“Immersed in history on the stage where it happened!”
On the 17th November, 1603 in The Great Hall, Winchester hundreds gathered expectantly as Sir Walter Ralegh was brought before the Court to be tried for treason. On the anniversary of this historic trial 415 years later an audience again gathered in the Great Hall to hear the trial re-enacted from verbatim accounts by sources present at the original trial and compiled, edited, dramatised and directed by Oliver Chris. The only difference this time was the absence of ruffs and doublets in favour of the bureaucratic dress of a modern day courthouse.
With 12 members of the audience sworn in as jury members, the performance became a court hearing as the Attorney, Coke, played by Nathalie Armin proceeded to read the indictment and deliver ‘the proofs’. As in 1603 it was done with ‘intemperate zeal’ as Coke declared to the jury and gallery that Ralegh was “the most vile and execrable traitor that ever lived” haranguing and attacking him at every turn. Modern dress maybe but with no right to counsel and with little or no protection from judges, Popham, Cecil and Howard, Ralegh, was left to defend himself against the circumstantial, somewhat contradictory and often hearsay evidence levelled at him.
Simon Paisley Day gives an impressive and studied performance as Ralegh, railing against the court’s decision not to produce the only witness to the alleged conspiracy, Lord Cobham, whilst entreating the jury to accept his protestations of innocence.
At the conclusion of the evidence the jury were taken out to consider their verdict and given just 15 minutes, the time it took the original jury to deliberate and make a decision. Joined by the Clerk of the Court to ‘guide’ us through the evidence, the ‘12 good men and true’ or in this case 7 good women and 5 good men, set about their task having diligently taken notes throughout. A straw poll at the start of the debate revealed a unanimous group but with the Clerk’s interpretation of the evidence, an imperious Amanda Wright, after a quarter of an hour, which flew by, 5 members had been swayed. As the Foreman of the Jury it would not be appropriate to reveal our majority verdict save only that some of us would have been be-knighted and some beheaded!
Whilst one can re-enact history, even with the benefit of hindsight, one cannot rewrite it. The reaction of the audience when the verdict was read out was testament to just how much everyone had become enthralled with the drama being played out in front of them.
After its short run at the Winchester Great Hall, 16th-18th November, it transfers to the atmospheric Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe for a limited run from the 24th-30th November.
“These awards are a huge round of applause for all those unsung heroes who make the theatregoing experience the best it can possibly be!”
This post is a little less ‘theatre reviews’ and a little more ‘reviewing theatres’. We at The Phoenix Arts Club recognise the importance that theatre venues have on the overall experience on going to see a show – and we’ve heard some equally entertaining stories from the teams themselves too! Today, WhatsOnStage presented the first ever WhatsOffStage Awards – that’s right! In a small ceremony near Green Park, the venues were taking centre stage and being celebrated for the hard work they do.
In an announcement last month Sita McIntosh, WOS’s Chief Operating Officer, said; “We are delighted to announce the first ever WhatsOffStage Awards this year. We want to celebrate the areas of the industry that don’t always receive the recognition they deserve but which are instrumental in ensuring audiences and communities are able to engage with and enjoy live theatre. These awards are a huge round of applause for all those unsung heroes who make the theatregoing experience the best it can possibly be!”
And the winners are: The National Theatre (Most Accessible Theatre), Hull Truck Theatre (Best Box Office), The Unicorn Theatre (Most Child-Friendly Theatre), The Young Vic (Best Community Theatre), The Other Palace (Best Food & Drink), Hope Mill Theatre (Best Front of House Team), Prince Edward Theatre (Best Stage Door), Victoria Palace Theatre (Best Theatre Facilties), Shakespeare’s Globe (Best Theatre Website) and Hope Mill Theatre (Favourite Theatre).
We at The Phoenix Arts Club congratulate all the winners and, most importantly, every theatre team who without, the show would simply not go on. Now come on down to us and celebrate – we’re open past curtain call after all!
Photos of some of the nominated venues and winners:
Top (left to right): Hull Truck Theatre, The Other Palace, The National Theatre.
