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Jubilee. Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

March 14, 2018

(seen at the afternoon performance on 7th March 2018).

As both programme and indeed performers acknowledge, much of the audience will be familiar with the title from the original film – and mostly from its notorious showings in the early days of Channel 4. Many a lonely teenage male watched furtively in their room or taped it in the hope of a flash of… well, so I was told, anyway, moving on…

The presence of original “Mad” Toyah Willcox, this time as Queen Elizabeth I, regally ensconced in a box until near the end – when she proves she can still belt out her biggest hit number, is the only real tie with that movie.

We have moved on, past Silver, Golden, Diamond and now into (we are assured) Uranium Jubilee territory. Punks are replaced by generation iphone, and you may be recorded for training purposes at all times, including while using someone’s body for gratification and being murdered for it.

Disjointed imagery and a smattering of Shakespearian language are still present. The trouble is a strong sense of ennui for those who remember it all the first time around. Back then, teenagers were rebelling against a system of values that had stood for decades. Now, those same teenagers (so a late scene charges) have created the horrors of globalisation, austerity and everything in between, while reaping and keeping the gains for themselves.

Trouble is, those same 70s stock also broke down the system to the point where today’s tribe have to go far further to find something to kick against. The fundamentals have changed – police are not that interested in tackling most of the anarchy they can create, all vices are online at the click of a mouse and the current economy excludes many in all generations so it is not exclusive to the young.

A glimpse of stocking was still mildly shocking even back in 1978. Today, almost the entire cast are nude at one point or another, and it just didn’t matter. No sense of rebellion, edge or hint of creativity (despite that being the point of Ariel / Viv (Lucy Ellinson) involved, just a few goosebumps as it isn’t that warm on the stage (I know, I was sat on one of the rather comfy stage benches). Even a quick incest idea (Craig Hamilton – Sphinx, John Ross Williams – Angel) is reduced to a couple of actors lying on a mattress, ignored as action proceeds centre-stage.

The whole effect is of an acting troupe given Arts Council money to spend weeks improvising for something, and then showing what they have created. The performances are strong – can’t fail to enjoy Crabs (Rosie Wardlaw’s) walk down the stair rail, warm to Amyl Nitrate (Travis Alabanza) and the history lessons, nor appreciate Bod (Sophie Stone) putting the world to rights in a bondage outfit. In fact, the genuine affection the cast eventually have when they pull together is a redeeming feature.

For the rest, it’s a meander over nearly two and a half hours, for something that could have been done and dusted in half that. For those living in today’s cyber world, it’s about as dangerous as unfiltered Google Image results, and nearly as eclectic. There’s little whiff of freshness, some hints of undercooked ideas, but with enough snorts of polish to see it through and justify its existence.

As strange as the original film, but more strained and lacking anything to measure restraint against, is the monkey verdict.

Two stars.

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (Richmond Theatre).

March 7, 2018

(Seen at the evening performance on 6th March 2018).

The curtain rose to a happily nostalgic sigh from the audience, as the familiar “Morse code” theme tune filled the theatre. On a 1970s orange and beige (Simon Higlett) set, there sat Betty (Sarah Earnshaw) and Father O’Hara (David Shaw-Parker) discussing how to tell Frank (Joe Pasquale) that he was about to become a dad.

From there, writer and director Guy Unsworth has us time-travelling to simpler times, when the bank manager and BBC (Moray Treadwell) were to be respected deeply, and mother-in-law Barbara Fisher (Susie Blake) was to be feared.

The story concerns Frank’s latest tilt at gainful employment as a professional magician. The first half is his attempt to impress the bank manager enough for a loan, even as Betty tries to deliver her news. The second his attempt to be filmed for television, and bring the story to a neat conclusion.

Unsworth’s dialogue is stuffed with classic lines, fans of the TV show can tick them off as mentioned (pre-Columbo, though, it’s the cat Cleopatra who widdles on Frank’s plans – literally), and things are still taken out in the morning.

Better still, Stunt Co-ordinator Kev McCurdy and the set designer do a very impressive job for a touring show of giving us plenty of trademark physical comedy, including a couple of impressive set pieces, one painfully articulated. I’d rather guess that one set-piece failed to make the director’s final cut, though, as from where I was sitting I could see a toilet suspended at first floor level that was never revealed to the audience. Oh well, what they did do worked just fine anyway.

For the monkey fans, sit on the left side of the auditorium rather than the far right as you look at the stage, as the view is slightly better in a narrow auditorium.

