Review: Even Singing Sisters can’t save this Sideshow ✩✩

2star

They say bad things happen in threes – and that was certainly true in 1997, when Broadway audiences were subjected to the sinking of Titanic, Jekyll mutating into Hyde and Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton stuck together like glue in Sideshow.

Since then, there have been numerous resurfacings for Titanic and David Hasselhoff has sung This Is The Moment from Jekyll & Hyde in virtually every panto imaginable. Now it’s the turn of Southwark Playhouse to resurrect Sideshow – the story of Daisy and Violet: the most famous singing twins in showbusiness – well, until Jedward and The Cheeky Girls came along.

Southwark Playhouse is turning into a factory for Off-West End hit shows, but sadly Sideshow probably won’t be one of them. That’s not to say there aren’t some great things about this production – at its best it is sublime, with towering central performances from Louise Dearman (Daisy) and Laura Pitt-Pulford (Violet): At its worst it is a slow motion cart-crash of gothic vaudeville, parts of which put me in mind of Elephant Man the Musical, the glorious pastiche of OTT musicals from The Tall Guy.

The show starts with Daisy and Violet together on stage. They have to be, you see, they’re Siamese Twins. Not that it’s a very politically correct description these days…but then in this show, very little is. After a gentle introduction, we’re blasted with a decidedly unsubtle grand opening number “Come Look At The Freaks”. Director Hanna Chissick and Choreographer Matthew Cole manage to make this entertaining and the ensemble deliver with energy and verve, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the freaks on show here would probably be more at home on the Strictly Come Dancing Halloween special.

Henry Krieger (Lyrics) and Bill Russell (Book)
Henry Krieger (Lyrics) and Bill Russell (Book)

That Paul Taylor Mills’ production doesn’t have the budget of a big West End show isn’t the problem – it’s the turgid lyrics and badly written book (Bill Russell) which is so unforgivable. What should shock – which is what made real “freak shows” so popular – instead delivers a slightly weird fancy dress party strewn with lazy rhyming couplets, leaving one to sit and ponder instead if the cast was each given fifty quid and simply told to “see what Angels have on special offer” while the creative team tried their best to redact the worst of the lyrics.

Once you get past the extreme shock of seeing Conchita Wurst dancing with Chewbacca’s head, and a human lizard chasing a man with three legs, all you really need to know about Act One is that it will be over in 65 more minutes.

As to the rest of the plot, well there’s Daisy and Violet, who narrowly escaped life with a mother in Brighton who would make Mme Thenardier look like Mary Poppins and instead fall into the evil clutches of a man who shouts a lot and treats then abysmally. Fortunately (depending on your point of view) Buddy (endearingly played by Haydn Oakley), an aspiring musician arrives with Terry (Dominic Hodson) to whisk the girls off to the Orpheum circuit. Although this appeals more to Daisy than Violet, it’s hard to go your separate ways when you’re conjoined twins. After a brief chat and a few more musical numbers, the girls wave goodbye to their fellow freaks who bid them farewell with a few cringe-worthy platitudes (So long we adore you/we’ll be rooting for you) and with Jake the Cannibal King in tow, leave with Buddy and Terry for a life of Vaudevillian glamour and free babycham.

Laura Pitt-Pulford
Laura Pitt-Pulford

That’s about the gist of Act One. There are some funny lines, like when Buddy tells the twins that he’s very well connected, to which they reply “So are we!” but the book is so poorly written that at moments you might wonder why established musical theatre names like Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louise Dearman agreed to the gig. Only when the focus is solely on Daisy & Violet’s relationship does the show offer any true emotional resonance and that’s as much credit to the acting strength and vocal power of Dearman and Pitt-Pulford as to the show itself.

I returned to Act two with a sense of fear and trepidation – were we in store for another hour of the same? Well, here I will admit to experiencing a Damascene conversion – albeit temporary. Having largely loathed the first half of the show, Act Two was a pleasant surprise. It’s almost as if the producers had fired the writers during the interval and brought in a whole new creative team. Where Act One simply plods, Act Two delves deeper into the characters of two remarkable women bound together by a simple twist of nature, and the effect is spellbinding. Gone the syrupy mawkishness and repetitive scoring and instead we begin to peel back the layers of the twins as individuals – and the show is infinitely better for it.

