My Stagey Week - 12
It feels quite appropriate that yesterday we celebrated Mother’s Day. As my blog this week mostly celebrates women in theatre.
If you go down to the strand today, you will find three very different shows with one very similar message, it's a message of female empowerment, and it's glorious.
These shows are Waitress, 9 To 5 The Musical, and Emilia. Stories of women finding their voice.
Waitress I saw earlier in the month, and unfortunately, I had missed the official press night for 9 to 5 as I was in Manchester for An Evening with Stephen Schwartz that same day. My friend Drew had text me to say that he had found some cheap tickets through Today Tix, who were offering some great last minute seats. I opened my app, and booked a seat as close to his as I could.
I had seen a production of 9 to 5 the Musical two years ago at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, and to be honest, I don’t remember being that impressed by it. Drew had seen the original Broadway production with Allison Janney, Megan Hilty and Stephanie J Block, so for him this production had a lot more to live up to.
Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, the music and lyrics are all by Dolly Parton who starred in the original film. Ten years after the Broadway production, and seven years after a UK tour, this is the first London production of 9 to 5, and is being presented by Dolly Parton herself.
A sign has been put up in the Savoy’s ticket office announcing that Dolly Parton does not actually appear in person in this production, just in case there is any confusion on that account, apparently some people do turn up expecting to see Dolly. Although they might well be satisfied with one new feature that this production offers, Dolly does actually appear in a video at the beginning of the show in an attempt to narrate some of the story.
It’s a bit naff, and unnecessary but it’s probably enough to satisfy the Dolly fans who were came expecting her to pop up.
Monday was Louise Redknapp’s first night, having missed almost two months of shows following a fall where she reportedly split her chin open. Caroline Sheen has been filling in for her. Louise had appeared in the UK tour of Cabaret but 9 to 5 marks her West End debut in musical theatre.
9 to 5 the Musical runs at the Savoy Theatre until 29th August 2019.
After the show Drew and I found ourselves in Freedom for a full debrief and show analysis, whilst we drank Strawberry Rekorderlig and I ordered fish and chips. We were joined by fellow blogger Benjamin Martin who had been at a gay bingo night in Vauxhall. Downstairs stars of the BBC1 show ‘All Together Now’ were performing in Kinky Kabaret. On Tuesday, I interviewed Jordan Lee Davies at Above the Stag where he is currently performing Romance Romance, which I talked about last week. Despite the fact I have known Jordan for years, I managed to fluff the introduction and called him Justin. I’ll be honest, I am terrible with names, and this probably isn’t the first time I have got his name wrong. I always get confused, we put it down to the fact I was probably thinking of another performer we know Justin Lee Jones, and TV presenter Justin Lee Collins. Swiftly moving on, we chatted for nearly forty minutes amid the rumbling sounds of the trains passing above us. I left Jordan to warm up for his show and made my way to the gym.
Jordan’s interview can be seen on my You Tube Channel: https://youtu.be/x5e05NIqh5g
After the gym to the Kings Head Theatre to watch a new play by Tom Wright, and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair, called Undetectable.
Rikki I have known for over eight years since I worked at the Actors Centre, and Rikki was one of the tutors. Rikki is infectiously boisterous, I recently attended a workshop he conducted at the Old Vic, which he delivered with the energy of a motivational speaker. Tom, I have also happened to have known for a few years. I first met him when he was a performer in a production of Zanna, Don’t! At the Landor Theatre and I remember thinking he had great legs, which if you have ever seen him at Sink the Pink you would probably notice too.
For the last few years Tom has worked at the Old Vic as the development manager, and in particular works on their Old Vic 12 mentoring scheme. Each year the scheme selects three aspiring writers, three producers, three directors, a choreographer, designer and a composer. I myself have actually applied to the scheme unsuccessfully for three years running. As part of the process for the writers, applicants are asked to pitch an idea for a play that they would like to write. Interestingly one year I pitched my interest in writing about chem sex. The idea was dismissed, yet now Tom’s new play is also about chem sex. It is an area of interest for me, as I think it’s a fascinating side of modern gay culture. I have written various drafts of plays about the topic, in particular I spent time at the National Theatre developing some ideas on the two occasions when I was enrolled there on the playwriting courses.
