Review: 5**** Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert – The 02 Arena, London via @SkyArts #CultureinQuarantine @AlfieBoe @MsLeaSalonga @realmattlucas

Tweetingit: 5* Victor Hugo’s sprawling epic seamlessly transfers from stage to the stadium rock atmosphere of London’s 02 Arena. A perfect production showcasing rare genius.

Once upon a time I acquired the hardback version of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Needless to say 1,232 pages stayed in pristine condition as I contrived excuses not to read it. Hugo’s masterpiece had so many alternative uses – mine was primarily a doorstop before its convenient loss during a house move. Any literary guilt was assuaged by the brilliant stage version that first graced the London stage in 1985. My own twisted logic dictated that I no longer needed to read the book. It is after all a brilliantly distilled version of the novel that marries narrative with beautifully constructed songs.

This film made in 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the show’s first production at the Barbican. The transfer from theatre to the stadium like 02 Arena might at first present a challenge. However, Les Mis easily fills the 20,000 capacity venue as the songs grow bigger and better. Two giant screens flank a full orchestra and huge choir stretching across the stage.  Sets are stripped away as cast members take the stage in authentic 19th Century costume. The unique atmosphere was obvious even on the small screen and one could sense the film captured a very special night.

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Review: 3*** Lipstick – Southwark Playhouse @swkplay

Tweetingit: 3* Two girls play schoolboys with a different perception of what it’s like to feel different. An intelligent, well observed play raised by some outstanding acting.

In a world where sexual identity is nothing more than a routine conversation piece, Lipstick is hardly breaking new territory. It does however provide a showcase for two outstanding young actors in April Hughes and Helen Aluko. They give substance to a feather light plot and routine script that would have been much poorer without their respective performances.

Tommy (April Hughes) is a boy that likes to wear lipstick, foundation and eye shadow if he can get hold of them. Next door neighbour and class mate Jordan (Helen Aluko) lives with warring parents on the verge of separation. Jordan is a boy’s boy, he plays football and all the girls fancy him (or so he thinks). Yet he is gradually drawn to the sickly and vulnerable Tommy; they momentarily cut loose at a nightclub as they sing I wanna dance with somebody. But what does this mean to them personally. Are they just experimenting or truly finding themselves. How do they feel about each other; is this a friendship, bromance or something much deeper and passionate? There is a curious juxtaposition between what they want and what they need from each other; a geography field trip to Cornwall may well provide the answer.

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Review 4**** A Taste of Honey – Trafalgar Studios @NationalTheatre @TrafStudios

A gritty northern drama from the very top draw. A taste of honey just got that much sweeter.

Once upon a time, theatre director Joan Littlewood took a pinch of inspiration and mixed it with a cupful of talent to create the Theatre Workshop. Based at Theatre Royal Stratford East the workshop gave many young artists their first break. Lionel Bart’s breakthrough musical Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be was directed by Joan Littlewood.

However, her other great discovery was Shelagh Delaney; a precious nineteen year old playwright who presented her with a terrifyingly good play called A taste of honey. It premiered in May 1958 and later transferred to the West End and Broadway receiving critical and popular acclaim.

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Review 5***** Amelie the Musical The Other Palace @TheOtherPalace @AmelieMusicalUK

Witty, winsome and whimsical. Amélie The Musical is based on the 2001 film, where one little girl with a big imagination carries out remarkable acts of kindness to bring happiness to those around her. Until one day, Amélie meets arty Nino, her heart begins to pound and everything changes… 

Audrey Brisson is phenomenal as quirky Amélie, her playful personality and sprinkles of mischievous magic brighten a world where everything and everyone goes around and around and around over and over again and again…Amélie slices through the monotony with delightful charm, although Brisson always cuts in with a hilariously blunt quip just in time to avoid over sweetening the performance. 

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Review: 3*** An Act of God – The Vaults @thevaultsuk @ActOfGodLondon @leakstarches

Tweetingit: 3* Think the Ten Commandments could use a re-boot? Comedian Zoe Lyons imagines God in stand-up mode; predictable but occasionally very funny.

An Act of God presents something of a moral conundrum, re-treading themes that have kept satirists busy for generations. It belongs to the same family of writing that produced the Life of Brian and Book of Mormon. However, where Brian and Mormon concentrate broadly on the concept of faith; this play goes back one stage further; what if God popped down and re-drafted the Ten Commandments for 21st Century consumption. In fact, what if God was a lesbian comedian in silk pyjamas; or in Zoe Lyons’ words ‘Sharon Osbourne’s dykey niece?’. An interesting concept without doubt; more importantly how would God judge the human race and its achievements? With the assistance of Archangels Michael (Matt Tedford) and Gabriel (Tom Bowen); Zoe re-writes the Ten Commandments with a critical assessment of life’s biggest questions.

Essentially, we see God in stand-up mode with a source of material that most comedians could only dream about. Zoe methodically ticks off each commandment offering a detailed progress report. Think of God as Head Teacher delivering a pupil assessment. Archangel Gabriel holds an I-Pad tablet (geddit?!) and scribbles notes on the wall; meanwhile Archangel Michael mingles with the audience seeking questions they’ve always wanted to ask God. It’s a reasonably coherent piece that holds together with some genuinely funny throwaway lines. The play has already been a hit on Broadway, and writer David Javerbaum has written bespoke material for a British audience. So I was baffled by the inclusion of some poorly judged gags. A line about the holocaust was a huge blunder; there is potential for a reactive piece drawing on current events but opting for the jugular is not a good look.

