Return to the Forbidden Planet 4*

This is one of my all time favourite shows, although it feels like it is not that well known.  When we saw that Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate were putting it on, we had to go and see it.

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I know the show extremely well as I saw it at least two or three times after it first opened in the West End in 1989.  I also had the soundtrack which I must have played on repeat for a few years!  The songs are mainly songs from the ’50s and ’60s, chosen to fit in with the storyline and they work extremely well.   To this day, if I hear the original version of a song from this show, I will still in my head be singing the Return to the Forbidden Planet version.

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It’s an extremely entertaining show, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the sci fi film Forbidden Plant and has the tagline “Shakespeare’s forgotten rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece.”

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The cast were all great and have to be multi-talented as they all had to act, sing, dance and play musical instruments.

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The standout performance we most enjoyed was Simon Oskarrson as the robot Ariel.  He perfectly portrayed a robot with his actions, voice and reactions and he had to do it all on roller skates!  We frequently found ourselves just watching him even if the action was going on at the other end of the room as we kind of found ourselves transfixed by him.  I also managed to get a high five from him at one point!

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It’s on until 17th June and well worth a visit if you can.

Stars: 4*

Date of visit: Sunday 20th May

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

 

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Wicked (again!) 5*

I got an offer for a cheap ticket and couldn’t resist treating myself to seeing one of my favourite shows again. By my reckoning it’s at least my fifth time – once on Broadway, once when Idina Mendel opened in it in London and this is at least my third time in London since then.

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I love this show. I have always loved The Wizard of Oz and read the book by Gregory Maguire that the show is based on when it first came out.  With Wicked, it’s the story combined with the fabulous songs that make this show for me.

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I was in row B of the stalls so ridiculously close to the action which was great. It’s always a bit different when you can the actors expressions up close and, let’s face it, I can’t usually afford to be in the front stalls for anything in the West End at full price.

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The leads were Sophie Evans as Glinda and Alice Fearn as Elphaba.  I recognised the name Sophie Evans as I had watched her in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Over the Rainbow talent programme and she apparently came runner up, although I didn’t really remember her!

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This time round it did strike me how most of the best songs are in the first half, with just a couple in the second half.  I think this is because they end up with a lot of story left to get through in the second half.  But Wicked is always a terrific night out so go see… again and again!

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Stars: 5*

Date of visit: Wednesday 9th May 2018

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Network at the National Theatre 4*

This isn’t the first theatre outing I’ve had this year but it is the first one that has compelled me to write a review.  Once the buzz started about this production, I booked myself a ticket for a Wednesday matinee in January to give myself something to look forward to.  I haven’t seen the film (or watched Breaking Bad) but I could see that Bryan Cranston in Network at the National would be one not to miss.

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If you’re going, this is definitely one for taking your seat as soon as the doors open as when you go in the stage is already very busy. Actors are milling around around the set which is backstage at a television news show, there is hair and make up being done at the back on the left, you can see into a kitchen at the back on the right and a large digital clock counts down to the start of the show.

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There are also about 35 audience members sitting at tables on the right of the stage in the (I expect) very expensive seats where they get served drinks and a meal during the show.  Personally, I do find this somewhat distracting from the action and I was amused that four or five of them at different points during the show were escorted off stage, I presume to the toilet, and back again (there’s no interval and they keep drinking!).

I enjoyed this production immensely.  The staging is very  impressive and makes the whole thing extremely watchable, although at times you’re not sure whether to watch the screens or the actors (or, indeed, the people eating a meal).  The story itself isn’t very complicated or in depth and so without the added production value I’m not sure it would have been as good.

The use of film is particularly effective.  There is a large screen at the back of the stage which is used in a variety of ways.  When Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) is broadcasting you see him onstage but you also see it on screen as though you were watching him on television.  When they break to the ads you see old American ads on the screen, which is quite fun.

At one point you see two of the actors (Douglas Henshall and Michelle Dockery) outside the theatre by the river as they start talking and  walking along the outside of the building.  They end up walking back into the theatre and onto the stage. I expect they filmed it in advance –  once during the daytime for matinees, and once in the dark for evening performances – but it is very well done. There were other times when they definitely slipped a pre-recorded bit of film on. This is done especially effectively at the end of the play after (spoiler alert!) Howard is shot and dies.  The film on the screen is of him lying on the floor, bloody and everyone crowding around and before you even realise it he has come out to the front of the stage to talk to the audience, whilst you can still see him on the screen lying on the floor.

Another time, Bryan Cranston goes to sit in the 2nd row of the audience and a camera pans out to show the whole view from the stage.  There are also a few camera operators on stage, so that when the action is at the side you can still see what is happening on the screen, from wherever you are sitting.

Bryan Cranston was fantastic and had quite a few funny moments of interaction with the audience. For example, when wandering among the diners on the stage he picked up an iPhone and said “what’s this, a cigarette holder?” And when he sat next to a woman in the audience he asked her if she’s in the army as she was wearing a sweatshirt which said “Army” on it.  She wasn’t.

I was amused by the effort which one of the actors had to make to get the audience to participate whenever he came on as the host of a TV show, when each time he wanted the audience to applaud and shout out a line that is on the screen: “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” I don’t think the typical National Theatre audience expects to be asked to participate and on that day they certainly seemed a bit reluctant to do so!

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As the audience leaves the auditorium, they show footage of each American president from the last few decades taking their oath of office.  When I was there, Obama got a round of applause whilst Trump got booed and someone shouted “liar”!

Stars: 4*

Date of visit: Wednesday 31st January 2018

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

Apologia at Trafalgar Studios 4*

We mainly wanted to see this play because we are West Wing fans so wanted to take the opportunity to see Stockard Channing. 

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It is quite a small theatre so the tickets are quite pricey but I saw an offer for £15 so we jumped at them. Our seats were second row of the stalls so we got a bit of a neck ache but it was worth it!

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The play takes place during an evening and the following morning when Peter (Joseph Millson) and his fiancé Trudie (Laura Carmichael) are visiting his mother Kristin (Stockard Channing) for a dinner. Others are due to join them – Peter’s other brother Simon with his girlfriend Claire (Freema Agyeman) and Hugh, an old friend of Kristin’s, played by Desmond Barritt.  The set remains the same the whole play, in Kristin’s kitchen.

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The name of the play Apologia (pronounced Appo-low-gia) is the title of the memoir that has just been published by Kristin which has caused a great deal of confusion and resentment with her two sons as they are not mentioned in it.

The characters are all very different but portrayed effectively. In fact there are five actors playing six characters. One actor (Joseph Millson) played his brother as well but it took me a few minutes to realise this at the time as he was so good!

It’s a very gripping play with powerful performances. I realised in the interval how engrossed I had been once I was forced to come out of it.

It’s on until 18th November so grab an offer and go see it!

Date of visit: Saturday 7th October

Stars: 4

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

 

Bat Out of Hell at the ENO

I didn’t rush to post this review as we saw the last performance, however don’t stop reading as at the end they announced that it’s coming back next year.

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Bat Out of Hell is a great rock opera – people clearly loved it.  The girl sitting next to us was there for the 6th time!  It was easy to forget that you were actually sitting in the ENO.

I didn’t know the story in advance but the first half struck me as a cross between Twilight and Romeo and Juliet.  It’s set in a post-apocalyptic 2100. You see Raven about to turn 18 the next day living with her parents, who have money, but she is yearning for adventure and romance away from her embarrassing parents. She falls for Strat, one of the “Lost Boys” who live underground who have ‘frozen’ at age 18 and do not age after that.  Cue rumbles and illicit meetings..

The staging is quite spectacular.  Highlights include a car being pushed over a precipice and the first half ending with a motorcycle exploding.

All the cast had great voices and I thought the parents (Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton) had great chemistry.  I was surprised to find that I didn’t know more of the songs but the crowd pleasers were all there – Paradise on the Dashboard, Anything for Love and of course Bat out of Hell.

As it was the last show in the limited run, at the end the lead actor gave an emotional farewell speech, although they are now taking the show to Toronto.

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We rushed out before the actors left the stage to get downstairs and out before the rush, and because we did we were lucky enough to see the two lead actors (Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington) getting onto a motorbike and driving away, having opened a banner saying “see you in 2018”.

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So if this show is something that appeals to you, I’d recommend booking as soon as you can for next year as it seems to have picked up a real cult following already.

Date of visit: Tuesday 22nd August 2017

Stars: 4*

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

 

9 to 5 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

I decided to book to see this show because I like the song and film and knew it had been a hit show on Broadway.   On our way there my Mum reminded me that we had seen the regional tour in Wimbledon a few years back.  Unfortunately I have no recollection of this and still don’t after seeing it again.  She had thought I’d wanted to see it again because I liked it so much. However, this is clearly not the case and if I’d know we’d already seen it and I clearly had not been impressed, I would not have booked to go again!

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We got to Upstairs at the Gatehouse early as there is usually a queue up the stairs but were surprised to find that it was not full, as their Sunday matinees usually are.   We took a seat front row centre – usually for musicals here there are seats either side of the room with the actors in the middle but this show had the more traditional layout.

What struck me most about this show is the lack of decent songs.  Even the title track doesn’t sound that great with the show’s arrangement of it.  The cast were all enthusiastic but it’s hard for even the greatest cast to make a reluctant show come to life.

As well as having no memorable songs, the stage area was a bit too small for the choreography they were trying to do, most of which centres around three large desks on wheels which they overused in every number and are basically the only props apart from takeaway coffee cups which don’t fit the era it’s set in.  By the end I had really had enough of those desks!

 

The three lead women were great but we felt their boss was slightly miscast.  He came across as very creepy whereas really you need someone with a lot of charm so you can see how some people would fall for it.

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Generally it wasn’t up to the standard of musical that we normally see here but we won’t let that put is off and are looking forward to seeing Top Hat at Christmas.

 

Date of visit: Sunday 3rd September 2017

Stars: 2

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

42nd Street at Drury Lane 5*

We were delighted to see this was coming back to the West End as it’s a fabulous show, one of my Mum’s favourites, which we saw in London many years ago when an unknown Catherine Zeta Jones was in it!

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A friend decided to get a party of 10 together to get the group discount so we were in the stalls, which I’m sure we wouldn’t have been if just paying for two tickets for ourselves. We were in row R and had a great view as the floor is slightly sloped and the seats are staggered so you weren’t looking directly at someone’s head as you so often are.

It was one of those shows that you could tell the crowd was excited the moment you stepped foot in the theatre.  There was a real buzz in the air as we queued for the toilets and took our seats. There were quite a few coaches parked outside and we saw a school party of at least 50 kids.

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We had a fabulous time – it is quite simply a wonderful evening’s entertainment. The dancers were all fantastic and there was quite a lot of them, unusual these days but totally necessary for this show.  I counted at least 22 female dancers and 10 male, who were all amazing.  The tap dancing all the way through the show was mesmerising.

One of the highlights of the show was a Busby Berkeley routine which used a large mirror to enable us to see an aerial view of the female dancers doing a routine on the floor.  Another number ended with the 22 female dancers coming out and standing in a line wearing dresses that perfectly graded from red to yellow to purple, going through the rainbow, which had a stunning effect. Those dresses were literally on stage for all of two minutes.  And of course there was the classic number “We’re in the Money” where they tap dance on platforms made to look like coins.

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(from http://www.42ndstreetmusical.co.uk)

The principal cast were all superb. Sheena Easton did a great job as Dorothy Brock and Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer had great energy. Tom Lister as Julian Marsh was very charismatic, but Jasna Ivir as Maggie Jones was the standout for me, I really enjoyed watching her whenever she was on stage.

We must also give a shout out to Richard, the Stalls Supervisor. In the interval my Mum wanted to buy a programme and we couldn’t see anyone selling so he got on his walkie talkie to personally get the seller over to us as soon as possible.

Quite simply, with its amazing cast, dancing and costumes, this is the perfect production. We tap danced all the way home! Go see it if you can.

Date of visit: Thursday 6th April 2017

Stars: 5

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

I Capture the Castle at Watford Palace 2*

Although I’m sure I must have read it as a child, as it’s one of my Mum’s favourite books, I didn’t remember the story of I Capture the Castle, and so the weekend before we were due to see the show I listened to the audiobook (rented digitally from the library for free).

To be honest, it didn’t really grab me and what I was thinking most of the time I was listening was, “really, they’ve made a musical of this?”.  Watching the official trailer didn’t give me much hope either as it featured the title song which was nothing special and a bit dreary.

Basically, my instincts turned out to be correct.

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When we arrived the theatre foyer was packed as it was press night, which suited us fine as it meant the show started at 7pm so it wouldn’t be too late a night. Our seats were in the centre of the front row so we had a great view of the stage and actors, although we did have to look up most of the time. Here’s a photo of the simple set meant to represent the castle (which I was told off for taking):

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During the first scene there was an actor dressed in grey with a somewhat scary mask. We had no idea who it was until it transpired it was supposed to be a gargoyle on the top of the castle. This figure reappeared a few times and was a bit unnecessary.

I was also really distracted by the actors playing the brothers Simon and Neil. To me, the guy playing Simon really looked like a Neil and the guy playing Neil looked much more like a Simon!  Simon is meant to be a charismatic American that both sisters fall in love with, but I couldn’t really see the attraction.

When listening to the book it had got a bit confusing with there being Simon and Stephen (it’s often much more helpful if names begin with different consonants!) and indeed, one of the actresses when talking about Simon said Stephen by mistake and had to correct herself.

I went with my mum and a friend and we all agreed that it would have been much better as a play and we would have enjoyed it a lot more as the story itself is quite sweet. The songs seemed unnecessary and were not very tuneful and the choreography was also quite bad, particularly for a production that is going on tour.

The actors were adequate, with the lead Lowri Izzard playing Cassandra being the only real standout, although she did have the look and air of Claire Danes about her.

I’m now eagerly awaiting the official reviews…

 

Date of visit: Thursday 6th April 2017

Stars: 2

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

The Wedding Singer at the Orchard Theatre 4*

I saw this show on Broadway many years ago and loved it, but it never came to London’s West End.  I know the soundtrack off by heart and so when I saw it was on a regional tour I just had to go.  Unfortunately we don’t have any of the big regional theatres near us, so I decided to go to Dartford as I have friends who live there and they came along as well. IMG_2612

The Orchard is a lovely theatre.  As it is relatively new it has air conditioning and the seats are properly raked so there isn’t a bad seat in the house.  Before the show started there was a screen on stage showing trailers of 80s films, as that is when the film is set, which we enjoyed and which really took us back!

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The show is really fun.  It is based on the film starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, but has original songs rather than 80s songs as the film did, although it does contain the couple of original songs that were written for the film in it.

The staging is simple as it has to be packed and moved around the country constantly.

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The leads, Robbie and Julia, played by Jon Robyns and Cassie Compton, were great as they have both been in musical theatre for years.  Ray Quinn was surprisingly good playing the sleazy Glen and Ruth Madoc made the most of playing Robbie’s comic grandma.

The tour is currently booking until October, so catch it if you can!

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Date of visit: Saturday 25th March 2017

Stars: 4

Follow me on Twitter & Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

Rent at St James Theatre 4*

I had never seen this show, either on stage or the film, although I knew a few of the songs, mainly from singing along with Idina Menzel at her concerts, so I jumped at the chance to see this production which celebrates the 20 year anniversary of the musical.

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Overall, we enjoyed it and were glad we took the opportunity to see it, but we came out thinking that we wouldn’t necessarily be desperate to see it again.  I can see how it would have had significant impact 20 years ago, being  groundbreaking at the time it was first shown, depicting men and women with AIDS, gay people, drag queens etc.

At the end the standing ovation was well deserved by all the cast.  Lucie Jones as Maureen was good, not that I’d heard of her until the night before when she was voted to represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest this year! 

See it if you can.  We saw it on its last day at the St James, but it’s now on a UK tour.

Stars: 4

Date of visit: 28th January 2017

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin