New Musical comes to St James Theatre, London

It hasn’t been a great time for musicals in the last year or so; Viva Forever, I Can’t Sing, Stephen Ward, From Here to Eternity and Love Never Dies all closing but here comes a new musical for just a few short days to tease your musical taste-buds.

Picture Perfect: A New Musical explores love and relationships using the songs of award winning Scott Evan Davis.

Josh is graduating college and preparing for his future. Always unlucky in love, he ponder whether he will ever find the one for him. Ellie is on her gap year from her law degree and isn’t sure if she is making the right decisions either professionally or personally. Josh’s parents are also at a turning point in their lives as Harry, Josh’s father, begins an affair with a younger woman. Is anything Picture Perfect?

Picture Perfect stars the incredible talents of Charlotte Wakefield. Having just seen her in A  Spoonful of Sherman at St James Theatre,   I can attest that her voice is stunning and I have no doubt that she will be just as good  good in this production too.

She stars alongside many other West End favourites including Helen Robson ( Mama Mia and Sound of Music) and Jerome Pardon (Les Miserables)

For more information and tickets, go to http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/picture-perfect/

For my review of A Spoonful of Sherman please go to https://playhousepickings1.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/a-spoonful-of-sherman-april-2014/

 

A Spoonful of Sherman – April 2014

St James’ Theatre Studio

Originally Posted: http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/04-2014/a-spoonful-of-sherman-st-james-theatre_34264.html

#Tweeting it – My Verdict in 140 characters

4* This will take you back to your childhood – whatever age you are now. I defy anyone not to have a smile on their face during this show.

The Sherman Brothers are two of the most famous songwriters in film history. I doubt there is a person alive who can’t at least hum a song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or who doesn’t think about “A Spoonful of Sugar” whenever they’re cleaning. But what may be unknown is that the Sherman family have been writing songs for three generations and during “A Spoonful of Sherman” the audience are taken on a wonderful trip down memory lane and treated to an amazing cornucopia of some of the best of the Sherman family’s talents.

A Spoonful of Sherman features top West End singers, Stuart Matthew Price , Greg Castiglioni, Charlotte Wakefield and Emma Williams alongside Robert’s son Robbie – who is himself a writer of musicals. Robbie narrates the evening with a clear sense of pride. If you have a renewed interest in the Shermans following the recent Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson film, Saving Mr Banks about the making of Mary Poppins, A Spoonful of Sherman and the wonderful family stories about them really rounds off the tale perfectly. The heartwarming stories about his family, from Al Sherman, his grandfather, to his uncle and father Richard and Robert Sherman and on to his own life, really give a personal touch to the evening. Projections of family photos and memories of their lives give extra feeling and emotion to the songs as well as a wider understanding of how the songs and lyrics came about. It brings a new meaning to many of the lyrics when you understand their backgrounds and this makes the evening that little bit more special for the audience.

The most important part – the singing – is also rather beautiful. The quartet aren’t “just” singers but musical stars themselves. This brings a bit of vigor to these timeless classics as they interact with one another and really perform them, bringing the characters to life for just a moment. All of the company are fantastic singers and there isn’t a moment that is not enjoyable. However, the star of the show is the incredible Emma Williams; the original stage Truly Scrumptious. She has the most beautiful voice, she captivates the audience and adapts her voice wonderfully for the various styles of songs.  Having spoken to Robbie Sherman after the show and having Williams in the company is rather special for him. His father was big fan of hers and so Robbie believes this would have made him particularly happy – especially when she sings the shunned from the stage musical “Lovely Lonely Man” – one of Robert Sherman’s favourites.

There is something for everyone in this chronological skip through the Sherman songbook. Firstly are Al Sherman’s songs, some of which may be lesser known by the younger audience members but are still quite lovely. There will still be a few which most people will recognise including Lets Get Together from The Parent Trap. Next up are all the favourites from The Sherman Brothers themselves including a medleys from Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book. Don’t worry, all your toe tapping favourites are in there and you can even have a bit of a sing along. Finally are the compositions of Robert Sherman, some of which are from his musical Bumblescratch. Songs from three generations provides the perfect completion of the story of the Sherman family.

It was interesting listening to the songs out of the context of the musicals and also listening to them properly as an adult. The lyrics are quire stunning and the expertise and immense talent of The Sherman Brothers shines through. Their songs are powerful and emotive – they’re not all about sickly sweet Disney themes, these songs really are beautifully crafted. One particularly emotional moment was when Robbie Sherman took to the piano to play River Song from Tom Sawyer, written for him by his father.

I am not going to pretend that you will enjoy this if you are not a fan of Disney musicals or of the Sherman Brothers. You will not be turned around from disliking that sweet style that they produce. However, if you love a bit of nostalgia, enjoy flying a kite, singing with orangutans, feeding the birds or wondered what the wonderful thing about Tiggers is, you will have a Truly Scrumptious evening at A Spoonful of Sherman. Leaving the theatre with a spring in my step, I don’t expect my sugar rush from this evening to be over for sometime.

Translunar Paradise – November 2013

The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury

Writer/Director:

Music: Kim Heron

Originally posted http://www.thepublicreviews.com/translunar-paradise-the-marlowe-studio-canterbury/

#Tweetingit – My Verdict in 140 characters

5* Beyond stunning – there are no other words for this show.

Translunar-Paradise

The audience leave the theatre in silence. The women wipe away the mascara and try to blot their red eyes while the men puff out their chests and try to pretend that it didn’t effect them. It is absolutely astounding that a production with no words and done purely with physical theatre and mime, can have the sort of affect on you that Translunar Paradise has managed to have on an entire audience. Ad Infinitum’s fantastic production takes you through the life, death, enduring memories and fervid love of a couple, tackling the loss of loved ones, of youth and of the person you once were.

The synopsis in the program of this play does not do it justice. Portraying the lives of a couple who have been together through good times and bad, the story confronts the subject of what it is like to go through bereavement at an old age; losing the person in your life you have loved most, the person you have been through everything with and whom you have rituals and habits with. Left alone following the death of his wife, the elderly man has to learn how to cope.  With the help of his wife (not really a ghost but a more of a presence) he learns to let go of her and work out how he will function without her. In turn this allows her to leave as well; her mind at rest that he is going to survive.

There are only two performers who play the couple in both their early and later years. The use of some extraordinary masks, which despite being unmoving, had endless emotion coming through them, and the impressive physicality of the actors – minute shakes in their hands, slight unease on their feet and then the complete opposite for their younger roles, means the audience are completely sucked into the story.

The sound was incredible and it was all done with nothing but an accordion and the musician’s voice. The accordion served as a way to push the story along; it was a clock, the wind, breathing as well as producing resplendent melodies and beautiful wordless vocals. Each song had a theme which led the audience to understand what era the characters were in and whether we should expect a happy or sad moment.

Mention physical theatre and people roll their eyes. Trust me: there should be no eye rolling her. A mixture of interpretive movement, physical theatre and mime allows the audience to see this couple of dancing through their lives together from their first meeting to their final moments. This production is brilliant because it explains the simple things which affect people when their partner dies in a way that words cannot. For 60 years he has got out 2 cups from the cupboard and poured for both himself and his wife. Now she is gone, what does he do with the other cup? This is a feeling which is indescribable so they don’t try to. Words would not work here. Yes the significant moments are seen; their first meeting, a heart breaking loss, her getting her first job, him going to war, but this isn’t about the big things. Instead it is the day-to-day stuff which one must continue on with despite having lost their loved ones.

Despite being extremely sad it is also heart-warming. There are some achingly funny moments tinged with sorrow – as she steals her cup from the table to stop him from continuing with his rituals, much to his shock. The relationship between the characters , their playfulness and their understanding of one another after a lifetime together, is still evident despite the grief they are both feeling having lost one another.

The Marlowe Studio have really never let their audiences down with the quality of productions they have hosted. Having seen four shows there, I have been blown away each and every time by the effect the shows have had on both me and the rest of the audience. The close proximity to the stage and the ability to bring the audience into the performance by way of clever sounds, lighting and sometimes even smells, ensures a very different theatrical experience to that in a larger auditorium and Translunar Paradise is just the next level of brilliance brought to this theatre.  

Just mentioning his lone tea cup after the show brought tears back to my eyes. An unbearable image so perfectly portrayed. This show was highly praised when it was at the Edinburgh Festival and it is quite understandable why. Yes the narrative is a tad predictable but it really does not matter. Yes it is sad, but the tears are worth it. Go to see this show – if for nothing else but to realise physical theatre really can be a beautiful and powerful art form if done as well as Ad Infinitum have.

Finding Joy Review – March 2014

The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 

Music and Sound Editor: Janie Armour

Writer and Director: Rachel Savage

Originally Posted: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/finding-joy-marlowe-theatre-canterbury/

#Tweetingit – My verdict in 140 Characters:

5* An emotive, stunning piece created and performed by an extremely talented writer and cast. Dialogue-less mask work at its best.

Finding-Joy-Dancing-LANDSCAPE-Vamos-Theatre

A fully masked play with no dialogue about dementia? Well that sounds like a harrowing night out – but I promise, this is a play which is more than worth the tears.

If you ever ranked types of theatre with mime firmly at the bottom, Finding Joy will change your mind completely. I was certainly one of those people who would never have considered going to see a mime/mask performance but in the last few months, I have seen two fabulous productions, including this one, and I wont look back.

Finding joy is the touching tale of 83 year old Joy. She’s suffering from dementia but it’s happening pretty slowly. At times, she is as playful and alert as she has ever been and then those moments hit where she is confused, lost, out in a road on her own with no idea how she got there or who she is.

Her unlikely savior is her rebellious, drug taking grandson who realises that he can help her and becomes, not only her carer but also her friend.  The love between the two main characters is portrayed beautifully.

In lucid moments, she is a bit of a trickster, playing practical jokes on her grandson and daughter for her own amusement. These moments are made even more poignant when a few minutes later she is putting a card in the fridge or rubbing toothpaste on her hands before bed.

Told with no words, just a beautiful soundtrack echoing different periods of Joy’s life, the magic of this production is the incredible story telling through mime alone.  The unmoving masks, created by Russell Dean, somehow have expressions; you see them smile, sigh, look sad or look confused.

Vamos are masters at what they do this production emphasises that they have managed to secure their place as one of the best full mask companies around. They certainly know how to pack a punch, never shying away from the difficult or sentimental moment but balancing them brilliantly with touching and tragically funny moments. When Joy is sat with her grandson and his friends watching football and decides the cushion is a hat – they all join her – why not?

Some people may not appreciate some of the stereotypes – the uncaring nurse in the hospital or loud music playing, drug taking youths but when using mime and masks, it is difficult to remove such stereotypes or add in subtleties without losing the meaning.

Clever writing and talented actors have managed to create a show which will make you laugh while tears pour down your face; seamlessly going between the two extremes is not an easy feat to achieve.

It got to the end and I was surprised it was over so soon. So many shows leave you pleased that it is finally the end; not Finding Joy. Content in that world, watching the story unfold, it was sad to see it end – although I was running out of tears to cry.

This is no longer running at the Marlowe but is on tour around the country until June 12th 2014

See http://www.vamostheatre.co.uk/shows/finding-joy-2014?4 for dates

 

Rhiannon reflects on……..my biggest theatrical disappointment

 #Tweetingit – Most disappointing theatrical moment. (6 year old me + Jason Donovan crush) + (“Joseph”- Jason Donovan)  = tantrums and lifelong scaring

It was 1992, I was I was 6 years old and completely in love with Jason Donovan. For my brother’s birthday, our neighbours had given me an unbirthday present – a prized possession which I believe, somewhere, I still have: A Jason Donovan video. I probably drove both my parents and brother insane, constantly watching it, making up dances and learning the songs off by heart. Every time I saw him tap Kylie on the nose during “Especially for you”, a pang of something which, which now as an adult, I understand to be jealousy, coursed through me. I also had the Joseph and the “Any Dream Will Do” official video and was desperate to be one of the “aher ah”-ers.

But all was to end well – I was going to go and see him In Joseph. Dad had organised a trip to London and my crush would be but feet away from me (ok quite a lot of feet…and quite a distance down as we would be in the upper circle but closer than a cliff in Australia in the “Too Many broken Hearts” video)

Jumping from foot to foot, I waited for my dad to finally be ready to leave the house ( this is a continue theme with my dad) and proceed on the, seemingly, never-ending journey to London from Littleport.

When we finally got there, I was rushed into the theatre,( almost certainly running late) probably because my parents were trying to ensure I avoided seeing the posters. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a program. And that was it, my life was over. Six years old and it couldn’t possibly get any worse. I was not here to see Jason Donovan at all – the person who would grace the stage would be that man in broom cupboard who spends his time talking to a gopher.

Little did I know
Little did I know

Now, obviously, I took this very well. As a child, I was nothing but a complete angel and would never have a full-blown tantrum at something which, in retrospect, wasn’t that much of a big deal. After all, this was a treat, we were in London at the theatre – not many of my friends had been given that opportunity at such a young age.

That is clearly a lie. I seem to remember – although my dad and anyone else who was in that theatre and had their experience ruined by the huffy child behind them – I threw the biggest of diva strops. Why on earth would I want to see Phillip Schofield rather than Jason Donovan?  I was not a happy bunny – and worst of all, my parents knew it wasn’t going to be Jason Donovan. To be fair to them, there is a possibility that when they had booked the tickets, it still was going to be Jason Donovan as he left suffering from exhaustion however, at my tender age, this kind of reasoning was not going to help the situation. I don’t know when the grumpiness stopped or, as I am writing this now nearly 22 years on, whether it ever did, but I seem to remember both the show and Phillip Schofield were very good.

The title of this post is a little misleading as, looking back now, I am very pleased I got to see Mr Schofield in Joseph as I am now a big fan. But I was only six and so  had few theatrical experiences, let alone disappointments so at the time, this easily made the top spot. I  still wish, however, that I had heard Jason Donovan sing “Close Every Door” live and I am not sure that this will ever be a possibility.  Finally, on the topic of Jason Donovan, I am still horrified that he was kicked out of Harrods. How could they do that to Jason? Unbelievable!  Clearly as a six-year-old I was rather sensitive

 

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury

Director and choreograher: Matthew Bourne

Set and Costume Designer: Lez Brotherston

Lighting Design: Rock Fisher

Sound Design: Ross Brown

Music: Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky

Originally Posted: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/matthew-bournes-swan-lake-marlowe-theatre-canterbury/

#Tweetingit – My verdict in 140 Characters:

5* A stunning, strong and intense take on a classic. Bourne doing what he does best; creating breath-taking, modern ballet for all to enjoy

Swanlake

Matthew Bourne made his name telling contemporary versions of the classics; his world war II take on Cinderella and a bold re-imagining of the ballet classic, Sleeping Beauty, cramming what is usually not much more than a show piece, with dynamic choreography and a clear narrative line and most famously his powerful, provocative and totally original interpretation of Swan Lake complete with an all male flock of swans, breaking the boundaries of classic style and fashioning a partnership of ballet technique with modern style Matthew Bourne’s productions are like no other ballet. Little pointe work and not a tutu in sight are the first clues to this not being your typical classical ballet. He creates something completely different, something awe inspiring.

Narratives and storytelling are Bourne’s M.O, and he never scrimps when it comes to this side of things. He is very aware of audiences, his aim is to break down the “language of dance”, create new ballets with wide appeal and win over the public. This was certainly the case with Swan Lake, there was no doubt as to what was going on and, judging by the standing ovation, the audience were definitely won over.

The story revolves around a young Prince, emotionally bereft and unsuitable for his public role, he torments himself with his failure and inability to perform his royal duties. With little support from his mother, the queen, and craving love and attention he discovers a new world to inhabit and receive the contact and acceptance he desires – almost a modern ugly duckling

For the first forty or so minutes, however, there is not a swan in sight and actually, very little which resembles ballet as you would know it. Having seen some of these dancers before and knowing their skills and grace, I was itching for them to do what they do best. But these first moments were not about just the dance; the story needed to be woven, each individual thread being placed just so to ensure that the audience were completely drawn in and captivated and entranced by the Matthew Bourne spell.  During the early parts of the performance, there are also some wonderfully comedic moments – the Queen and Prince going to see a ballet with the Prince’s ditzy girlfriend. Matthew Bourne appears to mock classic ballet with its over the top movements and often non-sensical stories.

Finally swans appear. Swan Lake swans usually conjures and image of beautiful graceful women in tutus gliding and twirling across the stage with elegance. Bourne creates a different and actually more realistic version, created by strong, muscular and, for most of the performance, extremely sweaty, men. When the prince approaches the swans, it seems almost like they are a fraternity with an initiation ceremony to fulfil. He won’t be accepted without a fight. They breathe together, they move in unison, almost performing a martial arts kata. They twitch their heads and arch their necks, it is powerful, strong and quite aggressive.  The movements capture the real life version of these beautiful but potentially vicious animals.

There is not a dancer on stage who can be criticised  but a couple of the ensemble stood out; from the men, Luke Jackson was a powerful presence on stage while Katrina Lyndon from the female ensemble was sultry in her princess roles.

And then there are the two leads whose stunning movement makes you hold your breath and feel everything they feel. Liam Mower’s Prince is clearly suffering emotional torment, battling with his feelings desires and inner thoughts. His movements tug at the audience’s emotions while Jonathon Ollivier’s commands the stage in his role as the formidable and passionate Swan. When the Prince and the Swan dance together, it is mesmerising and beautiful making you hold your breath and feel everything they feel. Matthew Bourne has stated that this is often seen as homoerotic but that surely it is actually just erotic? I didn’t even view it like that; these dances, sex unimportant, moved together beautifully, in harmony with real feeling, telling a beautiful story.

The finale is a climatic extravaganza. The vicious and menacing swans take no prisoners as their jealousy of the Prince becoming the favoured one of their alpha male gets too much and they brutally attack him in his bed. The lighting and set add some incredible extra atmosphere during these moments too.This truly chilling, magnificent and ferocious performance is not to be missed.  It doesn’t feel like your “typical” ballet – it is certainly something quite wonderful and over 20 years since it first appeared at Sadler’s Wells it is still as astonishing as it ever has been. Ballet fan or not, I implore you to go to see any of this truly magnificent choreographer’s work.

Matthew Bourne returns to The Marlowe Theatre this September with Lord Of The Flies, featuring eight professional New Adventures dancers as well as 25 local boys in a brand new production of William Golding’s classic novel. For full details, go to marlowetheatre.com.

Beyond the Blurb: Want to see where I sat and where to eat and drink before the show?

 

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