My Stagey Week - 18
This week is #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, which I feel is incredibly important. Social media is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly dangerous. Influences can be good and bad.
I’m incredible lucky that I can say I have good mental health, but I know that is not the case for a lot of people, and I also recognise the influence social media has on mental health.
I set up this blog to support the theatre community and to celebrate it. But I also want to encourage us to all support and celebrate each other, and the biggest way we can do that is by trying to be a little more kind and understanding, and to help each other.
#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek is a great place to start. And it starts by just talking, and then listening.
If you feel you are struggling, with anything, no matter what it is, how silly it might seem, just open up, and talk to someone about it.
If you think someone needs to talk, listen to them. Hear them, and that will help them.
Let’s all do whatever we can.
So, back to me....
On Monday I was at the press night for Boom Bang-A-Bang, with Benjamin Martin.
Ben is someone I have met since I began this blog, he regularly features on West End Wilma’s blog. Despite this, it was Ben’s first trip to Above the Stag’s new venue.
I came when it first opened to see a 25th anniversary revival of Jonathan Harvey’s first play, Beautiful Thing, starring Ryan Anderson.
Above the Stag then presented his 1995 play Rupert Street’s Lonely Heart’s Club. Boom Bang-A-Bang was also written in 1995, and first staged at the Bush Theatre, where it was directed by Kathy Burke.
Set in 1995, and based around a group of friends who have come together to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Above the Stag have scheduled this production to coincide with this year’s Eurovision next weekend.
Although I had read the play before, I was apprehensive about how it was going to be staged and whether it would still be as funny. But I was pleasantly surprised.
Despite its age, this play really doesn’t even need updating, and is still feels relevant and fresh. Jonathan Harvey is one of my favorite playwrights who has also enjoyed success as a novelist and writing for TV, including Beautiful People, which starred Olivia Colman and Layton Williams, and Gimme Gimme with Kathy Burke. He is also a senior writer for Coronation Street.
If you have seen any of Jonathan’s work, you will know how hilarious it is, but he also has an incredible ability of drawing out very heartfelt and moving moments too.
Jonathan creates incredibly well observed and deliciously eccentric characters, and director Andrew Beckett has done a brilliant job of casting this show.
Joshua Coley, who I have known for some years, who has also appeared at Above the Stag previously is Holding the Man, impresses with an exceptional scouse accent and comic timing playing Norman the nosey neighbour. Florence Odumosu, who I also already knew gives an equally hilarious performance.
It was also a pleasure to meet Adam McCoy who after chatting to him after the show told me he had once played a character in Brookside which was my favourite soap.
We enjoyed glasses of Bucks Fizz and some nibbles the theatre had put on for us, whilst patron Su Pollard made a speech commending the work of everyone involved.
A few of us then went to carry on drinking at the Eagle pub along the road in Vauxhall.
Boom Bang-A-Bang plays until 9th June at Above the Stage.
On Wednesday I watched Surviving a Millennial Jukebox with Patrick Sullivan, Georgia Carling and Benjamin Purkiss, a one-off cabaret at the Museum of Comedy, a venue near Tottehham Court Road, that I had not been to before. I was really impressed. It’s a small theatre, but really qauint.
The three singers, who had all appeared together in the Bat Out of Hell musical, played two ninety minute shows including songs from Bat Out of Hell, and some of their own personal choices. Like anyone who cast in Bat Out of Hell, Patrick, Georgia and Ben have incredible voices, but also have a strong chemistry and have clearly developed a tight friendship, which came across beautifully as they chatted and sang together. To the delight of everyone in the audience it was a brilliant evening.
Later on Wednesday evening I went along to watch Sonder, a new show created and performed by Calum Robshaw. I had met and interviewed Calum before when he appeared in Never Trust a Man Bun. He had invited me to watch this new show and chat to him afterwards.
Directed by Scott Le Crass, who had also directed Calum in Never Trust a Man Bun, I was a unsure whether I would enjoy the show, as I’m not a huge fan of performance art. But Calum won me over. It is a beautifully constructed collection of varying characters which all depict an element of self worth, depression or anxiety that Calum has drawn from his own experiences.
