My Stagey Week -27
Updated: Jul 20, 2019
I grew up in the North East of England, the only gay in a village near Middlesbrough, before internet, iTunes, and iPhones. An attention seeking extrovert, and the son of a biology teacher and a PhD Chemist, I could not have been less interested in the sciences. Instead it was film and television that I obsessed over and music.
Before MTV and YouTube we had the Top 40 chart show every Sunday afternoon on BBC Radio 1, I would sit each week between 4 and 7pm and listen to the whole chart run down, recording songs from it on to cassette tapes and then copy them on to other tapes to make my own playlists. I would also watch BBC 1 every Thursday and do the same recording Top Of The Pops on to VHS to watch back over and over again. Lindsay, the girl who lived next door, would come round, and we would watch my VHS tapes and make up dance routines.
My exposure to stage and theatre was incredibly limited. Trips to Darlington Civic Theatre fifteen miles away, and the larger Sunderland Empire theatre forty-five miles away were occasional. But my early memories of musical theatre came from watching West End performances on Children in Need, and Saturday morning kids TV show Going Live!
I had already begun a mild obsession with Jason Donovan, who along with Kylie Minogue, I watched religiously in Neighbours before intently following their pop careers, pinning up pull out posters of them from magazines around my room, and buying all their albums on cassette tapes.
When Jason Donovan joined the West End production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium, I was desperate to see him play Joseph. Sadly the closest I could get was buying the original cast recording on cassette, as well as the single which he released. Both of which I would wear out by listening to them over and over as I would dance around my bedroom twirling infront of the mirrored wardrobe doors in my father's multi coloured suede coat which came down to the floor. I then began putting myself centre stage in all the school productions.
It was when Phillip Schofield took over as Joseph from Jason, that I was able to see behind the scenes features from the show that he made for Going Live! And again I would record these to VHS and watch them again and again.
I was around twelve or thirteen when I bought myself a Sony Handy-CAM camcorder. One of those first ones with a built in screen that you could twist round to film yourself. At School, I would make short videos and films and fancied myself as an actor and TV presenter and began making video diaries.
When I was fourteen, I remember watching Children in Need, my only insight in to what was new in the West End, and my life was about to change. Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal performed 'What You Own' from Rent which had just transferred from Broadway. I was instantly in love with the music and went straight out to buy the original cast recording on CD. After listening to it on repeat for months, my parents took me to London during the summer holiday, and I bought myself a single ticket to watch Rent by myself.
I'll admit, at fourteen I didn't really know what the story was about, and I'm pretty sure a lot of the references to gay culture and AIDS probably went over my head. But I was engrossed by the music and performances.
As a teen, Rent did for me what Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat had as a child. It consumed me, invigorated me and inspired me. Rent would go on to become to this day one of my favourite and most cherished musicals, and is a show that would continue to feature in my life as I would watch friends and boyfriends play these roles over the years. This week, I watched revivals of both Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Rent. Returning to watch shows you once fell is love with can feel like catching up with old friends, you can often pick up right where you left off and it feels like you've never been apart, but sometimes it can feel like catching up with an ex, that torment of recognising what you once saw in someone but realising that they've changed and it no longer feels the same.
On Thursday evening, it was the press night for the brand new revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, originally written over fifty years ago, and returning to the Palladium after nearly thirty years.
Even before the casting had been announced, and before I started this blog in January, I actually bought myself a ticket to see this. That ticket was for Wednesday evening. I had begun filming a movie at in West London last Monday, and as with any filming, it's often impossible to guarantee what time we'll finish each day. On Monday and Tuesday I had finished at 6pm, but on Wednesday, as I watched the clock approach 6pm, we were drastically behind schedule as the assistant director made the decision we would be going into over time. Any chance of finishing in time in order to make it to the Palladium by 7.30pm was rapidly diminishing, and sure enough I missed my chance. I had frantically text around a few people to see if anybody wanted to take my ticket, but nobody did, and sadly it went to waste.
