Five Guys Named Moe ~ Marble Arch Theatre ~ 08.03.2018

Another show where I purposefully didn’t do too much research about as I often like the element of surprise – and another show where it paid off!

What a joy this show is – an explosion of song and dance in an immersive setting. Because this isn’t just walking into a room, seeing a show, then leaving. Let’s start from the beginning of the entire experience.

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Showing at the purpose-built  Marble Arch Theatre, the first thing you notice from the approach to the theatre is that you are about to step right into the world of the characters in New Orleans. The exterior of the theatre, the bar serving Louisiana’s finest cocktails, the jukebox, the try-on costumes – the bandstand. The entire room decked out to look the part.

Shortly before the show, members of the band take to the bandstand to give you a taster of the live entertainment to follow. Always nice for a show to have a pre-show – if there is any show you don’t just show up to 5 mins before curtain, it’s this one!

Entering the main venue – a circular theatre with a band of seating in a circle, a walkway running around the venue connecting to the stage, and a couple more rows of circular seating inside the circle and then cabaret seating in the middle. Taking time to wander around the theatre, and taking into account the staging, I don’t imagine there is a bad seat in the house. The cast are continuously walking around the audience on that circular walkway, so you can be sat in the back row but still only 5ft away from live action due to the immersive feel of the show.

The energy of this show is contagious and the audience interactions keep the party feel going. If you’re here for a deep review of plot and character development, this might not be the show for you – the plot is paper thin and the show is all about showing the impressing vocal, dancing and comedy skills of this very talented cast.

The show centres around Nomax, a lost soul who we encounter drunk in his flat following a confrontation with his girlfriend. As he passes out to the radio, the Five Moes appear and impart all their worldly knowledge in a bit to help him clean up his act and get his lady back. All through song and dance, of course.

The live band onstage are incredible and fully deserving of their own ovations at the end of each half – the first slightly obscured by the entire audience forming a conga line out of the theatre towards the bar. But they get an extended run out at each end of the second half to allow you to show appreciation. Running through a variety of songs by Louis Jordan, blending genres from jazz to blues/rock, having the band there onstage rather than down in an orchestra pit really adds to the atmosphere.

It’s impossible to pick out anyone in particular for praise because all six performers had brilliant comic timing, superb vocals and moved through the dances with ease. It’s no surprise several nominations for individuals have poured in, resulting in the cast often up against each other  in various categories.

The show is only running until the end of the month, and I’m curious to see what will pop up at the theatre afterwards, or whether the theatre will be taken down again. It’s such a great venue the team have built here – with the themed bar area, it would be great for other pop-up venues to create more of a package around the show. Having the bar area open for an hour after the show finished was unusual but helped make the night.

Tickets for Five Guys Named Moe are available here until 24th March. Don’t miss your chance to see this.

 

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My favourite Impro nights

I’ll start with a disclaimer that this is not an exhaustive list of all the London or UK impro groups and gigs out there – and it’s certainly not a proper review of those gigs. Simply that I wanted to record in my blog some of the fantastic regular nights that are out there and the venues to look at, as I find writing about impro comedy a bit trickier than talking about plays and bigger productions. Perhaps as every night is so different and there are fewer elements to pick out – for example staging is often just the comedians and a couple of chairs.

You’d think elements of writing about standup would be the same but I guess for many stand up comedians there are narrative arcs which give a reviewer something to hang an opinion piece on. Or you might comment on topic choices or delivery technique. All of these don’t quite work when talking about improvisation. And anyway, I’m not a proper reviewer so my opinion should be taken with a pinch of salt – I only write these little pieces to highlight what wonderful variety of live entertainment there is to see and hopefully encourage people to try something a bit new.

