Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Curtains - Review

Landor Theatre, London
Book: Rupert Holmes
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Original book and concept: Peter Stone
Additional lyrics: John Kander and Rupert Holmes

Director: Robert McWhir

This review was first published on The Public Reviews

Curtains is a complex yet frivolous piece of musical theatre from Kander and Ebb. Having satirised Nazi Germany and the American penal and justice system with Cabaret and Chicago, this work, in its first professional UK production, sees the writers fix their satirical cannon on show-business itself.
The show opens with a theatrical troupe performing “Robbin Hood” in Boston, en route to a hopeful transfer to Broadway. When the leading lady is poisoned on stage, Lieutenant Cioffi arrives, forbidding the entire cast to leave the theatre until the crime is solved. What then follows is a whodunnit, and several more deaths, with each member of the company’s motives and alibis in turn challenged by Cioffi. Of course as the genre demands, each cast member appears to have a troublesome skeleton in their closet for the detective to eliminate.
Kander and Ebb’s wit shines through most of the show, with an early number that sets its sights on theatre critics, What Kind of Man ? ( ie would be a critic ) causing much mirth on press night.
Leading the cast is Jeremy Legat as Cioffi. Clearly the most stagey of cops, Cioffi has a love for musical theatre, and a hilarious knack for giving notes to the company as their rehearsals continue, that prove to be spot on in improving the show within a show. Legat’s youthful experience shows and he leads the production with assured professionalism that is neither arrogant nor scene-stealing. The one regret of the evening is that more solos are not afforded to his character. Legat’s voice in Coffee Shop Nights and A Tough Act To Follow is sublime. Buster Skeggs is a convincing Carmen Bernstein a co-producer of the show. Her role calls for overstated energy and drive, and she delivers a tough New York shtick that at times leaves her breathless.
One can easily forget that this show is being staged in ‘a room above a pub’. The production calls for adult actors that span a broad spectrum of ages and generations and Andrew Keates as casting director has assembled a stunning 20 strong troupe. Some, like Bryan Kennedy who’s camp director, Christopher Belling is a masterclass in controlled understatement, have years of talent under their belt. When reminded that he is a suspect in a murder enquiry, Kennedy’s foppish reply that “its an honour just to be nominated” is a moment of comic genius. Other performers like Stephanie Parker, murdered in the shows opening and then ensemble member, are recent drama school graduates. There is not a weak link amongst them.
McWhir has again helmed a production of magical potential in this South London venue. Under his direction, Martin Thomas has produced a set that is as detailed as it is imaginative, bringing countless fly ropes and even a proscenium arch into the modestly sized performance space, yet still allowing room for dance numbers of stunning vivacity and impact that are a credit to choreographer Robbie O’Reilly. Rachel Dingle’s costumes have been meticulously assembled and lend authenticity to both Robbin Hood, as well as the shows real-time context and Michael Webborn musical director, leads his 5 piece band perfectly. One criticism is that female company voice work is at times inaudible, but there is plenty of time to set that straight.
The show’s programme runs to an impressive 24 pages and its meticulous design hints at the tremendous commitment to excellence in production values that motivate both McWhir and Keates. London is famed for its theatre, both West End and off. In this Olympian summer, Curtains contributes to that outstanding reputation.

