Review: Matilda The Musical

Written for Fourthwall

As you walk into The Cambridge Theatre it would be easy to think you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in an aviary.  The air is thick with excited chatter as children and adults settle themselves down for an afternoon of pure theatrical gold. In this more intimate space the brightly coloured bricks that form the architecture of Rob Howell’s set cascade over the edge of the proscenium arch, crawling up the side of the auditorium with the tenacity of ivy. Crayoned scribblings on the walls hint at anarchic school kids and so long before a child even tumbles on to the stage, this production is exploding out of the theatre.

This feeling of bursting at the seams is one which typifies the exuberant Matilda The Musical. Brilliance shines out of every nook and cranny as in one fell swoop the answer to the problem of the modern musical is unleashed in glorious technicolour.

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Theatre trailers mark 2: The marketing men get their say.

The last blog I wrote on theatre trailers made me rather unpopular. So like a fool I decided to go back for more and my bravery paid off – I found out some very insightful things…Videos encourage online word of mouth and therefore group ticket buying. Perhaps most importantly they can build trust between an audience and a brand. All in all, maybe a picture really is worth more than a thousand words…

Here’s the full thing on The Guardian’s Culture Professional Network, do let me know what you think:


Review: Dracula: Sex, Sucking and Stardom

Written for Whats On Stage

The boys from Last Chance Saloon may not yet be rivalling Robert Pattinson for a portion of his army of screaming fans, but as their natty take on the father of all blood suckers attests, they soon may be.

These boys have charm, and oodles of it. Don’t believe the slightly hokey promotional material (which looks like an irony free B-Movie poster) Dracula: Sex, Sucking and Stardom positively drips in knowing humour. This is a very cheerful carry on about Count Vlad and whilst the paper thin plot makes no pretensions to be anything other than that, the knockabout style is imaginative, at parts clever and most importantly, often very funny.

Sam Dunham, Jack Faires and Simon Naylor whirl us through the story of Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula and Van Helsing at a breakneck pace. Traditional comedy hooks are employed shamelessly (Naylor as a rather butch Mina is an expected but giggly revelation) but there is a lot of original subversion of this age old tale too. A stage struck Count who envies John Barrowman is a nice touch, as are the League of Gentlemen-style Transylvanian y’ocals who point Harker to Dracula’s pad.

The slapstick is smooth and jolly and I’m not even going to mention being sprayed by something wet and far reaching in the dark. Modern pop classics are altered mercilessly (“Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah. Rah, rah, Dracula” being a particular favourite) and audience involvement is flirted with prettily. Bram Stoker this isn’t, but prepare to be seduced by this delightfully makeshift comedy.

Runs until 3rd December 2011

Rough around the edges: personal and political snatches of thought.

“Nothing like heavy-handed police intervention to turn ambivalence into outright admiration #ows

This wasn’t me but it could have been. The police are kicking Occupy Wall Street out and my blood boils again. But Protest isn’t about the big bangs and whistles. It’s about the people who set up a new city within an existing one. The people who had the patience to create kitchens and schools, had libraries donated and broke down institutional barriers. Change is about the long haul and it’s an incremental and at times dull process. But attention must be paid everyday, not just on fiercely unjust ones such as this.

I say this more to myself than anyone else. Perhaps it’s hard to stay committed because the Occupy movement don’t seem to speak as one voice so I’m unsure what alternatives I’m supporting. Or maybe it’s because day to day they are fighting the very matrix we exist in, Capitalism. Its a faceless, nationless master and because it seems so natural it’s much harder to get furious with than a misguided police force. For long term support from those who aren’t naturally predisposed to protest the multitude of voices coming from those tents need to begin setting out an alternative however embryonic. And I need to pay more attention to the details of what it is they are saying now, to be prepared to sit down and engage in their sometimes conflicting but inherently right (with a capital R) provocations. Only then will I turn my sense of indignation today into a real commitment to action tomorrow.

Review: A Place At The Table

Written for Exeunt Magazine

It’s a daunting task just trying to take in all of the information contained within  Daedalus Theatre’s A Place At The Table. The dense facts and figures of the U.N. Security Council Report S/1996/682 which forms the basis of this devised piece are broken down into actions, phone calls and songs. As we sit around a giant communal table, a group of four actresses try to measure their own – and our – responses to the little known horrors that began in Burundi and spread like wild fire through Rwanda in the early 1990s.

The basis of the U.N.’s report is explained to us in clipped, clinical tones. We are told of the assassination of Burundi’s first democratically elected Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye in 1993. We hear how it led to a civil war between Hutus and Tutsis that resulted in the most ignored genocide in history. Slides flash up with the names and faces of the lead players as the company attempt to understand where the responsibility for both this murder and the 300 million more that followed it lies. This is muddy ground. The generals blame mutinous troops; Germany and Belgium are pegged as shady Machiavellian manipulators, and civilians speak of neighbours slaughtering one another – by the end things don’t feel any clearer.

But what is clear is Daedalus’ commitment to try to place this complex piece of forgotten history centre stage. The piece has evolved through a devising process which has spanned several years. Director Paul Burgess has nurtured personal explorations from his performers, turning instinctive reactions into moments of communication. Some of these are more successful than others. A witty telesales advert highlights the West’s role in this endemic tribal hatred, and the U.N. table is imaginatively unpacked to reveal soil and earth as spirits are released from the polished wood. But the piece as a whole is rather opaque and some of the movement sequences feel woolly and unfocussed. The constant bombardment of names, facts and figures eventually starts to wash over you, leaving you numb.

Even if Daedalus’ message is not always clear, the final act of coming together and sharing – a process which includes all of us –  is an arresting one. A Place At The Table sheds its slight well-meaning stuffiness, its air of the bureaucratic, and ends in a much more personal and uplifting fashion. This is a hopeful piece to come out of an epic tragedy and whilst the ins and outs of what happened remain cloudy, the idea that change is possible is very powerfully put across.

Runs until 19 November.

Review: Country Life

Written for Time Out

All is not what it seems underneath the twee hedgerows and wisteria in Peter Briffa’s ‘Country Life’. On the surface, this could be any Sunday afternoon BBC comedy; OAPs argue like testosterone fuelled teenagers and for comic effect discuss death as though it was a day trip to Bogner. But it’s not all ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ fun. Extortion, murder, robbery, there is a dark edge to Briffa’s Middle England heist.

Oily parasite and wannabe lothario Jim (Chris Bearne) returns to Devon for the funeral of Judith, his most recent ‘companion’. To the disgust of neighbour, and hopeful boyfriend, Kenneth (an officious David Forest) he quickly inveigles his way into the garden and heart of Barbara (soap actress Marji Campi).

Hijinks ensue with enough crossings and double crossings to make any of the shows that Campi’s starred in proud. As this includes the holy trinity of ‘EastEnders’, ‘Corrie’ and ‘Brookside’, that’s no mean feat.

Briffa’s script raises a grin and the gentle comedy clearly pleases this middle aged audience. But by the fiftieth twist and turn it’s all a bit much. Interesting questions about how this ‘forgotten generation’ feels about being sidelined and whether humans have the ability to change are drowned out by all the melodrama. ‘Country Life’ has vitality and gumption but is really little more than an inoffensive romp.

Runs until 5th November