Preview: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Wyndham’s Theatre

Preview: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Wyndham’s Theatre

Audra McDonald finally has made it to the West End after pregnancy delayed her debut and it is incredible to me that she isn’t more of a household name. Her claim to fame is her 6 Tonys, won for both musicals such as Carousel and for dramas like Raisin in the Sun. She remains the only actress to have done this. An achievement for any performer but unprecedented for a woman of colour. Her West end debut is a revival of one of her award winning performances as Billie Holiday. She plays Billie towards the end; tired, addicted and a bit of mess. She often reminded me of Amy Winehouse, a singer I adored who was always destined for a sad end. McDonald not only embodies Holiday’s emotional destruction through casual chat and casual drug use but also her unique voice. It felt like watching Holiday rather than watching an actress playing Holiday

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The fabulous set helps, with on-stage seating and some of the seats removed for stalls tables, it feels less like a theatre show and more like a late night jazz show in Philadelphia. McDonald is aided Shelton Becton as her pianist Jimmy, whose frustration with Billie felt so real. There is an awareness that she is real talent (a songwriter as well as singer), who tried to break down racial barriers with her work with Artie Shaw and her bold songs like Strange Fruit but a woman who never stood a chance.

This is where I have mixed feelings on the play; a woman telling us about her life, even a fascinating one, doesn’t always work and Laine Robertson’s 1986 work seems less groundbreaking in a world of Wikipedia. The play is as good as its performers and this would work less well if there weren’t the songs. That isn’t to say the stories are played well; Holiday’s haunting relationship with her mother (“The Duchess”) as well as her failed marriages, relationships and her sadness at never becoming a mother feel like a woman confusing all before it is too late.

I came away moved but with a skip in my step. It is a rarity to see such a moving, skilled performance from an actress that makes you forget you are watching a matinee in London and not a woman falling apart. I hope Audra makes a return to the West End in a role that showcases her humour, her voice and her talent, as well as this, has.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at

First performance: 17 June 2017

Final performance: 9 September 2017

Press Performance: 27 June 2017

For full performance schedule see website: LadyDayWestEnd.com

Tuesday to Saturday at 7.45pm

Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 2.45pm
Box Office
Website: LadyDayWestEnd.com
Telephone: 0844 482 5120
Prices from £19.50

 

Kiss Me, Trafalgar Studios

Kiss Me, Trafalgar Studios
Guest Review by Jake Laverde

Originally produced at Hampstead theatre, Richard Bean’s Kiss Me is making its west end debut. Kiss Me is a two hander set entirely in one London bedroom 10 years after the first World War.

In the opening moments, we see Claire Lams as “Stephanie”, a stiff cardigan in the shape of a woman, nervously preparing herself and her room. At one point folding over a duvet corner as if to welcome someone in before changing her mind. A smartly dressed Ben Lloyd-Hughes enters the scene and we work out exactly why, all stiff upper lip and sense of duty as he does his part to help with the re-population of the country. A medically prescribed gigolo in other words.

Richard Bean wrings out every last drop of bathos and pathos over the next hour and a bit. Claire Lam is all nerves and twitchiness in the opening scenes while Ben Lloyd-Hughes acts like he’s preparing to perform a chore. Carrying out his seduction like a well trained mechanic opening the bonnet of a car.

As both “Stephanie” and “Dennis” carry on their meetings, they open themselves up to each other. “Stephanie” literally sheds her uptight appearance, an uptight skin cast off. “Dennis” too opens up and soon his braces are hanging by his sides.

Though only running at around 70 mins, it’s possible to find yourself lost in Richard Bean’s dialogue. Flowing elegantly, touching on the absurdity of the social niceties of the time. However when Bean reaches for philosophical musing it falls a little flat and at times you can hear his voice creeping into “Stephanie’s” observations. Kiss Me touches on many themes but never seems to explore them. Not least the rather unusual relationship that develops between the leads which would have raised many eyebrows at the time.

But it’s the chemistry and tension between Lams and Lloyd-Hughes that carries this bittersweet 70 minutes. Both leads infuse their performances with their characters guilt. “Stephanie’s” nerves and “Dennis’s” stiffest of upper lips both mask and betray their pasts. Between them, they transform a small studio into the only space that matters. With each other they find a small freedom from everything else going on in the world but like all good things, it can’t last.

Kiss Me may not bring any big surprises but as a gently humorous and bittersweet tale, it delivers on all counts. A delicate and sweet thing, sort of like love really.

The Enchanted, The Bunker

The Enchanted, The Bunker

Guest Review from Angel Belsey

4-out-of-5-stars-rating

Finding a partner to come with me to see The Enchanted at The Bunker was a surprisingly tough sell. It turns out many people have a strong emotional reaction, bordering on complete aversion, to all things related to the death penalty. Fortunately for any audience member who may have been suffering from a similar concern, The Enchanted is a story less about the death penalty than it is about people, relationships, kindness and unkindness.

The play is wholly rooted in humanity—even as it outlines the consequences that can occur when humanity gets forgotten. In the primary narrative strand of The Enchanted, a prisoner tells us the story of his fellow inmate, York, who is racing against the clock in an attempt to stop his execution going ahead (though York sometimes asserts that he wants to die). Working to help York is a woman known only as The Lady. The Lady is a death penalty investigator—someone who works to build a defense against an inmate’s execution by finding out what happened and looking for anything that might convince a judge to extend mercy to the condemned person. Woven together with York’s story we learn more about The Lady, as well as her counterpart, The Priest, and the prisoner who is doing the narration. It is at this point that the play falters a little bit; it is easy to explore the background of characters fully in a novel, but finding the right balance between rumination and forward action is harder for a stage production, and I’m not sure the play gets that balance exactly right.

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Having said that, though, I found the character development intriguing, and I would absolutely read the Rene Denfield novel of the same name that this work is based on. At times, the subject matter is excruciatingly bleak, and some particularly difficult moments set in the prisoners’ childhoods are told through puppetry. In fact, the puppetry in combination with occasional dance elements and the simple staging made this production less a play and more a Happening—one with an important message about how imperative it is that we take care of each other.

The Enchanted is on until 17 June

Viewpoint on Hamilton London Casting

Viewpoint on Hamilton London Casting

Following Baz Bamigoye’s exclusive news that Jamael Westman and Michael Jibson will join the previously announced cast as Alexander Hamilton and George III I had mixed feelings. This wasn’t the big name casting that some of us had hoped for, despite Lin-Manuel Miranda ruling out his presence it was a hot role for a hot ticket, this is very much in keeping with what Hamilton is about; multi-cultural casting and showcasing new talents.

The previously announced cast are Christine Allado (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), Rachelle Ann Go (Eliza Hamilton), Tarinn Callender (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler), Jason Pennycooke (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Cleve September (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), Giles Terera (Aaron Burr) and Obioma Ugoala (George Washington).  At certain performances, the role of Alexander Hamilton will be played by Ash Hunter.

Westman and Jibson are not big names but both are very experienced actors; Westman was recently in Torn at the Royal Court, London and Jibson has many stage and screen credits behind him. The excitement behind Hamilton is that it is different from your usual musical theatre repertoire focusing on rap and hip hop. It reminds me of the excitement surrounding Bat Out of Hell. Whilst Bat… on paper is another jukebox musical the genre of rock musical in the style of Tommy and We Will Rock You seems to have gone out of fashion and as a result it genuinely seems new and interesting again in a world of Mama Mias, Thrillers and Phantoms.

As interesting as the casting of someone like Riz Ahmed or even Miranda changing his mind would have been it wouldn’t have been in keeping with the spirit of Hamilton to be a platform for new and less well-known talents. Why does a show, which has sold out its initial booking period even need big names.

Let’s look at the character descriptions from a casting call

I doubt even the finest drama schools are training their talented pupils to be “Eminem meets Sweeney Todd”. The excitement around Hamilton is still about the fact BME people are underrepresented in the theatre. Forgive us for getting excited about a show that takes the utmost liberty when it comes to colour blind casting. Will the audience be made up similarly? Personally, I doubt it, with premium tickets going for £200 (though there were options of £20-40 to be found) At best the audience will be made up of rich people of all colours.

Though I won’t lie I share the disappointment of those who were hoping this would be announced.

Public booking opened on 30 January 2017 and the initial release tickets for the first booking period from 21 November 2017 through to 30 June 2018 is now sold out. In the autumn nearer the time of completion of the theatre’s refurbishment the producers hope to make further tickets available for booking period one. Further ticket releases will be announced at a later date via official HAMILTON channels. Full ticketing information can be found on the official website at hamiltonthemusical.co.uk and details of how to apply for the daily and weekly lotteries will be announced closer to performances.
In order to protect patrons from paying highly inflated prices, the producers of HAMILTON are determined to combat the unauthorised profiteering of third party resellers and ticket touts. Delfont Mackintosh Theatres has pioneered for the West End a paperless ticket system for this production – HAMILTON Paperless Ticketing, powered by Ticketmaster. No physical tickets will be issued in advance. Upon arrival at the theatre on the day of the performance, patrons will be asked to swipe the payment card they used to originally purchase their tickets to gain admission to the theatre. Patrons wishing to pay by cash can only do so once the Box Office at the Victoria Palace Theatre reopens in the autumn. Additional security measures to prevent profiteering of tickets purchased by cash customers will also be in place.

