The Union Theatre is an odd choice for this revival of Stiles and Drewe’s 2011 musical adaptation of Alan Bennett’s A Private Function. The cast of nineteen seems a similar size to what it would be in a West End theatre, yet the space is much smaller, and there are points where this does the show a disservice. The opening number, ‘Fair Shares for All’, is hamstrung by queues for meat which take up so much of the stage that there is no room for movement anywhere else, meaning that the surging score is contradicted by onstage stasis. Similarly, trying to cram an ensemble dance into a kitchen scene for ‘Nobody’ limits quite what they can do. In other places, however, choreographer Kasper Cornish does wonders in a small space; ‘Lionheart’ stands out here.
Despite the odd mismatch of space to show, it’s difficult not to smile from beginning to end. Betty Blue-Eyes is one of Stiles and Drewe’s finest works, the subject matter matching their comic, song-based sensibility, and the wry bittersweetness of Ron Cowne and Daniel Lipman’s book preventing it from ever feeling twee or trivial. Indeed, songs like ‘Magic Fingers’ show great versatility in a largely comic score, creating really moving moments that also showcase the great talent on show in the ensemble from Emma Jane Fearnley, Jade Marvin, and Katie Stasi. The key to this show lies in finding that heart, which, excluding large production numbers, is aided by the intimate space and Reuben Speed’s realistic design. This production is at its most emotive in the moments played on the smallest scale; the relationships between the three central characters are the heart of this story that moves away from the cartoonish villainy on display elsewhere and give the story real depth. Particular kudos here must go to Sam Kipling’s Gilbert, whose vocal performance ranges from powerhouse to plaintive across the production, and really holds us in the palm of his hand.
There are moments where I wish a little more attention had been paid to maintaining that intimate feel; the blatant falseness of piano playing and painting is far more obvious in such proximity and pulls us out of a production which is otherwise immersing. Similarly, the lack of microphones is necessary for such a small space but means that solo vocalists struggle in large production numbers, contending with both ensemble vocals and the sound of dance steps, much of which would be mixed out of being a problem in a larger production. Scaling the production to the space should be possible here. At the same time, for two and a half hours of all singing, all dancing, witty and heartfelt social drama, how can you too not fall in love with the quilted title pig?
The infamous Sh!t Faced Showtime are back in London with a festive edition, they have taken Dickens’ classic and put a drunken spin on it. The formula is the same as other iterations of the Shi!t Faced shows, one member of the cast has been boozing, and this time it is John Milton who plays Scrooge. Before the show, half a bottle of Jim Beam, some wine, and beer have been consumed in the previous 4 hours. The rest of the cast, try to keep the show on track, also aided by James Murfitt as the compere, Charles Dickens. The … More A PISSEDMAS CAROL – REVIEW – LEICESTER SQUARE
Spine-tingling yet heart-warming, Mark Gatiss’s retelling of A Christmas Carol truly encapsulates the haunting atmosphere of a Victorian ghost story, balanced out with enough humour so as to capture the festive season. Led by Keith Allen as Scrooge, with Peter Forbes as Marley, this show is perfect for Christmas viewing. The set design by Paul Wills is instantly captivating, containing stacks of metal cabinets towering over the theatre, moveable by the cast to allow space for other central props like doors, beds and tables. In addition to this, the puppetry design by Matthew Forbes is incredibly clever, adding creepy elements to the show such … More A CHRISTMAS CAROL – REVIEW – ALEXANDRA PALACE
The title of this winner of Theatre 503’s 2023 International Playwriting Award by Roxy Cook may seem like the set-up to a joke, but the narrative that unspools is instead an affectionate, gently barbed and at base quite sobering portrait of three ordinary souls (and one restless feline) adrift in modern Moscow. There is much affable, satirical back-and-forth commentary on the accepted myths & stereotypes of the Russian spirit & soul. Beset by the indignities of age, opportunism, graft, fatigue, the characters orbit one another, doomed to play out their roles in an unjust, predatory and saturnine universe. The play opens … More A WOMAN WALKS INTO A BANK – REVIEW – THEATRE503
Peter Pan Goes Wrong first premiered in London at the Pleasance Theatre in 2013, and earlier this year the show made its Broadway debut. Now the production is back in the West End for the Christmas season. Following on from The Play That Goes Wrong, in this production, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is staged by the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and goes awry, disastrously so. The meta-comedy is filled with slapstick comedy, sometimes the humour may be predictable and silly, but it’s universally funny throughout – there is something for everyone here, and the laughs come thick and fast … More PETER PAN GOES WRONG – REVIEW – LYRIC THEATRE
Drawing heavily from the classic canon of the British supernatural, HighTide’s trio of contemporary Gothic narratives uses traditional storytelling formats to address contemporary themes. Directed by Elayce Ismail, reverent musical interludes accompany tales of apparitions and nighttime conjurings that speak of women from the East of England. Unfortunately, the effect is less chilling and more lightweight, with conventional structures, predictable plot twists and an over-reliance on external forces to drive narrative shoring up some of the less relatable aspects of the genre. Nicola Werenowska’s The Beach House, perhaps the cleanest of the three tales, tells of a mother and daughter’s … More GHOST STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT – REVIEW – SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE