Bernie Dieter’s Little Death Club is a raunchy cabaret, hosted by the ‘gin-soaked’ woman herself. The show has little narrative but is a collection of freakshow- type acts to get the audience laughing, gasping and exhilarated in the versatile Spiegeltent at the Underbelly Festival Southbank. The opening song was off to a surprisingly slow start and didn’t represent the rest of the spectacle. Close your eyes and you’ll feel like you’re at a Lady Gaga concert, Dieter and Gaga’s vocal resemblance is uncanny. Dragging men onto the stage (by carrying her), she set the tone with hysterical observations, flashing dick pics and belting out their original songs, all the while not taking herself too seriously. No one in the audience is safe from Dieter and her contagious energy. The five other artists brought their own talents to the table. Each act was completely unexpected almost faultless. Aerial and Contortionist Beau Sargent blew me away. He was breath-taking and dripping with confidence. Nearing the end of the show, his aerial performance was particularly poignant and added depth to this otherwise light-hearted performance. Phenomenal. Kitty Bang Bang certainly gave Little Death a different vibe, the ‘Bearded Lady’ – I won’t tell you where the beard was- being a less tasteful but equally entertaining act! Bang Bang’s fire-breathing was nothing less than astonishing and I could happily watch her wide-eyed all night. Mime artist Josh Clanc is a natural comedian. A complete contrast to the previous acts, the mime scene did lose some pace but was enjoyable nonetheless. Myra Dubois was truly a ‘siren of South Yorkshire’, her voice can surely be heard for miles! She is hilarious and feisty - I look forward to seeing more of her.Lastly, Fancy Change, described as the ‘Hair Hanging Dynamo’ is a uniqueperformer and had the entire audience on the end of their seats. The risk she takes for our benefit is most certainly appreciated.The band; Mark Elton, Jonathon Kitching, Ed Bussey and Matt Isaac brought so much liveliness to the stage, they were cleverly integrated in yet did not distract from the performances. Being in the round, it is occasionally difficult to balance the sound around the venue and at times (such as the first song), the music drowned out Bernie Dieter from where I was sitting. Some acts could be fine-tuned to perfection, but ultimately, it is a magnificent cabaret. If you’re a fan of the Greatest Showman, but open to nudity, then you’ll love The Little Death Club.Review by Hannah StoreyRating: ★★★★Seat: Unallocated (Standard seats) | Price of Ticket: £21.50
May 12, 2019
Nailah MathewsPre-Casting sticks in the craws of every unprofessional theatre artist, and probably in a lot of professional ones, too. Spawning drama that makes every stage manager worth their kit roll their eyes into next weekend, pre-casting somehow manages to worm its way into any given conversation about theater. High school and undergraduate university productions, regional theatres, children’s theatres alike, all seem to struggle with this one concept that actors all loathe somewhat equally. Of course, being pre-cast is flattering, but no actor is happy knowing someone else got a part we were right for, too just because somebody knew somebody else; our egos are too big to allow it. But how do we survive pre-casting and all the evil that comes with it?By calming down for two seconds, and thinking critically about why it happens. Theaters are places where art happens, that much is true. But what art happens, where, and by whom is determined by the theater’s bottom line. Money makes the world go around, and until an economic revolution happens, we kind of just have to deal with it. Pre-casting happens because theaters need to pay their artists. It’s been a long time since we’ve had anything even remotely looking like a federally run program designed to bolster the arts in trying economic times (this article is absolutely a love letter to the Federal Theatre Project) and theatres have to pick shows that they know will make them a decent amount of money. One way of doing that is by considering what actors they currently have in rotation, and who could play what. It’s not personal; it’s economics. A theatre has to look realistically and who’s around so that they can know which shows they can afford to/expect to produce in a season. If they picked shows blindly out of a hat, then a predominately white theatre does ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille,’ and then we’re all unhappy.Even in smaller