Runs until September 1st

Find me on Twitter: @jaybeegee63


Monday, 30 July 2012

Airborne - DVD Review

Certificate 18


Directed by Dominic Burns
Written by Paul Chronnel

Mark Hamill
A storm is setting in, all flights are cancelled with the exception of this one, the tired air traffic controller is on the eve of retirement and the movie’s cast is crammed full of top notch B- listers. What more could anyone want from a british horror / thriller popcorn fest ? Well, apart that is from a decent storyline and script.
Airborne is a 3 star piece of hokum. It reminds one of a Hammer horror movie of the 1970s, updated to reflect the 21st century, where instead of the haunted house or Dracula’s castle, the action takes place on a virtually deserted 747 hurtling across the Atlantic. Throw in a handful of beautiful women, scantily clad as the situation demands, and a storyline that is as cheesy as it is implausible, and you are in for a lively flight.
Good low budget horror is common place these days, and the genre thrives. With a budget in excess of $1,000,000 Airborne has probably had more cash to play with than many of its contemporaries, however director Dominic Burns was not going to let a bundle of cash stand in the way of making the movie look like it was put together on a shoestring. The air traffic control room appeared decidedly unconvincing and in an unfortunate cinematic mishap, the movie which is set aboard a jumbo jet, famously known ( and shown ) as a four engined craft, cut early on to a stock-footage shot of a twin-engined plane banking off course into a dark and foreboding sunset. And don’t even ask about the quality of the footage of the fighter jets scrambled to intercept this flying house of horror.
But these criticisms are petty,  for in the tradition of the good scary movie, it is the cast that make this film watchable. Alan Ford, the ultimate cockney diamond-geezer, reprises his well worn London gangster caricature with relish. And whilst nearly every other line of his dialogue appears to include the “F” word, at least his character is spared having to utter the pricelessly awful line uttered by one of his henchmen: “You may be the big dick on the ground, but you are flaccid up here”. Flying with Ford is Julian Glover, a veteran English actor of distinction, playing an American Indiana Jones type character who is transporting an ancient vase that may contain evil forces within it.
Mark Hamill, yes that one, the original Luke Skywalker, heavily plugged as the film’s star name, is the controller on the ground. He’s aged a bit since Star Wars, but his voice is delicious and it is fun seeing him on screen again this time old enough to actually be Luke’s father. Billy Murray, legend of The Bill and EastEnders, who is one of the movie’s producers, appears in a cameo trotting out his “non-caring hard-man” persona as the man we love to hate.
Of course, the vase’s supernatural powers develop through the flight, evil deeds occur and the body count grows in pleasingly bloody fashion to take in most of the cast. To reveal too much more would be to spoil the story. Suffice to say, Ford being momentarily suicidal and Glover contemplating his own mortality, do add spice to the movie’s melodramatic moments of terror.
This DVD accompanied by a beer or several, and a tasty take-away will make for a good evening’s entertainment, watching some old familiar faces play out a modern day ghost story.


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Mack & Mabel - Review

Norman Bowman and
Laura Pitt -Pulford
Southwark Playhouse, London


Book by Michael Stewart
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Revised by Francine Pascal
Directed by Thom Southerland

Mack & Mabel is a dark musical. A relationship between the two leads that is often defined by “anti-love” songs and a second act that spirals inexorably to a finale of misery. Yet within this darkness, musical numbers are included that range from the highest levels of hope, through to spectacular glitzy tap routines, and a hilarious pinch of slapstick. And such is the strength of this show that every single number is in perfect context.
Produced by Danielle Tarento, who together with Southerland, staged the award winning Parade at this venue last year, Mack & Mabel charts the interweaving of the lives of silent “two-reel movie” director Mack Sennett, with Mabel Normand, a deli delivery girl from Brooklyn whose charismatic beauty and potential he spots on set and who he elevates to stardom. For a review of Mabel's Wilful Way,  a Mack&Mabel movie, click here.

