Sunday, 28 December 2008

ARTICLE: 2008 Year In Review

Last year at this time I was gleefully taking a holiday on the continent, but this year the funds simply aren’t available - heck, they aren’t even available to make it back to the theatre before New Year’s. Reviews are likely to be sparse for a while, barring free tickets making themselves available.

To be honest, I can do with a bit less theatre these days. My goal for 2008 was to see 100 shows, and by my estimates I went to the theatre at least 125 times this year including revisits and to see shows which I didn’t cover here for a variety of reasons (friends in, professional coverage, etc.) which is a lot - arguably too much - by anybody’s standards (short of those who usher one of the big tourist shows and see half of it eight times a week.) Needless to say, I’ve completely forgotten about most of what I saw. This news shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as only the truly great and utterly awful remain in our memories. All of the shows mentioned below, regardless of whether or not I said they were good or bad, succeeded greatly in NOT being mediocre and forgettable. Regular readers will not be surprised to find an overwhelming number of musicals listed below as well.

“Nice Try” award - So Jest End. The author emailed regarding his dismay with my negative review, and I hope that he can take that venom and use it in future revisions of the show. I am also available to write snarky theatre parodies should anybody wish to hire my services.

Worst One-man show - An Audience With The Mafia. If I were a praying man I’d have asked god why this insipid, self-indulgent, and boring piece of dreck was allowed to make it to a stage. Easily one of the worst shows AT ALL of 2008.

Best Revue - Make Me A Song. I love William Finn, and the cast were excellent. Too bad nobody actually went, thereby ensuring that producers would see no interest in Finn in London and again passing over Spelling Bee for a London run.

Best Concert series - Maria Friedman Rearranged. While some more variety between the Menier and Trafalgar runs would have been nice, Ms. Friedman is charming and this concert series is warm and inviting.

Best One-man show - Jay Johnson: The Two and Only. A funny, touching piece about a man, his art, and the loss of heroes that was cut tragically short due to producer failure and placement in the Arts Theatre (Of DEATH!) The marquee is still posted at the Arts’ former location.

Best Concept In Need of a Dramaturge - Involution. This sci-fi look at genetics and religion had much to offer: a dystopian setting, interesting and conflicted characters, and some great dialogue, but it also meandered and dragged. Some well placed edits and this could be a serious contender of a piece.

Best Show That’s I Took Too Long To See - Black Watch. Finally something that justified reworking the main stage at the Barbican. So what if it toured for a year before I saw it?

Worst Characters - You’ve Been A Wonderful Audience. Dying comedians, annoying prats, and whiny sidekicks combined in the smelly furnace known as the Barons Court.

Play of Ultimate Suffering - Tough Time, Nice Time. OK OK, so I hadn’t slept for three days before seeing this due to an ongoing flu and felt like utter hell during the performance wanting nothing more than to reach a state of unconsciousness and failing miserably. One would think that two naked men sitting in a bathtub being entirely unsexy would have done the job, but sadly I made it through this one awake, in much pain, and hating every minute.

Best Adaptation - Brief Encounter. I truly regret not making more of an effort to see this delightful, cozy and brilliant production a second time. Thankfully it’s touring in 2009 and hopefully coming near London again if not making a triumphant return to the West End.

Best Pantomime - Mother Goose (Hackney Empire.) OK so I could argue that I also saw Dick Whittington for the second time in 2008 (and I liked it better) but of the three shows I’ve seen so far, this is unchallenged as the best panto of the 2008 season and likely to go unchallenged as finance is keeping me away from Croydon and Stratford.

Best Alternative Christmas Show - The Devil Wears Tweed. A hilarious send-up that got me digging for classic radio serials. And yes, it does border on being a musical. So did Brief Encounter.

Best Devised Piece - Spyski. A hilarious send-up that...hey wait a second, am I being too obvious with my love/hate of certain genres? Anyhow, this time it’s a crossover between espionage films and Oscar Wilde. What’s not to love?

Worst Classic Play - Troilus and Cressida (Barbican.) Boring, badly staged, boring, poorly costumed, boring, over-acted, boring, full of annoying characters, boring, expensive, and REALLY FUCKING BORING. Also deserves an award for Worst Stage Combat. No wonder it went over so well wherever they premiered it (somewhere on the continent that speaks French) and little wonder that I continue to avoid Shakespeare as a result.

Best Play - August: Osage County. Did you really need to ask?

Best Surprise - Imagine This. I went into this expecting a horrid score and to be hit with the “help help we’re being oppressed” stick. Instead I was greeted with some sweeping tunes and the best musical staging all year.

Runner-up: A Tale of Two Cities at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Not just for who was behind it but for making Dickens’ epic intensely intimate and for assembling one of the best casts on the London Fringe.

Best Turn-Your-Brain-Off Show - Joseph. It’s a long time personal favourite, and it’s hard not to crack a smile by the end.

Best Early Closure: RENT Remixed. Two months early. Everybody else has gone on to better jobs without skipping a beat.

Best Revival: The Music Man (Chichester.) OK so not a TONNE of competition this year, but everything about this production was spot on and even this cynical bastard felt chills of anticipation and excitement when Winston sang of the Wells Fargo Wagon. Unfortunately it appears that plans to transfer this production to the West End this spring have fallen through due to the economy.

Biggest Waste of the Creators’ Time: Rue Magique. Ten years went into this insipid mess about child prostitution. Sometimes it’s better to pull the plug and pursue alternative avenues.

Best Fringe Musical: Betwixt. Smart, funny, and charming (there’s that word again...) this show was a perfect reminder of why London is so desperately in need of more mid-sized venues. Word is that this one is bound for New York.

Most Out Of Character Production: Come Dancing. A remarkably tame celebrity pet project took centre stage in this year’s lineup at Stratford East. And while I had some issues with the piece, there’s a lot going for it and it’s always a thrill to see pop composers coming to the theatre.

Die Vampire Die Award: Dracula (White Bear.) Can we please just get Tanz der Vampire in London?

Most Overhyped Production: Marguerite. The creative team from Les Miz. One of the biggest divas in the West End. An utterly unimpressive evening with bland lyrics and the least sympathetic lead character in a musical since Scarlet O’Hara. Speaking of which....

Worst New Musical: Gone With The Wind. Not only did GWTW have a longer gestation period than Rue Magique, it had far more money behind it and a creative team which should have known far, far better and taken the necessary steps to either quit while ahead or perform the radical reworkings needed to make this piece tolerable. While Rue Magique was certainly an example of what not to do in writing a musical, it was never boring - a term which more than aptly described Gone With The Wind.

Best Musical Performance: Elena Roger in Piaf. Talk about a celebrity vehicle! And a personal one as well - my professional writing debut was a review of the Donmar’s production.

Best New Musical: Eurobeat, The Harder They Come (tie.) Funny enough, neither of these is *truly* new (both ran on the fringe long before I saw them) but they were new to me and I wound up visiting each four times. Eurobeat was wickedly funny and full of catchy novelty pop songs. The Harder They Come may have been a film adaptation, but with the original creatives contributing the film’s anarchic spirit and grit came across surprisingly well, especially after the show took up residence in the small yet lavish Playhouse vs. the impersonal bunker at the Barbican (I felt more involved in the circle at the Playhouse than in the front row at the Barbican.) Sadly both shows came to premature demises - the former closing two weeks early after a disastrous tour and the latter closed two months ahead of schedule. But amazing they were, and will be fondly remembered.

Here’s looking forward to 2009 and posts requiring far less formatting.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

NOTES: Noel at Noel

When I saw Brief Encounter earlier this year, words such as "nice," "pleasant," and "old-fashioned" were terms that I frequently used in a positive manner to describe Kneehigh's remarkable production.

I'm going to use those same words to describe Noel at Noel, currently at the New End, but with an opposing connotation: Australian cabaret singer John Michael Swinbank gives us two hours of Coward classics, but despite some occasionally amusing anecdotes, there's no real spark or passion which grabs the audience and refuses to let them go. To be entirely honest, I came very near to dozing off during the first half, and relied on a coffee during the interval to get me through the second. Swinbank is by no means a bad singer, but the show just failed to captivate or particularly entertain me although the OAPs surrounding me were far more amused - perhaps this is merely a generational difference.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

THOUGHTS: "The Devil Wears Tweed"

Sorry readers, I've got two shows today and one tomorrow to cover for freelance. I'm also in a disturbingly lazy mood, so this one is being kept short.

And the short of it is this: The Warehouse have put on some top notch Christmas-time entertainment that is well worth taking a trip out to Zone 5 to see.

For, you see, instead of pantomime, the company have instead looked to Britain's great history of broadcast entertainment to create a series of new adventures featuring legendary radio hero Dick Barton, Special Agent. Since 1998 the Warehouse have produced five new adventures for the adult Dick Barton and now two prequels. Each episode is a loving riff on postwar radio serials complete with anachronism, overblown dialogue, Imperial pride, and a tongue in cheek appreciation of the tropes which made the original great. This year's show, Young Dick Barton II: The Devil Wears Tweed is no exception as Dick crosses the globe in search of a three piece suit which grants the wearer unlimited power.

I'd love to say more, but it would spoil everything and the fun is in the surprises. The cast (including multitalented author Duncan Wisbey), most of whom take a multitude of roles, are uniformly top notch, and Stefan Bednarczyk's lyrics (Bednarczyk also appears in the cast) are more clever than any heard recently in the West End.

So what are you waiting for? Get booking!

