26 July 2018

Madagascar the Musical - A 'Must See' This Summer!

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited down to 3 Mills Studios in East London to see a sneaky preview of some songs from Selladoor's latest production, Madagascar the Musical, and watch a Q&A with some of the cast and creatives.


The first song they performed was called "Showtime" and is the opening number of the show. While it isn't exactly Sondheim, the music is catchy and fun and certainly had all the press bopping in their seats! In terms of set, there were several flight cases dotted around the stage which the penguins (and some other animals) stood on and hid behind - I'd imagine they might eventually be icebergs! There was also a big rotating zoo wall in the middle which was very effective in showing the different sections of the zoo. My favourite part, however, has to be the choreography. Fabian Aloise has done an incredible job from what I saw, and the cast carried it off wonderfully.


There was then a chat with some of the cast and creatives, in which they talked about their favourite numbers from the show (Move It! seemed to be very popular!), their hardest parts of the rehearsal process (most said dancing with puppets!) and finally what their young relatives thought of them being in Madagascar! There was also a brief chat about how the puppets themselves work, with a very realistic (although not to scale!) lemur as a visual aid!


The cast then performed the Madagascar classic 'Move It' which of course everybody recognised, but what really astounded me was the puppets! They really brought it to life, and definitely added a fun layer to the whole piece. I was shocked at how close the puppets look to the original Dreamworks animation - they were instantly recognisable, so for a young audience that's a great way to really show what story is being told before they've even said anything!

Overall Madagascar the Musical looks set to be a fantastic show so get yourself down to Wimbledon (or your closest tour location) to see it this summer!

Thank you to Sammi at TheatreBloggers for arranging this.

19 February 2018

Interview with David Hewson (Composer and Musical Director of Electra)


I've seen a few shows at the Bunker Theatre over the past few years so when I got the opportunity to interview David Hewson, the composer and musical director of a new show 'Electra' at the Bunker I was very excited! Here's what he had to say about Electra, music, and everything in between!

David Hewson, MD/composer of 'Electra'
Em: What has been your favourite thing about being MD of Electra?

David: With all our shows the music is played live by a cast of actor-musicians. It means there is an element of devising that needs to take place within rehearsal - the who/why/where/how that needs to be answered collectively as an ensemble. My favourite part of the process is always on day one of rehearsals, when you hold a piece of text in your hands and start asking the actors, “OK, how are we actually going to make this a living, breathing thing!? And where does music come into that?”. It is terrifying in a way but extremely exciting and hugely rewarding if you pull it off; a puzzle that you have solved and helped bring to life.

Em: What is your favourite thing about being a musical director in general?

David: Music has an extraordinary ability to take you to different worlds. It connects with our imaginations in an immediate way which means it is a very powerful tool when used in theatre and thus needs to be handled with great care. The fact that the music is being played live in front of you as part of the dramatic narrative means there is the potential for a small piece of magic to occur. My favourite thing is when I see an audience fall under its spell. It never fails to surprise me, how something so simple can be so powerful. And it never fails to surprise me how something so simple can be the hardest thing to pull off - as of course most magic tricks are!

Em: The music in Electra is intended as a ‘psychological exploration’ of particular characters - can you tell us more about this?

David: The wonderful thing about doing a Greek play is that there can be an ever-present chorus and no one questions it too much - neither the audience or the characters on stage. It is something that often has to be cleverly architected by a writer if they want to utilise it as a device in a modern piece of theatre - they almost have to gain permission. Where as it is a universal given in a Greek play. A chorus often don’t have any agenda as such, their role being more as observers to the unfolding events and poetic purveyors of the dread and often nightmarish situations they are witnessing. Therefore if you then put instruments into the hands of the chorus a whole range of interesting possibilities presents itself. In our version of Electra the chorus have the ability to not only musically channel the spirit of revolution - the ‘outer’ world of the play - but they are also able to tap into the psychological states of the protagonists - the ‘inner’ worlds of the play - and present this musically as well.

Em: Why should people support smaller, Off West End venues like the Bunker Theatre?

David: In America they have a thriving ‘Off Broadway’ scene that is well respected and often is the place that new work is given a chance to breathe, and even occasionally picked up and taken to Broadway. In short, Broadway is often fed by this pool of nurtured new talent. It seems to me that this has been lacking in our theatre scene when it comes to new musical/music theatre work  - a gap which I think venues like the Bunker have the potential to fill. It has definitely been heartening to see steps being taken in the last decade to support new work (MMD’s BEAM showcases, showings of new work at The Other Palace). Some of the most interesting and varied work I have seen over the past few years has been at Off West End venues like the Finborough and The Kings Head by writers who are striving to pay their casts and make enough money to continue writing.  So to put it more simply - often you’re more likely to see something much more interesting and creative in Off West End venues like the Bunker, made by people who are really striving to make something original against all the odds!

Em: I understand the score of the show has several influences - rock, alternative, punk, world music. Which of these would you say is your favourite?

David: As a writer I don’t think you can ever really get away from the early influences you had growing up. Having listened obsessively to bands like Radiohead and Talking Heads and songwriters like Tom Waits and Neil Young their specters always seem to haunt the music I write and I’m sure have fed into the score for this show as well.
The real catalyst of the idea for this show though was to draw out the punky nature of the story - the spirit of anarchism - and somehow present this musically on stage. It has been less about listening to those original punk bands of the seventies (whose punk-ethos was that they didn’t need to be musically proficient) and more about tuning into the sophistication of modern punk bands still railing against Western elitism - bands like Rage Against the Machine and Refused. It is not a genre I’m well versed in but have enjoyed John’s (the Director) enthusiasm in turning me on to it. The term ‘World music’ of course encompasses almost everything that isn’t intrinsically Western music and therefore unimaginably vast. For this show though we are using it as a label to encompass aspects of Arabic music (inspired by events around the Arab Spring) as well as Ancient Greek music. The job has been to try and thread these different sounds together - to make it sound both modern and ancient at the same time. 

Em: What is your favourite quote from a show you've been MD for?

David: A stage direction from the script for Electra: “DRUMS, MOVEMENT, UNREST”. What more could an MD want from a script than that!?

Em: If you could be musical director for ANY show, what would you choose?

David: One full of music written by one of my song-writing heroes like Neil Hannon or Rufus Wainwright so we could become best friends for life. Or at least have a cup of tea together occasionally...

Em: Why should people come and see Electra?

David: We are presenting it in a way that’s not been done before. It is much more action-packed and driven  - less static - but adheres to the original styles of these texts: rich poetic verse language interwoven with dynamic live music. Again it feels both modern but ancient and epic, and hopefully enjoyable too!

Em: What advice would you give to any aspiring musicians and musical directors?

David: For musicians - keep expanding the field of music you listen to. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself to do as it is inevitably what makes you a better performer and writer. For musical directors - be as prepared as possible and go into rehearsals with strong ideas. Then be prepared for all those ideas to be scrapped or remoulded if they aren’t serving the dramatic narrative. The music has to serve not get in the way - the play's the thing!

Em: Lastly, is there anything else you would like to tell my readers about Electra?

David: One of our reasons for making this show is that we were bored with the dry, dusty versions of Greek tragedies we’d seen over the last few years. So if you’re still wavering about whether to come or not I can give you my (only slightly biased) guarantee that this is a version of Electra you won’t want to miss!!!


Thanks so much to David for this interview - be sure to head down (literally!) to the Bunker Theatre between the 27th February and the 24th March to catch what sounds to be a brilliant new show!




3 October 2017

Review: Tell Me On A Sunday

This Sunday myself, my mum and Chris took a trip to Abbots Langley to see ALGSS’s production of Tell Me On A Sunday - which was easily one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent months.

Tell Me On A Sunday is, of course, one act, so rather than just doing a one-woman, one-act show, (that would be FAR too easy!) they did a mini-showcase for the first half, then performed Tell Me On A Sunday.

Before I get into talking about Tell Me On A Sunday itself, I want to focus on the showcase section. Each performer had great stage presence, a great voice, and they all sang their respective songs fantastically - all of them are an absolute credit to the society. Special mention must go to Russell Stratton, who closed the showcase section leading “Somebody To Love” from We Will Rock You, and absolutely captured the attention of the audience, getting them clapping and singing along!

Let’s move onto the show itself. Emma was played by Emma Stratton, and despite knowing how much experience and talent she has, I am always blown away when I see her perform. She took on the character perfectly, and managed to make one show simultaneously funny and heart wrenching. Performing a one woman show is no mean feat, but I can confidently say there was not a note or a word out of place at any point - Emma’s performance was absolutely immaculate!

Not only was Emma’s performance absolutely perfect, but the whole production was fantastic. It was a small stage with a (very) small cast, but they managed to have a small amount of set, lots of props and some ingenious costume changes (they may have just been very quick costume changes, I’m very easy to please when it comes to costume!)

Overall I am amazed at how professional and talented everyone involved is. From the showcase soloists to the band to the lovely Emma, everyone showed ALGSS in a fantastic light - as they well should!

(photo from Jeremy Cohen via Facebook)

26 September 2017

Why I Loved Half A Sixpence


Despite the fact that it has now closed, I wanted to write a post about the recent London production of Half A Sixpence - I saw it the week it closed, so I don't think I can quite call it a review, more a little cluster of thoughts about it.

First off, let's talk about Charlie Stemp. I'd seen all the hype on Twitter and thought "yeah yeah, some dude is quite good, moving on" but having now seen the show, I completely agree. I was absolutely blown away by how strong he was in every element of the show, whether dance, acting, voice, etc. He managed to throw so much character into his every word, so that he came across charming and naïve and awkward all in one sentence. He reminded me of how proper old-fashioned musical movie actors are (think Gene Kelly) in that he completely commanded the show. Obviously this is partly due to the nature of the show, but I think he made it fresh and fun and everything I want to see in musical theatre.

Moving on to the fact it existed. I'm a sucker for old-style musical theatre, so when I saw that they were doing a production of Half A Sixpence in the middle of the busiest and most stressful year of my life (so far) I was gutted - thankfully it got extended and I finally got to see it! I'm so pleased that things like Half A Sixpence are still being revived because it brings musical theatre back to its early days, and reminds audiences of where it all started. I think it's easy to get swept up in the weird and wonderful abstract plays, or the big Disney shows like The Lion King, or the heavy tearjerking crowd pleasers like Rent - old musicals aren't as dull and crusty as they seem - it's so important for people my generation to get that!

Finally I just wanted to have a little gush about Andrew Wright's choreography. If you could marry a dance, I'd marry this whole show. Seriously. I adored it. Start to finish, it was genius. Ugh. He uses space and levels so well (for example, in Pick Out A Simple Tune when they dance on furniture) and the smoothness and almost suaveness (is that a word?) of his dances bring the show right up to date; it really was his choreography that breathed new life into Half A Sixpence.

I adored Half A Sixpence (can you tell?!) and can't wait to see if or when it's broadcast over Christmas! (someone on Twitter told me it was being shown on New Years Day? Anyone know if that's true?)

Now, stop reading my blog and go listen to the new London cast recording!
https://open.spotify.com/album/0enTLtf0Jof12yN223B9iz



(photo credit - Manuel Harlan)

18 September 2017

Five Great Things About 'Five Guys Named Moe'

Earlier this week myself, Chris, Mike and Becky had a little squad trip to the Marble Arch Theatre to see Five Guys Named Moe - we listened to it LOADS when we were on holiday together earlier this year (and the boys have loved it FOREVER) so needless to say we were very excited when Tuesday rolled around! I've already done a full review for LondonTheatreDirect which will be up soon, so today I thought I'd do a quick recap of my five favourite things about the show! (5 things because there are Five Moes, not because there were only 5 good things!)

1. Choreography! I am a self-confessed Andrew Wright devotee, so realistically I would have said it was good if he'd told them to stand still for the whole show, but I promise it actually was amazing! The use of the revolve stage (I'll come to this later!) which realistically is a very small space to choreograph for, was brilliant, and made it so much more interactive and fun to watch. We all know I love a bit of tap, and there was enough in this to make me happy! Love, love, love.



2. Cast! I genuinely don't think the casting (by Will Burton) could have been any more perfect. Considering it's a very full on show, with the 6 cast members only leaving the stage a couple of times for a couple of minutes, they retained an insane amount of energy and life right until the very end. ALL of their dancing was stunning to watch and it was clear to see that they really gelled to make a strong, lively show.



