My Stagey Week - 17
Updated: May 7, 2019
If you logged on to social media on 1st May, you might have seen one of many stagey memes that pop up every year. It’s becoming a tradition to share these and if you watch my accompanying vlog this week, you will see my interpretation of a few of them.
Happy Bank holiday everyone! I’ll be honest, they mean nothing to me. I’ve always worked in entertainment where bank holidays simply don’t apply.
In April 2011 in particular, I remember I was filming Downton Abbey. The royal wedding between William and Kate was scheduled for 29th April and the day was announced as an extra public holiday. Clothing company Primark mass produced ‘thanks for the day off’ T-shirts. However, because filming schedules, and locations had been booked months in advanced, for us filming Downton Abbey we weren’t given a day off. The production company did set up TV’s in adjacent rooms to where we were filming so that we could watch the wedding between takes, and some crew bought and wore the Primark T shirts as a joke.
Today it was announced that Prince Harry and Meghan’s first child has arrived, conveniently on a Bank Holiday Monday.
Last Monday I went to watch Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse. The last show to be directed by Josie Rourke before she steps down as Artistic Director after seven years. Her predecessors have always chosen a Shakespeare play as their final work, so to choose a musical is a break from tradition.
Although 53 years old, Sweet Charity had already been revived twice last year, once at the Nottingham Playhouse with Rebecca Trehearn and then with Gemma Sutton at the Watermill Theatre where I saw it, and loved it. Gemma’s version was actor-muso with my friend Tom Self as MD.
It was partly because I enjoy this show that I wanted to see it again, but also I was intrigued by the casting of Anne-Marie Duff and what she would do with the character. I was also attracted by the chance to see Lizzy Connolly, Danielle Steers and Debbie Kurup, who are all actresses I admire, as well as Charlotte Jaconelli who I had recently met when she performed at the Crazy Coq Presents.
Anne-Marie Duff is without question one of the greatest actresses we have in UK theatre, but can she sing? The answer is, sort of. As one critique described, you won’t find her releasing an album any time soon, but yes she can hold a tune. The problem I found when I visited the show on Monday was that her voice sounds tired. Yes, it’s one thing to be able to sing in tune, but there is also a discipline to be able to perform eight shows a week without causing strain.
Ultimately what Anne-Marie Duff offers is a very stripped back, raw and emotionally charged performance, with her pouring her heart out with each word. Her performance is in keeping with the stark interpretation that Josie Rourke has produced for Sweet Charity.
Designed as a replica to Andy Warhol’s warehouse, Josie Rourke has produced a very striking and stylized production. It’s bold, but I’ll be honest, it wasn’t for me.
To me, Sweet Charity is the musical equivalent of a rom-com, and Arthur Darvill certainly delivers on this count. He is hilarious. But for me the show as a whole is too dark, and too serious. I wanted it to remain jovial as it’s previous incarnations.
Sweet Charity runs until 8th June, and is now sold out. However standing tickets can be bought on the day for £10 each, which I can recommend as the theatre is only small, so you won’t miss anything.
On Tuesday it was the press night for Man of La Mancha, at the ENO. Written in 1965, it has not been seen in the West End since 1968, although there have been several Broadway revivals. Despite this, I was surprised by how many songs I knew.
'The Impossible Dream' being the most notable, with Kelsey Grammer closing the first act with it.
Like Anne -Marie Duff, there is no reputing how great an actor Kelsey Grammer is, and he has previously shown in Big Fish at the Other Palace, that he can sing. Here Kelsey, like Anne-Marie, sings it well enough and draws out the emotion of the lyric. It might not be studio-recording standard, but he does a good enough job.
Opposite Kelsey is Nicholas Lyndhurst, star of Only Fools and Horses, and typical of the ENO the production is lavishly staged with a strong ensemble. Sharing the role of Aldonza/Dulcinea, is Cassidy Janson and Danielle de Niese. Danielle was performing on this evening, so I will have to come back to see Cassidy do it, as I have a little soft spot for her, and it was a pleasure to catch up with her at the after party.
Also at the afterparty I caught up with James Darch and my friend Eugene McCoy who plays the Duke in Man of La Mancha.
Eugene and I both grew up in the north-east and lived in neighboring villages, Eugene then came to London to train at Arts Ed. He went on to perform in Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys, and most recently A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic. Although I caught up with Eugene a few weeks ago, when he began rehearsals for Man of La Mancha, because I didn’t know the show already, I didn’t realise how big his part in it was, and so was pleasantly surprised when Eugene commanded the stage brilliantly. Although I couldn’t resist texting hm during the interval to tease him about his blond wig, suggesting that “Malfoy from Harry Potter wants it back”.
During the after party, I managed to spill chocolate sauce all down my white shirt which meant having to wear my over-coat for the rest of the evening. I also caught up with Jordan Lee Davies, who had last worked at the ENO, when he performed there in Chess. He was dressed quite understated in a gorgeous white suit.
I, myself, enjoyed the show, however have friends who did leave during the interval, saying that it dragged and was too slow.
Man of La Mancha runs until 8th June. Tickets can be found here: https://www.eno.org/whats-on/man-of-la-mancha/
Having drank far too much wine at the after party, I was relieved when I was told that I was not needed on set until 12 noon the next day, rather than 9am. I was filming a small part in Eastenders for an upcoming story line centered around Gay Pride. It’s an exciting storyline to be involved, although I was only needed for one scene, so managed to complete filming by 4pm.
It meant I had the rest of the day free and was able to join my friend Drew for dinner. We then got last minute tickets for Fiddler on the Roof, through Today Tix, to watch our friend Philip Bertilio who joined the cast since it transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory. It is directed by Trever Nunn and choregraphed by Matt Cole.
We absolutely adored it. It is a classic show, perfectly revived in keeping with its 1964 original.
The set is stunning and wraps itself around the boxes of the theatre, with part of the stage jetting into the stalls to create a run way, which at times the cast use to enter and exit.
Judy Kuhn and Andy Nyman lead an incredible cast. Andy, in particular demonstrating how brilliant an actor he is. Handling the iconic song “If I were a rich man” he shows what is capable from an accomplished performer with a strong singing voice who makes choices within his phrasing. Watching him is by definition a master class in acting through song.
Fidler on the Roof is booking until 28th September. Maria Friedman and Anita Dobson have been announced to join the cast from 18th June. https://fiddlerwestend.com/
After the show I dragged Drew along to Freedom. He had already a little tired having watched the matinee of Sweet Charity too.
At Freedom, Sean Parkins was presenting his drag show Black Girl Magic with his dancers Grant Thresh and Ian Oswald. Sean is an incredible performer and choreographer, having trained at Italia Conti, he then went on to spend six years in Wicked before joining the casts of Book of Mormon and Dream Girls. He also takes part each year in MAD Drag.
His show was as excellent as ever.
On Thursday I was at the press night for Rosmersholm, the stunning new production of the Ibsen classic written in 1886.
Although I was unfamiliar with the play, I had seen Hedda Gabler last year at the National Theatre, so knew what to expect from Ibsen.
Film actress Hayley Atwell gives a stunning performance, if a little too modern in places.
I was seated next to a kooky woman from Sunderland, who had travelled down specially to see Tom Burke, who like Hayley was brilliant.
Olivier award winner, Giles Terera also delivers a strong performance, showcasing why he won Best Actor in a Musical for Hamilton last year.
Rosmersholm, like Fiddler on the Roof are both stories about social and political change for women, and its remarkable to think that these stories have been told for this long without substantial progress.
The play is brilliant, and is beautifully staged and lit, and without giving the ending away, the final scene leaves an incredible impact.
Having enjoyed a cupcake and canapes before the show and during the interval, I even took a glass of prosecco back for the lady sitting next to me.
After the show I enjoyed more canapes and prosecco at the after party, and spotted Arty Froushan, a friend of my friend Che. They trained together at Lamda. I said hello, and was surprised when he remembered who I was. We chatted a little and he told me about the play White Pearl that he is currently in rehearsals for at the Royal Court. I will definitely be checking that out.
I continued to circulate the room, spotting Mark Rylance chatting to producer Sonia Friedman. I also congratulated Giles Terera on his performance who looked incredible in a green tartan suit.
Rosmersholm is booking until 20th July. https://rosmersholmplay.com/
On Friday I popped into the Actors Centre, where I once worked to have leaving drinks for an old colleague of mine. It was a nice opportunity to catch up with other old colleagues and of course there was cake and prosecco.
I got chatting to an old friend Jen, who has recently had a baby, and I was telling her about how I had recently enjoyed spending time with my brother and his girlfriend and her children. As a single gay man, I am nowhere near ready to have children, but with so many of my close friends now with children of their own, I am starting to see the appeal.
Living and working in London, and working particularly in this industry and with social media, it is easy to get bogged down and to lose sight of what matters. What I have come to realise recently is that children have a way of reminding you what is important. It was interesting that straight after talking to Jen, I had to rush across to the actors church to see a working progress of a new musical revue called Parenthood.
I had been invited personally by Emily Moody who has written Parenthood with her husband Pete.
I often find music revues and song cycles tricky as they just seem a bit pointless to me. I do, however, understand and recognise that a lot of composers use them to start out with, before producing full productions.
They say write about what you know, and Emily and Pete Moody have done just that. Writing a well observed and affectionate collection of songs that chronicle the parenting journey.
Some of the songs are very good, and the album can be found on www.cdbaby.com and is coming soon to Amazon and Itunes.
In particular ‘Turn the Pages Slowly’ and ‘Journey With You’ both really stood out for me.
The dialogue was well observed and quite funny.
The Actors Church in Convent Garden is tricky to perform in, and the sound quality did let this performance down. However it was an enjoyable show with lots of heart.
I was impressed by the design, especially of the programme, but also the set was simple and effective, as were the costumes, using bold primary colours with an attention to detail in printing corresponding photos in the programme. There was also a cute touch using a recording of their four year old son Tommy for the pre-show announcement.
On Saturday I squeezed in a trip to the Charing Cross Theatre to watch the matinee of Amour.
I was planning to see this next week, but wanted to take the opportunity to see understudy Jack Reitman who was covering for Daniel Stockton.
I had actually first met Jack over a year ago at the Charing Cross Theatre on the press night of Harold and Maude where he was the guest of a producer we both know. It’s incredible to think that a year later he is now performing here.
Jack has an exceptional voice which I noticed during a work shop presentation of a new musical called Henry, in Amour he doubles up to play a police man, a doctor and a judge.
Amour is an odd piece written by multiple Oscar nominated Michael Legrand. It was staged on Broadway in 2002 however closed after only 31 previews and 17 performances.
It’s a quirky story about a man who discovers he can walk through walls, and how this impacts his moral responsibility through having such powers.
I had been very excited to see this production as it also stars the gorgeous Elissa Churchill who I had the pleasure of meeting when I hosted The Show Goes On, Keith Ramsay who I had seen in The Ceral Café at the Other Palace, and Gary Tushaw who I think is brilliant. I had first seen him in Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre and Allegro at the Southwalk playhouse, and I think he is an incredible actor.
I had adored the production of Ragtime, which Jordan Li-Smith was also musical director of.
Now back to Amour and I’ll be honest, I didn’t think the music was that great. Nor did half of the row infront of me, who left at the interval.
As a production, it sits within the Charing Cross Theatre’s new seating arrangement which puts the audience on two sides. As I said before with Violet I don’t understand the point of this, or what it brings to a production other than making the cast work twice as hard, and the audience at any given time missing half the action. The direction by Hannah Chissick is fairly standard, having the cast sit on chairs at the side of the stage and then using the chairs to create scenes, it's a theatrical device I feel is now over used. I also didn’t get enough of a sense that we were in France, or that this was a love story. Although there were nice components, I felt visually let down.
Interestingly, within the cast was Claire Machin, who I had seen in Flowers for Mrs Harris. A production which I adored. Claire is great but limited by a one dimensional character she has been given in Amour and watching her only reminded me how beautiful Flowers for Mrs Harris was, and how well they depicted a love story set in France.
The choreography was by Matt Cole, who happened to have choreographed Fiddler on the Roof, which again is unfortunate that I saw earlier this week, as it only reminded me that his work is better than this.
Amour is on until 20th July, so at least it will last longer than on Broadway. Tickets can be found here: https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/amour
On Saturday evening I visited the Southbank Centre for an evening with Rose McGowan, the acclaimed actress at the centre of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It was an unsettling evening, as Rose, the self- proclaimed survivor, peddled her new book Brave, as well as her new music album Planet Nine. Dressed in an army green jump suit with Brave written on her back in diamonds, Rose came across very defensive and to often contradict herself answering a series of planned and prepared questions. As a motivational speaker, the message Rose is trying to give is unclear and she comes across as very cold.
On Sunday I travelled to Brighton for the start of the Brighton Fringe and to watch The Milkman’s On His Way. Adapted by Kevin Kelly from the book by David Rees.
Directed by Tim McArthur and starring Lucy Penrose who I have known from her role in Judy. It also starred Lewis Brown who I recently saw in Undetectable.
The Milkman’s On His Way is a coming of age story that depicts a young man growing up in Cornwall before moving to London to explore his sexuality.
Written in 1982, it was cited in the House of Lords for promoting homosexuality, in 1999 debate on Section 28, Baroness Knight of Collingtree said that it "explicitly described homosexual intercourse and, indeed, glorified it, encouraging youngsters to believe that it was better than any other sexual way of life”.
The problem is that books, television, theatre and society has changed rapidly in the past decade that this content is no longer shocking. Although it was a reasonably enjoyable play, partly down to the great use of eighties music, for me this play didn’t really offer me anything new.
With plays like The Inheritance leading the way in bridging stories about gay history with current issues, The Milkman’s On His Way only serves to depict a proportionally very small piece of gay history.
The cast all do a commendable job, and throw themselves into the often awkward text, tackling the contrived dialogue.
The Milkman’s On His Way continues at the Brighton Fringe until 12th May. Tickets available through www.tmohw.co.uk
With just enough time to grab some fish and chips and ice cream in Brighton, I was straight on a train back to London for an evening of cabaret in Shoreditch.
Tom Duern who I had met during the Pirates of Penzance, put together an incredible line up for an evening of Roles We’ll Never Play.
Although I have seen other cabarets adopt this theme, I have to say, and possibly with testament to the line up and their song choices, this was one of the best cabarets of this nature that I have seen. The band were brilliant, and every performer memorable and enjoyable.
I managed to film sections of each which are included in a video at the end of my vlog this week.
It was nice to catch up with Alan Richardson and the incredibly handsome Jamie Chidzey, as well as Sam Kipling and Matt Facchino who were all there to support their “sisters” from the Pirates of Penzance.
The accompanying video to this week’s journal is available on my You Tube page and features footage from Black Girl Magic and the Roles We’ll Never Play. https://youtu.be/P2ZZdTZYDhw