Review: 4**** The Greatest Love Of All – The London Palladium @TGLOAShow @LondonPalladium‏ @BelindaDavids

Tweetingit: 4* Belinda Davids pays tribute to Whitney Houston in a sparkling show at the London Palladium. If only all Sunday nights could look and sound this good!

A film documentary entitled Can I Be Me spoke volumes for the painfully short life of Whitney Houston; interviews with those closest to her showed how she fought to simply be herself. An upbringing drenched in gospel set the template for a unique talent to blossom. Her mother Cissy Houston was a legendary session singer, her cousin the incomparable Dionne Warwick, her godmother was Darlene Love of the Crystals and an honorary aunt was Aretha Franklin; could Whitney have been anything else but a diva? She went on to record nine albums and sell in excess of 200 million records worldwide. 

In spite of the adulation, glamour and wealth she yearned to be an authentic blues singer; just like the other women in her family. There’s a fine line between commercial success and critical acceptance; 13 chart topping US pop singles were not going to cut it. She had a stormy, tempestuous marraige to singer Bobby Brown. A union of two addictive personalities led both into regular periods of rehab. Three years after Whitney’s passing daughter Bobbi Kristina died aged 22; two tortured souls who left us far too soon.

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Review: 4**** School of Rock – The Gillian Lynne Theatre @SchoolOfRockUK ‏

Tweetingit: 4* Unemployed rock guitarist blags his way into prep school and teaches kids to rock. A routine score is saved by a fantastically talented cast.

It seems appropriate the Gillian Lynne Theatre was re-named in honour of the legendary choreographer. Arguably her finest work Cats played at this theatre for twenty one years. Now School of Rock is firmly established as a fixture in the West End calendar.

It represents something of a departure for composer Andrew Lloyd Webber; for one so enamoured of lush orchestral arrangements, he has written a score reminiscent of soft rock darlings Whitesnake. The musical is based on the 2003 film starring Jack Black and Joan Cusack. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes was recruited to write the book, but can’t imagine what he added to the original screenplay. The premise is a fairly simple one; guitarist Dewey Finn (Craig Gallivan) has been dumped by his band No Vacancy. He lodges with old high school buddy Ned Schneebly (Alan Pearson); but hasn’t tipped up any rent so it’s time to shape up or ship out.

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Review: 4**** George, Eventim Apollo Hammersmith @EventimApollo ‏#Rob Lamberti #GeorgeMichael

Tweetingit: 4* Bouffant hair, three day stubble and regulation ray-bans all present and correct; oh the voice is pretty bloody decent too! A highly enjoyable celebration of the man and his music; all courtesy of the brilliant Rob Lamberti.

When George Michael died on Christmas Day 2016, it marked the end of a wretched depressingly flat year. Along with David Bowie and Prince pop music had lost three of its brightest stars. Inevitably and quite rightly life goes on; but I still wonder what George might have gone onto achieve? Many would argue his best years were behind him; fighting his demons undoubtedly took their toll creatively. 

Although recording shortly before his death, the release of new material has been decidedly piecemeal; a re-worked version of Fantasy featuring Nile Rogers was released in 2017, but a reputed three albums are yet to see the light of day. A new film Last Christmas starring Emilia Clarke will also feature unreleased songs; but is not due for release until November. So for now, we have to make do with a catalogue of songs and performances to savour. 

The tribute market has responded with a slew of acts that are more often lookalike than soundalike. We were fortunate to have Rob Lamberti playing at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith. Rob is by far the best tribute act, having cut his teeth on TV shows Stars in Their Eyes and more recently Even Better Than The Real Thing. The Apollo has a natural vibe and its art deco interior has never looked finer. The venue has played host to the greatest artists ever to have lived. Everyone from Buddy Holly to the Beatles, Queen and the Clash have graced this wonderful stage. Wham also played here on their first tour, so would seem the perfect location for such a tribute.