Set in the early 20th century, the show in sub-plot touches upon the rise of the full length motion picture and the introduction of the talkies, but these are merely a backdrop to the arc of the ill fated lovers.
As Mack, Norman Bowman is outstanding. Costumed in a cream suit throughout, and frequently fedora’d to shield the bright Californian sun, he is every inch the caricature of a dominating movie director yet one who also possesses a touching vulnerability, with chiselled good looks perfectly matching the strength and sweetness of his tenor voice. In the opening number, describing his early career, Bowman sings Movies Were Movies with an energy and flair that it is nigh impossible to look away from . Later in the first act, alone with Mabel, he defines his lack of loving sensitivity with the poignant I Won't Send Roses, the melody from which serves as an occasional emotionally charged motif at subsequent moments.  The show opened two weeks prior to this review and already Bowman is deservedly being spoken of as a nominee for an Off West End award for leading actor.
 An outstanding Mack needs a Mabel of similar pedigree. Laura Pitt-Pulford shone in Parade last year, and knowing that she would lead in this show, only added to the pre-show anticipation. Pitt-Pulford’s performance exceeded expectations that were already sky high. She charted Mabel’s journey, plucked from obscurity to super-stardom, the enjoyment of the movie-star’s life and her ultimate succumbing to substance abuse, simply exquisitely. Mabel is drawn ironically moth-like, to her love for Mack and movies and the show gives her songs that are often melancholy. Wherever He Ain't, and Time Heals Everything, whilst both of different tempos, are very much are the expressions of a woman who is suffering. Throughout Act 2, Pitt-Pulford puts on a masterclass of fragility that is at once heartbreaking, yet sublime. She captures Mabel’s vulnerability in a performance the fidelity of which is rarely seen on the West End, let alone London’s fringe.
The supporting cast excelled to a person. In the key role of Lottie Ames, Jessica Martin sung and tap-danced inspiringly. The accomplished Stuart Matthew Price played a slick Frank Capra, the one regret of the evening being that the book did not allow his character more solo spots.  Impressive too was Steven Serlin as movie producer Kessel, portraying his characters Jewishness skilfully and recognisably whilst avoiding crass stereotype.
It has been written before that Tarento is committed to the highest of production values. It is clear that she commands the respect of many of theatre’s most talented practitioners, evidenced by the strength of the shows creative team. Lee Proud’s choreography was dazzling. Whilst all of the the show’s movement was slick, his working of Hundreds Of Girls, Hit ‘Em On The Head. Tap Your Troubles Away truly seemed to transport one from a vault in Southwark to a Hollywood back-lot with a tap routine that could have easily graced any major commercial show.
Good light is critical to movie making. From the outset Tarrento’s team have sought to ensure that Jason Denvir’s design is lit effectively and Howard Hudson has delivered what is perhaps the best lighting design seen in London’s fringe. Cleverly evoking at different times studio lights both in front of and behind camera as well as the bright Hollywood sunshine, Hudson’s craft adds another dimension to the rich tableau of this production.  Michael Bradley’s musical direction and vocal arrangement were also well planned and Andrew Johnson’s sound design ensured that lyrics and dialog remained clear above the faultless sound of the band. And all of this directed by Thom Southerland, who has longed to put on this show for many years. He is a credit to his ambitions.
Mack & Mabel has no fancy hydraulics, green costumes or make up, and even the projected movies are simply suggested by a flickering light . (Another inspired Hudson touch)  Mercifully, it has also been spared the modern day casting couch of a TV talent show. In place of those gimmicks it presents a stunning theatrical company delivering excellence through every word, musical note and dance step.

Runs until August 25th

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

An Incident At The Border - Review

Finborough Theatre


Written by Kieran Lynn
Directed by Bruce Guthrie

An Incident At The Border is a play whose whole is unfortunately less than the sum of its parts. Kieran Lynn’s piece sets out to comment on power, bureaucracy, the impotence of the individual vs the state and the dynamics between man and woman. A tall order for any piece of theatre and far too broad a canvas for an 80 minute one-act play.

The play opens with lovers Olivia and Arthur enjoying an afternoon in the park. The location is not specified, however recent significant political upheaval is alluded to. After defining the affection between these two, Lynn has a Ruritanical border guard, Reiver, literally pop up from behind a bush with a roll of duct tape, to demark a new national border that incongruously bisects a park bench and which of course separates the two lovers.

Marc Pickering as Reiver, delivers the most engaging performance from the cast of three. A barely trained armed guard, equipped with Taser and walkie-talkie, he plays a convincing inadequate, who enjoys the status that a uniform and a weapon bestow upon him, a status that he appears incapable of commanding in his own right. His performance chillingly shows how power can corrupt, how he believes his uniform and rank will make up for his sexual inadequacies and how, when his Taser is taken from him, he cowers with pathetic fear, scared of his superiors as well as of being stunned by the device.

Florence Hall and Tom Bennett are the lovers drawn into this impossible situation. Hall’s Olivia is an impetuous performance that at times shows perception, but all too often is reduced to shouted indignation as she rails against both Reiver’s ridiculous rules and her perception of Arthur’s apparent failures. Bennett’s character as her foil, is barely given an opportunity to move out of second gear and when he does, towards the end of the play, his military persona lacks credibility.

The playtext helpfully served as the evening’s programme. A brief study of this book reveals that the play’s ending as performed, differs quite fundamentally from the play’s ending as printed, both in word and action. This does not inspire the confidence of the audience in the writer’s ability to express his vision.

Whilst the three actors work hard, they are not helped by a script that should have been tighter and at least 30 minutes shorter nor by Guthrie’s direction that fails to effectively exploit inter-personal conflict.


