Monday 13 March 2023

The Phase, The Vaults | Review

The Phase
The Vaults

A new, British musical, The Phase follows four best friends and bandmates, Aziza, Rowan, Sage and Ava as they take on their Catholic school's oppressive rules which restrict them from expressing their queerness. The coming-of age musical tackles a number of issues in a short time and is a well written exploration of teenage life and identity.

The Vault Festival is a great event for shows to form and find audiences but the space, budget and time constraints don't always allow for much development. The team behind The Phase have done a great job working with these limitations and have created a musical that feels pretty well rounded and has design interest as well as great performances. The set comprises of large drawn out items such as rulers and pens that are transformed into various other things, and the band dressed as crayons complete the pencil case assortment and give the show a unique look and feel.

Led by musical director Amy Hsu, the band do a great job of leading the piece and accompanying the cast who provide consistently strong vocals. With Jocasta Almgill as Aziza, Ashley Goh as Rowan, Holly Ryan as Sage and Gracie McGonigal as Ava, the quad create a wholesome group who really support one another and give each other room to grow and be who they want to be. All four have well defined characteristics, and in a different setting there would certainly be room to flesh them out further. The occasional mic issue did mean some moments were lost at this performance but this is something that can be easily ironed out.

The Phase is a show which knows its identity and retains it throughout. Every moment is cohesive and feels quite genuinely like a school drama. There is a lot of angst and a whole host of personal struggles from anxiety to friendship, and although at times it feels a little too much, there is a sincerity sewn through which makes it a lovely piece.

Zoe Morris and Meg McGrady have created a great piece of musical theatre, that under Izzy Rabey's direction really gets to soar. It's lovely to see queer stories told that are not surrounded by trauma, and this show does a great job at highlighting the joy and community found, even when individuals are struggling. From body dysmorphia to relationship boundaries, there is so much packed into the hour long show. At times it comes across a little too dramatic, but at the same time it is very evocative of school life.

Mention must also go to how accessible the team have made the show. With sensory items available as well as chill out spaces, the whole experience embodies inclusivity and is certainly paving the way for others.

The show has just finished its run at the the Vault Festival, but there's sure to be a future life for The Phase and it will continue to spread joy via a touching storyline and absolutely killer vocals.

Reviewed on Sunday 12th March 2023 by Olivia Mitchell

{AD PR Invite- tickets gifted in exchange for honest review}

Friday 10 March 2023

Jay Bryce on Taking Heathers on the Road | Heathers the Musical | Interview

Heathers is currently making its way around the country, on a high octane, 80s fuelled tour. Currently playing Veronica's Dad/Principal Gowan/Kurt's Dad, Jay Bryce tells us about his experience taking the show on the road and what it's like being part of a show with such a cult following...

How does it feel to be starring in such an iconic and well-loved show?
It feels such a privilege to be part of this great show and part of the Heathers Family. I’m so grateful to be working on this production. I didn’t realise the reach the show had until I joined and how much the show means to people. It is so heart-warming to be bringing this show to people around the UK and Ireland.

Which Heather would you most like to be friends with?
Definitely Heather Mac. I think she needs a good friend to look out for her and I think I could help bring out her kinder side. Plus, I’d want to get a yellow blazer to match with her.

Heathers has a really dedicated fan base, what are some of your favourite fan experiences from the tour so far?
Meeting the fans at stage door is always such a great experience. The Heathers fans are all so kind and lovely and we’ve been made to feel so welcome in the venues we’ve been to so far.

Something I’ve also LOVED is the scrunchy throw during the bows. It is so lovely and something that makes the show so unique.

What's your favourite line in Heathers?
I’m a big fan of my characters line “That was one hell of a fishing trip”. But I do love it when Veronica tells Heather Chandler to “Lick it up”. Definitely have been saying that in my everyday life now…!

Heather C is a big corn nut fan, what would your show snack of choice be?
I would love a Werther’s Original. Is that showing my age…?!

If you could bring any other film to stage, which would you choose?
I think American Pie on the stage would be absolutely brilliant. I’d love to play Jim. But I think my casting is now heading more towards playing Jim’s Dad…!

Why should people come and see Heathers on tour?
The show is just brilliant. It has energy, is fun, whilst also dealing with serious themes. Working with this cast has been such a joy and their energy and joy on and off stage is infectious.

You’ll want to come again and again to see this show.

Heathers The Musical plays at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking until 11th March 2023 and then continues its tour

photo credit: Pamela Raith

Thursday 9 March 2023

Bonnie and Clyde, Garrick Theatre | Review

Bonnie and Clyde
Garrick Theatre

First seen in the UK as a concert version and then subsequently a full production at the intimate Arts Theatre, Bonnie and Clyde has now upgraded to the larger Garrick Theatre as it continues its riotous reign.

After the show flopped on Broadway, it's nice to see that the creative team are taking risks and switching things up. In this new venue, there are clear changes and the larger space is used to create more drama and help the development of scenes. Paul Whitcomb's set has lots more going on, with everything feeling more developed and bolder than before. Zoe Spurr effectively lights the scenes,  creating some very effective moments during the various robberies and shoot outs. Nina Dunn's video design covers the set in historical photos as well as helping back up the on stage drama. These projections alongside the forceful tableau's created throughout, make the whole musical feel far more cinematic than its previous iteration.

