizard of Oz. Judy! marks Lucy’s West End debut and so we thought we would get to know her a little better by challenging her to take our Sugar Rush Quiz.

1. What are you currently working on?

I am currently playing Young Judy Garland in Judy! On at the Arts Theatre in the West End from 16th May – 17th June

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

I think I’m too young in this industry to use the word successful as you never know what can happen, but what has helped me so far, has been to keep a grounded work ethic. I’m definitely a ‘geek’ and in high school could be found in the library at lunch times. I’ve always enjoyed working hard.

3. What is your favourite Book?

Sabriel by Garth Nix. I love the way that Garth Nix writes fantasy action, and that the lead kick ass character just happens to be a woman, a great role model for young girls.

4. What are you currently watching on TV? 

I’m a big Netflix fan. I just finished watching Hannibal, I’m a big fan of true crime and crime shows, I am fascinated by human psychology, and Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is pure genius.

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

I know this is controversial considering I’m an actor, but I have to say a restaurant is my idea of the perfect a night out, but the theatre and cinema are in very close second. I’m a sociable person and due to everyone’s mad schedules I don’t get to see my friends as often as I would like, so I cherish that time. Also people watching can be one of the most useful tools as an actor when developing a character.

6. What’s your favourite sweet? 

I’m more of a chocolate girl, but I will never say no to the strawberry Fruit pastels. 

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

I know this is dull, but I wanted to be an actor. I used to learn all the words to a film and then perform it to my teddies, speaking along with the movie whilst it played in the background.

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

My sister was always the naughty one, I’m sure she will agree with me. I have to admit I’m  a goody two shoes, I’ve never even had a detention. But I once ate a bit of raw cake mix, my mum saw and being a nurse told me about salmonella, to this day if my housemate is baking and she asks me to try the mix, I have to tell my mum. Like I said goody two shoes, (my housemate finds this hilarious).

9. What is your proudest achievement to date? 

The opening night of Judy! (then called Through The Mill) at the Southwark Playhouse at the bows, we had our first of many standing ovations. I can’t describe it but will cherish that feeling for the rest of my life.

10. What’s next?

Who knows, hopefully it will involve more stage lights and line learning.

Judy! will run at the Arts Theatre from 16th May until 17th June 2017.