Where: Warehouse Theatre, Croydon
When: Until 22 Feb. Performance times vary.
How Much: £14.50-£17.50 (includes day membership in the venue)
Concessions: Limited but bookable in advance for £10.50
RZ Unofficial "Worth Paying": £17.50. One of the best things on offer this holiday season.
RZ Other Notes: It's cheaper (and easier) to buy your ticket to Croydon from the Underground office at London Bridge than the National Rail ticketing office.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

REVIEW: Peter Pan (Richmond)

In the past ten years, the world of British Pantomime has seen an upheaval in its production methodology thanks to the rise of the QDOS and First Family Entertainment companies (the latter being a joint between the Ambassador Theatre Group and LiveNation.) Both companies are responsible for mass produced pantos, chock full of celebrities - both American and British - and and in the case of the former, special effects (last year’s QDOS Aladdin featured a 3D holographic genie) and, sadly, a rather generic product.

For foreign readers, I should explain a bit about panto season: A panto’s lifespan is merely six to eight weeks, and productions almost always sell out, which is why a number of smaller regional companies use their annual production as a key fundraiser. That said, most modern pantomimes are remarkably high end productions featuring as many set changes as a West End musical and possibly even more costumes so getting one up is frighteningly expensive and because these are family shows and frequently populated by school groups, ticket prices need to stay low. For performers, panto is absolute hell: the performance schedule ranges from 12 to 16 performances a week.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of money flying around and for a commercial producer, it’s an absolutely daunting proposition. Enter QDOS and FFE who have an advantage that independent companies, such as the Hackney Empire don’t: scale. This year, for example, FFE are putting on 12 shows, and QDOS are putting on even more. Of them, most will in some way be recycled - the sets and costumes go into storage come February and go off to a new city in December, sometimes with the prior year’s script (albeit with a few updates to reflect local interests and current affairs.) In other words, the manufacturing costs go down (65% of the QDOS budget goes to production payroll) and if a theatre in Glasgow gets last year’s show from Brighton, well, it’s new to them.

Anyways, this leads us to this year’s Peter Pan at the Richmond Theatre. While amusing, March’s disastrous run of the Spanish Peter Pan El Musical did little to endear me to the story, which I loved growing up (thanks to the cartoon on Fox.) Unfortunately, there was little new about this more traditional production. In this case, Peter Pan is in a similar place to last year’s Cinderella at the Old Vic, as it straddles the line between family play and proper panto. Bonnie Langford is lovely and something of an institution in the title role (one she’s been playing on and off for at least twenty years) but somebody forgot to direct in at least one mandatory pantomime thigh-slap amidst some impressive aerials. Simon Callow tried as Captain Hook, but the role’s true menace down - a child behind me was cheering him on and Callow had to demand boos from the audience in the first act. Tony Rudd was fun in the role of bumbling Boson Smee, but Samantha Gifford was rather bland as Wendy (not really her fault - the role exists to stamp down everybody else’s fun.) The singalong at the end was also a standby ("What do you do with a drunken sailor?") and audience members were left without a lyric sheet (I confess that I don't know the middle part) and it didn't matter anyways because the sound in the upper circle was awful.

This was my first time at one of the major companies’ shows, and I’ll be entirely honest: I only went because I wanted to see Bonnie Langford. I paid about £10 more for my seat in the upper circle than I did for centre stalls at Mother Goose in Hackney (factoring in booking fee and transit to Zone 4,) and received a show that was professional in every way, but ultimately lacking in excitement and Panto Power.

And I have another Peter coming up after Christmas as well. Because there’s no way I’m missing Brian Blessed as Captain Hook.

Where: Richmond Theatre, Richmond
When: Until 11 Jan., M, W-Sa @ 14:00 and 19:00, Su @ 13:30 and 17:30
How Much: £20-£27
Concessions: Family tickets and concessions available on a limited basis.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £15. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great.
RZ Other Notes: While the upper circle lacks leg room, the rake is fantastic and I had a clear view of everything on stage except for about 20 seconds where the Darling children fly to the absolute top of the space and their heads were missing. I didn’t get to check out the first circle or the stalls, but I’d avoid any rear section for this show.

Also, I really wish they weren’t selling all sorts of spinning toys with flashing lights and loud motors. Sadly these sold in abundance and it looked like every child in the audience had one - I think I saw more of these than interval ice creams.

Friday, 12 December 2008

THOUGHTS: “Potted Potter”

(Second review in a day. Family Friendly season continues. This got professionally reviewed last year and may or may not get covered again this year, so just a short one from me.)

I love the Harry Potter books. While I didn’t get into the series until book four had been long published, I pre-ordered books five and six for same day delivery and went to midnight madness for book seven (even if I did read the leaked version online in advance - I was surrounded by 4channers that weekend and didn’t want to be spoiled.) Needless to say, the thought of a comedic redux was appealing, but I didn’t have a chance to make it to last year’s run at Trafalgar Studios.

Fortunately Potted Potter is back, still performed by its creators Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, and still promising all seven books in 70 minutes. Needless to say, it’s also fortunate is that Potted Potter is pretty darn funny, revelling in the books’ formula and embracing the inner fan in all of us. From the audience quidditch match (complete with appropriate levels of violence) to Dan’s demands to stop playing the rather dull Harry and take over as Dumbledore right as Book 6 is about to end (no spoilers here!), the show is sharp, hilarious, and revels in its low budget.

Will non-Harry fans have a reason to go? Not really. But Potter aficionados, both young and old, will have a ball. Just not a Yule Ball - this is a show performed at Christmas, not a Christmas show.

Where: Trafalgar Studios 2
When: Varies. Most days are two shows at 12:00, 15:00, or 19:00.
How Much: £20
Concessions: Children and standard concessions £15. Family tickets for £60.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £15. A short Fringe show at Fringe prices.

Review: "The Dreamers of Inishdara"

Sometimes you see a listing and the description just clicks: An Irish country setting, a concept reminiscent of Stardust, and a legendary lady in the cast. And sometimes, the execution just fails it completely.

Leanah Dubh (Gemma-Leah Davreux) is a half-fairy postmodernist painter (a la Jackson Pollock) with a migraine: separated from the Irish land she falls weak, dependent on stranger Crow Murphy to get her home safe. Once recovered, Leanah needs Crow to leave - and fast. Her saintly landlord’s evil brother (Peter Dunne as Brian Quigley type Dick Branigan) has barred men from the premises and will evict her if one is found. Matters are complicated by the arrival of a space-case leprechaun (Patricia Quinn in fine form) who informs Leanah that she is to marry the Fairy King - a daunting proposition.

There’s a lot going for the play: the characters (minus an uncomfortably out of place parish priest) are interesting, and the story was interesting and well paced.

And then things start going wrong. Much of the dialogue could have been scripted for fantasy LARPers, and while green themes are hot, the constant reminders of Irish natural beauty are overdone. Accent troubles also abounded, particularly from Mr. Dunne who wandered between Ballykissangel Irish and Rupert Murdoch Australian and Stephen Elliot MacDonald who to my ears sounded Scottish instead of country Irish. The appearance of an English bulldozer driver at the end whose sole purpose was to finalise Dick’s redemption, was awkward and a waste of an ensemble member. And then there’s the higher than average Fringe ticket price, rivalling those of professional pantos.

I don’t want to imply that The Dreamers of Inishdara is horrible or a wasted night out - it’s absolutely not - but the play feels like a work in progress at this state and could benefit from some time with a dramaturge. It’s also a difficult work to judge because it’s right on the border of “family play” and “adult play” and my expectations vary between the two. It’s (mostly) entertaining and (mostly) well acted and an intimate and choice, but with so much family fare up and running this time of year, The Dreamers of Inishdara is likely to find itself dreaming of full houses rather than being blessed with them.

Where: Jermyn Street Theatre
When: Until 13 Dec. 08, 19:30 PM, Sa @ 15:30
How Much: £22
Concessions: £16
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £13.50 (Half price plus TKTS fee)
RZ Other Notes: Yeah. I booked this to see Patricia Quinn, who did not disappoint. Even from the next to back row, this is likely to be the most intimate setting one will see this legendary lady perform in.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

THOUGHTS: “Sinderfella”

As readers can probably guess, I love the great British art of pantomime. The colours, the shouting, the good fairy entering in a giant penis costume.

OK, so the last one is a bit odd, but nevertheless appeared in this new example of the all grown up sub-genre of adult pantomime. Tacky, crude, and raunchy as can be, Sinderfella is cheap, in your face, and a good time when sober - but those around me were clearly enjoying themselves more after at least a couple drinks.

The cast, led by London drag standard Bette Rinse, are clearly having fun as the double (and single) entendres fly, dildos are waved, and the Ugly Sisters (Peter Kosta and Simon Gross, the latter also being the author/director) torment both poor Cinders and the audience more savagely than in your standard kiddie fare. To my surprise, though, this production (despite all the drag and the location) was actually LESS gay than Stephen Fry’s Old Vic show last year.

Yes, it looks cheap (it was) and yes, there’s too much music in the second act (7 full songs in 30 minutes) and yes, they do play “Be Our Guest” far, far too often, but Sinderfella is a foul-mouthed hoot nonetheless.

Where: Above the Stag Theatre
When: Until 22 Dec., M/W @ 19:30, Th-Sa @ 21:00, Su @ 16:00
How Much: £12 general seating
Concessions: None
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £10.
RZ Other Notes: If you buy a programme you get a free raffle ticket for a gift that made the winning lady smile quite a bit.

Monday, 8 December 2008

REVIEW: “Sunset Blvd.”


This simple, hyphenated word brings terror to the hearts of musical theatre fans everywhere, for as every production putting this concept to use (e.g. Sam Mendes’s Cabaret and John Doyle’s Company) shows, there are just as many proponents of creativity as there are decriers of the reduced, simplified arrangements and often passable but not impressive playing, let alone the claims that one craft is impinging on the other’s place. As long as small theatres like the Watermill continue wishing to produce musicals, however, the need for compromise will occur.

The new Sunset Blvd. is another Watermill birth: the actors are the orchestra, and a formerly grand show is re-imagined as a chamber piece. I never saw the original, lavish productions in the 90’s, which gave me nothing to compare this production to causing me to judge this production cold (and not just because my companion for the afternoon was running late!)

I won’t bother to include a synopsis, as the details are available on Wiki and both the musical and the original film on which it is based have been skewered countless times, including a brilliant rendition on Tiny Toon Adventures, so even those not directly familiar with the work are likely to have been exposed to some aspect of the story. I will say, however, that the material left me neutral. I enjoyed myself, and a number of the songs are great (the opening “Let’s do Lunch,” the sarcastic “Every Film is a Circus,” and the frantic title song) but the score is decidedly middle of the road for Lord Lloyd-Webber and while Sunset Blvd. is thoroughly professional and dramaturgically sound, the original film is a timeless classic and gains little from being musical-ised.

Getting back to this rendition, however, I felt the actor-musician concept worked. While I was quite impressed technically - the actors are constantly switching off instruments - I felt the concept neither added nor detracted from the material. The arrangements weren’t particularly thin, but I do wonder if they intentionally snuck a few riffs in as I heard bits of Phantom and Les Miz sneaking into the background on some songs.

What DID work to the production’s benefit, however, was size. We see events unfold from Joe’s perspective, and Diego Pitarch’s small set with its cold, steel revolving staircase lent itself to the cramped quarters at the Comedy. Playing the show in a large set would add to the sense of decay, but the mounting pressures and tensions play better in a venue that promotes the human over the mechanical. That said, I felt that the intimacy and the claustrophobia must have been diminished over the tinier Watermill and I was only in the first circle.

While the actors may still be finding their roles again in the new space, the performances I saw from the four principles were almost all mixed: Kathryn Evans as the great Norma Desmond only hit her stride in the second act, though once she did she easily made up for any earlier failings. Ben Goddard found the piece’s comedy as the acerbic Joe, but seemed absent (and musically off) from his second act love scene with Laura Pitt-Pulford’s bland Betty. In my book, the only actor to maintain his presence and intensity for the entire performance was Dave Willetts as the delightfully and domineeringly creepy Max.

In short? There’s nothing bad or particularly wrong about this Sunset, but it never quite hits the point of greatness that it strives for. Musical fans (especially ALW fans) should go, but I don’t feel right recommending it for, say, the once a year crowd. A strictly middle of the road Meh from me.

Where: Comedy Theatre
When: M-Sa @ 19:30, W/Sa @ 14:30, varies for Christmas week.
How Much: £17-£64
Concessions: Likely, check at the box office. Preview tickets are £10-£20 off.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £25
RZ Other Notes: The original production of Sunset Blvd. was so lavish that it ran for years and never made a cent in profit due to ongoing expenses and some rather costly personnel choices. I suspect that this production will not have the same problems.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

NOTES/REVISIT: “Sweeney Todd” + “Imagine This”

I had a chance to catch the Union’s production of Sondheim’s legendary Sweeney Todd this week, but won’t be reviewing it as I also have a friend in the cast. It’s also sold out and closing on Sunday.

It did, however, give me an excuse to bring up an old debate: What’s the difference between London AmDram and most of the London Fringe? After all, nobody’s getting paid at either of them and I’ve seen pros slumming it in London AmDram for exposure.

This was also my first trip to the Union, and it’s a nifty venue - I’d love to put something like Hedwig in there. I’d also want to get the seats redone - they rival the Menier for being uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t planning to revisit Imagine This, but a friend wanted to go and it’s not exactly hard to get free tickets (or discounts - they were handing out £25 fliers afterwards) so back to the New London I went. The show’s been tightened up a bit since I saw it originally, but it’s still in need of one more revision - the campy slave character is still annoyingly out of place and the first act didn’t hit particularly well with my friend or a fair bit of the audience, but the second act certainly did - even if I’d personally cut the final song. In short, it’s flawed but so much is good (score, cast, design, and yes, concept) that I stand by saying that Imagine This is worth giving a chance on a discount.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

REVIEW: “Mother Goose” (Hackney Empire)

(Rapid Fire Review #3 in one day. Read below for thoughts on this year’s Perfect Pitch festival and Maria Friedman’s concert series at Trafalgar Studios.)

Growing up in the US, I was raised devoid of the great British tradition of Christmas panto, and only discovered the form last year as part of a group research project. Deciding that I should actually see the thing I was writing about, I went with my research partner to the Hackney Empire’s production of Dick Whittington as it was the only choice in the immediate London area which was open before our deadline.

As readers of last year’s review may remember, I was hooked. Hard. And, as it turned out, so were most of the mainstream critics who showered the production with raves. With such hype and fondness, the bar was set insanely - nay, impossibly - high for this year’s piece, Mother Goose. And, as you may have guessed, Mother Goose doesn’t quite reach Dick’s heights - which doesn’t mean that it’s still not a damn good show regardless.

Set in the town of Dalstonia, Hackneytopia, a battle between good and evil (the witches Charity and Vanity) is underway with the soul of poor yet optimistic Mother Goose on the line. While most of the standard panto tricks and cliches are in place (audience callbacks - scaled down in variety and quantity from last year, rhyming narrators, lots of weddings, bright medieval costumes, slapstick, etc.) Mother Goose is a subversive entry for two vivid differences.

First, there is no principal boy. Then again, there’s no PB in Cinderella or Snow White so take it as you will.

Second, this is the only pantomime with a singular Dame (the ever-wonderful Clive Rowe) who becomes the focal character *and* takes a heel turn: when gifted with the golden egg laying goose Priscilla, the Mother Goose character becomes self-centred and nasty in a radical departure from the loveable comedic characters that define most panto dames. I don’t actually have a problem with this - Susie McKenna’s script pulls off the transition well, and Rowe has both the acting chops and the charisma to make us want him to pull through the challenges at play.

I don’t have gripes with the ensemble of actors either - most of whom have returned from last year’s show including Kat B. as comedic role Billy Goose and Tameka Empson as good witch Charity. As for the rest of the cast, I’d like to name them but I didn’t get a programme and the Empire’s website fails to supply a list of cast members by role (nor are there photos yet to note from.)

So what are the issues? Well, the first act drags and feels particularly long. I had this complaint with last year’s show as well, but didn’t notice the problem on my second viewing. As the show is still in previews until Thursday, I suspect that there is still tightening to be done. I also caught a number of recycled jokes (are there lines which are supposed to be panto standards? More investigation is necessary) and recognised more licensed music this year (including a song from The Harder They Come) and fewer original tunes. While I have no proof to back me up, I suspect that Susie McKenna supplying not just the Hackney panto with a script and lyrics this year but also the New Wimbledon’s Cinderella may have played a part.

Most saddening, however? Clive Rowe isn’t allowed to throw sweets into the upper levels of the house anymore as *one* complaint filed by an angry patron (out of 45,000) last year caused a change in policy. It’s the destruction of simple, innocent acts like this which make the season a continual downer.

But me? I left feeling happy as can be. These are minor, nitpicker’s gripes here and the fact is that the Hackney Empire’s panto truly is on form for yet another year.

Where: Hackney Empire
When: Until 10 Jan., showtimes vary from M-Sa, two shows/day.
How Much: £9-19.50
Concessions: Vary, bookable in advance.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £19.50 for a top notch show.
RZ Other Notes: No, I’m not getting paid by the Empire to shill. I wish I was. I also wish they’d offer one or two child free performances for the childless adults who wish to come and not look like paedophiles.

REVISIT: “Maria Friedman Rearranged”

(Rapid Fire Review #2 as I clear through a week involving far, far too much theatre.)

So instead of going to the third night of Perfect Pitch on Thursday, a friend wanted to see Maria Friedman at Trafalgar 1 and I could get us ultra-cheap tickets, so I figured why not. “I can deal with seeing six shows in a week, really,” I thought to myself and put the booking in. While said friend ended up getting sick and being unable to attend, I dragged myself out of the house, taking comfort in being able to watch two episodes of Rose of Versailles on the tube.

It would, of course, be just my luck that the already late-starting show (scheduled for 20:30 or 21:00 on weekends) would start extra late as this being the first preview nobody had bothered to accurately work out how long it would take to change the sets from the early evening performance of Horrid Henry. The result? Standing around in a very crowed and tiny bar area for an extra half hour.

Was the show worth it? I guess. The setlist was identical to that at the Chocolate Factory, but trimmed down to an interval-less 95 minutes. Ms. Friedman has a lot of fun doing these concerts, and her charm and enthusiasm rubs off onto the audience making it hard not to leave satisfied, but I honestly wasn’t in the mood to appreciate most of it and wished that I’d stayed home and given myself the much needed night off that I’m only getting now.

In other words, yes, it’s worth going if you’re a particular fan of Ms. Friedman or you haven’t seen this particular concert series before, but if you’ve already been you can spend the night elsewhere without regret.

Where: Trafalgar Studios 1
When: Until 04 Jan., W-F @ 20:30, Sa @ 21:00, Su @ 18:00
How Much: £25-35
Concessions: No idea.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying:” £20
RZ Other Notes: I gave this gig the same worth paying at the Menier despite the set being a good 15-20 minutes longer. The seats are more comfortable, however, at Trafalgar and £20 will get you a ticket at TKTS including the booking fee. I think the show also works better in the shortened form, but YMMV.

