Two for Tuesday – Childhood Favourites

I have been so lucky to have recently seen two of my childhood favourites on stage, and I felt it was time to share how much I enjoyed both of these shows (especially as my theatre posts have been slightly neglected recently).

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – The Gillian Lynne Theatre, London

In October, I was lucky enough to go to London to see the latest stage adaptation of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’. And, I have to be honest, I was so flipping excited. The Narnia stories have been some of my favourites since I was young. I still remember when I first unwrapped the seven books for my birthday one year, and I have treasured them ever since. So, a chance to see another way that they had been adapted was just such a treat.

This production is absolutely stunning – fans will not be disappointed at all. The characterisation is fantastic, the White Witch is as spooky as you would hope, Aslan is as brave as you would expect, and the Pevensie children become the heroes of Narnia you have always hoped for (even if Edmund does not have the most positive start, as we all know).

The staging is also incredibly clever, a minimal set that transports you directly to Narnia. As well as the fantastic costume design that brings all the residents of Narnia to life – good or bad. I was just as nervous of Maugrim in this production as I am in any other, and the book.

So, I feel it is safe to say that the current West End production is a must see for all Narnia fans, young or old, as you will feel like you have really stepped through that wardrobe and been on the adventure that you have always imagined.

Strictly Ballroom – Birmingham Hippodrome

In, contrast, another favourite of mine, which I remember my Mum introducing me to, was Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Strictly Ballroom’. A film that I adored and would watch over and over again, especially if I needed a little bit of comfort viewing. So, as soon as I found out that Craig Revell-Horwood had developed a production of ‘Strictly Ballroom: The Musical’, I knew I had to see it – which of course I did.

And what an amazing celebration of the film it is. It has everything that you would expect: the music and songs from the film (plus some shiny new songs), the dramatic costumes and the fantastic characters. By the end, we were dancing in the aisles to ‘Love is in the Air’ – so, as you can imagine, it is amazing fun.

Maisie Smith is an absolutely wonderful Fran – with all her determination and slight awkwardness that makes her such a brilliant character. Kevin Clifton is quite the Scott Hastings – the rule-breaker extraordinaire, with (let’s be honest) all the moves, as you would expect.

Together they are a fantastic pairing – but they are also supported by an extraordinary ensemble who bring everything you love about the film to the stage – especially the fantastic subtle humour that makes the story such a joy.

If you are a musical fan, a fan of ‘Strictly Ballroom’, or just a general theatre fan, then I would really recommend catching this production if you can, because you will come out singing and dancing, and feeling like there is at least some joy in the world.

In fact, that is exactly what both these stage productions did for me as they transported back to so many happy childhood memories – as well as being a chance to make even more fantastic memories.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks: The Musicals

I am still not over the most magical musical that was ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks‘. As a child, there were two films we watched pretty much on repeat because our grandparents bought us the videos (yes, videos) – ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’. So, as soon as the opportunity came around to see it at the theatre, I jumped at the chance. And, oh my goodness, it did not disappoint, in fact, this could have instantly become one of my favourite musicals of all time.

As soon as the first note was struck, you were whisked away to the London of the Blitz and journey with the children to the coast as they are evacuated. And the adventures do not stop for the whole magical production.

I loved the charm of the characters and the mix of the new music with the traditional songs of the film. However, what really took me back to the happy memories of my childhood was the magic and illusion of the production. The broomstick flew, the bed flew, and all the clothes came to life – with no obvious strings attached. As well as all the wonderful animated animals of ‘Nopeepo’ having exactly the same charm as they do in the film.

This was musical of nostalgia, with an audience full of those who have very happy memories of the film – and the excellent ensemble deserved the standing ovation, the cheers and applause – amazing performances, but for bringing so much happiness to so many.

Thursday Thoughts: Theatre is Back!

The most wonderful thing is the return of theatre. And August has been my lucky month – as I have been able to return to both Stratford and London to enjoy all things theatre – and it has made me so incredibly happy.

In Stratford, it was the chance to see ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at the RSC’s outdoor theatre. It was an absolute joy, and the perfect way to be welcomed back to The Royal Shakespeare Company. Played completely for its joyful, slapstick comedy, the company appeared to be having the time of their lives (come rain or shine), and you cannot feel anything other than sheer happiness being in the audience. This is also a fantastic play if you are looking to dip your toe into the Shakespeare experience.