Of the performances, we accept very quickly Pasquale, Earnshaw and the gang. Pasquale may have a heftier build than young Crawford, but he has the same shining innocence and certainly a little more warmth and tenderness. Unsworth has ratched up his intelligence a notch (Frank makes a pun or two) and Pasquale thinks and speaks noticeably more quickly than the original, tackling some impressive word-play too.

Earnshaw is simply sweet, making the most of the slightly less stage time allotted than might be imagined. Her final scene in particular is genuine and moving, another happy sigh over the end theme tune showing just how well the pair hit the emotional mark between themselves and the viewers at home, er, theatre.

As Betty’s mother, Susie Blake has a wonderfully degenerate second act. Without asking stage management, I’ll take it that the late Spencer Prune Wine was fake and that Blake worked off skill rather than instinct, but it’s a close call.

In the duel role of dinner partner to her, and later harassed BBC presenter, Moray Treadwell gets two rather good roles, and makes the most of them. His first act chairs sequence, and second act attempts to simply get Frank to walk through a door are beautifully timed reactive acting.

David Shaw-Parker manages to remain both godly and terminally confused throughout. Resisting parody, he’s a good man doing his good works in an ever murkier situation.

Last, but by no means least, Chris Kiely as Desmond James and the Constable is given the important job of wrapping up the story with some fairly “Scooby-Doo” writing. That he manages it and overcomes one of the two non-true-to-the-original style moments in the show (the other is a highly unnecessary twice repeated swear-word that can and should be deleted right now, if anyone from the show is reading this) is to his credit, and his timing, too, is immaculate.

To sum up, this is the right cast with the right script in the right environment. It’s as relatively unsophisticated as the original times it is set in. It’s an enormously, truly, enormously fun time-capsule. A little piece of the Great British Past that anyone who ever loved it will want to see again and again. It’s on national tour, and that’s exactly as it should be. The West End would see it sink without trace – “The Play That Goes Wrong” has the market cornered and feels like an iMac compared to this typewriter. Yet a typewriter will work without electricity, and requires nothing more than good mechanics and a skilled operator to produce highly pleasing results. This hard-working and happy re-union with old friends is exactly the same.


4 stars.


More information and tour dates, see:

The Ten Tests of Theatre

February 28, 2018

For me, theatre is “work” most of the time. I’m sitting there working out whether the seats are good value and also what to write about the show (easy if it’s good or bad, harder if it’s mediocre). So, I have a few things I do as a matter of habit, which help things along.

1) Smiles In View. Are the theatre staff happy in their work, or just there because it’s the closest they will get to a stage all year? The best want to chat to the audience, help them find their seats, and push off out of the auditorium once the show begins. The worst stare into the distance or chat among themselves (sometimes during the show) and pass the odd bitchy comment about what they are watching. Never good.

2) Chav Count. How many audience members are illegally taking photos before and during the show? Using their phone generally? Bringing drinks in and having a seat picnic?

3) Programme Flick. A good mix of articles and adverts, with headshot photos so I can identify the cast? Or £4 for 2 pages, 1 of which is clearly for the owner’s daughter’s new hair salon? Bonus points if they take credit card payments for programmes and have the right change too.

4) Souk Alert. Only a few manufacturers supply most of the souvenirs sold in London theatres. Fewer still sell anything even remotely tasteful. Still, distinguishing between the acceptable (nice show-logo mug, a well designed Tshirt) and the total garbage passes a few minutes before they open the auditorium.

5) Dusty. Has the place been swept? You will not believe some of the crud if you look for it on the side rails, circle fronts, between seats of an ill-maintained theatre (Delfont Mackintosh set the cleanliness standard, if you are wondering).

6) Bog Standards. Can you smell them as the door from the foyer opens? A good sign if not.

7) Throwing a Paddy. As in, does my butt get angry when it finds there is nothing between it and the wood for the next three hours. Theatre seats are expensive, but pretty vital, so let’s keep them in good shape, eh?

8) Sign of the Times. Are the doors marked with the right seat numbers (the Lyttelton hilariously misses off a seat in the stalls), and can you actually find the loos?

9) Box Office Brilliance. Can they find your order in the box? Can they deal patiently with the twit in front who turned up on the wrong night at the wrong theatre, even as the line builds up behind? It’s a daily thing, and only the best survive – but they are an art to watch in action.

10) Something In The Air. First, is the air-conditioning or heating over-enthusiastic. More to the point, are the crowd? Concentrating and involved, or going to behave like they are on their home sofa and not where the actors can see and hear them…


Passes the time, anyway.

How Green is my Voucher?

February 21, 2018

To great fanfare, one theatre last year announced it was going “paperless.” Gone are the cardboard tickets. Instead, you can just show the image on your phone (with a machine-scannable QR code – the dotty box thingy). Same goes for pre-paid programme vouchers (that I find easier, as it means not fishing for change on the day).

The other good news is that if you don’t have a smartphone (I don’t), you can get your tickets and vouchers emailed to you, print them out and bring them along. Bearing in mind that the season before last either that theatre’s ticket despatch agents or the Royal Mail managed to lose an entire season of tickets I’d bought, causing me to have to arrive ridiculously early and stand in line at the box office every time to get a re-issue… and every single time have something go wrong in the way of “can’t find it / forgot the programme voucher / someone in front having real trouble holding up the line until seconds before start time when we’d all been waiting half an hour already” variety, I was pretty happy. In a way…

Of course, in practise, the fun begins when someone who is firmly in the “let them eat lentils if they want to, but respect my right to steak” brigade drills down beyond cuddly “save the bunny” thinking into reality.

Let’s kick off with the visitor experience. Guess what… the system doesn’t actually cope… with anything at all… So, you try and be as green as they would like them to be, and play along by printing off your ticket and programme voucher on two sides of a single sheet of paper (“Save The Trees” and all that). First, they want to keep your voucher when you collect your programme – can’t, the ticket is on the other side, and nobody said to print them separately. Hardly green, anyway – two sheets of paper when one will do? Second, they can’t read the QR code as there is no wifi to all parts of the theatre to operate the readers. It can be sorted, but it’s a hassle.

The interesting point, though, is the last bit – “readers.” And here, for me, is where all the “Green” stuff falls apart. For decades, I’ve found it hilarious that those preaching the “Green Gospel” – Green Party, various organisations like the BBC etc and all the individuals, yes, even David Attenborough – have massively, and I do mean massively, larger “carbon footprints” than I ever do or will. They own massive amounts of property and items, take holidays by car and plane etc, etc, etc. I don’t. So, who is actually being “greener” and saying nothing about it?

Moving back to “green theatres” it struck me as soon as the “paperless ticketing” thing was announced that in fact, the environmental costs of all the equipment to service the policy was going to be far higher than a few bits of ticket paper and a single mainframe computer system. All those phones the audience have, the extra hardware the theatre staff all need, the power to run it all… got to be more than one tree’s worth of paper stock and post carrier sweat per year, surely?

A quick look at an article on gave me confirmation of my thoughts, though I’m not wasting more time going even deeper.

All I am trying to get at is that once again, please think twice about the real value of such active campaigns. I’d love to see the data to back up the savings, so feel free to send it to me any time, but I’m betting that common sense may just be the best bet… Meanwhile, sorry, but if you think I’m falling for the hype, well, you really are greener than I am.


Strictly Ballroom: Press Launch. 14th February 2018.

February 14, 2018

The Café de Paris in Coventry Street, London, was the chosen venue. Historic, with a fabulous circular dance floor and twin curved staircases, nowhere could be finer to introduce this new West End show to the large invited crowd.

The odd flute of champagne and tray of canapés to begin, then Mr Will Young (who will play Wally Strand in the show) himself struck up with Cyndi Lauper’s classic “Time After Time” as Jonny Labey (Scott Hastings) and Zizi Strallen (Fran) swept down the stairs and took to the dance floor in a demonstration of ballroom holding the room enthralled. Adding to the display, various other members of the cast, the ladies in particularly sumptuous gowns (Catherine Martin) formed a tableau behind, framing the scene.

Mr Young then admitted that a West End musical is a new departure for him, and that though he personally feels himself inferior to the film, he can’t wait to start.

He then introduced Carmen Pavlovic of producer “Global Creatures.” Originally founded in Australia 10 years ago, their aim is to develop shows in Australia that can be exported worldwide. “Muriel’s Wedding” was one, and they have “Moulin Rouge” opening in Boston in July, “King Kong” on Broadway this autumn and “Walking With Dinosaurs” in arenas in the UK this year too.

