Nicky’s Showbiz Diary: Critiquing a show you don’t like is a tough job

It’s always difficult to critique a show you know you don’t like. After I’ve seen a couple of versions of something and have been unimpressed by it, I then try my best to avoid future presentations.

For example, I’ve managed to completely sidestep the new West End production of Annie – starring Miranda Hart – and with the announcement this week that Craig Revel Horwood is to take over the role of Miss Hannigan; I will continue to actively avoid the Piccadilly Theatre until something more interesting comes along. It’s not that I don’t like Craig – he is a really lovely person – but having seen Annie six times within the last two years and previously witnessed his portrayal in the touring production, I know I can manage without another viewing.

There are lots of other shows too, which I would quite happily never see again like South Pacific (in my opinion, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s worse show), 42nd Street (rubbish story and a dull score) and The Sound of Music (or the Sound of Mucus as I call it). It’s not that it’s a bad musical, but I’ve just seen it far too many times and have started to hope that a curtain call is on Maria’s list of ‘favourite things’.

There are also highly acclaimed shows that I just don’t get, like Ragtime, Godspell and Into the Woods, and loads of plays, which – with my limited intellect – I struggle to understand. Some are just far too worthy for this working class girl and I therefore find them extremely difficult to write about.

There are occasionally things that surprise me however, like last year’s Regent Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar. After being part of a detestable amateur production, I despised the classic rock opera, but Tim Sheader’s fab adaptation made me see it through fresh eyes.

I also had my mind changed by Evita last week. I have previously called the musical ‘excreta’ – such was my loathing of it – but after seeing Emma Hatton in the leading role at the Phoenix Theatre I found myself willing to give the story another go.

I am yet to watch any Gilbert and Sullivan operetta however without feeling the need to cry in desperation and don’t get me started on village pantomimes (I endure an average of 15 each season!).

Gosh, it sounds like I don’t like anything doesn’t it? There are lot and lots of shows I love – which is why I’m so lucky to do what I do – and I also get to discover new things, which I wouldn’t ordinarily choose.

Anyway, I had another fab evening at Alice’s Adventures Underground last week (a real recommendation); I finally watched Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (very good) and enjoyed Evita (a bit!). I also interviewed former Wicked star Idriss Kargbo, who is working on one of my real favourites, Five Guys Named Moe – which will open at the new popup theatre at Marble Arch next month – and I went to the launch of the new season at the New Wimbledon Theatre and had a chat with Kara Lily Hayworth, who will play Cilla Black in the new stage show about the singer’s life.

This week I’m off to interview Carley Stenson – who is currently playing Fantine in Les Misérables (love it!) – at the Queen’s Theatre and then I’m heading down to Underbelly Festival to see Velma Celli’s Iconic: A Brief History of Drag, with special guests Kerry Ellis and Jessie Wallace. I’m then talking to RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Jinkx Monsoon, before chatting to Emma Hatton about her illustrious career and her sensational performance in Evita.

You can follow me on Twitter for regular updates @NickySweetland


Nicky’s showbiz diary: It’s all been a bit otherworldly!

Dear readers, it has been a couple of weeks since my last confession, so I thought I should fill you all in on my latest pursuit of theatrical greatness.

With the news that I’ve not only lost my home, but also a rather big contract, I’ve had to put my faith back into family and friends, who have rallied to assist not only with my move, but also in keeping up my confidence.

Being freelance means you spend most of your life looking over your shoulder. It’s either feast or famine, with too much work to keep up with or not enough to pay the bills, there is rarely anything in between and the last couple of weeks have made me feel a bit like I have been in an alternate universe looking down on myself and having to laugh at the disastrous set of circumstances which I have faced.

Luckily I have still been able to escape into the theatrical world and have appreciated more than ever before how lucky I am to be able to spend so much time on something I am so passionate about.

I’ve had my first read through of Spamalot, but as the Lady of the Lake I don’t actually get to say very much as it is a mostly singing role (don’t get too excited, I’m in an amdram version not the touring production). For those of you that have followed my limited onstage career, you’ll know that this is a good thing as I’m about as wooden as two by four, but can, just about, hold a tune.

I was also thrilled to get the chance to see a rehearsal of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, which opens at the Duke of York Theatre next week. As a keeper of a couple of couple young adults, I have to say, the story of six catholic school girls, who go on a drink fuelled rampage in a big city is a little bit frightening, but after watching the cast perform a couple of scenes, I’m really looking forward to seeing the full show.

