Wednesday 29 August 2012

[REC] 3 Genesis - DVD Review

Certificate 18


Directed by Paco Plaza
Written by Paco Plaza and Luis Berdejo

Leticia Dolera as Clara
With films 1 and 2 in the [REC] series, Paco Plaza together with Jaume Balagueró  directed a truly frightening horror series. The movies were carefully crafted, with all footage purporting to come from one or another hand-held recording device ( hence the REC – “record” in the title ) and as the crazed zombie storyline of 1 evolved into 2’s tale of demonic possession, the directorial pair used suspense combined with sparingly deployed gruesome special effects, to tell two chilling stories.
[REC]3 Genesis however is a classic example of cinematic life imitating its art. In 2011 the Fox corporation purchased the REC franchise, Balagueró left the directors’ chairs and #3 in the series represents the tragic death of the beautifully crafted horror of #1 and #2 only for it to be re-incarnated zombie-like, as a mutated form of the original, replete with a crass and shallow story and only redeemed by the film’s outrageous visual effects.
We meet Koldo and Clara on their wedding day with the wobbly footage from their family’s hand-held camcorders innocently signalling the horrific potential that a REC title promises. The opening scenes are authentically played out, with an obese uncle chillingly complaining of a bite that he has received from a dog that he had thought was dead.  For followers of the REC series, 3 is set in a parallel time frame as 2, and occasionally TV screens in the film acknowledge the horrific events from the previous film, that are unfolding in Barcelona.
Without spoiling the plot too much, no sooner are we into the wedding reception than Uncle Obesity dives headfirst from a balcony crashing onto the shocked guests below. It looks like he has broken his back, but of course the moment he is tended to by concerned relatives he sits up, spews infected blood and bites the throat out of an unsuspecting guest. And we’re off. The zombie virus rapidly spreads throughout the guests amidst outrageous carnage and shocking projectile bleeding and it is evident that what cash the producers saved on intelligent plot development was at least poured into the effects budget.
The film then evolves into a traditional thriller as Clara and Koldo try to flee the hoards of their un-dead relatives ( on reflection those last few words sound like many a typical non-zombie family wedding) and escape the palacial grounds where the party was being hosted. In the DVD’s extras, Plaza talks enthusiastically of the design work involved in planning the damage that Clara’s wedding dress sustains as the story unfolds, suggesting that the dress itself had its own arc, or plotline, throughout the movie. Any director that needs to suggest that a costume has its own character, is clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel as regards storyline. 
Perhaps with an eye to propping up the tottering Spanish economy, the producers have unashamedly tried to milk the REC brand in a way that echoes the exploitation of the Jaws or Friday the 13th titles. The handheld concept from 1 and 2 soon makes way for traditional crane and dolly mounted swooping / tracking shots as the wedding camcorders are discarded and it were not for the gruesome visuals, there would be very little to make this film worth watching. It is the well filmed and set-up scenes of decapitation, disembowelment and assorted throat rippings, combined with a stunning scene involving a chainsaw wielding bride and the most bloodily passionate wedding kiss ever in the film’s closing moments that make  the film an entertaining B-movie gore fest.
If a criteria for a good zombie scenario is that it should be like a fine steak: possibly just still alive and dripping with blood, then this movie is certainly served rare. Set your expectations low, enjoy the few jokes that are within the tale, try not to eat while you watch and you just might really enjoy the ride!

Available on DVD and Blu Ray from September 3rd 2012

Saturday 25 August 2012

Feature: Andrew Keates and Robert McWhir

Encore: Andrew Keates and Robert McWhir, The Landor Theatre

Those familiar with The Phantom of the Opera will know that Paris’ fictional Opera Populaire in which the show is set, is run by two charming if somewhat pompous gentlemen, M. Firmin and M. Andre, forever attending to and fussing over the requirements and the budgets of their productions, the quality of which, courtesy of the Opera Ghost, was often outstanding. Remove the pomposity (and of course a good few years) from these Frenchmen, shift the location to a quiet suburban London street and you start to come close to the talents of the creative managing duo of the Landor Theatre that are Robert McWhir and Andrew Keates.

In recent years London’s fringe musical theatre has seen a number of venues mount very impressive productions, few more trailblazing and audacious than the Landor Theatre’s. Perched above the pub of the same name, the former Functions Room (complete with dumbwaiter from the kitchen and Guinness pipes emerging from a wall) has been transformed with two tiers of seating into a rectangular performance space that feels almost Tardis-like, such is the quality of the theatre’s output. Awards and rave reviews are commonplace to this establishment (it scooped four Off West End awards this year alone) and like the Olympian achievements of recent weeks, the theatre’s acclaim has been garnered through nothing less than the complete devotion and jaw-dropping hard work of Keates and McWhir. Between them, these two men have taken innovative scores and libretti, attracted the cream of theatre’s performing and creative talents and presented imaginative productions to hardened London audiences.

In the mid 1990s Linda Edwards, who worked at the Italia Conti stage school next door, was invited by the forward-thinking landlord of the Landor pub to start a theatre upstairs. Robert McWhir first came to the theatre in 1997 with the production City of Angels, and almost immediately felt a connection with the place. After discussions with Linda, he was invited to manage the theatre, and has since worked almost continuously at the Landor, performing in and developing numerous shows. His close working relationship with Keates is evident and Andrew would go as far as to say that in Rob he has found not only a best friend but also a father figure, in terms of his professional respect for McWhir. One of the reasons that Keates wanted to work at the Landor was simply to ease the burden on the McWhir, allowing the more experienced man to evolve into the role of the theatre’s artistic director.

At 28, Keates (who is by some years the younger of the pair), became entranced with the creative potential of the Landor whilst appearing in Into The Woods. The theatre’s affinity with Sondheim’s work appealed to Keates, with McWhir then mounting a groundbreaking production of Follies. Never before had this most challenging of Sondheim scores been professionally attempted by a fringe company. Sceptics said it couldn’t be done, but Josef Weinberger Ltd, the music publisher, took a supportive approach to McWhir’s plans and established West End names such as Claire Moore and Bryan Kennedy joined the cast. Eschewing an orchestra for the plain musical backing of just a piano, the Landor production went on to win the resounding support of its esteemed New York composer himself.

The simple space and dimensions of the Landor create a hothouse of creativity. In a world where theatre workshops are commonplace, Keates is adamant that the Landor is a theatre workhouse. The building sports very few showbiz trimmings or trappings; there is but one backstage loo, and that is to be shared by all the cast. Front of house, economies of both space and cash demand that all involved in a show are forced to be imaginative in their work. But this workhouse works. Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s The Hired Man, had struggled in its 25 year life to find a professional stage upon which it could flourish. At the Landor the show didn’t just take root, it bloomed. Using the simplest of props, barrels and bales of straw, an impassioned cast took the audience through Bragg’s vast landscape of northern Britain at the start of the 20th century and on to the horrors of the Great War. Directed by Keates and up against stiff competition, the show scooped best musical at this year’s Off West End Awards. Such is the respect that has been earned, Howard Goodall has proposed that his new musical A Winters Tale, taken from Shakespeare, be premiered at the Landor, directed by Keates, later this year.

McWhir emphasises that whilst the Landor is no more than a “theatre above a pub”, he wants it to be the best such theatre. He knows the strengths and pitfalls of the place better than anyone and is a master of working productions around the constraints and features of the space. One such feature is an entry to the backstage wings that is literally a door, centre stage-back. Nothing fancy, just a door. This doorway typically becomes a scenic feature of Landor productions and even when shows tour, the “Landor door” is an integral part of the set design, as I observed during the premiere of Black Slap that they took to Edinburgh last year.

The pair are pleased with the extent to which bold musical theatre is being embraced by London’s fringe, and look warmly upon Danielle Tarento’s recent productions at Southwark Playhouse and the volume of work that emerges from the Union Theatre. Keates, however, observes with irony that in 2011, apart from London Road, he cannot recall a succesful new musical premiere in a mainstream, commercial London theatre. Whilst the box office draw of the jukebox musical is recognised as a source of employment and wealth across the industry, both he and McWhir are sad that it has becomes increasingly challenging for new or newly-discovered musical theatre to become a financial success.

Those whom they have directed or produced hold both Andrew and Rob in high esteem. Kim Ismay, a West End actress with more years as Mamma Mia’s Tanya than it would be appropriate to mention, recently took two weeks out from that Greek idyll to perform a one-woman show at the Landor. “The intimate and surprisingly versatile space suited the piece so well,” she comments, “although bigger pieces with larger casts seem to have just as much success. Andrew and Robert simply have such passion for their theatre.” Ismay is not wrong; the pair’s passion is infectious and widely regarded. Not many pub theatres would expect The Times’ Libby Purves to even attend the press night of their show; she gave the Landor’s recently opened Curtains an impressive 4 stars.

The Landor’s is not simply a stage that is frequently hired out for other touring companies to use; the team’s talents are focussed on the productions that they mount and the theatre that they manage. As the theatre’s income is insufficient to employ anyone else, this dynamic duo do everything from directing and casting through to box office, website maintenance and programme design, right on down to cleaning and hoovering the theatre areas - including that backstage loo. Keates acknowledges that they probably do the jobs of 30 people, in a 70-80 hour working week. “When I was directing The Hired Man, I would run from rehearsal, to box office, to publicity. There is a lot of give from us here and not a great deal to take, but the rewards are huge, just not in the financial sense.”

Venues such as the Landor make theatre as accessible and affordable as it should be, without skimping on standards or the resulting experience,” says Kim Ismay. Keates and McWhir simply do not seem to recognise the concept of skimping on standards. They aim to work with the best and produce the best.

Like the Opera Populaire, the Landor has its history, and its ghosts. McWhir recalls the death of that visionary landlord, who peacefully passed away in the flat at the top of the building, even to the extent of remembering the man’s body being taken away from the premises. Keates adds that he occasionally sleeps in the theatre (though only if a production has a sofa in the set), and that on more than one occasion he has sensed a spiritual presence in the room with him. From the quality of the shows that the Landor produces, one wonders if perhaps such a spirit is bestowing a positive aura on the theatre.

Since I spoke to Andrew and Rob, Andrew has announced that Curtains would be his last show as theatre manager with the Landor, making our conversation even more poignant. He adds :"I've had an incredible two years at the Landor, filled with hard-work, passion and determination. The pay off has been seeing the theatre develop into one of London's most successful theatres, winning countless awards and critical acclaim for productions. It's an unstoppable little theatre and one that I have been very proud to have called home."

By Jonathan Grant

For more information on the Landor Theatre, visit

This article was first published on The Public Reviews

Molly Wobbly's Tit Factory - Review

Assembly Rooms. Edinburgh

Book, music & lyrics by Paul Boyd

Russel Morton as Ithanku

Molly Wobbly's Tit Factory at the Assembly Rooms is a delightfully irreverent show that arrived in Edinburgh following a week’s debut run in Belfast. Smutty, vulgar and excellently performed, it draws upon a Carry On style of humour, and if the title wasn't warning enough, is best viewed by non-prudent adults.

Set in the sleepy village of Little Happening, the lives of three (un)happily married women are turned upside down when a green headed character, Ithanku, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Shock Headed Peter  ( he is named Ithanku for reasons too long to explain in this review)  and who possesses mysterious powers, buys a derelict building on Mammary Lane (snigger snigger).

If this all sounds a tad like The Witches of Eastwick, well in parts that's true, however rather than setting out to seduce the women of the town, Ithanku's mission is to augment their breasts. Much as in the way that Goldilocks was presented with three bowls of porridge of differing volume, so are the audience presented with three divas of varyingly sized decolletages.  Leanne Jones, an outstanding actress famed for exploiting her fleshy proportions as Tracy Turnblad in the West End's Hairspray, leads the line as beautifully voiced and largest breasted woman Margaret, the town's dressmaker. The medium sized lady in the cast is Tara Flynn who plays Jemma, married to an (inevitably) gay hairdresser, whilst Orla Gormley is Ruth, the smallest chested of the three, married to the town’s clock and watchmaker, having previously been wed to a man of the cloth. Her number, Presbyterian Minister's Wife, looking back to an episode in that marriage when she "shouted f*ck in the manse", is one of the show's lyrically comical highlights.

