Kinky Boots – Leeds Grand Theatre, 20 April 2019

Repeat visits to musicals that I have enjoyed are not unusual occurrences, but it isn’t often that I revisit one within just a few months. That is what happened with Kinky Boots though. You may recall that I had a very positive reaction to seeing it for the first time in Newcastle, last year. So much so that I had to check if there was another opportunity to see it on this tour, and there was, so I booked in for one of the dates in their week at the Leeds Grand. In the meantime I have been listening to the original West End cast recording a lot. I mean, a lot. I have been beavering away trying to get my doctoral thesis written up and it has been on repeat as I work. I am actually thinking of giving it a credit in my acknowledgements. It’s a good job that my study is in the attic so that the neighbours are spared me belting out History Of Wrong Guys and Soul Of A Man. And yes, I should be working on that right now, rather than rambling about musicals, but never mind.

One of the things I enjoy most about seeing repeat performances is that I get to appreciate things I didn’t notice first time around. Last time was my first experience of this musical full stop, apart from catching the odd performance on the Oliviers etc., so I was blown away by the spectacle and the gorgeous story. Looking back at my ramblings from that experience, I didn’t really mention the absolutely outstanding choreography, especially in Sex Is In The Heel and also Everybody Say Yeah. The way the factory conveyor belts are used in the latter is inspired and watching this time, I could appreciate the intricacy of it. Just like the Getting Married Today scene I highlighted in Company, one mis-step and it would all come crashing down, but the whole cast are just brilliant. I think I also appreciated this more as I was seeing it from above, in the dress circle, whereas I was in the stalls last time.

The other thing I love about repeat viewings is that I often go with a different person second time around, and get to see their reaction. Last time I went with my mum (who had already seen it in the West End without me – I know – how dare she?) and this time I was with J. He loved it. He has been singing Sex Is In The Heel ever since, which is keeping me entertained. Furthermore, it truly gladdened my heart to hear the pensioner man who was sat on the other side of me whooping along as the drag queens did their thing on the stage, and getting up to dance with us at the end. Just like in Newcastle, it was uplifting to have loads of different people all rooting for Lola and joining in with the final number.

The cast was almost the same as in Newcastle and Joel Harper-Jackson was again outstanding as Charlie. I got goosebumps when he did Soul Of A Man. Paula Lane was great as Lauren, with History Of Wrong Guys being as funny as it was before. But we had a new Lola. In fact we got the understudy Lola, Toyan Thomas-Browne. And he was utterly amazing. Charismatic and emotional and downright fabulous. I hope to see him taking the permanent lead in something very soon.

We’re now entering an intense period of ‘going to the theatre as much as possible because it is my 40th birthday year’ when a lot of the things I have booked are coming up in close proximity, so brace yourselves. Tonight I am taking my mum to see Michael Ball, which will hopefully go some way to making up for the fact that I went to see him playing Anatoly in Chess without her last year. Then I am presenting at a conference next week, where I will be basically summing up five years of hard work and research, so of course I am rewarding myself with a West End trip, with three performances booked next weekend. So I’ll be back on the blog very soon!

Rough Crossing -Cambridge Arts Theatre, 13 April 2019

Continuing with my promise to myself to take up as many theatre opportunities as possible during my 40th birthday year, this saw me taking advantage of family connections to book in. J’s sister works for the Cambridge Arts Theatre, so we went along with her and their other sister for a family outing.

The star of this show is John Partridge, who I last saw in a brilliant turn in La Cage Aux Folles a couple of years ago, and who was in Starlight Express when I first saw that in the mid 90s. There is also a connection to my Holby City love, as Rob Ostlere who played the dear departed Diggers, is in it too.

The play is a farce, written by Tom Stoppard, and set on a ship. The characters are there to write and rehearse a play, but complications are added with the composer discovering that his love, one of the actors, may be involved with her fellow cast member. Much confusion ensues as the main playwright (played by John Partridge) attempts to rectify the situation.

I admit I got rather confused myself in the second half. A play within a play within a play was a bit much to follow. However, I really enjoyed the performances, especially that of John Partridge. He has great comedy timing, and the physical comedy shone out.

Next up in April is a return to musicals (yay!). I am going to see Kinky Boots again next week and I cannot wait.

 

Rhod Gilbert, The Book of John – York Barbican, 6 April 2019

Back to comedy for the next outing of 2019. This was the first time I had seen Rhod Gilbert live, but I have enjoyed his comedy rants on many many television shows over the years. I was trying to work out why I haven’t taken the chance to see him in recent years, but that question was answered by Rhod himself in the first five minutes of the show, when he said that this was his first stand-up tour for seven years.

The reasons for that gap form the content of the show. I don’t want to give too much away, but it is clear that a lot has happened in his life. If you don’t want to know any of the content, you had better stop reading now, because there were some bits that resonated so clearly with J and I that I really want to talk about them. Okay? Here we go.

As a couple, in recent years, Rhod and his wife have faced parents dying, chronic illness, and trying unsuccessfully for a baby. Given that we have experienced J’s mum dying unexpectedly, me coping with a chronic condition, and coming to the realisation and accepting as a couple that we are highly unlikely to become parents, there was so much of this that felt familiar.

That is not to say that this meant we didn’t find it utterly hilarious. Life throws these things at you and sometimes all you can do is laugh. Rhod’s furious delivery heightens already absurd situations, but doesn’t lessen their obvious impact on the people involved. And, despite all of this, there is still the chance to laugh at the most insignificant things. Who knew that an account of someone playing Connect 4 would produce one of the biggest laughs of the evening?

The character of John, mentioned in the title of the show, is integral to the whole set. I won’t go any further into an explanation, but it is a clever and very effective way of tying the show together.

I came away not only as a fan Rhod’s stand-up, but also with admiration for the honest way in which common (but often hidden) experiences were recounted (I assume his stories were rooted in truth) and bravery for addressing them. He mentioned a new documentary that he has fronted which will be coming out soon, and I look forward to seeing that.

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Noughts & Crosses – York Theatre Royal, 4 April 2019

Moving on from the fun and frivolity of Rip It Up, my next theatre trip was pretty much the polar opposite in terms of mood and content. This was also the replacement trip for the outing I was due to have with my boss to the cancelled Fame production last month. Again, it was very much not a direct replacement. However, I am very glad we chose to go.

I first read Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses back in 2001, when I was fresh out of university and wanted to plunge myself back into reading fiction after three years of politics research. It made such an impression on me, it was the first book I bought for the School Library collection at work when I took it over about 10 years ago. I have absolutely no snobbery about reading Young Adult fiction – some of the best literature around is marketed in that bracket.

It’s a take on a Romeo and Juliet story – a girl, Sephy, and a boy, Callum, grow up together as best friends, despite the fact that Sephy is a Cross and Callum is a Nought. They live in an apartheid system where the Crosses are the ones in power and the Noughts are oppressed, denied their rights in society. In a challenge to our conditioned norms about such institutional and structural racism, Crosses are the People of Colour and Noughts are white. As they grow into teenagers, they realise they are in love with each other, and their relationship develops. This is despite opposition from friends and family and the entire societal and political system. Issues such as institutional racism, biased judicial systems, systemic denial of human rights, resistance to oppression (and whether violence is justified in this), political martyrdom and terrorism are covered through the lens of this central couple and their families, and covered in a very powerful way.

The two leads in this dramatisation of the book from the Pilot Theatre Company are Heather Agyepong and Billy Harris and they are outstanding. The production is specifically designed to appeal to young people and get them into theatre, and their performances were so engaging that I witnessed several school groups stunned by them. They are backed up by a brilliant cast and an extraordinarily powerful staging. Red was used throughout: red lights in a cross-shape, red blazers on school pupils, red headline on news coverage, red lighting over the whole stage. It focused everything without distraction.

It’s a tragic story, with deaths throughout, and the far-reaching implications of these losses are heart-wrenching to witness. It’s a play to make you think and reflect, especially in the current political climate. But it is brilliant and important and I can’t recommend it enough.

Rip It Up, The 60s – Garrick Theatre, 28 March 2019

My first trip down to the West End of 2019 was to visit my friend Jo, who accompanied me to Chess last year. We’re trying to make it a regular thing. She is also the host of a podcast for librarians which generally focuses on professional matters, but we did a Strictly and Musicals special together a few months back, because we both love them, and talking about them over Twitter is how we became friends. So any show that combines Strictly and the West End is something we have to see.

This stars four Strictly alumni, three of whom won the glitterball (Harry Judd, Louis Smith and Jay McGuiness), plus Aston Merrygold, who probably should have done. They are joined by a band and a couple of singers, and a troupe of dancers. I don’t want to call them backing musicians or dancers, because they are integral to the show. It’s all compered by Cavin Cornwall, who also joins in with the singing. And basically, it’s loads of familiar 60s hits, played by the musicians on stage, with dances.

It’s not your typical West End musical experience. It’s more of a concert really. The announcement encouraged us to take pictures and keep our phones out, which is a first, and Cavin made it clear we should sing along and get up and dance if we wanted. I liked that. Unlike previous experiences with audience members singing along when it wasn’t really appropriate, and riling others, this let all of us know what it was going to be like from the start.

Unsurprisingly, Jay and Aston, as former boyband members, took several turns on vocal duties. Harry did some drumming. Louis did sing a song or two, but generally kept to the dancing and gymnastics. They all took turns taking the lead with dances and there were lots of Strictly touches. Harry in particular seems to retained his love of ballroom. There was an absolutely lovely quickstep from him and his partner. However, he also did a contemporary number to Whiter Shade of Pale that was unexpected in a very good way. Jay’s Charleston to a jazzed up version of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You was a highlight too. Aston is obviously very experienced and brought his acrobatic moves to quite a few of the numbers, which matched Louis’s gymnastic abilities really well. All of this alongside a group of extraordinary dancers – they were all brilliant.

It’s not Sondheim, but that is fine. Sometimes you just need an evening of fun and singing and dancing and that is what this show offers. I had a great time.IMG_3006IMG_2982IMG_2980

Dara O Briain, Voice of Reason – York Barbican, 9 March 2019

I said in my previous post that I was looking for more theatre outings for March, as a couple of my planned shows has been postponed/cancelled. Well I found more things, but they were all in April, so next month we will be well and truly back on track with the celebratory year of theatre/showtunes. This month sees a couple of comedy gigs, with Dara O Briain being the first.

It’s a few years since I last saw Dara live. I did remember that he always has audience participation, so when I got the pre-sale link through for this, I declined the offer of front row tickets. J and I were safely back in row N! Those at the front were indeed part of the show. This led to musings on the Yorkshire anthem, Ilkley Moor Baht’at, to the production of new medication for knees, to a bartender who refuses to work weekends. Eclectic.

There was a section on fake news that had me gasping for air, because I was laughing so much. This was especially because there were references to Dublin in it, and that is a city I know well, so the absurdity was even more apparent. (Note to self – if this is ever broadcast, it would make a great addition to my teaching resources – I often cover fake news in that.)

All in all, a good night out. I think we all need good laugh at the moment.

Lee Mead, My Story – Victoria Theatre, Halifax, 16 February 2019

Those who know me/follow me on Twitter will know that the 2019 theatre-and-showtunes-fest for my 40th birthday year got put on hold for a couple of weeks because of a family bereavement. I cancelled a couple of things at the beginning of this month, but we’re back on track now.

Yes, following on from Ramin Karimloo last month, we’re back with another Holby City/musicals event. We’re mixing two of my favourite entertainment things again. This time Lee Mead with something of an ‘evening with’ event. Rather than an evening of song performances, as he’s done before, this mixed stories from his life and career, with relevant songs intertwined. It was the first date of a tour which goes on all year, fitting around Lee’s Holby City commitments (fear not fellow Lofty/Dofty fans – he is sticking around at the hospital for at least a little while yet).

Rather than touring with a band, Lee is joined by Beverley Humphreys, a BBC Wales presenter, who acts as compere/interviewer, and a pianist. The stage was set up with an interview area at one side and a performance one at the other. J and I found ourselves in seats, front row, directly under the microphone. Definitely no danger of a restricted view here (nicely making up for the stuck-behind-a-pillar experience at Pizza Express Live last year). Lee opened with a performance of Some Of Us Belong To The Stars from Billy Liar, which led into a stories about working with Don Black (the lyricist of said song, and too many other quality showtunes to name). This was the way most of the evening worked – a key story, with an associated song.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who plan to see the tour, especially mindful that this was the opening night, so I won’t go into any details about the specifics of the stories. However, memorable musical numbers included revisiting his role as Danny Zuko in Grease (school production aged 15) with a rendition of Sandy, and Anthem from the musical Chess, which he performed for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber as part of the Any Dream Will Do audition process.

Yes, the first half closed with Anthem. And I have mentioned many times before what that song does to me. My friend Jo is still a little scarred by my reaction to Michael Ball’s performance when we went to see Chess. It’s the soaring tune and the powerful vocals (not the patriotism – especially in the current political climate). I am likely to turn into a gibbering wreck when I witness a live performance of it anyway, but given it is a week in which I had been to a family funeral, and it’s one of the songs I have been listening to, and belting out (a lot), to cheer me up, this made me well up. I think I stopped my mascara from running down my face, and I kept control, but yeah. That was something. Lee – you are never likely to read this, but thank you. It was a lovely, lovely moment.

Of course the musical Joseph, and the Any Dream Will Do show, played a big part of the evening, and the second half of the show centred around it. There was a performance of a medley of songs from the musical, and an opportunity to relive the interminable pause before Graham Norton announced the winner on the show all those years ago. The coat was there too. I’m not sure Lee quite remembered all the colours accurately, but he was close enough. I don’t think I am spoiling too much to say that Lee’s association with the musical goes throughout his childhood and career, long before Any Dream Will Do. When he mentioned at a previous concert that he had played Pharoah on tour in the early 2000s, me and my mum turned to each other with the same memory of coming out of York Opera House and commenting that the Pharoah that night seemed both young and a great performer. And yes, when we checked our stash of programmes from back then, we realised it was indeed Lee we had seen…

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Other standout tracks for me were Music Of The Night from Phantom and Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In fact, Ramin performed both of those when I saw him last month, too. A few years ago, it seemed Falling Slowly from Once was on every tour I saw over the course of a particular year, and it seems Hushabye Mountain is that song, this year. I’m not complaining about that.

Given it was the first night of the tour, it wasn’t surprising that there were a couple of technical hitches, mainly with the playing of videos linked to the stories. It didn’t affect the enjoyment of the evening. My mum wants to see this too, so I’ll be taking her to the Whitley Bay date in June, and I’ll be very interested to see how the show evolves between now and then. It strikes me that it’s the sort of show that will remain constant at the core, but will grow as Beverley and Lee get more into the format.

In the meantime, I need to find more shows to see. I was supposed to have Lea Salonga as my next event, but she has broken her ankle and it’s been postponed until July. Likewise, I was due to revisit Fame in the next couple of weeks, after seeing previews in Manchester last year, but the York dates have been cancelled for unknown reasons. So the next month is looking pretty sparse now, and I need to remedy that.

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