Review – 4**** Dismissed – Soho Theatre

A disturbing view of an urban landscape scarred by knife crime and an increasingly disaffected youth; a message we ignore at our peril.

We can barely turn a page or watch a news bulletin without reference to another young life extinguished in a knife attack. Whatever the cause, whether it be a perceived slight or disrespect it’s a shocking waste that is repeated up and down the country.

This important new play by Daniel Rusteau explores the underlying causes of knife crime at an under achieving London school. The story begins as the teachers are briefed by the head. Ashley (Georgia-Mae Myers) is an idealist trying to make a difference; Susan (Rebecca Crankshaw) is the harassed, overworked head teacher. Dennis (Corey Montague-Sholay) was a street kid who grew up to be a teacher but still sees something of himself in the pupils. Jonathan (Jon McGuiness) is the world weary veteran, who’s been there, done that got the Ofsted inspection; while Erica (Bonnie Baddoo) is the mother of a pupil slowly losing his way in life.

Their concern lands on Tyler and Rhys, the class tearaways who are, according to Susan showing the classic signs of going off the rails. In her view there can only be one solution if bitter experience is any indication. Ashley is soon confronted with the mother of all dilemmas after a classroom incident involving Tyler. She is desparate to avoid the sanction that will inevitably follow. Dennis warns Ashley that her judgement is clouded because Tyler is her favourite pupil. Jonathan does his best to act as mediator when Ashley and Susan lock horns.  

Henri T

A single act lasting 75 minutes covers a wide range of social issues and moral conundrums that routinely confront the teaching profession. The school in question will be familiar to anyone who spent their formative years in a modern inner city environment. The dialogue is crisp and urgent giving a sense of desperation as teachers morph into social workers. The narrative spins a familiar ‘damned if they do damned if they don’t’ scenario where nobody wins.

Henri T

The most perceptive lines are taken by Susan, whose own idealism has been crushed by the realities of running a failing school. Her exchanges with Ashley are particularly revealing as she delivers the ultimate riposte ‘it’s easy to spot the problem but more difficult to fix’. It’s a seminal statement of fact; there are no obvious answers to a human tragedy but this excellent play at least throws light on the issues at hand.

Writer: Daniel Rusteau

Director: Nikhil Vyas

Producer: Marcus Bernard/The Upsetters

Review by: Brian Penn


Review – 5***** Betty Blue Eyes – Union Theatre

One of the great comedy films of the 80s is transformed as a high stepping musical with great songs and sparkling dialogue.

A Private Function was a rare bird in the film world even when it was released in 1984. Financed with British money via George Harrison’s Handmade Films; co-written by the incomparable Alan Bennett and starring an all British cast it was a film conceived and produced entirely on these shores. Post war Britain on the eve of the royal wedding in 1947 is the backdrop to this delightful tale. An ambitious chiropodist, bungling town hall officials and a blue eyed pig are hardly perfect ingredients for a musical, but Betty Blue Eyes pulls it off so easily you wouldn’t think the film came first.

It’s November 1947 and Britain is gripped by wedding fever as Princess Elizabeth is set to marry Philip Mountbatten. Chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers (Sam Kipling) is desparate to make an impression in an earthy northern town. His wife Joyce (Amelia Atherton) is similarly anxious to climb the social ladder and make a name for herself; particularly when she learns of a private function to celebrate the royal wedding. Just like the food supply invitations are strictly rationed. But Joyce is determined to swing an invite and launches a charm offensive with council officials led by Dr Swaby (Stuart Simons).

Haela Walshe

Betty Blue Eyes is a gloriously bright and clever musical that benefits from strong source material. The book strives to create a standalone narrative for the stage, but still bears the hallmarks of an Alan Bennett creation. The quirkiness of the British character comes to the fore and some genuinely funny moments feel almost Pythonesque in their delivery. The songs are intelligent and enhance rather than detract from the plot. ‘Fair shares for all’ and ‘Magic Fingers’ are the most rousing numbers mingling in a satisfying score. What’s remarkable about this production is the equality given to the players. Each member of the 19 strong cast has dialogue or at least one line from a song to sing. It’s a rare sight in any musical, and the producers should be commended giving the whole ensemble a chance to shine.

A naturally big show sits perfectly in the small and intimate confines of the Union Theatre. There are so many smart touches that fuse the austerity of post-war Britain with the musicality of theatre. For example, the food queue quickly turns into a chorus line and draws the audience in with an infectious spontaneity. Betty Blue Eyes has been away from the London stage for far too long – it’s good to have it back.

Writers: George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Music & Lyrics); Ron Cowne and Daniel Lipman (Book), based on the screenplay by Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray.

Director/Producer: Sasha Regan

Review by: Brian Penn


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
Continue reading “Review – 4****The Lion: Southwark Playhouse”
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