Once will not be enough. Once – Phoenix Theatre London – Review

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Once Title

I had few preconceptions or expectations as I made my way to The Phoenix Theatre to see Once last night, I only found out it was based on a film at the weekend when a friend told me! All I knew was that it had won a slew of Tony Awards on Broadway and it was set in Dublin. A city I fell in love with when I visited it in 2011.

Once is a musical that is so emotionally, musically and theatrically different to anything else on a West End stage at present. Since leaving the theatre its melodies, emotions, images and thoughts have lingered like few productions do.

The cast are actor/musicians each playing a part and various instruments. The playing is superb and invokes the emotions the main characters Guy and Girl go through, whilst telling the story of the book.  It really is  an ensemble piece, each person has their own story which you’re drawn into. The ensemble stay onstage throughout and accompany the songs as applicable.

Declan Bennett as Guy and Zrinka Citesic as Girl

Declan Bennett as Guy and Zrinka Citesic as Girl

This is a  lyrical show and has a more relaxed pace in keeping with the people and setting. This was a refreshing change. It was lovely to sit back and be charmed by this gentle tale.

Bob Crowley’s set is one of the most simple, yet creative and clever I’ve seen. An effective use of mirrors and lighting takes us through various locations even though the set is a fixed Dublin bar. A nice touch is the bar is open for business before the show and during the interval if you fancy a drink onstage!

The pre-show onstage bar with cast playing for us, a brilliant idea.

The pre-show onstage bar with cast playing for us, a brilliant idea.

For me though, I finally feel like there has been a musical written for me,  about people, and emotions that are relevant to me, a youngish man in a city with his own hopes and dreams. I must also highlight that any men out there who say “I don’t like musicals” fear not if your other half suggests a trip to Once. It’s more like a shindig at your local with an emotional punch than a “jazz hands” musical you may have been dragged along to in the past.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s songs are gorgeous. I purchased the soundtrack straight after seeing the show, I was so keen to hear it again. On my way to work today listening to it in the car I was again blown away by the beauty of the melodies and lyrics. Being set it Dublin there are also a few that get your toes tapping too. The songs  If You Want Me and Falling Slowly have stayed with me like few melodies do after a musical.

This is a musical with soul. No superficiality, no glitz, no, this is an emotional tale told with raw heartfelt gusto. Just what the West End has been crying out for.

It’s a show about love and I’m head over heels for it. Once will not be enough for me I’ll be back soon to take it all in again.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tickets can be bought from : Shows In London

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Wicked – The Apollo Victoria Theatre – Review

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Wicked

I saw Wicked when it originally opened way back in 2006. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so the opportunity to revisit it all these years later was something I was keen to do.

How has it weathered these last 6 years?

Well it was a Tuesday night and the place was packed, with a hugely diverse bunch; tourists, families, couples, young, old and me the critic! The Apollo Victoria is a large theatre to still be packing the crowds into, the fact that this show is still doing that is testament to the quality of the show. Overhearing a few conversations during the interval also revealed a great many around me were on their second viewing (like me) or had been 3/4 times already. What keeps drawing people back for more?

Firstly it’s a well structured musical, it has a constant climb culminating in the jaw dropping Defying Gravity that closes  Act 1. This is then continued through Act 2. The story is a very clever take/prequel on the Wizard of OzWhich appeals to young and old alike. It has a moral to the tale, but it’s cleverly woven into the text and never feels preachy. I’d also forgotten how much humour there is in the show, some genuine laugh out load moments. It’s always argued that a musical needs a great story first and foremost, Wicked certainly does.

Musically it is a superb score, again I’d forgotten how good the songs are AND how witty and clever the lyrics are as well. I was reminded why this show caused such a stir when it arrived in London back in 2006, finally we had a new musical that wasn’t a rehash of some old pop songs. The songs cover the whole gamut of emotions from comical to tear-jerker to songs that just blow you away.

Normally I buy a programme before I take my seat, when I go to a show. Last night I thought “no need, got one from last time.” Yet the moment Act 1 was over I rushed out to foyer to purchase one as I HAD to know who this phenomenal cast was and especially who was playing Elphaba and Glinda.

One of the greatest Musical Theatre performances I've ever seen - Hayley Gallivan as Elphaba.

One of the greatest Musical Theatre performances I’ve ever seen – Hayley Gallivan as Elphaba.

Hayley Gallivan was Elphaba, in what is one of the best musical theatre performances I’ve ever seen, outstanding vocals, that literally had the hairs on the back of my neck raised as she sang, especially Defying Gravity. She commanded the stage as the “wicked” witch and communicated the journey this complicated character makes with skill and sensitivity.

Michelle Francis was the “good” witch Glinda in what was another sublime performance. Her interactions with Elphaba were superb and in her songs she got to show her fantastical musical talents.

The show is really all about those two characters, and rightly so, but the rest of the cast gave their all, to me that’s what I was most impressed with, the cast came out from first second and gave their all to this show and didn’t stop until the curtain fell at the end, to standing ovations and rapturous applause, whoops, cheers and me crying out “BRAVO!”

So what more could you want? Great score, clever lyrics, a story that’ll make you laugh and think, a cast going at full throttle , stunning costumes, a set that is magical and 2 of the best performances on the London stage. I certainly won’t be leaving it another 6 years before I return to be caught up in the magic of the witches that is Wicked.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

For great deals on tickets for Wicked go to Shows In London.co.uk

Burn the Floor – More of a Warm Glow with the Odd Spark and Crackle – Shaftesbury Theatre

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Burn the floor

Press night at Burn the Floor last night was more akin to a Strictly Come Dancing reunion as previous contestants, dancers and judges all came along to support Kristina Rihanoff, Robin Windsor and Karen Hauer.

Let me declare straight up I love Strictly Come Dancing. So the chance to see some of the action live wasn’t to be missed.

I must say though, Burn the Floor didn’t singe me or remove the bitter cold that we’re experiencing in the UK at present. It’s more a warm glow of a show with the odd spark and crackle.

The show has been going  14 years and so the casting of three Strictly dancers is a canny way to breath new life into this show. The biggest disappointment is how little Kristina and Robin dance and in fact they’re upstaged by the other dancers repeatedly, especially Karen Hauer who shines.

This is very much Karen’s show, she has the best dances including what is an astoundingly beautiful rumba set to Burn for You. It’s the stand out dance of the night for me and worth going to the show to see that, it’s emotive, dazzling and incredible.

Star of the show for me - Karen Hauer

Star of the show for me – Karen Hauer

The dances segue nicely into each other, the pace is fast, perhaps a little too fast as I’d like have seen some of the dances extended and developed rather than this machine gun approach. They’re accompanied by a great band and an amazing singer in Vonzell Solomon, Peter Saul Blewden was not in the same league as her though.

Act 2 certainly has more panache and power to it. Overall though this show was a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours but nothing more. The dancers give their all, but as I said for a show that bills Kristina and Robin they really should be doing more. The show gives no scope for their personalities to transcend to the audience, they’re lost in the crowd too many times.

A few times I was annoyed with the low-level lighting, it’s a dance show so I’d like to be able to see the dancers feet. The use of synthesisers on a few of the pieces, especially the Paso Doble gave a cheesy element which was a shame, this is a West End show and these elements exposed the shows provincial roots.

The ballroom dances for me were my favourite part including a gorgeous dance where two couples mirrored each other effortlessly. It’s a shame there were not more moments like this.

If you’re a Strictly fan you’ll enjoy this, Karen’s performances are definitely a must see. For me though it lacked the wow factor I was expecting. If I was a Strictly judge Robin and Kristina would get a “seven” (said in style of Len Goodman). Whereas Karen gets the ten.

STARS : ★ ★ ★

Tickets can be bought from Shows in London

The Mousetrap – St. Martin’s Theatre – Review

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25125 that's ALOT of nights

25125 that’s A LOT of performances

It’s been running for 60 years and so I thought it was time that I made the pilgrimage to see the world’s longest running play. Especially as I’ve just been in the Tom Stoppard spoof if it, The Real Inspector Hound.

MT 60 yrs

It is very much a play of its time (1952), but there is a certain charm and nostalgia in seeing a play that is assured of its place in theatrical history and isn’t trying to be anything but true to itself.

The cast give solid performances and make sure they don’t veer into the melodramatic or caricatures that it would be so easy for them to fall into. Stephen Yeo as the eccentric Christopher Wren and Zara Plessard as the tortured Mollie Ralston were the stand out performances for me. Whilst Michael Fenner gave a fine performance as the mysterious Mr Paravicini.

Due to the fact of its record-breaking run, it’s really something that anyone that is a theatre aficionado has to go and see. I’m glad I’ve gone to see it, it was nice to go along to a play which is a whodunit and exercise my mental faculties in working out who the murderer was. In many ways that’s what I enjoyed the most, it was refreshing to go to the theatre and see a play that is very different to what else is on, simply by the fact that it is a play from the past and a genre that is seldom written for the stage now. It was like being in a perpetual time capsule from the 50’s.

If like me you’ve had it on your list of “things I must get round to seeing”, I heartedly recommend you make the effort and go and see a piece of theatrical history in its diamond anniversary.

STARS : * * *

Photos from The Real Inspector Hound

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Here are a few photos from The Real Inspector Hound, which was on at The Bridewell Theatre in London the other week and in which I played the part of Moon.

The Cast of The Real Inspector Hound

The Cast of The Real Inspector Hound

Me relaxing backstage, just before curtain up.

Me relaxing backstage, just before curtain up.

I had to wear these shoes - I quite liked being 5 inches taller!

I had to wear these shoes – I quite liked being 5 inches taller!

"2 critics combining to achieve continuity" - me as Moon and James as Birdboot

“2 critics combining to achieve continuity” – me as Moon and James as Birdboot

"It's a whodunit man, look at it!"

“It’s a whodunit man, look at it!”

Why helloooo

Why helloooo

Anyone for tennis?

Anyone for tennis?

Inspector Hound (but is it the real one??)

Inspector Hound (but is it the real one??)

Those swamp boots are hard to remove

Those swamp boots are hard to remove

Bridge 4's?

