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Tag Archives: London

Royal Vauxhall

A little more theatrical than cabaret, but a little more cabaret than theatre, Royal Vauxhall straddles the divide exceptionally well, and presented beautifully in the pub it was named after.

Telling the story of the night in 1988 when Princess Diana went to a gay bar in drag with Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett (no, I’d never heard of him either), Royal Vauxhall is named after the pub where it happened. Though the troupe


is touring the show, I was lucky enough to be in London while it was being performed at the very same Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which was rather a special moment.

Desmond O’Connor’s book is spot on for this kind of environment. Though it might be a little less interactive than most cabarets, it nonetheless allows for a real engagement with the audience that we rarely see in musical theatre. The music is loud and engaging, and there aren’t too many sappy moments to leave a pub audience bored.
And the material is just as well suited. The piece is truly hilarious and was well appreciated by the audience.

Sarah-Louise Young plays Diana, and she is charming and engaging throughout. Reuben R Kaye’s Freddie Mercury keeps the audience and the action on track, and is clearly a master of cabaret. And Stuart Saint is invariably relatable as Kenny Everett.

The show is set to tour the UK, but if they make it to Australia, I imagine there will be a receptive audience for them there too (wink, wink; nudge, nudge).

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 7 September 2017 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Teddy Ferrara

teddy ferraraThough somewhat confused, Teddy Ferrara is an engaging piece with some intriguing characters and an excellent cast.

Set on a university campus that sees more than it’s fair share of suicide, it explores the lives of a range of gay and not-so-gay characters and how they intersect around stigma and social activism. It’s absolutely engaging, deals with important issues that must be addressed, but it doesn’t quite manage to hold together as well as I wanted it to.

I fear it may be too politically-minded to be of any practical good. It covers, I think, too much ground, and delves into so many political issues that its narrative is mired and somewhat unclear. It wants to be at once a story while also being a missive, and in trying to be both, it succeeds at being neither. The missive’s premise, it seems, is articulated by a minor character, rather than, as should be the case on stage, demonstrated by the central plot. The very title itself obfuscates the drama by implying that the central plot is that of Teddy Ferrara, which it is not, by any means. Far prettier characters (I’m not just talking about the actors portraying them, but also these characters’ charisma) steal the show, with Teddy ending up little more than a plot device. Or perhaps that’s not true: the stories they tell are also compelling.

And this is the play’s biggest flaw. The playwright, Christopher Shinn, has developed several compelling stories, all of them worth telling:

  • Gabe’s somewhat pragmatic romance with Drew, interrupted by personal traumas and mild betrayals, would make a brilliant variation on the usual romantic play where the central characters, instead of falling madly in love, fall gently into a mixture of like and lust.
  • Jay’s interest in Gabe could be more than a mere subplot to that story.
  • Teddy Ferrara could also warrant a play that was actually about him, exploring the multiple personas of those who live online to escape the trauma of actual human interaction.
  • The ostensibly platonic relationship between Gabe and Tim would be an interesting drama.
  • The university president, with his hilarious working relationship with the provost, and their interactions with student representative groups could make a brilliant comedy.

As it stands, none of these narratives really take centre stage.

Despite the mild confusion of the competing sub-plots, Gabe, portrayed annoyingly (which is entirely appropriate) by Luke Newberry, was front and centre as a character. He is a wet handkerchief. Ostensibly altruistic and kind, but born with the benefits of good looks, and white male privilege, and displaying them in the worst possible way. His membership of the LGBTIQ minority is really the only reason he comes across with any sense of altruism at all. He is a poor choice for the university’s diversity panel, and of course endears himself to the establishment.

He is supported by the noteworthy performances of Ryan McParland, who is brilliantly awkward and absolutely endearing as the Teddy of the title, Nathan Wiley as his closeted questioning friend Tim, and Oliver Johnstone, whose irksome portrayal of the principled and very controlling boyfriend is not in any way endearing but nonetheless very recognisable and absolutely believable.

So I am left a little flat. The play was engaging and the performances brilliant. But at the risk of being as annoyingly principled as Drew, I must remind myself that although a politician may articulate, a playwright must demonstrate. It is something I always try to remember when writing, though I, too, fail.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 28 November 2015 in British Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Theatre

 

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La Soiree

la soireeGobsmacked.

Many of you know I’m not big on variety shows, acrobatics or sight gags. Circus is all well and good, but I’d rather see a film usually. Well this is not much more than a circus, but it is so much more than a circus! La Soiree line up consummate professionals to impress and engage.