Louise Dearman’s Daisy is both genuinely funny and deeply troubled – her heartbreak during a scene set at New Year is palpable. There is a tragic inevitability to her sister Violet’s choice to love the wrong man, in part because of her own and in part society’s prejudice against interracial marriage.

Louise Deadman
Louise Deadman

The true tragedy of Sideshow’s characters is not their enforced companionship, but their isolation. Each of the four main characters is as lonely as they are trapped, with each relationship doomed by the simple situation of two women who cannot be physically parted. Here, I must raise a serious concern with the choreography of the show: You simply cannot stage a show about conjoined twins without being very sure about WHERE they are conjoined. At times they seemed joined at the hip, and at others at the back.

In fact, in my visit during previews, it seemed at times that all surgeons would have needed were a pair of nail scissors and a couple of aspirin to successfully part Daisy and Violet. The set design and direction are also of concern – and if you’re unlucky enough to be sat in the highest and lowest number seating in each row you’ll spend half the show wondering what on earth the rest of the audience is looking at…which in a space as small as Southwark is problematic.

Sideshow: Definitely a show of two halves
Sideshow: Definitely a show of two halves

I would gladly watch Sideshow again…albeit I’d probably stay in the bar for Act One, especially if I had a side seat. Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are worth ten times the price of a ticket, and there are plenty of great one liners like when Terry proposes to Violet and Daisy quips “If you don’t say yes I’ll have a heart attack that will kill us both!” – but a few great one liners won’t save this show.

I couldn’t help but think that one number in act two, One Plus One Equals Three was rather a poor imitation of Two Ladies from Cabaret, but by way of redemption, ballads like I Will Never Leave You soar to the stratosphere and when the score works, it really does pack a terrific punch. If you love big overblown modern-gothic musical theatre you’ll find the score richly rewarding. Sideshow could be wonderful, but it needs to be completely rewritten and I’m afraid that rather like surgery on Daisy and Violet, any operation might just as easily result in one half surviving and the other losing the will to live.

Sideshow
Southwark Playhouse until 3rd December
Tickets £25

The Dresser Review ✩✩✩✩: Reece Shearsmith shines in a cross-dressing classic

Expectation in the Theatre can be a dangerous thing: The Dresser, Sir Ronald Harwood’s stage masterpiece is often cited as one of Theatre’s great works and while Sean Foley’s direction is accomplished, there are just a few moments when The Dresser, like “Sir” himself, shows its age.

Read more

Groundhog Day Hits Gold with 5* Reviews

Tim Minchin has another massive hit on his hands according to West End critics who are heaping praise and five star reviews upon Groundhog Day. The musical, based on a classic 90s movie has just had its Press Night at the Old Vic Theatre and looks set to take the West End, Broadway and then the world by storm.

The show reunites Matilda composer/lyricist Read more

We got kinky with Kinky Boots!


We got kinky with Kinky Boots!

Plus, we have a NO BOOKING fee offer for you to get kinky too!

5 Stars

Do NOT miss!

ABOUT

The story was first filmed in 2005, starring Oscar® nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. It was then brought to London in September 2015 as a musical with direction and choreography by two-time Tony® Award-winner Jerry Mitchell and book by Broadway legend and four-time Tony® Award-winner Harvey Fierstein. 

After three Olivier awards, and the audience in frenzy, it is no exaggeration to say that Kinky Boots is a MUST see show in the West End!

London gets kinky, even Jimmy Choo!

WHAT IS REALLY ABOUT?

In a nutshell: Charlie, weak and lost at first, lacking any sincere dreams and inspiration, is forced to take over his recently deceased father’s shoe factory. He then meets Lola, a cabaret performer, and they join forces to create the first brand of sexy high heeled boots for men.

But Kinky Boots is more than that, it is a story about dreams, inspiration and acceptance. It moves you, it teaches you and it motivates you, while rocking you to the amazing songs by Grammy® and Tony® winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper.

