My Stagey Week - 16
As Theresa May still holds power and Brexit negotiations still rumble on, this week I saw two Margaret Thatcher impersonations, of course one of them being a man in drag. The first was on Tuesday as I returned to the Union theatre to watch Market Boy.
Having interviewed the cast last week I was really excited to see this show. They did a really great job of selling it to me in the interview. Producer, Sasha greeted me at the box office and thanked me for doing the video, she told me she had gone back to watch the previous video I did with the cast of Pirates of Penzance which she adored. Sasha kindly offered my guest and I a drink for the interview. I was joined by Deinoil, a lovely welsh performer who I had met through mutual friends. Deinoil knew someone in the cast, so when I posted on Facebook that I had a free plus one, he messaged me asking to come.
Market Boy is written by David Eldridge and was originally staged at the National Theatre in 2006. I had seen another of David’s plays Beginning last year, which I really liked. As I settled in to the audience amongst the set designer and my friend Justin Williams, his flat mate, actor Connor Arnold who has been in Blondel at the Union. Behind me sat Brendan Matthew who had directed The Hired Man, and in front of me was James Alexander-Chew who was in Can-Can.
I thought Market Boy was brilliant. It was so funny, and deliciously inappropriate. I found myself laughing out loud throughout the show, and really felt engaged by the story and the characters, the play holds a lot of sentiment and its story arc lands neatly. In parallel to Louise Redknapp who recently had to delay her start in 9 to 5 the Musical at the Savoy Theatre because of a fall. Lily Cooper had a fall over the weekend which left her having to withdraw from the production, fortunately her part was able to be divided up by other cast members seamlessly.
The play really showcases everyone in the cast, who are all equally perfectly cast. Drew Elston in particular really impressed me. Talking to him during my interview last week he’s quite posh in real life, and is virtually unrecognisable playing ‘Steve the Nutter’ in Market Boy, plus he confidentially shows off an impressive body.
Joey Ellis and Joe Mason are hilarious delivering some of the best one liner’s in the show along with Taylor George’s hilarious fish women. Rachel Fenwick’s Maggie Thatcher impression is also hilariously accurate. Tommy Knight leads the cast as the title role of the market boy incredibly along with Andy Umerah who narrates the play brilliantly, whilst Claudia Archer and Amy Gallagher provide some heart to the piece.
Market Boy runs until 11th May, tickets can be booked through: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/market-boy.html On Wednesday I was at a new production of Twelfth Night, at the Rose Playhouse, presented by OVO Theatre and described as Shakespeare meets Postmodern Jukebox in a musical, set on a cruise liner at the height of the roaring twenties, condensed to 95 minutes using actor musicians. Ambitious? You could say.
OVO have apparently been producing work for over 17 years, with nearly 60 productions under their belt. Despite this I have never heard of them, and I’ll be honest as first impressions go, Twelfth Night didn’t leave me wanting to see more.
It was a messy, badly executed production with terrible acting, some awful singing, and low production values.
In concept, it had potential, and the production does try to be bold by gender swapping Sir Toby Belch, and changing Malvolio to Malvolia. Although not entirely original, the National Theatre used this trick in 2017 with Tamsin Grieg.
The use of contemporary pop music could be a clever way to make Shakespeare more accessible and current, however the use of song choices from Britney to Rhianna weren’t very well selected or executed, and didn’t fit particularly well with the context or flow of the play, nor were they performed well, by the cast who struggled with them. Adapting them to jazz arrangements might serve the purpose as an attempt to anchor the play in to its 20's setting, but again is nothing original or profound.
The biggest disappointment with this production was the production values, in particular the attention to detail and costume.
Last week I commended the workshop presentation of Gretel! Whose costume designer paid close attention to their design, with subtle touches like attaching a small bag of lavender to the belt of the actress playing Lavender, whilst managing on a small budget.
Here it is clear that Twelfth Night is struggling to make their money go far, and cobbling together costumes that are barely passable in representing the 20’s. In particular, the costumes for twins Sebastian and Viola didn’t even match, a glaring misfortune as their misidentification is integral to the plot. However, touches like simply asking the cast to shave, could have been a cost saving way to achieve that 20’s look which they sadly missed.
