Who knew he hated the 1812 overture!?

There is nothing that can soothe the inevitable rage of a Londoner’s tube-station-escalator-experience than a hypnotising glare at the neatly plastered posters which advertise the city’s latest spectacles (just me?). Catching my eye recently was Hershey Felder’s Our Great Tchaikovsky at The Other Palace (formerly St James’), a performance I knew I’d really like to see. This review matches the nature of the performance – short and sweet (which I know is a rare treat for my readers…) – and details this fantastically created one-man show. Fresh from the stalls and more knowledgeable about my favourite composer, I present my findings on what I believe is a cultural triumph for Victoria’s hidden theatre.

 

Date of viewing: 12/10/2017

Production: Our Great Tchaikovsky

Seat: H16

How cheap!?: £2 – through ShowFilmFirst’s seat fillers scheme

The story of Our Great Tchaikovsky is the composer’s own – or at least, the version creator and actor Hershey Felder chooses to unravel. Felder begins explaining how he might go about creating a one-man show based on the life of great Russian composer, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and before the audience’s eyes, demonstrates exactly how he would do so. Breaking only infrequently to add his own political musings, or the input of hindsight, Felder spends the next hour and forty minutes embodying the Russian legend as he talks, plays, sings and conducts his way through Tchaikovsky’s tragically romantic life-story.

The play houses its performer entirely in one small but heavily ornamented room. A beautiful grand piano is surrounded by lit candles and other nick-knacks which enforce an intimate setting already promoted by the cosy little auditorium. Behind the homely antiques, a digital backdrop provides many visual aids to the anecdotes and descriptions given by the protagonist. Whilst at times this feature could be clumsy or gimmicky, it mostly is used very seamlessly to help the audience keep on track with the numerous details of Tchaikovsky’s richly complex life – as well as to evoke the visual imagery Felder’s Tchaikovsky dreamed of in the creation of his music.

Hershey Felder is an exceptional performer. Funny and feeling, he creates a portrayal of Tchaikovsky which is devoted and sincere. His transition between speech and song is perfectly seamless, emphasising just how intertwined Tchaikovsky’s compositions were with his life and his being. Often speaking or singing as he plays, Felder is completely in control and clearly has a superb geography of his keyboard. Never afraid to interject tragedy with humour, Felder does well to give his version of an honest depiction of the troubled composer’s life – which is famously riddled with gossip, debt, illness, and supressed sexuality. Entirely captivating, Felder successfully makes what is essentially a music history lesson fun and gripping. With no other performer or voice to hide behind, he commands his territory extremely well.

“Hershey Felder is an exceptional performer”

My only real criticism of the play which is, by and large, an autobiographical affair, is targeted towards Felder’s bizarre, midway interruption of his character to feed his own political views. Instead of allowing the clarity of Tchaikovsky’s unmistakable struggles with his homosexual inclinations to encourage the audience to dwell on their own feelings concerning sexual justice, Felder breaks from character to explain the atrocities of legal repression still taking place in modern Russia. He expresses what is, by all intents and purposes, a valid discussion of political hatred – but in a jarring way which disrupted the flow of his musicological journey. What appeared at first to be a purely objective portrayal of Tchaikovsky’s life became confronting and political, with no warning. Tchaikovsky’s story suddenly became our 21st century story – and I am of the belief that audiences are (mostly!) intelligent enough to make their own political connections without taking huge interjections to force the story of the past into the story of today.

Felder certainly cannot be faulted for his clear devotion”

Providing audiences with an incredibly interesting and thoughtful production, Hershey Felder certainly cannot be faulted for his clear devotion to his subject. His political views take a powerful charge, which is not to my personal taste, but he undoubtedly expresses his thoughts with fervour and passion.

For £2, I defy you not to see the mini masterpiece that is Our Great Tchaikovsky. And I’m sure, like me, you’ll leave dying to see what Felder comes up with next.

 

From,

The girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

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What a load of old folly!

The most innocent, but often difficult question an actor can be asked is as follows: ‘What is your dream role?’ For me, the answer has always been quite straightforward: Imelda Staunton. Okay, if you want to get technical, there are admittedly a few problems with my answer. Firstly, Imelda is – strictly speaking – a person, not a role. Moreover there are, I suppose, some biological barriers impeding the fruition of my ambition….but nevertheless, friends and family members have been pretty supportive of my dream and its pursuit thus far.*

Friday night’s performance of Goldman and Sondheim’s Follies was full to the brim with its own hopes and dreams, as well as the firm reinstatement that my dream to become Im Stau will not die its death anytime soon.

This tale of young love, regret and romance is an utterly dreamy spectacle, and a must see for any performer in need of reminding why it is they began this crazy journey to showbiz in the first place.

As ever, my story is told from the view sitting in the cheap seats. Read on for reasons why you should absolutely break into that piggy bank to see Follies this autumn at the National Theatre.

 

*the current status of Ms Staunton’s views on the matter are unconfirmed at this time.

 

Date of viewing: 02/09/2017

Production: Follies

Seat: Circle, G62

How cheap!?: £7.50 – (Entry Pass membership for 16-25 year olds)

 

I’m a firm believer of the old saying, ‘you can’t see a bad show at the National’. (Okay, the saying’s mine, and it’s not particularly old… but I stand by it!) The Olivier Theatre is, undoubtedly, an unlikely home for glitzy showbiz musical, but it houses the crumbling Weismann Theatre exceptionally well. The story of Follies takes commemorates the history of Dimitiri Weismann’s glamourous showgirls who congregate in the dilapidating theatre one last time before its demolition. Whilst the piece offers opportunity for numerous has-been performers to indulge in their former lives and talents, the plot focuses primarily on the reunion between married couples Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer and their old friends Benjamin and Phyllis Rogers Stone.

As Dominic Cooke’s first direction of a musical, Follies at the National Theatre is ambitious and grand, making good use of the vast Olivier stage. He deals well with the fact that the lives of the central characters and their younger counterparts often run through the plot simultaneously, luring in the audience as he slowly unravels a clear and thorough directorial explanation. The stage and set in which he places his showgirls and their companions is inventive. Whilst perhaps more tame than the average National venture, the set is well representative of a crumbling but eternally grand music hall. The clutter and debris of the theatre does not detract from the glamour of the characters it surrounds, and a thick wall of forgotten and fading theatre ‘stuff’ cleverly mimics the dreams of the past – now barely distinguishable.

The stars of this show shine boldly and brightly. Imelda Staunton plays the passionate, feeling (and a little crazy) Sally Durant who has never quite grown up from the love and fantasy of her days as a follies girl. As ever, Staunton is sincere and full of love as she plays the emphatic little beast that is Sally. For the now aging showgirl, the follies reunion is the once-in-a-lifetime chance for Sally to rekindle old love and dreams she had as a girl, and the totally believable Staunton clearly enjoys every second of it. Her rendition of the incredibly moving Broadway classic ‘Losing my mind’ is touching and heartfelt, giving insight into Sally’s heart-breaking realisation that her bursting little heart causes its own all-consuming destruction. Sally is a softer, and more innocent character than Staunton is most commonly seen playing – and although an intentionally aging character, she is played with an inner youthfulness which is refreshing to see.

“As ever, Staunton is sincere and full of love”

Whilst watching Imelda Staunton might be a glorious reminder of who I want to be, the exposure to Janie Dee’s portrayal of Sally’s former sidekick Phyllis is a painful reminder of what I currently am: a sassy, sarcastic, blunt and cocksure little so-and-so. And it is an absolute pleasure to watch. Janie Dee is thoroughly delightful in her portrayal of an ageing wife who has grown tired of life and its disappointments. She commands the stage masterfully and scores laugh after the laugh from her captive audience, which is treated particularly when she sings ‘Would I leave you?’: an assertive act of defiance against her husband, Ben. Dee is suave and sexy as Phyllis and demands attention competitively.

Janie Dee is thoroughly delightful”

These magnificent women play along a well matched pair of men. Sally’s beautifully hopeless husband Buddy is played by Peter Forbes, whose portrayal is touching and honest. Buddy is open about his infidelity to Sally but believable in his insistence that it is Sally he truly loves. Forbes plays the character well, with warmth and humour – particularly, during his ‘The-God-why-don’t-you-love-me-blues’, which is playful and showy whilst able to evoke its own touch of sympathy. Phyllis’ cool and collected husband, Ben, offers Philip Quast the chance to display a broad spectrum of emotions. Ben’s calm and dry nature is challenged when, towards the end of the show, he suffers something of a breakdown upon realising that his life is more complicated than he’d have liked it to be – and Quast’s execution of this epiphany is powerfully vulnerable.

Quast‘s execution of this epiphany is powerfully vulnerable”

These central characters play out their lives intertwined with those of their former selves, and are frequently accompanied onstage by the younger performers who each give confident and stylish performances. Particular praise must go to Alex Young (a fellow KCL Music graduate!) whose version of Young Sally is a perfect balance of femininity and fire.

The entire ensemble is incredibly strong. Accolades of praise could go to any number of performers, but a handful stand out particularly. Di Botcher’s larger than life personality fuels her characterisation of former showgirl Hattie superbly, who sings the show stopping ‘Broadway Baby’ with power and force. Tracie Bennett is achingly funny as Carlotta and incredibly moving, and the majestic Bruce Graham sings the famous ‘Beautiful Girls’ with the voice to match.

Alex Young… is a perfect balance of femininity and fire”

Follies is a beautiful musical with a genuinely interesting plot. There is something very wonderful about a congregation of aged actors who showcase their wisdom and talents, supported by a younger ensemble. The whole piece has an unsurprising air of maturity which, I believe, pushes quality to the fore. The young cast do well to support their veteran peers in a show which I’m sure must inspire them to never let the dream die. And I believe I shall follow suit. Imelda, here I come!

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

 

You don’t know me, but I promise this isn’t a harsh review. (You can always depend on the kindness of strangers)

Last night’s opening performance of The King’s Players A Streetcar Named Desire allowed me, at long last, to tick off Tennessee William’s classic from my ‘must see’ list. My only exposure having been Marge Simpson’s memorable performance in ‘Oh! Streetcar! The Musical’, I was somewhat surprised to find that the script to this monumental play was significantly more sophisticated than that of The Simpsons’ parody version. All of a sudden, Ned Flanders’ poetic lament, ‘Stellaaa, Stellaaa, Can’t you hear me yella, You’re putting me through hella’ seemed insufficient to tell the story of Blanche Dubois’ tumultuous visit to New Orleans. This play is an absolute success for King’s College London’s amateur dramatic society – read on for a detailed account of the experience from the view in the cheap seats.

 

Date of viewing: 22/03/2017

Production: A Streetcar Named Desire

Seat: Front row (free for all!)

How cheap!?: £6 (students) £5 for society members and £10 for adults

 

This mammoth play is being performed in a contrastingly tiny setting. The production makes excellent use of King’s College’s Anatomy Museum – an intimate space which allows for highly inventive staging. Surrounded by hanging washing and cluttered knickknacks, the audience sits right in the heart of the home of Stanley (Nick Carter) and Stella (Beth Mabin), invited to participate closely in the unravelling of their summer with Blanche Debois (Rebecca Lewis). Although an amateur play, this production has taken its set and staging seriously – for which it should be applauded – and prepares for its actors an environment in which they can flourish in performance.

– And flourish they do! This small cast has a big task to undertake, and the whole company rises to the occasion. Famously rife with colossal themes of violence, heartbreak and insanity, A Streetcar Named Desire demands of its performers a professionalism and sensitivity, which, I believe, was evident in this exhibition. Sara Malik and Emily Brown are to be congratulated for what is superb direction – and, when needed, adaptation – of daring and exciting scenes. Ensemble members are to be commended for their subtlety of execution.

Primarily, this play is a family affair – a story recounting the tale of Blanche’s summer visit to her sister, Stella, and Stella’s husband Stanley – or more accurately, a family feud. Nick Carter gives an exciting rendition of the brutish Stanley. Although a somewhat different approach to that of 50’s heartthrob Marlon Brando (or Ned Flanders, for that matter), Nick’s performance of Stanley is thorough and convincing. He performs the role with appropriate anger and aggression, but doesn’t neglect to bring forth the humanity of Stanley’s character. Words fall from his mouth with a smooth, yet sinister, intensity and he executes his lines with a consistent and impressive Southern accent. He plays alongside Beth Mabin, Stanley’s doting wife. Beth plays the challenging part of Stella with impressive intensity. In her portrayal, Beth is expressive and sympathetic – and, where appropriate, emotional. She is particularly convincing as a heavily pregnant mother-to-be, and manages, unlike the other characters in the play, to remain steadfast and grounded when life falls apart.