Bridge 4’s?

Star of the show - Mrs Drudge

Star of the show – Mrs Drudge

"Ahh the final piece of the mystery"

“Ahh the final piece of the mystery”

"Are you the real inspector hound?"

“Are you the real Inspector Hound?”

Thanks to Michael Fair for the photos, and to all those that came and supported the show.

Theatre Etiquette – Guest Post

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Back in July of last year I commented on my post Standing Ovations, that a theatre etiquette post would be done at a future date. Well that date is now and I’m grateful to Namrata Shah for writing this guest post. Namrata works for Shows In London, check out their website for some great deals.

So over to Nams:

Theatre Etiquette

Watching a West End show is a magical experience: from the moment you step into one of the theatres’ auditoria your senses are treated to the stunning interior. The moment the curtain goes up, the hushed anticipation amongst the audience is palpable. As you journey through the scenes, you immerse yourself into the stories of the characters. And as the cast take their bows, you stand in ovation – left wanting more. Well, that’s “ideal” scenario for a perfect trip to the theatre.

On average, attending a theatre show is a yearly occurrence for many – and those who go, know there is a certain behaviour expected of them. For those new to the scene, it can be a daunting prospect. Just Google “Theatre Etiquette” and you’ll find scores of solemn posts on what is right and wrong. So Andrew Peterson, with over 25 years of experience in tickets for Shows in London, talks through his light-hearted version of the Dos and Don’ts of theatre-going.

Dress code?

The question most often asked at Shows in London is what should I wear at the theatre? The answer is: clothes. Whilst a loin-cloth might be technically acceptable it should only be worn by people with the body for it. Across the pond, on Broadway, it is more common to dress formally; although full-blown evening gowns and tuxedos are no longer required, you’re sure to turn heads if you arrive in ripped jeans and ill-fitting hooded sweatshirt, more frequently referred to as a “hoodie” by today’s youth. Thankfully though, here in London, there is no formal dress code.

Sounds during the performance

Another area of great debate amongst the theatreati is on the subject of noise in the auditorium. I believe it’s unreasonable to expect complete silence and stillness from a human audience – part of the beauty of theatre is the experience of a live performance and that comes with its very own collection of sound effects. Nevertheless, leaving a mobile phone able to ring during the show is completely unacceptable. Luckily it has been a while since I’ve heard the trill of a ringtone mid-performance – but the last time I did, it was an ill-fated young lady who had to root around her over-sized handbag whilst the audience were treated to a rendition of “the crazy frog”. This was a good 5 years after “the crazy frog” craze. If the surrounding weren’t so dark, I’m sure we’d have also witnessed an extremely red face.

In the same arena lies the question of whether it is acceptable to answer calls (no!) and check text messages (only if you are discreet and your phone doesn’t emit a phosphorescent glow similar to nuclear waste on TV shows from the 70s). I would take my cue from any tutting from fellow audience members. Until someone huffs-and-puffs, keep going!

Talking, however, is another matter. Gasps, cheers and screams (think Woman in Black) are fine. But frequent elucidations of the plot are a no-no. I remember a theatre goer who would lean over to his wife after every joke, with a lengthy explanation of why it was funny.

How about other bodily noises? I do feel sympathy for those afflicted with unexpected coughs, insofar as I feel bad that they’ll have to scramble past the entire row of seats and won’t be able to do it quickly or efficiently. My sympathy wears pretty thin when we approach the second or third minute of coughing, and they stay seated with no attempt to resolve the situation.

The expulsion of gases from any other orifice is completely unacceptable, as in any other social situation.

Refreshments

All theatres have well-stocked bars and snack stands. Of course, the pricing on these items don’t present value-for-money, but if you’ve forked out enough to purchase your theatre ticket, a few extra pounds on a drink or bite won’t break the bank.

The worst thing you could do is ‘bring your own..’. Snacks sold in the theatre are often chosen with great care, so as to create the least noise. Munching on crisps from a crinkly bag is a sure-fire way to get your fellow audience members’ knickers in a twist.

Children

Those without sprogs of their own, I find, are much less tolerant of young people’s behaviour in any public space – not just at the theatre. That said, some shows are completely inappropriate for younger audiences. Not just because the content might be rated, or even might go over their head. Children aren’t well known for their ability to sit still and stay focussed for huge lengths of time – and a 2 and a half hour show isn’t the place to test them.

I could wax lyrical on the subject of children at the theatre, but in short, if you’re not 100% certain that they won’t be a nuisance, arrange for a baby-sitter for the evening or the fail-safe option of a “sleepover at granny and grampa’s”.

Leaving before the end

Let’s face it. There will always be a time when a show fails to live up to expectations. The question now is – do you leave before the end? The interval duck-out is the easiest and most considerate option for all. But if you’ve found yourself at this juncture mid-performance, then you may leave under the following conditions only, with no exceptions: you are sitting in an aisle seat, near the back, and are not laden with much luggage. If your situation doesn’t fit the bill, then sorry – it’ll just be another hour-or-so till freedom!

Let us know if there are any other points of theatre etiquette that deserve a mention.