Sunday, 29 January 2023

Renegades - Review


Screenplay by Tom Jolliffe and Jonathan Sothcott
Directed by Daniel Zirilli

Set in London, Daniel Zirilli’s Renegades is a tightly told story of Goram (Louis Mandylor), an evil gang boss, biting off more than he can chew when he comes up against a band of fiercely loyal, battle-hardened, special forces veterans.

It all kicks off when an American vet, Major Carver (played by Lee Majors – yes, the Six Million Dollar Man) is brutally murdered, stumbling across Goram’s patch. Carver had led a self-help group of vets, working their way through civvy-street with varying degrees of success. Some of the old soldiers are battling PTSD and the love and respect that they feel for the Major is tangible. Without getting sentimental, Sothcott and Jolliffe’s storyline picks out some fine aspects of camaraderie and friendship.

When this ageing band of brothers get to learn of Carver’s gruesome fate they galvanise themselves into action, dredging up whatever weaponry (crossbow anyone?) they’ve held onto over the years, and cooking up a wonderful piece of deliciously vicious hokum that sees Goram’s gang dismantled, mainly through the use of well aimed head-shots.

That the actors playing the veteran good-guys include Sothcott’s (who also produces) hardy perennials of Nick Moran, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray only adds to the fun. Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott puts in a fine turn as a cop, while stealing every scene he’s given is the ridiculously brilliant Paul Barber whose cynical, gnarled Scouser marks him out as one of the finest character actors around. There’s even room on the cast list for Patsy Kensit as Carver’s daughter and keep your eyes peeled for the briefest of cameos from Michael Brandon in the finale.

A great night in, Renegades is 90 minutes of bloody brilliant entertainment.

Streaming from 30th January and available on DVD from 13th February

Friday, 27 January 2023

Dirty Dancing On Stage - Review

Dominion Theatre, London


Written by Eleanor Bergstein
Directed by Federico Bellone

Michael O'Reilly, Kira Malou and the company of Dirty Dancing

For the next 3 months the staged take of the 1987 classic movie plays at London’s Dominion Theatre.

The story is a latter day fable that in all honesty doesn’t translate perfectly to the stage. As much as the movie was about Patrick Swayze’s perfectly formed Johnny teaching Jennifer Grey’s Baby the moves through a 1963 summer in the Catskill Mountains, along with its shallow commentary on society's attitudes and politics of the time, it was also all about the close-ups. Up there on the big screen, Swayze melted hearts and moistened panties. On stage however, Michael O’Reilly’s impressive Johnny is dwarfed in the Dominion’s vastness - and stripped of the magic and glitz of the Hollywood movie treatment, the Kellerman’s Resort doesn’t convincingly translate to a rainy West End.

But the packed audience are there for the song and dance as well as the storyline’s corny cheese and this show does not disappoint. O’Reilly, (100% beefcake) and Kira Malou as Baby are sensational, with movement and poise that is as well-drilled as it is passionate. Their supporting company make a fine job of driving the movie's narrative, virtually scene by scene, seamlessly.

The music is a curious juke-box assembly of American rock and pop gems, delivered as a combo of original recording and some live performance work from the onstage 6-piece band. Its a neat idea that delivers a gorgeous sound. 

Fans of the movie will surely have the time of their life.

Runs until 29th April, then tours
Photo credit: Mark Senior

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Cirque du Soleil - Kurios - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London


Kurios at the Royal Albert Hall sees the inspirational Cirque du Soleil company make a welcome return to an evening built around the quirks of life, demonstrated through the excellence of human talent. In a show first presented in 2014 there’s no environmental homily or sanctimonious preaching  on offer here. Kurios - The Cabinet of Curiosities is a montage of unashamedly gritty Victoriana.

Strip away the steampunk however and the traditional circus skills on display are breathtaking. The Banquine troupe offer up a jaw- dropping construct of human pyramids the strengths and heights of which are just a joy to behold. Studying the cast list one learns that the troupe all hail from the former Soviet Union, including Russian and Ukrainian athletes. In this show these men are trusting each other with their lives. One can but weep at the beauty that this act represents. 

Also from Ukraine, Andrii Bondarenko handbalances his way from the stage to the ceiling - leaving a dinner party down below and encountering a mirror image ensemble suspended upside down from the Royal Albert Hall’s acoustic flying saucers! The act has to be seen to be believed.

Of course there are acts of juggling and contortion that defy our sense of belief with moments of comedy thrown in - almost all through mime - that provide the foundation for a fabulous family show.

Some of the theming may be a tad obscure for the little ones - but they’ll still be stunned by the human wizardry on display here. The ropes and pulleys may be sophisticated and state of the art - but the talent that uses them to soar around the hall’s cavernous interior is traditional human genius at its best.

Runs until 5th March

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

George Takei's Allegiance - Review

Charing Cross Theatre, London


Music & Lyrics by Jay Kuo
Book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo & Lorenzo Thione
Directed & Choreographed by Tara Overfield Wilkinson

Aynrand Ferrer

Making its London premiere, George Takei’s Allegiance is an inspired story that blends history and humanity together with some cracking tunes into an evening of powerful entertainment.

