The Secret River – Theatre Review

The Secret River is a show with tragedy at its heart. It can be felt in every moment; whether waiting for its impending arrival, watching it inevitably unfold, or seeing it in the eyes of the cast as they receive a much deserved standing ovation. Prior to its run at the National Theatre The Secret River was showing at the Edinburgh Fringe when the play’s co-creator and narrator Ningali Lawford Wolf sadly passed away. With less than a week’s preparation Pauline Whyman has stepped into the breach and shoulders the burden with mastery and nobility; providing the play with a stable core around which events can unfold.

William Thornhill (Nathaniel Dean) is a newly free English convict living in New South Wales with his wife Sal (Georgia Adamson) and their two boys. With William now free to return to London Sal dreams of saving up money and returning back to the places she sings about in nursery rhymes. William however has an alternative plan. Down in the new world he has the chance of a fresh start and sets his sights on a 100 acre plot on which to build a farm and a future for his family.

As the Thornhill’s settle into their new homestead they discover that they are not the first to claim the land for their own as the Dharug people make their presence known. While the Indigenous Australians and their new interlopers do not share a language the two groups slowly find a way to communicate. Tentative friendships are formed and hopes raised but ultimately both lay claim to the same plot of land and the dream of peaceful coexistence slowly, brutally, unravels.

The Olivier stage is a vast space that past productions have often struggled to fill. Where The Secret River succeeds is in not try to overcompensate and fill the space with clutter and clever scenery. Instead the stage is kept mostly bare and the intimate story of families, heritage, and home is allowed to shine. With no unnecessary distractions the audience is able to give the story their full attention; on a broad canvas the eye is always drawn to where it needs to be.

The Secret River is blessed with a strong ensemble cast all delivering masterclass performances in love, rage, fear, sorrow, joy, and everything in between. Their worn and torn costumes hint at the struggles they have been through and beautiful live music from Iain Grandage underpins a perfect show. Excuse me as I try to praise every aspect of The Secret River but sometime a show deserves a little gushing.

The story of a The Secret River is a tragedy treated with the greatest respect. Grisly moments are portrayed with grace that doesn’t undermine the real horror of the history but steers clear of glorifying the gore. The weight of any blood spilt is felt with a heavy heart and a deep aching regret. I haven’t seen anything this affecting in a long time.

Directed by Neil Armfield, based on the novel by Kate Grenville and adapted for the stage by Andrew Bovell, The Secret River runs at the National Theatre until 7th September 2019 and tickets are still available online.

King Charles III – Theatre Review

King Charles III

Imagine if some time in the near future Prince Charles took the throne and if years later Shakespeare wrote a history play about the eventful reign of King Charles III. What you have in your mind right now is the play currently in its final week at the Almeida Theatre in North London. Mike Bartlett takes the place of Shakespeare and has written a modern play in the style of the bard with a contemporary twist and a cast of familiar characters. This is a play in which the Duchess of Cambridge (Lydia Wilson) takes on an almost Lady Macbeth-like role; a sweet but sharp woman nudging her husband towards the crown, and the ghost of Diana (Katie Brayben) stalks the minimalist stage.

The plot is clever and surprisingly relevant; the Queen is dead and Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) is the new Monarch awaiting coronation. In his first meeting with the current Labour Prime Minister (Adam James) Charles discusses an upcoming Privacy bill that will restrict the freedom of the press and protect the general public from intrusion. The vote has already been taken in Westminster and the bill has been passed but Charles has his doubts and, after some manipulation from the Conservative leader (Nicholas Rowe), exercises the Royal Assent; the power every monarch has to veto a parliamentary bill but which hasn’t been used for well over a century.

With Charles demanding parliament reconsider the bill the Prime Minister refuses and takes this as a direct affront to democracy. Soon government is sparring with the royal family, the Windors are fighting amongst themselves, and the country is divided between republicans and royalists. Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) wants out of the family altogether to be with his new love Jess (Tafline Steen), who is suffering from press intrusion herself, Prince William (Oliver Chris) is torn between loyalty to his father and his country, and both he and Charles find themselves visited by the veiled spectre of the people’s Princess.