Sara Malik and Emily Brown are to be congratulated for what is superb direction”

The rightful star of this play, however, is Rebecca Lewis as the emotionally fragile Blanche Dubois. Rebecca’s performance is an earth-shatteringly beautiful exploration of the ups and downs of Blanche’s existence. In each scene, Rebecca is masterful over every one and thing she touches – always with immense power, even when purposefully dainty or delicate. With a gorgeously deep voice, Rebecca utters an incredibly impressive string of seemingly endless lines and monologues which reveal deep and dark secrets about the life of Miss Dubois. Her performance is sensitive, funny and, quite honestly mesmerising. Rebecca performs this staggeringly challenging role in a way which is inviting and incredibly moving – she leaves no door left un-open, giving great depth of insight into the mind of the poor and troubled Blanche. Her performance, though well supported by her peers, is unparalleled in its execution, and she ought to be immensely proud of her achievement.

Rebecca’s performance is an earth-shatteringly beautiful exploration”

If you count yourself a Tennessee Williams fan, head to The King’s Players performance of A Streetcar Named Desire before you head across the road to the playwright’s The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York’s theatre. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that this amateur performance is a much rarer and more authentic treat.

Purchase tickets at https://www.kclsu.org/organisation/KingsPlayers/

 

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

 

Hey, Musical Theatre fans! Here I aaaaaaaaam! (with the long-awaited return of my blog)

Watching Funny Girl – a Musical naturally synonymous with my own demeanour* – was an absolute treat. This moving tale of the ups and downs of show business is a must see for anyone who is serious about Musical Theatre – and you have only until October 8th to grab a ticket!

Over fifty years ago, the spectacular Barbara Streisand ensured that Funny Girl stands at the heart of Musical Theatre history and it is clear to see why it has gained and maintained such a position of kudos. As the name would suggest, Funny Girl is sure to get you laughing out loud… but don’t come unprepared to shed a few tears as the wonderful Sheridan Smith (Fanny Brice) guides you faithfully through an evening of immense lows as well as glorious highs.

It is my great pleasure to persuade you to go and see Funny Girl – and I’m sure you will be thrilled when you see it for yourself. However, I cannot be held to account for the accuracy of my review, so if you feel obliged to contend against my article, please refrain from doing so: this is my blog – please Don’t Rain on My Parade.

 

*this claim is up for friendly debate

 

Date of viewing: 17/09/2016

Production: Funny Girl

Seat: Stalls, R27

How cheap!?: £15 – day ticket purchased at the box office (opens 10am)

 

My flatmate and I were surprised and delighted to manage to nab tickets for Funny Girl, given the calibre of the celeb-studded cast – that’s right, not only did the wonderful Sheridan Smith grace the stage, but also Darius Campbell, of Pop Idol 2002 and Colourblind fame (!!!) – and yet, after rocking up to The Savoy box office shortly before 10am on a Saturday morning we were able to score two fantastic stalls tickets for just £15. Although both she and I were very excited, having heard great things about the production, neither of us knew the show particularly well – and consequently enjoyed the freshness of what we considered to be an unpredictable plot.

Less than unpredictable was the fact that it was truly fantastic. Funny Girl encompasses all a good Musical should, and more: it is a feast of tactful humour, indulgent romance as well as a tasteful portrayal of tragedy. As with many older Musicals, show business is a tautological theme which is displayed primarily through Fanny’s career in Vaudeville, giving the audience insight into the raw realities of life in the world of theatre. It is a prime example which destroys the poorly generalised misconception that Musical Theatre is cheesy and smiley – and instead gives way to a truly deep and emotional storyline which speaks directly into the heart of real life tragedies. The convincing portrayal of such emotional depth was undoubtedly due to the masterful performance of Sheridan Smith as the whimsical Fanny Brice.

Quite frankly, Sheridan Smith is perfect for the role of Fanny Brice. She exudes energy so naturally and is greatly expressive. Particularly, Sheridan is expert in her ability to draw the audience to latch onto her own emotional state – if she laughs, we laugh; if she cries, we cry. Her performance is utterly captivating and totally versatile, which is clear from her ability to play to the response and the warmth of the audience. Just like Fanny, Sheridan’s stage presence is unquestionable – a crowd-pleaser in the most delightful sense of the word.

“Sheridan Smith is perfect”

Although Sheridan does, quite rightly, steal the show, she plays alongside a cast-full of talents, including the dreamy Darius Campbell who plays Nick Arnstein. Nick Arnstein is a cruel but sexy character who charms Fanny (and us!) shamelessly. Darius’ portrayal was smooth and sophisticated and despite not undertaking a dancing role, he moved well and effortlessly. His New York accent was sketchy at times, but the implications of this small vocal error were forgotten every time he opened his mouth to sing and a warm, silky tone soared henceforth. Arnstein is the sort of man one loves to hate, and, in his utter gorgeousness, Darius made it much easier for the audience to love him.

The romantic leads are supported well by a very competent cast who contribute neatly to the glitz and glamour of the performance. Two actors who stood out as part of the wider ensemble are Joel Montague as Fanny’s doting friend, Eddie Ryan and Marilyn Cutts who played Fanny’s mother. Although Joel’s execution of movement was not always completely tidy, he danced with showmanship and gave an uplifting performance. Marilyn, as Mrs Brice, gave a very different kind of performance, as a bold and brash mother. She radiates a confidence and experience not readily attributed to many younger members of the cast and convincingly acts as a mother like figure to more than just Fanny.

“A piece which epitomises the ups and downs of show-business”

The Savoy is often considered notable for its elegant simplicity, and this show allowed it no exception – the individual production elements (that is, lighting and staging) were mostly basic. However, worthy of particular mention was a unique effect cause by mirror slates placed against the wing barriers which allowed the reflection of actors to be seen as they sang or danced. The effect achieved was beautifully haunting as it removed the figures from immediate reality and reflected them artistically as dream-like entities.

