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I Loved Lucy, Arts Theatre | Review

I Loved Lucy, Arts Theatre | Review

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I Loved Lucy
Reviewed on Monday July 24th 2017 by Olivia Mitchell

Just transferred from the Jermyn Street theatre to the Arts Theatre, I Loved Lucy is an autobiographical play, adapted from Lee Tannen's memoirs about his relationship with cultural icon, Lucille Ball.

A massive fan of the comedy star, Tannen uses obscure family ties to meet and form a friendship with Lucy. They bond with stories and fantasies over their games of backgammon as Tannen becomes a close confidant and sees a side of 'Auntie Mame' that very few got to see.

As someone who wasn't alive during any of Ball's life and who until writing this review, had never seen an episode of I Love Lucy, I don't suppose I'm the target audience for this play. There were a number of anecdotes and names which meant nothing to me purely because of my age and I felt I was an outsider looking in on the jokes. However, for most of the times I didn't laugh, something else came along which had me in hysterics proving you don't need to be a Lucy fan to enjoy this show. Tannen's script is witty and uses repetition extremely well to generate laughs.  Alongside the laughs there are also more heartfelt moments, especially in act two when Lucy realises she has peaked and can never achieve the same levels of fame and love again.

Tannen as the narrator is humorous and he doesn't shy away from showing his dark side as well as Lucy's but I found it strange at times how closely he paints the relationship. Tannen is shown as being one of Lucy's only confidants and the only person in her life. With her children and partners barely mentioned I feel that Tannen is an unreliable source and although it may have been true that Lucy had very few other relationships, it would be interesting to see why the others are so absent.

Sandra Dickinson captures Lucy's mannerisms and iconic laugh perfectly. She gives a truly wonderful performance and remains committed to the role throughout. Her comedic timing, although sometimes ever so slightly off is good and she delivers Lucy's slicing asides and witty quips with ease.

As the celebrity obsessed, excitable, Tannen, Matthew Scott is great and he gives a beautifully emotive performance. He not only plays his main role but a number of smaller roles such as the hotel receptionist and chauffeur where he shows off his versatility well. Dickinson and Scott's chemistry is great and although the stalkerish fan becoming best friends with the star is kind of strange, it somehow works and comes across in a natural way.

Anthony Biggs' direction makes good use of the black box Arts Theatre and he is unafraid of stillness for dramatic effect. Gregor Donnelly's simplistic set design adds just enough drama whilst keeping the flow of the piece.

I Loved Lucy is a joy to watch- great fun with an air of drama, glitz and glam.

I Loved Lucy runs at The Arts Theatre until September 2nd 2017

In Conversation With... Tyrone Huntley | Interview

In Conversation With... Tyrone Huntley | Interview

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Tyrone Huntley has the voice of an angel and supreme acting skills. He's just finished starring as CC in Dreamgirls and is currently in rehearsals to reprise the role of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent's Park Open Air theatre later this summer. He's already a star but he deserves even more praise for his outstanding performances and I can't wait to see what more he does!

For anyone that doesn’t know, can you explain a little about your career and highlights so far?

I graduated from Mountview in 2011 and got my first job in the U.K. Tour of Sister Act. My West End debut came straight after that in The Book of Mormon and since then I've been fortunate enough to work on other incredible shows including the Original London Casts of Memphis and Dreamgirls.

I read that you studied law and completed a degree in it whilst you were starring in The Book of Mormon and Memphis, how was it juggling the two?

It was difficult and extremely time consuming but ever so rewarding. I learned a lot and when I graduated I felt such a sense of pride and achievement. 

Tyrone in rehearsals for the concert of The Colour Purple
Do you have any other hidden passions that you’d like to pursue?

I'd love to learn to play the piano proficiently and I really want to learn a language but a real aspiration of mine is to hone my writing skills. I write songs but I'm in awe of playwrights and novelists and those who have the imagination to create entire worlds out of nothing.

You’ve just finished playing CC in the epic, Dreamgirls. Is CC anything like you?

CC has some really enviable qualities that don't sit naturally with me. Where CC is optimistic and positive thinking, I generally think the worst and I'm not surprised when things don't necessarily go my way!! That said, I like to think I can relate to his ambitiousness, his caring nature and desire to make people happy.

Have you had any funny onstage or offstage mishaps whilst you’ve been in the show? Or any other shows?

I did Porgy and Bess at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre a couple of years ago which meant, like Jesus Christ Superstar, we were obviously performing outside. In the show I had a little featured singing bit - my big moment. One evening I was just about to sing my part but as I breathed in I inhaled a massive fly so instead of singing my one little solo song, I had a beautifully underscored coughing fit! 