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Review: 4**** All About Eve – Noel Coward Theatre, Recorded Live and screened at Cineworld, 02 Arena @AllAboutEvePlay #GillianAnderson #LilyJames

Tweetingit: 4* Lily James AND Gillian Anderson in one show? YES! A classic Hollywood flick re-modelled for the stage, impossible to resist when Gillian Anderson’s got Betty Davis eyes; coming to a cinema near you. It’s the next best thing to being there!

My first time watching a play at the cinema raised a number of questions. How would the atmosphere be affected; was it recorded in real time or shot with canned audience reaction?  The National Theatre ran a live broadcast in April but this is a recorded version on general release. As a viewer, could I still judge it as a play or a film without the essential live element? It proved to be a hugely entertaining evening; we began with the customary batch of trailers featuring up and coming theatre productions; and a nice touch, interviews with creatives and cast plus a handy background to the play itself. The full two hour play runs straight through without the interval or for that matter the uncomfortable seats.

It seems appropriate that All About Eve the play is being shown at the cinema, as it came to prominence via a classic Hollywood film in 1950. It tells the story of Margot Channing (Gillian Anderson), star of Broadway basking in the glow of adulation. But then there’s Eve Harrington (Lily James), young impossibly beautiful girl next door. The eager new kid on the block is Margot’s biggest fan and soon cultivates a close relationship with her idol. But as the song goes, ambition can sometimes bite the nails of success and has Margot’s crown in her sights. It’s a classic tale of jealously, ambition and greed; the cult of celebrity that can make or break reputations overnight. 

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Review: 4**** Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s Theatre @RosmersholmPlay @RosmersholmPlay #HayleyAtwell

Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s TheatreTweetingit: 4* Most plays by Ibsen come complete with a headache. But a heavy going story is lightened by great staging and an excellent cast led by the wonderful Hayley Atwell.

Ah the joys of Henrik Ibsen; and the first time in god knows how long I’ve been to the majestic Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane. This play has two things going for it; firstly, it’s not Hedda Garbler (one of Ibsen’s many lowlights) and secondly, it stars the beguiling Hayley Atwell; which is a pretty damn good start. At the risk of sounding horribly anti-Ibsen his plays haven’t worn particularly well over the years and the only option is to give it a radical makeover with a fantastic cast. But what the devil is Rosmersholm all about?

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Review: 5***** Toast – The Other Palace @NigelSlater @TheOtherPalace @ToastPlay

Toast – The Other PalaceTweetingit: 5* A boy’s obsession with food growing up in 60s suburbia. Nigel Slater’s formative years reimagined for the stage. Riding on a wave of nostalgia this leaves a sweet taste in the mouth.

Quietly blending at the bar of the Other Palace there were a host of familiar faces I couldn’t quite place, but I don’t suppose they recognised me either. No matter, best they don’t; I might be reviewing their show one day soon. But where to begin with Toast; based on the autobiography of food writer Nigel Slater, the play was a massive hit on last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It tells the heart-warming story of Slater’s upbringing during the 60s and his obsession with food.

It begins with a nine year old Nigel (Giles Cooper) watching his Mum (Lizzie Muncey) in the kitchen. She’s not the best cook in the world, but it’s an unwritten rule that nobody bakes jam tarts quite like your Mum. Factory owning Dad (Stephen Ventura) sees himself as a trailblazing foodie, introducing the family to Spaghetti Bolognese. Nigel’s fixation on food is deepened by gardener Josh (Jake Ferretti), who encourages him to grow vegetables in his own personal patch of the garden. 

However this benign existence is shattered by the death of his beloved Mum. The family’s opinionated cleaner Joan Potter (Marie Laurence) quickly gets her feet under the table. She becomes Auntie Joan as Nigel’s idyllic upbringing comes to a shuddering halt. They compete for Dad’s affections with food as the weapon of choice; a Victoria Sponge here and a Strawberry Pavlova there, the battle lines are very clearly drawn.

Nigel’s childhood was marked by the smell and taste of food. We love everything when we’re young; discovering things for the first time there is no judgement to be made. But food never loses its lustre or sense of wonder. And it’s the essence of nostalgia that drives this brilliantly inventive production. It reminds us of simpler, more straight forward times. 