The Rose Playhouse, is none the less a remarkable theatre to visit, the sixty-seater auditorium sits adjacent and overlooking the preserved foundations of the 16th century site of the original Rose theatre, it seeps in history as these productions look over it.
Twelfth Night runs until 5th May at the Rose Playhouse. For tickets visit. www.roseplayhouse.org,uk or for more information visit www.ovo.org.uk On Thursday I popped along to the Apollo Theatre to interview Hayley Tamaddon. I first met Hayley a few years ago at Ian Stroughair’s cabaret at the Hippodrome where we had a fun night playing roulette afterwards where Hayley and Leon Lopez won a couple of hundred quid between them.
I don’t watch Emmerdale or Coronation Street so I only really knew Hayley mostly from Dancing On Ice. I had actually worked on the series as a runner the year before she went on to win series five, so knew her partner Daniel Whiston very well. Hayley is hilarious, and incredibly talented. What most people don’t realise when it comes to Hayley is that she trained in musical theatre at Laines, and played Carmen in Fame! Before getting a TV agent and landing her first role in Emmerdale. When people now see Hayley switch between TV and stage, they forget that the stage is where she began.
In Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, she had plays Miss Hedge for a limited three month engagement which comes to an end next week, her stint might have been extended had she not fallen pregnant with her first child that she is now expecting.
It was great to meet up Hayley and chat about her career and her future, and the full video will be released on my You Tube channel in a couple of weeks.
I went straight from interviewing Hayely to meet my friend Ben at the Underbelly for the press night of Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club. Ben, I’ve mentioned before was an actor who appeared in Queer as Folk and the soap Crossroads, I had invited him as my guest to tonight’s show.
Little Death Club, had been sold to me as the darkest funniest and most debauched kabarett club this side of Berlin. In fairness, I have been to Berlin myself, and it is far more debauched. Having said that, Little Death Club is a great show, and the Underbelly always provides for a fantastic night out. The show comprises of a kick ass band who sound brilliant along side Bernie who sings for most of the show, whilst other variety acts perform too. These include master of contortion and aerial ballet, Beau Sargent, fire breathing Kitty Bang Bang, aerialist Fancy Chance, mime artist Josh Glanc and comedienne Myra Dubois.
After the show I enjoyed drinks and canapes courtesy of the Underbelly while I chatted to Sooz Kempner and Gary Wood. I had first met Gary when he played Angel in Rent, he has since appeared at the Bridge Theatre in Alan Bennett’s Allelujah!.
Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club is at the Underbelly Festival Southbank until 23rd June, more information can be found here: http://www.underbellyfestival.com/whats-on/little-death-club
On Friday I interviewed Kieran Brown about his monthly cabaret series Sunday Night Socials at the Union Theatre, which showcases new British writers. This month he was presenting An Evening with Chris Passey.
Chris, I have known for a few years after I briefly dated his younger brother. It was nice to catch up with the boys and chat about the evening which took place on Sunday, unfortunately I was unable to attend, but Chris treated me to a preview of one of his songs which I included in the interview on my You Tube channel. You can see the full video here: https://youtu.be/83UKfX_Rb6o
On Friday I went to see Neck or Nothing at the Pleasance theatre as part of the You Will Know Their Names season showcasing new writing.
Co written and directed by Christopher Neels and Callum Cameron Neck or Nothing was inspired by the 1996 cult documentary Project Grizzly. The play, produced by Fletching Theatre which transfers to the Greenwich Theatre after it’s run at the Pleasance, is described as a surreal comedy that explores the issues surrounding mental health and depression in men.
The play certainly is surreal, and the performances are strong, with Katy Daghorn, James Murfitt and David North fully committing to the multiple characters they each play. The problem is though, that the underlining message of mental health doesn’t come through strongly enough, and I’ll be honest I didn’t particularly enjoy it as a comedy either.
Sitting behind me was my friend Scott who was reviewing. We grabbed a pizza and a drink afterwards and after discussing the play, chatted mostly about Star Trek Discover and Avengers: Endgame, with a smidge of Keith Jack thrown in for stagey measure.
Neck or Nothing can be seen at the Pleasance Theatre until 4th May, and then at the Greenwich Theatre between the 7th and 11th May. More information can be found here: http://www.fledglingtheatre.com/neckornothing
On Saturday I was signed up to take part in an improv workshop with Hoopla! A company who specialise in workshops and improv evenings. I’ll be honest by admitting I was a little apprehensive before going. Having trained in acting at Arts Ed, I was familiar with improv as any drama course touches on it. Like acting in general it can be liberating but also exposing, and often terrifying.
As I made my way across London to the conference room at the Theatre Deli near Liverpool Street where the two and a half hour workshop was taking place, I spurred myself on, telling myself what is the worst that can happen. But for anyone who isn’t familiar with improv, I can assure you that these feelings are all part of the process, and improv by design is indented to be unlock inhibitions.
The group was made up of sixteen and led by a very open, friendly tutor who instantly put everyone at ease. As he explained the basics of improv and led us through several exercises, I was reminded that importance of improv is just to enjoy it, and to throw yourself in to it. I spoke to others in the group about why they were there, for some it was just something fun to do on a Saturday afternoon, for other’s it was to build confidence for acting and stand-up comedy, and for other’s it was to build confidence in social situations and public speaking. Improv is perfect for all of these cases.
It was interesting for me, as I had been invited to attend the workshop in order to feature it in my blog, so I personally didn’t have a reason for being there. However, as I took part in the exercises and listened to the tutor, I realised that I was getting a lot out of the session. As part of my blog I now have to talk directly to a camera and present myself every week, I also have to interview people. Part of the workshop covered the necessity to listen when communicating, and it was really interesting to apply a lot of the what we were being told to this.
I came away from the course feeling that I had definitely learnt something, and I can honestly recommend it to anyone.
More information about the courses they offer can be found at www.hooplaimpro.com
In conjunction, I was then invited to attend their UK & Ireland Improv Festival, an evening which gave platform to a collection of improv groups.
It was situated above the Miller pub near London Bridge, and although I was only able to stay for a couple of the shows, it was great to see how improv can be turned into entertainment. It unpredictable, and often hilarious in practice, and as an audience can be very enjoyable to watch as well as participate in.
Later on Saturday, I travelled across to Vauxhall to the Above the Stag Theatre to watch Queereteria TV starring 80’s pop star Andy Bell from Erasure. I point that out first, as it’s the biggest selling point for this sold out production, and judging from the audience was the only reason people were there.
I sat amongst screaming, chatty women, who wore Erasure T-shirts and took photos of Andy Bell throughout the play, as if they were at a pop concert.
Queereteria TV is a follow up to Torsten: The Beautiful Libertine which also starred Andy Bell and was presented at Above the Stag, where he is now a patron.
It is written by Barney Ashton-Black who also stars alongside Andy. With music by Christopher Frost.
I will be honest, I hated practically everything about this production. It was appalling, and testament to a lot of the work I see produced which labels itself as LGBT theatre, lacking in substance, self-indulgent and badly executed. There are moments when the cast are singing into tubes of KY jelly, that I sank into my chair with embarrassment that this is being presented as LGBT theatre.
I will give credit to the set which looked incredible, and was a visual feast for the eyes. Also, Matthew Baldwin’s scene stealing performance at Lady Domina Bizarre was commendable, lending itself to Frank N Furter from the Rocky Horror Show, there were I enjoyed the scenes with Matthew and Tom Mann who played the younger Torsten.
Tom also showcased his beautiful dance abilities although limited by the awful choreography he was given by William Spencer, who along with director Robert McWhir are resident collaborators for Above the Stag.
But here lies my on-going struggle to appreciate Above the Stag’s programming, as I have mentioned before they consistently use the same directors, creatives and actors. It is largely to their own detriment, as I honestly believe it is incredibly limiting and does not offer a broad spectrum of work to represent the LGBT community or the talent that it offers. Although, I’m not entirely sure of the origins to the piece, Queereteria TV came across as simply self-indulgent and mediocre, that probably only got green lit because of its attachment to its star casting in Andy Bell.
Joining the cast was Peter Straker who originated the part of Hud in London’s production of Hair over fifty years ago. Now aged 76 years old, his voice, is sadly not what I imagined it once was, it leaves for a rather sad and awkward performance, where I admit only out of respect for Mr Straker is almost embarrassing for him. Clearly struggling to remember the lines Mr Straker carries, in character, a clip board and reads from his script. It provoked not admiration for this revered actor but pity as I uncomfortably watched.
Andy Bell, also stumbles over lines with tripe dialogue that serves him no favours and terrible songs that left the audience desperate for him to just belt out an old Erasure song. Fortunately for the audience, and clearly the highlight for most, came after the show, when the theatre played ‘A Little Respect’ by Erasure as they were leaving. It was only here when the audience were on their feet and singing along that it became obvious that they should have just stayed at home and listened to their old CDs.
I left Above the Stag desperate for a drink, and fortunately had my friend Anthea’s birthday party to attend, armed with a bottle of prosecco and several cans of cider I arrived at the Greek themed party, without time to make or bring a toga. Instead I enjoyed the cake and food and caught up with Anthea whilst chatting to her flat mates.
On Sunday, it was time for the ninth West End Eurovision contest, produced in aid of MAD trust, and presented almost every year since 2008. The line-up was a little slimmer than in previous years as only seven West End shows were available to take part this year.
As with previous years, all the contributing shows offer their time and commitment completely free, however a lot of work does go in to these shows and it’s often difficult when she’s have extra rehearsals for cast changes to be able to put together a routine and commit to the West End Eurovision.
Having said that, it was great to see Only Fool’s and Horses, Follies, and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie join this year alongside Aladdin, Wicked, Mamma Mia! And last year’s winner The Phantom of the Opera.
Each year gets better and better, and it is always an enjoyable evening, showcasing the incredible talent that can be seen across the West End. It’s also an opportunity for performers from each show to choregraph their own work and showcase themselves. The show ran quicker and more smoothly thanks to the fewer competitors, and joining the proceedings was Eurovision winner Dana International who performed two songs, including her 1998 winning entry ‘Diva’.
Matherson Bayley led the orchestra for the entire evening who all sounded spectacular. The performances were all incredible, and winning for the second year in a row The Phantom of the Opera took home the trophy for their winning performance of ‘Grande Amore’.
I popped along to the Hospital club briefly afterwards and bumped into West End royalty Brenda Edwards and Carl Mullaney, and chatted to Danny Whitehead from Phantom before going home.
It was announced this week that Alistair Brammer will be joining the cast of Wicked as Fiyero. I first met Alistair when we filmed the Les Mis movie together, and he is incredible, so I am very excited for this.
Also announced from the creators of Gals Aloud, Tuck Shop have revealed plans to produce the Spice Gals, and are searching for a drag queen to play ginger spice Geri Horner. I have been a life long fan of the Spice Girls, and a new fan of Gals Aloud, so I personally cannot wait for this show.
Producer Christoper D. Clegg also features in this week’s article in the Stage by Paul Vale. https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/interviews/2019/gals-aloud-girls-aloud-tribute-producer-christopher-clegg/?login_to=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.thestage.co.uk%2Faccounts%2Fusers%2Fsign_up.popup This week also brought the sad news that performer Benjamin James had passed away, following a seven year battle with a brain tumour. Ben trained at Arts Ed, and I had met him a few years ago when we made a short film together. Since his diagnosis, Ben has campaigned to raise awareness and money for brain tumour charities raised almost £50,000.
Ben was the most courageous and incredible person I have ever met. He made every day count, and as the tributes and messages poured in, it was obvious how much he was loved and how much he will be missed.
Lucyelle Hobbs Cliffe coined the phrase #BeMoreBen as a beautiful tribute to him.
If you would like to continue to help raise money in Ben’s memory, please donate here: https://www.thebraintumourcharity.org/get-involved/our-supporter-groups/supporter-groups/groups/bens-brain-battle-fund/?fbclid=IwAR18IICu4DHN56YTNG-rAGfwFSP7C2NAnzoaDft5fnBrYW3HKv8OlE-efn8
To watch the companion video to this blog, with clips from some of the shows mentioned please visit my You Tube channel: