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In Musicals, Regional theatre, Reviews, Touring by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Churchill Theatre, Bromley 


Based on the book by Joe DiPietroDirected by Karen Bruce

Love Me Tender’s Ensemble
Based on the music of Elvis Presley, Love Me Tender is a juke-box musical that tells several love stories at the same time and all set in “a small town no-one’s ever heard of in the middle of nowhere.” We’re introduced to its inhabitants who are resigned to a life of enforced conservatism and where frivolities such as music, dancing and “public necking” are all forbidden – until the arrival of Ben Lewis’ Chad, an Elvis-esque roustabout to shake things up. 
At times the story verges on the ridiculous, particularly in the second half when the plot races desperately towards a conclusion that reconciles eight characters’ love stories. Yet it’s not entirely formulaic. There is an element of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night thrown into the mix, as Natalie (Laura Tebbutt) masquerades as Ed which in turn delivers a surprising and pleasing splash of female empowerment as she exercises a choice that utilises the confidence and freedom she found as Ed.
The cast led by Mica Paris and Shaun Williamson is incredibly strong across the board, with several standout singers including Tebbutt and Mark Anderson ensuring that the production is not overly reliant on the big hitters. Though when Paris takes the stage for her solo, the effect is one of awe; her voice is truly incredible. 
The musical arrangements are well done and rock and roll is neatly packaged up for the theatre. The choreography (Karen Bruce and Elliot Nixon) captures the retro vibe while injecting it with a dose of the contemporary. 
Morgan Large’s set design is complex and ambitious, but the risks more than pay off. There are also several memorable and comic human set fixtures, such as two ranch-style doors held by two actors, which swing open and shut to mark the entrances and exits of several characters. 
Although the main focus of the story is love’s ability to conquer all, the cheesiness is often offset by lots of clever wit and dry humour, delivered with perfect comic timing. 
At Bromley this week, before heading out on tour – Love Me Tender makes for a fabulous night in the theatre!

Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar

Zombie Fight Club – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Certificate 15

Heavily stylized, Joe Chien’s latest Far East zombie romp sees a collapsing Taipei slowly succumb to the zombie virus.
The twist to this movie is a gladiatorial fight for survival, as the un-infected city rulers wager each other as to how healthy mortals will survive mortal combat against the undead. That’s basically it, but to Chien’s credit, whilst the yarn may be only the latest variation in a long line of zombie flicks, his fight choreography is imaginative. Filmed in a jaundiced light, the black spurting sticky stuff and entrail-munching monsters hold our attention alongside inventive leading performances from leads Andy On and Jessica C. The battles are crazy with much CGI deployed, though the scene where one old guy tries to save the world armed only with a chainsaw, was a treat.
Shamelessly exploitative, Zombie Fight Club’s pace is so frenetic its hard at times to grasp or even care about the plot lines – but it is sure to tick all the boxes for genre fans. Amidst mayhem that’s not easy to follow, Zombie Fight Club is one for the collection and strictly for the genre fans.

Now available on DVD

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Howl – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Certificate TBC
Directed by Paul Hyett

