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

 

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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

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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

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Promises, Promises at Southwark Playhouse 3.5*

As we stood in a cold corridor for half an hour before they opened the auditorium doors, we remembered why we haven’t been back to this theatre in years: no seating in the bar area, cramped, freezing toilets and no cloakroom to leave our bulky winter coats.

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However, we thoroughly enjoyed the show once it started (ten minutes late).  It’s a sweet story (you might know the film The Apartment) although not very good morally and we did wonder how the parents of the ten year old in the audience would explain what the married men needed to borrow the apartment for!

As the songs are by Burt Bacharach many of them are great and classics everyone knows – I Say a Little Prayer, Never Fall in Love Again, A House is Not a Home.  The ones I didn’t recognise, however, were not particularly memorable, including the title song.

The set is simple… just a square space that they bring tables and chairs into.  There is a screen at the back above the stage but it didn’t really add anything to the production most of the time, just telling you where the location was or in whose office they were.  The shots of New York were nice to look at though, as in the recent Anything Goes.  I think I’ve said before that productions increasingly seem to be going digital to keep up with the world generally, although a simple stage production has always worked for me!

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The actors were great, especially the leads, who did actually remind us of Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon.. probably why they were cast, of course.  Gabrile Vick plays Chuck and Daisy Maywood plays Fran.

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All in all an enjoyable afternoon although we will still keep to our policy of only trekking to Borough if we really want to see something.  Probably in another five years then…

Stars: 3.5*

Date of visit: Saturday 14th January 2017

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

Anything Goes at Upstairs at the Gatehouse 3.5*

I enjoyed this show but it didn’t “wow” me like previous productions here have.  The trouble with this show is that there is not really much of a story, but luckily the excellent Cole Porter songs make up for this.

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As always, they make the best use of the small staging area, with each end looking like a doorway on a ship and one end having stairs up to a balcony area.  Above this there was also a screen showing footage to illustrate where they were in their journey from New York to London.

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During the interval, a stagehand came over to my Mum and asked her to hold a prop.  She said it would be taken off her by an actor during the second half.  This is what it was:

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The cast were good and all worked really hard, but maybe I just wasn’t in the mood on a cold and dark Sunday afternoon!

Stars: 3.5*

Date of visit: Sunday 8th January 2017

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The rest of 2016

Happy New Year to you all.   I seem to have lost the impetus for writing reviews during the last half of 2016, so here’s a roundup of those other shows and plays I saw that never made it to the blog, so that I can start fresh in 2017.  They are based on my tweets, notes I made after seeing them, my Mum’s memory and my not-so-great memory.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe

This was one production where not reading about it beforehand definitely impeded my enjoyment. Earlier that day I had read my niece’s fictionalised story of the play to reacquaint myself with it, but it beared little resemblance to what I saw on stage. I wish I’d read about how different it was and how they had had a dramaturg re-write it as then I may have been expecting what we saw. Our seats were to the side of the stage as well, so some of the action was obscured by columns.

I’m sure many people hailed the production as great, but it just left me confused. The premise was that people who work behind the scenes at the Globe are putting on a play and go into the woods to rehearse. After that it’s not clear what is ‘real’ and what’s not.

The last half hour was the ‘Globe workers’ putting on their play – Pyramus and Thisbe, which I didn’t know – and which, although most of the audience were in hysterics, I’m not really one really silly humour so it didn’t really sit well with me – especially when I’d been expecting to see Shakespeare!

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Date of visit: 5th July 2016 2*

Groundhog Day at the Old Vic

We hated this for many reasons. Firstly, we bought cheap seats in the balcony to the side of the stage as the reviews had been so good and, although they were called restricted view, they really should not be sold at all – we could literally only see the lefthand side of the stage so missed any action on the right.

Secondly, it’s clear the story is just not strong enough for a two and a half hour show.  The first 30 minutes is just the Bill Murray character being depressed.  I wasn’t taken with the songs either and the set was quite simple.

In the future, I’ll just be watching the film again.. and again… and again…

Date of visit: 29th August 2016 2* 

The MGM Story at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

This was a really fun show at our hidden gem of a theatre, with a talented cast as usual. Entertaining but a more amateurish than many of their productions. mgm

The show depicts ‘the history of the golden age of song and dance and tells the tale of how the studio fostered the talent of stars including Judy Garland and Gene Kelly and composers such as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and many more. The songs were great, including classics from musicals such as The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris.

Date of visit: 4th September 2016 3*

The Entertainer at the Garrick Theatre

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s season, we had bought our tickets 18 months before so couldn’t really believe it had come around!

Kenneth Branagh was fabulous as always, but the play itself I thought was too long and drawn out. I didn’t really care about the play when KB himself wasn’t on stage as he really livened it up and I would have liked to see more singing and dancing.  The actress who played his daughter squeaked and my Mum, who notices these things, says that in the second act KB was wearing a beautiful Saville Row suit that in reality was too smart and expensive for the character.

The theatre was very hot and we were at the back of the stalls. Unfortunately the voices didn’t carry to us properly when the actors were speaking and not raising their voices for the part.  To top it all, we came out desperate for a G&T as onstage there were drinking and talking about it the entire first half!

Date of visit: 7th September 2016 3*

Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre

This is one of our favourite musicals. We love it so much that the last time we saw it was in Regent’s Park and we got absolutely drenched watching it!  We enjoyed the themed menu beforehand – NY immigrant food!

It is a sad and powerful story. As usual, the set and production quality at the Charing Cross Theatre was outstanding and all the cast were fabulous, getting a standing ovation.

Date of visit: 21st November 5*

Tosca at the ENO

As we expected, a great production with good acting and singing.

Date of visit: 3rd October 2016 4*

Pearl Fishers at the ENO

My thoughts on this can be summed up by my tweet during the interval which reads “Beautiful production of Pearl Fishers. Absolutely love the diving scene at the beginning, so realistic.”    And it was… it did actually look as though they were swimming on stage.

Date of visit: 19th October 5*

An Audience with Michael Douglas

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I’m often tempted by the “An Audience with…” evenings but this was one we just couldn’t resist. One of our favourite actors, my Mum and I enjoyed seeing him in person and hearing tales about him making some of his best films.  Evening Jonathan Ross wasn’t too annoying for once, realising the evening was about Michael not him.

Date of visit: 30th October 5*

Legally Blonde at Watford Palace Theatre

This was an amateur production that I went to see because one of my colleagues is in it and because it is one of my favourite shows. Not up to the level of the productions I saw in the West End and Upstairs at the Gatehouse, it was still very enjoyable.

Date of visit: 10th November 3*

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