Take Captain Frodo, for instance. He’s billed as the son of a famous Norse magician, and brilliantly portrays a super nerdy and uber skinny buffoon. He doesn’t rest on his ability to pass through a tennis racket and a slightly smaller tennis racket, oh no! He plays the buffoon with the utmost professionalism, getting himself tangled up in a microphone cord, tripping over a stool and falling off the stage. It is this aspect of his routine, of course, that endears him so well to the audience, bringing a great round of applause when he returns in the second half. It is also why I was so taken with this show.

It’s just not about the amazing feats of acrobatics or the spectacle, no matter how impressive they are: it’s about the way they engage.

The English Gents perform some brilliant acrobatic work, but there would be nothing terribly interesting beyond the skill involved if they weren’t puffing a pipe or reading a newspaper while doing so.

And for those of you who usually like the circus, well you’re easily impressed, so there’s no need to bother with La Soiree, but if you do decide to come, be prepared to have the bar raised!

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 26 November 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Paddington

paddingtonIt’s not always that I manage to get lost in a film, and this one took me by surprise!

Halfway through this year, as my daughter’s tenth birthday approached and I was living in the antipodes, I popped (I literally cycled) over to Harrods and found a copy of Michael Bond’s famous novel and a Paddington teddy bear. I then rode with that bear over to Paddington Station and snapped his picture with a Great Western train, and popped them into a parcel for my girl in Melbourne. And to find shortly afterwards that Studio Canal was about to release a major film just meant that I could share this a little more with my daughter.

Well, it hardly needed this kind of personalisation, as it turned out. A simple but playful approach to telling the story makes this film very relatable and engaging. Add some brilliant performances by some remarkable actors and it is truly something special.

Hugh Bonneville is essentially just reprising Lord Crawley in his role as Mr Brown, but Sally Hawkins, who plays his wife, is just brilliant. The children are likewise splendid, but I have come away in awe at Nicole Kidman‘s transformation into Millicent. I was in some doubt about whether it was Kidman or not, her transformation was so thorough.

It’s very rare for me to tear up in any film, so it was a surprise to do so in this one, which is definitely not a tear-jerker by any stretch of the imagination. The film’s setting in the part of London where I spent several happy months living this year, and the truism it finishes on that “anyone in London can fit in”, really sang to me. And although the practicalities of life drag the romance of any place violently down to earth, this film manages to capture much of London’s charm without really whitewashing it. Although, I could be terribly biased!

But whatever way you look at it, this is simply a great story told with vitality and boldness. Rarely does any film manage to tell a story as well as this one does, so it really shouldn’t be missed.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 31 December 2014 in British Film, Film, Studio Canal

 

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Burbage

burbageThere really is an over abundance of plays derived from the stories that surround Shakespeare’s life. Though I am getting a little bored of them, I am nonetheless drawn to further explorations of the context in which the Bard lived, and speculations about his times.

Burbage has been one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Essentially a one hour rant imagined from the realities of Richard Burbage’s life and the common themes of the actor’s existence, it explores these with some depth and develops a strong image of the man left behind as the great playwrights and actors of the Elizabethan era fell off the twig in the early seventeenth century.

Richard Burbage, for those who’ve either forgotten about him or never heard of him (really?), was an actor who performed lead roles in the premieres of many now-canonical works of Elizabethan drama. Playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote roles with him in mind, and he was owner of the Globe Theatre with his brother.

In this monologue, he engages an imaginary young actor, Tom, who is seeking to continue his acting career past the roles of his youth.

Neil McGarry’s greatest achievement in his performance is creating a believable ‘Tom’ in the auditorium. While I am not a fan of monologues, and the idea of an invisible and inaudible second character in a monologue usually seems extremely naff, I was impressed to find myself fully engaged in the reality of the piece. The result is an engaging performance that gives humble recognition to one of the artists who contributed so much to the golden age of English theatre.

Despite some oddities of accent (which I will happily forgive with the knowledge that the English of Burbage’s day sounded a little more like the modern American accent than modern Received Pronunciation), McGarry was entirely believable and made a strong connection with his audience.

This was the last performance at the New York Fringe, but it’s likely to pop up again with the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company, and is worth a look if you’re an artist.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 22 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Matilda

matildaWhen I left my job at the ACT Chamber of Commerce in March, my colleagues kindly presented me with some cash with which I was to take my daughter to a West End show when we arrived in London. Although I fully intended to do this anyway, it was hardly going to be possible to see every show worth seeing here. The decision, I’m almost ashamed to admit, came down to celebrity. Once I’d seen Tim Minchin‘s name, there was no doubt about whether I would see this show.

I booked for a date early in June shortly after arriving in London, but then found myself cast in The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor, and the performance dates clashed. Reorganising myself around the production company’s overly draconian ticketing rules, I tried again for early July, and promptly forgot about the booking until a little message popped up on my phone a couple of days beforehand. It really is nice to encounter surprises you plant for yourself!

My girl wasn’t all that keen in the lead up. She is, after all, almost a teenager, and therefore doesn’t like things planned for her. I attempted to appeal to her baser instincts by locating a purveyor of chips and gravy (a rare find in London, and never of notable quality), but even then, as we queued for the cheap seats in the nose-bleed section, I endured the Scorn of the Adolescent. Right up until the show started, of course. For a girl who is accustomed much more to fringe and pro-am theatre, it was an engaging spectacle, and the show held her attention throughout (though she denies it).

As one would expect from a show that sells premium tickets in the £100+ range, it was technically brilliant. The continual transformation of the set was enthralling, the performers were almost as hilarious and engaging as Tim Minchin usually is, and though I’d never encountered this particular Roald Dahl tale in literary form, it conveyed all the magic of his other works. Best of all, it was absolutely hilarious! Though the theme is serious, and delivers a strong message about personal efficacy and justice, it is nonetheless an absolute romp.

Matilda does suffer from some of the more common ills of musicals. The characters could use more development, and spectacle sometimes overtakes the story. Nonetheless, I could certainly relate the image of the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, to my frustrations with my daughter’s current school, and their staff’s attitude to students. It opened up some conversation afterwards about the poor behaviour of her teachers, which was of course valuable, as I was able to remind her that teachers aren’t always right and utilise Matilda’s admonition that sometimes you’ve got to be a bit naughty.

We two, before going in.

We two, before going in.

I would love to have been able to engage with the character of Matilda more fully, though. As much as I felt her journey, I wanted to see more humanity, and I have to hold myself back from excusing this shortcoming simply because the actor, Cara Jenkins, is barely 10 years old. Her performance is impeccable in technical terms, and of course that alone is an achievement at such an age, but as much as she had me on her side, I didn’t quite engage with her as a character as much as I engaged with her as an actor. And that’s a real problem. That there is the crux of the matter; to suspend disbelief we must forget that there is an actor involved at all; otherwise it’s a mere spectacle, and not a story.

But maybe I saw her on a bad night. Jenkins is otherwise the living embodiment of Matilda’s line “you mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you”, and gets ten points just for that. She is cheering on my side and though the performance may not have moved me at the gut level as it might have, she absolutely engaged me as an educator disgusted by the modern obsession with denying students their humanity. The story’s railing against the mock latin motto by which the British and Australian Ministers for Education pursue their evil plans, bambinatum est maggitum, or ‘children are maggots’ is entirely necessary. It really was a spectacular evening overall, and unlike most musicals, it tells a necessary story.

My Musical Theatre playlist just got bigger, and by the time I return to Oz, I expect I will have the best numbers memorised.

My daughter’s post is over on our walkabout blog.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 2 July 2014 in British Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Theatre, West End

 

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Romeo & Juliet

romeo and julietIn less than a week I will be taking the stage in London for the first time at The Space on the Isle of Dogs. The Space is a quaint repurposed venue full of character and the first thing I noticed on my arrival was that Romeo and Juliet is currently in production, so of course I had to pop along.

I love Romeo and Juliet principally, I think, because though its plot plays hard and fast with the willing suspension of disbelief, its characters are drawn with impeccable honesty.

Tonight, I was treated to one of those brilliant experiences where the familiar becomes new again. The performers delivered deliciously light renditions of Shakespeare’s characters, while also delving richly into the great stock of pathos Shakespeare provided.

I was particularly taken with Lucy Bailey, who took us on the Nurse’s amusing and moving journey of joys and sorrows. Juliet was also given an unusually engaging lightness by Rebecca Burnett that provided the space for joining her on her highs and lows.

There was some novel (and very clever) casting in the form of turning Benvolio into a Benvolia, and Gregory also underwent a sex change. Both characters benefited from finding their feminine side, I thought, though it didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose other than utilising the eternal glut of female actors and relieving the difficulty of fielding a male cast.

And herein lies my one reservation about this production. Despite a couple of interesting choices such as this, and despite some commendable performances, there’s no spark of brilliance to make it truly noteworthy.

These qualities don’t quite compensate for a rather staid envisioning of a text with such broad possibilities. It just seemed far too constrained to its conventional setting, and despite the freshness of the performances, I just wanted something more to sink my teeth into.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 29 May 2014 in Birdiedoes, British Theatre, Theatre

 

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