The Jungle – Playhouse Theatre

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As I was watching The Jungle, the debut play of Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, my mind was focused on what was happening at the US border. With the migrant children being forcibly separated from their families, as a result of the callousness of President Trump and his administration. His abhorrent treatment of immigrants, could not be  different from how the French and British governments, denied the much needed help and support to the refugees, that travelled to the Calais Jungle from the various parts of the Middle East. Government hypocrisy is as omnipresent in 2018, as it was during the period of 2014-16. The play currently in performance at the Playhouse, is a stunning experience of both human interest and urgency. It implores the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the migrants and the desperate struggles they are going through.

Miriam Buether, the acclaimed designer behind more recent theatre productions such as Three Tall Women and A Doll’s House Part 2, astonishingly captures the harrowing experience of life in the camps within the makeshift wooden walls of a café, with a large table dominating the center of the performance space. The royal circle has also been converted to represent the White Cliffs of Dover, a recurring symbolic image throughout much of the story. The story made up of different plot lines, are tied together through the psychological direction of Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin. The various vividly drawn complex characters consist of: Okot (John Pfumojena), a 17 year old from Sudan with many different scars left from his journey, Norullah (Mohammed Amiri) who is driven to madness by his desire to get to England and Helene (Nahel Tzegai) who acts as peacekeeper amongst the fractious men, but is working towards the best decision concerning herself and her family.

There is an emphasis on diversity and culture with the cast of characters being largely black and muslim, but the play never shies away from the themes of racism and division. Even with its heavy handed subject, there are moments of incidental humour which balance out the despairing moments. The play couldn’t be any more timely considering the recent events of this year. The Jungle remains a rare piece of essential theatre that will not only challenge society’s views towards immigration, but also remind others that the struggle for an integrated and fair society remains steadfastly imperative.

The Jungle runs at the Playhouse theatre until 3 November

Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo

There were reports about the film’s production being troubled from inception, amidst acrimonious creative differences between the film’s producer Kathleen Kennedy and the screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, the original two directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller left the director’s chair. Prior to their departure there was an uncertainty with the film’s tone and pacing, Lucasfilm’s subsequent hiring of acclaimed director Ron Howard to reshoot about 80% of the film, seemed to have evened the rough edges and placed it more in line with the original trilogy. Solo: A Star Wars Story is the tenth film overall in the iconic space-opera franchise, and the fourth film to be released by Walt Disney Pictures. The film centers around the younger years of Han Solo, and his adventures before joining the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire. In the same vein as 2016’s Rogue One, the film shifts focus from the mysticism of the force and partakes for a more grounded science fiction space western adventure. More blasters and less lightsabers so to speak, the film even shares the same production and costume designers as Rogue One.

At times however, it is business as usual for Disney and they are ticking the boxes to keep the fans satisfied, before next year’s release of the final installment in the current trilogy. From the appearance of the stormtroopers, to a surprise cameo appearance which will not be spoiled here. The pacing is choppy and the story’s content feels compressed into the film’s 135 minute running time. Consequently some of the characters such as: Jon Favreau’s CGI alien sidekick, Thandie Newton’s bounty hunter and Lando’s sarcastic droid, L3-37 feel unrealized in conception. We are also never given that much development or insight into the relationship between Solo and his childhood love interest Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). These story aspects  would be better realized in a miniseries than a feature film. There is still a sense of Saturday matinee fun to be had with the feature’s action sequences. Alden Ehrenreich has a lot of potential and promise as an actor, but he is in the middle of finding his footing. This is only his second major film role after his star turn in the Coen Brothers’ 2016 film Hail Caesar, I felt he made the role of Han Solo his own respectably. I hope to see more of him in the years to come.

