It’s been another crazy busy Stagey week. I moved flats, travelled to Chichester, Kilworth, and Dartford, saw five shows, two cabarets, interviewed nine people and had a very early start on Sunday for a day’s filming on Giles Terera’s new TV series Flack.
It all started on Monday when I went to watch a new jukebox musical called The Feeling at The Other Palace. It was written, produced and starred Kyra J Willis, based on real events. I first met Kyra when she produced a cabaret called Surviving A Millennial Jukebox with Patrick Sullivan, Georgia Carling and Ben Purkiss under her company Monsteers Artistry.
Kyra created the name Monsteers by merging two of her biggest inspirations Marilyn Monroe and West End star Danielle Steers. Monsteers Artistry doubles up as a talent agency ran by Kyra. In The Feeling, Kyra has cast all her own clients. This could be seen as genius or madness.
Annemarie Lewis Thomas, the principle of The MTA, often writes her own shows for her students to appear it. This gives them a unique opportunity to perform roles tailored to match their skills. The same could be applied to Kyra’s method by using The Feeling as a platform for herself and her clients.
However, I have my reservations about whether it was achieved in this case. Kyra is clearly a very driven and kind person, and I was very grateful to have been invited to watch her show. I do appreciate that it is still very much in early development, so I don’t think it would be fair or appropriate for me to publish my thoughts about the show. I am not one to diminish anyone’s aspirations or hard work. I have reached out to Kyra and offered to meet with her in person to discuss my thoughts privately.
On Tuesday I travelled to Chichester to watch Oklahoma! in its final week. This production hit the headlines earlier this year when it was announced that Amara Okereke had been cast as Laurey. As an actress of colour, it challenged traditional casting. Amara is a resilient actress who has faced opposition like this before when she held the role of Cosette in Les Misérables.
She posted a statement defending herself and her right to play this role, for which she went on to win a Stage Debut Award for Best Actress on a Musical. Amara is a brilliant actress with a stunning voice and as Laurey she was incredible in Oklahoma!.
She played opposite Hyoie O’Grady who had also previously appeared in Les Miserables as Curly. I had last seen Oklahoma on tour with Charlotte Wakefield and Ashley Day, and with Lucy May Barker as Ado Annie. She is played here by the brilliant Bronte Barbe. I arrived at Chichester and bumped into Jacob Fisher, he was also here to watch friends who he knew in the show. We chatted about our love lives, and moving flats which we both have recently, and talked about his experience at Kilworth House in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoatas well as his new show which has not been announced yet. Oklahoma was fantastic. It is beautifully traditional. As much as I love reworked and reimagined work, such as Jesus Christ Superstar andEvita recently, some times it’s nice just to see a classic production done traditionally and really well. The choreography and entire ensemble are brilliant. I was particularly drawn to my friend Alyn Hawke who had grown out a beard especially for this production since finishing Follies at the National. He was brilliant. I love watching him perform. Josie Lawrence who plays Aunt Ella was also brilliant. I last watched her in Mother Courage at the Southwark Playhouse. The production had so much energy and a fantastic use of the incredible stage that Chichester provides with impressive pyrotechnics that almost singed my hair off. I had to race to catch my last train back to London after the show and didn’t even get chance to see Alyn or stroke his beard, which I was dying to. On Wednesday, I barely even had time for a lie in, and I was up again to drive to Kilworth House Theatre to interview Emma Hatton and watch Cats. Directed by Nick Winston and Francis Goodhand. This production also caused some racial controversy, when it was pointed out by some how the entire cast is made up of white actors. Nick Winston and Francis Goodhand also had to defend their artistic choices to humanise the cats by setting the piece in an underground world war bomb shelter and gave each character human costumes and jobs, but whilst retaining their feline features and movements. It was a bold reimagining which could have gone either way. Fortunately critics seemed to like it, with the Stage giving the show 5 stars. I was excited in particular to see friends Matt Jones and Sam Murphy. Before that, I got to sit down and interview Emma Hatton. Emma is represented by the lovely agent Bobbi Chatt, so