Elf The Musical – Dominion Theatre – Review

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Could I get in the Christmas spirit in Mid November? Well I tried with a visit to the stage adaptation of the film Elf. This show has been making headlines before it even opened due to its exorbitant ticket prices. So throughout the whole show, my mind was thinking “Is this show worth £200 per ticket?”

And as I left the theatre, I had to be honest, it’s just not worth the asking price and also pales in comparison to other shows in the West End. I was rather disappointed with the show. It has a bit of a cheap and tacky feel, the set and graphic backdrop are rather basic and the songs are all very similar. Sitting here less than 12 hours later, I honestly can’t really remember any of the songs.

The cast do a good job with the material they’ve been given, Ben Forster as Buddy the Elf carries and steals the show. Joe McGann as his businessman father plays the straight role well. Kimberly Walsh gives a good turn as the love interest but she only gets one solo number which was a shame as I felt she could have given so much more. Mark McKerracher as Santa was a bit of a let down, his accent flitted between English and American which was frustrating.

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There were two tap dancing numbers which were well choreographed and good fun, but as the stage hadn’t been miked up, we couldn’t get the full sound of the taps going and they were drowned out by the orchestra which meant the effect of the routines was lost.

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My biggest gripe was the complete lack of adapting this for a UK audience. Hundred of years of pantomime tradition totally ignored. There was NO interaction with the audience when on several occasions there were perfect opportunities to include the youngsters and those young at heart into the onstage action. Too many Americanisms in the script could have been adapted easily and I also think for a family show there were an unnecessary amount of innuendos.

It saves itself with a magical flying sleigh and snow falling on audience at the end which leaves you in the Christmas spirit. It’s worrying that I’m saying the best bits of the show are two technical elements rather than the actually content.

It had the soulless feel of all that’s wrong with the commercialisation of Christmas. If you’re contemplating taking your family to see a Christmas show in London over the holiday period there are much better (Slava’s Snowshow for example) and cheaper ones you can visit and a whole host of better non-Christmas shows in the West End you could see.

Sorry if I sound like Scrooge but I love Christmas and the theatrical traditions that go with it, but I hope this show doesn’t become one of them.

STARS: ★ ★

The Bald Prima Donna – Upstairs at the Gatehouse – Review

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Eugene Ionesco’s works are seldom on in the capital unfortunately. The Bald Prima Donna, is his earliest work and Slip of The Lip present this quirky and fun piece of theatrical absurdity with a minimalistic set and Ionesco’s nonsensical dialogue flowing thick and fast.

The Martin’s have popped over to the Smith’s who live in a comfortable London suburb, one Friday night. What unfolds is not your usual naturalistic play, but rather a pertinent observation on the vacuous nonsense most of us spend our time talking about! Therein lies the inherent humour of the piece and there were plenty of moments where we chuckled and laughed out loud at the absurdity presented before us. Whilst acknowledging to ourselves that we too probably sound like this sometimes.

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco's strange world with great abandon,

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world with great abandon,

Peter Eastbrook as Mr Martin had a wonderfully deadpan delivery of his lines which only heightened the humour. Perhaps the most obtuse and crazy lines are delivered by the Fireman portrayed with a wonderful nervousness by Guy Remy. Alice Devine is a feisty Mrs Martin and Griselda Williams being the mumsy linchpin of the piece. Brian Merry brings a brooding menace to Mr Smith. Annie McKenzie rounds off the cast with an exuberant performance as the maid Mary.

Paul Hoskins direction allows the surreal world of the play to be brought to life and he allows the script to draw us in I’m pleased to say. This is not an easy play to perform as the fluidity of script and thought means the actors have to be concentrating constantly. They ably threw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world. Yet they also used it as a mirror to our own world and the repetitive speech patterns we all use and the awkward silences that permeate conversations.

