Monday 29 January 2024

Me, Tom Self & I - Review

Crazy Coqs, London


Me, Tom Self & I marked the cabaret debut of Tom Self, showcasing an evening of the man’s own writing. The gig was polished, witty and wonderfully performed with an ambience that suggested an accomplished cabaret artiste rather than debutant.

Hitherto a musical director, teacher, writer and actor-musician, Self has already notched up an impressive tally of 20 pantomimes that he has written for or musically arranged. Only in his early 30s he shows a keen eye for sharp lyrical connections and an impressive range of musical styles around which he has arranged his words. 

The one-act set lasted a crisp 75 minutes with Self’s autobiographical patter matching the wit of his songs. Looking out at a packed Crazy Coqs filled largely on this opening night with family and friends, Self remarked that it all was “a bit like being at my own wake!”. A clever and confident gag that set the tone for the evening.

Self played 10 of his own compositions on piano, ably accompanied by Elliot Mackenzie on bass and Luke Thornton on drums with Laura Sillet, Lewis Asquith and Alex Tomkins providing vocal support. Opening the show with the appropriately titled The Opening Song, Self displayed a clever understanding of melody, structure and humour in his writing. Cockney Knees Up followed, deploying a knowing use of Cockney rhyming slang.

Royal Dreams Come True from Self’s Sleeping Beauty pantomime score was a fun duet between the writer and Tomkins set to a bossa nova, while The Cinema Song (from the Brief Encounter stage show) brought an authentic 1930’s feel to its words and music.

The evening’s vocal highlight was Sillett’s take on Don’t Talk About Christmas, while Self’s Post Show Blues, written about the melancholy that can descend when a show’s run ends and the company break up, contained perhaps the evening’s killer lyric: “How quickly an overture becomes the final bow”. Powerful, perceptive writing.

Sasha, Nadia and Jasmine, a trio of students from Self’s alma mater Trinity Laban made fine work of another Sleeping Beauty number Fight For The One, before Self brought the proceedings to a close with a cover of the Victoria Wood Covid-inspired classic, Let’s Do It.

For a newcomer to the world of cabaret performance, Self’s confident charm and musical talent are an astonishing delight. This evening’s performance marks what must surely be the launch of yet another strand to his accomplished career to date.

If you missed tonight’s show don’t worry. Tom Self is back at the Crazy Coqs in two weeks time in what will most likely be another sell-out performance!

Me, Tom Self & I returns to the Crazy Coqs on 12th February

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Alegria In A New Light - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London


Flying Trapeze

In the revival and enhancement of one of Cirque du Soleil’s finest shows, Alegria In A New Light is perhaps the most beautiful of the company’s productions to have been staged in the capital. The evening’s skilled serenity is quite simply circus at its finest.

Unlike previous recent Cirque du Soleil shows, the music here is performed live with Vincent Cordel leading his 5-piece band, and ethereal backing vocals provided by Sarah Manesse and Cassia Raquel. In most of the recent years the soundtrack has been a (beautifully created) recording . Here , with the performers on stage, there is an added texture to the music with the sound perfectly balanced to the Royal Albert Hall’s challenging acoustics.

Of course the evening’s circus acts are just spectacular. Early on in the show there are impressive acts of human pyramids being formed while balancing on long scaffold poles. The timing, fitness and skill of the artistes proving, as always, stunning.

Alegria In A New Light is in some ways more traditional than the typical left-field Cirque du Soleil approach. The evening’s ethos feeling more utopian than dystopian - channelling beauty into every second of performance. There’s a pair of Spanish clowns who through mine and physical comedy, deliver a turn that’s sublime. And the transformation of the hall’s cavernous interior into a blizzard-swept landscape is breathtaking in its audacity.

The aerial work is typically magnificent in any circus show. What makes it even more so at the Royal Albert Hall are the lofty heights that the performers work from. The hoisting and stretching of the safety net signals the descent of the flying trapeze rigging - from which a cavalcade of 10 performers flop, whirl and somersault through the air, the view becoming a blur of bodies as the split-second synchronicity plays on high. A spectacular end to an exquisite evening.

Circus doesn’t get better than this.