This review was first published on The Public Reviews website.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Here Comes The Sun - CD Review


Here Comes The Sun is Louise Dearman’s second solo album. Where her first offering was a showcase of musical theatre, this album is a bold journey into the territory of strong R&B and soul numbers that span five decades.  

The album’s title track is George Harrison’s composition , first recorded on The Beatles Abbey Road LP. Where the original is of course a word class performance in acoustic guitar, Dearman boldly replaces that famous intro with piano and vocals, and within just a few bars makes the statement that for this CD she is taking classic numbers and recording them on her terms and with her interpretation. Vocally, she mixes fineness of pitch with powerful strength and clarity. Whilst Harrison purists may see her version of this number as sacrilegious, it has a beauty and it works.

Squander, the album’s second track, is a delightful surprise. Dearman takes this Skunk Anansie signature tune and reworks it, producing a soulful melody that it is intoxicating to listen to. The suggestion of covering this song on the album was truly visionary .  A soulful Time After Time proves to be another classic song, beautifully re-imagined by Dearman into a recording that whilst echoing aspects of Cindy Lauper’s original, invigorates the melody into a performance that is at once familiar yet also refreshingly new.

The strength and range of Dearman’s voice is magnificently displayed in different numbers on the album. With Gravity, her cover of Sara Bareilles’ original evokes the legendary chanteuses of recent years, and suggests that she has the potential to match Celine Dion or Barbara Streisand, such is the spine-tingling effect of her voice. The performances of See The Day, and also This House, similarly serve to emphasise the power that Dearman can deploy to not only tame and master a big song, but also to show how she can coax the arrangements into moments of sheer vocal magnificence.

Dearman’s version of One Day I’ll Fly Away , whilst again a beautiful and striking performance, is, being critical, perhaps the only number on the album that is outshone by the original . Randy Crawford’s unique timbre, and the skillfully arranged strings accompaniment from 30 years ago are acknowledged, but not quite matched, in this recording.

This collection of songs is predominantly outstanding. If Louise Dearman’s first album acknowledged the musical theatre background that she has come from,  Here Comes The Sun, produced by Ben Robbins, is a definite and stunning statement from the singer of where she wants to go to. Only last week, Miss Dearman tweeted that she wanted to be cast “in a play”. This album, following hard on the heels of her impressive,  nearly two-year, stint in Glinda’s bubble in the West End smash Wicked, suggests that the performing world should be her oyster. Here Comes The Sun is a perfect addition to any Soul or R&B collection.

Louise Dearman

Momentous Musicals - Review

New Wimbledon Theatre


Directed by John Garfield-Roberts

 A full house at Wimbledon lent an air of great expectation to this inaugural show of musical theatre classics from innovative producers, Speckulation Entertainment. With an eye to ticket sales as well as production values, Gareth Gates topped the bill supported by leading West End talent.

Rachael Wooding opened, appropriately with One Night Only from Dreamgirls. With legs that went on forever, matched by cascading blonde locks, she looked as good as she sounded and set the tone and the standard for the programme to follow.

G4’s Jonathan Ansell and Emma Williams ( has there ever been a more scrumptious Truly ?) duetted All I Ask Of You from Phantom. Interestingly, if the show had one slightly weak link it was Ansell, who when performing with his peers lacked a lustre. This song too, did not showcase Williams at her best and is one of the very few numbers that needs attention before the evening is repeated.

Daniel Boys came on to own the stage with Maria, from West Side Story. Boys has a youthful vivacity, an electricity in his appearance and a sublime voice to match his attributes. Each time he took the stage, his confidence and ability simply shone.

Gates debuted as fourth on the bill with one of his signature pieces, Close Every Door from Joseph. To say the audience was partisan would be an understatement as the man could do no wrong, however he sung delightfully with magnificent presence and charisma. With one exception, all of Gates’ songs were performed solo, without backing singers or dancers. This may well have been due to the artist’s hectic schedule ( he is currently appearing in Legally Blonde on tour) , but it served to accentuate an air of superiority to the star that suggested a hint of perhaps unintended aloofness and a lack of teamwork amongst the company.

In Mein Herr, from Cabaret, Miss Williams was as sultry and seductive a Sally Bowles as could be wished for whilst the musical arrangement of the song was a refreshing variation on the traditional. The sleazily choregoraphed Fosse style routine that accompanied her was similarly first-rate, and the song was one of the evenings 5 star moments.

