The most hyped up show in London’s West End at the moment is undoubtedly Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre.
Tickets have been booked up more than a year in advance. There’s a script book for Potter fans so those who can’t make it into London can get stuck into the story too. There’s a #keepthesecrets campaign to stop spoilers spreading uncontained across the internet.
But does the play actually live up to expectations?
I went to see it on Sunday October 15, 2017 after booking tickets in August 2016 and I have quite mixed feelings. Here they are, represented mostly in gif form.
A glitzy, showy, classic musical at the spectacular venue of the Savoy Theatre (it has now moved to the Phoenix Theatre with a slightly different cast). As a big fan of Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando in the iconic movie version of the gambling love story, my hopes were very high.
One word: wow. If this production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is this good recorded and shown on a cinema screen, I can only imagine how incredible the atmosphere and tension in the room must have been live on Broadway.
The play of course follows George (James Franco) and Lennie (Chris O’Dowd) as they arrive at a new ranch for a new job. Lennie is mentally disabled but hugely strong and often gets into trouble due to his love of stroking soft things – including mice, puppies and ladies’ dresses. They enter acute dramas already in play at the ranch, including Curly’s new wife acting ‘like a tart’ and inciting arguments, but stick together with their big dream of one day owning and tending their own land.
The play starts small as George and Lennie settle down for the night before arriving at the ranch the next morning. Their conversation reveals a lot about them and their dynamic and sets up everything necessary for the rest of the story, while in a minimalistic set using only a small river for help.
Roald Dahl’s tales have so far stood the test of time and are still proving fruitful for adaptations and reinterpretations.
Aside from Matilda the Musical, also currently on in the West End, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Theatre Royal Drury Lane follows hot on the heels of a film adaptation spearheaded by Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, which itself came 34 years after Gene Wilder’s classic turn as Willy Wonka. (That may seem a long time, but the latter seems to have stuck in the public conscience).
So what can the theatre show offer that you can’t just get from choosing one of the movies and slouching in front of the TV?
Sunny Afternoon will cheer up even the most miserable of London evenings. Just don’t go in with a headache or the guitars – the loudest I have heard in musical theatre thus far – will only make it worse.
Written by Ray Davies himself, the show follows the story of The Kinks (Ray and Dave Davies, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory from their early days together in Muswell Hill, as they hit the big time, get kicked out of America and find their feet again. It’s an organic, natural story and although it flounders a little in the second act, it generally moves along well and cleverly incorporates the hits.
Because the songs are of course the backbone of the show. The cast and band (especially John Dagleish as Ray) are magnificent, giving the audience an experience surely not far off the real Kinks.
Bradley Cooper becomes John Merrick in the current production of The Elephant Man.
Running for just 12 weeks at the Royal Theatre Haymarket in London, after a successful Broadway run, the crowds are flocking to see the Hollywood actor who does not disappoint in this serious role, despite potential scepticisms that may arise from his previous work, including comedy franchise The Hangover and action capers like The A Team and Limitless.
But this is on an altogether smaller scale in one of London’s grand and beautiful theatres. The stage is stark and simple, usually dressed with at most a pair of hospital curtains, a bed and a table. This makes the transition between scenes seamless and never too jarring, moving from a freak show to the clever use of a train to the hospital where Merrick spends the rest of his days.
Sweeney Todd is a popular piece at the moment, perhaps due to the themes of discontent and inequality in London. There have recently been critically-appraised performances in Twickenham and London’s oldest pie-and-mash shop in Tooting. But the ENO offers something spectacular and brutal on a different scale for this tale of a cut-throat barber driven by revenge for his tragic wife and stolen daughter, supported by the pie-baking Mrs Lovett downstairs.
This tone is summed up in the opening number after the chorus has sat down behind the orchestra which is set into the stage, and the main cast has stood behind music stands along the front. Partway through The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd, the cast slams down their scores, rips up their formal dress and knocks flowery props to the floor. The front-and-centre piano is thrown upside down to act as a minimalistic prop rather than a vehicle of ‘proper’ classical music.
The 1968 play The Ruling Class, currently staged at The Trafalgar Studios as part of the Trafalgar Transformed season, is a clever and hilarious look at the English class system with a big bonkers lead role masterfully performed by Professor X himself, James McAvoy.
McAvoy plays the paranoid schizophrenic Jack, who becomes the 14th Earl of Gurney when his father dies dressed in a tutu, underpants and cocked hat in an erotic asphyxiation gone wrong, after a revealing opening monologue on British politics and dignitaries.
So after seven years in a mental institution, Jack returns to take his rightful place and inadvertently ends up the centre of a plot by his uncle to force him to produce an heir before being re-institutionalised. The only problem is that Jack believes he is God and is not shy about letting people know.
McAvoy gives an exceptional amount of himself to the performance and is gripping to watch throughout, whether he’s unicycling, spitting, ranting and raving, fighting, leaping around or attached to a huge crucifix. He was thoroughly charming, twice momentarily breaking the fourth wall for a quip about the crowd and his unicycle skills, but mostly intense. Female fans would have enjoyed his topless scenes and even the tease of him unzipping his trousers, a power of which he must be well aware.
Go and see The Commitments if you love Motown and live music. Don’t bother if you believe a musical needs to have a proper plot to entertain you for two and a half hours.
The show follows Jimmy as he sets up a soul band in Dublin made up of working class lads, three pretty girls they barely know and a middle-aged trumpet legend, Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan. The band, who aren’t very good to start with, start rehearsing and land their first gigs, but have to deal with a saxophonist who’s leaning towards jazz, Joey getting all the girls and an egotistic lead singer.
If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound like a lot of drama, you’d be right and there’s the problem. After a slow start, the plot never really goes anywhere except as a platform for the band to play music, and they don’t even play several songs all the way through in rehearsals.
Bill Bailey‘s work in progress show at the Leicester Square Theatre was my first of 2014 and it was absolutely hilarious and a pleasure to see Bailey’s unique mix of music and straight stand up in such an intimate place.
In complete contrast was Jeff Dunham, a brash American with puppets at Wembley Arena, who had people from all walks of life in stitches with Peanut and Achmed. Also, Jon Richardson, a favourite of mine, cheered me up greatly on one grumpy Friday at the Hammersmith Apollo.