As it is his first play, it lacks some of the refinement of Ionesco’s later works. It’s not his best piece but is an enjoyable romp through our incongruous world of speech and miscommunication. Theatre of the Absurd is often seen as a niche of the theatre world, but I find Ionesco’s work much more accessible than most of Beckett’s so don’t be put of if you’re unsure what to expect. I was pleased to finally get to see a production of this rarely performed piece.

STARS : ★ ★ ★

The Mentalists – Wyndham’s Theatre – Review

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Stephen Merchant makes his West End debut in a revival of Richard Bean’s The Mentalists. I’m a huge fan of Stephen Merchant’s being an avid follower of his TV work ever since The Office. So I was looking forward to seeing him live finally. Previous readers of my blog will know I was hugely disappointed with Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors . Would this play change my mind on him as a writer?

It’s a two-hander set in a grubby London hotel. Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri are the protagonists Ted and Morrie. They’re close friends, with Morrie doing a favour for Ted when we meet them. They make an excellent choice of casting and bring their slightly unusual characters to life. As the play becomes more serious towards the end Morrie’s care and concern for Ted is quite movingly portrayed.

Steffan Rhodri as Morrie and Stephen Merchant as Ted

Steffan Rhodri as Morrie and Stephen Merchant as Ted

However the writing felt very “clunky”. Too often lines are in the script that are there simply for a laugh rather than as part of the organic text of the play. Too many of the lines feel contrived. Reading the programme Richard Bean admits that quite a bit of the material in the play is from his stand-up days. It shows far too easily and means it lunges from one stand-up gag to the next rather inelegantly.

It has some pathos which is quite touching but again its not developed enough for me, as it is building it’s interrupted for a gag. Which diminished any emotion that was building.

The actors give good performances, it’s just that the script doesn’t do their talents any favours. As I left I was glad to have seen it, but it will go in the “enjoyable enough night out but instantly forgettable” category of theatre for me.

 

STARS : ★ ★ ★

 

The Importance of Being Earnest – Vaudeville Theatre – Review

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eventImage_289I’m becoming a bit of a Vaudeville Theatre “groupie” – this is my third visit there this year! This time to see Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

This classic piece of theatre is revived again in the West End, this time with the twist of David Suchet playing Lady Bracknell. He makes the role his own, with looks and intonation that bring plenty of laughs from the audience. The infamous “a handbag?” scene he gives a refreshing difference to. He avoids veering off into pantomime dame thankfully.
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Oscar Wilde’s humour and observations are as witty as ever, he always takes things to extremities with his own views on marriage and society shining through. The cast have got their comic timing just right and it flows effortlessly.

Philip Cumbus as Algernon Mocrieff is the “bumbering” and enthusiastic central character, he puts on a great show, eliciting some brilliant laugh out loud moments, especially in the muffin eating scene in Act 2. His foil is John Worthing played by Michael Benz. These two interact perfectly and feed of each others energy and performances wonderfully.
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For me though the stand out performance was Imogen Doel as the lovestruck Cecily. On occasions I think her performances eclipsed David Suchet. She certainly got the biggest laughs and her flirty and rambunctious characterisation was sublime to watch. I hope we see more of her on the West End stage after this.

Michelle Dotrice’s vast experience as a comedy actress shows as Miss Prism, her physical comedy and comic timing never miss a beat. Whilst her role isn’t very large she gets the most from it and is wonderful to watch.

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Adrian Noble’s direction keeps everything moving at swift pace and the action is wonderfully enacted in Peter McKintosh’s set and costumes, keeping it in the stuffy Victorian era.

It is a fairly superficial night out at the theatre, perhaps a bit of a “guilty pleasure”.  If you fancy a theatre trip which will purely entertain you, leave you smiling and witness a fine comic cast then grab a ticket for this.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Did It Live Up To My Expectations?? – War Horse – New London Theatre – Review

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War_horse_new_posterAfter my post last week several theatre chums said before I went to see War Horse ; “I hope it lives up to your expectations and doesn’t disappoint you.”

That’s always the challenge with a long running and hugely successful show. I have to say War Horse didn’t live up to my expectations, it EXCEEDED them. I think it’s the first time a show has surpassed the expectations and hype in my mind.

