My Stagey Week -32
My feet had barely touched the ground when I got back to London and went straight to the Old Vic on Monday. I had been up since 6am to check out of my hostel in Edinburgh. Being bank holiday, there were line closures getting into Kings Cross directly from Edinburgh, so I looked in to it, and decided on an alternative route that involved catching up with my old friend Hilary. I caught a coach to Birmingham, where I would have two hours to grab lunch with Hilary before then catching a train back to London. It was a nice pit stop and chance to see Hilary and a rest bite for her, having left her triplets with their dad.
It was strange being back in London, as I arrived at Waterloo, and honestly didn't feel like I had missed anything in two weeks. I went straight to the Old Vic with my suitcase, rucksack and pillow which all had to go in their cloakroom, as I collected the tickets and met my friend Che. Che and I were at Arts Ed together before he went on to make his West End debut in the Toxic Avenger.
For once, neither of us fancied a drink, or the prices at the Old Vic, so we grabbed some water and took our seats for A Very Expensive Poison.
A stage adaptation by Lucy Prebble of Luke Harding's book about the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.
I was living in Italy in 2006, and to be honest have no recollection of this incident, and I'll be honest I have no understanding of the ramifications it caused. My limited knowledge of politics lets me down. But I'll be honest even after sitting through this incredibly long play, I am still no wiser.
Directed by John Crowley, I have to say to me, it felt ambitious and pompous. Flitting between genres, it's hard to know what this play is trying to be, other than an attempt to use every theatrical devise possible. It accumulates into a patronising political speech.
Known for his comic roles in TV and theatre, Reece Shearsmith plays an overbearing compere, with a large ensemble who mainly become stage hands shifting the furniture around the fragmented set pieces.
The actors playing Russians switch between speaking English with a Russian accent, and their native English accents when presenting as Russian. It's a theatrical devise often used to distinguish the two, but initially confused me as I wasn't sure whether they were playing actors within a play, or different characters, this isn't helped when they do break the forth wall and break out of character at certain points. At one point actress MyAnna Buring who plays Marina Litvinenko steps off the stage with a microphone and prompt cards and enlists three audience members to read lines from the cards.
Whether it says something about the Old Vic's typical audience, specifically those who can afford the front stall seats, it was notable that each of the three randomly selected from the audience, were all white, middle aged and clearly middle class. This to me, sums up who this type of play is designed and intended for.
The cast of fifteen in A Very Expensive Poison reflect little if any diversity, which surprised me, as recently the Old Vic seemed to be making strides to change and embrace diverse casting and work. Their Old Vic 12 schemes are always very reflective of a diverse selection, and their work recently including Sylvia was incredibly progressive.
I really didn't enjoy this show at all, as it joins the body of work along with The American Clock and Wise Children recently that felt imperious and self important.
On Tuesday, I was at the gala night for Torch Song at the Turbine Theatre.
The Turbine Theatre is part of Battersea Power Station's regeneration, and is now in the hands of Paul Taylor Mills as Artisitic Director, his new appointment since leaving the Other Palace where he was previously.
Paul continues his partnership with Bill Kenwright to produce Torch Song, having previously produced Heathers and Cruel Intentions together, and it also reunites him with director Drew McOnie who won an Olivier Award for choreographing In The Heights with him. Drew also directed The Wild Party which was the first production at the Other Palace.
Torch Song is written by Harvey Fierstein based on a larger work Torch Song Trilogy, that was written in 1982, and later made in to a film starring Matthew Broderick in 1988. It was produced at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2012 starring David Bedella and Joe Mcfadden.
This new version debuted in New York in 2017 and transferred to Broadway in 2018, and cut down the original 4 hour play to just under 2 hours 45.
It stars Rish Shah and Jay Lycurgo in their professional debuts, Daisy Boulton, Bernine Stegers, and Matthew Needham. I saw Matthew in a revival of the play Cock, by Mike Bartlett at Chichester Theatre. Cock is one of my favourite plays. I saw it at the Royal Court where it starred Ben Whishaw and Andrew Scott. Andrew was brilliant, and I remember worrying that Matthew would not be able to fill his shoes. I was wrong. When I saw Matthew in Cock he was brilliant. I remember being incredibly impressed, he then recently starred in Summer and Smoke in the West End.
Completing the cast is Dino Fetscher who has recently been seen mainly on screen in the TV series, Years and Years, Gentleman Jack, Humans and Bananna. Before this he was in As Is at Trafalgar Studios which was directed by Andrew Keates. Before this, Dino helped workshop a play that I wrote called Seasons at the Tristan Bates theatre. I knew even then that Dino was a brilliant actor and would definitely do well.
The Turbine Theatre is being managed by Peter Bull, who has recently left Above the Stag. Peter was on hand to hand out glasses of prosecco before and after the show as well as pizzas.
The gala night was attended by a lot of familiar faces including Tyrone Huntley, Joanna Clifford, Fra Fee, Declan Bennett, Kieran Brown, Frances Ruffelle, Arlene Phillips and Honest Amy, who I managed to chat to for a bit, and told her that I had seen her show in Edinburgh and thought it was brilliant. She looked so different without her hair tied up in a scrunchie.
I'm not able to talk about the play itself until after it's press night on Friday 6th. But I will then update this section of this blog with my thoughts.
Torch Song plays at the Turbine Theatre until 13th October, for tickets visit: https://batterseapowerstation.co.uk/whats-on/detail/torch-song-at-the-turbine-theatre
On Wednesday I travelled up to Manchester to watch Jerry Springer the Opera at the Hope Mill theatre.
Jerry Springer the Opera is written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, and won four Olivier awards including Best New Musical. It ran for 609 performances between 2003 and 2005 before touring in 2006. The televised version in 2005 attracted 55,000 complaints.
This new production is the work of new company Northern Ricochet. It has been directed by James Baker who directed Parade and Yank at the Hope Mill theatre.
Tom Lloyd is an old friend of mine, who originally auditioned to play Leo Frank in the production of Parade that I produced at London Theatre Workshop, and came very close to winning the role. When it was announced that the Hope Mill Theatre were producing Parade, I contacted Ben Newsome and encouraged him to see Tom for the part, I then encouraged Tom to audition. Tom then got the part.
Tom and James then began dating, and went Tom had a part in Yank and is now back to work with James again playing the warm up man/Satan in Jerry Springer the Opera.
I have never seen a production of Jerry Springer the Opera before and so was incredibly excited to see this. I had recently befriended Richard Thomas, and was chatting to him the night before at the gala for Torch Song about the show. Richard had been delighted with this production when he came up to see it earlier in the month.
I took my friend Alistair to watch it, and we chatted to Will and Joe who run the Hope Mill Theatre. They are lovely boys.
I have to be honest, although this was clearly a brilliant production, I didn't think the show itself was exceptional. It was good, and I enjoyed it, but for me it dragged a bit. Because of it's design as an opera, it was very repetitive, with a lot of the gags were dragged out far longer than they needed to be, plus some of them just weren't that funny. A lot of the content was designed and intended to shock, rather than actually being witty. If I compare the whole show to something like Book Of Mormon I'd have to say I don't think it is as sophisticated or that the songs are that good. I certainly wasn't rushing out to download the soundtrack afterwards.
Having said that, this is a brilliantly staged and well performed show, with an incredible cast. It is also superbly directed by James, who makes brilliant use of the space, with the audience on two sides, James uses the cast to mirror the action at points to both sides, so that you never feel that you are missing anything. It's probably the best use of traverse staging that I have seen.
I grabbed Tom for a quick hug after the show. I had hoped to interview him and James, but both were too busy.
After spending the night in Liverpool, I traveled back to London on Thursday to watch Gatsby the Musical.
Produced by Ruby In The Dust Theatre and performed in a concert version at Live At Zedel, the venue provided the perfect art deco setting for this story. Written by Joe Evans and Linnie Reedman who also directs. It had an all star cast that included Jodie Steele. Ross William Wild. Greg Canestrari. Edward Court. Emma Williams. Matt Wycliffe. Lauren Chinery. Samson Ajewole and introduced Tristan Pegg.
I arrived a little earlier after coming straight from the train station, and sat in the cafe area upstairs to do some emails. I bumped into Dean John-Wilson and Dominic Anderson who had come down to watch too, and chatted to them for a bit, while we waited to be seated.
Based on the The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. This is brand new musical with original jazz songs, and it is brilliant. It's surprising that this story hasn't been adapted into a musical before as it lends itself so well to the Jazz scene.
These neatly presented an abridged version of the full two act show, into a compact ninety minute presentation, shaving off some verses but maintaining most of the show as intended. This is new British writing at its best, the songs are brilliant, and were enhanced by the superb performances from the entire cast. Heavily pregnant Emma Williams has never sounded or looked better, and Jodie Steele radiated and commanded the stage. I have said it before, but she is brilliant. Her voice and beauty, goes without saying, but she is truly a tremendous actress and utterly captivating. Every time I watch her, it surprises me why she hasn't made the transition into TV and film, as she would easily suit the screen.
It was brilliant to see Jodie reunited with Ross William Wild who played Gatsby perfectly. The pair worked together on Bare A Rock Opera. Ross is absolutely gorgeous and has recently been touring with Spandau Ballet. It was fantastic to watch the pair again.
Playing Jodie's husband was Matthew Wycliffe, who I used to live with, he had also worked with Ross in the Million Dollar Quartet. Matt was also in the West End in Jersey Boys and The Commitments.
Ed Court was the musical director but also played one of the characters and was superb. I am always impressed when people by MD's who can also act.
I chatted to Jodie's boyfriend Liam after the show who has vocal surgery this week. He seemed well though, and I send my best wishes for his recovery.
Meanwhile I also chatted to Tristan Pegg who I trained with at Arts Ed. It was nice to briefly catch up with him, before he went to drink champage with the rest of the cast.
I really look forward to seeing what this team do with this show next, as it really has potential.
On Saturday morning I went to see the new touring production of Cabaret which started this week at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley.
It is the same production that Bill Kenwright has produced before with Louise Redknapp playing Sally Bowles. She is now played by the beautiful Kara Lily Hayworth.
I interviewed Kara earlier in the year when she was in Maggie May, and she is gorgeous, and a brilliant actress, who I had also seen in Cilla and The Secret Cinema Presents Moulin Rouge. Kara just keeps getting better and better, her performance was pitch perfect, and having seen the song Maybe This Time performed so many times by people at cabarets, it was really nice to see it performed in context on this show, and Kara performed it beautifully.
I was also blown away by John Partridge. I have seen John in a few things and I have always found him a little over bearing, however he is an incredible performer and was magnificent as Emcee. I was really impressed.
The whole show is stunning, the set is minimal but effective, and the ensemble and choreography is dazzling and in perfect keeping with the show.
It is beautifully directed by Rufus Norris, with the ending particularly moving. It's easy to forget what this story is about, and Rufus does a superb job of reminding us. It was very touching and incredibly well executed.
On Saturday evening I went to watch Hello Again at the Union Theatre. With words and music by Michael John LaChiusa and based on the play La Ronde, it is a musical which explores relationships. Each scene explores a relationship between two people, with one character then leading into the next scene, and continuing until we come back round to the first character again. Michael John LaChiusa currently has written Queen of the Mist which is currently on at the Charing Cross Theatre. Michael's music seems to divide opinion, as this show no doubt will, but I actually quite enjoyed it.
There were some moments that didn't grab me, but on the whole I liked it, especially how the scenes transcend time, in one scene we are in 1912 on the Titanic, in another we are in the 70's. This is all illustrated brilliantly thanks to the superb costumes and the great job that Henry Brennan has done with the music.
It is directed by Paul Callen with MD Henry Brennan who has done all the orchestrations. Both have worked extensively at the Union Theatre and create a good team.
It is choreographed effectively by Genevieve Leeney and the entire cast doing an excellent job.
It is on at the Union Theatre until 21st September, for tickets book here: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/whats_on.html
On Sunday I was at the launch of my friend Maddie's new business venture, Ever Enchanted Celebrations.
Maddie has set up the business to provide princess parties for kids and adults, and wanted to test out her show to a group of selected friends. We enjoyed prosecco and cake while Maddie treated us to a display of what she intends to do as part of her parties. It was great fun, with Maddie changing from Cinderella into Elsa and then Rapunzel.
I think the whole idea is brilliant, and could definitely appeal to anyone looking for a fun alternative for a hen do or birthday.
For more information visit: www.everenchantedcelebrations.com
Finally on Sunday night I was back at the Union theatre to watch Roles We’ll Never Play a brilliant cabaret series produced by Tom Duern, where performers sing songs that they wouldn't ordinarily be cast in.
Tom always attracts a brilliant line up, and this time performing were Alexander Gage. Vicki Manser. Kimberley Manser. Michael Mather. Matthew Facchino. Mary-Jean Caldwell. Hannah Grace Lawson. Ross Hadley. Pearce Barron. Alan Richardson. Christopher Cameron. Renee Lamb. Gareth Thomas Evans. Roxanne Applebee. Aran MacRae. Ailsa Davidson. Caroline Kay. Lewis Cornay. Aoife Clesham. Frankie Jones. Brady Isaacs Pearce. Harry Francis and Aidan Harkins.
It was brilliant to see everyone, as I caught up with Caroline, Matthew, and Aidan who I have interviewed before and Harry and Alan who are old friends. All the videos from their performances can be found on my You Tube Channel.
Some of the cast went for drinks afterwards, but I was a little tired and already drunk, so decided to be sensible and just went home.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/mLcDNlrFxJ0
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-32--Audio-e57ik4