THOUGHTS: Perfect Pitch Festival 2008

Another year, another Perfect Pitch. This year the festival changed from showcasing 10 shows (15-60 min. presentations) at Upstairs at the Gatehouse to showcasing 6 (45-55 min. presentations) at Trafalgar Studios 2. While the new location lends to the festival’s cred, the reduction in showcased material - especially when two of the six were by the same person - is disappointing even if the bump in casting is equally impressive.

That said, I went on two nights and saw four of the pieces. As these works are still in development I won’t get into too much detail but will stick to general impressions.

First and foremost, I thought that while the scores to all of the shows were good, three of the four were identical in style - I felt as though I could cut apart the music and put the songs into different pieces without suspecting something wrong. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the limited (or entire lack of) arrangements used, as hearing theatrepop scores on piano alone (or with simplified string and/or acoustic guitar) makes it difficult to appreciate uniqueness in full. Now on with the individual shows:

Lift - Nine people ride the lift at Covent Garden station and their lives meet and intertwine. It’s a nifty idea, and while I don’t think the show could easily scale to the West End, I can see it fitting in comfortably at somewhere like the Chocolate Factory or the Kings Head. Likewise this would work quite well as a concept album. It’s a good (if not overly white) representation of modern London.

The Diary of Me - A rebellious 16 year old comes to terms with his estranged father dating again after his mother dies while understanding friendship and relationships. This would have been more interesting had I not seen Shit Mix a month earlier: fairly standard youth theatre fare, would do well somewhere like Oval House or on a TIE programme.

Can You Keep A Secret - A mother is constantly moving with her two daughters: one who fails to establish friendships online or in person yet falls for a local bad boy and another who is shy and escapes into a fantasy world with dangerous repercussions on reality. Similar thoughts to The Diary of Me, but taken from a more adult perspective. Word is that the teenage relationships involved are actually the main ones but the adults became the focus in order to keep things clean for the 45 min. format. The fantasy elements will, I suspect, be better dealt with when scenery and the full running time are involved.

The Lost Christmas - A pair of robots from the year 4000 come back to the present to find something missing from the winter season, meeting up with a girl in a traditional, respectable middle-upper class liberal family. The standout score of the bunch, the music here is more pastiche than straightforward and it works out well. This show probably worked best in the 45 min. format (along with Lift which is more episodic than linear) and this would make a nice alternative to panto.

In short: nothing OMGWOW but there’s clear potential in all cases and I wish I could have seen the last two shows (Rebels and Retail, which looks like a British Walmartopia and Through the Door, a time travel romance.) The scarier thing is that the festival organisers consider themselves to be a stepping stone in early or middle development for a five to ten year development cycle. IMHO that’s an excessive period, but not a surprising one these days - Next to Normal - currently running in DC - has been going for 10 years (even if it was production worthy after seven,) Rue Magique also made it to ten despite staying a disaster, and even RENT was being worked on for the better part of five years (arguably seven including when Larson and Aronson were toying around with it.) The turnaround time on production is only getting higher (remember the days when composers banged out a new show in 1-3 years?) and it's frightening to think that in many cases the reward is a 1 hour edition at a festival with 1800 other shows competing for eyes or 6-8 weeks on the Fringe with few places to follow up.

On that note, I wish the best of luck to all involved, and let’s all look forward to 2009.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

REVIEW: “August: Osage County”

To be honest, there’s not a lot for me to say: the New York press and blogosphere already reviewed this show to death last year when it opened on Broadway, and the London edition is an exact clone down to all but two members of the Original Broadway Cast coming over to reprise their roles. So, if you want a review of the play or the acting, google the Broadway reviews because nothing’s changed.

And by “nothing’s changed” I include the fact that August: Osage County kicks ass. A lot of it. While I’m not saying that this is the sort of play which will drive repeat visits (I doubt I’ll go back before it closes,) it’s very much worth seeing once and tickets are still available for all nights after this week. Believe the hype and make your booking while you still can. Go on, I’ll wait for you.

All set? Good. Now shut up and eat your damn fish.

Where: National Theatre/Lyttleton
When: Until 21 Jan. T-Su @ 19:15, Sa @ 14:00, Su @ 15:00, Varying weekday matinees @ 14:00
How Much: £10-£41
Concessions: Day seats are sold when the BO opens for £10 (front row stalls and circle slips). Standard NT concessions apply for students/seniors/unemployed/etc.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £41. Cheaper than Broadway for an excellent new work of American drama.
RZ Other Notes: If going for day seats, try to get the back row of the circle first, then the slips, then the front row of the stalls. The stage is high and the set is extremely vertical and spread out so you’ll be leaving with a major crick in your neck after 3+ hours of staring up.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

THOUGHTS: “Imagine This”

(Second post today - the current tour of Noises Off is covered below - and post #150 overall. I even managed to turn in a job application as well!)

I have a proper byline for reviewing this show, so just a quick opinion here as every other critic has weighed in.

I liked Imagine This even though I really didn’t want to going in. I thought the music was beautiful and epic (I can forgive musical anachronism and the people complaining about it seem to forget about Wildhorn, Boubil & Schonberg, etc.), the cast great, and the design stunning. I didn’t think it was perfect, however: the book has issues with tonal consistency, the jokes a bit too simplistic, and the inclusion of a particularly camp character (the term “flaming” would be the un-PC way to put it) struck me as one suspension of disbelief too far given the presented company’s religious leanings. Likewise I had an issue with the idealisation of martyrdom in the renewed age of religious terrorism but I appear to have been the only person writing about the show to do so.

While much of the show has been overhauled since its out of town run in Plymouth, I can’t help but think that Imagine This would have benefited greatly from a second out of town tryout to ensure structural integrity before fine tuning in the West End: the makings of greatness are there but it still needs further refinement should the producers decide to try again elsewhere.

It’s also telling (though I’m still not 100% sure what) that I enjoyed myself and my companion for the evening - someone even more jaded than I am and a good 20 years older - loved it, as did even the West End Whingers, but the official critics did not. Word of mouth is split on this one between an “I liked it and recommend it but didn’t OMGWOW” faction and a “This is utter shite and even Paris Hilton: The Jukebox Musical would be better” group. I’m in the former, and officially consider Imagine This to be a show that patrons will have to judge for themselves.

REVIEW: “Noises Off” (Touring)

(The reviews continue through Job Hunting Hell as your author attempts to procrastinate writing yet another cover letter.)

It takes a lot for me to justify the effort involved in crossing London to see a show at the New Wimbledon. Sometimes I’ll genuinely want to see a show coming in and other times it’s to get to a production before it comes into the West End at inflated prices (I’m looking at you, Carousel, which I had to miss...)

I didn’t go to Noises Off for either reason. I saw the Broadway revival in 2002 starring Peter Gallagher as sardonic director Lloyd and Patti LuPone as the er...dotty...Dotty, and though I liked it quite a bit, it’s very much a “once is enough” kind of play. So why go again? Because I am an utter anorak and catching the tour meant seeing an ex Doctor Who on stage in the form of Colin Baker.

For anybody who hasn’t seen Noises Off at the National, on one of many countless tours, or in regional, it can be a bit hard to describe. The first act takes place as a low end touring company are working through their last minute dress rehearsal of a door-slammer farce (Quick, into the bedroom! No not that bedroom, this one that looks like a bathroom!) It’s clear from the start that things are going pear shaped as nobody can remember lines or blocking and personal drama is starting to rear its head as we find out that co-producer actress Dotty (Maggie Steed) is having a relationship with one of her co-stars while director Lloyd (Ben Hull...I think, the website lacks details) is sleeping with both bimbo Belinda and stage manager Poppy whom he ruthlessly belittles onstage. Compounding issues are various offstage divorces, an overworked tech director, and drunken, half-deaf Selsdon (Baker) disappearing at inopportune times as the cast attempt to keep him sober.

The real triumph, however, lies in the second act: it’s six weeks into the tour and tensions flare backstage as the affairs split, change partners, and cause all sorts of general havoc. Where author Michael Frayn is so brilliant is in showing us the chaotic backstage happenings within a (mostly) successful performance of the actual play. It goes downhill again for act three, however, as we see the final performance falling apart from the first line.

Is this a solid production? Yes. Should you go if you haven’t seen it before? Yes. Is there a reason to go back if you’re not interested in the comedically gifted cast? Not really. The sets and general direction are both based on the National’s original production from the 80’s, so there isn’t anything new if you’re expecting more than nostalgia. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that Noises Off is still laugh out loud hilarious and manages to fulfil the demands of farce while subverting it at every opportunity.

Where: Touring, currently the New Wimbledon
When: Until 22 Nov., no idea after. Th-Sa @ 19:30, Th/Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £10-£25
Concessions: Student tickets available at the venue, no idea otherwise.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. Solid production, good play, great cast.
RZ Other Notes: That said, don’t pay more than you have to. There’s a best available for £15 offer from and the upper circle (where the £10-12 tickets are) was closed the night I went (though the stalls were pretty full) so upgrades to at least the dress circle are likely.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

REVIEW: “Treasure Island”

Ladies and gentlemen! In the red corner, weighing in at three weeks, a run of solid and entertaining plays leading to a happy reviewer! In the blue corner, weighing in at nine months, a continual run of disappointment from the Theatre Royal Haymarket! Which of these giants will win?

The answer, if you’ve read any of the papers lately, is obvious: the Haymarket curse strikes again, this time intruding on what should have been an exciting adventure romp and leaving it with two hours of tepid, uninspired mush where one of the great pirate tales ever written should have been.

I’m not going to bother getting into the plot as I'm presuming that most readers here will have a familiarity with the Treasure Island story either from the original novel or some form of reinterpretation, be it the 60’s Animal Treasure Island cartoon, the Muppet version, or any other edition of your choice, and therefore spoil at will.

It all goes wrong starting with Ken Ludwig’s script. In another case of “why show or visualise what you can narrate,” protagonist Jim (charmingly albeit not boyishly played by Michael Legge) tells us everything: his feelings at making his first kill, his fears, how the boat moved, and so on. For example, Jim tells us in a narration that he cut the Hispaniola’s anchor but then it comes up again in the dialogue moments later in a redundant display of redundancy.

Next there’s the music. While Treasure Island is a play with a few songs, it has a mere two or three which are repeated constantly. I’ve got more pirate songs (even public domain ones) on my iPod than were used in the show, and that’s just a handful of Jolly Rogers tracks I found on Audiogalaxy over five ago. More shanties, less repetition. This production also deserves an award for sound effects overkill, from the blind man’s staff getting an extra electronic bang to heartbeats and a mechanical bird whose gears we can hear spinning away in the stalls.

Third, the swordfighting. The first fight scene was wisely choreographed in the dark with occasional flashes from a lantern for a worthwhile reason: besides looking cool it covered up the fact that what we did see of the fighting was pretty bad. Fortunately the big fight scenes in the second act look significantly better.

And then we have the design. I liked the wooden floors and ropes and jungle bits and bobs because they had the right feeling: ship, jungle, old inn, all good. The suck factor comes from Dan Kugels’ video projections, which reminded me of another show I’d seen through the entire first act even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Only during the interval did the realisation dawn on me: the projections were of the same types used in Lestat. This, by the way, is not a complement. Do we need to see spiders flash on the wall when Jim describes his nightmares of blind pirates? No. Do we need to see red blobs when Billy talks about his heart going? No. Do we all the same? Yes.

Finally, there’s the cast. They’re trying, heaven help them, but most of what they’re trying to do is keep their pirate-y accents which is about all they really *can* do given the slightness of the ensemble’s characterisation. It is mandatory, however, to give Keith Allen credit for being every bit the smooth talking fellow Long John Silver needs to be, living up to his star billing.

As I left the Haymarket, thoroughly battered, the question on my mind was “why?” As in “Why did they bother?” I wasn’t bored by Treasure Island, but I wasn’t impressed or charmed by it either: the show was, as a good friend of mine puts it, beige. What’s said is how much I wanted to like this: I love pirate stories (pirates > ninjas any day) and even found myself amused at the ill-fated Peter Pan: El Musical, but Treasure Island gave me nothing to walk away with: it’s 100% bland, empty, and forgettable fare fine for community and AmDram companies looking for a low-rent show over the holidays, but as a West End alternative? Save your pirate plunder for the punchy pair of Peter Pan pantos in Croydon and Richmond instead.

Where: Theatre Royal Haymarket
When: Until 28 Feb., W-Sa @ 19:30, Tu @ 19:00, W/Sa @ 14:30, Su @ 15:00
How Much: £20-45
Concessions: Seniors £20 matinees best available booked in advance, students £20 upper circle on the day, family discounts available.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5. This isn’t a worthless production that’ll eat your brain alive, but there’s no reason to pay either.
RZ Other Notes: I was under the overhang from the circles so I don’t know how filled they were but the stalls were rather deserted. If you do go, keep an eye on the start times because they’re all over the place - I forgot last night’s show was at 19:00 until I checked my booking at 18:10 and made it to the theatre with just enough time to use the gents’ before taking my seat.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

REVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

(If you're here because you saw the URL in the Evening Standard, please send an email or leave a comment as I'd like to know if anybody cared enough to visit as a result.)

It’s the revival that nobody wanted: constantly toured kiddy fare and led by someone off of a reality show. In all honesty, though - and that’s generally what readers want from a critic - I love this show. It’s not Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best (that remains Jesus Christ Superstar in my book) or even my favourite (Starlight Express) but Joseph is a fun turn-your-brain-off evening, and it’s got some excellent numbers (“Close Every Door,” “Any Dream Will Do,” and my personal favourite ALW song ever, “Pharaoh Story.”) It’s also been about ten years since I last saw the show, when ex-pop idol Deborah Gibson was touring the US as the narrator. That said, I also didn’t want to pay £30 for a recycled production (more on that later.) Fortunately a few rows in the gods are sold for £15, and since I was at Friday’s Mathilde reading next door at the Vaudeville I figured it wouldn’t hurt to pop into the Adelphi and see if cheap seats were left. Fortunately they were, and it turned out that Lee Mead was in fact not on vacation (he was earlier in the week) so all of the leads were in.

Now, before I nitpick the production to bits, I want to get something out of the way: I had a great time and left with a much needed smile on my face. I wouldn’t tell people to see this Joseph if they were in London for a visit when there are more unique things running in the West End, but it’s a fun night for locals who may have held off until the hype subsided.

Now, as I said before, much of this production is recycled: the sets and costumes were both pulled out of storage following the Palladium run and subsequent tour (featuring Lizi Hateley, Jason Donovan, and Philip Schoenfeld) from the early 90’s. The direction and choreography are based on that production as well, though I’m sure that updates have been put in and the production generally refreshed.

Unfortunately said fresh outlook does not apply to Jenna Lee-James, who narrates the show with a powerhouse voice that can belt to kingdom come but lacks stage presence as a character. Word is that Lloyd Webber prefers it this way - that the narrator is a simple storyteller - but I really don’t. In most productions outside of the Lord’s grasp the Narrator is more involved, and while not active in the story, is someone clearly enjoying the ride. It’s the difference between saying “Look, Joseph is getting done in by his brothers” and “Look, this spoiled brat is being smacked down by the ensemble - isn’t it cool?” with a Willy Wonka-esque glint in the eye. This is a juicy role to play with relish and it’s wasted in London productions (FWIW I felt the same about Linzi Hateley on the 1991 London CD - great voice, sang it well, but she sounded so bored when compared to Kristine Fraelich on the 1995 US tour or Jodi Benson in the US in 1997 and Kristin Hölk on the German cast recording.)

Lee Mead, the reality show winner in the title role, does a fine job. If he doesn’t have Donny Osmond’s vocal flourishes it’s not for lack of talent or capacity, and I suspect he’d do more with the score if he were further away from London - this is one time where it’s OK not to sing the script if done with taste (unlike a certain show which comes to mind.) I also forgive him for sounding like a muppet at times - it's endearing bordering on adorable.

Dean Collinson is fine as the Elvis-impersonator Pharaoh, though I question his choice to throw in an unnecessary mild profanity (“Damn I’m good.”) Arguably it helps cement the show on the family side of “children’s show” vs. “family show” (the latter having a some mildly mature or risque material for mum and dad that the kids won’t get) but it doesn’t add anything - though neither does the new song “King of my Heart.” That said, I’d rather have “King” than yet another reprise of “Song of the King” which got two full reprises (meaning the song was sung in full three times in a row) during the early/mid 90’s productions.

Sadly I didn’t spot any standouts in the ensemble. So it goes.

It’s uncomfortable to be quite so negative in this review given that I enjoyed myself and am tempted to return to the production after the cast change, but in a way this is the curse of reviewing Shakespeare on a more populist and entertaining level: once you see a show a certain number of times (this was trip 8 or 9 to Joseph in addition to a stack of cast recordings and video clips) you start making comparisons. I’m not going to say people should run to the Adelphi, but I’d recommend bringing first timers to the theatre here instead of The Lion King..and maybe some jaded regulars as well: despite whatever cynicism and crass commercial work behind this run, the material has such an innocence and charm at its core that it’s hard not to be won over by the end of the night.

Where: Adelphi Theatre
When: M/W/Sa @ 19:30, Tu @ 19:00, W/Sa @ 15:00
How Much: £15-50, top price varies by night.
Concessions: Check with the box office.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £30. This’ll get you stalls any night at TKTS.
RZ Other Notes: I paid £15 for my ticket on the day and got back row centre of the upper circle. It’s vertically far from the stage but a clear, unrestricted view and a great bargain if you just want to see the show without shelling out top price (my dinner wound up costing more than my ticket.) As it turned out there were multiple rows empty and while the ushers held people to their original locations for the first act I was able to move from Row N to Row G at the interval.

On another note, the only show I’ve seen more times (and with more casts) than Joseph is RENT.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


It turns out I know someone in the cast for this production, so doing a full review goes into iffy conflict of interest territory. A few notes though...

1) The production itself is something of a mixed bag. I love the set layout but it’s overcomplicated in that there’s some set dressing and a rollaway screen that requires downtime between songs to make a scene change, breaking up the flow. Ditto the use of video screens.

2) It’s very obvious that the director was influenced by the film, so you have strip club Out Tonight instead of Mimi at home Out Tonight.

3) There are 24 people in the cast vs. the original 15. Yes, amateur theatre is about getting people involved, but it left a lot of actors with nothing to do except occasionally wander around as the homeless people.

4) While each production should have its own original direction, this version made me appreciate certain aspects of Michael Grief’s staging even more, namely the initial burst of motion during the opening chords of the title song and the way everybody wandered back into the SOL line during the ICY Reprise leaving a space for Angel. This production was very low on movement and high on literalism, so everybody but Collins faced away from the audience while sitting on church pews. The setup also meant having to loop the SOL chords during the funeral lines while everything was set up.

5) I love Seasons of Love but that doesn’t mean we need to hear the chords as everybody enters at the top of Act One. That’s not in the show as written. We don’t need an encore either.

6) Voice Mail #4 (Alexi on the Beach) was moved up a position so that Without You takes place in September. I don’t really buy it, as the second act was structured to hop through seasons from Winter (HNY/TMOLM) -> Spring (Without You) -> Fall (Contact/GL/WYO) -> Winter (Finale). This takes six months out of the timeline.

7) Props to using the original orchestrations. The band aren’t loud enough, nor is the mixing quite right which, given the entire band are on electronic instruments, is a bad thing.

Despite my personal issues, however, this isn’t a bad production and it’s one that RENT fans should try and see before it closes next week. It’s obvious that everyone involved loves the show and you can see that everybody wants to be getting it right.

Where: Bridewell Theatre
When: 18/19/21/22 Nov. @ 19:30, 15/22 Nov. @ 15:00. Two charity performances as well.
How Much: £15 Unreserved
Concessions: £12
No worth paying/Other here.

Friday, 14 November 2008

REVIEW: "Chav Scum Kills God"

So while The Teenage Theatre Critic is off at the opera and the Royal Ballet I’m reviewing a play called Chav Scum Kills God. Just a touch of a difference.

And between you and me? I think I may have made the right choice.

The first full length play from Drew Davies, Chav Scum follows...well...a chav named Robert (Bradley Benjamin) as he wakes up in Hell, which resembles an empty waiting room. Greeted by the Other (Michael Lindall), a cross between a psych ward assistant and Kryten from Red Dwarf, Robert is informed that he died in a car crash while choking on his KFC. Fortunately, Hell is what you make of it: the only people put through severe torture are those who feel they deserve it. Likewise, there are chances to climb Hell’s social ladder as revealed by Robert’s father (Des Brittain) who is sleeping his way to the middle class via the great dictators. It all ends up with Robert proclaimed as the chosen one, destined to wear a time bomb necklace into Heaven and kill God in a blow for equality - after all, people in Heaven get better moisturiser.

Sound horrible? Amazingly it’s not, but I’m not claiming that it’s brilliant either.

The problems with the show lie with Robert and his father: the characters are utterly dull though Benjamin and Lindall work their best with what they’ve got. Likewise Sarah Alborn makes the most out of her one scene as Kathy (details involve plenty of spoilers) but she too falls into the “chav stereotypes are so 2006” category, and the ending may make its point but it’s dramatically unsatisfying.

Where Chav Scum shines (besides its brevity - the runtime is 90 min. including an interval of questionable value) is with the two characters running interference: the aforementioned Other has two incarnations - one for Hell and Heaven - and Lindall fills his time onstage with subtle movements gestures which are not only good for laughs but also enhance rather than detract from points where the Other is not the focus - think of Penny’s role in Hairspray during “I Can Hear The Bells” and the Madison sequence for a comparison.

The other character whom I dearly adored was Jonathan Hansler’s Lou, aka Satan as interpreted by George Carlin. It’s easy to see why people would follow this devil, as he oozes charm and straight talk while manipulating his surroundings.

To sum it up: Fun time, worth popping in, and short enough that if you like it you can leave after 40 minutes at the interval or stay for the whole time and still make it to the pub for multiple rounds after.

Where: Courtyard
When: Until 30 Nov., Tu-Su @ 19:30
How Much: £12.50
Concessions: £10, local residents with proof of address can get £5 tickets until the 16th
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £10. Cheaper than a film at Leicester Square, but not quite good enough to justify the full price.
RZ Other Notes: This production is in the Courtyard’s studio which is a) warm, b) unreserved seating and c) not raked. Complicating matters is a concurrent run of Measure for Measure in the main house which, the night I went, looked to be loaded with school groups that crowd the limited waiting area. Fortunately Chav Scum lets out before Measure can even reach its interval.

Friday, 7 November 2008

REVIEW: "Linie 1" (Film DVD)

Back in July I reviewed the long-running musical Linie 1 after a trip to Berlin. At the time the stage version had just come out on DVD, but getting a copy is difficult: one needs to either visit the GRIPS Theater in Berlin or order a copy directly. As the company doesn’t have the facilities to process credit cards, getting ahold of the disc outside of Germany is troublesome to say the least. Fortunately the 1988 film version has recently been released on mass market DVD after spending over a decade out of print on VHS.

In many ways the film is an easier watch than the stage disc: the movie runs barely 100 minutes (vs. the play’s 180+) which has greatly streamlined the rather messy plot. The film also offers the benefits of specialised casting: while most of the cast were in the original stage version, characters such as the Boy in the Raincoat (played here by Andreas Schmidt, most recently seen in The Counterfeiters) have been recast for age appropriateness whereas the stage DVD cast is full of ageing members about to finish their contracts. The songs also have a poppier and in some places stronger arrangement than on stage (e.g. Hey du.)

That’s about where the benefits end, though. A number of songs (including the haunting 6 Uhr 14 and the angsty Tag ich hasse dich has been replaced with the poppier In jeder Großstadt bin ich zu Haus) have been axed, and the design can only be described as bizarre: the film will spend ten minutes in a realist mode only to throw ticket inspectors to smoke filled tunnels or have policemen dancing for one shot of a song while chasing down a busker while moving normally otherwise. Scenes set outside of a train car or station hearken back to the 40’s with a combination of fake buildings and painted backdrops, and the film’s altered ending does nothing for the sake of clarity. It’s not bad like the RENT movie was, largely due to the continued input of the theatrical creators, but the aesthetic is jarring and may put viewers off the first time through.

The filmed Linie 1 also fails to tackle some of the play’s larger themes, such as urban anonymity: the Girl is given a proper name (Sunny) as is the Boy (Humphrey - three guesses as to why) and even though it’s a minor issue given the wholesale reduction of material, it takes away some of the magic and the grit. I’d need to pull out the stage DVD or the script books to check, but I suspect the play’s extensive use of Berlin dialect has been toned down, though it’s still present.

As far as the DVD itself is concerned, the film is presented in a 1.66 aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The print has been newly telecined (with 4% PAL speedup) and remastered and the colours are nice and intense with no visible film damage and retains an appropriate amount of film grain. The audio track is straightforward 2.0 stereo encoded in Dolby Digital. As is annoyingly standard for German releases there are no subtitles, either in German for the hard of hearing or alternative languages for foreign viewers.

In terms of extras, there’s a 30 minute making of which is mostly talking head footage of Reinhard Hauff (director) and Eberhard Junkersdorf (producer). There’s some interesting discussion of how they adapted the material and some of the technical constraints (getting a real train car into the studio proved rather difficult), a photo gallery with some music, the original trailer, and direct links to the songs. The original press kit is also included as a rather nifty DVD-ROM extra.

Overall, Linie 1 the movie is a product of its era which hasn’t held up as well twenty years on as its inspiration, but it’s an accessible version of the work and is well worth the price (a scant €10 online - cheaper than the OCR) for those who are curious and is available from your German DVD merchant of choice including

Thursday, 6 November 2008

THOUGHTS: “Confessions of Honour”

Job applications, writing commitments, and the first cold of the season are keeping me from reviewing this in greater detail, but I did want to get a post up about Gerry Hinks’s Confessions of Honour to say....that I liked it. Quite a bit, in fact, but it ticks a lot of my boxes: history, good pacing, interesting subject, not being painfully obvious with how the twists go, quality acting, the list goes on and on. The only real qualm that I have is that at its core, this play is a two hander but there are four characters: the central Frederick Salisbury (Keith Minshull) and Wolfgang Meissler (author Hinks), as well as the Warrant Officer who occasionally pops her head in to mind them and the RSM who is only around for the beginning and the end. I can understand having a third character to frame the play’s events surrounding a Victoria Cross awardee returning his medal to the regiment, but another seems excessive.

Anyways, this is a play which falls squarely under the category of “nice” and “intimate” and while not a life changer, “a wonderful way to escape a nasty, rainy afternoon.” The London run is closed, but I believe there was one more short run following which may have a day or two left.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

REVISITS: Come Dancing + Eurobeat

When closing dates approach I generally try to revisit shows that I liked - especially if deals abound. Last week I had the opportunity to hit two shows which are sadly on the way out.

Come Dancing has really come together since previews. It’s still on the self-indulgent side, but it doesn’t feel weighed down by it anymore. Everything that needed to be tightened up has been, and the show is a wonderful little charmer that deserves to tour well and settle in at one of the West End’s smaller venues (I nominate the Duke of York’s) for a return engagement. There’s still a few days left for this one, and tickets are still available at Stratford East’s reasonable prices, so get there while you can.

I also made it to the closing of Eurobeat on Saturday. I’ve been utterly shameless in raving about this production, and this made it my fourth visit. The show is still hilarious even when you know what’s coming, and the hosts’ freedom to ad-lib (particularly about Andrew Sachs and Icelandic banks) helps to keep it fresh. The show really turned into a cult flop of sorts, as the first timers in the crowd were clearly overwhelmed by repeat visitors bringing full sized flags and going absolutely batshit insane. Most shows can only dream of the enthusiasm the crowd brought to this performance, and it’s sad to see it go - albeit not for too long, as continental tours are going up and a new edition of the show, complete with ten new songs, is in development for an opening next year in Australia. Good times await, as does a sad one as I try to find the time and money to make a fleeting return to Brief Encounter before the 16th...

Monday, 3 November 2008

REVIEW: "La Cage Aux Folles"

So I got lazy and the official critics already have their reviews up. So instead of a proper review, have some ramblings...

