Thursday 31 December 2015

A Swingin' Christmas - Review

Crazy Coqs, London



London may have been sweltering under the warmest December since records began, but deep in a Piccadilly basement it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas as Gary Williams whipped up a blizzard of seasonal treats, bringing his Swingin' Christmas show to The Crazy Coqs.

The venue was packed as the mellifluous Williams took his audience on a sleigh ride through the Songbook, in a set that ranged from a beautifully introspective River, through to a spoof on ladyboys (She's Got That Thing). In a routine that was as informative as it was entertaining, Williams gave a potted history of Xmas No 1s. And if you've never done it, I cannot recommend highly enough sitting in the Crazy Coq's Art Deco splendour, Martini in hand, singing along to Benny Hill's Ernie (#1 in 1971 if you were wondering). As act one rounded off with a singalong White Christmas, the gig was truly becoming a most wonderful time.

Accompanied throughout by Clive Dunstall on piano, Williams worked the room effortlessly, which included managing to get the curmudgeonly yours-truly up on my feet for The Twelve Days of Christmas. Williams knows not only his songs and their writers and histories - he also understands their nuance too, though after a few more marvellous Martinis my appreciation of the night's subtleties might have become a little fuzzy.

No matter, for I suspect the Gershwin brothers were probably chuckling in their graves at Williams gently bastardising Our Love Is Here To Stay into a Boxing Day nightmare of Your Mother's Here To Stay. 

If the evening was light-hearted, it's heart was definitely in the right place, as favourites from across the decades pleased the crowd who were just happy to be so wittily entertained on the run in to Christmas.

I’d heard a lot about Williams' cabaret style and he lived up to expectations. He's back next year with a Hollywood inspired set. Book early.

Monday 28 December 2015

My Best Of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, here is my personal look back on the performance highlights of the last 12 months. 
This list is entirely subjective - and marks out the shows I have seen, that, as Sondheim’s Mary Flynn put it so eloquently in Merrily We Roll Along, " will stay with me for a long time....”
My list includes musicals, drama, cabaret and concert performances - together with an eclectic Best Of The Rest. 
Here's are my favourites. 

Best Musical Production - Show Boat

The best new musical production this year has been Daniel Evans' company-led revival. In a cast topped by the cream of British musical theatre, Gina Beck, Michael Xavier and Rebecca Trehearn are sublime - though the sucker punch that stuns half way through act one is Emmanuel Kojo's Joe, the young actor re-defining Ol' Man River and destroying most of the audience in the process.

Played out against Lez Brotherston's weathered steamer of a set, this show runs until late January. There is talk of a deserved transfer into the New London, but until that's confirmed, book yourself a ticket at Sheffield's Crucible. Read my original review.

Other Memorable Musicals

Anything Goes – It’s another nod for Daniel Evans and the Crucible as Debbie Kurup led a fabulous company in a hilarious revival. The tour length may have been ambitiously conceived, but for those who caught this show, cheeks will have ached from grinning! Read my original review.

Carrie – In a bold move that was directed by the West End’s visionary Gary Lloyd, Southwark Playhouse took one one of (The RSC’s) most famous flops and turned it into something breathtaking. The lyrics may have been as iffy as ever, but Evelyn Hoskins as the late-developing teenager, Kim Criswell as her wicked mother and Jodie Jacobs as her caring teacher all dripped with talent as they brought this blood-soaked period piece to South London. Read my original review.

Funny Girl – Sheridan Smith takes La Streisand’s gift to the world and quite simply re-invents it. With Broadway helmsman Michael Mayer directing, Smith smashes the role, giving a chance to see this classic show re-imagined for the 21st century. Read my original review.

The Grand Tour – Al Brookshaw and Zoe Doano headed an enchanting cast in a WW2 caper ingeniously staged at the Finborough. Danielle Tarento’s classy production unearthed a rarely seen nugget from Jerry Herman. Read my original review.

Gypsy – Already featured in my best of 2014, however Jonathan Kent's direction and Stephen Mears' choreography engineered a slick transfer from Chichester to the West End confirming Imelda Staunton's genius. (Was there ever any doubt?) Read my original review.

