From Light In The Piazza to Present Laughter via West End Live: My Stagey Week

In Features, London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Philip DehanyLeave a Comment

On Monday I went to watch an evening of new writing produced by Actor Awareness. The theme was LGBTQ+ New writing and showcased three excerpts from emerging writers.

The first was called Where’s Cecily? and was written by Nicole Latchana, directed by Sita Thomas, and performed by Georgia Lindsay and Remus Brooks. In it, Brooks plays a transman who presents as a cis-man when he returns to his queerphobic hometown.

For anyone who doesn’t understand this terminology, as it can be confusing, Cisgender (sometimes cissexual, often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender.

So in the story Remus was playing a transgender man, meaning he was assigned the gender of female at birth but later transitioned to male. The first problem I had with this, was that Remus is a cis man playing a trans man. I wondered whether they had even attempted to cast a trans man to play this role. I certainly feel they should have.

Secondly the play was written by Latchana, who according to her own Twitter page labels herself as a “Queer Brown Female”. She is not transgender.

Now this is not to say, a cis person cannot write a transgender story, or that transgender stories should only be told by transgender people. But what is important, is if you are writing a story that isn’t your own, you need to research it competently and fully in order to ensure it is sensitive and accurate. Latchana’s story and Brook’s performance were neither sensitive or accurate, and begged the question whether either had even consulted with the trans community. I might be wrong, and they may well have, but from what I got from watching this play was that it didn’t feel authentic, in fact in parts it felt very offensive.

The second play, The Boys of NYPD Choir, written by Jonathan Hall, directed by Gemma Kayla and was performed by JP Smith and Paul Worrall. I sat watching these with my friend and actor Giovanni, we had a moment after the first play where I whispered into his ear, “That actor wasn’t trans was he?” After this second piece, I was left whispering into Giovanni’s ear: “That actor wasn’t gay was he?” As Giovanni pointed out, we should never assume these things, but my question came, out of sheer bewilderment at what I was watching.

Whether or not Worrall was gay himself, here he was playing a gay man, and not convincingly. Not that there’s a particularly way a gay character should be played, nor is there a rule that should ever stipulate that a straight actor cannot play a gay character. But within this, no matter what, they have to convince and be believable, and here my only question and doubt during his performance was that I didn’t believe he was gay, which prevented me from appreciating the performance or the story. It resonated the importance of getting the casting right.

My frustration continued with the third play,Blank Page by Alex Britt, in which Alex also played one of the characters opposite Jim Murrell. As soon as Jim began to speak, I looked at Giovanni with a knowing glance to say “he’s definitely not gay”. Again, this was an assumption, and if in fact Jim Murrell is a gay man, then I apoligise. But then, I don’t know which is worse, either he is a straight actor who cannot convincingly play a gay character or he is a gay actor that cannot convincingly play a gay character, which is undoubtedly worse. As Alex, the writer, as the character he had written spent most of the scene snogging the actor, I assumed was straight, the cynic in me would say that it was simply a gay writer relishing in the chance to get off with the handsome straight actor. Of course I could be completely wrong.

Never the less, the play seemed very self indulgent, written by someone who probably thought it was a lot funnier and smarter that it actually was. It certainly didn’t as if Alex Britt had asked anyone what they thought of it before putting it on.

I was already questioning why in an evening of LGBTQ+ work, two of the plays had straight actors playing gay characters, and the other had a cis man playing a trans man. Not only that, the whole evening was hosted by a straight women Carmen Jean Ali, an awkward comedienne who resorted to singing karaoke songs to fill time. I then asked my friend, is the producer Tom Stocks gay? The answer was unsurprisingly, no he isn’t gay.

This is not to say that a straight producer can’t and shouldn’t be entitled to produce a night of LGBTQ+ work, but it did raise the question of his intention. Was he merely trying to be savie and effectively cash in on the pink pound by organising a night of LGBTQ+ work in pride month. For me, this question of Tom’s integrity tainted the entire evening, and certainly explained why the content of the work seemed so out of touch. I’m not sure what his process was for selecting the work but I do believe if you are going to curate an evening of LGBTQ+ work that you should consult with a panel of LGBTQ+ people to help in selecting these. Perhaps he did. But if that’s the case, they didn’t do a very good job.

