So this week, I saw some of the best and worst theatre as well as the Spice Girls again, which some would argue is the best and worst in pop music at the same time.
On Monday I made my annual pilgrimage to the Novello Theatre to watch the annual cast change of Mamma Mia! Now in its 20th year, Mamma Mia! remains one of my favourite musicals, as well as my mum’s. Decades before Waitress claimed its place with a pioneering all-female creative team, Mamma Mia! is the original female-led story of a mother and daughter, written, directed and produced by a trio of formidable women, Catherine Johnson, Phyllida Lloyd and Judy Craymer.
I get invited every year to watch the new cast perform an open dress run on the afternoon before they open as a company that evening. Although bitter sweet, as this year saw the departure of two of my friends, Eamonn Cox who played Eddie and Robert Knight who has been swing and dance captain for three years. The exciting news though is they both now join Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton in the international tour of Mamma Mia!
In reverse, Lucy May Barker now joins the cast having played Sophie in Mamma Mia! internationally for three years. Lucy, who met and is now engaged to Philip Ryan who played Sky opposite her on tour, now returns to the Novello ten years after performing there in Spring Awakening. Lucy’s new on-stage lover is now played by GSA graduate Cameron Burt, who played opposite Luke Bayer in a workshop presentation of Prom Queen at The Other Palace and was one of his guest singers at Luke’s sold-out show at the Crazy Coqs.
Rejoining the show is the incomparable Mazz Murray as Donna, having previously played Tanya. As my guests to watch the show on Monday, I took along my ex boyfriend Marc, who came to watch it with me last year. Marc is now working as a vocalist on a Fred Olson cruise ship for the next nine months, so this was actually the last time I would get to see him.
I also took Nick Brittain and Adam Haigh who recently choreographed Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens. Neither of them had seen the show before. The specially invited audience also included Jordan Luke Gage, Benjamin Purkiss and Simon Gordan from Bat Out of Hell. Jordan looked incredible having recently returned from travelling and was telling me all about & Juilet which he is preparing to open in, and which they will be previewing next weekend at West End Live.
I also bumped into Alan Richardson and Steph Parry, famed for saving Mamma Mia! Last year in her sensational takeover story. If you’ve been living under a rock and still haven’t heard this story, watch her talk about it in my interview with her on You Tube.
As the overture of Abba songs began, I got all giddy. I honesty cannot explain how much I adore this show, and oh my, this cast is incredible. Lucy May Barker delivers one of the best portrayals of Sophie I have seen since Charlotte Wakefield. Having played her for three years, Lucy has this character in bedded into her, and as well as singing beautifully her acting choices and deliveries are superb, she brings so much detail and added touches to every line. Mazz Murray is also astonishing, and paired with Lucy create something honestly I can only describe as majestic. Mazz’s strength as an actress and unequivocal tone as a singer is a masterclass in performing. Also joining this cast is my friend David O’Mahony who as well as covering the three dad’s takes the role of the rabbi in the ensemble. David recently married actress Ali Bastian, and I have known him since he appeared in Beautiful which he then toured with. I grabbed a quick hug with David and Lucy after the show, as well as her fiancee Philip who told me about a new show he is taking to Edinburgh about cerebral palsy. Philip was at Arts Ed the same time that I was. Completing the cast were Amelia Rose Fielding, Callum Heinrich, Caroline Deverill, Chloe Ames, Dan O’brien, Daniel Clift, Danny Nattrass, Frankie Jones, Garrett Tennant, Grace Moorhouse, Harrison Wilde, Jennifer Hepburn, Jonathan Cordin, Kirsty Hoiles, Melissa Nettleford, Natasha Agnew, Neil Moors, Richard Trinder, Ricky Butt, Rochelle Sherona, Simon Willmont, Sophie Matthew, and Taylor Bradshaw. Mamma Mia! plays at the Novella Theatre, tickets can be booked here:
https://mamma-mia.com/london.php On Tuesday evening I attended the press night for Afterglow at the Southwark Playhouse. The show had already begun to receive notoriety thanks to the sexualized promotional photos taken by Darren Bell, which show the three actors Jesse Fox, Sean Hart and Danny Mahoney, showering naked. It’s certainly not the first play with a gay theme to resort to this type of marketing, and it won’t be the last, nor as Mark Shenton pointed out in his review is it the first or last time to have an actor shower naked on stage. Jack O’Connell recently had a nude shower sequence in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the West End. The reliance of nudity in gay theatre is something I have come to expect from venues like The Kings Head and Above the Stag, where I have overheard audiences audibly complain after shows if they didn’t see any cock, and although I have seen gay theatre and cock at the Southwark Playhouse before, it is less frequent. The last time I recall was the play Gods