My Stagey Week 45
On Monday I was at the press night for White Christmas.
I saw this production last year at the Leicester Curve when Luke Byrne and Sam Murphy were both in it. Luke is currently now in Soho Cinders and Sam is playing the prince in Cinderella in Cheltenham.
Returning with the cast are Danny Mac and Dan Burton, and Clare Halse who was brilliant in the recently cinema screened 42nd Street.
Danielle Hope has taken over from Monique Young and Brenda Edwards replaces Wendy Mae Brown. For Brenda it may feel like she has come home, returning to the Dominion theatre where she once played Killer Queen in We Will Rock You. She plays Martha Watson with brilliance and warmth, allowing her humour to shine through.
White Christmas is based on the 1954 film, and opened in St. Louis in 2000, before touring the UK between 2006 and 2011. It came to the Dominion theatre in 2014 starring Aled Jones, Tom Chambers, Rachel Stanley, Louise Bowden, and Wendi Peters. Randy Skinner's original Broadway choreography was re-created for this production.
It is now choreographed by Stephen Mear and directed by Nikolai Foster.
It’s a wholesome colourful festive production with charm, and some lovely dance sequences.
Although perhaps like 42nd Street, there isn’t much of a story, or a thin one at least, but that doesn’t really matter.
The finale which comes with a sprinkling of snow, definitely consolidates this as a perfect wholesome festive show.
Completely the cast are Michael Brandon, Stephane Anelli, Delycia Belgrave, Sophie Camble, Matthew Caputo, Jordan Crouch, Aimee Hodnett, Michael Lin, Robbie McMillan, Jo Morris, Oliver Ramsdale, Erin Rushidi, Kayleigh Thadani, Sion Tudor Owen, Alexandra Waite-Roberts, Sasha Walters, Matthew Whennell-Clark, Jack Wilcox, Anna Woodside, Freya Yates.
The after party was held at the Mandrake Hotel, although a beautiful setting felt like an odd configuration as it was hard to meander around.
I spent a large part of the evening in the hotel’s basement which had been converted to a press room, getting photos with the cast as they did interviews.
I also caught up with old Arts Ed pals Kate Parr and Sam O’Rourke.
We all then went to Freedom bar to continue drinking and dancing. Robbie McMillan, and Oliver Ramsdale who plays a gay couple in the show and share a cute on stage kiss showed off their dance skills, spinning around the poles as layers of clothing came off between shots of tequila.
On Tuesday I was at The Other Palace to watch the workshop presentation of a new musical called Papadopoulos.
Based on the 2012 film Papadopoulos and Sons that was written, directed and disturbed by Marcus Markou who has produced and written the musical in collaboration with John Themis an Australian song writer and producer who worked with Culture Club and wrote Taboo based on Boy George’s life. With additional music from Andrew Markou. Kevin Frost. George Solonos.
Directed by Tania Azevedo they assembled a fantastic cast led by Anthony Costa from the boyband Blue, who once played Mickey Johnstone in Blood Brothers.
Joining him is the sensation Hiba Elchikhe and my pal Caroline Kay along with Vas Constanti. Andy Owens. Lewis Feenee. Julie Armstrong. Michael Pickering. Johan Munir. Tiran Aakel.. Emily Bull. Melissa Nettleford.
I have not seen the film so I’m not sure how it compares but it seemed to work as a musical and there were some catchy songs that reminded me of Our House.
I think it’s brilliant to see producers take writers take the time to develop new writing in this way by presenting workshops to a small audience. It is exactly what the Other Palace was intended for and should do more of.
On Tuesday evening I went to watch Rage, But Hope at Streatham Space Project.
Presented for one week only, this is the new play by Stephanie Martin in response to the Extinction Rebellion movement and tackles the debate surrounding climate change.
Having interviewed Stephanie and Scott Le Crass with cast members Dior Clarke and Emma Davies, I was already familiar with the content of this new play and I was excited to see it staged.
The cast also consisted of Venice Van Someren. James McGregor. Flora Spencer-Longhurst. Julie Cheung-Inhin. Matthew Romain. And Robert Rowe.
They each play a character effected or involved in extinction rebellion in some way, which is all of us in one way or another. Stephanie has brilliantly achieved this creating well researched and informed characters who authentically reflect a range of people in society.
With one actress playing a young teenage girl and another an elderly lady, the characters span a full spectrum of people.
The play is structured as a series of monologues with each character addressing the audience in turn. The dialogue was insightful and thought provoking and incredibly engaging and entertaining. Stephanie manages successfully to weave humour through the narrative without diminishing the seriousness of the message.
The acting by all is incredible, particularly by James McGregor and Matthew Romain who have a challenging scene that demanded them to be fully committed and convicting. They did this with brilliance, and the results were startling.
This was an incredibly well written and performed piece which was relatable and engaging, and served its purposely superbly to ignite conversation. It really was a shame that it was only on for one week.
It was also my first visit to the Streatham Space Project which has an impressive and large auditorium, and a nice stripped back bar area that reminded me of Soho Theatre.
The play was directed brilliantly by Scott Le Crass who continues to find interesting pieces of new writing and draws out brilliant realistic and truthful performances from every actor I have seen him work with. His direction is subtle and intelligent.
After the play I set up my camera and microphone to grab some comments and reactions from the audience. This was fun and great to do.
The video montage of some of the comments can be found on my YouTube page. https://youtu.be/auczI0X_ZhE
On Wednesday afternoon, I was invited to attend a rehearsed reading of a new play called The Funny Girls presented to a small invited audience in one of the function rooms at the Coliseum.
Written by Roy Smiles. It is a fictional take on Barbara Streisand and Joan Rivers drawn from real life events.
Early in their careers it is known that Barbara Streisand and Joan Rivers performed together in a small off off broadway show.
What writer Roy Smiles has done is used this to inspire what could possibly have taken place back stage in the shared dressing room of Barbara and Joan. With the writing entirely fictional but based accurately on the personas of Barbara and Joan to suggest what they might have talked about.
It’s a very funny play with some classic one liners delivered superbly by Debbie Chazen as Joan Rivers and Victoria Yeates as Barbara Streisand. Their performances are indications rather than imitations, and the pair worked incredibly well together.
Produced by Thomas Hopkins and directed by Michael Strassen, I was also invited to interview them as well as the actresses and writer, and film a section of the rehearsal. This will be edited together for a video I will be releasing in the future.
Straight after this, I jumped into my car and drove to Stratford Upon Avon for the press night of the RSC’s new musical The Boy in the Dress.
Adapted by Mark Ravenhill based on the book by David Walliams with music and lyrics by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers.
With all these credentials and following the success of the RSC’s Matilda this new musical already has a lot to live up to, and the compassions are naturally going to be applied.
None the less, I went along with a completely open mind, and although yes it is no Matilda, is is still very good and I certainly did enjoy it.
The set is beautiful and inspired by story books and illustrations, using Quentin Blake's drawings effectively within set pieces that form miniature houses that unfold in to scenery.
The staging and dance is well choreographed and energetic, with a brilliant device used to simulate a football match using puppetry. The puppetry extends to create a very cute dog that farts to the delight of the audience operated superbly by Ben Thompson.
This, like David Walliam’s books is a story designed and intended to appeal to both children and adults and it does. Within the fart jokes and one liners there is a heart to this story and a message of acceptance with carries through.
Rufus Hound plays with effect the dad, although compared to times I have seen him sing before in Dusty, The Wind in the Willows, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels here his voice does sound a bit crusty. Whether or not that is intentional as a character choice, I’m not sure. Nevertheless Rufus does engage with the heart and sentiment of the character brilliantly.
My good friend Charlotte Wakefield plays the mum and Miss Windsor the French teacher in a comedic and well timed performance which Charlotte is clearly enjoying creating. Having had an extensive career playing iconic roles as Sophie in Mamma Mia, Maria in the Sound of Music and Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which she did brilliantly, it’s really nice to see Charlotte originate a brand new role and be completely free to create something new, and she does this superbly.
My other friend Charlotte Jaconelli convincingly plays one of the school children, bringing some authentic sass and youthful charm to the part as she blends in seamlessly with the child actors.
Oh the night that I was there, Toby Mocrei. Ethan Dattani. Tabitha Knowles and Alfie Jukes were the child actors who share the four main roles with other child actors.
All four children were incredibly good, delivery strong and capable performances. It was amazing how confident their performances were.
Else where an archetypal corner shop
owner and an Asian family are brought to life exactly as written by Walliams in his book. Seeing these characters represented on stage, it’s a fine line between cultural representation and appropriation or stereotyping. Irvine Iqbal and Natasha Lewis do a very good job playing up the humour in these likeable characters though.
Forbes Masson plays the demon headmaster Mr Hawtrey in a typical characterisation that again comes from the original source material of Walliam’s book rather than an attempt by the RSC to mould the character in to the next Miss Trunchbull.
The remaining cast is made up of David Birch, Hannah Fairclough, Max Gill, Ahmed Hamad, Ryan Heenan, Alim Jayda, Christina Modestou, Alexander Moneypenny, Clancy Ryan, Cilla Silvia, Jack Anthony Smart, Jamie Tyler, Georgie Westall, Grace Wylde.
Directed by Gregory Doran with musical director Alan Williams.
It is a show that I predict with have a level of success, a West End transfer and tour is almost inevitable and I can see it running for some time, however I doubt it will ever have the same global impact as Matilda.
Although the score and songs in The Boy in the Dress are good, they never fully quite hit the mark.
The message behind the story is refreshing and it is great to see this story being told.
I caught up with the two Charlotte’s for a quick drink after the show before hitting the road to drive back to London.
On Thursday I was a little tired but forced myself to go and watch A Christmas Carol. The Old Vic. Which I was pleased that I got to see again thanks to my brother who gave me the ticket.
Adapted by Jack Thorne who wrote Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This is the third year that the Old Vic has staged this new adaptation of A Christmas Carol directed by Matthew Warchus.
Actor of colour Paterson Joseph has notably been cast as Ebenezer Scrooge who in previous years was played by Rhys Ifans, Stephen Tompkinson.
Paterson provides a fresh new interpretation and delivery to the character in what otherwise remains the same production.
Fred Haig now plays Fred who was previously played by my friend Eugene McCoy who this year is busy in The Man in the White Suit.
My other friend Peter Caulfield who played Bob Cratchit did not return either this year.
Olivier winner Rebecca Trehearn is also new to the cast assuming the role of Belle who was previously played by Frances McNamee.
Rebecca is brilliant, in what is a beautifully portrayed character.
The production has lost none of its charm since I first saw it two years ago, and continues to fill you with the spirit of Christmas thanks to mince pies and sultanas being offered to the audience upon arrival and snow being sprayed over this in the finale.
The rest of the cast consisted of Myra McFadyen, Gloria Onitiri, Andrew Langtree, James Staddon, Steven Miller, Melissa Allan, Kwêsi Edman, Hollie Edwin, Nick Hart, Steven Miller, Maria Omakinwa, Samuel Townsend and on the night they I saw it I watched Eleanor Stollery play Tiny Tim.
Eleanor is a young girl who was left severely sight impaired after an inoperable brain tumour began to take her sight when she was four years old.
She has since undergone a continuous course of chemotherapy and other treatments which she will possibly continue in to her teenage years.
A recent MRI scan detected that for the first time in five years the tumour has shrunk.
Eleanor is a remarkable young girl who this year shares the time of Tiny Tim with three other children.
Each year children like Eleanor are given this fantastic opportunity to play Tiny Tim.
It’s a brilliant initiative and each year it is truly remarkable and inspiring to watch these children perform.
Eleanor was brilliant, and absolutely stole my heart with her performance. Tenderly guided around the stage by her cast mates, Eleanor delivered all her lines brilliantly and even joined in to ring a bell in the closing carol.
It is touches like this that make seeing A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic truly a magical experience.
Whether I now make this an annual tradition to watch, I would certainly not complain, and would continue to bring people who haven’t seen it.
On the night that I went, my friend Drew happened to be watching it too. I moved from my seat to sit in the empty seat next to him, although the view was probably better from mine.
Drew and I then took a walk along Southbank, where we bought some tubs of apple crumble and custard from the festive market.
Drew has just been cast in the new production of Rags which comes to the Park Theatre in the new year.
Drew came along as my guest to then watch Natasha Barnes in he Finale cabaret at the Boulevard Theatre.
Natasha has only recently finished performing in Falsettos and was joined by Natasha O’Brien who understudies all three of the female parts.
Accompanied by MD Chris Guard her other guests were Lee Mead and Alex Lodge.
It was a nice turn out, as we bought a drink and joined the audience. My pal Peter Caulfield arrived shortly after me and sat with us.
Natasha’s set was a mix of classic songs from some of the shows that she has been in, along with a selection of songs from shows she has auditioned for but not got, she accompanied each song with a hilarious anecdote.
Natasha’s voice is exceptional but it is always her bubbly personality and sense of humour that defines her artistry.
Videos of some of the performance from the evening can be found on my YouTube page by following these links.
Natasha with Alexander performing ‘Suddenly Seymour’ from Little Shop of Horrors
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/6xzRhVOHGv0
Lee Mead performing ‘Let Her Down Easy’ by George Michael.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/vZJeGWmtWyQ
Natasha O’Brien performing ‘Mary Jane’ by Alanis Morissette.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/2IHlqSv7Iz8
Natasha O’Brien and Natasha Barnes performing That’s Life from Smash.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/OiF2oRoXfwI
On Friday 1st December it was World AIDS Day.
I attended a special evening hosted by the British HIV Association with Wallis Despres having been invited by Jo Josh, who I had met the week before at the talk that Wallis had organised.
The evening was described as ‘A multi-media exploration of HIV through speech, drama, music and film’.
After some welcome drinks and canapes, we were led through to the lecture hall where hosts Dr Duncan Churchill and The Rt Hon. Lord Fowler made an introduction.
HIV activist and actor Jonathan Blake then spoke, followed by The Joyful Noise Choir.
Playwright Anita Sullivan was the next to speak. Along with Och Sandhu, Phil Whelan and Bryan Dramiga who are all heterosexual HIV+ Men. They offered a discussion chaired by Jo providing their insight from a heterosexual view.
After this, a collective of creative women, shared their fashion, poetry and drama through a segment they called Catwalk4Power.
Then Michelle Ross from CliniQ and three transgender ladies spoke from their perspective.
Sebastian Street then spoke and introduced a trailer from his new film Tomorrow. Directed by Martha Pinson and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the story examines a link between a war veteran suffering with PTSD and a man living with HIV
The film tells how a war veteran struggling to find a reason to live is befriended by a man who lives each day as if it is his last.
After this The Joyful Noise Choir closed the evening.
It was a very enlightening evening, and was a brilliant opportunity to meet some incredible people from all different walks of life who are bound by their commonality of having and living with HIV.
My only experience and insight has been through gay men, and this was the first time that I had spoken to straight men and women living with HIV. It was a huge eye opener.
Leading up to and following this, I began to film a special series of interviews with people living with HIV in the theatre community.
I wanted to celebrate their stories and focus on how their diagnosis has shaped, informed and in some respects improved or certainly changed their lives.
The four interviews that I made are with four very different men, of varying ages.
They are all incredible people who speak out publicity about living with HIV in order to help reduce stigma and to raise awareness. Their stories are very different, and I was very honoured that they shared them so openly with me.
George Hankers, 26. A musical theatre performer who trained at Laine Theatre Arts and was diagnosed as HIV positive when he was 19. He has recently appeared in the production of Whistle Down the Wind at the Union Theatre.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/k3E6IrTleGw
Stuart Saint, 41. A cabaret artist and producer. Recently took his autobiographical show Misfit Warrior to Edinburgh and was a judge for the Tuck Shop series The Crown. He is Artistic Manager at the Phoenix Arts Club. He was diagnosed as HIV positive and shortly after battled cancer.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/L889Dw-MDLI
Matthew Hodson, 52. Is an activist and actor who has been living with HIV since 1998. He is now Executive Director of NAM Aids Map and Former Chief Executive of GMFA the Gay Men’s Health Project. As an actor he appeared in The Chem Sex Monologues and the web series The Grass Is Always Grindr.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/3Ul_mJKHzdc
Jonathan Blake, 70. Is a prolific activist and actor who has been living with HIV since 1982. His story was portrayed in the movie Pride where he was played by Dominic West. As an actor he has also appeared in the web series The Grass Is Always Grindr and The HIV Monologues.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/k9WMYT3Q7c8
If you have watched any of these interviews, I truly thank you. I am very proud of this series and hope that these videos will stand to help answer any questions people might have about HIV and to encourage people to ask more.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here:
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: