Review of THIS HOUSE at the Garrick Theatre

This House at Garrick Theatre LondonThe place of politics in theatre is a hot topic at the moment. However, if you want to see why it’s so important that it does have a place, go and see This House.

James Graham’s masterpiece has made it’s way from the National to the Garrick in style, with Rae Smith’s set working exquisitely with the narrative and allowing the show to be quick and captivating, which it is throughout. Do not let the running time put you off (the show is just under three hours long), because never has a show wizzed by with such flair.

It is an ensemble piece if ever I saw one, without a weak link in sight. It is hard to pick stand-out performers in a cast this strong, but I particularly enjoyed Lauren O’Neill’s portrayal of Ann Taylor and Nathaniel Parker’s Jack Weatherill. Both characters were portrayed as incredibly complex and yet ultimately likeable and funny. The entire cast should be applauded (as should genius director Jeremy Herrin) as all of their portrayals are well rounded and convincing and it is why the show never lags.

It is unsurprising, however, as James Graham’s script is an actors dream. The characters are honest and realistic and he trusts the audience to be invested enough in the story to follow, rather than spoon-feeding them. He tells the stories of these people with dignity and yet not writing anyone as a hero or a villain, which so many plays about two political parties do. He is confident enough in the writing that he doesn’t seem to feel the need to highlight parallels between politics then and now, again trusting the audience to be smart enough to make their own. It avoids cheapening the story and is so refreshing to have a writer that doesn’t assume the audience isn’t intelligent enough to follow along.

I cannot recommend this show enough. It is vibrant, exciting, intelligent and charming and I imagine it will become one of the hottest tickets in town. Phenomenal acting, direction and script, you can’t possibly go wrong.

5 star rating

Review by Kara Taylor Alberts

Is a political revolution coming? Will the Labour Party collapse? Can the kingdom stay united?

It’s 1974. And Westminster is about to go to war with itself. Set in the engine rooms of the House of Commons, James Graham’s This House dives deep into the secret world of the Whips who roll up their sleeves and go to often farcical lengths to influence an unruly chorus of MPs within the Mother of all Parliaments.

In an era of chaos, both hilarious and shocking, fist fights break out in the parliamentary bars, high-stake tricks and games are played, while sick or dying MPs are carried through the lobby to register their crucial votes as the government hangs by a thread.

Premiered to universal acclaim at the National Theatre in 2012, This House written by James Graham (The Vote, Privacy) and directed by Headlong Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things, Wolf Hall), gives us a timely, moving and often amusing insight into the workings of British politics.

Running Time: 2 Hours 55 Minutes
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 14+
Show Opened: 19th Nov 2016
Booking Until: 25th Feb 2017

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Review of Trumpageddon at the King’s Head Theatre

Simon Jay TrumpageddonIf you’re on a first date or insecure Trumeggedon is unlikely to be the perfect show for you. If, however, you’ve got a bit of banter and there’s something on your mind you’d like to tackle Donald Trump about, you might find this show fun.

Might, because since Trump is now President Elect, the question you’ll have to decide for yourself before showing up is whether his attitudes to women, gays and anyone he decides to categorise as a foreigner have become so alarming you won’t be able to relish the display of these characteristics as entertainment.

Political times have changed of course since August when the show became a hit in Edinburgh and Trump seemed no more than a ridiculous outsider. The show’s clearly been evolving ever since and the fluidity of its stand-up format should allow it to develop more as events unfold. Meanwhile, Simon Jay has turned himself into a very effective pastiche of a repellent Trump, complete with orange face, bouffant blonde hair and a stained suit. He’s the playing centre of the show, being accompanied occasionally only by a nerdy sidekick, whose task is to bring the tagline for yet another real day’s joke with him every time he appears.

Right from the start of the evening this Trump is trouble. Picking on as many women as possible to embarrass. Be prepared. (Top tip, do not sit in the first row at the far end of the room unless you want to be picked on.) He’s got no sensibilities whatsoever and, as you veer between laughter and discomfort, you begin to sense how peculiar it might be if you were in Trump’s presence for real. Deep resistance to even being asked to applaud is a possibility, particularly at first.