The evening was salvaged only be the forth and final piece to be presented, Satan’s Slide Show, written by Leon Fleming, directed by Scott Le Crass and performed by Elliott Hadley. All three, who I can verify are unequivocally gay.

Leon is a writer whose work I have seen directed by Scott before, with his plays Sid and Kicked in the Shitter. Elliott is a friend of mine and a superb actor who has previously appeared in Five Guys Chilling, and Coming Clean.  Although a working progress, the piece was already well formed, with Leon’s well observed and natural language as well as Scott’s detailed direction. Elliot brought his incredible comedic skills which he is brilliant at. On Tuesday I interviewed Andrew Keates who is currently directing Dark Sublime by Michael Dennis at the Trafalgar Studios that features the voice of Mark Gatiss, Marina Sirtis, Kwaku Mills, Jacqueline King, Sophie Ward and Simon Thorp.

This is the third play that Andrew has directed at the Trafalgar Studios, following on from Dessa Rose which starred Cynthia Erivo and Cassidy Janson, and As Is which starred Stevie Webb and Dino Fetscher who was recently in the BBC series Years and Years.

Andrew had a lot to say, as he always does, and it was hard to get any questions in, but he is wonderfully insightful and incredibly passionate about his work.

What caught me by surprise is that Dark Sublime, is not only a scifi play but it is a play about lesbians. The marketing team haven’t really promoted this as a gay play, which surprises me, especially as it is Pride month.

The whole interview with Andrew can be seen here:

Dark Sublime runs until 3rd August at Trafalgar Studios, more information and tickets can be booked here:

www.darksublimeplay.com

We filmed the interview in a bar near to where Andrew and the cast were rehearsing, and Andrew insisted on ordering us a bottle of red wine. I barely had time to finish it, when I had to race up to the Southbank Centre for the press night of The Light in the Piazza. This show ran on Broadway over fifteen years ago, and I will be honest I have never heard of it. Nor had I even here of it’s stars, revered opera singer Renee Fleming and Disney actress Dove Cameron.

I did know of Alex Jennings and of course Rob Houchen, although was quite surprised to see them playing Italian’s. As I said, I was not familiar with this show, so did not know what to expect, and although both were brilliant actors, successfully mastering the Italian accent, I wasn’t convinced. I felt watching them that the production should have perhaps cast people who at least looked Italian. Although it was only semi staged, I did feel that this casting detracted from the story a little.

Rob Houchen is most known for starting his career in Les Miserables, and I do appreciate that he has since wanted to broaden his range and not get stuck in that casting, it was for this reason he fought for the role in Eugenius!Taking over from Liam Forde who replaced Louis Maskell. Rob was also part of the West End cast of Broken Wings, in which he played a middle eastern character, again, in all honesty completely inappropriate casting.

The Light in the Piazza is a peculiar piece, it does arguably have an incredibly rousing score, played perfectly here by the delectable orchestra, however the book is a bit stunted and in places the characters become mildly offensive caricatures.

Celinde Schoenmaker and Liam Tamne play a squabbling Italian couple, although I sat throughout the entire show without realising it was Liam.

The ensemble work is done by an incredibly under used cast that includes Marie McLaughlin. Malcolm Sinclair.  Simbi Akande. Danny Becker. Jordan Castle. Nicholas Duncan. Chloe Hart. Molly Lynch. Rhona McGregor. Tom Partridge. Monica Swayne. And Matthew Woodyatt. Dove Cameron had actually been ill and had missed most of the previews where she was covered by her understudy Molly Lynch, only returning for her first night at this press performance.

All in all, I felt very underwhelmed by the show as a whole.

I made my way up to the bar for canapes and drinks where Perry O’Bree was making some videos for Stage Faves. I got chatting to the lovely Carrie Hope Fletcher and Oliver Ormson about their recent trip to Disney World, and with Benjamin Purkiss about his upcoming projects including Broken Wings. I also chatted to Danny Becker and his agent Anthony who let me into a secret about what he will be working on next. Ben Platt was also there, although I didn’t get chance to speak to him.

