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.

Buy Tickets Here

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

Remedial Remedies is a play that will resonate with generations to come

Remedial RemediesI often find when a play is set in a school it is hard to get to grips with. Firstly, we usually have an actor clearly in their mid-twenties trying to portray a teenager. Secondly, it’s usually written by someone who left school themselves ten or more years ago and the language can often feel out dated, with 90’s phrases like “whatever minger” being tossed to-and- fro. I guess it’s like trying to write a play about living on a canal boat when you’ve never left dry land. The school system, teenage colloquialisms and the process of learning and teaching change so rapidly, it’s hard to stay on the ball. Remedial Remedies manages to avoid all of this and instead gives a us a beautiful, charming and boisterous take on life in a standard British Comprehensive.

Bruce (Joseph Cox), Kevin (Samuel Ranger), Jack (Arian Nik) and Ben (Joshua Akehurst) are retaking English GCSE, hoping to finally get their C grade and write a half decent essay on their set text – The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. We journey with them through their intensive week of revision with the ever hopeful Mr Winterdon (Miles Parker) as he tries to keep their exam and himself from crumbling before their eyes.

Moments of beauty echo through the chaos reminding us that teenagers aren’t all mouth, fights and trouble. One of these moments resonates particularly hard at the class show and tell when we get given the smallest glance in to the boy’s home lives, with a stunning performance from Joshua Akehurst as simpleminded Ben. Stereotypes are challenged and you begin to root for these four lads.

You knew these characters at school and many, I’m sure, see themselves in them as well.

Hartnell has captured both the pressure and excitement of growing up and finishing school. His dialogue charges through at 100 miles per hour, making the moments of quiet all the more spectacular. Nothing is forced upon you, no explosive ending or huge dramatic climax. Everything is left to the audience to decide. You take what you want from it and every other line leaves you to answer your own questions (what was Mr Tumnus’s ulterior motive!?). Remedial Remedies is a play that I’m sure will resonate with generations to come and I can only hope we get a chance to see it transfer.

5 star rating

Review by Hugh Roberts

Remedial Remedies looks at how the youth of today are pressured, how the stress of exams and succeeding can affect their overall performance and social life. We follow the story of Bruce, Jack, Kevin and Ben, four students who have failed their English GCSE. It’s the run up to the resit of the exam and they have been placed into a special revision session with a support teacher Mr Winterdon. Each boy deals with the week differently, we see the effects of ADHD and discover more about their relationship with Winterdon, each other and their school, seeing how each boy has a different outlook on the exams and their future life. As the pressure starts to pile on we watch as the cracks begin to appear and see a hopeless Mr Winterdon trying to pave the way to greatness…

After a fantastic reception at our first On The Night we are very proud to now be producing Remedial Remedies as a full production at Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in July!

Kevin- Samuel Ranger
Bruce- Joseph Cox
Jack- Arian Nik
Ben- Joshua Akehurst
Mr Winterdon- Miles Parker

Shakespeare As You Might Like It by Shook Up Theatre

Shakespeare As You (Might) Like ItYou are cordially invited to the Quad Centenary Wake in memoriam of William Shakespeare who shuffled off this mortal coil in 1616.

Join Shook Up Shakespeare for a night of rowdy and raucous entertainment at this boozy, brash and bawdy celebration of the bard.

Two actresses, three plays, six parts, limitless possibilities and just one more ingredient needed in this magnificent melting pot.. YOU!

Shook Up Shakespeare….well they definitely live up to their name! That is by no means a criticism. Before entering the theatre we were handed a “party bag” by a rather pleasant, attractive young lady. The Rosemary Branch Theatre is an intimate venue and upon entry we were greeted by a vivacious and welcoming lady offering us a stoop of wine or juice (apparently not wine, a mixture of alcoholic beverages) and a “much ado about muffin.” Not actually muffins either, a selection of cakes but the pun worked so we shall overlook that.

There was a pianist and violinist playing a selection of appropriate music whilst we waited for the play to start. The set was minimal with the piano, table, steps and a hat stand – at one point referred to as a palm tree – being all that was on stage, and needed for that matter. The lighting did the job, which was to light the entire stage and keep the audience in some light which was helpful for the audience participation. This wasn’t forced participation which I imagine is a relief for anyone petrified about such things.

It turns out the the ‘party bag’ lady was Helen Watkinson and the ‘bubbly peddler of drink and foodstuff’ was Roseanna Morris. Watkinson and Morris brought amazing energy to the play.

I am sat here writing the review with no real idea what happened, but it did get revealed Shakespeare was a party planner, which I never knew. Of course the tongue in cheek nature of the revelation lends me to treat it as artistic license over factual information! I think tongue in cheek is a great ways to describe the entire play. It is very well written and flows between ‘comedy sketch’ style dialogue between Watkinson and Morris to songs, dance,
Shakespeare’s literary genius, albeit delivered in a rather unique and unconventional style, and party games – this taking us back to the party planner side of the Bard. Both Watkinson and Morris were vocally good in the songs with Willow being my favourite to listen to.

Watkinson and Morris work really well together, I don’t know if this was their first outing as a duo or not but I definitely hope it won’t be the last.

I’m no expert in Shakespeare and have only seen a couple of his plays. Should more be like this quick 50ish minute play then I would have undoubtedly seen more. No it doesn’t follow the Bards intention but, damn, it is entertaining. Shakespeare purists would undoubtedly leave feeling disappointed if a true representation was wanted but I was left wishing it had been longer, which can only be a good thing. It is at the end of its run now so if you didn’t get the chance to see it then keep an eye out for their next project In the hope that will be just as good.

4 Stars

Review by Lee Cogger