War Horse, New London Theatre

Editor’s Rating
Rating

I promised myself that I wouldn’t see Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film before experiencing the National Theatre’s multiple award-winning play. Over Christmas, I caught a repeat of More4’s documentary, Making War Horse, about how the NT worked with Handspring Puppet Company to adapt and expand upon Michael Morpurgo’s original novella.

Every single one of my friends who has seen War Horse has raved about it. That’s unique – I usually can’t get my friends to agree on anything, so the unanimity was reassuring. Disconcerting at the same time, though – could any one show be as good as everyone was suggesting?

Last night, I got to find out that not only was it as good as everyone said, but they were downplaying it somewhat: it’s a beautiful, emotional piece of storytelling that feels like one of the great theatrical pieces of all time.

I don’t have the time, or the tear ducts, to devote to writing a full review. All I can say is that Handspring’s work on the horses is stunning. Each of the principal horses is controlled by three performers (billed in the programme as ‘Head’, ‘Heart’ and ‘Hind’), who imbue the animals with such nobility and character that the people operating them just fade away. It’s a phenomenal achievement, and one I am truly grateful I have at last witnessed.

I’m not sure if the Spielberg film can possibly be as good as the theatrical version. However, it’s certainly going to be easier to get a ticket for it – although the play is set to tour next year.

War Horse, New London Theatre5Scott Matthewman2012-02-02 14:08:52

I promised myself that I wouldn’t see Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film before experienc…

Crazy for You, Novello Theatre

Editor’s Rating
Rating

[media-credit name=”Roy Tan” align=”aligncenter” width=”584″]Sean Palmer (Billy) and Clare Foster (Polly) in Crazy for You. Photo by Roy Tan.[/media-credit]

Nobody loves a Gershwin tune more than I do. In the parlour game of whittling down my favourite tunes into the eight discs I would take with me should Kirsty Young cast me away onto Radio 4’s fabled desert island, a huge number of the songs that make my all-too-long shortlist have music composed by George with lyrics by “his lovely wife Ira”.

Which is one of the reasons why I ought to adore Crazy For You, which is currently playing in the West End’s Novello Theatre in a transfer from a summer run at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. And by the end of the show, I did wholeheartedly. But it didn’t half make it hard to love.

Continue reading Crazy for You, Novello Theatre

Crazy for You, Novello Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-11-30 15:18:24[media-credit name=”Roy Tan” align=”aligncenter” width=”584″][/media-credit]

Nobody loves a Gershwin tune more than I do. In the parlour game of wh…

Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre

Editor’s Rating
Rating

Most new musicals take a while to see the light of day, maybe peeping over the parapet with workshops, or even a concept CD, long before they hit the stage. Few, however, gestate quite as long as Soho Cinders, a musical from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Honk!, Just So, the expanded stage version of Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Betty Blue Eyes) which, as Mark Shenton notes today, has been in development for most of this century already.

And it’s a very 21st century piece – a modern day Cinderella story, with rent boy Robbie using the wages from his escort services to fund his law studies, in order to prove that his wicked stepsisters have illegally taken over his late mother’s coffee shop. The ball becomes a fund-raising bash for a good-looking mayoral candidate whom Robbie has been seeing on the side, although he’s there to escort the wealthy businessman who’s bankrolling the mayoral bid. And when he’s exposed as a rent boy and runs off, it’s not a shoe he leaves behind, but a mobile phone…

Continue reading Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre

Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre5Scott Matthewman2011-10-10 10:14:16Most new musicals take a while to see the light of day, maybe peeping over the parapet with workshops, or even a concept CD, long before they hit the …

Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Aylesbury Waterside (via the Royal Albert Hall)

Editor’s Rating
Rating

Last night I went to the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, where the venue’s small studio area, the SecondSpace, had been converted into a big-screen cinema for a live relay of The Phantom of the Opera’s 25th anniversary gala at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s the first time I’ve been in the SecondSpace when it’s been in use as a performance area: the ingenious, adaptable design allows the seating to retract fully away into the walls and for a partition to be removed, making for a large open-plan bar area which was used for drinks receptions at the venue’s grand opening and at the gala night for last year’s pantomime.

Because of the retractible nature of the seating, I had expected that they wouldn’t be quite as comfortable as the luscious, generously proportioned seats in the main auditorium. And they’re not – but they are far better than I’d imagined, even if the fidgety old couple at the end of our row did cause the whole bank of seats to vibrate every time they shuffled around.

I wasn’t there to review the seats, though, but to see a transmission of the souvenir performance marking 25 years since The Phantom of the Opera blasted onto the West End stage (the actual anniversary is next weekend). A specially constructed set in the Albert Hall took over the whole of the choir and organ end of the auditorium. The upper level boxes were cleverly extended round to include Box Number Five, which the “Opera Ghost” demands is kept for his sole use. The main stage space saw the orchestra perched atop a series of ornate archways, with a lighting rig doubling as a faux proscenium arch that occasionally descended to show activity in the ‘fly tower’ above.

Continue reading Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Aylesbury Waterside (via the Royal Albert Hall)

Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Aylesbury Waterside (via the Royal Albert Hall)4Scott Matthewman2011-10-03 11:26:45Last night I went to the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, where the venue’s small studio area, the SecondSpace, had been converted into a big-screen cinem…

Mamma Mia! media night party photographs

Last night, I was at the Prince of Wales theatre for the current cast’s media night – a chance to hang out with the cast and crew in the theatre’s beautiful Delfont Room after the performance.

I was there to take pictures for Scene Around, the party pages of The Stage, and a selection will be in a future print edition. But here are some snaps.

In preview: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre

Editor’s Rating
Rating

I was never going to be the sort of person seduced by the plethora of posters appearing all over London advertising this latest show. Justin Lee Collins! Shayne Ward! A number of songs by rock artists I never listen to if I can help it! It’s effectively pitching the entire show as a jukebox collection performed by a stunt cast – an eighties Dreamcoats and Petticoats with leather jackets and eyeliner.

And yet, when seeing it last week as it started previews, it’s clear that there’s much more going on, and there’s far more for a lover of traditional musicals to enjoy. Don’t believe the hype – Rock of Ages is actually quite good.

Continue reading In preview: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre

In preview: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre3Scott Matthewman2011-09-07 13:44:59I was never going to be the sort of person seduced by the plethora of posters appearing all over London advertising this latest show. Justin Lee Colli…

Napoletango, London Coliseum

Editor’s Rating
Rating

A show about a ragtag group of Italians who come together through their combined passion for the tango to create the ultimate dance troupe should be the basis, if not for a feel-good Hollywood movie, for a superb night of dancing and theatrics. Instead, it is the basis for Napoletango, a bizarrely eccentric show which only really features two tango routines in amongst its endless parade of ramshackle attempts at physical theatre.

Continue reading Napoletango, London Coliseum

Napoletango, London Coliseum1Scott Matthewman2011-08-05 16:14:18A show about a ragtag group of Italians who come together through their combined passion for the tango to create the ultimate dance troupe should be t…

Journey’s End, Duke of York’s Theatre

Editor’s Rating
Rating

R. C. Sherriff’s 1928 tale of life in the trenches at the tail end of World War I was, remarkably, his first professional work, despite feeling like a master storyteller at the top of his game. Part of the reason it feels so viscerally realistic is that Sherriff drew directly own experiences: in the programme notes, he is quoted as saying that he “merely had to write down what people said.”

In the play, a small platoon takes over a trench for what is supposed to be a week, but they soon realise that the Germans are planning a major offensive in a few days’ time – and while nobody will say it outright, there’s realisation that few, if any, of them are expected to survive. New to the platoon is 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Graham Butler), an eager young pup who was a childhood friend of the platoon’s commander, Captain Stanhope (James Norton).

After three years in the field, though, Stanhope is not the devil-may-care pal of Raleigh’s youth: while he is absolutely, utterly respected, indeed loved, by those in his command, his only real friend is found in a bottle.

Continue reading Journey’s End, Duke of York’s Theatre

Journey’s End, Duke of York’s Theatre5Scott Matthewman2011-07-26 17:05:52R. C. Sherriff’s 1928 tale of life in the trenches at the tail end of World War I was, remarkably, his first professional work, despite feeling like a…

Much Ado about cast recordings

Whenever a new musical comes to the West End, there’s always a bit of a buzz about a possible cast recording. Different productions take wildly different views: Love Never Dies put its cast recording on sale so far in advance that it was more of a concept album than a record of the eventual stage production, in any of its reworked forms. Legally Blonde the Musical waited until there was obvious demand for a West End version in addition to the original Broadway recording, while Stiles and Drewe’s magnificent music for Betty Blue Eyes may eventually be available next month (although a sampler CD was issued with the Evening Standard newspaper as part of the show’s initial publicity drive). And while Ghost the Musical, which holds its press night tomorrow, hasn’t officially released its cast recording yet, it’s currently available to listen in a streamed form on the show’s Facebook page.

What’s unusual, though, is for a straight play to release a cast recording. But the production of Much Ado About Nothing currently playing at Wyndham’s has done just that.

Continue reading Much Ado about cast recordings

In preview: Lend Me a Tenor, Gielgud Theatre

Editor’s Rating
Rating

Last night was the first preview of a new musical, Lend Me a Tenor, at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. If the name seems familiar, that’s because it previously existed as a knockabout farce of the same name, which had success at the same theatre (then called the Globe) 25 years ago and was recently revived on Broadway.

This new musical version see Ken Ludwig’s original play adapted by Peter Sham (book and lyrics) and Brad Carroll (music) into an evening of riotous comedy, high farce, stirring musical numbers, great tap routines – pretty much your perfect night at a musical.

And that was only the first preview. I can only imagine how it will improve before press night on June 15.

Continue reading In preview: Lend Me a Tenor, Gielgud Theatre

In preview: Lend Me a Tenor, Gielgud Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:42:40Last night was the first preview of a new musical, Lend Me a Tenor, at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. If the name seems familiar, that’s b…