3. Staging! I adore anything with a funky stage (I define anything other than a standard proscenium stage as 'funky') but this was particularly cool staging. The Marble Arch Theatre has been purpose built for Five Guys Named Moe, with a moving onstage platform for the orchestra, a moving revolve that surrounds the central cabaret seating, and simple but effective set pieces such as old-fashioned lamp posts placed around the edges of the revolve. The whole idea of the revolve coming out into the audience is absolute genius because it made a show which really draws on audience participation even more audience-orientated, and 100 times more fun to watch.



4. Costumes! This show could have been 5 men in black suits and one man in a scruffy shirt and jeans, and it would have looked fine, but the fun, colourful costumes (designed by the award winning 'takis', who also designed the gorgeous staging mentioned above!) Each Moe had a colour, and everything was coordinated, including (at some points) their tap shoes! 




5. Audience participation! I mentioned above that this show heavily relies on audience participation (which I usually hate with a burning passion!) but I think with a show as bright and fun as Five Guys Named Moe, they managed to really cleverly build up the temptation to get up and join in right up until the end of act one, when they persuaded everyone to join a conga line out to the bar in Push Ka Pi Shee Pie! So so so clever, and it made the show so much more interactive and fun!




Just out of curiousity, I ran this post through word counting system to see what my most used words were - and aside from things like 'theatre', and 'show', my most used word was 'fun' - in fact, my most used adjective overall was 'fun' - I think that tells you all you need to know!

Five Guys Named Moe is currently playing at the Marble Arch Theatre, and is booking until November 2017.

Photos by Helen Maybanks

19 May 2017

tick, tick... BOOM! - Interviews with the cast

If you've been around these parts a while, then you will know that I am an absolute worshipper of the late great Jonathon Larson, and not least of his absolute masterpiece, 'tick, tick... BOOM!' - which is why I'm so SO excited to publish this mega-interview with all 3 members of the current London cast: Chris Jenkins, Gillian Saker and Jordan Shaw! So, without further chatter from me, here's what they had to say...

(photo credit: Claire Bilyard)


Em: What has been your favourite thing about being in Tick Tick Boom?

Jordan: The creative process, Bronagh Lagan (Director) has been an absolute pleasure to work with, giving us all strong guidance but freedom to discover what feels right for these characters. It’s been SO much fun playing around with improvisation to find moments that feel right, not only for the characters but us as actors. After doing a few big budget West End shows it certainly has been a breath of fresh air.

Gillian: I come from a family of musicians, but never expected to be doing musical theatre. I trained as an actor. This is my musical theatre debut and it has been such a wonderful experience in lots of ways. I’ve learnt an awful lot, and also learnt that I really love musical theatre- I think that’s been my favourite thing about being in Tick Tick Boom.

Chris: I love how human the show is. We are all flawed and so are these characters. Because they’re based on real people, we, as a cast and the audience, recognise the insecurities, anxiety, dreams, aspirations and disappointments that we all feel from time to time. Time and age is a universal thing and we all have our crises at different stages of our lives and this is essential what the show is about.


Em: In one sentence, explain why people should support smaller, Off West End venues like the Park Theatre.

Jordan: Not all shows are appropriate for the big seaters that we have in the West End. There’s a great repertoire of beautiful stories that need to be told to todays theatre goers which suit an intimate setting. Strong writing with poignant messages.

Gillian: Fringe theatres can take risks that commercial theatres can’t; they’re a place for new voices to be heard and nurtured, and we need as many new voices as possible

Chris: Off West End venues are some of the most creative theatrical places going, you’ll see exciting theatre you won’t see anywhere else.


Em: Do you relate to your character at all?

Jordan: Absolutely. Although I haven’t ‘sold out’ to the invitation of the corporate world. I have been lucky to have had some amazing opportunities in this industry. It can be hard maintaining a relationship with a friend who hasn’t had much luck and to them it seems that everything has been an easy smooth ride. Especially when all you want is the best for them. Also, Mike and I do hold a common relation when it comes to nice things, the song ‘No More’ isn’t very far from how I would behave!

