The edgiest, sexiest, musical has been infusing London city with its unique original music since September but not enough people seem to know about it. Murder Ballad is a dark story about how humankind’s strongest emotion (love) can be a most dangerous intense feeling when mutual love is not found. Four characters – the narrator, husband and wife, and the heartthrob – are intertwined through a love affair. The songs mirror the emotions and build to a climax filling the audience with a kind of energy that they don’t exactly know how to comprehend.
It has been a long time since I have seen a piece of new theatre that deserves to be awarded with a multiple year run on a West End stage. This musical needs more publicity and it would be a gift to the West End world if it were to make the transition from the small (but perfectly intimate) Arts Theatre to a theatre that can play host to a larger audience.
The show is truly star studded with fantastic musical theatre professionals who you may have spotted leading shows like Wicked (Kerry Ellis), Phantom of the Opera (Ramin Karimloo), In The Heights (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) and Finding Neverland (Norman Bowman). Their voices are full of a resonance that is so deep and beautiful and accompany performances that capture the attention of the audience for the full continuous 90 minute show. The cast are all incredibly talented but Victoria Hamilton-Barritt playing the role of Narrator is the particular star of this show. Her voice in particular is unique, smoky and runs right through you.Her presence was a catalyst to changing emotions and her character guided the audience through every intense interaction of the show.
There is little set and not much need for props in Murder Ballad because the performances are so raw and strong. The musical is about the intangible emotion love. A detailed set and a complex collection of props would cut through and ruin the emotional electricity that fills the auditorium.
The quality of this musical will leave your mouth agape. You will be stunned into stillness because there is nothing else you can do but watch and absorb the events playing out on stage. Murder Ballad will finish its run on 3rd December so don’t leave it too late. If you appreciate musical theatre, you cannot afford to miss out on a musical so special
This is the second time I have been to the Old Red Lion (ORL) theatre and once again I was not disappointed by what they had to offer. Either I have been very lucky with my visits or ORL only attracts the most creative teams. Ugly Lovely is written by, and stars, the talented Welsh creative Ffion Jones. Set in Swansea, Ugly Lovely, explores the love, laughter and hardships endured by the protagonist Shell. Shell feels trapped. She has a baby who lives with Shell’s mum, her boyfriend is almost non-existent and her Nan sits on the side in the form of an urn.
The play opens with Shell and her only mate ending their alcohol fuelled night in a kebab shop. From the very outset the audience are introduced to Shell’s conflicting states of mind and her struggle between living in the past and focusing on the future. Her fluctuating personality explores spontaneity and elation which are constantly juxtaposed with feelings of anxiety and hopelessness.
Despite topics of promiscuity, suicide and betrayal, Ffion Jones and the other two members of the cast filled the theatre with a constant revitalising energy that was genuine and embracing. No matter what emotion was dominating the scene, the individual personalities of each character managed to suck the audience into their world. The intimacy of the theatre left the audience feeling as though they knew the characters on a personal level by the end of the play. The empathy felt for Shell was genuine and strong.
Ugly Lovely’s cast of three had great chemistry and managed to deliver gritty subjects in a more comfortable and easy to access manner. Despite its serious themes, this play is a comedy that had its audience belly laughing periodically. Shell, her best mate and her one-night stand were all incredibly refreshing to watch. If you want to take a trip to Wales without leaving London, to experience a story with elements that we can all relate to and to be purged of your emotions through laughter then you have only got a week left to make your way to Islington: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/ugly-lovely.html
Persuasion at the Rosemary Branch theatre was a good adaptation of Austen’s work but grew tiresome as time passed by. Austen was an excellent novelist whose literature is still incredibly popular. As such, Bryony J. Thompson has focused almost too much on the words and forgotten about the other elements of theatre. It made the play almost futile knowing that the more developed novel was available to read. The actors were good but, with almost two hours of listening to lines delivered in the third person, their performances became monotonous. The set and costume did not help, either. Each actor was dressed in cream coloured clothing, using cream coloured props whilst standing on a stage that was also painted cream. Some may say that this neutral colouring allowed the actors to mould the set and story through their performances. Instead, it dulled the characters and their tale.
Rose McPhilemy (Anne Elliott) stood out as a particularly strong character whose performance managed to add colour to the repetitive play. I believe that that this was because the development of her character was linear without any interruption from a character change. The other actors were very good but none of the characters seemed whole due to the multiple characters they played and the continuous quick changes between them.
Theatre is about sound, visuals and the words themselves. This play did not seem to be fully focused on making itself visually and aurally appealing. The language was engaging, however, so credit to Bryony for keeping Austen’s words alive.
The play ended on a high with music and dance associated with the period. But this dancing at the end was the only part of the play that seemed to make a dent in its repetitive atmosphere.
If you love Austen, you will enjoy (and even love) this play. The language is beautiful and flows seamlessly. But if you are a general theatre lover, you will be disappointed by the lack of attention given to everything but the words .
Athena Stevens is a talented woman who created and stars in a 90 minute play that travels across decades exploring the changing attitudes of society. Schism begins when 14 year old Katherine (Stevens) breaks into her teacher’s home just as he is about to commit suicide. She is desperate to learn more and develop to her full potential and this youthful persistence is what prevents Harrison (Tim Beckman) from taking his own life. Katherine dreams of being an architect whilst Harrison lives life regretting that he gave up on that same dream. As the years go by, the two fall in love facing several difficulties including the idea of a ‘student – teacher’ relationship. But the problems are rooted deeper. When Katherine becomes a successful architect, despite all the odds, Harrison cannot handle her success.
Jealousy is one human emotion that is integral to the play and its outcome. The feeling of embarrassment is another obstacle that prevents Harrison from being able to love Katherine with a confident and care free manner. Amongst all these complexities, Katherine has cerebral palsy; a disability that Harrison is never fully able to overlook. Public comments that imply Harrison’s intentions are perverted become a hindrance to his ability to see Katherine simply as the woman of his affections. This play is incredibly clever and highlights that cerebral palsy does not have to be the weakness that society says it is. Katherine is an incredibly strong and intelligent individual who knows what she wants and how to get it. Her disability does not make her stupid or unaware of her surroundings. Her judgement is as sharp as anyone else’s. It is not cerebral palsy that is a barrier to her future but society’s attitude towards it. Her school decide that she is incapable of taking classes with non-disabled students; universities assume she wouldn’t be able to handle a degree. Katherine’s confidence and diligence breaks down these assumptions and proves her abilities to be as good as and better than anyone else with or without a disability.
Schism is a valuable play that needs to be seen by all. At the end of the play, Harrison is incredibly unhappy despite his ‘normal’ human brain and body. But Katherine is an absolute success. This is not a fairytale type story that shows what life could be like in another Universe. It proves what life can and should be like if non-disabled humans were less narrow-minded. There will be many audience members who would have made assumptions about people with disabilities only to find that Stevens has picked these out and thrown them in the trash. When watching this play, one comes to realise just how restrictive society can be to people with disabilities. People with little or no understanding of someone think that they are entitled to define their abilities through comments and opinions that are based upon trivialities. Despite this, Schism is not a play purely about disability. It is about having the overall ability to do what you want whether you have a disability or not. Harrison did not achieve his dreams because his own mentality got in the way. Katherine achieved hers because she never let anyone else define her.
The Baron’s Court Theatre is host to a satirical play that made me desperate to read the book that inspired it. Vladimir Nabokov’s literary work is successfully projected onto the stage by Act Provocateur International. Invitation to a Beheading is a dystopian piece that manages to take the audience out of the society that they know and displace them into a fictional, slightly distorted, world. This play explores the feeling of isolation, loneliness, helplessness and a loss of control in a world that does not seem to make sense. Consisting of 2 Acts and set in a prison, The Baron’s Court Theatre provides the perfect setting for such a play. What used to be the pub’s cellar is ideal for reflecting the dark, cold, isolation of the prison cell.
