Sh!t-faced Shakespeare ~ Leicester Square Theate ~ 26.05.2017

They’re back! And so am I!

After last year’s outings to see this fantastically fun company pay their own very special tribute to the Bard were so enjoyable, I booked myself in for a visit as soon as I was able for this season’s offering.

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2017 sees Magnificent Bastard Productions return with Much Ado About Nothing – it feels like a bit of a step up from Midsummer Night’s Dream in terms of condensing the speeches and plot, but the cast are more than up to the task.

The obstacle to tonight’s performance was an incredibly giggly Stacey Norris as Beatrice. What we lost in the biting wit of one of Shakespeare’s strongest female roles, we gained in laughs aplenty as an increasingly handsy Norris stomped about stage, drink in hand, bringing a more EastEnder approach to West End theatre with the odd slap around the face and exclamations of “Oh my God!”

The beauty of the concept of this show is not in the drunk actor themselves, although they do provide comedic moments of their own, undoubtedy, but the real joy is watching the rest of the cast having to work around and improvise dialogue, staging and choreography. Special mention here has to go to Saul Marron, a returning cast member, who expertly threw in rhyming couplets to keep at least the spirit of Shakespeare’s writing alive, if not the precise content.

Of the cast I have previously seen perform, Beth-Louise Priestly was a very sporting and patient Hero, as her beloved cousin repeatedly tried to undress her during her speeches. Completing this fabulously funny line up was Victoria Fitz-Gerald, Jack Bence and James Murfitt – the latter of whom received a fair bit of attention when our drunk heroine professed she was “trying him out” for her cousin, Hero.

I’m delighted to see that Louise Lee and John Mitton are part of the rotating cast, as I was lucky enough to see both during the run of shows I saw last year. As every show is different, I’m very much looking forward to dropping in on the team a few times over the summer.

The company are performing Much Ado About Nothing at the Leicester Square until 16th September – see here for details of which days they are performing. Additionally there will be a couple of appearances on 18th June and 12th July at the Underbelly Festival of Romeo and Juliet, in preparation for an Edinburgh run from 2nd-28th August as part of the Festival Fringe. See here for the London ticket info, and here for details of the Edinburgh Festival.

 

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Angel Comedy – Raw ~ The Camden Head, Angel ~ 13.11.2016

Blink, and you’re in danger of missing this little beauty of a venue up in Angel. The Camden Head (the one in Angel, not in Camden) sits just off the main road, down a little alley, which gives it a nice ‘hidden gem’ feel without being too much trouble to find, if your being honest.

I’ve heard great things about Angel Comedy – that the venue was a nice atmosphere and the selection of acts fairly decent. I’m not really one for being desperate to see only ‘big names’, but I do like my stand up nights to have a good mixed bill – regardless of how good a comedian is, you don’t want 5 or 6 acts in the same vein. Or I don’t, at least. Variety is important to me.

So, this particular night being advertised as a new act/new material night, I knew we were in for a mixed bag in every sense. I knew there’d be a range of experience and development – by that I mean the experience of the comedian themselves and also the development of the material. This is maybe where I’ll get really boring because I absolutely love comedy and love the craft of it. And personally, I think the best way to appreciate comedy is to see it live – actually in the room. You absolutely can enjoy what you see on television or on a DVD, but accept that is very much a polished and edited version of what the comedy experience is in the most part. As long as you’re aware of that, you won’t suffer too much shock should you ever wander into a pub on a comedy night and decide to stick around.

It was a pretty full bill, 10 or possibly even 12 acts on, all introduced onstage by Barry Ferns – who was an amiable and very capable compere, keeping the audience warm between comics and keeping the energy levels high for what was a packed evening. It was clear from performance to performance that there were differing levels of experience in the room, but all comedians had the workings of some funny ideas. Some landed better than others – some routines just needed a bit of trimming, perhaps going on a beat too long and reducing the effect of the joke.

Of the comics I had never seen perform before, I particularly enjoyed the opening act, Alastair Beckett-King – nice stage presence and funny stories. His skit on historical figures whilst holding up their portraits was a display of creative history retelling not seen since Andy Zaltzman’s last Bugle podcast.

Additionally I have to give a mention to Lost Voice Guy, the act who I primarily attended to see – he continues to deliver a cracking set when I’ve seen him. For those who are unaware, LVG is also known as Lee Ridley, a stand up comedian without a voice. Living with cerebral palsy, he communicates with an iPad text-to-speech program. I know he not-so-secretly revels in the mixed reactions in the audience when he steps onstage. But once the opening lines are delivered, the crowd are on board. Whilst you might think the computerised voice would hold him back, Lee uses it to great comic effect, with deliberate mispronunciations and even adjusting the voice on occasion to deliver the punchline.

I’d certainly recommend the venue – they have a tradition of supporting up and coming acts as well as attracting big names from the live circuit and TV who are running new material through – do take a look at their website for lineups at the Camden Head and at their sister venue, the Bill Murray pub, just a bit further down the road.

 

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Sh!t-faced Shakespeare ~ Leicester Square Theatre ~ 10.05.2016 and 17.05.2016

 

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A cast of five recreate the key plot points from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 60 minutes – what could possibly go wrong? Oh, did I mention, one of the cast members is drunk? Yeah – that’s what could possibly go wrong.

After hearing great things about this show for years, I finally got the chance to see it live – and it was worth the wait! So much so, as soon as the show finished I booked myself in for a second visit.

With the character list reduced to the two couples – Helena and Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander – and Puck, we had time aplenty to see what damage drunk Hermia (and latterly – drunk Lysander) could do to proceedings. It seems plenty!

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Whilst I know the overall plotline, I’m not overly familiar with the in-depth dialogue of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but as it turns out, this isn’t a problem! The show’s plot is clearly signposted by Puck, and by keeping to the core characters, it keeps the storyline here very simple and easy to follow, unlike the slurred speech of our dear Hermia, who, at times, seemed to forget she was even onstage.

A more cynical audience member might suggest this was simply acting, but if it was, it was acting of the highest order, as the other cast members struggled to restrain their giggles at times, and the erractic delivery of Shakespearean speech came across genuinely as someone who knew the text but was struggling to recall large segments due to the fogginess of an alcohol-riddled brain. It’s more likely the combination of being given free reign to improvise around the play, breaking the fourth wall, and the addition of alcohol to help loosen things up – but all the time it’s clear that these talented performers know the script inside out and are capable of still delivering key plot moments, and for the sober ones able to bend with such flexibility around the new portrayals of their drunken counterparts.

I enjoyed the performances by all the players across the two nights, but special mention has to go to our two drunks on their respective ‘drunk’ nights – Beth-Louise Priestly as Hermia and Saul Marron as Lysander. Despite the core cast being rotated, these two played the same roles on both occasions that I saw them perform, so it was fascinating to see the difference in their scenes – and to see the once-slightly-smug Saul having the tables turned when Beth-Louise was no longer the drunk one. All in good humour, of course, and it simply reiterates the point that this company are a tight-knit bunch with strong improvisation skills.

John Mitton was the third performer to play the same part both nights – as Demetrius. I think I’d really enjoy seeing him play the part drunk too, as he had a great energy about him. Interestingly he also played the part differently when dealing with his two drunken colleagues. Undoubtedly this would be related to the types of scenes they shared – as Demetrius’ scenes with Hermia were of a distinctly flirtacious nature, and his encounters with Lysander more aggressive, but still John’s interactions with both as they strayed from the scripted dialogue was different, a more soft and gentle guiding of Hermia, and a more playful encouraging of banana-throwing with Lysander (at one point the duel is reduced to one man with a sword and another with an inflatable crocodile, so this gives you an idea as to the barriers to serious Shakespearean acting he faced).

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea – often improvised performances can be divisive among audiences – but for those who enjoy seeing formats being played around with, and exploring different ways of portraying theatre in a fun way, this show is a great one to have a look at. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but the folks behind it are seriously good.

Sh!t-faced Shakespeare presenting Midsummer Night’s Dream is running at the Leicester Square Theatre until mid-June, before the team head over to the Udderbelly for a few dates in June and July performing The Merchant of Venice.

Edit 05.06.2016 – there is an extended run of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Leicester Square Theatre, now running on selected dates up until 27th August – this will run in rep with their Udderbelly dates.

