Tag Archives: musical

Musical Review: Grim: A New Musical (Charing Cross Theatre, London)

Keeping Grim (Roseanna Christoforou, far right) company. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Keeping Grim (Roseanna Christoforou, far right) company. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Rating: **


Certainly dark and daring, but significantly falls over its own ambition in its execution.


Grim is lonely. As she traverses the world taking the souls of those who die, she is mystified by human emotions. Therefore, in order to learn more about what makes mortals tick, she decides to become a student at an English school. However, there she meets Cupid. As he and Grim fall for each other, it creates a whole netherworld of problems, not the mention flaming the ire and superstition of the school’s pupils.


Best-selling novelist and newspaper columnist, Fiona O’Malley, turns her efforts once more to musical theatre after the success of her previous show, The Daily Fail: The Musical. Unfortunately, sinking her teeth into a Gothic fairytale does not yield the same level of results. The plot rattles along, quick, improbable and too shallow even for a bedtime story. Nothing is ever fully explained or expanded, such as Cupid’s presence at the school and the logic behind his actions to be with Grim. The audience are just fed everything on face value and are expected to take it. Other narrative devices lead nowhere or fizzle out unsatisfactory. We just steam through full-speed, skimming the surface of what feels like could have been a properly paced and thought out musical. There’s potentially enough material here to last an entire full-length show. Instead, we get a quick fumble of around 90 minutes (including interval).

Furthermore, at one point I was left wondering who the show’s intended audience are as parts of it felt so much like a family-friendly show/school production. Dialogue is stilted and basic to the point of pantomime. If it weren’t for the overtures to euthanasia and characters donned in black hoods, whilst others dropped like flies, I felt I should have been accompanied by a child and dishing out pick ‘n’ mix to those sat next to me.

However, you can’t fault O’Malley for being bold in her remit. Whilst what she’s written completely hasn’t worked in practise, throughout you can peer a little into what she was setting out to achieve: a romantic and slick new musical for generation Twilight. It’s just a shame her earnest ambition has nowhere near paid off in that she’s unable to come up with the panache and substance for this to have been a successful venture.

Music and Lyrics

The lyrics are dreadful. It’s pretty much a sing-what-you-see-but-make-sure-it-rhymes approach. It’s completely devoid of any poetry or inventive language, let alone any wit and intelligence, making the songs a real trial to sit through. If you’re not bored, you’re wincing at clumsy couplets. O’Malley absolutely needs to employ a proper lyricist.

Musically, composer Joseph Alexander produces an incredibly rich and full orchestral score, which complex choral writing to match, produced using some very high quality samples. He riffs very comfortably somewhere between Danny Elfman and Camille Saints-Saens, effortlessly giving the show the dark fairytale vibe that it aims for. Unfortunately the majority of the music is just too unwieldy. It’s technically very well put together, with things like the by-the-book quartet of previous numbers that come together to cumulate in the Act I finale. But there are seldom any tunes or motifs that have a hook. It meanders around a vague musical theme and offers little with any meat on to enjoy. The whole thing feels more like one long recitative, as if Tim Burton had hurriedly scribbled out an opera. It’s a shame, because one song, “I Wished For Someone Like You”, is the only song in the entire production that feels like a song from a musical: lilting, sweet, and catchy.

Georgi Mottram (left) as Amelia, and Roseanna Christoforou (right) as Grim. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Georgi Mottram (left) as Amelia, and Roseanna Christoforou (right) as Grim. Photograph: Scott Rylander.

Direction and Production

Anna Driftmier’s set might look sparse, but it leaves plenty of room for the large cast to go about their business. It’s design is simple yet effective: nothing but a painted gauze tab centre stage. Her imposing Gothic wrought-iron gates of the school is all the show really needs, with nothing else but props and Jack Weir’s lighting design plotting out the scene and atmosphere. So much more could have been done on the generous stage of the Charing Cross Theatre, but it’s great to have a production team who know that it’s best to just do what is needed rather than what’s possible.

On the other hand, within the space afforded by Driftmier, director Adam Wollerton and choreographers Adam Jay-Price and Sam Lathwood manage to make the stage feel cramped and crowded. Wollerton constantly seems to want to use as much space as possible, making the full 20+ cast vie for space. Everything else is squished downstage. There’s no use of depth here or appreciation of the space: it’s very basic direction without flair or ingenuity.

This isn’t helped by the choreography. All the actions and moves are too big and over the top. As well as making the show look like a school disco dancing troupe, the gestures employed are so grandiose that it sometimes forces some of the non-dancing actors to hug the edges of the set for fear of getting smacked in the face by a pair of errant jazz hands or over enthusiastic high kick. It, like a lot else in this production, lacks any thought or refinement; it’s brazen and hyperactive with little art or consideration.


The only cast member that’s worth mentioning is Roseanna Christoforou in the show’s titular role. Even thought she’s not given much to go on from the text, she’s makes the very best of what’s she’s been handed. She effortlessly portrays Grim’s steely inertia and endearing ignorance of human world foibles without managing to make Grim come across two dimensional. Ironically, she feels the most human out of all the cast. What’s more, Christoforou has a fantastic voice which she still manages to make shine through the lack-lustre score, pricking up you ears to her presence whenever she sings.


As unsatisfying as this show is, there are still flits here and there of the DNA of something that could be so much better. It’s certainly bold, original, and ambitious: O’Malley has an idea born from an imagination that could have struck gold, and Alexander demonstrates that he’s a talented orchestrator and composer who can write at least one good tune. But in execution, it dies on stage along with several of the characters. Unless you really want to see this, Grim: A New Musical lives up to its moniker.

Grim: A New Musical plays at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2N 6NL, until 30 August 2014. Tickets are £10 – £19.50. To book, visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.


News: FREE Track From New Musical “Dogfight”

dogfight-poster-3Southwark Playhouse and Danielle Tarento have released a recording of “Pretty Funny” on YouTube ahead of  the upcoming European premier of award-winning musical, Dogfight, based on the 1991 movie of the same name.

After it’s great success off-Broadway, the producer behind the Southwark Playhouse’s most notable hits (Parade, Victor/Victoria, and Titanic – which transferred to New York) is bringing the Lucille Lortel 2013 Awards “Outstanding Musical” to London for six weeks only.

With music and lyrics by duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Time Out New York have described the score as, “Easily the most delicate, surprising, musically satisfying score since Spring Awakening.” In this track sung by lead Laura Jane Matthewson, who will play Rose in the London production, it’s easy to see why. Lilting and bittersweet with a rousing and unexpected middle-eight, if “Pretty Funny” is anything to go by, the rest of the score should be fantastic; especially if Matthewson brings the same heartfelt performance to the show that she demonstrates on YouTube.

Until the show opens, this should keep you going for a while, although the full original off-Broadway cast recording is available on Spotify. Given Tarento’s track record with both the Southwark Playhouse and the Menier Chocolate Factory, this will undoubtedly be a summer show not to be missed.

Dogfight will play at Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD, from 8 August – 13 September 2014. Preview tickets (8-12 August) are £12. Tickets are £22 (concessions available). To book, visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.

Musical Review: Thriller Live! (Lyric Theatre, London)

Cleopatra Higgins in Thriller Live! Photograph: Irina Chira.

Cleopatra Higgins in Thriller Live! Photograph: Irina Chira.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:

Cheap and tacky looks are made up for by some great performances from the leads, particular Cleopatra Higgins.

It’s been five years since Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, died suddenly. I remember the evening it happened: some drunk on Pentonville Road accosted me, loudly lamenting his death. I politely responded, “well, that’s very sad,” and left him to his own devices, shrugging it off as mere intoxicated delusion. So, imagine my surprise when I logged onto my computer to find out that the inebriated man was actually telling the truth.

None the less, this musical revue of his life and successes from the Jackson Five onwards, has been going for nine years and counting, even if it has turned from celebration to obituary. Now, there’s a definite breath of fresh air in welcoming Cleopatra Higgins, from 1990s pop group Cleopatra (comin’ at ya), onto the West End stage fresh off her involvement with the national tour of the show.

Direction & Choreography

Director and choreographer Gary Lloyd, makes great use of not only the main stage area, but also the set’s various levels, filling it with movement and spectacle. Whilst overall it looks great and the dance troupe perform with gusto and panache that gives a real sense of octane and energy. The problem is that many moments just feel a little too copied from Jackson’s various videos and movie. But that’s always going to be the problem with this type of show: celebration treads a fine line between it and imitation. It’s difficult to be wowed when you’ve seen it all before, but then you can’t exactly not reproduce some of these iconic bits of choreography.


I personally have a very grim view of video screens in any production. Unfortunately, the prolific use of them in Thrillier Live! just serves to reinforce my bias. The ones here make the entire production look cheap and tacky. The graphics are lazy and uninspired, and also look awful due to the lack of definition due to their scale. The animations for the show’s titular number looked more like something off of the Nintendo’s Just Dance videogame, rather than something which is supposed to be of West End grade and show-stopping.

What makes these heinous pieces of technology even more unwanted is the fact that most other aspects of the production render them unnecessary. Costumes provided by Shooting Flowers are dazzling and colourful, illuminating the stage more effectively than these digital disgraces. Lloyd’s choreography also adds more motion and flair than the tacky moving images. The cast, too, bring a sense of presence and showmanship that steal the limelight away from the screens. All this show needs is the good lighting designed already provided by Nigel Catmur. The screens only serve to detriment and distract and really need to have something thrown at them: preferably in the style of Macintosh’s 1984 advert.


Higgins is billed as the main draw and she certainly does not disappoint. She brings a heady injection of the power and glamour with her fantastic voice and bubbling charisma: all that made her a success on BBC’s talent show The Voice. What is most endearing is that she wholly makes every song she’s involved in her own, embodying the true spirit of celebration that the show is really about. She is astonishing and a joy to watch, holding the entire audience for entire songs at a time without ever tiring or faltering.

Thriller Live!'s previous ensemble. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Thriller Live!’s previous ensemble. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

The other leads also do well to follow suit. Ricardo Afonso provides the show with a few gob-smacking belters that are pretty unbelievable to behold. Indeed, each lead brings their own personality and charismatic quality to their parts.

The only time that the leads don’t quite work their magic and their talent into the show is when they’re trying to be Jackson. It’s impossible to replicate MJ’s character and mojo, so why try? This is most apparent in our young Jackson, played on this particular evening by Kyle Johnson.  Johnson’s performance came across as a little stale, especially sized up against readily available footage of Jackson as his young virtuoso self. Whilst Johnson’s efforts should certainly be applauded, you can’t help but feel disappointed knowing that he’s come up short of expectations. The same can be said about David Jordan who, whilst executing Jackson’s signature dance moves with precise perfection, they just feel hollow by comparison to the legend himself.