Mrs Henderson Presents  A beautifully brave, brassy and British show that trailed briefly at Bath before it's imminent West End arrival in February. Don Black's lyrics, Terry Johnson's direction and a gorgeously talented cast led by Emma Williams and Tracie Bennett helped transfer this gem of a britflick onto the stage. Read my original review.

The Producers – This celebrity-powered tour captured the genius of Mel Brook's provocative comedy, executed with pinpoint timing. Offensive to Jews, gays and women - though most of all ripping the piss out of Nazi fascism, Tiffany Graves' Ulla was unforgettable.  Read my original review.

Tommy - In an inspirational nod to The Who's classic rock-opera Michael Strassen directed and Mark Smith choreographed a blisteringly moving production. The pulsating score was given a perfect treatment, whilst John Barr's vile Uncle Ernie was as evil as it was brilliant. Read my original review.

Best Play The Merchant of Venice and Death Of A Salesman

This is a tie between the Globe’s Merchant and the RSC’s revival of Arthur Miller’s classic. 

Jonathan Pryce’s Shylock (Read my original reviewwas amongst the most intelligent recent takes on this complex character, with Jonathan Munby’s vision of the play’s final scene proving to be devastating. 

In The RSC’s Death Of A Salesman, (Read my original review) Antony Sher, Alex Hassell and Harriet Walter charted the implosion of Willy Loman and his family in excruciating detail. Greg Doran cleverly directed, in a production that proved to be the best since Michael Rudman/Warren Mitchell’s “definitive” 1979 version at the National Theatre.

Other Memorable Plays

Barbarians – Sadly, the brilliance of Barrie Keefe’s dissection of society is as valid today as it was when Keefe penned this unflinching play in 1977. Set site-specifically in the former Central St Martins, the birthplace of punk proved an appropriately harsh setting for Rachel Thomas’ Tooting Arts Company’s production. Thomas Coombes was chilling as he led Bill Buckhurst’s company. Read my original review.

Casa Valentina – A brilliant play from Harvey Fierstein that would have so easily (and so deservedly) slid into a West End transfer. As a group of heterosexual male transvestites meet in a Catskills Mountains retreat in the 1960’s, marital and society’s pressures prove unbearable. Gareth Snook and Tamsin Carroll headed a fabulous cast. Luke Sheppard helmed assuredly. Read my original review.

Oppenheimer   It’s The RSC again, with new-writer Tom Morton-Smith’s troubling, perceptive take on the “father” of the atomic bomb (top work from John Heffernan) earning a well-deserved transfer to the West End. Read my original review.

Best Cabaret Performance – Miss Leading Ladies

Real life brother and sister Ceri Dupree and Ria Jones pulled off a sensational tribute to the glamour and stardom of Hollywood and Europe’s Grandest Dames with a combination of vocals, patter, knowledge and sheer presence that demands a return to the capital next year. Sarah-Louise Young directed a show that deserved an award just for Dupree’s costumes alone! Read my original review.

Best Concert Performance – The Kings of Broadway

For one night only, Alex Parker assembled a stellar cast including (amongst many others) Janie Dee, Laura Pitt-Pulford and Anne Reid in a tribute to Broadway's finest composers. We're used to seeing singers turn up for one-night stands, but quite how Parker managed to conjure up a 30-piece, perfectly rehearsed orchestra remains an enigma! Read my original review.

The Best Of The Rest

Here are three other moments of 2015 that were memorable in their conception and execution

Cirque du Soleil – Love – A business trip took me to Las Vegas where ten years after its opening, I finally caught up with Love. 

The imagination poured into this display of physical performance and set to a re-engineered original Beatles soundtrack played by the band themselves, frankly puts all other juke-box musicals to shame. This is no tawdry fictional rom-com, nor a quasi-biography of a band. Rather – this is talented performers sculpted and transforming into jaw-dropping tableaux, to the music of The Beatles. 

Just imagine “Something in the way she moves….” being played to an ethereal aerial ballet, as a suspended white-clad performer is flown around the theatre to this most exquisite of melodies.


Dismaland – Street-artist Banksy put on a show that lasted a month in a derelict lido in Weston Super Mare. Tickets cost a fiver and sold out in  a blink. His take on Britain today was as cynical as it was, at times, piercingly accurate. If Banksy does something similar again, don’t miss it. Read my original review.

Psycho Live – Anthony Gabriele, one of today’s most talented musical directors led the 40 string musicians of Cinematic Sinfonia in performing Bernard Herrmann’s legendary score to a screening of Hitchcock’s classic. Gabriele showed that it is indeed possible to improve upon perfection. Read my original review.

Monday 21 December 2015

Queen Anne - Review

Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon


Written by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Natalie Abrahami

Natascha McElhone and Emma Cunniffe

Commissioned by the RSC, Queen Anne is a new play by Helen Edmundson, directed by Natalie Abrahami in her debut season at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Little is known about Anne's 12 year reign and Edmundson creates an intricate, intriguing and intelligent portrait of the Queen. She also captures a poignant observation upon the friendship between Anne and   Sarah Churchill, later Duchess of Marlborough.

What emerges is a neatly written play that moves the audience from deep laughter to overwhelmed silence in the same scene. With its satirical ballads, its perfectly directed staging and, most of all, a witty and sharp text, Queen Anne shows a not-so-common ability to depict a credible and colourful image of the politics and human condition of the time.

Intriguingly, Edmundson also creates two of the fiercest female roles to have been seen on stage in some time. Her look at the development of Emma Cunniffe’s Anne and Natascha McElhone’s Sarah and of their friendship (and eventually of its end) is a moving and mesmerizing experience encompassing love, betrayal and sacrifice.

Cunniffe embodies suffering, both physical and emotional as her Anne is divided between her duties as Queen and her heart and feelings as friend, whilst McElhone's Sarah offers a bewitching crescendo of emotions.  

Jonathan Broadbent delivers a scheming Robert Harley, representing the emergent political world and providing a link between the Anne's court and the outside world of the Inns of Court, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift. 

The production's flamboyance – especially in the choral and satirical scenes – owes much to the creative vision of Movement Director Ann Yee.

Helen Edmundson has delivered a fascinating and gripping historical comment. Queen Anne proves to be a story that has needed to have been told and which demands to be seen.

Runs until 23rd January 2016
Guest reviewer: Simona Negretto
Photo Credits: Manuel Harlan

Friday 18 December 2015

Show Boat - Review

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield


Music by Jerome Kern
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the novel "Show Boat" by Edna Ferber
Directed by Daniel Evans

Alex Young and Danny Collins

2015 you sly old fox, you’ve saved the best for last.

The Confederate flag flutters over the stage as the opening bars of Show Boat play out. An ugly image, the flag defining so much of America's troubled history and setting a dark uncompromising tone that defines Daniel Evan's production.

This 1927 Broadway classic isn't a single-star led show such as Gypsy or Funny Girl, rather it is a company driven production that tells an interwoven story of love, despair and racial tension set, for the most part, aboard the Cotton Blossom steamboat as it plys the towns along the vast Mississippi.

Sheffield maybe famous for its steel, but Evans casts this show in platinum. Gina Beck and Michael Xavier take the leading roles of the ill-fated Magnolia Hawks and Gaylord Ravenal, with Xavier's Ravenal exuding a raffish charm as the river gambler with a murky past and whose quest for love is gorgeously defined in Where's The Mate For Me. Xavier's presence captures the romantic irresistibility of the man - with a chemistry ignited between him and Beck that offers a rarely witnessed on-stage magic.

And as for Gina Beck... This diminutive soprano who has led shows both in the West End and across the USA possesses a voice of quite simply ethereal power. One of Show Boat’s captivating charms is that aside from being a gripping yarn, its song-list feels like a whirl through the American Songbook. Beck's take on Only Make Believe and You Are Love, both gorgeously duetted with Xavier are enchanting - whilst her act 2 After The Ball is ravishingly rousing. The love between Magnolia and Gaylord is pure, challenging and ultimately heartbreakingly uplifting and in her character's arc, from young girl to mother, Beck's performance is flawless.