It’s so exciting that you’ll be returning to play Judas again at the open air theatre. What are the hardest and most exciting parts about playing the iconic role?

I'm very excited. It's a great role in a great show and I get to perform at Regent's Park again! The music is amazing and I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth back into it. That said, it's very challenging vocally which means, more than usual, I have to look after myself and make sure I stay as fit and healthy as possible which means my already limited social life will have to take even more of a back seat!!

Besides yourself, who else would you like to see tackle the character of Judas?

I'd love to see my old mate Matt Cardle do it, he'd be perfect. Or thinking outside of the box maybe Eva Noblezada... she'd sound amazing. 

What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage?

I have to go through all of my lines for the next scene. I trust my short term memory way more than my long term memory and it puts me at ease just to check the lines are still there! 

Tyrone and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar
You have a five minute break in rehearsals, what are you doing?


Is there a musical or play you’ve seen recently that you loved? 

I saw Hamlet at the Harold Pinter a few weeks ago with Andrew Scott and Juliet Stevenson. I was completely blown away by everything about the production! 

What’s a fun fact that people might not know about you?

It's certainly not very fun but it's extremely important to me. I HATE coriander. It's poison!

What’s your best piece of advice for an aspiring performer?

Hard work doesn't always pay off but if you put in the work, no one can ever take that away from you and you can always rest in the knowledge that you did everything you could. Be open - every experience, whether negative or positive, is an opportunity to learn.

A huge thank you to Tyrone for taking the time to do this interview. Make sure you book to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre this summer.

Keep up with Tyrone via his twitter

A West End Guide To Singing: Kerry Ellis

A West End Guide To Singing: Kerry Ellis

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If you've ever wanted singing tips from a West End star, then this series of posts is the one for you! This post is courtesy of the wonderful Kerry Ellis who will soon be starring as Eve in the tour of the new show, Heaven on Earth...

When did you realise you could sing? Did you have singing lessons?
I always sung from an early age I knew I loved it and that was enough for me to want to pursue a career it wasn't really about whether I was good enough or not. I've had lessons with various people along the way but nothing consistent. I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

Have you always been able to belt? If not, when did you start belting?
I think so yes I grew up listening to Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige, Barbra Streisand Celine Dion and other incredible female vocalists. Liza Minnelli too and I'd just try to sing along with them so I guess it was all from a natural place. 

What's the best exercise to get your voice ready for belt/twang?
I wouldn't like to give advice on how to sing to other people because I'm not a qualified teacher, I think there are some amazing teachers out there that can teach technique and how to sing safely.

What vowels do you find easiest to belt? Do you modify words to make them easier to sing?
I think you have to sing the lyrics of the song regardless whether it easy or not but a good teacher would help you work your way through the song without forcing or causing any damage.

What tips do you have for singing and dancing at the same time?
Breathe and go for it and have fun!

How do you keep your voice healthy, do you have any rituals before shows?
Depends on the day I think the best advice somebody gave to me was use the voice you have that day, which means you mustn't give yourself a hard time if your voice doesn't feel the same every day just sing with the best of your ability and give yourself a break. Lots of water lots of rest and don't abuse your voice.

Rest is so underrated you have to take care of your voice like any other part of your body it's precious and needs care and attention and respect!

Overall, what's your number one piece of advice for finding and developing your singing voice?
Trust yourself and enjoy it!

See Gabriela Garcia's guide to singing:

Grease (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

Grease (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

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Grease (UK Tour)
New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed on Monday July 10th 2017 by Valerie Field

Grease first appeared on Broadway in 1972 but became really popular in 1978 when it was made into a film with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and became a cult classic. Set in the 1950’s as a High School Musical when Rock and Roll was extremely popular with the younger generation and the great Elvis Presley was on the scene, it was a cool time to be around and the musical is just as popular now as people are always eager to experience the nostalgia of their youth either because they grew up in the 50s or grew up with the film. This new tour revival of the show has all the classic songs and is a fun night out for any Grease lover.

The well known story revolves mostly around Bad Boy Danny Zuko and the innocent new girl Sandy after the two had a summer fling before unknowingly ending up at the same school. Tom Parker who played Danny in my opinion didn’t have enough presence on stage although as the show went on he seemed to come across a bit more confident especially in the dance routines. His voice was strong at points but he didn't quite reach the level of charm, charisma and roughness needed to really be Danny Zuko.

Michael Cortez as Sonny and Tom Senior as Kenickie both had much more presence on stage and I feel would have been better suited to the part of Danny. Both actors were funny, charismatic and over the top enough to steal the scenes they were in.

