For theatre... online, non-professional, amateur
What the Ladybird Heard

What the Ladybird Heard

When I first saw this production in 2017 I described it as a mini-musical for pre-schoolers and I stand by that, four years later. But there are differences: I think the show has settled, the present four actors have a palpable onstage rapport with both the audience and each other and Nikita Johal is delightful as the reassuring, very smiley Lily who also sings splendidly.

The show works on the assumption that the children in the audience are already very familiar with Julia Donaldson’s rhyming adventure story about a ladybird who thwarts a burglary on an idyllic farm. But the show also offers its young audience new things which they’re not expecting: songs by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw with additional lyrics by Howard Jacques, for instance. The words are witty, simple and clear – in the hands of four actor-musos – and the melodies very simple so that children can pick them up easily.

Another imaginative idea is the use of puppets – assembled from farmyard bits and pieces – to bring to life Donaldson’s cast of animal characters and Lydia Monks’s illustrations for the original book. Monks was involved in the development of the stage show which includes a horse created from a bicycle, an inverted long tin bath and a bucket while a hen emerges from an old brown cushion and a red rubber glove and a goose from a white watering can. It makes good theatre as children are invited to identify each animal as it is realised on stage.

Roddy Lynch is a solid, warm-voiced, comforting figure as the farmer and I enjoyed his sound effects on violin. Matthew McPherson is full of character as Hefty Hugh and a useful guitarist while James Mateo-Salt is an entertaining Mr Bean-ish comic character initially pretending to be a theatre usher drawn into the show because they are one short.

All this is played on a small set, designed by Bek Palmer,  which sits inside the Harry Potter set at the Palace Theatre and it’s good to see very young children in such a historic building acquiring – we hope – a taste for live theatre.

Dorian: A Rock Musical

Dorian: A Rock Musical

Photo: Joe Evans

There have been many film and television programmes based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, several operas, a ballet and at least one musical, so Dorian: A Rock Musical is revisiting familiar material. In Wilde’s Faust-like novel, a character sells his soul for eternal youth, so that only his portrait ages and shows the effects of his dissolute lifestyle. Described as a digital glam rock musical, Dorian: A Rock Musical is a Ruby in the Dust production and available to stream until Thursday, 12 August.

The musical keeps the main characters from the novel but changes the central character, Dorian Gray, to a rock star who is soon under the spell of a charismatic but dangerous music impresario, Lord Henry. Also surviving from the original novel are Sybil Vane, the talented actress whose love for Dorian destroys her, Basil Hallward, the painter of the portrait and Lady Henry, the spurned wife of Lord Henry. The time period during which the painting ages has also been changed from 18 to 10 years, weakening the extent of the presumed transformation.

The show is composed by Joe Evans and written and directed by Linnie Redman. It was originally planned to run at The Other Palace but was overtaken by events; the streamed version has been filmed at an undisclosed location in Mayfair. It has quite a low-key beginning with a young man singing a rock ballad to a photo in a frame before he is joined by a woman who has just been to a funeral. We don’t know who they are of course so they helpfully remind each other; not a convincing beginning for the book of the show, too often, as here, the weakest part of a rock musical.

Production values are quite high, with the piece filmed in an evocative setting, and the regular rock numbers are well played though not very varied, and come over much more effectively than the dialogue, although they are often quite declaratory: this is very much an actor musical rather than rock musicians acting. Costumes are vaguely modern but sometimes a little perplexing, with Lord Henry’s sleeves almost as distracting to the viewer as they seem to be for him. And the central challenge, how to show the ever-aging picture, is dodged completely, apart from a brief glimpse as it is hidden away and again when it is revealed at the end after Dorian has stabbed it offstage and then reappears bleeding but not noticeably aged.

The cast sing well and do their best with the dialogue and some of the lyrics. The jaunty upbeat songs seem at odds with the piece and are often curiously unlike a rock musical. They sometimes seem more like patter songs and call out for choreography. By the time we do get some choreography, for Lady Windermere’s Fan Dance (no, really) we seem to have entered a different universe from that of the modern rock musical, with so many of the numbers seeming like the jolly number that lightens the mood in the middle of the show: it’s a bit like watching Superstar but Herod is singing all the songs. It’s not only Lady Windermere that has wandered in from another Wilde play; we get more of the famous aphorisms and even a song based on Lord Alfred Douglas’ poem about the love that dare not speak its name.