 

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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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Andrew Maxwell: Yo Contraire! ~ Prince of Wales, Brixton ~ 03.03.2016

Andrew Maxwell has long been one of my favourite comedians to listen out for on Radio 4. So it came as a shock to me to realise that I hadn’t yet seen him perform live.

So, when this gig came up involving him trying out things for a new Radio 4 project called Andrew Maxwell’s Late Agenda, I snapped up the opportunity to head to Brixton to see him do his thing.

He’s a wonderful blend of political comedy with storytelling and observational routines. He can tell a story of his own life then switch to a rant about Putin with the blink of an eye. But more than his prepared material, he’s just genuinely a likeable and cheeky guy.

The night at Brixton brought its own unique atmosphere, with some audience members having over-indulged at the bar and took audience participation to a higher degree than was needed. Andrew dealt with any and all interruptions with grace, a smile on his face, and a killer line or two to keep things on track.

The show should be out on Radio 4 within a few weeks – all manner of topics were covered, from ISIS to Donald Trump – so do look out for it on iPlayer. If Brixton’s try-out night was anything to go by, it’ll be a show worth listening to.

Sofie Hagen ~ Soho Theatre ~ 06.01.2016

Sofie Hagen, a delightful “up-and-coming” comedian – well, “up-and-coming” if you’ve not been paying any attention to live comedy for the past few years.

Oddly enough, I have been aware of her work for quite some time – particularly in the fantastic anecdotal podcast Comedians Telling Stuff, which has featured some of the brightest and best that comedy has to offer – yet this is my first time seeing her perform live.

I’ve got to say – it was worth the wait. A fun-filled set, fresh from her award-winning run in Edinburgh. Her confessions of a teenage obsession with Westlife and how that plays out in her adult life as she performs in the same venues and occasionally encounters members of the former boyband are interspersed with darker stories from her past – dealing with depression and what situations she has found herself in because of that.

Her stream-of-consciousness and tangential narrative is a joy to follow along with, though, and actually does manage to tie itself together to produce a coherent view of who Sofie is – or at least a part of her. It’s a great introduction to someone who is a very likable, slightly-eccentric character, but I am convinced she still has a great many stories to tell. I look forward to hearing them.

In the meantime, you can listen to more of Sofie’s work with her podcasts Comedians Telling Stuff and Guilty Feminist, which she records with Deborah Frances-White.

 

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Jest End ~ Waterloo East Theatre ~ 01.12.2016

Jest End – a collection of musical and visual parodies from the West End’s biggest, brightest and best shows, composed and written by Garry Lake – took to Waterloo East Theatre for a limited run and put forward a strong case for my favourite piece of the year.

Wickedly funny and entirely unprejudiced with its targets – no show is safe. From Les Misérables to Phantom, Matilda to Billy Elliot, Wicked to Miss Saigon – all the big shows get the Garry Lake treatment, and the cast are not afraid to mock their own appearances in shows either.

A fabulous quartet cast of Scott Garnham, Jodie Jacobs, Lizzy Connolly and Simon Bailey powered through two hours of costume changes, spoofing the shows, packing in the inside jokes and ultimately delivering quality vocals on the parody songs.

A nice mix of individual and ensemble performances, seamlessly linked together, it’s easy to forget it is just the four of them covering all the roles. Particular highlights were Scott Garnham’s portrayal of Killian Donnelly (in a Memphis/Kinky Boots mashup) and Lizzy Connolly’s pitch-perfect performance as a ‘Part Time Christine’ – a tribute to the casting arrangements over at Phantom of the Opera.

Jodie Jacobs had me in stitches throughout with her characters such as Billy Elliot and, in her words, “the only Jew in a Christmas show” for the Elf finale, but her skit as Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl, with Simon Bailey as an increasingly creepy David Babani – director of the Menier Chocolate Factory – in a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory parody, was just perfectly delivered.

I’d not seen this show before, but it seems to come back for a limited run every couple of years or so. Clearly new bits are added all the time, as it was all topical and relevant to today’s West End selection. In terms of prior in-depth knowledge of shows is concerned, it definitely helps some of the in-jokes land, but as long as you have a general overview of the main shows, you’ll enjoy this tongue-in-cheek view of Theatreland.

 

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