After extracting whatever fun he can from the women in the audience Jay’s Trump turns the high wattage of his attention to the members of the LGBT community, of which there were quite a number on US election night. They all enjoyed themselves with that. There was also enthusiastic engagement with those present from overseas. Not one of the Americans there had voted for him we found out.

Audience participation is at the heart of this show, which means it changes every time and some performances will inevitably be better than others, all depending on the wit of the audience. (That means you.) Going in with a question or two of calibre in mind will certainly help this show along its way. Simon Jay has a ready stream of repartee and invective at hand but the game here is generally best played as ping pong not solitaire. There is however, likely to come a time in the performance when ambivalence gives way to everyone in the room finding everything funny. Including a simple game but amusing game called Find the Bunny. (You’ll find out.)

There is a denouement of some surprise at the end. Suggesting you might like to wonder who exactly is the man behind the mask we know as The Real Donald Trump when he’s tucking his Melania up in bed for the night.

3 and a half stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

580,963 people signed a petition to ban Donald J. Trump from entering the UK. Yet he’s here in London in all his horrifying glory. Immerse yourself in Trump’s vision of the world before he blows it to kingdom come. Witness the way he works an audience up into a fervour, ask him all the burning questions and see what a world would be like if The Donald was president. From five-star writer and performer Simon Jay, this absurdist satire of the next US President is as demented, hysterical and disturbed as the man himself.

Extra date added 14th November 2016

Murder Ballad at The Arts Theatre is a mixed bag

Murder Ballad Arts Theatre LondonDirector Sam Yates knows exactly what he is doing. Within seconds of the opening number of Murder Ballad finishing, Ramin Karimloo has got his t-shirt off and we’re treated to the sight of one of the finest physiques in the West End. A little light-heartedly lascivious you might think, but it is symptomatic of what this production finds it has to do in order to elevate the material to an intermittently striking piece of musical theatre.

A mostly sung-through rock musical, Murder Ballad follows the emergent love triangle between a trio of New Yorkers. Sara loves hard rock and hard drink and in bad boy bartender Tom finds a passionate but unhealthy sexual connection. Poet Michael is about as different as they can get but it is to him that Sara eventually turns, but though a husband and then daughter has its conventional appeal, she can’t quite kick the habit of the violent Tom. And as we’re told from the beginning, someone’s gonna die.
Juliana Nash’s music has an authentic rock feel to it, especially as played by Sean Green’s band, though it could usefully introduce a little more tonal variety. But Julia Jordan’s book has bigger weaknesses with so compressed a timeline, neither Tom nor Michael are afforded any kind of meaningful characterisation aside from their attraction to Sara and for all the noisy dramatics and heightened emotion, the plot ends up fairly hollow.

But all is not lost, far from it, and that’s where Yates comes in. Casting his show to the hilt lends it real musical heft in the form of bona fide stars Karimloo and Kerry Ellis as Tom and Sara, Norman Bowman is good as nice-guy-with-a-dark-side Michael and the cherry on the cake (or should that be shamrock in the Guinness) is Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s sensational turn as the narrator of all that occurs, a role that only increases in importance.

So a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s good to see contemporary musical theatre stretching itself and to get to see the glee with which Ellis and Karimloo attack these songs, a world away from the roles for which they are both best known.

Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood at Hampstead Theatre – Review-media-3

Review by Ian Foster

Don’t miss the UK premiere of Murder Ballad, London’s hottest new rock musical of love, obsession and murderous desire as it makes a strictly limited, star-packed run at London’s Arts Theatre this autumn.

Starring West End and Broadway legends Kerry Ellis (Wicked, Cats) and Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables), Murder Ballad is the tale of Sara, Tom and Michael, three New Yorkers caught in a secret love triangle that could tear their lives apart.

Written by the award-winning Julia Jordan with unforgettable sung-through music and lyrics by singer-songwriter Juliana Nash, Murder Ballad also stars Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Flashdance, In the Heights) and Norman Bowman (Finding Neverland).

Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to see the biggest stars of musical theatre up close in a wonderfully intimate venue in the heart of the West End. This is a boldly brilliant new musical with a razor-sharp tale of modern relationships in the big city.

Murder Ballad runs for a strictly limited season until 3rd December – book tickets now!

Birth of a Nation at Balham’s Theatre N16

Birth of a NationThe best place to see if a play is any good is by performing it, receiving feedback and refining it until it is perfect. Dave House has done just that with his show Birth of a Nation which started out as a short at an Actor Awareness scratch night and has now progressed to a ‘work in progress’ being shown for one night at Balham’s Theatre N16

The story concerns a naive Tory MP by the name of Joe who is about as far from the traditional image of a conservative politician as you can get. He is of Pakistani descent and has got to his current position by starting off building his own business. Helping him, or possibly exploiting his uniqueness in the very traditional party, are two other MPs, Tony and Kelly. There is a fascinating dynamic between Madhav Vasantha, David House and Kate O’Rourke the three actors playing the politicians which could easily have descended into a pastiche of the programme “The Thick of It”. Luckily writer/director Dave House avoids this and so the banter between them works very well. Especially in Tony’s case when, post the EU referendum, he considers standing for PM only to have Kelly stop him in his tracks in superb machiavellian style. The two more experienced MPs move Joe from different causes where they feel good publicity is needed to humanise the government but totally ignore him when he talks about causes he actually believes in. Interestingly, there was a chap in the audience who worked in the political team at a major broadcaster and was saying afterwards how realistic the portrayal of Westminster life was written and acted.

Joe’s political career causes problems in his home life where Martha, Joe’s wife and a successful lawyer in her right, and his daughter Manda, a university student, find themselves at odds with Joe’s politics, especially when he gets involved in trying to save the ‘Remain’ campaign as it falters near Polling Day. Joe’s home life is certainly complicated but again is played very well by the actors concerned, Lois Temel and Hanna Tarrington as Martha and Manda respectively. Lois in particular was a fascinating character as she beautifully articulated the thoughts of people who voted for Brexit in a way that, whilst not 100% convincing to those that didn’t vote that way, at least made sense, unlike Hanna’s great portrayal of the middle class girl rebelling against her parents and mouthing political slogans. One of the best moments of the home scenes was when Manda came out Joe as a lesbian – with an Italian girlfriend Edi (Ida Di Terlizzi). Once again, the scene could have been over the top but was downplayed as a simple, normal conversation. Really good to see the subject being handled so well.

After the performance, the cast stayed onstage to hold a Q&A session with the packed out audience and get feedback on the show. Most of it was very positive and I agreed with certain aspects, particularly how well balanced the writing was politically. I was expecting a very left leaning play. In fact all different points of view were put across, though definitely with a left-wing slant, particularly evident in the comments delivered in true Tory fashion about Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon. In my opinion, the only minor alterations that could be done would be to flesh out Manda and Edi and give some more background to them. I was also a bit confused at first as to who Tony and Kelly were, whether they were fellow politicians or special advisors or from Conservative Central Office so it would be good if their respective positions could be identified a bit earlier.

Birth of a Nation may be a work in progress – and for that reason I’m not using the star rating system in this review – but from what I saw and the reaction of the audience it’s pretty much there and ready to be taken on the road. Even though it is very much about political events now, with the whole Brexit thing still rumbling along, I can see a nice transfer to Edinburgh on the cards next year.

By John Mortis

We’re out of the EU! The Labour party is crumbling from within! The NHS moves steadily closer to privatisation and the Tory government has a completely fairly elected new PM! Life is great. Isn’t it?

Birth of a Nation is a work in progress play that takes a satirical look at the failings of a Tory government riddled with NHS pains, Boris Johnson and Brexit.

Joe is a fresh faced, hot shot Conservative MP. Internationally aware and sympathetic to the working classes but a realist in a time of social and political upheaval. As Britain finds itself in uncertain turmoil and the members of the Labour party bicker amongst themselves, the Conservatives aim to look strong and they aim to make Joe an international superstar of right wing politics, the face on the frontline of a new Conservative party. But are Joe’s left-wing leanings at odds with what the party wants from him?

Birth of a Nation comes from writer and actor David House, who previously co-wrote and stared in the Edinburgh Fringe hit show Jeremy Kyle Does Shakespeare. Birth of Nation began as a 15-minute play that previewed at the Actor Awareness Health Night at Theatre N16 in May. Following audience acclaim, David has extended the play to one act, exploring the life of protagonist Joe as the Tories scramble to deal with the fallout of Brexit.

Directed by David House and Madhav Vasantha

Madhav Vasantha as Conservative MP Joe
Hannah Tarrington as Manda, Joe’s leftwing stepdaughter
Idetta Iduzza as Edi, Italian International Arts student, Manda’s girlfriend
Lois Temel as Martha, an international business lawyer, wife to Joe and Manda’s mother
Kate O’Rourke as Kelly, top Tory backbencher
David House as Tony, egotistical Tory backbencher

Review of The Bodyguard at The Dominion Theatre London

The BodyguardTo say the show started with a bang and ended on a high note would be an understatement – the show grabs you with all its theatrical might and never lets go.

Unless you have been buried underground since 1992 the soundtrack to the movie has played out in the hearts and minds of all who ever watched the film or listened to the late, great Whitney Houston. If you are fanatical about either rest assured that the show’s producer’s have done an epic job and nothing falls short of brilliant.

If you weren’t born yet, shame on you! Let me fill you in – Former Secret Service agent, Frank Farmer is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge – what they don’t expect is to fall in love…

…and fall in love you will. I fell for Beverley Knight’s understudy Carole Stennett who is a superstar in her own right. Gliding through the octaves with the grace and ease of Whitney it was a pure delight to hear her power through the top hits.

The show centres around the family dynamic of Rachel Marron and her sister Nicki (played by Rachel John) who pines for a slice of her sister’s glory. A love triangle ensues and the pairing of these two characters act as a vehicle for most of the ballads. A powerhouse of talent both actresses hold their own bringing a different tonal magic to the most beloved songs.

The show is pretty true to the movie and the set designers have done an extraordinary job of bringing this to life on stage. With thrills not uncommon of a stadium tour the show offers a few unexpected surprises and the cast will have you dancing in the aisles – not bad for a Monday night!

Beverly Knight fans be warned, she doesn’t do Mondays but don’t let that get in the way of having a good time. By the time the rest of the cast has warmed your cockles I can assure you, you won’t be thinking about what you missed!

To summarise the show – “I will always love you!” and “someday (I’m coming back).” So don’t leave it to tourists to enjoy this spectacular show. Make a week night special or get out there of a weekend, however you choose…it is a must see and with the likes of Ben Richards playing secret agent Frank Farmer, your ovaries will thank you.

5 star rating

Review by Stephanie Caiger-Watson

Former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge; what they don’t expect is to fall in love. A romantic thriller, The Bodyguard features a whole host of irresistible classics including Queen of the Night, So Emotional, One Moment in Time, Saving All My Love, I’m Your Baby Tonight, Run to You, I Have Nothing, I Wanna Dance With Somebody and one of the greatest hit songs of all time – I Will Always Love You.

Based on Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 Oscar nominated Warner Bros. film, Thea Sharrock’s production of The Bodyguard has book by Alex Dinelaris. With designs by Tim Hatley, lighting by Mark Henderson, sound by Richard Brooker, video designs by Duncan McLean, choreography by Karen Bruce, orchestrations by Chris Egan, musical supervision by Richard Beadle and production musical supervision by Mike Dixon, The Bodyguard is produced by Michael Harrison and David Ian.

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The Bodyguard
Dominion Theatre
268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7AQ
Book London theatre tickets online 24/7 and by telephone 020 7492 1602