Life Ain’t No Musical – Cardboard Citizens/ACT NOW – Review

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I’ve said previously that theatre can be so much more than just entertainment. I love a feel good musical as much as the next person, but likewise, I know that theatre can have a transformational effect. Often as an actor/director this occurs during the process of getting the play/production together. Also as an audience member sometimes a theatrical piece can just blow you away and cause a paradigm shift in consciousness to occur. When it happens to both the cast and audience it’s a very special event.

I was privileged to be part of such an event on Friday night.

ACT NOW is the youth theatre project run by the amazing Cardboard Citizens.  I came across their work whilst studying Augusto Boal for college. It truly is a very special work and I commend it to you.

After the Arts Council cuts that were announced earlier this year, I blogged about how this had inspired me to support a few theatrical companies and projects. Cardboard Citizens was one I’ve chosen to support.

This was my first chance to go and see some of their work. I’m glad I did.

Only 4 weeks ago, ACT NOW brought these 12 young people with experience of homelessness, who had never worked with each other before or done anything like this before together. They had four weeks to create this work. If I could bring such a powerful piece of theatre to fruition in just four weeks I’d be extremely pleased. It’s a credit to them. I know some professionals who’d not have the guts to take up this challenge of producing a musical in 4 weeks!

Director Tony McBride is to be congratulated for directing this group and channeling the talent they have. Also appreciation must go to Arun Ghosh for his musical direction and composition. His enthusiasm on stage brought a smile to my face.

The musical focused on the “lessons of life” these young people had learnt so far. I was touched by the honesty of the young people as they chose to tell us of the highs and lows of their lives so far. There were moments of laughter, aswell as more poignant and serious lessons. Violence, heartache, fear, confusion were all visibly brought to us.

The poetry and script these young people had devised had some really beautiful and clever lines throughout, “Home is not my home”, “Love is heavy joy”, “What speed is happiness”, “My pen is to the paper”, “If he wasn’t dead, he’d have ended up inside”, are a few of the gems I managed to jot down.

I was especially pleased they used an uncomfortable length of silence in the production. Silence is a powerful theatrical device, seldom used, as it’s REALLY hard to be on stage and do/say nothing. These young people could teach some more seasoned theatrical types a thing or two about how to “do” silence!

The production led us through depths of despair, but took us to a hopeful conclusion, as the balloons rose to fly away, we saw their hopes for the future rise too.

As this was the last night, the audience were invited to join the director and cast, for their awards after the show. It was genuinely moving to see each member being awarded for their hard work and contribution. There were tears and laughter.

These young people (and the hundreds of  others who are helped by this project each year), have been given a chance to impact their own lives and ours too. The whole group deserves the biggest round of applause.

The project still has to raise £40,000 by March 2012, please go to their website and give as generously as you can. This isn’t just about theatre, it’s about helping young people gain qualifications, work placements and jobs. For them to be engaged with support services from mental health to housing. In short transformation, but then actually that’s what theatre’s all about isn’t it?

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Betrayal – Comedy Theatre, London – Review

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Having read lots of Pinter’s plays over the last academic year, I was excited to actually be off to the theatre to see one.  Myself, my wife and a few work colleagues headed off to the Comedy Theatre to see Betrayal starring Kristen Scott Thomas. In my ignorance I said to my work colleagues “Kristen who?” to which I was greeted with rolled eyes and a sudden fall from grace as a person knowledgable on actors. This didn’t matter as I soon got back on my pedestal with my knowledge of all things Pinter 😉

Betrayal is often referred to as the “Pinter play that goes backwards”, but Alex Siersz at my last college study day rightly pointed out, it goes forward a bit, then backwards then forward a bit and then backwards! Whatever, it’s a clever dramaturgical device that works well. It certainly aids the viewer as watching from a vantage point of knowledge/detachment and thus being able to not get emotionally involved, but rather to observe the goings on of the three characters. Brecht would have liked Pinter I feel.

The acting was excellent, the star name of Kristen Scott Thomas delivered, so often the trend of having a well-known (to anyone but me) name on stage is often a bit of a disappointment, such as Keeley Hawes recently, or as my work colleagues remarked about Kiera Knightly (who they saw at the Comedy Theatre earlier this year in, The Children’s Hour.). I was pleasantly surprised that Kristen Scott Thomas was clearly at home on the stage.

Douglas Henshall and Ben Miles provided the love interests and completed the relational triangle we see from its end to its formation many years earlier. They too were at home on stage and were very good, although Douglas Henshall’s Scottish accent seemed more pronounced in some acts to others which seemed a bit strange.