There is not a weak performance amongst the cast and in a production that appears to have been staged on a tight budget (shame about the music having been pre-recorded) the strength of the show lies within the talent on stage. Tommy Wallace, as camp character Kitten, is a riot in heels and lipstick, especially with his song Guardian Angel and Russell Morton delivers a fine turn as Ithanku, a bad-guy with some really complex issues.

Irish writer Paul Boyd has put together a crackingly camp confection of saucy jokes, rude songs and fine performances that include at one time or another, all of the cast in their underwear. He pokes fun at most strands of Christianity and also lifts the floormat on a number of taboos and social mores and in so doing creates a fun night out at the theatre. The show deserves a transfer to a London off-West End venue, ideally one that has an understanding of staging musical theatre, to share its filthy fun with a wider audience. A possible cult following awaits.

Runs until August 26th

Thursday 23 August 2012

(remor) - Review

C Nova, Edinburgh

Developed and performed by : Res De Res Company

(remor) is an innovative piece of physical theatre brought to the Fringe by Spanish company Res De Res.  The show lasts approximately ten minutes and is performed several times an hour to a maximum audience of ten at C Nova.

Claustrophobics should look away now. Set in an unspecified country, the entire act takes place within a ( ventilated and air conditioned ) 4-walled prison cell that has been purpose built for the production to authentic measurements. Within the cell are two inmates, man and woman, lying on bunk beds, the legality or fairness of whose imprisonment is never explained to the audience The door closes and without a word being spoken the pair launch into an immaculately choreographed routine that depicts at various times despair, hope, passion, anger, frustration and above all helplessness.

Ten minutes is an infinitesimally small period of time to be spent cooped up, yet (remor) conveys the sense of incarcerated isolation not just through good acting but also through clever sound design, with music overlaying a realistic sound of traffic and life going on just the other side of the prison wall, piped into the cell. Occasionally the light dims within the performance space, at which point the audience are provided with torches to pick out the players' actions.

(remor) is thought provoking drama. If you have ever been locked up, then you above all will be best placed to judge its interpretation. For those of us who have never experienced a denial of our liberties, preconceptions of imprisonment may well be challenged.

Runs until August 27th

Wednesday 22 August 2012

A Clockwork Orange Ed Fringe 2012 - Review

Pleasance Forth , Edinburgh


Written by Anthony Burgess

Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones

Martin McCreadie as Alex

Action To The Word return to Edinburgh 2012 with their acclaimed A Clockwork Orange. The company have a deserved reputation for delivering Shakespeare in a manner that is direct and accessible and their working of this 20th century classic remains a highlight of the Fringe.

For this year the company reside in the  slightly larger venue of Pleasance Forth, providing an expanded performance space for their graceful treatment of the book. Burgess' novel, with it's bleak view of Britain in the future and a cityscape dominated by violent youth suggests boots and Doc Martens . That this cast sport ballet pumps throughout emphasises the movement and grotesque beauty of the ultra-violence that they portray.

The creative team behind this production have woven the most amazing piece of theatre from their talented actors. Alexandra Spencer-Jones' direction is perceptive and she reveals the darkness of the story in both broad tableaux of violence,  alongside the most subtle of nuance and characterisation. There is barely a wasted second of any of the performers' time on stage. Spencer-Jones has been ably assisted in the choreography of the piece by Hannah Lee, two women who clearly know how best to direct an all-male cast to tell a story. Fight director Lewis Penfold has portrayed the most violent of acts in a manner that has the audience wincing, yet such is his talent to portray this grotesque brutality through simply movement and the occasional use of props that no stage blood is used throughout the show.

The story follows Alex's journey from murderous thuggery to being selected as a guinea pig for a government sponsored brainwashing scheme, to "cure" him of his criminality and return him to society. Martin McCreadie reprises the lead role in a performance of breathtaking dance and physicality. His athleticism impresses as he moves around the stage with a serpentine litheness. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Tom Hardy, he earns our abhorrence administering sometimes lethal violence with breathtaking beauty. Once brainwashed however, he evokes our sympathy as a victim whose mind has been chemically altered. McCreadie is the only cast member who stays in one role, and on stage too, throughout the play.

