Reflection: Beautiful – the Carole King Musical UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Beautiful the Carole King Musical

Beautiful jukebox biomusical

Beautiful is a jukebox biomusical: from Brooklyn to 1650 Broadway to Billboard, it charts the charming Carole King’s musical, and romantic, relationships and eventual meteoric rise to fame after finally finding her voice.

The musical is less about King’s life than it is her music and lyrics, but so rich and so resonant are their sound that it’s a moving and lively listen in its own right. This tuneful Tapestry is complimented by a plot that revolves mostly around her creatively fruitful but romantically fruitless relationship with lyricist Gerry Goffin, although, as the tattered piano at the centre of the free-roving set proves, this is more about the music than its makers. Continue reading “Reflection: Beautiful – the Carole King Musical UK Tour”

Reflection: Agnes Colander at the Ustinov Studio

Original review: BroadwayWorldUK

Agnes Colander at Ustinov

Engaging and enlightening

‘Only by forgetting all we’ve ever learned can we learn to live at all’: wise words from a work that was itself, forgotten. Lost to the British Library and brought to life over 100 years later, Harley Granville Barker’s Agnes Colander is an engaging and enlightening look at womanhood and liberation in early 1900s England from one of the Edwardian era’s greatest writers. 

Agnes is an artist living alone, a dangerous portrait of independence in a gallery of decorum. Directed for every detail by theatrical deity Trevor Nunn in the Ustinov Studio, the most intimate and diminutive of theatres, it feels more like sitting in on the seclusions of film set than seeing a play, so evocative are Rob Jones’s designs, Fergus O’Hare’s sound, and Paul Pyant’s ever-darkening lighting, and so privileged and privy is our view to the intimacies of one woman’s determinations and self-discovery. Sometimes, it feels like we’re seeing something before the final edit, and, fittingly, we are: Continue reading “Reflection: Agnes Colander at the Ustinov Studio”

Reflection: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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Matthew Bourne has an absolute ball with Cinderella

Matthew Bourne, master of the classical ballet reimagining, has an absolute ball with Cinderella. The archetypal rags-to-riches tale is richly and wittily transformed into a wartime romance with Prokofiev’s euphonious score, Lez Brotherston’s beautiful forties-feeling costumes and cinematic sets, and choreography that captures the glitz, glamour, and gloom of a Blitz-bound fairy tale.

The charm of this Cinderella is in the transformation: an unloved Cinders is whisked away to a ball, but it’s in a rocking café, not a royal castle, underneath the war-torn streets of a bombed-out London, and it’s a pilot, not a prince, she falls in love with. At the ball they dance jazz and jitterbugs as well as waltz, and it’s a fairy godfather in a white silk suit that whisks Cinderella away in a sidecar. As Cinderella, Ashley Shaw’s playful pas de deux with a dummy – in place of dancing with her broom in the ballet – is delightful, and her dream, and dummy, blossom into life as Dominic North’s dashing pilot in an inspired act to introduce the prince before the ball.

The setting for the ball is based on a real-life cabaret bombing during the Blitz Continue reading “Reflection: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella”

Reflection: Cilla the Musical UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Cilla the Musical

A celebration of Cilla Black

‘Something tells me something’s gonna happen tonight’, sings Cilla at the show’s finale, and at the Hippodrome, after a lighting fault and show-halt as two in the audience were taken ill, it’s a line that suddenly felt very close to home. Once resumed, the songs and spirit of Cilla save the evening, but oversimplify the story of a star that deserves so much more.

Based on the TV series, Cilla is a celebration of Cilla Black. Set in, and with a soundtrack from, the sixties, it follows the teenage Priscilla White’s transformation into the chart-topping Cilla Black with a touching tribute to her talent and charm. Kara Lily Hayworth is warm and witty as the Liverpudlian lovely, and her performances of the Cilla classics ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘Alfie’, and ‘Something Tells Me’ are perfectly poised between powerful performance and heartfelt homage.

Though it works for Cilla, elsewhere the impressive musical performances feel more like tribute acts and cameos than fully-formed characters in a well-plotted chronicle. Continue reading “Reflection: Cilla the Musical UK Tour”

Reflection: The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic

Original review: Underdog Reviews

The Cherry Orchard


Cherry-picked for the Year of Change

‘How much these walls have seen,’ muses the lady Lyuba in a fond but forlorn farewell to her family home; and, as her hand touches the gorgeous green and gilded walls of the Old Vic, her words touch our hearts, too. The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov’s so-called comedy about social change in turn-of-the-century Russia following the serf reform, seems cherry-picked for Bristol Old Vic at this time of redevelopment, in their very own Year of Change.

Tom Piper’s invigorating set envelops the Old Vic into the estate that’s up for sale: the architecture is the orchard, we the trees, and, with an audience also onstage in an uncanny recreation of the auditorium, the action plays out in-the-round and uses every inch of the space, from the stairs up to the pit to the passages behind the stalls. As such, we are in the estate: Continue reading “Reflection: The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic”

Reflection: Hairspray UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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Feels fun but falls flat

‘What gives a girl power and punch? Is it charm? Is it poise? No, it’s hairspray!’ This Hairspray has plenty of punch from its performances, but is light on the power and poise and falls, well, a little flat.

Tracy Turnblad is a ‘big’ girl with some big dreams – to dance, and get out of detention – and her gritty, if ditsy, determination to do so is set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination in sixties Baltimore. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s score has moments of luminous amusement, from the shouts and shakes of showstopper ‘Run and Tell That’, to the body-and-black-positive belter ‘Big, Blonde, and Beautiful’, to the bold exuberance of the show’s close, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’. All this is fun, but the musical force is in its protest anthem, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, that reflects its politics, and it’s a powerhouse performance from Brenda Edwards’s respected, motherly Motormouth Maybelle that ends triumphantly with all hand-in-hand.

Yet, the force of Hairspray is blunted by its own flashy brashness, and the focus feels as though it’s on all the wrong colours: Continue reading “Reflection: Hairspray UK Tour”

Reflection: Macbeth at Tobacco Factory Theatres

Original review: The Reviews Hub

Macbeth at the Tobacco Factory

Buzzing, bloody, and bleak

Macbeth at the Tobacco Factory opens as one of Emily Dickinson’s famous works, about a fly interposing indifferently as death falls on its speaker, ends: ‘with Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –’: the lighting is stark cyan, the space dark, and the electronic soundscape buzzes and breathes around us. Yet, a fly-like buzzing as one dies is not the only similarity between the atmosphere summoned by Dickinson’s unadorned words and Adele Thomas’s austere direction of Shakespeare’s death-drenched work.

Although it’s a dagger, not a fly, that the murderous Macbeth sees before him, he and his driven-mad wife, like the words of Dickinson’s dying, ‘could not see to see’: that is, as is later observed of the Lady herself, their ‘eyes are open’, ‘but their sense is shut’. Fuelled – or fooled – by the three weird sisters’ prophecy that sovereignty shall be his, the thane is blinded by ambition and soon has blood on his hands. Continue reading “Reflection: Macbeth at Tobacco Factory Theatres”

Reflection: The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios

The Grinning Man

Grim and grotesque and gorgeous and gentle

‘It’s so tragic, it must be true’: so goes the tale of Grinpayne, the man with a perpetual grin marked out from ear to ear whose memory of his past is so marred by magic and grief that he can’t remember how he got it. The Grinning Man is a gothic musical that manages to be both grim and grotesque and gorgeous and gentle, so roll up! roll up! to the Trafalgar Fair, and see for yourself how his grin got there.

The Bristol Old Vic production balances the heroics and horror of Victor Hugo’s tale with haunting beauty and hilarious innovation. The Grinning Man amalgamates the mythic and the metatheatric: the streets of Lonnn-donn, the stages of the freak show, the chaises of a corrupt seventeenth-century court, and the trees of a fairytale forest create a folkloric but familiar historical time to face some human truths, but the storytelling is a feast of theatrical talent. From Carl Grose’s gritty but gorgeous prose, to Gyre and Gimble’s magical puppetry – especially James Alexander-Taylor and Loren O’Dair’s impressive performance as Mojo the wolf – to the lyrical and whimsical but rocking music, The Grinning Man‘s many theatrical marvels weave together like the many threads of the tale into a rich and riotous whole.

The Grinning Man revels in horror and hilarity, but also generously reveals its heart and humanity: Continue reading “Reflection: The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios”

Reflection: New Old Friends’ Crimes Under the Sun

Crimes Under the Sun

Cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie

A femme fatale has fallen victim to a killer in the English Riviera, a host of suspects with a whole host of motives happen to be holidaying in the same spot, and detective Artemis Arinae is looking for anything to avoid writing her memoirs… so, whodunnit? Crimes Under the Sun is New Old Friends’ cleverly crafted, lovingly teasing take on Agatha Christie and everyone’s favourite classic crime capers, and though not the perfect crime, it is perfectly entertaining and, in places, criminally funny.

A cast of four play fourteen characters, and their charmingly farcical performances are the crux of the piece: as Artemis, Jill Myers is the most modest of Miss Marples, fusing the frolics together with an ongoing monologue in an outrageous French accent while taking no shit from some chauvinist fellows who assume that a successful inspector must be a man. Feargus Woods Dunlop’s slick script has many a mocking modern-day allusion and is littered with alliterative quips, although some of them are quipped a little too quickly to keep us following closely, but his characters are well-drawn and wonderfully comic. Woods Dunlop plays three of the fourteen: Continue reading “Reflection: New Old Friends’ Crimes Under the Sun”

Reflection: A Number at the Other Room Cardiff

Original review: The Reviews Hub

A Number

More pertinent, more perceptive, more powerful than ever

Caryl Churchill’s play about cloning is more pertinent, more perceptive, and more powerful than ever, and it has little to do with the technical practicalities of cloning now, almost twenty years after its premiere. Actually, A Number never had much to do with cloning at all, but connection: of father to son, nature to nurture, and individual to… vegetable. If we really have thirty percent the same genes as a lettuce, what makes us who we are?

A one-acter for two actors, the set up is deceptively simple: a son, after discovering he’s a clone, confronts his father, Salter, and the consequences unfold in a fraught, fast-paced dialogue. In the intimacy of The Other Room, the tensions play out like a tennis match in traverse: Continue reading “Reflection: A Number at the Other Room Cardiff”