“Strictly Ballroom,” though, is the project for the West End, and the excitement is building for them. Baz Luhrmann (who couldn’t make it today) and Catherine Martin originated the show in Australia, and feel that 25 years after the original movie, the themes remain relevant – indeed the ideas of remaining true to beliefs and ending dictatorship are even stronger now.

For the team, the idea of Spanish immigrant families like Fran’s are fascinating. Those families ran Australia’s bodegas (corner shops) and have tight communities. Scott’s entry into it, and the idea of Fran’s father – Rico – introducing him to it is a key story element. The casting of Fernando Mira, who originated the role, highlights the importance of flamenco in the show, underlining the origins. A brief performance today previews a highlight to come.

Noting this authenticity, Will Young remarked that his own family have Australian roots, with one a Governor in Australia. He then went on to introduce 4 Academy Awards, 5 BAFTA and 1 Tony award winning Catherine Martin, adjusting the microphone for her stature… causing the tiny Ms Martin to have to collapse it back down to her real height, very quickly…

Catherine Martin opened by saying that Baz Luhrmann felt the line “I have been with your father for twenty-five years – do you think I get bored? Of course I do!” resonates still, and that the story of youthful rebellion grows stronger as the years pass. The show itself originated during her time at NADA, before she met Baz. In her second year it won “best play” in Bratislava, due to the theme of dance on stage – the feeling of NAFOD (National Federation of Dance) resonating with the country.
It is the spirit of introducing dance steps and not living in fear when individualism triumphs that means the most.

Choreographer Drew Mconie then spoke about his own first encounter with the film. A working class Birmingham boy, he saw a young voice leaping forwards. Drew himself was a forgetful ballroom competitor at a young age – substituting his own steps when he couldn’t remember the right ones (to the dance tutor’s chagrin). Dancing alone in his bedroom to “Time After Time” made Drew want to choreograph and “do his own thing, and he hopes that the energy of the show will land with London audiences and carry them along for the evening.

The event concluded with Zizi Strallen and Jonny Labey, together with the other dance pairs taking to the floor for Will Young’s vocal “Love Is In The Air.” An appropriate way to end the presentation.

With a quick thanks for a rather marvellous “goodie bag” (save a little for the merchandise stall at the theatre), this looks to be something special for Spring in the West End.


“Strictly Ballroom” previews from 29th March, opening on 24th April 2018 at the Piccadilly Theatre, London.



Photo credit (top – the group, and middle – Jonny Labey, Ziz Strallen, Will Young): Jay Brooks. Used by kind permission.

The Hamilton Hundred

February 14, 2018

Pre-e-commerce, I worked for a charter air ticket company. We rented aircraft and flew them many times a week, UK to Malaga, at a cost to us of £50 per ticket, return. We had a printed brochure, and those who phoned and quoted the prices got them – £79 to around £189, as I recall. Those who didn’t… “dynamic pricing” applied. One horrible January, customers phoning on Thursday to fly at the weekend got two seats for £40. Come May Bank Holiday week, the phoneroom held a contest for who could sell the last tickets at the highest prices. My team won, getting £390 for a single seat – probably the last out of the Britain that weekend (well, the Eurovision Song Contest was on TV that night, so it sort of made sense).

It doesn’t take a business genius to work out that prices were always calculated so that the peaks off-set the troughs and kept the company running year round. As it was, many companies lost the bet that year as a poor summer translated into closure before August for many. The fact is, though, that these days everything above applies to theatre, which is why I’m more phlegmatic than most about the recent “Hamilton” pricing revelations.

There’s a number of angles to take. First, had those palpitating over the £250 premium and £100 top non-premium seats been doing the job I do, they will have known that several huge musicals were charging similar prices for considerably more of the theatre (all three levels in some cases, certainly some really not great seats) right through the festive period. That’s the “off-setting the quiet patch” thing, meaning your favourite show runs longer for you to go back and see it, and everyone involved gets to pay their mortgage / rent and maybe even eat for another month.

Second, it’s psychological. The stink when “Sunset Boulevard,” and before it “Chess,” announced their original prices at £10 more than the top prices way back then… “Hamilton” has moved from £89.50 to £100 – just £10.50 more (the cost of a drink at the interval or a souvenir programme, really). It’s the third figure, though, that hurts. Also, the scare that other shows will follow suit. They will, that’s inflation.

Third, the show has actually been pretty careful. More than most will realise. When “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at the Palladium got amazing press night reviews, the following day all the prices shot up. “Hamilton” simply put a single extra month on sale at the original prices – and in fact revised those prices slightly to incorporate what the now knew about sight-lines. This time out, there have been further revisions and even the odd price-drop, meaning there are some decent tickets out there.

Fourth, and possibly most important: just because they set those prices, doesn’t mean they will get them. No producer likes an empty seat, and if a ticket won’t sell at one price, it may well sell at another. “Dynamic Pricing” cuts both ways.

Fifth, going by reader feedback, it isn’t the lack of prices that is really the main issue – it’s comfort and view, neither of which bear that much relation to price paid. There are some cheap seats with a great view and decent legroom, and some expensive ones that are really cramped and not raised high enough to see over the row in front, it seems. Indeed, I generally have time to see shows only once, but “Hamilton” I am seeing again later this year. Not because it was my favourite show, but simply because I was so uncomfortable last time (moved from comfy stalls to cramped circle due to the cancelled preview problem) that this time I want to be able to really concentrate.

Finally, like most things in life, you really do have a choice. Beyond those fixed costs of buying a ticket and travel fares, the rest is what you choose to make it. For me, I stretch my theatre budget by not buying more than a programme usually, never refreshments and so keep the costs down all the way. I select cheaper seats unless I really want to see something “close up” and in general, well, “budget” in all areas of my life. A bit old fashioned, but it works – as Mr Hamilton himself may well feel.

And that’s it, really. It’s about everybody operating within the economy. A quick check when I wrote this blog also shows that for the same date I’ll be attending in London, the New York production would set you back $549 for the equivalent £100 UK seats. Further, most of the remaining tickets are “secondary market” sales for $1018 in those £100 seats, or $519 to sit in the back of the mezzanine (£37.50 equivalent seats here). In other words, not so bad, really, is it…

True Talent, Equal Access?

February 7, 2018

On the tube home from “Barnum,” something very interesting happened.

Fairly near the end of the line, my section of the carriage was empty, except for me in the corner… I suspect that my new choice of deoderant wasn’t quite the sucess I’d hoped with the travelling public. Anyway, at the next station,  a group of 8 or so late teenage boys got on. Pretty much the type of urban bunch you’d expect to find, if you are a reader of certain newspapers. Mostly black, with 2 or 3 white who adopt the same speech patterns, attitudes and behaviour.

They were bantering as boys do, about how they crashed the ticket barrier without paying (yeah, I bought that one – not), how they’d be getting off at the next stop, who had done what to whom, etc, etc. Oblivious to me, yet registering the middle aged male presence in the corner. And no, I wasn’t concerned in the least. Not THAT long ago since me and my friends must have appeared very similar to those now approaching retirement age.

Suddenly, one switched on the speaker on his phone. A little clapping from then all, then 2 started using the handrails as gymnastic poles, 2 more simply danced to the music. Anti-social behaviour? Perhaps… but…

Fact: this was raw talent, purest and simplest form.

Fact: I’d have paid to see it.

As it was, I was similing and laughing. The boys noticed, and included me in the film one of them was taking on his phone.

They got off at the next station, with a cheerful wave (reciprocated).

I was left energised and elated, a piece of private street theatre of the highest quality – and unless there is a youtube of it somewhere, it’ll never be seen again.

About 10 seconds later, though, I almost drowned in a bath of depression.

Think about it. Those young men were (and I’m going to make a HUGE assumption, which I really, really hope I am wrong about) quite probably “typical.” No particular education, no particular direction to go in. Genuinly decent young men…

…. with the kind of talent that would have any professional theatre maker with any sense drooling. For movement, for “performance” (yes, they knew damn well the show was for both theirs and my benefit) and for improvising.

At that moment, I suddenly understood just how hard it is for anyone outside of those already “inside” to not just begin a career in the arts – but to actually even know that it a potential option, or to find the guidance to bring it to fruition. “Diversity” and similar acts delighted thousands every night at the Palladium last Christmas – and these guys, well, several of them, honestly had the potential. And I say that with my own “professional” hat on, as someone who passes opinions on live performance for a living.

I don’t have a clue how this can be channelled, but I do know it has to be a fairly cheap to create way of giving hope, interest, even employment to a section of society beneath the radar. There probably are some “outreach” workers engaged on this at the moment, I hope so, and that there are more to come.

Meanwhile, if I were a casting director or drama school admissions supervisor, I just might be grabbing a travelcard rather than a copy of “Spotlight.” There is more to performing life than is dreamed of in your philosophies, Hamitonio…