The Light at The Piazza plays until 5th July, tickets can be found here:

https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/126992-light-piazza-2019

On Wednesday afternoon I went to watch the workshop presentation of Confessions at The Other Palace. Written by Kansley and Lidert directed by Molly Marie Walsh and starring Joanna Woodward, Tanisha Spring and Thao Nguyen.

It was brilliant. I was honestly so impressed. For a workshop, this was of an incredibly high standard with superb performances by the three leading ladies who were all practically off book.

This story of espionage told through a female perspective feels very current and fresh, and is bound to do well following the recent success of Killing Eve. The music is catchy with brilliant orchestrations and they have all really worked hard to make sure that this showing was ready for an audience. I can’t wait to see what comes of this show next and how it will develop.

On Wednesday evening I was invited by Paul Vale to watch the One Act Festival 2019 at the Stockwell Playhouse where he was their adjudicator. Paul is one of the leading critics at the Stage and a friend of mine.

The One Act Festival is now in its 35th year with Paul acting as adjudicator for the past seven. Despite this, I have never heard of the event.

It runs for the whole week, with three pieces presented each evening, Paul watching all the pieces and each evening addresses the acts infront of the audience to offer them feedback.

Its a very direct way for artists to get immediate constructive criticism for their work, and Paul delivers this in a very sensitive and considerate way.  I think I would be a bit more brutal. The work is different each night, but when I went I watched a very long and frankly bizarre clown act by Alexander Grieve, a radical feminist poem by Ioana Goga, and a brilliant duologue about loneliness by Sebastiao Marques Lopes, with actors Beth Graham and Tom Blake. The festival is a great platform for new writing with a productive view to developing the pieces.

On Thursday, I had a very long day filming again at Holby City, randomly Paul O’Grady was also their with his camera crew filming the Christmas special of his series For The Love Of Dogs.

After this I went to SingEasy to say hello to host Drew Baker and Steph Parry as well as Megan Jobling, Lois Morgan Gay, and Charlie McCullagh from Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens, who all work there now with musical director Ben Papworth. I stayed to watch them all sing a couple of songs before making my way to the Hospital Club where Paul Branch was hosting his Thursday evening cabaret Birdcage.

On the way I picked up my friends Abi Carter-Simpson and Louis Westwood, and chatted to the very handsome MatthewFacchino who was telling me all about his upcoming cabaret Roles We’ll Never Play –Pride special on 6th July at the Union Theatre.

For tickets book here:

http://uniontheatre.savoysystems.co.uk/UnionTheatre.dll/TSelectItems.waSelectItemsPrompt.TcsWebMenuItem_836.TcsWebTab_837.TcsPerformance_321023.TcsSection_225360?fbclid=IwAR0qZNfHxEDCzfqKiLNxj_nVWV5Y4j9RxAm5zV8M_4rdW_pN1CTy8E9dWsA

We took our seats and host Paul introduced the first of tonight’s acts, Scott Sutcliffe and Jonathan Dudley who sang ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ from Rent, Jonathan then joined Aimee Fisher for a duet before Sam Robinson accompanied Genevieve Taylor for an incredible rendition of Chandelier. Chiarina Woodall sang a song from Brooklyn the Musical, while Hannah Ducharme smashed a rendtion of Somebody to Love. Rhidian Marc and Carl Man both sang too.

Michel Webborn was the musical director for the evening and we chatted afterwards about his recent concert version of his musical The Clockmaker’s Daughter at Cadogan Hall.

The evening was really enjoyable, with the cast of Wicked proving how incredible their voices are. Paul also did a really good job as host, chatting candidly with each performer between songs.

Abi, Louis and I then continued drinking in the bar, where somebody bought us all shots. The night then lost its way, as we attempted to go to Balans for some late night food, only to get separated with me losing the bag containing the lighting ring that I use for my interviews. I was convinced somebody had stolen it on the streets in Soho, but when I woke up the next day with a very sore head, and checked, I remembered that I had left it in the cloak room at Hospital Bar and simply forgotten to collect it. Fortunately it was still there waiting for me.

