Updated: Jan 14, 2020
I’m back! Two weeks away in Cumbria for Christmas and New Year with my family and friends did me the world of good. It was really good just to relax and not see any theatre for two weeks, it also gave me chance to catch up with myself.
I managed to back up all the videos and photos I made throughout 2019, and spent some time enjoying Netflix. If you haven’t seen the second series of You, it’s a masterpiece.
For Christmas my dad bought me a Mac Book Air, and I finally switched over from always having had a PC.
My Mac Book will now help me be a lot more organised and efficient.
I now plan to update my blog daily, and round it off weekly with a vlog. This should allow me to stay more current and let you guys know about all the shows I see sooner.
I’ve also given my blog a little face lift. Adding a touch of gold and glamour. Which I hope you all like.
I’m also really excited to start making some new interviews and I have a couple of other big new plans coming soon...
On Friday I got back into London a little after 5pm. I dragged my suitcase passed armed police at Euston station, down flights of stairs to get on to the underground back to Chiswick. I had forgotten how grubby London can be, and I instantly felt exhausted by it.
I got home and my lovely flat mate Maddie was in the process of moving her boyfriend Charlie in, and making lasagne. I sat and ate with them, before heading in to Leicester Square to watch Cats at the cinema.
I had been desperate to see this movie since it was released two weeks ago, but been unable to watch it while I was at home in Cumbria.
I was curious to see whether I would like it. The film had everybody months before it was even released when the trailer came out earlier in the year. Even I thought it looked terrible, and poked fun at it in the intro to my Vlog.
I went to see it in Leicester Square and....
....I actually thought it was very good. I liked it.
Yes, some of the CGI was jarring, and I thought that the obvious aerial work spoilt some of the dance elements. But overall I thought the look and design was very good.
I honestly could not imagine how else they could have presented it. It felt like the right blend of the original stage show with filmic qualities redesigned suitably for the screen.
Cats is built out of it’s stunning score and dance, and this film adaptation celebrates these gloriously, although I’ll admit I did find the large ensemble dance sequences were a little underwhelming, and I wasn’t left entirely satisfied by them.
The acting was phenomenal and testament to Tom Hooper’s ability to extract authentic and truthful performances from his actors.
On the whole, I think the film look beautiful and the story telling was brilliant. I felt it actually made a lot more sense than the original stage version.
It was also a nice treat to look out for Zizi Strallen, and Aaron Jenkins who after completing filming on the movies went on to perform in Cats at Kilworth House Theatre last summer.
On Saturday afternoon, I was back in the swing of it, watching my first show of 2020. Christmas and New Year might well be behind me. But seeing my mates in panto definitely isn’t behind me, oh no it’s not.
I made my way to Richmond, to watch Show White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Starring Jo Brand, returning dame Jason Sutton back for a tenth year and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Jon Clegg who makes his 19th consecutive year appearing in a panto.
My mate James Darch plays the Prince, having recently finished touring in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. James has previously played Sky in Mamma Mia, and covered Fiyero in Wicked.
Last year I interviewed him with Kara Lily Hayworth when they appeared together in Maggie May https://youtu.be/ZRE8wRBxRzE
James is brilliant. And looks and sounds just like a prince should. Throwing in some nice dance moves.
James told me afterwards of his plans to move to Canada next week, having acquired a visa and decided to explore acting in another English speaking country. It sounds like an amazing adventure, and I wish him all the best.
The songs were a mix of pop songs with reworked lyrics.
Jo Brand seemed to struggle throughout to remember her lines, which given that this is the penultimate day in their month long run of performances, you’d think that she’d have locked them down by now. She’s generally a brilliant comedian but here the Bake Off presenter’s acting is massively under cooked.
The seven dwarfs were played by seven full sized musical theatre actors on their knees, who along with James had the best voices in the show, and were hugely underused.
They were played brilliantly by Luke Higgins, Callum Bell, Jabari Braham, Mark Laverty, Connor Marron as well as Conleth Kane and Robert Wilkes who I was also here to see.
I first met Robert when he toured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and he is absolutely lovely.
Conleth Kane, I have known for several years. With Conleth this is the second time that I’ve seen him perform on his knees. In 2013 he played a dwarf in Show White and the Seven Dwarfs starring Danielle Hope and Gok Wan at the Birmingham Hippodrome.
Conleth then retired from acting for four years to focus on his song writing as a recording artist and has a new EP due out in March as well as several singles and his debut album ‘Proud’ already available to download.
