Saturday 24 November 2012

Poet's Corner

Poets Corner

They fuck you up, these stagey types,
With their dilemmas and their gripes.
They kiss you to pretend they care,
Their "Darling!" greetings , just hot air.

But they were fucked up in their turn,
By castings that ignored them all
And crits who tore their work to shreds
And set them up to watch them fall.

These stageys are a fatuous bunch,
To promote themselves, their only will.
They'll sting you for a pricey lunch
And never once pick up the bill.

With apologies to Philip Larkin's This Be The Verse
And thanks to Michael Webborn , for inspiration and content!

The Dark Earth And The Light Sky - Review

Almeida Theatre, London


Written by Nick Dear

Directed by Richard Eyre

This review was first published in The Public Reviews
Shaun Dooley (l) and Pip Carter watch Hattie Morahan (Helen)
The poet Edward Thomas led a full, if melancholy life, before enlisting to serve in the First World War and being killed in an explosion at Arras in 1917 at the age of 39.

Nick Dear’s play charts Thomas’ life from his younger days and meeting Helen, whom he was to marry, and pays particular attention to his relationship with the much lauded American poet Robert Frost, as their paths crossed shortly before the outbreak of war. Thomas also enjoyed an arguably unhealthy but nonetheless strictly platonic friendship with the 20th century writer Eleanor Farjeon, adding a complexity further deepened by Helen’s ensuing jealousy, which forms another strand of Dear’s writing.

Whilst the play’s canvas is certainly broad, it fails to be as effective as Dear would surely have intended, only occasionally presenting a moving depiction of the human condition. Thomas, sensitively played by Pip Carter, wrote of rural landscapes and as the programme acknowledges, often with a metaphysical reach that embraced the natural world around him. He was a man enchanted by birdsong and nature. To then attempt to recreate and import his beautiful world onto a theatre’s stage, albeit one sprinkled with genuine earth but nonetheless still within the intrinsically artificial environment of the Almeida auditorium and then pepper it with recorded sound effects and a starlit backcloth, seems to abuse all that was natural that inspired this wonderful poet. Dear has also reduced too much of the action of Thomas’ life to caricature, though Ifan Huw Dafydd relishes his role as Phillip, Edward’s father. Shaun Dooley as Frost is a stiltedly arrogant American, and when late in act two he relates the familial tragedies that have befallen him, it seems a strangely perfunctory inventory of death and illness.

The audience learn of Thomas’ death firstly in an act one monologue from Farjeon, touchingly performed by Pandora Colin and then after the interval, complete with sound effects and pyro, we have to witness the poet’s actual demise on stage. Dear’s re-visiting of this death is unnecessary and rarely has a stage reference to The Great War been as unmoving as this play’s. One jumps at the explosion, but does not weep at the loss. R C Sherriff’s Journey’s End achieved so much more with much less stagecraft.

Whilst the work’s intentions are noble, as a drama it is flawed. Richard Eyre has immense wisdom and creative talent and with further development, this tale could deserve a cinematic treatment. Eyre has excellent form behind the camera, and for him to capture England’s Hampshire and Gloucestershire and New England’s Franconia on film, would give Dear’s writing and Thomas’ verse the stage they so richly deserve.

Runs to 12 January 2013

Thursday 22 November 2012

American Mary - Arriving in 2013


The trailer for American Mary has just been released.

Please understand that this is not easy viewing, the movie is a horror pic, and do not click the link if you are likely to be distressed. Click here to view the trailer

However, The Soska Sisters appear to have created a graphic film that presents a feminine angle on exploitation and which is expected to be as intelligent in its structure, as it is gruesome to watch.

The film opens on January 11 2013 at selected cinemas, before a DVD release later that month.

It is rare, in fact, its never happened, that I have promoted a film's press release on this blog. However, come January 2013, The Soska Sisters' latest movie, American Mary is released in the UK.