Bottom: Hope Mill Theatre
It’s not always wise to re-imagine a piece of work previously fêted as a great musical but when the composer gives his blessing and that composer is Stephen Sondheim we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Director Marianne Elliot’s gender swapping Company not only works but brings the 1970’s musical bang up to date, adds a whole new dimension and is, dare I say it, an improvement on the original.
Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie hits her 35th birthday and regardless of a really good job, a great apartment and several boyfriends, an awareness of a ticking body clock and whether it’s time to commit looms large especially when surrounded by well-meaning friends, all couples, who have opinions and are not slow in sharing.
One of those couples is Paul (Alex Gaumond) and his fiancé Jamie (Jonathan Bailey). Originally Amy, but in this updated version it makes complete sense that Bobbie would have at least one male couple amongst her friends and without having to change any of the dialogue, Bailey gives an incredibly honest, searing and funny performance of “Getting Married Today”, a man, on the morning of his wedding, suddenly struck by the realisation of his situation, previously denied to him and getting cold feet, albeit temporarily!
Another of Elliott’s great coups is the luring of Broadway royalty Patti LuPone back to the West End stage after 25 years away. The multiple Olivier, Tony and Grammy award winner said she wouldn’t do another musical after her last show War Paint closed in 2017, declaring them too gruelling and exhausting, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with Elliott – and thank goodness!
LuPone’s star quality and portrayal of the acerbic Joanne is sheer class and no musical theatre fan worthy of the name should miss this opportunity to witness her imperious performance, not just of Ladies Who Lunch, but throughout. Everybody rise!
Completing the line-up is Mel Giedroyc as Sarah, George Blagden as PJ, Ashley Campbell as Peter, Richard Fleeshman as Andy, Richard Henders as David, Ben Lewis as Larry, Daisy Maywood as Susan, Jennifer Saayeng as Jenny, Matthew Seadon-Young as Theo and Gavin Spokes as Harry and there’s not a weak link to be found as they master Liam Steele’s clever choreography around a very effective set designed by the Olivier and Tony winning Bunny Christie, who previously collaborated with Elliott on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
From Sarah and Harry’s sitting room, featuring some very funny competitive martial arts, Bobbie’s bedroom with multiple doors and overlapping visitors to subway train carriages carrying Another Hundred People, Company sweeps you along on a journey through New York peppered with wit, irony, regret, bitterness and hope.
Craig’s Bobbie is a complex mix of defiance, confusion, denial, longing and finally an understanding and acceptance of who she is and what she wants and her rendition of Being Alive, is yet another interpretation of what’s gone before but no less effective.
This production is stylish, sublime and simply marvellous. Oh Mr Sondheim, What Would We Do Without You?
Company is at the Gielgud Theatre and has just extended its run to March 30.
“Arguably the best play this year!”
Earlier this year, the Young Vic presented the world premiere of The Inheritance – a two-part, seven hour play by American playwright, Matthew Lopez about a group of gay men in New York and their lives but, under the surface, we see a community still dealing with the aftermath of the AIDS Crisis from the generation before. The play has received critical acclaim and has now transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End.
What seems to be a mix of ‘Angels in America’ and ‘Howard’s End’ (the latter is credited as the script’s inspiration), Lopez’s play mainly focuses on the relationship of Eric Glass and Toby Darling (played by Kyle Soller and Andrew Burlap respectively). After receiving the news that his rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side will soon no longer be his, Eric decides to keep the news from Toby – who he worries will leave him. Toby is in the middle of re-writing his first novel for the stage and depends on the financial and emotional stability that Eric provides. Soon, the couple meet young, attractive, budding actor Adam (Samuel H Levine) who causes friction between them. Alongside Eric’s growing friendship with Walter (Paul Hilton), a fascinating older gay man with a house that has tremendous history, things start to develop in ways that Eric and Toby could never imagine.
Bob Crowley’s set is simple but effective. A large communal table that all the actors sit along as it raises and lowers throughout. The play starts with a group of writers unable to find a way to start “their story” and they have the assistance of E M Forster himself (also played by Hilton). The story starts as a homage to the opening line in Howard’s End (“One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister”), “One may as well begin with Toby’s voicemails”. Other plot points such as property, finance, politics and community reflect strongly with those in Howard’s End.
