Review – 4**** Only Fools and Horses – Theatre Royal Haymarket

Been down in the dumps lately, feeling a touch of executive stress as a certain Peckham resident might say? Well check this out; a classic TV sitcom gets a new lease of life on stage as a bright and breezy musical.

As a proud Londoner I have often railed against the portrayal of Cockneys both on stage and screen. A complete misunderstanding of intonation resulted in caricatures based on flat vowels and dropped aitches. One TV series that perfectly captured the essence of a London accent was Only Fools and Horses. Brilliantly written by John Sullivan and featuring a stellar cast including David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, it ran sporadically for over 20 years. This stage adaptation is now reaching the end of a four year run and the West End will be much poorer without it.

Paul Whitehouse co-wrote this homage and also stars as Grandad and Uncle Albert. In the space of two hours key storylines from the sitcom are distilled and interspersed with some highly polished original songs, plus a couple more that will be instantly familiar. A revolving stage recreates the Nag’s Head, Sid’s greasy spoon and the Trotters’ flat with consummate ease. The attention to detail is remarkable; Del Boy’s mohair coat, Rodney’s ill-fitting two tone suit, Denzil’s donkey jacket; and of course, the legendary mustard yellow Reliant Robin.

The cast are excellent and have studied their own characters almost to the point of obsession. Tom Bennett (Del Boy), Craig Berry (Boycie) and Lee VG (Trigger) pull off scarily good impressions that almost verge on doppelgangers. Unsurprisingly, Paul Whitehouse is word perfect and captures every glance and grin of the elder Trotter brothers.

The mostly original songs are the real standout and provide a natural vehicle for the narrative. They showcase the sunny disposition of Londoners and rhythm of city life. ‘Where have all the Cockneys gone’ is an astute commentary of how times have changed. While ‘The girl’ and ‘Marriage and love’ are very strong and linger in the memory long after the show has ended.

Apart from the songs, there’s nothing you haven’t seen or heard before. Lines have been lifted from the TV show and remodelled to provide a new shine. However, to write a musical based on ‘Horses’ leaves the creators little choice but to fall back on the series. Even so, it remains a great example of how to transfer a show from TV to the stage. This production closes on 29 April so the clock is ticking folks.  I feel duty bound to leave the final word to Del Boy: ‘Mange tout, mange tout its lovely jubbly! Come and see the show. You know it makes sense!’

Writers: Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan, based on the TV series written by John Sullivan.

Director: Caroline J. Ranger

Review by: Brian Penn


Review: 5* Screamworks Bloodbath – The Immersive Experience. Secret Location near Bethnal Green

Not for the faint hearted but what a fabulously frightening, gloriously grotesque and strangely sexy evening.

A thank you letter to Jack – our host.

Dear Jack,

Despite not knowing what has happened to you since I left your house, when one is invited to a party, it is only polite and correct to send a thank you letter so I hope this finds you well, wherever you might be.

In case someone finds this letter, I do not want to say too much about the specifics of what occurred that night. It may spoil future legendary stories which may be told about you or ruin other parties you have. That is, if you get to do hold such a party ever again. 

I will be vague enough that nothing is given away but hopefully it will remind you of the fun you had with your guests that evening. It may even provide enough titillating information to convince others to come along and visit you sometime.

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Review – 5***** To Kill a Mockingbird – The Gielgud Theatre

A classic of modern literature brought to life on stage with an excellent cast led by the peerless Matthew Modine.

Those with a passion for literature would almost certainly have read To Kill a Mockingbird at some point in their lives. It might even have been required reading or a set book for ‘O’ Level English.  Harper Lee’s compulsive tale laid bare the spectre of racism in Alabama and one lawyer’s fight to save an innocent man from execution. The film version starring Gregory Peck is quite rightly looked upon as a classic. The clammy atmosphere of the courtroom jumps off both page and screen. This superior production maintains the same quality with Matthew Modine in sparkling form as Atticus Finch. Written for the stage by Aaron Sorkin (author of A Few Good Men) there’s no way this play could possibly fail.

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Review – 4**** The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore – Charing Cross Theatre

A previously hidden gem from one of America’s greatest playwrights crackles with tension and atmosphere.

Amongst the pantheon of great American playwrights Tennessee Williams mingles with the very best. So it’s difficult to imagine the creator of a ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ having anything resembling a flop. But that’s exactly what happened with ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’. Premiering in 1963 it ran for a paltry 69 performances on Broadway. Since then the play has rarely been performed. It was re-written for the big screen as Boom! in 1968. But the intended star vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was also a failure. This new outing at the Charing Cross Theatre is undoubtedly a treat; with trains rumbling overhead the venue sets an atmosphere befitting any play by Williams.

Nick Haeffner

Flora Goforth (Linda Marlowe) is a rich widow and former society beauty writing her memoirs. She is terminally ill and ensconced in a mountaintop villa on the Amalfi Coast. Blackie (Lucie Shorthouse) is her stressed secretary trying to make sense of her random musing.  The moody and mysterious Chris Flanders (Sanee Raval) soon enters the fray; a social climber who is anxious to be seen with the right people at the right parties.  Flanders ingratiates himself with Flora who is very taken with him. The party is complete when the Witch of Capri (Sara Kestelman) rocks up. But for Flora it’s a time of reflection and contemplation of her own mortality.

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Review – 3*** Ghosts on a Wire – Union Theatre

A tale of people meeting the modern world with ghostly spirits providing the inspiration in an inventive new piece of theatre.

Electricity is something we used to take for granted; in this current climate it feels something of a precious commodity; even a luxury as economic realities bite into increasingly finite resources. But few would consider the origins of an effective power supply. ‘Ghosts on a Wire’ tells the story of the world’s largest coal powered electric plant at Bankside in Southwark. There could not be a more perfect venue than the Union Theatre, which is a stone’s throw away from the plant that now houses the Tate Modern Gallery. Called the Pioneer it powered homes north of the river but had a devastating effect on communities in South London.

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Review – 3*** Help! We Are Still Alive – Seven Dials Playhouse

One man, one woman and a reptile called Brian Eno in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Survival of the fittest pulling Darwinian principles in a new direction!

Such is the pace of change, I thought the Seven Dials Playhouse was a new theatre that escaped my beady eye. But it is actually the new moniker for the Tristan Bates Theatre just off St Martin’s Lane. Newly refurbished with slick branding, it plays host to this new comedy musical billed as a cross between 28 Days and When Harry Met Sally. It’s a heady mixture and no mean feat, combining comedy with tuneful musicality. But on the whole they pull it off with a sense of style and gumption.

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Review – 4****Tasting Notes: Southwark Playhouse

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.

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Review – 4****The Lion: Southwark Playhouse

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.

Pamela Raith
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Review – 4**** To Have and to Hold: The Hope Theatre

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.

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Review – 4**** West End Musical Celebration: Live at the Palace Theatre

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 You Can’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.

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