We all have fond memories of food growing up.  For me, it was my Mum’s apple tarts laced with currants; bread pudding packed with cherries and spices, the smell and taste was delicious. So the play cleverly taps into an evocative period of our lives. Just to emphasise the point, we were given the occasional treat; a goody bag was passed around as long established playground rules for sweets kicked in. Lemon curd fancies were followed by the ultimate treat, a Walnut Whip! These were handed out during the interval. I prepared to snaffle mine thinking it wouldn’t matter; then a voice over the PA system boomed; it was Nigel: don’t eat your Walnut Whips yet; you have to wait until my Dad eats his. When that moment arrived the sound of frenzied wrapper opening was deafening!

Being a fusspot there were things about this production that bothered me. For example, how could a family living in a Wolverhampton suburb have home county accents; while everyone around them spoke with pure Black Country accents? Also, how could Lizzie Muncey be the mother of Giles Cooper; they look around the same age and dressing him in short trousers made the premise even more unlikely. But nothing so trivial could deny this show five star status. It was beautifully written and superbly acted with innovative set pieces refreshing the storyline. The only question is: how do you eat a Walnut Whip?!

Author: Henry Filloux-Bennett

Based on the book by: Nigel Slater

Director/Choreographer: Jonnie Riordan

Producers: Karl Sydow/PW Productions

Box Office: 020 7087 7900

Booking Link

Booking Until: 3 August 2019

Review: 4**** Bed Peace: The Battle of Yohn and Joko, The Cockpit Theatre @cockpittheatre @craftheatre

Tweetingit: 4* A snap shot of John Lennon in his immediate post Beatles period. The peace warrior is often lost in the narrative, but recovers for a rousing sing song!

John Lennon once said when the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will be at peace. We might consign these words to history; the product of a bygone age, when love was the answer but flower power failed to launch. With the world falling on a self-destruct button, Lennon’s ideas seem more relevant than ever. Bed Peace is told in the aftermath of the Beatles’ break-up and Lennon’s political activism. The late 60s had witnessed the Prague Spring, student riots, civil rights protest and escalation of the Vietnam War. At the epicentre was John Lennon, a woolly mammoth with bride Yoko Ono in tow.

The opening scenes trace their chaotic honeymoon and bed-in for peace at the Amsterdam Hilton; later immortalised in the Beatles’ final number one, The Ballad of John & Yoko. The media circus followed them to the Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal where the bed-in was repeated. The couple’s press conferences became the stuff of legend as one of the great anti-war anthems was written and recorded there.

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Review 3*** Romance Romance @abovethestag

Tweeting it: Bawdy Victorian Music Hall entertainment in the 21st century. Not for those who seek subtlety in their innuendo 3***

I didn’t expect to feel like I was at the panto when I went along to Above The Stag Theatre to see their musical Romance Romance in March, but that’s exactly where my brain went. I soon realised that it was slightly unfair to do so as the music far exceeded anything you’d find at a pantomime. Thank goodness.

And the music was glorious. Not particularly complicated or sophisticated but the melodies were catchy and the lyrics well written and beautifully delivered. This, along with the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer innuendo brought me to the Victorian Music Hall.

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Review: 3*** Rip it up Garrick Theatre @RipItUpTheShow @AstonMerrygold ‏ @mcflyharry, @JayMcGuiness @louissmith1989

Tweetingit: 3* Three boy band members and an Olympic gymnast team up to re-imagine a 60s pop music show. Think Strictly Come Dancing meets the Rock ‘n’ Roll Years. A muddled concept just about works with competant staging; but is still great fun.

I really wasn’t sure what to make of the publicity shots for Rip it up. The stars of the show, ex boy band members Aston Merrygold, Harry Judd and Jay McGuiness are joined by Olympic gymnast Louis Smith. All were dressed in matching powder blue suits; the impression gained is one of a 60s close harmony vocal group. But hold on Aston and Jay sing; but doesn’t Harry only plays drums while Louis will be good for the odd somersault or two? But then the scales drop, they were all on Strictly Come Dancing! There were so many references to ‘Strictly’ during the show I thought Len Goodman was bound to turn up at some point.