The problem with this show is that it’s stuck somewhere between homage and emulation, not to mention marred by some terrible production choices. But it’s the moments of homage that work best and worth seeing the show for. Whilst the emulations just feel like mere reproduction, missing the undeniable sheen of the original.

But whether you’re a big MJ fan or not, what certainly shines through are the spectacular, memorable, and personal tributes to Jackson from its leads. Thriller Live! is by no means a show you should rush to buy a ticket for, but if you find yourself there, then there’s still plenty to look forward to by way of some great moments, and overall it’s still an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Thriller Live! is currently playing at the Lyric Theatre, London, W1D 7ES. Tickets are £27.50 -£65. To book, visit www.nimaxtheatres.com/lyric-theatre/thriller_live

Musical Review: Fashion Victim – The Musical! (The Cinema Museum, London)

Rosie Glossop (centre) as Mimi Steele. Photograph: Alex Carr.

Rosie Glossop (centre) as Mimi Steel. Photograph: Alex Carr.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell

It might stumble a little on the catwalk, but its wit, sense of fun, and fierce compere makes this an incredibly entertaining evening.


Fashion: dazzling, daring, and fickle. As it’s an industry so full of divas and drama it’s no surprise that it makes for a good subject for a musical. It’s no further surprise that, capitalising on this, Fashion Victim – The Musical! is full of as much pizzazz and punch as Naomi Campbell’s mobile.

After the success of the earlier Edinburgh Fringe version, writer Toby Rose has made alterations and accessorised Fashion Victim – The Musical! for a London debut, having interestingly resorted to crowdsourcing for the funds to build a custom catwalk and hire a suitable venue for the venture. Ending up in the little known but none the less stunning space of London’s The Cinema Museum, is the result more Prada than Primark?


Rose is no stranger to outrageous camp wit, especially being the founder of the Palm Dog Award: a prize for the best canine performance in film. Consequently, Rose’s writing is full of unabashed satire and vicious pokes that are aimed not only at the fashion industry but pop culture as a whole, meaning there are plenty of punch lines and gags to keep you chortling. Those less fashionably inclined might miss a few of the references, but nothing is really so obscure that it would go over too many people’s heads.

Therefore, it’s as shame the thrust of the story is as shallow as the industry it’s sending up. A thinly veiled and pedestrian cautionary tale, it doesn’t really offer anything deep or original. In fact, because of this Rose doesn’t quite manage to keep up the octane of the show as it sashays towards an all too predictable conclusion. But thankfully, its overall humour, production values, and cast makes up in bounds for what the plot lacks.


Cayelan Mendoza pens a score that has variety and energy, managing to capture the anarchic chic of the show. Admittedly, whilst there isn’t really anything you’ll come away humming, none of the songs feel third rate or uninspired. Indeed, if you pay close enough attention to the lyrics, there’s a definite intelligence and sharpness: the only thing that really fleshes out otherwise ordinary characters and story.


Rose has managed to pull out all the stops in getting a top-notch creative team on board for Fashion Victim – The Musical!. Director Robert McWhir (also Artistic Director of the celebrated Landor Theatre) works incredibly well with TV choreographer Ryan Jenkins to fill the catwalk with colourful action and scintillating dance. But it’s great to see McWhir spend as much attention to bits that happen as asides and off the stage, giving the whole show a real sense of spontaneous cabaret which bolsters its sense of unbridled fun.

Richard Lambert’s lighting design also adds some unexpected nuance, particularly through his use of spotlight, paying a quiet homage to the venue, even if, on the surface of things, they seem a little juxtaposed.

James Wilkinson as Cedric Chevallier. Photograph: Alex Carr.

James Wilkinson as Cedric Chevallier. Photograph: Alex Carr.


As the vivacious and devious Mimi Steel, Rosie Glossop finds time within the production to wow the audience with the sheer power of her brilliant voice. Yet, it’s a shame that these are but small moments that allow her talent to shine as the writing of her character doesn’t make full use of her abilities. However, alongside our hero James Wilkinson as French male-model superstar Cedric Chevallier, they both bounce a keen sense of joyous pantomime against each other to great comic effect.

On Wilkinson’s part, again the superficiality of his character doesn’t allow a proper glimpse into any talent he may have. It’s also a little disappointing that he finds it difficult to project his singing voice in the lower range of his register, even though mic-ed up, meaning that his one big solo number is lost among the music. But when he’s singing higher in his range in some fab little duets with Glossop, and/or when he gets his shirt off (see picture), he is certainly forgiven.

Yet it’s really Carl Mullaney that really steals the show. As host, narrator, and compere for the evening, Mullaney is the real star at the helm, piloting the show at full steam ahead. Feeding off the audience’s energy and reactions as well as interjecting with a litter of marvellously knowing quips, it’s worth going to see Fashion Victim – The Musical! just for his company and entertainment alone.


It’s hardly high theatre, but it’s wholly entertaining. It’s camp catwalk kitsch at its best, and if it’s a carefree and laugh-a-minute evening you’re after then you should be killing for a ticket for Fashion Victim – The Musical! 

Fashion Victim – The Musical! plays at The Cinema Museum, London, SE11 4TH, until 5 July 2014. Tickets are £10-£20. To book visit www.fashionvictimthemusical.com

Theatre Review: Avenue Q (Greenwich Theatre, London)

Felt Friends. The cast of Avenue Q> Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Felt Friends. The cast of Avenue Q. Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Rating: ****

Avenue Q is probably one of the most outrageous of modern musicals, earning itself pride and praise alongside other risqué and brilliant ventures such as The Book of Mormon and Jerry Springer: The Opera. Five years after a spectacular run in the West End following on from its New York and Tony “Triple Crown” (Best Book, Best Musical, and Best Score), it returns to UK shores in this touring production by Sell A Door, landing in Greenwich for a brief period as its first stop.

Book and Songs

Book writer Jeff Whitty has his sights set to kill, with the nostalgia of innocence surrounding our memories of Sesame Street and other such shows right in his line of vision. Essentially, the musical asks, “what happens when puppets grow up?” The answer is they drink, they swear, and they fuck, with as much aplomb as us of non-felt origin do. Yet Whitty’s genius is that despite the very adult situations these fuzzy friends find themselves in, there’s still a definite air of children’s TV’s charm. It’s a devastating wit that drives the show, with the juxtaposition of explicit scenes and offence against a puppy-eyed Jackanory demeanour causing laughs and surprises that constantly come thick and fast.

Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx supply an anthology of songs that complement Whitty’s vision to a T. Whether it’s a jolly ditty about how, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, to explaining the joys of, “Schadenfreude” and how, “The Internet is for Porn”, all are smart, slick, and tuneful. But most importantly, they’re incredibly catchy and so easy to pick up. If you still have enough wind left in you from all the laughter you’ll be singing them out loud for days to come (but perhaps not in the office).


Being a touring production, those who managed to catch the show during its West End residency, will notice that the set is much smaller and not as polished. But this doesn’t really matter as it’s Cressida Carré’s direction of the talented cast that shines through, making the set just a means to an end. Carré ensures that there’s plenty of energy throughout the show, letting the brilliant book, lyrics, and songs do the talking through an excellent cast. It’s noticeably pared down by way of staging, but the creative team make sure that not one ounce of the show itself suffers.


At the beginning, the fact that the cast controlling puppets are clearly visible is a bit of a distraction. As the puppets themselves are only formed from the waist up, it’s a little difficult to suspend your disbelief at first. But then something magical happens. You stop noticing the actors altogether.

Tom Steedon, playing Princetown and Rod, breathes excellent life into his to characters. Even if you just can’t see the puppets without seeing him at the same time, his larger than life facial expressions and the charismatic sass in his physicality make him a joy to watch. However, his leading partner, Lucie-Mae Sumner, playing Kate and Lucy the Slut, manages to do something quite magical. At points she and puppet meld as one, with both her and felt counterpart behaving in unity, complementing each other. Add that to her impeccable comic timing, and a wonderfully smooth and clear voice, she steals the show.

The rest of the cast, both puppeteers and non-puppet wielding ones also match Sumner’s and Steedon’s energy, pace, and comedy, working brilliantly as an ensemble. All revel in the humour and unabashed joy of the musical itself, and it shows.


Up yours...literally! Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

Up yours…literally! Photograph: Courtesy of the production.

It’s great to see that despite it being a touring version, it seems that nothing has been lost from the standard of the original West End production. Having personally seen it before, I’d actually wager that it’s a little better, especially as some of the scenes seem to be played even more gloriously over the top than before.

Whether you caught it the first time around, or have still to pop your puppet cherry, it’s a hoot. First timers can expect to have their funny bones broken, let alone tickled, and for those returning to the show will delight in just how high the standard of this production is. They’ll also be reminded of just how tight and well written the rest of the show is outside of the songs and moments people tend to remember the most.

The only criticism is that it doesn’t feel as fresh anymore. With the original off-Broadway production pipping Team America to the post by a single year, sending up childhood staples in a humorous and X-rated haze has become more common place over the past decade. Therefore, this not as shocking as it was when the show was in its prime.

But overall, Avenue Q is as vulgar, foul mouthed, and outlandish as it ever was. You’d be a muppet to miss it!

Avenue Q runs at the Greenwich Theatre, London, until 11 May 2014. Tickets are £17-£25 (concessions available). To book, visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk. For more information about the show, and other touring dates, visit http://avenuequk.com.

Theatre Review: Best of Friends (Landor Theatre, London)

Aidan O'Neill as Mike Chariot. Photograph: Matt Cocklin LRPS

Aidan O’Neill as Mike Chariot. Photograph: Matt Cocklin LRPS

Rating: ***

Best of Friends was almost the new musical that never happened. Originally billed to go on at Arts Theatre last year as The Golden Voice, with a cast of 20+ and none other than Darren Day in the lead, the production crumbled due to fraud. However, where there’s a will there’s a way, and a year later it’s now up and running at the Landor Theatre, albeit as a much smaller show.

Jim (Nick Fogarty) and Mike (Aidan O’Neill) have started a band at their local youth club. But, lusting for fame and fortune, Mike abandons his musical partner to appear on TV talent show, “The Face & The Voice”. But success isn’t quite what Mike expects. 20 years on, he returns from obscurity to set up a music school, which indirectly reunites him with Jim. But Jim’s life has seen him plunge into London’s criminal underground. Is this a chance for Mike’s redemption or Jim’s revenge? And about the big secret his estranged ex-lover Natalie (Rosie Glossop) has kept from him?


If you didn’t know that this was supposed to be a bigger off-West End show, you certainly wouldn’t have thought it as it doesn’t look at all out of place on the fringe. The set does well to turn the cosy space at the Landor into the grimy backstage of some forsaken gig-venue, with scruffy graffiti scribbled across the black back wall. A clutter of what seem like ordinary flight boxes are actually custom bits of flexible and mobile set pieces which enable director Robert McWhir to prevent the show from being static and visually bland, despite concessions being made by way of the set. Richard Lambert’s lighting design also adds surprising injections of colour and timbre despite the stage’s decidedly monochrome look.

There are some moments of the show that you can imagine working well as the all singing and dancing production it had originally planned to be. But McWhir, throughout, ensures that nothing actually feels reduced, missing, or removed.

However, Maximilien Spielbichler’s video designs, displayed on several computer screens scattered around the stage, seem to distract rather than add. This is especially true when a couple of the animations don’t loop as smoothly as they should, making them look cheaper than they probably are. In other places, the animated graphics have little impact on a scene; the number of screens not quite being able to make up for their lack of scale like those you see on real life TV talent shows. Because of this, these ultimately feel unnecessary and out of place, except for one well-placed reel of fake news broadcasts, which could probably been done just as well as fake radio broadcasts.

Nick Fogarty (left) and Aidan O'Neill (right). Photograph: Matt Cocklin LRPS

Nick Fogarty (left) and Aidan O’Neill (right). Photograph: Matt Cocklin LRPS

Music and Book

Fogarty has certainly penned some rather notable numbers in this musical. There are several songs that pack a punch, such as “Stay”, which Sarah Goggin uses as a vehicle to apex her already strong performance. However, there are other songs where you feel Fogarty doesn’t quite have as much heart in them compared to the others, and they end up feeling transient as the scenes they’re in.

Also, as first and foremost a musician, Fogarty certainly isn’t much of a book writer. The character dialogue is consistently clumsy and unconvincing, and the narrative suffers not only from uneven pacing, but a depth that’s as shallow and empty as the industry it’s trying to send up. However, the rivalry between Jim and Mike, and 19 year-old hangover of his relationship with Natalie, has enough intrigue and drama to stop it from being forgettable, even if it’s a story many may have seen before.


The decision to have Fogarty have a finger in yet another pie by playing the villain of the piece, is an ill-judged one. Whilst this may well be as a result of the cuts the show has had to make, it’s difficult to feel intimidated by someone who comes across more Dyck Van Dyke than Grant Mitchell. This robs the danger and urgency his character’s spite places our hero in, which could have really lifted the writing otherwise.

Thankfully the rest of the cast hold the show together well. But with the writing and dialogue not being top-notch, the cast struggle to shine through, though they clearly try hard to give volume to a flat text. Despite O’Neill’s competent and lovable performance as the lead, it’s the supporting ladies that steal the show. Glossop finds moments to showcase the power of her spectacular voice, whilst Goggin gives perhaps the most sweet and sincere performance of the entire cast.


Even though not ground-breaking, as a whole, Best of Friends is solid enough to hold your attention and keep you more than entertained, due to enough head-bobbing and rock-steady songs and several star turns. It’s great to see that the tenacity of Fogarty and the creative team prevail despite all that has happened, paying off with this decent fringe musical. Yes, it could be, and might have been, much better. But that by no means means that this reduction should be dismissed because of this. Buckle in, and rock out.

Best of Friends plays at the Landor Theatre, London, SW9 9PH, until 10th May 2014. Tickets are £19. To book visit www.landortheatre.co.uk.

Theatre Review: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Cheeky monkeys! Marcus Reevers (left) and David Malcolm (right) as Dr Von Whackoff and Boobie Shevalle. Picture: Georgie Gillard. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Cheeky monkeys! Marcus Reevers (left) and David Malcolm (right) as Dr Von Whackoff and Boobie Shevalle. Picture: Georgie Gillard. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ****

Innuendo and smut have long been the staple of British humour. Think seaside postcards, The Goodies, and Barbara Windsor’s camping trip. As a country that has given the world “Ooh, Matron!” and sweet transvestites galore, Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens continues this grand tradition of finding fun in being very very naughty.

Since its first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995, the show, written by Charlotte Mann and Michael Fidler with music by Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest, has gained cult status and a fanatic following. Therefore, this off-West End revival has been much anticipated and is incredibly appreciated, especially with Leanne Jones among its cast, who won the Critics Circle “Best Newcomer” award for her role as Tracey Turnblad in Hairspray. 

Directed by well known choreographer Stuart Saint, his sturdy portfolio of cabaret and variety means he knows exactly what this show needs, and how to do it well. He’s made every effort to ensure the show is as fun, energetic, and slick as possible, but also understands the need for informality and audience intimacy for the show: this is a wild affair that is notorious for plenty of audience interaction. The musical doesn’t pretend to be Lloyd-Webber or Sondheim, so making this more Madame Jojo’s than the Palladium is just what Dr Von Whackoff ordered. Saint turns the small “lounge” space into a convincingly dingy, gaudy, and sleazy nightclub, complete with catwalk, glitter balls, and a dancing pole. The audience sit on slinky leather poofs (steady on) as if you’re actually the intergalactic audience at Saucy Jack’s. Furthermore, even before the show starts, Saint employs a support act in the guise of ravishingly voiced Leanne Osbourne, to help the audience relax, limber up, and get into the mood.

As for the show itself, it’s absolutely mad. If you ever imagined what it would be like if Kenneth Williams did cocaine with Jane Fonda, this would be it. Although often compared to The Rocky Horror Show, it’s actually more like a sci-fi B-Movie crash-landing into a panto in 1969; campy, outrageous, retro, and unabashed. You’ve got everything from drag and effeminate German stereotypes, to the cast dry-humping bubblewrap, and even a bit of light lesbian necrophilia. Not to mention more glitter and glitz than you can shake your disco-stick at.

But for all its double entendres, single entendres, and general WTF-ness, it’s actually a well written and very knowing show. Those who are more familiar with popular musical and/or classic disco hits will pick up on the torrent of cheeky little references and in-jokes throughout. These go to show that Mann and Fidler are a pair of intelligent and well versed – if not just a tad shameless – writers. But it’s also well-paced and never runs away with itself, which, given the hedonistic and crazed nature of the show, is actually quite impressive. There really isn’t a weak moment or a scene that’s just a bit “too much” to grumble about.

As for the songs themselves, they’re incredibly catchy and aplomb with fun. You’ll be humming and dancing “All I Need is Disco” and “Glitter Boots Saved My Life” for days afterwards.

The cast are also truly behind the show, despite how ridiculous it is. There is a sense of wild abandon, frivolity, and talent that comes from each and every member. Jones, though downsizing from the Shaftsbury Theatre to something you can barely swing a dead vole in, takes to the production like a fish to water. Her voice and demeanour has the power, class, and sass worthy of Space Vixen, Bunny Lingus. Further more, actor and drag artist Marcus Reeves excels in his role as the randy and limp-wristed Dr Von Whackoff, effortlessly managing to consistently upstage his rather dashing wig, and Lisa Gorgin is sensational as the busty, lusty, but dangerous Chesty Prospects.

But it’s Ralph Bogard as Saucy Jack himself who really steals the show. A veritable ringmaster of this outer space peep show-cum-circus, he chimes to the tone of melodrama villain perfectly. His comic timing, and rapport and interaction with the audience, all feel perfectly spontaneous. He performs Act I finale “Tortured Plaything” with knock-out panache and power that really marks him as an actor to watch, as well as showing what he’s really capable of after his involvement in the rather unfortunate Mile High: The Musical.

The only issue with the show is the sound. Unfortunately, the equipment in the “lounge”, being such a tiny space, means it’s not quite adequate for the task at hand. With the cast sharing a number of microphones and singing along to a backing track, but with un-amplified dialogue, the balance is not quite there, meaning at points you loose some of the words to the songs. It begs for a live band and everybody radio-mic’d up. But then, the intimacy of the venue and the how this production is set up is really something special, and it would be a real shame to loose what ultimately adds to the whole experience. Style only just about covers for substance, but if it wasn’t for such fantastic material, this would be a serious issue.

But other than that, like a fetish number from nowhere, this is a scream of a night out; a supreme guilty pleasure that will leave you whooping, laughing, and begging for more. It’s time to strap on your glitter boots and book a space shuttle to Frottage III: the Space Vixens are waiting.

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 15 September 2013. Tickets are £18.50. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.

Theatre Review: Titanic (Southwark Playhouse, London)

All aboard! The cast of "Titanic: The Musical". Photograph: Annabel Vere. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

All aboard! The cast of “Titanic: The Musical”. Photograph: Annabel Vere. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ****

Forget Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and the Heart of the Ocean, and sail on down to the Southwark Playhouse for a truly titanic show. Even if you’re weary of “[insert popular subject here]: The Musical” type shows, this Off-West End transfer of the multi-Tony Award winning musical is a spectacle not to be missed. There aren’t any cheesy jazz hands, or French girls to be drawn, but simply 2.5 hours of a great musical finesse with some excellent production and direction from Danielle Tarento and Thom Southerland respectively, the team behind the acclaimed revivals of Parade and Victor/Victoria. 

Far removed from the Oscar winning movie, Peter Stone’s book and Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics use its own original narratives, imagining the stories and relationships around the lives and backgrounds of actual passengers and crew on board the fated liner. We follow them from their awe and amazement of first boarding the ship, through the frivolities of the journey, to their tragic ends.

What really captivates you from the start is that Stone and Yeston focus on the dreams, aspirations, and sense of wonderment of the characters aboard more than anything. They actually feel like real people and are portrayed as delighted and blissfully unaware of what’s to come, rather than creating shallow caricatures serving only to illustrate the inevitable. In fact, the whimsy and jovial nature of the first half, and the interest the character spark, almost makes you forget where the whole thing is heading. The several storylines that we’re taken through are wonderfully heartfelt and never over-egged, making for a solid narrative with enough variety to keep you engaged.

Come Act II when the characters are faced with catastrophe, the timbre turns to fraught drama which Yeston’s music embodies fantastically, driving the action as confidently as it did in the first half and with just as much panache and power. There are very few moments where you switch off from what’s going on, and you’re with the musical throughout its entirety.

Tarento and Southerland, who have consistently proven to be a formidable duo, have tackled this London transfer with an understanding, ingenuity, and creativity that matches the calibre of the material. In making significant reductions to the original version – compacting the cast from 38 to 20, and a full orchestra arranged down to a piano quintet and percussion by Ian Weinberger – they have managed to loose nothing. Everything about this production is meticulous, from Southerland’s use of space and movement, to the overall polish from Tarento; it all looks fantastic.

David Woodhead’s stark two-tier set of steel panels and an upper deck, when combined with Howard Hudson’s lighting design, has a slick but simple allure and is beyond adequate for providing a space for the action and imagination. Southerland also makes effective use of the two tiers throughout, conveying the separation of the social classes on board, or simply using the height of the set to augment a sense of drama. Even with all 20 actors on stage, a huge cast for a relatively modest venue, Southerland manages to never make it feel cramped, and also orchestrates clockwork but bustling crowds with ease, peppered with some graceful bits of dance and physical theatre.

The cast are incredibly strong too, and it’s almost impossible to pick out any outstanding individual actors. They’re all dynamic, energetic, and wonderfully talented; never being over maudlin, and finding sweet and charming moments between them. Especially notable is the heart-warming rapport between Dudley Rogers and Judith Street as Isidor and Ida Strauss respectively. Also, James Hune is incredibly charismatic and flamboyant as the head of hospitality, Etches, the charming and well spoken underdog who holds everything together.

As a chorus, with the volume and clarity in their combined voices, it’s a wonder the Southwark Playhouse’s new venue didn’t fall apart under their thunderous and tremendous sound, which alone could have probably sunk the ship itself. The tutti numbers are an absolute knockout.

But as outstanding as this show is, alas, it’s not perfect. As much as for the most part Yeston’s music is an ethereal stream of consciousness, some numbers meander a little too much. A couple of the songs fail to establish a melody or structure and seem to just wander aimlessly. Also, “The Latest Rag” seems so out of place it actually comes across more silly than anything else, to the point you almost wonder if you’d fallen asleep and woken up in a different musical altogether.

As for the production, the only thing that mars it is it’s desperately yearning to set a due course for a large West End venue. For starters, with such a rich and grandiose score, the balance of huge voices and passionate music was always going to be difficult, especially in such a tight and acoustically flat space. This is particularly noticeable in certain numbers where cast members’ diction aren’t quite there, as it’s made worse by being muffled by too loud an orchestra. A more comprehensive sound board and system would have certainly helped here. Furthermore, as inventive as Hudson is with the set when it comes to the all important sinking of the ship, whilst impressive for what has been done given the limited resources, it’s still not entirely convincing, resulting in what should be the apex of the drama being a little wet. It just begs for technologically complex and show-stopping stagecraft for it to really wow.

But none of that should dissuade anyone from buying a ticket. The overall theatrics and fantastic performances left me with my heart in my throat and pulse bounding. There’s nothing quite like this on in the West End, let alone off it. With a production as lavish as the White Star Line’s flagship itself, it’s a First Class musical.

Titanic plays at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD, until 31 August 2013. Tickets are £22 (concessions available). To book, visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.

Theatre Review: WAG! The Musical (Charing Cross Theatre, London)

WAG-ger swagger! From left to right: Nia Jermin, Alyssa Kyria, Pippa Fulton, and Lizzie Cundy. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

WAG-ger swagger! From left to right: Nia Jermin, Alyssa Kyria, Pippa Fulton, and Lizzie Cundy. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ***

WAGs: the pseudo-celebrities you love to hate. Armed with silicon tits and lipo-legs, they’re here to snatch up those premiership footballers and live off their hard-earned millions. On the face of it, these glamorous gold-diggers seem like an unlikely subject for a musical, and with the promotional material ablaze in hot pink with stilettoed stunners, it looks like it could succeed only on the back of being a guilty pleasure, or perhaps the so-bad-its-good factor. But thankfully Belvedere Pashun’s book is actually something that surprisingly has depth and demeanour for something that looks shamelessly sassy; so do away with all your preconceptions made from the posters.

For starters, calling the show WAG! The Musical is a slight misnomer as the main characters are two down-and-out shop girls selling cheap make-up in a grubby London department store (think Debenhams, but with less dignity). However, one of them, Jenny (Daisy Wood-Davis), is set to run off with her own premiership footballer to Italy as his bit on the side. Cue a high-profile make-up launch at the store with a bevy of WAGs in tow, and the musical turns to discussing the pros, cons, and morality of what WAGs do best, and causing a right old riot in the process. The WAGs themselves are mere mechanicals in this kitsch analysis of modern femininity and relationships.

Highly billed for the show are; West End staple (and first American to have ever won an Olivier Award), Tim Flavin, as the sneering and snivelling overlord/manager of the cosmetics department; real life WAG-cum-TV presenter, Lizzie Cundy, as WAG-cum-TV presenter, Zoe; and singer-cum-WAG, Pippa Fulton, as bitchy full-time WAG, Vicci. Whilst all of them hold themselves well, the latter two ladies slipping into their WAG roles with playful and knowing ease, it’s lead Wood-Davis that really turns out to be the star of the show. Great comic performances also come from Katie Kerr as common and frumpy wannabe glamour-puss Blow-Jo, and Welsh Wag, Charmaine, played by Nia Jermin.

Wood-Davis really captures Jenny’s hopeless-romantic and hapless dreamer personality with a cute charm and grace. Although her character is hardly Lady Macbeth in terms of complexity, she strikes the right balance between dippy and downtrodden. But her singing is what is particularly stunning. Her big solo number, “How Could I Not Leave A Scar”, was belted out with a ferocity and panache that made it into an absolute showstopper.

However, there are a few things that hold the show back from being great, despite Alison Pollard’s slick and energetic direction and choreography, and Ken Powell’s bright and colourful costumes. The songs aren’t particularly memorable, bar a few such as Wood-Davis’s aforementioned solo, and cheeky lambast of going under the knife, “Original Me”. The rest seems to be something stuck in the shadows of Jonathan Larson’s Rent! and Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening. In fact, “Always Tomorrow” sounds as it was plucked straight from Larson’s celebrated La bohème pastiche, leaving you a little uninspired rather than it being the epiphanous rouser it’s trying to be.

Although the depth to the narrative comes as a surprise to the campy gloss of the promotionals, it does sap the energy a little from the first act. It just doesn’t quite have the spark of frivolity that it needs, even if Flavin does end up in a rather saucy samba outfit at one point! Furthermore, the portrait of domestic violence, an attempt at being a little bit topical and smart, is so simplistic that a more gender aware crowd might find it a little offensive, despite the fact that Pashun clearly means well. Also, as far as climaxes go, the plot is overall quite predictable.

It’s only when comedian Alyssa Kyria comes in during Act II, as her acclaimed character, Ariadne the Greek WAG, that the show really picks up. Writing her scenes herself as additional material to the book, she is absolutely hilarious, injecting the hedonism and humour that was missing from Act I. While she’s a brilliant addition to the show, it’s a shame that she ends up stealing it. It says a lot about the calibre of the writing when you realise that a single personality, Kyria’s, is what really drives the musical home.

On press night, too, there were problems with sound balance, and a lack of the sense of ensemble and intonation among the cast. Either there are issues with the feedback speakers (which would easily account for the discrepancies), or they just need more rehearsing. Either way, it’s not quite becoming of such a high-profile opening with a red-carpet arrival, paparazzi, and celebrities such as Vanessa Feltz and Anita Dobson in the audience, and does a disservice to Pollard’s snazzy production.

But criticisms aside, ultimately WAG! The Musical is far from bad; in fact it’s alright. Despite its flaws, it’s a fun frolic that breezily resists becoming bawdy, tawdry, and dumbed-down dross: actually having a smack of thought behind it. It’s not quite Prada, but it’s certainly not Primarni! WAG! The Musical is a jaunty and sparkly summer theatrical diversion that will bring a smile to your face.

WAG! The Musical plays at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2N 6NL, until 24 August 2013. Tickets are £14.50-£44.50. To book, visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.

Theatre Review: RIP (King’s Head Theatre, London)

Promotional image for RIP. Photograph: Courtesy of the King's Head Theatre.

Promotional image for RIP. Photograph: Courtesy of the King’s Head Theatre.

Rating: ***

Jack the Ripper is possibly one of the most enduring of morbid infamies. Five brutal murders and the fact he was never identified or caught, has managed to hold the fascination of centuries of generations. But whilst much is talked and debated about the murderous man himself, little is ever said about his victims.

Sonnie Beckett and Joe Morrow’s new musical sets to change this, looking beyond the mere names and occupation of Jack’s women, prising into the tragic back-stories of these five fated ladies. However, despite a worthy and interesting premise, there are issues that stop the show from being great, which is a shame because even if it’s not tremendously slick there is a definite spark of genuine inspiration here.

The main issue is the music. Whilst Beckett and Morrow manage to write a score with a great sense of variety and flair, the numbers are a little unrefined. Melodies and musical structure will often meander a bit making the songs feel hollow, never quite giving enough for the audience to sink their teeth into. Couple this with some rhyming schemes that are a little obvious and simplistic, and the music falls short of the mark more often than not.

But there are, however, a few good pieces that really illustrate that there is promise in the duo’s composing abilities. These include a rather chilling opening number, a beguilingly mournful folk tune, and Annie Chapman’s raucous burlesque of a ballad. Bolstering the score is also some very innovative use of scissors, whetting knives, and luggage as a rhythm and percussion section to accompany the single piano that provides the music, which in itself carries a lot of charisma.

The other things that let show down are smaller details that have a large impact. Hannah Kaye’s direction is very unsympathetic to the new configuration of the theatre. If you happen to have gotten a seat to close to the back wall of the stage area, or in one of the back rows, its impossible to see the heavy amount of action very central to the space and on the floor. It’s a shame, because you get the sense that if you could actually see what was going on it would indeed look quite impressive. Kaye is clearly a talented director and this is demonstrated in some frantically choreographed chorus numbers that add a sharp sense of the twisted ripe for the timbre of the tale, and the bleak tenderness she gives the women’s life stories. But she just needs to have had more thought about the dimensions and sight lines of the venue, as, unless you’re sat in a prime position, you can only imagine what’s happening, which doesn’t have quite the same effect.

Also, Jack the Ripper’s “mask” consisted of actor Peter-Lee Harper wearing some black tights over his head, which feels more silly than sinister, dissipating any tense build-up the production had been working towards.

But there is a great cast behind the production, and Beckett’s book is incredibly solid. All the women are strong actors and really manage to ply the depths of each of their characters. Especially notable was Gemma Brodrick as the drunk and downtrodden Polly Nicholas, and Emma Hook as the deranged Annie Chapman. Beckett also makes a wonderful juxtaposition of police coroners Thomas Bond and George Bagster Phillips (played by Morrow and Thomas Deplae respectively) revelling in the hideous details of the murders themselves, against the ghosts of the victims fleshing out their personal stories to build deep portraits of five real women.

Furthermore, the educated assumption Beckett makes of the identity of Jack, and the playing out of the unnerving indiscretions in the relationship he had with his own wife, is a really intriguing twist to what we already know about Jack.

It might not be totally ground-breaking in its execution, but it’s certainly a unique and interesting take on London’s most gruesome of histories. Although it doesn’t quite gleam like it wants to, it’s certainly worth your time as it’s brimming with potential and is none the less a provocative and entertaining evening.

RIP plays at the King’s Head Theatre, London, N1 1QN, on Sundays and Mondays until 21 July 2013. Tickets are £20.50 – £25.00 (concessions available). To book visit www.kingsheadtheatre.com.