King Charles III - Tim Pigott-Smith

The conceit of the play, that of what would happen if the monarchy actually exercised their rights as head of state, forces the audience to consider what is the bigger sacrifice; Britain losing its monarchy or weakening its democratic status by allowing the royals to force government to rethink its decisions. The whole issue is made all the more current with the recent uproar that resulted when Prince Charles dared to express a negative opinion of Putin when he likened the Russian leader to Hitler last week. Should the royal family be forced to stay silent on political issues or do they have the freedom of speech we all enjoy, and how influential should their opinion be? Arguably this isn’t a hard decision for most people so perhaps the real question is whether there is a role for royals in modern society at all.

Alongside all this thought-provoking theatrics is a thoroughly enjoyable play. Whilst imitating the flow of a Shakespearian classic King Charles III plays with the form with the aid of a cheeky sense of humour and the result never feels anything less than fresh, engaging, and energetic. The cast are all superb and their characterisations of familiar faces help us to see the people that stand behind the pomp and circumstance. There was laughter, there were tears, and when all was said and done my mind was racing from an excellent evening at the theatre.

This was my first visit to the Almeida Theatre but it won’t be my last. In a space as intimate as at my beloved Donmar the audience is never far from the action and, sitting in the second row, we often found ourselves in the midst of a scene.

King Charles III is a timeless play that was both classical and contemporary and reminded me just how good theatre can be. Superb stuff.

King Charles III closes at the Almeida this Saturday and is all sold out but is getting a West End transfer to the Wyndham’s Theatre for September and October of this year with tickets going on sale soon from the Almeida website.

Privacy – Theatre Review

Joshua McGuire in Privacy Photo by Johan Persson

I love the Donmar Warehouse as a theatre venue as the small space allows for no bad seats and maximum intimacy; you’re never going to be more than 20 feet from the actors which is a stark contrast to sitting in the third circle of the majority of West End theatres. As fond as I am with the venue I hadn’t managed to see a play there that had really got to me; I’ve seen four or more plays there over the past through years, including the excellent Inadmissible Evidence, but none had given me that special feeling of having seen something new, thought-provoking, and all together special.

This changed a few nights ago when I went to see James Graham’s new play Privacy. A patchwork play consisting of scores of interviews with journalists, politicians, and those in the know is tied together by the presumably partly fictionalised story of the Writer (Joshua McGuire) researching the play under duress the Director (Michelle Terry). As the Writer discovers how we all share too much information through social media, just by having our phones turned on, and simply by what we Google so do the audience and an ensemble cast flit from character to character to deliver verbatim dialogue.

The staging is simple with a few items of furniture providing half a dozen locations, sometimes all at once, and the backdrop is a large screen onto which is projected the digital fingerprints of the audience/the contributors/the world in general. The screen was vital in keeping track of what characters were on stage at any one time as helpful documentary style captions accompanied their appearance and it was also utilised to demonstrate the various discoveries and revelations regarding privacy that the Writer had uncovered. Imagine a giant iPhone showing the recommended purchases on Amazon or the leaked NSA and GCHQ slides being presented to the audience as if in an online surveillance training seminar.

From Amazon to GCHQ Privacy certainly runs the gamut when it comes to organisations accessing our personal data. Some of the quirks of online advertising or how we present ourselves on Facebook are shown as an almost fun quirk. The idea that brands were getting to know us by snooping on our activity generated more surprised laughter than gasps of horror as we all sort of know it’s happening and don’t know whether we approve or not. I should confess here that when not writing here I have another job with the word “data” in the title so perhaps was more aware going in than most. It was when the play turned to the behaviour of government agencies that a chill set in amongst the enraptured audience.

Paul Chahidi and Joshua McGuire in Privacy Photo by Johan Persson

For the most part Privacy has a light, lively air with what could be quite dry facts presented in amusing ways with huge diversity in delivery. Amid all this fun and frivolity is a message about the very real danger of having our privacy invaded. Once we were all suitably amused and relaxed the play pulled the rug from under us and suddenly we weren’t laughing any more. Without going into details the evening ended with me feeling complicit in the very thing we were earlier worrying might be happening to us.

With a strong cast lead by Joshua McGuire and Michelle Terry Privacy leans on its cast to make what could be an unpredictable show really work. The rest of the ensemble cast, Gunnar Cauthery, Jonathan Coy, Nina Sosanya, and (my personal highlight) Paul Chahidi, switch between characters with ease and distinction.

As a whole Privacy is an endless entertaining, informative, scary, and funny evening at the theatre that feels a little too real. It took days for me to stop telling everyone around me as much as I dared about the show and the moment I got home my Facebook profile underwent a minor overhaul. If Privacy lacks anything then it is a real plot beyond someone writing the play itself. There is a last-minute attempt at a narrative but it doesn’t quite come together and, arguably, it wasn’t really needed. The ideas explored within Privacy and the way they are presented are grand enough to stand on their own.

In summary Privacy is the play I have been waiting for and it is essential viewing for anyone whose ever wondered why they see the ads they do online or wondering how much the government, and advertisers, know about what they’ve been up to.

Privacy runs at the Donmar Warehouse until May 31st 2014 and a West End transfer is surely in its future. I urge you to go and see it in this intimate space; in a theatre so small that when the light go up you see the other half of the audience sitting across from you in a manner that feels suddenly violating after the evening’s events. The final batch of £10 Barclays Front Row tickets (your last chance really to see the show) go on sale at 10am tomorrow morning at the Donmar Website.

One last thing… If you are asked if you want to take part, go for it. I did and have no regrets. And remember, “If you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable – Theatre Review

The Drowned Man

My previous experience of immersive theatre events only stretches so far as a series of live horror mazes in York last Halloween so when I was invited to see Punchdrunk’s latest epic production The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable I tentatively jumped at the chance. Punchdrunk are known for creating new worlds for audiences to explore and for their latest piece have teamed up with the National Theatre to create their biggest work yet.

Just near Paddington station sits an innocuous looking former postal sorting office with little signage and an excited huddle of theatre fans queuing outside. What lies inside is a Hollywood studio recreated over four floors complete with surrounding woodland, a small town, and a desert wasteland. The scope of the set is large enough that as a member of the audience roaming within in search of the story you might find a room at the start of the evening and never make your way back there again. Within the labyrinth of rooms, floors, and settings characters roam around acting out a variety of stories as the evening builds to two dramatic conclusions. The audience is free to explore, and are encouraged to do so alone, each wearing white masks that create a sense of an anonymous and ghostly presence that watches scenes of lust, violence, and desperation but never acts to intervene or interfere.

I arrived at the venue just after 7pm and joined the buzzing queue outside. I was attending the event alone which filled me with dread at the idea of exploring a psychedelic world alone, but also excited me as it gave me the freedom to take my own route through the world and weave my own story from what I found. Before entering the world of The Drowned Man we were all handed a slip of paper which detailed the two major plots that would be playing out through the evening:

The Drowned Man Synopsis

At any other theatre event this might be considered as spoilery but within the world of Punchdrunk this slip of paper became a lifeline with which I was able to relate the scenes I was to witness inside to the overall narrative.

By 7:30pm I was walking in a small group down a dark corridor which weaved left and right and was lit only by red light. Fully disoriented we entered a small room where other audience members waited nervously. From here we moved into a second room and were given our white masks. An announcement welcomed us to Temple Studios and invited us to the wrap party for a film at 10pm. Until then we were welcome to explore the studio provided we did not speak or remove our masks. We were also told that helpers in black masks would be around to provide help but not guide us and that we were better off exploring alone. So far it was all feeling pretty ominous.