Danielle Hope was very good as Sandy and her singing voice had shades of Olivia Newton-John, she was wonderful as both the sweet, innocent Sandy and the sexy Sandy who comes in act two. George Olney was fantastic as Teen Angel/Vince Fontaine and had the audience really involved and with him throughout his scenes. 

The costumes by Andreane Neofitou and choreography by Arlene Phillips really brought 50’s to life and the special effects were brilliant, especially when Greased Lightning came to life on stage. It was nice to see the orchestra on stage as they were great and really got the audience in the feel good mood.

All in all it's a very energetic and enjoyable show for any lovers or likers of the original.

Grease is at the New Victoria theatre until July 15th before continuing it's UK tour.

Yank! The Musical, Charing Cross Theatre | Review

Yank! The Musical, Charing Cross Theatre | Review

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Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed on Monday July 10th 2017 by Olivia Mitchell

Tonight marked the West End premiere of the 2010 off-Broadway musical, Yank! which tells the true story of two men who fell in love during World War II. Since making its UK premiere at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, Yank! has been a highly anticipated transfer as people were eager to hear the story that didn't make the history books and last night it opened to staggering applause and a standing ovation.

Set during the time when homosexuality was frowned upon and defined by the development of modern psychiatry to treat the 'illness', this is an extremely important story to be told. It's so powerful that whilst fighting for their country and lives, men were also fighting for their right to love. Particularly poignant just after the celebration of love seen with London Pride and also during a time when American politics seems to be repressing 'non-traditional' men and women, it's thought-provoking to see these issues played out on stage.

The story is told through the eye's of the young Stu (Scott Hunter) who journaled his whole journey through the war. He feels that he is not a proper man and feels ashamed to not be as strong as the other men in his squad. He finds comfort in his journal which narrates the show in a truthful, emotional way and allows the audience to connect of a much more personal level. Stu becomes friends with, and eventually starts a rocky relationship with fellow soldier, Mitch (Andy Coxon) who constantly fights back that he is not a 'fairy'. Struggling with this denial, Stu leaves the army squad and becomes a reporter for Yank! magazine.

The story is told in the style of an MGM musical, with the tradition and romanticism of Rodgers and Hammerstein. There is a stunning mix of dance and a rich, emotive score. Particularly entertaining is when Stu meets photographer, Artie (Chris Kiely) who he discovers through a glorious tap number 'Click' is also gay as he explains the ways to identify other gay men during war. Sarah Louise-Young is fantastic as the many female fantasy characters who lead the MGM style.

Chris Cuming's choreography works alongside and also contrasts the beautiful solos and duets of the score perfectly, with each piece impressively and smoothly choreographed. This balance makes the piece truly engaging and adds a level of humour which is welcomed so as not to make the piece too heavy and draining.  There is a perfect balance between seriousness and sweet sincerity. Especially heart-wrenching was the interrogation scene in act two, which coupled with the heat of the theatre, had everyone on the edge of their seats, sweating in tension. 

Scott Hunter is faultless as Stu; rarely off stage he gives his all and touchingly shows his immense character development throughout. Starting as the weakest of the squad and eventually becoming the strongest for fighting not only the war but for his love till the very end.  He is charged with emotion and it's touching to see his journey play out in front of our eyes. As his love interest, Andy Coxon is tough and charismatic whilst still showing a vulnerable side. Both actors bounce off of each other and have a beautiful chemistry on stage. It's so lovely to see a male led company who work together faultlessly and create a harmonious feeling. 

Yank! is touching, honest, genuine, fluid and overall a heart-wrenching look at love and tragedy.

Yank! runs at the Charing Cross theatre until August 19th.

Wig Out: Rehearsed Reading, National Theatre | Review

Wig Out: Rehearsed Reading, National Theatre | Review

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Wig Out: Rehearsed Reading
Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre
Reviewed on Friday July 7th 2017 by Jessica Harris-King

As part of National Theatre's Queer Theatre month, a rehearsed reading of Tarrell Alvin-MCcraney's, Wig Out was performed in the Lyttleton Theatre. Having attended on the strength of being a huge fan of Tarrell's oscar-winning film Moonlight, I was unaware of what to expect and ultimately more than pleasantly surprised. The play centres around the house ball culture mostly based in the US, and takes place over the course of 24 hours. We follow the journey of the House of Light *snaps* as they get ready for a ball thrown by their rivals, House of Diabolique. 

