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Review: The Bodyguard Musical

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Theakston

The Bodyguard Musical

The Bodyguard has just undergone its biggest cast change since opening on the West End last year, and the creative team certainly took a few risks. Every single one of them has paid off. The Bodyguard boasts one of the strongest leading casts in the West End, headed up by the incomparable Beverley Knight as Rachel Marron.

The show opened with Heather Headley as Rachel, the role originated by Whitney Houston. Although widely praised by critics for her performance, her run became as synonymous with absences as Martine McCutcheon’s in My Fair Lady. There were many saying that audiences were being sold short by Headley’s lack of appearances.

Audiences will be pleased to know, then, that they will certainly be getting their money’s worth with the divine Beverley Knight, who has just taken over the role. An established soul singer and songwriter with six albums of her own under her belt, Knight is a seasoned pro. She soars through Houston’s emotive songs, with a power and control that even Houston would surely have admired. She owns the stage from the explosive opening number, ‘Queen of the Night’, captures all the nuances of the emotional ‘Run To You’, and closes the show perfectly with her final earth-shatteringly, heart-wrenchingly beautiful performance of ‘I Will Always Love You’.

This marks Knight’s theatrical debut, and despite a slightly shaky few scenes at the start of the show, Knight proves that she absolutely deserves her place in the West End. Knight demonstrates a great sensitivity, and watching her Rachel go from headstrong, self-assured diva to vulnerable, passionate and tender mother is excruciatingly exquisite. A magnificent debut from Knight.

Playing the eponymous bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is Tristan Gemmill. Perhaps most famous for playing Dr Adam Trueman on Casualty, Gemmill is spot on as the brooding, tall-dark-and-handsome hero. While Gemmill’s portrayal has all the hallmarks of the all-American hero with a dark past, it is considered and never overplayed with some lovely moments of humour and tenderness.

Debbie Kurup continues in the role of Nicki Marron, Rachel’s put-upon and neglected sister. Kurup gives an emotionally charged performance, which is perfectly pitched, completed by a flawless voice. Michael Rouse as The Stalker is aptly sinister and threatening. Mark Jones was delightfully endearing as Rachel’s son Fletcher; a demanding role for a child actor, but Jones seems to thoroughly relish the part. The ensemble are a little more hit and miss; there are some brilliant performances, let down by one or two performers that are not quite as on the ball as the rest.

The show, which tells the tumultuous love story of superstar Rachel Marron and her bodyguard Frank Farmer, is at times predictable and elements of the story have, since the success of the film starring Houston herself, become clichéd. Some of the scripting is hammy, and at times the costumes are lacking in ambition.

That said, it is a downright glorious show. Whitney Houston’s songs are some of the best in pop music history, and the songs featured are perfectly chosen. The musical numbers are staged to perfection by director Thea Sharrock and choreographer Arthur Pita, and superb use is made of Tim Hatley’s dynamic set design. Mark Henderson’s lighting design is flawless and the tight band, under the baton of musical director Richard Beadle, is note-perfect.

Since it opened last year, the show has really picked up with extraneous scenes being shrewdly cut. It is now an entertaining, pacy, exciting show. The iconic silhouette of Frank carrying Rachel out of a club, seen against a wall of billowing smoke, is a particularly memorable image.

With a leading cast of such calibre and songs that almost blow the roof off the theatre, it is no surprise that the audience are dancing in the aisles by the finale. Beverley Knight’s performance is astounding; do not miss out on seeing her in this role. Part concert, part cinematic love story, The Bodyguard is extraordinary despite its flaws. One of the most enjoyable shows currently on the West End.

The Bodyguard is playing at the Adelphi Theatre, now booking until 8 March 2014. For more information and tickets, see the Shows In London website.

Ed Theakston

Ed Theakston

Ed has worked as an actor, director, lighting designer, and writer for a number of years. He is currently training at East 15 Acting School. He has a keen and diverse interest in theatre and has gained experience working in many different styles, from musical theatre to Stanislavski to devising. This year Ed has started writing reviews regularly for Fourthwall Magazine, and his blog ‘Into Training’ is available to read on the Fourthwall website.

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Round Up: 2011

Posted on 31 December 2011 by Jessica Wilson

2011 has seen an abundance of productions start, continue and end their theatrical journeys. There have been shows that have received a facelift, with a new cast heading for a different venue (One Man, Two Guvnors for example – read our review here). Across the country, fringe theatre has responded to the social climate and added context to existing plays as with the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Edward Bond’s Saved (read our article about the show here and our review here). In doing so, new benchmarks for theatre in 2012 may well have been set.

One of the most prominent and admirable ventures this year was the Old Vic 24 Hour Plays. 2011 marked the project’s eighth anniversary as 31 actors, seven directors, seven producers and seven writers worked through the night and following day to create seven short plays all written, learnt, directed and produced in just 24 hours. This challenge culminated in a unique evening of performance on the Old Vic’s celebrated stage (see what we thought here or relive the experience vicariously with our Editor’s live blog). Sat at home, we can only imagine the dedication of these intense theatre-makers. It indicates, however, the wealth of achievement to be found elsewhere during 2011.

Following a sell-out season at the Courtyard Theatre, the Cambridge Theatre hosted the West End transfer of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical. 2011 has seen much debate concerning innovative musicals and those adapted from a film or novel. Despite this, Matilda The Musicalwas nominated for a total of nine WhatsOnStage Awards and its booking period has been extended until October 2012 (read our verdict here). Yet the recipe for theatrical success is still unclear and adaptation does not automatically make for great theatre: @SusanElkinJourn found her least favourite theatrical experience of 2011 to be “Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales at Lyric Hammersmith and the best being Matilda. Odd that they’re linked by Dahl” (see what Editor Jake Orr thought of Twisted Tales here). The Royal Shakespeare Company was also supported by @leenahassan‘s appreciation of their revival of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. She additionally tweeted support for Shakespeare’s Richard III and Edward Hall’s Comedy of Errors at the National Theatre. @TimSim85 and A Younger Theatre’s Editor @jakeyoh loved One Man, Two Guvnors, with @Audreydirector also advocating London Road, which were both performed at the National Theatre. Despite some resistance to As You Like It, the National Theatre produced the goods through alternative productions. For both @AmeliaHockey and @LaurenCaddick, Frankenstein was a clear favourite – “just brilliant”.

Additional Twitter responses to the theatre highs and lows of 2011 focused less on commercial and mainstream productions, instead with a view to support the well-known in ‘smaller’ venues and debuting productions. A Younger Theatre’s Web Editor @eleanorturney tweeted for Richard II, and @Cpt_Shortbread’s best was Cinderella, both of which played at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, whereas @Cpt_Shortbread’s worst was “perhaps Evita at Bath”. A multitude of Shakespeare productions – aside from the success of the Royal Shakespeare Company – received much praise. @John_murphy1 and @millingtonbell both saw Othello at the Sheffield Crucible, with @millingtonbell also praising the German Hamlet production at the Barbican Centre. @PascaleKasirabo thought As You Like It at the Rose Theatre in Kingston “was thrilling… a splendid job!” Conversely, Twelfth Night at the National Theatre was the “driest production of Shakespeare ever!” to @roseannanna. The Barbican Centre’s programming won support through Lullaby, which turned the Pit into a communal bedroom for the audience, with @johnhunter calling it “snoozily brilliant!”

The best theatre of 2011 was incredibly diverse and to be found up and down the country, not just in London. Yet we see mixed responses to various Clockwork Orange productions across the UK: @teddyfizz felt the “worst Clockwork Orange” was the version at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, whereas for @PascaleKasirabo, the Volcano Theatre Company’s version at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury was “pretty impressive. Acting, Staging and script!” He consequently saw the show numerous times and always “left the theatre with a smile”.

There was much positivity elsewhere on Twitter for Bound by Bear Trap Theatre. The company has won numerous awards preceding their upcoming tour of the production throughout 2012. Put simply by @LondonFarmBoy, “my favourite play of the year has to be Bound [at the Southwark Playhouse]… moved me like no other”. The Young Company at the Southwark Playhouse, @YoCoSwkPlay, also loved Bound from this multi-award-winning international touring company. Bear Trap Theatre was copiously praised by Lyn Gardner in The Guardian online following their performance at the Edinburgh Festival 2010, indicating the abundant talent of the festival  through their approach to simplistic theatre. As a result of their success within 2010, Bear Trap Theatre made their way into Top 10 plays of 2011, including that compiled by The Spectator. @tessagillett tweeted her best theatre of 2011, naming “Bound by Bear Trap Theatre…and Fela! – Totally different but both totally brilliant”. Here, the sheer contrast between favoured productions indicates the diverse range that have won audiences’ hearts throughout 2011.

