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Tag Archive | "West End"

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Review: Cool Rider, Duchess Theatre

Posted on 19 April 2014 by Senne Vercouteren

Cool Rider

Sequels in the musical theatre industry are rare, unlike of course in film: after Grease there was indeed Grease 2, a less famous, less successful and less memorable production than its predecessor. Cool Rider bases itself on the lesser of the two, resulting in an exuberant celebration of the 1961 high school class. In this version at the Duchess Theatre, however, the teachers join in the action and, instead of teaching, hold auditions – for what exactly remains obscure, but it really doesn’t matter. Cool Rider is every bit as sexy and exhilarating as the film should have been.

Directed by Guy Unsworth, the show sees a large and capable cast fill the shoes of the quintessential heart-throbs, bad boys and cheerleaders, and of course the winning couple: Ashleigh Gray as the unattainable Stephanie and Aaron Sidwell as British newcomer Michael, who’ll only get the girl if he turns into a bike-riding dude clad entirely in tight leather. The storyline is overly familiar, and it is a good thing this production recognises that. It goes beyond the usual trodden path and offers – often very funny – commentary on the art form and the ridiculousness of the story, and engages with a very enthusiastic audience. The whole thing often feels more like a concert than a musical.

The songs are catchy and performed with gusto; Sidwell especially stands out and it would by no means be an exaggeration to say he is a star. Choreography (by Matt Krzan) is simply a lot of fun and allows a wide variety of styles and personalities to take centre stage. This is in line with the ultra-fast pace with which the story rolls along before our eyes: clearly, enjoyment takes precedence over any narrative profundity.

The show has some minor flaws. I found the use of both standing microphones and headsets confusing; at the moment Stephanie climbs up onto a ladder during her number, a stagehand has to hold it steady – a task marked out for the nun (played by a man) who is seen here and there and gets a lot of the laughs. These flaws however, on second thought, might have been deliberate in an attempt to mimic the shortcomings of the film. In which case, of course, they only add to the fun.

One week in the West End is not long enough. Cool Rider is a refreshing show, the kind we need more of, and incidentally has the capacity to draw new audiences into central London – save Matilda, I haven’t seen such a young audience in a commercial theatre.

Cool Rider is playing at the Duchess Theatre until 19 April. For more information and tickets, see the Cool Rider website.

Photo by Pamela Raith.

Senne Vercouteren

Senne Vercouteren

Senne Vercouteren graduated from the Courtauld Institute in 2013 and is now an emerging theatre producer, currently working on the MACP at Birkbeck. He is passionate about theatre, Kanye West and fast cars. @SenneVercoutere

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Review: Relative Values, Harold Pinter Theatre

Posted on 18 April 2014 by Amina Bhuiyan

Relative Values

With family, it’s all relative. In Noel Coward’s comedy Relative Values, we see a family dynamic entrenched in historic values disturbed by a shift in society.

Sam Hoare as Nigel, the Earl of Marshwood, brings home Miranda Frayle, a young Hollywood actress whom he intends to marry, much to his mother’s chagrin. Leigh Zimmerman is suitably fabulous and flighty as his unwelcome starlet. Nigel’s mother Felicity, Patricia Hodge’s Countess of Marshwood, is ineffably sharp and at first only mildly perturbed by the turn of events – her stiff upper lip barely twitches.

It’s only when her loyal maid of 19 years, Moxie, is mysteriously determined that the addition of Frayle to the Marshwood Manor will cause her to terminate her employment irrevocably that we see the ascension of the plot. Caroline Quentin reminds us why she is so lovable with her utterly perfect comic timing and charm in this role.

Rather than altering the situation, the Countess of Marshwood concocts a cleverly convoluted plan to instead shift the perspective with the aid of her noble butler, the very wordy Crestwell. It surprised me to learn that this is Rory Bremner’s West End debut as he is brilliant, a complete natural.

Hodge’s clipped tones perfectly embody the searing asides as the matriarch refusing to be toppled. Her partner in crime is her nephew the Honourable Peter Ingleton who brings a gay lightness to the playful character. Steven Pacey as Peter is very amusing in his efforts to ensnare an unsuspecting Don Lucas, the very attractive yet dim actor in what turns out to be something of a love square. Peter’s involvement, along with those of the unsuspecting neighbours Lady Cynthia Hayling and Sir John Hayling really fuel the fire.

The stellar cast launches its opening night at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and takes its audience back to 1951. With original video clips of a young Queen Elizabeth and Churchill’s post-war public addresses, one truly does feel transported. These clips mentioning rations and other factors that affected everyone, regardless of financial and social position, prove a great backdrop for this story about the British class system.

Coward also uses the opportunity to take a jab at the Americans, the two main villains and perfectly fitting the stereotype of being incredibly stupid. Having said that, Hoare’s pouting, petulant son doesn’t fare a much better fate with his resolute conflict-avoidance tactics to ensure he is always in mummy’s good books, at whatever cost. Through the Countess of Marshwood Coward even pokes fun at what lies beneath the upper class: joyless friendships born from familial connections.

Under Trevor Nunn’s direction it’s no surprise that the play is so very well performed; however, in true Coward form it’s hardly succinct. One of Coward’s lesser known and arguably less popular plays dances with what is now generally thought of as a taboo: advocacy of a social hierarchy.

It’s easy to see why Relative Values is lesser known and a little unpopular: it alienates most people except the niche it is in favour of preserving. Despite this archaic idea, it’s impossible to deny that the true heroes of the play are in fact the hired help.

Having spent so long working together and serving the Marshwoods, they are clearly family themselves and wholly entertaining with it.

Relative Values is running until 21 June at the Harold Pinter Theatre. For tickets and more information go to the ATG Tickets website.

Amina Bhuiyan

Amina Bhuiyan

By day Amina works for an accountancy firm in the city. By night she writes about theatre. She has worked with numerous organisations including RADA, The National Youth Theatre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has also studied Drama & Theatre studies and English Language & Literature. Aside from theatre, she also likes a number of things - including but not limited to - food. And then writing about that as well.

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Feature: Stage One – Funding the future producers

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Harriet Stevens

Stage OneLast month, Stage One, a charity funding body that supports the work of emerging theatre producers, announced the latest recipients of its £50,000 and £25,000 Start-Up Investment Fund.

Stephen McGill and David Hutchinson were the winners (respectively), and these sums will be used for the upcoming productions of The Pyjama Game (West End transfer, co-produced by McGill) and Avenue Q (UK tour, co-produced by Hutchinson).

As, for me at least, the role of the producer is a little elusive, I wanted to find out more about the role in general, what drove McGill and Hutchinson towards a career in producing and how they got to where they are today.

McGill explains his perception of the role of the producer: “I suppose the general perception is of the cigar smoking, Dom-drinking West End Producer – who I follow on Twitter and is hilarious! – but in reality, the producer is responsible for most aspects of a production, from the administrative side (which includes budgeting, financing, negotiating contracts, marketing and press of the production) to the creative side (collaborating with writers, directors, actors, musicians, stage management and technical crew), to create a show which hopefully everyone is proud to be part of.”

For Hutchinson, “essentially the producer brings everyone together. It’s their original idea and they conceive of how it could all work as a whole production. They’re the risk taker. They have to have the belief from the beginning.” Hutchinson explains how “risk is a big word in theatre at the moment. I hear it at conferences and in arts discussions all the time.” Hutchinson describes the types of risks that producer is taking as being both financial and creative, as not only are they playing with huge amounts of money but “it only takes one flop to put theatres off your work; one bad show, one project that is under par…” As Hutchinson will be using his Stage One funding to finance a regional tour of the puppetry musical Avenue Q he tells me how, particularly in recent years, there is even more risk associated with regional theatre: “Regional theatre is in crisis. The only way we can rebuild it is with funding people [like Stage One] who are taking these kind of risks”.

Both McGill and Hutchinson agree that the funding provided by Stage One is a vital support network for emerging or early-career theatre producers, and both are thrilled to have received the funding for their individual projects. McGill tells me that “Stage One has been crucial to my development as a producer. As well as nurturing and developing my skills through the New Producers Workshops, the advice and support of established producers is there to ensure the next generation can come through and hopefully continue the success.” And it would appear that Hutchinson is also grateful to Stage One for more than just the financial support as he explains how, aside from the monetary boost, Stage One adds a level of credibility to the project which Hutchinson calls the, “second wave” of securing funding, where the backing of Stage One “really makes everything more concrete as now, as we’re applying for more funding, we already have the cast and have started with rehearsals, as well as having secured some tour dates”.

Although both are now well stuck into their producinf careers, neither McGill nor Hutchinson came to the world of performing arts with this intention, as both initially trained as actors. McGill explains how he came to producing when, “during a particularly long ‘dry spell’ between acting work I was fortunate to work as a production assistant on the transfer of Jersey Boys into the West End. It was so exciting being part of a big production from the first rehearsal – which was my first day on the job – through to previews, opening night and beyond. I learned a huge amount in regards to the work that goes on behind the scenes to get such a big musical on stage and it was as rewarding, if not more so, to be part of the production side of the show.”

Hutchinson tells me how, whilst he was training at LIPA, “we had what they called ‘management classes,’ and they were the first lesson the morning after the weekly ‘£1-double-vodka-red-bull student night’ and everyone would sit there, head in hands, but I was completely fascinated. I graduated knowing that I wanted to produce. But I consider the actor training as a tool. I think it’s important to know how to talk to other creatives and I know that I can speak to actors on a level. It’s a tough career and I respect that; I don’t think that some producers have that understanding.”

