Friday, 3 March 2023

Fisherman's Friends The Musical (Tour), Richmond Theatre | Review

Fisherman's Friends The Musical (Tour)
Richmond Theatre

When a group of Cornish fisherman got together to sing for fun, little did they know they'd become successful professional musicians, or that they'd be the subject of a film and now a musical. Fisherman's Friends The Musical is based on the lives of the people in that group, and the community around them in Port Isaac. It's a story about friendship, family, the sea and those who spend their lives working on it.

When former record company employer Danny (Jason Langley) visits the village and hears the men's singing, he makes it his mission to get them a record label, and restore his own reputation in the music industry. Aside from a few minor plots, that's really all the show is about and as it's pretty predictable at times it can drag. However, in lulled moments there's always a rousing sea shanty round the corner to buoy you back up.

Whilst the show is definitely more song than script, under the direction of James Grieve the cast do a fabulous job of conveying the emotions and bringing the Cornish community to life. James Gaddas takes the wheel as the un-appointed boss and voice of reason; often interacting with witty one liners and providing a path for the story to take.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jason Langley is the cheeky chappy full of swagger and is so entertaining as well as endearing. As his love interest Alwyn, Parisa Shahmir is a vocal siren. Her voice is hauntingly melodic and she has the nuanced acting chops to match it.

Lucy Osborne's dockside set with Johanna Town's atmospheric lighting perfectly brings to life the seaside town, seamlessly transforming into the inside of the pub and later. The rocking sea feels completely realistic and there are some very impressive moments when the men are out fishing.

Fisherman's Friends the Musical is not the most exciting piece of theatre but it's got heart in heaps and is a very wholesome way to spend a couple of hours. A story about community and friendship, the whole piece is really down to earth and is a real feel good show.

Reviewed on Thursday 2nd March 2023
photo credit: Pamela Raith

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Sylvia, The Old Vic | Review

The Old Vic 

Following its 2018 'work in progress' run, Sylvia has returned to The Old Vic, this time as a fully staged production. Telling the story of Sylvia Pankhurst- the daughter of the supreme Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragette movement- the show is a fresh look at history, that feels inherently British in all the best ways.

The titular role is played by the utterly charming Sharon Rose, who gives a masterfully intimate performance, as well as showcasing her fantastic vocals. Sharon is really impressive at showing the gradual growth of Sylvia, as she finds her voice and what she stands for and feels continually authentic throughout. The character of Sylvia come across in a very relatable, endearing way and really allows the audience to root for her- a very special feeling.

This performance saw the debut of Hannah Khemoh as Emmeline Pankhurst. Really coming into her own towards the end, Hannah gave a commanding performance, with great vocals and really shone in moments when the whole family came together.

Completing the Pankhurst family are Ellena Vincent as Christabel and Kirstie Skivington as Adela, both of whom give impressive performances and show some wonderful character development. Kelly Agbowu is absolutely fantastic as Mrs Flora 'The General' Drummond, giving a truly commanding performance that's superbly entertaining.

A complete standout role, is Jay Perry as Winston Churchill, giving a performance which is so so enjoyable and witty that you can't help but side with him, even when he's stamping on the Suffragette movement! As his wife Clementine, Verity Blyth is a dream. Her beautiful voice soars around the auditorium and her witty, sweetly conniving performance is so enjoyable to watch. Rounding out the Churchill trio is the matriarch, Lady Jennie, played at this performance by Jade Hackett who is equally as strong, and provides some really unexpected moments that have the audience in the palm of her hand. Both Alex Gaumond and Sweeney provide vocal moments as Kier Hardie and Silvio Corio respectively.

This is definitely a show where the cast really take the forefront, with costuming and sets that are fairly simplistic, but that work exceptionally well. Andrzej Goulding's animation and video brilliantly add dimension to the show, whilst Natasha Chivers' lighting is both emotive and exciting. Combined with Ben Stones' set and costume, the show is a visual delight; at times almost feeling like a film. The black and white majority, combined with splashes of red is incredibly striking.

Whilst this is a musical which excels in many aspects, there are parts which don't quite hit the spot. At times the dialogue is somewhat clunky and some characters don't get enough development to be truly effective. Even Sylvia herself, only really comes into her own towards the end and it takes a bit too much time for her story to get going. The end of the show comes across rushed, with loose ends suddenly being tied up and Emmeline's character doing a complete 180. Of course the show is based on real events, but as it covers so many years, some moments don't get the justice they deserve, whilst others get a bit too much. However, musically the show is choc-a-block with fun, fiery moments. Kate Prince, Josh Cohen, and DJ Walde's score is exciting and multifaceted. The lyrics and musical styles, paired with the great humour that's woven in, feel perfectly British and are truly effective. 

Sylvia is an innovative production which does a mostly great job at telling the story of some really powerful women. There are parts which come out of nowhere and moments when you feel a bit awkward, but at the same time you can't help but enjoy yourself! For the faults it has, this show remains a really fun night out, that boats a top notch cast and has a lot of charm.

Reviewed on Monday 27th February 2023
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Shirley Valentine, Duke of York's Theatre | Review

Shirley Valentine
Duke of York's Theatre

From the audience at the Duke of York's Theatre, it's clear that Shirley Valentine is a much loved story and after seeing Sheridan Smith's performance, I think it's only going to receive further love and praise. The one woman show follows disillusioned mother and wife Shirley as she reminisces on her "unused life" and wonders how she can really find herself and her happiness again. The show is a glorious manifesto on being a woman and is so incredibly moving in all the best ways. It celebrates the small things and highlights hardships so many people go through in such a seamless and engaging way. You truly couldn't ask for more.

Sheridan Smith has had many star turns in her career and is a hugely celebrated actress for good reason and this production completely hammers that home. Smith is completely born for this role, giving into it and making the audience feel like she's truly lived the life she talks about; and also making the audience feel like they've lived it with her. There's no way to not sound overly gushy, because Sheridan is just that good; her performance is an absolute dream and truly couldn't be better.

Watching this show, it's quite amazing to realise that, without being condescending, it was written by a man. Willy Russell has completely nailed the female spirit and the entire script feels incredibly natural. For a show written over thirty years ago, it remains as fresh and sadly relevant as ever.

Paul Wills' set is completely fitting for the story and allows the story to shine, almost becoming a character of its own, especially given the personification of the kitchen wall. The simplistic staging works perfectly as does the gorgeous lighting design from Lucy Carter. Understated lighting changes parallel the emotions Shirley is feeling and work well to really emphasise the most emotive moments.

What's so wonderful about this show, and I'm sure why it resonates with so many, is that it's all about a normal person. There's no larger than life drama or swooping romantic relationships, instead there's a genuine character discussing real life issues. In a way it's sad that so many can relate to Shirley's feelings but hopefully this show will help people realise that they are not alone and that your life, however small it may feel, is a glorious, stage worthy one too! 

Under Matthew Dunster's excellent direction, with Sheridan Smith at her absolute best, this is perhaps one of the most grounded and well performed productions in the West End and I just wish everyone could see it. Stunning, stunning work.

Photo Credit: John Wilson
Reviewed on Saturday 25th February 2023 by Olivia Mitchell

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

Oklahoma, Wyndham's Theatre | Review

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma
Wyndham's Theatre

One of the most exciting and invigorating productions of recent time, Oklahoma at the Wyndham's theatre is truly a spectacle of theatre which uses a number of engaging elements to transform this old school show, into something which feels fresh and bracing.

Directed by Daniel Fish, the reimagined musical has lot of interesting moments and is a deliberately unsettling and provocative piece of theatre. This is a show which delivers some interesting social commentaries and has been updated to be relevant for contemporary audiences. As a commentary on mob mentality and societal positions, it's very effective and well done; and the plot/character change to the end completely turns the show on its head and leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions on right and wrong- a very impressive ending.

Among the changes, are those to the score which is totally switched up from how it's classically been heard. Daniel Kluger's arrangements allow the music to soar in a completely different way and make it sound as though it was written today. Hearing it like this, it's quite unbelievable that this is one of the first ever book musicals and even more so that it feels so relatable. One of the biggest differences is the vocal style of leading lady Anoushka Lucas as Laurey who in contrast to the usual soprano performance, sings the songs like the singer/songwriter she is; and really grounds the music in reality. Alongside Arthur Darvill who also plays the guitar on stage, there is an incredible level of vulnerability and angst shown throughout.

The rest of the cast are astounding and do an excellent job of interpreting the musical in their own way. As Ado Annie Georgina Onuorah is incredibly witty as well as being a vocal powerhouse, her rendition of I Can’t Say No is an absolute stand out and highlight of the show. Liza Sadovy is a powerful presence on stage and gives Aunt Eller a lot more autonomy than usual, especially in her romantic endeavours. As Will Parker James Patrick Davis is gloriously clueless whilst Stavros Demetraki is his own worst enemy. There's also a moving section with the dream sequence dance which Marie-Astrid Mence performs excellently. You couldn't ask for a better gelled, and talented cast.

Whilst there are humourous moments, the show could lean into the comedy more and have some more ramped up moments. The subdued moments work very well and the tension is continually built up but there aren’t any hugely contrasting moments of joy. The cast are unanimously strong but due to the stylistic choices of the show, there’s rarely a truly positively moment and at times it feels like the cast are constrained by the intense nuance and darkness.  

The use of lighting (Scott Zielinski) is one of the most effective and exciting parts of the show. Beginning with the house lights up and the whole audience in plain view, the sudden changes to an eerie green hue and later on full blackouts, have an amazing influence on the story and how the audience feel about the characters. It’s quite incredible how a small lighting change can completely subvert a song and show it, both literally and figuratively, in a new light. The initial blackout which features Curly (Arthur Darvill) and Jud (Patrick Vaill) creates a theatrical atmosphere like no other.  In a sort of asmr style moment, the full darkness, with even the fire exit signs turned off, means you can’t help but focus completely on the actor’s voices as they boom out via handheld mics. The already tense scene becomes completely unnerving for the audience and is a theatrical moment that will stay with audiences for a long time.

This is a very different Oklahoma to the one your grandparents know so you may want to consider that before booking (especially if planning on taking children) but for the boldness and pure invigoration that this show brings, it’s definitely worth seeing. A non-traditional production which is jarringly dark, Oklahoma will give you a theatrical experience like no other and is a stunning addition to the West End.

Reviewed on Saturday 25th February
photo credit: Marc Brenner