Not all productions that premiered in fringe venues were received positively however. Whilst @EveNicol and @teddyfizz placed Tender Napalm first along with Happy Days in the Art World, the worst @EveNicol  saw “was fringe stuff I’d feel terrible naming and shaming”. By its very nature, fringe theatre is the ideal birthing ground for both the incredible and the dire. For example, @sundancemckid felt The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart “was the only halfway memorable play I saw this year”. For Editor @jakeyoh, “thinking of worst…I’d rather not name. Mostly fringe work”.

Away from the mainstream, fringe theatre and festival productions have gone on to great heights from original incarnations, but many have also flopped following the unique starting opportunities provided by fringe springboards. With the alternative view of fringe as a platform for new and innovative work to be performed, can fringe work be placed under such scrutiny in a predominantly test-tube environment? However, without criticisms and critics alike, there may be no hope to develop fringe theatre further in 2012.

With the good, the bad and the downright ridiculous highs and lows from 2011, 2012 is sure to have a whole host of theatrical extravaganzas in store for us. Happy New Year!

Image credit: bayasaa

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Review: Love Never Dies

Posted on 21 December 2010 by Jake Orr

It’s not everyday a show in the West End closes for a week, gets Bill Kenwright in to do some re-directing on a re-structured and re-worked musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and then invites critics to re-review, but then again Love Never Dies is no ordinary musical. As the sequel to the Olivier and Tony Award winning Phantom of the Opera, Webbers 1988 musical of love, music and a man concealed behind the now iconic half white mask, Love Never Dies is set some 10 years later in Coney Island in an entertainment complex known as Phantasma.

Sadly I was unable to witness the ‘original’ version of the show before the re-work, so this review is based upon a first eye look at Webber’s latest musical, and I have to say, I was disappointed. The original love and emotion found in Phantom, is replaced with an elongated plot, stretched thinly on Christine Daae’s appearance in New York to sing in a Hammerstein show before being propositioned into performing at Coney Island by The Phantom in a song especially written for her. The trials and tribulations of show life, lost love, jealousy and ‘who is the father’ fills the remaining space of the musical.

The first half acts as the setting up of places, times and situations, through some outstanding projection work that fills the proscenium-arch of The Adelphi Theatre. I only wish that the songs, and story could tell the shift in locations rather than the hefty use of projections which act more as a pushing forward of the plot than a visual delight as it should be. Thankfully there is much to be admired in Webber’s use of orchestral music that flows throughout the show – soaring and acting as an emotional force for the piece. At least that’s one thing that is right about the show – too often sloppy orchestrations bring down the best of musicals.

Bob Crawley’s other-worldly set designs mirror that of the orchestrations in their grandeur with gothic structures and statues looming over the cast. Crawley’s staging also allows for some splendid visual moments such as a chandelier of heads moving and singing along with the music during one tripy episode. Visually you can see where the money has been spent, but this alone can not make up for Webber’s distinctive dead story, much like its cast towards the end, lifeless and still.

Thankfully if there is one thing that Love Never Dies does boast is a formidably talented cast whose singing and (although little) acting rises above some of the shows faults. As the angelic Christine Daae, Sierra Boggess is outstanding in her delivery of the shows title song, Love Never Dies, her vocal range extends beautifully and with such power and emotion that you are left breathless for a moment. Boggess truly shines in the song that is clearly meant to lift to character of Daae to dizzy new heights. As The Phantom, Ramin Karimloo is hauntingly racked with emotion, and effortlessly commands the stage throughout.  His Till I Hear You Sing which now features at the beginning of the show is wonderfully performed and yes, Webber, is a winner. Not so forthcoming is Gustave’s injections of Beautiful, it’s not that the child actor is poor by a long shot, it’s rather the repetition of “You’re Beautiful” becomes a little waring and yes, if The Phantom doesn’t haunt my dreams then by god that boy will do. “You’re Beautiful” – and so is the ability to learn how much to use a childs voice in songs Mr Webber.

Whilst Love Never Dies features a strong cast and imaginative visuals, it does not bring about anything of Webber’s previous back categelogue that he has become known for. With an obvious plot, little dramatic tension, and an ending that lacks any real emotion, Love Never Dies sadly does die for me and so has a part of my appreciation of what a new musical should bring to the West End. Film sequels rarely live up to their originals, and with musicals, it’s just a no-go area, despite what money and talent you can throw into it.

Love Never Dies is playing at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently booking until the 28th May 2011. For more information and to book tickets, see the official Love Never Dies website.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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