The West End was a chance to see ‘Hairspray’ – selected as I hoped I would see Michael Ball but, unfortunately he was indisposed. However, this did not take away from all the musical magic of ‘Hairspray’. The moment the first note was heard in the theatre, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Another outstanding performance from the whole company. In fact, so brilliant that there was cheering and clapping throughout – and even a standing ovation after ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’. ‘Hairspray’ has so many important messages, that are still so important today, that it is just a timeless show – and if you can see it, I would really recommend it.

So, the theatres being back has just been the most wonderful emotional rollercoaster. Let us all hope that the show goes on because, oh my goodness, I have missed it.

Mischief Movie Night In

So, as this Ney Year was all about a big night in, we decided to share it with the ‘Mischief Movie Night In’. A night in brought to you by those wonderful people who bring us so many of those shows that go wrong – which are so right.

This is an online tickted show (of course) and is slightly different, as the wonderful ensemble bring you an improvised ‘movie’. They use ideas from the audience and Twitter to help them form their ‘movie’.

We were treated to the epic ‘Cat in the Habit’, a period romance set in a convent (had the audience been watching the latest BBC adaptation of ‘Black Narcissus’?) I could not possibly share the full story as I am not sure that I could put it all into words. However, I can tell you that the ensemble of the Mischief Theatre Company clearly have so much fun improvising these tales for the audience. It leads to all sorts of giggles throughout – especially when the director throws in the odd additional support, like a surprise musical number.

This was honestly such a charming and entertaining way to spend New Year’s Eve. It brought so much joy and happiness to the end of 2020 and definitely set the tone for a rather better 2021 (fingers crossed – I know it may not have started quite as we all hoped). And, really, hats off to all of those in the theatre and arts who have found new ways to bring joy to their audiences.

Even better news – there are more ‘Movie Night Ins’ heading online for us this January.

A Christmas Carol by In Camera The Old Vic

Theatre if one of the greatest joys for Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse and I during the festive season. However, of course, this year live theatre was not an option for us. But we wanted to support the Arts, so ‘A Christmas Carol‘ streamed by The Old Vic, seemed like a perfect opportunity.

It may not be exactly the same settling down in your own home to watch a play, however there was still some of the magic – dim the lights and create your own atmosphere.

This was a lovely adaptation of the tale – it goes at quite a pace that certainly holds the audience’s attention. This does not take away from the tale at all, but just means its focus slightly shifts. This adaptation for me, has more of a message about the saving of Ebenezer Scrooge – the man he can become and the help he can bring to so many. The message from this was perfect for 2020, and the strange year it has been.

Every member of the cast was excellent, but I did enjoy Andrew Lincoln as Scrooge. It was nice to think of Scrooge as a younger man who would have the chance to make a difference for many years to come.

If you have a chance to catch this production, please do – it is good fun and a tale that is so much part of the festive season.

The Whip

As the world appears to be a strange place at the moment, we took the chance to indulge in some escapism at the RSC. We went to see ‘The Whip’, a period piece set in 1833. It tackles the abolition of slavery, and the politics around it, but also the issue of the conditions in the Northern cotton mills.

I do not think I can do this play justice. It was a brilliant piece of theatre. Thought-provoking, emotional, humorous and entertaining. It really demonstrates how complex some of these issues were and how money was the fuel to so much of what took place. Attempting to achieve any kind of reform was difficult; even those who were really motivated to had struggles to overcome or prevent them from achieving their real aim.

The acting from the company was outstanding. The music framed and supported the narrative perfectly. The play itself was beautifully written with engaging dialogue. As well as the clever title, ‘The Whip’ – a reference to so much throughout the play.

As a History teacher, I have walked away with so much to think about and so much more I want to follow up. Unfortunately, there is only one week of this play left (this was written before the recent announcements) to go, but I hope it tours or gets another season, because I would encourage people to go and see it – and I would love to see it again.

Theatre Club 2020 – Waitress

Theatre Club 2020 has started on a high. This year, I chose Waitress as the show to celebrate my friend’s birthday – the hype has dragged me in, no point denying it. And, wow, it is not over-hyped, but totally deserves all the hype.

We did not know the story at all before the performance, so everything was a wonderful surprise. Jenna knows life is not quite as she dreamed it would be. She is a waitress with an amazing talent for baking pies with a story – she also has great friends. However, when she realises she is pregnant and meets her new doctor – her life starts to change…

The really special thing about this show for me was that it is a tale of female empowerment. About having the confidence to know you don’t have to be what people think you should be – you have the potential to be whatever you want to be.

The music and songs are wonderful throughout. There is humour and warmth – and a great collection of characters. Sara Bareilles has the most wonderful voice and, as composer of Waitress, is a real treat in the lead role. However, this is another show that is not about a star but about an ensemble of great actors who bring the story to life for the audience.

I have also never been to a show before that has quite so much applauding at the end of each song. The fan dedication to this musical is amazing and I am now also ‘Team Waitress’. So, if you can’t catch it in London, there is always the tour – just try to see it, as it is a beauty.

The Boy in the Dress

I have finally been to see ‘The Boy in the Dress’ – and why, oh why, did it take me so long?

This musical is awesome – a true production for the twenty-first century. I have never read a David Walliams book (although my niece is a huge fan and did once give me a thorough lesson in his work), but now I may have to change that.

‘The Boy in the Dress’ is brought to us by David Walliams, Guy Chambers. Robbie Williams and Gregory Doran, and they have genuinely put together one of the most heart-warming shows I have seen. There is singing, dancing, comedy and – at one point for the majority of the audience – tears (due to the beautiful emotion between father and son).

Dennis knows he feels a bit different – and discovers he likes to wear a dress. Something his friends Sarah James and Darvesh have no issue with. But not everybody is so understanding, because it is not what boys do. Boys play football, they don’t wear dresses… However, as the story unfolds many of the characters go on a journey to realise that things don’t have to be ordinary, but they an in fact be extraordinary.

Everything about this show is golden. The set is, as always, simple but clever. The costumes are wonderful and tranistion with the tale. The songs are catchy and toe-tappingly perfect. And finally, the performances from every single member of the cast brought every moment of the story to life. This is not a production with a star but with a team, each clearly having a whale of a time entertaining the audience. And, wow, the audience was entertained; clapping, laughing, cheering.

It also struck me how diverse the audience was, proving, as always, that we do not need to limit people’s access to culture and theatre. People of all ages can enjoy an afternoon at the theatre. ‘The Boy in the Dress’ certainly united so many – just as fashion and football can. So, if you think you can squeeze a trip to the theatre in before ‘The Boy in the Dress’ closes, I would do it. And, if not let’s keep everything crossed that The RSC decides to tour this or, as with Matilda, gives it a chance in London. And let’s all remember: we are extraordinary not ordinary.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

Ballet and Shakespeare: what could be more perfect? Thrown in with Matthew Bourne’s skill if setting his productions in unusual settings, you have a great evening of theatre.

Bourne’s ballet is set in an aslyum, which may not be the usual setting for one of Shakespeare’s greatest love stories, but it worked. Now, I do not claim to be an expert on the deeper ideas about the interpretations but for me this was about the patients versus the establishment, and the forbidden love comes from the ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ being divided.

Whatever the interpretation should be, the point is the fact that this is an enjoyable production. The choreography is engaging and tells the story beautifully at every stage. There is humour, raw emotion and devastating tragedy.

The staging is simple but powerful, the stark white of the patients costumes and their ‘prison’ is a great contrast to the tale unfolding on the stage. The dark form of Tybalt casts his shadow over the lives of the patients. And a violent, heart-breaking tale unfolds.

Having seen this and ‘Sleeping Beauty’, it makes me keen to see more of Matthew Bourne’s interpretations, as he is clearly not restrained by conventions.

Have you seen any of Matthew Bourne’s productions? What are your thoughts of his style?

Theatre Club – Fiddler on the Roof

Regular readers will know that there is a tradition between myself and Mrs M, known as ‘Theatre Club’. Twice a year, without fail, we go to see a show in London as a birthday treat for each of us. As it was my birthday earlier in the summer, it was my turn to be taken to a surprise show.

And, Mrs M did an amazing job with her choice, as we went to see ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at the Playhouse. There are so many reasons that this was a treat but mainly because I have never been to this theatre and I have never seen ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, but it has always been on the wishlist.

Wow, what a production and what a musical. It was clear before it even started that this is a musical that holds a special place in the hearts of so many muscial theatre fans. I now totally understand why; this is a show that I am not going to forget for a long time.

The songs are wonderful and I especially enjoyed hearing ‘If I was Rich Man’ performed so fabulously by Andy Nyman. The choreography was stunning, you almost wanted to join all the cast on the stage. But, for me, it is the actual tale that struck me the most. I have never seen the film or any previous production, so I wasn’t totally aux fais with the story. However, it is so emotional, the idea that the Jewish people had to fight for their traditions and culture. And, although some progress can be good, the destruction of culture and a way of life is never okay. The musical is so beautifully humourous and heart-warming that, as it reaches its conclusion, you can not help but shed a tear or two.

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is evidence again that the most surprising subjects make the most powerful and memorable musicals. If you can find an opportunity, I would highly recommend seeing this show. Absolutely brilliant from start to finish.