The show begins with the premise of a 1960s pop music show – Ready Steady Go! more than TOTP as velvet toned emcee Cavin Cornwall took the stage. The boys emerge with an excellent company of dancers in support. They open with a solid medley of hits subtitled Bubblegum Britain. Vocal duties are mainly filled by Jill Marie Cooper and guitarist Ant Bryant; who are the unsung heroes of this production. They carry the weight on the majority of vocals while the boys concentrate on the dance sequences. Nine more segments followed, each concentrating on a particular aspect of 1960s music.

Curiously each segment was preceded by a video insert. Interviews featuring Lulu, Roger Daltrey, Dionne Warwick, Zandra Rhodes and Tony Blackburn were interspersed with archive film and newsreel commentary. It was reminiscent of BBC programme the Rock ‘n’ Roll Years which followed a similar format. But it just wasn’t needed and felt like unnecessary padding. Interviews with the boys seemed equally superfluous and another excuse to mention ‘Strictly’. A neat medley of Beach Boys hits was followed by a tribute to the summer of love. A strangely awkward sequence, as Soul bossa nova and Green onions were played in homage to the Austin Powers movies.

Act II opened with a couple of Mod songs, and then the Beatles tribute and highlight of the show; a brilliantly executed mash-up of the Fab Four in their psychedelic phase. Strawberry Fields forever, I am the walrus and Come together were complemented by stunning visuals and choreography. But any pretence of a TV pop show disappeared with Strictly Romantic, a shameless plug for that show again. This included interviews with the boys and four very good routines, which could have come straight out of Saturday night TV. It featured the strangest version of Can’t take my eyes off you; half way through it changed tempo and turned into a quickstep (totally bonkers). A medley of Motown hits provided a sensible but barnstorming finale.

The four boys on the poster worked hard and did a sterling job; particularly Louis Smith who bravely took the mic and delivered a highly credible version of Let’s twist again. For all its emphasis on entertainment, the show was conceptually flawed and poorly researched. Rip it up is taken from a Little Richard song recorded in 1957; Act I featured Nutbush city limits, a hit for Ike and Tina Turner in 1973; I could go on but nobody likes a smart ass. Maybe I’m looking for faults and most punters wouldn’t notice it anyway. But if the show purports to be an historic document (i.e. popular culture in the 1960s) it should be accurate. The TV pop show format was pretty cool with its wandering onstage camera but frequently abandoned for no apparent reason. Yes, they got a lot wrong but they also got a lot right; I think we can call it quits.

Director and Choreographer: Gareth Walker

Musical Director: Barnaby Dickinson

Producer: Steven Howard for the TCB Group

Box Office: 0330 333 4811

Booking Link: https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/rip-it-up/

Booking Until: 2 June 2019

Review: 4**** All in a Row – Southwark Playhouse @allinarowplay @swkplay @FunkSmuggler @CharlieBrooks0 @dominicmshaw @Otodyn

Tweetingit: The story of a couple trying to cope with an autistic child is not easy viewing. Amid the negative publicity and controversy of this show you will discover a bravely written, brilliantly acted piece of modern theatre which needs to be seen.

Playwright Alex Oates seemingly doesn’t believe in doing things the easy way. First, he chooses autism as the subject matter for a play, then decides to represent an autistic child in the form of a puppet which has stirred up quite a storm of protest.

Many feel the play dehumanises autism by using a puppet to portray a non-verbal boy and the National Autistic Society were unable to support the play due to its use of puppetry. When I arrived at the Southwark Playhouse protesters were handing out leaflets.  A petition has been signed by over 12,000 people, and was heavily critical of the venue in its failure to provide more autism/accessible friendly shows.

I’m not an expert in the subject, nor do I have a child with the condition. My views may have been different if I had first-hand experience of autism so I can only provide my views in that light. I approached the play with an open mind and was determined not to pre-judge it. 

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