On Friday, after nursing a severe hangover, I made my way to the Old Vic to watch Present Laughter. I managed to catch up before the show with Dan Krickler, an old friend and performer who is currently an understudy in

Present Laughter. I last saw him when he performed with Tyrone Huntley in the play Homos, or Everyone in America at the Finbourgh Theatre.

I met Adam Haigh who was my plus one for the evening, and we grabbed a quick drink at the Bar Elba’s roof terrace across the road from the Old Vic, and he told me all about Brooklyn the Musical which he will be directed. After one drink we went across to watch Present Laughter, written by Noel Coward in 1939.

Andrew Scott led the cast. I have known Andrew personally for a few years since we worked together on the BBC series The Hour, and used to gym together.

Andrew is one of the nicest people I know, and also I think, one of the greatest actors of his generation. His work is always incredible, and most recently he has received a lot of attention for his role as the hot vicar in Fleabag.

Joining Andrew was Eastenders and Harry Potter star and sister of Emma Thompson, Sophie Thompson who was hilarious. As were all the cast which also included the brilliant Luke Thallon and Indira Varma.

The play is hilarious with superb performances by all.

Present Laughter runs at the Old Vic until 10th August.

Any remaining tickets can be booked here:

https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2019/present-laughter?gclid=CjwKCAjwr8zoBRA0EiwANmvpYHaenY4D07OG3_GBr3t6Rrwi1AZYNbYWgI89oYIlJ4Yi3rDzdlHQ-BoCUbgQAvD_BwE After this I met my friend Cody who was watching The Globe Players at The Comedy of Errors at the Globe Theatre.

Cody was visiting London for the weekend from America, and had taken part in a tour of the Globe before watching the evening performance. He was then staying to watch their midnight matinee.

I had never heard of midnight matinees, but apparently The Globe run these special performances ever month throughout summer. I managed to grab a £5 stalls ticket and joined him.

Starting at midnight, the audience was invited to select from the choice of three plays from the Globe Player’s rep. The choices were The Comedy of Errors, Pericles and Twelfth Night.By cheering for which play you wanted to see the most, we cast our vote and anxiously waited for a randomly selected adjudicator to verify which play had won.

Cody and I both wanted Twelfth Night, and to our delight, it won.

The performance then began. The Globe Players are eight actors who divide up the roles, playing two to three characters each. They use minimal costumes and make up to indicate which characters they are playing, and use their own native accents and swap genders. They include actors Evelyn Miller, Colin Campbell, Beau Holland, Eric Sirakian, Nastasha Magigi, Mogali Masuku, Mark Desebrock, and Andrius Gaucas.

It was brilliant, to watch Shakespeare done this way, with no sets, no lighting and no sound effects. The cast did play instruments and sang, but this really felt like you were stepping back in time and watching Shakespeare as it was intended to be performed.

The cast were superb. It honestly felt magical being outside in the open air at the Globe Theatre in to the early hours of Saturday morning.

The next midnight matinee will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 20th July, to book tickets visit:

https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/seasons/midnight-matinees/

On Saturday I overslept, and missed the start of West End Live. Fortunately, I was on the press list, so managed to get instant access and avoided the huge queues to get into Trafalgar Square.

I bought from ebay a new microphone to plug into my phone so that I could make some reports from the weekend. I was hoping to get back stage access but they do not permit this. Instead I watched the acts from the audience and tried to meet up with people.

I bumped into Matt Croke whose performance with Aladdin, I had been late for. Matt looked well and was a little sad that this would be his last West End Live with Aladdin.

As well as old favourites, Aladdin, Wicked, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, The Phantom of the Opera, Tina, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia! Six Thriller Live! The Lion King there were new shows, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Come From Away, Only Fools and Horses, 9 to 5 the Musical, Brainiac Live, Yummy, BalletBoyz, Avenue Q, The Illusionists, Falsettos and On Your Feet! which sounded incredible.

Understudy Charoltte Riby performed as Becky joining David Hunter and Lucie Jones from Waitress, performing on both days. Lucie also joined Nathan Amzi and had her own slot, sounding and looking incredible. New cast members Maria Friedman and Anita Dobson joined the cast of Fiddler on the Roof to perform on Saturday as well as the new cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Brand new productions The View Upstairs, & Juliet, Heartbeat of Home, and The Worst Witch also previewed some of their shows. Brooklyn the Musical with Hiba Elchikhe sounding incredible. Paul Taylor-Mills presented some highlights from MT Fest UK and the gorgeous IDA girls performed, who I managed to catch up with and quickly chat to.

Other performances included Louise Dearman who sang and hosted, West End Calling, Sylvia Young Theatre School, Nadine Benjamin, John Owen-Jones. West End Kids, Ben Stock’s West End Sing-A-Long, Ferris & Milnes, The Knights and The Best of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons.

The Barricade Boys performed with founding member Kieran Brown whose birthday it also happened to be. Magic Mike Live performed on both days and looked fantastic, climbing the scaffolding around the stage. The West End Gospel Choir led by Nathaniel Morrison and Rosalind James performed an incredible set which they beautifully dedicated to performers Hannah Bingham, Benjamin James and Harry Wright. The weather was gorgeous and I spent most of the weekends watching West End Live with other bloggers. Some I already knew, some I only knew online, and some I just met. They included Lucie Devine, Jordan Haugh, Lois Morgan Gay, Russell Haugh, Amy Lovatt, Lewis Snell, Perry O’Bree, Gina and Richard. My highlights from the weekend are on my YouTube page:

On the Saturday evening I organised what I called ‘The big west End Bloggers meet up’ at Singeasy at the Pianoworks West End. It was a chance for us to all meet properly and chat and drink, and was really lovely of Drew Baker and the Singeasy team to look after us. I have to thank Maisie Sellwood, ChristopherBartlett-Walford, Lois Morgan Gay, Chrissie Perkins, Chloe Akam, Liam Dean.

My friends Cody, Maddie and Tiffany also joined us as we drank prosecco and put in some requests.

On Sunday evening I quickly grabbed a drink after West End Live with Cody, Maddie and my friend Bradley, before going over to Vauxhall for The Legs Eleven Gang Show.

It was supposed to be a date, but I got stood up. His loss. It left me with a spare ticket for the show, which I offered out to a few friends, none of whom were interested. Refusing to miss out, I simply went along to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern by myself for the sold out show, and gave my spare ticket to the first person waiting in the queue or returns.

The show was for the charity Diversity Role Models, who on the evening raised £3000.

The evening was hosted by Bianca Del Rio and organised by Miss Moppe and Vinegar Strokes. With Jamie Campbell. Courtney Bowman. Sejal Keshwala. Divalution. Faye Tozer.

Bianca was on incredibly great form, making hilarious jokes between songs, and all the guests sounded incredible. The show closed with Bianca inviting a young man who was clearly a huge Steps fan on to the stage to sing with Faye. It was hilarious. The video can be found on my Youtube page: https://youtu.be/qXn7Bv7OW-Y

The evening was fantastic, and despite not having a date, I got some chicken and chips and went home alone, happily.

More information about the charity can be found here:

https://www.diversityrolemodels.org

The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my You Tube channel here: https://youtu.be/r1UbLkeJFEY

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Philip Dehany
Describing himself, Philip says: "My Twitter profile once said, Actor. Director. Producer. Writer. Arts Ed boy. It now simply says Blogger. In short, I am 5 foot 5 tall. Northern. Gay, and Stagey. I am and have been all of the above." He launched That Stagey Blog in 2018.
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Philip Dehany on FacebookPhilip Dehany on InstagramPhilip Dehany on RssPhilip Dehany on Twitter
Philip Dehany
Describing himself, Philip says: "My Twitter profile once said, Actor. Director. Producer. Writer. Arts Ed boy. It now simply says Blogger. In short, I am 5 foot 5 tall. Northern. Gay, and Stagey. I am and have been all of the above." He launched That Stagey Blog in 2018.

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