Takei was a young child when along with another 120,000 American citizens of Japanese heritage, he was interned as an enemy alien following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Allegiance explores the period through the eyes of a fictional family of Japanese Americans, with Takei taking a sidelined but critical role as Sam the family elder, looking back at his wartime experience.

If the show’s lyrics are occasionally simplistic they are more than made up for by the cleverly crafted narrative that weaves two love stories into a backdrop of honour and pride, alongside the incredulity and horror of patriotic Americans being interned for no other reason than their heritage. With a respectful acknowledgment to the slaughter of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the show outlines a carefully-crafted observation on the United States’ complex wartime relationship with Japan.

Telly Leung plays the young Sam, magnificently convincing both in his patriotism and his love for the WASP nurse Hannah, played by Megan Gardiner. The standout performance of the night however is delivered by Aynrand Ferrer as Sam’s sister Kei. Her character is given some of the story’s most painful arcs that she absolutely smashes - alongside a singing performance that ranges from taking the Charing Cross roof off with its power, through to a softer heartbreaking intensity. Credit too to Gardiner who is as strong, albeit in a smaller but nonetheless essential role.

Jay Kuo’s melodies are an astonishing combination of styles that range from Japanese themed numbers through to dance-hall swing and which provide an ingenious snapshot of the time through its music. Delivered by Beth Jerem’s six-piece band, the compositions are a delight.

It is not often that Charing Cross stages such a gem - but Tara Overfield Wilkinson has helmed and choreographed just that. See it if you can, George Takei’s Allegiance is an outstanding work of musical theatre.

Runs until 8th April
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Saturday, 14 January 2023

Swan Lake - Review

Churchill Theatre, Bromley


Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Swan Lake, like any classic work of art, stimulates a lot of expectation. Sadly however, on this showing, the International Classic Ballet Theatre fail to deliver.

The sloppy lack of co-ordination between the Swan maidens gave an air of hectic chaos rather than elegant beauty, with Prince Siegfried struggling to lift his Swan Princess. Even then, Odette's performance failed to stand out against her corps de ballet.

The most impressive performance on the night came from the Jester, whose movement was graceful and precise.

Elsewhere the costumes seemed amateur, the scenery was uninspiring lacking even a fog machine to create the illusion of the enchanted lake. There was barely any contrast between the settings of the lake and the palace, with a desperately disappointing climax to the tale.

The printed programme failed to name either the (rather good) orchestra or the dancers.

All in all, a lame duck.

Runs until 14th January, then tours

Tuesday, 20 December 2022

A Pissedmas Carol - Review

Leicester Square Theatre, London


Directed by Katy Baker

The company of A Pissedmas Carol

For the festive season at the Leicester Square Theatre, A Pissedmas Carol sees half a dozen actors (no cast list, no names) tell Dickens’ classic morality tale, but with a twist. Each night one of the company has consumed a copious amount of alcohol before curtain-up and takes their part in the show blind drunk.

To be fair, the whole gig has been well rehearsed and there are liberal quantities of modern Xmas songs woven into the narrative to ease the evening along. The pissed performer is, by their nature, a loose cannon on stage and so all the cast are dab hands, not only at their rehearsed lines but also at improvising their way around their inebriated colleague as the story unfolds.

The songs are well sung and on the night of this review (20th December) the drunk female performer sung a spectacular solo number particularly beautifully. The classic yarn is cantered through at a cracking pace too, which all makes for an eclectic, lively show.

Set your expectations low. These are low-brow festive frolics that lack the raunchy filth of a truly adult pantomime. But if you approach the show fuelled with a modest amount of alcohol yourself, you won't be disappointed. Fun times! 

Runs until 7th January 2023

Wednesday, 14 December 2022

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol - Review

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London


Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book and adaptation David H Bell
Directed and choreographed by Alison Pollard

Corey Wickens and Robert Bathurst

The cast in Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol are all finely voiced. The show’s sound design however doesn’t match its actors’ talents and when they sing en masse, the blurred acoustics sadly muffle most of Dolly’s lyrics. Thankfully the tale’s a classic so filling in the gaps is not too much of a challenge.

Parton’s show acknowledges the Smoky Mountains’ history of the poverty of depressed 1930s America and also captures the snowy harshness of the Appalachian winters. But Tennessee was segregated until 1954 and looking at this show and its casting, this appears to be a troubling aspect of the state’s history that the producers have conveniently overlooked.

Robert Bathurst is convincingly curmudgeonly as Ebenezer Scrooge with Sarah O’Connor putting in a sweetly sung take on Three Candles. If only the song’s lyrics were as classy as her rendition. The best song of the night that closes Act One and is later reprised to see the audience off into the night is I’m Dreaming Of A Smoky Mountain Christmas, captures Parton’s country genius at its finest. And credit too to Andrew Hilton’s six-piece band who are on fine form throughout.

Dolly may have whimsically hitched her wagon to a classic of the Christmas canon, but this show is just a little snowbound.

Runs until 8th January 2023

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan