Think of the sitcom ‘Cheers’ set to music; and then imagine we could see inside the minds of weird and wonderful characters that inhabit a wine bar called ‘LJ’s’. The result is this new musical bursting with potential.
There is a world of difference between what we think and say. Our deepest thoughts will stay hidden and bear little resemblance to our actions. The ability to read minds is a super power many people dream about. Personally, I’d rather not know as it would create more problems than it solved. But what if we could see inside people’s heads the absolute truth would become a powerful weapon. That is the premise for this intriguing new musical by Richard Baker and Charlie Ryall.
The action revolves around a wine bar run by LJ (Nancy Zamit) who eats, sleeps and breathes the bar. She is surrounded by an emotional ragbag of characters that represent her staff and extended family. There is Maggie (Charlie Ryall) a struggling actress who is madly in love with Oliver (Neil Ransome). He wants to reciprocate but just can’t find the words. George (Sam Kipling) is a flamboyant night child searching for the ‘one’ while Eszter (Wendy Morgan) has a needy son in tow. The circle is completed by regular customer Joe (Stephen Hoo) who has a secret.
The same 24 hour period is featured and periodically re-sets to tell the story from a different perspective. Each character expresses their thoughts with complete candour which is then set against how they actually react. The Groundhog Day scenario is never predictable because the story continually presents you with a fresh new angle. The songs are pleasant but not vital to the narrative; this is very much a play with songs as opposed to a standard musical. Whilst there is a smattering of funny lines, it explores some dark themes and delivers a smart twist as the story reaches its climax.
A simple brick based bar occupies the centre of the set while a three piece band sits discreetly at the back. The cast are excellent and combine perfectly in a series of well executed set pieces. The songs almost feel superfluous within a storyline that powers ahead and leaves them behind. Tasting Notes will undoubtedly find a receptive audience on a bigger stage, but also shows potential and creativity that is a rare commodity in modern theatre.
A Man with five guitars and a microphone weaves a touching story of overriding optimism with a mixture of songs and dialogue.
It’s a brave person who stands up in front of a live audience and delivers a performance that is convincing, engaging and above all entertaining. Imagine the degree of difficulty when that person takes the stage alone and attempts to hold the audience with only a guitar to break the dialogue. Well that’s exactly what Max Alexander-Taylor does in this revival of Benjamin Scheuer’s award winning autobiographical show The Lion. We are taken on a journey through one man’s young life; the highs, lows and inbetweens; a fractious relationship with family and stuttering romance with his girlfriend are captured in the space of 70 minutes.
The smaller performance area of the Southwark Playhouse was beautifully lit by strategically placed light bulbs. It felt more like the setting for an MTV Unplugged session. With guitar in hand Max mingled with the crowd as patrons took their seats. A small raised platform represented the stage. Four additional guitars sat at the back; three acoustic guitars and a shiny electric guitar. I couldn’t help thinking when he might plug in the amp and start rocking out; but for the time being it was a natural approach as the story began.
Playing the show’s author Max quickly assimilated as ‘Ben’ leading us through his early life. His father was academically outstanding gaining degrees in mathematics and law. However, Ben struggled and longed for his father to teach him the guitar. The eldest of three brothers he soon had to contend with siblings who had the same passion for music. Like all families they are dysfunctional but are always there for each other. The inevitable bumps in the road are negotiated as the family flits between England and the States. His unpredictable relationships are explored as Ben reaches his 30s with mental and physical scars. But as Weather The Storm (one of many fine songs) puts it ‘Every heart is made stronger by scars’
The Lion is a hugely affecting account of somebody growing up and coping with the worst life can throw at him. Max Alexander-Taylor is an excellent all-round performer. His proficiency on guitar is nothing short of remarkable as he went electric with licks that gave his time at boarding school extra kick. There was a smooth transition between monologue and song driven narrative that ticked over nicely. Max’s likeability as a performer went through the roof towards the end of the show. Half way into a song a gentleman fainted in the front row; he quickly abandoned the song and rushed to his aid. Most performers would have done the same thing but the look of concern was genuine and heart felt. He later returned and completed the set to rapturous applause. Add all-round good guy to all-round performer.
Book, Music & Lyrics: Benjamin Scheuer
Directors: Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels
Producers: Danielle Tarento in association with Arizona Theatre Company
A love story for all seasons told with simple charm, and a tribute to the qualities that make us fundamentally decent human beings.
Mid-February is marked on every calendar as the most romantic day of the year. When cupid’s arrow looks for an unwitting target and a match made in heaven becomes a reality. Well that’s the general idea, but isn’t every day St Valentine’s Day? A time to tell to someone how we feel can be today, tomorrow or any day we choose. Well, the excellent Hope Theatre has come up with an antidote to the sentiment and fluff with To have and to hold; a raw, honest and touching play about a couple weathering the storms of life, yet still enduring as a unit.
Gina (Susan Graham) and Dennis (Mark Steere) have been married for over 50 years and have two children Liam and Maddie. Eight months previously Gina had a stroke and is effectively bed bound. With parallel monologues they each tell their story in flashback. From that very first glance to frailty in old age, every major milestone is described in crystal clear detail. Whilst they never directly speak the monologues often fall into ‘call and response’ mode, where Dennis relates an incident then Gina gives her version of events or vice versa.
In the present, we see Dennis as Gina’s primary carer as he wistfully recalls their wedding vows. We suppose Gina is expressing her thoughts from a sharp mind trapped in a broken body. They were never love’s young dream even when they were young. Gina laments missed opportunities and Dennis struggles to recall the peaks in their relationship. But affection remains as the realisation dawns: they need each other. The venue works like a dream with a play made for an intimate setting. Director Finlay Glen makes full use of space and perspective offered by a catwalk style performance area.
To stage this play on St Valentine’s Day is a smart move because it explodes a faded mythology. It tells a real love story that isn’t all hearts and flowers. It’s a genuine snapshot of the lives people lead. A marriage is rarely perfect because we are human and bear the strain of making a relationship work. Mark Bastin’s script is bright, witty and thought provoking. The play connects on a very human level and lands in reality; which is sometimes a long way from the romantic ideal that we imagine. He makes us know and like the characters as people we immediately recognise. With a painfully short two date run now complete this should be a ‘must see’ when it returns for hopefully a longer run.
Some of our brightest young performers shine in this well produced greatest hits package. The West End is alive and well!
This time last year the first lockdown was in full swing and a great night out seemed a distant dream. But just like the Covid jab this show is a shot in the arm for theatre goers starved of real entertainment. West End Musical Celebration is billed as a greatest hits package and essentially this is what we get.
Co-producer and host Shanay Holmes kicked off with a great version of YouCan’t stop the beat from Hairspray, and introduced a succession of brilliantly talented performers. Ben Forster, winner of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Superstar TV show totally nailed Music of the night and Superstar.Sophie Evans delivers a spine tingling rendition of Somewhere over the rainbow and almost brings a tear to the eye.
Trevor Dion Nicholas performed Friend like me from Aladdin, a song that could have been written for him. Alice Fearn took a standing ovation for Defying gravity and drew a similar response for Let it go in Act II. Rachel John displayed an impressive vocal range with Don’t rain on my parade, while Layton Williams tore the roof off with the touring production Everybody’s talking about Jamie. As the show cranked up to its finale Shanay displayed her diva credentials on Listen and One night only. The cast joined together at the end to perform the rousing From now on from the Greatest Showman.
Tweetingit: 3* The toxic reality of social media laid bare in this innovative new piece from two highly talented performers.
Our reliance on social media during the pandemic was undeniably complete. It provided a vital lifeline and maintained a semblance of human industry allowing many to work from home. However, it must be wondered if real communication has been usurped by a range of annoyingly convenient devices that do everything except keep us real.
So Public Domain is a timely study of how social media became an animal we feed but can no longer control. Following its well-received digital debut at the Southwark Playhouse, it now features in a limited four date run at the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand.
As a verbatim musical it draws heavily on the indelible universe of the internet. There is a disturbing air of familiarity, as Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke portray characters and moods that increasingly dominate our lives. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are thoroughly analysed and exposed, resplendent with their obvious shortcomings. Forristal and Clarke occupy boxes on either side of the stage and engage through words and gestures; but never really talk.
Tweetingit: 4* The ancient and modern meet head on as social media lends a hand in this inventive production of Shakespeare’s bloodiest tale.
The techno phobe lurking deep within me is now under control thanks in no small part to the ever inventive Show Must Go Online. It’s difficult to imagine how a theatrical production could possibly work on Zoom via YouTube. But these talented thespians turn the trick despite a maddening dip in sound levels.
However the company were undaunted and the gremlins were thankfully defeated. Zoom splits the screen which can feature anything between two and eight actors at any given time. Stage directions are provided with vision mixing according to the requirements of each scene. A green border marked the actor when they spoke as a surprisingly tense live performance began.
Titus Andronicus explores the vagaries of power and ambition as fragile alliances are made and broken at will. The Roman Emperor is dead and his sons Saturninus (Wayne Lee) and Bassianus (Khuyen Le) are fighting over who should succeed him. However Marcus Andronicus (Julia Walker Wyson) appears to calm troubled waters with the announcement that brother Titus (Michael Bertenshaw) is the people’s choice of Emperor. Titus will shortly return from a victorious war against the Goths with numerous scores to settle.
From an actor’s point of view it can’t be easy delivering a performance under these conditions. Actors invariably take their cue from other cast members.
They rely on gestures and mannerisms when delivering a line. Eye contact is vital in timing the correct response especially on stage. All these physical prompts the actors might rely upon are, inevitably largely missing but this did not matter. There was the occasional moment where they spoke over each other’s lines and in these circumstances, this is an occupational hazard but it never troubled the performer nor viewer. The company happily improvised props and links to smooth the transition between scenes.
An actor will never just do a reading, it is always more than that and this group of fantastic actors prove this.
The Show Must Go Online has also produced an online guide for viewers staging a themed party including themed drinks and food. The mind wanders to dark places where Titus Andronicus is concerned but hey, why not?
Tweetingit: 3*** Andrew Lloyd Webber’s magic touch just about sees this sequel to Phantom through any rough patches. But it’s sometimes difficult to see the join with plainly familiar melodies.
The sequel is generally confined to the big screen where we’re accustomed to roman numerals in the title and resigned to the money printing potential of a follow-up tale. However, in the theatre it’s rarely if ever tried with any degree of success.
Who else but Andrew Lloyd Webber would have the nerve and financial muscle to pull it off? Despite ALW’s protestations Love Never Dies is a sequel to Phantom of the Opera. Negative previews in 2010 forced a re-write before it opened for a year-long run in the West End. However, a planned Broadway transfer was shelved after more mixed reviews. The show decamped to Australia in 2011 where it generally found a warmer reception. This film is a recording of the show staged at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne.
Last Friday I got dressed up, drank champagne, ate ice cream and explored the gloriously odd world of The Grand Budapest Hotel. I did in my living with with 1000s of people from around the world thanks to Secret Sofa.
Secret Sofa is a new branch of the highly acclaimed Secret Cinema. It is obviously slightly different as you cannot possibly get the same level of interactivity without the incredible amount of work that goes into the standard Secret Cinema experience, but this is all about what you make it and if you put in some effort, it is blooming brilliant.
The premise is this:
Every Tuesday you receive an email telling us what the next film is. You are given some activities and instructions which we can choose to do, or not, it is up to you. You find a place to stream the film and then on Friday night, the community gathers on Facebook. Announcements are made throughout the afternoon/early evening. This week that included a fabulous Spotify playlist to get us in the mood. 15 minutes before you start the film, a member of Secret Sofa immerses you in the world of that film. This week it was the Lobby boy, Henrik. ( Kieran Mortell). He welcomed the guests, told us of the happenings in the hotel, promised to hold any sordid secrets until his death, and taught us to waltz.
Tweetingit: 4* A one-legged man with a parrot on his shoulder looking for treasure never fails to grip the imagination. A classic story refreshed and rebooted for the London stage.
For a novel first published in 1883 Treasure Island remains an enduring classic. No less than nineteen film and TV adaptations have been made including animated features and a memorable Muppet movie. The story’s appeal lies in the spirit of adventure and promise of untold riches, fighting with pirates and stealing away hidden treasure. We played this story out in our minds as children and this excellent production recreates the magic once again.
Old sailor Billy Bones (Aidan Kelly) takes up lodging at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the English coast. Innkeeper’s child Jim Hawkins (Patsy Ferran) learns of a one-legged seafaring man while Bones fights with old shipmate Black Dog (Daniel Coonan). A blind beggar called Pew (David Stern) later tempts Bones with the promise of a map showing buried treasure. However, Bones dies of a stroke shortly afterwards as Pew and cronies lay siege to the Inn. Hawkins and her mother escape with a package taken from Bones’ belongings. The package contains a map of an island where infamous pirate Captain Flint had hidden treasure. With the help of Dr Livesey (Alexandra Maher) and squire Trelawney (Nick Fletcher) they raise an expedition to the island. Their appointed crew includes the mysterious Long John Silver (Arthur Darvill), a man with history and more than a passing interest in the booty.
Tweetingit: 3* A smartly scripted verse play from the cultured pen of Stephen Berkoff is a hit and miss affair but still generates a distinctive aura of time and place.
Stephen Berkoff made his name as a villain in numerous film roles where he grappled with James Bond and Rambo among many others. He even mastered Adolph Hitler in TV blockbuster War and Remembrance. However, Berkoff’s spiritual home is the theatre where his skills as a playwright were honed. East was first performed in 1975 and this is the 25th-anniversary production captured live at the Vaudeville Theatre in London.
The play is an occasionally witty and frequently explicit portrayal of life in London’s East End. The anatomy of a rowdy working class family is explored in a series of vignettes – love, romance, family and friendship are all recurring themes battling for centre stage. Mike (Christopher Middleton) and Les (Matthew Cullum) are two likely lads competing for the affections of flirtatious Sylv (Tanya Franks). Mum and Dad (Edward Bryant and Jonathan Lindsey) survey the unfolding chaos and reminisce about the good old days.