Amongst the film’s supporting cast, Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian is easily the film’s scene stealer, lending a lot of humorous bravado to the character. Woody Harrelson is also charming as Han’s cynical mentor Tobias Beckett, who teaches our hero a lot of hard truths about being a smuggler and living life on the edge. The future of further Han Solo installments may be uncertain now with the film bombing at the box office, along with future Star Wars anthology films being thrown into doubt. Whether or not the franchise can get past this unfortunate turn in marketing remains to be seen.

Julius Caesar – The Bridge Theatre

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Mark Antony (David Morrissey) makes a stirring speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral.

The controversial times of Donald Trump’s administration and the #metoo movement have sent a rippling unprecedented wave into the reaches of both society and the arts. Similar to how Orson Welles reflected the rise of 1930s fascism through his classic Mercury theatre production of the play, Nicholas Hytner’s new explosive production of Julius Caesar, the second production of the four months old Bridge Theatre in Tower Bridge, parallels today’s troubled political landscape with urgency and shocking intensity.  Hytner, the former artistic director of the National Theatre, and acclaimed stage designer Bunny Christie use promenade spacing within the theatre pit to transform the stall’s audience into a gladiatorial mob, masterfully crafting a dystopian Rome on the brink of collapse and chaos. The opening Trump-esque rally fronted by a loud rip-roaring rock band, with an assortment of blood red banners and red campaign hats on sale, affirms the creative team’s direct political influence.

This production is certainly more of a live event than most previous productions of Shakespeare’s classic roman thriller, and the shift in scenes particularly into the war zone of the second half are sure to shock the audience into submission. The swift and sudden murder of the titular roman emperor (David Calder), and the momentous transition from grief to righteous anger expressed through David Morrissey’s electrifying Mark Antony, served to cautions us that –  like real life politics – actions taken  can serve to upset the status quo. Ben Whishaw illustriously portrays Marcus Brutus with academic and acerbic timidness, but he is also a man about to cross the point of no return upon being pressed into the reluctant role of leadership of the conspirators.  Michelle Fairley grippingly characterizes Caius Cassius as a radical feminist, who is willing to murder for the greater good. But despite her steely resolve and manipulative tactics, she is unable to prevent the tide of war from coming in the aftermath of the assassination.

Her vulnerability and realization of how the events have escalated is expressed with sheer realism during her character’s argument with Brutus in the bunker, which counteracts with Whishaw’s quiet sorrow upon learning of the death of his wife Portia. This makes the inevitability of their death all the more piteous, knowing that they are losing the ensuing battle against Octavius and Antony. Mark Antony in particular befitting the “cutting off the head of the hydra” analogy, confirms himself to be another leader just as corrupt as the last, especially in his stirring speech at Caesar’s funeral, where he eggs the crowd into enacting violence against the conspirators. This is the second production of Julius Caesar that I have seen, and it has proven even more timely in the second year of the tyrannical presidency of Trump. With powerful vigor and through the sheer scope of the production’s intent, the themes expressed back in 1599 now seem a constant call to arms in 2018.

Julius Caesar runs at The Bridge Theatre until 15 April

Long Day’s Journey Into Night – Wyndham’s Theatre

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Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in their respective roles as James and Mary Tyrone.

Richard Eyre’s sublime production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the final play of the esteemed Eugene O’Neill, is an example of truly sumptuous casting, as well as an evening of both reflection and thought provoking human interest. This new production direct from the Bristol Old Vic is psychological, but also utilizes colour and light symbolically, from the costumes by Rob Howell to the slowly fading sky projected on the glass backdrop, adorning his intimate staging of the Tyrones’ summer household. These elements highlight the fading facade and pretense of the family and the evidential amount of lost opportunities, regrets and skeletons which are festering in their present lives. James Tyrone, a once promising stage actor, lives off of the finances gained from a “vehicle” play which with time had squandered his versatility and talents. The shabbiness of his clothes is enough indication of his strained present financial income. He is oblivious to the pain he has caused his wife Mary and their sons Edmund and Jamie, as a result of his failings as a father and a husband. Jeremy Irons jubilantly returning to the London stage exudes an air of flamboyance and poignancy as James; a Shakespearean actor like the character, this is not unfamiliar territory for Irons. His own sense of commitment to the role shines in the production. It helps accentuate the fragility of his character and the turmoil of his own regrets and demons.

