Author Archives: Rebecca

Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre

It is certainly strange approaching the Phoenix Theatre without seeing the usual Blood Brothers signage and even stranger to sit in the auditorium and not be faced with the set of Mrs Johnstone’s council house crumbling before your very eyes. Goodnight Mr Tom is the first new production at the Phoenix in 21 years since the closure of Willy Russell’s famed musical…and what a show to start off the Phoenix’s new era!

Goodnight Mr Tom

Goodnight Mr Tom runs from November 27th – January 26th 2013

Goodnight Mr Tom, adapted from Michelle Magorian’s award novel, tells the tale of a war torn Britain through a young evacuee sent from London to the idyllic Dorset countryside. However it soon becomes clear that even the most welcoming of havens can be devastated by war. Considering the show runs over the Christmas season, it is not exactly a traditional festive tale of tidings of comfort and joy…or is it?

The production was a visual treat. Director Angus Jackson and designer Robert Innes Hopkins worked together to create a symbolic use of colour, the most apparent of which was the stark contrast between the grey scale London and the bright colours of Dorset. Furthermore the transformation of evacuee, William, into a young healthy country boy was highlighted by him changing from his grey ‘London’ clothes into a vibrant green jumper and back again on his return to the city. Similarly the personality of the young and vivacious Zach is reflected in his rainbow coloured jumper, that is later poignantly passed on to William. It was subtle stylistic touches such as this that made the play a cut above the norm. Also the surprise transformation of the stage in the second act was genuinely astonishing and delightfully unexpected, further defining the different locations within the play. The show was truly a delight to watch!

Similarly effective was the use of onstage puppetry, most notably in the border collie Sam but also in the various other woodland animals that populated the small Dorset Village. Sam, with the aid of an expert puppeteer, behaved like a real life dog, which added to the magic of the show as audience members were able to suspend their belief, which really is the marking of a good play. It is worth noting the man behind the puppets is Toby Olié, who has both been in War Horse and worked with the Handspring Puppet Company, who created the notorious animals for the show. Olié certainly brings the high standards of his theatrical credits to Goodnight Mr Tom.

Other than the acting veteran Oliver Ford Davis, who played Mr Tom with all the believability one would expect from such an established actor, it is difficult to single out specific actors as there were no weak links in the chain; every performer from ensemble to principle were able to deliver solid and often emotional performances. The book is hard hitting, and without a strong cast to back that up the effect of Magorian’s text would have been lost. Luckily this was not the case and often I was moved to tears. There. I admit it.

Whilst at first Goodnight Mr Tom may seem like an odd choice of play over the festive season, the themes of redemption and love in the face of tears and bloodshed is perhaps more truthful and heart warming than any other Christmas tale I can think of. This show is one to watch.

Goodnight Mr Tom runs through 27th November – 26th January 2013. Click here for tickets.

Where I Sat: Dress Circle, D18. This seat had a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage. I would definitely recommend it.

Recommended for: Fans of plays wit a bit of content. This show is not a slap dash musical and requires some attention.

The Hurly Burly Show, Duchess Theatre

 

As a long standing fan of Burlesque, and a dabbler in the performance myself I was extremely excited,  yet wary, when preparing to see The Hurly Burly Show, back for a second run on the West End, this time at London’s Duchess Theatre. Let me explain my caution; until a recent upsurge in interest in the now trendy style of seductive cabaret, Burlesque was almost a bit of an underground institution, one would have to visit special Burlesque clubs or bars for an evening of comic debauchery. Now it has been commercialised and adapted for a West End crowd and Miss Polly Rea’s assets can be seen plastered on posters and Billboards across London.

The Duchess theatre is one of the more appropriate West End settings for the performance; one must travel down a staircase to an underground and slightly seedy looking stage, with luxurious red velvet chairs for the voyeurs to sit on. Unfortunately the audience is greeted with bright purple lights, glitter ball effects and Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ before the show even begins. Sadly this level of class (or lack there of) sets the theme for the show.

There are glorious moments of big band music, sexy sequin costumes and feather headbands that are associated with the traditional art of burlesque. I was green with envy as the Hurly Burly girls appeared on stage in a classic foray of corsets, stockings, pasties and pin curls. Their moves were classy and comically alluring, the way that burlesque was intended. Then, all of a sudden, Rihanna tunes would be blasted, glittery cowgirl outfits would be donned and men would be ridden onstage like rodeo bulls. The show descended from classic burlesque into a strange mix of a hen night and a stag do.

That is not to say that some of the modern interpretations were not effective, the injection of Madonna’s Material World into a Marie Antoniette inspired scene, during which the girls striped from 18th Century court costumes and  danced with powder puffs, was pure genious. As was the naughty balloon popping sequence! These scenes used a clever combination of creativity, comedy, and cheeky provocation. Others numbers, such as the ‘S&M’ church act, and the fire yielding, almost nude, bendy ballerina, lacked this imagination and bordered on cheap and trashy. That is not what I was taught burlesque is about.

The end sequence, a geisha inspired act set to Rhianna’s ‘Umbrella’, was a bit of an anti climax, instead I felt the show should have closed with the last number of act one, a traditional and visually impressive tease routine using vast feather fans: Burlesque at it’s most glorious and recognisable.

All in all, The Hurly Burly Show was enjoyable, however its more modern and perhaps crowd pleasing interpretations let the ingenuity of the show down. I would hate to think of Burlesque virgins going away and thinking that what they saw was typical Burlesque. It’s not. If you want to see some bum cheeks and a bit of thigh, definitely go and see this show, but if you are after something a bit more tasteful in it’s teasing, I’d recommend a less commercial, classic show. Also…Hurly Burly ladies…where were the tassels? A two hour Burlesque show without a twirl? Criminal!

Where I sat: N9 in the Stalls. The Duchess theatre is pretty small, so although this is fairly fair back in the Stalls, there is still a clear and intimate view of the stage.

Recommended for: Hen nights, stag dos, people out for some light hearted but equally naught fun.

 

Cantina, London Wonderground

The whole set up of the Southbank Underbelly site feels a bit surreal; a mushroom garden with colourful lanterns, a bar that looks like it has been lifted from a Western, dodgems as outdoor seating, and oh yes, the gigantic upside-down purple cow.  Therefore walking into the Wonderground’s Spiegeltent tent to see the freakish circus, Cantina, did not disappoint.

The production of Scott Maidment and Chelsea McGuffin’s Cantina takes place in the round, with the audience sitting ‘ringside’ to the action. Initially onlookers are presented with an old time 1920’s style busking band playing tunes on antiquated instruments. The music then continues throughout the piece, providing a backing to a procession of tense physical tricks. This seating arrangement was a theatrical aid to the piece as part of the joy of watching the show was witnessing other audience members shocked reactions to ‘tricks’ which heightened both moments of tension and comedy. This was particularly apparent during moments of full frontal (yes FULL frontal) nudity, during which each onlookers face turned as red as the clown nose pulled from various parts of an ensemble members anatomy.

The aesthetic of the production was true to the dusty 20’s feel of the Spiegeltent, with gentlemen in waistcoats and comb-overs and ladies in a slightly moth-eaten elegance. There was dancing on pianos, sipping from champagne bottles, corsets, fishnet tights couples with frilly knickers and the odd violent brawl. This show reeked of decadence and sexual tension and the audience, on the whole, lapped it up.

The acts, all seeming to centre on themes of desire and fantasy, were real nail biting, hold your breath, squint your eyes sort of tricks, with one ensemble member practically hanging himself in a noose from the ceiling. The performances had the potential to look and feel excruciating, as cast members flexed on broken glass or walked a tightrope in a pair of glittery heels. There was a real and extremely raw element of danger to the goings on as all acts were performed without safety nets or harnesses. Yes they were very impressive, but mostly I was hoping that I would not see someone die.

It would be impossible for an audience member not to be effected by the action, even if it is just to squirm at the cracking of bones or to feel the urge to duck and cover when an acrobat without a safety net flies over their head. This show is not for the fainthearted or easily offended, however Cantina is a circus or, what with all the unnatural bending, a freak show at it’s physical finest.

Where I sat: 
I sat in the ‘Ringside’ seats which meant I was up close and in the thick of the action. Although these seats are not for the fainthearted; many acrobatic tricks happen right above you, meaning of an actor fell you may well be squashed!
Recommended for: 
Fans of circus performances and fans of Burlesque will love this intimate yet ballsy production. Also, due to moments of full frontal nudity, this show has the potential to be  a big hit with hen parties!