Alice’s Adventures Underground 2017

Two years after I first ventured down the rabbit hole at Alice’s Adventures Underground, I returned with some friends to make the trip again. The acclaimed show has returned for 2017, and I knew I wanted to participate again.

Everything I originally said about the production still stands: the storyline, the attention to detail, the costumes and the performances are all excellent. This time I chose the “Eat Me” route and had an experience that was very different from my first. I finally met Humpty Dumpty and the Mock Turtle, as well as the Frog Footman. Just like the first time, I had lots of fun.

My friends and I ended the evening with a drink in the bar and a quick game of flamingo croquet. If you haven’t experienced this wonderful show, please do while you still have the chance!

Read Not Dead: Mucedorus

Mucedorus is the third in the Globe’s miniseries of Read Not Dead readings, ‘Before Shakespeare’. It’s one of the most commonly reprinted early modern plays, dating from around 1590. It has been attributed on occasion to Shakespeare, although it is now generally accepted that it is not by him.

The play tells of Mucedorus, Prince of Valencia, who disguises himself as a shepherd in order to sneak unseen into neighbouring Aragon to see the princess Amandine. Romantic, comic and tragic scenes ensue until the conflict is resolved. I thought this was one of the funniest early modern plays I’ve seen, and I was especially amused by the bear scenes!

These Trees Are Made of Blood

It happens a lot lately that I hear about a brilliant play and manage to nab a ticket for one of the last performances. This happened for These Trees Are Made of Blood, a show that was unusual to say the least: a cabaret about one of the most bloody episodes in twentieth-century history.

During Argentina’s right-wing dictatorship, between 1976 and 1983, thousands of citizens vanished, murdered by the military for ‘crimes’ such as simply going to protests. Their families were lied to for years about the circumstances of the deaths of the ‘disappeared’, as they became known. At the heart of These Trees, whose ostensible protagonist is the deceptively charming General, is one woman’s fight to discover what happened to her daughter.

It starts off cheerfully enough: we are welcomed to the ‘Coup Coup Club’ by the General and his cronies, entertained by the jazzy sounds of the in-house band (which would be worth the admission price alone). The new dictator presents an affable front, chatting with various audience members and introducing a host of magic tricks (which cleverly compare the illusions of conjurors to the tricks of dictators). But then things start to get really sinister, and we are drawn into the story of one girl, Ana, whisked away during one on-stage illusion, never to be seen again. Her mother desperately searches for her as the General’s hold on power begins to collapse. I thought director Amy Draper did a great job in managing the shift as the show moves from jovial cabaret to a more sinister experience.

The performances are superb, with a special mention to Rob Castell as the General and Charlotte Worthing as Ana. The band, with excellent South American-style music by Darren Clark and tremendous vocal talent in the shape of Anne-Marie Piazza, is excellent. An unmissable show that makes a strong emotional impact.

Life Mater

Life Mater is a collection of short scenes relating to the topic of mothers and maternal love, performed by The Chronic Love Dispensary at the Park Theatre. They were funny, sad, tragic, unusual and amusing by turns. They were well acted and my only criticism is that some of them were too short – I would have liked to see some of them expanded into short plays or even full-length ones.

Baba’s War

Baba’s War by Steffi Walker is an exploration of three generations of women in the same family, their progress from Poland to Scotland to England, and how war affects both those involved and their future descendants. It’s about identity, family and traumatic experiences, with Walker playing her mother and grandmother as well as herself. She switches easily between personas and makes the whole thing memorable and thought-provoking.

Performed at the Streatham Hill Theatre as part of the ‘Women and War’ season, it’s well worth seeing.

Blondel

Blondel is a musical I’d never previously heard of, but after the Union Theatre announced their production of it recently, the more I heard about it, the more interested I was. Written by Tim Rice, Tom Williams and Stephen Oliver, it’s the story of a musician at the court of King Richard the Lionheart. Richard famously goes off to the crusades, taking with him Blondel’s sweetheart, Fiona, leaving the balladeer to deal with the usurping Prince John. Eventually Blondel decides to leave England in search of both Richard and Fiona, not knowing that he is being pursued by a deadly assassin (Michael Burgen).

The best thing about the show is undoubtedly the quartet of singing monks (David Fearn, Ryan Hall, Oliver Marshall and Calum Melville) – I would be happy to watch a show featuring just them. I also loved JamesThackeray’s camp Prince John – his anthem ‘No Rhyme for Richard’ is one of the highlights of the show, as is the Assassin’s hilarious introductory number. Neil Moors is suitably regal as King Richard, while Jessie May’s Fiona is strong-willed and determined. Connor Arnold does a great job as Blondel himself, with charm and a great voice, but it doesn’t help that the character himself is a bit bland and he basically has one song, which gets a bit repetitive after a while.

The whole thing rather put me in mind of the 80s and 90s BBC classic Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. In fact, Robin Hood does make an appearance in this story, though he’s very much a peripheral character. The show has been updated somewhat, with bits of social commentary and nods to other musicals, and I don’t think you’d be able to get a better production of it anywhere. Blondel has its flaws, but it’s also great fun.

Curtains

I’ve seen several good productions by the Mitre Players, including their last summer’s musical, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. I was impressed with that, and considering I was curious to see the musical Curtains – rarely performed in the UK – it wasn’t a difficult decision to go and see it.

The show was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the partnership responsible for Cabaret, Chicago and The Scottsboro Boys. It has a book by Rupert Holmes. Curtains is a comedy murder mystery set in a theatre. No one is particularly grief-stricken when the less-than-talented singer and actress Jessica Cranshaw is killed at the curtain call of the opening night of a musical. However, the mystery needs to be solved nevertheless, particularly when other members of the cast and crew start getting bumped off. There are some fine performances and several memorable songs in what proves to be a hugely entertaining show, another triumph for the Mitre Players.