Friday, 15 February 2019

Beautiful Noise - Review

Lyric Theatre, London


Fisher Stevens

The producers of Thriller Live - now in its tenth year - presented the soulful and hearty vocals of Fisher Stevens as Neil Diamond in Beautiful Noise, on the West End stage for the first in a series of occasional future performances. This sweet gig however is strictly for Diamond fans who want to celebrate the life and music of the infamous solitary man, in the company of a live band and as much nostalgia as they can muster.

Telling the story of Neil Diamond’s rise to fame amid the birth of rock n roll and the glory of New York’s Brill Building, Stevens recounts countless Neil Diamond hits including ‘Cherry, Cherry’, ‘You’ll Be A Woman, Soon’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ - arguably the one that everyone was waiting for. It’s not hard to see how Diamond became one of the best songwriters in America, recognised to this day. Lyrically stunning but lesser known songs ‘I am... I said’ and ‘Play Me’ further reminded the audience just what a talent he is, in case there was any questioning… probably not given that Stevens recognised most of the front few rows of the audience from his tours up north! 

Despite the incredible repertoire, the show’s accompanying presentation of stock footage and photographs ultimately gave Beautiful Noise the feel of a wet evening at Butlins. This sensation is only re-inforced by it taking place amidst Shaftesbury Avenue's starry line up of hit shows, to say nothing of being performed on the stage of (the electrifying) Thriller Live on its night off. There is no doubting Diamond’s talent, nor Stevens’ prowess as a tribute singer too, (complete with shiny shirts and growling filler anecdotes) but there’s simply not enough substance here to warrant the ticket price to anyone other than die-hard fans.

A lacklustre night, albeit of gorgeous music and strictly for those who prefer both their jeans and their songs sung, blue.

Future performances on Mondays 10th June and 8th July and on tour
Reviewed by Heather Deacon

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Dracula - Review

The London Library, London


Adapted by Kate Kerrow
Directed by Helen Tennison

Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert

It may well have been a bloody good idea to stage Dracula in the London Library, amidst the very books and shelves that more than likely inspired Bram Stoker as he composed his Gothic horror classic. But much like the blood that the infamous Count sucked from his victims, so has Creation Theatre’s take on the tale drained nearly every drop of passion from Stoker’s beautifully penned original.

Helen Tennison’s  production assumes an audience familiarity with Stoker’s tale and characters and notwithstanding an overly detailed synopsis included in the pricey (£4) programme, it is left to the play’s two actors, Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert to assume a variety of roles and costumes as they attempt a curiously retrospective interpretation of the story. Unfortunately, their numerous characters are barely introduced, let alone (pun alert) fleshed out, and whilst the play’s setting within the Library’s grand Reading Room is unquestionably magnificent, the show itself proves a tedious and mediocre melodrama. 

No blood can obviously be splashed upon the hallowed walls of the St James’s Square building and so the special effects, such as they are, are conveyed by way of video projections onto the room’s curtains and pillars. The videos however have an insipidly low luminescence. This, combined with a directorial blandness that ignores for example the (very different) geniuses of a Werner Herzog or John Landis, means that these mini movies fail to frighten. Hell, even a spot of Hammer Films’ kitsch would not have gone amiss in a bid to give the evening even the faintest hint of a pulse. All the while Greenham and Lambert’s performances waver between deadly earnest and parody in a contrast that just doesn't work.

This website has long argued that good horror demands the suspension of the audience’s disbelief, ideally from a great height. Dracula at the London Library, albeit well intentioned, makes for anaemic theatre.

Runs until 1st March
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Monday, 11 February 2019

Greyscale - Review

The Vaults, London


Written by Joel Samuels and Madeline Gould
Directed by Roann McCloske

Tom Campion and Edie Newman
In the #MeToo era Madeleine Gould and Joel Samuels have written what could have been an interesting take on the subject of consent. A too short two-hander immerses the small audience into monologues from both actors, before they then meet on their first date.

Greyscale takes a relevant and unquestionably important topic as its theme, but its mechanism is at best unfinished, and at times a little troubling. There are moments during the 30-minute piece when the audience are invited to voice questions to the performers upon the issues raised. In the interests of anonymity, are all requested to keep their eyes closed while questions are being asked but there are nonetheless inherent risks here of rogue audience members “sneaking a peek” when eyes should be closed. How can an effective bond of trust, between disparate members of the public, be established in such a short window of time? And while questions were requested three times in the half hour, ultimately, for what purpose? For whilst questions may have been asked for, no answers or analysis were provided in response

The casts, and their respective genders and sexualities, alternate throughout the run - so the gig reviewed here could well be very different in its interpretation to audiences on other nights – performing on the night of this review were Tom Campion and Edie Newman. Timely perhaps, but in its current unsatisfying iteration, Greyscale lacks colour.