theatres that have to work with specific budgets are victims of their bottom lines. Having recently graduated from an undergraduate theatre department myself, I know how much it stings but also why it has to happen. But as one of only three black girls in my department, it’s difficult to feel flattered when the role you’re pre-cast for is a formerly enslaved woman. And despite how beautiful the part is, and despite the fact that the part is the emotional linchpin of the play, it’s difficult not to feel insulted. Pigeonholed. Chosen for tokenism. Playing a black woman whose entire role in the play is to provide emotional support and tongue-in-cheek sexual advice to two other white women in a play written by another white woman; I’d rather a department pick something classical and cast it color-blind than have to get stuck in a situation where I feel I may have to compromise my own morals just to enjoy making theatre with the people I love. But I know that choosing that show was my department’s attempt at giving me an opportunity to dig hard into a part, and show off my abilities as a dramatic actor. So why does it still sting? Pre-casting tells actors that our talent either matters entirely or not at all. That their work, their drive, their dedication to their practice, is either the only deciding factor in whether or not they cast, or it’s bullshit. Nobody wants to think that their work is bullshit. You survive pre-casting by realizing that it happens for an important economic reason. Plenty of theatres use the money they make from big-budget musicals, for example, to furnish the smaller productions that enforce the theatre’s mission. Those big shows need names that crowds know and love so that they make the money that these theatres need so that they can take chances on actors that no one has ever heard of before. But it’s similarly important to take a good hard look at the way pre-casting effects students and actors of color, both emotionally and professionally. There are plenty of stories where black women are the architects of their journeys and not props to help the white leads stand on their own two feet. Theatres nationwide need to step up, and especially those in predominately white environments, so that the actors of color that do exist in those spaces are seen and heard and celebrated as more than just the token background Asian, or the Latina nurse with red nails and a lousy attitude. Pre-casting happens to us because it’s how theatre remakes itself. It doesn’t have to define you as an actor. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t good enough, or that your face is the wrong shape, or that you bombed your audition. It’s a necessary evil that is entirely possible to overcome, provided you’re patient enough to wait until musical season is over.
May 11, 2019
Despite closing after just two weeks on Broadway, Amour, a beautifully sweet piece, garnered several nominations at the Tony’s. Endlessly romantic, this musical adaptation of Marcel Ayme’s Le Masse-Muraille follows the tale of Dusoleil, a nobody who becomes the talk of the town when he develops the ability to walk through walls.Amour harnesses a perfect balance of romance and comedy, with some of the funniest lyrics hidden within delicious ballads. Michel LeGrand’s score is meticulous, with constant changesof time-signature and style, and lyrics that rival that of Sondheim. It takes a while to acclimatise, but by the end of the show we are left yearning for more of its twists and turns.The entire company is a joy, expertly assembled by Danielle Tarento. This is a real ensemble effort and Hannah Chiswick’s direction allows every cast member to shine throughout. She and choreographer Matt Cole ask a lot of their cast, cycling and climbing walls, all whilst delivering stunning vocals.Gary Tushaw’s vibrato can be coarse at times, but his performance as Dusoleil/Passepartout is sublime. Dusoleil is shy and retiring amongst his colleagues, but in his own space, he blossoms, and Tushaw really soars when the score allows for it. His material is tricky but delivered expertly, and the audience is behind him all the way. There was a communal sigh when, finally meeting Passepartout, Isabelle (Anna O’Byrne) says “you are not what I imagined”.Claire Machin delivers yet another wonderful turn, both as dull office-worker Claire and the Whore. Her duet with Elissa Churchill – soaring ballad and ode to the incarcerated Dusoleil packed full of double entendre – is one of the highlights of the show. Later, Machin delights with “Whore’s Lament”, swinging from a ladder whilst recalling the woes of being an older lady of the night.Jordan Li-Smith leads the band masterfully, and special mention must go to Andrew Johnson for his sound design. So often Fringe and Off-West End productions suffer from poor balance and drowned-out vocals. Here, we need to hear every single lyric, and we absolutely do.Everything about this production is carefully calculated, and it is abundantly clear that this creative team are a tight unit, working in harmony to bring this hidden gem to life. The staging is a treat in itself, and we very quickly forget that this is essentially just a collection of chairs. I particularly loved the use of bunting lights, which swell as Passepartout moves through physical matter to finally be with his love. This, coupled with a gorgeous arpeggio from the band sent shivers and escalated the romance to another level. Other shows currently running in London (some with a considerably bigger budget) could learn a lot from this production.Amour is an unexpected treasure, and it thrills from beginning to end. I implore you to see it.Review by Ian MarshallRating: ★★★★★
May 10, 2019
The cast has been announced for the first UK and international tour of The Book of Mormon as the show extends its run at Manchester Palace Theatre.The musical, which will open in Manchester in June, will be led by Kevin Clay as Elder Price and Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham, who both played their respective roles in the Broadway and US touring productions of the musical.Joining them will be Nicole-Lily Baisden as Nabulungi, William Hawksworth as Elder McKinley, Ewen Cummins as Mafala Hatimbi, Johnathan Tweedie as Joseph Smith and Thomas Vernal as the General.The company will include Sanchia Amber Clarke, Jed Berry, David Brewis, Melissa Brown-Taylor, Chinasa, Tre Copeland-Williams, George Crawford, Jordan Lee Davies, Jemal Felix, Patrick George, Isaac Hesketh, M-Jae Cleopatra Isaac, Evan James, Alex James-Hatton, Nicole Louise, Fergal McGoff, Jesus Reyes Ortiz, Lawrence Rowe, Lukin Simmonds, Chomba S Taulo, Brad Veitch, Tommy Wade-Smith, Sharon Wattis and Jacob Yarlett.First staged in 2011, Parker, Lopez and Stone's piece follows two Mormon missionaries as they try to convert the citizens of a remote Ugandan village to Mormonism. The show had its West End premiere in 2013, going on to win four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical and Best Actor in a Musical. It is co-directed by Parker and Casey Nicholaw with design by Scott Pask, costume design by Ann Roth, lighting by Brian Macdevitt and sound by Brian Ronan.The production will continue to Sunderland following its run in Manchester, with the show now booking until Saturday 10 August at the Palace Theatre.
May 08, 2019
Liverpool’s Royal Court is a creative hub for new, Scouse* writing, that attracts audiences from all around the city. As writer and executive producer of the theatre, Kevin Fearon’s new production, based on Lerner and Lowe’s 1956 musical ‘My Fair Lady’, certainly fits this bill, but does this story need a somewhat makeover, not too dissimilar from the lead protagonist herself?Set in our modern day of 2019, Lizzie Ripon, and her feisty co-worker Steph, run a posh florist in Liverpool One, in desperate need of some financial gain. On the flip side, the McDermott family are about to lose the mother of their family, Julie, and are leaving son, Higson, a large sum of money if he can find himself ‘a good Scouse woman’ to settle down with. Lizzie and Higson hit it off, but Lizzie needs to convince the family that she’s a ‘proper Scouser’ to win the jackpot, which friend and expert, Steph, helps with.The cast include some Royal Court regulars, including Michael Starke as Alf MsDermott and Helen Carter as Steph. Both actors give a classic zest of the Liverpudlian charm to this show, packed in nicely with some real and touching moments. This is shown in particular from Starke in the latter stages of the story. Carter provides drops of comic relief, which is delivered with confidence and a punch. Unfortunately, Danny O’Brien as Higson lacks energy and power for the stage with his portrayal. His direction seems stilted, with him placed in the middle of the stage on a number of occasions, with no real purpose or objective- a real shame considering the calibre of work he boasts. Love interest, Jessica Days as Lizzie Ripon is a touch of class amongst the Scouse chaos. She takes her character on a journey, showing both the comedic side, balanced nicely with her truthful portrayal of a woman in crisis. A highlight is the final scene in Act 1, in which Lizzie is transforming into the caricature she’s been asked to be. Her comic timing and commitment to the scene is commendable, and reads well to the audience. The set is a highlight within this production. The modern, sleek revolve, allowsactors to swap from the hospital room, to the florist and further afield. The idea is good, but the execution needs work. The revolve causes for lengthy scene changes, as the set has to be moved upstage to land on the turn table before it moves, helped by stage hands dressed in relevant costumes- slightly less slick than initially planned. In addition to this, a sound bite of a wordless melody line sung by some of the actors is played as set is moved, which seems disjointed and a far cry from the story itself. This breaks up the action, and takes audiences out of it completely. Although this story is resolved in the end, and the relevant message of ‘be yourself’ strongly sent out to its audiences as they leave the theatre, it still, however, lacks depth and integrity. Some of the areas that are brought up within the show are truthful, but it is shunned with a blanket of cheap gags and unrealistic ideals. This could work within the artistic world its being placed in, however by setting it in such realistic circumstances, its hard to believe that this story would actually be a viable one to not only tell, but stand as credible. If you’re looking for a cheap night out, a Liverpool’esque story, and some Royal Court regulars, My Fairfield Lady is a good way to spend your evening. However with elements of truth disguised in a masquerade of Scouse humour, it doesn’t quite match up to the highly acclaimed and successful musical it took its inspiration from. *Scouse: the dialect or accent of people from Liverpool, short for Scouser.Review by Victoria Morris Rating: ★★Seat: Stalls L3 | Price of Ticket: £19 per ticket
May 02, 2019
Lucy O’Byrne and Mark Moraghan are to join the cast of the quirky off-Broadway hit musical Little Miss Sunshine for its UK tour which begins at Churchill Theatre, Bromley on 16 May 2019. Irish actress and singer Lucy O’Byrne will star as Sheryl, the matriarch of the eccentric Hoover family. Lucy shot to fame on The Voice (BBC) in 2015 and was the runner-up that year. Her theatre credits include Eva Peron in Evita (UK, Ireland & Germany Tour), Fantine in Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre – West End), Maria in The Sound of Music (UK and Ireland Tour), River Woman in Therese Raquin (Park Theatre) and Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof (Gaiety Theatre-Dublin). She has appeared on Friday Night is Music Night-Live from the London Palladium (BBC Radio 2), BBC Proms in the Park (BBC) and as Sam & Jessica in Ballybraddan (RTÉ/Monster Animation). Lucy appears on The Sound of Music(EP), NOW That’s What I Call Classical and Therese Raquin (Original Cast Recording) Her album ‘Debut’ is available now.Mark Moraghan will be Grandpa (the role that won Alan Arkin an Academy award). Mark recently appeared as Tim Richards in Emmerdale and is perhaps best known for his roles as Adrian Mortimer in Coronation Street, Owen Davis in Holby City, Ray Wyatt in Dream Team, Greg Shadwick in Brookside and Eddie Quinn in London’s Burning. His theatre credits include Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Palace Theatre, London), The Rise and Fall of Little Voice(Bolton Octagon) By The Waters Of Liverpool (Empire Theatre Liverpool) Royal Court 80 (Royal Court Liverpool), You'll Never Walk Alone (Royal Court Liverpool, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta), One Night in Istanbul (Liverpool Echo, Gaiety Theatre Dublin and GOH Belfast), Peter Pan (Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells), Franklyn J Hart in 9 to 5 (National Tour), Nightmare on Lime Street, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Our Day Out and Funny Money (all for Royal Court, Liverpool), My Fair Lady (Liverpool Philharmonic); Come Fly With Me (Millennium Centre Cardiff); Twopence to Cross the Mersey (Liverpool Empire); Strictly Murder (UK Tour); Eric’s (Liverpool Everyman); Bad Blood (Key Theatre); Bouncers, Little Match Girl, Barbarians, and Arabian Nights (Unity Theatre); Macbeth (Art Theatre Company); Fears and Miseries of the Third Reich (Liverpool Playhouse and Young Vic); The Beaux Stratagem (Liverpool Playhouse); The Jungle Book (Cleveland Theatre Company); and High Rise Dreamer (Liverpool Lunchtime Theatre Company) and most recently Jack and the Beanstalk, Floral Theatre New Brighton. Mark is the narrator of the popular children's TV showThomas the Tank Engine. He follows fellow Liverpudlian's Ringo Starr & Michael Angelis and is the voice of the programme in all English language territories including the US.The rest of the Hoover family remain unchanged from the Arcola Theatre’s run with Gabriel Vick as Sheryl’s husband Richard, two-time Olivier nominee Paul Keating as Sheryl’s brother Frank and Sev Keoshgerian as Sheryl’s son Dwayne. The role of Olive will again be shared by Evie Gibson, Sophie Hartley Booth and Lily Mae Denman. Ian Carlyle (Larry/Buddy), Imelda Warren-Green (Linda/Miss California) and Matthew McDonald (Joshua Rose/Kirby) also continue in their roles. Joining the cast are Jaimie Pruden and Jacob Jackson.Completing the cast are the ‘Mean Girls’ who will be performed by Alicia Belgarde, Scarlet Roche and Elena Christie.Based on the Academy Award-winning film by Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine is the off-beat musical comedy created by the Tony Award-winning team of James Lapine (who collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on Into the Woodsand Sunday in the Park with George) and William Finn (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Falsettos). This new production is directed by Arcola’s Artistic Director Mehmet Ergen with design by David Woodhead, musical direction by Arlene McNaught, musical supervision by Mark Crossland, lighting design by Richard Williamson, sound design byOlly Steel, and choreography by Anthony Whiteman. The Hoover family has more than a few troubles, but young Olive has her heart set on winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. When an invitation to compete comes out of the blue, the Hoovers must pile into their rickety, yellow VW camper van. Can it survive the 800-mile trip from New Mexico to California – and more importantly, can they? This inventive and uplifting musical celebrates the quirks of every family, the potholes in every road, and the power of overcoming our differences.
May 01, 2019
It says an awful lot when a show hasn’t been seen in London for over 50 years, which is the case with the English National Opera’s latest production, Man of La Mancha.Michael Linnit and Michael Grade mention in their programme notes that they consider the piece to be on par with West Side Story, My Fair Ladyand the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I just don’t see it. Despite the sensational talents of the orchestra, Mitch Leigh’s score doesn’t thrill, and its famous “The Impossible Dream” fails to enthrall on both occasions; Kelsey Grammer’s Act I finale, and the full company reprise that closes the show. It should be electrifying, but something is missing.When Miguel de Cervantes (Kelsey Grammer) is imprisoned – we frustratingly never out much about his crimes – he brings with him a trunk filled with paraphernalia from his apparently wonderful career as an entertainer, plus the unfinished manuscript for his novel Don Quixote. As his fellow inmates attempt to steal his belongings, Cervantes offers them a performance, and subsequently plays out said novel in the role of Alonso Quijana/Don Quixote.With such an varied and impressive catalogue of work behind him, including a wonderful performance in Big Fish at The Other Palace in 2017, it is disappointing to now see Grammer in a role so reminiscent of his television alter ego Frasier Crane; an hysterical man, born (if sometimes forceful) leader and occasion snob. It feels at times as if we are watching a musical episode of Frasier, rather than the beginnings of Don Quixote. I wonder if different choices, both by Grammer himself and director Lonny Price, would have resulted in a more genuine performance.Mina Patel gives a pleasing performance as Padre, with moments of wit in “We’re Only Thinking of Him”, and the complete contrast of his haunting “To Each His Dulcinea”. There is also wonderful work from Peter Polycarpou as Cervantes’/Quijana’s right hand man. Both Patel and Polycarpou benefit from some of the better material, and provide relief and excitement in a score that is largely unmemorable.Opera star Danielle de Niese gives a brilliant performance with “What Does He Want of Me?”. Her soprano lends itself to this score beautifully, although it rarely offers her the chance to take flight, leaving us wanting more. The exception is with “Dulcinea (Reprise)” which thrills, albeit briefly.There are so many shows in the musical theatre repertoire with similar themes of hope and strength that deliver in a way that Man of La Manchadoes not. Having loved Price’s acclaimed production of Sunset Boulevard, it is clear that Man of La Manchais flawed piece, rather than a flawed effort.Review by Ian Marshall Rating: ★★★Seat: D/C E10 | Price of Ticket: £77.25
April 30, 2019
Never mind Avengers: Assemble, this epic TheatreMAD fundraiser is West End: Assemble, as heroes from all departments give their best Eurovision-inspired performances, in the hope of lifting the glittering trophy at the end of the night.Back for its 9thyear, this highlight of the theatrical calendar boasted another fabulous panel of celebrity judges; Love Island and 9 to 5 star Amber Davies, television’s Tim Vincent, ballet impresario Wayne Sleep and stage and screen royalty Bonnie Langford. Throughout the night they treated us to hilarious patter, particularly Sleep, and the audience lapped it up.Host Richard Gauntlett is a marvel. Each year, he has the audience eating from the palm of his hand with his lightning-quick wit, and this year was no exception. Special mention must also go to Musical Director and Arranger Matheson Bayley, perhaps the hero of the night, leading the seven-piece band through all of the performances. Events like this can easily fall apart without careful planning and rehearsal; with Gauntlett and Bayley at the helm, there is certainly no danger of that.This year, the shows competing for the trophy were Only Fools & Horses, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Aladdin, Mamma Mia!, Follies, Wickedand reigning champions The Phantom of the Opera. Everyone involved devotes their time voluntarily, and an extraordinary amount of time and energy goes into creating the idents, costumes, choreography, vocal arrangements and technical work on and offstage.The best choreography (and execution) of the night came from the cast of Wicked, with their performance of 2004 Ukrainian entry “Wild Dances”. Exciting, inventive, and incredibly tight, the dancers did choreographers Scott Sutcliffe and Paulo Teixeira proud. It was great to see Sutcliffe summoned to the stage for commendation from Bonnie Langford, and the performance won the Judges’ award for Best Direction & Choreography at the end of the night. It certainly got my vote!It was incredibly humbling to see West End veterans Joanna Riding and Janie Dee (who also choreographed) appear in the Folliesperformance, 1977 French entry “L’oiseau et L’enfant”. This was a complete contrast to everything else we saw throughout the evening, and proof that sometimes less is more. It was simple, still and sung entirely in French (a first for West End Eurovision), with flawless accents.Reigning champions The Phantom of the Opera showed us once again that they know how to deliver. Their take on “Grande Amore”, the 2015 Italian entry, was spellbinding, and garnered a standing ovation. Another huge contrast to the other performances, they stayed true to their operatic routes, with costume reveals and the most epic key change of the evening. It was no surprise that they held onto their title as West End Eurovision 2019 Champions.Special guest performances came from from the UK’s 2019 entry, Michael Rice, and Eurovision legend and 1998 winner Dana International. Rice’s “Bigger Than Us” feels reminiscent of The Greatest Showman’s“This Is Me”, but does take a while to get going. Dana International treated us to her anthem “DIVA”, and was joined by the West End Eurovision dancers, with choreography by Will Peaco. For the die-hard Eurovision fans in the room (and there were a lot of them), Dana International’s appearance was a real treat.It is always so wonderful to see the theatre community coming together to raise money for an incredibly worthy cause, particularly at a time where there is so much unrest around the world. The work the Make A Difference Trust does both in the UK and in Sub-Saharan Africa supports those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. They’ve been changing lives for nearly 30 years, and will continue to for years to come with the money raised by this wonderful event.The results:Best Ident – Everybody’s Talking About JamieBest Costume (Most Fabulous) – The Phantom of the OperaJudges’ Choice (Best Direction & Choreography) – WickedWest End Eurovision 2019 Champions – The Phantom of the OperaReview by Ian Marshall Rating: ★★★★Seat: Dress Circle, M22 | Price of Ticket: £25 - £50, VIP packages £110
April 30, 2019