Tickets please!
Helming his second full length feature, Paul Hyett’s Howl is a movie whose title along with the poster’s full moon, give a clear hint at the story’s lycanthropic pitch and proves to be one of the year’s best horror pictures so far.
Some of the best werewolf movies have been made in Britain and in one of the most imaginative takes on the genre since John Landis’ groundbreaking An American Werewolf In London, Hyett’s yarn (penned by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler) kicks off in the comfortingly familiar surroundings of Waterloo Station.
Train based terror has long fuelled the romance of ghost and horror tales and in a summer that has rail strikes gripping the nation, it’s refreshing to watch Alpha Trains’ (a fictional company whose livery is only loosely based on South West Trains) evening express pull out of the London terminus, with its dozen or so souls on board heading towards far more than their usual Waterloo sunset.
There is an ever-so British budgetary constraint to the movie that suggests an air of Hammer Horror. The cast are far from household names, (though in a neat touch, Rosie Day and Sean Pertwee, both carryovers from Hyett’s The Seasoning House make short-lived cameos) the purpose built railway carriage set wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of even a mildly obsessive train-geek and some of the matte work is cringeworthy. But no matter, for as a deer on the line brings driver Pertwee’s train to a shuddering and unscheduled halt, it is only a matter of time before (nearly) all of the onboard souls succumb in turn to beautifully brutal slaughter.
In a sometimes creaking story, the director’s skill lies as much in the suspense he’s woven into the film as it does in the gruesomeness of his imagery. Having cut his teeth (sorry) designing special make up and effects for creature features such as The Descent movies, Hyett has a keen eye for what shocks. To be fair there’s nothing here that quite matches Rick Baker’s award winning genius in American Werewolf, but Hyett knows his craft.  
Also impressive is that amidst a script of occasional corniness, (The Seasoning House had a far superior text) Hyett coaxes performances from his cast that convince throughout. Ed Speleers leads as a bumbling train guard searching for the hero inside himself, whilst Elliot Cowan is Adrian, a handsomely chiselled bounder and a womanising cad who in a neat post-modern touch reveals that he won’t employ women at his City finance house because of their annoying tendency to fall pregnant. Back in the day it used to be that just being a bastard marked a character out to deserve a spectacular death – turns out in 2015 he has to be a sexist bastard too. 
For the cinephiles playing werewolf bingo, Howl trots out most of the tropes, (but not all mind, there are no silver bullets in this picture) with the occasional twist. We’ve been brought up to know that those bitten by the beast have to become werewolves themselves. Hyett however offers up a nod to the zombie genre by having his victims spew that particularly dark red blood, only ever found in those transitioning to the world of the un-dead. There is also a lovely touch as Ania Marson, Jenny an elderly female victim, finds herself vomiting out her dentures, only to then develop a far more useful set of incisors, infinitely superior to anything available on the NHS.
As Ellen the train’s trolley stewardess, Holly Weston gives an assured performance that suggests a hint of sexual frisson and rivalry amongst the characters, whilst Calvin Dean’s Paul provides occasional moments of drunken slob comedy (and classy suspense) before his number’s up.
Whilst Hyett’s best may yet await us, Howl remains a ripping yarn, cleverly realised and yet again, only enhanced by Paul E. Francis’ intelligent score. Not just worth the ticket and popcorn, it’s a great date-movie too.

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Piss off, you miserable bastard! – My review of Dismaland

In Features, London theatre, Regional theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Those words in the title above were the parting shot from the sales assistant as I exited through Dismaland’s gift shop, having dutifully paused to pick up catalogue and t-shirt. Whilst her valedictory message was (I hope) insincere (though I fear those who know me well may say the cap fits perfectly), it summed up the spirit of the faux-misery that Banksy’s Bemusement Park strives to achieve.

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MY EYES WENT DARK – Finborough Theatre

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

“…If a country can’t protect the rights of its people, what can a man do? A man must stand up… A man must defend himself.” Matthew Wilkinson’s My Eyes Went Dark is an extraordinary piece of work. It tells the story of man, Nikolai Koslov (played by Cal MacAninch), who loses his wife and two young children in a plane crash that occurred when two planes collide mid-air.


In London theatre, Musicals, Reviews, Touring by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

A musical can only be as good as its underlying book – and in Mrs Henderson Presents, the show’s fable couldn’t be more strong or poetic. Based upon the 2005 movie, the true story tells of Laura Henderson, wealthy widow and owner of London’s Windmill Theatre, who sought to halt the venue’s falling revenues by putting on shows of naked girls. Britain’s censorship laws were fierce at the time, forbidding nude performers, but in a bid to circumvent the Lord Chamberlain’s disapproval, Henderson, along with close adviser Vivian Van Dam, concoct a revue that will feature naked women but in still life tableaux. The Windmill’s success was assured and as war with Germany broke out in 1939, so did the Windmill never close, always packed with troops enjoying morale boosting visits even through the darkest days of the Blitz and in its own way capturing the essence of British resilience.


In Cabaret, London theatre, Musicals, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

The Dutch singing sensation Willemijn Verkaik In Concert at The Ambassadors Theatre was always going to be highly anticipated. Having sung the role of Wicked’s Elphaba in three different languages (an un-precedented feat) and recorded the voice of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen in Dutch and German, a one off London concert to let the audience know a bit more about the lady behind the voice was long overdue.

CARMEN – Soho Theatre

In London theatre, Opera, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

There is a simplistic charm to Carmen from Opera Up Close that see’s Bizet’s classic stripped down to a talented cast of nine and an orchestra reduced to the most elegant of quartets. One of the most popular works in the classical canon, Carmen makes for a great introduction for those just dipping a toe into the opera genre. With a musical score that alone could fill a Now That’s What I Call Classics compilation, the melodies are familiar and the story offers a parable that is, sadly, as timely today as at its 1875 premiere.

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In London theatre, Musicals, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Premiering at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Lovebirds marks some gorgeous new musical theatre from Robert J. Sherman. The son and nephew of legendary tunesmiths Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, Robert J.’s show harks back to the era of vaudeville, Scott Fitzgerald and days of schmaltzy, beautifully voiced romance.