With life imitating art, or the other round, it has been a bit disconcerting that all of the other shows I have seen over the last couple of weeks have had some kind of otherworldly, parallel dimension aspect to them, which has further had me questioning my sanity.

I had an amazing evening at Alice’s Adventures Underground and thoroughly enjoyed City of Glass at the Lyric Hammersmith. I also popped down to Exeter to take a peak at La Strada (which opens at The Other Palace later this month) and got severe cramp of the buttocks after spending eight hours watching Angels in America at the National Theatre. The impressive production, which boasts an all-star cast including Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane and Russell Tovey is very good, but even for a hardened theatregoer like me, spending that much time watching one show is a bit much for the undercarriage.

Those eagle-eyed readers will notice the change of website for this column. That is down to the fact that I am now going it alone and attempting to promote my own business. It is gradually gaining momentum thanks to tremendous support from industry colleagues and performers and I’ve been really heartened by all of the help I’ve been offered.

Next week, I’m doing a bit of stage crewing for a local amateur production of Thoroughly Modern Millie and will have my first full rehearsal with the Knights of the Round Table.

I’m also off to see Wonderland in Bristol and I’ll be covering the London auditions for the new musical Cilla.

You can follow me on twitter for all of the latest news @NickySweetland

Interview: We talk to two of the stars of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

Following an almost frenzied response from both critics and theatregoers to the production at the National Theatre in 2016, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour will storm into the West End later this month and is expected to command similar reaction.

The musical has been adapted by Lee Hall from Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos and features music by the Electric light Orchestra (ELO). It gained a cult following from its acclaimed opening at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, subsequent UK tour and sell-out run last summer at the National Theatre. Vicky Featherstone’s smash-hit production reunites original cast members when it opens at the Duke of York Theatre later this month and we caught up with two of them.

The story follows six Catholic schoolgirls from Oban, let loose in Edinburgh for the day. Kirsty MacLaren plays a slightly naïve member of the group called Manda and told us, “They go on a journey from Oban to Edinburgh to take part in a choir competition.”

The teenagers are desperate to lose the competition so they can get back to Oban in time for the last dance at the local nightclub, appropriately called The Man Trap, which they believe to be filled with sailors and Kristy said, “It’s the story of their day, of how they find themselves and how they explore what their sexuality means. It’s about how they can just forget about what’s coming next and live in the moment.”

Alan Warner’s satirical novel became revered for its candid depiction of rampaging teenagers and with the input of Lee Hall – who is best known for writing Billy Elliot – the stage show is likely to boast an abundance of hilarious gritty accuracies.

“Working with Lee Hall has been so inspiring. He really knows how to write for this demographic and he just brings so much truth to the piece. Although it’s a comedy there is so much sadness in it, so much pathos and he knows exactly how to hit that.”

Kirsty explains that most people can relate to the girls, who are on the cusp of adulthood and filled with raging hormones and teenage angst, “I think it’s why the story has been so well received because everybody who watches it has been through that experience of not quite knowing what tomorrow is going to bring and not quite knowing what your place in the world is. I think that makes you think about your own place in the world and how you’ve come to be the person you are.”

The six girls wreak havoc during their escapade, with copious amounts of alcohol consumed along the way – something the performers have had fun developing their representations of – but it’s not just young women who are portrayed by the talented sextet of triple threat performers, as they additionally depict a myriad of incidental characters within the show.

Karen Fishwick plays Kay Clarke, who is a bit more middle class than the rest of the members of the school choir and is frequently teased about her highfaluting lifestyle. Karen also finds herself frequently having to call upon her more masculine side throughout the show however, and commented, “I don’t how it worked out that I play more men than anyone else. I seem to be constantly shape shifting but it’s so much; I love doing that. From the start, in rehearsal, we all played all of the characters and we’ve explored all of these incredible creations that we discovered from the text. It’s another thing that makes the piece so fun and vibrant. I think that’s one of the most theatrical and enjoyable things about the show for me”

The music, which is weaved into the action, includes hits by ELO played by an all female band. In fact, the cast and musicians are all women, something, which Karen tells me is unusual, but is another element that sets it aside from other West End shows currently on offer, “It’s a celebration. The room is full of incredibly talented inspiring women and that so rarely happens. They are just amazing.”

Prepare thyself for 24 hours of holy chaos. Contains singing, hilarity, sambuca and strong language!

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour will run at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 9th May until the 2nd September.