Runs until 3rd March

Cruel Intentions - Review

The Other Palace, London


Created by Jordan Price, Lindsey Rosin & Roger Kumble
Based on the original film by Roger Kumble
Directed by Jonathan O'Boyle
Choreographer and associate director Gary Lloyd

Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky and the cast of Cruel Intentions

In its London premier, Cruel Intentions is a cracking night at the theatre.

More playlist than musical, this homage to the 1990s and translated from the screen is a ghastly tale about horrible people, but set to some banging tunes. Les Liaisons Dangereuses was the inspiration for Roger Kumble’s 1999 movie - a film about naïfs, exploiters and the exploited and the challenges of adolescents discovering their sexuality.

Driving the show is Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Kathryn with an energy and powerhouse presence that electrifies. McCaulsky’s West End credentials are impeccable and when she’s on stage she classily owns every scene. Alongside McCaulsky in the female leads are two debutantes  Abbie Budden and Rose Galbraith as Annette and Cecile respectively. Both young women shine, with Galbraith in particular displaying excellent comic timing in her numbers. Daniel Bravo completes the quartet of leads in the complex role of Sebastian, a young man who struggles when feelings of true love catch up with his hitherto predatory instincts.

The company make fine work of anthems such as Kiss Me, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Losing My Religion and The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony powerfully supported by Denise Crowley’s 4-piece band.

Jonathan O’Boyle directs with wit, assisted by Gary Lloyd who also choreographs - there are few better than Lloyd for translating modern pop and rock classics into dance.

Don't look too closely at the cliched plot - just wallow in this glorious tribute to the 90s.

Runs until 14th April
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Sunday 21 January 2024

Voices From The Tunnels

The entrance to the London tunnels

At an unmarked location in east London, Voices From The Tunnels was a week-long event that reported the inhumanity that Hamas is wreaking upon the hostages kidnapped from Israel on October 7th last year and who continue to be held in a network of subterranean tunnels. This horror story is ongoing for the 136 remaining hostages, not forgetting the continual anguish that their loved ones are suffering. Organised by the 7/10 Human Chain Project and working closely with Israel’s Hostages And Missing Families Forum the 7/10 team have aimed for authenticity in their displays, based upon a range of sources of evidence, including from a number of the hostages that Hamas have freed in recent months. 

Entering a derelict warehouse, one is confronted with a row of hospital beds, a stark reminder that so much of the maze of Hamas’ tunnels has been constructed underneath Gaza's hospitals and other humanitarian sites such as places of worship and schools. Under the Geneva Convention such places should not be used deliberately for combat purposes, nor should civilians be used as human shields. But the world is already aware that Hamas cares little for the rules of war, with Voices From The Tunnels proving a testimony to the terrorists’ disregard for the sanctity of life. Walking past a scooter similar to that used in the witnessed-by-the-world kidnapping of Noa Argamani, one descends a damp staircase to the warehouse’s cellars...

Hospital beds above the tunnels

These cellars are no fairground attraction, the damp and crumbling rooms having been painstakingly transformed into chambers of horror. We learn of 12 year old Eitan Yahalomi, forced in his captivity to watch a looping video of the atrocities of 7/10. Of Mia Shem whose injured arm (she was shot on 7/10) was operated on in the dungeons by a vet, without anaesthetic and of the appalling degradation meted out to the old and the young. The cellar's final tableau is of the sexual violence that Hamas has inflicted on the hostages, mostly (but not exclusively) upon the young women from Israel that have been held captive. 

The scenes are horrific, but Aviv who was guiding my small party around the cellars told of even more harrowing detail. That of the women hostages released so far, three were found to be pregnant by their Hamas rapists and had been able to undergo abortions in Israeli hospitals. A number of young Israeli women remain held in the tunnels and a pervading fear (one of many) is that some of them too may be pregnant through rape and forced to take their pregnancies to full term. The barbarity of what is being perpetrated in the Hamas tunnels, like so much of the carnage of 7/10, defies comprehension.

A further sobering thought is that these tunnels, now identified by the IDF to criss-cross the length and breadth of the Gaza Strip, have cost millions of dollars to construct and be fitted out with utilities such as electricity and plumbing together with furniture. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) funds, together with cash from other sources, that should have been spent on improving Gaza’s social infrastructure – schools, hospitals and the like -  has instead been diverted into building this fabric of terror.

One can only wonder to what extent UNRWA was aware of how its support was being used? In such a small enclave as the Gaza Strip, it defies belief that UNRWA was ignorant of such malevolent activity. With Hamas having vowed to repeat the pogrom of 7/10 again and again and with its founding charter calling for the eradication of Jews, it is hardly surprising that Israel is now seeking to destroy both Hamas’ fighters and its hundreds of miles of hellish tunnels and fighting capabilities.

UNRWA Update 29th January 2024

The article above  was first published on 21st January 2024. 

The news of recent days has reported that at least 10% of UNRWA employees have been found to be connected to Hamas, with a number of those having a direct involvement in the atrocities of October 7th. It is believed by many commentators that this figure of 10% is likely to be an understatement. 

Oct 7 2023 - Hamas Massacre – Collated Raw Footage

“7 October 2023 - Hamas Massacre – Collated Raw Footage” is a 45-minute film prepared by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and drawn from found-footage taken from the body cameras and mobile phones of neutralised terrorists and Hamas social media broadcasts, along with media from the security systems of Israeli citizens’ homes and even, sickeningly, from an Israeli kindergarten where acts of terror were perpetrated. Footage was also obtained from the mobile phones and dashcams of some of the victims and the cameras of the Israeli rescue services. 

Much has already been written about this film, now in its 19th iteration as the IDF collate and add more evidence to this graphic and harrowing archive of 7/10. The film itself is a work of painstaking effort and detail, documenting a fraction of the depraved crimes committed in southern Israel on that day. 

The filmmakers have strived to protect the dignity of the victims. The consent of the families of the victims has been obtained and where the faces of the dead may have been clearly identifiable, these have been blurred. As a further measure, all those who have attended the film's screenings have been required to leave their mobile phones or other recording devices, outside of the screening room. 

An early extract from the film, that evidences the IDF’s editing skill, is from footage taken from the dashcam of a victim’s car that is unwittingly approaching a group of terrorists that are clearly armed with assault rifles. The dashcam captures the terrorists taking aim at the vehicle and the car's windscreen fracturing as it is hit by bullets. The fractures increase and we then see the windscreen glass being spattered by flecks of the victim’s blood. The terror and pain that the car's driver must have experienced is left to our imagination. The film then cuts to terrorist-filmed bodycam footage of the same shooting, that shows the same car approaching the terrorists. We see them taking aim and shooting, their bullets fracturing the cars windscreen. We then see the murder of the driver. 

There are so many other episodes to this short film. This lists some of them:  

the intercepted radio communication from a Hamas commander, instructing the terrorists to bring a victim’s corpse back with them to “let the people play with his body”

the recorded phone call from a terrorist to his mother, screaming his exhilaration down the line at having “killed 10 Jews with his bare hands”

not just the murders that are on film, but the desecration of the victims’ bodies. On my witnessing the decapitation of a dead Israeli soldier my most overwhelming emotion, after the revulsion, was that of thankfulness that at least the young Israeli was now free of the fear and free of the pain and humiliation that his tormentors were raining down upon his body.

the image of a young woman’s beautifully manicured nails on her now rigid and lifeless hand, her arm unscathed while her head and torso had been charred beyond recognition.

the burnt out line of cars attempting to have fled the Nova music festival – a scene more resemblant of a Hollywood disaster movie, than a real life rave.

the reality that however fast a victim can run, bullets travel faster.

The overarching image of the film however is the evidenced complicity of so many civilians from Gaza. A large number of the murderers appeared to be ordinary Gazans with no uniform other than, for some, bulletproof vests. So many of them clad in tracksuit bottoms and trainers, laughing and joking amongst themselves. Ordinary blokes.

And then wilfully slaughtering both Jews and non-Jews. 

Civilians were dominant too in the clips of victims being driven in pickup trucks and jeeps through the packed streets of Gaza amidst cheering crowds who were either beating the living victims, or desecrating the bodies of the dead. To our civilised Western minds, the horrors of 7/10 defy comprehension.  

This short film documents only a small percentage of the crimes perpetrated by Hamas that day. But the IDF filmmakers who have compiled the film are talented individuals whose skills transcend those usually found in post-production suites. Clearly the IDF filmmakers have laboured over footage drawn from countless sources, to piece together such a thorough narrative. The human resilience that must have been required from the IDF editors to craft such sequences is remarkable.