So how did it manage to do this?

I think it surprised me in so many ways, firstly I wasn’t expecting the musical narration which I loved. It gave the piece a grounding in the period and added a layer of texture to the piece. The music set the emotional tone from joy to poignancy. The score added a cinematic element to the production that really added to the atmosphere. (The Soundtrack CD is now on my wish list, it’s THAT good)

Secondly the puppetry is really something to behold. I had excellent seats very near the stage and I was just in awe of the skill of the puppeteers bringing the animals to life. I also couldn’t believe the size of the horses – they’re huge! The whole spectacle and scale of the show is incredible.

The puppetry is really quite something when done at this size.

The puppetry is really quite something when done at this size.

Thirdly I surprised myself by how emotionally engaged I became with the characters and story. It is a truly horrific period of human history. Yet War Horse manages to get to the essence of the horrors of war and show that those on both sides are suffering. I enjoyed the fact that the French and German characters spoke their respective languages, that aided to the realism and whilst I can’t speak a word of German it was nice to be able to put my GCSE French skills to the test. In many ways it wasn’t what they were saying but how they said it that impacted the audience.

The final battle was also an epic piece of theatre and I don’t use that word lightly. It’s a show that has got its balance right, there isn’t spectacle just for spectacles sake. It is used wisely and to jolt the audience.

It is not hard to see why this has had such a phenomenal success and I hope it continues for many more years to come as it is one of the most impacting pieces of theatre I’ve seen.

I spoke in my previous post about “theatrical alchemy” and how this piece has achieved that via its combination of writing, direction, set, puppetry, music and cast. It is truly a theatrical gold standard to measure other theatre trips against going forward.

I hope as and when you get to see it that your expectations are exceeded just as mine were.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★  (Unmissable)

ps.  I recommend looking at the free documentary and video diaries related to War Horse on iTunes U.

The Woman in Black – Fortune Theatre – Review (BOO!)

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The Woman in Black is a perennial favourite in the West End. Judging by the packed out crowd that was there when I recently saw it, I can’t see its successful run of 26 years abating anytime soon. I have to say I think that is helped by it being on the GCSE syllabus, the vast majority that were there were student (both UK and foreign) groups. They were on their best behaviour though and judging from the shrieks and screams got into the spirit of the show.

I found it an enjoyable evening out. The ghost story is told in an imaginative way. Arthur Kipps has hired the help of a young actor to help him tell his experiences and ghost story to enable him to exorcise it from his life and help with the catharsis needed.

Don't turn the lights out. ©Tristram Kenton 09/12 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550  Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Don’t turn the lights out.
©Tristram Kenton

Thus follows the tale being told by the cast of two playing all the parts. Whilst it is a ghost story there are a few laughs along the way. I enjoyed the way the Julian Forsyth and Anthony Eden played the various other roles and brought them to life.

©Tristram Kenton

©Tristram Kenton

Is it scary though? Personally I didn’t think so, it’s more like a ghost train, a few “boo!” moments that make you jump in a few places (although several of those I thought were easy to telegraph) but there is nothing foreboding or sinister about it. I felt it veered into the realm of cliché far too often. The title character is just not scary enough.

If you fancy a different night out compared to the array of musicals in the West End then The Woman in Black is a good option, just don’t expect it to send too many shivers down your spine.

STARS : ★ ★ ★

Thanks to London Theatres for the ticket.

Kettner’s Restaurant – Review

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No surprise that as a theatre blogger, I love going to the theatre in the West End. It’s my favourite part of London. My knowledge of places to eat before or after a show has increased over the years but there are far too many bland chain restaurants everywhere for my liking.

So it was a delight the other week to descend upon Kettner’s with 9 other London theatre bloggers (thanks to Rebecca of OfficialTheatre.com for gathering us all together!) and put our critical eyes and taste buds to the task of reviewing this West End Restaurant.

Its location is perfect, slap bang in the heart of Theatreland overlooking the Palace Theatre. It is ideally situated within a short walk of all the West End Theatres. I’ve walked past it many a time and to my chagrin never ventured inside – shame on me!

It is a venue steeped in history, it is 150 years old next year and a book about its famous visitors, meetings and ghosts will provide a riveting read I’m sure. It oozes class and style.

We sampled the Pre-Theatre menu but they do a full A La Carte menu, afternoon tea, lunches and Sunday lunch. So bear it in mind for those. The two course Pre-Theatre menu I went for was a main of Pan Fried Sea Trout, Sundried Tomato Risotto with a Tapenade dressing. Which was delicious!

My delicious main course of Sea Trout

My delicious main course of Sea Trout

Pudding didn’t disappoint either, a Chocolate pot with Madeleines was a calorific way to end dinner. Alas no picture exists of this as I tucked in too fast!

The bar area is ideal for a catch up and drinks with friends in addition there are private booths and private rooms  should you want a more formal gathering place.

They also run a selection of events and entertainment, have a look at their website for more info.

With so much tradition and art under attack in Soho, this is a special place. I wish I’d discovered it years ago and it’ll now become my “go to” for pre-theatre dining and for catching up over drinks with other theatre folk in London.

 

American Buffalo – Wyndham’s Theatre, London – Review

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David Mamet’s classic play American Buffalo comes to the West End with a stellar cast and a very limited 10 week run. Will it become the ticket to try to get? I saw it last night and I’d say it’s definitely the show to catch in the West End above all others over the next 10 weeks.

I’ve made it no secret on this blog about my admiration for David Mamet, his plays, films and other writings about theatre/film/politics  have had a profound effect on me as I completed my BA in Theatre Studies at Rose Bruford (I focused on his works for one of my main assignments), as an actor, producer and as a human being. If you’ve never witnessed a play of his, go and see American Buffalo his seminal work. His writing is erudite, witty and intense.

A highlight for me last night was getting to actually meet David Mamet who was in the audience just in front of me. Sometimes meeting your hero can be disappointing, not so last night. However that’s a post for a day or so. Back to the play.

This is a three hander set in the junk shop of Don Dubrow. John Goodman couldn’t have been more ideally cast. His bearing and nuanced performance as Don gives the play its centre and axis point between the volatile Bob and intimidating Teach.

John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damien Lewis in action.

John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damien Lewis in action.

Tom Sturridge’s star is in ascendancy at present and his performance here will certainly continue that. Bob is a complicated character, struggling with addiction and not quite with it mentally. Tom Sturridge doesn’t allow him to become a figure of pity though or a cliché. He is the heart of the play.

Damien Lewis revels in his character Teach. His transformation into a hard talking and criminal Teach is startling. He provides much of the wit along with the violence and intensity of the piece.

Mamet has a way of writing male dialogue that is authentic as well as rhythmic. I really noticed this in American Buffalo the pace and punch of the dialogue was a joy to watch. Needless to say there are expletives aplenty. Those that know me find it a bit of a paradox that I enjoy Mamet so much despite my usual disdain for potty mouthed plays. Mamet doesn’t write this way for shock value or because he has run out of words. His scripting is tight, intelligent and precise that’s why the expletives work.

Daniel Evans as director allows the characters and text to speak. He’s brought this play alive, keeping it set in the 1970’s is wise and the set by Paul Wills frames the action wonderfully.

Mamet can sometimes be seen as a very “blokey” writer, and I’ll be interested to read what female critics thought of this play. For me though it really encapsulates how men communicate or rather miscommunicate. Daniel Evans makes this observation in the program; “Mamet says something really interesting about his dialogue. He says that his characters never speak the desire, they only speak that which they think will bring about the desire.” In the 40 years since this play was written, I don’t think too much has changed in the way men communicate.

Catch them whilst you can.

Catch them whilst you can.