In 2009, these innovative twins released the cult hit, Dead Hooker In A Trunk. An unashamedly funny, gory, wacky tale, set in their native Vancouver, produced on the tiniest of budgets, and with nearly all cast members doubling up in at least one crew role, as well. The film represented the very best of what low-budget independent film making should be about.

Their commitment to telling a good story is evident - the press release below tells its own story and if you enjoy well crafted horror, then you can expect this movie to be a cracking ride!


The Soska Sisters (aka The Twisted Twins), co-creators of the award winning, cult indie smash hit Dead Hooker In A Trunk make an awe-inspiring return with their second feature AMERICAN MARY, a stylish, sexy, disturbing and darkly comic “body-mod” horror-thriller that many critics are hailing as the best and most genuinely original horror movie of the year.

Co-written and co-directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska (Dead Hooker In A Trunk) and featuring an outstanding, career-best lead performance by Katharine Isabelle (Being Human; Freddie vs. Jason; Ginger Snaps) in the title role, AMERICAN MARY has been wowing audiences at international film festivals (including London’s Film4 Frightfest) throughout 2012 and has already garnered Five Star reviews from and and Four Star reviews from Fangoria and Dread Central.

A provocative and thought-provoking combination of the horrors of a feminist “Frankenstein” with a fetishist twist and the visceral thrills of the “female revenge” genre, the film boasts a strikingly original script, laced throughout with a wicked sense of humour and a darkly erotic charge, that admirably takes the horror genre in a fresh and new direction. Simultaneously beautiful, repulsive, shocking and endearing, AMERICAN MARY is an unmissable experience that firmly establishes the Soska Sisters as two of the hottest new talents working in cinema today.


Struggling to make financial ends meet while studying to be a surgeon, talented medical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) finds herself reduced to applying for work at a local strip joint in order to pay off her mounting debts. During her interview, she is unexpectedly called upon to perform some illegal emergency surgery on one of the club’s clients and is instantly rewarded with a significant cash payment.

Word of Mary’s scalpel-work soon reaches one of the club’s dancers, Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk), who approaches her offering to pay handsomely for some off-the-books, extreme body-modification work on a friend. The ensuing surgery is a huge success and Mary’s skills soon attract the attention of an underground network of high-paying clientele, all looking for someone to administer procedures and body-mod work unavailable through the usual legal channels.

However, the allure of the easy money and the increasingly bizarre work she is commissioned to perform begins to leave a mark on Mary, and when an incident involving the established surgeons she once idolized leaves her traumatised, “Bloody Mary”, as she has come to be known, responds in the only way she knows how.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

A Clockwork Orange - Review

Soho Theatre, London
Written by Anthony Burgess
Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones

Martin McCreadie (centre) leads the Ensemble
Action To The Word’s production of A Clockwork Orange, has finally exploded onto a London stage. Having seen the work performed at Edinburgh in 2011 and 2012, it remains one of the most remarkably electrifying displays of excellence across a company, both in individual performances and from the ensemble.
Opening with a meticulously choreographed fight ballet set to Beethoven’s 5th, the production does not flinch from portraying the ultra-violence of Burgess’ novel. No stage blood nor clever trickery are deployed by the actors, rather 9 talented and supremely fit young men throwing themselves and/at each other with a perfection of bone-crunching timing that is as sickening as it is beautiful.  With minimal use of props and extensive use of mime, movement and the most simply suggestive of costumes, scene changes are deftly executed and locations convincingly created ranging from court room to milk bar to prison. When Alex climbs on a table and mimes the opening of a window that he prepares to jump from, the tension created is almost palpable.
Martin McCreadie plays Alex, a droog or young man, evolving from street thug to murderer, and ultimately the subject of the government’s mind-washing Ludovico technique, politically motivated, to “cure” him of his criminality . His is a role requiring total commitment of voice, face and body, onstage throughout the 80 minutes of the play. No green room rests for him, though it is fair to state that the rest of the cast undergo such frequent character changes, that all of them, in one guise or another, are on stage for most of the show’s duration. It is invidious to single out names as without exception all the cast excel, though Philip Honeywell’s harrowing portrayal of a man violated by broken milk bottle, Neil Chinneck’s Dr Brodsky and Stephen Spencer's oleaginous and duplicitous government minister remain as particularly chilling moments from amongst the supporting role call of characters.