Possibly the central performance of the evening is Lesley Manville as the family matriarch Mary, a recovering morphine addict whose own child-like sense of desperation and loneliness in the middle of a family crisis is both affecting and poignant. The recent Oscar nominee captures with great magnificence a woman on the brink of collapse, and dealing with her own longing for the time when she could have chosen the religious path prior to meeting James. Her final speech at the play’s end, while having seemingly relapsed, illustrates how nothing has changed regarding the family’s problems. They may be stuck forever in a never ending cycle of bitterness and unresolved issues. The younger actors in the production Matthew Beard and Rory Keenan bring their own individual sense of weight and tragedy to their performances as Edmund and Jamie. Edmund the most intellectually driven of the two suffers from tuberculosis, while Jamie, also a once promising actor like his father, seems inclined to drink his sorrows away. Both actors capture the feelings of frustration and jaded resentment towards their father with stark realism.

The power of Eugene O’Neill’s writing is as revelatory as it was in 1956; Richard Eyre’s cerebral stage direction elevates O’Neill’s words to an already timeless and prevailing place on the London stage. There are also welcome flourishes of humour imbued in the cast’s performances to slightly offset the tragic and depressing subject matter. Making great use of its two leads, Eyre’s production is one of West End theatre’s finest of this year, remaining just as profound and powerful as when the play was first written.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night runs at Wyndham’s Theatre until 7 April

Hamilton – Victoria Palace Theatre

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Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton

Two and a half years since its debut on Broadway, Lin Manuel Miranda’s sensational musical Hamilton after some delays made its West End debut at the newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre last month in December. The half-sung, half rapped show about the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States: Alexander Hamilton (Jamael Westman in a revelatory musical debut), has often been touted as an impossible show to see in New York. Due to the constant sell-out performances and the high price demand of tickets that go on sale. The stamina, chemistry of the cast and high energy musical choreography amidst an intricately brick layered and pre-dominantly wooden stage design by production designer David Korins has contributed to the show’s continued success since 2015. It is a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word and that’s not a bad thing, however during the first act of the musical, the production by original Broadway director Thomas Kail at times does seem far too busy for its own good with regards to ensuring exuberance for its audience.

While also trying to balance introducing the key players, establishing the tone and central relationships of the story: Hamilton’s friendship turned rivalry with Aaron Burr (Giles Terera in top form) and his marriage to Eliza Schuyler (Rachelle Ann Go) of the wealthy Schuyler Sisters who get their own self-titled female-empowerment number early on in Act One. A great majority of Act One is centered around the American Revolution of 1776 in which the forces of General George Washington (Obioma Ugoala) take on the forces of King George III, who provides a bit of comic relief in his three scene cameo courtesy of Michael Jibson. It becomes hard to form an attachment to the characters initially because of the brisk pace, thankfully the musical regains a sense of focus and momentum. Once Act Two shifts to the politics of Congress, the growing tensions between Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton, and Hamilton’s own familial and political dilemmas.

It is no secret that I am not a huge listener of Hip-Hop or Rap music, because I have always found the negative connotations and gender politics of the genre somewhat off-putting in the past. To my relief, there is nothing of any harm in the otherwise tasteful lyrics, which have their own sense of inventive word play and tempo, alongside an array of other genre-hopping songs. Even if at times the music seems better suited for a concept-album, in lieu of Jesus Christ Superstar than it does a stage musical. There is no denying that Lin Manuel Miranda is an incredibly gifted and skilled composer/lyricist, his previous work on In The Heights and his current work on various projects for Disney such as Moana and the forthcoming remake of The Little Mermaid, is evidential of the successful career he will have long after Hamilton.

