September 3, 2011
Trafalgar Studios 2
‘Betwixt – a funny musical’, and it’s as simple as that. To sum it up, my choice of words are ‘a strange, slightly crazy, adult fairytale, just for the hell of it!’ And that is one of the particularly joyful things I learnt whilst watching this wonderfully odd musical. It really is all about the fun, and I personally would rejoice if fellow theatrical companies/productions similar in nature to Betwixt! would follow suit out of the woodwork and show everybody how it’s done. This is up to date comedy at its best; new theatre finally making its mark which I urge all theatre goers to welcome with open arms because it really does take a talented mind to pull this stuff off.
Those who have witnessed the scale of Trafalgar Studios 2 will know it’s rather petite! The cast is of a mere nine members, alongside three musicians all set within a small, simple black theatre space with a minimum of three or four rows seated around the performance area. Everything is low key with zero extravaganza regarding the design (except maybe the slightly eccentric costumes, just to make it that little bit more wacky). But other than that, there really is nowhere to hide as the actor’s costumes sweep across your lap commencing from the entrance you strolled through yourself earlier, whilst also easily gaining the knowledge by catching many a glimpse of what underwear our actors are wearing that day.
And boy what fine actors they are. Every single one of them. And so they have to be. In such an intimate space, the audience doesn’t miss anything. The plot is an easy (yet enjoyable) one to follow. A possible one hit wonder author Bailey Howard (Benedict Salter) is struggling with writers block when to the rescue comes Cooper Fitzgerald (Steven Webb), a hilariously overpowering, not to mention, unplanned room mate. An ironic key and door whisks the unlikely pair away to a supernatural world where they embark on a heroic journey with, or against (depending on which sister), Lizzie Roper’s characters. Lost yet? Not to worry, that’s a good thing. Along the way, Bailey finds love in the form of a body-less head named Miranda (Ashleigh Gray) whilst Kelly Chinery, Peter Duncan, Will Hawksworth (be sure to not miss out on his Joan the Mute), Alyssa Nicol and Rob Wilshaw’s wild characters break into crazy, wonderful songs moving this colourful production along swiftly before our eyes.
The whole thing is plain weird, and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. But what I positively believe holds all the crazy stuff together is the extraordinarily talented cast. Each one of them are full of quick wit and produce continual genuine, unpredictable, side splitting laughter which is sadly rare in the world of musical theatre. Many audience members are brilliantly supportive in wishing the production would move into a larger west end theatre which is great, but I honestly believe it is what it is, and that it should remain within its existing nature and further more pieces such as this should grow to be recognised and popularised in this industry. The field would prove to be more fun with playful honest productions like Betwixt! making a home for themselves in London’s west end.
Back to feeling the love for our cast members, what really should be noted is that they are, well, simply hilarious. The writers and team behind this show have produced a spectacle the actors thrive upon and the whole team has dangerously created an explosion of obscene hilarity. It is quite unreal just how notably funny Steven and Lizzie are. It’s actually quite haunting as these two artists in particular repeatedly retell their jokes inside your head long after the lights go down. To best describe it, it’s one of those embarrassing situations when you’re seated on a bus, playing out one of their characters many comical moments in your thoughts to then uncontrollably laugh out loud, only to realise you’re seated on that bus alone. But hey, it’s oh so worth it. You’ll also fall in love with Ben’s adorable character who, as an actor, is utterly overflowing with talent, as is the beautiful Ashleigh who comically reminds us of that outstanding voice of hers.
If I was to be fussy and dish out anything I would like to see change, it would be the absence of an increased interaction with the audience. For such a small space I feel that the show would benefit by acknowledging its audience further, inviting us to laugh with them, not to ourselves. Up the ante on that, and we’re all yours. However, what’s great about Betwixt! is that you don’t have to understand it, that’s the beauty. You just have to sit in those big red seats and allow comic genius to take hold. The musical’s played down simplistic environment let’s you feel like you’re part of the creation process in a satisfying whirlwind of entertainment randomly plonked in front of you. I gladly take my hat off to all behind the creation of this funny business and would return in a second with the proud knowledge of perhaps producing even more laughter; there really is something for everybody at Betwixt! A promising future for theatre! With only a few days left, do not miss this uplifting, hilarious display!
