A round-up of reviews

Links to reviews posted elsewhere in the last couple of months.

While this blog has been quiet for a few weeks, I’ve been writing elsewhere. Below is a collection of reviews I’ve been writing – the most recent at the top.

Relative Values, Harold Pinter Theatre

17 April, The Public Reviews:

…It is the satire of social class and obsession with Hollywood celebrity that helps Relative Values seem relevant today. It’s such a pity, then, that director Trevor Nunn chooses to open every new scene with newsreel footage from 1951, as if to force the play into some status as a historical piece… [it] feels like some bizarre form of theatrical taxidermy, attempting to cement the play into a form which does it an injustice.

ShellShock, Waterloo East Theatre

11 April, The Public Reviews:

What is perhaps most annoying about ShellShock is that one can see the germ of a good idea being strangled by ham-fisted writing and direction. It cannot seem to decide if it is a gruelling family drama, or a children’s musical…

The Beautiful Game, Union Theatre

9 April, Musical Theatre Review:

Where The Beautiful Game works is in those moments where it tries less hard to be a political statement, and more to expose the conflicting emotions felt by a group of young people struggling to grow up in an inner city riven with violence and prejudice. And it is those moments where the intimacy of a fringe space, the performance of the young cast and some spirited direction and choreography works most effectively.

Damn Yankees, Brockley Jack Studio

April 7, Musical Theatre Review:

…It is not the Devil who gets the best tunes, but his subordinate, the sultry temptress Lola (Charlotte Donald), who does her best to get Joe to succumb to her charms while unwittingly falling for his. Her two Latin tempo numbers, ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ and ‘Who’s Got the Pain’… are the highlights of the show’s musical score

Another Country, Trafalgar Studios

5 April, The Public Reviews:

It feels remarkable that this play is over thirty years old… In a year which has seen Russia clamp down on gay rights while England and Wales celebrates same-sex marriage, while government clamps down on benefits cheats but turns a blind eye to a cabinet member cheat her expenses, Another Country feels utterly contemporary, wholly relevant – and completely unmissable.

Stephen Rahman-Hughes in cabaret, London Hippodrome

March 31, Musical Theatre Review:

The audience at the Hippodrome’s Matcham Rooms was not quite as packed for Stephen Rahman-Hughes’ cabaret gig on Saturday night as it has been for other, perhaps better known, faces from the world of musical theatre. But for anybody who stayed away, it was their loss, for they missed a soulful, inspirational, unpretentious performance.

Thérèse Raquin, Finborough Theatre

March 21, Musical Theatre Review:

This is not a show that contains stand-out solo numbers, preferring instead ensemble recitative, repetition upon repetition building up tension. The result is a show that sounds musically different from much of today’s musical theatre – but at the risk of understanding characters’ internal struggles that much less.

Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios

Yes Prime Minister returns to the West End, weakened by plot changes after its UK tour

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Back in September 2010, I reviewed Yes Prime Minister at the Gielgud Theatre, where I wrote:

The result is a farce that works well throughout. The political satire may aim for obvious targets – European projects derailed by national self-interests, the BBC’s uneasy relationship with government, general confusion on all sides about climate change – but it pretty much nails them every time…

…At times, the pace does flag a bit, particularly in the second act. But the bigger problem, post-interval, is one of casting structure. Sir Humphrey is absent for most of Act Two, which unbalances the dynamic and forces Bernard to assume more of the cunning and guile of his mentor than his character should possess.

All that remains true, now that the production has returned to the West End after a UK tour. In its new home of Trafalgar Studios, sitting appropriately at the top of Whitehall, Yes Prime Minister remains a fun farce, albeit one where the fast pace is verbal rather than physical.

Unfortunately, there are cast and script changes that mean that the returning version is weaker than it was before it went walkabout.

Continue reading “Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios”

Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios3Scott Matthewman2012-07-11 11:13:22Yes Prime Minister returns to the West End, weakened by plot changes after its UK tour

If It Only Even Runs a Minute – London Edition, Landor Theatre

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Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Above the Stag Theatre’s 2009 summer cabaret, Blink!, which celebrated the joys to be found in songs from shows that did not last particularly long, and to different degrees their 2010 and 2011 shows, Blink! Twice and Blink Again!. There probably won’t be a 2012 version, as Above the Stag’s home of The Stag pub was recently closed as part of the redevelopment of the area around London Victoria station.

A series of concerts on the same theme has been running at New York’s Joe’s Café for a while now. And while each iteration of Blink! was a show that would repeat each night, If It Only Even Runs a Minute promises to be different each time, as befits a series of occasional concerts. The beauty of that format is that it can be as flexible as possible, and allow many guest stars to make a one-night commitment to perform songs from shows that they were in.

Last night saw the first in a hopeful series of UK equivalents at the Landor Theatre. And while it was a bit of a shambolic mess at times, it was at the very least a loveable mess, with some cracking performances.

Continue reading “If It Only Even Runs a Minute – London Edition, Landor Theatre”

If It Only Even Runs a Minute – London Edition, Landor Theatre4Scott Matthewman2012-04-24 19:53:22Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of Above the Stag Theatre’s 2009 summer cabaret, Blink!, which celebrated the joys to be found in songs…

Betwixt! The Musical, Trafalgar Studios 2

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In the tiny space of Trafalgar Studios’ basement, a new(ish) musical emerges that embodies the best of the West End and Broadway tradition. It also has one or two of the genre’s pitfalls, but in general Betwixt! The Musical is overflowing with charm, laughs and romance, such that it feels the small space cannot truly contain it. 

That’s partly because the space is overflowing with performers – a cast of nine, plus three musicians, fight for space on a stage that is more suited to far smaller numbers. Mostly, though, it’s because there’s an effervescent confidence running throughout. 

Continue reading “Betwixt! The Musical, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Betwixt! The Musical, Trafalgar Studios 24Scott Matthewman2011-07-29 09:40:12In the tiny space of Trafalgar Studios’ basement, a new(ish) musical emerges that embodies the best of the West End and Broadway tradition. It also …

Back to Trafalgar Studios: Daniel Boys & guests

It’s rare that I revisit a show. In terms of West End theatre, Avenue Q and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert are the only recent shows I’ve seen more than once, and then the repeat showings tended to be funded by competition prizes, comps or harshly discounted tickets. 

After last week’s visit to Ordinary Days and Daniel Boys’s highly agreeable cabaret, which was the result of the generosity of one of my followers on Twitter, I decided to book under my own steam for Daniel’s final cabaret on Friday, spurred on by the knowledge that, unlike his previous solo effort, he would be joined by fellow BBC show graduates Helena Blackman and Lee Mead. In the intervening years, I’ve come to know all three professionally and personally, and at the risk of sounding presumptuous I’ve come to consider each of them a friend.

I had thought about rebooking for Ordinary Days too, but had decided against it. However, having a lovely dinner (at Scottish restaurant Albannach in Trafalgar Square – lovely food, but the service was a bit slow for a pre-theatre treat) with two friends who were going caused me to reconsider, only to find out the show was booked solid. Great for the show and its producers – any show that’s selling well makes my heart sing – but I surprised myself at how disappointed I was that I wouldn’t be seeing it again.

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Ordinary Days/Daniel Boys in Concert, Trafalgar Studios 2

If you have a West End or fringe musical set in contemporary New York and populated by people in their twenties or thirties, these days you pretty much have to call upon Julie Atherton and Daniel Boys. Tick Tick… BOOM!, The Last 5 Years, Avenue Q, I Love You Because… you name it, Julie and/or Daniel has performed it.

And so, Adam Gwon’s musical, which focuses on the lives of four young people in the City That Never Sleeps, is in safe hands when Boys and Atherton take the two principal roles of Jason and Claire, a couple who are adjusting to having moved in together. He is puppyishly optimistic about the whole prospect, while she is more reticent.

The 80 minutes running time, already short, makes the couple’s ups and downs seem very slight, especially as their stage time is shared with the burgeoning friendship between two other New Yorkers – naif, gay, would-be artist Warren (Lee William-Davis) and Deb, a hyper-tense postgraduate student (Alexia Khadime). The two pairs rarely connect, although the actions of Warren and Deb do precipitate the conclusion to Jason and Claire’s story.

While the songs feel well crafted, ask anybody leaving the show and they may have trouble recalling them. What they will be left with is the memory of funny lyrics, expertly delivered by four young actors who fully commit to the roles, and help make a musical that covers much the same ground as so many other new musicals feel fresh.

* Buy Ordinary Days on CD (via Amazon.co.uk) or download from iTunes.

Later last night, Daniel Boys performed a solo concert in the same space, accompanied by Douglas Whyte, who arranged the songs on Daniel’s 2008 album, So Close.

Boys has promoted the album with a succession of cabarets since its release, but this performance was described as a new set, celebrating his first decade working as a professional musical theatre performer. And we did get a few great numbers from some of the shows he has been involved in, from Rent to Sweeney Todd – although I was slightly disappointed that nothing from Avenue Q or I Love You Because snuck in there, as I would have loved to hear the latter’s Goodbye sung live again.

Despite the billing, most of the cabaret did seem to hail from the track listing of So Close. This is not a complaint: I love that album, and barely a fortnight goes by when I haven’t listened to it all at least once, and his rendition of the Alan Menken/Stephen Schwartz title number easily beats the original rendition from Disney’s animated/live action comedy Enchanted.

But really, any songs performed by such a great performer in the intimate space of Trafalgar Studios 2 can’t fail but be fun. If you’re free next Friday evening, I’d recommend it. Julie Atherton is doing a similar concert on Wednesday evening, too – unfortunately I’m busy elsewhere that night, or I’d be there like a shot.

* Buy “So Close” on CD or as an MP3 download (both via Amazon.co.uk)

New Boy, Trafalgar Studios 2

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Reviving his own adaptation of William Sutcliffe’s novel of adolescent lust and denial, director Russell Labey crafts a frequently hilarious tale of confused sexuality.

Gregg Lowe is effective as the obliviously attractive Barry, whose burgeoning sexual life drives the story forward as his best friend Mark (Nicholas Hoult) struggles with his feelings and his attitudes to sexuality.

Mel Giedroyc’s teacher, the only adult in the cast but who acts just as childishly about sex, does her best to steal the show with a riotously sultry monologue as she confesses about her affair with Barry to her sixth form French class. She nearly succeeds, but the fact that such an accomplished comedian does not overpower the whole production is testament to the quality of the rest of the cast, including Ciara Janson and Phil Matthews as the main characters’ siblings.

But it is Hoult upon whom most of the play’s burden rests, and here he shows a deft skill that elevates the role of the sexually confused Mark to great heights. He displays a fine sense of both comic timing and physical comedy that make the character much warmer and more engaging than he is on the page.

Hoult’s performance helps gloss over some of the play’s faults, most notably events near the play’s conclusion that jeopardise the friendship between Mark and Barry. Labey’s adaptation still removes most of the hints that, in Sutcliffe’s book, allow the reader to see what Mark cannot: on stage, Barry’s revelations are at least hinted at more strongly than in the original Pleasance production of this play, but this part of the story lacks the subtlety that infuses the rest of an otherwise great production.

Reviewed for The Stage

New Boy, Trafalgar Studios 23Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:58:07Reviving his own adaptation of William Sutcliffe’s novel of adolescent lust and denial, director Russell Labey crafts a frequently hilarious tale of…