and Monsters in 2015, which I was reminded of recently. In a conversation I was having with someone about the show, and the audience it attracted, it was noticed that returning patrons had coined between themselves to label the two seating banks at either side of the stage A and C. A for ass and C for cock, referring to the view of the actor you would get dependent on which side you sat. In Afterglow, the thrust stage offers three vantage points to see all three actors as they frolic naked from the opening scene. The scenes are prolonged and the nudity spares no blushes as all three actors copulate and fondle each other. Even I did feel a little uncomfortable watching the nude scenes, as I considered whether they were necessary. However, I did later realise the importance of the nudity and the sex scenes. This is a one act play with no interval where we are introduced to married couple Josh and Alex as they invite Darius for a threesome, this first encounter leads to a secondary relationship between Josh and Darius. In the story the predicament for Josh is that he loves Alex but wants Darius. For us as an audience to invest in this accelerated timeline we need to see how their connections manifest. The characters introduce the Emily Dickinson quote, “The heart wants what it wants”. Now was an audience recognises that Alex’s character played by Danny Mahoney is intellectually as well as aesthetically superior to Jesse Fox’s Darius. Of the three actors Danny has the most athletic and muscular body, so as an audience your asking why would Josh want Darius more than Alex, when Alex is smarter and has the better body, and there lies the torment for all the characters, as well as honing in on society’s preoccupation with looks, in this scenario, it doesn’t matter how gym buff Alex is, for Josh his heart wants Darius, and that’s why it was important to present the three actors naked. I think. Once the nudity is out of the way, and the characters are established I did feel the scenes became more alive, once we could focus on the dialogue without distraction. S. Asher Gelman, has written a story based on his own experiences, experiences that I recognised as very truthful. I have my own experiences of polygamy with other couples, even quite recently and I can honestly testify they become very complicated once feelings start to creep in. What surprised me most about Afterglow is that before seeing it, I had already written off the three leads with the assumption that they were going to be terrible actors. In my experience with LGBT theatre where actors are asked to be naked, in most of the plays I have seen, the actors have looked good but generally been terrible actors. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case with Jesse Fox, Sean Hart and Danny Mahoney, who between them have worked or trained at points in their careers with Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, all of which are prestigious institutions. They each perform brilliantly, bringing heart breaking subtlety to their performances. I honestly believe this play has a lot more substance and universal appeal than the reviews and critics are giving it credit for. Time Out branded it 1 star, which it certainly does not deserve. I was surprised my my own friends and peers in particularly who didn’t enjoy the production. I agree some of the music choices and transitions between scenes were typical of gay theatre, and hardly groundbreaking, but the set was inventive and cleverly constructed. Afterglow is on until the 20th July to book tickets visit:
https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/afterglow/ On Wednesday I Interviewed Nick Hayes at the Piano Works UK. Nick now lives in Bournemouth but was in London for the day to rehearse for his upcoming gig ‘Nick Hayes A Work in Progress’ at the Zedel, He had spent the day working with MD Sean Green, who is also about to embark on the UK tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Nick was easy to chat to, as we have met before and have a few mutual friends, we talked all about The Wedding Singer. Saturday Night Fever. Hollyoaks in the City. Legally blonde. Royal Caribbean. Fame. Footloose. Mamma Mia. Grease and Gobsmacked! As well as Jason Donovan. Joe Mcfadden. Miles Western. Genevieve Nicole. Jessica Aubrey. Julia Jenkins. Lucas Rush. Leon Lopez. Sean Green. Marcus Collins. Arlene Phillips. Nick’s show which is part of the Big Smoke Festival is on 16th July, tickets can be booked here: https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/nick-hayes And you can watch or listen to my interview with Nick, on YouTube https://youtu.be/uLfGLkKU_nA And Podcast: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Meets-Nick-Hayes-e4b38l After interviewing Nick, I stuck around at the Piano Works West End, where Christian Lunn had booked an area for his birthday. We caught up and had a few drinks and I met some of his other friends. On Thursday I went to watch The Flies at the Bunker. Or as it’s also known Les Mouches. This production by Exchange theatre is being presented in both French and English at alternating performances. Written by the now deceased French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre The Flies/Les Mouches was originally produced ten years ago by Exchange Theatre, a company set up by David Furlong to produce international work. David Furlong directed and acts in this production of The Flies, which I watched in English. The Stage called this play “awkward and incoherent” and I have to say I hated it. The acting across the board was terrible with the exception of Game of Thrones star Meena Rayann who was actually very good, doing the best she could with the terrible direction and text she had to work with. A live soundscape was created by the band A Riot In Heaven who awkwardly remained on stage in clear sight for the whole production, although an interesting device to use a live band to create the sounds of buzzing flies, when the band were directed to ad lib during the opening of act 2, it was simply uncomfortable to watch, as was the rest of the show. Whether the actors sound better in French, I won’t be finding out, as this is definitely not a show I will be revisiting, and I hope they don’t revive it again in another ten years. It runs until 6th July. https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/the-flies-english-language/book-now On Friday I went along to the Grand in Clapham to watch The Spice Gals. The brang new drag tribute act brought to us by the producers of Gals Aloud. This time, the troupe of drag queens dress and pay tribute to the Spice Girls. Wth several costume changes and backing dancers, the gals rattle through a selection of the Spice Girls hit songs, as well as some solo numbers. As a huge Spice Girl fan I absolutely loved this show, and was very impressed by how much work and attention to detail had gone into it. The Spice Gals will be performing on 15th August at 9.30pm at the Underbelly Festival. For tickets book here: http://www.underbellyfestival.com/whats-on/spice-gals?updated=1557792000 On Saturday I went to watch the final matinee of White Pearl at the Royal Court. A satire by Anchuli Felicia King and directed by Nana Dakin. Although led and centered around six Asian women performed by Kae Alexander, Farzana Dua Elaha Katie Leung, Kanako Nakano, Minhee Yeo, Momo Yeung. I admit I was only there to watch Arty Froushan, who I know through my friend Che. Arty and Che trained together at Lamda, and both are incredible actors. I had bumped into Arty at the press night for Rosmersholm, who had told me that he was rehearsing for White Pearl. What can I say about the production? I honestly didn’t get it. Of the actresses I enjoyed Farzana Dua Elahe’s performance, however I honestly thought the rest were terrible. I was surprised to read the glowing reviews afterwards, including a four star review from Time Out, who early this week gave Afterglow one star. I would have thought it was the other way around. The set looked stunning and was possibly the only redeeming factor for me in this production. I left the Royal Court, grabbed a sandwich and drink from M&S and made my way to Wembley Stadium, where I was attempting to meet up with my friend and fellow Spice Girl super fan Zabrina. Although I had seen the Spice Girls earlier this month in Manchester, I could not resist the chance to see them one last time, at the final date of their UK tour in Wembley Stadium, where twenty-one years ago, I had seen them perform before. Zabrina had already gone into the stadium ahead of me and I actually didn’t have a ticket. I made my way to the Wembley wearing my Spice Girls T shirt anyway. Once I got there, because of the sheer volume of people, as usual the phone services weren’t working, rendering me unable to get hold of Zabrina. Undeterred I waited in Starbucks until closer to the time, I then went to the box office, worked my magic and was then offered a free golden circle ticket. I could not believe it. Although it was a shame that I was by myself, I grabbed two pints of blackcurrant cider and made my way into the gold circle enclosure at the front of the stadium. The atmosphere was incredible, and the excitement built as I was up close with the Spice Girls. Having seen the show In Manchester from a seat in the stands, this time I was meters away from the Spice Girls and their dancers, one of whom Jake Leigh. Being this close I was able to appreciate how much detail had gone in to this show, including the incredible costumes and choreography. It was a brilliant evening, and the 14 year old boy I was could not believe that as a 37 year old man I was now here again watching the Spice Girls in the golden circle along with their manager Simon Fuller, Jess Glynne and some of the Emma and Mel B’s kids as well. I also bumped into a few stagey faces including Sam Murphy, Alex Parker and Ciaran Connolly who had performed with the Spice Girls at the opening ceremony to the Olympics in London in 2012. On Sunday afternoon I went along to support my buddy Ed Baker and his mother who from the blogging duo West End Wilma in a new monthly show called In conversation With. This month their guest was Emma Hatton. Presented at the Crazy Coqs, there were merely twenty or so people in the audience which might have been because it was Father’s Day, or that the tickets were priced at £20. I had managed to get mine for £10 as Ed had dropped the price in order to try and sell more. I have known Ed for some years, and I do like and respect him, and I was here fully to support his new venture. West End Wilma is one of the pioneering bloggers than I looked up to when I was planning and starting my own blog. As I continue to establish myself as the new kid on the blog, it has been really encouraging to meet other bloggers and discover how supportive everyone is of each other’s work. There’s no sense of rivalry but rather comradery, and even as I write this a group of us bloggers are arranging and planning to meet up this weekend at West End Live. As I sat watching this show, I did bare this in mind. West End Wilma has made a profession of reviewing other people, and now the tables have turned and he puts himself up for scrutiny by producing his own show, and as Ed responded during his conversation with Emma, “We’re known for being honest”, I wondered how honest I should be when summing up this show. To be honest, I did enjoy it, and I whole heatedly commend Ed for being brave enough and ambitious enough to put this show together. I also commend that they acknowledge the proceeds will be going to the National Autistic Society, and although it’s nice to think that a fraction of the £10 I contributed by buying my ticket will go towards this cause, knowing the overheads that the Zedel costs and doing a quick head count, I’d be surprised if this event raised much money at all. They didn’t even have a collection bucket. Which as the Union Theatre announced this week, their production of Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens raised £2625.53 pence for Mad Trust from bucket collections at each show. Aside from being in aid of charity, which obviously we all like to contribute to, this is still entertainment and for most a recreation, and I have to consider the audience and whether I feel they get value for money, and I’ll be honest I don’t think that the format of this show works, or offers value for money at the face value of £20 per ticket. The show is exactly what it says, a conversation with… Unlike other cabarets or talk shows I have seen, when you have guests known for musical theatre, in similar settings you always expect to hear them sing. In this show it really is just Ed and his mother in conversation with their guest, and although I don’t discount that as entertaining, I’ll be honest I was enthralled by Emma’s engaging stagey stories but I simply don’t think this is enough to offer an audience, or whether this format will prosper. There are many bloggers, myself and West End Wilma included who interview West End performers in this way, and post this to You Tube for people to watch for free. I just don’t understand why people would then want to pay £20 to watch someone being interviewed in this way when you can just watch them for free on You Tube. I think the show needs to offer more. With guests including Beverly Knight, Amy Lovatt, Luke Bayer and Rachel Tucker scheduled for forthcoming months, time will tell whether this show will develop. After treating myself to an ice cream sundae I made my way across to the Phoenix Arts Club to watch Keith Ramsay as Judy Garland. Keith was recently in Amour! And had been scheduled to take this show where he sings re-imagined songs made famous by Judy Garland to Edinburgh, however other work commitments meant he had to cancel the run. Instead he now previewed the show at the Phoenix Arts Club, and will be taking it to the Underbelly on 24th and 25th August. I adored this show. Keith is naturally a quirky, eccentric performer, and in this he gives himself over fully in a very physical and emotive performance. He presents debauched interpretations of Judy Garland’s songs whilst mimicking her distinctive voice and styles ingeniously with Keith’s superb voice. Whether this show would appeal to a traditional Judy Garland fan, Keith merges physical theatre and cabaret in enthralling measure, and is captivating to watch. Keith Ramsay is Judy Garland will be at the Underbelly on 24th and 25th August, you can book here: http://www.underbellyfestival.com/whats-on/keith-ramsay-is-judy-garland After Keith’s show I went across to watch the second half of the Pride’s Got Talent Final presented by London’s Got Pride. Now in it’s sixth year, the winner goes on to perform on the main stage at London Pride. Hosted by Michael Twaits with judges Adam All, Chris Clegg, Dave Cross, Jason Reid, Mzz Kimberley, Sadie Sinner, Sum Ting Wong, Stuart Saint, Roxie Bourdillon, Vinegar Strokes. The eleven finalists each perform an eight minute segment. Now. I will be honest. Some of the acts weren’t that great. But that isn’t the point of this event. This event is about being who you are, about expressing yourself, and having a safe platform to do that. Yes it’s dressed up in glitter as a competition to find talent, but what it reflects is that we all have something to offer, and as I recognised a lot of these performers do this just for fun, or in their spare time. Events like this are also an ongoing commitment to ensuring visibility and to encourage political and social change. Fifty years after the Stonewall riots, with violence against the LGBT community and suicide rates within the community still rising, it’s more important than ever to still be seen but also to celebrate who we are all. The winner Frankly Desire performed a poignant lip sync compilation which presented a clear political message, and was definitely a deserving winner.