Tuesday 28 May 2024

How to Plot a Payback by Melissa Ferguson book review: a hilarious and heartfelt tale of revenge, unexpected love, and personal growth.


How to Plot a Payback by Melissa Ferguson
Published: 2nd April 2024 by Thomas Nelson

Melissa Ferguson's How To Plot a Payback is a delightful rom-com that combines humour, heart, and just the right amount of drama. The story centres around Finn Masters who is ecstatic to secure his dream job as a writer for the hit sitcom Neighbors. His excitement, however, takes a nosedive when he learns that he will be working alongside Lavender Rhodes, the actress he has blamed for his troubles since their teenage years. Intent on getting his revenge, Finn devises several schemes to undermine Lavender. Yet, as his plans comically unravel, Finn starts to question his feelings and realises that Lavender is not who he thought she was. The narrative unfolds through a series of humorous misadventures and touching moments, ultimately leading to an unexpected romance. To sum it up, the book is a hilarious and heartfelt tale of revenge, unexpected love, and personal growth.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to receive an arc of Melissa Ferguson's Meet Me in the Margins, which I fell in love with, so when I saw she was releasing a new book, I knew I had to get my hands on it and I'm glad I did because it was just the dose of romance and joy that I needed. Melissa's writing is not only strawberry sweet, it's also addictive and gripping. I found myself swooning at a lot of Finn's thoughts about Lavender and was really rooting for the duo as a couple but also individually.

One of the book's real strengths is how well the characters are developed. Finn is incredibly relatable; his grudges and insecurities make him both lovable and occasionally exasperating. Lavender starts off as the supposed villain but gradually reveals her own layers, showing her struggles and strengths. The chemistry between them is electric, keeping readers invested as they navigate the chaotic world of Hollywood and their evolving relationship. Their journey is full of ups and downs, making it a compelling read from start to finish and making their unexpected happy ever after even sweeter.

As I say, the dynamic between Finn and Lavender is great, filled with witty banter and comedic misadventures. Finn's attempts at revenge often backfire, leading to laugh-out-loud moments and surprising twists. I did find Finn's revenge plots a bit ridiculous and they sort of took away from the realism of the story at times but there was also a good balance of sincerity which toned things down.

Also, while the story is highly entertaining, some elements might feel a bit predictable, and the pacing can occasionally slow things down. However, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise charming and engaging read that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

The side characters and jobs of the two leads add to the charm of the story. Set against the backdrop of Neighbors (I was picturing the Australian show but i don't know if that's truly the vibe haha) we get a look at the inner workings of a writers room, and meet a host of lovable and hateable characters, all of whom add to the story and world.

How To Plot a Payback is a fun, feel-good romantic comedy that will leave you smiling. It's perfect for fans of lighthearted, character-driven stories with a touch of Hollywood glamour. If you're in the mood for a book that balances comedy with genuine emotion, give this one a try. 

Reviewed by Olivia

{AD PR product- book gifted by publisher}

Thursday 25 April 2024

Bonnie and Clyde the Musical on tour delivers a Thrilling Theatrical Experience | New Victoria Theatre | Review


Bonnie and Clyde (Tour)
New Victoria Theatre

Originally blazing onto the Broadway scene in 2011, Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical quickly gained a cult following for its bold storytelling and infectious tunes. Since finally debuting in London 10 years later with a concert version in January 2022, the show has had a number of runs and now, it continues making waves with its UK tour, bringing a slice of American outlaw charm to a number of regional theatres. This is an electrifying production that captivates from start to finish. The dynamic rendition of the infamous duo's story brings a fresh perspective to the stage, blending catchy tunes with poignant storytelling and surprising amount of humour, all to make it a top shelf night at the theatre

Drawing from the true narrative, Bonnie and Clyde traces the journey of its titular characters from childhood aspirations – Bonnie dreaming of a glamorous life as a movie star like Clara Bow, and Clyde yearning for the outlaw allure of Billy the Kid. Their paths cross serendipitously, leading to a tumultuous life of crime that ultimately ends in tragedy. Interwoven within their tale is an unrequited love subplot and poignant glimpses into the economic hardships of the era, which effectively sheds light on the harsh realities that drove the Barrow Brothers to pursue a life of crime.

The leading roles in this show are demanding ones indeed, but Katie Tonkinson and Alex James-Hatton make them look effortless as they bring the outlaws to life and provide killer vocals. The chemistry between the pair is excellent and I found myself absorbed in their love (and death) story. This show thrives because of the way it humanises the duo, allowing you to really feel for them despite their law breaking. Their story is one that's been romanticised a thousand times and in this case that totally works. Sure, there's a lot of be said for not glamourising killers, but I think this age old tale gets a free pass and whilst the show does shy away a bit from really showing the pain they caused, it touches on it enough that you never forget their dark sides.

Speaking of dark, let's talk about the lighting design because, I love it. Zoe Spurr has done a fantastic job of using the lighting to highlight morality and emotion. For example during 'God's Arms Are Always Open' where the church scene is bathed in warm hues, contrasting with Clyde's crime spree depicted in stark white; and during 'Raise a Little Hell' (which is the stand out scene of the show for me)– the moment Clyde takes his first life, he is bathed in almost complete darkness with only a sliver of his face lit, it's really, really effective and dramatic.

Musically Frank Wildhorn and Don Black have crafted a show that's rocky and sexy and soulful. The music is catchy and really furthers the characters' emotional journey's rather than just filling in gaps. There are a tonne of stand out moments, and vocals that will certainly give you goosebumps. Ivan Menchell's book has some great moments and is multilayered both in terms of character and plot. The pacing is at times a little slow and I do think it could be tweaked a bit to get the adrenaline up a little more but there's still lots to enjoy.

All that being said, it's a wild, law-breaking escapade that'll have you on the edge of your seat, begging for more; so grab your tickets, round up your posse, and get ready to raise a little hell with Bonnie and Clyde in Woking and on tour. 

★★★★
Reviewed on Wednesday 24th April 2024
Photo Credit:

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Wednesday 24 April 2024

Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) at the Criterion Theatre Review: A Warm Hug of a Musical


Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York)
Criterion Theatre

Buckle up, because Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) at the Criterion Theatre is a rollercoaster of heartwarming goodness that’ll make you want to hug strangers on the tube home (maybe not advisable, but you get the vibe). The show, a recent transfer from the kiln Theatre is musical theatre romcom you've been waiting, like the best early 2000s rom-coms, but on stage, and with live-action vibes that'll have you grinning from ear to ear- it needs to be on your radar.

The story follows two total strangers, Robin and Dougal, who, by a twist of fate, find themselves on a wild journey through the bustling streets of New York City. Cue the quirky meet-cute, the awkward yet endearing conversations, and a whole lot of unexpected adventure. But what really sets this show apart is its knack for capturing the essence of the Big Apple. You'll feel like you're right there in the heart of NYC, dodging taxis and soaking in the neon lights.

Relentlessly optimistic Dougal heads across the pond to attend his father's wedding, and also to actually meet him for the first time. At the airport he's greeted by Robin, the bride's sister, who's job is to pick him up and then leave him be for the rest of the trip. Of course, that's not the case and the pair end up drawn to one another as they discover and rediscover the city, all whilst finding out about one another. It's as heartwarming as could be and is really just a hug of a musical.

The leading pair are like a perfect slice of New York pizza—full of flavour and impossible to resist. Their chemistry is off the charts, and you'll find yourself rooting for them every step of the way. As Robin, Dujonna Gift gives a brilliant performance, full of stereotypical New Yorker cynicism, but like us all, is soon charmed by her new British acquaintance Dougal. Her comedic timing is wonderful and she really draws us into her world and inner turmoil. In the role of the NYC Newbie, Sam Tutty is the embodiment of charismatic. His performance is hilariously funny and the undercurrent of deeper, darker emotions are wonderfully contrasted. A master of nuanced facial expressions that tell a thousand emotions, and vocals that soar and shine- Sam gives a top grade performance. The pair are perfectly matched and create some absolute theatrical magic on stage.

Aside from the story of the two characters altering each other's lives, this musical is, in every sense of the saying, a love letter to New York. Soutra Gilmour's design turns a revolving set of suitcases into a bustling city, where anything can happen and Tony Gayle's sound design highlights the ever present noise of Manhattan. Of course it's a romcom rose-coloured view, but there is some commentary on New York's darker side which helps ground the piece.

Musically, this show is like a playlist straight out of your favourite indie film, that's been musical theatre-ified. A mixture of styles create a soundtrack that feels genuinely unique and truly fun, setting the perfect mood for every scene. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll probably leave the theatre humming a catchy tune or two. The opening number, New York! is especially joyous and really sums up the show with humour, sincerity, awe, joy and a little bit of tension.

But perhaps the real star of the show is the script. It's sharp, it's witty, and packed with enough heart to fill Times Square. You'll find yourself laughing out loud multiple times and swooning at not only the characters, but the city on stage. Jim Barne's and Kit Buchan's writing is wonderfully fast paced and the characterisation of each lead is so strong. You almost forget you're watching a two person show when such a rich tapestry of a world is created.

In short, Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York) is a delightful romp through the city that never sleeps. It's charming, it's heartwarming, and it's everything you could want in a night out at the theatre. I loved the way it joyously celebrates the 'normal' people and reminds us that even the smallest of meetings, can change our lives. So grab your metro (Oyster) card and get ready for a ride—you won't regret it.

★★★★
Reviewed on Tuesday 23rd April 2024 by Olivia
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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

Wednesday 10 April 2024

2:22 A Ghost Story on Tour REVIEW: A Spooky Night Out


2:22 A Ghost Story (Tour)
New Victoria Theatre

Since premiering in the West End and playing at a number of theatres, 2:22 A Ghost Story has established itself as a must-see spooky night out.  It's a production that promises to thrill and entertain audiences, and definitely does just that.

Drawing from the personal experiences of playwright Danny Robbins, this haunting journey into the supernatural explores themes of love, loss, and enduring connections. The storyline is skilfully crafted, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats while infusing humour that enhances the realism. However, amidst the solid pacing and unexpected twists, the abundance of overacting in this touring version detracts from the authenticity, making it challenging to fully engage with the narrative. 

Set against the backdrop of a dinner party with minimal set changes, the focus remains on the characters so there's a lot riding on them. This cast, made up of Vera Chok, Jay McGuiness, George Rainsford and Fiona Wade, mostly succeed in creating a believable atmosphere, capturing the essence of a boozy evening, however at times, it really feels like you can see some of the performers acting and the line delivery is too over the top to be realistic. When I last saw the show, it almost felt as if you were a fly on the wall during the haunted dinner party, but this time everything is a bit more forced and over performed. The dynamics between the characters are there and you can understand the boiling pot of traumas and emotions that are sewn throughout, but they're not as impactful as when the play is performed with more nuance.

Additionally, while the sound effects aim to heighten the tension, they often feel conspicuous and unnecessary, failing to enhance the overall atmosphere. However, beyond these surface-level thrills, 2:22 A Ghost Story delves into social and economic issues, as well as the dichotomy between belief and science. This commentary adds depth to the production, and helps to create a genuinely good play.

Anna Fleischle's set design allows for spooky moments while maintaining the mundane setting of a family home. The attention to detail, combined with Lucy Carter's atmospheric lighting, provides a perfect backdrop for this ghostly tale.

2:22 A Ghost Story is definitely worth seeing. Despite its flaws, including excessive theatrics and unnecessary jump scares, the play offers moments of genuine suspense and an interesting array commentary.

★★★
Reviewed on Tuesday 9th April 2024 by Olivia

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

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Wild About You the Musical in Concert at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane: A Musical Misfire


Wild About You the Musical in Concert
Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Wild About You: The Musical in Concert presents a mixed bag of highs and lows. On one hand, the cast undeniably pours their heart and soul into every note and step, igniting the stage with energy and harmony during ensemble numbers, providing genuine excitement and joy for the audience. However, the love story it weaves isn't without its thorns. The music, while splendidly performed, lacks the emotional depth to truly resonate, resembling forgettable pop tunes rather than soul-stirring melodies. Similarly, the lyrics feel clich├ęd, failing to capture the complexity of human emotion, leaving much to be desired.

But perhaps the most glaring issue lies in the storytelling. The plot meanders like a lost tourist, introducing subplots only to abandon them moments later, resulting in a directionless narrative that fails to engage. The show feels like two separate shows, neither of which succeed in creating a cohesive story, leaving audiences more puzzled than swooning.

Despite the stellar cast, which includes luminaries like Rachel Tucker and Oliver Tompsett, the characters remain underdeveloped, with surface-level exploration hindering empathy. The ambitious score, while showcasing vocal prowess, suffers from disjointed pacing and inconsistency, detracting from the overall experience.

In the end, Wild About You falls short of its promise, leaving viewers longing for more substance amidst the spectacle. While it may have fared better as a play, the musical format exacerbates its shortcomings, ultimately delivering a tale of missed opportunities and half-hearted attempts at romance. For a concert production, with only a small amount of rehearsal, this was undeniably sleek and well put together but in my opinion, it would need a big overhaul to succeed as a full production.

★★

Reviewed on Tuesday 26th March by Olivia
Photo Credit: 

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

Monday 25 March 2024

Priscilla the Party at HERE at Outernet REVIEW: A Glitzy, Camp Night Out


Priscilla the Party
HERE at Outernet

Priscilla the Party is like stepping into a glittering dreamland where every corner is bursting with energy and excitement. From the moment you walk through the doors of the venue, you're greeted by pulsating beats and dazzling lights that promise a uniquely camp and sparkling experience. Following the adventures of three friends as they journey across the Australian outback aboard the iconic Priscilla bus, the plot is a rollercoaster of emotions that has you grinning from ear ear and dancing your way back onto Tottenham Court Road.

The venue itself is impressive, with its adaptable layout and top-notch sound design, HERE at Outernet ensures that every moment of the performance is delivered with crystal clarity. However, if you're on the shorter side, finding the perfect spot to catch all the action might require a bit of manoeuvring, as the stages aren't particularly high. Pro tip: head towards the front near the non-moving stage at the front for a great view and minimal movement.

Now, let's talk costumes. Each sequin and feather is a work of art, adding an extra layer of sparkle to an already glitzy affair. Tim Chappel and Lizzie Gardiner's designs are wonderfully extra, often providing humour alongside shine. There are also full glitter wigs which are just spectacular.

Equally spectacular are the cast who bring all the good vibes and deliver the story of drag queens travelling the outback so well. Leading proceedings, Trevor Ashley, Reece Kerridge, Dakota Starr and Owain Williams are absolute delights, bringing their characters to life with a level of energy and enthusiasm that's infectious; as well as showing moments of vulnerability which really add to the story.

But, as with any show, there are a few bumps along the way. The constantly shifting perspectives of the stages can sometimes make it hard to fully immerse yourself in the storyline, leaving you feeling a bit disconnected. The immersive aspect of the show is exciting and fairly unique but it doesn't always feel necessary with this show, especially when it stands so strongly on its own. While the pre-show performances are entertaining, they do have a tendency to drag on a bit, delaying the main event's grand entrance, plus, the choice of slow songs might not have been the best for getting the party started.

Despite these hiccups, Priscilla the Party delivers on its promise of a night filled with laughter. So, if you're in the mood for a night of joy and unadulterated fun, Priscilla the Party is the place to be. Embrace the campy atmosphere, lose yourself in the dazzling costumes, and get ready for a ride you won't soon forget. Despite its flaws, this glittering extravaganza is guaranteed to leave you with a smile.

★★★ 
Reviewed on Monday 25th March 2024 by Olivia
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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