39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow- Criterion Theatre – Review

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I saw an amateur company deliver a fine production of this earlier in the year. So as I sank into my theatre seat the other night at the stylish Criterion theatre I knew what was coming.

It’s a rip-roaring, silly spoof that is deliciously funny.

The front two rows were made up of teenagers clearly there on a school trip, I wondered what they’d make of this play, they loved it. The theatre had a fair proportion of tourists, I wondered if they’d understand it or get the jokes. Again they appeared to be loving it. The physical humour crosses generations and languages.

The cast of four work like billyoh throughout, especially Paul Bigley and Stephen Critchlow who play a dizzying number of characters. Paul Bigley was the highlight for me, comic acting par excellence. Andrew Alexander is the dashing Richard Hannay, while Catherine Bailey as his numerous love interests was sultry, Scottish and stuck up as and when required!

It’s easy to snap up cheap tickets for this so there really is no excuse not to see it. Great entertainment, a modern comic classic.

STARS : * * * *

The Golden Rules of Acting by Andy Nyman


Buy two copies one for you and another to give to a moaning actor

I’ve read a shelf load of books on acting, some good, some nonsense. Lots of them are on techniques/ideas and so are a bit cerebral. They’re often written by drama lecturers and so for me I’m a bit skeptical, how can someone that’s not worked as an actor write about it?

Some of the best insights I’ve gleaned have been via actors biographies (of which I have another shelf crammed full of). So when a new book on acting comes out written by someone currently starring in a leading role in the West End (Abigail’s Party), and who has a successful CV as an actor (and writer and director to boot) I’m interested (and so should you)

In this book Andy lays bare his Golden Rules in a laugh out loud and informative style. Yes a lot of it is common sense but “common sense ain’t that common”. It’s a vibrantly visual book that is aesthetically pleasing as well as containing sound content.

His rules encompass everything from drama schools, agents, auditions and survival tips and a bunch of other areas.

What I most admire is Andy makes it clear this is a career choice that’ll (like any) be hard work. So stop your whining and complaining and get on with it! Next time I hear an actor start to moan I’m going to frog march them to the NT bookshop and make the buy a copy.

Despite the hard work Andy also communicates the joy and fun being an actor is.

So if you’re an actor(pro or amateur), a drama student, thinking of going to drama school or have an interest in theatre, get this book. However it’s one if those books that’ll inspire you even if you’re not the above. Even a theatre critic like me found some advice relevant to my role and life. His chapter on reviews is interesting and he admits to reading reviews – at least he’s honest!

It’s pocket-sized and I can see it being in many actors pockets going forward, for them to dip in and out of as and when they need a bit of advice. Their own careers will be better for it as will the craft of acting.

“I can promise you this: the highs are highs and the lows are low, but who wants a life half-lived?” – Andy Nyman – The Golden Rules of Acting

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh – Wyndham’s Theatre – Review


Following its success at The Menier Chocolate Factory, this classic 1970’s play has been running at the Wyndham’s Theatre these last few weeks, I’d never seen it but have heard about Alison Steadman’s career defining performance in the original. I had to read the script a while ago for a college module and so I was keen to see how this team would portray this piece. It’s a wickedly dark comedy as we see the lives and relationships of the characters implode.

Despite being written in 1977, Mike Leigh’s writing is still topical. The 1970’s drinks party may be of its time but the issues of trying to out do your neighbours, unhappy marriages and personal insecurity are relevant as ever.

I was particularly keen to see this as I wanted to see Andy Nyman, he’s an actor I’ve long admired. Susannah Harker is likewise an experienced actress I was also looking forward to seeing live. I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much from Natalie Casey, Joe Absolom and Jill Halfpenny, mainly as I’ve been let down by TV soap actors being clearly out of their depth on stage in the past. My assumptions were shattered by these three though. This whole ensemble is what West End acting should be all about. Exceptional each and everyone.

Natalie Casey, as the dowdy, dour and innocent Angela, had great comic timing and was hilarious. What a transformation too, it really is like is seeing different person on stage compared to the glamorous woman she’s known for being. It just goes to show what an accomplished actress she is. Susannah Harker as the neighbour with the eponymous daughter Abigail, portrayed the akwardness of her characters situation superbly, I really felt for her as she’s surrounded by the cutting jibes and comments people make.

The play is often seen only in terms of the role of Beverly, played with definition and relish by Jill Halfpenny. Beverly is one of those characters you love to hate, she is so outrageously selfish and a real bitch sometimes, but behind the bravado and bite is a very hurting character.

Beverly and Tony get friendly

Joe Absolom as grumpy Tony,  doesn’t get a chance to get a word in edgeways often but his “reacting acting” to what the others were saying and doing was splendid and likewise added a great touch of comedy.

Andy Nyman as downtrodden and belligerent Laurence completed this exquisite cast, his dancing scene with Susannah Harker’s Susan was hilarious. His tragic ending took the play to an intense and powerful conclusion.

Three cheers to a cracking cast

So here we have a play of intense emotions and characters, Lindsay Posner’s direction keeps this tugging at all our emotions as we follow the course Mike Leigh has set for his characters and us. It truly is a classic, I’m pleased I finally got to see it, and I think this cast make it a very special production to have seen.

STARS : * * * *

For the YouTube trailer click here

TKTS Ticket Booth Leicester Square

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I’m currently writing a post on ways I manage to keep the cost of going to the theatre down. One of the key ways I do this is by getting my tickets from the TKTS ticket booth in Leicester Square.

I first used TKTS when I lived in the West End and started my Theatre Studies Degree, since then I’ve used it repeatedly and their bargain ticket prices mean I’ve been able to be a regular visitor to the West End ever since.

For great value tickets for West End shows, head here.

I was invited last week by Richard Bennison the Sales Manager of TKTS to go behind the booth and see what happens behind the windows and to chat about TKTS, my blog and the wonderful world of Theatreland.

The TKTS Booth is the only official discount ticket booth in London, it’s been in Leicester Square for over 30 years and is run by the Society of London Theatre. They offer discount tickets on the day and up to 7 days in advance, there’s usually a queue outside but you never have to wait too long. The great thing is the staff that work in the booth have a comprehensive knowledge of the shows and theatres so can offer great advice and assistance. Saturday’s are their busiest day, in fact they sell almost double what they sell on any other day of the week on Saturday’s. No surprise as there are double the amount of shows on due to all the matinees.

I always have a list of shows I wish to see, and so I go with this list and see which show  I can get best value tickets for. Their website www.tkts.co.uk lists which shows they have available, and I also monitor this to see which shows are discounted and if any new ones get added. I’ve never come away from TKTS not having tickets to at least one of the shows I wish to see.

The other great thing they’ve recently introduced is a loyalty card scheme. You collect a stamp for each ticket bought and once you have six you get £3 off. I’ve managed to get my card fully stamped in just two visits! (my most recent purchases from TKTS were tickets for Chicago and South Downs / The Browning Version)

It was wonderful to chat to Richard as he has a genuine passion for the West End Theatre much like me. He was also enthusiastic about how many good shows are on in the West End of all genres and styles. I wrote a post only last week about how I feel we’re in a really positive situation theatrically at the moment and it was encouraging Richard agreed. This summer really is a time to take in a West End show or several. See www.theatre2012.co.uk or the video below for a taste of what’s on offer this summer:

I’ve recommended TKTS to friends and family for years, and I commend them to you. Friendly and knowledgable staff and great ticket prices make this the first place to visit in the West End for me.

Chicago The Musical – Garrick Theatre London – Review


All good things must come to an end

The news came out yesterday that Chicago was closing on September 1st. It immediately shot to the top of my list of “things I want to see”. In fact I went last night thanks to TKTS and their bargain tickets.

Lots of friends have told me to go and see Chicago over the last 15 years. I wish I’d heeded their advice sooner, I was bowled over and  I’VE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH THIS SHOW.

It’s stylish, witty, has great tunes, a brilliant band (that are on stage throughout, which I really appreciate as I like to see the musicians especially as they’re such an integral part of the show) and the most beautiful cast on the West End stage (both guys and girls). It’s become an iconic piece of theatre with  a style all of its own.

The cast was so slick, Sarah Soetaert was the feisty Roxy Hart, cheeky, flirty and fun.

Rachel McDowall as the vampish Velma was stunning, her dance moves were perfect and those high kicks she does, wow!

Raza Jaffrey is Billy Flynn, I can see why this role has been so sought after over the last 15 years, not just because of the sexy ladies you are surrounded by, but it is a great part with some gorgeous songs especially his number All I Care About. Raza Jaffrey’s silky baritone voice, good looks and charm were everything Billy Flynn should be.

I was also surprised by the creative and clever staging of this show, the snazzy black costumes, and the company playing multiple roles helped to keep the pace flying and the choreography was as breathtaking as I was hoping it to be.

It’s one of those shows where the cast and band were clearly having a great time and their passion for the show was contagious to the audience. I’ve seen a lot of West End shows and a lot of talented casts, Chicago’s are up there with the best I’ve seen.

If you like me haven’t got to see this in the last 15 years put it top of your list NOW and catch this before it closes. The sexiest, stylish show is taking its final bow, make sure you’re in the crowd whooping and cheering the razzle dazzle that is Chicago The Musical.

STARS : * * * * *

Theatre is Dead…Long Live Theatre

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The last few weeks have seen a few people ringing the death knell of theatre. Dom Joly referred to theatre as “Hell” and Charles Saatchi called it “Clapped Out”. I’m not so sure I agree.

Admittedly going to the theatre for me is as necessary as breathing, I can understand there are those who like Mr Joly would rather use their free time doing something else and that’s fine with me. Making TV shows with unsuspecting members of the public is not my cup of tea personally. However “Clapped out?” Hardly, we’re in the middle of a vibrant and exciting time theatrically I’d say.

Theatreland truly has something to offer everyone. From the musical romance of the long running Phantom of the Opera, the family friendly Shrek, the spine tingling Woman in Black or the disturbing and sick Philip Ridley play Mercury Fur which has just finished a run at the Trafalgar Studios. There really is something for every taste and mood. I had a great time at The Sunshine Boys the other night, the perfect antidote to a hard work at week. A week earlier, I’d been engrossed in the plays South Downs / The Browning Version, neither of which are light comedies, but gave me much to think about the touched me emotionally in a way I was not expecting.

The Society of London’s own figures for the first quarter of 2012 also seem to refute the naysayers. Audiences up by 11% and box office income up by 13%. The other weekend West End Live ran for its 7th year. Thousands gathered for the free events in Trafalgar Square over the weekend. When it originally launched four shows took part, this year every West End musical took part.

I know many bemoan the fact there are a plethora of naff musicals on, but the buzz Viva Forever! caused this week I think shows how keen people are for a feel good night out, and why shouldn’t theatre provide that? In the current climate, anything that provides a lift to people’s soul’s is a good thing. (Plus the creative team of Judy Crammer and Jennifer Saunders should ensure this is a fab show).

Shows that have not even opened are selling out fast and not just the aforementioned jukebox musicals. Michael Grandage’s new season of 5 plays at the Noel Coward Theatre is selling out fast, due in part to its star casting  of Simon Russell Beale, Sheridan Smith, Ben Wishaw, Judi Dench, David Walliams, Daniel Radcliffe and Jude Law. The £10 tickets at each show are also a positive step to make theatre affordable.

Let’s not forget that Lord Lloyd Webber has just taken to our screens to find Jesus for his revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, soon aswell. Tickets are already on sale and an additional date has been added to the O2 as the first one sold out, this is all prior to the leading man even being chosen! Mel C and Tim Minchin being cast has been a positive piece of casting which I’m sure has helped to shift a good deal of the tickets.

So I’d counter those negative voices. Clapped out? Hardly it’s kicking and screaming. Hell? to some of us Mr Joly it’s heavenly.

Birthday by Joe Penhall – Royal Court Theatre – Review

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Joe Penhall’s new play takes a look at the NHS but in a more humourous but equally damning way as his most well known (and best, in my opinion) play Blue/Orange.

The humour mainly comes from the role reversal that the character Ed is in. He’s pregnant. Over the 90 minutes of the play we see how he and his wife cope with his going into and then the other side of labour.

Ed is splendidly played by Stephen Mangan and his wife Lisa who gave birth to their first child is played by Lisa Dillon. Their interplay and quips range from laugh out loud to desperately sad.

Llewella Gideon plays the midwife and gets huge mileage from playing the gruff character nurse with the heart of gold buried underneath.

Louise Brealey as the doctor  is a small but important role especially when she explains her decision not to have children contrasted with why Lisa and Ed have decided to have children.

It’s an enjoyable play but I did feel Joe Penhall went for the easy laughs rather than stretch himself and his audience. A shame as the reality he exposes regarding the disgraceful way the NHS treats some pregnant women I think could have been served better with less of the vulgar humour and language.

It’s no Blue/Orange (and it’s no Haunted Child either thankfully), it’s a fun night out nothing more, nothing less.

STARS : * * *