While the musical does have flaws, its sense of inclusiveness amongst the multiracial cast, is one of the most rare and progressive things to be seen in the world of theatre. It is very fascinating and refreshing how these historical figures are being seen through a different light, amongst people of colour in the times when the need for equality and togetherness is greater than it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hopefully we can expect to see more progressive musicals to come in the future for multiracial actors in the West End.

Hamilton is now booking until  28 July 2018

 

 

A Christmas Carol – The Old Vic

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Rhys Ifans as Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas Carol has recently regained something of a minor resurgence this year, its powerful message about peace on earth and goodwill towards men has proven transcendent and urgent in the shaky time we are facing both socially and politically in the late 2010s. With new stage productions currently in both London and Stratford Upon Avon, the soon to be released The Man Who Invented Christmas, a new meta-fantastical film about the writing of the story and a BBC film in the works produced by Ridley Scott and Peaky Blinders scribe Steven Knight. This is evidence enough to truly reaffirm the Christmas classic’s permanent place in British culture. The new Old Vic production of the story adapted by playwright Jack Thorne (currently well known for his co-writing of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child) and directed by the current artistic director of the Old Vic, Matthew Warchus not only stays faithful to the story’s Victorian roots, but Thorne’s writing also manages to bring it up to date with today’s societal values without being cloying or patronising. This is truly Rhys Ifans’ finest moment as an actor, never have I borne witness to a depiction of Scrooge where we not only pity him, but we learn more about his own personal psychology which is laid bare in this production.

This Scrooge is flippant and angry, but also very much a victim of society, not only of his abusive debt-ridden father’s financial expectations, but also of his own dreams that prove to mean less with age as he proceeds to destroy the relationships once held dear. His personal relationships with Bob Cratchit, his deceased sister Little Fan, former flame Belle and his employer/father figure Fezziwig are given much more expansion and depth than in most adaptations. We get more glimpses of the love he once had been offered throughout life but turned away. The artistic decision to cast actresses Myra McFadyen and Golda Rosheuvel as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, leads Thorne and Warchus to also explore the question regarding the lack of maternal influence that Scrooge didn’t have in the original story. Their presence suggests a “what if” regarding whether his life had been different with a mother figure in his life. It’s a question that we will be certainly asking long after. Speaking of the Ghost of Christmas Future, there is a twist in regards to the Phantom’s presence, go and see the show to find out.

Rob Howell’s minimalist “in the round” set design envelops the audience both in the stalls and on stage, but the stripped back nature of the show gives more rawness to the emotions and thematic nature of the story than what is usually expected in A Christmas Carol. I was lucky to be sat on stage where most of the action had me gripped from start to finish. Despite the unexpected but meaningful climax to the story, (which I will not spoil) and with the help of a truly strong ensemble cast consisting of actors Eugene McCoy, Erin Doherty, Melissa Allen, Alex Gaumond and John Dagleish. This is truly a transcendent production of A Christmas Carol that is both human and also manages to feel festive and contemplative. Confirming that once again that Charles Dickens stands with Shakespeare, as a storyteller for both the past and modern times.

A Christmas Carol runs at The Old Vic until 20 January

St George and The Dragon – National Theatre

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St George and The Dragon is both a missed opportunity, as well as a structural, tonal and thematic mess. One of many new autumn plays at the National Theatre, playwright Rory Mullarkey’s take on England’s famous folk legend about the knight St George who slew the dragon, rescued the fair maiden and saved a village in the process is lost amongst an array of admittedly good ideas. Some of the writing wouldn’t look out of place on a miniseries for Channel 4.  Yet its theatrical presentation is at odds, half the time I couldn’t make out whether it wanted to properly tell the folk-tale, use the tale to parallel the division of England in modern times or go for “Highlander-esque” hijinks. The story begins with the titular knight (John Heffernan making the best of his painfully vanilla role) enlisting the help of a village to slay the dragon and rescue his love interest Elsa from being sacrificed. Once everything is said and done, he is called away by the Brotherhood while imploring the village to build upon their freedom and make England a better place. The general thrust of the play involves the village constantly growing and thriving, but events repeat themselves causing the dragon to return in different forms. From an anthropomorphic beast, to a stingy Victorian land owner and finally something more internal to reflect the damaged post-Brexit times.

Fish out of Water stories are common in storytelling and I don’t necessarily have a problem unless done poorly. In the play’s case what it was trying to illustrate in a meta-theatrical way was how out of place George’s ideals are slowly becoming with the economic growth of England and the historic societal shifts in the general British public. If it wasn’t for the fact that these sociopolitical connotations of the play have latched onto something as fantastical and chivalrous as St George and the Dragon we would be talking about an entirely different British play. What irks me the most is why they didn’t just tell the general story? With two acclaimed people in theatre such as director Lyndsey Turner (Hamlet) and production designer Rae Smith (War Horse, Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci, Girl From The North Country) working behind the scenes on the production you would think this would be up to National Theatre standards.

Lyndsey Turner’s directing while competent doesn’t salvage the material and Rae Smith currently one of the best working designers in modern theatre delivered a design that felt sixth-form and unfinished. Normally she creates some of the most outstanding sets imaginable. Her design contributions for Sir David McVicar’s production of Richard Wagner’s The Ring Cycle for Opera National du Rhin in Strasbourg won the Grand Prix for Outstanding Achievement in Opera in 2011. The rest of the cast do fine with their roles, but you have to wonder if the material had been better written they could have been an exceptional bunch. This isn’t one of the worst productions in London I’ve seen this year, that honour goes to the Apollo’s recent production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But however the play is an overall disappointment, no energy, no sense of wonder and certainly no originality. A big waste of creative and theatrical potential.

St George and the Dragon runs at National Theatre until 2 December

Shakespeare’s Globe paved the way to London’s theatre scene

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If ever there was a theatre that would mark the beginning of London’s theatre scene, and establish William Shakespeare’s prominent career as a playwright, one would turn their eye towards the famous Globe Theatre. The history behind this famous venue, still standing in Blackfriars for the last twenty years dates back to the Elizabethan age and around the time when England was thriving as a country under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The original Globe was rooted in English Renaissance, which derived from several medieval theatre traditions such as the mystery plays. Which were complex retellings of legends and biblical stories, additionally the italian tradition of Commedia dell’arte and the elaborate masques frequently presented at court came to play roles in shaping the public perception of British theatre. In time and before the reign of Elizabeth I, companies of players attached to the households of leading noblemen began performing in various locations seasonally.

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These tours replaced the performances of the morality and mystery plays by local players and a law in 1572 eliminated the remaining companies lacking the formal patronage by deeming them vagabonds. In spite of hostility from the City of London authorities, the companies maintained the pretense that their public performances were mere rehearsals for frequent performances before the Queen. With the development of private theatres, drama became more oriented towards the tastes and values of upperclass audiences. The first proper theatre as we know it was built in Shoreditch in 1576, the owner James Burbage had obtained a 21 year lease to build the first playhouse that was aptly named “theatre”. By 1599, Shakespeare who had been acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men since 1594 paid into the coffers of the company a sum of money amounting to 12.5 percent of the cost of building the Globe. This investment gave Shakespeare and the other leading actors equal shares in the company’s profits and their playhouse.

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For all its hurried completion, the Globe was a triumph and its first decade of use made it not only a favorite with generations of theatre goers, but within Shakespeare’s company. However in later years, the troupe paid a lot to keep it going particularly in 1608 when they could fulfill James Burbage’s original plan for the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, the members chose to extravagantly operate two theatres together. Using the Globe Theatre for the summer and the roofed Blackfriars for Winter. They transferred full-time to the Blackfriars in 1613, after a fire burned down the theatre during a performance of Henry VIII. By then the Blackfriars theatre was already bringing in better profits than the Globe since its smaller house size was compensated by its higher prices. The Globe Theatre was rebuilt a year later in 1614, twenty eight years later however during Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanic rule, along with so many theatres in London the Globe was forcibly closed on the authorization of British Parliament. It was demolished two years later, and its exact original location was unknown to the public until 1989.

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By 1970, an actor named Sam Wanamaker was driven by the notion of reconstructing a replica of the original Globe, for the next 20 years he would pursue the ambition in organizing a recreation of the famous theatre. Sadly before he could see the realization he passed away in 1993, the current Globe theatre currently standing in Blackfriars would not be completed until 1997. To this day it is used as both a theatre and an education resource center, where people can come to learn about Shakespeare and his thirty seven plays. It has also been a starting ground for the careers of famous British born actors such as Mark Rylance, Michelle Terry, Tom Burke and even Richard Madden. In 2014, a replica of the famous indoor candlelit Blackfriars Theatre was opened to the public and named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in honor of the famous actor.

The history of the Globe remains integral to London’s theatre scene, without the theatre or indeed the works of William Shakespeare, the West End certainly would not have come to fruition in the following centuries. In modern times and in its current incarnation, the Globe continues to be a source of inspiration and fascination to generations of theatre-goers.

Articles Cited:

  1. Gurr, Andrew. “Globe Theatre.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 20 May 2016, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Globe-Theatre#ref90165. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017.

2. “English Renaissance theatre.” English Renaissance theatre – New World       Encyclopedia, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/English_Renaissance_theatre. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017

3. “The Globe Theatre.” PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource, http://www.playshakespeare.com/study/elizabethan-theatres/2189-the-globe-theatre. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017.

4. “The Old Globe Theater History.” The OLD GLOBE THEATER History, http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-globe-theatre.htm. Accessed 30 Sept. 2017.

 

 

 

Alice’s Adventures Underground – The Vaults Theatre

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is widely considered a remarkable piece of British literature; in modern times it has constantly been a mainstay of the pop culture zeitgeist. The book has been reinterpreted for various film adaptations, most notably: Walt Disney’s famous 1951 animated feature film, Jan Svankmajer’s surrealist 1988 film and the most recent but critically-maligned 2010 film adaptation by Tim Burton. The current revival of The Vaults’ immersive Alice’s Adventures Underground which was a sell-out success in 2015, gives audiences a chance to explore the psychedelic and nonsensical world of Carroll. True to the spirit of the book, you are given a choice at the start: Drink Me or Eat Me, choosing either means one experience will end up remarkably different than the other. For the most part, it is dependent on the card number and symbol you are given. You could end up taking part in an espionage plot to steal the Queen of Hearts’ tarts, hear a story from the wise old caterpillar, be a witness to the nonsensical ramblings of The Mad Hatter and even hear the musical lament of The Mock Turtle. The possibilities are endless in this production.

I have become very fond of immersive theatre having seen The Guild of Misrule’s The Great Gatsby, in which the concept of audiences being part of the story and contributing to the action adds a new layer to the theatrical experience. This new aesthetic allows people to be part of the production and even gain empathy with the psychology and individual dilemmas of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters. It can come as somewhat of a surprise to some of Carroll’s literary devotees that Alice is more of a minor character in this production making it all the more easy for the Audience to essentially to fill in the post. This thankfully plays into the climatic trial scene, as a plot twist regarding the eponymous Alice is unraveled. Samuel Wyer’s production design which traverses The Vaults’ underground tunnels, is both intricate and enrapturing which balances well with the self-assured direction of both Oliver Lansley and James Seager. The cast of ensemble actors go toe to toe on both guiding and creating mischief amongst the audience, and the use of puppetry and improvisation is spot on.

It was deservedly nominated for an Olivier award in 2016 for Best Family Entertainment, which is evidential on the strength of the production itself. For the much younger theatre goers, there is a softer sister show titled “Adventures in Wonderland” that exists alongside this production for ages 5-10. Which has a much tamer approach for those who could potentially be unsettled by aspects of the main show. Running until possibly the last and final time in London on 23rd September, Alice’s Adventure’s Underground is an important date that you don’t want to miss. Rarely will there ever be an immersive show (apart from Gatsby) that can truly rival the current wave of West End shows.

Alice’s Adventures Underground runs at The Vaults until 23 September

Adventures in Wonderland runs at The Vaults until 3 September

Starlight Express to return to the West End…in workshop form

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Starlight Express, the roller-skating musical fantasy by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was announced on 11th August to be making a comeback at The Other Palace Theatre in the form of workshop performances. A workshop is a process in theatre, where a creative team constantly tweaks and makes changes to a show in development based on audience input. These workshops which will run from 14th to 16th of September are involving “members of the original creative team” of whom will be re-exploring the classic musical. Which takes place in a child’s dream where a group of anthropomorphic trains are racing to become the fastest engine. In 1984, the idea of a musical involving roller-skating trains despite Lloyd Webber writing it for his then-young children, seemed very farfetched and heading for failure. Surprisingly, the musical through word of mouth, managed to run at the Apollo Victoria Theatre for 7,408 performances, before closing in 2002. In the time since its premiere, it has undergone a lot of revisions to the songs, musical score, story and even two to three minor characters have been cut. Yet in spite of not being critically praised as: Cats, The Phantom of the Opera or Evita, the musical has retained a strong cult fanbase. It is still playing in a purpose-built theatre in Bochum, Germany since 1988.

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Electra, the flamboyant electric train makes his show-stopping entrance with his song AC/DC.

With that fanbase in mind, as well as the fact that Starlight has not been performed in a full-scale London production since 2002, could the workshops be evidential that the musical could potentially be revived for a new generation of West End audiences? There is acknowledgement that the market for nostalgia is high even in the medium of theatre. Revivals are and have been business-driven ventures for theatre producers, while they never last long, they resonate with audiences. Although Cats played two limited 2014-15 season revivals in the West End, the audience demand for it was so strong to the point where a return to Broadway came swiftly the following year. There is also timing and the years that have passed since a musical originally came to a close. For example, having finished its famous 2012 revival at the Adelphi Theatre, no one expected Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd to make a return in the form of an immersive production that happened to be set in a local Tooting pie shop in South London. The success of this production created by the Tooting Arts Club, prompted Cameron Mackintosh to arranged a limited season transfer to Shaftesbury Avenue, recreating the pie-shop in the process. This year, the production has since transferred to the Barrow Street theatre Off-Broadway.

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John Napier with his model of the original West End production of Starlight Express ©John Napier – 1984

Also technology has advanced since 1984, and what the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent production of The Tempest has proved despite being a work in progress, was that the use of technology through motion-capture effects could enhance a stage production. With consideration to the fact, that John Napier‘s original scenic design for Starlight cost a breathtaking £2.25 million, the argument would be that attempting to convert another theatre into an immersive roller derby like the Apollo Victoria would seem unlikely, considering the risks that were taken in overhauling the original venue. Though I imagine there would be compromise, involved on staging the musical’s spectacular race sequences, as the thrill of being a witness to the live performers skate around the auditorium, was what made audiences come out in droves. Potentially and inevitably, the motion capture special effects could take precedence in the possible revival. It is too early to tell at this juncture, whether or not these workshops will signal the return of Starlight to the West End.

They could be just another in a long line of planned revisions for the long running Bochum production, however as I have said before nostalgia is often a big trend amongst audiences. With Hair soon to be making a big London comeback at The Vaults this year in October, it’s safe to say and to quote one of the songs from Starlight: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Starlight Express workshop runs from 14-16 September at The Other Palace

Original scenic design by John Napier courtesy of johnnapierstages.com