Emmanuel Kojo is probably a new name to most. This young talented actor with a remarkable bass range takes Ol' Man River - one of the biggest songs ever written - and crafts it into an unforgettable performance of utter beauty. Half way into the first act and the audience are in tears. Kojo, who debuted last year in The Scottsboro Boys, is no stranger to suffering the Deep South's cruelty on stage. He imbues the number with an understated pain and a vocal majesty that matches the river's underlying power, in one broad sweep capturing the humiliating misery of back-breaking work "while the white folk play". Kojo is complemented by Sandra Marvin's Queenie. Marvin wows in everything she sings, with a presence and resonance that command our attention.  

Also aboard Evan's steamboat is Rebecca Trehearn as Julie. Trehearn, who stunned last year in City of Angels (a show that also included Marvin) does it again here, with an amazing spin on Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man. She both thrills and fills the Crucible with the song, breaking our hearts in the second half as she stumbles across Magnolia reprising the number. 

And still this show is crammed with gems. Alex Young and Danny Collins are a triple-threat treasure, offering moments of sublimely choreographed comedy as Ellie and Frank Schultz – with Young’s Life Upon the Wicked Stage a particularly delicious entertainment. Allan Corduner is the Cotton Blossom's wise, weary and witty Captain Andy. Together with Lucy Briers as his wife Parthy and who has the roguish measure of Ravenal the moment she sees him, this pair capture the essence of a long lived love.

It's not just the sensational work that Evans coaxes from his company, aided and abetted by Alistair David's inspired choreography. Lez Brotherston's stunning set, all weathered timbers and a fabulously marquee-lit steamboat (even if the paddles should have been set at the vessel's stern!) create a carefully crafted illusion of early 20th century America. That the show is lit by the masterful David Hersey only seals its fidelity.

With the combination of Show Boat’s timeless score (bravo to David White's band) and ingenious staging, it feels as though Evans has created a Hollywood original, as much as re-imagining a Broadway classic. Get to Sheffield before this Show Boat slips its moorings. It's unmissable.

Runs until 23rd January 2016
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Bewitchment on Black Ice - Review

Landor Theatre, London


Devised and choreographed by Nicky Scott
Directed by Robert McWhir

Skating more on thin ice than black, this year's Christmas offering from the Landor is, to be honest, more bewilderment than Bewitchment. But if stars were to be awarded solely for ballsy bravura then Robert McWhir's take on this fairy tale pot-pourri would be a 5-star Fantasia.

Staged on artificial ice, there is much to smile at in this sometimes saucy tilt at witches, princes and Disney princesses. If there's a story running through Bewitchment, it was lost on me - but the entertainment kept on coming.

Leading the energetic Clapham cast is South London's ice-skating queen and now a national coach, Paulette Smart, as Malevolent. An accomplished performer on the ice, Smart's dance is a treat, even more so for an off West End "above a pub" production. Turns out skating is in the family, for Smart is more than matched by real-life daughter Tara whose Cinderella on skates is a stunner. Smart Junior's movement is lithe and lissome and a second half dance two-hander comprising mother and daughter is sensational.

Bewitchment’s writing is a curious affair. Far too crude to be called a family show - although its ingenious, even if low-budget, special effects (I loved the fish) cry out for kids' approval. And with gags as old as they are occasionally very offensive (referring to a black girl as a chocolate fondue? Really??) there is often more to wince at than guffaw. The pre-recorded soundtrack is clunky - and with un-mic'd actors competing with amplified backing, lyric loss is inevitable (though Ruth Petersen's Belle, reworking Alan Menken into "little town, full of Village People" was a gem).

Some of Nicky Scott's ensemble dance work is impressive - Ryan Ford Iosco's Prince Charming and Chantelle A’ Court’s Snow White in particular. But ice dance ain't easy - and all too often there's a lack of synchronicity amidst the hard-working company that smacks of an overambitious creative team. And don't ask why, but towards the end of the show, Jeff Raggett's Rumpelstiltskin comes back from the dead with a take on the Bricusse/Newley classic Feeling Good that is as powerfully sung as it is just downright bizarre!

To its credit Bewitchment only lasts 1hr 45 (inc interval) and it's not often that ice dance comes to a Clapham pub. The Smart girls are a fabulous pair - and seeing them, up close and in action, is worth the price of a ticket.

Runs until 9th January 2016

Thursday 10 December 2015

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty - Review

Sadler's Wells


Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne

Ashley Shaw

Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale comes to the stage this season as Matthew Bourne completes his trilogy of Tchaikovsky's complete ballets. Sleeping Beauty (originally premiered in 2012) follows Swan Lake and The Nutcracker in typical Bourne style - it is clever, gripping and awe-inspiring.

Bourne pushes the boundaries of contemporary dance with striking choreography, so those looking for a typically Disney-esque treatment complete with dancers en pointe, will need to look elsewhere. But to anyone who is keen to experience the best of a small, innovative and enthralling company, this Sleeping Beauty is a delight.

The story is divided into four acts, each spanning a different period in time and - augmented by Lez Brotherston's fantastic costuming and set design - takes the audience on a journey through dance history. Beginning in 1890, with a nod to classical ballet, the tale progresses through 1911 to today, with movement on the more modern side of contemporary.

It is Bourne's desire to incorporate the 100 year sleep of Princess Aurora into the production that plays a pivotal role in this version of Sleeping Beauty, laying the gothic foundations of this self-described 'gothic romance.' The fairies are vampires, allowing the story to jump into the future without losing its characters to the mortal rite of death. And while there are dark undertones, an original use of puppetry also maintains the element of comedy.

Highlights include the dance of the fairies, which sees six striking solos merging neatly into one stellar piece; a scene set in the 'land of sleepwalkers' with fluid movements and the majority of the company on stage; and the wedding scene which, with its harsh undertones and choreography reminiscent of Christopher Bruce's Rooster, is truly captivating.

While these scenes may not sound familiar, it is worth noting that for all of the liberties Bourne has taken in telling this classic story, it firmly remains faithful to a “once upon a time” beginning and a delightfully happy ending.

Performances by Dominic North, as Leo the Royal Gamekeeper and Adam Maskell, as Carabosse the dark fairy and her son Caradoc are noteworthy. Both embody the spirit of their characters seemingly with ease - as the sweet and ever faithful Leo and sinister villains respectively. And Ashley Shaw's Princess Aurora is spell-binding, capturing the essence of the mischievous yet lovable royal daughter perfectly.

An outstanding production, in terms of originality, creativity and majesty, Sleeping Beauty is an unmissable masterpiece.

Runs until 26th January 2016

Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar

Cymbeline - Review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Yates

Emily Barber and Eugene O'Hare

In that little wooden candlelit nest of magic and wonder that is the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Sam Yates directs a dreamy, fairytale-like Cymbeline.

Originally written to be performed across the river at the Blackfriars playhouse, (and now playing in that venue’s simulacrum) the play is a tragicomedy with heavy dark elements (jealousy, betrayal, poisoning, the list goes on) none of which appears to do much harm to this reassuring and family-friendly Globe production.

The clumsy villains all seem fatally destined to fail, the love between Emily Barber's Innogen and Jonjo O'Neill's Posthumus will clearly be blessed with a happy ending and the intricate Chinese box of the plot is solved in a jolly choral grand finale.

There is a beautiful simplicity to the Globe’s Playhouse, though one wonders if the surroundings, music and lighting could have dared to push the fantasy world further? They are faithful and faultless, if a touch plain and unmoving.

A better result is achieved with the costumes. Innogen’s trustworthy purity is manifest by her dress, simple and angelically light blue, contrasting with the Queen’s dark heart and her decorated dress.

The real strength of this Cymbeline is its cast’s ability to deliver Shakespeare’s language in a modern, contemporary way, that underlines the carefully crafted comedy in the text.

Barber’s performance is a high point, offering a lively representation of youth, love and beauty of heart. Pauline McLynn’s Queen succeeds as the fairytale evil stepmother (even her body language and hand gestures look mean and sly). And whilst Eugene O’Hare’s Iachimo looks more like a tombeur de femmes than a Machiavellian Iago, the audience seems to stay happily on his side!

Yates’ Cymbeline looks more like a blurred, funny reverie than a passionate, violent story, but given that it works and after all, “tis the season to be jolly”, it's well worth seeing.

Runs until 21st April 2016
Guest Reviewer: Simona Negretto
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Around The World In 80 Days - Review

St James Theatre, London


Written by Laura Eason
Based on the novel by Jules Verne
Directed by Lucy Bailey

Simon Gregor and Robert Portal

The family friendly festive fayre at the St James this season is a delightfully performed take on Jules Verne's classic novel. The stagecraft is ingenious as Verne's visionary novel is condensed over two hours and acts into a 19th century global panorama.

Virtually top-hatted throughout, Robert Portal is every inch the English gentleman, Phileas Fogg. Impeccable in both manner and manners, Portal captures everything that David Niven created on screen in the role, yet subtly updates and improves upon it for today's audience. Alongside Fogg is of course his trusted French valet Passepartout and in another of this show's inspired performances, Simon Gregor offers a masterclass in physical theatre. Gregor channels Andrew Sachs' Manuel and Burt Kwouk's Kato into his manservant, delivering a turn that is as thoughtful as it is occasionally slapstick. The kids will guffaw at his display of perfectly timed cocktail of idiocy, loyalty and occasional profundity, whilst adults will appreciate the genius of Gregor's neatly nuanced genius.

Lucy Bailey's work is always fun to watch. Her Titus Andronicus for the Globe (recently reprised after 8 years away and don’t be surprised if it's back again) was a tragi-comic treat of the most gruesome proportions, defining Bailey's knack for giving the audience what they want. Here and assisted by Anna Fleischle's ingenious designs, this clever director does it again. Amidst a carefully crafted Heath Robinson-esque set, Bailey's economically created trompes l’oeils are a delight. Carefully choreographed actors convinces us of swaying decks on steamers, whilst a funeral pyre, full size elephant and snow blown sled ride across frozen prairies are just some of the inter-continental delights she conjures up on the St James’ compact stage.

Elsewhere in the cast, Tony Gardner's Inspector Fix is everything a Victorian copper should be, whilst amongst an ensemble that assumes a multitude of roles, Tim Steed's Colonel Proctor is eminently believable.

A disappointing corner that has been cut by the producers is the use of pre-recorded music. The show carries an intelligent score, nicely global in its themes and quite piano-focused too. A live band (albeit costly) would only have enhanced the experience.

Whilst the show's magic is good fun and the fight direction is fabulous too (credit to Darren Lang, Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown) Around The World In 80 Days is a world away from pantomime. The level of educated imagination that it (rather wholesomely) demands, suggests an audience probably best suited from Year 7 and up. 

Above all, this is good, quality theatre - cleverly conceived and wonderfully performed. Go see it.

Runs until 17th January 2016

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Funny Girl - Review

Menier Chocolate Factory, London


Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
Book by Isobel Lennart
Revised Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Michael Mayer

Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice

The capital’s love affair with Broadway's Golden Age continues apace as Michael Mayer's visionary interpretation of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's Funny Girl opens at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory prior to a limited run at the Savoy.

Imelda Staunton may have just wowed in Styne and Sondheim's Gypsy, but hard on her heels is Sheridan Smith's take on Fanny Brice. In a role that famously demands an unconventional beauty - and which, from both Broadway and Hollywood launch pads Barbra Streisand was rocketed into the highest of stellar orbits - Smith has enormous shoes to fill. But from the moment she eases into her first (and so wonderfully titled) solo I'm The Greatest Star, it is clear that Smith is arguably unsurpassed amongst her peers, offering a performance that defines a perfection in voice (and wow, that belt) combined with an innate ability to act through song, dialogue and sheer presence. From the moment the irresistible Gatsby-cum-cad Nick Arnstein enters her life, we want to shout out to her "don’t do it" and yet Smith nails Brice's complex cocktail of talent, chutzpah and a vulnerable need to be loved as well as to be famous, with aplomb.

