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!

Musical – ‘An American in Paris’, Dominion Theatre, 4th January 2018

Big ‘cheesy’ musicals are one of my favourite things. I was raised listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Gershwins and even now I am pretty much word-perfect on ‘Cats’, ‘Starlight Express’, ‘Crazy for You’, ‘Grease’* and most of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (*I know ‘Grease’ isn’t Lloyd Webber or Gershwin!)

So ‘An American in Paris’ was always on my list to ‘get around to’. With so many shows to see and so little time, however, it had slipped down the priority list somewhat -until I discovered that the rest of the world clearly doesn’t value big musicals as much as I do and, in fact, the show was closing in early January. Cue much panicked messaging to try and coordinate dates and, luckily, my friend P and I managed to get this date in our diaries and book tickets just in time.

Unsurprisingly, I LOVED it. It had everything I like best – jazzy dance routines, uplifting songs, sparkly bright sets. If you don’t leave this musical singing ‘I Got Rhythm’, I don’t really know how to respond to you.

Overall: great uplifting easy-to-watch show. If you have nothing to do tonight or tomorrow, try and get a return!!

Play – ‘A Christmas Carol’, The Old Vic, 14th December 2017

Once again, my friend K deserves much credit for her organisation. We booked tickets to this in August and I suspect that if we hadn’t we wouldn’t have got to go. Much buzz around Rhys Ifans playing Scrooge; spoiler alert -he was great but not by any means the best thing about this production.

So first things first -the set. I’m a sucker for a good quirky/interesting set and this is definitely one of those- the stage is in a ‘cross’ shape with the stalls seats around it and action happens on all parts of the stage. Lots of old Victorian-style lanterns hang over the stage casting moody light. Doorways cleverly pop in and out of the set.

The best thing by far however, is the music. There’s a live orchestra and Christmas carols are beautifully interspersed with the story. The cast also ring handbells which is a lovely atmospheric touch.

All of the cast were superb; the only thing I didn’t love was when it descended ever so slightly into pantomime territory with giant food items being thrown/passed around the theatre, but I suppose after all it is a Christmas show which is meant to appeal to children too. Anyway, it didn’t in any way dim the appeal of this fantastic show.

Overall: as Christmassy as Christmas can be, yet also great theatre. Do your best to go!

Exhibition – ‘Harry Potter – A History of Magic’, British Library, 25th November 2017

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I cannot deny that I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I didn’t get into the books as soon as they were published -I’m one of those contrary folks who hates hype and I was working in a bookshop the summer of 1997 when the first book came out, so we heard a lot about this AMAZING new book and I made my mind up I absolutely wouldn’t read it (stupid, I know). Sometime during my gap year in 1999 I decided to read ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, and that was it, I was sold for life.

Luckily I have quite a number of friends who are also big fans and one of them, my friend K, is also super-organised, so she booked tickets for several of us to go to the British Library exhibition a few months ago. I knew the exhibition was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the books being published but I still hadn’t really got much of an idea of what to expect. It was, in fact, FAR better than I expected.

The exhibition has an intro with some background about the series (and some of JKR’s original illustrations -fascinating) and then goes through all the subjects taught at Hogwarts – Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination (boo), Defence against the Dark Arts and Care of Magical Creatures. Each section looks at what JKR wrote in the books and how it relates to history (did you know Mandrakes have their roots in Greek mythology?!), to evidence and to language- I was astonished by how much historical derivation there was.

However the BEST bits of the exhibition, by far, were the original manuscripts and illustrations which were scattered throughout the exhibition. I had no idea JKR had done so many illustrations herself, nor how many changes there were between her original version and what eventually got published (no spoilers here, but you HAVE to read the original draft of the first chapter of ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, it will take your breath away!)

Overall: if you’re a HP fan, a genuine must-visit.

Play – ‘Heisenberg – The Uncertainty Principle’, Wyndham’s Theatre, 27th November 2017

Perhaps my expectations for this play were unrealistic. But the reference to Heisenberg in the title made me think that there would be something in here that pertained to science, or at the very least to the life of Heisenberg himself. Whereas actually, this is a mild romantic comedy at best and a waste of 90 minutes at worst.

On the plus side. I liked the set where things effortlessly moved in and out of it. And certain moments of Kenneth Cranham’s delivery made me smile.

But. Nothing about the love story was really plausible- certainly not the speech in which Anne-Marie Duff’s supposed waitress character referenced Heisenberg, and certainly not the part where she propositions the elderly butcher she has met on a bench. And there just wasn’t enough spark between the two of them to keep me interested, in the absence of ANYTHING else in the story whatsoever.

Overall: it’s not about Heisenberg, fair enough. Unfortunately it’s not about anything else much either.

Play – ‘The Lady from the Sea’, Donmar Warehouse, 25th November 2017

I’m going to go a little smug with this one because it’s rare that I manage to write about things in such a timely fashion that anyone might actually be able to see it after I’ve written about it. BUT this play is on for another week and I see there are a few tickets left for later this week so please, if you get a chance, do go.

I love the Donmar Warehouse as it’s such a beautiful, intimate little venue and I’m lucky enough to have received membership as a birthday present from friends this year, so I see most of their productions. When my friends R and J started talking about this Ibsen play, I was envisaging something set in the frozen wastelands of Norway. But actually the setting of this production has been transferred to a Caribbean island and it’s absolutely beautiful with a rocky pool on the stage itself which is used to good theatrical effect.

It’s a quick production; 1hr45min straight through with no interval. Regular readers will know that generally that’s the kind of thing I like and it is, but on this occasion I would actually have liked it to be just a tad longer to flesh out the characters more; while Dr Wangel and his wife Ellida (‘The Lady from the Sea’) were well drawn, the doctor’s two daughters, particularly Bollette, could have done with a little more development. She had a lot of promise but it wasn’t entirely there for me. However, all the cast were simply superb.

Overall: beautiful modernised production of Ibsen on a stunning set in a great little theatre; well worth a couple of hours of your time.