IN BRIEF A tight, contemporary urban musical with a compelling story and movement which deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
It’s great to welcome a new musical set in London and this one has a lot going for it.
The story of a same-sex couple whose relationship is tested to its limits by visa regulations has a timely feel. And it’s great to find a contemporary musical which reflects the look, sound and dynamic “feel” of London. What really distinguishes this show is the excellent cast, intriguing and captivating music (by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke) and the direction/movement which adds its own value to the overall show.
Obi and Alex meet in London (in a whlrlwind-fast setup which
opens the show) and only 10 months into their relationship, Alex’s company
plans to move from the UK, taking him with them as he is American. The pair’s decision
is to marry (so Alex can stay) is fraught with uncertainty and surprise as the
compressing of their short time together into a legal commitment puts strain on
their relationship and also their families. Family exposure brings new and old
issues to the fore and the pair must address these before finding a stronger commitment.
Can they navigate the pitfalls and fully trust each other?
The music mix is recorded, complemented by Chrio Blake’s live guitar accompaniment, and is always intriguing though occasionally over-repetitive. The songs do not have a traditional “musical theatre” structure but still allow characters to elaborate their feelings in a manner which feels very current and for musical theatre, exciting. Personally, I really enjoyed the music’s ability to sweep me along with it. The two leads, Tyrone Huntley as Obi and Alex, played by Billy Cullum are dramatically and vocally impressive – both actors have powerful voices which they use to the full.
Choreographer Robby Graham directs, and certainly the fully integrated movement/dance is one of the eye-catching things about this show. Put to specific use, it creates a disorientating and unsettling feeling particularly during scenes of high tension, such as the family dinner party, and Alex’s comedown from a drug relapse, which is both fascinating, tightly-drilled and effective. The scene containing four separate conversations (staged simultaneously and in the same space) is particularly ingeniously done, highlighting characters’ similarities and differences at the same time by assured vocal choreography. Rebecca Brower’s industrial-feel set designs are flexible, dynamic and restrained leaving plenty of open space, effectively reflecting London’s loft-living generations.
My only concerns were that the script spends much more time on Obi’s backstory than Alex’s, which affects our ability to care about both characters and their relationship. Matt Jones’s script does vary its pacing but sometimes that pacing is too slow (leading to one or two over-extended songs and scenes) so that getting to the story’s conclusion (in the straight-through 1 hour 55 minutes) feels rather rushed, somewhat cluttered, and therefore less dramatically satisfying than it might have been.
I saw this show at its last preview with an audience mostly aged under 35, who took to it eagerly and attentively. They ate it up, as did I.
Theatre Previews: The Best New Year’s Resolution? – See More Theatre!
Hello, and thanks for stopping by!
2018 was a great year for UK theatre, and 2019 looks to be even more exciting.
Here’s what has caught my eye that’s coming up soon. If something takes your fancy, why not resolve to book tickets – and see for yourself?
LEAVE TO REMAIN is a timely new musical at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith until 16 February. Obi (Tyrone Huntley) and Alex (Billy Cullum) are a young gay couple leading busy London lives. When Alex’s visa comes into question, their relationship is tested. Marriage is an option, but that means confronting both their families… and their pasts. Told through a contemporary mix of music, movement and drama, LEAVE TO REMAIN is a tender portrait of love in uncertain times, featuring original new songs by Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke performed by a top-notch cast.
This will be worth seeing for Tyrone Huntley (who stars with Billy Cullum), who was outstanding (and award-nominated) in a fine dramatic performance last August in Homos, or Everyone In America at the Finborough Theatre which followed two seasons playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in 2016 and 2017. Most noted for his musical ability, he is also a fine actor.
good dog – set during the early noughties – tells the story of growing up in a multi-cultural community, and the everyday injustices that drive people to take back control.
Mum’s promised him that bike so even when school or homelife bites, he knows to keep his chin up, his head down and his shirt clean. No harsh word, no sudden push to the ground will distract him from growing up to be a good man. Because in the end, everyone who’s good gets what they deserve. Don’t they?
Delicately observed and fearlessly told by writer Arinzé Kene (Misty at Bush Theatre and Trafalgar Studios), good dog embarks on its second national tour after four-star reviews in 2017, now starring the very impressive emerging actor Kwaku Mills (The End Of Eddy, Unicorn Theatre 2018).
Stephen Sondheim’s lovingly-crafted, bittersweet musical FOLLIES returns to the National Theatre after a sold-out run last year (and winning Best Musical Revival at the Olivier Awards). On the eve of demolition of Weissman’s Theatre, past performers gather to drink, dream and reminisce….and somehow, try to make sense of it all. New cast members this season are all top-notch: Joanna Riding (The Pajama Game, Flowers for Mrs Harris), Alexander Hanson (A Little Night Music) and Claire Moore (Phantom of the Opera). Returning cast include the phenomenal Tracie Bennett, assured Janie Dee and (from mid-April) the spine-tingling operatic septugenarian Josephine Barstow, with perfectly-drilled choreography once again courtesy of Olivier-Award-winning Bill Deamer. Running from 12 February onwards.
Wherever company 1927 appear, you can expect dazzling visual artistry and inspired invention, something akin to a graphic novel burst into theatrical life. Their most recent show, Golem, has now been touring the world for the last four years and has delighted audiences in astonishment at their technical and artistic imagination. Now there is another chance to see 1927’s previous show entitledTHE ANIMALS AND CHILDREN TOOK TO THE STREETS at the Lyric Hammersmith from 19 February to 16 March. In the Bayou, a part of the city feared and loathed, stands infamous Bayou Mansions; a sprawling stinking tenement block, where curtain-twitchers and peeping-toms live side by side… and the wolf is always at the door. When Agnes Eaves and her daughter arrive late one night, does it signal hope in this hopeless place, or has the real horror only just begun? Seamlessly synchronising live music, intricate performance and storytelling with stunning film and animation, this is a show to savour.
It’s OK to not be OK. That’s the message of A SUPER HAPPY STORY (ABOUT FEELING SUPER SAD) a very funny, helpfully honest and insightful cabaret musical about depression. Sally’s a happy person. She doesn’t let little things get her down and almost never cries. But she’s got an illness. It makes her feel like she isn’t the person she wants to be, but she doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Written by Olivier Award winner Jon Brittain (Rotterdam and Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho) with music by Matthew Floyd Jones (Frisky & Mannish). It’s a joyful, buoyant, gleeful, slightly silly, sugar-coated, unrelenting and completely super happy show! Except for the bits about depression. “A Super Happy Story is Superb” said The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner.. and she was right! I am so glad that I went and I think you will be too. Touring UK-wide from February to June.
At the Park Theatre, Robert Fox and Alex Turner present Martin (BENT) Sherman’s acclaimed new play GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM, to celebrate his 80th year, with a cast that includes Jonathan Hyde (The King’s Speech) and directed by Sean Matthias. Concerning an unexpected age gap relationship, the play explores the differences between generations of gay men and their life experiences and explores whether generation gap affairs can sustain. Recently acclaimed in New York, it comes to the Park Theatre from 12 February to 6 April.
COUGAR premieres at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre from 2 February to 1 March, directed by award-winning Chelsea Walker. Leila wants to inspire global change. John really needs to get his act together. They have an arrangement. But managing an affair isn’t easy when the world around you is falling apart. A new play about what – and who – we consume. Rising star writer Rose Lewenstein has already produced several arresting works, including (with Russell Bender) the intricately choreographed and intriguing show Game Of Life, produced at the Yard Theatre in East London in 2014 (someone smart will revive this and do very well from it). COUGAR is co-produced with English Touring Theatre.
One of last year’s best discoveries was THE PHLEBOTOMIST, Ella Road’s debut play, at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs. Set in a tantalisingly near future, the drama revolves around how each individual’s potential future life is completely predetermined….by the score from one single blood test. The audience I was with absolutely hugged this play from start to finish. This March, the play returns, this time moving to Hampstead’s larger Main House (one of the few plays to have made that leap). Repeating her dynamic performance from last year, Jade Anouka plays the title role. It will be interesting to see how it makes the transition to the larger Main House after the intimacy of the smaller Downstairs studio, however the strength of the writing means that I have already rebooked. This show seems to me to have TV potential. Playing 19 March to 20 April.
The much – acclaimed 50th anniversary production of the hit tribal rock musical HAIR tours UK regional theatres from March to July. Cast includes Marcus Collins (TV’s X-Factor, Hairspray), Jake Quickenden (Dancing on Ice) and a relative newcomer with a fantastic voice, Kelly Sweeney (watch out for her!).
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINEwas a wildly successful 2006 road movie , and now a musical version originating from Off-Broadway gets its European premiere at the Arcola, where it runs from 21 March to 11 May. This show is the first major collaboration between the Arcola and Selladoor productions, the prolific global entertainment producers. Catch it on an extensive UK tour from May until October.
Luke Rollason is one of the funniest people on this planet. His hugely-popular show PLANET EARTH III returns to London after success around the world. A low-budget, one-man nature documentary set in a future where our worst predictions came true – following ecological collapse, thousands of endangered species are extinct, including the BBC. But one plucky (and unpaid) intern isn’t giving up, and right on programming schedule, we’re getting series three. Armed with only obsolete office supplies and a surreal imagination, nature’s weirdest are brought back to life by the ‘hugely entertaining’ (Chortle website) Luke Rollason. There is a wonderful inspired lunacy to his edgy creativity that often reminds me of the best early work of Complicite. Give yourself a treat and go – I promise you’ll never look at a paper clip the same way again! At Soho Theatre from 3 to 6 April.
You want another great musical? Here’s a diamond! Tyrone Huntley (star of January’s Leave to Remain) makes his directorial debut with the exuberant and effervescent Fats Waller musical AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ which runs at Southwark Playhouse from 19 April to 1 June. Join an extraordinary group of performers on a journey through a defining period of American musical history, the 1920s and 30s Harlem Renaissance – where joints were jumpin’ with talented dancers, singers and instrumentalists jamming to a new beat known as swing. Having notched up substantial West End runs in 1979 and 1995, this first major revival in over 20 years is choreographed by Oti Mabuse (Strictly Come Dancing) in her theatrical choreographing debut. It will hopefully enjoy a tour on top of this run and at Colchester Mercury, which co-produces with Paul Taylor-Mills. This one’s a party!
At The King’s Head Theatre from 15 May to 8 June, Ardent Theatre is staging the first major revival of Philip Osment’s compelling and compassionate THIS ISLAND’S MINE in 30 years since its first performances and subsequent UK tour. Directed by acclaimed Philip Wilson (“Wilson has a Midas touch with emotionally sophisticated drama” Variety). Set in 1980s Britain, individual stories of fleeing prejudice against race, sex and sexuality – stories of first loves and old flames, alliances and abandonment, missed opportunities and new chances – begin to intertwine, to paint a vivid picture of the collective experience of those who are made to feel ‘outsiders’, echoed by those who have seen this intolerance before. Three decades after it was written and acclaimed, Philip Osment’s passionate play of outsiders, exiles and refugees, is all too resonant and contemporary.
The phenomenal Sharon D Clarke (currently receiving justified standing ovations for CAROLINE, OR CHANGE), moves to London’s Young Vic for Arthur Miller’s classic DEATH OF A SALESMAN where she plays Linda, the fiercely loyal but downtrodden wife of Willy Loman, opposite Wendell Pierce (The Wire) as Willy and Arinze Kene (Misty) as Biff, and co-directed by the formidable Marianne Elliott (War Horse, Curious Incident, Company). The play runs from 1 May to 29 June.
Inspired by her own experience of growing up in a family-run factory in Gateshead, Githa Sowerby’s astonishing, significant 1912 play RUTHERFORD AND SON is a searing depiction of class, gender and generational warfare which now stands alongside Ibsen and Bernard Shaw. Roger Allam (Les Misérables, The Thick of It) returns to the National Theatre for the first time in a decade to play Rutherford in this new production directed by Polly Findlay (Beginning). In a Northern industrial town, John Rutherford rules both factory and family with an iron will. But even as the furnaces burn relentlessly at the Glassworks, at home his children begin to turn against him. Allam is always worth seeing (he was great in David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano last year), but this production will have to fire on all cylinders to rival the very good Northern Broadsides’ production, directed by Jonathan Miller, which toured the UK in 2013. Playing from June onwards.
Pioneering female boxers of the nineteenth century scored a big hit at Southwark Playhouse in 2018 in Troupe’s THE SWEET SCIENCE OF BRUISING. Now this great show gets an encore, this time at the perfect venue for a Victorian-set play, Wilton’s Music Hall (if you haven’t been, GO, you are missing an atmospheric treat). The play concerns a handful of women who enter the dark and underground world of ladies’ boxing, showing the effects and prices paid by each of them. An accomplished new play by Joy Wilkinson, the whole thing just flew by and the audience were wholly engaged by the staging, sound design and highly atmospheric production. Fascinating story, good acting and writing, and in my view TV potential. I can’t wait to see it again.
If you have blood in your veins, this show will get it pumping. Broadway’s hit Gloria Estefan biographical musical ON YOUR FEET! Will be raising the temperature – and no doubt the roof- at the Coliseum for a limited run from June 14 to August 31 (after a week at Leicester Curve, 3 to 8 June). Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), with choreography by Olivier Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and book by Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman). Expect relentless Latin hits and a great night out.
Here’s a delight. Paterson Joseph’s self-penned one man show tells the fascinating and colourful story of the life of the first Afro-Briton to vote in a British general election, Charles ‘Sancho’ Ignatius. Joseph gives a thoroughly engaging performance in a well-told story that although perhaps just slightly too long, caught the audience’s imagination consistently. A charming, educational and surprising show, SANCHO: AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE is at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre on 30 June.
and further ahead…
Now here’s a cast for you! In July, the The Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT sees its first major London revival in 30 years at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn. Directed by Susie McKenna and starring Olivier Award winners Sharon D. Clarke (Caroline or Change, Ghost, Amen Corner) and Clive Rowe (Guys and Dolls, Carousel), Blues in the Night is a scorching compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more, it runs from 18 July to 7 September – and no doubt continuing elsewhere….
She’ll coax the blues right out of the horn! Jerry Herman’s feel-good musical comedy MAME has its first UK revival for 50 years at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester starring two-time Olivier Award winner Tracie Bennett (following on from her season in Follies at the National Theatre) who will undoubtedly dazzle in the title role. Now, who will be Vera?…….. This run must surely preface a national tour. MAME plays from September 27 to November 9. Are you humming yet? I am…..
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You may be interested to know about how this blog is conducted. If so, this is for you.
This blog is an eclectic look at what I think might interest you, who have an interest in all aspects of theatre but don’t have the time to read widely on the subject. If it catches my eye, then perhaps it might interest you too. More Off-West End than West End, this blog hopes to give more exposure to those shows which may not have the budget or team to make that happen. For that reason, we will focus less on big West End shows and delve into more interesting, but less celebrated theatre works.
Furthermore, I know that you are interested in the people who make theatre, not just the big stars. Behind them is an army of dedicated passionate people who are every bit as interesting as those who walk our stages every night. My hope is to introduce you to some of these fine people and to remind younger readers that there are great careers to be had in the creative worlds.
This blog is proud to be truly Independent. I pay for every theatre seat I occupy, and this allows me to share with you my honest and UNRESTRICTED thoughts about what works…. and what doesn’t.