The cast are mostly good and can cope well with the musical demands as well as rising above some of the more clunky lyrics that include rhymes like “corner” and “warn ya” or dialogue like “life is an illusion, a shit illusion.” Johanna Stanton, in particular, turns in an impressive and heartfelt performance. Fia Houston-Hamilton makes an effective Sybil Vane and becomes the focus of the narrative rather more than the central conceit of the painting. As Lord Henry, John Addison works hard but struggles with much of the dialogue he has been given, and does his best with a faintly embarrassing bump and grind rock number with a girl trio.

Bart Lambert gives Dorian everything he has and is never less than fully committed. Tristan Pegg convinces in a minor role and Sophie Jugé works hard as Mrs Leaf and a number of other characters, and also has the immortal line “I can’t get used to that doorbell” after a particularly inappropriate sound effect. The best performance is that of Lewis Rae as the artist Basil Hallward. He knows how to bring commitment to a role where the script may not be helping, and he is always watchable. He is eventually stabbed by Dorian accompanied by more interpolated quotes, this time from the Ballad of Reading Gaol with each man killing the thing he loves.

After some ghostly reappearances from those he has killed, Dorian eventually attacks the portrait, destroys it and inherits the aging that he had avoided. In this production that dramatic denouement happens mostly offstage before a low-key epilogue with Lord Henry holding Dorian in his arms.

Tickets for Dorian: A Rock Musical can be purchased online at for £15.

The Importance of Being Earnest (Students Stream Wilde in support of Acting for Others)

The Importance of Being Earnest (Students Stream Wilde in support of Acting for Others)

Students from the Newcastle University performed Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the magnificent Empire Theatre, Sunderland in aid of Acting for Others.

Oscar Wilde wrote this play as a ‘trivial comedy for serious people’ following previous successes which had a serious edge to them at a time when other playwrights – George Bernard Shaw, for instance – were presenting theatregoers with plays that had a ‘message’.

His most popular play,  this is an ambitious project for a young cast.

Generally speaking they have been successful. Algernon Moncrieff, an idle young man, is played with urbanity and aplomb by Jay Robinson; his friend Ernest Worthington JP (Max Brennan) a contrasting study in his seriousness (naturally) and expressed sense of what is right and wrong. Contrasts is also provided by the upright and serious  Gwendolen Fairfax played very ably by Bugsy Bannon and  Cecily Cardew, presented with just the right amount of light-hearted and flirtatiousness in Martha Watson’s captivating performance.

The older characters present a challenge for young actors. Bearing that in mind I felt they made a very satisfactory fist of it. On the face of it Lane is just the butler but his ‘I’ve seen this all before’ attitude is an important part of the comedy of the piece and  Finlay Worrallo  captured this very well. The role of Lady Bracknell is one of the best-known in English theatre and, in spite of her youth I felt that Louisa Rimmer brought her snobbery, snootiness and extraordinary self-belief to the fore. Two other great roles in this play are Miss Prism and Dr Chasubel, played by Ellie Denton and Harry Higgins respectively. I enjoyed Ellie’s portrayal of Miss Prism though I would have liked to have seen a little more dizziness from her, especially when confronted by the gauche charms of Dr Chasubel, played with a nice characterisation and delightful mannerisms by Harry Higgins. Sean Kavanagh carried off the small part of Merriman with skill.

The set is quite simple but carefully thought out with appropriate period furniture and props. The cast were immaculately dressed in well-chosen period costume.

I hope I don’t sound old-fashioned and conventional in saying that I was not comfortable with the setting – looking out into the auditorium of the mighty, completely empty Sunderland Empire – though the reason for this, commemorating a miserable and empty year for theatre, was justified, especially since the production is a fundraiser for Acting for Others. Nevertheless, because of this the play lacks the intimacy I think it needs.

That said, I enjoyed the skillful camera work used in this streamed production.

The conversation between Oscar Wilde and his great friend Robbie Ross (written by director Adam Kinneen), part of which is set after the first night of his play in London, piecing together Wilde’s thoughts on life, literature and the increasingly difficult situation he found himself in at the time of ‘Earnest’,  interspersed between the acts of the play worked very well, though might also have been as effective at the start as an appetiser for this relatively short piece. Conor O’Hara as Robbie creates a suitable foil for Leo Mac Neill in the role of Oscar Wilde, though at times I felt played with a little too much gravitas for this celebrated wit.

All in all, though, a very good production for a good cause.

  • : admin
  • : 09/07/2021
The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale

All photos: Tim Morozzo

Back in the ‘Theatre’ at last (of sorts)! I’m lucky enough to be in The Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans, built in 140AD and, being the only outdoor theatre with a stage from its time, makes it not only distinctive but simply breathtaking. I can feel the history all around and before the performance even begins I’m on the edge of my seat excited.

King Leontes of Sicilia has the perfect family but his jealous mind cannot be tamed, convinced his pregnant wife is having an affair with his best friend, his rage sets in motion a string of tragic events. After many years desolate, Leontes is forced to face his past when his daughter returns to him and to a life to she never knew existed.

The production company, OVO, claims to want to make Shakespeare accessible in way that allows the audience to understand every aspect of what is being portrayed. The performance I am watching lives up to this big ask. The Winter’s Tale isn’t one of Shakepeare’s more popular plays. It’s rarely performed; possibly due to its complex journey of storytelling. It’s incredibly dark  in places and then switches to almost the light heartedness of a children’s fairytale. This version with its newly added narration by Adam Nichols, Janet Podd and Sophie Swithinbank is working perfectly at bringing this timeless classic into a modern minded world.

All staging and scenery is creative and effective, each scene changed without distracting the audience even though its being done in full view and containing enough detail to allow us to be transported to different lands. The mood of the scene or character is being generated by the many talents of the musicians, they are creating sound effects similar to a movie score playing during dramatic moments and in all honesty I am in awe. They provide a wide variety of musical genres and it seems effortless. They are clearly brilliant at what they do. One of the musicians, Helena Gullan, also performs a mesmerising vocal of I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston; a stunning rendition.

Everything is executed flawlessly, each scene is exciting and has purpose, it seems to flow perfectly, it’s clear it has been directed by Janet Podd and Adam Nichols with such precision creating a truly wonderful experience for the audience.

When it comes to the cast I can honestly say hand on heart that every single cast member is impressive, not a single weak link to be found, not that I want to find one. The standard of acting, singing and dancing across the board is so high. Add to this excellent comic timing, just the right amount of audience participation and enough vulnerability to bring me to tears more than once and you have a simply astonishing show.

The Boy with the Bee Jar

The Boy with the Bee Jar

I see a lot of new plays. Rarely do I see one as captivating as this. John Straiton’s quick-fire dialogue interspersed with poetic moments of escapism and convincing characterisation is highly compelling – and often funny.

It’s also a joy to see two very different actors working together as well as this. Colin Hurley is a veteran, highly experienced actor at the top of his game. George Rowlands graduates from drama school this month. They spark off, and grate against each other, with gritty realism and warm sensitivity.

Hurley’s Euston is a drunkard and drop out who hangs around a bit of wasteland. He’s grizzled, gnarled and angry as well as vulnerable, lonely, anxious and sometimes kind. When A level student, Simon turns up, fresh faced and intense in his school shirt and tie collecting bees in a jar and watching a swarm through binoculars there is mutual suspicion. Gradually Euston stops baiting Simon and they strike up a proper conversation. As confidence grows we see them telling each other and acting out stories. Both, it transpires, are racked with guilt: Simon because he fears he didn’t pay his late father enough attention and Euston because he’s witnessed a fatal incident outside the local kebab shop but failed to tell the police what he saw.

There is a great deal of lyricism and beauty in this powerful, intelligently directed play –  both verbal and physical. The bees, of course, stand for nature, order and hope.  And the simple set supports that depth: a small climbable scaffold at the back. Dumped junk such as an old washing machine, a plastic crate and a supermarket shopping basket is used to form tables, chairs and so on as needed.  And the small playing space of The Hope Theatre is an ideal venue for this play because the proximity of  the  actors makes for lots of impact and immediacy.

This is the Hope’s first post-pandemic show and it’s good to see it open again. I hope first, to see lots more work of this quality there very soon and second, that this interesting play will get lots of revivals.

Full Circle

Full Circle

With amateur theatre groups staging productions again I set off to Bembridge Village Hall, to see Bembridge Little Theatre Club’s latest production, Full Circle. Whilst social distancing regulations are still in place, and audience numbers reduced to thirty for each performance, I was pleasantly surprised to see the seating arranged in a café style. Social distancing was very much in evidence, but how encouraging for the cast to see the audience seated at clusters of tables rather than looking out to pockets of empty seats. The attentive front of house team brought drinks to the table, a glass of wine or juice is included in the price of the ticket.

Bembridge Little Theatre Club have a reputation for staging good theatre, and their production of Full Circle, by Janet Shaw, doesn’t disappoint.

Billed as a comedy drama, Full Circle explores a family’s current relationship problems that have resulted from a single decision taken forty-four years earlier. Dee and Millie haven’t spoken since 1969 and through a lack of communication, no one knows why. When Brian and Linda, their respective children, met and married their mothers tolerated each other on social occasions. Now it is the week of their only granddaughter’s wedding, and it becomes physically impossible to dodge the inevitable confrontations. No one knows what happened forty-four years ago and Brian and Linda are fed up with the awkwardness of the situation.

The play is centred around Brian and Linda’s lounge, and opens with Linda planning her daughter Nicola’s wedding with military precision.  Jane Robert embraces the role with confidence and ease, giving a lovely portrayal as the elegant and efficient Linda, the mother of the bride with a penchant for designer shoes. Every aspect of her daughter’s wedding has been organised, even down to an ice sculpture and firework display. Her husband Brian’s horror when he finds out just what has been planned for the big day, and how much it is going to cost, is well conveyed by John Hammond.

John Hammond, plays the part of curmudgeonly husband Brian superbly, also showing another facet in Brian’s character later on in the play as he steps up and saves the big day. Hammond has some of the funniest lines in the play and carries them off with aplomb.

Alice Burton-Jones shows great confidence and ability as Linda and Brian’s daughter, Nicola, who is as determined as they are that her grandmothers resolve their differences before her wedding day.

With the arrival of the two feuding grandmothers, Dee and Millie, played respectively by Martie Cain and Glenys Lloyd-Williams, come new problems for Linda and Brian. Brian’s mother Dee arrives on a motorbike which she crashes into the greenhouse. She wears motorbike leathers and enjoys drinking whisky with her son, much to Linda’s dismay. In total contrast, Linda’s upper-class mother, Millie, wears designer clothes and an air of disdain. Totally opposite in appearance and nature, their acerbic put downs and verbal slanging matches show that their forty-four year old feud is still ongoing. Miss Cain and Miss Lloyd-Williams are superb in these roles, their well-timed performances convey the wit of the play.

John Abraham gives an excellent and colourful portrayal of Wills, a flamboyantly gay and overly dramatic neighbour, who lifts the mood with every appearance. Wills relishes the task Brian has set him to find out more about the mysterious Jack, especially when skeletons tumble out of the proverbial closet at an alarming rate. The play seems to have a series of revelations, one of which is Wills real name, which provides Brian with plenty of opportunity for banter.

John Molyneux has a lovely cameo role as Gloria. Gloria’s surprise visit to see Millie builds the intrigue.

The play is well directed by Barry Aspinall, who draws out the drama and tension within this comedy, each member of his excellent cast playing their part perfectly. It was a clever touch by the Director to use a male actor to play Gloria, as a transgender male and not use a female to play Graham, as suggested in the script.

The sound effects team are on the ball with the many different ringtones, which the cast respond to expertly. It is not easy to have three or four conversations going on at once, as with each phone call we see the wedding plans unravel.

Depicting a typical family living room and furnishings, I particularly liked the set’s floral arrangement behind the French windows. Sound, lighting and music choices complimented the production.

