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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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Ticket Offer: The Sunshine Boys for £20 at the Savoy Theatre

Posted on 25 April 2012 by A Younger Theatre

It’s not every day you get to see the duo of Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths working their stuff on the London stage, so thanks to our friends at AKA, we can offer A Younger Theatre readers the opportunity to see The Sunshine Boys in the West End for only £20. There are only 20 tickets available per performance so get in quick. Read more below:

The Sunshine Boys, Savoy TheatreTHE SUNSHINE BOYS
Limited Season from 27 Apr
20 Tickets for £20!  (usually up to £70)

20 £20 tickets are available for every performance. To book call the Box Office on 0844 871 7687 and quote ‘Under 25 Offer’. Offer available for 16 – 25 year olds only. Subject to availability.

Golden Globe and Emmy award-winner Danny DeVito makes his West End debut alongside Olivier and Tony award-winner Richard Griffiths, in a new production of Neil Simon’s hilarious and moving comedy The Sunshine Boys.

Old rivalry and vintage hilarity abound in this classic comedy of showbiz and friendship. Directed by Thea Sharrock, who won the Olivier Award last year for her production of After The Dance at the National Theatre, The Sunshine Boys looks set to be the theatrical event of the year.
Savoy Theatre, Savoy Court, Strand, WC2R 0ET

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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Review: 13

Posted on 26 October 2011 by Jake Orr

Mike Bartlett’s new play 13 is a piece about belief and the shaping of leaders. It looks at the connections that we, within society, have between us, but also the impact of these connections in a global community. Threatened by the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear programme, the United States’ government presses upon its relationship with the United Kingdom to declare war. Meanwhile an informed ‘messenger’ who has the ability to speak to the public and unite them against an imposing war leads to half a million ‘disciples’ descending in peaceful protests in London. 13 is naturally a reflection on our society, and the recent rioting that the country has been through in protest against the changes to our society, our national services and our relationships with foreign affairs.

Whilst the premise of Bartlett’s 13 appeals on paper, it seems to take an amble through a series of interlocking stories that at first seem more at home in a science fiction novel. A series of fragmented narratives reveal the same circumstances, each character experiences a reoccurring dream of “monsters and explosions”. These horrific nightmares are connected through the arrival of John (Trystan Gravelle), a solitary calming figure who sees people as if they are transparent, honest and raw. He preaches the belief that the future of the country is “in their hands’”.This unnerving atmospheric quality steadily builds throughout the first act, helped by Tom Scutt’s ominous cube structure which dominates the Olivier stage. Yet this unearthly quality seems to dissolve just as quickly as it was developed with Bartlett’s text as it becomes a comment upon political workings, social structure, and very loosely (and as suggested in the programme), the online social networking and connections spurred through Facebook and Twitter during moments of unrest.

There is a distinct feeling of unrest and unresolved action in 13. If Bartlett’s text is to blame for the meandering narrative, Thea Sharrock’s direction does little to steer it in a direction of meaning. Never quite getting to the heart of the metaphor, nor exploring the connected characters more adventurously, 13 becomes rigid and unoriginal. 13 has the qualities of so many previous productions, that it seems more a recycling of themes than a new important message or piece of political theatre.

Whilst lacking in dynamics from Sharrock’s direction and Bartlett’s text, the cast as a whole cope admirably. Gravelle’s John rises to the challenge of an inspiring thought-provoker, and works well against Geraldine James’ Prime Minister. James manages to capture an air of solitude that a leader endures when making dicisions that could leave 100,000 people dead over two years, as would the case be if a war was started upon Iran.

As previously mentioned, Scutt’s design for 13 is a curious one, which at times produces a dramatic affect upon its audience. The cube structure that haunts the Olivier auditorium evokes the proposed plans of the US Embassy in Vauxhall, and the complex puzzle of a Rubix Cube. Yet this dramatic imagery seems, especially in the second half, disappointingly disjointed. Such a powerful design is underused and much like Bartlett’s text itself, leaves very much unresolved.

It is a shame that 13 feels overcomplicated, but beneath these interlocked narratives, there is a wealth of interlocking meanings and metaphors that someone who is willing to see beyond the poor narrative could enjoy. Bartlett raises some interesting questions about the political figures of our government; do we elect leaders or just ‘managers’ for our countries? There is a moment during an encounter between Ruth and John where Ruth makes it clear that she appreciates the “different perspective” that John can give to her actions, and in many ways the same can be said for 13 as a play. It’s just a shame that on this instance the perspective is a feeble one.

13 is playing at the National Theatre until 8 January 2012. For more information and tickets, including £5 Entry Pass tickets, see the National Theatre 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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Review: After the Dance

Posted on 04 July 2010 by Julia Rank

After the Dance

As I am fascinated by the interwar period and am always intrigued by ‘lost’ novels and plays, this production of After the Dance by Terence Rattigan directed by Thea Sharrock was the most appealing looking item in the National Theatre’s summer brochure for me. Many plays and novels are forgotten for the perfectly legitimate reason that they aren’t very good, but there is also the matter of fashions constantly changing. It also must have been a lot easier for things to fade away in the days before the Internet. After the Dance was Rattigan’s second play after a making his name with a frothy comedy French Without Tears and opened in June 1939 to excellent reviews, but as the political climate grew ever more turbulent, it closed in the middle of August, two weeks before Hitler invaded Poland. Despite the fact that Rattigan’s reputation suffered from the fifties onwards and was perceived by many as hopelessly middle class and narrow in range, it was Rattigan himself who attempted to eliminate this particular play from his oeuvre by refusing to include it in his Collected Works, due to his discomfort with the fact that it was a financial failure (as Michael Darlow argues in the programme notes).

After the Dance tells us what happened next to the ‘Bright Young Things’ immortalised by Noel Coward’s ‘I Went to a Marvellous Party’ and Evelyn Waugh in Vile Bodies. These are people with no need to work, who thrive on alcohol and gossip about the good old days and live entirely for pleasure. It’s like an extended network connected by one big in-joke. The ultimate put-down in their world to avoid discussing anything serious is ‘Don’t be a bore.’ At the centre of the action are David and Joan Scott-Fowler, who married twelve years ago for the fun of it and are drinking themselves to death with no intention of stopping.

Observing this hedonistic lifestyle with disparagement are David’s earnest much younger cousin Peter and his fiancée Helen, the younger generation who do not drink before dinner and only engage in a few chaste kisses. This is the generation who will fight the war that may or may not be coming. Helen’s crush on her fiancé’s bad boy cousin and her plan to reform him are the catalyst of the tragedy that follows.

Apart from the cliff hanger between Acts II and III, there are few shocks or surprises in this play. It is very much a domestic character piece that builds up slowly. Without wanting to give too much away, I feel that the heart of the tragedy is the fact that the characters are unable to communicate with each other effectively. Joan is unable to tell her husband how much she really loves him in fear of being dismissed as a ‘bore.’ It is a classic example of English emotional repression, but also the obliviousness of people who never really grew up.

Thea Sharrock’s direction is clear and unfussy, letting the words speak for themselves rather than trying to make the piece ‘relevant’ to a contemporary audience. Hildegard Bechtler’s evoking a luxurious Mayfair apartment is spot-on and the performances are universally excellent. As the Scott-Fowlers, Benedict Cumberbatch is both debonair and compellingly tragic and Nancy Carroll is particularly powerful in her silent despair. John Heffernan is perfectly cast as Peter, the most sensible and level-headed character in the piece and newcomer Faye Castlelow is obnoxiously perky (I mean that as a compliment) as Helen, the young woman who thinks she is far more mature and knowing than she really is. Adrian Scarborough delivers one of the finest supporting performances I have ever seen as the Scott-Fowlers’ high maintenance hanger-on, delivering one wisecrack after another and eventually emerges to David’s shock as a voice of reason. There is also a fun cameo from Pandora Colin as Joan’s dreadful over the hill flapper pal Julia and Jenny Galloway milks every nuance she can find in her single scene. Only Nancy Carroll’s rather unflattering wig hits a false note.

After the Dance will never be considered cutting edge. I doubt it was avant-garde in 1939 either, but I suspect that one of the reasons why it failed then was because it hit too close to home. One of the most telling moments is when Joan is confronted with the reality of losing her husband to a younger model and comments, “When you know something is going to happen, it makes it seem further off to joke about it.” I think that this is the kind of sensitively directed, beautifully acted work that the National ought to encourage. The very fact that it was written before anyone knew whether there would be a war or not, let alone the outcome gives it an authenticity and poignancy in a way that a modern writer commenting on the era could never achieve.

After the Dance is running at the National Theatre until August 11th 2010. Tickets can be booked through the National Theatre website.

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