Lloyd Webber ‘furious’ over bloggers

So Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t happy that people have been blogging about Love Never Dies before it officially opens tonight.

Given that punters have been paying up to £90 for ‘premium’ seating (or even more if booked via a ticket agency) and that his Lordship states the show is a work in progress what did he expect?

LND ticketing is a sore point here anyway. Lloyd Webbers own box office sold me two tickets an hour after the show went on sale back in October but when chasing a few weeks ago for the tickets was told due to some unexplained error they had cancelled my booking. No notification, no apology and no tickets available apart from 2 premium seats at £90 each (nearly 3 times the value of the cheapskate seats I’d booked and received confirmation email for)

Now LND may have taken a huge advance but is this the way to keep loyal customers booking for shows when the initial hype dies down? Lloyd Webber’s See Tickets (part of his Really Useful empire) states they are top for customer service but a manager advised someone in their complaints team ‘may’ call me back and a month on I’m still waiting. Perhaps if ALW did some mystery shopping to his call centre rather than worrying about bloggers more people would be filling his theatres.

The Long Way Home – Jubilee Hall Aldeburgh

For only the 2nd time in their history, Eastern Angles have staged an ‘off the shelf’ play instead of one especially commissioned for them and it turns out to be a poor decision.

Instead of a locally inspired play we are transported to a Greek island and a widow’s journey back to her birthplace.

On the way she meets a young lad who thinks he’s a dog and slowly a touching relationship develops between them.

There is potential here and some effective staging on a simple set. The current theatrical fashion to include puppets is continued here with an effective ghost of the woman’s husband conjured up from a clay jug.

The clever staging however doesn’t manage to hide the fact that the play itself is paper thin and stretched way to far to fill two acts. The long way home it certainly is and could do with a desperate short cut.

Hidden here is a one act play for children but for a full staged adult production fails to inspire. Come on Eastern Angles, return to doing what you do best – stories rooted in East Anglian life.

Sweet Charity – Menier Chocolate Factory

An oversight I know but lets start with a confession – I have never seen Sweet Charity on stage or on film. I blame having to light a rendition of Rhythm Of Life at college that left me in a cold sweat.

So it was into the dark at the Chocolate Factory for their latest sell out hit. Yes some of the songs would be familiar and Tamsin Outhwaite will always be my Nancy but the rest would be a whole new ballgame.

As is always the way it never ceases to amaze they manage to squeeze shows of this size into the shoebox that is the Menier – the band alone seems to take up most of the space – but as ever the intimacy does wonders with the staging – not only can you see the cast sweat, you are likely to get covered in it!

This 60’s musical is in many ways an American version of Cabaret – a dance hall hostess tries to make good. But while Sally Bowles may have had a darker side, Charity Hope Valentine is as the title suggests sweet. Wronged in love she sets out to meet Mr Right but how will he cope with her profession.

Tamsin Outhwaite shows her theatrical pedigree, with a note and foot perfect performance that milks both the sympathy but also knows when to hit the comic edge – her performance in If My Friends Could See Me Now is spot on and timed to precision.

It is perhaps in the big show stopper numbers that Sweet Charity works best and Big Spender turns into the demon love child of the aforementioned Cabaret and La Cage Aux Folles while Rhythm is a glorious Hair parody full of wide eyed madness.

This is once again a spot on production but one that I fear will get lost on the forthcoming transfer to the larger Haymarket – It may be controversial but I would suggest that Sweet Charity is not the ‘classic’ show it’s long history has lead us to believe and perhaps is best suited to this small scale production.

Dunsinane – Hamsptead Theatre

Well theatre professionals see Macbeth as a cursed play so its brave of the RSC to stage a new sequel of the dreaded Scottish Play.

It turns out however to be a brave and bold move, in David Griegs’ epic Dunsinane they have found a play that not only adds something to the Bards original but also stand alone in its own right.

Never mentioned by name in this show the ‘Tyrant’ Macbeth has been overthrown – for those who recall his proclamation of his safety until Burnam wood came to Dunisnane will see the line ‘you be a tree’ take on a whole new significance. Although Macbeth may have perished Lady M’s demise has been prematurly reported and she is very much alive. Gruach – for that is she is still very much the power behind the throne and is coldly planning her restoration to her rightful place as Queen – something incumbent ruler Malcolm may have problems with.

Although a fine company piece (with some strong support of local youth actors in the ensemble roles) it is the two crowns that stand out – Siobhan Redmond’s passionate Gruach and Brian Ferguson’s chilling Malcolm. Both roles could easily be overplayed but in these hands are delivered with a cunning restraint.

In a departure for Hampstead Theatre the auditorium is reconfigured to echo the RSC’s Courtyard – while it does allow Robert Innes Hopkins’ craggy set to thrust into the auditorium – it does lead to some sight line problems and a question on if it is really necessary.

Evocative lighting and effective use of Gaelic music create some stunning set pieces – no more effective than an emotional climax, beautifully staged against the driving snow of the highlands.

This is a piece that stands alone as a powerful exploration of the effects of war and invasion – parallels to the modern world anyone? It could have rammed its message home but instead does so with a subtle hand.

Lets hope the RSC gives this production a further life after it’s Hampstead run – it would also be good to see it in a double bill with the Scottish Play with the same creative team/cast – a truly epic experience


Noises Off – New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

There is often a suspicion that there is more interesting drama backstage than onstage in many productions and in Michael Fryan’s classic comedy Noises Off the backstage drama is certainly more watchable than the terrible production of ‘Nothing On’ that the company are desperately trying to tour to the poor unsuspecting theatre going public.
For anyone who’s stepped away from the safety of the auditorium into the manic world of producing a play the problems being experienced here will be all to painfully real – although hopefully none of the audience will have been in a production where things have gone this wrong – violence, whisky, marital affairs and a dangerous cactus all conspiring to derail this already wonky wagon.
Act one is always something of a slow burner – its dress rehearsal (or should that be tech rehearsal) and it’s already after midnight and we’re still only half way through act one. We get (after much distraction) to see how (nearly) the Act should look. Act two switches viewpoints backstage after a long few weeks on the road and all is not well – the cast are at each others throat, the Stage Management team have given up trying to control the chaos and to top it all the Director has arrived on a break from Richard III.
Act Three returns Front of House on the final week of the tour and all hell has broken loose – will the company get to the curtain call or will they kill each other first?

Peter Rowe’s production pitches the action perfectly – a slow intro setting up the laughs for the madness of the following acts – and once the laughter starts it doesn’t stop – doors, sheets and sardines fly in all directions as the production disintegrates in front of our eyes.

Showing that she is more than a West End Musical star, Rosie Ashe gives a tour-de-force as leading lady Dotty Otley, hamming it up to just the right level. This is a show though that relies on all the company giving their all in split second perfection and there is no weak spots here.
You will never be able to look a sardine in the same light again.

Stephen Sondheim – Royal National Theatre

It’s always good to support young, up and coming, writers and so its a trip to the National to support some whipper snapper called Stephen Sondheim!

Seriously though its hard to believe that the maestro is 80 years old this year and shows no signs of retiring.

There are few people that can truly be described as a living legend but for Sondheim its no exaggeration – the wave of affection that spread throughout the theatre was palpable.

There were no great revelations here – but it was surprising to hear negative opinions of some of the perceived greats of musical theatre and an aborted attempt to film Into The Woods with Robin Williams.

An hour flew past and could easily have gone on all night – a heartfelt standing ovation once again demonstrates the awe in which Sondheim is held.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – Royal National Theatre

The nemonic Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is ingraned into the minds of any music student but in Tom Stoppards collaboration with Andre Preven the phrase takes on a wider metaphor.

A play for actors and orchestra sees a full size symphony orchestra fill the stage while two political prisoners are ‘imprisoned’ in a mental institution. One imagines an orchestra in his head while the other sees innocent people being arrested by the state – who is mad and who is sane?

Its almost Chekhovian in tone but the use of the orchestra adds a grander scale. It takes some time to come to terms with the set up and in a play that only lasts just over an hour this is a problem. By the time the concept is imbedded though the two elements work well and adds a further dimension to the play.

The epic Olivier stage is needed for such as a production as this but the very scale of the theatre somehow distances the emotional connection. It may be a contradiction but such an epic production may be better served by a more intimate venue.

An interesting exploration but not wholly satisfying.

Andersen’s English – Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

It sounds like a made up event – Hans Christian Andersen arrives as an unexpected guest at Charles Dickens’ Kent home but this isn’t one of those ‘6 people you invite to your dinner party’ fantasies, it actually happened.

Andersen’s English – Out of Joint Theatre Company’s latest touring production focuses on this unlikely meeting of literary giants and the destructive background Andersen stumbles into.

Andersen’s limited English makes it difficult for him to realise he is in the middle of a family imploding and for the audience also all seems initially well. A love triangle, Dickens’ controlling nature and a son about to be banished to India soon begin to show their ugly head however and events continue in motion like a train out of control.

Sebastian Barry’s play makes no attempt to either judge or glamorise the famous writers, instead the audience are left as perhaps reluctant intruders on this tragic scene.

Strong performances throughout make this a gripping evening, with Niamh Cussak, David Rintoul and Danny Sapani giving especially believable performances.

Director Max Stafford Clarke pushes the action along with pace while allowing the claustrophobic tension to shine through.

Dickens and Andersen will never be read in the same light again.

Huck – New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

There is always a danger in adapting classic novels for the stage that the audience will have such a strong vision of the novel in their mind that any stage adaptation will fail to live up to that image. When the novel has been filmed on numerous occasions the problem is compounded. It is against these problems that Shapeshifter Theatre Company launches their version of Huck – an adaptation of the Mark Twain Huckleberry Finn novels.

Despite a valiant attempt its sad to say that ultimately this production of Huck sinks midway down the Mississippi.

Central to the problem is the inability for the cast to make the characters likeable – over 2hrs 45min we just don’t care about the outcome. Some of this could be down to the length of the piece, the Mississippi may be long but at times it seems like we are set to travel the entire length.

Graeme Dalling as the title Character in particular fails to convince us to like Huck but many of the characters are little more than sketches.

Staging is fluid but the lighting fails to conjure the steamy Deep South.

This was the first night of the UK tour so some pace may improve further down the road but the show would benefit but trimming about 30mins from the show to appeal to a family audience

One Man Lord Of The Rings – Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Ok – just to protect me from Sam Jackson’s lawyers let me say from the outset this review is not linked or authorised by anyone connected with The Lord of The Rings – better to be safe than sorry.

Given the epic scale of the books and the subsequent films how do you condense these down into a one man show just over an hour long? The answer lies in writer and performer Charles Ross who has an obvious affection for the piece and injects just enough knowing jokes in to mock the film characters to keep the most ardent fans happy.

With no props, minimal lighting and just a boiler suit for company Charles swaps from voice to voice with a frantic speed that would make any psychoanalyst flinch.

Ross’s Canadian overtones vanish as we get the spirit of Sir Ian Mckellan manifest itself while poor Olando Bloom is targeted for particular lampooning.

While there is humour here and some micky taking of the films it is clear that this is done with affection – if you cant sit down through all 12 hours of the extended DVDs of the films this show should be top of your must see list – if you do regularly sit through all 12 hours you should get out more and this is the perfect vehicle to start your rehabilitation to the outside world.