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Comedy Store Players ~ Comedy Store, London

Longest running impro group and regular gig (that I know of, I’ll gladly be corrected on this if this isn’t the case) – in their 33rd year together. A core group of six performers (Andy Smart, Josie Lawrence, Lee Simpson, Neil Mullarkey, Paul Merton and Richard Vranch) form the regular cast, who appear every Wednesday and Sunday joined by a rotation of guests from a list of phenomenally talented improvisers . If you know even the slightest thing about impro you will know who they are. The Comedy Store Players are the most consistently funny group of people I have ever had the pleasure to see onstage, and I have seen them more times than I care to count. Some guests include: Miles Jupp, Ruth Bratt, Steve Steen, Marcus Brigstocke, Suki Webster, Phelim McDermott, Pippa Evans and Cariad Lloyd among several others of equally high quality. I still consider this the best value night out in London with guaranteed laughs and they are my go-to recommendation for anyone looking to see a comedy gig in London. Take a look at their website for ticket and lineup news. For UK-wide appearances, you can catch many of the members performing at venues all over the country on various tours as part of Steve Frost’s Impro All-Stars or Paul Merton’s Impro Chums.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical ~ Lyric Theatre, London + National Tour

Okay, so here’s where my assertion that because impro comedy is often just people on stage, a couple of chairs and off you go, you can’t review it like a full play rings false. Showstopper! is an improvised musical which makes you forget that you’re not seeing a full set design, rehearsed choreography and costumes and that it’s a guy with a piano and not a 30 piece orchestra in the pit. Their recent Olivier Award win is a testament to how it stands up to the more fully-designed shows in the West End. The aforementioned Ruth Bratt and Pippa Evans are part of the core cast of Showstopper!, which was co-founded by Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery. Whenever I’ve seen them perform, they’ve displayed a fantastic knowledge of the various stylings of the different West End and Broadway musicals, able to move effortlessly between Cats, Hamilton and Lion King. Such a talented bunch and very deserving of all successes. Check their website for London dates and their National Tour.

The Playground ~ The Miller (+ other locations)

A female-only space, often hosted by Hoopla Impro at The Miller, showcasing the best talent on the circuit and nurturing the next generation. Fronted by Breaking & Entering – AKA Maria Peters and Lauren Shearing, they create a first half as a combination of recent graduates from impro courses, giving them a supportive audience to take their first steps onstage. Maria and Lauren then take the rest of the first half with their double-act impro, which is always a lot of fun. Their second half welcomes guests from the world of impro – many names already mentioned in this piece but additionally I’ve been fortunate to see excellent performers like Katy Schutte, Briony Redman and Susan Harrison. Follow Breaking & Entering on Twitter for gig details.

Newsical ~ The Miller

A fun series of single-scene musical theatre pieces, created entirely from news headlines sourced by audience members. The cast perform in rotations and usually 5 or 6 performers will be at any given performance. I’ve seen a number of people onstage at Newsical gigs and have particularly enjoyed the work of Francesca Reid, James Le Lacheur, James Witt and Tai Campbell, having seen most of those in other shows aswell. I was lucky enough to catch the debut of the group at An Actor’s Nightmare / Newsical double bill at The Miller in summer 2017 and then once or twice since, but as of the start of 2018 they seem to have a regular fortnightly gig at The Miller which will really be worth a look in on. Keep up to date with their activities via their Twitter feed.

Impropera ~ Kings Place (+ other locations)

Impropera, the show devised as a mashup between ‘Impro’ and ‘Opera’, not – as Niall Ashdown helpfully explains – a mashup of ‘improper’ and ‘a’.

Some games have the air of familiarity about them, but with the added operatic or musical dimension. For example – the translation game is now no longer a speech delivered to a room with handy verbal subtitling going on, but is now a german operatic piece, conveyed with all the passion and vocal stylings of any opera. The film & theatre styles now becomes a list of various composers, playing upon a theme decided by the audience. So you might hear variations on Three Blind Mice in the style of Chopin, Philip Glass, Elton John and Vivaldi – yes, sometimes someone completely unexpected is called out. I mean, who would suggest Vivaldi?!

The first half plays out with various games – my favourite being the 4 piece Baroque Chorus, which showcases the phenomenal talents of all involved. The second half is a one-act opera with the audience working as the chorus. Oh yes, everyone gets to join in! Technically I have performed in several West End operatic productions, with my part in the chorus line in the opera involving a car wash scene being particularly well-received (I maintain “Scrub my hubs” is my favourite improvisation suggestion from an audience member. Full disclosure – it was my friend’s suggestion. And I hope he doesn’t read this as his ego doesn’t need the help).

The core cast don’t rotate so much but occasionally guest performers will step in. Niall Ashdown fills the role of host for the evening and is usually joined by David Pearl, Morag McLaren, Susan Bisatt and Louise Crane as singers, with pianist Anthony Ingle and woodwind maestro Peter Furniss adding the musical element which brings the show to life.

Impropera hold semi-regular gigs at Kings Place, but as of 2016 have added an exciting new concept called Muso – a version of their show hosted in various museums, where audiences are invited to find interesting artifacts for the cast to sing about. It’s a concept devised by David Pearl and I was lucky enough last year to see shows in the Grant Museum of Zoology and the British Museum, and to see these operatic scenes unfold around a Victorian science collection or the Egyptian exhibits really does transform the show. There are a few Muso gigs booked in for the first half of 2018 so check the Impropera website for more info.

Slattery Night Fever ~ London Improv Theatre

Like many others, my first taste of impro came in the form of hit 80s/90s television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? The show helped establish several talented individuals in the collective consciousness of the British TV-viewing public – one of these was the inimitable Tony Slattery, who has recently returned to live impro with a Saturday night residency at the London Improv Theatre on Finchley Road.

If you like your impro rough and ready with a healthy dose of chaos, then pop along to Slattery Night Fever, a show hosted by husband-and-wife team Neil Cole and Lesley Ann Albiston. The regular team are completed by another married duo, jazz musician Sandra Mae Luykx and Alan Marriott, who as an improviser with a superb singing voice, has established himself as the lynchpin of the show. Every Saturday night sees a rotation in the impro games played and different guests joining in the fun, so keep an eye on the London Improv Theatre website for full details.

Glenda J Collective ~ Various Locations

A quality quartet of Cariad Lloyd, Josie Lawrence, Ruth Bratt and Pippa Evans perform semi-regular gigs usually in London but last year did appear at the Edinburgh Fringe and the Improvisation festival in Birmingham. I’ve seen all four performers appear in various shows separately over the years, but together they are simply wonderful.

Josie is a longstanding member of the Comedy Store Players, and the others have guested at the Comedy Store a number of times, but you can also catch Cariad Lloyd as part of Cariad and Paul (alongside Paul Foxcroft) or as part of Austentatious. Ruth Bratt and Pippa Evans both perform as part of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical but you can also see Ruth alongside Dylan Emery as Ghost Couple, and Pippa Evans often performs standup either as herself or her character Loretta Maine.

This show is a more broad, sketch-based show which are sometimes standalone and sometimes interlinked rather than a set of separate games. Generally speaking the audience will lay out suggestions at the start and the gang will create and evolve scenes from those initial suggestions. It makes the night feel more like a natural progression than being constantly stop-start as some short-form impro shows can be.

Although you can catch the guys in various shows all year round, seeing them perform together is rarer. Currently booking is a one night only appearance at Hoopla Impro on 29th March, and a three night run at the Soho Theatre 12th-14th July.

Guest Speaker ~ The Miller / The Museum of Comedy

Devised by Suki Webster and featuring a rotation of excellent guests from the impro world, this show had a home for a while as part of Hoopla Impro comedy nights at The Miller in London Bridge, but June 2018 will see a new season of shows taking place at The Museum of Comedy. I’m looking forward to that as I’ve not yet visited that venue.

The first half features many of the short-form impro games casual viewers of improvised comedy shows will be aware of, but the second half features the four performers all taking on a solo talk on a subject matter given to them by the audience. Each talk will feature some sort of obstacle, whether it be needing to cover a range of accents, or speak in rhyme etc. It’s a nice gear shift to have slightly longer pieces and the solo talks add another dimension to the format. The evening will then usually round off with another short group game to bring everyone together again.