The Kings Head have tackled the topic a couple of times, notably with their productions 5 Guys Chilling and The Chem Sex Monologues. Although both were well received, I felt both productions had their flaws. None the less, I did like a lot of things about them. Undetectable is Tom Wright’s second play, and the second time he has worked with Rikki Beadle-Blair, who directed his first play My Dad’s Gap Year at the Park Theatre.
My Dad’s Gap Year reportedly did very well, with almost a sell out run, which was part of the reason that unfortunately I didn’t get chance to see it, however it was also reported to me that it wasn’t very good. With this in mind, I already had my reservations about Undetectable.
I had been talking to my friend Alexis Gregory earlier at the gym who had seen it, but wouldn’t tell me what he thought about it. Alexis is currently having tremendous success with his play Riot Act, which was also directed by Rikki.
Undetectable has the 8.45pm slot at the Kings Head, with a running time of just over an hour. It is a two hander set in the bedroom of a gay couple who having dated for three months still have not had sex.
Here lies the first problem, believability. For much of the play appears well researched by Tom, my biggest problem was that it doesn’t come off as realistic. I didn’t believe that the scenario would ever occur where two highly sexed young gay men, would even reach this point where there are three months in to their relationship and still hadn’t had sex. Although the reasons for one of the characters is revealed later in the play, it is still not justified why the other character would have stuck around this long, in reality. Furthermore, this conversation we are told is happening after a night out, where both characters are supposedly drunk and one is seen to take drugs, however neither the performances or the dialogue illustrate this. The conversation is too articulate. The characters and dialogue reveal too much, there is little to any subtext as each character spells everything out.
The biggest problem is the level of content Tom has tried to cram into the play. In the space of an hour Tom attempts to cover themes surrounding, chem sex, sexuality, intimacy, anxiety, drug use, erectile dysfunction, consent, race, privilege, gender identity, educational reform, and fidelity. The Inheritance recently tackled most of these themes too, but The Inheritance was seven hours long, and could afford to.
There is a shift during the play where the two characters re-enact flashbacks. For section really lifts the piece, allowing Rikki’s brilliant direction to come through, using the lighting and sound scape effectively, the characters feel more believable here.
The other overriding and distracting element of the play is the level of nudity, for most of the play the two actors are semi naked and at points completely naked. But this is gay theatre and it is the King’s Head, where ashamedly we’ve come to expect nudity as a draw to attract an audience. The nudity serves nothing but to titillate the audience, and has that exact effect, two women sat in front of me made audible ‘yummy’ noises when both the actors were naked, other audience members visibly craned their necks to get a better look.
Undetectable is on at the Kings Head Theatre until April 6th. Tickets can be booked here: https://system.spektrix.com/kingsheadtheatre/website/eventdetails.aspx?WebEventId=undetectable
After the play, I bumped into Matthew Todd, author of ‘Straight Jacket- How to be Gay and Happy’. Matthew and I had met through my friend Matt Cain who was the editor of Attitude magazine. Matthew’s book is revered in the gay community for its accurate insight into modern gay society. Matthew had also had a successful play called Blowing Whistles which he has recently updated, I habe encouraged Matthew to revive it as I think it’s brilliant.
On Wednesday it was National Theatre Day. I posted on social media photographs taken seven years ago when I made my debut as a stage actor at the Tristan Bates Theatre in a play called Fragments, that I also wrote. It was the first and only time I have ever performed in a play.
In the afternoon I went along to Theatre 503 to watch a rehearsed reading of a new play directed by Tori Allen Martin and written by Rebecca Wells, which she performed in along with an all-female cast consisting of Tanya Cubric, Jamila Wingett, Camila Robinson and Milly Thomas.
I talked about Milly Thomas in my blog last week, as well as her success with her own play Dust, she had performed at Theatre 503 in a play called Animals which had been directed by Lisa Cagnacci. Lisa had taught on two occasions at Morley College where I took courses in directing for theatre.
Tori Allen Martin who directed this piece is someone I greatly admire and respect. She is a formidable singer and actress, but is also a committed and passionate theatre maker, producer and writer. Tori is beautifully honest, and bares herself in every piece of work she does.
Tori was the real reason why I was came to watch this play, but also because I like the work that Theatre 503 cultivates. Last year they won an Olivier for their production Rotterdam by Jon Brittain, which transferred to the Arts Theatre and is going on tour this year.
By coincidence I watched Emilia on Wednesday evening. Emilia is a new play that has transferred to from the Globe to the Vaudeville Theatre. It also features an all-female cast and creative team and is brilliant. Like Six, Wasted, Sylvia and Hamilton before it, Emilia uses a diverse colour-blind cast to re tell and reimagine historical characters.
I initially thought it was a musical, but it’s actually a play, with some songs. It has a very strong British sense of humour and reminded me of the TV series Blackadder. But within the comedy comes some very poignant moments which are executed beautifully. By the end the piece feels like a call to arms, or a rally cry, and has everyone on their feet, punching the air in solidarity. I felt invigorated, and I wasn’t the only one. Ben Hewis later posted this tweet in response to seeing the play.
The initiative was immediately welcomed, with dozens of people pledging money and support. Within one day they had raised over £1000, which is a brilliant achievement. Although this is an incredible idea, I do however feel that we shouldn’t restrict this only to young women. As much as I support this initiative, I also advocate that young men need to see this play too. This play encourages women to empower themselves but teaches men to recognise this. I hope that support for the idea will continue to grow and perhaps kick start other schemes which will be open to young women and men.
If you would like to make a donation please follow this link: https://www.gofundme.com/72loa48
Emilia is booking until the 15th June: For tickets visit: https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/emilia/
On Thursday, I began celebrating my birthday by having several strawberry Daiquiris with my friend Sarah, we had also been to a pop-up launch for a new chocolate bar called Tony's Chocolonely and came away with a few free bars of chocolate. Supposed to only take two, of course I took ten. With the stash of chocolate in my bag and my stomach lined with Daiquiris, I made my way over to Wimbledon for the press night for the touring production of Hair.
This is only the second time touring commercial production for Katy Lipson, who continues to impress me as a formidable producer. Her passion and drive to produce musical theatre and new writing is incredible. I was sat next to Katy to watch the show, and for most of it she was in tears, I expect bursting with pride at her incredible achievement and her team around her.
Hair originally opened in October 1967 before transferring to Broadway, by September 1968 it has transferred to London, and opened within days of Lord Chamberlain's theatre censorship repeal. It’s use of nudity and sexual content at the time were shocking. The original London cast starred Tim Curry and Elaine Paige.
Following a film adaptation and several productions over the years, producer Katy Lipson revived Hair in 2017 at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester with Ryan Anderson as Berger. The production was then reworked and for it's 50th Anniversary and transferred to the Vaults in London, where Andy Coxon took over the part of Berger. It is now about to start an eighteen-date tour around UK, starting last week in Wimbledon.
Taking over the role of Berger is reality TV star Jake Quickenden. Having won Dancing on Ice last year and also a runner up in I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! It's easy to forget that before this he was in the X Factor, and he actually can sing, and it goes without saying he looks incredible and commands the role.
Also new to the production is Marcus Collins who also found fame as a contestant on The X Factor. Marcus went on to appear in Hairspray and the original London cast of Kinky Boots, where I saw him. I thought he was incredible, as one of the Angels, he had so much sass, and as he still continues to prove in Hair, his voice is exceptional.
Paul Wilkins joins the tribe as Claude. Paul was at Arts Ed at the same time that I was, and then went straight into Les Miserables in the West End to play Marius after graduating. This is a complete departure to that role, with Paul even sporting a new crew cut hair cut, which actually quite suits him.
I was pleased to see Natalie Green return to this production as the only cast member to have done both the original production at Hope Mill and at the Vaults. I once saw Natalie Green perform ‘I’m Alive’ by Sia at Kinky Kabaret and became obsessed with her voice. She is exceptional, and looked stunning at the after party.
Although the entire cast are brilliant, I will also single out Bradley Judge who is fantastic as Woof. I had seen Bradley in two of Katy’s other productions, Yank and Pippin, but it wasn’t until I heard Bradley perform at An Evening with Stephen Schwartz that I realised how great his voice is, and I have to say his performance in Hair is fantastic
William Whelton who founded the Hope Mill Theatre with his husband Joseph Houston is back to choreograph the show which is directed by Jonathan O’Boyle. Musical director Gareth Bretherton also returns having worked across all three productions too.
Compared to the Vaults production, this theatre production does miss the intimate and immersive feel that the Vaults offered, however the production now benefits from its bigger budget bringing more colour, more costumes and more variance in the hallucinogenic sequences, and despite being over fifty years old the songs still sound current and fresh, thanks to Gareth’s incredible onstage band. The pizza and prosecco was free flowing at the after party, where the entire creative team and cast and invited guests all celebrated the enormous amount of work it has taken to get this show here, as a self-taught and often self-funded producer, Katy Lipson is fast becoming an icon for her dedication to musical theatre and hard work.
Hair is on tour until August 2019. Tickets and details can be found here: https://www.hair50.com/tickets-tour
On Friday I was at the Finborough Theatre for the press night of Maggie May. Having met the director Matthew Iliffe and interviewed Kara Lily Hayworth and James Darch, I was really excited to see this show, and I absolutely adored it.
I recognised Matthew’s skills as a director when I watched his production of the Burnt Part Boys at the Park Theatre, and his ability to utilise a small space and his attention to detail through his story telling is what distinguishes him as a exceptional director. Presented with the audience on both sides, the cast effortlessly manoeuvre around the small stage, seamlessly sliding into precise and exquisite choreography by Sam Spencer-Lane. The music has been beautifully arranged and performed by Henry Brennan and the lack of a full orchestra or band isn’t even noticed.
Kara Lily Hayworth commands the stage, effortlessly slipping back in the Liverpudlian accent she cultivated whilst playing Cilla on tour. She has a pure elegance and grace that I remember seeing for the first time when she played Satine in the Secret Cinema’s Moulin Rouge. There is a focused and genuine connection between her and James Darch who also delivers a perfect accent and performance. Natalie Williams who I had seen in Promises Promises, Lucky Stiff and recently in Title of Show is also becoming one of my favourite actresses, she has such a beautiful presence on stage which is captivating.
One reviewer commended this production for being better than its material, which I wouldn’t agree with, I honestly think the music written by Lionel Bart is just as good as his later works, and it honestly surprises me why this show has not been produced in over 55 years. Having grown up in the North-East of England, my only access to theatre was regional and touring productions and as a child I adored Blood Brothers. I came away from Maggie May with the same feeling I had all those times I watched Blood Brothers. A beautiful honest, story about love and tragedy told through stunning music set in the North of England. Matthew has unearthed a real gem, and sparkled it to perfection, and I can’t wait to follow his career and see what else he comes up with.
Maggie May runs until 20th April at the Finborough Theatre. Tickets can be booked here: https://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2019/maggie-may.php
On Sunday I was at Zedel for this month’s Crazy Coqs Presents... this time it was the music of Rogers and Hammerstein. Producer and host Mark Robert Petty has again put together a team of incredible singers and matched them up to a collection of sixteen classic standards from one of the most recognisable writing partnerships in the history of musical theatre.
Christina Bennington got to show off her beautiful soprano range, teaming up for duets with Jon Tarcy who played Ralph in the ITV’s live version of The Sound of Music. The audience were also treated to a sneak preview from Amara Okereke performing songs from Oklahoma! Amara will be playing the part of Laurey at Chichester Festival Theatre later this year.
The evening also gave 2nd year musical theatre student Georgia Alexandria Lennon the opportunity to sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Taking a day off from Maggie May, Henry Brennan returned as musical director, wearing a very nice suit.
You can watch or listen to the vlog that accompanies this journal.
📺 Video: https://youtu.be/Gsy2uvPhhKY