My Stagey Week -25
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
On Tuesday I was due to see Tom Stock’s new play Netflix and Chill, that he wrote and is acting in. Tom had personally invited me to watch the show at the Tristan Bates theatre, however the day prior to this performance it was announced that “due to some very last minute unforeseen circumstances” all performances at the Tristan Bates of Netflix and Chill that week were cancelled. They were later rescheduled for 29th June at Canal Café Theatre, and Barons Court Theatre on 3rd and 4th of July. Unfortunately I was not available for these new dates.
With a free evening now in my diary on Tuesday, I was able to accept Scott Matthewman’s invitation to be his plus one as he reviewed A Tinder Trilogy at the Theatre 503 produced by Feeling Gorgeous Theatre and written by Annie Jenkins. Directed by Lucy McCann and performed by Mollie McPherson, Jonna Blode and Tiegan Byrne. The three separate monologues told by each actress were entitled ‘Tinder471’ ‘My Son is in the Kitchen Eating a Biscuit’ and ‘Sausage Roll Moment’.
The actresses were all preset on the stage, with each taking a turn to speak. Each sat on a stack of four wooden pallets with lots of litter and 90’s memorabilia scattered around, including Spice Girls CD’s and Trolls. Even one of the actresses was wearing a Spice Girl T Shirt.
As the monologues progressed, I failed to recognise much distinction between the characters, even the actresses playing them were very similar in age and voice, and certainly the way each monologues were written and directed, the characters and their stories didn’t feel distinctive enough. In fact, they didn’t even feel depictive of the characters they were trying to create. Instead one voice resonated clearly which I suspect was the voice of the writer herself. These were her words being spoken by three actresses, rather than written for three different voices.
My other observation was that none of these stories were anything to do with Tinder, so the title itself eluded me. The first story offered some level of intrigue, but the subsequent two offered very little, as progressive I lost interest and became bored.
A Tinder Trilogy, it claims, had a sellout run as part of last year’s Camden Fringe, which surprised me as I wonder whether any work has been done on the piece since then, and how and why they bothered to bring it back.
The performances by the three actresses were strong, and committed though.
Scott gave A Tinder Trilogy 3*s. His review can be found here:
On Wednesday afternoon, I interviewed Genevieve Nicole and Declan Egan at the Zedel about their upcoming solo shows as part of the Big Smoke Life.
I absolutely adore both of them, and had great fun chatting away to them. Genevieve turned up in tracksuit bottoms as she was on her way to teach at Urdang, and Declan turned up in shorts as he didn’t realise it was going to be a video interview. Neither mattered as I only shoot from the waist up anyway.
The Zedel made the perfect backdrop for the interview as the pair both talked excitedly and anxiously about their shows.
Genevieve’s interview can be found here:
And you can book tickets for her show on 17th July here:
Declan’s interview is still to come.
On Wednesday evening I went to the press night for Bare A Pop Opera at the Vaults, a show I adore and was very excited to see again.
I first saw Bare the Rock Opera (as it was then called) directed by Paul Taylor Mills at the Union Theatre in 2013, and it is still one of favourite productions that first defined my love of musical theatre.
There’s an age old proverb. If it ain’t broken don’t fix it. The sentiment applies to revivals. I support this. When it comes to reviving a show, you need to ensure that you can offer something more, something different or something new. Producer Paul Taylor-Mills credits himself as being the maestro of un-flopping flops. Taking a show that didn’t originally do well and making it successful. He has done this successful with shows like Carrie and Heathers, and certainly for me at least, Bare the Rock Opera was the show that made me sit up and notice him as a producer. Whether it’s Paul’s knack for discovering emerging talent, he has a proven track record for putting people on the map, and helping to shed a spotlight on the talent he recognised early on within them. Bare the Rock Opera, for me, was one of those game-changer shows and introduced me to Michael Vincent and Ross William Wild. I was captivated by Michael’s sensitivity portraying a young gay man struggling with his sexuality, and remember sitting with Darren Bell to watch the show and both being in floods of tears as the authenticity of the characters and story we were watching.
I would return to the show a second time, mainly to see Hannah Levane’s phenomenal performance as sassy nun and Virgin Mary. The show then transferred to Greenwich Theatre where again I revisited it, with delight and in awe of Michael Vincent’s capacity to encapsulate every young gay man’s struggle to accept their own sexuality and to find acceptance. By this point, producer Paul Taylor-Mills was continuing to discover and cultivate new emerging talents.
The European premier produced by Kylie Vilcins at the Union Theatre ran from the 24th April until the 25th May 2013 was directed by Paul Taylor Mills and choreographed by Racky Plews who would go on to direct Footloose the Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie and has recently returned to direct American Idiot.
In it Dan Krikler, currently appearing in Present Laughter at the Old Vic. Dean John Wilson who would go on to originate the role of Aladin in the West End. Dale Evans who is currently rehearsing with the new cast of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican, having covered Charlie Price in Kinky Boots and Chris in Miss Saigon, in the West End. Natalie Chua who would join the casts of Miss Saigon, Bat Out of Hell and most recently West Side Story at the Royal Exchange Theatre. Lilly Jane Young who played Ivy would go on to compete in the Voice of Holland season 8. Liam Ross Mills would go into Hair! and Jordan Lee Davies would join the original London cast of Bat Out of Hell and is now touring in Book of Mormon.
Most notable, Michael Vinsen who played Peter would go on to Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots, and Ross William Wild who played Jason would join Spandau Ballet.
When Bare the Rock Opera transferred to the Greenwich Theatre between 9th and 27th October, notable additions to the cast included Ashley Andrews who is currently Dance Captain for King Kong on Broadway. Adam Bailey who is 1st Cover Elder Price in the Book Of Mormon, West End. Daniel Hope, who would go on to play Boq in Wicked. Ashley Gilmour who would play Chris in Miss Saigon on tour, and Link Larkin in Hairspray. Claudia Kariuki who is currently in School of Rock and will soon join the new tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Lauren Ray would join the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie along with Luke Baker who would originate the role of Dean. Jodie Steele who took over as Ivy would go on to play Elphaba in Wicked on tour, as well as Heather Chandler in Heathers before touring with Rock of Ages.
When it was announced that Bare A Pop Opera was to be revived at the Vaults from 21st June until 4th August, I was delighted for the return of a show that stole my heart the moment I first saw it.
I was also delighted to learn that it was going to be directed by Julie Atherton. I’ll admit I have fan girled Julie since I first saw her in Avenue Q with Daniel Boys. Her rendition of ‘There’s a Fine, Fine Line’ still remains one of my favourite musical theatre songs. Julie continued to win me over with her parody video for ‘Portrait of a Princess’ with Russell Tovey and as Sister Mary Robert in Sister Act. Julie also surprised me with a raunchy performance clad in leather with bleached blond hair giving audience members lap dances in Shock Treatment proving just how versatile and brilliant an actress she is.
Generally, I prefer directors who have a background in performance. I think, their experience and understanding of the industry and their vision and insight equips them perfectly, and so in this case I was looking forward to seeing what Julie would do with Bare a Pop Opera. When the cast announcement I was equally as excited.
Tom Scanlon, I have known for some time, as we both grew up in Middlesbrough. He is an incredible dancer, and recently opened up publicly about his struggles with his mental health, so it was great to see him returning to work.
Tom Hier I met when he performed with Charlotte Wakefield in the Dreamers and later they were both guests at the Crazy Coqs Presents The Attack of the Teen Musicals where by chance Tom performed the song Role of a Lifetime from Bare that had been selected for him by producer Mark Petty, months before auditioning and taking the role as Matt in Bare the Pop Opera. His voice is incredible.
The most exciting casting, for me, was Darragh Cowley, who I had seen play Melchior in Spring Awakening at the Hope Mill Theatre. Darragh had an incredible allure and was captivating to watch, in what was a stunning production on every level. A graduate from Guildford School of Acting in 2018, alongside other incredible emerging actors including Will Carey, Aiden Harkins, Michiel Janssens, Sam Kipling, Grace Mouat, and Maiya Quansah-Breed.
I was interested what this cast would bring to this new production, but felt assured that it was in safe hands.
I noticed that original cast member Dale Evans had been to watch the show the night before, as well as my friend Robbie. I resisted the urge to text them to ask what they had thought.
Meanwhile another friend had also seen it, and text me simply saying “I have some thoughts”. Knowing he loved previously loved the show too, his clipped statement sounded dubious.
Never the less, I went with an open mind, ready to have my heart pulled from my chest again the way that Michael Vinsen’s performance once did.
It’s at this point, that Julie Atherton might defriend me from Facebook and the PR company might take me off their press list, but I feel I have to be honest.
The first thing that stuck me after arriving at the Vaults, collecting my ticket and being guided through to the auditorium, was the seating configuration. The specially built stage forms a T shape, with two main seating banks at either side of a large tree. A tree that looks like it was left over from the Inheritence play. To one side of a stage is another seating bank, and to the other side is the band perched on a balcony. As I took my seat second row from the front in the left side pit, I immediately felt the discomfort in the tightly packed chairs, having to crane my neck up to see the stage. The set was minimal with red headed angels oddly painted in murals along the back wall of the stage.
As the show began and the entire cast began to overcrowd the stage, I couldn’t really see much other than up most of the girl’s shorts skirts, sparing them no modesty, and the less said about the boy’s ill-fitting skinny jeans the better too.
The awkward seating configuration also meant at some points the lighting literally blinded me, and pockets of sound escaped me.
I soon realised that I was not going to enjoy this production.
Every time I closed my eyes I could only picture Michael and Ross playing these characters. I could hear their voices. This cast had huge shoes to fill, and sadly I just could not relinquish my connection with the original production that I had seen.
As stunning as Tom Hier’s voice is, Matt to me was Luke Bayer, the fit bully from Jamie who it’s kinda wrong to fancy. Lizzie Emery had big shoes to fill left over from Jodie Steel who six years before her was also newly graduated from GSA. Admittedly partly down to the poor sound mixing and the disservice Lizzie has to overcome from the overcrowded staging she struggled to resonate however does come into her own during her song ‘All Grown Up’.
As I already knew from Spring Awakening, Darragh Cowley demonstrates that he is a formidable actor and certainly has the whole package. He is accomplished and emotive in his portrayal of Jason, if not quite as edgy as Ross William Wild.
Daniel Mark Shand was almost on a par with Michael Vinsen in pulling at my heart strings, and his performance builds admirably but just doesn’t quite get there. Daniel’s command of the character does shine through, especially during the poignant moments and especially in ‘See Me’ where he almost won me over.
I do consider and take in to account that there were some glaring flaws in the staging and direction, which I felt impaired the performances.
The ensemble were directed to consistently chatter at the sides of the stage, which was incredible detracted to the main scenes and pulled focus. Most of the time their action wasn’t needed, and was used simply to fill the dead space, but occasionally they were also prescribed to illustrate and spell things out too blatantly, to hone sub texts which should have been left to the audience to decipher alone.
The blocking for the most part appeared difficult for the actors to master, partly due to the seating configurations and stage limitations. The choreography wasn’t angled well for the audience and didn’t fit the space.
Overall, it sadly felt like an amateur or school production, which is probably unfair to say, as a lot of drama schools are now producing grad shows of a much higher quality.
Stacy Francis might provide a draw to sell a few extra tickets or to attract some fans who know her from her realty TV appearances, and although her voice sounds incredible, her acting is unfortunately questionable, with a lot of the great lines brilliantly written for her character being lost in her poor delivery of them. It’s a shame because she is good but not good enough, and her character does have some of the best lines in the show.
One of the potentially most affirming scenes in the whole show towards the end, is thrown off by the use of slow-motion acting. A dramatic device typically used by inexperienced or unimaginative directors. As I say, I love Julie Atherton as a performer, and expected more from her because of this. It did make me wonder whether Julie had been approached and asked to direct this show, or whether it was one that she bid for.
Recently I was impressed by Bryan Hodgeson’s direction of Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens, in which he demonstrated a really flare and precise vision for what he wanted the piece to say. With Bare a Pop Opera, I didn’t get that sense from Julie’s direction. Until the end, when I was conflicted by the very clear message and statement.
Breaking out of character, Tom Hier is the first to revert to his native accent and pays tribute to the real life stories of teens who have taken their own lives because of outside influences in relation to their sexuality.
Aligning these real life stories with the ending of Bare A Pop Opera, did feel a little contrived.
*SPOILER* Please do not read on if you do not want to know at this stage how the play ends.
The synopsis of Bare a Pop Opera according to Wikipedia suggests:
“Jason asks Peter to run away with him, but Peter refuses to run and thus tells him it's over, as he's had his fill of hiding and running away. Jason, thinking that means he's lost Peter for good, takes a large dose of GHB”
In this outcome, Jason actually embraces his sexuality however feels pushed aside by Peter, not by society.
In this new production, they seem to want us to now invest in the belief that Jason took his own life, in the same way as these real life accounts of teen suicide.
It changes the narrative of the story to fit this agenda.
As important as it is to raise awareness for these real life stories of teenage suicides relating to their sexuality, that was not the intention of this story.
It felt almost exploitative to use these real life stories in this way, and certainly within the dramatic context in which they were delivered. The names of the people were read out in quick succession, overlapping each other, which was certainly not respectful or sensitive to them.
I feel it would have been better to have completed the story and then had the tributes read out afterwards in full without merging them in any way with the story.
There is a line between art and real life, which I think this production crossed in quite an insensitive way, although I completely recognise and believe that this wasn’t the intention.
This production is being presented almost twenty years after it was written, in a time where homophobia is still a huge problem, and perhaps work like this should be allowed to be adjusted to answer the question we should ask when we watch any piece of theatre, which is why this story and why now?
Bare the Rock/Pop Opera will continue to remain a hugely significant musical to me, and one that I consider dear to me, and although I might have an allegiance to the 2013 production that originally caught my heart, like any love affair, there will always only ever be your first time.
I do though, commend the entire cast of Bare a Pop Opera at the Vaults, and truly hope that this production acts as a platform to project their careers to the same heights at the cast of Paul Taylor Mill’s 2013 production have all gone on to achieve.
Bare a Pop Opera can be seen at the Vaults until 4th August.
Also, check out this video of Liam Ross Mills and Adam Bailey, who turned 30 last week, performing the title track ‘Bare’, courtesy of Theatrical Rights Worldwide.
On Thursday, I was in for more disappointment, with another show I had been dying to see. On Your Feet! Finally opened in London, four years after the original productions in Chicago and on Broadway.
I love a juke box musical, and love Gloria Estefan’s music, so I thought this was going to be incredible, sadly I found the whole show very slow, the set was incredibly basic. On Broadway the show plays to two tiers, but here in London at the Coliseum with four tiers, if you are sat in the upper circle or balcony, the set looks even more stalk from above.
I think the biggest problem with the show for me, is that there simply isn’t enough up tempo songs, it is called ‘On Your Feet’, and yet much of the soundtrack is made up of ballads, with a lot of depressing scenes. The writing and dialogue is very cliché and generally the show feels very slow and very long.
The ensemble are incredible, and are all superb dancers when they get on with it. Christie Prades who plays Gloria Estefan is superb and sounds remarkably like her.
The show is easily stolen by the stunning Madalena Alberto who play’s Gloria’s mother. Madalena showcases her stunning voice as well as incredible dancing and superb acting and brings out most of the emotion and conflict for the characters and this story. I would go and see it again, just to see her.
The after party was in the ball room at the Savoy hotel, and as we were served paella as a band played, I mingled with other guests who included Strictly Come Dancing winner Joe McFadden, Gerard McCarthy who recently finished a run in Tina the Musical.
I also got to catch up with fellow bloggers Jordan and Russell Haugh, and Olivia Mitchell, as well as Madalena’s boyfriend John Addison who begins rehearsals for Brooklyn the Musical later this month.
I was lucky enough to chat briefly to Gloria, who signed my programme and posed for a selfie.
After the party, I went to Balans for some late night cocktails and food with Tom Gribby and Will Keith where we were sat next to the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie including Bianca Del Rio.
On Your Feet! plays at the Coliseum until 31st August before touring the UK and Ireland, for more information visit:
On Friday I made my final theatre trip of the week, to another press night, this time at the Trafalgar Studios for Dark Sublime. Another show that I was eager to see, having interviewed director Andrew Keates.
I met my friend Christopher D Clegg, who has himself produced two shows at the Trafalgar Studios, and now runs Tuck Shop producing Gals Aloud and the Spice Gals. He had designed the poster for Dark Sublime and also designed my pride logo.
We rummaged through our goodie bags which had been provided by the Horror Channel, and I flicked through the stunning programme that was designed to replica an eighties sci-fi annual.
I swapped my seat with Chris to offer him the better view, but soon realised from his seat I wasn’t going to see anything, so spotting an empty seat in the middle section, I hastily clambered over a reviewer who glared at me and sharply snapped as she protected her glass of wine, and complained about having to move her leg to let me pass.
Now comfortably seated, the play began.
I had already got a sneak at Marina Sirtis rehearsing with the cast last week when I visited them to interview Andrew, who I confessed to that I was a huge Star Trek fan, in particular the Next Generation. So for me, being in the same room as Counselor Troi, was very exciting. But as well as that I was very intrigued by the concept of this story and it’s themes.
What I liked about this play is that is portrays the lesbian characters in a very casual and nonchalant way. This story is in part about two women, who happen to be gay, rather making it only about that. It allows for a very natural and earnest representation of gay women.
Jacqueline King is superb and gives a captivating and subtle performance, Marina takes a little time to settle in, but once she hits her stride, she too had some beautiful moments.
Rising star Kwaku Mills is brilliant and brings the right balance and detail to his character.
The play is not perfect, and it becomes clear that it is writer Michael Dennis’ first play.
Although on the whole, I thought it was great, there are a few glitches and areas where I feel the play could have been refined, and areas where I would have liked to have seen explored more. But for a new writer I definitely recognise Michael’s potential.
The set took a duel role cleverly designed multi coloured LED lights within ordinary looking furniture to enable scenes to switch between a modern living room and the set of a space craft.
The flashback scenes to the fictional sci-fi series, designed as pastiche, were the bits that worked less well for me. Even as a sci-fi nerd myself, I wasn’t really convinced by the sense of parody.
After the show, I accompanied Andrew, Michael and the cast along with Jamie Chapman Dixon who produced the show and is an old friend.
I sat and chatted to his girlfriend Tyla, and his friends Josh Andrews and Gabrielle Lewis-Dobson, who had met when they were both in 42nd Street, and have been dating since. Josh was recently in Ghost on tour, which I saw, and Gabrielle spent six months on the film Cats, which we chatted about, as well as mutual friends we all have in common.
The evening finished with Mcdonalds, as I took home my signed programme by the cast.
Dark Sublime plays at the Trafalgar Studios until 3rd August. For more details visit:
You can also see the interview with Andrew Keates about Dark Sublime here:
On Saturday an old friend of mine Jordan surprised me by visiting, I cleared my diary and spent the rest of the weekend with him.
As much as I love theatre, and love making this blog, I felt I just needed a bit of a break, and some time out with an old friend did just the trick. The weather was also gorgeous, so instead of seeing Ockerby at Rada, Godspell, Drag in Soho, and Laura Benati at Cadagon Hall, I enjoyed some shopping and dinner, the sunshine and some bottles of cider and went to Clapham Street party and then some clubs in Vauxhall.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my You Tube channel here: https://youtu.be/faLrmmeFBkE
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-25---Audio-e4h1iv