Play – ‘Genesis Inc’, Hampstead Theatre, Thursday 14th July 2018

I’ve mentioned before that I see pretty much everything that’s on at the Hampstead Theatre because it’s my local (never underestimate the appeal of having a theatre 5 minutes from your home). But oddly I hadn’t made any specific plans to see their latest play, ‘Genesis Inc’ – so when I spotted a special offer for last minute tickets on sale on their Instagram last week, I snapped one up quickly for that very evening.

And it’s a good job I did… because it meant I didn’t pay full price for what I can only describe as a disjointed, disappointing and just plain weird piece of theatre. I was excited to realise Harry Enfield was in it (yes that’s right, I hadn’t realised that was who the man was on the posters I walk past every day) but he was woefully underused and oddly cast as the fertility clinic director who was analogised to God. The same applies to the very talented Ritu Arya playing Serina. The basic storyline (of a fertility clinic director making parenthood possible for those who have been unlucky enough not to manage it naturally) is quite a good one, but was cluttered with too many undeveloped and extraneous subplots -the woman in a violent relationship, the gay man trying to buy a flat… why were they there and how were they relevant? I never figured it out.

Overall: Pared down (because it was also too long for my liking at 2h40, you know how I dislike long plays) and without all the subplots, it could have been great, but this version definitely is not.

Musical – ‘Chicago’, Phoenix Theatre, Monday 25th June 2018

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I will admit that, while I try not to be swayed by a celebrity name, sometimes I can’t help being so. But of course a rollicking good musical is always persuasive too, and I have loved ‘Chicago’ for years – since I saw the stage version in London in the early 2000s with Denise van Outen playing Roxie, through the stunning film version which won Oscars for best picture and for Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma, to the present day version which just so happens to have Cuba Gooding Jr playing Billy Flynn… so of course it was only a matter of time before I succumbed, despite the ticket prices being considerably more than I would usually pay.

Sadly, a show that didn’t quite deliver in the end. The band were placed right in the centre of the stage (indeed the highlight is when there are a few solos from the brass section) which meant there was almost no set; disappointing when you’re expecting the dramatic jailhouse backdrop with the bars and railings which the girls dance on in every production I’ve seen before. Cuba Gooding Jr certainly has mesmeric stage presence, but his singing falls far below par. The only really outstanding performance came from brilliant veteran Ruthie Henshall as Mama Morton, who really owned ‘When You’re Good to Mama’.

Overall: Music great, but still could have been so much better (and for the price we paid, should have been).

Play – ‘The Strange Death of John Doe’, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, Monday 18th June 2018

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If I had to use just one word to describe ‘The Strange Death of John Doe’, it would be ‘divisive’. I am not sure I’ve ever been at a theatre where so many people left at the interval (well, possibly I have, but it’s much more noticeable in a small theatre). And I can only presume that this is because the majority of the first half involved an autopsy taking place. So yeah- not for you if you’re squeamish. Luckily myself and my friends R and J couldn’t be less so, and hence we loved it.

The play is based on the true story of the man, known as ‘John Doe’, who fell from a plane into Mortlake, South-West London, in September 2012. No one knows his true story, but playwright Fiona Doyle has woven a fascinating backstory about his possible life in Africa and what led him to try and stow away on a plane to London. The action flips back and forth between the present day (autopsy room) and the preceding events in Africa.

I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to give the story away. But it’s a fascinating and different story, well worth a try.

Overall: caution if you’re squeamish, but otherwise, definitely try and catch it.

Musical – ‘Chess’, London Coliseum, Monday 30th April 2018

‘It’s got Alexandra Burke in it?!!’ was the main comment (of surprise) in my theatre Whatsapp group when we started discussing the revival of ‘Chess’ at ENO’s London Coliseum. I had seen ‘Chess’ in Sheffield in 2010, and thought it was OK but fell into the category of ‘forgettable musicals’. I expected much the same this time around. The truth is that, while Alexandra Burke was far better than expected, there were so many unbelievable moments in this production that she was the very least of my surprises.

What unbelievable moments? Where to even start. The huge screens bordering the stage which were used both to add in scene settings (a plane landing…) and to magnify the performers’ faces like rock stars (very useful for those of us who were up at the back in the cheap seats!). The chorus who managed to make both Russian dancing and Thai acrobatics look easy (the acrobatics on aerial silks had me mesmerised). The fantastic music, with the lovely little nods to Benny and Bjorn’s ABBA history (yes, we spotted the little snippet of ‘Take a Chance on Me’!). And, of course, THOSE big name performances.

Michael Ball has been one of my greatest heroes of musical theatre since I was tiny. When he performed in ‘Aspects of Love’, I was sadly a little too young to see it but my parents went and brought the soundtrack home with them, so I grew up listening to his voice on CD in my parents’ living room. People always warn you that heroes can disappoint you in person but I’m happy to say that on this occasion they are completely wrong. His powerful, emotional voice completely dominated the stage.

I’d never heard of Tim Howar but I loved his performance as Freddie Trumper- just the right balance of humour, belligerence and sadness. Another artist who was stunning was Cassidy Janson who brought so much depth to Florence. Listening to her and Alexandra Burke singing ‘I Know Him So Well’ more or less brought me to tears- something that rarely happens for me even as a frequent theatregoer!

And Alexandra herself? Yep. A much better Svetlana than I expected. She’s come a long way since The X Factor… Just as this production of ‘Chess’ has come a long way from the one I saw in 2010. It is many things, but ‘forgettable’ isn’t one of them.

Overall: Well worth 3 hours of your time. Stunning.

Musical – ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, Apollo Theatre, 30th January 2018

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Before I moved to London about 6 years ago, I lived in Sheffield for 11 years. Now obviously Sheffield can’t compete with London, but it does have quite a nice little theatre scene of it’s own. And that is where ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ started out last year; at the very lovely Crucible Theatre, which I know well. Several of my friends in Sheffield saw it, and their reactions were so overwhelmingly positive that when I heard it was moving to London it was, of course, high on my list of shows to see.

It’s got a slightly similar storyline to ‘Billy Elliott’ – boy from working class background wants an unconventional career and encounters some unsympathetic attitudes from those around him. There are, however, some differences. Unlike poor motherless Billy, Jamie has a very sympathetic mum, along with mum’s best friend (played by the absolutely brilliant Mina Anwar – always a pleasure to watch). And while Billy tries his hardest to conform (at least externally), Jamie never has the slightest intention of doing so. And of course one could reasonably argue, why should he?- and that’s quite true. It does however, make the rapid change in attitude of his classmates a little hard to swallow.

The music is upbeat and the cast mostly very good (and I LOVED the character of Pritti, Jamie’s bookish Asian best friend who reminded me so much of me!) and while it certainly is an entertaining and undemanding evening’s theatre, I somehow expected just a little more…

Overall: fun, but fell a tiny bit flat for me.

Musical – ‘Hamilton’, Victoria Palace Theatre, 13th January 2018

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First things first – yes, it IS every bit as good as you’ve heard.

Shamefacedly I must admit that I only heard about this show via a recommendation from a friend of a friend who saw it in New York- but luckily it was still early enough for me to register for priority booking and so as soon as tickets went on sale a year ago I booked tickets for January (I specifically didn’t book for the opening in December as I wanted to give the tickets to my other half as his Christmas present… fortunately the booking was linked to my credit card so he couldn’t go with anyone else!)

I listened to the soundtrack quite a bit in the intervening months so I was already familiar with some of the music and I’d recommend doing the same; it’s lovely knowing a few of the songs before you go (I challenge you not to sing along to ‘My Shot’ and ‘In the Room Where It Happened’) and I can assure you that there’s still so much to see and take in that it doesn’t in any way diminish your enjoyment of the show.

The cast in London are all British, not that you’d realise it from their accents. Everyone hits the nail on the head and newcomer Jamael Westman (playing Hamilton himself) is a revelation. The only odd note was having Hamilton’s eldest son being played by the same (adult) actor the whole way through- which is perfectly fine when he’s 19 but seemed very strange when he’s supposedly 9 years old and having a scene with his ‘dad’ (who he looked considerably older than…) but that was the only slip up in the whole flawless production.

I could write much, much more (how you’d never have been so bored in history lessons at school if everything was delivered in fast, punchy rap songs, how the comedy moments really will make you LOL, and also about how you shouldn’t neglect to notice how beautifully the Victoria Palace Theatre has been revamped for this production- if, like me, you visited it in its previous, slightly tatty, incarnation as the home of ‘Billy Elliott’, the change is remarkable) but you hardly need me to, surely?

Overall: Book now. Yes, you probably will be waiting several months to go… but I guarantee it is worth the wait.

Play – ‘Belleville’, Donmar Warehouse, 6th January 2018

 

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Myself and my friends R and J are big Donmar Warehouse fans (we are lucky enough to be Friends of the theatre, so get priority booking- very useful for a tiny theatre which usually sells out quickly). ‘Belleville’ was exactly the kind of play we like- a romcom-type set up where things slowly start to unravel. The beautiful young American couple seemingly living the expat dream in Paris… but of course, they aren’t.

I enjoyed the buildup of the story, the gradual development of the characters and the slow realisation that all was not as it first seemed… I would have liked a bit more of the background story but the Donmar generally goes for short punchy plays and this was no exception.

The only thing that upset us was – in the final scene, there’s a short conversation in French of which we could only understand snippets. I daresay it wasn’t crucial to the play, but it would have been nice to know what was being said!

Overall: An enjoyable evening’s theatre; but if you’re not a fluent French speaker, take one with you or be prepared not to understand the final scene!