The play completes the full circle of the title, with a poignant denouement.

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

Online (via

It’s still relatively unusual for an amateur company to take the plunge and release content online. But that is precisely what Leicester based KW Productions have done via the platform and are apparently the first such group to do so. And what a great idea; in one bound it takes a non-professional group from playing to an audience limited by geography and a lowly advertising budget to an arena of potentially global proportions. The show of choice is The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown which first saw the light of day Off-Broadway in 2002. It has already proved a popular online choice with a production from Southwark Playhouse and given the set up and the current need for Covid-19 restrictions this is hardly surprising.

For it is a small scale intimate musical which only requires two performers and can be staged quite simply. KWP have decided to take the possibilities further though and the result is an impressively constructed hybrid show/concert/movie which makes very good use of various visual media (film, still photos, Zoom calls, etc.) to stimulate and retain interest. It tells the tale of a couple who meet, date, marry and eventually part; its USP is that aspiring author Jamie’s story moves forward in traditional linear fashion while aspiring actor Cathy’s tale begins at the end of the relationship and then moves backwards in time. Thus, in the musical sequencing the former begins on a high but as disillusion and infidelity set in the tone becomes more sombre. For the latter, the start is her low point while in her final song she is full of joyous optimism. It’s an arresting conceit which works well to keep a balance between the couple’s pleasure and pain; at the midpoint at which they marry the two narratives intersect before continuing on their opposing trajectories.

Jason Robert Brown’s score is eclectic to say the least taking its influence from a number of musical styles and genres. In truth I would probably designate the show as a song cycle for two voices rather than a musical; there are some brief snatches of spoken dialogue, but this is really all about the music. I thought one of the strongest numbers was the opening piece Still Hurting which set up high hopes of good things to come mostly realised in songs such as If I Didn’t Believe In You and The Next Ten Minutes. The one song I didn’t particularly care for was The Schmuel Song which I thought went on for too long and really diverted matters away from the main thrust of the piece even if the intention was to show some of the work that Jamie was supposed to be doing. Although scored for several instruments, in this iteration the accompaniment is kept simple and effective with just a solo piano played sensitively by Felix Sürbe.

Danielle Sanders and Keiran Whelan-Newby play the couple and are obviously entirely comfortable with each other in doing so, exuding a range of emotions as their characters change and develop. Both performers have fine voices and although they are evidently lip synching, many songs have segments which show them live at work at the microphone leaving us in no doubt that they can really sing and put over a number. It’s perhaps a shame that there’s only one real duet (at the aforementioned wedding) but in this iteration at least we get to see them appearing in each other’s songs which are filmed in various fetching interior and exterior locations by tech whizz Tim Neville. If I had a criticism to make it would be that too many of the locations are clearly not New York (I certainly recognised Rutland Water) but given the restrictions that the team were working under this is hardly surprising; even so let’s applaud the decision to paint on a varied canvas and give the show an added dimension.

I hadn’t seen this show before so cannot really make  comparisons but coming to it fresh I found it both entertaining and pleasing both in its narrative form and musical content. It has all the attributes of many professionally based online pieces and Keiran, Danielle and their small team can be proud of pushing the boundaries and taking non-professional theatre forward into a new dimension. For an insight into how it was all done watch the background videos on KW Productions’ You Tube channel. The show itself continues for three more timed performances on 21, 22 and 23 May.

Alternative Eurovision Song Contest

Alternative Eurovision Song Contest

Image: Les Dennis, comedian Russell Kane, comedian London Hughes and cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat as judges and Grace Mouat (‘& Juliet, ‘Six’), singer Jordan Gray and improv legend Mike McShane

At a time when many of us are perhaps tiring just a little of streamed rather than live performance, and with the real thing tantalisingly just round the corner, it was quite a challenge for the Showstoppers team to top their 2020 Alternative Eurovision with an even better version – but they did it of course. This talented group threw everything at the project, mixing live improvisation with carefully crafted inserts and wrapping the whole thing in an interactive structure which allowed the online audience to vote and donate to charity along the way. Tickets for the event were free, but voting required a donation, with all profits going to the Care Workers Charity.

From the beginning, when we met hosts Pippa Evans and Andrew Pugsley, ably backed up by their resident Euro-statistician Tony Cordial (Philip Pellew), it was clear that this was pitch-perfect parody. The national entries were just as good (or bad) as the real thing, with opening act Marti and Marta from Austria providing a perfect blend of yodelling, lederhosen and silliness. The following acts were mostly provided by the talented Showstoppers team (14 of them), though with a few guests like Mike McShane, with his moody Icelandic offering.

These were no quick Zoom videos either, but fully costumed and with deft effects all too reminiscent of the cheesy national videos in the real thing. It was all here, especially the archetypal slow start followed by a key change and up tempo section, and some truly bizarre outfits. Each act was introduced by guest comperes Marcus Brigstocke and Rachel Paris, and at suitable intervals, celebrity guest judges like Russell Kane (or his impressive alter ego), Le Gateau Chocolat, London Hughes and Les Dennis added their comments: and that’s quite a bill.

Although Marti and Marta were archetypal Eurovision, and indeed took an early lead in the voting, there was much more to delight in, including the intense Heimlick Maneuver from Germany and the unforgettable Nana Novakovakova from the Czech Republic with her faithful penguin. My vote went to Basta di Pasta from Italy but the final voting saw a number of favourites battling it out to win the public vote and the votes from each country, with the final winner being the Latvian duo with their ode to Fish and Chips, just beating Sweden and Germany.

With 10 musicians involved as well, this show had higher production values than some newly-reduced West End musicals – no sign here of anyone looking to save money by reducing numbers. Interval entertainment included a performance from last year’s German winner, and an update on the sad tale of Bim the puppet, who has had a hard time…

From time to time, we were taken by Zoom to the Green Room to eavesdrop on the contestants and their discussions, sometimes rapidly disconnected when feelings get too strong. It was a mark of the care given to this event that this was no simple Zoom link but a carefully crafted simulation with some sneaky in-jokes in the pop-up chat.

The whole event was live-captioned and was conceived and directed by Andrew Pugsley. A great way to spend a Saturday evening; now let’s look forward to seeing this talented group back where they belong, performing live in a theatre, which they will be doing from early June (details on their website).

Alternative Eurovision 2021

A new musical, previously seen off-Broadway, about ten princesses or more – specifically 10 Disney versions of those princesses.

A new musical, previously seen off-Broadway, about ten princesses or more – specifically 10 Disney versions of those princesses.

The all-female cast are the main strength of the production, which has book, music and lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino. With Tom Jackson Greaves as Director and George Dyer as MD, the core creative team are male, making songs with refrains like Big Tits sit rather uncomfortably at times.

It is, of course, an entirely US lens through which we see these characters; there is no acknowledgement here of the more nuanced take on some princesses in UK culture over the last thirty years, with gender politics addressed in many children’s books and quite a few pantomimes, with theatres like Hackney Empire and Stratford East leading the way.

The production, filmed using green screen techniques, begins with a complex and serious statement about the issues to be raised and a suggestion of suitability only for over-16s: a mite too cautious I think. With every member of the cast a princess, it was difficult to see where a narrative arc would be found: but there wasn’t one. For the most part, the show consisted of each princess taking her turn to sing a song about her own situation, with minimal narration from Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the latter being given a rather tortuous running gag about being asleep in her dressing room. Surely the whole point is that Sleeping Beauty as controller of her own destiny would not fall asleep?

The saving grace of the production – and the reason for my 4 star rating – is the talented cast of ten. They give their all in the difficult genre of filmed theatre; a particularly challenging task with an over-emphatic piece like this which would probably be much more effective in a theatre than it is on screen.

The first number complains about happy-ever-after endings always leading to marriage, and that seems to be the main theme; lead actors Jodie Steele (a very energetic Snow White), Sophie Isaacs (definitely Cinderella after the ball when disillusionment has set in) and Sleeping Beauty (Allie Daniel, doing everything she can to put over some weak lines) set the scene and pop up from time to time to introduce other characters. We never see the forces of evil, in the form of Disney executives, but they are referenced from time to time.

The music is pleasantly tuneful, often in the patter song tradition, and usually allowing words to come over clearly: important in a piece that has a message to transmit. The actors work hard to differentiate their characters, ranging from the expressive Natalie Chua as Hau Mulan pointing out that “I might be lesbian… the only princess here without the guy” to Millie O’Connell as a Southern Little Mermaid without a tail.

There are occasional group routines such as The Princess Complex, leading in to that song complaining that it is only their “big tits” that makes men worship them. The production switches between excessively broad moments like this to the presentation of Pocohantas, the only historical character portrayed, in which Grace Mouat’s plaintive solo is totally undercut by the sudden appearance of screen captions about the appalling way the real character was treated.

In a show with concerns about stereotyping it is surprising to see how Rapunzel is portrayed, after suggesting that all these princesses have Germanic origins (not in fact the case). Jenny O’Leary makes the most of the number that follows however, a good old-fashioned patter song called Not One Red Cent. More nuanced is the presentation of The Princess who kissed the Frog, who sings about being the princess “that’s finally gone black.” An impressive performance from Shanay Holmes and every word comes over.

One or two of the songs could have a life outside this show, particularly Princess Baldroulbadour’s lament about being turned into Jasmine and having her story moved from its Arabian setting. Courtney Stapleton impresses as she sings that she is a “secondary princess… the spotlight’s on the guy who rubs the lamp.” In a strong cast, perhaps the most impressive performance because it contrasts with the others is that of Aisha Jawando as Belle. She handles her song with skill and subtlety and lifts the piece on to a whole new level.

Snow White eventually gets to sing about the princes who put them all where they are (with most of the cursing bleeped out despite the 16+ rating) and Sleeping Beauty, rather surprisingly given the message of the show, sings that “when I sleep I’m perfect… I flit around with glee, In a gown by Gi-ven-chy…” However, she eventually decides she is perfect just the way she is, and the other princesses agree.

Despite the talents of the cast, towards the end of the show it all gets quite samey, and the constant mugging at the camera from the narrators becomes tiring. Hair, make-up and costumes are impressive but there was clearly no budget for props; better to do without than, for example, to just wave little plastic sharks around when the Little Mermaid appears. There is no choreography as such, although the cast all do their best to keep the show moving.

The finale, Once Upon a Time, could also work as a stand-alone number, making the point that the days of being saved by a prince are over. This show has an important message but one which has been put over more persuasively and in more complex ways by Angela Carter and others. As is so often the case, a flawed show is saved by a talented cast.

I’ve really missed Jermyn Street Theatre and it’s a pleasure to be reviewing there again – even virtually.

I’ve really missed Jermyn Street Theatre and it’s a pleasure to be reviewing there again – even virtually.

It has to be said that I haven’t really embraced digital reviewing but I’m glad I made an exception for Ian Hallard’s debut play which, as I sat  at the computer in my home office on a springlike March morning, made me laugh aloud several times and held my attention for the whole 60 minutes.

Richard, a history teacher, and Ros, a recently bereaved carer for her sister, are on a first internet date – and it has to be via Zoom because this is 2020. Hallard as Richard (“Have you ever been a Dick?”) and Sara Crowe as Ros are wonderfully awkward with each other as it becomes apparent that they have nothing in common. There’s a hilarious, dead pan faux pas about an aubergine. As the summer wears on there are more Zoom meetings – different clothes each time – with the twinned shots sometimes swapping across the screen and then eventually, once the hospitality industry re-opens, an alcohol-fuelled dinner in a restaurant with a lot of comedy about social distancing. And I shall cherish the tortoise joke for a long time.

A back story (no spoilers) gradually emerges for Richard and then things begin to take an unexpected turn. The wife Lois (Katherine Jakeways) from whom he is separated treats us to some gloriously natural, totally convincing acting. And we watch Ros, who claims to want to be adventurous but is initially nervous, ill-at-ease and clumsy, gradually find her feet. Sarah Crowe really nuances the painfulness and then the gradual change.

What a good idea for a play – topical and workable under current restrictions. Beautifully directed by Khadifa Wong it’s both entertaining and thoughtful.

  • : admin
  • : 17/03/2021