The second act saw Boys impress with Sondheim’s Being Alive, and as a delightful Rusty in the Starlight Sequence from Starlight Express. The disappointing feature of this song was Ansell as the Poppa character. The role demands a bass baritone for the magic to work between the two steam engines, lacking in this performance.

The evenings biggest numbers served as a crescendo to the shows finale. With Why God Why? from Miss Saigon, Gates truly earned his star billing. Ansell then performed a Gethsemane that was outstanding, receiving a modest standing ovation for his turn. Whether this adulation was due to Lloyd Webber’s Superstar currently on TV screens, who knows? But the singer gave his all to the performance, that was breathtaking to witness.

With No One But You from We Will Rock You, Rachael Wooding took on a massively moving song nailing it with poise and spine-tingling power, before duetting touchingly with Gates in Schwartz’s For Good from Wicked, even if that particular song is becoming a little familiar on the ear.

The creative team assembled under the talented Garfield-Roberts were faultless. George Dyer’s direction of his 8 piece band was lively with imaginative arrangements, Racky Plews’ choreography was as innovative and expertly drilled into the youthful ensemble and credit to Alan Wareham’s sound design, crystal clear in the rear stalls.

The show deserves to tour, see it if you get an opportunity


This review originally appeared in The Public Reviews

Monday, 16 July 2012

25 Year Songbook - Review

The Pheasantry, Londom


Music by Matthew Strachan

Lyrics by Matthew Strachan and Bernie Gaughan

The Pheasantry on Chelsea’s Kings Road was a sell-out for this lookback by Matthew Strachan on a selection of his compositions from the last quarter century.

The evening’s 25 song set set drew not only from the Strachan’s stage musicals, but also bore heavy reference to his early composing years, some of which had been spent in Nashville. The USA has clearly providing a significant influence on much of his creativity. His opening two numbers were Tennessee inspired , The Valley, followed by Better Than Him, both painting perceptive pictures of characters from contemporary America, whilst the truly modern song, Hands Up Who’s Looking At Me provided a clever comment on the ubiquitous presence of social networking media. The one performance of the night that jarred was Smells Like Teenage Suicide, a song inspired by aspects of the media response to the Columbine massacre. However noble Strachan’s intentions may have been in writing this song, the irony of his lyrics was stretched too thin, leaving his composition with the potential to deeply upset and offend.

As a writer of witty words, as well as a pianist, Strachan’s talents are immense. At times his performance bore more than a nod to Billy Joel with a liberal twist of Tom Lehrer thrown in, mixing humour and wry political comment, with outstanding keyboard skills. His fingers coaxed the Pheasantry’s grand piano across a range of genres and styles, from blues to ballad to honky-tonk in seamless segues.

Accompanying the man on the night were four accomplished stars of musical theatre, Kim Ismay, Steven Carlile, Riona O Connor and Louise Gold, all of whom were outstanding. With neither props nor costumes, each singer offered a master-class in musical theatre story telling simply through use of voice, face and stage presence. Their vibrancy and talent however offered stark contrast to the fact that Strachan’s vocal strength did not match theirs. If he had given more of the show to the actors, rather than the miserly allocation of one song apiece, the evening would have been considerably closer to a 5 star event.

Strachan is clearly an accomplished musician. As well as his songwriting perhaps his most lucrative creative work to date has been that of writing the music for the TV gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Those catchy TV tunelets clearly demonstrate that Strachan has an ability to recognize what the public wants to hear. Outside the world of theatre and the music business however, his is a comparatively low profile. It will be interesting to see his work developed to be able to sustain larger mainstream audiences with shows that demand financial success. The quality of his writing suggests he truly has the potential to fill a West End venue.


This review was first published in The Public Reviews

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tortoise In Love - Film review


Written and directed  by: Guy Browning

This is an affectionately crafted movie,  that could easily fit the description of a “Notting Hill”, for the Chipping Campden set.

The tortoise of the title is Tom, gardener to the local manor house, who is profoundly sheepish in expressing his affection for Anya, the newly arrived Polish au pair at the mansion. A sub plot sees young Harry, Anya’s charge, explore his desire for model planes lived out in his wonderfully constructed treehouse world. The film is a delightful rom-com of a confection, that charts how these worlds and dreams collide.

Tom Mitchelson plays his namesake gardener wonderfully, frequently resembling a bumbling, foppish and youthful Hugh Grant. When his romantic denouement with Anya is close to realisation, the similarity between that moment and the famous bookshop scene where Julia Roberts simply asks Grant to love her, is striking. As Anya, Alice Zawadzki is a delightful and beautiful foil to the handsome young Mitchelson’s awkward Englishness.

The plotline is sweetly simple, and Browning wittily documents the mating rituals that both men and women adopt in pursuit of love. At times however the storyline is clichĂ©d and fails to satisfy. Disney’s Mary Poppins introduced us to the wealthy banker who in knowing the cost of everything and the value of far less, became disconnected from his children. To revisit that theme in 2012 needs a re-working that is strong and whilst Harry’s relationship with his banker father is only a minor aspect of the story, it’s portrayal, along with the film’s frequent and somewhat tawdry references to divorce, is shallow and does not do justice to Browning’s storytelling strengths.

Shot in and around the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Kingston Bagpuize, the production is close to unique in having engaged nearly all the village in participation within the story, either in front of or behind the camera. It is likely that not since the sleepy Massachusetts town of Martha’s Vineyard woke up to the arrival of the trucks and trailers of an unknown young director called Steven Spielberg, there to shoot a movie about a shark, has a whole community so thrown itself behind the production of a motion picture.

Making a film with such a strong local perspective of course has its strengths and pitfalls. The budget of the movie for example is helped no-end by the catering for cast and crew being provided by the local WI and similarly the project has garnered deserved recognition for being such an inspirational vehicle for community endeavour. Some of the acting however has the hallmark of an amateur dramatic production and the contrast of these well meaning but nonetheless plodding thespians, set against fellow professionally trained cast members is a distraction. 

Visually, the film is a treat. Kingston Bagpuize and its manor house is a beautiful location and the whole production has been stunningly lit and photographed by the Hungarian Balazs Bolygo. With this summer being such a washout, the movie deserves to be seen if only to remind ourselves how idyllic the English village, replete with Summer fete, can be - not to mention a meticulously choreographed display of formation wheelbarrow handling!

The film deserves its theatrical release, but will be best seen at home, where it will make for an enjoyable viewing accompanied by a box of chocolates and a glass of wine.


Friday, 13 July 2012

Michael Armstrong - EP Review


The three songs on Michael Armstrong’s debut EP provide an exciting glimpse into this newly discovered performer’s refreshing sound and creativity.

A builder who can sing, it was an act of remarkable good fortune that after stumbling into and winning the early rounds of American Idol, ( visa technicalities preventing his further progress ) Armstrong was working on the Surrey home of producer and promoter Lisa Davies. She listened to his work, recognized the potential and this last year has seen him start to explore and exploit his musical talent.

Paler Shade of Blue is a wry look at the emotional debris that follows the ending of a relationship. Sung with a strong rhythm , the song is anything but a wallow in self pity. Rather, it is a well crafted ballad, that will have you ( maybe a little incongruously )  tapping your feet to the beat  as the singer pours out his melancholy. This is the song of a man who recognizes his sadness but will not be brought down by it.

Regalia is a song that hints at monarchy and dominance in its lyrics. At times the words echo a watered down version of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire, with a modest listing of various historical events and themes. Overall the song lacks credibility and at times sounds as if the writer is trying just a little too hard to be a philosopher,  I would suggest that Armstrong narrows the scope of his early writings to a more compact canvas. He can document the feelings of the heart with perception and should stay with building a catalog of songs that reflect the human condition. It will be interesting to hear him return to capturing broader issues on song once his early career is more established.

Living What You’re Breathing is a well crafted reflection , looking back on life. Well written, and cleverly arranged, it shows the singer at his best.

The EP indicates that Armstrong has landed on his feet in finding Lisa Davies as his manager. All the tracks have been recorded with a commitment to excellent production values and Davies’ ear for detail has ensured that the sound of each song including backing instruments and vocals is outstanding .

This recording is a great taste of Armstrong’s potential. His debut album is eagerly awaited.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan (2012) - DVD Review


Directed and written by Paul Tanter

The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan is a movie that pulls few punches as a gangster thriller and which, for the most part, defines its style very much as that of 2012 London.