The set design is very clever and allows for the time traveling to be done smoothly and effectively. Likewise Ian Rickson’s direction is sharp, allowing for the necessary Pinteresque pauses, that add to the dramatic tension.

A very good and polished production of this classic play. Worth catching if you can.

Love Never Dies (Version 2) – Adelphi Theatre – Review

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As promised in my review of the first version, I made the journey to the Adelphi theatre to see “version 2” of Love Never Dies this week. This theatre visit jumped to the top of my list due to the fact that it is closing on August 27th. This is a show that’s had a very interesting journey and the story of its ups and downs could be the subject for a musical in its own right.

As mentioned in my previous review, I enjoyed version 1, despite its faults. On reading reviews of version 2 since it came into being last November, most have said the changes were positive. A few have bemoaned them. I was keen to make my own mind up.

The first change was in the performers, this was a different cast mainly. Tam Mutu was the Phantom and he excelled. I was wondering if he’d be able to reach the heights Ramin Karimloo set, he did. The most striking and obvious change is moving “‘Till I Hear You Sing” to the beginning of the show. As I said in my first review I LOVE this song. It sits much better here as the opener, and it sent tingles down my neck hearing it live with the thundering orchestration. A great start to the show.

Then it was into some of Jon Driscoll’s clever animations which I was glad have been used throughout the show still as these are one of the highlights of the production.

The biggest difference I noticed was the change to the lyrics, Charles Harts influence is obvious (why oh why didn’t Lloyd Webber get him in from day one??). They’re no longer as clunky and clichéd as they were in the earlier version. They also help to tell the story better than before, and there has been a judicious cutting and recasting who sings what which definitely worked.

It's worth going just to see Lucy Van Gasse's splendid performance as Christine

Seeing Lucy Van Gasse as Christine again was a real highlight, as mentioned in my previous review I thought her performance was something special, 8 months later it still is. Her voice is perfect for this role and she fills the theatre during her solo of “Love Never Dies”.

The ending has been changed,  its not been changed to how I’d have done it, but it is now MUCH better and feels more in keeping with the characters and story. One member of the audience near me was reduced to tears by it, and whilst I wasn’t blubbing away it is  certainly is a tragic and emotional ending.

So on second viewing any other thoughts from me?? I still think the score is excellent, it’s beautiful in places (Coney Island Waltz and The Ayrie especially) it’s a lavish and sumptuous score. There are now many more motifs and bits of the original Phantom score woven into this one now, which worked and gave a sense of this being an extension of that show.

Action from the "Beauty Underneath" scene.

It still contains the song “The Beauty Underneath”, which despite being referenced earlier in Act 1 still sticks out like a sore thumb, but in a perverse way  I quite like this incongruous element to the show now!

I was VERY surprised to see this advert in this weeks Time Out :

Yes it's referred to as Phantom 2!

In the run up to the launch, ALW repeatedly said that LND is a stand alone show, that’s it’s not a sequel! Which always seemed a bit silly and odd. Now it seems he does want to trade-off the success of Phantom, perhaps he should have done this all along?

So, there’s just over 4 more weeks left of LND in the West End. I’ve enjoyed both versions and do think the revised one is better. If I had the time, I’d visit it again before it closes as I think the score is one of ALW’s best. If you enjoyed Phantom, you’ll enjoy this, or if you like musical theatre I think you’ll appreciate it too.

It’s a shame it’s had such a turbulent existence, ALW has in recent interviews said he should have halted the production going ahead while he was ill, and I’d have to agree. Although I’m surprised they got so much wrong to begin with. It just shows that nothing in theatre is certain.

The Melbourne production is getting good reviews, with ALW saying this is the definitive version. It’s currently being filmed for a dvd release, so that’ll go on my pre-order from Amazon list as soon as I’m notified of its release date.

Will it ever go to Broadway though? That is the question. There seems to be much speculation about that and no answers from ALW as of yet. I think it deserves to go, it won’t run for decades like Phantom, but it’ll certainly have 12 – 18 months worth of life there as it did in the West End. I’ll be interesting to see if it tours the UK, but with Bill Kenwright brought in for version 2, I’m sure those discussions have or will take place.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing and watching the progress of this show, its time in the West End is coming to an end, but it’ll continue a good while longer elsewhere in the world, it’s no Phantom of the Opera, but it’s not the dud many have wanted to make it either. If it comes your way, have a visit and make you’re own mind up. I’m glad I did.

The Wizard of Oz – The London Palladium – Review

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After purchasing my tickets at the end of last year, I’ve been patiently waiting 7 months, but the day arrived and I was finally off to see The Wizard of Oz.

At work usually on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, one of the team has a quick visit to the local sweet shop, to give us a sugar rush and treat. This show was the theatrical version of a sweet shop visit to me. So many reviews that I’ve read seem to have missed the point about this show. My criteria for going and now reviewing the show is totally different to how I’d review a straight play for example. I’ve not been to see a big scale “commercial” musical since Betty Blues Eyes , and so I was in need of my theatrical “sugar rush”.

So was this a Vimto Bon Bon of a show (yummy and great) or more of a Parma Violet (yuck!) ?

A Wizard if ever there woz

Michael Crawford is the title character, and I was genuinely excited about seeing him live for the first time. he also has other roles in the show. His (new) song as Professor Marvel, is a charming number and he delivers it with the right touch of humour and sentiment. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s also written the song “Bring me the Broomstick” for the Wizard, which gives the chance for Michael Crawford to fill the Palladium with his strikingly powerful voice and was a great close to the first Act. When he’s not singing, his acting is witty and just right for this role. Corny to say, but he really is a “Wizard if ever there woz”!

I’d voted for Danielle Hope in Over the Rainbow and was watching with anticipation to see how she had settled into the role now that she’s been doing it for four months. She certainly was the right choice for Dorothy, she has a stunning voice and exhibits a great warmth from the stage. Her interaction with the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man is perfect. Most of her scenes involve her being with Toto and she handled him brilliantly (yes the dog steals many scenes and possibly the show!).

This broomstick has a few tricks up it’s sleeve too

Hannah Waddingham is excruciatingly evil as the Wicked Witch of the West, suitable boos from the audience were signs of this. She has a good number (again another new addition) “Red Shoe Blues” which was excellent.

The Dress is Sponsored by Swarovski

Emily Tierney is a magical Glinda, her entrance in Act one is breathtaking and she has probably one of the most amazing dresses in any musical I’ve seen.

Edward Baker-Duly, David Ganly and Paul Keating as the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow have great fun with these roles and play perfectly to the audience. Paul Keating does some demanding physical theatre with his Scarecrow, Edward Baker-Duly does a great tap routine and David Ganly has some of the best laughs of the show, and he knows how to deliver his lines to get the best reactions. (I loved his, “I’m a Lion in Winter” and “I’m proud to be a friend of Dorothy”  lines).

The new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, certainly contain their hallmarks but I thought they fitted in well. I especially liked the final song of “Already Home”, which is beautiful.

I was disappointed by the choreography which can at best be described as “functional”, the (admittedly few) large cast numbers certainly did not give me a wow factor from the choreography which to me is necessary part of musicals like this.

The sets are amazing and the new double revolve at the Palladium is a serious piece of kit that is fully realised to its potential in this production and I’m sure will become a key reason producers choose this venue for future productions. The twister scene has been well documented as to how effective it is, and Jon Driscoll is certainly the Wizard of projection in the world of theatre, I loved his work in Love Never Dies, and he excels again here.

So this was a perfect “sugar rush” of musical theatre. It’s a superb production, everything is slick and perhaps a bit saccharine, but that’s kind of the point of these types of musical surely? An extremely enjoyable piece of entertainment.

For tickets go to  : http://www.cheaptheatretickets.com/london/london-palladium

Dublin Writers Museum – A Literary Legacy

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On my recent visit to Dublin, I took the opportunity to not only visit the Abbey Theatre, but also to visit The Dublin Writer’s Museum. The  City can boast a tremendous amount of talent, and writers of historical and literary importance. From a theatrical point of view it is the home/birthplace of several theatrical luminaries.

One of several George Bernard Shaw portraits.

I was pleased that so much of the museum was dedicated to the playwrights that have come from this city and their works. I also found it an educational experience as fresh writers were brought to my attention.

I especially liked the displays on George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett (including his phone that had a big red button on it, that he pushed when he didn’t want to be disturbed) and Oscar Wilde.

First Edition of Waiting for Godot!

My only disappointment was with the bookshop. As a dedicated bibliophile I was hoping the bookshop would have shelves and shelves of the literary delights I’d just read about and seen in the museum. Alas, I found it a real let down, and I can’t understand why the space isn’t used more fully and why it doesn’t carry a fuller stock? Aside from that if you’re interested in Irish playwrights, I recommend a visit to the museum, I found it a suitable conclusion to my Irish playwriting studies.