I’ve always adored Conleth and love his voice, and it was nice to see his huge smile light up a stage again.
Show White was played perfectly well by Mia Starbuck with an ensemble of students from Laines Theatre Arts, Lucy Connolly. Kai Deighton. Charlotte Olliffe. Zach Parkin. Rosie Southall. Taela Yeomans-Brown as well as children from Babette Langford’s The Young Set.
Overall, it might not have compared as well as other pantos that I saw this season, but it was still a fine production and the audience and children all seemed to enjoy it which is all that matters.
On Saturday night, I joined my friend Zabrina Norry to celebrate her birthday. Zabrina, I can single handily accolade with introducing me to musical theatre.
Zabrina was one of the original divas in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and introduced me to many West End performers at Freedom Bar Soho. We remained friends as she subsequently moved to New York and back last night year. Her voice is stunning.
We had a few drinks at the Old Nell before moving to the Two Brewers in Clapham, where it was nice to meet some old faces.
Once upon a time, I would have relished the night out, but to be honest as much as it was nice to see everyone, I was honestly so tired and just wanted to to go home.
I left the club. Bought a KFC and made my way home.
On Sunday evening, I stayed in to watch Dancing On Ice.
I first moved to London to work on the series as a researcher in 2008. I rented a small box bedroom in Elstree where it was filmed, and absolutely loved it.
I made friends with Matt Evers who this year made history with Ian Watkins by becoming the first same sex partnership to compete in the show.
Ian was part of the pop band Steps between 1997 and 2001. I remember being impressed during their recent comeback, when Ian had a male backing dancer. Ian was married to West End performer Craig Ryder and they have twins sons through surrogacy.
It was brilliant to watch Matt and Ian perform together, with judge John Barrowman reduced to tears as he stood in ovation.
I hope the pair continue to do well in the competition.
On Monday, I had tickets to see Luke Bayer & Natalie Paris Sing Songs From The Movies at the Turbine Theatre.
Part of the new series of one off cabarets at this new theatre. It was originally planned for 8th December. However was cancelled on the day with the Turbine Theatre stating that it was “Due to the indisposition of Luke Bayer“, Luke added “So sorry to not be with you guys tonight 😭 and thank you to @PaulTaylorMills @nataliemayparis for being so lovely and understanding! 💙”
On 20th, Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt Pulford’s evening was cancelled “Due to adverse weather conditions”.
Luke and Natalie’s evening was rescheduled for 6th January when again it was cancelled, this time “Due to the indisposition of Natalie Paris”.
Luke again posted “Get better soon lovely @nataliemayparis 💙.. and huge thanks to @PaulTaylorMills @TurbineTheatre for always being the loveliest, and so understanding 🙏🏼”
Paul Taylor Mills was meanwhile on holiday in Mexico.
It is tremendous bad luck for this new theatre, but understandably the health and well being of performers has to always come first.
I instead went to watch Teenage Dick at the Donmar Warehouse.
Written by Michael Lew and directed by the Donmar’s new Artistic Director Michael Longhurst.
It was described as a darkly comic take on Shakespeare’s Richard III. First presented as a workshop production in 2016, and then premiered at the Public Theatre, New York in June, 2018.
The production was commissioned and developed by Apothetae theatre company, a company that serves to present and explore plays that illustrate the "Disabled experience".
Michael Lew not only writes Richard and his friend Buck as disabled but also insists that they can only be played by disabled actors.
Hired for these roles are Daniel Monks and Ruth Madeley who British audiences will recognise most recently from her appearance in the brilliant Years and Years.
Although perhaps a little old to play sixteen year olds, it’s a small compromise, but what isn’t compromised is how brilliant these two actors are.
The writing is superb. Creating prominent unapologetic characters who are strong and defiant. The humour teeters on the verge of acceptability. Yet the overriding power of seeing characters own and use their disabilities is as commanding as watching the actors who are playing them.
At times very honest and frank this play gives a true insight whilst accumulating into an incredibly powerful and moving dance sequence, that was stunning.
Just yesterday I wrote about the power of watching two men dance together on Dancing On Ice, which this series also showcases partial sighted Libby Clegg defy her blindness to skate on ice.
In Teenage Dick, Daniel Monks is partnered with the superb Siena Kelly who trained at Arts Ed, and it shows. She is a stunning dancer and brilliant actor, occupying some of the most tender scenes in the play with absolute assurance. In the play her character also nicely adds voice to the discussion of female representation within Shakespeare, delivering an empowering speech.
