**** (4 Stars)
Is it a ‘Memory’ worth keeping?
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ground-breaking show is on the road once more! Based on T S Eliot’s cat poems, the show embarks upon a new tour all over the UK and Europe. Locations include Plymouth, Cardiff, Birmingham and Rome.
For those of you interested in performing, there’s a workshop with the performers themselves at each location, so check it out! It gives you a flavour of the casts’ job on stage. You will also appreciate how hard they work, as it is easy to forget they’re in full cat make up, 80s leg warmers and lycra cat suits. I must give recognition to the hard-working production team, as each outfit is marvellously hand-painted.
The innovative lighting design, by Harold Eaton, showed off fantastically the high energy, feline frenzy of the cast’s flawless performances. Performers include Sophia Ragavelas, Zizi Strallen and Filippo Strocchi. With the mysterious ‘Macavity’, ‘Magical Mister Mistoffelees’ and dazzling duo ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’, the show is bursting with character and classy entertainment. Mixing heart-wrenching, goose-bump making songs such as ‘Memory’, made famous by the legendary singer Elaine Paige, along with sassy Rock ‘n’ Roll tunes including ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’, means it’s a show for all the family.
Chrissie Cartwright re-creates Gillian Lynne’s classic choreography and Trevor Nunn’s original direction to make this show a spectacle worth seeing.
So my answer is yes, this is most definitely a ‘Memory’ to keep hold of for generation to come.
CATS is currently on a UK/European Tour, full details here: http://www.catsthemusical.com/tickets/2013-ukeurope-tour/
**** (4 Stars)
Grand Opera House, York - 26 May, 2014
Arriving at the Grand Opera House in York on Monday night, I felt as though I’d stumbled across a weird sort of time warp. Dozens of middle-aged couples and large groups of friends dressed up to the nines and swathed in large red feather boas (yes, even the men) filled the auditorium. 20th Century Boy is a musical inspired by the life of rock legend Marc Bolan and his band T-Rex, and the majority of the audience had no doubt experienced the story of the outrageously-dressed Glam Rocker the first time around.
The story unfolds through the narration from both the characters of Bolan and his son, Rolan, who was only two years old when his father died in a car accident in 1977. We learn that the boy who aspired to be “bigger than Elvis” achieved a string of great classic hits, suffered a breakdown of his marriage, alienated many of those close to him, fathered a son from his relationship with his former backing singer, Gloria Jones, and eventually died after a drink-fuelled celebration of his forthcoming 30th birthday. His now grown-up son travels from Los Angeles to London to discover the story behind the father he never knew, and meets many of the characters who played a key part in Bolan’s life.
The cast is strong, particularly Warren Sollars in the title role who certainly looks and sounds the part. Strong voices and performances also come from Katia Sarenti playing Helen Shapiro and Lucy Sinclair playing Bolan’s wife, June Child. Credit must go to both Donna Hines who played the part of Gloria in the first act, and to a seamless transition into the role by understudy Lakesha Cammock in the second act.
The overall energy of the show is good, but does seem to flag when the songs stop, and the dialogue takes over, particularly in the second act. The first act has almost the atmosphere of a rock concert rather than a selection of songs in a musical, and, if I wasn’t around to appreciate them in the seventies, I certainly recognised hit after hit as coming from the Billy Elliot film soundtrack ("Ride a White Swan", "Born to Boogie", "Children of the Revolution" amongst others).
This lively musical certainly delighted an audience who gave it a standing (or bopping) ovation on Monday night, and will no doubt have many of those recently introduced to the music for the first time reaching for their I pads to see what they missed – feather boas and glitter optional.
20th Century Boy is currently on a national tour! Buy your tickets here: http://www.20thcenturyboythemusical.co.uk/
***** (5 Stars)
Salisbury Playhouse - 30 April, 2014
The new touring production of Betty Blue Eyes provides an evening packed with laughter and wholehearted fun. Don’t be alarmed by the pig on the programme as there is much more to the musical than a puppeteered pig and light-hearted songs!
Set in 1947 post-war Britain, the musical tells the story of a humble chiropodist, Gilbert Chilvers and his ambitious wife, Joyce. The piece deals with the hunger that consumed Britain in the 1940s as rationing continued long after the war. It is not only hunger for food that dominates the thoughts of this small Yorkshire town, as the hunger for social status underpins the actions of the characters. The witty lyrics and catchy melodies mask the darker elements of the script and demonstrate how singing was vital for the upkeep of moral.
The chorus moved seamlessly and the ingenious choreography captivated and wowed the audience. Haydn Oakley found the sensitivity of Gilbert Chilvers and the audience warmed to his nervous disposition and jittery habits which Oakley personified faultlessly. Amy Booth-Steel also embodied Joyce’s vigour and determination for social status, both physically and in her wistful solo number "Nobody".
Although the acting and movement are superb, it is the ingenious script and delightful score that make the evening. The simplicity of the characters who find themselves in outrageously funny circumstances is where the true comedy lies. In no other musical would the audience be so infatuated by a pig, helped of course by the catchy tune of "Betty Blue Eyes", which allows you to fall willingly into this absurd story.
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with a talented cast and a score that leaves you singing for days.
Betty Blue Eyes is currently on a UK Tour - full info here: http://www.bettyblueeyesthemusical.com/tour/
Secret Theatre receives an Exceptional Award from Arts Council England!
(Interview by Sean Brooks)
Originally conceived as a year-long project whilst the multi-million pound redevelopment takes place, the Lyric Hammersmith recently announced its Secret Theatre project is going to be extended for another year to embark on a UK tour!
We spoke to two of the Secret Theatre cast members Katherine Pearce and Hammed Animashaun about their experience of the project and the upcoming tour as well as offering some great advice for all you young people.
Tell us about yourself and how you got into theatre:
KP: Well, from being very little I would perform for anybody that would watch. My mum was really good with stories – she used to put on all the voices – and so I got into amateur dramatics and youth theatre. I took Drama for GCSE and A Level, but it was only when I went to Moscow Arts Theatre on a taster course that I got serious about wanting to go into theatre. I then went to train at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – it took a couple of attempts – and I’ve been pretty lucky to be in work.
HA: I didn’t want to be an actor at all; I wanted to play basketball. I kind of just fell into acting. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh and being an entertainer – I was the class clown, which the teachers hated! My drama teacher saw something in me and forced me to join Half Moon Young People’s Theatre in Limehouse. A new agency opened up in Hoxton and my drama teacher told me to think about signing up, but I was thinking about going to uni instead. I was studying Philosophy with Drama when my agent called by about an audition for Mogadishu, I got a part and I’ve been working ever since. I had to drop out of uni, but I really wanted to finish and get my degree because that’s important to my mum, so I’ve always said I’ll go back to school. As I’ve been working ever since, I don’t know when I’ll get a chance!
What drew you to Secret Theatre?
KP: I’m going to be honest, I didn’t quite know what it was. Sean Holmes (Artistic Director of the Lyric) came to see Port at the National where I had a really tiny part, he had a word with me about doing theatre in a different way and, even though I haven’t been in the industry a long time, it felt really special to me. I did the audition and it was only really when we started that I realised the scale of what we were doing.
HA: Sean and I were doing Cinderella here (the Lyric) and he took me aside and had a chat about the concept of Secret Theatre and he asked if I wanted to be part of it. I researched all the people involved and I was nervous about the whole thing – I hadn’t been to drama school, so I was worried about feeling out of my depth.
KP: It’s just really refreshing to be doing something different. For Show 2, we sat round doing it in the traditional Southern American accent, and it was so boring.
HA: That’s when we started to realise what Secret Theatre was about. We were slipping into the norm and we didn’t want to do that. I think young people really relate to that. What’s great is we’ve noticed a much younger audience, who seem to really enjoy it and respond to it.
How does the creative process work?
KP: Well, we had to see what we were like as a company before deciding on any piece. We played ball games and did different exercises for like a month. It was only after that that we decided what sort of thing we wanted to do – we were constantly generating new material.
HA: Sean told us what he was thinking, but he didn’t tell us the casting. With Show 3, we had no idea what was going to happen. For me, Show 4 was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
KP: But even then, with Show 3, parts still got changed. We try not to say ‘no’, which is a really good thing. To have to do something you’re not entirely comfortable or interested in is great for your determination. We’re actually about to work on a scene that’s really difficult, but I’m excited to see how we’re going to make it work. It’s so refreshing.
HA: What’s brilliant about this company is Sean didn’t know all our collective talents. We can all sing and some of us play instruments. He inadvertently brought together a really talented group of people; it kind of just happened.
KP: Hammed is a great steel drummer! I don’t think it’s not a coincidence that Hammed is a great drummer and musician as well as great coming timing. They complement each other.
Do you think it helps being an ensemble?
KP: Absolutely, Show 4 is a different show every time we do it as there are things that are constantly changed. We know enough about each other to be comfortable and whatever I do; I know others would be able to cope.
HA: It definitely keeps you on your feet. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. What’s great is normally in this industry, I would never get cast in a role like this. I had to really dig deep.
What do you think are the obstacles in the industry?
HA: It’s really easy to get typecast.
KP: The only similarity between me and Marilyn Monroe (who my character is based on) is that we’re blonde. We’re about to do a scene that we’d normally never get cast in, so it’s really exciting. It’s important because this story happens all over the world, not just to one type of person. Why does Juliet have to be the same every time? She’s always a pretty waif of a girl, which is fine, but it’s not relatable. Why can’t we have some alternatives? Let’s take James Bond, Daniel Craig isn’t the tall, dark and handsome of the previous Bonds and it kind of broke the mould.
HA: It’s frustrating for actors. I’m always cast as a big, clumsy guy and whilst I do enjoy doing that, my role in Show 4 is so different. I think there are no small parts only small actors. It’s about taking small parts and turning them into something huge and with Show 4, I’m able to sink my teeth into it.
What advice do you have for our young people?
HA: Stay positive. Stay on top of your craft. What’s amazing about this generation of young people is it’s getting bigger and bigger and there’s so much talent. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough jobs, so you need to stay positive. The calls aren’t always going to be coming in but don’t let that beat you. Stay positive, stay true to yourself. For any young actors out there, don’t let typecasting beat you. Keep pushing. Don’t let the industry beat you. It’s a great industry but there are flaws. You need to be able to take rejection. You need to be resilient. I did the whole community theatre thing, I didn’t train and I’m really pleased I did that. There’re some great actors, particularly young people, who are pushing. That’s the only way you can break it. If you want it, keep pushing.
KP: Do it for yourself. Don’t do it for the money or the fame.
HA: Definitely not the money!
KP: I had a whole summer of going for one line in Holby, one line in Being Human and I wasn’t getting them. You can create your work. Reading keeps your creativity going. There aren’t enough jobs so the only the way artists can survive is to create your own work.
HA: I’ve been with Metronomes Steel Orchestra for almost six years, and we play at Notting Hill Carnival, and that keeps my mind busy. Not only as a musician; it allows me to think about other things. You’re always going to have nerves, it’s all about how you control them. I’m nervous every night! Don’t let nerves beat you.
Thank you so much to Kat and Hammed for chatting with us! We wish you the best of luck with Show 5 and the upcoming tour – we can’t wait to see more!
***** (5 Stars)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre - Monday 17 March, 2014
Telling a mesmerizing tale of love, courage and sacrifice Birdsong is the hit stage show based on Sebastian Faulks’ best-selling novel adapted for stage by Rachel Wagstaff.
The curtain rises to reveal what one can only describe as phenomenal set, enormous amounts of credit must be given to the arts and design team as the set presents the mood of the play from the very beginning. Over the course of the play, the set is used to its full potential, switching between a great living room and the harrowing trenches of the Great War.
The action throughout this play makes the production truly gripping. The distinct flashbacks from the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War and Amiens, France switch from one another seamlessly and create a true sense of life through the eyes of protagonist Stephen Wraysford. The flawless transitions shown would not have been possible however, without the extremely high quality of acting brought to the character from George Banks whose compelling performance throughout is deeply moving.
The use of lighting in the production is of very high standard, with any set changes being out of sight to the audience. Furthermore, the lighting highly emphasises the scenes in which a tunnel is featured making the moment both impressive and intriguing due the atmosphere created.
Each member of the company deserves praise for their work with each cast member delivering a truly realistic approach to their character. The on-stage chemistry between the company is more than evident as each of them work brilliantly in unison with one another.
Birdsong, directed brilliantly by Alastair Whatley marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War grasping every emotion a soldier would have felt on the battlefield. Receiving a standing ovation from the audience, this heart-wrenching, poignant and powerful piece of theatre may turn out to be one of the most memorable pieces of theatre to reach the stage.
Birdsong is currently on a UK Tour. For all the information click here: http://www.birdsongthetour.com