La Cage is a show that most theatre geeks find to be a minefield subject. On the one hand, it was a breakout hit and one of the first mainstream musicals on Broadway to deal with the gay lifestyle. On the other, it was a surprise upset for the Tony, taking Best Musical over Sunday in the Park with George, which is a sore spot for Sondheim fans. I love Sunday - I think it’s absolutely brilliant. And yes, I also liked La Cage, which I saw for the first time about a week ago.

The new West End production is based on last Christmas’s run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and while the sets have been scaled up to fit the Playhouse’s more generous proportions, the cast, orchestra, and general production values have remained smaller than in the original. And while I hadn’t seen the show before and wouldn’t have known better, my companion for the evening (one of the top names in London drag) was quite familiar with the show, having seen both the original (and prematurely closed) West End run not to mention numerous regional productions across the UK.

His opinion? This La Cage keeps it real. The smaller ensemble (six male cagelles vs. eight men and two women) is closer to what a real club would have, Tim Shortall’s costumes are more down to Earth than in past runs, and the emotions are genuine. Neither of us were particularly fond of Douglas Hodge as testy tranny Albin at the interval, but Mr. Hodge found his character’s depth by the start of the second act and improved by leaps and bounds as the back half played out. As the papers raved for him, I’d guess that his issues have been resolved.

Personally, I liked the balance at hand in this production: both the loving relationship between Albin and Georges (Denis Lawson) as well as the panic that strikes son Jean Michel (Stuart Neal) which drives the show’s action: the same dread that comes from introducing friends and partners to overly religious or tragically unhip parents is instantly recognisable and though it’s devastating for Albin the audience are likely to understand the character’s motivation, passing off the character as more than a mere caricature.

So yeah. Believe the hype with this one: this is a high energy production (how else can 165 minutes fly by so fast?) but one which leaves the audience comfortably warm by the end. The fall season only has one big musical left (Imagine This, which won’t be covered here due to a paid review commission) so if you’re looking for a big, traditional West End fix or you want something romantic to replace the soon-to-close Brief Encounter, you owe it to yourself catch La Cage aux Folles while you can.

Where: Playhouse Theatre
When: Until 10 Jan., M-Sa @ 19:30, Th/Sa @ 14:30. Varies Xmas/New Year’s
How Much: £17.50-£55 (£57.50 for cabaret table seating - prepare to crane your neck.)
Concessions: Day seats available, check with the box office.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £45 - The best thing to hit the West End in a while, but doesn’t quite come together enough for the top price.
RZ Other Notes: Rumour is that if sales are high the producers are planning to extend the run and bring in Graham Norton to play Albin. Take it with a rock of salt but so far there’s nothing announced yet to follow....

Friday, 31 October 2008

REVIEW: Dracula

Vampire musicals have something of a curse on them: namely that they tend to do the sorts of things that vampires would do if they existed: bite and suck. While there is one shining example hovering above the rest, Alex Loveless’s new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s defining novel isn’t it. What Loveless, Loveless (Liz, extra lyrics), & Loveless (Chris, director) give us instead is a tick-box list of how not to handle vampires in yet another version of Dracula.

See, a good vampire story is sexy. The whole lure of the forbidden and abandonment of morality in the face of a challenge to Good Christian Living stems from Stoker and it’s not here: Leigh Jones has presence as the legendary Count, but sexy? Nope. The female cast are so buttoned up that the Transylvanian may as well go back to planet Transsexual if he wants a chance of getting any. As much as Ann Rice’s prose may leave something to be desired and Elton John’s score was lacking, the duo delivered sexiness in abundance in Lestat.

Alternatively, a good vampire story is scary. The old Bela Lugosi films have lost much of their scare factor after decades of video nasties, but seventy-five years ago they were terrifying. The only scary thing about this musical was coming back for the second act.

On the other hand, you can go for spectacle: while Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula (which shares numerous book quotes with this one) also received a critical drubbing for its bore-factor it featured a top notch cast and Des McAnuff’s flair for the visual.

The LovelessX3 show sex, no scare, and no budget. It also has no point (the scenes with Renfield go nowhere and amount to nothing,) no memorable songs, no choreography, and no wit. To that extent it does have the last trait of the Vampire: sin. To bore the audience to sleep (or an interval departure) is the greatest sin a creator can commit, and the night I went there was programme checking, nodding off, and interval departures in abundance.

In short, the [title of show] team say it best: DIE VAMPIRE, DIE!

Where: White Bear Theatre
When: Until 23 Nov., Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Su @ 17:00
How Much: £12 unreserved
Concessions: £10
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £0. Stay home and take a nap or rent any of Hollywood’s better efforts. Or you could listen to....
RZ Other Notes: The greatest vampire musical of all time? Tanz der Vampire. Not the version Michael Crawford stunk up on Broadway but the original Austro-German edition which is scary, witty, sexy, and stunning.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

REVIEW: "So Jest End"

(Second of two reviews today, see below for a quickie catch-up post.)

London’s history with the Forbidden Broadway franchise is an iffy one. Despite running for over twenty years across a variety of New York locations, all three attempts at bringing the sharp witted parody property to London have been met with short, unprofitable runs. Recently, a local alternative has been in development, running first a few months ago and now in a one-weekend-a-month engagement at the Leicester Square. So Jest End (formerly Jest End and Fraudway) attempts to rework the winning formula for the West End, but it comes up empty and unimpressive instead.

The fault lies in getting what makes Forbidden Broadway funny: While Forbidden’s jokes tend to tread the same themes, the show is kept religiously up to date (barring the occasional throwback to the classic diva and the infamous Annie skit) and the show chooses its targets well: the dumbing down of Broadway, plots of hit shows, eccentric divas, and new trends. Creator Gerard Alessandrini also keeps his jokes wide enough that innocent tourists wandering in on a half price ticket stay entertained even if they haven’t seen everything on the boards.

And this is where So Jest End fails. Despite being billed as an update and featuring new songs, much of the material is out of date: there are still bits from Mary Poppins (gone six months) and Footloose (closed a year ago), shows with no official plans for the West End (Little Mermaid), and Gone With The Wind jokes (again, gone for months and no longer funny). Instead of looking at the state of the West End or even some of the biggest shows (no Hairspray, Dirty Dancing, or Joseph bits), the popular themes are reality TV (a full two song bit dedicated to the upcoming Oliver and multiple references elsewhere) and the low state of actor pay (constant mentions plus a full song about how Phantom uses alternates). There’s enough to chuckle one’s way through it, but the material lacks fangs and fire which makes it hard for the cast (all very talented and flexible) to land the serious jokes. Only the Les Miserables bit about the hell of lasting a year in the cast managed to score constant big laughs, and even so it just doesn’t hit as hard as Forbidden Broadway’s “Ten Years More.”

While it’s good to see those involved in the West End finding humour in its flaws, So Jest End is very much an insider’s show and mere fans (or even industry people who aren't actors) are likely to find themselves lost, bored, or underwhelmed. While the show will undoubtedly get better over the years and various iterations, it’s just not there enough yet to justify even its Fringe-level ticket cost or the risk of not being able to get home (see below for more).

Where: Leicester Square Theatre (Basement)
When: 14/15 Nov, 19/20 Dec @ 23:00
How Much: £15 General Admission
Concessions: None
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £5. It’s strictly amateur night.
RZ Other Notes: Hoo boy, where to begin. First, go to this with friends. I made the mistake of going alone and was the only person NOT attending with at least six companions who knew the people in every other group at the venue. Second, get seats at the tables if you can - the back row seats may be more comfortable but there’s no rake so they’re slightly obstructed and the people next to you *will* fidget and elbow you repeatedly as they move around attempting to see what’s going on.

Third, be forewarned that securing transport after the show is at your own risk. While most bus lines are still in operation at 00:15, and while the Northern Line hasn’t OFFICIALLY run its final trains, Leicester Square station was thoroughly gated off and locked up when the Saturday show let out, as was Tottenham Court Road. Patrons looking to catch the underground home may have better luck at Charing Cross, but I wound up getting lucky and catching the next to last train out of Goodge Street instead. Should you not live conveniently on the Northern Line, work out your bus route in advance or plan to budget on catching a cab as you will not be able to transfer to another underground line.

CATCHING UP: The Plague of Laziness...

Well, not so much laziness this time as business. MCM Expo, non-writing commitments, and more job hunting hell. And yeah, some laziness too. Do not expect good writing this time, just some notes. A full review for one show, however, will follow.

The White Devil @ Menier Chocolate Factory: I don’t generally go for plays written during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, but I missed the highly acclaimed Revenger’s Tragedy earlier this year at the National, and this seemed like a good way to see some of the period’s work that isn’t Shakespeare. While I’m still not a big fan of the language and convention of the times, I still found The White Devil an interesting play full of horrible people doing rotten things and enjoying it more than I’d expected. Director Jonathan Munby manages (mostly) to safely clear the minefield of traverse staging by giving the piece a claustrophobic setting, but the nature of the beast means that everybody will spend at least one major scene staring at the back of the action. I think the cast had a few repeat performers from the MCF’s recent production of The Common Pursuit as well. It’s worth checking out on a meal deal price or with a discount.