In the titular roles as the West End's favourite felons, Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage excel. McCann really encapsulates the dreamer quality of Bonnie Parker as she is swept off her feet, whilst later on contrasting with a woman hardened by her life on the run. Vocally, her portrayal is dynamic and melancholy, with her rendition of Dyin' Ain't So Bad providing the perfect amount of emotional impact needed in the show. Gage is suitably menacing, whilst also bringing spades of charm to the role of Clyde Barrow and he performs the soaring score with seeming ease. The pair have excellent chemistry, often balancing one another well. This is a sultry, sexy show which leans heavily into the romance, and the duo do a really thrilling job at bringing their all encompassing passion to life; their fiery partnership ringing out until the very last shot.

In contrast to Clyde's intense hostility, Ted as a character is pretty underdeveloped but Cleve September performs the role with great intention and uses the material well; especially when he really lets his voice soar in act two. As Buck Barrow, George Maguire gives a very engaging performance and creates a dynamic partnership with newcomer to the cast, Jodie Steele, who's performance as Blanche is utterly brilliant. Full of humour and heart in equally wonderful measure, Steele's performance is a definite highlight. Dom Hartley Harris also joins the cast and gives a rousing performance as the Preacher; whilst Barney Wilkinson and Julie Yammanee have some real stand out moments in their tracks.

The story of Bonnie and Clyde's journey to being outlaws is a fascinating one, and Ivan Menchell's book begins to look deeper at their motives and aspirations and it's interesting to see how the pair took their desire for fame and turned it on its head. But perhaps more compelling is when their story is paralleled with the economic and emotional turmoil of America at the time. The Barrow brothers discuss how they've been profiled by police since they were young and there's some exploration on why people turned to crime, when their lives were torn apart by poverty. Made in America is one of the most striking numbers in the show and really brings another layer to proceedings but unfortunately it's not developed much further. Whilst the romance is the heart of the show, it would maybe be improved if there was more analysis of the socio-economic climate and its effects. This version of the show also cuts out a few of the scenes where the duo commit their crimes which hinders the development of Bonnie and Clyde as villains, meaning we don't see the full extent of their misdeeds and therefore the stakes never quite feel high enough.

The musical has its faults and the book could certainly use some editing but this still remains an incredibly enjoyable show that is feisty and thrilling. Don Black and Frank Wildhorn's pacy, engaging score is a treat to hear live. A law-breakingly good cast make Bonnie and Clyde a show that's well worth seeing and hearing.

Reviewed on Wednesday 8th March 2023 by Olivia Mitchell
photo credit: The Other Richard

{AD PR Invite- tickets gifted in exchange for honest review}

Wednesday 8 March 2023

Five Reasons to see Heathers the Musical on Tour

Since making its London debut in 2018, Heathers the Musical has gained a massive cult following and has gone on to do a number of London runs and touring productions. This current version takes the iconic show around the UK and features a fantastic cast who absolutely nail the roles. If you're still debating whether you should catch the show on tour, here are five reasons why we think you should...

The Soundtrack is Super Catchy
Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe’s book, music and lyrics have so many witty moments where you'll be laughing out loud and there are also some genuinely touching moments. The music is engaging and camp with so much 80s realness woven throughout. If you're remotely stagey, you've probably heard some of the songs, most likely Candy Store which is a definite stand out of the show. Aside from the humourous songs there are some very heartfelt moments like Kindergarten Boyfriend, a beautiful soliloquy performed by Martha aka Kingsley Morton, and some definite earworms such as Seventeen and Shine a Light.

The Cast are SO Talented
This touring cast are one of the strongest I've seen in Heathers with a number of standout performances and some great ensemble work. As Veronica Sawyer, Jenna Innes gives a really well developed performance and feels vocally strong throughout. Her chemistry with the brooding serial killer JD (Jacob Fowler) is pretty strong and the duo really shine in their moments together, especially when the drama really gets going. The Heathers themselves bring all the farce and sass you'd expect. Elise Zavou is enjoyable as Duke, Verity Thompson is hilarious and vocally dreamy as Chandler and Billie Bowman really highlights the reluctance of McNamara to go along with her 'friends' and gives a surprisingly nuanced and emotive performance, not always seen in Heathers.

The Production Value is Really Strong
This is a show which transfers so effectively to touring, David Shields' 80s design is bright and engaging whilst Ben Cracknell's lighting is super effective, especially when highlighting the cast in their signature colours. The fairly simple set is elevated by a number of special effects and costume quick changes, all of which really feel at home on a touring stage. The slow mo fight scene and clever sound effects (Dan Samson) for the croquet game work really well too, and the ensemble do so much to really embellish all the scenes, with individual characteristics and storylines shining through and adding a lot of interest.

It's Melodrama at its Finest
Whilst Heathers touches on some really sensitive topics, it does so in a way that is hilariously over the top. It's camp and angsty at the same time. With deep moments suddenly balanced with a gag; the more times I see this show, the more effective I think it is. Kurt Kelly (Alex Woodward) and Ram Sweeney (Morgan Jackson) are peak hilarity in their portrayals and really lean into the teen humour of the piece. The whole shebang, with the ott choreography and character entrances make the whole thing so dramatic you cant help but enjoy it. Once you get over the slight cringe of it all, it's a really fun night out!

The Audience Atmosphere Needs to be Experienced
Heathers is an absolute crowd pleaser that has made and retained so many fans over its time and the way these fans love and support the show is truly lovely to experience. Cheering and whooping as if their family members are on stage, the audience appreciation is so real and makes for a really warm feeling theatrical experience.

Heathers The Musical plays at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking until 11th March 2023 and then continues its tour

photo credit: Pamela Raith