Diary of a Theatre Addict: Returning twice over to two Shows in the same week, plus other reprises

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Our-HouseI should be in Edinburgh right now. I was going to go to Edinburgh right at the tail end of the festival, side effects on the basis that this way I wouldn’t have to see any poor shows but could see only ones that had I’d heard good things about already. But then, this (happily) tired out by my three weeks in the US and with plenty to catch up on in London (and beyond), I decided to skip out on Edinburgh after all this year — I’ve not been since the Olympics year of 2012 when I wanted to escape London for part of it, and then went direct to Canada to avoid the rest.

Partly its because anything that makes a splash at Edinburgh invariably makes its way down south. I can think of only one Edinburgh show I loved all the way back in 2007 — a Pet Shop Boys revue called Seriously, that came to Edinburgh by way of Australia — hasn’t had a further life afterwards (and I still mourn its absence: I went three times in Edinburgh).

But I actually knew I could use the time constructively at home, catching up on stuff I’d previously missed or would otherwise. mcqueenMcQueen fell into both categories: I missed its original London at the St James back in May, but was able to be at the first night of its West End transfer to the Haymarket last Thursday, which I reviewed for The Stage here. My negative review was picked up by a follower on Twitter who pointed out  that “the subjective nature of theatre most clearly displayed on my Twitter feed!”, contrasting my review and its rating with a tweet from blogger West End Wilma who had stated, “Shows like @McQueenThePlay make me remember how wonderful my life is. To be able to witness such beauty on stage and write about it. #Joy”

She then weighted in with a reply stating, “One of us actually understood the show though. But which? The blogger or the respected ‘critic’? *5 for @BendItMusical and 2* for @McQueenThePlay. I think @TheStage need a new critic!”

I actually re-visited the glorious Bend It like Beckham last Monday (for the third time now), and already have plans to take a friend at the end of September as well. I’ve always said there’s no right and wrong in theatre reviewing — but WestEndWilma obviously thinks she’s right! And she’s perfectly entitled to her opinion. But I’m not the only respected ‘critic’ (her words) who didn’t much care for it: I’ve also seen two star reviews from the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. By the same token, I wasn’t the only respected ‘critic’ who gave Bend it Like Beckham a five-star rave either – there were five-star reviews from the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sunday Express, amongst others. Presumably there should now be a mass culling of national critics! (Only, presumably too, so WestEndWilma can take our places…..!)

I never thought I’d ever quote Tony Blair, of all people, in defence of myself, not least from an antagonistic piece in yesterday’s Observer in which he decried supporters of Jeremy Corbyn for living in a parallel universe, but I sometimes think that commentators like WestEndWilma suffer from the same problem. As Blair writes apropos of Corbyn’s supporters, and what they’re doing, “It’s a revolution but within a hermetically sealed bubble – not the Westminster one they despise, but one just as remote from actual reality. Those in this bubble feel good about what they’re doing. They’re making all those “in authority” feel their anger and their power. There is a sense of real change because of course the impact on politics is indeed real. …However, it doesn’t alter the “real” reality. It provides a refuge from it.”

I don’t think I’m ‘in authority’ or indeed an authority; I also actively welcome the dialogue of twitter and engage directly in it, and enjoy the fact that critics are being regularly challenged now. But I don’t call for people to lose their jobs as a result. The (self-appointed) blogger doesn’t have a job to protect; s/he can’t be fired, they can only stop publishing their site, entirely at their own discretion and by their own choice.

I welcome the wide variety of opinions that are now out there — as someone with a foot in both camps, as a professional (and paid) critic, as well as someone who has my own site (this one) and actively promotes the community of independent writers via MyTheatreMates that I co-founded, I’m not about silencing voices that I don’t agree with, unlike WestEndWilma.

Our-HouseMeanwhile, I continue my restless and relentless pursuit of catching as much as I can, which gives this weekly blog its title. I saw 8 shows this week — and one of them one and a half times over. That last one was Our House at the Union (pictured left), which I saw the first half of on Friday, then returned to see all of on Saturday evening. The reason for the curtailed Friday visit was an incident with a mobile phone photographer sitting in front of me that rattled me sufficiently not to want to stay: when I protested what she was doing, she turned around and informed me that she was taking a photograph of her little brother in the show, “and if you’d wiped his arse as often as I have you could take one too”, or words to that effect.

The sense of entitlement was both baffling and bizarre — much as in my famous incident at confronting a woman who was taking flash photography regularly though Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican Centre a few years ago who turned out to be Bianca Jagger, and was a friend of the director Robert Wilson (who tweeted in her defence and thanked her for her support of his work!) The fact that these people were somehow connected to the show seemed to excuse them, in their minds, from traditional protocol and good manners. (Whereas Jagger publicly accused me of assault, whereas in fact I openly admitted only to insulting her, the Union Theatre offender did, to her credit, come up to me to apologise in the interval; I can only assume she’d found out who I was, but whatever the case, I accepted the apology but not the excuse).

I’m glad I returned to the show on Saturday, though: this remains one of the most audacious and clever of all jukebox musicals, cleverly folding those Madness classics into a show that tells two parallel stories simultaneously about the life choices we make and how different outcomes can follow. There’s a real vivacity to these songs with their mad, restless energy, released in a ragged rock ‘n’ roll treatment of spontaneity and exhilaration. The mostly young company at the Union make it their own with infectious high spirits and charm.

I also loved another fringe musical revival I saw on Saturday afternoon: the Landor are currently hosting a smashing production of the thoroughly old-fashioned Thoroughly Modern Millie. This was the 2002 Broadway musical version of the 1967 film that starred Julie Andrews, and onstage made a star of Sutton Foster (and won Rob Ashford a Tony Award for his choreography). Here, squeezed onto the tiny stage of the Landor, an ace five-piece band, Sam Spencer-Lane’s boisterous choreography and a terrific pair of leads in Francesca Lara Gordon and Ben Stacey exude old-school charm.

a-numberMy week also included catching up, belatedly, with Michael Longhurst’s amazing production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number that was first seen at Southampton back in Feburary, then transferred to the Young Vic earlier this summer, before returning for another final two week run in Southampton. The Young Vic is less than 15 minutes walk from my Southwark home, yet I managed to miss it there so instead I had to take the train from Waterloo to Southampton, then a £8 cab ride to get to the Nuffield! That’ll teach me for missing something on my doorstep!

But it was more than worth it (especially since South West Trains were doing a summer promotional discount fare of just £20 return!). This was an absolutely spellbindingly intense revival of a play I’ve seen twice before — both in its original Royal Court premiere (with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig) and then at the Menier with Timothy West and his son Sam. Now another father-son duo John and Lex Shrapnel playing the father and son/s of the play, giving it another layer to its layered portrait of genetic inheritance and how unique any of us might be. The play gets deeper with each repeated viewing; and here it is amplified as we are turned into intimate voyeurs to watch it in the enclosed chamber of Tom Scutt’s design that has us watching it through mirrored windows from four sides of the playing space.

Emma-Williams-in-Mrs-Henderson-PresentsThere’s also an element of voyeurism to Mrs Henderson Presents (pictured left), a musical based on the 2005 film of the same name about the war-time era of London’s Windmill Theatre which offered a variation on traditional burlesque to work around theatrical censorship laws, as the young women posed naked as theatrical tableaux. I reviewed its brief regional premiere at Bath Theatre Royal for The Stage here, but feel sure it will have a future West End life.