More than three years in development and with many of her original cast still in role, Alexandra Spencer-Jones has fashioned her own masterpiece from this modern literary classic and it is a credit to both her and to her company that Methuen have released the lastest re-print of the text ( first published in 1987 ) branded and foreworded with the cast and creative team details of this Soho Theatre production.
Spencer-Jones’ selection of music, that includes snatches of Beethoven’s most recognisable pieces, is modern, eclectic and punchy. Having seen the show twice on the Fringe, where both time and space impose rigid boundaries upon a troupe’s potential, to  witness it on a London stage, in front of a deeply raked audience, and with a stage that offers height and depth and lighting that were simply not available in Edinburgh, as well as a more generous time slot, is to see an already beautiful piece of work simply polished to perfection.
A Clockwork Orange is not for children, nor for the faint-hearted. But if one enjoys chic, stunning, provocative theatre, then this production is not to be missed.

Runs to Saturday 5 January 2013

To read the review of this production at EdFringe 2012 click here

Monday 19 November 2012

Too Many Penguins - Review

Polka Theatre, London


Dramaturg  Brenda Murphy

Director Heather Fulton

The review was first published in The Public Reviews
The colourful staging of Too Many Penguins
Too Many Penguins is a delightful piece of children’s theatre, aimed mainly at 3 – 4 year olds but with occasional toddler-friendly performances for 1 – 2 year olds throughout the run. Accompanied to a lunchtime performance by 21 month old Layla, The Public Reviews was able to truly gauge the impact of this Polka Theatre show upon its target audience.

Set somewhere in Antarctica, the 40 minute story revolves around a delightful Latina penguin, Penguina, and her charmingly stuffy, FT reading, polar bear of a neighbour, Mr Polaro, who amongst other things , has a responsibility for maintaining the local lighthouse. Partial to jazz, Polaro has a modest vinyl collection , played on a genuine turntable, which sets some of the show’s musical ambience, other musical interludes include a delightfully squeaky Faith by George Michael, given a distinctly Hispanic feel. Whilst Polaro is an English educated bear, Penguina speaks a pidgin language, but with sufficient key words in her vocabulary so as to be understood by the toddler audience.

When the mischievous Penguina is not scribbling on the lighthouse , to gasps of disbelief from the audience at such naughtiness, she is busy welcoming numerous members of her family who have come to visit. The arrival of boat and car and balloon loads of cuddly penguins that follows is delightful, and the ingenious nature of the production’s simple effects had the children wide eyed in amazement.

By the time the tale is told, a couple of dozen penguins are sharing the stage with Penguina and Polaro and when they are gently thrown into the audience for a participative finale the shrieks of delight are a joy.

Samuel Jameson and Clare Fraenkel perform the piece, cleverly costumed so as to be recognisable as bear and penguin, but open-faced so as not to be in any way frightening to the children.

Layla did not stop smiling throughout the performance, clapping her hands before the show was ended such was her appreciation of the excellence on display. The Polka is a wonderful venue, aimed exclusively at children and their parents or carers and this production entertains and stimulates amongst a sea of grinning faces.

In repertory until February 16 2013

Sunday 18 November 2012

All The Fun of The Fair Special Edition DVD - Review

E rated - Exempt from classification


Writer: Jon Conway
Music & lyrics : David Essex
Director : Nikolai Foster

David Essex as fairground owner Levi Lee
Following a successful UK tour, the Special Edition DVD of David Essex’s All The Fun of The Fair has just been released. The staged version was reviewed earlier at London’s New Wimbledon Theatre ( see below, or here) with the DVD being recorded later in the run, at Sheffield’s Lyceum.

Opening with an eerie Wall of Death montage not previously seen on stage that sets the scene for the emotional roller-coaster of fairground life that the show depicts, close up the production is almost as effective recorded as it is live. The story’s finale in particular is as inspiring and spine tingling on the small screen as it is on stage.

The DVD has been produced simply but carefully. The sound recording is excellent, missing neither word nor beat and the camera angles whilst at times simplistic, are neatly planned. No cameras or cranes are ever in shot and the atmosphere of having been captured before a live theatre audience is effectively maintained. Nearly all of the cast perform well given the closer scrutiny of the video lens, in particular Tim Newman, Susan Hallam-Wright and,  playing her enchanting Irish Romany, Louise English. Those watching on a large screen may observe that David Essex certainly looks a weathered 65 years but, as originally reviewed, the unique tone of his voice is timeless. What is also clear from the close-ups is Essex's natural enthusiasm for his show which remains the one “Juke Box Musical” that actually features the artist on whose songs the show is based.

Nikolai Foster , who directed both stage show and recording has produced a DVD that is fun and faithful to the original. If your mum, your nan or even your man is an Essex fan, then this will make for a wonderful Xmas gift.

Available for GBP 14.99 from


All The Fun of The Fair is a rare piece of musical theatre. Unashamedly a feel-good "juke box musical" , it is also, perhaps the only such show that actually boasts the original artiste as lead performer.  The publicity proclaims David Essex’s name, as boldy as the title of the show itself, and without doubt it is his presence that provides the foundation to the show’s strengths.
The audience enters to a drape across the stage, proclaiming the daredevil Wall of Death fairground motor cycle ride. That image, mixed with the opening number, a haunting rendition of A Winters Tale sung by Rosa, the Irish fortune teller, sets the scene for a story that will inevitably lead to tragedy.
The storyline of the show is un-complicated, cleverly written around many of the star’s well –known songs.
Several love interests are portrayed. As Rosa, Louise English reprises the role she delivered in the West End last year. Her knowing smile and flowing skirts portray a woman fully capable of the potential to steal the heart of Essex’s  Levi, the fairground owner.
Levi’s rebellious son Jack, falls for Alice, the daughter of a disapproving London gangster and as this romance blossoms, Jack spurns the lifelong desire felt for him by Mary, Rosa’s daughter, with whom he has grown up within the fairground community. Whilst at times the “rebellious child” storyline wears a little thin, there is a moment of unexpected  poignancy in the bond that develops between Levi and the orphaned roustabout Jonny, a teenager with learning difficulties who has been with the fair since a small child. When Levi eventually addresses Jonny as “son” the young man’s overwhelming response movingly portrays how even the most simple of family relationships, that of father and son, is so precious to a young person who has only ever dreamed of receiving such affection.
While Levi and Rosa play out their own complicated love story, Alice, Mary and Jack are tangled in a love triangle of their own. As Alice , Tanya Robb is an impressive actress , and in He Noticed Me, and later , in If I Could, her voice is a delight. Also returning from the West End run are Susan Hallam-Wright as Mary who skilfully tugs our heartstrings as she realises Jack’s love lies elsewhere and Tim Newman who portrays Jonny’s difficulties sensitively.
The stage design by Ian Westbrook evokes a fairground that has seen better days, and Ben Cracknell’s lighting subtly contributes to the on stage atmosphere. As the story unfolds the finale of Silver Dream Machine is as breathtaking as it is moving.
The songs, (nearly) all penned by Essex, are generously shared around the cast, and generally this works well. However for those of us who know David Essex from  Radio 1, rather than his more recent appearance in EastEnders, to hear Hold Me Close sung by Jack and Jonny, and not the man himself was a small disappointment. Notwithstanding, the Dodgem car ballet within that song was a joy to watch.
Without question this is a good show, even if the main draw is David Essex himself.  The man’s timbre is timeless, and the authenticity that he delivers in performing his own songs is unquestionable. When he sings, he owns the stage, and he has (mostly the women in ) the audience in the palm of his hand.
If you want a good night of romantic, escapist, musical theatre, that will leave you grinning at the end, and humming a tune, then this show undoubtedly delivers. I clapped enthusiastically at the end – many women stood !

Friday 16 November 2012

A Winter's Tale - Review

Landor Theatre, London


Book by Nick Stimson
Music & lyrics by Howard Goodall
Developed & directed by Andrew Keates

This review was first published in The Public Reviews
In his programme notes, Howard Goodall says that A Winters Tale is a play that he has long wanted to adapt and it shows. Goodall’s quintessentially English sound resonates throughout the production and the care that he has lavished on composing this work is evident.

Converting a classic into a musical, though, is fraught with peril. Shakespeare’s tale, described variously as a comedy and also as a romance, paints a famous picture not only of misplaced jealousy, deception and anger, but also of hope, forgiveness and love and, with divine intervention, a remarkably happy ending. It’s a story that should lend itself perfectly to a musical theatre treatment. However , whilst Shakespeare’s original lasted in excess of three hours Goodall’s shorter oeuvre has filleted it to the bone, retaining the skeleton of the plot but, particularly in the second act, stretching the book’s credibility almost to breaking point – a risky approach with any fairy tale.

Andrew Keates has nonetheless attracted a cast and creative team of the highest standard to deliver this professional world premiere. Pete Gallagher’s Leontes is imperious in his majesty and his character’s arc, from jealous aggression to broken grieving guilt, is moving and convincing. Helen Power as Ekaterina is a creation of loving honesty and integrity, yet also singing and acting with a purity and beauty that lends a believability to Leontes’ raging jealousy. Alastair Brookshaw as Polixenes, Leontes’ suspected rival, has a more fragile style of fidelity that contrasts well with Gallagher’s initially aggressive machismo.

Fra Fee is a cracking Florizel, whilst Abigail Matthews enchants as Perdita. Her character’s youthful loving innocence had more than a whiff of May Tallentire from Goodall’s The Hired Man, whilst her song The Same Sun Shines, evoked harmonies from that same show’s number No Choir of Angels. Helena Blackman brings an elegant excellence to Paulina, making her a worthy foil to the king’s bombast and bluster and Christopher Blade’s Camillo gives life to a minor part that remains critical to the story. Ciaran Joyce’s comic Rob brings perfectly timed ridicule in the song Sheep and Denis Delahunt’s elderly shepherd Melik is a delightfully wise buffoon.

For a story set in Sicily and central Europe, Goodall eschews Italian influence as well as Bohemian rhapsody . While the story roams across continental borders and oceans, this cast speaks with brogues of broadest Cockney, Irish and Welsh making for A Winter’s Tale that represents a thoroughly modern continent, no matter the medieval costume style.

George Dyer’s four-piece band are perfect, Howard Hudson has again lit the Landor’s space with cunning creativity, and Martin Thomas’ design, particularly the oppressive walls that open and close to denote the different countries, is ingenious. Cressida Carré’s act one choreography again shows what miracles of movement can be delivered in the Landor’s Tardis-like performance space, though at times the act two numbers, particularly at the shearing contest, are less polished.

Like good wine, this show will improve over its run. It’s impressive on the eye, symphonic on the ear and proves that Goodall remains one of Britain’s leading composers.

Runs until 1 December

Thursday 15 November 2012

Sweet Smell of Success - Review


Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Craig Carnelia
Book by John Guare
Directed by Mehmet Ergen

Stuart Matthew Price

If the aromas of this country’s recent nasty episodes of cheque-book phone-tapping journalism could be distilled they might be ironically labelled the Sweet Smell of Success. This show from Marvin Hamlisch, he of blessed memory, is a thoroughly unpleasant tale of a morally bankrupt press, with a plot that includes almost flippant nods to McCarthyism, suggested incestuous motives, suicide and murder. There is a love interest , but it merely serves as second fiddle to the devious malfeasance that drives this work.

David Bamber is JJ Hunsecker, an influential New York columnist, with an unhealthily protective attitude towards his much younger sister Susan, played by Caroline Keiff. Whilst the immorality of the press has long been a rich seam for writers, Bamber’s character however loathsome is not a patch on the grotesque media baron that was Lambert Le Roux in David Hare's Pravda. Bamber’s acting is impressive but his singing disappoints and a second act vaudeville number, whose sole purpose seems to be that of providing Hunsecker with a big song and  dance routine, is an opportunity squandered. As Sidney Falcone, a protege of manipulative journalism whose character is ruthlessly manipulated by Hunsecker,  Adrian der Gregorian is frequently reduced to acting by simply shoulder shrugging.

To the show's credit, other performances shine. Stuart Matthew Price is masterful as Dallas, the young pianist in love with Susan. It is a delight to see this actor in a large “almost lead” role that for once offers his character numerous opportunities to sing solo, as his voice is simply divine. Similarly excellent is Celia Graham in the far too minor role of cigarette girl Rita. A highlight of the evening is the belting of her character’s one and solo number, Rita’s Tune. Wonderfully mopping up a handful of the minor scene-setting roles is Russell Morton, a young man of striking presence and potential. Hamlisch’s melodies are bold and jazzy and Bob Broad’s direction of his pitch perfect 7-piece band is a beautiful evocation of time and place.

Nathan M Wright’s choreography of the ensemble numbers lacked polish on press night. It was sometimes clumsy, and whilst expensive sets may not be expected in this fine off-West End establishment, foot-perfect dance routines are and Wright should urgently drill his cast further. Mehmet Ergen’s direction also denies his actors their full potential. The show’s staging is at times poorly thought out: a crucial beating takes place on a badly lit gantry, not easily visible to a proportion of the audience and a repeated gag of the chorus appearing from an upstage pit, wears thin with repetition.

In Jason Robert Brown’s Parade one song from a journalist, Real Big News, says more about a corrupt press than this show manages in two acts. If the cast and creative team can refine its weaker points, then this production stands a chance of generating a modest whiff of success.

Runs to December 22

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Lend Me A Tenor - Original London Cast Recording - CD Review


Book and lyrics: Peter Sham
Music: Brad Carroll
Producer: Stewart Mackintosh and Paul Gemignani

This review was first published in The Public Reviews
Lend Me A Tenor is a deliciously silly story that makes for a wonderful CD recording. The London premiere of this production was sadly short-lived which did not do justice to the multi-faceted talent that the show presented .

Set in Cleveland, Ohio, the local opera house prepares to welcome celebrated tenor, Tito Merelli, accompanied by wife Maria, to perform Otello. Impresario Henry Saunders is desperate for the opera’s financial survival, his daughter Maggie lusts for Merelli, whilst Saunder’s Jewish shmuck of an assistant, Max, loves Maggie. Add in Saunders’ numerous ex-wives, a local diva with an over-sized ego, and a plot that involves mistaken identities, suspected corpses, bedroom doors opening and closing and trousers around ankles and Peter Sham has assembled all the components of a hilarious traditional farce, set to music.

The essence of good comedy is timing and the comic brilliance of this show lies within a number of perfectly performed duets. Early in the show, with Merelli’s late arrival in town, ‘How Bout Me’ has an eager Max ( Damian Humbley) suggesting to a panicking Saunders that he could step into the star’s shoes. Matthew Kelly shines as the opera promoter who has seen it all. Merelli eventually arrives with wife, Michael Matus and Joanna Riding, and these two stalwarts of musical theatre sing a hilarious number Facciamo L’Amor, in which he professes love for her, whilst she in turn berates him for relentless womanising. The plot thickens, and when Merelli unwittingly finds himself having consumed a powerful sleeping draft and unable to perform,he encourages Max to take his role. Their number, Be You’self is the highlight of act one, as the opera singer coaxes Max’s talents from out of the shy backstage guy. When Humbley unleashes the true power of his voice mid-way through the song, the moment is musically spectacular. Not since Valjean confronted Javert have two men created such stirring passion.

Act two sees Humbley successfully play Otello, and following the performance Sophie-Louise Dann, as diva Diane DiVane, seeks to impress Merelli with May I Have A Moment?, a whirlwind of a performance in which she spectacularly sings a breathtaking pastiche of numerous famous soprano roles and arias.

The CD captures the wit and verve of a wonderful show whilst the liner notes provide a detailed synopsis supported by lavish show photography. This recording offers the opportunity to possess a perfectly captured moment of West End excellence.

Available from Amazon and iTunes and most distributors

Friday 2 November 2012

Victor/Victoria - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London


Book by Blake Edwards
Music by Henry Mancini
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Directed by Thom Southerland

Anna Francolini
Yet again, the Southwark Playhouse demonstrates that whilst it may be an off West End venue underneath London Bridge station, it continues to remain a showcase of the very best of London’s performing talent, with Thom Southerland’s production of Victor Victoria.
1982 saw the release of Blake Edward’s movie of this story, ( itself based on a 1933 German tale ), written by Edwards largely as a vehicle for his wife Julie Andrews. Scored by Leslie Bricusse, whilst the film received some acclaim, it took 14 years before making the transition on to a Broadway stage, where it ran for a further 2.
The story is novel but ultimately shallow – struggling female singer discovered by an opportunistic gay actor, also down on his luck, who presents her as a man who pretends to be a woman and all set against a modicum of farce and some clichéd caricatures of homosexuals and hoodlums.  The tale would not survive on a modern West End stage, but in the intimacy of the traverse staging of the theatre’s Vault, it achieves a life that is breathtaking if only for the array of excellence that Southerland has assembled.
Anna Francolini as Victoria, who in turn performs both the title characters,  is first encountered as an impoverished Parisian singer eking out survival. Whilst the strength of this show is derived from an excellent company performance, Francolini is one of the two lynch pins that power the production. Her poise and vocal range are delightful, and her slender physique lends plausibility to the remarkable journeys of transformation that she endures. Whilst her performance ( or more likely, the story's structure ) fails to tug the heart strings, Francolini enchants with her powerful delivery and gamine beauty. For those who can recall Edward’s movie, Miss Francolini's first appearance as “Victor” is a spine-tingling moment, faultlessly re-imaging the skill of Julie Andrews’ creation.  Her costumes are outstanding and credit must also go to wig mistress Jessica Kell.
Richard Dempsey is Toddy, Victoria’s befriender and most loyal promoter and he is a delight to watch. Camp but always commanding and in control, Dempsey and Francolini are worth the ticket price alone. Exquisite acting, perfect voice and in the final scene a costume of extravagant beauty.
These two leads are supported by a cast that to a man (or woman), all excel. Kate Nelson’s gorgeously dumb blond and Michael Cotton’s bodyguard with a secret, are but two examples of an acting company that not only set the scene with their style, but also serve to flesh out their predominantly two-dimensional characters with a detail that describes both time and place, on a stage where Martin Thomas’ suggestive design is evocative but, of necessity, minimal.
Joseph Atkins' 8 piece orchestra deliver numbers that are at times almost “big-band” and their interpretations of Mancini’s melodies are a delight. Andrew Johnson’s sound design is skilfully balanced for the complex acoustics of this un-conventional venue.
The choreography of Lee Proud stuns again, with ensemble numbers and tap routines that dazzle and bear more than an occasional nod to the seductive nightclub style of  Bob Fosse. Proud’s vision adds real value to the production whilst Howard Hudson’s lighting transforms the Vault from Paris to Chicago and back again . There are occasional moments when a lead performer drifts out of the spotlight mid-song and this can be a distraction. The production's impact would be modestly improved with a follow-spot placed at each end of the traverse.
With Southerland, in this their third musical pairing, Danielle Tarento has formed a creative duo that echoes the partnership of Cameron Mackintosh and Trevor Nunn. Tarento's productions continue to be staged with an attention to detail and a commitment to outstanding production values that cannot be faulted. Whilst the story may be dated, this show offers a close-up view of musical theatre perfection in performance with singing, dancing and acting that is amongst the best that this city can offer.

Runs to 15 December