once I knew I was coming to see CatsI contacted Bobbi to ask whether I could interview Emma, and Bobbi arranged it all for me. I had watched Emma being interviewed by West End Wilma as part of his In Conversationseries, and really wanted to interview her myself as she seemed so lovely. I set up my tripod outside just next to the open air stage, and Emma arrived shortly afterwards. An aspiring radio presenter, Emma loves to chat, and once we got going, there was no stopping. We chatted for over 45 minutes all about her career and her experience playing Grizabella in this new production of Cats. As we chatted Jeremy Secomb, Adrian Grove, and Jack Warren casually walked past and the sound department were testing out their levels. I really love doing interviews outside like this, I always feel like I’m presenting This Morning where anything could happen. The whole interview can be watched here: https://youtu.be/J473iIcuJ2o As Emma got ready for her evening show, I went to get some fish and chips, and messaged my friend Sam, who had unfortunately pulled his hamstring so was having to take the night off, his understudy Luke Redmore was going on instead. As the show began, I was captivated. Emma had told me just how hard the ensemble work in this production and it’s incredible to watch. Cats is unequivocally a brilliant show for dancers. I watched in awe as Matt Jones, Jack Warren and Aaron Jenkins who I have known since they were all students at Laine Theatre Arts, the school which I have to say continues to produce the finest dancers in the industry. It was also thrilling to hear Matt sing, as I’ve not really seen this side to him before now. The incredibly handsome Oliver Ormson naturally shone as Rum Tum Tugger and Robbie McMillian stood out as Mr Mistoffelees for his incredible ballet technique. The production was first class, and Kilworth House continues to be a beautiful venue for these productions. There is honestly nothing better during the summer than visiting an open air theatre and watching a classic show being brought back to life. Interestingly, next summer, both Kilworth House and Regents Park Open Air Theatre will be staging new productions of Carousel. On Thursday I spent the morning moving house. Having actually moved out of my last house before going up to Edinburgh, I was storing all my belongings at my brother’s house in Brockley. I had to load up a car with all my stuff and driving it across to Chiswick where I was moving in with my friend Maddie. Having trained at Arts Ed in Chiswick, I am looking forward to living in the area again. Having dropped off all my stuff and returned the car to my brother, I then made my way to The Union Theatre to interview some of the cast of Hello Again that I watched last week. I love making these cast interviews, especially with The Union Theatre for Sasha Regan who I have a lot of time for. Sasha has an incredibly warm and welcoming approach to running the Union Theatre, and any time I go there I always feel like I’m amongst friends. Whether there’s a familiar face behind the bar or someone who has popped in for a drink, it’s always nice to swing by. As I was reviewing these interviews Tom Duern and Henry Brennan popped by. The casts that Sasha assembles always seem to get on incredibly well and seem to all have a brilliant time being part of a show at the Union, and this always comes across in the cast interviews which is why I enjoy making them. As I chattered to Jack Rowell, Alice Ellen Wright, Regan Burke, Phillip Murch, Amy Parker and David Pendlebury they told me all about the show and their experience. Phillip happens to also be represented by Emma Hatton’s aren’t Bobbi and is very handsome. Regan and Jack both has twinkles in their eyes too, and the girls and David were all a pleasure to talk to and bounced off each other. I always come away from these interviews learning a little bit more about that shows and feeling like I’ve made some new friends. The interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/zHfs2Jg2HWc After this, I had a quick visit to the gym before going to Pineapple Dance Studios to interview Tom Partridge and Danny Becker about their new show A Night in the Piazza At Live At Zedel. The pair met when they were both in The Light in the Piazza and became friends. Whilst performing in Follies, Tom interned at Jamie Wilson Productions, and both he and Danny expressed an interest in producing their own cabaret. They decided to stage The Light in the Piazza using other members of the cast Chloe Hart, Molly Lynch, Rhona McGregor, Jordan Castle, Simbi Akande, and Matthew Woodyatt. I had seen Tom in various productions before and have known Danny since we both attended Arts Ed at the same time. Both have gone on to