The residents of the House of Light include the colourful characters of 'mother' Rey-Rey (Tarrell Alvin-McCraney), 'father' Lucian (Ukweli Roach) daughters, Venus, gay drag queen (Craig Stein), Ms Nina/Wilson (Kadiff Kirwan), a gay person who presents as feminine and identifies as gender non-conforming, Deity (Kobna Holbrook-Smith) a gay man, who is Venus' love interest and DJ to the House of Light and the three fates (Alexia Khadime, Abiona Omonua and Cat Simmons), a trio of women who often act as narrators for the show, telling the story through humour and singing throughout.

The opening line of the show, as said by Venus "By the time this play makes its way to you, most of the language will have been antiquated" sets the tone of the piece as time (or lack of it) is very much a theme in the piece. It’s presented obviously to us through the fact that the house only has until midnight to prepare for the ball, but also more subtly later in the show, as Rey-Rey’s struggle as an aging member of her house is clearly seen to be getting to her. 

The theme of gender is also presented to us when we, along with Nina, meet Eric (Tunji Kasim) a gay man who although likes Nina, is uncomfortable with her presenting as feminine, resulting in her going as ‘Wilson’ during their time together. Kirwan’s performance is truly one of the highlights of the show and his on-stage presence is mesmerising, he brings both equal parts humour and vulnerability to the role, making Ms.  Nina one of the stand-out characters of the show. 

Venus comes a close second, especially during the second act when she and Deity do a hilarious lip-sync to a Beyonce and Jay-Z song. Craig Stein and Kobna Holbrook-Smith have great chemistry and in this scene it really shows. Throughout the piece, there a various modern pop culture references, reminding us of the fact that the culture being portrayed on stage and the issues, are happening right now in the present day. Jonjo O’Neill and Tom Rhys-Harries also perform expertly as, House of Light rivals, Serena and Loki, their performances in the second act being particularly entertaining. 

Overall this performance was a treat to watch and one can only imagine how incredible it would have been, seeing it in all its glory.

Voices Off: Woyzeck, Old Vic | Platform Review

Voices Off: Woyzeck, Old Vic | Platform Review

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Voices Off: Woyzeck
Old Vic
Post by Olive Scott Whilde

The Voices Off series at the Old Vic is described as ‘a series of talks, debates, workshops and conversations’ held at the beautiful Old Vic theatre. On Thursday, I attended a talk titled ‘On Nature’ that delved into the makings and meanings behind the Old Vic’s current mesmerising play, Woyzeck starring the enigmatic John Boyega

With around 100 people in attendance at this intimate event, we were joined by Matthew Warchus, the Artistic Director of The Old Vic, Joe Murphy, the director of Woyzeck, and Professor Laura Marcus, professor of English Literature at Oxford University. Absent was Anthony Julius, Deputy Chairman of Mishcon de Reya, who presented this talk in association with the Old Vic. They sat in front of the stage’s curtain as we sat unassigned in the stalls. 

I learnt many things about this exciting play from this talk and the first thing I found particularly fascinating was about how massively the script was adapted. The original script was written by Georg Büchner in 1836, but due to his untimely death in 1837 the script remained unfinished and in fragments. Many different productions in the last 100 years have adapted it with different interpretations but this script by Jack Thorne is likely the boldest yet, setting it in 1980s Berlin and around the British Army’s part in the defence of the Berlin Wall. This more modern take on an 19th century story meant that a lot of the story is completely new and delves into more modern ideas of mental illness and poverty and how that affects the working class who do not have access to basic needs. Complete with a 10 minute duologue that closes off act one, and an entire manic monologue in German (an exert from Büchner’s original script), it takes you on a journey from your average British working class dialogue to, as Woyzeck’s madness heightens, something almost poetic and inhuman. This script, as well as the impressive staging and set, gives the audience a unique look into Woyzeck’s head as his health worsens. 

The staging and set was talked about too. The set is very simple, as it is with most modern theatre, with insulation-covered walls being lifted up and down by wires to represent the ever-changing setting with some even having a gruesome surprise inside. The director, Joe Murphy, spoke about these walls representing the Berlin Wall. The staging, whilst looking chaotic, is actually very meticulously planned and has actually been changed since the first previews. I was lucky enough to see it at its very first preview and then again midway through it’s run (which ends on June 25th) and one difference I noted was the absence of a strange, lucid dance sequence in act one. This was no accident I learned, as Murphy explained that they eventually found it just one step too weird, especially for the first act. 

Matthew Warchus, the Artistic Director at the Old Vic, talked a lot about the issues of class difference portrayed in Woyzeck, which led to the casting of John Boyega. They wanted an actor for Woyzeck who was young, able to take on such an emotionally and physically demanding role, and came from a working class background. Boyega, who grew up in Peckham and who’s debut performance was in 2011’s Attack the Block, set in a South London council estate, was the immediate first choice. As someone who has been a fan of Boyega since his first movie, I thought this was a genius casting decision for this adaptation and made even more sense with this explanation. 

Warchus also talked about how Woyzeck is the start of a new direction in how the Old Vic presents itself, doing more modern plays and appealing to a wider, younger audience. You can definitely see that in the posters and pamphlets around the theatre, presenting a cleaner and bolder design. Although the Old Vic is, well, old, I believe this will bring it into a new era and bring new possibilities and opportunities for a wider range of theatre to be presented on such a stunning stage. 

I really loved this production and learning more about it in such an intimate setting, with which we could ask any questions we may have, was a great experience. I’m excited to see more from Joe Murphy and Jack Thorne and of course, John Boyega, who puts on one of the most extraordinary and captivating performances I’ve ever seen on stage in my lifetime. 

Check out Woyzeck at the Old Vic Theatre in London before it closes June 25th.

Andrew Garfield and Denise Gough on Angels in America | Platform Review

Andrew Garfield and Denise Gough on Angels in America | Platform Review

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Andrew Garfield and Denise Gough on Angels in America
Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre
Post by Olivia Mitchell

The National Theatre have begun a series of talks and events relating to their mammoth, hit play Angels in America, starting with Tony Kushner discussing his plays and work in conversation with Ola Animashawun and continuing with other members of the cast/ crew of the play.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a talk chaired by Kate Bassett, as Andrew Garfield, who plays Prior Walter, and Denise Gough, who plays Harper Pitt, discussed their experiences of performing in the epically relevant show. It is clear from the praise and awards both actors have been receiving that they are masters of their craft and at the top of their game but sometimes this level of 'celebrity' status can make people seem sort of mystical. So it was lovely to see them in an intimate, laid back setting to prove that although they're supremely talented, they're just like everyone else. Kate, Andrew and Denise sat on the stage in front of the angel set of part two: Perestroika whilst we filled the auditorium of the Lyttleton theatre.

The pair spent the majority of the time praising one another, their other cast members and the incredible writing of Tony Kushner. It's truly lovely to see how passionate they both are about the work they're doing with Andrew describing it as "the most fulfilling experience [he'll] ever hope to have." When asked why she initially took the role of Harper, Denise explained that after her Olivier award winning role in People, Places and Things she thought Angels would be a walk in the park. However, soon discovered she was wrong and didn't realise how much the role would take out of her. Despite having time off stage she said she is so mentally attached that time isn't a break, stating that "profound writing has a profound effect" with Andrew echoing the amount of work and energy that goes into playing Prior and that Kushner's writing "demands you to surrender".

This led into a particularly interesting discussion when an audience member asked how the cast take care of themselves to perform in such a demanding and long show. Andrew spoke candidly about how actors are expected to answer that it's a breeze but how it really is draining to give that much on stage all the time. He spoke about the effects on his mental health and how completing the play is his form of self care. Although it's long, especially on a two show day, he explained how getting to the end is somewhat of a therapeutic experience. Denise agreed with this, also laughing about the amount of self-care remedies she has, including massages, reflexology and air purifying!

A personal highlight of the talk was when the pair spoke about the need for connection and how this play provides that. "People flock to certain shows in the West End and I think that's all about connection." This is certainly true and in the dark times the country is going through at the minute I think it's really important to have an escape and a safe place where we can all unify over shared interests. Both actors said how they feel that the audience are really part of the play, especially on two show days and that the curtain call feels like an applause for both the cast and audience. Andrew described it as a "communion with the audience. Us all going through the same things together and how prevalent and necessary it is to tell this story right now."

Andrew and Denise are both hilarious, frequently taking the mickey out of themselves and again proving how normal they are. Especially funny moments were when Andrew exclaimed "Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister" and when he explained how although he doesn't identify as a gay man, he is basically living as one "just without the physical act" and how Ru Paul's Drag Race was an extensive and essential part of his research process: "every Sunday I would have eight friends over and we would just watch Ru".

Overall this was a wonderful and enlightening talk on one of the theatrical highlights of the season. It's incredible to see such passionate performers talk so candidly and emotionally about the struggles of their roles as well as what goes into performing such a colossal play. The National is one of the most accessible in the West End and this series of talks is just another example of that. If you haven't seen Angels in America then you better get in that returns queue because you don't want to miss out!

Read my review of Angels in America here:

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