Fully briefed we entered a large lift and met our first character of the night. A cheery American woman in an evening dress reiterated the instructions as she commandeered the lift down to the basement. Four of the twenty or so in the lift, including myself, stepped out of the lift and the woman slammed the door shut behind us. Had I come with a companion we would by now be separated from one another with no clue how to reunite in a massive building specifically designed to boggle the mind. The three women I suddenly found myself with seemed scared and tentative, unsure as to why we were suddenly alone in a dark basement corridor wearing masks and it was at this moment that I discovered the biggest surprise of the night. I wasn’t scared!

I was excited, emboldened, and wanted to explore. Leaving the only souls in sight behind I strode off through the first door I came to and so began an evening of running down corridors, nervously peering in doors, and scaring myself with my own reflection. If there was a closed door in the building I tried its handle and if a large crowd was following a character one way I would move in another.

For two and a half hours I roamed the building and at times found myself completely alone in a peculiar landscape; a snowy film set, a desert funeral attended by scarecrows, a smoke-filled room with checkerboard floor, or a caravan park surrounded by trees. At other moments I would stumble across a large group of people, normally formed because a few characters were playing out a scene that fit somehow into the jigsaw of a narrative, and for a brief period we would form a collective audience before dissipating once more.

A Hollywood Fable

Once a scene finished you were left with two options. Either you stay to explore the room the scene took place in or run desperately after one of the characters to see where they go next and how their plot develops. I tried both options; at one point chasing three characters to the basement only for them to disappear behind a locked door. Stranded once more I happened upon an initiation ceremony for a new actor at the fictional studio and left the scene only to return later when events had moved on without me and an orgy commenced.

That is the beauty of The Drowned Man.; the plot does not you need you to be there for it to progress. At any one moment during the evening two major storylines are unfolding simultaneously and numerous other subplots are progressing as well. It is pure chance what scenes you will witness, or what clues you might find on a character’s desk while exploring. Some reviewers seem to have found the amount of responsibility given to the audience to be too great. There is every chance you will miss all the key scenes but for me the Punchdrunk experience was about more than just the plot.

Admittedly if I hadn’t done my research beforehand the whole night might have been baffling but as it was I had one of the best evenings of my cultural life. The experience really was completely immersive as when you are not watching characters interact you are free to enter any set and touch the furnishings, leaf through papers, and smell the world. Walking through a series of motel bedrooms each has their own distinct smell that told you all you needed to know about their inhabitants.

Over the space of two and a half hours I saw dancing, singing, sex, murder, joy, and despair. In one evening I got stuck in a forest, followed a naked man through a desert, explored shrines and chapels, got lost in a secret tunnel between a dress shop and a cinema, witnessed an audition and an orgy, and had a silent conversation with the owner of the studio. Time moved at its own pace and at a point when I was worried that the evening was almost over I checked my watch and found only an hour had passed. When the evening came to a close the whole audience had congregated for the grand finale as if all drawn there by an invisible force. For a brief moment we were a fully formed audience sitting and watching a show before final bows were taken and we removed our masks and returned to the mundanity of the real world.

The whole evening was funny, scary, pretentious, and wonderful. I could have spent a whole week of evenings exploring the rooms and still not got bored or even close to having seen everything The Drowned Man has to offer.

I wasn’t expecting to but I absolutely loved it and want to go back right away. It is as simple as that.

The Drowned Man is booking until 30th December 2013 and needs to be seen to be believed. Tickets can be bought online but be warned as tickets peak at £47.50. If you can afford to go then go, otherwise pester a loved one for a theatrical Christmas treat.

Be bold and explore and you won’t be disappointed.

The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable – Trailer

The Drowned Man A Hollywood Fable

You may or may not have heard of Punchdrunk, they are an award-winning theatre company who take over locations to creative a fully immersive theatrical experience. In a Punchdrunk performance you are free to wander about and discover story threads at your own pace and perhaps go into rooms nobody else will find and have an evening unlike any other member of the audience.

