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

Eric Yves Garcia - Review

Crazy Coqs, London


Eric Garcia

In recent years New York singer-pianist Eric Yves Garcia has made quite an impact. An award winning cabaret artiste, he is here for a week’s residency at the Crazy Coqs with his show, One Night Standards. 

Relaxed from the outset, it was hard to comprehend that this was Garcia’s UK debut. Beginning with Arlen and Mercer’s Ridin’ On The Moon, it rapidly became clear that Garcia is a performer who can make one believe every note and lyric. Accompanied by Joe Pettit throughout on double bass, his first song declared his arrival and from there it continued with the deliciously naughty One Hour With You. If there is one male singer who can deliver this Whiting and Robin treat with the perfect mix of glint in their eye and silky vocals, it is Garcia. 

The mesmerizingly good-looking Garcia has a self-deprecating patter that forms an impressive part of his gig. With pinpoint timing he talks of performing in Florida (or as he described it, ‘’god’s waiting room’), to an audience response that is testament to his raconteur ability. 

Numbers that were more emotionally exposed such as Hey Look, No Cryin’ proved a powerful highlight of the set, with Garcia’s understated vocals and vulnerability counteracting the wit and charm of his earlier comical pieces. 

Captivating is an oft overused word but it describes Garcia perfectly. From an astounding musicianship and controlled velvet voice, to his well-honed comic presence, the man is a delight. If a performance could transport the audience to another era, one of forgotten romance, that still manages to sound as fresh as it did sixty years ago, then this is it.

Performs until 13th June 2015

Guest reviewer: Francesca Mepham

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Teddy - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London


Witten by Tristan Bernays
Music by Dougal Irvine
Directed by Eleanor Rhode

Will Payne

Teddy is a new piece of theatre from Tristan Bernays and Dougal Irvine that sets out to depict the Teddy Boy era of 1950’s London. It's all about rock and roll and austerity in post-war Britain, but much like the Teddy Boys it tells of, the play's slickly packaged but scratch its surface and there's a show unsure of itself and seemingly still seeking its own identity. A 4-piece band and a programme listing 10 musical numbers, hint at what might be a musical, but the incessant monologues that occupy most of its 100 minutes (and which feel much longer) define it as a play in need of improvement.

Bernays writes the words and Irvine the melodies. In recent years Irvine has shown himself to be one of the sharpest songwriters around (his Departure Lounge musical was a brilliant study on contemporary teenage angst) but here he is confined solely to tunesmith responsibilities – a talent sadly squandered.

Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby as the Teddy Boy teenage romantics Teddy and Josie put in flawless performances, taking us through what may well have been a typical night in 1950s South London, save for a sensational and unconvincing denouement. Their narrative tells of the countless characters encountered – and whilst Bernays’ intentions are honourable, the non-stop verbal assault of his speeches try our patience. Teddy’s actors and musicians are a 6 litre engine powering a struggling concept show.

One needs to hear more of the band. Alice Offley’s wonderfully uber cool bass-playing Jenny sings with a glorious Southern twang that could almost suggest The Blues Brothers’ Good Ole Boys, whilst Will Payne’s Johnny Valentine offers up a convincing rocker. It is only Irvine’s music and the show’s two stunning leads that redeem the show.

Bernays needs to rip up much of his pretentious and assonant alliteration – and replace it with a generous helping of lyrics from Irvine, a proven wit-meister. Oh and give choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves a decent sized ensemble to work with too. To suggest a packed and heaving dance floor, complete with revolving mirror ball with only two actors, is just downright mean spirited. The audience deserves more.

Runs until 27th June 2015

Picture by Darren Bell

Monday 8 June 2015

DISCO - Review

The Victoria Pub, London


Written by Sophie Andrea Mitchell 
Directed by Sophie Barth

If you like your reviews as short and sour as a tequila slammer, let me say just this: site-specific DISCO, that ran for three days from 2nd June, isn’t going to impress those who thrive off imaginative and original storytelling. And the drawn-out tale of online dating, embarrassingly pushy mates and dance floor awkwardness that sits at the heart of this evening certainly won't revolutionise your understanding of life, the universe or anything in between. 

That said, few fringe productions are going to dish out this much fun, nor permit you to get so involved in the atmosphere of the night. This newest production from Three Pegs excels in its exhilaratingly fun attention to detail. Audience members are invited to pull their cheesiest track recommendations into a collaborative Spotify playlist and before the show kicks off properly, there’s just enough time to Sharpie something smutty onto a displaced toilet wall and prank call a couple of the numbers left by previous occupants. Then, it’s time for party games. 