Whilst the first part of this two-part play breaks the characters down, the second starts to build them back anew. We close the first part on Eric in Walter’s house, outside of the city, where Walter took his friends to spend their final days and look after them during the AIDS epidemic. The stage is then flooded by ‘ghosts’ of those men and it is one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have seen in recent years.
We are soon introduced to other complex characters such as Walter’s husband, Henry (John Benjamin Hickey), a billionaire republican with viewpoints that challenges those of Eric’s peers. This involves a feisty debate in the second act regarding the 2016 presidential election that showcases Lopez’s impeccable writing talent.
With the subject matter and length, The Inheritance seems like a heavy commitment even for the avid theatre goer. But Lopez’s ability, along with Stephen Daldry’s masterful direction, to craft scenes and finish acts is similar to those of a television boxset. You just want to keep watching! Hilton’s performances are a highlight and Vanessa Redgrave, who shows up very near the end, provides another beautiful, insightful performance as the only female in this astonishing cast.
The Inheritance was a clear choice to transfer to the West End and now it can be seen at the Noel Coward Theatre, for a limited period, until January 19. The play is touching, emotional and frequently hilarious. Many would ask if this two-part show justifies its length. Perhaps not, but you won’t be mad at the time spent watching arguably the best play this year!
Photos: Tristram Kenton
You can buy tickets for The Inheritance by clicking;
“New musicals in the West End are few and far between and to have a show as innovative as Come from Away moving in, we are soaring with delight”
A new show is flying into the Phoenix Theatre next year! Come From Away, the Tony Award winning musical, finds a new home in the West End from January 2019. The remarkably true story based on planes being diverted to a small Canadian town due to the 9/11 attacks (collectively bringing with them 7,000 passengers) stars musical theatre sensation Rachel Tucker and a fantastic cast of talents from the UK and Ireland.
The European premiere will be at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin this December before flying over to London’s glistening West End. Music, lyrics and book have been penned by Tony and Grammy nominated writing duo, Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Directed by Christopher Ashley (who won the Tony in 2017 for Best Direction of a Musical), the show is about the tenacity of the human spirit and the kindness shared to those in times of need. Tissues at the ready, folks!
The multiple role show consists of an impeccable cast – Rachel Tucker, Jenna Boyd, Nathan Campbell, Clive Carter, Mary Doherty, Robert Hands, Helen Hobson, Jonathan Andrew Hume, Harry Morrison, Emma Salvo, David Shannon and Cat Simmons. As we were treated to a few numbers from the show at the musicals official launch in Canada House, Trafalgar Square, this ensemble cast show that the West End is in for something very special indeed! Harmonies are tight and the music is universally appealing – especially the final number previewed, “Somewhere In The Middle of Nowhere”.
Come From Away will be produced by Smith and Barnett Theatricals, Junkyard Dog Productions as well as the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, who are credited as co-producer. Rehearsals begin next month and the whole team are eagerly awaiting to take flight.
Sankoff and Hein discussed how they never imagined Come From Away to be as successful as it has been. They assumed the show would be produced by smaller theatre companies and schools due to its subject matter but now with the accolades under their belts, multiple international productions and even a film version in the works, they are very happy to have been wrong.
We at The Phoenix Arts Club welcome our new neighbours with open arms! New musicals in the West End are few and far between and to have a show as innovative as Come From Away moving in, we are soaring with delight.
Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks
“The execution is original and the result is deserving”
Fresh off the a successful Edinburgh Fringe run, Jasper Red’s Press Play has re-visited London for a victory lap. Star and the creator of the show, Natalie Walmsley, created drag persona Jasper as someone who has suddenly found an inner tranquility in meditation and healing. Jasper has brought us all together to share this new sense of discovered zen and help us align our chakras. “Ooooo, innit nice? Yeah” she exclaims.
I was fortunate enough to see a preview of Walmsley’s show months ago, when it was a current work-in-progress, before heading to the Edinburgh festival. I was privy to the first twenty minutes of the show back then and now, seeing it in full as a 45-minute show, I see that not much has changed in terms of script and plot. However, one thing had changed noticeably and it was Walmsley’s more realised and polished character. After her show was finalised and she did her month’s stint in Scottish capital, you could tell she knew what this show was now as a completed production. She has a great connection with her audience and you’re having just as much fun as she is.
Walmsley’s comical side came off endearing and also a bit purposely irritating – like an American drag queen meets a pushy yoga teacher meets Little Britain’s Marjorie Dawes. The character of Jasper Red embodies, in the typical millennial style, what it’s like to be ‘reborn again’ and ‘awakened through the power of healing crystals’…but only on the surface. Jasper’s love of Britney Spears, hate for reality television and obsession with social media brings this across a comical contrast.
As she teaches the audience how to align their chakras, we are told at points to close our eyes and do breathing exercises. We then hear the iMessage ‘ping’ noise, and open our eyes to see Walmsley’s character still talking us through exercises but on her phone with her messages projected on the screen. Hilarious group chat conversations show to be a highlight. The execution is original and the result is deserving.
There are a few points throughout where the comedy needs to be sharpened but a change of tone near the end brings everything that we’ve just seen into new, uncharted light. I’m rarely surprised when these scenarios in comedy shows come about as they try to take a serious turn, but Walmsley executed her ending well and a managed to get the audience laughing and then wiping away a tear thirty seconds later. A very intelligent and moving moment.
What’s next for Jasper Red? Will the production rear its head again or does Walmsley have something new in the pipeline? Who knows, but what we do know is that Jasper Red was a perfect fit for the fringe and comedy venues alike. A good first solo show for Walmsley and I hope there’s more to come.
“It seems like we’re in for a typical family drama. This is not the case.”
The Humans, a play by Stephen Karam, is a multiple Tony Award winner. Picking up four awards in the 2016 ceremony, including Best Play, the production has now finally flown across the to The Hampstead Theatre for a limited run, with its original Broadway cast. Described as ‘blisteringly funny and (a) deeply chilling drama’ as well as, by Karam, ‘a family thriller’ The Humans tries to venture into darker areas than your typical play about family issues. It may not fully pay off, but it is entertaining.
The 90-minute story is about three generations of the Blake family all coming together on Thanksgiving. This year they are gathering at Brigid’s new duplex apartment in Chinatown, New York. Brigid (Sarah Steele) has just moved in with her boyfriend, Richard (Arian Moayed) and not much has arrived yet to make the house a home. Dinner is being served on paper plates, furniture is minimal and the lights are temperamental but that’s the least of the family’s worries.
Parents, Erik and Deidre (Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell) struggle to understand, through generational differences, how their children are dealing with their own obstacles. In addition, Erik is thinking about the future due to ‘changes’ at work whilst Deidre is dealing with insecurity at her job (having bosses a fraction of her age despite her decades with the company) and how her daughters poke fun at her strong religious beliefs and the spam-style emails she sends to them to keep in touch. Brigid’s sister, Aimee (Cassie Beck) is failing to cope with a break-up from her girlfriend and the loss of her job due to chronic illness getting in the way of her hours. Finally, there is grandmother Momo, Erik’s mother (played by Lauren Klien) who is in the final stages of dementia.
With the set up and characters it seems like we are in for a typical family drama. This is not the case. With the darkened silent scenes, the sudden but frequent banging from the tenant upstairs and lights burning out, it seems like this production aims more towards a thriller. As there isn’t a major climax one could leave The Humans feeling slightly short-changed.
The dialogue (though very impressive with overlaps and cross-talk) can slip into sitcom at times and be a little too self-explanatory but the topics discussed at the dinner table are interesting and enlightening. Erik and Robert bump heads when Robert opens up about his depression and needing to take some time out from his job so he could find himself and ‘reboot’ his life. Erik looks at him oddly and replies: ‘To me, doing life twice seems like the only thing worse than doing it once.’ Erik then speaks to Brigid in similar confusion when she talks about her own struggles (money, career, lifestyle) but also attempting juice cleanses, yoga and similar: ‘If you’re so miserable, why are you trying to live forever?’ The quips are what keep the audience intrigued, especially in the latter half when the story gets rolling.
Joe Mantello’s direction is impressive and David Zinn’s two-level set is sublime. The performances from the cast are fantastic and you can see instantly why Briney and Houdyshell won their Tonys – they are magnificent.
The Humans has a final two weeks at The Hampstead Theatre and the run is nearly sold out – tickets can be bought from theatre’s website.
Photos: Tristram Kenton
“It’s current theatre and it’s necessary theatre”
Recently the West End has been inundated with theatre that takes us away from the current world and its affairs. We enjoy sitting back for a couple of hours and watching something that will make us tap our feet or just allow us to ignore what’s awaiting outside the auditorium doors. The Jungle is not one of these shows, but in the best way possible. The Young Vic transfer play about the infamous refugee camp in Calais not only opens your eyes but brings you personally into the chaotic situation that many of us only hear about behind a screen or inside a paper. It’s current theatre and it’s necessary theatre.
This true story starts in shaken disorder – the occupants of the camp have been greeted with another eviction notice which divides them all. Arguments, threats and desperate pleas for a solution, fight over the stage in a tumultuous first act. As the show progresses we go back to the beginning, see how the camp came to be and watch individual stories unfold – a creation of an Afghan restaurant within the camp, volunteers feuding on the best tactics to help, conflicting residents forced to work together. This newly-created community, in the struggle for survival, and their attempts to make it to the UK to claim asylum.
Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s play, directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, is an impressive collection of connected stories of those who lived in the refugee camp until its eventual destruction.
Transferring from a sell-out run at the Young Vic to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre, we see the traditional theatre auditorium transformed into a semi-immersive experience. Miriam Buether’s set turns the stalls into the restaurant part of the camp with audience members sat alongside long tables and against the walls. Decorated by cushions, a variety of fabrics, gravelled flooring and painted walls, the enveloping stage creates a beautiful theatrical affair.
If the first act of the show demonstrates a spontaneity of many colliding storylines, the second act starts to separate them and bring them to a closer, more structured detail. Because of this, the second act can temporarily lack the punch of the first but audiences are still leaving with awakened eyes. We are still able to enjoy the humour and the play’s likeable characters such as Ben Turner’s Salar, Jo McIness’ child-protecting volunteer and John Pfumojena’s Okot as well as the rest of the stunning cast.
The Jungle demonstrates how well-constructed theatre can reach out to us emotionally (and politically) about today’s issues, but also serve as a warning. We are taken out of the play’s setting for its final minutes as the cast stress the reality of why The Jungle, as a play, is being performed. An experience not to be missed.
Photos: Tristram Kenton
Booking until November 3rd! Tickets (from £20) can be purchased HERE
Waitress will be a must-see next year and tickets have just gone on sale!
Broadway’s latest hit musicals, including Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls and Waitress have been circling as ‘musical theatre gossip’ over the past year but it’s currently only the latter that has come out of hiding.
Waitress has now announced a West End run at The Adelphi Theatre and will open its doors on The Strand starting from February next year! Adorers of the film and musical a-like are brushing up on their pie making skills and dusting off their renditions of the now MT standard, ‘She Used To Be Mine’.
The story centres around Jenna, a waitress who has a talent for making incredible pies. Stuck in an abusive relationship, a frustrating job and an illicit affair with her gynaecologist when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant (…yep), she sees a pie contest with a grand prize as her chance to make something of herself.
Based on the 2007 film of the same name, the musical started with producers Barry and Fran Weissler (who won an ‘Outstanding Musical Production’ Olivier Award for Chicago in 1998). The idea to adapt the film into a musical was ‘an obvious choice’ according to Barry Weissler, who was in attendance at the London launch this week. A story about relatable struggles and pushing through life’s turmoils through a female perspective – the Weissler’s prove they are ahead of the game and know what audiences want.