Matt Henry performs the role of the fabulous Lola and simply mesmerises the audience that dances and sings to his tempo!
Killian Donnelly (Charlie Price) amazes with his performance as a disillusioned, unmotivated and lost character that gets back on track!

Highlights:

  • The grand finale will definitely make you dance!
  • The feeling of inspiration and bliss you feel after watching the show!

Lowlights:

  • NONE.

Tip: Wear something red and get kinky!

Critic Reviews:

4 Stars

“AN ABSOLUTE HOOT OF A SHOW, TOTAL BOX OFFICE FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT”

The Times

 

4 Stars

“DAZZLING, FABULOUSLY SASSY AND UPLIFTING”

Time Out

 

5 Stars

“KINKY BOOTS IS HILARIOUS, HEARTWARMING AND A HELL OF A LOT OF FUN”

Digital Spy

Read audience reviews on From The Box Office
Click to see more show photos on Pinterest!
Watch more YouTube videos on the Kinky Boots Channel

Aladdin: Diamond in the Rough is a Royal Romp!

4star

I approached Aladdin, the latest offering from Disney Theatrical with a sense of excitement and trepidation. Could Disney recreate the magic of the film on stage without losing the magic and wonder? Could The Genie live up to the phenomenal performance of Robin Williams and a team of Disney’s finest animators? Would Aladdin trump the Lion King? Read more

Sunset Boulevard Pre-Opening Night Review: Norma, Nudity, and a very “Un-London” reaction

I bought tickets to Sunset Boulevard with a sense of both excitement and dread: How could this possibly live up to the hype? Could Glenn Close still sing? Having had the privilege to see Glenn in 2002 at the National Theatre in A Streetcar Named Desire, and having Sunset Boulevard as one of my favourite scores, I was worried I might just be expecting, well, too much? Read more

People, Places and Things – The Reviews

Following a hugely successful run at the National Theatre, Headlong Theatre’s gritty, bleak and darkly funny tale of addiction and redemption as seen through the eyes of actress Emma has now moved to the Wyndham’s Theatre. The reviews are in – so what did the critics think of the show’s West End transfer?

"A character you can't tear your eyes from"
“A character you can’t tear your eyes from”

Chris Bennion for The Telegraph said Denise Gough’s Emma was Read more

The Painkiller Review – Five Star Farce Majeure

5star

The set-up is simple: Two adjoining hotel rooms are occupied by a professional hit-man and a suicidal husband. There’s also an adjoining door. It’s the kind of conceit which lends itself so perfectly to farce and director Sean Foley milks every last drop of humour from the situation. Read more

Motown The Musical – The Reviews

Following a dazzling Press Night on Tuesday 8th March 2016 in the presence of soul legend Smokey Robinson and Mr Motown himself Berry Gordy, the reviews are in! So what did the critics think of the show?

Britishtheatre.com’s Douglas Mayo called Motown: Read more

Mrs Henderson Presents – Flawed, naked and oh so British

3star

It’s London, 1937, and recently widowed Laura Henderson just bought a theatre. Mrs Henderson Presents premiered in 2015 at the Theatre Royal Bath and now transfers to the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre. I snuck in during London previews a few days before press night to see if everything was tickety-boo. Read more

Review: Grey Gardens at the Southwark Playhouse

4star

I approached Grey Gardens aware of its 10 Tony Award nominations. That it has taken 10 years to find a London home was a concern. Would this tale of two frankly batty old American socialites fallen into squalor on a Long Island estate in the East Hamptons even make sense to a British audience? I’m delighted to say it does – and Southwark has a sizeable hit on its hands. The house, home to 52 stray cats, a few rabid racoons and its two reclusive inhabitants may make an unlikely setting for a musical. But then again, Cats was set on a rubbish tip.

Jenna Russell: Edith Bouvier Beale 1941
Jenna Russell: Edith Bouvier Beale 1941 [Scott Rylander]
The inhabitants in question, “Little” Edie Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith Bouvier Beale, were cousin and aunt to Jackie Kennedy Onassis – and therein lay the scandal.