And then of course there's the show’s legendary songs. In tackling People, Smith simply shatters the Streisand mould and makes the song her own. Likewise, she scales the immensity of Don't Rain On My Parade and The Music That Makes Me Dance with a sublime confidence that is more than matched by her stunning charisma and ability.

Alongside Smith, Mayer's company of actors match her excellence. The Brooklyn-ese shtick that is the acutely observed card-playing trio of her mother and her two elderly friends, defines New York, Jewish, gossiping yet caring grandmothers, to a tee. First class work from Marilyn Cutts, Valda Aviks and the venerable Gay Soper.

Bruce Montague's Florenz Ziegfeld captures the vision and gravitas of the legendary Broadway impresario, whilst Joel Montague's Eddie is another finely observed portrait of friendship and vision, brilliantly executed on stage.

And as the dapper rogue Arnstein, Darius Campbell is sensational. His persona easily proving a match for Smith, Campbell manages Arnstein’s arc, from majestic to emasculated - as his wealth ultimately collapses - with a voice of magical resonance.

The show's design (bravo Michael Pavelka) is an ambitious conceit, with moving belts that cleverly shift the cast through time and location - and a nod too to Campbell Young's sensational wig work alongside Matthew Wright's costume. Be it Broadway, Brooklyn or Baltimore, the era's style is perfectly captured. 

Harvey Fierstein hones the original book to a finer sharpness – Funny Girl being possibly Fierstein's greatest show in town at the moment - whilst Alan Williams has wrought a thing of beauty from Styne's magnificent score.  If Lynne Page's choreography is at times a touch ambitious for the Menier's confines, it will probably mature into perfection into the run.

This production portentously hints at greatness and its omens are good. Firstly, the theatre it's in. With The Color Purple, the Menier are proving that they can produce a Broadway show and ship it back across the Atlantic better than it was before. Secondly in Michael Mayer, an accomplished Tony-winner who must surely know that he is sowing awesome seeds in this classic work. And finally in Sheridan Smith herself. An accomplished stage and TV talent on this side of the pond, just watch Smith’s Funny Girl trajectory to prove she truly is the greatest star.

Sold out at the Menier until 5th March 2016 – Then at the Savoy Theatre from 9th April until 2nd July
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Aladdin - Review

Churchill Theatre, Bromley


Directed by Alison Pollard

Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre

The arrival of Christmas in Bromley is well and truly heralded by the opening of Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre. 

Starring Scott Maslen as the villain Abanazar, Jess Robinson as Slave of the Ring and Bobby Crush as Widow Twankey, Aladdin is a glittering and fast-paced extravaganza, providing a memorable retelling of the classic story. 

It stays true to the panto tradition – audience participation is plentiful, and ably lead by Mark James as Wishee Washee, son of Widow Twankey and brother of Aladdin. On the occasions when he breaks character, he only adds to the comedic value of the production. 

There is some slapstick, including a fun Laurel and Hardy-esque scene where PC Pong and Wishee Washee attempt to help with the laundry to, of course, disastrous effect. 

Inclusion of chart hits such as Uptown Funk and Dear Future Husband, reworked for the show, serve to get the audience singing along. And the audience is also eager to join in whenever possible, not least of all to boo Abanazaar whenever he appears. Scott Maslen’s portrayal is reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s Grinch – and brilliant. His energy and vocals make him the perfect villain.

Jess Robinson also deserves special mention. Far more than an unwilling sidekick to Abanazaar, she brings a whole new dynamic to the production. Her impressions of celebrities from Tess Daly and Anne Robinson, to Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and Jessie J are spot on and, with a powerhouse voice to boot, the reception she receives from the audience only increases as the show goes on. 

Rounding off a 2015 programme of rich and varied shows, Aladdin is the must- see grand finale that the Churchill Theatre deserves.

Runs until 3rd January 2016
Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar