My Stagey Week 26- Pride Special
You could not escape Pride this week, as more letters are added to the LGBTQ+, more colours added to the rainbow, and more companies induct the rainbow colours into their logos and branding. It is nice to see how expansive Pride in London has become, occupying an entire month now rather than just one day, but remember that like puppies and Christmas, Pride is for the whole year round and not just July. We certainly have come a long way in the fifty years since the Stonewall riots. It is fair to say, the fight is not over, and as gay people we certainly cannot become complacent, and when it comes to theatre, this week has taught me that as theatre makers we also should not become complacent as there is still a lot of work to be done.
It is reassuring to see so much theatre already contains LGBTQ+ content. But is it enough, is it balanced and does it portray us correctly?
Apart from shows like Everybody's Talking About Jamie, School of Rock, and Come From Away, there aren't that make LGBTQ+ characters represented by the West End. Else where you can see gay characters in Present Laughter at the Old Vic, Afterglow at the Southwark Playhouse, and Bare a Pop Opera at the Vaults.
Above the Stag, the self appointed only full-time professional LGBT+ theatre in the UK continues to struggle to represent any lesbian or transgender characters. Although in a move forward, they have hired trans actress Adele Anderson to play Billie Trix in Closer to Heaven, a revival of the Jonathan Harvey and Pet Shop Boys musical. In their studio space this week, they have an all gay, all male production called Boy Toy.
Dark Sublime at the Trafalgar Studios present a lesbian love story, whilst over at The Other Palace, in their main space continues the play Toast, whilst in their studio they devoted the week to a Pride Special programme of work that included work shop presentations of a new gay play with music Love is Only Love, a coming of age LGBTQ+ musical called the Phase, and Unicorn a musical with a trans gender lead. They also hosted the Trans Voices Cabaret.
The Union Theatre also programmed a week of LGBTQ+ specific work.
What I generally discovered watching as much of this as I could this week, is that there is definitely room for more work that doesn't just focus on the G in LGBTQ+, and as Sam Harrison proved with his play Love is Only Love, there is a way of portrayal gay male identity in which no-one dies, or suffers interminably, and which have a happy ending. AJ O'Neill and Simon Lock also proved with Unicorn that you can write trans characters sensitively and authentically without them being cliché, caricatures or offensive, whilst managing to make them interesting, relatable and representative. I will come back to both of these later but first of all...
On Monday evening I went to the Phoenix Artist Club to watch The Stephen Sondheim Society Presents.. in aid of the Stephen Sondheim Society.
Hosted by Tim McArthur these regular evenings celebrate the work of Stephen Sondheim and Tim has has hosted an astonishing twenty-two of these evenings. He was joined by musical director Matheson Bayley who used to teach my ex boyfriend Marc at Urdang and was recently deputy musical director on Dusty.
Performing with Tim were my gorgeous friend Abigail Carter-Simpson who has worked with Tim several times and performed one of her own comedy songs accompanying herself on her ukulele , Lucyelle Cliffe who was recently in Bad Girls the Musical, and sounded incredible. Paul Hutton, who played Jacob in Joseph at Kilworth house last year and was wearing a very tasty romper suit, and Matthew Atkins.
For the second act, Tim came out as his alter ego variety act Sister Mary, to the delight of the audience.
For more information about The Stephen Sondheim Society, and how to become a member, please visit: www.sondheim.org
On Tuesday afternoon, I went to the Other Palace to watch a workshop presentation of Love Is Only Love. This was a brilliant play by Sam Harrison based on his own childhood experience of growing up, loving Hollywood musicals and coming out as gay, something I can fully relate to.
It was superb. As a singer and dancer, Sam set out to write a play about gay male identity in which no-one died, or suffered interminably, and which had a happy ending, and by doing so, Sam and director and collaborator Jason Morell have created a truly beautiful coming of age gay story which rewrites the genre.
Sam plays himself at various ages, and essentially performs a monologue with intersecting musical numbers. Opposite him David Seadon-Young plays a variety of characters ranging from Sam's first love to his mother. I already knew of David as a fantastic actor, in this show he has to go from playing small children to elderly women, as well as gay men. I mentioned in a previous blog how some straight actors fail to convince when they play gay characters, however not in David's case. It was refreshing to watch his accurate and perfectly balanced performance.
Both actors throw themselves fully into their parts, and create a beautiful connection, which is captivating.
As a show, it was beautifully simple, two actors and a pianist, no props or costumes, aside from one apron, and yet I could see every image they were creating in each scene. It truly was a remarkable piece that I hope will go further.
On Tuesday evening, my friend Sarah wanted us to see Brexit at the Kings Head theatre, however because we hadn't booked, they had sold out. Instead I went to the cinema to watch Toy Story 4 which was brilliant.
On Wednesday I drove to Kilworth House to watch the matinee of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with Jacob Fisher now playing Joseph. Jacob had been played one of the brothers last year, and having been promoted, was the only returning cast to come back this summer.
I had meant to see it last year when Jordan Lee Davies, Oscar Conlon-Morrey and Paul Hutton were also in it.
Jacob trained at Arts Educational Schools at the same time that I was there, and has not stopped working since, with roles in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Addams Family, Egenius! And Doctor Dolittle, the tour that sadly got cancelled earlier this year. Jacob should still be touring with it, but as the proverb says when one door closes... go go go and play Joseph and close every door.
Jacob sounded amazing, and looked incredible, if you follow him on Instagram you will have seen that he's been working pretty hard at the gym lately and it's certainly paid off.
Carole Stennett who plays the narrator also sounded incredible, and owned the role. But it was Matthew McKenna who stole the show as Pharaoh, last seen playing Bananaman at the Southwark Playhouse, Matthew's voice in incredible, and he also looked rather fetching in the blue mesh vest they put him in for the finale.
All the costumes were vibrant and modern. The kids who made up the choir were also fantastic, one little boy in particular had pink wellies and was so sassy, he reminded me of myself as a child.
This was the first time I had visited Kilworth House, and it really is a fantastic venue. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful afternoon. The production finished on Saturday, to make room for Cats which opens there later this month. Starring Emma Hatton, I will definitely be coming back to see it.
Cats runs at Kilworth House from 23rd July: https://www.kilworthhouse.co.uk/events-offers/cats/
I drove straight from Kilworth to Leicester, which was only thirty minutes down the road. I was there for the press night for The Color Purple, a co production between the Curve Theatre and The Birmingham Hippodrome.
This production hits the headlines earlier this year when they cast Seyi Omooba as Celie. A Facebook post posted by Seyi over five years ago had resurfaced, in which Seyi openly condemned homosexuality, the daughter of a Christian minister stood by the comments she made and refused to retract he statement. It brought the whole production in to disrepute, as many people questioned whether Seyi should be allowed to portray a bisexual character on stage. The decision to remove Seyi from the cast was made, and T'Shan Williams was recast in the role.
T'Shan most recently played Heather Duke in Heathers the Musical and won an Off-West End award for Best Female in a Musical, for her part in The Life at Southwark Playhouse. T'Shan was incredible, and easily commands the stage, showcasing her brilliance. The entire cast sound incredible.
Directed by Tinuke Craig, it's incredible to see young female directors being given opportunities like this, and the show certainly benefits from a young fresh creative team.
As a production overall, it is very good, although I wasn't massively won over by the set, pushed to the front, it looked like it had been made from match sticks, with very bland planks of wood. Projected over these were scenes of wheat fields and forests.
The Color Purple is a beautiful and powerful story, incredibly well adapted into a musical, which I had seen Cynthia Erivo in at the Menier Chocolate Factory before their production transferred to Broadway and won Cynthia a Tony Award. There she was joined by Jennifer Hudson.
As much as I enjoyed this new production it was impossible not to reflect back to the Menier's, which was so stunning, and I did question why they had brought this show back so soon, or tried to improve on it, especially with such a limited run. It plays at the Curve until 13th July before moving to the Birmingham Hippodrome from 16th to 20th July.
It was a lovely evening as we were served Violet Royale cocktails and home made lemonade. I chatted to T'Shan's partner Rikki Lawton who I last saw playing Iago in Othello at the Union Theatre. I also bumped into my friend Peter who is T'shan's agent, and my friend Kate Parr who played Stephanie in Saturday Night Fever. I also bumped into Liam Doyle, who sat infront of me with Jonny Fines and Jessica Daley.
On Thursday afternoon, I went to see another workshop presentation at The Other Palace, as part of their LGBTQ+ week. Unfortunately this one was less successful.
The Phase, with music and additional lyrics by Meg McGrady, and book, lyrics and directed by Zoe Morris. Told from the perspective of a non binary person who looks back at their school years spent at an all girls school where they formed a band which comprised of one straight girl, four gay girls, and a trans man.
The musical was overloaded with complex characters which didn't allow for them all to be fully explored. Even for the most open minded and literate audience, the complexity and terminology of trans and non binary terms and characters can be a challenge for some to follow, especially for a mainstream audience. In this story they present multiple characters at different stages of their progression, before and after coming out and transitioning, it becomes difficult to track who is who.
Robin Simoes da Silva plays the older version of Rowan who narrates the story. Robin is a trans man who I have talked about before, he was in Spring Awakening and I recently saw and talked about Works of Art which he wrote recently.
In The Phase Robin again plays guitar and sounds brilliant, with the material he's been given. The music, if I am honest isn't great, especially for a musical based on a band. They completely miss a trick with this. While I was watching this I was reminded of a phenomenal show that I saw two years ago, called Our Ladies of Perceptual Succour. Way before Six took over the world, Our Ladies was a musical about a group of Scottish school girls who form a choir. The story presented them as a band as they performed to the audience in a concert style.
With The Phase, the overriding missing element to this story, is that we don't actually see them perform as a band.
Meg McGrady falls in to that trap I've mentioned before of casting themselves in their own work. Earlier in the week Sam Harrison proved it can sometimes work, here unfortunately I don't think it does. Although Meg does have a fantastic voice, and suitably plays a non binary character with authenticity.
When it comes to earning its place in this week's programme of LTBTQ+ work at the Other Palace, The Phase certainly falls in to the category and fits the programme, ticking off all of the letters. But that's its problem, it feels like it ticks boxes and was selected for its content rather than quality. Which is a shame, as there really isn't enough, if any, musicals that feature trans and non binary characters.
On Thursday evening I met up with Lois Morgan Gay to watch the first ever West End Proms in Greenwich.
The weather was glorious, and I couldn't resist getting fish and chips from my favourite chip shop in Greenwich. Lois and I then sat by Cutty Sark and drank some prosecco before going through to watch the show begin at 7.30.
We had great seats in the front section. I grabbed us another couple of glasses of prosecco and the show began. The line up was incredible, John Owen-Jones, Jon Robyns, Ben Forster, Jamie Muscato, Jodie Steele, Marisha Wallace, Rachel John, Lauren Samuels, and Daniel Brocklebank and was presented by Jamie Lambert
Between them they sang a selection of songs they were known for and a few that you won't have heard them sing before. Each of them sounding incredible. It became a really enjoyable evening. They were backed up by superb orchestra and a choir made up of students from Trinity Laben.
There was ultimately something for everyone, with songs from Frozen, West Side Story, Les Miserables, Dreamgirls, and Rent.
A compilation of some of the songs I filmed throughout the evening can be found on my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/Vqd0fz1iJEg
On Friday I saw the last workshop at the Other Palace as part of their LGBTQ+ series. This one, I was already familiar with. Having met it's writer AJ O'Neill and seen Jodie Jacobs perform one of the songs from the show at the Shook scratch night.
Unicorn is a new musical about a trans women who looks back at her childhood. The story also follows her tribulations with modern day dating.
It is brilliant, and as a writer, it is one of those shows that leaves me coming away thinking “Wow, I wish I had written that”.
This story is so beautifully observed and authentic, and feels surprisingly universal. AJ O'Neill and Simon Lock have written a story which is simply about a person who happens to be trans rather than labelling this as a trans story. It has so many beautiful layers which come through as we explore the life of central character Ellie.
Superbly and emotively performed by the incredible Jo Eaton-Kent. Jo has a stunning voice, and was recently in Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse. Here Jo brings warmth and humour to this character, which like Sam Harrison did earlier this week in Love is Love, this is a heart warming story which celebrates it's character identity.
Jodie Jacobs gave a captivating performance as Ellie's mother, along side an incredible flawless cast, including Lilla Hamilton-Croft who was introduced as young Ellie.
The team presented an hour long abridged version of the full two hour show, which left me wanting to see more. Each song and story line was captivating, interesting and enjoyable.
It is so refreshing to see new British writing of this standard, and which includes a trans character portrayed with such empathy and humour, and Jo Eaton-Kent's performance is exceptional.
I really hope this musical finds a home, as it needs to be seen.
On Friday evening, I had dinner with my friend Ali and her mum, who were in London for the weekend. Ali, I have known for nearly thirty years, since we were children, she now has two children of her own and lives in Manchester working as a solicitor. Ali and her mum were on their way to see Everybody's Talking About Jamie.
Meanwhile I went to the Southwark Playhouse to watch Fiver. I almost made myself late, having decided to quickly go clothes shopping to buy some new shorts for the weekend.
Making it to the Southwark Playhouse with only two minutes to spare, my friend Zara, who was meeting me there, was two minutes late and had to sit in the bar for the first half.
Fiver is a musical written by Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees, it has been staged before at Zedel in November 2017 with Jodie Steele, Sabrina Alouche, Joe Kerry and Dan Buckley in the cast.
Dan Buckley and Alex James Ellison reprise their roles, with Luke Bayer, Aoife Clesham and Hiba Elchikhe joining the cast of five.
It's a fairly simple song cycle that tentatively follows a five pound note, and explores the characters it gets passed on to, starting and ending with a busker played by Alex James Ellison.
It reminded me a lot of Lift, which was written by Craig Adams, and starred Cynthia Erivo. It observed a busker and explores the lives of the the random people who happened to be sharing a lift with him.
Alex and Tom do attempt to insert some interesting storylines within Fiver, and although one of the story threads does have an intriguing and sinister edge, to be honest most of it is quite generic. Although the music is nice, and there are some very catch songs, which are performed well by Alex and Tom, who are both very accomplished performers.
The whole company do an admirable job of playing multiple characters to varying success, there is a huge suspension of disbelief required when Luke Bayer attempts to convincingly play Dan Buckley's father in one scene, although the hilarious 'surprise party' scene where they play varying characters in quick succession works well.
The set designed by Justin Williams looks great, and is an enjoyable show.
Alex is one of the nicest people I have ever met in this industry and has a huge warmth and generosity, so I am really pleased to see how well received this show has been. It's really great to see how this show has evolved and I really look forward to seeing more work from him.
Fiver runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 20th July. https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/fiver/
Also at the press night was Jamie Campbell, the man who inspired the character in Everybody's Talking About Jamie, that Luke Bayer played.
On Saturday it was gay Pride In London. After covering myself in glitter, I made my way into central London. My friend Drew Dillion who has written a musical called Villages had brought together a cast of five people to perform three songs from the show on the Pride In London, cabaret stage. The cast included Fiona Carty, Caroline Kay, Natalie Winsor, Ashley Samuels, Elissa Churchill and Lawrence Smith who was on a week long break from touring in Avenue Q.
Villages is a new musical that explores the real life historical events through out time and around the world in famous LGBTQ+ bars. It was presented last year at the Southwark Playhouse as part of the From Page to Stage series.
The music is beautiful, and Drew is working hard to get the show noticed and potentially produced. It was really nice to see Elissa and Lawrence who both trained at Royal Academy of Music.
After this, Tyrone Huntley performed a song from The View From Upstairs I tried to give him a hug before he went on stage but he stopped me saying “Hell no! You're not covering me in glitter!” to be fair I was covered from head to toe and he was wearing black. We posed for a photo with a lamppost in between us. He told me that he had seen me pop up in the Pride episode of Eastenders. If you missed it, I played a drunk gay man on a date stumbling into the restaurant.
The View From Upstairs opens on 18th July at the Soho Theatre: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-view-upstairs/
After this Rich Watkins took to the stage to perform a couple of songs from his new show Happily Ever Poofter! In which he rewrites Disney songs with new lyrics. He was joined on stage by Denholm Spurr who directed the show and his boyfriend Kane Hoad.
Happily Ever Poofter! Has two more previews at the Canal Cafe in London on 13th,14th, 17th and 18th of July, before it goes up to Edinburgh this summer. https://canalcafetheatre.com/event?EventId=77709 I met up with my friend Ben, and enjoyed the afteroon drinking in Soho. We bumped in drag queens Mary Mac, Velma Celli and Portia before making our way down to the Glory stage at the National Theatre. There, Sooz Kempner performed a couple of songs and Alexis Gregory performed a section from his play The Riot Act which he is currently touring around the UK. Sooz then finished her set singing 'Over the Rainbow'.
After this, I went to join Drew in the Soho Theatre Bar, where I bumped into some more friends and finished the evening drinking and dancing. At one point the DJ randomly played 'All I want for Christmas' by Mariah Carey.
I was quite pleased with myself for managing to make it home in one piece, without losing any thing, and was in bed by 1am.
On Sunday, I got up and went to meet my friend Zara. We went for Sunday lunch in the new Sophie's in Piccadilly. It was delicious. After this we went to Hyde Park where we had golden circle tickets to watch Barbara Streisand. We had bumped into performer Joseph Fletcher who was there with his mum. We found ourselves a nice patch at the back of the circle which wasn't too overcrowded and set ourselves down. My feet were still sore from the weekend, and blistered from wearing my new leather shoes all weekend.
We walked around the park, looking at all the food and I was even given a free bum bag from Tinder.
Barbara began promptly at 8.20pm, and oh boy, she was incredible. Having watched the highlights of Kylie at Glastonbury and being so disappointed by her shocking vocals, I was sceptical about Ms. Streisand. Although I had no need to be. Her voice is still as incredible as ever, as she delivered classic after classic to the elated audience.
Accompanied by an incredible orchestra, she was also joined by Ramin Karimloo who sang 'The Music of the Night' with her, after singing a song from Love Never Dies. Lionel Richie then joined Barbara to perform 'Memories' with her. She returned for an encore to sing Judy Garland's 'Through the Mill'.
It was an incredible evening, and rounded off my Pride Weekend perfectly. All in all, I had a fantastic month, some fun, some debauchery, some great LGBTQ+ theatre, some not so great, and as I fold my Pride T-shirt away for winter, and change all my branding back to the original lettering, I'm going to miss my rainbow filter.
I do come away with a new found perspective on how LGBTQ+ theatre should be presented, and how the narrative needs to be changed thanks to Sam Harrison, AJ O'Neill and Simon Lock. Love is Only Love and Unicorn are game changers and have set the bar very high for what I will now want and expect to see from LGBTQ+ work.
And with the incredible work that writers Drew Dillon and Alexis Gregory are also doing, I hope to see lots more great LGBTQ+ work soon.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my You Tube channel here: https://youtu.be/frqHZ-52M1U
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-26-Pride-Special--Audio-e4jdfr