It was whilst I was on my way home from work, once I had finally finished, looking at the clock thinking “They'll be going into the interval now”, that my car started to play up. Now, I learnt about as much about mechanics from my dad than I did about science. Absolutely nothing. Despite my grandfather being a mechanic and teaching my dad all about cars. The lesson had not been passed on to mine. As the car began to fail, I managed to pull in to the car park of an industry estate and phoned breakdown recovery. “They'll just be making taking their bows” I thought again, looking at the clock as I sat and waited to be rescued.
Four hours later. I was finally home, and exhausted, but grateful that filming for the following day had been cancelled. It meant that I would get a lie in, and be free to attend the press night for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that evening.
I was so excited, that I even went out and bought a new pair of shoes to wear especially for the occasion. A brown leather pair reduced to £5 in M&S, I definitely got my ability to fish out a bargain from my northern mother. Red carpet ready I made my way to the Palladium.
I brushed passed Claire Sweeney and Amanda Holden, and had a quick chat with Maureen and Paul from Sunday Show Tunes and Julian Eaves who was reviewing for British Theatre and bumped into Noel Sullivan. I congratulated him on Rock of Ages, “You mean School of Rock” he said, correcting me, “That's the one” I said laughing. I also chatted to his husband James Bennett who was recently assistant choreographer on the show Ain't Misbehavin'.
As the excitement took over, I took my seat and the show began. Within minutes I had a sinking feeling. Dread took over, followed by disappointment. I wasn't enjoying it.
Expectations can be hard to meet, especially as I've said when you've been in love with a show for nearly thirty years.
So here's the thing, I have to keep reminding myself, this is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Palladium. The home of the recently revived and Olivier Award winning pantomime and variety acts, and in this production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat it feels exactly that, a cross between a panto and a carry-on film. Over the top, over acting, and over exhausted gestures, and that was just Sheridan Smith.
Watching Sheridan in this role, it is easy to forget that she incredibly won two Oliviers. Here she is made to play not only the narrator but she then slips on a naff comedy beard and switches between the two characters awkwardly. Tugging her beard down to remind the audience she's playing both characters by saying “It's me!”. It's less than inspiring, as she's also made to play the harmonica, the spoons and tap. Like I said, this is the Palladium remember, home of variety.
The tragic cost of Sheridan's casting for me, was during the poignant scene where Jacob comes to Egypt and is reunited with Joseph that has had to be cut in this reworked version, where it simply wouldn't haven't have worked with Sheridan as Jacob.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was originally written and intended to be performed by school children, and has a long history of being performed by schools.
School of Rock director Laurence Connor has been given the job of directing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat having recently directed Chess, Miss Saigon, and Les Miserable, The Phantom of the Opera, and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Laurence spoke recently about being inspired having watched his own children in a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and wanted to take the show back to its roots by casting children in principle roles of Potiphar, the Baker, the Butler and a couple of the brothers. It's a nice intention, but let's be honest unless they're your own children, watching children perform can often just be cringe. As well as watching young children wearing false beards the scenes where Sheridan Smith plays Potiphar's wife opposite a child actor as Potiphar just takes it to a whole new level of awkward.
Jac Yarrow, the third year student from Arts Education Schools, who was discovered whilst still training, plays Joseph. A casting which I fully supported. It's an incredible opportunity for Jac whose voice is incredible. His rendition of 'Close Every Door' earned him a rare mid show standing ovation. Despite this, Jac's acting is slightly questionable. Whether this is simply down to the fact this is Jac's first professional job and perhaps he simply hasn't had the time to cultivate his craft, or whether he has been directed or compelled to over perform too in order to fit in with the whole as a show, Jac does over egg the pudding at times and his RP accent sounds a little plummy, especially against Sheirdan who for the most part uses a yorkshire accent which slips occasionally, as does Jason's.
Jason, who I will now come to, was an obvious genius casting, and a huge attraction for me. Having played Joseph at the Palladium twenty-eight years ago, bringing him back in the alternate role of Pharaoh is inspired. If it wasn't for the fact that Jason has recently had vocal surgery to combat the his deteriorating vocal cords. Jason's voice is not on form, although as Pharaoh, Jason only has to sing one song, vocally he struggles through it, although he can still move his dancing is great. His Elvis impersonation is very questionable, slipping into his aussie accent and at times conjuring up echoes of Frank N Furter who he once played in The Rocky Horror Show.