Susan Wokoma, Callum Adams, and Alice Hewkin also impress on all levels.
The story works brilliantly in it’s American High School setting, with comparisons to several Netflix series that I have seen recently including Sex Education, The Politician and Special which also puts a disabled character at the centre of the narrative.
In a similar way that the movie Clueless (which is referenced during the play) is loosely based on Emma by Jane Austen, Teenage Dick draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s Richard III to create something entirely new without it even feeling like an adaptation.
Teenage Dick is on until 1st February.
On Tuesday I made my first trip of the year to the Union Theatre to see their new production of Tom Brown’s School Days.
As I arrived, I caught up with reviewers Paul Vale, Chris Omaweng and and Richard Lambert, as well as social media influencers Lois Morgan Gay and Olivia Mitchell from the Rewrite This Story blog. As well as casting director Adam Braham who I last saw being dragged on to the stage during the Cinderella pantomime at the New Wimbledon Theatre. I also got a nice warm welcome from associate producer Maison Kelley and producer Sasha Regan.
The first production of the year for the Union Theatre, and the first in the Phil Willmott Company’s annual Essential Classics Season.
Last year’s titles included An Enemy of the People, Can-Can! And Othello. The latter starring Rikki Lawton as Iago being my favourite.
This year’s season commemorates V.E. Day, 75 Years On, starting with Tom Brown’s School Days, and will continue with Lionel Bart’s Blitz! And conclude with Peace In Our Time.
Ashamedly, I have never read or actually even heard of Thomas Hughe’s 1857 book, Tom Brown’s School Days, so have absolutely no frame of reference to compare this adaptation.
Adapted by director Phil Willmott with musical arrangements by Ralph Warman, who also plays Stebbins within the show. It is not a musical but rather a play with songs and hymns, and hymns with modified lyrics, with vocally an incredibly talented cast whose choral work really lifts the show. They work well within the story and setting.
As with last year’s production of Othello where Phil Willmott transferred the story to the British occupation of India in 1919. In Tom Brown’s School Days, he has relocated the setting to WW2. Influenced by recent 2019 General election, Willmott openly draws comparison to the themes explored within Tom Brown’s School Days specifically emphasising the ways within the story leaders are formed, liking this to the leaders of the Second World War, and the current Conservative party.
Tom Brown’s School Days has been the source for several film and television adaptations. It has also clearly influenced novels such as Billy Bunter’s Greyfriars School, Mr Chips’ Brookfield and St. Trinian’s.
Whilst watching Tom Brown’s School Days, I was reminded of Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh which was later adapted into the movie The Riot Club.
Both feature scenes of cruelty and graphic torture. However in Posh it had more bite.
And so is often the case when predecessors become eclipsed by the greater work influenced by them, I preferred Posh.
It also reminded me of a gender swapped all female production of Posh that I saw at the Pleasance Theatre. There they attempted something different and completely radical to bring a new interpretation to its original.
Although Tom Brown’s School Days recognises some comparison to modern day politics, it’s still presented in a very generic and safe way.
Again by consequence of comparison having seen Teenage Dick the night before that completely reimagined Richard III. Tom Brown’s School Days, did little to inspire me.
It was well presented but not well imagined.
The large cast as an ensemble are great and consist of mostly new graduates Hudson Brown. Sam James Page. Joseph O’Gorman. Jacob Seelochan. Oliver Humphries. Joe Goodhead. Mikko Juan. Alex McKeon. Hugh Tappin and Jack Donald. With Ralph Warman, James Horne, Toby Wynn-Davies and Ursula Mohan in the only female part.
Aside from the music, which I enjoyed thanks to the superb musical talents of this cast, I did find the play a little mundane.
Luckily for me, the next in this series, Lionel Bart’s Blitz! Opens on the 6th February. Written two years after he wrote Oliver! I am hopeful that I will enjoy that more, and I am looking forward to seeing what Phil Willmott brings to the musical last seen in the West End twenty years ago.
Tom Brown’s School Days runs until 2nd February. http://www.uniontheatre.biz/tom-browns-school-days.html
On Wednesday evening I visiting the Other Palace for an evening with Kooman & Dimond: The Crowd Goes Mild.
I was drawn to this event, as it featured some of my favourite performers although at first I was unfamiliar with the names Kooman & Dimond until I realised that they had written the brilliant Romantics Anonymous. A musical that I adored when I saw it in 2017 at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, directed by Emma Rice who also wrote the book and starring Carly Bawden and Marc Antolin.