Danielle Tarento’s production is brave and mesmerising. From the moment you set foot inside the home of this most eccentric mother and daughter, Tom Rogers (Set) and Howard Hudson (Lighting) create a feeling of stifling suffocation in the industrial Southwark Playhouse. The set nods to both Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and the interior of Dickens’ Satis House. Grey Gardens is both mausoleum and mansion. Lamps are set on an angle. Upturned chairs, whisky and dirt rise up from an ochre sea of discarded hats and scarves; faded photographs peer down at the bare floorboards. Suitcases which clearly haven’t travelled anywhere in decades lie filled with unworn clothes. Only a Bakelite telephone on an upright piano hints at what is to come.

Sheila Hancock (Old Edith) enters like a ghostly Miss Havisham, momentarily followed by Jenna Russell (“Little” Edie) who trudges down the stairs like a weary Norma Desmond who can’t really be bothered. These women live in a social enclave where you can be arrested for wearing red shoes on a Thursday. So perhaps it’s perfectly normal to want to elope with the cat or believe that “if you can’t get a man to propose then you might as well be dead”?

If you can't get a man to propose to you then you might as well be dead.
If you can’t get a man to propose to you then you might as well be dead. [Scott Rylander]

Grey Gardens (book Doug Wright, music Scott Frankel and lyrics Michael Korie) takes a documentary probably better known to US audiences and with a little embellishing of the truth, turns it into an accomplished stage musical. Jenna Russell plays both “Little” Edie Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale, with Sheila Hancock taking the role of the older Edith in 1973. Both performances are quite remarkable, with both Hancock and Russell providing charm and fallibility in equal measure. The mother-daughter bond is at once touchingly sad and horribly claustrophobic -and never less than delightfully eccentric.

Much of 1941 seems to have been spent around the piano or ruining their children’s relationships. Edith’s “gin and platonic” amour George Gould Strong (Jeremy Lagat) provides a succession of fantastic one-liners and bitchy asides, “I just adore children – especially grown ones”. Their relationship is one of mutual benefit – she adores singing and he adores glamour. At times Lagat’s acting can’t quite match the women on stage but his versatility as a pianist and singer more than compensates.

Piano
If your mother hangs out with pianists, what do you expect? [Scott Rylander]
Edith’s father J.V. Major Bouvier (Billy Boyle) is a man obsessed with responsibility and devastated that his daughter did not turn out republican. He makes no secret of his revulsion for the effeminate Gould or his disappointment of a daughter who is “An actress without a stage.”

If there were any doubt of Gould’s homosexuality, it is soon put to bed with the arrival of the strikingly handsome Joseph Patrick Kennedy (Aaron Sidwell). A study in assured ego and chiselled features, Sidwell’s Kennedy is perfectly described by Gould – “Somewhere…there is a pedestal missing its statue”. Sadly his love for “little” Edie expires as soon as he realises that she isn’t First Lady material.

You're just not First Lady material...
You’re just not First Lady material… [Scott Rylander]
Men don’t come off very well at all in Grey Gardens. Edith’s husband fails to arrive at his daughter’s engagement, preferring instead to send a telegram from Mexico to inform her that he is divorcing her mother. Although the musical’s book does take some fairly dramatic liberties, it perfectly highlights a world of hypocrisy in which society women were often trapped.

“Little” Edie quite possibly suffered what would now be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, leading to sometimes extreme behaviour. Her relationship to Edith is often that of Rapunzel to the Witch – both so determined to protect one other from the world outside that neither is truly free to enjoy it.

In 1941, little Edie is played by relative newcomer Rachel Anne Rayham who is out-performed by the more experienced cast before coming into her own in the terrific “Two Peas in a Pod” and “Daddies Girl”. The musical numbers lift a plot which might otherwise lag. This is particularly true of the beautiful “Drift Away” which beautiful paints a man more faithful to Edith than the husband who promised to be.

And that's the revolutionary costume of today!
And that’s the revolutionary costume of today! [Scott Rylander]
Act Two leaps forward to 1973 with one of the great performances of Musical Theatre as Jenna Russell’s now 56-year-old “little” Edie takes to the stage in a revolutionary knitted costume, designed to cover her alopecia though not her dignity. It’s pant-wettingly funny and worth the cost of a ticket alone. Hancock’s deadpan delivery of put-downs as “Old” Edith is second to none. What daughter doesn’t want to hear “Is it my fault that you’re unmarried, bald and fat?” and “You look horrible”. But as Edith says, it’s very difficult to raise a child of 56 years old.

Aaron Sidwell returns in Act Two as the beguiling houseboy, Jerry and somehow maintains pretty-but-dumb sex appeal amongst piles of meat, trash and cat faeces. The desperation of two lonely women competing for his attention, including the euphemistic desire of old Edith to get him to “eat her corn”, is both heart-breaking and slightly unsettling.

Jerry likes my corn...
Jerry likes my corn… [Scott Rylander]
56 year old Edie is never lost for a comeback to her mother’s put-downs with lines such as “I can’t lose weight – the ice box is too near” or more practially when  we’re not too sure if Edie is feeding her mother pate or a tin of giblets meant for the cats.

Thom Southerland’s direction is light and deft and Lee Proud‘s intelligent choreography cleverly interprets a strong score performed well under the supervision and direction of Simon Lee and Michael Bradley. The only time the music really seems incongruous is in the (admittedly) uplifting “Choose to be happy” which adds some light relief in a gospel number performed entirely in old Edith’s bedroom and up the staircase.

Choose to be happy.
Choose to be happy. [Scott Rylander]
Grey Gardens is best summed up by one line. “The definition of character? To take a scandal and make it a triumph.” And Grey Gardens is most undoubtedly triumphant.

Grey Gardens
Southwark Playhouse until 6th February
020 7407 0234
www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photograph 51: Our review

4star

“One sees something new every time one looks at truly beautiful things.”

There is a crackle of electricity as the house lights dim in the Noel Coward Theatre. London has waited 16 years for the return of one of the greatest stars of Hollywood’s nineties and noughties. This Oscar Winning Best Actress has that rarest of things – genuine star quality – and the starkness of the contrast between Kidman’s radiance Read more

Briefs (London Wonderground) – Theatre Review

4starJaw dropping high octane male burlesque Age guidance: Suitable for adults only After a dazzling sell-out run in 2014, the all-male burlesque phenomenon Briefs returns this summer for a fourth time to London Wonderground. Hosted by Shivannah (Fez Faanana), a feisty antipodean drag queen, the fun starts even before you walk in to the fabulously big topped Spiegeltent currently sandwiched between the Royal Festival Hall and London Eye. There can’t be too many places you can sup a pre-show glass of Prosecco sitting in a fairground waltzer eyeballing a nearly naked male burleque dancer, can there? This is one theatrical soiree you really do want to arrive at early – when they call you, get in line fast to get the very best of the unreserved seating.

“Get there early for the very best of the unreserved seating”.

Read more

Sinatra: The Man and his Music – Theatre Review

3 stars out of 5
3 stars out of 5: To be frank, it’s a visual feast

Of the many great show business names synonymous with London’s iconic Palladium, there is none so legendary as Frank Sinatra. Sinatra: The Man and his Music brings Ol’ Blue Eyes back using rare footage – to the stage where he first performed 65 years ago. Read more

The Importance of Being Earnest – Vaudeville Theatre Review

The Importance of Being Earnest
A trivial comedy for serious people
Vaudeville Theatre

Review – Niall R Palmer

Book Tickets

When Nimax Theatres announced way back in early 2014 that David Suchet would be playing perhaps the grandest of Oscar Wilde’s great harridans, Lady Bracknell, surprisingly few plucked eyebrows were raised. The definitive Poirot and RSC/NT regular Suchet is a gifted and highly respected actor, and most were sure his feet would easily fit heels filled by the likes of Dames Judi Dench, Edith Evans and Maggie Smith. The fact that they don’t is a crime-de-théâtre that Poirot himself might struggle to solve. Read more

The West End’s Scariest Leading Ladies

From Females to She-males and from Queens of Carthage to Queens of the Desert, The West-End and Broadway both have long lived love affairs with not-to-be-messed-with women who’ve been pushed just that bit too far. Let’s face it, if you’d been left to raise a child in a warzone by a bloke who married you in a fake wedding and then dumped you for a helicopter before the interval, or had to sell your hair to pay for medicine for your French daughter and then had to spend the whole of Act Two making ghost noises behind a curtain, you’d be pretty hacked off too.

From the big and ballsy (think Hairspray’s Edna Turnblad or Chicago’s murderous Roxie & Velma) to the emotionally over-wrought (Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond or Miss Saigon’s Kim), it’s tough to pick our favourite Woman on the Verge – the type of terrifying leading lady you might love to watch from the safety of the Dress Circle, but definitely wouldn’t want to leave alone with your kids. Read more

REVIEW: My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse at the Apollo Theatre

Global Siblings

My Night with Reg is a bittersweet satire about a group of ‘best’ friends in the 80s who all have an acquaintance in common, the eponymous Reg. What follows is a continual aftermath of parties set over a period of quite a few years. Over those years, we, the audience, learn quite a lot of the titular Reg and his apparent promiscuity as well as the wake of deception, betrayal and self destruction that it carves through the tightly bound group and shows them that they might not be as close as they thought they were, or maybe closer than they could imagine.

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Memphis -Review, 5 November 2014

From the first moment Beverley Knight slinks an elegantly turned ankle on to the stage of the Shaftesbury theatre, Memphis the Musical pulsates with mesmeric star quality. A Soul career has prepared Beverley well – holding the audience in rapt thrall at every note. Yet more than that, her recent leading lady status in The Bodyguard means that, crucially, she also grasps theatre stagecraft.

Ms Knight is easily the best thing about Memphis – though that’s a statement of her talent more than a criticism of the show. Musical numbers fire off in rapid succession, with inch perfect choreography and a tightly drilled cast which delivers with more energy than a large Hadron collider.

Memphis started life in 2001, the concept of George W George with book & lyrics by Tony© Award nominee Joe DiPietro, and tells the story of Radio DJ Huey Calhoun’s fight to bring Rock’n’Roll to a still racially segregated 1950s America. Colour blind Huey falls for singer Felicia (Knight) and unlike the Radio and TV executives, is colour blind – much to the chagrin of his mother Gladys (Claire Machin) and Felicia’s protective brother Delray (Rolan Bell).

I had the nagging feeling that this monochrome story has been told before, either more colourfully (Hairspray), more powerfully (Ragtime) or more enduringly (West Side Story). Memphis feels for all the world like a jukebox musical, and in less gifted hands, it could have been. The music at times seems a little painted on, but that’s also the show’s unique charm. Grammy® Award-winner (and Bon Jovi founding member) David Bryan’s songs have that familiar ring which truly great works inspire on their very first listening. As musical theatre numbers they may fail to move the story along, but for once that doesn’t really matter. They are instant classics; they are also in very safe hands.

When Knight unfurls her full vocal splendour, there are shades of Randy Crawford, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. Her vocal chords are strung as tightly as a Tennessee banjo; there’s more light and shade in a single lyric than a Southern forest floor in the fall. The worry for producers must be what happens when her contract ends?

In such company, it would be easy to overlook Killian Donnelly as Radio DJ Huey Calhoun. Like Marmite, he works well with cheese but isn’t everyone’s thing. When Huey asks his mother “Did you ever expect me to be good at anything” her reply is a droll “No”. In early scenes I almost felt the same, with Donnelly seeming to play Calhoun with an emotional range somewhere between Sylvester Sneekly and

Chandler Bing. But as the show ramps up so does Donnelly and by the finale, he is a vocal surfer riding the quest of a sound-wave, matching Ms Knight note for note. Donnelly’s strength lies in a natural ability to internalise emotion; at times he is a coiled spring, at others a combustion engine.

Structurally, I felt that there was some back story missing. Two opening musical numbers in quick succession, rather than setting the scene, come at the expense of characterisation. Act one is a little like watching an identity parade with characters simply rock’n’rolling on and off. Act two is more mellifluous and only hits the rapids with a poorly staged fight which could (and should) send you reeling, but rather leaves you feeling like you’ve just been roughed up by a couple of escaped chorus boys and will probably be fine after a nice lie down.

In an otherwise competent production, the stage lighting proves a challenge too far for the cameras used in Huey’s TV show. There were technical problems for a few moments when the camera seemed to be following the action back-to-front which, even if it was a stylistic choice, just looked odd.

Despite all this, the sensational final few numbers are belted out with power and passion, delivering one spine tingling note after another, and any flaws are forgotten. Would I see Memphis again? Yep. Would I buy the soundtrack? You betcha.

Memphis.

From 9 October 2014 to 31 October 2015 at the Shaftesbury Theatre

Niall R Palmer

Gypsy – Chichester Festival Theatre

Theatrepaws review, 26 October 2014

“You Gotta Get a Ticket”.

a

When Imelda Staunton battles onto the Chichester Festival stage, you could be forgiven for at first feeling underwhelmed. Rose Hovick (Momma Rose) is drab, diminutive and like the apartment in which she later performs her opening number (Some People), a little dowdy. Less Ethel Merman, more Mrs Overall. But there’s a delicious hint of what’s to come when, faced with a child covered entirely in balloons threatening to upstage her daughter Dainty June, she takes out a hatpin like she’s unsheathing a dagger. If looks could kill…

Staunton won the 2013 Best Actress Olivier Award© for her portrayal of Mrs Lovett in another Chichester Festival production, Sweeney Todd. If she repeats that success as Rose Hovick depends on two factors; firstly will Gypsy transfer to a West End Theatre (a prerequisite for nomination), and secondly, will the other nominees seek out and kill her in time? Because they’re going to have to.

Staunton brings such guts and bravery to Momma Rose that it’s impossible to despise her; and despicable she most certainly is. The ultimate pushy show-business parent, Momma Rose pushed so hard that one daughter, forced to dance on point at the age of two, eloped at 15 – the other became a burlesque stripper. Both were suffocated by the nightmare of a mother making her children live her own dream.

“What I got in me– what I been holding down inside of me– if I ever let it out, there wouldn’t be signs big enough! There wouldn’t be lights bright enough!” By the time Momma Rose utters those immortal lines, you can hear a pin drop (presumably a hat pin). Staunton proves every bit as big and ballsy as Merman, let there be no doubt.

Behind the greasepaint and limelight beats the dark heart of the American Dream at its very worst. Despite the scrolling marquees and razzamatazz, Gypsy is so bleak that that at times one has to pinch oneself to remember that this is a true story.

Staunton describes playing the part as like “competing in my own mini-Olympics”. But it’s not just Staunton who deserves plaudits. Gypsy is a masterclass of writing, direction and performance that render this harridan’s story as horrific as it is spellbinding – like a terrible accident that you can’t look away from. Staunton’s Rose Hovick is part Mommie Dearest, part Rose West. Hearing her shout “Sing out Louise” brings a shiver to the spine. One can only imagine the terror it inspired in her daughter.

There are deliciously funny moments – any woman who furnishes her entire kitchen by stealing cutlery from the local Chinese restaurant is my kind of woman. There are stand-out comic set pieces – one a panto-like farm sequence with June, her Farmboys and a cow, during which Staunton inadvertently steals the show by simply trying to move a chicken on wheels – with achingly funny results. The other propels June into Burlesque (Gotta Get a Gimmick) performed with sass by Louise Gold, Anita Louise Combe and Julie Legrand as three deliciously ropey strippers.

Dan Burton sings and dances (All I Need Is The Girl) like a young Gene Kelly, oozing masculinity through sublime Stephen Mear choreography. I have a feeling if the Olivier committee ever bring in an award for Best Featured Dancer, then Burton’s got it in the bag. Gemma Sutton and Lara Pulver excel as Rose’s long-

suffering daughters, and its credit to their acting strength that they aren’t completely blown off the stage at times by their mother. Kevin Whately (TV’s Lewis) makes a credible and likeable Herbie, supported by a company who work their socks off.

With the combined talents of Jule Styne (Music), Stephen Sondheim (Lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (Book), its small wonder that Gypsy is widely acknowledged as one of the great oeuvres of American Musical Theatre. Gypsy takes no prisoners. The show is littered with sparkling dialogue and show stopping songs. It sings to anyone who has ever dreamed and ever failed. Momma Rose sums up her desperation late in Act Two:

“You wanna know what I did it for? Because I was born too soon and started too late, that’s why! With what I have in me I could have been better than any of you!”

Staunton’s greatest triumph is that even at her most monstrously selfish, we never doubt that she loves her children. She is simply ruthless in pursuit of success. It is perhaps because we can all relate to her feeling of unfulfilled destiny that Gypsy is so hugely moving and so utterly chilling.

Gypsy plays at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 8th November 2014
http://www.cft.org.uk/gypsy
A West End Transfer surely beckons

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But Dagenham Definitely was.

That opening gag sets the tone for this brand new musical, which could have been a finely tuned Ford Capri but coughs, splutters and stalls at something between a Cortina and a hover-mower. Like an old banger, occasionally the jokes backfire.

There are redeeming features – Gemma Arterton is likeable enough as trailblazing seamstress Rita O’Grady, but where she sparkles on the small screen, Arterton struggles to stand out on stage in strong female company.

There are some proper belly laughs, delivered with real theatrical swagger by Sophie Stanton as the deliciously foul-mouthed Beryl, while Naomi Frederick as Lisa Hopkins breathes fire into what could otherwise have been a one dimensional horse-riding housewife. However, it’s Sophie-Louise Dann who provides the real star turn of the night as the formidably feisty Barbara Castle. I daresay if the show has any chance of picking up an Olivier Award then it’s Dann who the producers will have to thank. It’s worth the price of a ticket for the female cast alone.

Dagenham’s men on the other hand are largely one-dimensional, poorly directed and poorly written. Where they should provide a foil for the protagonist and give the women of Dagenham something to rail against, they simply loaf, prance or strut about like they’re in a bad, sexist 1960s sitcom. Harold Wilson (Mark Hadfield) is reduced to an effete school caretaker who doesn’t know that the door from his office is actually a cupboard (although I admit George W Bush did think the same thing). Strangely, in Act Two, the striking factory workers enter through it so presumably there’s also a secret passage in there?

Prime Minister Wilson is accompanied at all times by what appears to be the bowler-hatted civil servants from the Embassy Lament in Chess – another musical entirely. And at times I did feel like I was watching other shows. Billy Elliot with cars. Our House with cars. Yes Prime Minister….yes, you guessed it…with cars. Of course there are striking (pardon the pun) similarities with Billy Elliot that you can’t avoid with both shows being set against a background of striking workers. But whereas Billy Elliot has power and guts, Made in Dagenham feels, a little like Ford Motors, that it just rolled off a production line.

David Arnold’s songs are catchy and functional but I doubt anyone will be rushing out to buy the cast recording. Richard Bean’s book is funny but a little soulless. Richard Thomas’s lyrics zip along, but while he can do smutty, with cascading rhymes aplenty, he can’t do moving…and by the time husband Eddie’s song comes along in the second act, he appears to have run out of lyrics entirely.

This being a preview, there are some songs I imagine they’ll cut…so by the time you see the show, maybe Harold Wilson won’t be doing a sand-dance any more. And perhaps the Stetson-clad yee-hawing American Baddie won’t be opening Act Two with lyrics like “We’re all straight and you’re all gay”. Don’t worry. You won’t have missed anything.

So, Made In Dagenham. Worth seeing? Well, yes actually. The set and staging are slick even if it does resemble a great big Airfix kit. There are some very funny gags – though a bit filthy for the kids maybe. It’s mostly entertaining. I suppose I could sum up the show in one of its own lines.

“Dagenham. So good they named it once.”

Made in Dagenham. From 23rd October 2014 to 28th March 2015 at the Adelphi Theatre

Made In Dagenham – In Preview
Theatrepaws review, 22 October 2014