Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Kit and McConnel - Review

Crazy Coqs, London

Kit and McConnel

The cabaret duo Kit and McConnel have only been performing together for 3 years, so this show’s title The Game Is Old dues not suggest themselves. Instead it refers perhaps to their satirical act that contains classic melodies given a modern twist, as they cover contemporary issues with razor-sharp wit. Nominated for the 2015 London Cabaret Award, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James McConnel make a welcome return to The Crazy Coqs.

From the outset, the sight of the debonair McConnel on piano and the exuberant presence of vocalist Kit commands our attention. A wave of nostalgia for a bygone era in their first number quickly makes way for the crowd pleasing Nandos (parodying Abba’s Fernando) containing some sharp and incredibly funny observations. There Are No Plumbers Left in Poland is satire at its best, as is the very true to the mark Pilates.

Between songs the dry humour of McConnel is evident in his stories, with his virtuosic piano skills proving incredible during the Liszt improvisation game.

A cleverly constructed original playlist is never an easy task, but the beautiful and finely observed second act songs such as All The Things We Never Said and Afghanistan offer a wonderful contrast to the mostly comic elements of the evening’s programme.

Kit and McConnel are seasoned performers who combine their obvious great talent of music and comedy with charismatic and endearing personae. There is room for them to explore their set’s tender moments further, similarly we could hear more of McConnel’s humorous stories with input from Kit. But this show has the power to make an audience laugh from the beginning of a song right to its end and remains a privilege to watch.

In residence until 4th July
Guest reviewer: Francesca Mepham

Monday, 29 June 2015

All I Know Now - Wonderings And Reflections On Growing Up Gracefully - Book Review


Written by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Growing up, she was the youngest sibling of two. But today Carrie Hope Fletcher is a virtual big sister to thousands of young girls across the world.

A stage star – currently she is an acclaimed Eponine in London’s Les Miserables – Fletcher is also a hugely successful YouTube vlogger, with a wildly loyal fanbase. On top of this she is a songwriter, illustrator and now, a published author. 

Bursting with creativity and a genuine desire to pass on some invaluable advice to younger people facing the same issues growing up (be it dealing with school, chasing success or feeling comfortable in their own skin), she has put together an incredibly useful book. It feels slightly ironic that, for someone who has built a large part of her career online – where every question can be answered by Google – that she has felt the need to create a book. But it proves absolutely the right thing to have done, for Fletcher applies a ‘big sisterly’ filter to the information that teenagers and young people are bombarded with, all day, every day.

The book is structured, cleverly, in the form of a stage show. The contents page is renamed ‘Programme’ and the chapters ‘Acts.’ She flies through a whole range of topics – friendships, love, the internet and more – drawing advice from her own experiences. 

What is interesting is that, in the beginning, the book is quite strongly geared towards teenagers, reflecting upon experiences drawn from the school environment. However, as the book progresses, its appeal broadens to older people with Fletcher fiercely advocating a principle of "following your dreams". She attributes her own incredible success to the fact that she has always had a goal in mind and has put in the work to reach it. Her advice in this area could apply to anyone, regardless of their age.    

All I Know Now is also, in parts, a study of social anthropology, exploring how humans operate. Fletcher recognises that whilst we are all incredibly complex characters, we each crave friendships, security and love – and she supplies tips that are both witty and useful for how best to navigate the various relationships we all have. 

Fletcher's enthusiasm and passion for life is contagious. The words spill out of her, alternating between very short thoughts and longer streams of consciousness. You can tell that she truly wants her fans and readers of the book to take on board what she is sharing. 

Above all, Fletcher comes across as an incredibly lovely and sweet girl, who wears her heart on her sleeve and who wants to share what she has learned about life. And, particularly in a world where honesty is to be applauded, Carrie Hope Fletcher deserves a standing ovation.

Reviewed by Bhakti Gajjar

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Two Jacks - Review


Written and directed by Bernard Rose

Jack Huston

There’s a stylish cast and concept to Two Jacks, out this month from Bernard Rose.