Calum delivers a committed performance, throwing himself into each character. The result is sometimes alarming and uncomfortable, yet utterly captivating, entertaining and hilarious. He has a very quick wit too which enables him to engage with the audience as there is some participation required. He even dragged me up on to the stage for one of the sections, which I gamely went along with.
It was nice to talk to Calum afterwards about where the show had come from, and who his influences had been. The full interview can be found here:
On Thursday I was at the Young Vic for the revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman.
Although I have never seen or read the play from 1949, having seen Miller’s other work All My Son’s just up the road at the Old Vic last week, I knew what to expect.
Death of a Salesman like All My Son’s is a story deeply rooted in family and business politics, and both have a devastating ending which pulls at your heart.
This production is directed by Miranda Cromwell and Marianne Elliott, and is typical of her style for reinvention. The set is stalk, with pieces of furniture suspended from the ceiling, and lowered into position by wires to form each scene. I’ll be honest I found the design a little too barren for my taste.
The overall staging and performances are exceptional though, testament to the formidably cast who deliver both incredible acting performances but are also in some parts required to sing. The production infuses elements of soul and jazz music which is impeccably played out.
Sharon D. Clarke, having recently won an Olivier, is exceptional, as is Wendall Pierce who plays Willy Loman. They have been cast to create a black family in the roles originally and traditionally played by white actors. I don’t actually know whether this has ever been done before, and having not seen this play staged before I have nothing to compare it to, even so the connotations that derive from the story now centered around a black family certainly feels to enhance the story to the point that it felt surprising that this story wasn’t originally intended to be told this way.
Death of a Salesman runs at the Young Vic until 13th July.
On Friday I had the pleasure of interviewing my old friend Ian Stroughair. I first met Ian when he played Angel in the touring production of Rent with Kerry Ellis.
For ten years he has also performed in drag as Velma Celli, creating various shows and an album. I met with him at the Underbelly where he will be taking one of his show’s later this year. It was a fun interview to do as we chatted outside. I felt at moments like we were on This Morning, with people casually walking past in the background.
The full video can be found here: https://youtu.be/AE6Vp_kRTFE
All the information about his upcoming shows can be found on his website: https://velmacelli.com/
Ian was able to then help prep me for my interview with Bernie Dieter. Ian had appeared as Velma Celli in Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club in Australia. Little Death Club has now taken up residence at the Underbelly for the summer.
I don’t generally get apprehensive about interviewing, but then I do generally tend to interview people I know, so when it comes to being asked to interview someone I haven’t met before, I admit I get a little nervous. I worry I’m going to be awkward, or saying something inappropriate or worse not know what to say or ask.
I had an hour between finishing Ian’s interview and Bernie’s but then realised my phone was running low and I had forgotten to charge my portable charger, I ended up having to race across to the Apple Shop in Covent Garden to buy a new one, as there would have been nothing worse than for my phone to die mid way through recording the interview.
I got back in time to set up for the interview, by now the outside bar of the Underbelly was quite busy and noisy, meanwhile inside the band were sound checking and staff were setting up chairs. I was beginning to panic, where was I going to be able to interview Bernie without it being too noisy.
I decided to just set up into the tent, as planned, and hoped that the band wouldn’t be too distracting. I set up my light and Bernie arrived looking as immaculately presented as she does on stage. I awkwardly asked her if she wanted to be interviewed as herself or in character, to which she replied “But darling, this is me!”.
We chatted for about ten minutes, before I began to fluster. I was worried that I didn’t want to keep Bernie for too long, and was concerned that I would run out of things to ask, so I wrapped the interview up, although I felt I could have maybe got more out of her.
Bernie was lovely, and very accommodating. The interview will be on my You Tube channel in the next couple of days.
I took a night off from theatre to join my friend Elliot for a night out at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Friday, as his boyfriend Kane was working. We got pretty wasted, but had a really fun night, they played all my favorite pop and Eurovision songs and even played a club mix version of “Let it Go” from Frozen which I was delighted to hear.
On Saturday evening, I went along to watch a workshop presentation of Cleopatra written by Lyndon Samuel and Robert Gould, and directed by Brendan Matthew.
Robert has had previous success with his musical My Land’s Shore, which Brendan had also directed. I had also seen The Hired Man at the Union theatre that Brendan directed, and had really enjoyed his work, he had a great way of using the cast to fully occupy the scenes without seeming out of place.
Cleopatra was staged at the Actors Church in Covent Garden, and had an impressive cast of people I knew. Lily De La Haye who played Cleopatra is a superb actress who I first met when I produced Parade at the London Theatre Workshop, and Lily played Lucille Frank. Her voice is stunning.
Joining her was Rhys Benjamin who had played one of the Wickersham brothers in Seussical, he had also stood out when he performed early in the year at Refresh.
Joining them was Ceris Hine whose work I have loved since I first saw her in Ushers. Harry Downes who has grown a cheeky beard since I first met him, and the gorgeous Luke Byrne who I have known from his work as a producer at the Union, and he was recently in White Christmas at the Leicester Curve. Luke looked very dashing in a blue suit, as did all the cast who were all dressed in evening attire. Tom Blackmore, who recently appeared in Grindr- The Opera, had previously appeared in My Land’s Shore.
Brendan made full use of the church, directing the cast to use the aisles and pulpit. The staging and movement brought some much needed life into what was essentially a concert version of the show.
The show, however, I did not think was anywhere near ready to be shared with an audience. It has overwhelming structural flaws, and although the music is pleasant and was beautifully performed, as an entire show it lacked any variance, condemning the show to one long relentless ballad.
Robert’s Gould book and lyrics are nice, but collectively the whole show needs a lot more development.
On Sunday I went to the first of the two concerts at the Hammersmith Apollo of The Best of Rock Musicals. A concert in aid of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust.
They brought together an incredible collection of singers including Kerry Ellis, Judy Kuhn and Adam Pascal.
I had first seen Adam who originated the role of Roger in Rent in the West End in 1995. I was astounded when he began to sing “One Song Glory“ and sounded just as he did almost 25 years ago.
The evening was hosted by Christopher Biggins and Tim Rice.
Noel Sullivan, Ricardo Afonso and Sabrina Alouche who have all appeared in We Will Rock You, joined Kerry Ellis to sing songs from the show, and were all incredible.
The show was superbly choregraphed by Kevan Allen and Andrew Wright, with incredible dancers throughout the show, including Gareth Moran and many others from Laine Theatre Arts who were all exceptional, as was the West End Chorus and the City of London Philharmonic Allstars.
A poignant moment came when Rob Houchen lead the cast to sing “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. It was an opportunity for anyone who wonders what Rob would have been like if he had got the part. Rob recently admitted that he was told he was too old to play the part.
The song reminded us why the concert had been produced, in aid of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust which was set up in 1997 in memory of Charlie Waller, who took his own life whilst suffering from depression.
For more information about the work they do, please visit: www.cwmt.org.uk
After watching the Best of Rock Musicals I went along to watch the second of two grand finals for West End Calling.
Now in it’s forth year, West End Calling is an incredible initiative set up by Alex James Ellison to create a platform for new and emerging young performers who have none or little training.
In the build up to the final, Alex and his team visit seven locations around the country to audition nearly 400 individuals. These are then reduced to 13 juniors and 13 seniors. Each set perform in the final, with the top 3 been selected in each group. The juniors perform on the afternoon with the seniors performing in the evening.
Oscar Conlon-Morrey did an incredible job hosting the show, reminding me of a young Christopher Biggins. The judges were Sophie Isaacs, Matthew Croke and Courtney Reed who playfully bickered whilst commenting after each performer.
I was honestly astounded by the level of talent produced. The thirteen finalists all demonstrated immense talent which in some cases was of a higher standard than some working professionals who have fully trained. Its exceptional to thing that these youngsters are only just starting out and to imagine what they will go on to. The winner of the competition was announced as Serafina Bird who will now perform later in the year as part of West End Live.
As a show, and platform I anticipate and hope it will continue to grow.
Information about the show and how to enter for next year can be found at www.westendcalling.co.uk
It was nice to see and catch up with Ryan Carter as we grabbed a drink after the show, and he told me plans for Refresh X.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my You Tube channel here: https://youtu.be/9Ac1Com4ZTg
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-18---Audio-e419kb