I also caught an altogether more modest musical, in every sense, the 55-minute The 3 Little Pigs being given morning and matinee performances at the Palace Theatre; it is another in Stiles and Drewe’s continuing obsession with all things porcine, following the starring role afforded to a pig in Betty Blue Eyes, and prior musicals that revolved around wild or farmyard animals in Just So and Honk! respectively. Here the pigs keep their pork scratchings covered, unlike in Mrs Henderson Presents. It’s a slight show, to be sure, but as charmingly performed by a cast that features Simon Webbe as the predatory wolf, Alison Jiear as mother pig and Leanne Jones, Dan Buckley and Taofique Folarin as the piglets, it’s a summer delight.

hamlet-stageLast but far from least, I of course also caught the opening night of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet (left) at the Barbican (reviewed for The Stage here). Enough words have been written about this — not least by me — but now at last the play and production can finally speak for itself.
Our-HouseI was going to go to Edinburgh right at the tail end of the festival, cialis 40mg on the basis that this way I wouldn’t have to see any poor shows but could see only ones that had I’d heard good things about already. But then, (happily) tired out by my three weeks in the US and with plenty to catch up on in London (and beyond), I decided to skip out on Edinburgh after all this year — I’ve not been since the Olympics year of 2012 when I wanted to escape London for part of it, and then went direct to Canada to avoid the rest.

Partly its because anything that makes a splash at Edinburgh invariably makes its way down south. I can think of only one Edinburgh show I loved all the way back in 2007 — a Pet Shop Boys revue called Seriously, that came to Edinburgh by way of Australia — hasn’t had a further life afterwards (and I still mourn its absence: I went three times in Edinburgh).

But I actually knew I could use the time constructively at home, catching up on stuff I’d previously missed or would otherwise. mcqueenMcQueen fell into both categories: I missed its original London at the St James back in May, but was able to be at the first night of its West End transfer to the Haymarket last Thursday, which I reviewed for The Stage here. My negative review was picked up by a follower on Twitter who pointed out  that “the subjective nature of theatre most clearly displayed on my Twitter feed!”, contrasting my review and its rating with a tweet from blogger West End Wilma who had stated, “Shows like @McQueenThePlay make me remember how wonderful my life is. To be able to witness such beauty on stage and write about it. #Joy”

She then weighted in with a reply stating, “One of us actually understood the show though. But which? The blogger or the respected ‘critic’? *5 for @BendItMusical and 2* for @McQueenThePlay. I think @TheStage need a new critic!”

I actually re-visited the glorious Bend It like Beckham last Monday (for the third time now), and already have plans to take a friend at the end of September as well. I’ve always said there’s no right and wrong in theatre reviewing — but WestEndWilma obviously thinks she’s right! And she’s perfectly entitled to her opinion. But I’m not the only respected ‘critic’ (her words) who didn’t much care for it: I’ve also seen two star reviews from the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. By the same token, I wasn’t the only respected ‘critic’ who gave Bend it Like Beckham a five-star rave either – there were five-star reviews from the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sunday Express, amongst others. Presumably there should now be a mass culling of national critics! (Only, presumably too, so WestEndWilma can take our places…..!)

I never thought I’d ever quote Tony Blair, of all people, in defence of myself, not least from an antagonistic piece in yesterday’s Observer in which he decried supporters of Jeremy Corbyn for living in a parallel universe, but I sometimes think that commentators like WestEndWilma suffer from the same problem. As Blair writes apropos of Corbyn’s supporters, and what they’re doing, “It’s a revolution but within a hermetically sealed bubble – not the Westminster one they despise, but one just as remote from actual reality. Those in this bubble feel good about what they’re doing. They’re making all those “in authority” feel their anger and their power. There is a sense of real change because of course the impact on politics is indeed real. …However, it doesn’t alter the “real” reality. It provides a refuge from it.”

I don’t think I’m ‘in authority’ or indeed an authority; I also actively welcome the dialogue of twitter and engage directly in it, and enjoy the fact that critics are being regularly challenged now. But I don’t call for people to lose their jobs as a result. The (self-appointed) blogger doesn’t have a job to protect; s/he can’t be fired, they can only stop publishing their site.

I welcome the wide variety of opinions that are now out there — as someone with a foot in both camps, as a professional (and paid) critic, as well as someone who has my own site (this one) and actively promotes the community of independent writers via MyTheatreMates that I co-founded, I’m not about silencing voices that I don’t agree with, unlike WestEndWilma.

Our-HouseMeanwhile, I continue my restless and relentless pursuit of catching as much as I can, which gives this weekly blog its title. I saw 8 shows this week — and one of them one and a half times over. That last one was Our House at the Union (pictured left), which I saw the first half of on Friday, then returned to see all of on Saturday evening. The reason for the curtailed Friday visit was an incident with a mobile phone photographer sitting in front of me that rattled me sufficiently not to want to stay: when I protested what she was doing, she turned around and informed me that she was taking a photograph of her little brother in the show, “and if you’d wiped his arse as often as I have you could take one too”, or words to that effect.

The sense of entitlement was both baffling and bizarre — much as in my famous incident at confronting a woman who was taking flash photography regularly though Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican Centre a few years ago who turned out to be Bianca Jagger, and was a friend of the director Robert Wilson (who tweeted in her defence and thanked her for her support of his work!) The fact that these people were somehow connected to the show seemed to excuse them, in their minds, from traditional protocol and good manners. (Whereas Jagger publicly accused me of assault, whereas in fact I openly admitted only to insulting her, the Union Theatre offender did, to her credit, come up to me to apologise in the interval; I can only assume she’d found out who I was, but whatever the case, I accepted the apology but not the excuse).

I’m glad I returned to the show on Saturday, though: this remains one of the most audacious and clever of all jukebox musicals, cleverly folding those Madness classics into a show that tells two parallel stories simultaneously about the life choices we make and how different outcomes can follow. There’s a real vivacity to these songs with their mad, restless energy, released in a ragged rock ‘n’ roll treatment of spontaneity and exhilaration. The mostly young company at the Union make it their own with infectious high spirits and charm.

I also loved another fringe musical revival I saw on Saturday afternoon: the Landor are currently hosting a smashing production of the thoroughly old-fashioned Thoroughly Modern Millie. This was the 2002 Broadway musical version of the 1967 film that starred Julie Andrews, and onstage made a star of Sutton Foster (and won Rob Ashford a Tony Award for his choreography). Here, squeezed onto the tiny stage of the Landor, an ace five-piece band, Sam Spencer-Lane’s boisterous choreography and a terrific pair of leads in Francesca Lara Gordon and Ben Stacey exude old-school charm.

a-numberMy week also included catching up, belatedly, with Michael Longhurst’s amazing production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number that was first seen at Southampton back in Feburary, then transferred to the Young Vic earlier this summer, before returning for another final two week run in Southampton. The Young Vic is less than 15 minutes walk from my Southwark home, yet I managed to miss it there so instead I had to take the train from Waterloo to Southampton, then a £8 cab ride to get to the Nuffield! That’ll teach me for missing something on my doorstep!

But it was more than worth it (especially since South West Trains were doing a summer promotional discount fare of just £20 return!). This was an absolutely spellbindingly intense revival of a play I’ve seen twice before — both in its original Royal Court premiere (with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig) and then at the Menier with Timothy West and his son Sam. Now another father-son duo John and Lex Shrapnel playing the father and son/s of the play, giving it another layer to its layered portrait of genetic inheritance and how unique any of us might be. The play gets deeper with each repeated viewing; and here it is amplified as we are turned into intimate voyeurs to watch it in the enclosed chamber of Tom Scutt’s design that has us watching it through mirrored windows from four sides of the playing space.

Emma-Williams-in-Mrs-Henderson-PresentsThere’s also an element of voyeurism to Mrs Henderson Presents (pictured left), a musical based on the 2005 film of the same name about the war-time era of London’s Windmill Theatre which offered a variation on traditional burlesque to work around theatrical censorship laws, as the young women posed naked as theatrical tableaux. I reviewed its brief regional premiere at Bath Theatre Royal for The Stage here, but feel sure it will have a future West End life.

I also caught an altogether more modest musical, in every sense, the 55-minute The 3 Little Pigs being given morning and matinee performances at the Palace Theatre; it is another in Stiles and Drewe’s continuing obsession with all things porcine, following the starring role afforded to a pig in Betty Blue Eyes, and prior musicals that revolved around wild or farmyard animals in Just So and Honk! respectively. Here the pigs keep their pork scratchings covered, unlike in Mrs Henderson Presents. It’s a slight show, to be sure, but as charmingly performed by a cast that features Simon Webbe as the predatory wolf, Alison Jiear as mother pig and Leanne Jones, Dan Buckley and Taofique Folarin as the piglets, it’s a summer delight.

hamlet-stageLast but far from least, I of course also caught the opening night of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet (left) at the Barbican (reviewed for The Stage here). Enough words have been written about this — not least by me — but now at last the play and production can finally speak for itself.
Our-HouseI should be in Edinburgh right now. I was going to go to the festival right at the tail end of the festivities, more about on the basis that this way I wouldn’t have to see any poor shows but could see only ones that had I’d heard good things about already. But then, (happily) tired out by my three weeks in the US and with plenty to catch up on in London (and beyond), I decided to skip out on Edinburgh after all this year — I’ve not been since the Olympics year of 2012 when I wanted to escape London for part of it, and then went direct to Canada to avoid the rest.

Partly its because anything that makes a splash at Edinburgh invariably makes its way down south. I can think of only one Edinburgh show I loved all the way back in 2007 — a Pet Shop Boys revue called Seriously, that came to Edinburgh by way of Australia — hasn’t had a further life afterwards (and I still mourn its absence: I went three times in Edinburgh).

But I actually knew I could use the time constructively at home, catching up on stuff I’d previously missed or would otherwise. mcqueenMcQueen fell into both categories: I missed its original London at the St James back in May, but was able to be at the first night of its West End transfer to the Haymarket last Thursday, which I reviewed for The Stage here. My negative review was picked up by a follower on Twitter who pointed out  that “the subjective nature of theatre most clearly displayed on my Twitter feed!”, contrasting my review and its rating with a tweet from blogger West End Wilma who had stated, “Shows like @McQueenThePlay make me remember how wonderful my life is. To be able to witness such beauty on stage and write about it. #Joy”

She then weighted in with a reply stating, “One of us actually understood the show though. But which? The blogger or the respected ‘critic’? *5 for @BendItMusical and 2* for @McQueenThePlay. I think @TheStage need a new critic!”

I actually re-visited the glorious Bend It like Beckham last Monday (for the third time now), and already have plans to take a friend at the end of September as well. I’ve always said there’s no right and wrong in theatre reviewing — but WestEndWilma obviously thinks she’s right! And she’s perfectly entitled to her opinion. But I’m not the only respected ‘critic’ (her words) who didn’t much care for it: I’ve also seen two star reviews from the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph and The Times. By the same token, I wasn’t the only respected ‘critic’ who gave Bend it Like Beckham a five-star rave either – there were five-star reviews from the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sunday Express, amongst others. Presumably there should now be a mass culling of national critics! (Only, presumably too, so WestEndWilma can take our places…..!)

I never thought I’d ever quote Tony Blair, of all people, in defence of myself, not least from an antagonistic piece in yesterday’s Observer in which he decried supporters of Jeremy Corbyn for living in a parallel universe, but I sometimes think that commentators like WestEndWilma suffer from the same problem. As Blair writes apropos of Corbyn’s supporters, and what they’re doing, “It’s a revolution but within a hermetically sealed bubble – not the Westminster one they despise, but one just as remote from actual reality. Those in this bubble feel good about what they’re doing. They’re making all those “in authority” feel their anger and their power. There is a sense of real change because of course the impact on politics is indeed real. …However, it doesn’t alter the “real” reality. It provides a refuge from it.”

I don’t think I’m ‘in authority’ or indeed an authority; I also actively welcome the dialogue of twitter and engage directly in it, and enjoy the fact that critics are being regularly challenged now. But I don’t call for people to lose their jobs as a result. The (self-appointed) blogger doesn’t have a job to protect; s/he can’t be fired, they can only stop publishing their site, entirely at their own discretion and by their own choice.

I welcome the wide variety of opinions that are now out there — as someone with a foot in both camps, as a professional (and paid) critic, as well as someone who has my own site (this one) and actively promotes the community of independent writers via MyTheatreMates that I co-founded, I’m not about silencing voices that I don’t agree with, unlike WestEndWilma.

Our-HouseMeanwhile, I continue my restless and relentless pursuit of catching as much as I can, which gives this weekly blog its title. I saw 8 shows this week — and one of them one and a half times over. That last one was Our House at the Union (pictured left), which I saw the first half of on Friday, then returned to see all of on Saturday evening. The reason for the curtailed Friday visit was an incident with a mobile phone photographer sitting in front of me that rattled me sufficiently not to want to stay: when I protested what she was doing, she turned around and informed me that she was taking a photograph of her little brother in the show, “and if you’d wiped his arse as often as I have you could take one too”, or words to that effect.

The sense of entitlement was both baffling and bizarre — much as in my famous incident at confronting a woman who was taking flash photography regularly though Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican Centre a few years ago who turned out to be Bianca Jagger, and was a friend of the director Robert Wilson (who tweeted in her defence and thanked her for her support of his work!) The fact that these people were somehow connected to the show seemed to excuse them, in their minds, from traditional protocol and good manners. (Whereas Jagger publicly accused me of assault, whereas in fact I openly admitted only to insulting her, the Union Theatre offender did, to her credit, come up to me to apologise in the interval; I can only assume she’d found out who I was, but whatever the case, I accepted the apology but not the excuse).

I’m glad I returned to the show on Saturday, though: this remains one of the most audacious and clever of all jukebox musicals, cleverly folding those Madness classics into a show that tells two parallel stories simultaneously about the life choices we make and how different outcomes can follow. There’s a real vivacity to these songs with their mad, restless energy, released in a ragged rock ‘n’ roll treatment of spontaneity and exhilaration. The mostly young company at the Union make it their own with infectious high spirits and charm.

I also loved another fringe musical revival I saw on Saturday afternoon: the Landor are currently hosting a smashing production of the thoroughly old-fashioned Thoroughly Modern Millie. This was the 2002 Broadway musical version of the 1967 film that starred Julie Andrews, and onstage made a star of Sutton Foster (and won Rob Ashford a Tony Award for his choreography). Here, squeezed onto the tiny stage of the Landor, an ace five-piece band, Sam Spencer-Lane’s boisterous choreography and a terrific pair of leads in Francesca Lara Gordon and Ben Stacey exude old-school charm.

a-numberMy week also included catching up, belatedly, with Michael Longhurst’s amazing production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number that was first seen at Southampton back in Feburary, then transferred to the Young Vic earlier this summer, before returning for another final two week run in Southampton. The Young Vic is less than 15 minutes walk from my Southwark home, yet I managed to miss it there so instead I had to take the train from Waterloo to Southampton, then a £8 cab ride to get to the Nuffield! That’ll teach me for missing something on my doorstep!

But it was more than worth it (especially since South West Trains were doing a summer promotional discount fare of just £20 return!). This was an absolutely spellbindingly intense revival of a play I’ve seen twice before — both in its original Royal Court premiere (with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig) and then at the Menier with Timothy West and his son Sam. Now another father-son duo John and Lex Shrapnel playing the father and son/s of the play, giving it another layer to its layered portrait of genetic inheritance and how unique any of us might be. The play gets deeper with each repeated viewing; and here it is amplified as we are turned into intimate voyeurs to watch it in the enclosed chamber of Tom Scutt’s design that has us watching it through mirrored windows from four sides of the playing space.

Emma-Williams-in-Mrs-Henderson-PresentsThere’s also an element of voyeurism to Mrs Henderson Presents (pictured left), a musical based on the 2005 film of the same name about the war-time era of London’s Windmill Theatre which offered a variation on traditional burlesque to work around theatrical censorship laws, as the young women posed naked as theatrical tableaux. I reviewed its brief regional premiere at Bath Theatre Royal for The Stage here, but feel sure it will have a future West End life.

I also caught an altogether more modest musical, in every sense, the 55-minute The 3 Little Pigs being given morning and matinee performances at the Palace Theatre; it is another in Stiles and Drewe’s continuing obsession with all things porcine, following the starring role afforded to a pig in Betty Blue Eyes, and prior musicals that revolved around wild or farmyard animals in Just So and Honk! respectively. Here the pigs keep their pork scratchings covered, unlike in Mrs Henderson Presents. It’s a slight show, to be sure, but as charmingly performed by a cast that features Simon Webbe as the predatory wolf, Alison Jiear as mother pig and Leanne Jones, Dan Buckley and Taofique Folarin as the piglets, it’s a summer delight.

hamlet-stageLast but far from least, I of course also caught the opening night of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet (left) at the Barbican (reviewed for The Stage here). Enough words have been written about this — not least by me — but now at last the play and production can finally speak for itself.
I’ve been a true addict this week — I’ve seen the same two shows twice over (one of them for a third time, sale if you’re keeping up with the maths, sales which I saw for the second and third time in less than the same 24 hour time period).

grand-hotel-logoThat was Grand Hotel, which ended last night at Southwark Playhouse, which I reviewed originally when it opened for The Stage here, and then re-visited on the bank holiday Monday — before going, the very next day, yet again to a matinee that’s open to the public but laid on towards the end of the run on a Tuesday afternoon so that other working actors can attend. (I duly had Vince Leigh from Sunny Afternoon sitting right in front of me, and Kaisa Hammerlund, currently chanting her way through the Almeida’s Bakkhai, was also there, amongst many others).

I’ve always adored this show, ever since the original daring and audacious Broadway production of Tommy Tune back in 1987, which I still regard as one of the landmark productions of my theatregoing life. Tune is one of the most brilliant of all Broadway actor/dancers turned director/choreographers, who – like Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett before him — combined dazzling showmanship with a brilliant visual imagination to tell stories with seamless and organic momentum born of the way they moved.

grand-hotel-petalsThom Southerland’s new production, choreographed with real panache by Lee Proud on a traverse stage, borrows a bit from other places — there’s a strong borrowed echo of the last London production of Cabaret (which was directed by Rufus Norris) in the show’s closing moments, and a few steals from director John Doyle’s use of thrown objects at a key point (here, rose petals, pictured left, just as Doyle uses thrown bank notes in Road Show), but it is performed with highly individualised skill by the entire cast. ??Each time I’ve seen it I’ve appreciated different performances: the obvious stand-outs are Scott Garnham’s sturdily sung Baron, Victoria Serra’s enchanting, yearning-for-stardom Flaemmchen and George Rae’s Otto Kringelein; but the third time I was knocked out by the pair of athletic Jimmy’s (Jammy Kasonga and Drone Stokes) and by Valerie Cutko’s tall, angular Raffaela.

alexandra-silber-love-storyI also saw the London return of Alexandra Silber twice over at Crazy Coqs. too — at her first night on Tuesday and her last again last night. This Michigan born musical theatre star-in-the-making trained in the UK (at Glasgow’s Royal Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and was seen in shows like Carousel and Fiddler on the Roof in the West End, before going home — and since then I’ve seen her both on Broadway in Master Class and in Philadelphia in the US premiere of Howard Goodall’s Love Story (pictured above, with co-star Will Reynolds).

She told us poignantly of her reasons for re-locating to Britain to train — it followed the death of her beloved father, whose birthday coincided with the opening night of her London return — and also for reasons for going home again (after the heartbreak that followed the ending of a long-term relationship). On Saturday night, she hot-footed – or rather, hot-biked it (on a courier bike, no less, where she was the package being delivered!) — direct from the Royal Albert Hall, where she’d been an encore guest at the Last Night of the Proms’s celebration of Leonard Bernstein, to sing a song from West Side Story, whose recent symphonic recording she had starred in.

Last night she was joined both at the Albert Hall and then at Crazy Coqs by the radiant Gina Beck, who like her possesses an utterly shimmering soprano; on Tuesday she was accompanied on a song from Love Story by its composer Howard Goodall, whom she declared as the future of British musicals (and I entirely concur). On both nights she sang ‘Will he like me?’ from Bock and Harnick’s She Loves Me, which she called her favourite song of all time, and she proved why. (There’s a Broadway revival next year that she’s too late for now — she’s about to head there to star in a new production of Fiddler on the Roof — but perhaps a West End producer could cast her in a revival here. She said she mentioned this to Julian Ovenden, who was also a guest at the Prom last night, and he’s up for it, too….)

Between Grand Hotel and Al Silber, that took care of four of my theatrical visits this week, but those weren’t the only repeats I did. In fact the whole week pretty much comprised shows I’d seen before. I also returned to What’s It All About? at the Menier (for the third time) and Cats (for the God-knows-how-many-times), this time in the Opera House at Blackpool’s massive Winter Gardens (intriguingly, Cats of course played its entire Broadway run at New York’s Winter Garden, too). What’s It All About has now this week announced a transfer to the West End’s Criterion, so I’ll be seeing it quite a few more times, I’m sure; and Cats, of course, is returning to the Palladium, so I’ll be back there to see Beverley Knight play Grizabella in October.

jane-mcdonaldBut the reason fro seeing it in Blackpool was to see the wonderful Jane McDonald (pictured left in costume with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh) in it; I’d interviewed her for The Stage here before the show opened, and she was a complete joy.  Like Grizabella, McDonald ascended to the Heaviside Layer, in her case of stardom, after riding different kind of bumpy waves along the way: she was an entertainer aboard cruise ships and was on what she thought might be her last tour of duty when the documentary TV series The Cruise eavesdropped on life on the ship she was on sixteen years ago, and a star was born.

While I was in Blackpool, I also caught up with Hot Ice — possibly the longest running live show in the world, now in its 79th year at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I’ve seen this before, too, and it still feels happily retro; lots of the costumes sprout feathers, as they might at the less fully clad Lido or Moulin Rouge in Paris, and there’s a lot of dry ice and some slippery ice, too, as several members of the company took tumbles. But there’s still something incredibly thrilling about the speed and skill of these skaters, even if the some of the routines feel pretty deja vu.

Finally, speaking of deja vu, I also saw You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews at the St James, which is itself a re-visiting of songs from an endless succession of Broadway musicals (plus a film or two) that were penned by Jewish composers and lyricists. I was seeing it again for a second time — I’d seen an earlier one nighter incarnation at the Garrick. It’s now been enhanced, not necessarily for the better, for an extended run that first played a season in Tel Aviv before coming back to London. On the one hand, you won’t succeed with this type of revue if you get your basic facts wrong: Kander & Ebb did NOT write Fosse; nor was Rent a hit film; nor did The Producers win 14 Tony Awards; if you want to provide historical background to your thesis about Jewish influences on Broadway, get the basics right. There are times, too, when the dance routines look like a bad TV variety show.

danny-lane-jewsBut on the other hand, it fields a large cast that includes some real stand-outs: Jackie Marks, from the original London cast of Les Miserables who took over from Patti LuPone as Fantine, steals the show, reprising that show’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream'; and Sarah Earnshaw stops it with I’m Not Getting Married’ from Sondheim’s Company. There are also strong contributions from Johnny Barr, Danny Lane (pictured left – Gypsy’s ‘Everything’s coming up roses’ sung by a man is interesting!), and David Aldbury (whom I first saw in the Union’s production of Howard Goodall’s Love Story and have been looking out for ever since).