Final WOS Blogs

Verbatim rights & wrongs

Monkey Bars publicity image

This week I’m back at a subject that continues to niggle me – ideas of morality in verbatim theatre. When we use people’s voices onstage in edited pieces of drama, how fine is the line between representation and exploitation?…read more

Theatre buildings & communities

Bristol Old Vic

The oldest working theatre in the country, Bristol Old Vic, turned its lights back on last week after 18 months of refurbishment. This week warm reviews of its opening production, John O’Keeffe’s Wild Oats, show it is in as rude a health as it was when it housed rowdy 18th century audiences…read more

Lyric keeps it local

A scene from Morning at the Lyric Hammersmith

A blend of robust poetry and agile circus, I was recently wowed by Ockham’s Razor’s Not Until We Are Lost at Artsdepot. But it wasn’t only the stunning aerialism that captured me – just as impressive was the skill displayed by a choir of local singers who had been brought together for these performances…read more

Horror on stage? A chilling thought

Original poster for Let The Right One In

When I read that the National Theatre of Scotland was to do a staged version of Swedish horror film Let The Right One In I got chills down my spine for all the wrong reasons. Horror is notoriously difficult to do on stage and even with the formidable partnership of John Tiffany and Jack Thorne at the helm it seemed a doomed prospect – after all the NTS turned The Wicker Man into a musical earlier this year….read more

And in the end…

Poster image for A Life at The Finborough

So it’s pretty presumptuous to title my final blog with a Beatles lyric used to signify the end of their journey, but I’m going to do it anyway because endings are what form the basis of this blog…read more

The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd; a compendium of theatrical curiosity.

Note: This is not a review, I didn’t see enough of it to be a review – if you did see enough to disagree with me please let me know.

I was reminded of the wonderfully weird world I work in last week when I went to see The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd.  With clown urchins, the battle of a tramp and a gentleman crook and some kind of dream fairy, 1960s musical giants Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley went existential. We watch with increasingly shuffling confusion as a strange game of life is played between master (Sir) and servant (Cocky), with arbitrary rules weighted against the poorer of the two men.

Some of my colleagues have inferred that this tortured process is a comment on class (and Wikipedia certainly seems to think so). But this whirligig production of cackling choral clowns, apocalyptic circus environments, Victorian blonde visions and ‘Negro’ saviours is so bizarre any such comment surely gets lost in an out of control music hall analogy.  As we see one man constantly testing and beating another, the question does not seem to be one of social power but ‘if Samuel Beckett were to knock off a musical version of Waiting For Godot what would it be like?’ And what a frankly incomprehensible answer Bricusse and Newley have come up with. Because whilst this hallucinogenic whirlwind may have worked in the psychedelic 1960s today I can’t get away from the fact that in its outlandish absurdity this musical has become a true theatrical oddity. Just what led the estimable Ian Judge to produce it?

But why has The Roar Of The Grease Paint – The Smell Of The Crowd slipped into the sphere of the puzzingly freakish for me and not just been relegated to the slowly growing ‘so bad it’s, well just really bad’ pile? What goes into making a theatrical curiosity?

Here at least it seems to be that whilst all the ingredients in the pot are right, with Bricusse and Newley, Judge and designer Tim Goodchild all being names that are synonymous with quality musical theatre, the result was just wrong. It’s not bad because the songs aren’t bad, and the performances aren’t bad and yet the story doesn’t make sense, the choices are too outlandish: the arrow has well and truly missed.

But I don’t hold this show or it’s makers in contempt, instead I’ve felt energised by its strangeness, oddly inspired by its inherent failure. Have any shows ever done that to you? What would you call a theatrical oddity and why? A compendium of these experiences seems to call out to be documented, something with metaphorical jars that is suitably Hunterian, and yes I realise there’s something fittingly odd about that whole idea in itself…

Rajni Shah – Glorious

Rajni Shah has been creating and directing original performance work since 1999, with past projects including Hope (2009); Dinner with America (2008); give what you can, take what you need (2008); Altars of us all / speaking to strangers (2008) and Mr Quiver (2005). Her work ranges from large-scale performance installations to small solo interventions in public spaces.Glorious is the third in a trilogy of works and has been commission by SPILL Festival of Performance. It will show at the Barbican before touring nationally.


I end my interview with Rajni Shah by asking a question I thought she would have been bombarded with “What’s your favourite musical, I’m sure everyone’s asked you that!” She is presently surprised “Actually they haven’t! It’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg… I’ve insisted everyone watch it, I think it’s quite brilliant in terms of the visuals and it would seem its a million miles away but it was a really early reference point…” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised that this is the first time she has encountered such a mainstream question; as an artist Shah is anything but conventional.

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New Blogs! (Just not here)

So it may look like I’ve fallen silent for the last week and a bit. Well think again avid reader. I have actually been writing a bit but for other sites. So in the interest of keeping Theatre Workbook current here are the links to these aforementioned pieces. Enjoy, I hope.

Blog on the online communication revolution: Shift Happens, State of the Arts Flash Conference, D&D6

Blog on musical theatre and how if you just look far enough you can find some vivid exciting work that trounces West End laziness.

Wicked – artists who can actually sing! MT Producers take note.

Wicked has singing munchkins, a teaching goat, a green protagonist and a mechanical dragon, which may make the whole thing sound terribly silly.  But I can honestly say that it is, well, wicked.  And the reason for this prognosis? The outstanding quality of its two stars, Dianne Pilkington and Alexia Khadime, whose vocal skill easily matches those of their operatic counterparts.  This is pure talent people, sit back and enjoy the ride because you really will be thrilled at this helter skelter of a show with its non-stop spectacle and panache.

What makes Wicked so damned impressive is the quality of its product; and it is impressive, whether you’re a musical fan or not.  Not only are the leads fabulous (a very MT phrase), the design sits beautifully in between Tim Burtonesque expressionism and high camp and the choreography is modern and grotesquely stylish.  Last but not least the story, though on the surface quite slight, has deeper echoes of the Nazi’s gradual segregation and attempted negation of the Jewish people.  All in all it’s a bit like the bastard child of Cabaret and Disney, and all the better for it.

If only all musical producers were so concerned with maintaining such high standards.  Audiences are being asked to part with over £50 for the best West End seats and should be given their money’s worth.  Value for money is an old and seemingly obvious argument but it’s one which is backed up by an artistic need as well.  As someone who works in the musical industry it’s vital to feel that you are working on a product that has genuine integrity.  Sure money makes the world go round, but can’t we ensure it’s the best possible world we can show our paying public?  It should be important to us to maintain the best standards whether we’re involved in the candy covered pink genius of Grease, or the hill like heavenly glory of The Sound Of Music; musical theatre producers need to remember that just because they can get away with mediocre standards doesn’t mean that they should.   Moreover money and talent don’t have to be mutually exclusive; as Wicked proves; you spend money on quality and you make it back in spades. 

We need to stop employing ‘stars’ (who never actually are that starry) and start going for artists who can, well gosh I don’t know, actually sing.  We need to begin employing fresh designers and choreographers to breathe new life into old material.  We need to be as spectacular as shows like Wicked, and as inspirational as the Billy Elliot’s of this West End world. Only then will the majority of musical theatre be taken seriously as the invigorating and enthralling art form it can be and only then will people really get their money’s worth.

Pilkington and Khadime were recently voted the winners of The Women of the Future’s Arts and Culture Award; if that doesn’t prove that talent is the way forward, I don’t know what will.

Dreamboats & Petticoats – the enjoyable musical coat hanger of the 60s.

Well after a long absence this theatre goer was whisked back into the darkened auditorium for the sugar candy coated extravaganza that is Dreamboats & Petticoats.  Based on the apparently million selling album (although neither I nor my friend had heard of it at all – I’d be very interested if anyone has?) this is simply a collection of 1960s classics with a very meagre story of teen love and a bit of rock and roll thrown in to tie it all together. 


All the greats are here from the strangely addictive Let’s Twist Again to the pulsating rhythms of Shakin’ All Over and the dulcet longings of To Know Him Is To Love Him.  All in all there are a dizzying 43 musical numbers in a piece which could only be described as the musical equivalent of a coat hanger; let those 60s tunes hang off there boys, and heaven forbid we should have any actual substance.


The tunes are jolly enough, as are the twirling petticoats and hunky dreamboats but after seeing Adam Curtis and Felix Barrett’s darker side of this sixties dream I felt it all a bit difficult to take – a cute nostalgic look at a time before globalization and commercialism were gods, whored about (ok maybe that’s a bit much, performed then) in the temple of one such commercial god? All a bit fishy really.  


But I can’t moan about this fully because to gar my grew it was actually enjoyable (well until they got mopey at the end and started banging on about love where my ‘grew’ definitely prevailed).  Like Thriller, it is hard not to be blasted away by the unstoppable force of pop music when it’s as good as these songs inevitably are.  The performances are also much better than expected with Daisy Wood-Davis’s caramel voice bringing just the right sweetness to innocent Laura and Ben Freeman well and truly shaking off his Emmerdale past in a bone hip breaking performance as the cocky Norman that would make a young Elvis proud.  Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (with their eons of experience in such nostalgic BBC comedy gold) have produced a book which, although at times incredibly cheesy, is funny and sharp and actually makes you want more talking and less singing which can be no bad thing.


I anticipate that this is going to do very, very well.  Even this cynic couldn’t stop smiling at points, the effervescent energy of pure pop shining through – oh and I saw Cilla Black, so it can’t all be bad can it?

A delicious little something to fill the gap

So I’m taking an age to finish my next blog post and wanted to make sure that you all didn’t forget about me or think I’d sunk without trace after two (fairly) productive weeks.  So here for your delectation are my thoughts on a fantastic little show now on at the Novello called Spring Awakening, ok it’s not so little but it’s definitely fantastic and I’m not even a FAN of musicals – have you seen it? Did you share this view? Thoughts on a postcard. 

Spring Awakening – Novello Theatre

There’s definitely something in the air at the Novello Theatre since the arrival of Spring Awakening, the pop/punk/thrash musical which has been taking the Lyric Hammersmith by storm. Crackling with edgy sex appeal and blistering new music this really is the indie rock star of the current West End scene, slicing through the old establishment with a microphone in one hand and a 10 page essay on human reproduction in the other.

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