August 10, 2011
Piccadilly Theatre, London
* * * * *
Warning – tissues required, this one’s certainly a tear jerker! Amidst the depressing times of the disgrace that is the London riots, this phenomenal piece of theatre does an astounding job of sweeping you off your feet and forgetting about the world for a couple of hours. Incredible as the experience was, my only disappointment was that I wished it had gone on for longer. Please don’t hesitate when considering the hype that surrounds this musical, this is a once in a life time must see!
Having caught clips here and there as a child while the 1990s film was at its peak, I decided to sit down to it in preparation for the show, simply to appreciate it as the classic it was and is; some healthy research if you will. Before setting foot inside the Piccadilly, my first ‘note to self’ was to intentionally ensure the separation of these two creations, and how right I was. ‘Ghost The Musical’ is a credit in its own right and deserves every praise for the spectacle that it is. Due to my experience of trailers and television clips of the production, my initial thought whilst seating myself was that of small surprise as I wondered the possibilities of producing these so called spectacular tricks and illusions in quite a small space. How wrong I was this time. The moment the first note was played by the orchestra while the glimmering screen projection worked its magic, I knew immediately that I was in for a treat.
‘Ghost The Musical’ is of course based on the film creation, but this is an insignificant detail that is lost straight away as this stunning piece of theatre stands on its own two marvellous feet. The story goes, two lovers Sam and Molly suffer pain and grief when Sam is murdered and has to deal with unfinished business in this romantic whirlwind, as a ghost. As a first note, I must give a resounding applause to illusionist Paul Kieve who really has helped shape this show’s wow factor. This was the one aspect that was at the centre of all conversation by the exiting patrons. ‘How did they do that?’ is a question I’d rather not hear the answer to, the magic produced was perfect, even when seated in the stalls with barely a piece of string in sight. What to expect? Walking through solid objects and leaping from your own body multiplying yourself on stage. Impossible? I tell no lies.
What delighted myself most about this musical was its developed quality; this is a new piece of theatre with plenty of style. The choreography in particular states this loud and clear as choreographer Ashley Wallen interjects contemporary excellence with hints of street on varied occasions, but also pursuing a traditional attribute in the form of a tap dance. If I had to be picky, I’d admit I did have some trouble adjusting to the randomness of the tap sequence/song interrupting the character Sam’s frustration, but as the scene unfolded it took its place in promoting the action and feeling of the characters which was certainly felt by myself.
Before I discuss the wonder that is our main characters, I must prioritise a mention regarding the set. Three screens is all it takes with a few pieces of furniture, revolving like no other set I have witnessed in a long time. The range of action this set projects is of a gobsmacking quality, rapidly moving the story line along in the slickest of fashions. The modernised tech work and projection really stamps its mark on the musical announcing ‘this is what I am, and aren’t I one technical, theatrical marvel!’ Due to the high standard of backstage and technical production, you are immediately warped by the show and wrapped up in the experience. On hindsight, an incredible amount of detail goes unnoticed and it all moulds into one big dazzling visual.
Finally on to our cast, and my goodness does Richard Fleeshman (Sam Wheat) shine the brightest. I struggle in shock to describe the wonder that is this actor, but to say I was blown away is an embarrassing understatement. I am astonished at the amount of the character’s emotion that is transferred to our own hearts by him, and considering the young lad has never entered into the usual training most actors opt for, his raw talent is just perfect for this piece of theatre. Equally magnificent is of course Caissie Levy (Molly Jensen). Even the knowledge that this lady has played a most wonderful Elphaba on Broadway cannot prepare you for the sensation that she is. Her talent is effortless and it is incredibly difficult to not believe in her. What a privilege to have experienced her grace the stage. When I wasn’t sobbing, I was revelling in the comic genius that is Oda Mae Brown, otherwise known as Sharon D Clarke. Such a heart warming, captivating actress yet ever so gifted in creating vast amounts of laughter, as were her two side kicks Jenny Fitzpatrick (Louise) and Lisa Davina Phillip (Clara). The face, the voice, the charisma, Andrew Langtree who plays the role of evil Karl portrays the character’s betrayal with such style, you are promptly intrigued by the depth of this persona; just pure brilliance. The ensemble did more than a grand job, such beautiful talent doing the show wonderful justice and some brilliantly distinctive characters throughout. Due to such exquisite stage presence, you are bound to notice Emily Hawgood who shines through her ensemble status.