The Picture of Dorian Gray @ Tabard Theatre: Props to Kangaroo Court for working their juxtaposition of Wilde’s classic tale of beauty in evil and the age of celebrity. This new adaptation revels in its modernity while maintaining the feel of Wilde’s original. The only problem with the piece is that it’s a musical, and while I love the form, it’s entirely unnecessary here: the show would work just as well as a straight play, largely because the songs are sung by the nameless chorus (Megan Pugh and David Templeman, neither of whom are particularly impressive singers) who spend most of the show moving scenery. I honestly wouldn’t have had a problem with this show being a 60 minute straight play vs. a 90 minute musical, and the opportunity to have, say, paired it with another one-act seems wasted. Neil McCurley has, however, struck gold by using projections to reflect the increasingly warped nature of Dorian’s portrait though the cues ran late the night I saw the show.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

REVIEW: “Rue Magique”

(Because some anonymous will undoubtedly bitch and moan that this is coming off of a first preview, let’s get a key fact out of the way: tickets are being sold at FULL PRICE during the preview period. That’s £20-25 for the fringe for a technically unfrozen show. Complain to those responsible for THOSE ethics before complaining about a member of the public rambling on the internet. With that taken care of...)

Ladies and gentlemen, the trainwreck express is now pulling in at the King's Head.

Because Riflemind wasn’t enough of a disaster - because Imagine This actually has good word of mouth coming in from out of town - because someone has extra money to throw around (and to those people, I will be happy to work for you vetting funding requests) there’s Rue Magique, currently previewing and soon to open at the Kings Head. And despite nine years in development, Rue Magique is a show that musical disaster fans will be talking about for years.

As the show is still in previews, I’m going to give the standard free passes: the hard working cast give it their absolute all here, especially Melanie LaBarrie as conflicted madame Desdemona and newcomer Nadia Di Mambro as the sweet voiced Sugar and despite the flaws in her book, Lisa Forrell’s direction gets the right stuff out of her cast. Any flaws with the acting or staging will undoubtedly be fixed by the end of previews.

Now for the carnage.

Rue Magique claims to be based on true stories, and while I have no doubt that such tragedy exists in real life, it’s a questionable area to be taking a musical. The plot here revolves around creole Desdemona, a demanding, game boy addict of an agoraphobic madame who runs a brothel in south London. She has three full timers: a British crack whore, a Jamaican dreaming of opening a nail salon, and a Latvian with iffy English who spends more of her time fulfilling Desdemona’s OCD cleaning demands than landing clients - aka vipers.

The show opens with a song about the run down area, the homeless, and the fierceness required to survive. The customers fight over the women (an early song talks about the air being rife with the smell of lubrication - rhymed with sexual frustration), and Desdemona lays down the rules, lording over her tiny domain. When daughter Sugar - it’s her thirteenth birthday today (despite looking 20) - gives her mother’s snacks to a homeless man, she’s sent out for more and talks to shop boy Rem (who’s 17 but looks 25) who offers to teach her kickboxing (to the tune of a drum machine backed song called “Flex”) as a way of chatting her up. Sugar then goes home and Desdemona informs her that she’s now old enough to start servicing the customers. Sugar sings a tender ballad proclaiming her dreams of a magic birthday party surrounded by a loving family (her father is AWOL), and she performs the last chorus while her head hangs off a table as she’s raped by a rather large man.

I’m going to repeat that bit because it’s a true Springtime for Hitler moment come to life. 13 year old Sugar sings the end of her “I Want” song as she’s being raped by a fattie. It’s not even shocking and edgy because di Mambro looks so much older, but it’s tasteless in the same way that The Blonde in the Thunderbird was tasteless when Suzanne Sommers sang “If I Only Had A Brain” as the voice representing her father boomed abuse.

The show goes all downhill from there. Rem sings to Sugar that not all men are evil, she turns against Desdemona and tries living on the street under the sometimes-watchful eye of the homeless man from the opening, it’s revealed that Rem is one of Desdemona’s old clients, and he eventually persuades the domineering mother to confront her past and reveal her daughter’s origins. I would think the right thing for Rem to do would be putting in a call to social services, but that doesn’t make for a good ending and the reveal comes too late in the second act for such an integration to play out in a way that resolves the mother-daughter tension. Of course, the actual ending isn’t so great either: Desdemona frees her daughter from sexual slavery, but only for tonight because it’s her birthday and she’s expected back at work tomorrow.

I wish I could be more positive about this show coming into town. Despite the squick factor of the characters’ ages (I’d believe it more if they were, say, 15 and 18 or 15 and 20), Forrell’s book does manage to hit most of the right emotional notes, but it’s undermined by Brett Kahr’s songs and their truly dreadful lyrics. Outside of two or three big numbers (the act one face-off between Desdemona and Sugar, the title song sung in Creole, and a comic relief number in the second act by three vipers), the lyrics are jaw-droppingly bad which is a shame because the melodies are nice though a bit bland.

If it were up to me to fix things up, I'd keep Lahr's melodies but bring in another lyricist. I’d also cut the interval and the second act opener (an extended comic song about keeping the house clean - like the aforementioned dream song) to keep the tension high. Likewise I'd try to clean up the some of loose ends and tighten up the character arcs: why does Sugar dream of the West End if she can only leave the house to buy groceries? Does Rem actually know about kickboxing and if so why not have him actually teach Sugar so that she can physically take care of herself by the act one conflict and come across as a real threat?

In the end, Rue Magique is sort of like a prostitute’s Annie crossed with BKLYN, except without the wealthy payoff. At this point, it's not even mock-musical East Hastings from the last series of Slings & Arrows. And yes, when going into the theatre I was thinking of this line from [title of show]: “When Bock and Harnick were writing Tenderloin / they were taking a risk to write a show about whores.” While I’m not sure if Rue Magique can be 100 people’s ninth favourite thing or not, but it may manage to become nine people’s favourite regardless of its flaws.

Where: Kings Head
When: Until 7 December, Tu-Sa @ 19:30, Sa/Su @ 15:30
How Much: £20 (Unreserved)/£25 (Reserved)
Concessions: £17.50. If you hold your ground you can try and get a discount on previews but there is no official discount.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £12.50 because the trainwreck value is that good.
RZ Other Notes: I think I spent about half of the show with my jaw agape from just how ridiculous things played out on stage. Also, I rag on the lyrics quite a bit so I should include some examples:
“Prepare yourself for explosive sex / but no, nothing risky / and she don’t take credit cards or personal cheques.” (this is from a song that's not supposed to be funny - and if it was, the crowd weren't laughing very much)
“When you’re threatened by a junkie / strike a pose and look real funky!”
“When the crop is ripe / put it in your pipe / all the whores become madonnas”
“He’s brave and bold / his bum is very cute / some day he may be mine”
“You must submit / you piece of shit!”
“To reclaim your self-respect / with strong detergent we disinfect”
“If there is soap / then there is hope”
“And so I sit with with my well thumbed pornographic magazine with pages stuck together”

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

REVIEW: "Shit Mix"

Before I go any further with this review, let’s get the formalities out of the way. Shit Mix is not a bad play, and I commend Leo Richardson for getting his first work this far.*

But does it really belong in the West End? Even at groovy funky Trafalgar Studios? No. No, it really doesn’t. Shit Mix (a slang term for what we yanks call a suicide cocktail) is a strictly by the book tick-box example of derivative youth theatre, and while it would be at home on the Oval House or Almeida’s (excellent) programmes for youth targeted works and audiences, it fails completely at reaching the teenage audience it so desperately seeks here. I saw this play on a Saturday night and I’d guess that a third of the audience were under 30. I was too lazy to try (and it’s increasingly hard to be certain), but I’m pretty sure I could have counted the actual under 18’s without needing to go past my figurative fingers. Of course, ticket prices are higher on weekends, but concession rates are the same, so I stand by my argument.

Onto the play itself. Wannabe chav LB has the hots for gothiloli Raggedy Anne but they’re too shy to tell each other. Obviously closeted friend Bent Ben is a go-between keeping everybody happy but he secretly fancies LB’s older brother Harry the Hottie who has a BIG SECRET. It’s the same BIG SECRET that you get in most teen plays so no points for guessing. Of course slutty girl Dirty Debbie fancies Harry as well but settles for prostituting herself to LB for £6.50 and a plate of chips.** In between these escapades everybody meets in the park, consumes mass quantities of alcohol, screws around, and substitutes internal monologues for interpretative dance. It’s a nice gimmick, and combined with Samantha Potter’s direction keeps the show moving along, but the upbeat choreographed curtain call set to the title song from Dreamgirls is unnecessary and contradicts the more downbeat ending.

All in all, I’m not really sure what the point of Shit Mix’s current run is. Teens aren’t going (it’s cheaper and hipper to get a DVD from Blockbuster) and there’s nothing in it for adults who aren’t nostalgic for a miserable time in most peoples’ lives or trying to understand “those darn kids today.” I suppose it’s all rather hypocritical of me to be saying this as well - I’m not that old, and I loved Dog Sees God (which recently ran in Manchester, though I saw the Off Broadway run) which covers almost identical territory but at least had the twist of subversively filtering its cliches through beloved childhood icons. With a veritable flood of exceptional productions running in the city right now, it seems a waste for grownups to go and see this.

*This is the internet, not a family friendly newspaper, so no, I'm not giving in to using asterisks.
**I wish I were making up these names and events, but they are in fact real parts of the show. The names are even displayed in the form of back-lit pop art.

Where: Trafalgar Studios 2
When: Until 25 October, M-Sa @ 19:45
How Much: £15 M/Th(Mat)/Sa(Mat), £22.50 all other performances
Concessions: £15
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £10. Fringe price for a fringe show and what you’ll pay for less-choice performance times at TKTS.
RZ Other Notes: For those wishing to be spoiled, the tick boxes here are: popular kid, closeted gay, suicide, goth kid, slut, drugs, boozing, party life, dissolving friendships, pop culture references, character fails at their art, the bad kid, no visible adults, scuffy costumes, generic “this could be anywhere” setting, profanity, big central event. Now, am I talking about Shit Mix, Dog Sees God, or this week’s runs of Neighbours and Hollyoaks?