I paid a visit to Matchstick Theatre, a new venue in Deptford, to see a new play, Wunderkammer by Francesca Pazniokas. This unusual, inventive play told the story of a bunch of taxidermied animals brought to life by a mysterious youngster.

Though short, the play packed a surprising amount in, focusing on the experiences of the newly-enlivened animals, a motley crew including a dog, a bear, two kittens, a badger, an armadillo and an albatross. After the death of their ‘keeper’, the original taxidermist, the bunch are left searching for a new leader. Some of the animals were sweet and funny – I particularly loved the budding relationship between the armadillo and the badger (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), while others were more sinister.

The play was obviously produced on a budget, but I loved the inventiveness of the costumes, puppets and sets. Particularly impressive were the complex chain reactions which produced sound and light effects. The story was warm and affecting, centring around the idea of belonging and of being the ‘keeper’ of one’s own life, while the dark fairytale aspect of the story kept it interesting.

I really enjoyed this unusual tale, and I hope to visit this venue again.


Heathers: The Musical

Heathers: The Musical is yet another example of a popular movie which I haven’t seen turned into a stage show. I put off seeing it during initial workshops and subsequent performances at The Other Palace, not thinking it would be my sort of thing. However, I’m so glad I decided to catch it at the Haymarket before it closed, as I absolutely loved it.

Movies – and musicals – set in high school have never appealed to me, even when I was a teenager myself. However, the gleefully dark and intensely satirical tone of Andy Fickman’s production, written by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe drew me in. It centres around wholesome Veronica, who tries to ingratiate herself with the most popular girls in Westerburg High – the three Heathers – in the hope of avoiding being picked on by the school jocks. Her knack for forging hall passes wins their grudging respect, but she still doesn’t really like her new friends. In the meantime, her burgeoning relationship with the new boy JD, who strides about in a long black coat with an intense manner and a copy of Baudelaire’s poems, leaves her torn as she realises he doesn’t like them either. In fact, he hates them and loves her so much that he’s willing to kill them for her – will her adoration blind her to his crimes?

I was completely compelled by the story – having never seen the film, I had no idea what was going to happen and it wasn’t remotely predictable. I rooted for Veronica, played by the hugely talented and appealing Carrie Hope Fletcher, and completely understood why she was swept away by the brooding and arrogant JD (Jamie Muscato, who manages to make a ridiculous song about 7-Elevens compelling). There wasn’t a weak link in the cast, with a particular mention to the three Heathers.

Where a lot of modern musicals fall down, I find, is in the actual music – would I actually want to listen to it again? I loved the music in Heathers, and I hope there’s a cast recording. The set didn’t stand out for me – perhaps a result of the transfer from the fairly small Other Palace – but it was perfectly serviceable.

I have to comment on the audience who were one of the best audiences I’ve ever experienced a West End show with – they were incredibly enthusiastic, clapping and cheering but in all the right places – there was no inappropriate noise and I didn’t hear a single phone going off. During the interval, Eighties songs played and my row had a bit of a sing-along.

My love for this show honestly took me by surprise, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

City of Angels

City of Angels is my all-time favourite musical and I take any chance available to see it. I heard about this Rollers Theatre Company production at the Stockwell Playhouse and knew I had to go.

As an amateur production (all the cast are Durham University alumni and they all have day jobs), it was not up to the standard of a professional production. However, all involved have obviously worked very hard on it and it was very enjoyable. The performances of Russell Lamb as Stone and Ben Whittle as Buddy were particularly strong, and it was a treat to see this show performed again.

John Gabriel Borkman

Ibsen’s penultimate play, John Gabriel Borkman, was performed at Upstairs at the Gatehouse by Handplay Productions, directed by Harry Meacher. This 1896 play is the story of a man whose pursuit of wealth and power leads to tragedy for himself and those around him.

The play begins with Borkman, having served a prison sentence for fraud, living upstairs in the family home, leaving only rarely and spending his time walking backwards and forwards in his room. His wife Gunhild is determined that their son Erhart shall redeem the family name, but he has other ideas. Meanwhile, Gunhild’s sister and Borkman’s former lover, Ella, arrives for a visit with her own agenda.

There are some good performances, particularly from Harry Meacher as Borkman and Judi Bowker as Ella. Overall this was a decent production of a powerful play.

A Very Very Very Dark Matter

A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a very very very confusing play. Performed at the Bridge Theatre (the first time I’ve been there since Julius Caesar), it is a new play by Martin McDonagh, whose work I’ve really enjoyed in the past. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The story is bizarre to say the least. It centres around famous fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, who McDonagh portrays as a truly reprehensible individual: sneering, arrogant and dismissive of the children to whom his stories mean so much. Worst of all, he has a secret – he keeps a Congolese pygmy woman (his description), Marjory, in his attic, and it is she who is responsible for writing all his stories.

Meanwhile, two blood-soaked Belgians arrive from the future (with their Yorkshire accents they reminded me of the Chuckle Brothers), linked to Marjory who must apparently travel forward in time to kill them. Oh, and Andersen also travels to London to stay with Charles Dickens, who has his own skeleton in the cupboard (literally).

There are some good ideas in this play, but as a whole it feels very confused and incoherent. If McDonagh wanted to make a point about women and black people being exploited and erased by white men there are surely a million other ways to do this that actually make sense. On the plus side, the play is often very funny, and the Dickens section in particular is highly amusing (It is actually true that Andersen visited Dickens in London and outstayed his welcome, and I think this would make a highly entertaining play in its own right).

I wasn’t sure about Jim Broadbent’s performance as Andersen, though in fairness this is perhaps because his character was so different to how I’d imagined it. I thought Phil Daniels was great as Dickens, however, and Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles, in her debut stage role, was superb and one to watch in the future. Anna Fleischle’s set, too, was eerie and fabulously rich in detail.

Though it was not totally without merit, I don’t think this play was up to McDonagh’s usual standard. It was memorable, but often for all the wrong reasons.

RCM Chamber Music (Kodály, Purcell, Messiaen, Martinů, Boccherini, Rachmaninov, Piazzola)

I enjoyed another evening of chamber music at the RCM, themed around music for cello and piano.

Kodály Sonatina
Purcell When I am Laid in Earth from Dido and Aeneas
Messiaen O Sacrum Convivium
Martinů Variations on a Slovak Theme
Boccherini Cello sonata in A major
Rachmaninov Vocalise
Piazzola Le grand tango