Without exception his fellow performers, who each play several supporting roles and when required switch gender too, excelled. Memorable were Robin Rayner's ballet of assault with a golf club, Simon Cotton's cuckoo-like usurping of Alex's place in the family home, forcing him onto the streets and Philip Honeywell's prison warder and brutalised rape victim. Neil Chinneck's compassionate yet menacing F.Alexander, Stephen Spencer's Dim and Matt Crouziere's Clown were also chilling in this brave new loveless world. Will Stokes and Damien Hasson with their Governor and authoritarian Mr Deltoid respectively matched the quality of performance of their peers. This review highlights but a few of the play's characters.  All were delivered faultlessly.

The story features Beethoven prominently -  his 5th, the “glorious” 9th , whilst the brainwashing scheme is referred to as the Ludovico technique. The company use the composer’s music cleverly throughout the show, with the Moonlight Sonata featuring, as well as an inspired inclusion of Morricone’s The Verdict (Dopo La Condanna) , drawn from Fur Elise.

This show remains a highlight of the Fringe and demands a London staging.

Runs to Augist 26th

Note - In November 2012, this production opened at London's Soho Theatre .
 Read the review here.

An Evening With David Hasselhoff - Review

Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh


A star of two globally acclaimed television series, minor roles in a handful of movies, and an accomplished lead of several big musical theatre productions ( to say nothing of his German popstar fame). So when David Hasselhoff shows up for a week’s residency at the Pleasance Grand, to quote Arthur Miller, “attention must be paid”.  

The opening night saw the venue almost packed. The crowd was pumped up, the show opening with a mini movie, showcasing the man’s career. As the video ended, coolly dressed in a pin stripe suit and shod in spectacular spats shoes, Hasselhoff breezed onto the stage. One does not need to be a diehard fan to recognize the man’s charisma and star quality, both of which are often lacking from today’s wannabe celebrities as well as many established entertainers. His classic good looks, and refreshingly self-deprecating style, set him apart from the pack. His talent is not just singing, it is acknowledging, possibly uniquely, that he is a global star who does not take that status too seriously. The man’s on stage performance is 5 star. One simply wants to watch and hear him perform. So he used an autocue extensively, and his glamorous backing girls mimed. Did anybody care? No. This was The Hoff.

The lights and sound and onstage security suggested a production budget that was unlikely to be recouped via ticket sales, but if Wikipedia is to believed, with a $100 million fortune in the bank, Hasselhoff is not doing this gig for the money. As he told the audience, what this boy from Baltimore loves most of all is performing on stage. With nods to Baywatch, Knight Rider, Manilow and an audience participation on-stage limbo, The Hoff is another example of the Edinburgh Fringe at its very best.

Runs until August 27th

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Re-Animator The Musical - Review

George Square Theatre, Edinburgh


Music and lyrics by Mark Nutter

Adapted from the stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Book by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon & William J. Norris

Based on the film H.P. Lovecrafts Re-Animator

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Most shows require the suspension of disbelief, Re-Animator The Musical demands that even your suspended disbelief be strung up as high as you can muster. This is a musical that is as deliciously ( or should that be disgustingly ) ridiculous, as it is professionally and skilfully delivered.

Stuart Gordon has taken his 1980s B-movie feature "H.P. Lovecrafts Re-Animator" and re-animated it for the stage. We meet students Dan Cain and Herbert West ( Chris L. McKenna and Graham Skipper respectively )  as they are half way through their medical training, where Cain and the Dean's daughter Megan ( Rachel Avery )are lovers. Critical to the plot is West's morbid quest to further his research into bringing the dead back to life using a fluorescent green re-animation potion that he injects into corpses and the efforts of rival teacher,  Dr Hill to thwart his developments. To say anymore would spoil and for the same reason Producer Dean Schramm has not released a list of musical numbers.

All the cast are strong. Skipper in geeky glasses and black suit sings strongly as he embodies a nerd with a ghoulish secret. McKenna ably plays a solid college guy who finds his life overtaken by circumstances as the plot unfolds. Avery's Megan is straight out of the Janet mould from Rocky Horror. She looks a picture, and her acting and vocal work impress. An extra treat in the cast is George Wendt, Norm from TV's Cheers, who delivers a performance to relish as the Dean, whilst Jesse Merlin's Hill is the archetypal bad guy, sung and performed with complete plausibility. Hill's demise in the show is as gruesome as it is hilarious. Also worthy of mention is Marlon Grace whose performance as Mace, a morgue guard with a beautiful baritone voice, is a scream.

Eli Roth has commented that in a good horror movie, the sound effects are as important as the visuals. This show does not disappoint. The sounds of the ( clearly and obviously dummy ) hypodermic injections, and brain sawing add to the riotous fun of the show.

Oh, and the first three rows of the audience are provided with ponchos to shield them from the showers of fake bodily fluids that frequently spatter them from the stage.

Schramm opened the show in Los Angeles where it ran successfully before an off-Broadway run in New York. He has brought the USA original cast to Edinburgh launch the show in Europe. The show deserves a wider UK audience and would be an innovative show to occupy an off-West End stage for a few weeks.

An audience member was overheard saying " this show's got zombies and music. What's not to like?" He was not wrong.

Runs until August 27th

Sunday 19 August 2012

The Last Five Years - Review

The Space at Niddry Street, Edinburgh


Music and lyrics by: Jason Robert Brown

Director : Michael Richardson

The Space at Niddry Street was almost full for the last night of Green Room’s debut production of Jason Robert Brown’s unconventional tale of a doomed love. Detailing a five year relationship from two perspectives and points in time, Cathy (Sarah Haddath) opens the show looking back at the failed marriage with a raw Still Hurting. Jamie ( Michael Davies)  then bursts on to the stage charting his tale looking forward in time with a New York Jewish shtick of Shiksa Goddess. Whilst the humour in the young man’s passion is evident, for the audience the agony of sharing his laughter whilst having the grim inevatibility of the demise of the couple’s love simultaneously spelled out, defines the show’s painful irony. The two performances are all the more compelling because throughout each actor has the stage to themself, performing solo with the exception of the couple’s wedding day when their two arcs meet.

The wry perspective on life that pulses through this production echoes a narrative style that suggested Woody Allen’s Manhattan with an interweaving of painful human relationships within that city and in I Can Do Better Than That there is more than a nod to Billy Joel’s Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, such is the writer’s ability to tell a story.

The show is a sharply observed dissection of the failure of a loving romance. Brown’s writing is economical with lyrics that are laced with poignant nuance. It is to Haddath and Davies’ credit that they perform the show with vocal excellence and perceptive acting.

Michael Richardson directs with a simple but stylish use of scenery and compact space and Neil Metcalfe on piano provides a skilled accompaniment.

The show now tours and should be seen.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Departure Lounge - Review

Paradise at Augustines, Edinburgh


A musical by Dougal Irvine

Directed by Sally Rapier

Departure Lounge is Dougal Irvine’s perceptive take on 4 lads, post A Level, hitting Malaga for a week before the exam results are out. In a show that bubbles with exuberance, Irvine addresses booze, birds, banter, bravado, sexuality and friendship, all in 75 minutes, providing a Rough Guide to departing adolescence . The show had been in development for a couple of years before hitting London for a month in 2010. Revised further by Irvine, InStep Theatre have tackled a production that had already set incredibly high standards and more than met them.
An economical cast of 4 lads, plus busty bimbo Sophie, played cunningly and knowingly by Hayley Hampson in a thread that weaves throughout the show,  look back on their week in Spain while they wonder if their Ryanair flight’s delay is “gonna last forever”.
The songs are spread throughout the show, allowing stunning vocal harmonies by the boys, interspersed with powerful solo numbers, and a very skilful duet. Do You Know What I Think of You, sung by Glenn Adamson as Ross, and Joshua Meredith as JB, is a painful look at friendship, with JB feeling he is looking out for Ross, who in turns sings of how the friendship is stifling him.
Jamie Barnard as Jordan, discovering his sexuality through the play, is an energetic performance, with a spectacularly high “Gay gay” in a nod to Winoweh, during the hilarious ensemble number, Why Do We Say Gay?.
Perhaps the most moving number of the night is sung by Michael Fletcher as Pete, orphaned at 5. Picture Book tells of his pain and his loss, and is all the more poignant, performed by him whilst his buddies are on their mobiles to mums and dads back home. In this number, Irvine articulates the thoughts and feelings of a pained and damaged young man. This powerful song quite possibly has a therapeutic potential outside of the parameters of musical theatre and deserves greater study.
Sally Rapier has directed the cast cleverly. The staging is simple and economic, and the hugely physical performance that all four boys put into the show is meticulously rehearsed and joyous to watch. The two guitarists, Emily Linden and Kobi Pham, deliver the range of musical styles, from Flamenco to ballad effortlessly.
Ending soon, if you haven’t yet seen it, do so!

Runs until August 19th 

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Dress Circle Benefit - One Year On - A Review

Her Majesty's Theatre, London


Today, sadly, Dress Circle, a wonderful store dedicated to all things Musical Theatre, closes its doors.

Many months ago, when closure was first signalled, two dedicated young actors James Yeoburn and Stuart Matthew Price, almost Blues Brothers like, put together a show that culminated in a glorious August 2011 evening at Her Majestys Theatre that was a stunning line up of the West End's finest.

I reviewed the show then, but it has not been until now that my review , which had been lost, has now re-surfaced. Its a pleasure and an honour to re-post it. The store was amazing, and the evening was stellar.


Remember The Blues Brothers, on a mission from God, to save the orphanage they grew up in?
Fast forward 30 ( ok, almost 33...) odd years,  swap the orphanage for Dress Circle, and replace Jake and Elwood Blues  with Stuart Matthew Price and James Yeoburn, and you start to get close to the magic of the Gala concert that graced the stage at Her Majestys
The one thing that both that movie and the Gala had in common was the most outstanding line up of artistes, wishing to be associated with the project.
Simon Lee had rehearsed his 30 piece orchestra to perfection – listening to them, it was hard to believe that this was the first public performance of that ensemble, and that they were not in fact performing that set together 8 times a week.
Without exception ALL the performers on stage were outstanding.
For this writer, though the "ultra-stellar" moments of such an evening, came from those rare moments when the persona of the actor got so wrapt within the performance, that they were truly giving of their soul.
Rebecca Caine sang Think of Me 25 years after her on-stage Christine.  An operatic  performance of crystal delivery, that as she herself tweeted  "I was so overwhelmed by the emotion and ovation I nearly cried. It was like a wall of sound hitting me". With Frances Ruffelle too, spines tingled as A Heart Full of Love was recreated with Jon Robyns.
Then there was the Ellen Greene moment. Ellen was listed in the programme as singing Between, from Betwixt, in the first half. She was great. What the audience did not realise was that she had actually been expecting ( and rehearsing ) to sing Somewhere That’s Green, from Little Shop of Horrors having gone to the effort of having her Audrey wig flown over to London specially for the song.  So when Aled Jones, the evening’s host, interrupted the second half, to introduce this unlisted addition to the evening, the audience went wild .
When that song was first recorded Greene's voice had a wonderful almost hallmark fragility to it. Now, some 25 years later ( and perhaps following the tragic death of Howard Ashman?) singing the song was hard. As Ellen sang, she struggled in what what was clearly a difficult moment. But in a defining expression of excellence, she pulled the performance back, and as the bars rolled by she didn’t just sing the song, she positively nailed it.  On the final notes, as the audience almost to a man rose to salute her,  she wept.  To witness such a performance was more than a joy, it was a privilege.

Dougal Irvine and Laurence Mark Wythe delivered their specially composed number for the night, The World of The Show, that not only evoked the wit of Noel Coward, but also left one confident that the future of British musical theatre composition is in safe hands.
The penultimate number , Bui Doi from Miss Saigon had the inimitable Peter Polycarpou reprising the role of John that he created, backed by a youthful chorus of current West End professionals , again raising the hairs on the back of my neck.
To quote Oliver, could I have possibly asked for more from an evening of such riches? Well to my mind, a nod to Rogers & Hammerstein and Kander & Ebb would not have been out of place, nor would the acknowledgment perhaps of the current contribution of Juke Box Musicals to the strength of current West End / Broadway box office takings. Whilst the trend for JBMs is arguably blocking the path for new writing, those shows do nonetheless, and on a weekly basis, provide musical theatre entertainment for thousands and further, employment for hundreds more. But these greedy comments of mine are mere bagatelles when set against the wonder that was presented on stage last Sunday.
As Sardines Magazine commented " … make no mistake, there was not one person on that stage that did not shine " and as a foundation for an annual ( or  biennial at least ? ) event, Messrs Price and Yeoburn have created a precedent that will be nigh on impossible to live up to.



Saturday 11 August 2012

The Great Gatsby Musical - Review

King's Head Theatre, London

Music by Joe Evans

Lyrics by Joe Evans and F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Directed by Linnie Reedman

Matilda Sturridge as Daisy Buchanan
The Great Gatsby Musical is an enjoyable  piece of theatre. Linnie Reedman presents F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American tale of interwar decadence in a delightful flurry of frocks, charlestons, and mint juleps.  Be warned though, this show fillets the tale to its barest bones and for the audience to keep up with the show's pace, particularly in Act 2, a pre-knowledge of the original story is advised.
Whilst the production as a whole is pleasing on the eye, as a musical it is a work in progress. Joe Evans, is being grandiose when he refers to lyrics having been written by both himself and Fitzgerald. The story’s author wrote exquisite prose so I suspect he is spinning in his grave at the chorus of Evans’ composition You Cannot Live Forever simply being those four words repeated incessantly. The musical is set in the Jazz Age, but the melodies as they stand are shallow, with insufficient acknowledgment of say the wonderful Gershwin-esque sounds of the time, which would have enhanced the show’s sound. It is also a disappointment that the arrangements have not found room for any brass, as an occasional muted trumpet could have evoked both time and place. Evans also denies large swathes of Act 2 any song or music whatsoever, notably the New York hotel room denouement. If this show is to succeed as a musical it needs bigger numbers to portray the maelstrom of emotion and revelation that Fitzgerald created. As it stands, this production is more of a play with songs and music, rather than a musical.
The show’s strengths are undoubtedly within its casting. As Gatsby, Sean Browne evokes the coolness and sham-mystique of the protagonist, skilfully. Gatsby was an Allen Stanford of his day, with a fortune built on shaky and immoral foundations. Browne nailed the nervous under-statement that evolves into defiance, superbly.
Opposite Browne, Matilda Sturridge is an exquisitely delicate Daisy Buchanan, in love with Gatsby whilst trapped in a loveless marriage to Tom. It is remarkable to learn that this marks Sturridge’s professional stage debut as her almost innate ability to portray the subtlest of Daisy’s nuances with simply a glance or a tilt of her head are masterful and belie her youth. Her father Charles directed the television epic Brideshead Revisited some 30 odd years ago, in which her mother Phoebe Nicholls featured, portraying the same decadent years albeit from this side of the Atlantic. One cannot help but feel that the young Sturridge has been well counselled to play such a classic character from that era.
Also worthy of mention are Peta Cornish who plays flapper Jordan Baker delightfully and Jon Gabriel Robbins, whose portrayal of the cuckolded George Wilson is a clever study in stifled rage, frustration and humiliation. Steven Clarke too, as the philandering Tom is convincing as an uncaring, racist, old money WASP.   Raphael Verrion delivers rather a journeyman performance as Nick Carroway. Fitzgerald wrote the book through Nick’s eyes as a narrator, making him critical to the unfolding of the story. That narrative aspect has been largely removed from this production and thus negates Nick’s impact as a character.
Christopher Hone’s economic design cleverly shifts from pool to garage to mansion, and Belle Mundi’s detailed period costumes are a delight. The girls are elegantly dressed and headbanded almost throughout, though one felt at times for Gatsby, sporting a double breasted suit within the scorching heat of the small theatre.
If you have an affinity for the story, then this is a show to see, if only to observe how the Ruby In The Dust company have added some music and song to a well known fable and given it their own unique and stylish interpretation.

Runs to 1st September 2012