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

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

 

How does one ‘Bend it Like Beckham?’

 

At last, my journey of discovery into the world of London theatre – and the notion of sitting in the cheap seats – begins.

My plan to review the theatre of London and analyse the truth behind the curse (or the treat?) of sitting in the cheap seats has, for a long time, been waiting in the wings. Today, with my reflections on the Phoenix Theatre’s Bend it Like Beckham, this plan makes its debut on the stage.

Join me as I discover what it really is like to view London theatre by sitting in the cheap seats.

Date of viewing: 26/01/2016

Production: Bend it Like Beckham

Seat: Upper Circle G15

How cheap!?: £10

I have to admit, before my Tuesday night excursion I knew nothing about this show or its film predecessor. My knowledge of what it is to ‘bend it’ like Beckham, or how one might go about doing so, was considerably lacking. I am delighted now to have had my football vocabulary dutifully broadened by the show – even if I doubt my own ability to replicate a Beckham-like bend myself.

In truth, there were many things that further delighted me about this show – but they did not go unaccompanied by a loftier dollop of disappointments.

My first disappointment came at the show’s very beginning when headless actors sang from a balcony far above the stage – my cheap seat was too high! Naturally my fear from then on was that many more scenes would depict the cast’s actors as headless, but fortunately most of the show’s proceedings were conducted at ground level. From this height, the action was mostly incredibly clear, as were the actors’ expressions.

In the show, best friends Jess (played by Natalie Dew) and Jules (Lauren Samuels) bond over a love of football which proves too challenging for Jess’ Indian family. The show ends with the pair as football champions, but not without a healthy dosage of sexuality/race/gender complications along the way.

“charmingly British humour”

What I liked most about the show was its ability to treat such complex and controversial themes with subtlety and gentleness. Throughout, characters are truthfully presented as struggling with counter-cultural confrontations, and this honesty is to be respected. These themes – most clearly represented by the distinction of Indian verses white-British culture – echoed struggles of reality for a twenty-first century audience in England. The show’s unravelling of the themes of gender, race and sexuality was doused suitably in a splash of humour. In fact, Bend it Like Beckham is an extremely funny show – especially for those with a British upbringing as it highlights all the things we Brits love and hate about ourselves. It presents its audience with charmingly British humour.

Charming is probably a good word to describe Bend it Like Beckham. Unfortunately, the show’s humorous charm does not provide enough to over-shadow the other often unspectacular elements. Natalie Dew’s performance of Jess was…nice. Her dramatic performance was mostly representative of the sheltered 18 year old Jess, and she was convincingly wide-eyed and naïve, but for a lead lacked vocal power and anything of an outstanding sonority. Lauren Samuels, on the other hand, (for whom I attended the show, having been very much impressed with other exposures to her powerful voice) has a lovely voice which is simply not utilised in this show – at all. Lauren’s few moments of vocal exposure allow little chance to demonstrate her technical skill.

In fairness to the show’s central characters, the composed music of Bend it Like Beckham is sadly consistently uninspired. British composer Howard Goodall provides this production with no show-stopping numbers or power-house belts and the melodies are rather unmemorable. Song titles such as ‘Girl Perfect’ and ‘UB2’ are representative of the production’s lazy musical writing and unimaginative word-setting. Exceptions to the disappointing music are present, but infrequent. Undoubtedly it is refreshing to hear authentic Indian gamak singing on a musical theatre stage and Rekha Sawhney’s delivery of this was beautiful. Bend it Like Beckham’s best song was sung by Sophie-Louise Dann who played Jules’ mum, Paula. There She Goes is a sweet yet modest song with a singable tune. Sophie-Louise performed this with a genuine care and concern for her grown-up daughter. This song was performed with a great level of sensitivity, reflective of Sophie-Louise’s humorous role throughout. It is nice to be able to attribute the show’s only other song of note to both lead girls and their mothers: ‘Tough Love’ is not overly powerful, but creatively builds to a harmonically pleasing quartet which is quite moving and sentimental.

“it is refreshing to hear authentic Indian gamak singing on a musical theatre stage”

The choreography fitted suitably with the bland music and allowed for football and athletic skill to be demonstrated – which is more than reasonable. Some visual elements were quite aesthetically inventive, like Jess and Jules’ levitating bedrooms, whilst others proved to be failed attempts: Jess’ joyful leap into the air at the end of Act One was accompanied by a poorly timed black-out.

Overall, Bend it Like Beckham is a fun musical. Not particularly creative or artistic, but fun. Others have described Bend it Like Beckham as a celebration of that which is British, and certainly, upon leaving the theatre I felt empowered to reminisce my typically British upbringing. Sadly, I left the performance pondering the truth of the old saying, ‘Britain: das land ohne musik’ (the land without music). I’m afraid I believe Bend it Like Beckham provides that saying with a one/nil score.

 

From,

The girl sitting in the cheap seats

x