I implore you to watch Funny Girl before it transfers, and to enjoy the delight that is Sheridan Smith. A piece which epitomises the ups and downs of show-business, Funny Girl is full of raw, wonderful emotion and is bound to provide you with a night to remember.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

If you like what you see, throw some money in the case

Securing a ticket for The Busker’s Opera was no easy feat. I was very excited to find a deal for a show put on at the Park Theatre because I’d never visited the venue before (and because the seven minute tube journey was such a satisfying prospect). My feelings concerning my ticket purchasing journey are mixed: the discount code I had been emailed would not work (*bad feelings*), but the ‘on-hold’ music when I phoned the box office was ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ from Wicked (*great feelings*). Unfortunately, over half an hour of waiting, (and Idina somehow never getting past the first chorus), I grew impatient – all the while lamenting that the love Elphaba and Fiyero share cannot guarantee their security any longer than ‘just for this moment’ (*rubbish feelings*). Nevertheless, being a blissful seven minute train ride away from Park Theatre (*optimistic feelings*), it was not long before I was standing, in the flesh, in front of the ‘oh-so-busy’ box office, which looked as though no member of staff ever had or would sit behind that desk (*’you-call-yourself-a-theatre!?’ feelings*). Thankfully, the trendy Park Theatre employs numerous members of bar staff (who don’t consider it within their duty to answer phones, it seems) who were able – after many other setbacks and complications – to offer me a ticket (*relieved feelings*).

It must be said, what my visit lacked in…. well, general convenience and efficiency, it made up for tenfold in outstandingly brilliant theatre. The Busker’s Opera is the best Musical I have seen in a very long time. This show is only running for two more weeks, so grab your ticket (actually, experience tells me the process might not be so speedy as a ‘grab’…) before you miss your chance!

Date of viewing: 17/05/2016

Production: The Busker’s Opera

Seat: Stalls, B6

How cheap!?: £10 (using discount code ‘BUSKERSSTU10!’ …. sort of)

The Busker’s Opera is a fast-paced, modern musical which adapts themes drawn from John Gay’s 18th Century The Beggar’s Opera and Brecht and Weill’s 20th Century Threepenny Opera. Set in London during the city’s impressive 2012 Olympic Games, this adaption follows the politicism of its aforementioned ancestors and manifests its discussion by portraying a plethora of politically charged topics; capitalism, art, suicide, homelessness, trafficking, infidelity, love, taxes etc. The food-for-thought aspect was thoroughly overwhelming, and deeply powerful. The show’s protagonist (or, is it antagonist?) is the hipster busker Mackheath, who spends the entire plot fighting tirelessly against ‘the system’; he fights against the corruption of the rich but exploits the vulnerability of the poor, and, throughout, demonstrates that the battle between good and evil is the agonising reality of the condition of the human heart. It appears to me to be particularly rare that a modern Musical (as opposed to a straight play) should have such poignancy and impact regarding political matters, and ask of its audience such an urgent conversion of values. Bravo.

“the best musical I have seen in a very long time”

The present home to The Busker’s Opera – room Park200 in Park Theatre – is an intimate performance space which holds, perhaps, 300 at full capacity. Although in some instances such a small venue can seem amateurish, this cosy venue was absolutely perfect for this script which is written for only 9 actors. Staging for this show is rustic and unpolished, giving it a London-street vibe – the only significant form of staging is a rickety looking scaffold, under which a band of two (plus the occasional addition of cast members) are hidden away. The intimacy of the space exposes its inhabitants with rawness and intensity; it is a very good thing the cast is so staggeringly excellent.

A real mix of experienced and fresh actors grace the stage of Park200, and whilst it is true that the less experienced of the bunch were evidently so, the cast gels fantastically and believably – which is particularly essential when a company is so small. The oldest members of the cast, Simon Kane (who plays the Mayor of London) and David Burt (who plays Jeremiah Peachum – the owner of a successful newspaper) secure the performance with a level of experience. Kane plays the part of London’s Mayor very humorously and sings with a rich, and velvety-thick operatic tone, whilst Burt’s voice is sinisterly grave and gruff. Their presence onstage is contrasted well with the purposefully youthful remainder of the cast, who represent the aspiring ideals of young, passionate Londoners. Members of the Swing must be applauded for their masterful versatility. The Busker’s Opera demands of its performers a high-paced turnaround of new characters, and the cast convincingly persuades the audience with ever-changing accents, mannerisms and dress-codes.

George Maguire plays the shows leading man, Macheath. Maguire plays the loveable bad-boy with fitting swagger and confidence, yet invites the audience powerfully to share in the torment of his vulnerability during moments of solitude on the stage. He has the charm of a true busker and an intimate vocal tone which is refreshing in a Musical Theatre context. Despite the success of his portrayal, Maguire’s performance undoubtedly submits to those of the powerful leading ladies, Lauren Samuels (who plays Mackheath’s wife, Polly) and Natasha Cottriall (who plays Lucky, the Mayor’s spoilt-rich daughter).

“the cast is so staggeringly excellent”

Lauren Samuels featured once before in this blog for her performance of Jules in Bend It Like Beckham. Faithful readers will recall that Samuels’ role offered no real opportunity to showcase her wonderfully technical voice – I am delighted to say that Polly is the perfect role for this young star. Samuels’ character is optimistic, hopeful and deeply spiritual, and every ounce of Samuels’ body oozes proof of these sentiments. Her voice is controlled, but powerful, and extremely beautiful. Polly is another vulnerable character, but Samuels is able to simultaneously exude strength. Natasha Cotriall, who plays Lucky, demonstrates a completely contrary set of performance skills. Her portrayal of a spoilt, rich young adult is very funny and she creatively mimics all the aspects of ourselves we young 21st century people hate. Lucky’s street-cred is unbeatable and Cotriall plays her with sass and authority. She cleverly manages to feign sentimentality when she sings of her decision to continue with her unwanted pregnancy, fooling us into believing she could outgrow her youthful immaturity. Cotriall is no vocal powerhouse, but she certainly has soul and this bodes exceptionally well for her.

It is a devastating insult that The Stage review should commend this show for having the most original British musical score since Bend it Like Beckham because, quite frankly, the music to The Busker’s Opera could eat Bend it Like Beckham for breakfast. Every song is musically interesting with genius lyrics. The whole show is performed in rhyming verse, and Dougal Irvine – the Musical’s bookwriter, lyricist and composer – has done extremely well to synthesise text and song so seamlessly.

That which makes The Busker’s Opera so successful is its accessibility. It is a Musical so stylish and original that it is gold dust to Musical Theatre fanatics, and a revelation to those who dislike Musical plays. Undeniably its thematic content overloads and overwhelms its viewers, but on topics of which everybody – theatre fan, or not – offers an opinion.

Do not go and see The Busker’s Opera if you are not prepared for theatre to challenge you. This show’s ability to breathe life into your perspective of the world around you is incomprehensible, and impressive. Even if you need to busk on the street corner for hours in order to produce the funds for a ticket, I urge you to do so. You won’t regret it.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

Get more for your money: BONUS BLOG

Despite popular belief, going to see London theatre without the London price is not something which only happens in myths – but I assure you, once you bag yourself a bargain seat you WILL feel like the ultimate legend. The shows and plays I review are always £15 and below, (and between you and me, I hate spending £15 on a ticket… that’s my limit!!)

As arguably the most tight-fisted student London student, I refuse to believe that good theatre can’t be cheap.

Here are a few tips when it comes to sitting in the cheap seats.

One: Check on the official websites of specific plays/shows for day-release tickets

You may have to queue up early in the morning, but being on high alert for queue-jumpers injects some fun and adrenaline into the sport! Matilda releases sixteen £5 tickets for 16-25 year olds. Funny Girl releases 100 for £15. The Old Vic Theatre often releases £10 day tickets.

Two: Sign up to theatre schemes for youth

*Obviously, age requirements apply!* Many theatre companies love to reward youngsters with cheap tickets – and all you have to do is retain your youthfulness! (And sign up online…) The National Theatre, Tricycle Theatre and Young Barbican are good memberships to subscribe to – and they’re free!

Three: Head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square

The TKTS booth is tourist central and so the prices they offer are not always that cheap.     If you do visit the booth, specify that you’d like the cheapest possible seat – otherwise they’ll offer you the ‘best’ seat available in the house, not the cheapest.

Four: Just Google it!

Often it takes a long time to find cheap tickets, but if they’re out there, google will find them for you. I’ve found some great offers from London Theatre Direct and Hot Ticket Offers in the past.

Five: Be prepared to compromise comfortable viewing

The best bargain tickets will always come from The Globe Theatre. If you’re prepared to stand for a few hours – and we’re talking Shakespeare, so it’ll be long – The Globe has 700 standing tickets for each performance which they sell for only £5. Other theatres (including a couple within The National Theatre) provide standing tickets.

Six: Turn on the charm at the last minute

Sometimes putting pressure on staff in the box office at the last minute can get you a cheap ticket. Admittedly, my attempts so far have been rather unsuccessful… but that needn’t always be the case! Some popular Musical Theatre venues have been known to admit stand-ers in the last minutes before a show.

Seven: Enter a ticket lottery

Some theatres hold a ticket lottery, for which the results are revealed an hour or so before the show. The Book of Mormon is very well known for this and the success rate is high.

Eight: Check your spam emails

You may already be frequently receiving great ticket deals without even knowing it! Some fantastic offers are revealed in emails from Time Out, Amazon, and Wowcher and you’ve probably just been ignoring the messages. If you’re not signed up, subscribe to ATG Tickets, Hot Ticket Offers, Show Film First, and London Theatre Direct.

Nine: Don’t be a snob!

Great plays and musicals are showing all over London, not just at the famous theatres! The Bush Theatre, Park Theatre, and the Menier Chocolate Factory are just a few off-West end venues which produce great quality theatre.

Ten: Check the newspapers for ads                                                    

Google often isn’t the most helpful way to source a cheap seat because all the expensive ads will jump straight to the top of the feed. But newspapers are filled with hundreds of ads for shows you’ve never even heard of but have received great reviews. Plus, looking through the ads is an enjoyable way to pass the time on your tube ride home when you’re forced to abandon the internet for 19 minutes.

 

So, the secrets are out. I look forward to sitting in the cheap seats with you all soon.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

 

*WARNING*: Reading this will be a Waste of your time.

I hope with all sincerity that my account of this spectacular play should not appear to my readers to be a waste. Unfortunately, I very fortunately managed to nab a ticket for this production’s final performance and so I’m unable to tell my readers to rush for tickets themselves. Regardless, this play provokes its audience with depressing and often uncomfortable themes which imprint poignantly onto our minds and consciences – providing for a discussion worth publicising even if you won’t be able to be ‘imprinted’ first-hand for yourselves.

Whatever you make of this review, let it be known that my spontaneous (but somewhat hesitant) decision to go along to see Waste at the National Theatre was a very good one. Even if this depressing tale describes most things as meaningless and futile, it certainly wasn’t a waste of my money or time.

Date of viewing: 19/03/2016

Production: Waste

Seat: Circle, B 19

How cheap!?: £5 (Entry Pass ticket – National Theatre 16-25 year old’s scheme)

My review must begin with a confession – I was reluctant to buy a ticket for Waste for two reasons: I was deterred by its frightening length and by its professed allegiance to politics. I can by no means be marked as a proponent either for sitting down for long periods of time (I’m too fidgety) nor for understanding or participating in politics (I’m too… [I’ll let you politicise for yourselves]). But delightfully, neither of these qualities proved too overwhelming as the plot unravelled, and I became fully immersed in the world of the story (even if I did have to feign a good deal of political understanding to get by).

Waste is an extremely stylish play. Although it exists in the now-outdated 1920’s, it is concerned, through and through, with the notion of modernity. As per usual, The National Theatre matches this pursuit of stylishness superbly with its use of scenery. Upon arrival, the stage is filled rather plainly with six or seven empty chairs. As the play begins, a glum and moody piano piece is heard – (I shan’t attempt to name the piece or composer because to do so erroneously would reveal my true identity as a less-than-capable Music undergraduate) – as a large screen slowly draws across the stage, revealing as if by magic actors sitting rather ominously in the chairs which only seconds ago were profoundly empty. The simplicity of this masterful technique is absolutely typecast of The National Theatre’s attention-to-set related detail and mimics the sleek atmosphere of the performance which follows.

Charles Edwards is simply fantastic at being a real human being”

At its birth, Waste was banned from public performance by the Lord Chamberlain of the time for its depiction of abortion. It is left unto the imagination of the reader as to whether the fact that Waste promotes politicians as flawed, like the rest of us, has anything to do with its lengthy abolition. It is easy to see why it was banned: Waste is an absolutely scandalous play.

Independent politician, and so-called moral genius Henry Trebell (played by Charles Edwards) sets about to bill the disestablishment of the Church of England. The problem is, our moral protagonist finds himself caught up in a less-than-moral scandal: the impregnation of Amy O’Connell, (Olivia Williams), an unhappily married Catholic wife with less-than-catholic views with regards to the termination of her unwanted pregnancy. Henry, is fraught with anxiety upon hearing the news, yet determined that the child need not be aborted. Amy’s suicide (which is revealed bluntly after the interval) adds another sin to Henry’s bow: who now faces being confronted with his seemingly endless string of scandals just days before his hearing in Parliament. Other advocates of the bill fret over the morality of standing alongside Henry and pursue earnestly a way to cover up his mess. Henry is dismissed from proposing the bill. Having lost his lover and his unborn child, Henry must now come to terms with the fact that his job – his first love, and indeed his life – has been snatched from him, despite his indisputable capability and gifting as a political thinker. As a result, Henry spirals into depression. His final source of comfort comes from his sister Frances (Sylvestra Le Touzel).

I daren’t reveal any more of the play’s doom-and-gloomy plot, but suffice to say, Henry’s obsequious assistant Walter, considered the whole affair to be a terrible waste of such a great man. The play ends after a black out revealing a spilled waste paper basket emptying itself of hundreds of futile scrunched up sheets. A waste.

“Olivia Williams is an actress I, quite frankly, admire”

I make rather a bold statement in suggesting that Charles Edwards, who played leading man Henry, is in fact the most convincing, naturalist actor I have ever had the pleasure of watching. His sporadically changing demeanour throughout the play was nonetheless linked exceptionally by his power to keep real. It is completely impossible to say whether or not I like the character of Henry Trebell, but sure as the sun stands, I can identify with him. As a player, moralist, atheist, scandalous politician, and sufferer of mental illness, Henry’s character begs the attention from audience members who attain all or none of those criteria because Charles Edwards is simply fantastic at being a real human being. Edwards’ acting style is not mimicked – even slightly – by any other actor. Even so, by no means does this mean there were no other outstanding performances given.

The erratic and rather annoying Amy O’Connell was played earnestly by Olivia Williams who managed to imprint a huge impression on the audience, despite only being present up until the interval. Her portrayal was perhaps too emphatic at points, but her mad, and emotion-fuelled exclamation announcing her refusal to give birth was poignantly heart-wrenching. For many reasons, Amy O’Connell is a character I’m quite sure I don’t like – but Olivia Williams is an actress I, quite frankly, admire. Although the piece is dominated largely by male performers, Sylvestra Le Touzel as Henry’s loving older sister is worthy of recognition. Her characterisation might have benefitted from an extra sprinkle of ‘life’, but one wonders whether her assumed emotional state rightly resembled Frances’ rather bland view of life – not suicidal or impassioned like her brother, but certainly not indulgent. Le Touzel’s portrayal exudes a worldly wisdom which brought comfort at even the darkest moments of the play.

“outstanding performances”

My favourite character is picked for his refreshing addition to the plot. Mr Charles Cantilupe, played by Gerrard McArthur, is a proponent of Henry’s plan to disestablish church from state, despite being a devout Christian himself. His moral conduct is unquestionable and his demeanour pleasant – which can’t be said for a number of portrayed Christians in twentieth century theatre. Fascinatingly, hopelessness is the outcome of all aspects discussed in the play – politics, gender-roles, sexual scandal, marriage, suicide, abortion – except the existence of the church. Because of this, McArthur caught my eye for playing Cantilupe as a positive proponent of much needed consistency. His vocal tone was much slower, less erratic and less impassioned than many of the other characters. Although his deep voice was sometimes intimidating, he offered unrivalled stability within the chaos.

This large cast was filled numerously with powerful performances – many which I neglect to mention with much guilt – none of which are wasted, regardless of the length of each’s on-stage presence. This is perhaps what makes the play so very real.

Although I imagine it probably does feel a terrible waste to have read so much of the play’s fantastic characters and themes now that you’re completely incapable of watching The National Theatre’s production for yourselves…

No, you’re right. That was a waste.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

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Guys and *STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMEN

 

Today’s post examines a performance which transported me back to the age of the Golden Musical. This blast from the past was enjoyed thoroughly by my pensioner companions – who can blame them? It was a matinee… – who were probably dreaming of Brando and Sinatra as they watched. That’s right: I’m talking Guys and Dolls.

For those who can withstand the political incorrectness of a show which likens its female stars to tiny dress-wearing play toys, Guys and Dolls is fun to watch and a staple of theatre classics. At this performance, I enjoyed the luxury of a cheap seat at the beautiful Savoy Theatre, where Guys and Dolls will soon terminate its run and move to the Phoenix Theatre. If you’ve never seen it before, why not take the night off to doll yourself up – whoops! I mean dress comfortably in a manner which reflects your preference as a free-thinking individual – and enjoy the excitement of Guys and Dolls for yourself.

Date of viewing: 23/02/2016

Production: Guys and Dolls

Seat: Grand Circle, K 11

How cheap!?: £15 (offer via ‘Time Out’)

Guys and Dolls is a classic tale of the unlikely love between Salvation Army missionary, Miss Sarah Brown and seasoned gambler, Sky Masterson. A suitably fanciful series of events leads Sky to wager the souls of his gambling, sinner chums in order that they might make an appearance at one of Sarah’s apparently failing ‘Save-a-soul’ mission meetings. One such sinner is a mister Nathan Detroit, who entertains an unusual love story of his own. Nathan’s fourteen year engagement with night-club singer, Miss Adelaide, has spiralled out of control as Adelaide herself struggles between her desperation to become Mrs Detroit and an overgrown lie to her mother that she is a happily married mother of five (with one on the way!) As is the custom with many a good ol’ musical, love conquers all and these two contrasting love affairs conclude just as magically as we would hope.

Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat…the hottest number of the show”

This performance showcases a competent cast – particularly showing off its ensemble members and male characters. Jamie Parker playing Sky Masterson has the tough task of competing against suave Marlon Brando who played the role in the 1955 film version, but takes on the challenge with gusto. Jamie is cool and sleek in his portrayal of the champion gambler and boasts a smooth, dreamy singing voice (even if his New York accent was, at times, questionable). His performance of the theatrical epic Luck Be a Lady was particularly ravishing and left his audience swooning. Nathan Detroit is played by David Haig – who, unfairly, is a fair bit older than Sinatra was when he played the role – with good humour and personality. David is suitably emphatic and truly loveable in his portrayal of Nathan (even though he frustrates us by his reluctance to marry his fiancé Adelaide!) As has been aforementioned, this show is one for the boys! Gavin Spokes as Nicely Nicely Johnson deserves my sincerest applause for his rendition of Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat which was without a doubt the hottest number of the show. The performances from these well rounded men trump considerable those offered by the dolls.

Whoops!, did it again – women.

Unfortunately, I fear this performance was suffering from a more serious ailment than solely Adelaide’s cold (which is famously caused by her fiancé Nathan’s reluctance to set a wedding date). I believe the performance I describe suffered from a case of ‘matinee-tis’ – the primary symptom being the reserved utilisation of vocal intensity which is otherwise typical of an evening performance. It is no surprise that one should expect a different atmosphere at a matinee – (afternoon rather than evening) – performance, but I am disappointed to report I felt as though both Sophie Thompson (as Miss Adelaide) and Siubhan Harrison (Sarah Brown) were more restrained in their singing than they would choose to be for an evening performance. This was certainly a real shame, as both characters have powerful hit songs which were not given the oomph they deserved. That being said, both performers maintained stylistic attributes which delighted the audience in other ways. Sophie plays Adelaide as a successful comedienne and has masterful control over an array of emotional states. Her nasal vocal quality is both infuriating and delightful, as is warranted from the part, and her stage presence is strong. Siubhan plays the contrastingly ‘sensible’ Sarah Brown with sensitivity but not without strong assertion. Her developed accent was particularly believable and her demeanour matched that of any beloved Broadway show sweetheart.

“suffered from a case of matinee-tis”

That which particularly excited me during this production was the magnificent choreography. I hadn’t considered Guys and Dolls to be a necessarily dance-y show, but was enthralled by the three prominent dance numbers which feature excellent choreography by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright. Movement and dance was extremely well suited to the show’s overall style, providing a sense of continuity and incorporating a sort of old-time slapstick feel which gives the dancing a purposeful, mischievous character of its own.

I was similarly impressed by this production of Guys and Dolls’ set design. The stage was widely uncluttered and, in truth, generally uninventive in terms of props or scene changes. But, what stands out in my mind as a consistent grounding of the show’s identity was the enormous arch of lit-up advertisements which haloed the often minimal stage. This feature made no attempt to emulate or depict a Broadway street scene. Rather, in a remarkable way, it became Broadway itself: embodying the commercialism, illuminating nature and almost heightened heavenly presence of Broadway – without feeling the need to visually portray buildings, pavements and the likes. Tony award winner Peter McKintosh is the one responsible for this clever trick.

Guys and Dolls is a show bursting with musical classics which builds significantly upon the foundations of modern musical theatre. It is a true embodiment of the word cool and shows off some outstandingly successful and famous songs. Although this show is an unquestionably historical masterpiece, my primary suggestion would be to avoid a matinee performance – exposure to the half-hearted singing of matinee-tis risks making you feel as run down as poor, unmarried Adelaide.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

 

Does Ma bum look big in this?

This play had been thoroughly recommended to me by a number of sources and I could very quickly understand why. Much to my surprise, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is virtually bum-free! Of course, actors on stage had bottoms, and those in the audience were sitting on theirs, but this play was not as bottom-orientated as one might assume… Nonetheless, the bottom of most importance – my own – became accordingly numbed throughout the performance as the suspense of the play forced me to sit tensely on the edge of my (cheap) seat.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National Theatre is an absolute spectacle. Read on to know why it was such a delight to be sitting in the cheap seats.

Date of viewing: 13/02/2016

Production: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Seat: Stalls, S 29

How cheap!?: £5 (Entry Pass tickets for 16-25 year olds)

If it wasn’t confusing enough to realise how absent of bottoms Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom really was, my confusion increased when I realised that a sizeable chunk of time had passed before Ma Rainey herself made an appearance on stage. This play is not really about Ma Rainey (which is much more interesting, I promise!) but about her accompanying support band. Throughout the play, the mostly white, middle-class audience is given a serious history lesson regarding the social and cultural implications of being an African American musician in the 1920s. The lives of trombonist Cutler (played by Clint Dyer), pianist Toledo (Lucian Msamati), bassist Slow-drag (Giles Terera) and trumpeter Levee (O-T Fagbenle) are laid raw with sensitivity, darkness, humour, a whole lot of banter and so much cool-ness that Brixton’s greatest hipster would hang his head in shame.

What makes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so different from any other play I’ve seen recently is that it supplies its audience with some fascinating objects of people-watching. At times the plot feels slow – until you realise that this is a play about people and the lives they lead. Consequently, the chance for character exploration is outstanding and ultimately insightful. By the second act the story picks up dramatically and is constantly exciting and thrilling (for reasons I’d like to but daren’t explain!) Interesting themes including lesbian subtleties, self-esteem and speech impediment were not expanded in much detail but the play can be forgiven this because of its extensive and in-depth exploration of race, stardom, gender, innovation, religion and violence.

“…so much cool-ness that Brixton’s greatest hipster would hang his head in shame”

Unsurprisingly for a piece at the National Theatre – which I consider to be the home of excellent set and staging in London – the stage was totally inventive. Scenes in the play took place in one single building which was made really clear by the open-spaced black box set. Three scene location sets were seamlessly raised and lowered, convincingly depicting three levels of one single building. I’m sure the political implications were purposefully highlighted in that the black band members occupied the lowest floor and the white record producer, Sturdyvant, ferociously guarded his top level studio.

The most fantastic thing about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is that all four band members play the music live. They do so with natural flair and the transitions between action and musical performance were seamless and effortless. A great attempt is made to present a degree of musical authenticity, but unavoidably the actor-musicians’ performances are unavoidably tainted with the experience of and exposure to contemporary training. Ma Rainey, played by Sharon D Clarke, appears primarily to belt out her blues favourites and the audience responds in rapturous applause. The level of musicianship amongst the actors in this play is truly special.

Individual performances were of a consistently high standard. In particular the four band members worked extremely well together and their cohesion seemed extremely natural. Although it took a while to become immersed into the flow of dialect and colloquialism, the band’s appropriately expressive acting made it easy. Clint Dyer as the band-leading trombonist Cutler was visually expressive and authoritative in his role, while Giles Terera as the bassist Slow-drag played his part with more reserve and quiet sensitivity.

I refer to the other members of the band more extensively: firstly, Toledo played by Lucian Msamati is an instantly loveable character. Lucian’s character provides an educated voice of reason within the group and he portrayed these attributes wonderfully, exuding a presence of older wisdom. His versatility as a performer was notable, playing a part which demonstrated both humour and seriousness. Throughout, Lucian’s performance was convincing – not once did he allow the audience to question his philosophy or thinking because he powerfully, but humbly, asserted his knowledgeable persona. Trumpeter Levee (O-T Fagbenle) was singled out from the start for his youthfulness and radical ideas. I wasn’t always entirely convinced by O-T’s performance – but it’s hard to decipher whether this was due to his acting ability or because Levee himself is a somewhat superficial character who is so intense and fleetingly changing. O-T gives passionate, powerful monologues which undo any previous damage and plays Levee with an irritating but necessary cockiness and erraticism.

“truly special”

Although some minor characters offered less memorable performances, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom presents audiences with a solid cast. Finbar Lynch who plays Ma’s manager is one of only two white actors on stage. He plays the part extremely well and is submissive to Ma’s diva-ish requests but bold enough to attempt his own (feeble) go at authority. Finbar rose to the challenge of the surroundings of a natural funny cast successfully achieving a number of laughs in and of his own right.

I believe I cannot attend a performance at the National Theatre without an accompanying favouring bias. It continually produces good quality theatre and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is certainly no exception. Whether black, white, blue or green I urge you to book a seat for your own bottom for this outstanding production – you won’t be disappointed.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

x

You must be THIS tall to see the Minotaur

Today’s review is one for the young at heart…or, more accurately, for those actually young.

Before my arrival at the Unicorn theatre, I hadn’t quite been enlightened to the venue’s tagline: the UK’s theatre for young audiences. Apparently, as a student, I’m not quite young enough to be the ideal target for this company’s work. Despite my initial doubts, I was pleased to find Minotaur to be a child-friendly rather than childish performance.

Date of viewing: 06/02/2016

Production: Minotaur

Seat: A1

How cheap!?: £4.50 (two-for-one using discount code ‘minotaur241’)

Minotaur depicts the story of a Greek tragedy with which I was only somewhat familiar. The tale is drenched in themes of intolerance, greed and death, (a rather grisly account to be retold to an audience which, prior to the performance, had been invited to paint handmade cards with glitter glue in an amusingly decorated foyer), which are treated with a sophistication that is honest to its young audience. The venue is a whole building dedicated to the theatrical education of young minds, for which it must be applauded. This performance doesn’t shy away from the tragic roots of ancient theatre, despite the majority of its seats being held by those too young to be allowed to phone the box office and book the tickets themselves.

The Weston theatre is one of two theatres inside the Unicorn building, and boasts an inventive, round performance space. The intimate feel was highly appropriate for the play, which, throughout its scenes is based on a island.

“a whole building dedicated to the theatrical education of young minds”

From the very beginning, it was clear that this performance would use technical aspects such as light and sound to good effect. The lighting, often fearfully dark, was successful in its affirmation of the cold, lifeless cave-like labyrinth by which the Minotaur (who evoked occasional squeals from my eight year old companions…and my 20 year old fellow student) is housed.

Sound, too, was mostly thoughtfully used. Echo effects enforced the lonely isolation of the labyrinth, and were well suited to a performance space which was open, and, in terms of set or props, incredibly bare. Other snippets of sound or music were generally used to further freight the youthful audience, but thoughtless musical phrases did exist, appealing to the contemporary musical tastes of youngsters but not always corresponding to the needs of the narrative.

Performers in this piece were not outstanding. Nonetheless their efforts were mostly noble. A small cast of four allowed players to take on multiple roles – a technique which always provides a challenge to the actors and audience alike.

The character Ariadne, (who at her core is a troubled teenager loathing the dependence imposed upon her by her father), is played by the beautiful Anna Elijasz whose exotic accent makes the plays Greek origins more believable. Mostly, she treats the role with sensitivity. Although in assuming other roles her acting is less convincing, her portrayal of Ariadne is suitably emotionally conflicted. She rightly receives our emotional involvement; we don’t know exactly how to feel for or about her, only that we must.

It is not easy to tell, however, whether the sympathy she implored was given due to her own persuasion skills or whether she has her cold, uncaring father to thank for imposing such a need. Most experienced actor of the cast, Rupert Holliday Evans fantastically played the villainous King Minos with a stiff demeanour and smug expression which makes Ariadne (and all other characters) feel detested. Rupert’s ability to adapt to taking on other roles, as a play with such a small cast warrants, was much more evident than that of the other actors. He carried with him a sense of experience on which his comrades most probably relied.

To tell the truth, I expected very little from the performance when I sat down – which had filled very few of its seats (…or was it just that under 10s take up so little space?) – but grew very quickly to feel invested in the performance. Watching Minotaur feels educational because it returns modern theatre to its very roots. It confronts ‘young audiences‘ (which, for the sake of my visit, must be imaginatively broadened in its definition) with tragedy which remains unresolved – a very brave thing to do. This strange little theatre with its odd little play has, thus, won my respect. Even as a theatre-loving adult I have tended to steer clear of Greek tragedy, but this performance well and truly proves the accessibility of Greek theatre without too much compromise.

“returns modern theatre to its very roots”

This is a play short enough to watch on a lunch-break  or between lectures. If you aren’t brave enough to go alone, bring along an eight year old for moral support… Although one of you might have to be prepared to lend a hand to hide behind when the Minotaur makes his stampeding entrance.

From,

the girl sitting in the cheap seats

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