Their latest piece is their biggest yet and they have teamed up with the National Theatre to take over an entire four storey building next to Paddington Station. This performance has particular intrigue for us at Mild Concern as it is set in a film studio in the 1960s, the official blurb explains more:

Amidst the fading glamour of 1960s Los Angeles, stands Temple Studios – a crumbling monument to the golden age of film, seducing wide-eyed dreamers with the promise of wealth and fame. Here, movie stars mingle with hungry young upstarts, while beyond the gates lies a forgotten hinterland where the many rejected by the studio system scratch out a living. Inspired by Georg Büchner’s fractured masterpiece Woyzeck, The Drowned Man explores the darkness of the Hollywood dream.

Intriguing no? The trailer below gives a greater sense of the style and atmosphere of the performance.

Tickets can be bought online and the show runs until 31st December 2013. Fingers crossed we’ll be going soon and will share the experience with you.

Once – Theatre Review


Based on the beautiful, uplifting, heartbreaking, hearwarming indie film Once comes the ever so slightly less beautiful, uplifting, heartbreaking, heartwarming but nevertheless great (although not very indie anymore) West End production Once. Both tell the simple story of Guy, an Irish hoover repairman and musician, meets Girl, a Czech mother and musician, leading to Guy and Girl making beautiful music together.

Whereas the film is entirely based around the two main characters, the play includes a slightly larger cast who serve to both take the crucial role in performing the soundtrack to the story and to add some slightly overstated comic relief. I can understand the desire to lighten the mood in a tale that tugs at the heartstrings so but I feel some of it doesn’t quite fit with the tone of the central romantic story. The film of Once is such a small intimate piece the broader comedic moments can come across as slightly jarring.

Once - Guy and Girl

My only other criticism is that the ‘manic’ in the ‘manic pixie dream Girl’ role (Zrinka Cvitešic) is initially slightly overplayed and the coldness of the lead Guy (Declan Bennett) is perhaps a little too cold but they certainly settle down and become a lot more believable throughout the performance.

Other than these niggles the show was wonderful and maintained more intimacy than is usually possible within a West End musical. As with the film the music and songs are the real star, really emphasising the emotions of the characters. They are performed brilliantly as you can see from our Once videos. Flora Spencer-Longhurst particularly impressed (Tim) on violin.

So overall pretty excellent really. I forgot about my day-to-day worries, cried a lot, still feel slightly dazed and emotionally tired, and am looking forward to taking a small (healthy?) amount of time out wallowing over my love lost before putting on my special suit and throwing myself headlong into life.

Once is on at the Phoenix Theatre and tickets can be bought online. Go and have a laugh and a good cry.

The Book Of Mormon – Theatre Review

The Book of Mormon

Last July I got a text saying that tickets for the London production of The Book Of Mormon had finally gone on sale that morning. I immediately began refreshing the server-crashed website that was selling tickets and 45 minutes later received many an odd look from my colleagues when I began whooping with joy after emerging victor with tickets to a show just days after previews were to begin on February 25th 2013.

Why should someone who has almost no interest in musical theatre be interested in The Book Of Mormon? Well, because it is the child of Robert Lopez, the co-writer/co-composer of puppet musical Avenue Q and Trey Parker & Matt Stone, the men responsible for South Park, Orgazmo and Team America.

Parker and Stone, no strangers to musical styling, subversive comedy, and religious satire have been brewing The Book Of Mormon for literally over twenty years. After their first feature, Cannibal: The Musical, Parker and Stone planned on a Joseph Smith musical that never came to fruition. And now (well, between 2003-2011), with the help of Lopez, Parker and Stone’s first foray into live theatre is here, and is an extraordinary one.

And lo, the Lord said that a musical that brews for twenty years will age into possibly the most unorthodox yet completely conventional musical ever. And totally kick ass.

Book of Mormon 3

Elder Price (Gavin Creel) is a devout but borderline-narcissistic Mormon missionary-to-be. His dream assignment would take him to Orlando, Florida (“the most wonderful place on Earth”) where he can fulfil his self-prophesised destiny to be the most successful missionary in history. To his dismay Price is paired with Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner), an insecure nerd and compulsive liar who is arguably the worst missionary around. Further to Price’s disappointment, he and Cunningham’s two-year assignment turns out to be in a hostile village in Uganda. Therein the pair’s faith is tested as they attempt to convert the dispassionate people of the village to Mormonism and protect them from the ruthless General Butt-F**cking Naked (Chris Jarman).

No longer at the mercy of censors much of the show’s humour is (somewhat expectedly) relentlessly ‘risqué’ and stems directly from poking fun at the alleged naivety of the Mormon religion and AIDs in Africa but there are just as many laughs that come entirely out of nowhere to tickle you silly too – a pimp Darth Vader dancing with 6-foot tall Starbucks cup being one of my personal favourites.

That said, the Monty Python-esque satire employed throughout is just the tip of the musical’s proverbial iceberg. When you take away the one-liners and a recurring joke about making love to a frog you see the show is laced with homages to musical theatre and film alike, with one of the most stand-out nods being a King and I­-like show-within-a-show about the ill-perceived origins of the Mormon religion.

Book of Mormon 4

The production values are impressive and execution feels effortless, which is quite a feat considering the amount happening on the stage throughout the two-hour forty run-time. Aside from the ingenious songs themselves (The Book Of Mormon didn’t win 9 Tony Awards for nothing) the most standout aspect of the show is the confident performances from the cast. Creel and Gertner hit all the right notes emotionally and musically, and the supporting cast, which includes Alexia Khadime, Giles Terera and Stephen Ashfield, are all phenomenally funny and subtly tender even with their briefer stage time.

To say that the musical is even close to tasteful on the outside would be quite inaccurate but Parker and Stone’s trademark themes of morality and righteousness easily balance out The Book of Mormon’s more obscene efforts. Sure the portrayal of Mormons and their more unorthodox beliefs is a little bent and the sort-of-sequels to Team America’s “AIDs” are a tad aggressive but the classic South Park ‘I learned something today…’ moments that appear throughout the show remind us that the story being told, like the stories in the actual Book of Mormon, authentic or not, can be very real in our hearts – we just have to look past all the frog sex first.

Old Spice vs. New Spice

The Spice Girls

Finally a definitive answer to THE question of 2013:

Which is better, Spiceworld The Movie, or Viva Forever, the new musical inspired by the band’s songs?

Spiceworld The Movie

A film following five girls you may have heard of. It features several what-were-they-thinking celebrity cameos, a Union Jack painted bus and a pre-nose-job Victoria Beckham.

Best Dramatic Moment
If you like camp, implausible drama you’ll be spoilt for choice, but the finale which features a high-speed bus drive across London Bridge is good fun. A mention at this point should go to some of the best celebrity cameos, including Meatloaf as their driver, Richard E Grant as their manager, Roger Moore as head honcho, an evil Richard O’Brian and Elton John as, well, himself – it’s hard for anyone with such jazzy glasses to go incognito. My favourite celeb moment is probably Elvis Costello as a low-key barman, lamenting ‘fame is such a fickle thing’. This is much funnier now that I’m not 11, and know who he is.

Worst Dramatic Moment
They’re all ludicrous, but I suppose if you wanted to be fussy you could say the alien encounter was a bit much. Killjoy.

Best Song
Spice Up Your Life, seen in all its glory in front of a roaring crowd, which brings back memories of the enthusiasm and energy the band used to create. Sniff.

Worst Song
Wannabe, which is featured in a naff flash-back scene. Obviously none of the film is exactly anchored in the truth, but somehow lying about how they met (as friends, in a local diner, as opposed to put together from an advert in The Stage) brought out my inner-cynic. Plus they wear some pretty dodgy denim.

Best Joke
Victoria is a revelation. Her acting begins shakily self-conscious, but as the film progresses she comes to embrace her monotone delivery, and what my boyfriend calls ‘her Lynchian quality’, as assets. By far the funniest moment involves her shouting at a coma-victim.

Best Costume
There are a couple of excellent costume montages, which as an adolescent girl I was mesmerised by. One of the best involves the girls dressing up (and taking the mickey) as each other, with Victoria doing a rather good Emma (‘My mummy’s my best friend’) and Mel B letting off some steam as Geri (‘Urmm Girl Power, blahblahblah.’)

Campest Moment
Hands down their rendition of Gary Glitter’s My Gang, complete with male dancers in purple onesies with bumless-backs to them. Special times.

Total Number of Songs
A surprisingly paltry seven, but I haven’t included background tunes.

Spice Points
Well, it has to have five really, does it? It’s camp, tongue in cheek and very British – you can’t help but fall for it. 5/5 jars of cumin.

Viva Forever

A musical using the songs of the Spice Girls to tell the story of Viva – a young singer who starts out as part of a girl band on a reality show, but is quickly forced to choose between her friends or solo success.

Best Dramatic Moment
One of the best parts of the show was the way the songs (mostly about getting a bit of ‘zaggazigah’ with blokes) were re-imagined, particularly Say You’ll Be There (probably my fave Spicy song anyway) which was used to convey an argument between Viva and her former band mates about loyalty.

Worst Dramatic Moment
The low point was a complicated scene which seemed to have been added to build on the ‘story arc’. (Alarmingly Jennifer Saunders talked about the difficulties of building an emotional arc in the intro of the programme, and I’m not entirely sure the problem was ever resolved). It involved ‘aged’ (ie about 40) judge Simone trying to reveal Viva’s birth mother to her on camera in Spain, while her adopted mother burst in to support her; the stage assistant leapt around unhelpfully; Viva herself seemed fairly uninterested in the whole thing and her gormless Latino lover hung around at the back. Got that? No, me neither.

Best Song
Definitely a clever medley of Mama and Goodbye. It was performed as a mother/daughter duet, with simple staging and lighting allowing the lead to show off an impressive set of pipes. I got musical theatre goose bumps, not experienced since the girl with the green face reached the key change in Wicked.

Worst Song
There were a few to be honest, most of which involved Simone, who seemed to be given most of the big numbers. I’m not quite sure why. Probably the worst was Mel C’s I Turn To You, which I’ve never been a fan of anyway, and was delivered melodramatically and without moving the narrative along.

Best Joke
Again delivered through song, a scene involving awkward 50+ sex (think neon hotel sign and floral twin beds) between Viva’s mum and her friend/bedfellow Mitch, set to 2 Become 1. The audience caught the actors off-guard by adding in the ‘wanna make love to ya, baby’ refrains, which made them giggle all the more. I also liked the description of Pontins as a ‘celebrity spitoon’, which had Absolutely Fabulous written all over it.

Best Costume
A Latino-dance number involved a host of colourful costumes, and some impressively large piñata-style puppets. Unfortunately, the routine itself was underwhelming – more sad-sack than salsa.

Campest Moment
The rather brilliant Zumba class (think hip shaking and general ridiculousness) held by Suzi (Viva’s mum’s mate, and general thong-wearing, hilarity-provider) which seemingly without reason (although, who needs a reason?) involved lots of lycra-clad men. Hurrah! The hen parties in the audience were certainly pleased.

Total Number of Songs
The programme credits an impressive 22.

Spice Points
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but as a childhood Spice Girls’ mega-fan, and musical aficionado I expected a slicker, more polished show. I’m going to have to leave the spice rack half filled: 2.5/5 cloves.

Spamalot – Theatre Review


I don’t really like Monty Python. Back at school I was forced to listen to one particular group of friends endlessly quote the films before I had seen a single frame. By the time I got round to seeing the films, as shown to me by a girlfriend I didn’t particularly like (I was fifteen, I now only date people I like), I knew all the jokes off by heart and my adolescent self found the whole thing completely silly and not at all funny. We broke up soon after and, apart from October’s visit to watch A Liar’s Autobiography, have never returned to give Monty Python a second chance. Last week with free tickets being offered I had no choice but to swallow my pride, grab my nearest bearded friend, and skip down to The Playhouse theatre and watch Spamalot. The things I do for the love of blog.

As the show opened with a musical number about Finland, the actors had misheard the narrator (!), all my prejudices came rushing to the surface. This was set to be two hours of silly nonsense and I was almost certain I wouldn’t enjoy myself. Spamalot had quite the hill to climb. Slowly but surely I was won over. The bizarre retelling of the story of King Arthur “lovingly ripped off from” Monty Python and the Holy Grail slowly worked its charms on me until I was laughing along with all the die-hard Python fans in the audience. What finally got me was the Lady of the Lake singing The Song That Goes Like This; an over the top parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber style love songs. In fact it was the Lady of the Lake, as played by Anna-Jane Casey, that consistently made the show for me. Her songs, including Diva’s Lament – Whatever Happened to My Part?, were mostly meta-songs referencing the fact that they were in a stage musical. Elements like this really tickled my funny bone and justified performing a film on stage.

Stephen Tompkinson - SpamalotIn the past Tim Curry has received rave reviews from theatre critics in the role of King Arthur while Alan Dale has received weak reviews from my friends (who as Alan Dale fans are to be believed). The latest star to take the role is Stephen Tompkinson who spent the late nineties breaking all our hearts as he tragically romanced Assumpta in Ballykissangel. While Tompkinson’s voice may not be as powerful as his more experienced co-stars he really throws himself into his performance and genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself – something that is a benefit in such a broad comedy and something I hear Mr. Dale was sorely lacking.

Spamalot forced me to enjoy myself despite my best efforts and has made good progress in removing those demons from my teen years that I am apparently still battling. At this rate I’ll be able to watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian without having flashbacks to boring lunchtimes and evenings spent at the local vicarage (long story). The only downside to the show was one member of the audience, sat directly behind us, who seemed to have paid a lot of money only to say some of the lines moments before the actors onstage were able to. Monty Python are OK by me now, the fans still aren’t.

Spamalot is currently running at the Playhouse theatre in London and tickets can be bought online here ranging from £15 to £75.

All New People – Theatre Review

I’ve been putting off reviewing Zach Braff’s debut play All New People for a week now, scared to put into words just how underwhelmed it made me feel. All New People is a single act play set in a beach house in the middle of winter on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Charlie (Zach Braff) is taking advantage of the isolation in order to commit suicide but is interrupted by an English real estate agent (Eve Myles), a drug dealing fireman (Paul Hilton) and a high-class prostitute (Susannah Fielding).

From this set-up the four characters spend ninety minutes discussing life, the universe, and everything as they try to convince Charlie that life is worth living whilst revealing their own tragic backstories. Each character is given a brief filmed flashback, projected onto the stage, which shows a shocking event from their past. Sadly these felt a little unnecessary as details came out in dialogue later on and seeing recognisable British actors like Amanda Redman doing their best American drawl took me out of the play.

On the whole the acting was without fault, Braff in particular should be commended for not giving himself the spotlight the entire time; he did write the play after all. Instead Braff made the most of his rants and ensured that even when in the background he was subtly drawing attention his way. Eve Myles (of Torchwood fame) was better than I had expected but got off to a rough start as her attempts at “wacky comedy” came off as a little try-hard.

Sadly the play as a whole didn’t really hold together well. The four characters all seemed to have been designed to be as quirky as possible, the backstories we were waiting to discover were of little consequence when they were revealed. Myles’ character in particular had such a bizarre history that felt wholly out of place in the play, and considering the subject matter involved (which I will avoid mentioning) felt a little cheap and crass when mentioned in such a passing manner.

All New People‘s worst crime is being easily forgettable and inconsequential, sorry Zach. All New People is on at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 28th April and tickets are available online but your money would be much better spent buying Garden State on DVD.