Gillian: We are very different people but as an ambitious and creative person I can imagine how painful it might be to leave that pursuit behind. Its funny how, even though the piece debuted in 2001, it feels almost like a period piece in some ways. It's been interesting have to access a person that feels more pressure than I do to have children, get married and seek stability. That choice doesn’t sit comfortably with me, so that’s been challenging.

Chris: I think as someone who works in the arts, you can easily relate to Jonathan. Central to any artist’s mindset is self-doubt, it’s what drives us to become better at what we do. We live for that moment of magic that we create sometimes only once a year and we will happily sacrifice huge parts of our lives to feel that again. Fortunately for me though, I don’t really have a problem with turning 30 like Jon does! I’m turning 30 later this year and I’m looking forward to it.


Em: Has anything ever gone horribly wrong on stage?

Jordan: YES! I think it was the second or third performance and during mine and Chris’ rather comedic number ‘No More’ my short ride on top of my wheeled “butcher block table” ended on top of a lovely member of the audience. Luckily there were no injuries incurred… I think.

Gillian: On press night my microphone got caught on my dress during a quick change and I was freaking out in the wings in my underwear wondering what to do…

Chris: In every single piece of theatre things go wrong; you muddle lines or lyrics, knock over water bottles, fall over in a dance, the list is endless! But I couldn’t possibly tell you some of the things that have gone wrong during this show, maybe once it’s finished!


Em: What is your favourite quote from Tick Tick Boom?

Jordan: “This is just your fear talking to you, you have to take control of it, you have to thank your brain for sharing that fear, then ignore it and go on…” - Fear has certainly played a part in my life, there was fear simply accepting this job having never had the chance to really create something and play a role. Fear is just a defence mechanism, its great to acknowledge that fear and to understand why you feel that way but go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.


Gillian: ‘Cages or wings, which do you prefer’ sums up the message of the piece quite nicely I think.

Chris: Hmm, that’s a tough one. I feel like I’m essentially doing a 90 minute monologue so it’s tough to pick a favourite. I’m going to go with, "Everyone we know wants to do something else.” It’s very exposing of people’s wants and desires. We all know people who aren’t happy in what they do and Jonathan’s story tells us to do what you love because we really don’t know how much time we have left. Time is precious.


Em: If you could play one of the other two characters in the show, who would you pick?

Jordan: It would have to be Jon. However I’d need a few lessons on the piano!

Gillian: I’d have a crack at either of them. Mainly so I can can see one of the others play Susan. I’m sure both would look cracking in the green dress.

Chris: I’d love to play Rosa who is Jonathan’s agent. She is a hard nosed, brutally honest New York agent who is full of showbiz and grit who doesn’t hold back on anything she says.


Em: What has being in Tick Tick Boom taught you?

Jordan: To take risks and to trust myself. Acting isn’t as big and scary as I may have thought. It can actually be fun haha!

Gillian: SO much. I don’t think I’ve ever learnt so much on any job. Its been a really supportive environment, I’ve been really fortunate. I feel like I’ve been on a musical theatre turbo crash course.

Chris: When I initially got the script, I was terrified at the sheer amount of dialogue I had to learn. The moment that made me worry was when I was highlighting all my lines and my highlighter ran out! However, somehow throughout rehearsals, it all went in relatively easily. My brain must have fallen in a very handy learning gear that I hadn’t experienced before. I love taking jobs that challenge me, make me grow as an actor. I have learnt that I can cope with that size of role and that after teaching myself piano, I can play it in front of an audience from memory, which is first!


Em: What is your least favourite thing about performing?

Jordan: Tough question, I’m so grateful to be able to call my 6 year old weekend hobby - a profession. Perhaps it’s the contrasted working hours to the rest of the world. Your personal life can easily be at detriment unless you surround yourself with people that are also theatre performers. Eating a meal at a normal hour or getting an early night is a thing of the past!

Gillian: Generally, the lack of control. Its a strange experience having other people define you. But also, on the flip side, its quite exciting because you never know where you’ll end up or what you’ll be doing. It's an adventure.