Taking an idea from Tolstoy’s Russian fable The Two Hussars, Rose pitches his tale straight into a genre of updated Hollywood noir. It makes for  neat conceit and in a movie set entirely in and around Tinseltown, the atmosphere Rose that creates of smoke filled poker parlours, bare-fisted brawls and beautiful women casually seduced, could be straight out of Raymond Chandler. 

There is a hint of real life imitating the art on screen, for as the story tells of fictional wild film director Jack Hussar seducing the beautiful Diana (a sizzlingly demure performance from Sienna Miller) and who, years later sees his son Jack Jnr return to become entangled with Diana’s daughter, Rose casts Danny Huston to play the older man, with his nephew Jack playing the younger man. That both men are direct descendants of legendary director John Huston contributes to the story’s grit and that Danny Huston, in both appearance and demeanour bears more than a passing resemblance to Jeremy Clarkson, only adds to the tale.   

Two Jacks’ womanising, gambling, alcohol and thundery rainstorms are timeless nods to Hollywood’s darker side and with Jacqueline Bissett playing the (much older) Diana many years into the plot, the classy credentials of Rose’s cast are only enhanced.

Whilst the movie is mostly chic and the acting a delight, Rose is let down by occasional script naiveties and also a budgetary constraint (I guess ?) that sees him not only write and direct, but also photograph and edit the movie too. That’s unfortunate for there are moments of poor continuity, lighting and focus-pulling, that would never have made it out of a decent film school, let alone form part of a commercial release.

Bringing the picture straight out to the DVD and download markets after playing the festivals a couple of years ago is probably wise, with Two Jacks making for a wonderfully romantic movie, beautifully performed.

Out on DVD and download 29th June

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) - Review



Certificate 18


Written and directed by Tom Six

Dieter Laser

The Human Centipede 3 - Final Sequence (HC3) marks the last chapter of Tom Six's trilogy of everyday folk who find themselves joined, stitched mouth-to-anus, to their fellow citizens. Throughout his series, Six has tended to play fast and loose with the word "centipede". His first movie's creature featured only 6 legs (formed of three unfortunates) whilst the beast in Final Sequence, formed of 500 souls, sports 2,000 limbs- but this is Hollywood so what's a leg-count here or there anyway?

The movies' notoriety has snowballed with each emerging sequel. HC1 took a "traditionally" horrific take on Six's vision, with German actor Dieter Laser portraying the deranged Doctor Heiter, who was to hand-craft the first creature, in an unflinchingly dark movie.

HC2's raison d'etre could not have been more corny, even if its metier was still born of a heart of darkness. Laurence R Harvey played Martin, a ghastly misfit, who is introduced to us watching a DVD of HC1, before going on to replicate Heiter's experiment himself. 

With the third film, Six adopts an end of term/semester approach to the concept. Where HCs 1 and 2 were dark, Final Sequence lobs in some ironic comedy and in so doing offers us what is possibly (and literally) the most tongue in cheek film ever made. 

Set in a prison in the southern USA, Six indulges himself with an outrageous grindhouse satire. Think of 2011's Hobo With A Shotgun that starred Rutger Hauer and you start to get an idea of ​​Six's skewed reality.

As a further nod to the franchise's heritage, both Laser and Lawrence return. This time the German plays Bill Boss, the stetson toting prison governor (deranged, natch) who also sports a phallus-replacing six-shooter, with Harvey as Dwight, his trusted sidekick accountant. When Dwight suggests that a human centipede would make for an ideal punishment in addition to incarceration, the movie takes off . 

Along the way, Six makes no bones about offending and exploiting everybody. Men and women alike are horrifically violated (there is no one-side sexploitational misogyny here), religion is mocked, with Hollywood B-listers Bree Olson and Eric Roberts adding to the carnage.

A satirical sub-theme hints at the story offering a version of violent and medieval punishment that much of the USA's right of centre population would happily see meted out to criminals. Six has to tread this particular mockery carefully especially as he is on record (and confirmed in a movie cameo) as saying that the idea of ​​the centipede came to him initially, as an appropriate form of punishment for paedophiles. 

There's minimal CGI on display here and what you see is the action that Six has photographed. Those with an insatiable appetite for taboo-busting cinema that includes, amongst other moments, scenes of castration, boiling-waterboarding and the eating (literally eating, this ain't porn) of both genders' genitalia will be more than entertained by what Six, his designer Rodrigo Cabral and their uber-talented special effects team have come up with. Oh, and just like in real life, the bad guy comes out on top too.

If you like your horror bloody yet still ridiculously overdone, you won't be disappointed. 

In cinemas from 10th July

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Northern Ballet - Madam Butterfly with Perpetuum Mobile

Churchill Theatre, Bromley


Choreography by David Nixon

Visiting Bromley for the first time and for two nights only, the Northern Ballet - Europe’s Best Dance Company as recognised by the Taglioni European Ballet Awards - offered a thrilling programme of imaginative dance.

Opening with Perpetuum Mobile, a short work choreographed by Christopher Hampson. Set to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major, the performance mirrored the increasingly complex layers of music found within the composition. The dancers’ movements proved continual, fluid and dynamic with Lucia Solari, Ayami Miyata and Javier Torres in particular offering captivating performances. Created over 15 years ago, Hampson says he was “initially inspired by the score.” This was evident and it is the close marriage between movement and music that made Perpetuum Mobile a joyous contemporary piece to watch.

After a short pause the company's Madam Butterfly commenced, with the stark contrast between the beautiful, flowing costumes of traditional Japanese culture and the streamlined costumes of the preceding piece immediately obvious. As the audience shifts into the world of Madam Butterfly and gradually in love with the young geisha Butterfly, – danced by Pippa Moore – the story moves at pace.

We are introduced to Goro, the marriage broker and Pinkerton, the American naval officer that steals and keeps Butterfly’s heart. The marriage scene is breathtaking; wedding guests in kimonos, in an array of colours, floating around the stage all the while twirling oil-paper umbrellas.

We empathise with Butterfly's falling victim to circumstance, with Moore convincingly portraying her complex character. Butterfly displays love, for her maid Suzuki and her young son – and an undying love for Pinkerton. She also demonstrates strength – surviving the wrath of Bonze, the holy man, who condemns her for converting to Christianity – and gumption, for resisting the efforts of Goro who tries to remarry her to a new, wealthy suitor. She knows her worth and values and firmly stands by her self-belief, making her all the more likeable.

The closing scene peculiarly lurches into a contemporary style, set to a recording of a traditional Japanese piece of music. An odd and harsh way to end the performance, yet arguably appropriate for the end of Butterfly’s story.

With the neo-classical Perpetuum Mobile, contrasted with the drama of Madame Butterfly the evening supports the Northern Ballet claim to be “a powerhouse for inventive dance.” Fans of the company will be particularly excited about its version of 1984, scheduled for a world premiere in September.

Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar

Friday, 12 June 2015

A Damsel In Distress - Review

Festival Theatre, Chichester


Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson
Based on the novel by P.G.Wodehouse
and the play by P.G. Wodehouse and Ian Hay
Directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford

Nicholas Farrell and Sally Ann Triplett

A Damsel In Distress is a new(ish) musical confection that feels like it's been around for years. Based on the P.G.Wodehouse story and drawing upon the Gershwin brothers' songs that were composed for the similarly inspired 1937 movie, Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson breathe life into a collection of classic concepts.

In all honesty, the fable’s ridiculous plot defies both and credibility and description. George Bevan, a gifted American musical theatre composer falls for Maud Marshmoreton, a titled young Englishwoman, who is herself the ward of the fearsomely dragon-esque Lady Caroline. Maud's father Lord Marshmoreton is an elderly landed gent with a keen eye for both horticulture and women and who in turn is smitten by Billie Dore an American actress in Bevan’s most recent show. (Keep up!) Besides these paramours, there are yet more romantic shenanigans and all set in a tale that hops between London's Savoy Theatre and the crumbling Gloucestershire stately pile of Totleigh Towers, as the cultural differences that straddle the Atlantic are affectionately mocked throughout.

Making his Chichester debut, Rob Ashford directs and choreographs with his trademark vivacity and visual flair. In this show the tap doesn’t drip, it gushes. Ashford has ripped out the Overture, (evidently a late change as it’s listed in the programme) so Things Are Looking Up opens the show, setting the tone with a full ensemble tap routine. Other dance highlights include the French Pastry Walk – the first time that most people will have seen a cakewalk performed with real cakes. Fidgety Feet proves another absolute joy to watch whilst Stiff Upper Lip gloriously defines the very British attitude of sang-froid through it's polar opposite: the tap dance! Marvellous stuff.

Whilst the story maybe 100% saccharine, the songs are diamonds and the cast is platinum. Summer Strallen and Richard Fleeshman are Maud and Bevan. Nobody does young romantic better than these two and amidst Totleigh Towers’ faux Middle Ages splendour, the challenge that the upstart American offers to Maud’s rigid adherence to the social mores is perfectly matched.

Nicholas Farrell’s dotty Lord is a decrepit foil to Sally Ann Triplett’s feisty Dore, with Isla Blair’s matronly curmudgeon, Lady Caroline being another perfectly executed gem. (Though writers note – if shows continue to promote the trope of old men as priapically comic Lotharios whilst their female contemporaries are portrayed as harridan old maids, then what hope for sexual and age-friendly diversity? Such stereotypes need to become outmoded.)

Other delights include Melle Stewart’s housemaid Alice, finding her true love “above stairs”, Chloe Hart and David Robert’s hilarious kitchen-based duet and Desmond Barrit’s wonderfully withering Keggs, the Butler.

The show makes for a whirl through the songbook – the star numbers being A Foggy Day (Fleeshman, divine) and Nice Work If You Can Get It (Stewart and Strallen, likewise) whilst Farrell’s Mine, sung to his roses, is comedy gold.

Christopher Oram’s sumptuous set is a mille-feuille of crennelation, whilst from a lofty perch Alan William’s band makes fine work of the Gershwin classics.

Ideally suited to Chichester’s charms, A Damsel In Distress makes for a delightful night in the theatre.

Runs until 27th June 2015

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Heartbreak Hotel - Review

The Jetty, London


Play developed by Zoe Wellman and Sam Curtis-Lindsay
Directed by Sam Curtis-Lindsay

A scene from Heartbreak Hotel

Heartbreak Hotel is a new immersive experience in London’s promenade theatre scene. Located just outside North Greenwich tube station, it’s a short and well directed walk towards and along the River Thames until eventually the hotel, at The Jetty, looms into view.

After checking-in, guests are invited to enjoy the bar area, with food and drinks available, either sat inside or overlooking the river, on benches or disused rollercoaster cars as a handful of hotel staff meander among the throng. The audience seems broadly unconcerned about the show that is yet to come, content with enjoying an evening out somewhere new and different in the capital. The kitchen service on press night was woeful, but as the season goes on, hopefully this will be remedied. 

The plot revolves around two storylines; the first is of the hotel’s owner and his tale of heartbreak. The second is of a company called ACHE, that specialises in helping clients to deal with heartbreak themselves. These clients include some of the actors but also the audience too. There are occasional moments of audience interaction, but this is largely group-based and not too intimidating, making the overall experience quite accessible. 

The evening performances commence hourly from 6.30 until 9.30, with a tannoy announcement telling guests to go to their (already advised) rooms. Once separated into groups the performance begins immediately as the cast of nine enter and exit the different locations, all of which are staged appropriately: bed, a bathtub, a gallery of trinkets and after each scene, the audience is ushered into a new space. 

Each guest at the hotel will of course have a unique experience and the final act, set atop the venue, uses the glowing lights of the nearby Emirates Airline, O2 Arena and Canary Wharf to provide a spectacular backdrop. 

The overall concept of Heartbreak Hotel makes for imaginative and innovative entertainment. The glimpsed fragments of characters’ stories are compelling and performed with conviction in a show that is broadly unpredictable and which in itself makes for a refreshing experience. Combined with the social experience available at the beginning and the end of the show, Heartbreak Hotel is a great way to spend a summer’s evening by the river. 

Runs until 30 August 2015.

Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar