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Stagey Lady

Reviews and previews beyond the West End

We’re opera mad in Camelot, We sing from the diaphragm a lot

Spamalot, Manchester

Outrageous costumes, cross-dressing roles, an ancient myth dressed up in tinsel. Audience participation and singalong tunes: yes, it’s pantomime season.

But Spamalot, running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre till Saturday, owes as much to the best of musical theatre  as it does to panto. Yes, it’s rooted firmly in the Monty Python canon, based very closely on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but these guys and gals can act and sing and tap dance along with the best of them. No surprise, really, when fifty per cent of the cast trained at Arts Ed.

This new touring production under the direction of Daniel Buckroyd, from the book and music of Eric Idle and John du Prez, is joyous entertainment and of course completely silly. And it clearly has a timeless appeal. While many in the audience seemed to know every line of the script, including all the expletives delivered to King Arthur  by the raspberry-blowing French soldier, there’s a new generation which loves the absurdist humour.

This sits surprisingly well with the pastiche on just about every musical theatre tradition,  the high-kicking chorus girls, dancing queens and a divine diva. Bob Harms commands the stage as the disenchanted and world weary King Arthur, gathering around him the motliest crew of knights ever to disgrace the boards.

Rhys Owen plays the hapless and downtrodden king’s servant Patsy, yes, the one who clacks the coconut halves for horses hooves. The Voice winner by far, though, is Sarah Harlington as the Lady of the Lake, capable of sheer and soaring sweetness as well as a range of styles from Elaine Paige to Shirley Bassey.

She shares with Arthur the best musical number, the witty and satirical The Song That Goes Like This, though obviously the audience best loved the singalong favourite pinched from Life of Brian.

There’ve been updates since the show was first seen (on Broadway, back in 2005) and there are cameo appearances from Harry Potter and Donald Trump. Surprises for the audience, too, but we’re not giving any more away on that front. Get yourself down there and join in the fun.

Spamalot runs until Saturday Nov 11.

Coming soon to the Palace or sister theatre the Manchester Opera House are Cilla, Crazy for You, Beautiful and Evita. But if it’s panto that you really want, Dick Whittington opens on Dec 9.

Details: http://www.atgtickets.com/manchester

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Time to laugh along with tragedy

The Complete Greek Tragedies in One Hour

Tragedy and humour are two opposing dramatic forces. And besides, Greek tragedy is known to be the most impenetrable of all theatre genres, even if it does form the basis of so much that playwrights now create.

So the prospect of all 31 main Greek tragedies crammed into one production might not be everyone’s cup of nectar. But Catharsis are doing it for laughs, dragging the entire canon into an hour-long rollicking comedy, performed by just three actors.

The company was founded in 2014 to make radical new adaptations of Greek drama but for this one, they confess, they have gone a little off the rails. Director Justin Murray and co-writer Rory Mackenzie are promising to drag the tragedies kicking and screaming from their revered plinth, and down to new depths of lowbrow laughter.

Sophie Taylor, Christina Holmbek and Iain Gibbons are the actors who will perform this most unusual of shows, produced by Heather Ralph at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. Dates are November 14 and 15 at 8pm, and yes, it does just last one hour.

The theatre’s on Shepperton Road, North London, and full details, with booking, can be found at http://www.rosemarybranchtheatre.co.uk/

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Stars line up for new British musical

A star line-up is announced for the release of a concept album of a brand new British musical.

TESS, featuring lead vocals by Siobhan Dillon, Tam Mutu and Simon Bailey, will be officially unveiled to the public on Sunday, November 5.

Written by composer Michael Blore and award-winning playwright Michael Davies, the musical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the d’Urbervilles is going live on the show’s website (www.tessthemusical.com) as part of a drive to get the musical fully staged. Followers and fans can sign up to join #TeamTess and be given free access to listen to the whole show.

Set in the Wessex so beloved by Hardy, TESS tells the devastating story of Tess Durbeyfield, daughter of a poor villager who fatefully discovers that they may be related to the ancient aristocratic d’Urberville family. As Tess is sent to seek respectability with her new-found relatives, she embarks on an emotional and dramatic journey that leads to love, loss and ultimate tragedy.

The title role on the album is sung by West End and Broadway star Siobhan Dillon, who first rose to fame in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hunt for a Maria in The Sound of Music. She recently played opposite Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard at English National Opera and on Broadway and before that appeared as Ellen in Miss Saigon.

Tam Mutu, who plays the villainous Alec d’Urberville, is another Broadway and West End favourite. He alternated the role of the Phantom in Love Never Dies with Ramin Karimloo, starred as Anatoly in Chess and won a clutch of awards as Javert in Les Misérables.

Simon Bailey, who sings the role of Angel Clare, played Tommy de Vito in the West End production of Jersey Boys and is about to embark on the show’s national tour. He’s played Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, Enjolras in Les Misérables and Pharaoh in Joseph and is a founder member of Teatro, Theatreland’s first supergroup.

Other cast members include Jacqueline Tate, currently playing Mme Thénardier in Les Misérables, James Dinsmore (Adding Machine, Corbyn The Musical) and Olivier Award-winner Nathan Dowling (Jerry Springer The Opera) alongside a chorus and orchestra of professional singers and musicians.

Lyricist Michael Davies said: “It’s been a wonderfully exciting journey to get to this point, and we couldn’t have wished for a better cast and technical team. We’ve had amazing support and encouragement from the likes of Sir Tim Rice and, as he delicately points out, what we now need is a producer.

“If you see Sir Cameron, do let him know…”

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Lyricist Michael Davies with Siobhan Dillon who will sing the title role

Fado, folk music and family: reflections on Lisbon

In a tiny restaurant called Oprego on the slopes of the castle above the harbour in Lisbon, a woman of a certain age, wearing a black jewelled stole, is singing directly to the audience.

It’s an intimate performance. The room is so tiny it makes a typical London fringe venue look like an arena. We have NO idea what she’s singing about – though one number is definitely about a lass called Maria – but it doesn’t matter. You can feel that this music is about life, death and love. It has a soul. Like all good folk music.

And like all good folk music clubs, it feels like you’re part of the family. (We think the singer is, literally, the matriarch; in between numbers she’s helping to clear away the dishes in this family-run diner.) Her accompanying guitarists look like kindly uncles, and they play with skill and passion.

The audience, too, represents several generations. Like city centre bars in Dublin – but not in London – all age groups gather together comfortably. It’s not the preserve of the young and trendy.

Fado does appeal to all ages, but not to all music lovers. There’s a mournful quality about the songs, and occasional aberrant harmonies. But the young German couple, and the party of sophisticated Swedes, and the regular locals here were all enchanted.

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Folk music in any language, in any culture, has the ability to draw people together by the nature of its narrative, and the familiarity of refrains. Here in Lisbon especially it was fascinating to see the range of ages (and nationalities) not just in the Fado bar but throughout the city. All seemed comfortable together, and equally comfortable with the narrow cobbled streets, their perilous corners where pedestrians could rub noses with passengers on tram number 28, and inclines not for the faint-hearted. They must have stout hearts, the natives; no stout bodies, though. This serious exercise daily is clearly good for the figure.

Or is it the absence of food worth over-indulging? We found delightful cafes, sunlit terraces, delicious cocktails, good local wines, but utterly dismal dinners. The ambience of romantic restaurants wasn’t matched by anything remarkable on the culinary front. A preponderance of sardines (plenty of them, no meagre portions here) with grey boiled potatoes. Salads without flavour or dressing. Two kinds of cheese, and the ubiquitous custard tart, pastel de nata. No spice, no zip, no excitement.

But no matter. There’s plenty of that in the streets, on the walls, as graffiti is an art-form here. There artistry in the magnificent churches, in the narrow stepped alleyways, even in the roof tiles ( and the city’s natural architecture allows for views of those, from all angles.)

A pity about the street music; buskers churning out Titanic and Lloyd Webber, usually over-amplified, as in any city anywhere. So take refuge in a Fado bar. Then there’s no doubt where you are.

Stagey Lady stayed at the elegant and impressive Hotel Olissipo Castello, a tiny and unassuming frontage on a narrow street opening onto cool and spacious interiors, and rooms with unsurpassed views.

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A warm winter season at the Blue Elephant

A new season of exciting productions has been announced by fringe stars Blue Elephant Theatre  at Camberwell.

This is a venue which highlights the very best from emerging artists in all genres. New writing, family shows and physical theatre feature strongly in the programme, tackling topics from immigration and ageing to consent and mental health.

Among the companies lined up are Original Impact, The Dot Collective and Moon on a Stick who are returning to the Blue Elephant this season and their work alone demonstrates the breadth of the programme. Original Impact are a performance collective with a strong actor-musician focus who present new work and contemporary retellings of classics. The Dot Collective creates high-quality work with and for older people, especially those with dementia. Moon on a Stick creates original shows for children, using puppetry and live music.

Earlier this year Blue Elephant learned that it is to be added to Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations from next April, one of  just five new theatre organisations in London to be added to the portfolio, offering more stability and greater opportunities to develop its work.

To see the full winter season programme go to blueelephanttheatre.co.uk

Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre, 59a Bethwin Rd, Camberwell, SE5 0XT (entrance on Thompson Ave)

Nearest tube: Oval (Northern Line)

 

A triumph in Bowness from Broadway

By Jeeves: Old Laundry Theatre

If ever there was a theatre production designed to be a celebration, it’s By Jeeves. Marking the 25th anniversary of the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness, the show also celebrates the theatre’s quarter century association with the master of farce Alan Ayckbourn whose unusual – if not bizarre – collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber brings us this dotty, wonderful musical comedy.

Based on the novels of PG Wodehouse, By Jeeves is the rewritten 1996 version of what had been, till then, Lloyd Webber’s only flop. This one opened in 1996 in London and succeeded, extending till the following year through three theatres. It premiered in the U.S. in 1996 and on Broadway in 2001.

Ayckbourn himself calls it a party: “It’s a celebration of theatre. I was always attracted by the innocence in Wodehouse and love the simplicity and characters, which I still find so refreshing.”

This production brings back together the original creative team from 1996 including Ayckbourn himself, who is directing, set designer Roger Glossop (also owner of the Old Laundry Theatre), and choreographer Sheila Carter.

It’s a joy throughout, a top-notch cast making excellent use of the creative set and some anthropomorphic props. And it’s full of surprises, from the sublimely ridiculous explanation for the soundless banjo to the finale appearance of the entire cast dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz.

Ayckbourn’s wit brings a surreal quality to the timeless humour of Wodehouse. Anachronistic it may be, but this is harmless jolly fun performed with exceptional talent and timing.

Recently starring as Raoul in Lloyd Webber‘s 30th anniversary cast of The Phantom of The Opera in the West End, Nadim Naaman plays loveable chump and bachelor Bertie Wooster.

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Photos: Steve Barber

Long term Ayckbourn collaborator Bill Champion plays the title role of the faithful and longsuffering manservant, Jeeves, whose bearing and face never slip throughout; well, for 99% of the time. You’ll love the one per cent.

They are joined by Jamie Baughan as clergyman Stinker Pinker; Katie Birtill as the cute and spoiled Madelaine Bassett; Howard Chadwick as Madelaine’s controlling father Judge Watkyn Bassett; Joshua Manning as villain and jelly tycoon Cyrus Budge; Oliver Mawdsley as Gussie Fink-Nottle; Naomi Petersen as Stiffy Bing; Nigel Richards as nerdy friend Bingo Little; and Melle Stewart as hedgehog lover Honoria Glossop.

It’s glorious fun, and a splendid triumph for a small theatre with big ambitions. By Jeeves runs until November 4. Details and booking: www.oldlaundrytheatre.co.uk

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Black eye for a dilemma on stage

Bread and Roses Theatre, London

Here’s a dilemma with a twist: When a gay man is fleeing an abusive partner should he be turned away from a women-only refuge? And is one of the residents right to sneak him into her room?

A black comedy indeed, The Black Eye Club, winner of the Bread & Roses Playwriting Award 2017,  will be premiered for the  Theatre’s third anniversary.

Written by Phil Charles and directed by Tessa Hart, it features the shy Dave and the gobby Zoe who begin to bond over their shared traumatic experiences. But will they be able to keep him hidden from the eagle-eyed security guard at the refuge? And will they be able to instill enough confidence in each other to be given the strength to leave their violent partners for good?

The Black Eye Club  was selected anonymously out of over 450 submissions as the winner of The Bread & Roses Playwriting Award following three reading rounds. The award was open for submissions last summer/autumn and called for full length plays with at least 50% material that are female, non-binary or gender neutral roles, from UK based playwrights.

Charles says he was propelled to write The Black Eye Club after witnessing cuts to council budgets and their disastrous impact on services for those affected by domestic abuse, many refuges being forced to shut down or taken over by non-specialist providers.
The Black Eye Club addresses struggles involved in escaping an abusive partner. The play gives a unique spin on this very serious subject matter in that it explores it in a very hopeful way; it is also unique in that it looks at same-sex domestic abuse, the final gay taboo,” he says.

The​ ​Black​ ​Eye​ ​Club runs from Nov 1 to Nov 18, Tues – Sat 7:30pm at ​ ​The Bread & Roses Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor Street, London SW4 6DZ
Post-show talks with charities & campaigners date to be confirmed
Tickets:​ ​£12, Concessions £10, Previews (Nov 1/2) £8
Bookings:​ ​https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/black-eye-club.html

The Bread & Roses Theatre is a 40- to 60-seat award-winning and innovative fringe theatre above The Bread & Roses Pub in Clapham, which programmes a wide-spread variety of productions for local as well as far-reaching audiences. Equality, diversity and artistic quality are at the forefront of the theatre’s programming, which features in-house productions as well as visiting companies. Launched in November 2014, it’s managed by The Bread & Roses Theatre Company who had been using an upstairs function room at the pub since 2012, which was eventually converted into the theatre. The company has been producing short play night The Platform since 2012 and after launching the theatre went on to produce 5-star reviewed productions of Miss Julie in 2015, Low Level Panic in 2016 and Dirty Butterfly earlier this year.

Phoenix rises again

Four years after the phenomenal success of their debut play Pheonix – praised by critics, industry peers and audiences alike – The Big House is re-staging the play that launched them in 2013 in memory of one of the original cast members.

Now re-imagined and recast, but true to the original premise, Phoenix Rising will run from  November 8 to  December 2 in the underground car park of London’s iconic Smithfield Meat Market.

Written by Andrew Day, Phoenix Rising follows the first steps of an 18-year-old leaving care – steps that lead him straight into poverty, bad company and the constant attacks of his worst enemy: himself. You can’t control Callum. You can’t help him. You can’t catch him, so quick are his feet. Out on the track, he is untouchable. No-one can get near him. But when his wings start to fail him, he will have to face his demons, to make one final flight. Phoenix Rising explores this raw and bitter truth, and the hard road to a hopeful future.

The Big House has a mission to enable care leavers and at-risk young people to fulfil their potential. Through their intensive programmes, The Big House uses drama, life and employment skills, counselling and wrap-around long-term support to develop emotional well-being and enable marginalised young people to live independently.

Each project culminates in a three-week run of a full-scale theatre production. Developed by the young people with a professional writer, The Big House productions explore imagination and collective experience, raise awareness of the challenges these young people face, and provide a platform for their voices to be heard.

WHEN: November 8  –  December 2

PRESS NIGHT: Tuesday  November 14

WHERE: Smithfield Car Park. Box office & audience meeting point: THE HOPE, 94 Cowcross St, Clerkenwell, EC1M 6BH.

BOOKING:  https://billetto.co.uk/users/the-big-house

Front Foot take on Shakespeare’s villain

The critically-acclaimed Front Foot Theatre is bringing Shakespeare’s villainous Richard III to the stage next month.

Directed by Lawrence Carmichael, this timeless and universal story of the rise and fall of a dictator  is set here in a dystopian future. A twisted antagonist, Richard enlists the audience as his co-conspirators and encourages them to witness his devious plots in becoming King. Fuelled by jealousy, manipulation and deceit, he aims at the crown and vows to destroy all who stand in his way including those closest to him.

Carmichael has an international reputation for stage combat and physical theatre which he uses here to create a fierce, bold and highly relevant production about fear and power.

Front Foot is a theatre company of experienced actors using the Meisner Technique that
allows for a different performance every night. Founded by husband and wife team Kim Hardy (Ian Charleston Award Nominee) and Julia Papp (Winner of Accolade Award of Merit) in 2013; previous projects include The Seagull (White Bear Theatre) and Proof (Tabard Theatre)

Richard III is at The Cockpit,  Gateforth Street, London, NW8 8EH, from October 12 till November 4. Tickets: £17/£15 concs. Box Office: 020 7258 2925 thecockpit.org.uk

 

 

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