It’s a lot of fun and again just something with a little bit of a different element to what other shows are doing. Information and tickets for the June run see the Museum of Comedy website.

Venue Guide ~ Hoopla Impro @ The Miller

I’ve been visiting The Miller with increasing frequency over the past couple of years, having been first introduced to it with the first season of Suki Webster’s Guest Speaker show. Having since seen a number of fantastic shows and acts – An Actor’s Nightmare, Newsical, The Playground, Ghost Couple, Bareback Kings, Do Not Adjust Your Stage and Abandoman – and with the number of courses available for people to try out improv for themselves, The Miller is really carving out a home for impro and building a community. Their website contains info you need for both shows and courses available.

Venue Guide ~ London Improv Theatre

A fairly new venue on my radar – I first discovered its existence when the Glenda J Collective announced a gig there before Christmas, and as I booked my tickets, spotted Tony Slattery’s gig which had started up. I booked in for a show and immediately fell in love with the place. Candlelit cabaret tables, very friendly staff and a nice space to watch performances in. They host a mix of comedy, live music and mixed open spot evenings of poetry, music and chat. More details of their scheduled shows can be found here.

 

A couple of shows/venues I’ve heard lots of good things about but haven’t yet got around to seeing/visiting:

Austentatious – I’ve yet to see this improvised Austen show live but friends of mine have raved about it so I am trying to find a performance date I am available. It has a cast including Cariad Lloyd, Joseph Mopurgo, Rachel Parris and Charlotte Gittins, who I have seen in various other productions.

Crime Scene Improvisation – an improvised whodunnit – watch as the killer is revealed, to even the cast. This came to my attention recently when I saw Lee Apsey appear in Slattery Night Fever – after enjoying his performance I’ve looked at other projects he was involved with, this came up and sounds like an interesting and fun concept so I will be dropping in to one of their upcoming gigs.

Nursery Theatre – a bit like Hoopla Impro, the Nursery Theatre is making itself a dedicated space for impro shows, committed to running regular established nights and hosting jam sessions for beginners, really creating a community feel. It’s located between Liverpool St and Moorgate so do pay a visit if you are in the area.

And finally…

Do keep an eye out for the annual 50 hour London Improvathon. I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s event at Stockwell Playhouse and whilst I was able to dip in and out during the course of the weekend, several of the performers lasted the duration. Impressive stuff and well worth a visit next year!

 

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Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour ~ Duke of York’s Theatre ~ 02.06.2017

A riotous one-act turn full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the Duke of York’s Theatre is currently home to a refreshing addition to the West End.

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I missed the run at the National Theatre last year, as part of a national tour which led to the production winning “Best New Comedy” at the Olivier Awards a few months ago, so the announcement of a West End transfer was a welcome one.

Based on Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos, the show features six headstrong Oban girls, heading to Edinburgh for the day to compete in a school choir competition – and to go “f**king mental” at the same time.

I’d not read the novel prior to seeing the show, nor had I wanted to read too much about it – sometimes with a show, it’s nice to go in without any degree of expectation as to what you will see. The notice on entry regarding strong language gave some clues as to what the night might entail – and it didn’t disappoint!

The fast-paced soundtrack of primarily ELO numbers perfectly accompanies the whirlwind day of fun in Edinburgh, and the show plays out almost like a highly caffeinated comic strip, full of action, drama and killer lines.

But don’t presume the show has no heart or is lacking emotion. For all the bravado of the girls, there are always hints to remind the audience that they are taking their first steps into the adult world, with all the uncertainty, fear and trepidation that affords any adolescent. Add into the mix the genuine heartache which comes to light during the show, and you actually get a group of well-rounded characters with real depth to them.

I wish it didn’t feel noteworthy that the core cast of six and the support three-piece onstage band were all young women – the gender imbalance in theatre is improving, definitely with representation onstage and more gradually with the meatier roles – but it really was a joy to see such a tight-knit group take on their principal roles plus a host of peripheral characters.

All six of the cast were fantastic to see -Caroline Deyga and Laura Sweeney as Chell and Manda had some great comic lines and superb delivery. Sweeney also providing a great secondary character as a shy, unassuming lad who walks around with a budgie in a cage, but carefully places the cage on the floor when he’s breakdancing to impress.

Frances McCann as Kylah and Karen Fishwick as Kay delivered astounding vocals, with McCann really giving the show the rocky edge it needed in those high octane band numbers. Fishwick’s portrayal as the seemingly well-to-do Kay was understated and very real throughout. The later two-hander scenes with Kay and the loud, brashy Fionnula, expertly portrayed by Dawn Sievewright,  were a meeting of two extremes of the group, and worked very well.

For me, the performance of the show was Isis Hainsworth, who played Orla. Throwing herself into a hedonistic celebration of recovering from cancer, she’s very much the baby of the group, but immediately has the audience onside. Her story unravels throughout the course of the play and you learn more of her experiences in hospital, whilst enjoying watching her develop her romance with the boy-with-the-budgie.

All in all – a heart-warming, riotous coming-of-age story that will leave you half nostalgic for your youth and more than half glad you don’t have to go through that again!

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is playing at the Duke of York Theatre until 2nd September.

 

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Murder Ballad ~ Arts Theatre ~ 08.11.2016

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“Listen and I’ll tell a tale
A tale where good does not prevail
A King, a Queen, a Club, a Knave
One is destined for the grave…”

Those words delivered by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt in the narrator role perfectly set the scene for what is to come as we delve into the murky lives of Michael, Sara and Tom. In-keeping with classic ‘Whodunit’ traditions, the audience are aware that onstage their is a killer and a murder will take place, the extra tension builds as nobody is aware who the victim (or victims) will be.

Murder Ballad is set in modern New York City, driven along by a pop-rock soundtrack that brings out the best in the cast’s vocals. As a show with only 4 characters, the fact that two of them are Kerry Ellis and Ramin Karimloo shows the level of talent we are working with here. In fact it was the casting which drew me to this show and the two aforementioned performers were a joy to watch. As Sara and Tom they complete two thirds of the love triangle which reveals itself to be the catalyst for murder. They are joined by Norman Bowman, who puts in a great performance as family man and academic Michael – in stark contrast to Karimloo’s darker, dangerously possessive Tom.

The quartet is completed by someone previously unknown to me, but someone I am keen to see again – Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. Her role as the narrator moves the show along at moments where the intensity drops, and her vocal performance throughout was exquisite. It is her enigmatic presence throughout, standing in the shadows, chain-smoking through the scenes, which evokes classic noir in this modern setting.

It’s a one-act, 90 minute piece, which feels about right. It’s not a plot full of twists and turns – it saves the big reveal for the ending, but it is a fun show and well-performed by the cast and the onstage band. A particular highlight is the reprise of ‘You Belong To Me’ featuring all four performers – the harmonies when they all sing together are a joy to witness live. None of the recordings and promotional clips do that justice.

The show runs until December 3rd at the Arts Theatre, and it’s a bigger crime that it didn’t get a longer run. I’ve seen it twice during its short stay and it was an absolute pleasure both times. It deserves to be seen by more people, so I hope we see it return in the future.

 

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Sunny Afternoon ~ Harold Pinter Theatre ~ 04.10.2016

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I’ll admit to not really being a fan of jukebox musicals but that dislike is not really aimed at them, but more the fact that I don’t want theatre to fall into the trap of just commissioning nothing but shows which lean on high profile bands to sell tickets, at the expense of engaging new writers and encouraging creative talent to come forward with their own stories and sounds.

Having said that, of course there is space in theatre for all types, and I’m very much of the view that it doesn’t really matter where you fall in the spectrum of theatre, as long as you do what you do well, it’s a welcome addition to the fold. Also, I do love The Kinks so I was inclined to go along before it closed at the Harold Pinter Theatre, prior to its UK tour this winter.

It was everything I thought it would be – great music, great performances but a little thin on the plot side – but actually delivered more. Although I stand by my ‘thin plot’ pre-conception, the script was funnier than I anticipated it being, and it was nicely set out with the Swinging Sixties London background. More than that, the songs weren’t all just performed as standard by the band, some of the arrangements were very beautifully performed as stripped back numbers – particularly a mashup of Too Much On My Mind and Tired Of Waiting as a two-hander, but especially with a wonderful a capella rendition of Days, which comes along unexpectedly and hits home how good their music was.

I think the show does avoid the biggest pitfall of jukebox musicals. There is a plot there and there is some drama, and the songs don’t feel crowbarred in either – they sit rather nicely amongst the scenes. But it’s still a little on the light side and perhaps those not already invested in The Kinks might not get as much out of it as those who already know and love the band.

Sunny Afternoon is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre until October 29th.

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Singin’ In The Rain ~ Salisbury Playhouse ~ 14.05.2016

“Lina. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat” drawls Christian Edwards’ Cosmo Brown in this revival of the Gene Kelly classic.

The entire cast, however, pose the more traditional theatrical ‘triple threat’ in that they excel in all areas. I’d even go as far as to call it a ‘quadruple threat’ as they act, sing and dance whilst playing their musical instruments. It’s an incredible feat and – with a small but perfectly-formed cast of 12 – such an innovative way to bring the full sound of the score to the stage whilst not losing anything in the staging of the big numbers.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve been a lifelong fan of Singin’ In The Rain. I first saw the film last year when the Prince Charles cinema had one of their retro nights and I was dragged along by a couple of fanatics. I didn’t dislike the film – large parts were very enjoyable. But I’ve not been in a rush to rewatch by any means. However, I was intrigued by the stage show, and couldn’t wait to see how some of the more famous moments were re-enacted on stage – namely the ‘Make ’em Laugh’ sequence (Cosmo Brown was my favourite character in the film) and, obviously, wondering how they would stage the title song.

From the moment the orchestra struck up the opening notes, I knew I was in for a treat. Having live music onstage rather than sat in the pit makes such a difference to the acoustics – and this, combined with elegant staging, immediately transported us back to late 1920s Hollywood, the silent film world and birth of the talkies, where the show is set.

It’s a pacey show, with the entire ensemble constantly rotating between musician, daner or acting duties – first sitting at the back of the stage with their instruments, then being actively involved in scene dialogue, or even combining playing of instruments and singing/dancing around the stage. With this regard, it makes it difficult to pick anyone out for extra applause as it’s clearly a highly talented and hardworking unit. However there are some fabulously noteworthy aspects of the show that do deserve recognition.

Matthew Croke and Eleanor Brown as Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon combine to produce a highly likeable couple. It was very easy to warm to Croke’s performance of Lockwood, very charming and with smooth vocals to add to the mix. Brown’s portrayal of Miss Seldon was equally masterful, with enough attitude at the beginning, before showing a softer and more fun side. Her vocal performance was my favourite of the evening and I look forward to seeing her again in the future.

Croke also had chance to show a fine comic streak when he combined with Christian Edwards, whose energy in the role of Vaudevillian star Cosmo Brown keeps the show moving along at pace. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Edwards perform in a few roles now and his flair for the comedic is second to none. I don’t know how much he works at that or whether it just comes naturally, but it’s impressive either way. I’ve seen plenty of comic moments delivered by actors who don’t quite have the timing, so it’s a gift when such a great role as Cosmo Brown is performed by someone who gets it. I won’t spoil the moments for potential viewers by listing my favourite comic moments, but let’s just start by me advising you to pay attention to “Make ’em Laugh” as so much goes on there and it’s an absolute riot. The scenes with Don and Cosmo are generally wonderful – especially the montage at the start showcasing their career as a double act and the “Moses Supposes” piece, highlighting a strong partnership in tune with one another.

Special mention too to Sarah Vezmar as Lina Lamont. It can’t be easy to be cast to portray an unlikeable character as Lina undoubtedly is, especially when also asked to perform a musical number in the style of someone who cannot sing. But despite the nasal New York accent, she delivered a fabulously deadpan comic turn.

The tech team have done a fantastic job with the show too, the combination of projected film and live stage action works so well, especially when dealing with the world of silent film. And the design of the “rain area” was perfectly orchestrated – enough room for Matthew Croke to move around in, and plenty of water for him to splash around!

There are no weak moments in this tightly-knit production, and again applause to the entire ensemble for constantly being onstage in various guises. This is not a show where people get a lot of downtime in between scenes, but they all looked like they were having the time of their lives, dancing and singing in the rain.

From someone who was never overly mad on the film, consider me a convert to the story. I’d really like to see this show again during the run, it’s just realistically a question of whether I’ll be back in Manchester at any time during the Bolton dates. Here’s hoping!

Singin’ In The Rain is running at the Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday 28th May, before heading North to the Octagon Theatre in Bolton from Friday 3rd to Saturday 25th June, before finishing the run in Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic Theatre from Thursday 30th June to Saturday 16th July.

 

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The War Of The Worlds ~ Dominion Theatre ~ 21.03.2016

I’ll admit, I’m a recent convert to Jeff Wayne’s masterpiece, having missed this growing up, and then later upon seeing the Hollywood film, not really being inspired to track back and read HG Wells’ classic or listen to the album. However, a chance mention on the Vitriola Music podcast at Christmas – where Robin Ince led a choir of bemused audience members in a rendition of ‘Spirit of Man‘ – piqued my interest enough to lead me to listen to the album, and head along to the live show.

< Note: Do have a listen to the Vitriola Music podcast. Robin co-hosts with fellow angry man Michael Legge, as they discuss up-and-coming bands, classic records, and share random stories between themselves. >

So after having heard the album and being inspired to head out to the live show, I still had no real idea what to expect. I understood there was to be a live band – a rather stunning mix of string orchestra and rock band, but as to what degree the show was a sung-through concert or full theatre production I had no clue.

It turned out to be a glorious mixture of both. An absolute delightful audio-visual experience. Background projections took us to the many geographical locations with ease, and filmed sequences projected behind and amongst the onstage action helped magnify large battle scenes. The films, live action, puppetry and special effect set pieces combined to great effect to amplify the dramatic moments,and the energy emanating from the live band placed central stage really drove the show from start to finish.

Be warned that the show’s special effects such as strobe lighting may have adverse affects on some people, so do check with the theatre beforehand. But if you are fine with that, then the lighting and pyrotechnics add such a thrill to proceedings.

It was a superb ensemble cast – Michael Praed and a filmed Liam Neeson shared the role of the protagonist, the Journalist. The story shifted between his older self recalling his diaries (Neeson) and the live action portrayal of the Martian invasion (Praed). Madalena Alberto as Praed’s wife had little stage time, but shone during those moments nonetheless.

David Essex as the voice of humanity was superb in his role, and notable mention to Jimmy Nail and Heidi Range as the Pastor and his wife Beth. Nail’s descent into madness at the invasion and his wife’s pleas to return reason to him was particularly captivating.

However, it has to be said, the man who won it for me on the night was Si Shorten. Stepping in for an absent Daniel Beddingfield, Si took the role of Artilleryman and absolutely wowed the audience with his vocals, particularly during ‘Brave New World’. I’ve never had the opportunity to see Si taking on some of the larger roles he has understudied for – including Jean Valjean and the Phantom – but I’d seen him perform various ensemble roles at Les Misérables and he has such an incredibly powerful voice, he deserves more recognition for his work. It looks like he has stepped up on a number of occasions for this limited run, so the chances of seeing him perform are high. Of course, do check with the cast listings on the day.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is playing at the Dominion Theatre throughout March and April.

 

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