By the point Jason came out, I was already so disappointed by the production as a whole that I felt really indifferent about seeing one of my childhood idols on stage.
As I said, this is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Palladium, and for a new audience or people less familiar with the show, they might well, and I'm sure all will enjoy this show, and find things to love. But, like with Bare: A Pop Opera proved for me last week, revisiting shows that you have such a strong connection with, can often lead simply to disappointment.
I joined the after party, where I caught up with some friends and enjoyed the canapes and cake. Sheridan skipped the party and Jason and Jac were kept in a separate area where I didn't get to see them, apart from a fleeting glance at Jason while he was being interviewed for What's On Stage. I did also bump in to Jac in the Gents, where I briefly said hello before leaving him to his business.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs until 8th September.
To book tickets visit: https://www.josephthemusical.com/
On Friday, filming was postponed again, which meant I was able to accept an invitation to watch The 39 Steps at the Barn Theatre.
The Barn Theatre, once again provided a shuttle coach from London to Cirencester and back. I was joined on the coach by friend and critic Scott Matthewman, as well as PR Chloe Nelkin and Andrew Keates. Andrew had made the smart choice to bring a couple of bottles of Cava to enjoy en route.
We arrived at the Barn Theatre with a warm welcome from artistic director Iwan Lewis, and Aeron James who runs their social media. Producer Jamie Chapman Dixon was away for the weekend on holiday in Barcelona.
Taking our seats, Scott had seen this show several times, where as I surprisingly have never seen it. Or the Alfred Hitchcock film that it's based on, so I had no expectations.
The strong cast of four included the handsome Max Hutchinson, who was brilliant, and effectively tackled a heckler with hilarious effect. I had seen Max in The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Jermyn Theatre and he was brilliant in that too. The performances are all pitch perfect and superb. The play is very well staged, with brilliant set pieces and a superb sound scape.
This is exactly the type of work I feel the Barn Theatre should be producing as they continue to build a new audience base and home in Cirencester.
The 39 Steps also marks the Barn Theatre's first London transfer when it moves to Theatre Royal Windsor from 12th to 17th August.
I gave Iwan a hug and thanked him before boarding the coach back to London. I sat at the back with Chloe and Andrew as we discussed the show and gossiped.
The 39 Steps runs until 10th August at the Barn Theatre. To Book visit: https://barntheatre.org.uk/performances/the-39-steps
On Saturday morning I responded to an email that I had received from Alejandra Rojas A.She is currently studying for an MA in producing at Goldsmiths College, which happens to be just down the road from where I live. As part of her course she is developing a brand new musical called Dawn of Silence and is working with composer Lyndon Samuel who recently wrote Cleopatra which I had seen.
Alejandra invited me to come into Goldsmith where she and Lyndon were working with three actors to develop some of the songs. It was an opportunity for me to hear some of the songs as they rehearsed and chat to them all. I spent two hours with the team and then edited the footage into a video that I called 'Making a Musical'. I found it an interesting insight into the development process.
It was lovely to chat to Lyndon who I hadn't actually met before.
Here is the video: https://youtu.be/FVZu-AgIDNM
Dawn of Silence will be presented along with five other projects during a festival called Embrace in September at the Tristan Bates Theatre.
They are auditioning for four parts in this show, if you are interested and would like more information check out their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/DawnOfSilenceMusical
Alejandro is raising money to help support the project if you would like to know more about how you can help, please follow this link: Website: www.embracefestival.co.uk
Indiegogogo / Crowdfunding link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/embrace-new-musical-theatre-festival#/ On Saturday afternoon, I finally got to catch up with Rosie Williamson and watch her one woman show Eliza Von Poppins Presents... A Practically Perfect Guide to Living.
Eliza Von Poppins is a character that Rosie created in tribute to her own idol Julia Andrews, taking her name from three of Julie Andrew's iconic characters. The show takes the form of Eliza presenting a life coaching session. It's a mix of comedy and music with some audience participation, and is very well constructed.
I have known Rosie for a few years. She writes a blog called What Would Julie Do? And produces a regular cabaret series of the same name.
I have a lot of respect for Rosie, she talks openly in her blog and her cabarets about mental health and her frustration as a performer in such a difficult industry. With Eliza Von Poppins Presents... A Practically Perfect Guide to Living it feels like Rosie has find her niche, in the show Rosie really opens up and allows the audience in to her inner turmoil.
The show does contain a lot of joy and humour, especially in the section where she asks the audience to assist her in constructing new lyrics to 'My Favourtie Things', the segment works really well. The show contains a collection of Julie Andrew songs with rewritten lyrics.
Rosie had already taken the show to Brighton Fringe earlier in the year, here it is produced as part of the Mountview Catalyst Festival which presents the work of 2019's MA theatre directors and creative producers and has been produced by Leigh Spence and directed by Courtney Larkin.
This was my first visit to Mountview's new campus in Peckham, and it is stunning. They even have a pizzeria within the complex.
I gave Rosie a quick hug as she packed away her show, ready for the next one to come in. After that I raced up to the Canal Cafe Theatre to watch Happily Ever Poofter, the untold story of a gay fairytail prince. A new one man show written and performed by Rich Watkins.
I first met Rich in 2013 when he was studying at the MTA. I was co-producing the Singers Soiree with Jamie Chapman Dixon, who now produces for the Barn Theatre. Jamie had invited the students from the MTA including Rich to perform a medley of songs from Rent.
The concert was held at St Giles in the Fields church and we set the students to sit inconspicuously in the front row of the church for the duration of the concert before standing up to face the congregation and begin singing as a surprise to the audience.
I remember seeing Rich for the first time, towering out from the front row 6 foot 2 tall, with perfectly white teeth. I turned to Jamie and asked “Who is that?”, Jamie replied “He's a student, and you're a producer!” reigning me in.
I next saw Rich at his graduation production at the MTA when he played the cooking stove in Stiles and Drewe's Just So. In one of the best pre set surprise entrances I have ever seen in theatre. Rich literally crouched under a cardboard box for the first half of the show before standing up to reveal himself as the stove. Rich then went on to play Brad in Cool Rider Live! that my friend Christopher D Clegg produced. His career mainly consisted of pantomimes before taking a different direction when Rich was cast in the Chem Sex Monologues at the King Head Theatre, which had very adult content. After this and a show called He Shoots He Scores at Above the Stag, Rich has appeared in two of the RVT's adult pantos.
Having seen all of these performances, I always felt that Rich wasn't fulfilling his potential, although he was brilliant it just seemed to me that he had much more to offer.
When I began to see posts all over social media about Happily Ever Poofter, I was a little skeptical at first, as I've learnt to discover self written one man shows can go one way or the other, they can either be genius or terrible. I was worried about which way this show was going to go.
A mutual friend and producer had said that he had seen the show and that it was very good, I also chatted to my friend Denholm and his boyfriend Kane, who had been talking about the show. Denholm had worked with Rich in the Chem Sex Monologues and was now directing and co producing Happily Ever Poofter.
I was impressed at how well the promotion of this play was beginning to syndicate. I was seeing posters every where on social media. Since premièring the show in April, Rich has secured a short run scheduled for the first week of Edinburgh, and began a tour of pre-Edinburgh pride previews at Above the Stag, Two Brewers and the Canal Cafe Theatre, he also performed on the cabaret stage at London Pride.
I happened to be there to video the cast of Villages and Tyrone Huntley, when I spotted Rich and waited around to catch his performance. He took to the stage with Denholm and Kane dressed, (or rather undressed) as his foot men. Rich seemed at ease on the stage, and sounded great as he performed two songs from the show. I was actually really impressed and tweeted both the videos that I took of him performing.
After this they contacted me and invited me to come and see the full show at the Canal Cafe. I wasn't sure if I was going to be filming or whether I would be free, and either way with Rosie's show already in my diary I still wasn't sure whether I would be able to make it. However as Rosie's show was only 45 minutes I worked out that I could potentially catch his show straight after. When I found out that I wasn't needed for filming over the weekend, I offered to see Happily Ever Poofter on the Saturday night and to interview Rich on the Sunday.
Coming straight from Eliza Von Poppins Presents... A Practically Perfect Guide to Living via KFC for my dinner, I got to the Canal Cafe Theatre just as Happily Ever Poofter was starting but managed to slip in. Richard had begun his opening, as I settled in to my seat.
Happily Ever Poofter I can confirm is brilliant, and Rich is sensational. As he commanded the stage and his show, I felt delighted that like Rosie with Eliza Von Poppins Presents... A Practically Perfect Guide to Living, Rich has found his niche with Happily Ever Poofter, a show that showcases his leading man looks and statue, his vocals, and his sharp wit comfort and ease infront of an audience as a solo performer. But Happily Ever Poofter goes further than you expect, it acutely examines gay culture and in a similar way that Sam Harrison's Love Is Only Love does, it sets out to redefine the narrative for gay characters. Happily Ever Poofter is stuffed full with themes and politics yet presented in a very palatable and unassuming way, and fundamentally with humour and entertainment.
There is also a very poignant switch within the show designed and worked through between Rich and his director Denholm which reminds you that although dressed up as a comedic farce, this story has real resonance and a very serious message.
Rich draws from his own experiences and story, at twenty-two he came out as gay, and at twenty-eight he was diagnosed as HIV positive. Both of which Rich now promotes publicly, in a brave and self-deprecating strive to raise awareness and to combat stigma.
I watched both of these videos in preparation for interviewing Rich on the Sunday. After the show I congratulated a rather sweaty Rich as he shook a bucket by the exit collecting money for the Terrence Higgins Trust. Downstairs in the bar, I then bumped into Brett Sinclair and Althea Burey. Brett I have know for years, and Althea I met when I interviewed her at the Union Theatre where she was appearing in Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens. They were both making their way upstairs to perform in Newrevue: The Brexorcist, which I decided to stick around to watch.
Now in it's 40th anniversary year, Newsrevue is an incredible show that presents current political and cultural satires through sketch and reworked music. As tradition a pianist and four actors, two male, two female impersonate a variety of celebrities in a very topical and hilarious way.
I have seen this show several times, each with different friends performing in it, and I am also in awe of how fast they work to not only rehearse and put the show together, but to update it and perform for every show, often adding up to the minute news features.
Having seen this show before, I can honestly say that this line up consisting of Brett Sinclair and Althea Burey, Maya-Nika Bewley and Christian James is honestly the slickest and perhaps best team I have seen produce this show, they do an impeccable job.
The show continues at the Canal Cafe until 28th July For details see: https://canalcafetheatre.com/event?EventId=527
The entire team relocate to Edinburgh where they will perform at the Underbelly from August 1st until 26th.
For tickets visit: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/newsrevue
I grabbed a drink with Althea and Brett after the show, and we talked about Edinburgh. Neither of them have been before. I told them how excited I was for them, knowing that they are going to love it. Having spent ten days there last year, I absolutely loved it, and cannot wait to return this year for two weeks.
While we were having a drink Brett attracted the attention of a very wasted Swedish man who insisted on buying him a drink. As Brett and I later went to leave, he followed us out, and then followed us all the way to Paddington Station where we were getting our trains. The man was certainly persistent, as we then went to the extent of pretending we were a couple in order to discourage him and shoo him away. It backfired when he then asked if we wanted a threesome. Brett had decided that in our fake relationship, that we had been in for the whole of ten minutes, that we were certainly under no other circumstances a monogamous couple, and we certainly would not be looking for a threesome! The man got the hint and finally left us alone.
On Sunday, I came back to the Canal Cafe to interview Rich which I was a little anxious about. Having watched his coming out video, I wanted to talk about this and about his diagnosis, and although I knew he would be more than happy to discuss this, I still wanted to make sure I approached and handled the topics sensitively. I also felt conflicted because I do hold an affection towards Rich, and after seeing his play I have an even bigger sense of admiration for him.
I arrived early to set up, only to find two women rehearsing in the theatre space. I did a quick sootch around to see if there was anywhere else where we could film the interview. Downstairs the pub was screening some sport, and diners and drinkers were busily chatting.
Positioned on the canal, I went outside and walked along the banks to see if there was anywhere else, just as Denholm and Kane were arriving. Still waiting for Rich, we considered jumping over a fence and climbing into a private garden on the canal bank. We all agreed that possibly wasn't the best idea. Just as Rich was arriving I noticed that one of the cafe barges on the canal was closing for the day, we asked if we could borrow two of their chairs, but unfortunately they were packing them away. I then suggested we simply get two chairs from the theatre and bring them outside.
Positioned in front of the picturesque barge, we set up the shot, as people continued to walk passed. This was the second 'outdoor' location I had filmed an interview, the first being with Ian Stroughair at the Underbelly on Southbank. I quite like filming interviews outside, it makes me feel like I am presenting This Morning! with people wandering passed in the back of the shot.
Rich was on good form, despite his voice sounding a little husky from the show the night before. We began the interview and chatted like old friends. I managed to ask the personal questions that I wanted to, and Rich was very receptive to them. The more time I was spending getting to know Rich again, the fonder I was becoming of him. I described him during the interview as brave, which he dismissed, but I honestly do thinking he shows a lot of courage to talk openly about his status, and for that I have the up most respect and admiration for him.
The full video can be found here: https://youtu.be/16fTIuojGM0
After the interview I walked to the Shaw Theatre near Kings Cross. I stopped off to get some icecream and bumped into my friend Pip and his mother. Pip is a producer with his own company Pluck Productions, who are currently casting their next production Karaoke Play. If you are interested and would like to know more, follow this link: https://twitter.com/PLUCKtheatre/status/1151592723507552256
I arrived at the Shaw Theatre to watch Last Minute Musical's production of Rent. Last Minute Musicals is a new theatre company who put together a cast, give them one week, and then put on one-night only performance.
It sounded ambitious as a concept, and I wasn't quite sure how it was going to turn out. Although they were labeling it as an 'amateur' production, they had assembled a cast of professionals, and new graduates as well as some amateur performers.
As well as coming because Rent is one of my favourite shows, I was also here to watch my old friend Ralph Bogard play Collins and my new friend Chris Cadhill play Mark. Chris had been in Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens, and playing Angel was Daniel Inguessan Lopez who I had seen recently in the Associated Studio's production of Sister Act. In that he had played Eddie, but for me came across as way too camp, however with Angel I had no worries.
I took my seat, and the show started. I instantly had to remind me that this was an amateur production and that they had only had one week to produce it in, and most importantly it was for the charity The Terrance Higgins Trust.
As I have said, I was lucky enough to see the original production and several subsequent revivals, and as a true 'Rent Head' I possibly know every word, so it was going to be hard to impress me.
I smiled as I watched Chris, and my heart filled when Ralph sang I'll Cover you, and I was impressed by Daniel, and most of the cast, but although this production had all the components it just lacked the sheen.
I came back to wondering why anybody thought this concept would work. It‘s different sure, but I just felt it served everyone involved a disservice. They were never going to achieve an outstanding production with only a week, especially when some cast had other work commitments which meant they actually had even less rehearsal time. I felt the cast all deserved more.
I chatted to Chris afterwards who rightly felt accomplished and deservedly so, he was brilliant as Mark, and he did say that as a performer it presented a challenge to work under press and quickly which he appreciated and enjoyed. Similarly for Ralph, the chance to play the role of Collins, even just for one night he said was exhilarating.
During the interval and after the show I had bumped into Calum Gavin and Krisine Kruse from Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens who were both here to watch and support Chris, and also Jodie Jacobs who was here to champion Ralph.
Chris and I had a drink together after the show and chatted, before the night took a bitter turn for the worst. Whilst outside checking on his phone how to get home, a group of lads on bikes peddled past and snatched Chris' phone clean out of his hand and sped off. Chris gave chase but couldn't catch them. He was devastated, and it was sad that it spoilt such a fantastic evening for him.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my You Tube channel here: https://youtu.be/THyVoCgkeXA
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-27---Audio-e4m2qp