Such is the charm of flirty and charismatic DJ Michelle Barwood, as she piles one vintage hit after another and pulls audience members into the party, it’s easy to feel thoroughly immersed and involved in this evening. Sadly, though, when we’re introduced to the four characters that make up the night’s dramatic arch, they seem to be in a different bar altogether and the link between our fun and games and their tale of desperate chat up lines and sloshed romance is flimsy. DISCO gives us an immersive and involving take on the difficulties of making connections in a detached and superficial world – but it does so by making a group of strangers all hold hands and manoeuvre a hula hoop around their circle. It is at once and jarringly, cynical and optimistic – its narrative telling us how tough it is to form connections, but its atmosphere pulling back the ghosts of children’s parties, student unions and rose-tinted 70s free-loving shindigs to remind us that we are all, at heart, social creatures. 

While the occasionally inaudible audio may remind you why conventional theatres have cornered the market in presenting drama and a couple of Sophie Andrea Mitchell’s scenes lie either wooden or obscured under Sophie Barth’s direction, the thrill of DISCO comes from how it borrows more than mere space from its host venue. This is not pub theatre in the sense that it uses the back room of a local boozer to transport you elsewhere; rather, DISCO reminds us of the excitement up for grabs in ordinary locations.

In this short play, the characters learn to build courage around strangers and to be more open to what life throws at them; with its playful, noisy and mildly intoxicated atmosphere, DISCO dares us to instantly put these lessons into practise – whether that be with a view of scoring that hot date, or just getting better at passing the hula hoop!

Guest reviewer: Amelia Forsbrook

Thursday 4 June 2015

Duncton Wood - Review

Union Theatre, London


Music and lyrics by Mark Carroll
Books by James Peries
Based on the novel by William Horwood
Directed by Michael Strassen

Duncton Wood is an ambitious musical from Mark Carroll, adapting the best-selling novel famously set in the meadowed world of Oxfordshire’s moles.

In the micro-budget world of the Union Theatre, where the noise of passing trains over the arches above can occasionally be a distraction, here their rumble serves well to suggest the subterranean domain we are pitched into. Sadly there’s not much else to remind us that this story is playing out underground and of course where William Horwood’s fantastic writing succeeded was in letting his readers' imaginations run wild in creating the conflicts and passions of his blind mammals’ confines. 

Fantasy story telling demands the highest burden of proof for our disbelief to be suspended (and ideally from a great height), but in Duncton Wood it barely leaves the ground. What remains is a troupe of talented performers, (including many scantily clad young men) along with some occasional moments of inspired ensemble singing. 

When one sees Cats, The Lion King or War Horse, (and accepting that the financial comparison between these titles and Duncton Wood is unfair) those shows' production values seal the illusions that their creative teams have strived for. Above all, they convince us that we are seeing living beasts rather than masked performers. Not so here, because for all of Carroll’s noble intentions, the show’s overarching impression is of a lengthy, amateurish workshop piece that is ultimately going to require a very risky investment if it is to live on. 

Michael Strassen is an accomplished and visionary director and as an experimental piece of theatre his ensemble numbers, particularly Victory in act one and After The Rain, after the interval, are stirring stuff. But too many of his solo voices are woefully under-projected. That being said, those whose acting did make me sit up were Amelia-Rose Morgan’s Rebecca and Robert Dalton’s brief appearances as Burhead. Most of this cast would do well to study their veteran colleagues Trevor Jones and Anthony Cable, who with years of experience and a smattering of operatic work too, know how to create vocal impact. There are also occasional scenes that are played out at floor level, with actors lain prone on the ground. Sat in the Union’s back rows, this action is annoyingly invisible.

The story is complex – and any future production would do well to include a synopsis in the programme. It’s basically good moles versus warrior bad moles, with the rapacious villains being profiled in black (an unhelpful reinforcement of racial prejudice, producers take note) and kitted out with Wolverine/Freddy Krueger type claws. The plot was impossible to decipher, but along the way there is a Romeo and Juliet inspired tryst and a spot of mole-themed infanticide to kick the pace along.  

There are exhilarating moments to Carroll’s score, with a thoroughly English pulse that at times hints at Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man yet also manages a surprisingly amusing nod to Carmen’s Habanera in act one’s Rose The Healer. The five-piece band work hard throughout under Josh Sood’s direction and a special mention to Jody Sapsard’s delightful work on reeds.

Quite where the production’s much trumpeted funding from the Arts Council and the Mackintosh Foundation has been used is hard to see - though if the money’s been spent paying actors a decent wage, a tough ask for any fringe show in this day and age, then fair enough.

Carroll has clearly and commendably invested months of his life into writing this piece and students and genre devotees should see the show if only for its brave curiosity value. But the script demands edits and an increased accessibility – and the staging needs to be convincingly re-engineered if the audience is to be drawn into the moles’ world. It is a credit to British talent that the show has been created, but if Duncton Wood is truly and successfully to see the light of day, then there is a lot more work to do.