Romantics Anonymous is a stunning production based on a French-Belgian film from 2010 and also starred Lauren Samuels. It is set in a small chocolate mill and is a heart warming love story of two people who have social anxiety and meet at a support group. Romantics Anonymous returns this month for a limited run at the Bristol Old Vic between 18th January and 1st February, before short runs in Washington and Beverly Hills.
Visit https://romanticsanonymous.com for more details.
Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond, are a New York City based writing team. Their work has most recently included the animated Disney Junior series Vampirina, although again this is not something that I am familiar with. Although having now heard the catchy theme song I might now look it up.
Michael introduced the gorgeous Molly Lynch to sing the 1 minute theme song with a humerus anecdote about the writing process behind it. This was after he prematurely invited her on to the stage to perform ‘Breathe’ which was actually performed by the hilarious Natasha Barnes. A simple mistake that settled the audience comfortably into a brilliant evening of their work.
Natasha was standing in for Alice Fearn with less that 48 hours notice. She sounded incredible and along with Molly who then followed her, both sang stand alone songs composed by Kooman and Dimond. There were bundled together with others performed by Mari McGinlay and Stewart Clarke, and were each superbly crafted songs.
New father Stewart looked well, and was still sporting his beard from Fiddler On the Roof. His muscle were still protruding through his shirt as he’ll soon be returning to the other Palace as part of the cast of Be More Chill.
Following this Carly Bawden and Marc Antolin sang three songs from Romantics Anonymous reminding me why I love this show. The tantalising way that Carly beautifully sings about chocolate along with how gorgeous Marc is, you basically want to dip him in chocolate. The pair have a beautiful connection and nail the comedy.
Marc was deservedly nominated for an Olivier for his roles as Seymour in Little Shop Of Horrors at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.
Lydia White then closed act one with a song from The Virgin Carey, which again Kooman and Dimond introduced and told us a little bit about.
In the second act, the brilliant Aran Macrae sang another of Koomam and Dimond’s stand alone songs, ‘To Excess’. Aran I have heard sing a couple of times at the Roles We’ll Never Play’ cabaret series showcasing his stunning and powerful voice. But this was the first time I had really seen him act through a song, and he was brilliant.
Next Nick Barstow preformed. He was also musical director and lead the band through out the evening which consisted of Curtis Volp, Rachel Espute and Beth Higham-Edwards. Nick is annoyingly talented, and has a remarkably beautiful voice, which is rarely heard. Although he does feature on his own album Re:Arrangement with Noël Sullivan and Andy Coxon. He sang a song from The Entitlement of Percival Von Schmootz.
Gary Trainor then performed a brilliant song from The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, which sounds like an incredible musical and is available to down load a full album. It’s a genius concept about a man who wakes up to discover he is in a musical and tries to resist it.
The brilliant Lizzy Connolly also sang one of the songs from this called ‘Stay’, whilst superbly overcoming a wardrobe malfunction when her wrist got caught in her dress. Lizzy literally creates her own comedy, and I love her for it.
After this, Jordan Castle who has recently returned from performing in The Light In The Piazza in Chicago. He performed a very funny song about a straight guy questioning his sexually called ‘A Query’.
Haydn Oakley performed ‘Lost in the Waves’ after which Michael Kooman himself introduced and sang a newly written song from Romantics Anonymous and sounded delightful.
But it was Adam Lenson, producer and director of the evening who saved the best till last as he declared “2020, New Year, new me” before rapping the final song of the evening with resounding success. I for one, was not aware of Adam’s hidden skills as he brought the house down.
The evening was brilliant and it was a delight to meet and hear the composers behind the work I already knew, as well as being introduced to their other works.
Like any blog, by nature, everyone’s is subjective, they are just our thoughts and opinions. Even after a year of running that Stagey Blog I still question myself, whether my opinion is valid.
If asked what qualifies me to offer an opinion, I can begin to justify this by explaining my background. I started out in radio, working in PR and marketing, before moving to TV, working in entertainment, live studios, and on location. I then moved into drama and film as an assistant director. I then took summer courses and workshops, and began to act, before studying acting at Arts Educational Schools. I also worked and trained in several capacities at the Actors Centre, where I even staged a play that I wrote, produced and acted in at the Tristan Bates Theatre. I then completed two play writing courses at the National Theatre, and one at the Arcola, and two directing for theatre courses at Morley College, as well as having a Masters in Practical TV Production.
When it comes to assessing theatre and anything that I see, I take everything in to account and I am looking at every aspect that goes into making it, and it begins even before I arrive at the theatre.
I am lucky, because of my blog that I am now invited to watch productions either by the producers themselves, or by PR companies representing them.
With Lullabies For the Lost and The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, a double bill at the Old Red Lion I was invited by the PR company.
It’s a PR company that I have developed a strong relationship with, and trust. They last invited me to the Old Red Lion in November to watch Poisoned Polluted, written by and starring Kathryn O’Reilly, which I thought was superb.
So, I am happy to be coming back to the Old Red Lion. Tick ✔️
I’ll admit I was a little deterred by the long title, although this did not prevent me from enjoying The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. But that at least was based on a book. When plays have long titles, I find it unnecessary and a bit pompous.
I am already forming a judgment before I even know what this play is about, despite its lengthly title that doesn’t actually give any clear indication. At least with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you know there is a curious incident that involves a dog and it’s in the night time.
I begin by judging the marketing, the poster, the way that it is being sold as a product.
The fonts used aren’t great, but at least the imagery is striking, and quite dark. Although overall does look a bit makeshift.
I begin to read the press release that the PR company have sent me.
“Two Plays by Rosalind Blessed: a family affair exploring her experiences of mental illness”.
I perhaps wouldn’t have even made the family connection without them then pointing out, “Rosalind Blessed returns to the stage with a family affair as she performs alongside her mother, Hildegard Neil, with her father, Brian Blessed, as executive producer.” Now this spikes my interest, as is its intention, I am sure.
The daughter of two great and revered actors, her father particularly so. It is always a fascinating dynamic. Has Rosalind grown up to be inspired by her parents to act, has it ever hindered her own path or has she ever traded off her family name?
Although it’s an exciting selling point to highlight Rosalind’s dynasty, I feel it does unfairly put an onset pressure on Rosalind to live up to, and be judged by.
The two plays are being performed on alternate nights until 1st February, with the exception of this special press evening, where both plays are being performed.
The first we watch is Lullabies For the Lost.
The sixty seat theatre is at capacity, which is encouraging.
The set comprises of white washed walls given a distressed look, with piles of cardboard boxes.
Dishevelled can be a look, but it can also look cheap and haphazard if poorly executed. In the official production shots, the boxes are unpainted, however now they are painted white to match the walls. This in itself doesn’t particularly bode well. Either the photos were taken before the set was finished, or the boxes were painted at last minute in an attempt to make something of them, which unfortunately fails to.
Again, as I say, I am analysing everything.
The lights go down, and the cast of eight emerge. I am already assessing this.
Ticket prices during previews are set at £12.50, rising to £16.50. This is a sixty seat theatre. Even if every ticket is sold at full price, basic maths concludes that these actors cannot be getting paid. Unless the production is being sponsored, or bank rolled by Brian Blessed, who has already been asserted as Executive Producer. Although it sounds swanky an ‘Executive’ role tends to imply a finical input rather than a creative one. This is not to say Mr Blessed hasn’t provided both. The reason I even beginning to question whether the cast are being paid, is to be able to determine fairly what I am about to watch.
If the cast is large for such a small space, it suggests that they aren’t being fully paid, which then suggests this might be an amateur production rather than a professional one. I check the programme and there is no clarification whether this is an amateur or professional production. However, none of the cast are given any bios. They are credited only by name and their headshots with no listings of their credits or experience. Again this is an indication that these might not be professional actors. Obviously I am not suggesting that this is the case, I am just being led to form this assumption.
Again the only reason I take this in to consideration is to merit fairly their performances. I am certainly not discrediting it. Fringe theatre is the perfect platform for emerging actors to gain experience, and having started out myself in fringe theatre as an actor, I know the benefits. I also understand the benefits to a producer who is able to assemble a large cast within a tight budget by employing actors with less experience who will work for less pay or profit share.
Regardless of the fact, the performances here were collectively substandad. Paid or unpaid, some of the actors were not assured. As the play progressed, I realised that they are being hindered also by bad writing.
Lullabies For the Lost establishes the group of people held in purgatory, forced to stand up and present their inner demons over and over in turn until they can finally recognise what needs to change. On doing so, the door opens, freeing them, but leaving the others behind to resume the cycle.
Within this each actor is essentially given their own monologues, whilst at other times reverting to becoming background extras within each scene. This is where the weakness in their performances and the way they have been directed truly appear.
