A Suffragette’s Song

A Suffragette’s Song was performed in the beautiful setting of Hornsey Town Hall, the autumn production from the Crouch End Players written by one of their long standing members, Dominic McGrath. It told the story of music hall star and militant suffragette, Kitty Marion, a German-born performer who moved to the UK to pursue a career in theatre and, while making her name in the music halls, criticised the treatment of women in the theatre and eventually became involved in the cause of women’s suffrage: she attended marches, became involved in militant activism, was imprisoned and was force-fed over 200 times. Sadly she was expelled from Britain when World War I broke out and moved to America, where she handed out birth control pamphlets on the streets of New York and died in 1944.

The show tells the story of Kitty’s life, interspersed with humorous and sometimes tragic music hall classics, including a song about women riding bicycles, another about the new fashion for bathing dress, and several more, with plenty of good cheer and innuendo. Victoria Welsh as Kitty is very good, but the entire (all-female) chorus deserve praise for the various roles they take on and the songs they perform. The audience are invited to join in in some numbers, but it’s the suffragette anthem that really captures the attention.

This was a hugely enjoyable production from the Crouch End Players and I hope I manage to see another show by them in the future.

Swan Song

Swan Song, a play by Norman Robbins, was performed by the Dragon Theatre Company in East London. I wasn’t familiar with the story, but it proved a gripping tale.

Retired opera singer Tryphosa Swan is not impressed with her daughter Amy’s choice of husband. She’s determined to cut the pair out of her will – having already removed her other daughter, Carla, when she got married. However, she may have gone a step too far, as murder is just around the corner.

The play was sometimes a bit wordy, but usually absorbing, with an intriguing cast of characters. Helen MacMahon was convincing as Tryphosa, with a strong singing voice, while Jenny Rees was excellent as her friend Marianne. Rebecca Dear and Lindsay Stoll were very good as the daughters Amy and Carla. I also liked Richard Jackson as Amy’s husband Frank, a man with two very different faces, and Leiran Gibson in the small but significant role of the family historian.

The ending was unexpected and overall I found the experience hugely enjoyable.

Ulysses Unbound & The Stacked Deck

I really enjoyed the Chantry Dance Company last time I saw them at the Tramshed, and decided to go again and see their new work. They performed a double bill of Ulysses Unbound and The Stacked Deck.

The Stacked Deck came first, a witty and playful piece that made a serious point about our chances in life and how some people have advantages over others. Four performers drew cards and danced roles reflecting their choices, an entertaining piece that was over all too quickly.

Ulysses Unbound was a longer piece with an epic quality, telling the story of an astronaut who comes into contact with an alien creature on another world and is threatened by a black hole. This piece was exciting and innovative: I especially liked the cloaked otherworldly creatures surrounding the pair.

Chantry Dance Company are exciting and modern and I hope to see more of their work in the future.


I don’t quite know what I expected from Aladdin, the new Disney musical currently playing at the Prince Edward Theatre. I think I thought it would be an inferior version of the classic 1992 film, but in fact I ended up loving it.

Aladdin is a scamp who spends his time thieving from the marketplace in his home city of Agrabah. He is kidnapped by the wicked Jafar, Grand Vizier to the Sultan, to retrieve a magic lamp Jafar wishes to use for his own nefarious purposes. However, Aladdin ends up becoming Master of the Lamp himself. Will he, with the help of the Genie, be able to defeat Jafar and win the love of the Princess Jasmine?

This being a Disney show, and a famous film to boot, we all know the answer; but it’s still fun watching it happen. All Alan Menken’s catchy songs from the film are present – “Arabian Nights”, “One Jump Ahead”, “Friend Like Me”, “A Whole New World” – and we get plenty of new ones too, including “Proud Of Your Boy”, a heartfelt ballad sung by Aladdin for his dead mother, and “High Adventure”, sung by Aladdin’s best pals in an amusing Three Musketeers-style sequence as they rush to the palace to help their friend.

The scenery is beautiful and I was hugely impressed by the special effects: the Genie pops in and out of the floor on a regular basis, and the magic carpet looked as if it was really flying: obviously there must have been wires somewhere, but they weren’t at all noticeable in the beautiful sequence that sees Aladdin and Jasmine soar into a star-spangled sky.

Ethan Le Phong (understudy, but certainly not second-rate) and ex-Sugababe Jade Ewen are likeable and believable as Aladdin and Jasmine: they aren’t the strongest singers in the world but they don’t do at all badly. The real star of the show is the Genie, and Trevor Dion Nicholas, who was with the show on Broadway, is brilliant: funny, charismatic, gloriously camp and an excellent singer.

Naturally, the creators of the show have had to make a few changes from the film. Jafar’s parrot sidekick Iago is now human, with some distinctly parrot-like tendencies; the change works well. Aladdin’s monkey Apu is left out altogether, but to be honest his absence is not really felt.

I honestly loved this show: lively, entertaining and hugely well put together, it is perfect for fans of the film but is also worth seeing if you’ve never clapped eyes on the movie before.

Groundhog Day

I saw Groundhog Day, the new musical from lyricist/composer Tim Minchin and book writer Danny Rubin, recently. I’ve never seen the film and I’d assumed it was a comedy, but the production – directed by Old Vic Artistic Director Matthew Warchus – was a lot darker (at least in the second half) and had much more depth than I’d expected.

I started off thinking that I wasn’t going to like the show. During the first fifteen minutes or so I thought it was going to be a kind of soppy sentimental romcom. By the interval it had grown on me and I thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad”. Act II blew me away. The songs were better, the plot was tighter and there just seemed to be more depth to it. Even though we see the same day repeated numerous times the show never gets boring, which impressed me.

When we initially meet Phil he is a rude, selfish, sarcastic asshole, but we see him grow and develop throughout the show, going from gleefully don’t-carish to despairingly suicidal before finding peace and gaining a greater understanding of himself and others. The whole show hinges on Phil’s character development and a lead actor could make or break it. Luckily Andy Karl is brilliant, very funny and able to convey his character’s feelings extremely well.

As the whole show takes place over the course of one day, there isn’t really room for any “character development” other than Phil’s because we’re only seeing one day in their lives, as opposed to many, many days in Phil’s life. Interest in the other characters comes mainly from Phil’s perception of them and how it changes over time. An exception to this is the song “Being Nancy” which I loved – both the song itself and what it says about characters and how they are portrayed on stage (particularly female characters).

This song also serves to emphasise how the “Groundhog Day” phenomenon isn’t just something that actually happens to Phil, it’s a metaphor for how many people live, repeating the same thing day in day out, consciously or unconsciously. I found the ending very satisfying: Phil has really grown as a person and I ultimately found the show uplifting and full of hope, a reminder that it’s important to care about others and life is more satisfying when you can form meaningful relationships with other people.

I would like to see this show again, if possible, and I would like a cast recording, too – I didn’t exactly come out humming any of the songs (something I rarely do anyway after just one listen/viewing) but there were several which I think could really grow on me. My favourite new musical of the year so far, and a contender for one of my favourite shows of 2016.

The Dresser

Ronald Harwood’s classic play The Dresser, originally seen as a film and recently remade with Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins, is currently touring the country prior to a West End run. I went to see it in Richmond.

The play is set during the run up to, during, and immediately following an evening at a provincial theatre where “Sir”, a once-great actor, is to play King Lear. His long-suffering dresser, Norman, is trying his best to help him get ready, bearing the brunt of his temper, while “Sir’s” wife and fellow cast members cause problems of their own.

My biggest problem with the play was that it was just too long. The repeated interactions between “Sir” and his various colleagues got a tad repetitive and I did get a little bored. Thankfully the dressing-room scenes were broken up with some amusing farcical scenes during which the cast tried to get through the performance on stage, and these helped to alleviate the boredom somewhat.

Where this production excelled was in its casting. Ken Stott was superb as the selfish, wayward “Sir”, while Reece Shearsmith was excellent as the long suffering Norman: his angry bitter speech towards the end of the play is incredibly affecting, almost making up for the previous two hours of tedium.

This isn’t a bad play by any means. It’s just long and drawn out. I’m sure some of it could be cut with no real issues. The performances are strong enough to make this a worthwhile watch, if you can handle a bit of boredom.

National Theatre: Visit to the Archive


Recently I got to visit the National Theatre’s Archive. I visited in my capacity as an information professional, so I got to see more of the “backstage” area than I would have if I was a normal archive user. However, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t write about my visit here.

The National Theatre has kept archives since it was founded in 1963, but it has only had a “proper” archive since the 1990s, and the current building (the NT Studio beside the Old Vic) has only been in use since 2007. The public reading room is open five days a week, and welcomes around 2,700 researchers each year.

The Archive covers three main areas: the first is the most popular and consists of cultural archives, such as photos, press reviews, stage management reports, programmes, posters, prompt scripts and the costume bible. Recordings have been made since 1995 (except where contract negotiations don’t allow it) – Platform recordings (where an actor or other theatre practitioner is interviewed in front of an audience) have been undertaken since the late 1980s. The cultural archive is fully catalogued.

The second part is the business archive, including meeting minutes, architectural plans et al: much of this is sensitive material, but at the same time it’s probably not quite so interesting! The third part is the external collections: the largest is the Jocelyn Herbert Collection, the archive of the acclaimed set and costume designer, consisting of around 6000 drawings, notebooks and even masks from one of her productions.

The Archive catalogue can be accessed online, and you can also email queries in from the website. Resources are used in exhibitions at the NT, and on the last Friday of every month, the NT Archivist and curator offer a tour of the exhibition in the Lyttelton Lounge followed by a handling session with materials from the Archive.

It’s possible to go to the Archive reading rooms to watch a recording of an NT Live or other recorded production: recent popular productions have included Frankenstein and One Man Two Guvnors. I keep meaning to book an appointment to watch His Dark Materials – one day I’ll get around to it!