Loosely based on true events, the film charts the path of Mike Jacobs, played by Nick Nevern,  an unemployed football fan who is no stranger to organised football violence, and who as a last resort is persuaded by old friend Eddie Hill, ( Simon Phillips ) to become a courier for a criminal organisation, moving hardware and equipment around the capital to support the mob’s widespread credit card fraud operations.  The banter between Mike and Eddie is tightly scripted, and as all good London based scripts should do, provides many witty moments as the two friends mock each other. As the criminal activity of cloning credit cards does not involve drugs, and it appears to be free of people getting hurt, so Jacobs’ simple moral concerns are largely, eventually, put at ease and he agrees to join his friend. Where the script makes reference to the only people losing out being the banks, the film’s plotline strikes a chord with current day public  contempt for these high-street giants, particularly in the light of the recent interest-rate fixing scandal.

Of course, violence is never far away, with criminals seeking to protect their turf, their lives, and their money, from other gangs, from disloyal gang members and the police. The deeper Mike becomes involved within the gang, the harder his choices become, as his own values become distorted under the influence of money and drugs.

Nevern and Phillips both put in performances that are gritty and believable. Nevern plays a man who is seeking no more than primal achievements. He wants employment, money and the respect of a woman who he in turn can provide for. His flawed struggle to achieve these basic goals is the simplest of premises that makes this story so watchable.

The supporting cast are generally strong. Rebecca Ferdinando , in particular as hooker Nicey Pricey, whose real name Mike cannot recall, puts in a great turn as a lady who has seen it all. Soap legend Billy Murray of The Bill and EastEnders fame , who also executive produces the movie, provides a chilling gangland boss, able to encourage Mike’s rise within his organisation yet capable of showing no mercy whatsoever when required.

Paul Tanter has helmed a well crafted story . With photography by Haider Zafar that is tight and contemporary, combined with Richard Colton’s editing , he ensures that from a purely visual perspective alone , the film is superbly paced. And with more than a nod to how Europe and the financial ( and criminal ) world  has been shrunk by modern day technology and communication, a fair part of the film’s action is shot on the streets and metro of Paris, which provides a further air of authenticity to the story’s credentials.

Tanter’s one flaw is the extent to which he includes football hooliganism in the picture. Cleverly, this aspect of Mike’s early life and background provides not much more than an early-on scene setter, with occasional “cut to” scenes of hooliganism. Whilst menacing gangland violence is easy to portray on screen, evidenced by the horrific beating Mike endures in a Manchester warehouse, football mob unrest is difficult to film on a modest budget. The scenes of soccer thugs screaming at riot police, who in turn lay into them with batons and truncheons did not convince in the way that the director would have intended. One should also bear in mind that recent years have seen British football hooliganism become less ugly than in decades past and as such, the shots of such violence created a modestly dated air to the story that was undeserved.

Overall though, the movie is gripping. With humour, menace, and moments of hard bloody violence, it provides a 90 minute white-knuckle ride through some of Europe's ganglands of the 21st century.


Sunday, 8 July 2012

The In Between - CD Review


Music, Lyrics and Book by Laura Tisdall

The In Between is a new musical by accomplished young musician Laura Tisdall, and it is quite simply an extraordinary composition. Writing music, lyrics and book, Tisdall has released a concept album of 7 songs from her show, extracts of which were recently performed at London’s West End Live 2012.

Venturing into Philip Pullman territory , Tisdall’s In Between of the title,  is the space between two parallel worlds, into which her protagonist Flick Wimple steps. Orphaned at 8, and guided to early adulthood by her well meaning sister Alice who is 11 years her  senior, the story finds Flick at 19. The album opens with the song She’s My Sister, in which Flick as a young woman on the verge of adulthood, describes the typical frustrations that adolescents feel towards the parent/guardian figure in their life. The song echoes aspects of Miracle from Tim Minchin’s Matilda, not just because both shows inhabit fictitious worlds that spin on slightly different axes , but rather because both songs brilliantly define their story’s key character. Through a range of tempos and styles, Ms Tisdall’s lyrics are witty, and her musical composition is both clever and refreshing on the ear. For this song , the sisters’ roles are sung by Dianne Pilkington and Cassandra Compton, and these two talented vocalists set the excellent standard that is upheld throughout the album.

In Never Expect, Sabrina Aloueche sings of Flick’s being an outsider, not a part of the cliques of life and when she sings the line “I’m not a golden girl” one is reminded of Elphaba’s inability to fit in, in Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked. Tisdall’s song is more upbeat than say, I’m Not That Girl, from Schwartz’s composition, and within that context serves to define Flick’s character in a positive, rather than introspective manner, with no hint of self-pity.

Most musicals feature the human conditions of love and desire, often against challenging odds. The In Between introduces Flick to Guide Calicus, a young man who is a part of that space between the worlds, and with whom it is suggested, Flick establishes a relationship. On the concept CD, two of Calicus’ solo numbers are included, Out Of Your World, performed by Daniel Boys and Beyond the Door, sung by Hadley Fraser. Both of these songs have a resonance that could truly fill a large stage. Boys encourages the cautious Flick to consider venturing from her world whilst Fraser decribes in a soaring performance, the world that he wants Flick to make her own.

Alice’s character is given a further song on the CD, and Julie Atherton’s version of When I Was 19, is a poignant look back from an elder sibling, at the challenges her sister has faced. It is pleasing to hear Atherton away from a comic performance, and to be reminded just how versatile, perceptive and above all, moving her delivery can be.

 Flick’s biggest number on the concept recording is Someone You’ll Be Proud Of . A song that opens peacefully, addressed to her dead parents and then evolves into a wave of voice and music as Flick celebrates her growth into maturity. Lauren Samuels has been tasked with performing this number and she does not disappoint. Past the middle-eight, her singing is positively spine-tingling.

Alexia Khadime and Liam Tamne perform Not Alone, and they deliver what is the CD’s only duet of Flick and Calicus, with impressive strength and harmony.

This concept release is virtually faultless. Tisdall has crafted a modern musical that echoes contemporary themes of story telling yet weaves traditional journeys of love and self discovery, into 25 minutes of sheer listening pleasure. Based upon these 7 songs alone, the entire show should be outstanding. Buy this recording and support the work. The In Between deserves a staging soon and has the potential to become a major West End hit.


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Songs - Richard Beadle - CD Review


Richard Beadle is a very accomplished young musical presence in contemporary musical theatre. His album, Songs, is an anthology comprising some works that will form part of Today Is My Day, a full length show that he is writing, whilst others are simply penned without a connecting thread.

It is a mark of the respect that Beadle commands within the “Business”, that he has been able to enlist the vocal skills of so many talented artistes to perform his works. Rachael Wooding sings most frequently as Emily, the bride to be in Today Is My Day, whilst  Ross Hunter plays Daniel, her fiancĂ©. In an ingenious performance, the talented Hannah Waddingham sings as Katherine, Daniel’s mother and in a bold move for the musical theatre genre, Beadle has written the song  1967 for her character, addressing a sexual assault endured as a young girl. A disquieting theme, but the writer has approached both lyric and tune sensitively, and Waddingham’s delivery is haunting, hinting at the terror that she experienced, and the damage she subsequently suffered.

Julie Atherton features on two songs, both of which bring comedic interludes to the album. In The Wedding Song, she tries her hand as Emily,  frantically preparing herself as all brides must, for the detailed planning of her wedding day. Where the other songs from Today Is My Day are predominantly reflective and introspective, Atherton injects that tone of paranoia that is sufficient to raise a smile in any person who has planned a big event. With I Want A Footballer, Atherton reprises her celebrity-seeking “wannabe” character, heard last year on Dougal Irvine’s song Do You Want A Baby Baby? The lyrics are clever, and the reference to footballers wives and girlfriends being the power-wielders within relationships, suggesting that they are “ the tail that wags the dog” is sublime. If it wasn’t for the “Blue Is The Colour” motif scored into the last few bars, this song would be perfect!

Also performing two songs on the CD is Stuart Matthew Price, for whom Beadle has previously written for the singer’s own album. Colorado Plates sees Price in his fresh and honest style, searching for a probably lost love, with a performance that echoed his previously recorded Run Away With Me.

Lyrically, Beadle does need to sharpen his pencil as regards wit and rhyme if he is to emulate the piercing perception say of Jason Robert Brown, whose music certainly seems to have influenced his work. It must be said however that Richard Beadle’s musical composition is simply outstanding. His range of style and use of orchestra is both exciting and gratifying to listen to, and it is clear why he is a musical director in much demand in today’s competitive West End. The album is both a taste of the future and a celebration of the talents of today. If you enjoy musical theatre, you will relish it.