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Stagey Lady

Reviews and previews beyond the West End

A work of Genius

Eugenius the Musical

We’ve been decade-hopping this week. First, 1930s America in Girl from the North Country , then 1960s London with All or Nothing, and now the 1980s on planet…Itsaballoon.

Do not go seriously into The Other Palace to see Eugnenius! This is an exceptionally silly show. Basic plot: teen geek creates new comic book hero, Tough Man, and his  sidekick, Super Hot Lady. Is discovered by (camp) Hollywood agent, exploited by movie mogul, but gets his girl in the happy ending. That really is it.

Except that it’s also exceptionally brilliant. This is everything a musical should be: novel characters, big ballads, catchy chorus numbers, great voices, slick choreography.

The craftsmen – Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins – would have you think they cobbled it together after a night in the pub, and persuaded none other than Warwick Davis to produce it, with his royal highness Michael Jibson as  creative consultant.

Somebody found a new star, Liam Forde, with a terrifically ranging voice, and shining in his galaxy are his supergirl, supersinger Laura Baldwin, and geeky socially-inept pal Feris (Daniel Buckley). This trio keeps the rest of the surreal fantasy grounded in a recognisable universe. (Those as stagey as we are will recognise many musical references dotted throughout the script.)

There’s also considerable tribute to the Star Wars megamyth, and if anyone at this point recalls a StarTrek spoof musical called Dazzle, they must move on. This is something entirely different. If you want sheer joy and maximum musical talent, look no further.

Eugenius runs till March 3 at The Other Palace. Details: https://www.theotherpalace.co.uk/whats-on/eugenius

 

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What if…? Juliet and Romeo live another day

Battersea Arts Centre/Lost Dog Dance Co

This must not sound trite, being only mid-February, but I’ve now seen the most dynamic, perceptive,poignant, unusual, funny and tragic piece of theatre this year.

Juliet and Romeo is, allegedly, a guide to a long and happy marriage. Taking the stage are two middle aged people about to have their relationship analysed, dissected, dissembled and possibly destroyed – who knows – in public.

The premise is that neither the dagger nor the poison was actually used, and our Shakespearean tragic heroes live another day to tell their story. Of a getaway by taxi , and a flight to Paris, in fact, where mundane life takes over.

Underlying their story of domestic discord is the sense of ultimate betrayal…you mean, you didn’t love me enough to kill yourself for me? But the story is told in a beautiful fusion of acting, dance and music, the speciality of the Lost Dog company.

Our “tragic heroes” are Ben Duke ( co-founder, with Raquel Meseguer, of the company) and Solene Weinachter, who present in startling physical form and acute narrative observation, the story of all our lives, all our relationships.

It is at times exquistely funny and desperately sad. The achingly familiar detail of Juliet’s response to “how was your day?”. The writer who turned up at the door with a bottle of whisky to interview the couple, and six weeks later a Shakespeare play is delivered by post.

The music… from Prokofiev to Simon and Garfunkel by way of Frank Sinatra and John Cage …. is chosen with extreme care and sensibility. The dance routines (a poor choice of word, but what else can I use?), the way in which a relationship is lived out through intimate movement, deliver sensuality and sensitivity along with demonstrations of harmony and strength.

This is a clever, funny, provocative piece of theatre. You will laugh and you will cry. That’s a guarantee .

Juliet and Romeo runs until March 3 at The Place, Battersea Arts Centre. Bookings: https://www.bac.org.uk/content/43610/whats_on/whats_on/shows/juliet_and_romeo

Chick lit with attitude

Book review

Trashy, self centred, outrageous, promiscuous…and those are her good qualities. The arch anti-heroine of chick lit, Teri, is back, and with a vengeance, in the new offering from the author-duet of Susan Pape and Sue Featherstone.
A forsaken friend takes up the story of Teri and her friend Lee, the one with a moral compass in her slightly shabby handbag. Teri, of course, has even fewer scruples this time, though her bag ..and dress and shoes..will sure as hell carry a designer label.
They’re an oddly matched pair of so-called best friends who share little in the way of values and wine preference, though we already knew from the previous book A falling  friend, that there was some lover-swapping going on.
The story is again set in Yorkshire, with the thinly disguised YTV and an unnamed university providing the backdrop to episodes of sex – in hotel bedrooms, on panelled flooring, up against the clematis-covered trellis, you name it, Teri’s been there and done that.
What we didn’t know was that she had gay brother and that he and his partner keep goats in rural Suffolk. But that’s another chapter.
Meanwhile, Teri’s fledgling epic account of the life and times of the rakish Lord Rochester keeps stalling, and Lee is dealing with a family crisis.
Those of us who know the authors, two upright and morally impeccable writers, women of style and eminent good taste, will marvel at the power of literary imagination. The rest will just be romping through to the final chapter to find out what on earth the forsaken friends will get up to next.

 

A Forsaken Friend is published by Lakewater Press

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=A+Forsaken+Friend

 

The sad tale of the Small Faces

All or Nothing, Arts Theatre London

There’s something about the swinging Sixties that you don’t really want to know; the third biggest selling single of the decade was Tears by Ken Dodd. So it wasn’t all sex n drugs n rock and roll.

But here’s the “mod” musical to rebalance the historical record,  a tale of sex n drugs n rhythm n blues which is, in itself, a potted history of the pop music industry and how naive young bands were exploited by ruthless managers.

The Small Faces had talent, passion, energy and a string of great singles, and absolutely no money to show for it all,  but their legacy is hazy. Even a decade later, people remembered more clearly what they eventually became: Rod Stewart’s backing group, the Faces. Was this because they became not Small Faces but Big Heads, as one line in the show suggests?

We sent three northern lasses to review the show on the day that cover David Shute proved he could match the powerful voice of the band’s tragic lead singer Steve Marriott. They had been there throughout it all back in the day, with their leather coats and op-art dresses, and joining in now with an entire audience that knew all the words of this nostalgia-fest.

They were less impressed with the ludicrous northern stereotype, flat caps and whippets, which demeans an otherwise intelligent retrospective.

The narrative’s not  a particularly unusual one…boy band let success go to their heads, then fall out over interpretations of creativity… but does the narrator character really work (the late Marriott’s would-be later self)? And the overplayed scenes with his dominant mother become embarrassing by the final scene.

Nevertheless, the audience loved every song, and there’s a fine array of young talent here. All are excellent but Karis Anderson as PP Arnold is truly outstanding.

If you were there in the Sixties, you’ll love this, unequivocally. If you weren’t, then go along to find out what at least some of the fuss was all about.

All or Nothing plays at the Arts Theatre till March 11. Booking: https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/all-or-nothing—the-mod-musical/

One night in Manchester for Showstoppers

The critically acclaimed improvisational frontrunner Showstopper! The Improvised Musical heads to Manchester’s Palace Theatre next Saturday  (February 10) promising a night of surprises for audiences to enjoy.

No two nights are ever the same as The Showstoppers take audience suggestions and then spin a brand new comedy musical out of thin air – stories, characters, tunes, lyrics, dances, harmonies and all – with unpredictable and hilarious results. If you’ve thought improv looked difficult before, try doing it in time (and tune) to music.

Having grown since 2008 to become the UK’s most acclaimed and in-demand musical improvisers, The Showstoppers have become a must-see staple of the Edinburgh Festival FringeWith four West End seasons and an acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series to their name, they have also taken their ingenious blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity around the globe, picking up accolades and awards including The Times Best of the Fringe, Mervyn Stutter’s Spirit Of The Fringe Award and nominations for Chortle Best Music Or Variety Act, MTM Best Production Award and MTM Judges’ Discretionary Award.

For tickets, visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/palace-theatre-manchester/

The day that two teams died: remembering the journalists

Sixty years ago, on February 6, 1958, the British European Airways Elizabethan class aircraft carrying the Manchester United team home from Belgrade crashed on its third attempt to take off from the slush-covered runway of Munich-Riem airport.

Twenty of the 44 people on the aircraft died in the crash; three more died later in hospital.

Eight of the dead were young men, part of the Busby Babes team which had won the First Division championship in the previous two seasons and had just beaten Red Star Belgrade to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup.

Another eight of the dead were journalists who had covered the match; they were among the finest football writers of the day.

Manchester United will be marking the 60th anniversary of the Munich disaster with a minute’s silence before the match against Huddersfield on February 3 and a service at Old Trafford on February 6.

busby babes

The journalists have their own special tribute, too – a book significantly titled The Day TWO Teams Died*, the team of journalists as well as the team of footballers. The book has special importance for the Journalists’ Charity, for the authors, Carl Abbott and Roy Cavanagh, are donating to our charity 50 per cent of the profit from the sales of the book.

The roll call of the writers who died: Alf Clarke (Manchester Evening Chronicle), Donny Davies (Manchester Guardian), George Follows (Daily Herald), Tom Jackson(Manchester Evening News), Archie Ledbrooke (Daily Mirror), Henry Rose (Daily Express), Frank Swift (News of the World and former England and Manchester City goalkeeper; died on his way to hospital), Eric Thompson (Daily Mail).

A chapter in the book is devoted to each of them: who they were, what they did, and how they chronicled the excitement of the Busby Babes.

But the book is more than that. It is social history as well as journalism history. In the foreword, David Walker, sports editor of the Daily Mirror and former chairman of the Sports Journalists’ Association (whose birthday coincides with the date of the tragedy), writes:

“The social strata linking players, football management and the media was very different. It was the Daily Mirror’s Archie Ledbrooke who lived in leafy Bramhall while Matt Busby and his players lived around Chorlton-cum-Hardy and the inner city.”

Walker writes of Henry Rose: “He drove to matches in his Jaguar car and his arrival in the press box, usually with a cigar jutting from his mouth, would be announced over the club PA system. At this time, the only United player with a car was skipper Roger Byrne who drove a Morris Minor 1000.”

The book is a labour of love by Carl Abbott and Roy Cavanagh.

Abbott, Professor of Construction Innovation at Salford University, comes from a long line of United fans and there’s some printer’s ink in his veins, too – his grandfather was a United season-ticket-holder and steward and a printer with the Manchester Evening Chronicle. Abbott says: “By writing this book, we hope we will enable a new generation of football fans to appreciate those great writers and, in doing so, learn about the Babes from the perspective of football fans of that era.”

Cavanagh says: “I was ten at the time of the disaster and I remember the times vividly, particularly as I lived close to Old Trafford and I had seen the Babes. I have done biographies of Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Dennis Viollet and Billy Whelan. One aspect of the disaster has been missing, however: the loss of eight of the finest journalists one could imagine.”

*The Day TWO Teams Died by Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott (Amazon paperback, £8). It will also be available soon in Kindle and other e-book forms.

Stagey opportunity for an ugly dog

Producers of the major new tour of Legally Blonde The Musical are on the hunt for dogs to appear in the Manchester run of the smash-hit Broadway and West End show when it arrives at the Palace Theatre from June 24-30. Auditions to find a perfect pooch for the role are to be held at the theatre on  February 2.

EastEnders’ Rita Simons, Lucie Jones, who is representing the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Never Give Up On You’ on Saturday May 13, and Bill Ward, star of Coronation Street and Emmerdale are the human stars of the show. But Legally Blonde The Musical also has two dogs in the cast – a Chihuahua called Bruiser and another called Rufus. Bruiser is already cast and will be on the road with the cast but producers have decided to hold auditions for ‘Rufus’ in every town and city on the tour.

 Associate Director David Barrett said: “Legally Blonde The Musical is a show all about stereotypes and not judging a book by its cover and the dogs are no different in this. So whereas ‘Bruiser’ is the cute, tiny, adorable one, with ‘Rufus’ we are looking for the total opposite. We are looking for a big, brutish, dog that only its mother could love – preferably a builldog as in the film but we are certainly open to options.”

For more information on how to apply, please email legallyblondedogauditions@gmail.com for an application form.

The weird and wonderful world of Shrek

Shrek the Musical, Palace Theatre, Manchester

You’ve heard a song on the radio, it stuck in your head, but you didn’t know where it was from. This particular song, a classy, distinctive number with clever lyrics and a pacey tune with Celtic undertones, I heard from time to time, haunting me….

And now I know that Who I’d Be is from Shrek. And delivered here by a really terrific voice: shut your eyes, ignore the padded costume and the green face, Steffan Harri sure can sing!

Shrek is a truly weird and wonderful show, owing debts to panto, to fantasy and fable, even to Monty Python, momentarily. There’s nursery rhyme bears and pigs, hints of Oz, and a  beauty and beast storyline.

There’s also the very slightly wicked Lord Farquaad, played with not inconsiderable personal discomfort and dashing panache by Samuel Holmes. Arise from your knees, sir, you deserve a knighthood for that performance.

The Beauty to Harri’s beast is the delightful Laura Main, an actor with a very solid pedigree in TV as well as theatre. In fact, examine the biographies of the entire cast and you’ll find a truly stunning array of talent, great voices, superb dancers. To pick out a couple, almost unfairly: Sam Stones as Peter Pan; and Michael Carolan – thanks for that high kick, oh wolf in  a dressing gown.

So maybe it’s  a kids’ story about an ogre living in a swamp, but it’s done with style and consummate professionalism . It’s frivolous, it’s fun, it’s surreal, and it’s on in Manchester till Jan 28. (Then tour continues.)

Box office: 0844871 3018

The shortest review in the world

Hamilton, Victoria Palace, London

There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already. This is an epic, a masterpiece, an overwhelming experience.

PS Do your history homework.

 

ends

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