My Stagey Week -29
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
If you have watched my vlog this week, you will see me don a blond wig and poke fun at our new prime minister.
In a follow up to vlog 20, where I modified Terera May’s resignation speech, here I have adapted Boris Johnson’s inaugural speech as PM.
For anyone who knows me, I am probably the least political person you will ever meet. And at any given time I would probably struggle to name all sitting leaders of the conservative, labour and liberal democratic parties at any one time.
When it comes to my blog, I have always maintained that this is a celebration of the arts, a love letter to theatre, a note from a friend. I try to be as objective as I can be without being disparaging or too critical.
Of course sometimes it the mood catches me. I might descend into a rant. But where possible I will always try to find the best in everything.
I also try as a blogger to be impartial and balanced, rather than enforcing my own opinion or agenda too firmly. But as I addressed in my this week’s vlog, this week has been testing.
On two occasions I stood up for what I felt were important statements to make, in order to ignite conversation and spark discussion. I presented questions, and welcomed responses.
I just wasn’t expecting such strong resistance and such a misunderstanding of my intentions.
I have an opinion and I care about things, and when I think it’s important I will speak up. Partly because I believe you should speak up, even if you’re proven to be wrong and discover that, and learn from it. That’s exactly how we all learn.
This week has proven that people can very quickly become defensive and show their own ignorance.
When someone shouts you down for speaking up, it’s very easy to curve away and wish you had never said anything in the first place.
But every resistant person reluctant to hear or accept your view, there is a dozen people who share it. They might have thought it themselves, but not had the voice to have been heard.
And so I realised, and remembered why I speak up. Why we all should speak up. It’s for the people who can’t.
Although my blog is now seven months old. I am still an infant and I am still learning and navigating this precarious climate where everyone has an opinion and very few listen.
I want to thank every one for hearing me out, the ones who have supported me and the ones who have challenged me, because you both remind me why it matters.
On Monday, after another long day of filming at Pinewood studios, I managed to swing by to watch my buddy Michael play Achilles in the Wrath of Achilles at the South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell where Michael lives.
This is a unique show created by Michel and a group of his friends from Bracknell. They formed a collective and began producing their own work through a company they established called Bedivere Arts.
Wrath of Achilles is an adaptation of Homer's Iliad, and has been written by Jack Fairey who plays Patroclus and directed by Joe Malyan who plays part of the Greek chorus with original music by George Jennings. It also stars Laura Hannawin, Amy Tickner, Tabitha Baines, and Keir Buist
The play had an initial run at Bath Fringe in May before coming to the South Hill Park Arts Centre for two days.
The story explores the intimate relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and is presented very well.
I caught up with Michael afterwards for a drink and met the rest of the cast. Michael is hilarious, and genuinely one of the sweetest people I know.
They next took the production to the Union Theatre for two nights, where they continued to test it, before they take it up to Edinburgh.
It will be at Greenside at Infirmary Street, 3-10 12-17 19-24th August. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/wrath-of-achilles
On Tuesday, I had another long day filming, the weather was stunning, and after getting finished at a reasonable time I went to meet my friend Maddie for a drink, and to drop off her car which I had been borrowing. I then went to meet my dad who had bought my brother and I a new car. My dad had driven it down from Cumbria for us, and took us for dinner at the Turkish restaurant near where we lived.
On Wednesday after filming I drove straight to the Barbican to watch the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I had seen this production both times it was at Regents Park and absolutely loved it, so was interesting to see how it fit into the Barbican's space.
The Barbican had previously transferred the gorgeous production of To Kill a Mockingbird from Regents Park in 2015.
Choreographed by Drew McOnie who got married last week, Jesus Christ Superstar is easily his best work, in my opinion.
I first met Drew and saw his work at Arts Ed, where he choreographed Kiss of the Spiderwoman. It starred Genesis Lynea who originated the role of Anna of Cleves in Six, and continues to return for guest appearances, as well as Dickie Wood who has recently joined the cast of Wicked. I actually watched it with Dale Evans, who is now part of the new cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
The Regents Park production starred Tyrone Huntley as Judas in which he was nominated for Olivier. The show itself went on to win Best Musical Revival.
With Tyrone currently at the Soho Theatre in The View Upstairs, at the Barbican Judas is now being played by Ricardo Afonso. He joins an all new line up that includes Robert Tripolino as Jesus, and relatively new Sallay Garnett as Mary. X Factor turned musical theatre star Matt Cardle plays Pilate along side Samuel Buttery as Herod and Cavin Cornwall as Caiaphas. Nathan Amzi and Matthew Harvey play Annas and Peter.
I was worried about seeing this production, simply because I had enjoyed it so much at Regents Park, where the cast then included Declan Bennett as Jesus, and my friends Peter Caulfield as Herod, and Joel Harper Jackson as Peter, as well as Ashley Andrews and Charlotte Riby he were all phenomenal, and I was concerned that this transfer might have lost some of the magic.
I had nothing to worry about. This show is still sensational, and if anything is better than ever. Ricardo and Robert are sensational. Their voices are exceptional. They are both so captivating and deliver electric performances. Sallay Garnett is a conflicting one to watch, her voice has an alternative quality and delivers a performance unlike any one who has played Mary before her, it's different but actually works, as it lends itself to this new vision of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Samuel Buttery is superb, and like Peter Caulfield before him delivers a showstopping performance as Herod. His eccentric flare echoed his brilliant performance as Leigh Bowery in Taboo, which is where I first saw him.
During the interval, a lady in her seventies that was sat next to me, turned to me and said “Isn't it brilliant?”, she was sat with her two daughters and two granddaughters, and told me how she had taken her daughters to see the original production starring Paul Nicholas in 1972. As I continued to chat to them all, I realised how remarkable it was that this brand new production now resonates across three generations of this family, who were all enjoying it immensely. They had got it right.
The thing I noticed about this production, is how diverse the entire cast is.
When Giles Terera won the Olivier Award for best actor in a musical, in his speech he said “It has been the joy of my life to be part of the most diverse cast I've ever known, ever seen. Our company is made up of as many different people as you can think of, why? Because that's the best way to tell the story. It's not a box ticking exercise”. I concur with this.
It stands to reason that in reality, Jesus' disciples would not have all looked the same, Jesus Christ Superstar embraces this and celebrates it by having the most diverse ensemble I have ever seen, made up of a cast that varies in body shape as well as colour. Not only that, this ensemble isn't just made up of chorus people, a lot of them have extensive credits and have held leading roles in their own right. Dayle Hodge has played Frankie Valli and Dale Evans has played Charlie Price in Kinky Boots. This is a phenomenal cast, and there is not a weak link among them.
But what struck me more than anything, and I mean this with the utmost respect to these artists, is how the plus size actors among the cast not only “keep up” but they absolutely conquer the choreography with precious and flare, without missing a beat or even seeming to break a sweat. These are all incredibly disciplines performers and dancers.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs at the Barbican until 24th August. https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/jesus-christ-superstar
On Thursday, the heat wave that had swept across Britain was at it's peak. I spent the day sweltering at work, filming outdoors with AD's bringing me gallons of water and icecream between takes. After another long day, I jumped into my car and drove straight to the Menier Chocolate Factory to watch The Bridges of Madison County.
This is the 2014 Broadway musical based on the novel written in 1992, that was made into a film in 1995 with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Adapted by Marsha Norman, with music by Jason Robert Brown.
Like many, I absolutely adore Jason Robert Brown's music. In 2015, I produced his show Parade at the London Theatre Workshop, and was obsessed with the score.
I wasn't familiar with any of the music of The Bridges of Madison County as I rarely listen to soundtracks before I see any show. I prefer to hear music for the first time in it's context.
Returning to the Menier Chocolate Factory is Trevor Nunn who directed Fiddler on the Roof that is enjoying a West End transfer at the Playhouse Theatre,
The cast is led by the sensational Jenna Russell, in the role made famous by Meryl Streep. It marks the return to stage for Jenna, who spent two years playing Michelle Fowler in Eastenders. I had seen Jenna recently in Fun Home, and Grey Gardens, which I thought were incredible.
She is joined by Edward Baker-Duly who looked oddly like Kevin Baker, but I don't think there's any relation.
Having never seen the film, or read the book, I was not familiar with the story, but was drawn into it, and enjoyed it, along with the score. The pace does dip at moments, and there are no stand out songs but it is all pleasantly presented. I wasn't massively impressed with the director or with the set. In a strange parallel to The Color Purple that I saw recently, both productions use stripped wood planks with hatches that open to allow parts of set to emerge. The transitions are clunky as they appear and retract, and the half of a pick up trunk used for one scene looks slightly amateur.
The cast all have phenomenal voices, but it is Jenna Russell who steals the show, nailing the Italian accent, and fully investing emotionally into the role. She truly is a remarkable actress.
Also in the audience watching, I caught up with Mark Robert Petty and his husband Shaun as well as Joe McFadden, who once starred in Torch Song at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Torch Song is soon to be revived at Paul Taylor-Mill's new Turbine Theatre with Drew McOne directing.
The Bridges of Madison County runs until 14th September https://www.menierchocolatefactory.com/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=03D1A268-A59F-4331-8098-520DECCB7DAB&sessionlanguage=&SessionSecurity::linkName=
On Friday morning I met up with three women who all wanted to talk to me about their one women shows. Each had contacted me asking me if I would interview them to help promote their shows.
Part of the pleasure of running this blog, is being able to help people, and I am also flattered when people approach me and invite me to their shows or ask if I will interview them. I am really enjoying the interviewing side, and feel I'm doing a pretty good job.
I posted Caroline Kay's interview this week about her upcoming shows at Zedel. Caroline posted on her instagram an adorable video of her parents watching the interview on their phones. Caroline then sent me a voice message thanking me for the work I had put in to editing the interview, saying that she was really pleased with it.
Her interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/0XYSehpHWSk
The Piano Works West End are very good to me, and generously let me film my interviews in their Sing Easy space when it's available. I had booked the room for two hours and scheduled the three ladies to come in one after the other at 30 minute intervals.
I started with Molly Lynch. I had never met Molly but I had seen her in Wasted at the Southwalk Playhouse which I thought was brilliant.
Molly was recently understudy for Dove Cameron in the Light at the Piazza, and was thrown on during previews with no rehearsal. Prior to this she had unstudied Katheine Jenkins in Carousel and toured with Sunset Boulevard. Molly had brought me a croissant and chocolate bar which was really sweet of her.
She wanted to talk about her new one woman show Rogers and Hammerstein (& Me Too) which is a new femanist verbatim piece that she has constructed herself.
Molly was a joy to interview, and I absolutely loved chatting to her about her career and her new show.
The interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/YO9YWDKmS4w
Straight after Molly, I sat down with Tami Stone to chat about the show she was taking to Edinburgh. Tami Stone: My Funny Bits.
Tami trained at Italia Conti and the LSMT, and I had seen her in a production of Metropolis at the Ye Olde Rose and Crown.
To book tickets to her show visit: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/tami-stone-my-funny-bits-1
You can watch my interview with her, here: https://youtu.be/2uRVz1aBf8c
After Tami, I sat down to chat to Marissa Landy about her show The Cat's the Thing, which like Tami is a one woman scripted comedy show that she is taking to Edinburgh,
It is based on Marissa's own experiences of OCD. When Marissa emailed me I had pictured her as an old cat lady, but when she arrived I was surprised to discover she was a lovely young lady. We chatted about her show and about Mountview where she has just graduated from.
To book tickets to her show visit: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/cat-s-the-thing
On Friday afternoon, I was invited by Michaela Betts to watch the workshop presentation at the Other Palace of a new musical she has written with Bea Holland called When the Lights Come Up.
I knew nothing about this show, and didn't even know Michaela, but I was happy to be invited.
The first thing that struck me when I walked in was how the they had reconfigured the seating banks to face each other. I loved the new arrangement. As I took my seat, I was offered a glass of orange juice from what I thought was a waitress. On the stage, a host sang before welcoming us all, she then began to interact with the audience. It then become apparent that there were actors pre set who were convincingly posing as general audience. What we thought was real, then began to break down, as I was drawn into the world of The Aureate, a club within this world that we were being welcomed in to. The planted actors immersed within the audience then began to act out scenes across to each other, and the story began to unfold.
I was honestly hooked.
I see a lot of theatre, and a lot of new writing, and I am always looking for new theatrical experiences. The story they began to tell was about a young girl from Yorkshire who moves to London wanting to become a singer/songwriter. Although yes, this was a generic story, and not entirely original, the way it was being presented was. The writing was incredibly funny, well observed and believable, and the music was very very good.
The workshop was led by director Jennifer Tang, who is resident director on Tina the Musical.
In a method that I have not seen done before in a workshop like this. After presenting the opening scene, Jennifer paused the scene, took to the stage and began to talk to us about the show. Engaging directly with us, Jennifer then began to outline how the show was going to work, and invited us at this point to ask any questions.
It was a brilliant way for us to give them our initial responses from what we were seeing. They continued more short scenes, all of which I was beginning to really enjoy, and then Jennifer assembled all the cast and the creatives onto the stage to engage in a Q&A session with us.
I was really impressed, not only by the show and it's material, and the incredible performances but also by this set up and method of presenting a workshop.
I can definitely see this show developing well, and look forward to seeing more from it.
To sign up to their mailing list please visit: www.whenthelightscomeup.co.uk
After this, I went to meet my friend Sarah for some early evening drinks before making my way to Zedel to watch the Ida Girls.
Having interviewed two of them, and then bumped into three of them at West End Live, this was the first time that I had seen all four of them together.
The girls looking stunning in corresponding red dresses, as they took to the stage one by one with an opening song from The Phantom of the Opera
They were joined by MD Tom Knowles, who had worked with Emma Lindars last week.
I’ve known Tom since I met him at Overtures where he was one of their original hosts. I usually find him in a flat cap, but today he was wearing a black suit and smart red shirt, coordinating with the girls, and looked amazing.
Tom played the piano for the first few songs before the girls then sang to backing tracks.
It goes without saying each of these four ladies have exceptional voices. But it’s also fantastic to see how eclectic their tastes in music are. The evening ranged from music by Elton John to songs from The Greatest Showman and Moulin Rouge.
I posted their Moulin Rouge medley on my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/KgfaWUqZZdw
They also presented an original song called ‘Home’ that founding member Georgi Mottram wrote with Darren J Benjamin.
You can find this on my YouTube page here:
The girls completed this year’s sensational Big Smoke London season, produced by Ian Stroughair.
On Saturday I gave myself a day off, having been splitting myself between filming and theatre all week, I just needed some time to chill out at home. I stocked up with ice cream and pizzas and settled in for the night. By 9.30pm I was bored, and took myself to the cinema to watch Annabelle Comes Home.
On Sunday, I was back in business. Fully recharged. My day started at Zedel where Alex Lodge was rehearsing for The Crazy Coq Presents the Musicals of the 90’s.
I had arranged to interview Alex in the dressing room at Zedel, for no other reason than I just wanted to hang out with him.
If you read my blog last week, you’ll know I have a bit of a soft spot for Alex.
True to form, Alex cracked jokes and spoke candidly about the industry and about his diabetes and manic depression. The interview lasted over 50 minutes, twice what I usually allow.
We only wrapped it up once T’Shan Williams arrived for her soundcheck and interrupted us. I gave her a quick hug and asked about The Color Purple.
T’shan was joining Sophie Isaacs who was giving her own cabaret that afternoon, reuniting with Jodie Steele to sing a stripped back version of Candy Store from Heathers arranged by Henry Brennan.
Sophie has come straight from rehearsals for Cruel Intentions which she is going up to Edinburgh with.
Sophie’s other guests were Emma Crossley. Blue Woodward. Chloe Hart.
I sat and had lunch with all the ladies, getting the gossip from Emma about Priscilla Queen of the Desert and from Chloe we chatted about Evita. Both of which they open soon.
I was unable to stay to watch Sophie’s show as I had already arranged to meet Michael Ayiotis and the cast of The Wrath of Achilles at the Union Theatre.
The rehearsal room had been double booked so we had to resort to filming the interview outside. As the interview progressed people kept walking passed and sitting at the tables around us, which the actors were oblivious too.
After I interviewed the seven cast members. I then went back to Zedel to watch The Crazy Coq presentswith Alex Lodge. Courtney Reed. Emma Kingston. James Hume. Rebecca Lock. And competition winner Roshani Abbey.
The girls were all on great form, cracking jokes and sounding incredible, and it was nice to catch up with James Hume who was in the closing cast of Les Miserables.
They sang a collection of songs including one of my favourite songs from Starlight Express which was cut and is now rarely performed.
The evening was hosted as always by Mark Robert Petty who invited a special surprise guest Jacqueline Hughes and a little boy called Charlie.
Jacqueline and Charlie went viral across social media with the campaign #CheerUpChalie.
Charlie is a nine year old boy who Jacqueline gives singing lessons to. Charlie was continuously bullied for liking musical theatre. In an attempt to reassure Charlie that it’s ok to like musical theatre, Jacqueline appealed to the industry to send in messages or support and encouragement to Charlie.
The response was huge, with stars as big as Michael Ball recording and sending messages to Charlie.
Mark had invited Charlie to watch the show and invited him on stage where he then invited Charlie to come back to the next show to sing himself.
I recorded this which can be seen on my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/Qk0vzXEaIdI
During the interval I sat down with Charlie and told him how I was once a little boy growing up in Middlesbrough who was obsessed with musical theatre and also struggled to make friends. But then I moved to London, and now most of my friends work in musical theatre. I then gave him one of my own That Stagey Blog T-shirts, which nobody else has.
Also on Sunday over at the Arts Theatre history was being made, when composer Toby Marlow stepped in as Catherine Parr with original cast member Genesis Lynea also covering for Anna of Cleves in Six the Musical.
I popped in to watch the finale and got my friend Paul Hutton who works at the Arts Theatre to film it for me from the balcony.
The video is on my YouTube channel and received over 20k views. https://youtu.be/mutxMfAH7hY
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my You Tube channel here: https://youtu.be/wjfE4tT3Av8
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-29---Audio-e4qnga