Waitress is proudly the first all-female creative team on Broadway and director Diane Paulus stated that the team chosen were done so because “they were the best people for the job – and guess what, they are all women”. Returning to The Adelphi, where Weissler’s Chicago first premiered, they are hoping to recapture the magic of a successful West End run! It’s no easy task, but with the Broadway run still going strong, it might be easy as pie!
At the London launch of this new hit musical, we were treated to a few hits from the composer and lyricist (and pop sensation in her own right) Sara Bareilles alongside guest, Gavin Creel (Book of Mormon, Hello Dolly!) in a delectable afternoon hosted by Ruthie Henshall. For those unaware of Waitress’ soundtrack – the musical, stripped-back pop melodies are a delight to the ear with relatable lyrics with fleshed-out characters. Bareilles had never composed songs as other people or characters before so at first she found it a challenge – especially for Earl, the abusive husband. However, she was able to find angles and ways to make these characters more than two-dimensional, and all the better for it.
The show is currently in its third year on Broadway, having opened in March 2016. Weissler rightfully smiles with joy at the success of the show, seeing as 30 productions opened in that Broadway season and Waitress is one of two that remain. The other being Hamilton.
Waitress will be a must-see next year and tickets have just gone on sale! Book now to avoid disappointed – they’ll be the best pies in London!
Tickets (from £17.50) can be bought HERE.
“Aberg’s production is an outrageous success”
Summer is coming to a close but there’s still a chance to grab yourself a ticket to the musical sensation of the season! Little Shop of Horrors, the overly-camp 80s stage musical based on the black-comedy 60s film, was resurrected this year at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Arguably more famous than its original film, Little Shop has become a staple in the world of musical theatre – so much so that some dare to stray creatively from the original production. Maria Aberg’s production challenges seeing the show through fresh eyes and casts US drag queen, Vicky Vox, as the monstrous man-eating plant, Audrey II – normally portrayed by a gigantic stage puppet. What was questioned when first announced, has now become a celebratory success. So much so that in future productions, I may be slightly disappointed in not seeing Audrey II sporting seven-inch sequinned stilettos.
The story follows Seymour Krelborn, a floral shop assistant in the middle of downtrodden Skid Row and his sudden rise to stardom when he comes across a ‘strange and interesting’ plant that puts him and owner, Mr. Mushnik back in business. Though Seymour soon discovers that the plant requires human blood to keep thriving and as it grows and grows Seymour pricking his finger every other day won’t cut it anymore – it requires human flesh. As well as Vox starring as the infamous plant, Marc Antolin plays Seymour, Forbes Mason as Mushnik and Jemima Rooper as Audrey, Seymour’s supportive colleague who is kept under the arms of her abusive boyfriend, Orin (Matt Willis). The cast is complete with Renee Lamb, Christina Modesto and Seyi Omooba as Chiffon, Ronette and Crystal – three young Skid Row girls who act as a whimsical greek chorus for majority of the show.
Antolin is a entertaining Seymour and brings an elevated nerdy charm to him. In most productions, Audrey seems to be more farce of the two characters but here, Rooper’s Audrey is more realistic and grounded. The two still balance each other out perfectly. Rooper’s rendition of Audrey’s solo number, ‘Somewhere That’s Green’, has become an almost heartbreaking monologue. Considering the domestic abuse storyline she goes through, it’s a right move to make Audrey the less comical one for a current production.
Though, Vox’s Audrey II is what everybody is talking about when leaving the theatre. Her effortless charisma is present from the second she stomps onto the stage and she delivers everything you expect and more – terrific vocals, undeniable focus and saturated fabulousness.
Aberg’s production is an outrageous success with the final minutes, number and curtain call matching the camp aesthetic and interaction of a Rocky Horror screening on Halloween night. Exceptional choreography by Lizzi Gee and along with Tom Scutt’s incredible urban design and inventive details (such as the plants in Musnik’s being potted and painted toiletries and household items), it just gets better.
No doubt, Little Shop of Horrors is the show of the summer. Or should I say was? It’s on for only a short while longer and closes on 22nd September. Run and get your tickets! But whatever you do…DON’T FEED THE PLANTS!
Photos: Johan Persson
Get information and buy discount tickets for London shows and attractions, presented by Phoenix Artist Club.