In this fictional society, the likeable Cincinnatus has been put in prison for a crime that is never described or made known to the audience. Cincinnatus does not seem to even know himself why he is there. The entire duration of the play sees Cincinnatus prepare for his upcoming beheading whilst enduring games of mental cruelty initiated by both the workers of the prison and his own family. The audience is never sure what is real or what should be believed.
Despite the sinister undertones, this is a very quirky piece of theatre with a well chosen cast full of distinct and memorable characters. Garry Voss, playing Cincinnatus, was perfect for his lead role. His performance was incredibly natural and believable and despite being on stage for the entire duration of the production, his energy never faltered. The audience were physically touched by his expressions of helplessness and frustration; his innocence was refreshing and allowed the audience to fully empathise with his character; and he performed convincingly both through his intonations and also through his authentic body language. Voss exuded a charming star quality that I was not expecting to find in such a small and under-appreciated venue.
Invitation to a Beheading is a lively, colourful, socio-political play full of great characters and a story designed to make the audience think. If you like George Orwell, Franz Kafka or generally just a good piece of literary theatre then you must book tickets to see this before the final show on 24th April 2016: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/theatres/book/42?play=14125
The Hope Theatre’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone made audiences feel as though they had transferred to a post-apocalyptic future. Police sirens and sound effects with connotations of political unrest became the soundtrack to this 60 minute piece of theatre. If you are not already aware of the story of Antigone or the story of Oedipus (which is rather relevant to the play), Brendon Murray wrote the script to include a cleverly executed introduction. For anyone who is not so familiar with Greek theatre, this summary makes the piece seamlessly easy to follow.
Performed by a 5 piece all-female cast, Antigone explores the issue of having the right to bury the deceased. Antigone loses two brothers in battle and is denied the burial of one of them (Polynices) because he is deemed to be a traitor. Disrespecting the King’s law, Antigone sets out to make sure that both her brothers are given the sacred burials she feels they deserve.
This hour long play investigates the consequences of defying absolute law for the sake of family loyalty and respect for the dead. With a fusion between ancient and modern theatre, Brendon Murray makes sure to keep the Greek chorus an integral part of the piece. It was exciting to see such a heavy emphasis on the choral components; powerful five-part harmonies accentuated each scene drawing attention to the important themes of the play.
This adaptation is worth seeing if you want to witness 5 strong women taking on a multitude of diverse characters with convincing and memorable performances. Do not groan at an all female cast but celebrate their rare ability to tell a story with as much conviction as a mixed gender production.
Unexpected Opera have made Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ more accessible with its newly reduced version showing at the Charing Cross Theatre. The Rinse Cycle is a production that attempts to squeeze 16 hours of Wagner’s work into just 2 hours. Aiming to please audiences that would not consider themselves to be opera fans, Unexpected Opera use an educational tone to simplify and explain Wagner’s work.
A cast of 5 established opera singers accompanied by a talented pianist take the audience on a journey through Wagner’s 4 operas. Approximately half an hour is allocated to each opera with some beautiful musical pieces laced throughout. Vocal performances by Simon Thorpe and Edward Hughes are particularly notable; their voices resonated with the audience long after the performance had ended.
Described as a comedy, puns and simple jokes are used to break the tension and intensity of the traditional opera. Set in a launderette with washing machines that emit bubbles and spin, this is not a show for those who take themselves too seriously; laughter bubbled out of the audiences’ mouths throughout the cycle of the show.
To enjoy this production it is not necessary to know much about Wagner’s work but it was noticeable that some scenes had secondary meanings that only a clued up opera fan would be able to understand. In addition, the comedy seemed to be aimed at the middle aged with the use of unoriginal and predictable jokes. It is a chaotic and arguably fun production that is structurally similar to a pantomime with cast members breaking the fourth wall and encouraging audience participation.
For fans of opera who also have a funny bone, a visit to the Charing Cross Theatre would make for a great night out but I am unconvinced that this production is going to create a new generation of opera enthusiasts. However, if you want a quick lesson on Wagner and opera then this may be the quickest and most entertaining way to do so.
To experience Wagner’s Ring Cycle in an original form you can buy tickets for performances up until 12th March 2016: