My Stagey Week -30
On Monday, my new That Stagey Blog vests and hoodie arrived. I had designed and ordered these especially to take up to Edinburgh, and was instantly in love with them. I grabbed my camera and light and began an impromptu photo shoot taking selfies in them all.
On the afternoon, I then went to the Piano Works West End to interview Aaron Jenkins and Keisha Mowchenko about their new show No Limits which was originally a song cycle that has been redeveloped into a show with a cast of six and will have four performances at the Hen and Chickens as part of Camden Fringe between 23 and 25th August. https://www.camdenfringe.com/show.php?acts_id=2582
I first met Aaron when he appeared in Rent Boy the Musical at Above the Stag, he then auditioned for Parade at the London Theatre Workshop that I was producing. His boyfriend Sam, who he met during Rent Boy the Musical also auditioned for Parade and he got the part.
Aaron had messaged me to tell me about No Limits, I explained that I wouldn't be able to see the show itself as I will be in Edinburgh, but I did offer to interview him for my You Tube channel about the show. The Piano Works kindly offered to let me use the Sing Easy room for the interview, where one of the cast Megan Joblin from the show happens to work, and where the cast had presented one of the songs from the show last week at Sing Easy's musical theatre open mic night.
The interview can be seen here: https://youtu.be/pMWIyowlv_M
After the interview I went down to Above the Stag where I then interviewed Joe Leather and Guy Hughes about their new show The Lost Musical Works of Willy Shakes, that they were previewing at Above the Stag before today take it up to Edinburgh.
I first met Joe when he appeared in Bathhouse The Musical at Above the Stag with my friends Alistair Frederick and Tim McArthur. Joe appeared in a few other productions at Above The Stag's old venue. This was the first time that Joe was performing at their new venue.
Joe and Guy had created the show together, and I had no idea what to expect. My friend Maddie joined me to watch the show and I can honestly say it was brilliant. I was so impressed. Despite a hicup with his mic that Joe recovered well from after he got it caught in his fake beard during one of his quick changes. Joe carried on without a mic proving how good his projection is.
The show is very stagey, with lots of pop references in it, and brilliantly written and performed by the pair. Their costumes look incredible too.
If you are visiting Edinburgh this month, they are performing until 24th August. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/lost-musical-works-of-willy-shakes
On Tuesday, I was back to film some reshoots at Pinewood. We were meant to have the whole week off, but because of the rain one day last week, we didn't get everything shot so they brought us back in.
I finished filming just after 6.30pm and began to panic that I was not going to make it to Clapham in time for 7.30pm to watch Molly Lynch's one women show Rogers and Hammerstein (& Me Too).
I arrived at the Bread and Roses theatre, parking up outside at 7.39pm, and ran up the stairs to the theatre expecting the show to have started. Fortunately for me, they were running late and hadn't started. I spotted my friend Kevin, who I smiled at as a lady offered me a seat next to her. She asked if they had been holding the show for me, I laughed and said I doubt it, I was just lucky. I told her that I did know Molly though and had interviewed her for my blog.
She then said, oh, what blog, you must come and see my show, pulling out a crinkled flyer from her bag for the show Space Age Love Songs. I recognised the title of the show, and asked “Are you Tonnvane?”. Yes, she said. Tonnvane is a producer who had already written to me to invite me to see her show, but had obviously forgotten. I had already had to decline the offer as her show is the same week that I will be in Edinburgh.I tucked the flyer away in my pocket as the lights went down and Molly's show began.
Rogers and Hammerstein (& Me Too) is a new feminist verbatim play that Molly has devised using the songs of Roger's and Hammerstein. She draws comparisons to modern cases of sexism, and uses quotes and audio clips from people including Trump and Jimmy Saville, There's even a brilliant sequence where Molly uses a puppet dressed as Trump.
Molly is a superb singer, and this is a very very cleaver show, she also flits effortlessly between characters, switching accents with ease. Nestled cosily within this black box theatre space above the pub, a few seats were spread across four seating banks with a runway style strip of stage cutting through the room, allowing Molly to weave through the audience.
This play really showcases Molly as an incredible actress and singer and is brilliantly creative. I thought it was superb, and really hope that Molly does more with it.
After the show I bought Tonnvane and Kevin a drink as we waited for Molly to come down. I had first met Kevin eight years ago when I was dating TV presenter Brian Dowling. Brian and Kevin did panto together in Dublin. When I asked him how he knew Molly, he explained that they had all done a panto together too. It then occurred to me, that I must have seen Molly in that panto all those years ago, and not even realised.
As Molly chatted to Ria Jones who had watched the show too, I chatted to her producer Alex Bermingham who I had worked with at the Piano Works West End. Alex was filling me in on what shows I should see when I go up to Edinburgh. I introduced Alex to Tonnvane who had said that she needed some help promoting her show, and I said Alex could be just the person.
Tired from a long day filming, I gave Molly a hug and was introduce to her boyfriend. I grabbed a quick photo with her which her boyfriend playfully photo bombed and then went home to bed.
On Wednesday, I spent the day filming my vlog. My friend Sarah had lent me a blond wig to wear to film my intro in which I poke fun at Boris Johnson. After this I made my way to the Vaults to watch Games for Lovers.
This was written by Ryan Craig who mentored me during the first of two play writing courses that I did at the National Theatre.
I absolutely loved my time on the courses, and learnt a lot, and even made some a few friends that I still keep. Margot has continued to write, and sees practically as much theatre as me. Liv went on to write Anomaly and Gretel! Both of which were fantastic. Fran now works for PR company Emma Holland PR. Suun has appeared recently in Killing Eve. A few of us were supposed to go together to see Games for Lovers, however they all flaked off, leaving me to go alone.
The play was a four hander starring Callum Callaghan, Tessie Orange-Turner, Billy Postlethwaite and Evanna Lynch, who I worked with on Harry Potter, and saw in a production of Disco Pigs at Trafalgar Studios which I thought was brilliant.
Labelled as a new comedy the set was bright and colourful as the cast bounced in, with heightened energy.
Since writing The Holy Rosenbergs and Our Class at the National Theatre, Ryan has been writing mainly TV scripts including Hustle, Waterloo Road, Robin Hood and Musketeers.
I have to day, I thought that the play was terrible and felt like a badly written BBC Three sitcom. The scenes transitioned with an annoying game show like jingle. The hollow contemptible characters were underdeveloped and unlikeable, with a very regressive view on gender politics.
During our writing course, Ryan had shown us several exercises to try and develop ideas. One is a simple exercise where you take two characters and they are only allowed to ask each other questions and reply with a question, another exercise is where each character is only allowed to say three words. I was shocked to see that Ryan had written two scenes using this device. It was bizarre.
The whole play is written in very short one sentence answers, and most of the scenes are between two characters at a time, which makes you feel like you are sat watching a tennis match that won't end. The seating is split into two banks with the stage in between, which adds to this.
For a premium you can pay extra to sit in what they have labelled 'the love seats' which are a collection of front row two seater sofas, these were mostly empty apart from one couple and a single women.
Games for Lovers runs at the Vaults until 25th August https://www.thevaults.london/games-for-lovers
On Thursday afternoon, I was invited by producer Jack Maple to watch his new production The View Upstairs at the Soho Theatre.
I had been really keen to see this, since Jack announced the casting earlier this year. The cast is made up of a pedigree of musical theatre talent including Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Tyrone Huntley, Garry Lee, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Cedric Neal, John Partridge, Joseph Prouse, and Broadway star Andy Mientus.
It is choreographed by Fabian Aloise who has also choreographed Evita at Regent's Park that opens this week, and is directed by Jonathan O'Boyle who has recently directed Hair.
The View Upstairs has been written by Max Vernon, an acclaimed cabaret artist andwas first performed Off-Broadway in 2017. It has been updated and is now set in 2019. It's a timely presented piece, fifty years since the Stonewall riots, inspired by the catastrophic arson attack at the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. On 24th June 1973, the final day of the Pride weekend celebrations, where thirty-two people died.
In Tyrone Huntley's character Wes we are introduced to a modern day 'millennial social influencer' who serves to epitomise and represent society as it is. In the premise imagined by Max Vernon, Wes is buying the derelict burnt out Upstairs lounge to turn into his flag ship clothing store. Whilst looking around the building Wes is transported back in time to 1973, and the day of the arson attack and comes face to face with some of the bar's patrons.
It's a deliberate device designed to reflect back on the equal rights movement and examine the progress made and reinforce the important message that as a community, we LGBTQ+ cannot be complacent.
Without being cynical, I'll be honest I don't think the time travel element was particularly well executed. As a huge lover of scifi, I have grown up watching Doctor Who and Star Trek and love time travel stories. In films like Back To The Future, Marty McFly addressed the absurdity of being out of time, in The View Upstairs the time discrepancy isn't really played on or observed.
The View Upstairs felt at moments an attempt to be The Inheritance- The Musical. But where as The Inheritance skilfully gave us a reflective history lesson, The View Upstairs felt at some points too heavy handed, and defiant. The central characters Wes, for example is at times incredibly conflicted, he is established as a rather vacant, shallow and typically uniformed modern gay man, and yet when he descends into speeches about gay rights he's given a voice and knowledge of gay history which contradicts his character.
As a musical it is also underdeveloped, and is clearly the work of a first time writer in this genre. The structure and through line of the show feels more like a song cycle than a musical, with some great songs but a lot of weaker ones, which overall drags the show down. The show tries to shoe horn too many characters which I felt inhibited any of them from being fully explored and the rapidly accelerated love story between Tyrone Huntley and Andy Mientus feels very rushed and artificial.
Having said that, every actor in this production is next level exceptional, and it is simply a joy to see them all assembled here and to hear them sing together. The set looks incredible and Fabian and Jonathan do a great job with the space and the movement. Declan Bennett is particularly impressive. He plays the role of Rodger 'Dale' Nunez, a conflicted prostitute who is widely suspected for starting the fire. Declan portrays the torment and aggression of this tortured character with bolting realism. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt plays the role of a supportive mother to Garry Lee's character Freddy, with beautiful strength and touches of humour, and Cedric Neal's flawless vocals are truly tantalising.
The closing monologue is incredibly powerful though, and really resonates. It's at this point you are reminded why this story is so important and needs telling. Until the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 that killed forty-nine, the arson attack at the Upstairs Lounge was the deadliest known attack on the LGBTQ+ community in US history. The reality and accounts of the attack and aftermath are described in howling detail, and the extent of how this story was largely overlooked by the media and the government.
The View Upstairs is at the Soho Theatre until 24th August.
To Book tickets visit: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-view-upstairs/
When Jack offered me a pair of tickets for The View Upstairs I had the ever impossible challenge of finding a date who was free on a Thursday afternoon. Most of my friends work in theatre so evenings are generally a nightmare to find a date, but afternoons tend to be easier. Although, I then realised as I flicked through my little book and considered who to invite, that I still had the problem of finding someone who wasn't in a show with their own matinee on a Thursday.
Step in Gary Jordan who plays Zazu in The Lion King. They have matinees on Wednesdays Saturdays and Sundays which meant that he was free and able to come with me. Working in a West End show and doing eight shows a week, Gary rarely sees any other shows, as understandably the last thing he wants to do on his day off is spend it in a theatre.
We grabbed a quick drink at the Soho Theatre before watching the show together, and then went for something to eat in Balans afterwards. Gary absolutely loved the show, saying it was “a phenomenal piece of theatre!! ‘The View Upstairs’ at the Soho theatre is thrilling, moving and hilarious and has possibly the most talented group of actor/singers I’ve ever seen assembled together under one roof. I was utterly awestruck. I don’t get to see much theatre outside of my own but I’m so glad I got to see this.”
I left Gary to go and get ready for his show that evening, and I made my way to the Young Vic for the press night of Tree.
This was a contentious show for me to see, I felt conflicted even accepting a ticket for it and for going.
Tree is the result of a project that I have been aware of for several years, since the original idea was conceived by Tori Allen-Martin, Sarah Henley and Idris Elba, Idris is now credited as co-creator with the Young Vic's artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah listed as co-creator and director. Tori and Sarah are not credited for their involvement.
Tori and Sarah took the bold step on 2nd July of releasing a joint statement putting forward their side of the story. It was met almost universally with support in their favour. As a friend of Tori's, I fully support her and Sarah.
Tori and Sarah decided to create something positive from this situation by initiating a concept called Burn Bright, and established a crowd funding scheme to raise money for it. To date, they have raised over £15.000.
You can find out more about Burn Bright and how to donate by visiting https://www.burnbright.org.uk/
Although I do feel some contempt towards Idris and Kwame for their handling of this situation, and although I felt uncomfortable going to watch a play that had for Tori and Sarah caused them so much heart ache and turmoil, I recognised that by going public with their side of the story and initiating Burn Bright Tori and Sarah are beginning to heal and are making something good come from this situation, and certainly no good would come from me boycotting this show.
I realised aside from Idris, Kwame, Tori and Sarah, that a lot of people have worked hard on this show. There are close to if not more than one hundred people working to put this show on including the thirteen listed actors and thirteen lead creatives. Out of respect for them, and the work that they have all invested, I went to see it.
Tree is an immersive ninety minute play starring Sinead Cusack and Alfed Enoch from the Harry Potter movies who I had recently seen in Red.
The first thing you notice when you arrive at the Young Vic, is the music. It's hard, it's heavy and it's pumping out of the theatre and into the bar, as we're led through. The circular stage is already full, invaded by audience and cast its designed to feel like you are entering a carnival or night club. It's a very different demographic of people. The audience is young, very diverse and full of people hungry for what I sense might be one of their first if only theatre experiences.
Instantly I realise with tainted joy, that this is exactly what Tori and Sarah would want to see. They are pioneers in developing new and diverse writing with a clear aim of bringing new audiences into theatre, and making theatre fully accessible, theatre for all. It pained me to recognise that this is exactly how Tori and Sarah would have wanted and envisaged this project to have turned out.
You can identify the actors who had mics, scattered around, as the audience are then ushered to clear the stage and stand around the perimeter. Alfred who plays Kaelo then makes his way on to the stage, snaking his way through the crowd. The first scene then takes place on the stage lasting a few minutes. I paused for a moment to think, “It that it?” I wasn't sure at this point whether that was the extent of this 'immersive' experience or whether there was more to come. Stunning projections are beamed on to a wicker panel that loops around high above the stage and infront of the balcony where people are able to book seated tickets rather than standing in the pit.
The scenes begin to morph as some physical theatre is incorporated in to the action underpinned by a Dolby like surround sound score. It's looking and sounding stunning.
From nowhere a man took my hand and led me through the crowd with him, I noticed his mic and realised that he was one of the actors and that I was now part of this story. I was led around where other audiences members were also being led, we were then all brought together to form a tunnel that other actors filtered through. Later in one scene which recreated a war zone, mud and rubble fell from the ceiling and covered us. In another scene that recreated a protest I was handed a placard to hold up. OK. I thought. Now this is feeling immersive. As I stood and watched the play unfold, I felt connected to it. I sat and watched captivated faces engrossed in what they were watching. This felt like story telling in it's purest form. Like we were sitting around a camp fire listening to stories being told to us. I was engrossed.
The central performances from Sinead Cusack and Alfred Enoch were captivating and the story intriguing and deeply rooted in South Africa's rich history. The experience continued as audience members were then enlisted to connect ropes that ascended from the ground to create a tree at the centre of the stage. The music accumulates to a rousing finale where the audience are once again welcomed on to the stage to dance and celebrate.
I felt invigorated. I felt alive. I felt connected. This truly was a remarkable production.
As I made my way through to the bar for post show drinks, I noticed Oliver award winning composer Richard Thomas who I had met during the MT Fest UK season, which his show AA was a part of.
Richard had come up to me at the Other Palace, aware of my blog, and had some very complementary and flattering things to say about it. It was lovely to see him again, as we grabbed a table, sat down and chatted. He told me he was planning a short trip to Edinburgh and I suggested that we try to meet up while we are there.
On Friday I was filming an advert for BT Sport with a footballer called Robin Van Persie. I had no idea who he was, but everyone else seemed to get a excited over it. It wasn't too long a day, and we were filming in Stratford which wasn't too far from where I live to get to.
Once I finished I rushed down to the Other Palace to watch Jade Justin soundcheck before her show Everything's Coming Up Jade. Jade is the drag persona of a Ben Handforth a gradate from Mountview with an incredible voice. For his show he had recruited Alice Fearn, Andy Coxon, Jemma Revell, Matthew Facchino and a Greek chorus consisting of Dan Gray, Joseph Dennington, Leah Vassell. Joseph Riley. Ella Young and Scott Morgan as MD.
I caught up with Andy and asked him how his business was going. Andy has recently launched a line of deodorant called Pit with Ed Curry.
I was also able to catch up with Sam McKay from In The Heights. He is now running his own photo and videography services, and was here to film the show. A rye smile came across Sam's face as Jade sang one of the songs from In The Heights which must have taken him back.
I was supposed to be interviewing Jade but her soundcheck took longer than expected, and so we didn't have time. I sat with Alice and chatted about how she has been since leaving Wicked and getting married. She was on great form, wearing a green dress.
The Cabaret was brilliant, Jade put together a really great set, and kicked off with a medley of stagey songs which I adored. His Greek chorus were incredible, singing intro songs for each of the guests. Andy as always looked dashing and sounded superb, and it was nice to see Matthew who had trained with Ben at Mountview, they sang a couple of songs from Rent together. I stayed to watch Alice close the first act, and then had to rush to Zedel for my second show of the evening.
Daniel Downing: Almost Home, a one man show created by Daniel based on the autobiography by Mickey Dean, Judy Garland's fifth and final husband. Daniel had first presented the show in 2016 for the Sydney Mardi Gras.
I first met Daniel on a night out when he first moved to London. He is one of the most handsome men I have ever seen. After joining the cast of Kinky Boots in the West End, which he also did in Australia, Daniel has continued to develop his drag persona Karla Bear recently winning Drag Idol 2019.
Apart from this, I have never really seen Daniel sing, or even heard him speak in anything other than his native Australian accent. He was brilliant, his voice is stunning, and his American accent wasn't too bad either.
The show is a beautiful constructed account of Judy's life and final days from the perspective of Mickey, and is beautiful and heartbreaking insight. Daniel has taken all the stories from Mickey's book and drafted them to take the form of Daniel playing Mickey as if he were being interviewed. The set was simple and authentic with a chair and lamp. Daniel took sips from a whiskey canister, between singing stripped back songs from Judy's back catalogue.
There were moments where Daniel was so immersed in the character of Mickey his sparkling blue eyes filled and he was unable to stop the tears running down his face. His performance was captivating and I was really impressed.
I chatted to his best friend Declan Egan after the show who was here to watch him and Eliza Jackson who had produced the show through her company Lambert Jackson and I told them that I hoped that they do something with this show, because I honestly think it's brilliant, and would love to see it do well.
Meanwhile it was announced this week that Daniel is going to be joining the cast of Kinky Boots on tour.
You can watch the interview I did with Daniel here https://youtu.be/vfNpZbWJ4Lk
On Saturday, I had barely caught up with my sleep, when I had to get up early to meet my friend Drew at Blackfriars station to catch a train to Brighton for Pride Weekend. I was so badly organised, I surprised I didn't miss the train. I had managed to buy a tent and dug out my wings and glitter. Within five minutes I was already annoying Drew as I bounced around with excitement. We got to Brighton and set up our pop up tent, before applying our glitter and then made away into the centre of Brighton to watch the parade, and began drinking.
This was my first time at Brighton Pride, having only ever been to London's. The atmosphere was joyous as we made our way to the sea front to get fish and chips, bumping into a few familiar faces who were also here for the day.
I flirted with the young guy who served us, whose name was on the receipt, after guessing his surname I added him on Facebook, after noticing that he was training at Italia Conti.
After polishing off our fish and chips we made our way to Preston Park, where my favourite Scottish Drag Queen Mary Mac was performing. I continued to drink slush puppies with vodka, as we got ready for Kylie who was headlining. By this point, I was too dunk to remember much of her show. I then managed to get in to an argument with my friend and ended up going back to our tent by myself. Drew followed me back an hour or so later. The next morning neither of us could remember what we had been fighting about.
My hangover wasn't too bad on Sunday, but I was incredibly tired. We had a cold shower at the camp site and then head back into town to have a lie on the beach before grabbing some lunch. We then had a quick drink in a bar and watched a couple of drag queens singing on the back on a truck packed in one of side streets at the street party.
We stopped to grab some cake before getting the train back to London. I could have done with going straight home to bed, but instead I had already agreed to drop by the Zedel, to watch the second of the two launch shows for Unplugged at the Crazy Coq.
A brand new series of shows produced by Shaun McCourt who has had previous success producing the West End Live Lounge series. Unplugged at the Crazy Coq is intended as a platform for musical theatre performers to present their own work.
The series will feature
Monday 19th August 7pm- Unplugged with John Mclarnon
Tuesday 20th August 7pm- Unplugged with Caroline Kay
Wednesday 21st August 7pm- Unplugged with Nadim Naaman
Wednesday 21st August 9.15pm- Unplugged with Ben Lancaster
Thursday 22nd August 7pm- Unplugged with Alex Ellison
Friday 23rd August 7pm & 9.15pm- Unplugged with Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler Saturday 24th August 7pm- Unplugged with Simon Gordon and Rhys Whitfield
Tickets are now available at: https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/unplugged-at-crazy-coqs-2019
On Sunday they hosted two launch shows at 3pm and 7pm.
For some reason, Simon was the only artist to appear in the launch who will go on to have a full show as part of the series. All the other acts were only appearing at the launch. These included Declan Bennett. Trevor Dion Nicholas and Neighborhood Goliath. Simon Gordon. Matthew Harvey. Sarah Moss. Lauren James Ray. Evie Rose Lane. Joe Kerry. Jake Halsey Jones.
Caroline Kay had been scheduled, however had lost her voice so had to withdraw. This was a shame, as I was really looking forward to hearing her perform, and I know that she was really looking forward to appearing.
It was nice to see Simon, whose birthday it was earlier in the week as well as his girlfriend Erin who was helping to produce the evening for Shaun.
Both shows were well attended and the audiences seemed really receptive. It's a bold and unprecedented concept to present all new music to an audience like this, and very encouraging to know that people are here for it.
Stepping in for Caroline, was Joe Kerry who I had met before when he originated a role in the musical Fiver when the presented it here at Zedel before taking it to Southwark Playhouse where Alex James Ellison took over the part.
I also sat and chatted to Matthew Harvey who this week had his cover run for Jesus Christ Superstar, and compared our glitter. In the show he gets covered in glitter, and I was still covered myself from Brighton Pride. Matthew was telling me about his new comedy musical shows that he will be taking on to cruise ships as a guest performer later in the year. I suggested that he does some in London, as I would love to see them.
It was also nice to see my old flat mate Marcus Ayton who was hosting the evening. He was telling me how nervous he was, but he did a fabulous job. Marcus and I used to be flat mates.
Closing the show was Trevor Dion-Nicholas and his band Neighborhood Goliath. The evening was a fantastic showcase for all the performers who were all brilliant.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my You Tube channel here: https://youtu.be/rDy1ykYzN-E
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-30---Audio-e4ua32