Hamilton opens on 21 November at Victoria Palace Theatre, booking until 30 June 2018

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The English Heart, Etcetera Theatre

The English Heart, Etcetera Theatre

A play with political themes is always risky but in the last year, there have been so many political shocks that any playwright writing a politics based piece better like regular script changes.

Matthew Campling’s work is set during Brexit and just before the 2017 election (presumably so we can all have a night off from wondering if Theresa May will still be Prime Minister tomorrow) and focuses on the biggest Leave area in England; Boston Lincolnshire, an area which voted a whopping 76% leave and the couple that live there Marie (Anya Williams) and Jake (Jake Williams). Two outsiders (She went to Boarding School and he is from the North) they are jobless and bored; with their town and with each other. When Andre (Andrew Jardine), a British-born man raised in Post-Apartheid South African looking for (cheap) isolation.

 

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(c) Matthew House

 

He embarks on an affair with both and this could become some bawdy sex show but Campling takes his characters seriously and it is always tasteful. It is a little too serious though. The whole menage a trois scenario is as campy as hell but instead, it is a look at belonging; with some excellent points made about that area of the country’s fear of not just the outwardly foreigners but men like Andre, a man who is typical of the southerners buying second homes. Maria and Jake’s relationship could be explored further. It is never truly explained why they stay there, jobless and lonely, which is a real shame that it becomes about their sexual obsession with Andre because this has the brewings of a story about loneliness as much as sexuality.

Jardine’s Andre is a complex man, facing up to his past as well as his future. Confident in his sexuality (he reminded me of a young Rufus Sewell) and lacking confidence in relationships it felt as though Campling focused too much on Andre and not the characters and backdrop of Brexit, which was a much an emotional outburst than an informed decision on both sides. Campling’s previous experience as psychotherapist means he understands people so it was a real shame that dialogue at times jarred using terms like “archive” to discuss suppressed memories and feelings, which people just don’t do.

It is a strong work, despite at times feeling like it has too much it wants to say in its 80 minutes. I really enjoyed Rachel Adams’ set, which seemed to embrace the theatre’s small space than fight against it.  I look forward to his forthcoming piece, The Secondary Victim, which explores his psychotherapist routes further.

The English Heart is on Etcetera Theatre, Camden from 13 June – 2 July. Tickets can be purchased here https://www.ticketea.co.uk/tickets-theatre-english-heart/

Matthew’s play The Secondary Victim is on at Park Theatre 14 November – 9 December. Tickets are available now https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-secondary-victim

 

 

Preview: Pride and Prejudice at Westminster Abbey

Preview: Pride and Prejudice at Westminster Abbey

On 9-10 August Illyria’s open air production of Jane Austen’s will come to the world famous Westminster Abbey’s Dean Yard as part of a UK Tour, now its fifth year. Its run at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe the queue for returns stretched around the block.

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In a social whirlwind of balls, dinners and very eligible officers, Lizzie Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy stand alone as the only sane people – and they hate each other! Or do they? Can she see beyond his pride, and can he overcome her prejudice, in order to achieve their mutual happiness? 

If your idea of Jane Austen is costume-drama, empire-lines and tea-parties, then this sparkling adaptation, based entirely on the original novel, is something to make you change your mind. Bring a picnic and have a ball as the irrepressible Illyria sharpen their claws to bring you Jane Austen at her vibrant, pacy, forthright, bitchy best!

 

 

Recommended for adults and children aged 5+

Child/Adult tickets: £13.50/£15

Tickets can be bought via the Westminster Abbey site

http://westminster-abbey.org/events/events/open-air-theatre-pride-and-prejudice-9th-august-2017

http://westminster-abbey.org/events/events/open-air-theatre-pride-and-prejudice-10th-august-2017

Dates and tickets for the rest of the tour can be found on Illyria’s website http://www.illyria.uk.com/pride-and-prejudice/4593777353

 

Preview: Herstory Festival

Preview: Herstory Festival

Following the previous sold out and highly acclaimed three editions, HerStory FEMINIST THEATRE FESTIVAL returns to Theatre N16 on the 18th and 19th of June.

Founded by a European theatre maker Nastazja Somers, HerStory aims to challenge the misrepresentation of women in theatre and broaden its narrative by staging daring and political work and fighting for representation by those whose voices are often silenced.

During two nights HerStory will stage a multidiscipline range of high quality work which includes spoken word, performance art, new writing and solo shows.

I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing on a panel about female critics with Mary Nguyen and Kate Maltby, chaired by Laura Kressly. All-female panels are a rarity, even in theatre so don’t miss out. Details below and tickets can be purchased here https://lineupnow.com/event/herstory-5

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