Other mentions include that of the subway scenes which are particularly endearing alongside a clever piece rapped by a subway ghost, action packed ensemble banker scenes and the connection of the two acts, pulling you in immediately forgetting there ever was an interval. The score of the musical is absolutely stunning. Each song belongs there and connects to the audience in every way it intends to. The track that stuck with me long after the show was the touching and beautiful ‘With You’, a song made just for Caissie it seems. A chilling reminder of ‘Unchained Melody’ makes a well deserved appearance resulting in a tender duet between Richard and Caissie. The production as a whole is thrilling, explosive and immensely powerful leaving yourself and the theatre trembling as the curtain goes down; what an atmosphere. Emotionally gripping and you are wholeheartedly rooting for these two lovers. And without sounding too cheesy, from start to finish, you believe.
Posted on October 12th, 2011
Crazy For You
Novello Theatre, London
After a successful run at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Crazy For You has made its West End transfer to the Novello Theatre, and quite frankly, who could ask for anything more?
God bless such a musical that ensures every single patron sways their way out of the Novello, exiting as a youngster once again no matter what their age; simple, traditional magic at its best! Sure, it is evidently a musical plucked straight out of its time, the pre-Sondheim separation between song and dance is more than apparent. But that’s okay, it’s more than okay. Long gone are the days we desire to revisit, long gone are the days of sheer fun George and Ira Gershwin introduced to the world. Yet, here is the invitation to lose ourselves in the magic once more, and to resist a constant grin was pure torture.
The genius that is Ken Ludwig is responsible for thankfully re-adapting the original book with a pinch (okay, maybe a handful) of Gershwin, and a sprinkle of showbiz. We follow the story of the adorable, tap dancing Bobby Child (Sean Palmer), son to an unbearably wealthy family in which he wishes to escape by helplessly auditioning for the dismissive Bela Zangler (David Burt). Failing, his mother proposes that he take a business trip a far cry from home to Deadrock, Nevada to seal the deal on a property. With the added bonus of escaping an unwanted fiancé, he of course accepts. A few days later a rather sun-stroked, thirsty Bobby arrives at our lovable bad guy Lank Hawkins’ (Michael McKell) saloon, only to find he has to close the deal on a relatively run down Gaiety Theatre. He of course falls madly in love with the owner’s daughter Polly Baker (Clare Foster), the seemingly only female this simple town inhabits. Failing (again) to fully win her heart, he is struck by a not so bright idea. Gathering his fellow New York Follies he sticks on a beard, adopts a Hungarian accent therefore fooling the town to believe he is the one and only Bela Zangler, all in the name of saving the theatre, hurrah! Well, not quite…
What seems to be your average once upon a time, soon turns into something quite special. A promise is a promise, and you are guaranteed to fall hopelessly in love with each and every character. Every clap of the hand is full of rejoice due to a simplistic happiness that fills the soul. Old fashioned humour is cleverly reminded throughout but what gladly hits the spot are those great, big bursts of choreography that truly knock your socks off and replaces them with invisible tap shoes. These big dancing numbers such as the likes of ‘I Got Rhythm’ are a result of the talented Stephen Mear, a man with an obvious mission to lift backsides off seats in a rhythmic fashion; mission accomplished.
An exquisite quality is danced by both our leading roles with equally beautiful voices; a match made in heaven. It can be quite uncommon to describe an ensemble as striking as our leading pair, but difficulty in doing so undeniably lacked this time. Dreams are realised in an array of sweet hearted relationships throughout a glitzy 1930’s fairytale, and this lovable narrative partnered with Gershwin classics touches the heart, lifting spirits you’d perhaps long ago forgotten about. If it is not worth witnessing this sweet spectacle for the fairy dust that trails behind you on your way home to reality alone, then it is certainly worth it if only for the hilarity that is Zangler and Child’s drunken duet – understated comic moment of the year!
Published: Wednesday, 02 November 2011 22:32
Some Like it Hip Hop
* * * * *
My word, it is with disbelief that the following words are written. Everybody who visits the Peacock Theatre within the next couple of weeks will without a doubt agree that they like it hip hop, even if they didn’t do so before. ZooNation Dance Company are due some serious thanking and kissing of feet for bringing Some Like It Hip Hop to life. Now, it may sound like a bit of light-hearted banter, but in all seriousness there are no words that can justify this phenomenon. Five stars are frustratingly just not enough, resulting in this to be a very hard piece to write; if possible, Some Like It Hip Hop is too good.
Following in its predecessor Into the Hoods’ footsteps, hip hop and theatre get on like a house on fire… with fireworks, putting most musicals to shame. The fact that there were some amplification issues is irrelevant as music, set and design were utterly on point, entailing zero weak spots. This show deserves a future more than any other so that any picky, minor problems can be dusted off; they are of little importance where this show is concerned. Assumptions may lead to a belief that shows of this nature can run the risk of being slightly cheesy, however, ZooNation failed to embarrass themselves. Some Like It Hip Hop is proof that sheer magic occurs when the importance of hip hop is acknowledged by theatre, especially when it is of as gobsmacking quality as this. Evidently, dance should not be struggling in today’s society as director Kate Prince’s creation just goes to show.
The surprisingly heart-capturing story follows an oppressive governor who has locked in the city and those who are worthy, while the rejected remain outside in the cold. He runs a pretty tight ‘no books allowed’ ship where everyone must prove themselves fit and women are put in their place. When Jo-Jo Jameson, Kerri Kimbalayo along with the lovable Sudsy Partridge endure a slip-up, they are banished, much to their dismay. However, an opportunity soon arises to enter back into the city, but only for men. The two ladies are of course struck by an idea, and comically man themselves up (moustaches and all) to join the adorable, book-loving Simeon Sun. It must be noted just how side-splittingly funny this show is throughout, and it comes with all the perks of a good story. Theatrically, the whole thing is accurately brilliant. With the help of some exquisite on-stage singers plus the genius that is DJ Walde, the accompaniment is enough to make you purchase the soundtrack without hesitation, and Ben Stones’ set design is superbly unique. Choreographically? Just wow. The hip hop language these bodies execute is sublime and fits right into the theatre as though it has belonged there since Day One. The choreography lacks any imperfection and is well and truly up to date, although we are treated with much delight to a rendition of ‘The Carlton’ in the infamous seduction scene. Each and every scene proves to be the best scene: an impossible treat danced out before our eyes.
The whole plot is narrated by the multi-talented Tachia Newall who encourages the entertainment that seems impossible to beat. Shaun Smith’s Sudsy is infectious, and along with Natasha Gooden who plays the beautiful daughter of the governor, they are both out of this world in regards to star quality. And that goes to every performer involved. Despite the existence of your typical leading roles, each star steps up and shines, equally overflowing with talent within their own expertise. Duwane Taylor’s empowering popping and locking vibrates straight through your heart, teaming up nicely with Teneisha Bonner, an astonishingly memorable dancer, not to mention actress. Lizzie Gough makes up one half of our simply perfect leading couple, reminding us why we fell in love with her So You Think You Can Dance appearances. And the other half is the unbelievable Tommy Franzén. While watching this artist at work, the thought that there is only one of him becomes particularly prominent, realising just how unreal this talent is. Alongside the rest of the cast, each individual is in a league of their own, and together have created something quite extraordinary.
It is with great shame that the justice this piece of theatre deserves cannot be written into words. No matter how familiar you are with hip hop, an awe-stricken (not to mention wild) audience is what you get, and the wonder that such a thing exists. Some Like It Hip Hop, I salute you as arguably one of the greatest theatrical experiences alive. May you live on, or there’ll undoubtedly be hell to pay!
Published: Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:53
In the Dust
2Faced Dance Company
* * * * *
Ladies, take note. 2Faced Dance Company’s triple bill isn’t just about eight handsome gentlemen wooing your socks off, back-flipping for your pleasure - although I dare say many are likely to enjoy the evening for similar reasons. If it was possible to lick your lips at dance, In the Dust have just proven it so. A testosterone-filled triple bill has been brought to The Place in the most stylish of fashions, including three new works by three critically-acclaimed choreographers. An all-male company, 2Faced Dance are renowned for their infusion of break and contemporary dance in the most athletic of natures.
The night starts off with a bang and the first piece is over before you know it. Place Prize semi finalist Tom Dale presents Subterrania in a haze of smoke, engulfing its audience in an intense atmosphere from the very first second. The urban twists are immediately evident, aiding the athleticism by impossible means. Artistic skill leads to a constant catching of breath as the murmuring, snaking music and powerful lighting work harmoniously with fierce and focused choreography. An overwhelming choice of where to look progresses as the movement swiftly sweeps you off your feet: The Matrix has nothing on this. Neutrally tatty clothing produces attractive whipping of material and body, encouraged by flying limbs that appear from nowhere. We are introduced to fitting qualities in forms such as writhing gas masks which soulfully ease the tension. The structure as a whole builds exactly where it needs to and everything clicks perfectly into place from start to finish. No gimmicks, just talent.
The astonishing factor undoubtedly lies within the impossibilities these outstanding dancers carry out. However, it is not only the skill that leaves jaws on the ground, it’s how these tricks are put to use creatively. The mix is of an outstanding quality, as is the two-man roly poly! Every moment flowed with such essence, literally continuing forever it seemed. Wildly charismatic - hearts will race! A lack of care surrounds what they are trying to say as you are guaranteed to want to remain in this intrigued state.
Politciking Oath is the breather that follows, choreographed by Freddie Opoku-Addaie. Although at a quieter pace, this piece is just as clever. Four lights, three men, and a couple of props are what make up the Olympic-esque activity before us. The stamina of the piece builds as does the competition, using the music as a focus. Ticking, commentary, anthems and the repeated phrase ‘True spirit of sportsmanship’ creates the theme and the relationships between the dancers, providing some comical moments. A juxtaposition of activity and accompaniment continually triggers, adding depth and intricate qualities to this simplistic layout. Although similar movement vocabulary is notable throughout the whole bill, Politciking Oath prides itself in its unique persona, efficiently using the dancers to its advantage.
Finally, Tamsin Fitzgerald concludes this mind blowing spectacle with 7.0, a slightly more zesty finish. Eerie is the first quality that springs to mind which is fully complimented by white dust protruding from the five alternative company members, depending on the individual movements that acknowledge the dust. Inspired by a visit to Haiti after the earthquake, this piece comes at you in an urgent manner and the uncertainty is particularly prominent. You want to know what’s wrong, why all the angst? It sucks you in, in a political yet powerful way while the accompaniment results in slightly more flavoured movement responses. A strobe-like light promotes the violent energy and twitching features as the dancers fling and flail their bodies as if gone mad. Beautiful choreography enables the dancers to shift from shape to shape, creating such images like a human stepping stone. A dynamic and heart wrenching experience to not be forgotten in a hurry.
Glued to your seat unable to blink, 2Faced Dance Company are as impressive as they get. What they do, they do it well with an explosion of individual artistry. Do not miss out on such hell-raising choreography!
Published: Saturday, 29 October 2011 14:13
They Look at Me and That’s All They Think/Hatched
Dance Umbrella: Nelisiwe Xaba/Mamela Nyamza
* * *
Tonight, The Place bought us another installment courtesy of Dance Umbrella in the form of two one-woman shows. The double bill consisted of Nelisiwe Xaba’s They Look at Me and That’s All They Think plus Mamela Nyamza’s Hatched, both performed by their choreographers. New and inspiring choreographic notions filled the Robin Howard Theatre, however, this wasn’t delivered without its downfalls.
I can only wish to write a trail of splendid praise for the first piece of the night, but frustratingly my thoughts were left rather deflated. This is in actual fact a bit of a nuisance as bundles of innovative ideas were placed neatly before the audience, but they remained unfinished while I could only dream of their potential. The first image was a curious one as Nelisiwe Xaba explored a flow of movement throughout the depths of her back and arms, crouched beside a step ladder refusing to reveal her face. Once we were introduced with the impact of her pre-hidden face, the night’s activities disappointedly progressed in a half-hearted fashion. The white, wired dress was certainly put to good use providing a ‘top half’ tent staging a playful yet lazy, brightly coloured leg routine, a screen which broadcasted self resembling, cartoon hair adverts, and a swinging light made for an effective three dimensional silhouette. Bouncy castles and accentuated ‘features’ were among the other uses the dress exhibited, alongside our choreographer wrapping herself in bubble wrap executing uncomfortable, random noises which were actually an interesting highlight of the piece.
The frustrating truth is that these wonderfully creative concepts failed to connect or develop in the slightest. A horribly slack use of lighting failed to assist in any way, and an imaginative choice of accompaniment including a comical rendition of The Pussycat Doll’s Don’t Cha, was unfortunately stuck on track after track in a CD player-like fashion. An overuse of fiddling and adjusting of costume and set in between things diminished the piece of any sort of flow and interest. The piece ‘refers to the story of Sara Baartman’ and how she is ‘considered as a symbol of the oppression of the African woman by colonialism and its zoo-like way of looking at Africans’ (see programme notes), which is notable amongst these chopped up interpretations, but a strong barrier is endured between choreographer and audience due to an uninviting self exploration.
Slightly concerned that the second piece Hatched was to follow in the first’s footsteps due to the similar lighting state and dropping of a washing line peg or two, I was quite relieved to find myself pleasantly surprised. As the lights gradually rose, a tasteful structure appears by means of a washing line hung right across the back of the space, a sea of red in the form of a tent encompassing a human, lamp and table, and a stunning figure, half-naked bearing a long skirt brambled in pegs. Faintly, traffic and sirens fill the air as the figure places a metal bucket upon her head, moving along the line in pointe shoes, all the while with her back turned. Rushing, yet humming, red clothes from the bucket are hung, dressing her top half somewhere along the line. The tent is also attached which leads to an exquisitely intense moment in which the figure slowly wraps herself in the mounds of material, unveiling a young boy doing his homework while classical music attentively attends to the scene. A beautiful array of red fabric has textured the stage and it is as though every image has been carefully selected.
The movement content proves to be an exciting watch as she switches from happy to sad, emotions pouring out of the frantic inner twitching that wobbles speedily through her body. At moments, her body as a whole is so beautifully quick that she is almost out of control yet so in control at the same time. Pegs collide as she jumps up and down in utter glee to then flop back into her depressive state, and the twitching progressively grows happier. In the way of trying on clothes and begging for a cigarette, repeatedly lighting a match, she is fighting with her emotions as the boy watches her quite unfazed. The only course of action carried out by the boy is the cleaning up of pegs, which really is all that is required to convey their touching relationship. Pointe shoes are off, an increase of clothing covers her as she twitches in a far more elated mode to native music, taking what seems to be her son by the hand to proceed with the bows: an unexpected yet attractive finish as the music continues.
Artistically stunning, Hatched has earned the third star of the night. While both pieces deal with social issues in an inventive way, They Look at Me and That’s All They Think struggled to communicate; there is some unfinished business here that was sadly not dealt with.