Chris: TAXES. At drama school, we are VERY briefly introduced to being self employed and everything that comes with it. So we essentially learn on the fly; what class of national insurance you’re meant to pay, what to claim as expenses, income tax and paying it a year in arrears. HMRC don’t really understand how we work, we are self employed but then we are still employed by companies on a self employed basis and income varies hugely. It can be hugely frustrating as income can vary hugely from low paid fringe productions, through to West End or high budget movies, so it’s never consistent. One thing people don’t realise is how expensive car insurance becomes when you’re an actor, the companies all assume that you’re going to be friends with Judi Dench and you’ll be driving her around, so they don’t want to be liable for her injury! Ludicrous, I know.


Em: What advice would you give to someone like me who wants to perform when they're older?

Jordan: Don’t be afraid to fail or to make a fool out of yourself. Work so hard until you feel silly and then keep on working hard until your friends and family think you’re being silly, that’s always a good sign. Find what it is that you’re good at and what sells YOU. There’s an endless pool of performers for casting directors to pick from. When you walk into that audition room use that card that sets YOU aside from others.

Gillian: Invest in performing as an art form rather than a career. Follow pursuits that cultivate your skills as an artist and the career will follow.

Chris: Try, try, try! Challenge yourself, do things you haven’t done before and you’ll find that you can do them. Whatever you choose to do in your life, be passionate about it. If you’re not, move on. Once you’ve found that thing you’re passionate about it, don’t sell yourself sort to do it, know your worth. Don’t let anyone take advantage of your passion, they have to pay you correctly for it.



Thank you so much to this fantastic trio for their answers - I cannot wait to see the show tomorrow!


And we'll end on a message from Chris...

Go and see as much theatre as you can in off-west end theatres, you will see incredible directors, writers, actors, designers and musicians before they really make it big. You will be proud that you have supported and championed those people before anyone else knew who they were. You will be supporting those theatres and producers to create wonderful, boundary moving writing and innovative theatre. It is the training ground for the future’s greats and you will have seen them first!





13 May 2017

Interview with Alan Mehdizadeh

Any Kinky Boots fans reading this? I certainly hope so, because today's interview is with Alan Mehdizadeh, who currently plays Don in the West End production of Kinky Boots! If you haven't seen Alan in his current (fantastic) role, you may have seen him as Big Davey in Billy Elliot (and in the live broadcast) or perhaps on Grange Hill, or even Eastenders! Whatever you've seen him in, you'll almost certainly know what a talent he is, so here's what he had to say for himself...

1. If you could play any character, regardless of age, race, gender, etc, who would it be?
Quite possibly Collins in 'Rent', or maybe Curtis in 'Dreamgirls' (because secretly, I admire him! He does whatever it takes to achieve his goals)

2. What is your favourite quote from a musical?
"You change the world when you change your mind", which is lucky, as I get to sing it in 'Kinky Boots' 8 times a week.

3. What 3 items in your dressing room could you not live without?
-My Bluetooth speaker
-My iPhone charger
-My sofa for when I need a nap

4. What is your favourite thing about performing in the West End?
Probably the fact it means I can be at home! I love regional theatre, and touring (and don't think either is above the other), but there's nothing like being at home each night!

5. What’s been your biggest challenge in getting to where you are today?
Not having gone to drama school, and having to learn "on the job"; open air touring, Shakespeare, panto, children's theatre, straight plays... much like the old way of learning by doing rep theatre, I've learnt by applying myself to different environments and challenges.

6. What book or film would you like to see made into a musical?
Moulin Rouge! (Mostly so I can play Howard!!!)

7. What is your LEAST favourite thing about performing in the West End?
Ha! I don't know! I guess maybe the commute? I hate a busy tube... or possibly the fact you don't get to go to new places and theatres to work. But mostly, it's just a dream come true, so have to be very grateful)

8. Any funny backstage stories from Kinky Boots?
Possibly from my first performance, whilst Dave Hunter was starting 'Soul of a Man', I thought it was safe to walk onto stage to get into position for the next scene, I soon realised there were 1,600 people watching Dave, (and me stood in the background), and without breaking stride, I just walked backwards straight off stage again. I didn't even turn around, I just backtracked.

9. What advice would you give to someone like me who wants to be in theatre when they’re older?
Don't listen to anyone who tells you "you can't", and don't think anything is above or beyond you! Keep working hard, if you can't take one route, find another, don't be deterred by obstacles, embrace them and smash them!

10. Is there anything else you’d like to say to my readers?
Hi! Sorry if I was boring. Ha