Thursday, 29 March 2018

Miss Nightingale - Hippodrome Casino

Miss Nightingale

Hippodrome Casino
Cranbourn Street,
Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7JH

Wow! This has been a week filled with some amazing nights at the theatre and Miss Nightingale was a perfect finish to a lovely week, before we fly out for a short break.

A casino isn't the first place you would think of as a site for an evening of entertainment (which did not include some fun at the tables). I had however been to this venue before for an excellent brunch and was quite excited when Joanne of Love Pop-Ups London mentioned the opportunity to review Miss Nightingale at the Casino Theatre.

Friends who had watched Miss Nightingale at the vaults last year, had really enjoyed it, but I had missed the opportunity given their short run and my over-full calendar.

We arrived at the Hippodrome. This time, I wasn't asked for my id  (as this is a casino, it is one of the few places in the UK that does ask for id with age proof, so do remember to carry one). I guess I'm finally showing my age ;)

We headed up to the first floor, perusing the fascinating display cases of memorabilia from previous theatre performances at the venue.

We stood in line to get our wrist bands that would allow us entry and exit of the small theater. The tickets included a complimentary drink coupon. The drinks coupon was valid on some house wines, so the waitress was really surprised when 3 of us asked if we could use the coupon for a non-alcoholic beverage. She got permission to accept our coupons for sodas and orange juice and we were set.

This is a really small and intimate theatre. Seating for the show was arranged around 4 seats to a table. There were a few comfortable looking booths towards the rear. There are around 3 rows of tables, if you include the booths. We got a seat in the middle and this was the perfect distance to the stage. The whole seating arrangement fit in completely with the show which is set mostly in a nightclub.

The location and seats were good, the only criticism of the theater is that around half way through the play, it got really cold inside and we had to put our jackets back on and order hot coffee.

Miss Nightingale is set in an underground cabaret club in the heart of London in 1942. Maggie Brown, a nurse and aspiring singer and her best friend George Nowodny, a songwriter and Jewish refugee, become the headliners at 'The Cockpit', the newest night club in town, owned by wealthy socialite and RAF war-hero, Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe. Maggie’s married, black-marketeer beau Tom Connor, paves the way for ‘Miss Nightingale’ to be born, and the musical duo quickly find themselves with a West-End hit!

However, what the leading lady doesn’t know, is that George and Sir Frank are hiding a secret and as Miss Nightingale’s success grows, so does a forbidden love between the two men.

The play deals with so many pressing issues of that period. The rampant homophobia, where homosexuals were suspected of being spies simply because it was thought that their sexual preferences made them susceptible to be  blackmailed by the enemy. Class differences, Jewish refugees, Unwed motherhood are all themes that are touched upon in this cabaret musical by Matthew Bugg.

The six member cast is multi-talented. They act, they dance, they sing, they play multiple musical instruments. They sing like angels... even though a lot of it is double entendre.

While Lauren Chinery plays the lead as Miss Nightingale (also playing the piano, clarinet, flute & saxophone), for me the star of the show was Matthew Floyd Jones who plays Jewish refugee George Nowodny. His role was more nuanced and his voice is sublime.

Oliver Mawdsley as RAF war-hero, Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe and Adam Langstaff as Maggie’s conniving beau Tom Connor are also excellent. Matthew Bugg has researched WWII era London extensively and it shows, in every setting and all the lyrics of Miss Nightingale from Meine Liebe Berlin to Stand Up & Be Counted. From Let Me Play on Your Pipe to You've Got to Get Your Sausage Where You Can.

The lyrics may be double entendre, but they are so much more than that. They convey the hardships of war time Britain, the deaths of young men at war, women being compelled to step out into the work space, but still expected to look beautiful and well made up all the time, the lack of basic provisions like tea and sugar that were considered luxuries and the black market that grew up to supply these and clothing items like nylons and silk.

Overall, Miss Nightingale was a much better experience than Chicago, which I watched on Monday. And, I FINALLY got to see some tap dancing!

Miss Nightingale is playing at Hippodrome Casino Theatre until 6th May. Tickets start at £22.50. I would definitely recommend this one.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Ferryman - Gielgud Theatre

The Ferryman

Gielgud Theatre
Shaftesbury Avenue,
London, W1D 6AR

Northern Ireland, 1981. The Carney family prepare for the annual harvest with a day of hard work on the land and a traditional night of feasting and celebration ahead. But this year they will be interrupted by a visitor.

This is just the simplest possible introduction to this play directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes. The writer of this play that has been nominated for EIGHT Olivier Awards this year is Jez Butterworth whose most recent work on television was the fantastical Britannia - which I quite enjoyed, but after being addicted to "Game of Thrones", that's a difficult genre for anyone else to measure up to.

The Ferryman however is a different matter altogether and here Jez Butterworth has hit it out of the park. The play lasts just over 3 hours, but the intensity is maintained throughout and there isn't a single moment where audience interest lags. It has a huge ensemble cast including some kids, a baby, a goose and a rabbit! I don't remember any play in the recent past which had live animals on stage...

Rob Howell's set is picture perfect and is literally a character in this ensemble cast.

The play is rooted in the tragedy of "the disappeared" during the Irish Troubles : where family members just disappeared with no body to be found, sometimes for decades. Butterworth has said When somebody disappears for 10 years time stops, which is what I really think the play is about.” Laura Donnelly (who originally played the role of Caitlin Carney) was just a child when her uncle was taken away by the IRA, shot and dumped in a bog — a story that is retold in The Ferryman.

While this is the heart of the story, the play is also about family dynamics and relationships, teenage angst, patriotism and how it can be twisted into radicalisation and the private devastation by wars.

When the play started, we were a little concerned about being able to follow the Irish brogue, but after the first few minutes, we quickly fell into the cadence and were thoroughly drawn into the family drama.

The acting is absolutely brilliant and as an audience member, it feels like you have stepped into a charged Christmas family dinner at the most inopportune moment, when you don't know if it would be politer to stay or go.

Rosalie Craig as Caitlin Carney, Owen McDonnell as Quinn Carney, Sian Thomas as bitter Aunt Pat, Justin Edwards as slow Tom Kettle, Stella McCusker as faraway Aunt Maggie, Mark Lambert as Uncle Pat trying to steer the conversation away from explosive topics are each outstanding. But for me, the absolute stand out in this fantastic cast was Alex Warburton as Declan Corcoran.

The Ferryman is very very powerful storytelling and definitely worth a full 5 stars. Its running at the Gielgud Theatre until 19th May. It has been extended a couple of times in the last few months, but if you can find tickets, don't wait, just go.

Disclainer : Images taken from The Ferryman website

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Grinning Man - Trafalgar Studios

The Grinning Man Musical
Trafalgar Studios
14 Whitehall,
London SW1A 2DY

In April 1869, Victor Hugo published a French Novel L'Homme qui rit. The English translation was The Man Who Laughs. It has since been adapted for stage and screen.

In 2016 a musical adaptation titled The Grinning Man opened at the Bristol Old Vic, followed by a transfer to the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End from December 2017. The writer is Carl Grose and Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler are the Composer-Lyricists. The tragi-comic musical is directed by Tom Morris who co-directed War Horse.

The adapted story tells of an orphan boy Grinpayne who finds another orphaned baby girl in the freezing forest. They are rescued by a wolf Homo and taken in by a carnival vendor Ursus. Grinpayne has a mutilated face (and is perhaps the inspiration for the Joker in the Batman series) and Dea (the girl) is blind. They grow up together, with Grinpayne's disfigurement being used as a carnival attraction.

The carnival comes to London where royalty happens to see Grinpayne and instead of being horrified or disgusted or treating him as an object of humour or ridicule, Prince Dirry-Moir arrives at some kind of self-awareness and self-actualisation which pulls him out of his ennui. He introduces Grinpayne to Princess Josiana who wants to marry him.

But who is Grinpayne?
How did his face get so thoroughly mutilated as a child?
Why can't he remember his past?
Whose love is true? Dea's or Princess Josiana's?

The story itself is a tale about class differences and the vagaries of Royal edicts. Originally set in 17th Century England, under the reign of King James II it was also a political commentary of the times.

At the Trafalgar studios, the stage sets encompass the whole theater and it feels as though you are actually under the big top of a carnival. The sets by designer Jon Bausor are stunning, the music hummable and memorable, the acting is very good and the story makes you laugh and cry in turns. However, THE stand out of the show for me is the outstanding puppetry by Finn Caldwell and Toby OliƩ for Gyre & Gimble (best known for their work on War Horse). The puppets aren't caricatures, but characters themselves. The wolf and the younger versions of Grinpayne and Dea. So life like and relatable, it is very easy to empathise with them.

Louis Maskell as Grinpayne and Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro are phenomenal. Amanda Wilkin as Josiana hits some fantastic notes.

Definitely a must watch. Whether you enjoy, theater, musicals or puppetry there's something here for everybody. Its running until April 2018 at Trafalgar Studios.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Marriage of Figaro - Hackney Empire

The Marriage of Figaro

Hackney Empire
291 Mare Street,
E8 1EJ

After an initial disastrous experience at the English National Opera in 2016, the husband has been quite adamant against watching another live performance. So I've had to be content with watching recordings on Sky Arts of some of the performances that I was interested in. However, after visiting Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at the Victoria & Albert Museum in January this year, he was willing to give it another chance.

He said that he would be open to watching a live performance as long as it was in English and had subtitles and was preferably a comedy. His other addendum was that he didn't want to have to get 'all dressed up' for it. So I had been keeping my eyes open to find a live opera in London that fulfilled these criteria.

So I was very excited when I saw that the English Touring Opera was taking The Marriage of Figaro on tour, and would be playing at Hackney Empire on 28th February and 3rd of March.

Since I was familiar with this comedy, I knew this would be a much better introduction into Opera for him. Set in a single day, Figaro and Susanna have to overcome every obstacle put in their way by Count Almaviva and his cronies before they can finally be united as husband and wife.

We braved the melting snow and got to the theatre early and had time to admire the stunning building. We didn't have time to go to the Empire Bar next door, but there was a concession stand behind the seating area in the theater, where we were able to get some hot black coffee and chips.

When we got to our seats, we realised that the online chart was a bit misleading, what I thought were forward facing double seats were dual sideways facing seats with a table between them. What made it even more awkward was when another couple said they had the same seats and we figured out that the seat numbers were duplicated. Fortunately someone from management came over and sorted it out, giving them a different table and we could stretch out more comfortably to watch the production sideways.

The hall itself is beautiful and its one of the loveliest stage curtains that I've seen. The sets by Neil Irish were in a lovely Wedgwood blue and moved around a bit to keep up with the change in settings. The ensemble directed by Christopher Stark was lovely.

The beginning was a bit disconcerting, with the music being accompanied by actors preparing for a play, rolling clothes lines along and taking selfies. But once the actual performance began, things settled down and we were able to enjoy the rest of it.

The absolute stand out performances for me were Ross Ramgobin as Figaro (especially when he continues singing as he performs push-ups) and Katherine Aitken as Cherubino. Rachel Redmond as Susanna, Dawid Kimberg as Count Almaviva and Nadine Benjamin as his Countess were also very good.

It was a good evening well spent and worth the multiple train changes in the freezing cold. The husband agreed that he did enjoy this performance much more, but given a choice, he would still prefer theatre any day.

The Marriage of Figaro tours to Truro, Poole, Chester, Buxton, Guildford, Snape, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Canterbury, Norwich, Bromley, Sheffield, Durham, Perth, Exeter, Leicester, York, Stoke-on-Trent, Ulverston and Blackpool until 9 June. Check dates and book on the English Touring Opera Website.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Dry Powder - Hampstead Theatre

Dry Powder

Hampstead Theatre
Eton Avenue,
Swiss Cottage,
London, NW3 3EU

Rick runs a private equity firm. The play begins with him caught in the middle of a publicity nightmare since his firm forced massive layoffs at a supermarket chain at the same time as he was celebrating a lavish engagement party, which even had a live elephant.

His two partners Seth and Jenny have completely differing views on how to salvage their reputation. Seth has brokered an opportunity to buy a firm called Landmark Luggage. Seth believes they need to do something to develop the firm and improve its market share, increase jobs within the country and which will bring them positive publicity to outweigh the negative, but Jenny is all about maximising returns, by any means necessary.