Having worked as an assistant director in TV and film, my responsibility was to direct the extras (or as they liked to be called the background artists) while the director focused on the principle actors. My job would be to place and coordinate the background artists to simply occupy the back of the shot, whether walking through the shot, or holding a position and miming a conversation or activity, so to make the shot look busy and real but without detracting from the principle actors maintaining the focus of the scene. It has since become an occupational hazard that whenever I watch films or television, I often find myself watching the extras, to see if they’re doing a good job. You can always spot an overzealous extra who is doing too much, or not enough.
In Lullabies For the Lost for the most part, as I say the actors are extras in the scenes listening to each other. Now this really is the test of an actor, to remain alive but without pulling focus.
Zoe Ford Burnett who directs is credited as an Associate Director of the Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre, as well as a previous Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse. So she has great credentials. Zoe clearly understands the use of levels, each of the supporting actors in each scene appear strategically placed at varying levels so that the audience can see each of them. They are then intently watch the central speaker, assigning the focus on to them. For an audience, no matter who you look at you will bring your attention back to the person speaking because that’s who everyone is looking at.
The problem is that in real life even when someone holds forum and is speaking, not everyone around them will ever fully listen intently, realistically people are distracted by other things or drift away or disengage. You only need watch an audience watching a performer to recognise this. Now in this very small theatre with the audience on two sides, the cast become the audience, and should be following their beat. The cast were fundamentally unconvincingly when acting as though they were listening to each other. Also, if this really was a collection of people listening to each other tell the same story over and over, frustration, fatigue and disinterest would surely ensue, with them being even less likely to listen or react. Within this they also would have heard these stories several times by now, and yet these actors still react as if it’s the first time they had heard them. They also collectively reacted in the same way at certain points. It was all hugely distracting. At points it was also award to watch Rosalind (as the author) laugh at her own jokes when nobody else in the audience did.
The monologues individually tackle various themes exploring modern mental health, including depression, social anxiety, childlessness, miscarriage, hoarding and eating disorders. It overloads the narrative, without devoting enough time to each. It’s also hugely draining and relentless to watch each story in succession, as you almost become desensitised to them. Lines which are intended to shock begin to wash over you.
Out of nowhere, an audience member suddenly rose from her seat, and dashed across the stage to collapse before reaching the exit.
At this point, we were all concerned for her well being and I must commend the brilliant stage manager who professionally and calmly paused the production whilst the young lady was administered to.
The incident was ironically far more watchable than the entire play, including within it a scene it foreshadowed where one of the characters also collapses.
An unnecessarily placed interval within the 90 minute play interrupts the momentum again. When we retrurn Rosalind unpackages her own monologue in the second act. Its surprisingly good, in fact possible the best so far, which made me think, wow was this the intention all along, let the actors in the first act struggle through their monolgues hampered by the unconvincing dialogue so that she could then come out looking better than them? I am sure this wasn’t the intention, but if it were it would be genius. It leads me to assess Rosalind’s performance, which let’s face it is the only reason this production has been staged, with two plays, with Rosalind in both. This is a vehicle not for her as a writer, but as a platform for her as an actress, and it’s a bold undertaking.
Rosalind’s monologue tackles eating disorders. It is acutely accurate, and well observed as is Duncan Wilkin’s monologue that follows it. Interestingly during his, Rosalind was overcome and began to cry before masking her face.
This is clearly a personal and very sensitive topic for Rosalind, and it’s probably fair to assess that this is her own story. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that they were all in some way her story. Whether or not is the case, Rosalind’s inexperience as a writer prohibits these stories each finding their own voice, and limits these characters individuality. They each profoundly resonate the same tone, and singular voice.
The language is also very poetic throughout the play. In my opinion, Rosalind would have been better refining this entire play to one character, and tackling just one of these themes. When allowed to come through, her observations and experiences are very accurate and well observed.
But as an actor and voice, Rosalind seems better suited to being a motivational speaker or a stand up comic, or writing poetry. Her writing and delivery switches incoherently between poetic and reported rather than dramatically interpreted. In my opinion Rosalind would have been better suited to giving a podcast, simply talking about her experiences.
After a thirty minute break, we are then welcomed to watch the second of Rosalind’s double bill, The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People. A two hander with Duncan Wilkins returning with Rosalind.
Again structurally, Rosalind resorts to giving each character large monologues and asides with huge portions of exposition. In this shorter 70 minute play, Rosalind explores domestic violence.