Hutchinson believes that the best way to learn is by doing things yourself and that, specifically with a producer, this comes from initially working on small scale or fringe shows where, due to budgeting, there really is no choice other than to take on a vast number of different production roles. But all this experience will eventually pay of as, as Hutchinson puts it, “you realise after doing all of these things yourself that you need to build a team where you can find someone who specialised in all these different areas, but then when you are working on this kind of larger-scale production and you need to speak to a technician and want to use the right vocab, or you’re asking someone to design a lighting plot, you can – because you’ve done it before.”

Hutchinson assures me, however, that even further up the career ladder, the job of the producer isn’t necessarily all glitz and glamour, and those intending to shoot for a career in producing should be prepared for a difficult journey. “We all want to dive in straight at the West End, but you have to start small and then you can up-scale. It’s a real slog. I’ve had five years of battling ‘no’s. I’ve been driving vans down motorways at midnight, washing and ironing costumes because the stage manager’s off sick, so don’t think it’s going to be glamorous!”

But it seems that at the end of the blood, sweat and tears that a producer has to put into realising that initial vision that they had for a show, all the work can pay off when the show is performed to an audience, as McGill expressed: “for me, the best part is seeing the production you’ve worked on for months – or maybe years – on stage in front of an audience for the first time. I love the journey a show takes from page to stage and it’s so exciting to finally be able to share it with an audience.

 

Stage One supports new theatre producers with industry-led training workshops, bursaries, apprenticeships, start-Up investment, mentoring and advice. For more information see the Stage One website.

Harriet Stevens

Harriet Stevens

Harriet is an applied theatre practitioner working with young people in London, and a recent MA graduate of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is hugely passionate about theatre and live arts, and spends much of her free time seeing as much theatre as possible.

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Review: Once, Phoenix Theatre

Posted on 06 April 2014 by Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Once Musical

A chance encounter wherein a young Czech girl asks an dejected Irish busker to fix her broken hoover seems like an unlikely starting point for a love story, let alone a musical. Surprisingly this is the premise of Glen Hansard’s multi-award winning musical Once, now with Arthur Darvill reprising his Broadway role as the male lead who is known simply as ‘Guy’, taking to the stage alongside the original ‘Girl’ – Croatian-born Zrinka Cvitešić. United by a mutual passion for making beautiful music, these kindred spirits go on a tender journey as they both discover what it means truly to embrace life and live in the moment.

In a year that has been increasingly tough for new musicals to stay open, Once has bucked this trend and is even extending its run until July 2015. With such a hit on their hands, finding a new cast that could live up to the calibre of their predecessors was critical. I’m pleased to be able to say that the new recruits certainly have risen to the occasion. No doubt this is largely thanks to the onstage chemistry between Cvitešić and Darvill, which is truly electric. As the Girl, Cvitešić buoyantly coaxes a reluctant Guy to believe in himself by following his dream of forging a career in the music industry. Although the Girl tries to encourage the Guy to leave her behind and try to win back his former lover in New York, the Guy and the Girl are of course the true couple that the audience are willing to be together. In these nameless figures, playwright Enda Walsh has created well-rounded characters that the audience can invest in emotionally, a factor that is all too often glossed over in musical theatre.

In many ways it is easy to forget that you are watching a musical as the creative team behind Once have stripped back many of the traditional conventions associated with musical theatre: impressive jazz hand-filled dance numbers have been replaced with pedestrianised naturalistic movement. Instead of an orchestra pit the actors sit around the edge of the stage throughout the piece, strumming guitars, mandolins and cellos as they provide their own musical accompaniments. The cast of talented actor-musicians fuse the two media brilliantly. This minimalistic approach to the art form is perhaps most effective during Darvill’s rendition of ‘Falling Slowly’, as his raw and heartfelt delivery feels more like you’re listening to an intimate acoustic gig than watching a show in the heart of the West End. Perhaps it is more appropriate to refer to Once as a play that just happens to have haunting melodies woven into the narrative.

It felt only fitting to reward the captivating cast of Once with a standing ovation – for me it certainly ranks as one of the best musicals that I have had the pleasure of seeing. This stellar piece of theatre distances itself from many of the archetypal features associated with the genre and therein lies its charm. I have a sneaking suspicion that even the most reluctant of musical theatre-goers would enjoy Once, a theory that I plan to test out very soon. After all, it would be a crime to see it just the once.

Once is currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre until July 2015. Arthur Darvill will be playing the role of Guy until 10 May. For tickets and more information, see the Once website.

 

Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Ruby isla Cera Marle recently graduated from Royal Holloway University of London where she studied Spanish and European Literature and Cultural Studies. Currently Ruby is working as Press and Marketing Assistant at Rambert Dance Company..

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