Archive for May, 2016

broadway lunchboxThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

Sandwiches and Sondheim? Not a bad idea and, even though, sadly, there is no actual Sondheim here, a collection of classic show tunes is bound to add flavour to the sarnies, salads or sushi. All the songs are performed by Jason Thorpe, attired for the middle of the day in t-shirt and jeans and accompanied by pre-recorded backing tracks. If it sounds a bit “karaoke”, well it is a lot better than that, but, for the first four songs, not much better than okay. Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret is a predictable opener, followed by You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling (yes it has featured recently in Beautiful… but “Broadway”?). Two Rat Pack swing numbers then pose further questions about the show’s title. Just when we start thinking about the Trades Description Act, Thorpe dips into the little known (in the UK) show Jekyll and Hyde and doubts are dispelled. It now emerges clearly that he is not, after all, a so-so singer who belongs on the cabaret circuit or cruise ships, but an accomplished musical theatre performer with a gift for interpreting lyrics and acting out songs. At this performance a microphone malfunction also proved revelatory. Thorpe has a voice that could be heard, unaided, up in the gods at Drury Lane, so why would he need a mike in this tiny venue of that name? He sounds much better without distorted amplification. Thorpe takes us through selections from the likes of Rent, Wicked, Grease and, inevitably, Les Mis and he tells us that he has a penchant for singing sad songs. Fair enough, they suit him and contrast well with his easy-going, self-deprecating manner. He also seems to like taking songs written for female characters and singing them with a gay twist. The show needs more polish to take it further, but it is more than good enough to send us back refreshed for an afternoon’s work.

Performance date: 12 May 2016




I have marvelled at David Lean’s film masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia several times without ever fully understanding it. The politics, the historical context and even the geography have all baffled me, but it says something about modern awareness of the troubles in the Middle East that this new play makes everything clearer. Indeed, current difficulties may have given Howard Brenton the incentive to write a play in which the closest we get to a dramatic highlight comes with TE Lawrence wagging a finger towards Britain and France for drawing an arbitrary line on the map to create the countries of Iraq and Syria. If Lawrence had really launched into such a tirade, how sad that the Governments of the day did not heed his warnings! The play is set at a time when Lawrence has enlisted in the lowest rank of the RAF under the pseudonym “Ross”. He arrives at the Hertfordshire home of his friend George Bernard Shaw, seeking help in editing his memoirs The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Shaw is preoccupied with completing Saint Joan and his wife Charlotte takes on the task. Director John Dove’s production is classy from beginning to end, as emphasised by Michael Taylor’s imposing set of Shaw’s study which opens out to become a barren stage for short flashback scenes in the desert. There is class acting too, with Geraldine James as solid as ever as Charlotte, Jeff Rawle as a mischievous Shaw, revelling in his own eccentricity and Rosalind March as Shaw’s frumpy secretary who understands more than perhaps she should. Jack Laskey’s Lawrence seems a little too immature, but that could be due to the difficulty of clearing Peter O’Toole’s performance from the mind. Laskey’s boyish version may well be closer to the real thing, but it puts strains on the credibility of a scene in which Charlotte declares her love for him, even while acknowledging that he is a homosexual and a masochist. Brenton devotes much of the second act to investigating the incident at Deraa in which, allegedly, Lawrence was brutally raped and beaten by the Turks, supporting the recent theory that it was all fabricated. However, he delves little deeper than the Lean film into to mind of a man who remains one of the great enigmas of the 20th Century. This absence of new insight and a shortage of high drama to ignite scenes, make the play slightly disappointing, although it is always absorbing. Maybe Terrence Rattigan’s Ross, shortly to be revived in Chichester, will fuel further interest in this fascinating man.

Performance date: 11 May 2016

Devilish!** (Landor Theatre)

Posted: May 11, 2016 in Theatre

devilishThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

“It was an ordinary day…” chant the folk of Clapham, South-Weat London, signalling that the extraordinary is about to happen. Indeed it is, as an angel descends to Earth in front of their eyes. It is also an ordinary opening song that sets the tone for a new musical that always struggles to escape from being bland and predictable. Alex Green’s Angel is a dim toff who seems more likely to have made the short flight across the river from Chelsea than to have landed from Heaven. Appearing with wings of white feathers and matching loin cloth (the halo got lost in transit), he professes the wish to become human and to experience all the emotions and frailties that such a form entails. Angel’s first sight of the human race is Ruth (Victoria Hope), a young lady leading a drab life following the death of her partner exactly three years earlier; of course, he had looked very similar to Angel. Her boss, the devilish Nick Brimstone (Gareth James) is a ratings obsessed television executive who lures Angel away from her with promises of fame and fortune. When Nick sprouts red horns and sings Welcome to Hell, James grabs a mike to give his all to the pounding number and, if nothing else, puts us in the right mood for the Eurovision Song Contest. BB Cooper’s score is a mix of simple, catchy pop tunes and a style of jazz that now sounds somewhat dated. The jazz elements are emphasised by musical director Ian MacGregor’s four-piece band often giving prominence to clarinet or saxophone. The show hovers uncertainly between a schmaltzy supernatural romance similar to Ghost and a dark satire of modern celebrity culture. However each of these styles undermines the other, with Chris Burgess’ book and lyrics falling short on the sincerity to make it work as the former and having neither enough wit nor bite for it to succeed as the latter. That said, here are compensations in Marc Urquhart’s energetic production, stemming mainly from the exuberance of the 10-strong company. Adam Scown’s choreography brings several numbers to life, particularly the rousing Sell Your Soul that closes the first half. There are adept comedy touches too from Katie Ann Dolling as a wannabe tv weather girl, George Longworth as her amorous plastic surgeon and Louie Westwood, doubling up as a has-been Brummie magician and a camp tv presenter. Devilish! is good-natured, inoffensive and mildly amusing. There is not a great deal to dislike about it, but sadly, all the company’s strenuous efforts prove not quite enough to give the show real wings.

Performance date 10 May 2016