The title Dry Powder refers to marketable securities that are highly liquid and considered cash-like.

The set was different. The mirrors in the backdrop reflected the audience, very unique.

I originally bought the tickets blindly as a chance to watch Tom Riley (whom we loved in Da Vinci's Demons) and Hayley Atwell (who we admired in Conviction much more than in her role as Agent Peggy Carter - but then I also think that Captain America and Agent Peggy Carter are the weakest superheroes in the Marvel universe) live.

It was a thrill to watch them live and Hayley Atwell's performance as Jenny was brilliant. While it would be easy to turn Jenny into an evil caricature hellbent on profit at any cost, Atwell humanised her as a mathematical genius, albeit one for whom the human cost (jobs, emotions, families) is irrelevant to any calculations. In fact, it is Riley's Seth who ends up looking naive in the end, especially given Joseph Balderrama as Jeff's about face in the end.

Dry Powder has plenty of moments that make you laugh and others that make you think. We quite enjoyed Sarah Burgess script. I can't remember the last time we watched a play which felt like a dramatised version of office life. This hedge fund drama is a good peek into the life of private finance. Anyone who is fairly aware of financial markets would enjoy this performance. There are a lot of technical terms bandied about and if numbers and finance make your head spin, then you would lose out on a lot of the dialogue.

Given that the Hampstead Theatre is a newer theatre, the seats are all comfortable and have a good view of the stage. No pillars in the middle of seating to create one of those dreaded "restricted view" spots.

Edited to Add : Dry Powder has been nominated for Best New Comedy at the 2018 Olivier Awards

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics - Victoria & Albert Museum

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

Victoria & Albert Museum
Cromwell Road,
London, SW7 2RL

Exhibition runs from 30 September 2017 to 25 February 2018

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics is being held at the V&A museum with the support of the Royal Opera House. It explores the history of opera from its origins in late-Renaissance Italy to the present day. Told through the lens of seven premieres in seven European cities, this immersive exhibition takes you on a journey through nearly 400 years, culminating in the international explosion of opera in the 20th and 21st centuries.

As with some of the previous exhibitions at the V&A, there is a major auditory component to this exhibition. But this time, they have partnered with Bowers & Wilkins and the quality has improved dramatically.

Each section highlights some of the main operas of that city and goes on to describe how the politics and realities of that period influenced the opera or vice versa. From the stunning ostentatious operas of Europe to the starkness of Russian opera in the 1930's, it takes you on a whirlwind tour of history around the world.

The final audio visual amphi-theater is very good, but its difficult for any other exhibition to live up to the Pink Floyd finale section.

I'm not a huge fan of the opera, but this exhibition is amazing. The husband until now has been much more strongly set against watching opera. But after this exhibition, he says he is open to watching a live performance as long as it is in English and has subtitles and is preferably a comedy. So that's my next mission, to find a live opera in London that fulfills these criteria.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Blood Rite at Guildhall Courtyard

The show was advertised as A spectacular, digitally-animated new outdoor dance show. Set on the site of London’s Roman amphitheatre, an explosive fusion of urban dance, music and video projection transforms the facades of Guildhall Yard. Using the latest technology in motion tracking, combined with live dance and cutting edge hip-hop music, Blood Rite shows an unforgettable series of provocative scenes that both reveal the horror of the arena and celebrate the perseverance of the gladiatorial spirit. Commissioned by the City of London Corporation.

We had watched other digitally animated shows at this location and were quite excited about it.

This year (20 & 21 October 2017), the animation was beamed across 3 sides of the square rather than just one and there was a large stage erected in front of the museum for the dancers.

The information we saw was that the show would last 20 minutes, so we expected the show to be repeated at every 30 minute interval. However when we reached there at 7:30, the show was half way through, so we caught the tail end of it.

The dancing was nice, but I don't know how much it added to the experience. Plus there was very bright light from the side near the church, so all the ambiance and the magical feel of previous shows here was kind of missing. It felt like you had arrived at the rehearsals of the show rather than the show itself, if that makes sense. The animation wsan't very informative either.

City of London puts up some amazing shows, but unfortunately this one, did not take our breath away like some of the shows that preceded this.