Runs until 20th June 2015

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Michael Armstrong - The Album - Review


In a music business that can too often be driven by corporates, manufactured clones or finely choreographed campaigns, it is easy to become disillusioned. But for those living in the hope of finding honest music from real musicians, there is much to be celebrated in Michael Armstrong.

A true music fan, Armstrong devours the work of his idols – Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, Billy Joel and more – living and breathing every note, chord progression and lyric from the greats and it shows. His debut album, two years in the making, has been built upon a gift for storytelling, that works both lyrically and musically.

If nothing else, the names featured on the liner notes speak volumes. Alongside Armstrong, Keith Bessey whose credits include Elton John, 10cc and The Ramones co-produces, whilst guitarist Elliott Randall (Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers) features on three tracks, including the superb The Cola Paranoia. Lead singer of The Hollies, Peter Howarth, lends his vocals to Armstrong’s debut single, The Radio Years – a recording that has deservedly garnered much support from BBC Radio 2 airplay. That the album was recorded in The Beatles' hometown of Liverpool is a source of much spiritual and artistic pride to Armstrong.

Armstrong is a talented writer and musician, displaying both depth and character. Vocally he offers a passing similarity to Jon Bon Jovi and even when he’s not singing, his arrangements are a delight, notably a gloriously slowed down cover of Billy Joel’s Allentown.

While the whole record has clearly been put together in a considered way – the two year process shows and is appreciated – there are particular highlights including Innocence Of Men and a forthcoming single The Contented Man (These Halcyon Days).

Packed with catchy melodies, harmonies and rousing choruses, the album is but built upon stories of substance. One can empathise with the Armstrong's characters whilst his lyrics tell of real and relatable issues. Like the musical greats he has learned from, Michael Armstrong has created a truly memorable album. 

For more information visit 
The Radio Years is available to download now from iTunes and Amazon. 
Michael Armstrong The Album is due for release on 29 June

Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar

Tuesday 2 June 2015

The Clockmaker's Daughter - Review

Landor Theatre, London


Jennifer Harding

Written by Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn
Directed by Robert McWhir

As Carrie The Musical closes in Southwark, so another show about a misunderstood young woman, who's blessed with supernatural powers, opens south of the river. But where Carrie was the re-imagining of a classic modern horror story, The Clockmaker's Daughter in Clapham’s Landor Theatre is a boldly written new fairy tale.

There are hints of Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz and Howard Goodall in the music as we learn how many years ago clockmaker Abraham made himself a clockwork young daughter named Constance (geddit?) to replace his young dead wife. Notwithstanding the potentially "mechanically incestuous" complications that the scenario suggests (and which need to be ironed out in the inevitable future re-writes), the very best of fairy tales, on close examination, are all horror stories and there are distinct nods to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a starting point for this fable. We see Constance, like Dr Frankenstein's creature before her, learning to reason and to feel emotions and going on ultimately to be shunned by the world around her.

The plot is simple - and as Constance goes around the village performing acts of kindness, she represents a wholesome focus for the story to pivot upon. Her craving a human mortality only adds to the story's poignancy and with the inclusion of an appropriately boo-worthy villain, the show offers some gorgeous potential.

That this story works at all is largely due to the outstanding performance of Jennifer Harding in the title role. Robert McWhir has coaxed from her a subtly portrayed reality that convinces us of her soulless plight. Her robotic movements are just right, not too pronounced and Harding's gold-painted face defines her as being not of this world. Her singing is gorgeous too, making fine work of her big solos A Story Of My Own and the climactic Clockwork.

Jo Wickham hams it up magnificently (though she could shout a bit less) as the wicked Ma' Riley, out for Constance's downfall, Alyssa Martyn convinces as a charming young bride Amelia, whilst elsewhere the large company numbers again demonstrate Robbie O'Reilly's ability to achieve impressive ensemble work in the Landor's compact space, with both Keep It To Yourself and Market Day being cleverly staged numbers that were easy on both eye and ear. 

David Shields' stage design works wonders with a set that's a combination of trucks, projections and ingenious contraptions and credit too to Richard Lambert's lighting work that for the most part enhances both ambience and location.

This ain't the finished product yet, but it's a damn good work in progress. The show needs to lose at least 30 minutes and its script would benefit from some expert treatment too. But make no mistake, The Clockmaker's Daughter is a charming show that celebrates the ingenuity of today's new writing - it's fun to watch and a bit of a tear-jerker too. This wonderful story deserves a future life, possibly as a Xmas show somewhere or who knows, possibly on screen? There's enough potential in the story to hook even the most Disney-fied of today's audiences and I wish it well.

Runs until 4th July 2015

Picture credit: Poppy Carter Portraits at