I can imagine tickets for this are pretty hard to come by already, but make sure you get one somehow, as writing, directing and acting like this is well worth your time and money to catch.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

To see what others thought check out the reviews compilation at OfficialTheatre.com

A Fine Bright Day Today – Miller Centre Theatre Company – Review

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A-Fine-Bright-Day-Today-posterSeeing A Fine Bright Day Today was really nice! I know “nice”is a fairly nondescript word, but I’m not sure what else best describes this charming, and gentle play by Philip Goulding.

I don’t see “nice” as a negative either, so much theatre veers onto the offensive, “edgy” or harrowing (and there is a place for this), that it was a refreshing change to be sat immersed in a world that was like the serene lapping of the sea that forms the backdrop for this play.

It certainly gets you thinking as it examines the existential ideas of dwelling on the past and being fearful of the future. Yet it does so in a subtle way. It’s a play of pondering rather than one that rams its agenda down your throat.

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The small cast of three give nuanced performances, Mary-Rose Goodliffe as Margaret endears us to her closed and fearful character. Whilst David Kay as Milton is superb as the interloping American tourist that helps her to see beyond the small world she is trapped in. Micha Patman as daughter Rebecca plays an excellent foil to both Margaret and Milton as she helps to bring them together.

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Gail Bishop’s direction keeps the story moving along with wonderfully constructed segues so that there is no lull between the scenes which I especially liked. She allows the strong characterisation to come through the story telling. I loved her set design, which encapsulated the coast and homeliness of the play perfectly.

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I highly recommend you catch this play. It’s refreshingly different from many modern plays and it was nice to have a nice night out at the theatre!

 

DISCLAIMER : I know the director very well and one of the cast but didn’t allow that to bias my review too much.  I enjoyed this play thanks to their hard work and the excellent choice of playwright that Gail chose to direct.

Di and Viv and Rose – Vaudeville Theatre, London – Review

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6218-fitandcrop-560x350My first play of 2015 has set the standard high with this poignant, moving and excellently executed piece of theatre.

It starts with a punchy, quick series of scenes that set up the action that is to follow. We follow the eponymous characters as they move into their shared university house and the trials and triumphs that occur during these formative years. I found myself reminiscing about those that I shared my student residences with. I only keep in sporadic touch with one, the rest have drifted off and I’ve no idea where they are (reading this review perhaps?). These three characters however firm a strong bond and we then follow their lives after university.

No surprise that there are some dramatic and unexpected turns in their lives. However the events are not contrived, they are just “life”. It was this sense of realism that particularly struck me as I looked back on my life since leaving uni. Life seldom goes as planned, it’s a journey and following these three divergent yet united lives illuminated my own life. Friendship like life changes as we grow and change ourselves.

Amelia Bullmore’s script is witty, heartfelt, realistic and crafted. She gives each character an authenticity which translates from the stage to the audience. She’s a writer I’ll be keeping an eye out for any future work. I hope there is much more to come from this talented writer.

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The cast of three deliver performances that are outstanding. Tamzin Outhwaite (who I last saw steal the show in Raving) delivers again. She is truly one of may favourite stage actresses. She manages to really transcend the stage. Her portrayal of the at one moment boisterous and then vulnerable Di drew us all in. A testament to her prowess was the gasp she elicited at one moment (no spoilers!) from several audience members.

Jenna Russell is the bubbly and effervescent Rose, she’s the pivot point of the trio’s relationship and how things pan out for her is unexpected but her character mucks along. The humour she brings to the stage is delightful.

Samantha Spiro plays the uptight and slightly stuffy Viv. Her character shows that hard work and focusing pays off. She gives texture to Viv though and enables us to see why she is so driven and that focusing can also lead to being blinkered to those around you.

Anna Mackmin’s direction keeps the action moving and the attention firmly on the three ladies lives.

I hope this is a sign of things to come along theatrically in 2015 for the West End. A funny, gutsy, thought provoking and well written play, executed with skill and understanding by the cast, is what we need more of!

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Thanks to SeatPlan and Offical Theatre for the tickets!