perform in many West End shows which I was excited to talk to them both about. They were both incredibly fun to interview, I even had to edit some sections out where we kept making each other laugh. The full interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/UCqsb6vDags Their show A Night in the Piazza is sold out. On Friday evening I went to watch Falsettos at The Other Palace. Falsettos received quite a backlash after Jewish actors and playwrights criticised the production for using non-Jews to play Jewish roles. The Guardian labelled this story “Jewface”. Falsettos won Best Book and Best Original Score in 1992 on broadway, and was nominated for best revival in 2016. Directed and choreographed by Tara Overfield-Wilkinson. It stars Laura Pitt-Pulford and Daniel Boys who continue to co-parent their son after Daniel’s character comes out as gay and begins a relationship with Oliver Savile’s character. Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones Oley a lesbian couple who live next door, and Joel Montague plays Laura’s new boyfriend. To me the argument over cultural appropriation, was unfair to burden on this cast who all do incredible work. I’m not Jewish, so obviously I don’t want to seem insensitive, but by comparison as a gay man, I certainly wasn’t offended or outraged that Oliver Saville as a straight man was playing a gay character or that Natasha J Barnes was playing a lesbian. I certainly didn’t feel that either performer were “taking jobs” off gay and lesbian performers. I thought all the performances were brilliant. However I really didn’t like the show itself or the production. Completely sung through, it just felt like a poor man’s Sondheim. None of the songs stood out for me, and were all instantly forgettable. At points it felt like one of those shows that only ever gets revived at small box theatres above pubs. I failed to understand how it had been so well received when it was revived in 2016 or why it was being revived again now. The gay and lesbian characters are portrayed with incredible cliche, and the storyline very genetic, with Natasha J Barnes made to wear dungarees, just in case we didn’t get that she’s a lesbian. It is fair to acknowledge that the story is very moving in parts, especially the ending. But with the medical progresses we have made it feels a little redundant to present a story about AIDS in this way, and I was left questioning why this story is still being told. The set takes influence from artist Keith Haring, but just looks cheap and basic. Falsettosis on until 23rd November at the Other Palace. Which feels an unnecessarily long time to fill a venue that once held the promise of being the home of new British Writing and musical theatre. To see the show for yourself book here. https://lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/falsettos/ On Saturday afternoon, I was Tower Theatre’s open day to celebrate their 1st anniversary in their current venue as well as to launch their Autumn season. Based near Stoke Newington, North London, I have to admit that I had never heard of this theatre, however I was more than grateful to have been invited to have a look around. The open day consisted of a guided tour of the building, a puppetry workshop and a collection of short excerpts from upcoming shows presented in the main theatre space. I was a bit apprehensive before going, and to be honest didn’t really feel up to. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The puppetry work ship led by Isaac Inslay was really fun and informative. I felt obligated to taking part when nobody else volunteered but it gave me a real insight and new found appreciation for what goes in to operating and creating puppets. There is a lot more than meets that eye to this simple yet effective art form. After treating myself to a cake from the bake sale, I enjoyed watching the excepts from some of the actors who will be appearing in Dead Funny and Breaking the Code. These productions are billed as amateur, yet the performers I saw felt strong and accomplished, and definitely encouraged me to come and see them in full. The large theatre space is has great facilities which will only continue to grow as Tower Theatre continue to fundraise. Dead Funny opens on 25th September until 5th October and tickets can be found here: https://www.towertheatre.co/funny.htm My video of my visit to Tower Theatre can be found here: https://youtu.be/37JfCJb9gc0 After this, I caught a train to Dartford to watch Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The popular stage show originally opened in Sydney in 2006, before spending two years in the West End between 2009 and 2011. It has then continued to tour. This new production is produced by Jason Donovan and stars Strictly Come Dancing winner Joe McFadden. I first met Joe in 1999 when he took over from Anthony Rapp as Mark in the first London production of Rent. We have remained friends and I was very excited to see Joe play Tick. Joining Joe are Miles Western and Nick Hayes an incredible performer who I interviewed two months ago when it was first announced that he would be playing Adam. My interview with Nick can be found here: https://youtu.be/uLfGLkKU_nA I was also incredibly excited to see the fabulous Claudia Kariuki who plays one of the Divas. Claudia is an incredible singer and incredibly lovely. As I took my seat amongst the hoards of women and hen parties and buckled in for the show. The women next to me told me that they had seen this show four times with various tours. Joe looked and sounded incredible as he commanded the stage showed off his spray tan. Nick equally looked stunning and sounded brilliant. As the show progressed though, something didn’t feel right, the costumes weren’t very good, neither were the wigs. Come on guys, these are drag queens, and if Ru Paul has taught us anything. Drag is all about the aesthetic. These outfits just looked cheap. I can understand a new production and a new costume designer wanting to put their own stamp on a show. But as they say if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. When it comes to Priscilla the divas are synonymous with those hair raiding red wigs and shimmery silver dresses, here they are given manky blond hair pieces and tatty ill fitted dresses. It’s a shame because during the interval the women next to me, who had seen it four times, turned to say “well it all looks cheap. Isn’t it cheap. I won’t be coming again”. The show itself is carried by the soundtrack of disco hits, yet here the book really shows up as dated and forced. The one liners don’t land and descend dangerously into panto territory, despite best efforts by the talented cast. There is huge heart and sentiment to this show which does still resonate and the themes of homophobia and transphobia which in recent times need highlighting more than ever are poignant. This is a story, that sadly still needs to be told, and challenged, yet the book could do with a slight update to make it funnier. I will say one thing, they made a good job of the bus. It will be impossible to replicate the original bus that the West End could afford, but here within a modest touring budget, they have managed to make a good effort with a bus that looks great and breaks up cleverly to form other set pieces within the show. Priscilla Queen of the Desert continues to tour until next May. For details visit: https://priscillauktour.com/ On Sunday I spent the day filming with Giles Terera’s on a new TV series called Flack. Giles won the Olivier for Best Actor in a musical last year and is an incredible actor. It was brilliant to watch him work. It was a long day with some pretty terrible catering afterwards I rushed into soho to catch the end of RyCabaret with Hiba Elchikhe. RyCabaret is a brand new cabaret series produced by RyCa Creative who make Refresh. The special show at Jack Solomons featured Hiba with special guests Luke Bayer. Joe Thompson-Ourabi. Robert Tripolino. Emma Kingston. Rob Houchen and Georgina Onuorah. Hiba Elchikhe is a stunning performer and brilliant actress who has recently appeared in Fiver and is currently rehearsing in Brooklyn, having played Jasmine in Aladdin in Australia. She seemed comfortable and perfectly at ease on stage as she make jokes and entertained the huge audience. I managed to catch Hiba perform No Good Deed from Wicked and One Last Time by Ariana Grande. Both of these videos can be found on my YouTube page: YouTube: https://youtu.be/JLPNYcg0g_w YouTube: https://youtu.be/w51SRASXWHY After this I raced across to the Union Theatre to catch the second half of An Evening With Nick Barstow and Friends. Produced by Kieran Brown and Chris Matanle as part of Sunday Night Socials. Nick teamed up with his writing partner Jonathan Kirwan to present a few songs from their new musical Never Change. They were joined by Jennifer Harding, Ryan Heenan and Soophia Foroughi whose birthday it also was. It was nice to catch up with Soophia and her parents who had come to watch the show. Never Change was part of the From Page to Stageevenings at Southwark Playhouse last year. I congratulated Nick and Jonathan for a fantastic evening. Their songs really are beautiful. It will be exciting to see what comes of their show. I then travelled home with Jonathan and his wife Rosie who is a friend of mine, as they also both live in Chiswick. The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/o7GvlQ9pgNM And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-33–Audio-e5bmnt