Runs until 17th March
Reviewed by Eris
Photo credit: Ali Wright

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Notre Dame de Paris - Review

London Coliseum, London


Music by Richard Cocciante
Lyrics by Luc Plamondon
Directed by Gilles Maheu

Richard Charest

They say context is key and thus two things are paramount prior to watching Notre Dame de Paris. Firstly, the show is firmly of its time: with Victor Hugo’s original work having been published in 1831 and taking place in 1482, equality of any sort is lacking; the second consideration is that this is a thoroughly French production and that any comparison with its West End contemporaries is moot. The emphasis here is on the "spectacular", rather than on the musical and the distinction cannot be underestimated. 

The narrative famously charts the arc of bell-ringer Quasimodo and his love for Esmerelda; a Romany who takes a poet as a husband, falls in love with a soldier and is herself the obsession of the (celibate) Archdeacon of Notre Dame. It’s quite the love rectangle, and that’s before the soldier’s betrothed comes into play. Needless to say, it does not end well - a happy ending would be difficult to achieve and at odds with Gothic literature.

In what proves to be a curious evening There are stellar vocal performances across the board; both earnest and powerful. Gringoire (Richard Charest) sets the bar high with the first number, an ode to cathedrals that firmly channels Hugo’s original objective of persuading French society to treat these architectural masterpieces with the respect he believed them to be deserving of (Le Temps des Cath├ędrales). This is swiftly followed by an introduction to Clopin (a commanding Jay) and, thereafter, the dynamic between Frollo (Daniel Lavoie) and Quasimodo (Angelo Del Vecchio).

Before she even steps to the front of the stage, eyes are drawn instantly to Esmerelda (a role played expertly by Hiba Tawaji). With a headset microphone and green dress Tawaji stalks the stage in a manner reminiscent of Britney Spears’ iconic I’m A Slave 4 U 2001 MTV VMA performance. All that is missing is a Burmese python.

That’s not a bad thing, however. This is more like a concert, after all - one which takes influence from Italian opera and French pop music and the effect is at once melodramatic, rousing and bold.

The principals are supported by a troupe of acrobats and dancers, bursting with energy and colour throughout, once again making this production feel more like a concert. However there is more than one occasion during which the stage feels too big for this grand vision, and challenges the decision to put this on at one of the West End's largest venues.  

Despite the lead vocals being sung live, they sit atop a prerecorded and heavily produced backing track and while the musical support from English National Opera’s orchestra, under the direction of Matthew Brind, is a nice touch, it feels token. Ultimately it is nigh-on impossible to tell what is being performed live and what is not. Performed entirely in French, the production is localised for the British audience with surtitles set atop the stage. Given that each number’s substance is thin, the need for the textual assistance slowly wears off; watching the performers is enough to grasp the storyline. 

Ultimately this is what hinders the production from packing a punch. This is a show built on a series of songs that fail to carry a narrative thread effectively. But for a musical spectacle, perhaps that’s not necessarily too important after all.

Runs until 27th January
Reviewed by Bhakti Gajjar
Photo credit: Alessandro Dobici

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Thriller Live West End 10th Anniversary - Review

Lyric Theatre, London


Directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd

Casts, both old and new, on stage for the 10th Anniversary of Thriller Live

Celebrating 10 years at the Lyric Theatre, a memorable production of Thriller Live played to a full house last night. The show has been reviewed here in the past, consistently achieving outstanding  standards.

Adrian Grant’s vision, breathed into life by Gary Lloyd’s direction and choreography, together with John Maher’s intuitive understanding of Michael Jackson’s rock, pop and soul classics has created a fusion of excellence.

Lloyd’s genius sees him craft Jackson’s music into the human form, the cast’s non-stop movement proving an immaculately drilled display of modern dance, with the timeless songs’ lyrics and harmonies only being enhanced by Lloyd’s slick, perceptive routines.

The video displays remain breathtaking in both their ingenuity and, at times, stunning simplicity, as Maher’s 5 piece on-stage band faithfully recreate the Jackson sound.

The magic of the show’s anniversary night was made all the more special by a horde of ex-company members filling the stage half way through the second act, and causing  an impromptu standing ovation , together with post show speeches from the producers as well as Grant and Lloyd, with Grant in particular referencing his own personal connection  to Michael Jackson.

Thriller Live remains the most consistently outstanding show in town. There are no moments of tedium nor, unlike nearly every other big musical in the West End, any weak songs whatsoever. Each moment is carefully crafted perfection in a production that is world-class entertainment.

Booking until 29th September
Photo credit: Betty Zapata

Violet - Review

Charing Cross Theatre, London


Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book and lyrics by Brian Crawley
Directed by Shuntaro Fujita

Kaisa Hammarlund

After a traumatising accident in her childhood leaves Violet with a facial disfigurement, she becomes obsessed with an Oklahoma televangelist who she believes can heal her scars and make her as beautiful as the movie stars she idolises. Hopping onto a Greyhound bus in South Carolina, she heads off on a cross-country pilgrimage, joining forces with a pair of poker-playing soldiers on the way. 

Originally debuting off-Broadway in 1997, Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s tragic yet heartening musical is remarkable in its quiet, unassuming depiction of what is slowly revealed to be a deeply entrenched self-loathing. The immense disaster of Violet’s accident and the subsequent isolation she experiences, are totally at odds with the plot’s tranquil pace. The accompanying bluesy score only further emphasises the musical’s strange, indistinct tone. Making good use of flashbacks, the plot showing Violet before the accident, together with the subsequent toll it takes upon her and her widower father. But the whole musical feels strangely nostalgic; like a series of diary entries tied together by a purgatorial bus ride. 

In the titular role, and making a short hop across the Thames from Tesori’s Fun Home that recently played at the Young Vic, Kaisa Hammarlund glows with desperate hope in a remarkable portrayal of the warring pain and optimism that drives Violet. Hammarlund makes it agonisingly clear that Violet is scarred not only physically, but emotionally and is never free of her “Otherness”. Her scarred face, although unseen by the audience, hangs phantasmal over every second of the musical. She sits hunched and walks with a clomping, stoic gait. It is as if she has learned to detract others from her scar by cultivating an image of brashness, and self-admitted insignificance; she controls how she is perceived by others in order to protect herself from the would-be tormentors that she encounters day-to-day. 

It is therefore a shame that the musical is less generous to its supporting characters. The dynamic between Violet and the two soldiers she befriends is certainly interesting, as it evolves from a bickering rapport to an uneasy love triangle, but despite a couple of excellent performances by Jay Marsh and Matthew Harvey, their insertion into the story feel rushed and underwritten. 

By the time director Shuntaro Fujita’s slick and sun-kissed production draws to a close, it’s impossible not to root for Violet’s happiness, but the plot falters in its hurry to achieve a neat ending, resulting in a finale which, albeit hopeful, remains wholly unsatisfying.

Runs until 6th April
Reviewed by Charlotte O'Growney
Photo credit: Scott Rylander

Monday, 21 January 2019

Witness For The Prosecution - Review

County Hall, London


Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Lucy Bailey

Emma Rigby
Witness For The Prosecution is a glorious fusion of classic storytelling, first class production values and top-notch acting. Set amidst the oak-panelled Edwardian Baroque of the (now disused) County Hall Chamber, the Old Bailey is recreated to host a cracking yarn of a murder mystery, courtroom drama.

At risk of spoiling, the plot will not even be outlined. Suffice to say that there is skulduggery, passion, and twists and turns that will make even the seasoned theatre-goer gasp in surprise as the story unfolds. The show is very 1950s in its style, costumes, mannerisms and dialogue – and a delight of the piece is that one does not have to think too hard. The cast deliver the narrative delightfully, and at times it is as if a film-noir is being screened in person. Such is the cynicism of our times that the script can occasionally seem a little corny – but actually, the deliciously dated nuance only adds to the evening’s charm.

Lucy Bailey has coaxed magic from her newly-installed replacement cast. Jasper Britton is Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC, opposite prosecutor and professional nemesis Mr Myers QC, played by William Chubb. Britton's Robarts is a gem – a patrician who nonetheless is acutely aware of the details of the world around him. His unravelling of the facts he encounters is fresh and vibrant, and one cannot help but grin at such a well polished turn that never once descends into pastiche.

There is fine work too from Daniel Solbe as the hapless Leonard Vole, facing the noose if found guilty, together with a perfectly poised performance from Emma Rigby as his mysterious European wife Romaine. That both Solbe and Rigby are amongst a quartet of the show's players who are making their West End debuts, speaks volumes for the current cohort of actors entering the profession.

There are smaller treats too amongst the company. Ewan Stewart plays Vole's believably gritty brief, Christopher Ravenscroft is every inch an Old Bailey judge, while Joanna Brookes’ Janet Mackenzie, the murder victim’s housekeeper, is a Scottish dour delight 

Bailey’s direction is only enhanced by William Dudley’s imaginative design. Witness For The Prosecution is a quirky, quintessentially English drama that makes for a thrilling night at the theatre.

Currently booking until 1st September
Photo credit: Ellie Kurtz