For both plays, Rosalind’s character is named Robin, although it is not clarified whether it is the same character, there is certainly very little to distinguish the two roles. This surprises me, as a vehicle for her acting, you would think that Rosalind would write two wildly different characters in order to demonstrate her acting range, in stead it actually highlights her limitations, as again, her best work is done during the sections where she breaks the forth wall and addresses the audience, rather than when she has to maintain character and be present.
There is little subtelty in her performance or her writing, as she hugely overplays her part, and spoon-feeds the audience precisely what is going on rather than leaving any room for them to work it out for themselves.
During a climatic scene where Duncan’s character throws the dinner plate to the floor, its impact is hindered by the decision not to have actual food on the plate. Despite watching Duncan break actual eggs and drink actual wine in an early scene when preparing the meal, the impact is lessened when we see him throw an empty plate to the floor, leaving us to imagine the mess. It reminded me of an actually harrowing scene from a domestic violence story line in EastEnders where Little Mo is pushed face first in to her dinner by her violent husband Trevor who then pours gravy over her as she is sobbing. It was truly distressing to watch, and this could easily have been achieved by Rosalind and Duncan by paying a few extra quid for some Hollandaise sauce.
Rosalind does go on to emulate Eastenders by bellowing the uninspired, ear shattering screech “Get outta my house!” at full velocity. Rosalind’s vocal control at varies points matches her uneven and over performed acting. Her inexperience as an actress is evident by her inability to match her vocal level to the small room. Ironically during one of her monologues she jokes about how actors on Netflix “Whisper, inaudibly”, Rosalind reconciles this by bellowing and shrieking loudly at various points which is just excruciating.
As I read into afterwards, I was surprised to discover that The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People had been ran for two months at the Courtyard Theatre in 2016, and was performed at Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 where a 2* review rendered the writing “generally a bit uneven. Over performed and underwritten, failing to do justice to the complex and emotive subject at hand”. I even discovered a trailer that I found on YouTube that accompanied Rosalind’s successful Kickstarter campaign that raised £2,000 to take the show to Edinburgh that year.
Overall, I could forgive this play for being a first attempt, but as it turns out its a four years old, I question firmly why on earth it continues to be resurrected, with I imagine no apparent improvement.
On Saturday afternoon, I watched the new touring production of Once at Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Based on the 2007 with the music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Maketa Irglova who won an Academy Award for the song ‘Falling Slowly’. Opening on broadway in 2012, it transferred to the West End in 2013 following a short run in Dublin. It originally starred Declan Bennett, followed by Arthur Darvill, David Hunter and Ronan Keating before closing in 2015. It now stars Daniel Healy who understudied both Arthur Darvill and Ronan Keating. He has rightfully cast and brings the right blend of character and soul to the performance.
Produced by Adam Spiegel this new version is directed by Peter Rowe it also stars Emma Lucia. Dan Bottomley. Matthew Burns. Ellen Chivers. Rosalind Ford. Lloyd Gorman. David Heywood. Samuel Martin. Peter Peverley. Susannah Van Den Berg. James William-Pattison. Emma Fraser. Seán Keany. Hanna Khogali and Conor McFarlane.
It is a brilliant cast. Each play instruments and mostly all occupy the stage throughout the show. It’s set in Dublin and features several characters who have moved over from the Czechia. Within this the some of the actors have to use accents that are a Czech/Irish hybrid. They all do a brilliant job of this.
The music is incredibly rousing, drawing you in as if you’ve stepped into an Irish pub. It swings from upbeat to more subdued ballads like ‘Falling Slowly’ which create beautiful moments of sentiment.
Although some of the songs are better than others, and despite the brilliant acting and great writing, there is just something still that didn’t connect for me. The play doesn’t really feel as if it goes far enough, and at points did feel a little laggard. It was enjoyable enough, it just didn’t really light a fire inside me, which is probably why I had completely forgotten it since seeing it five or six years ago.
For a touring show, it is a great production, and although I can’t remember it well enough to compare it to the West End version, I suspect it comes close to it.
It is on tour now:
On Saturday evening, I returned to watch Soho Cinders at the Charing Cross Theatre.
It was the final night of this production which has been running since October. It’s a staggering achievement for this new team of producers. Will Keith for Theatre Syndicate London, Michaela Stern Starting Over Theatricals Ltd and Kyle Tovey for AKT Management. They have successfully kept the show running, when a lot of fringe shows and even some West End Shows haven’t managed to last as long.
Within this, they have also had to negotiate a seamless cast change when the show extended just before Christmas replacing five of the original cast. It was mainly to support Will, Michaela and Kyle, and to see how the new cast compared that brought me back. I was also dying to see Michael perform having recently fallen in love with Michael Mathers voice having seen him perform at Roles We’ll Never Play.
Having last performed at the Charing Cross theatre in Mythic, Michael takes over the central role of Robbie from Luke Bayer, who also returned to watch the final show along with Ben Darcy who left to begin rehearsing Pretty Women, and Natalie Harman who was replaced by Hollie Taylor. Livvy Evans joined the cast taking over from Millie O’connell who has gone on to Be More Chill. Dayle Hodge replaced Ewan Gillies, Robert Grose replaced Christopher Coleman, and Liam McHugh joined the ensemble.
Whether it was down to it being their last performance, the new cast seemed to elevate the show which felt like a completely new show.
It also felt more authentic, with Robert Grose hoping to add some diversity to the cast. Michael Mathers also used his own Geordie accent, which worked brilliantly to represent a more realistic Soho. As a northerner in London, I honestly don’t know many genuine cockneys who live or work in Soho. The cast who stayed with the show were all more confident in their roles and had settled in to them beautifully, allowing them to bring more out of them.
Michael Mathers was superb, his voice sounded stunning but he really paid close attention and reacting within scenes to everything and everyone around him. He is a brilliant actor, and I have no doubt he will move on to huge things. He is also incredibly handsome.
Livvy Evans similarly made the role her own, and brought something new and fresh to the production. Her timing was clear and she really mastered her part.
Likewise Robert and Liam McHugh were great too.
Dayle Hodge was always going to have big shoes to fill, as I absolutely adored what Ewan Gillies had previously played this character, however Dayle’s voice is indisputably brilliant. Having trained at Arts Educational Schools before joining the cast of Les Miserables in the West End, he most recently appeared as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys and was in Jesus Christ Superstar. His vocal range is incredible, and it was a sheer joy to hear him sing.
Hollie Taylor who now plays one of the sister was brilliant too, and slipped into the role perfectly created a brilliant partnership with Michaela Stern.
It was also nice to see my old flat mate Thomas Ball, who now takes his shirt off and was looking incredible.
I still maintain the book is probably the weakest thing about this show, but having revisited it there are some really catchy songs, and it certainly was enjoyable. It was also really reassuring to see the fan base that the show had developed.
After the show I caught up with everyone in it, as well as my friend Justin who designed the set, and friends Jack and Rob who had come to see the show for the first time.
I also grabbed the chance to reunite Lewis Asquith who has played James Prince in both this production and the one at the Union Theatre with the three actors who have played Robbie across the two productions, Luke, Michael and Josh Lewindon for a photo.
You can read what I originally thought of Soho Cinders when I saw it in October, in my previous blog, My Stagey Week 41:
On Sunday I attended the finale of a week of concerts at the Crazy Coq called Let’s Hear It For the Girls.
Produced by Shaun McCourt who is behind the successful West End Live Lounge and Unplugged at the Crazy Coq, these two special concerts which both sold out were in aid of the Maya Centre. A brilliant organisation that raises money to provide counselling for women in north London.
More information about them can be found here:
The concert was hosted by Sooz Kempner who was unstoppable and hilarious. She opened the show by singing ‘The Man That Got Away’ by Judy Garland, and then introduced all of the acts.
The gorgeous Sejal Keshwala who is still performing in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie sang ‘I’ll Be There’ and ‘Rise Up’.
Kayleigh McKnight, who is back from touring with Hugh Jackman, performed ‘I Don’t Think About You’ by Kelly Clarkson and ’So Emotional’ by Whitney Houston.
Emma Hatton performed ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ and ’Saint Honesty’ by Sara Barellies.
Claudia Kariuki, back from touring with Priscilla Queen of the Desert, performed ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.
The incredible Grace Mouat performed ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from the Disney film Moana written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who happened to be in London this week and saw & Juliet. Grace’s solo show on Friday also sold out.
Here is the video of her performance:
Emma Lindars whose solo show earlier in the week sold out, performed ‘This Woman’s Worth’ and closed the show with ‘This is Me’
Jenny Fitzpatrick performed ‘Dangerously in Love’ by Beyonce brilliantly.
Christina Bennington looked and sounded as stunning as ever performed ‘Here You Come Again’ by Dolly Parton.
And Lisa Marie-Holmes who stepped in at last minute, performed a medley of songs by Barbra Streisand, and was as fabulous as always.
I don’t really have the words to describe how brilliant all these ladies are individually or how incredible it was to hear them all perform together. It truly was a sensational cabaret.