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News: What more can you need to know on a cold Friday morning to cheer you up than the news that JASON DONAVAN IS BACK IN JOSEPH @JDonOfficial @LondonPalladium @JosephMusical @jacyarrow

Following his critically acclaimed professional debut this summer Jac Yarrow is to wear the Dreamcoat again while Jason Donovan returns to the role of Pharaoh from 2 July 2020!!!

Michael Harrison and the Really Useful Group are delighted to announce that Jason Donovan and Jac Yarrow will be back at the London Palladium in 2020, as the new, smash hit production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat returns following its triumphant season this year.

Jason Donovan will return in the role of Pharaoh. He was originally in the show when he made his defining stage performance as the title character of Joseph in the 1990s, in a sold-out 18-month run which produced a No.1 single and best-selling soundtrack album. Jason raised the roof of the London Palladium this year as Pharaoh, who rocks ‘Song of the King’ in the iconic musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

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Review: 5***** Death of a Salesman – Piccadilly Theatre @SalesmanWestEnd @WendellPierce @TeamPiccadilly

A heavyweight cast join forces with a heavyweight writer to create a tour de force in theatre; an intoxicating mix of style and attitude. Not to be missed.

The cult of celebrity does sometimes work in mysterious ways; my earliest recollection of Arthur Miller was not as a great 20th Century playwright. But more as the third husband of Marilyn Monroe; a nerdy, bespectacled egghead in the wrong relationship.

It looked a monumental mismatch of two very different legends. I’ve happily learnt otherwise down the years. And now this stunning Young Vic production has transferred to the West End, Miller’s work can be savoured by a much wider audience. Death of a Salesman premiered on Broadway in February 1949, and subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony award for Best Play. For a story that’s now 70 years old it still feels remarkably fresh; universal themes are explored in a riveting study of family life that will strike a chord with everyone.

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Review: 4**** God’s Dice – Soho Theatre @sohotheatre @Baddiel @exitthelemming

For someone who made his name in stand-up and sketch based comedy, David Baddiel’s first outing as a playwright comes as something of a surprise. God’s Dice sets an examination question that is both daunting and challenging. What would happen if the existence of God could be scientifically proven? It seems a million miles away from the Mary Whitehouse Experience and whimsy of Three Lions. But Baddiel has created an intelligent and original piece of theatre.

Henry Brook (Alan Davies) is a highly respected but unfulfilled professor of physics. His wife Virginia (Alexandra Gilbreath) is a leading writer whose books have set the benchmark for academic research in atheism. The attractive Edie (Leila Mimmack) joins Henry’s class and offers him a proposition; being asked to accept the principles of quantum physics is much like being asked to believe in God. Henry is intrigued by Edie’s assertion; and they begin work on a scientific explanation for miracles in the Christian faith. Virginia is naturally dismissive and wonders if Edie has aroused more than his intellect. Best friend Tim (Nitin Ganatra) is an IT professor and ageing lothario. He too doubts Henry’s claim he is only interested in Edie’s hypothesis. Henry decides to write a book on the subject with Edie as his researcher; he feels invigorated by the opportunity to step out of Virginia’s shadow. When the book is published Edie’s motives become clear as events take an unexpected turn. The origins of Tim’s friendship with Henry are also revealed as skeletons rattle in the closet. Henry now has to decide how finish something he started.

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Review: 4**** Katheryn Howard – Hope Theatre @TheHopeTheatre

The Tudors represent a tumultuous period in British history and arguably provided the inspiration for Game of Thrones. Henry VIII ruled for 38 years and collected six wives along the way. But who of the six spring most readily to mind; Catherine of Aragon, long suffering first wife, whose divorce sparked the reformation; or the scheming, seductive Anne Boleyn; how about Jane Seymour, the perfect wife who provided Henry with a cherished male heir? But Katheryn Howard wedged between Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr doesn’t necessarily stand out?

A play solely about Katheryn is therefore long overdue. But some context might be in order before our story begins. In 1540, Henry marries Anne of Cleves using the 16th century equivalent of Tinder. On the strength of a portrait painted by Hans Holbein the deal is duly sealed. But Henry likes her not; he does however like Anne’s Lady-in-Waiting Kathryn Howard. Henry is immedietly smitten by the teenager 32 years his junior. Henry’s marraige to Anne is quickly annulled and Katheryn lined up as his new Queen.

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Review: 3*** The Last Act of Harry Houdini – The Cockpit Theatre @cockpittheatre @UKTheatreNet @TheCompanyO

Tweetingit: 3* A solid one man show delving into the mind of a puzzling and often misunderstood showman. Harry Houdini wouldn’t have had it any other way.

On 31 October 1926, magician and escape artist Harry Houdini died in Detroit. Ninety three years later almost to the day, Barry Killerby performs The Last Act of Harry Houdini at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone. There was certainly an eerie atmosphere as the spotlight settled on a top hat glistening with stardust. Our story begins two weeks prior to his death in Montreal, where he is preparing for a theatre show. Aged 52 Houdini’s glory days were largely behind him and had returned to his roots in Vaudeville.

The circumstances of his life and death are analysed in a highly literate one hour monologue. The narrative works well in flashback as snap shots feature key stages in Houdini’s life. The son of a Rabbi, Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Hungary. The family immigrated to America in the late 1870s, where they struggled to find their way. Houdini’s courtship of future wife Bess is well documented; so too his rise to prominence as an escape artist and keen eye for a photo opportunity. His obsession with spiritualism was evident and frequently clashed with mediums, whom he saw as nothing more than poorly trained magicians.

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