7/10 came from evil, but has spawned countless acts of heroism in so many ways as individuals have responded to the day’s horrors. The film unit of the IDF are heroes too.

Thursday 18 January 2024

Rehab The Musical - Review

Neon 194, London


Music & lyrics by Grant Black and Murray Lachlan Young
Book by Elliot Davis
Directed & choreographed by Gary Lloyd

Oscar Conlon-Morrey

After a premiere on London’s fringe in 2022, Rehab The Musical takes up a brief residence at Neon 194, a nightclub in the heart of the capital.

The show is brilliantly conceived. Drawn from the lived experiences of songwriters Grant Black and Murray Lachlan Young, the musical charts the breadths and depths of addiction, while also throwing a spotlight on the callous and manipulative nature of today’s celebrity culture and the vulnerability of individuals, both humble and famous.

The cast in 2022 were magnificent - here they’re even better with the show having to be one of the finest ensemble pieces around.

Keith Allen still leads as Malcolm Stone the vile (think Max Clifford) villain of the piece. Allen offers  a brilliantly fleshed out caricature that could hardly be played better by anyone else. Mica Paris joins the show as Martha, a rehab counsellor with her vocals proving fabulous in the second half’s Museum Of Loss. 

John Barr and Jodie Steele also return, Barr as tanning-salon addict Barry Bronze and Steele as Beth, Stone’s henchman with a twist and both perform at the top of their game.

Newcomer to the show Oscar Conlon-Morrey steps into the role of the deeply damaged Phil, a man with numerous flaws in his mental health. Conlon-Morrey is magnificent in this most complex of characters, enhanced by his majestic vocal work.

Driving the show’s narrative are Christian Maynard and Maiya Quansah-Breed, respectively Kid Pop, the celeb at the centre of the story and Lucy, the fragile young woman with a troubled past but a strong moral background. Quansah-Breed’s voice is sensational, with her portrayal the more credible of the two. Rebecca Thornhill delivers a modest but flawlessly performed cameo as former Bond-girl Jane. 

Combining humour with pathos, the show resonates with an authentic  message that’s drawn from the writers’ lives. There’s lyrical magic too, not least in the hauntingly beautiful Two Broken People.

Gary Lloyd again directs and choreographs with flair, but his choice of staging in the round is hampered by the venue’s flat performing space, with characters too often either being obscured from view or simply poorly lit. The show merits a West End run on a traditional proscenium stage - Neon194 does not do it justice.

The ingredients however remain for a smash hit production - Rehab The Musical offers a strong credible story, great songs and an outstanding cast.

Runs until 17th February
Photo credit: Mark Senior

Thursday 11 January 2024

The Enfield Haunting - Review

Ambassadors Theatre, London


Written by Paul Unwin
Directed by Angus Jackson

Ella Schrey-Yeats

The Enfield Haunting at the Ambassador’s Theatre is Paul Unwin’s dramatisation of a 1970’s turn of events that saw a north London family home beset by an apparent poltergeist.

The play is an ambitious project that appears to have experienced poltergeists of its own in its development from rehearsals through to press night. The programme advertises a running time of 90 minutes (it’s actually a one-act 75) with at least one character listed on the cast list who mysteriously fails to appear in the final on-stage version. Curious indeed…

That being said, the short-ish play is a fair piece of hokum. Catherine Tate leads the line as Peggy, a strong, principled matriarch to two teenage daughters and a younger son and now separated from her abusive husband. David Threlfall plays alongside her as the elderly ghostbuster Maurice, appearing to be a slimy suburban sleazeball but in fact a man with a troubling secret. In a script that’s frequently flawed, both Tate and Threlfall turn in fine performances.

Credit too to Ella Schrey-Yeats as Peggy’s daughter Janet making her West End debut and responsible for a fair few of the evening’s jumps. The rest of the frights could be scarier, with the usually talented Paul Kieve who’s responsible for the show’s illusions delivering mostly low-voltage shocks.

Tate fans will not be disappointed, with the two leads transforming mediocrity into a modestly entertaining evening. Elsewhere, The Enfield Haunting screams out for some paranormal enhancement.

Runs until 2nd March
Photo credit: Marc Brenner