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Tonight Belongs To Us

From Gloom To Boom, Bursting With Vitality

Tonight Belongs to Us

TOPS Musical Theatre Company at the Hampton Hill Theatre until 16th October  

Review by Patrick Adams

Barnum, 2017

TOPS hit the ground running with its musical extravaganza Tonight Belongs To Us at the Hampton Hill Theatre.  They burst out of the gloom and doom of Covid with a production pulsating with vitality and energy saying, ‘look at us, we are back and we’re great’.  And they were.

The setting was minimal, but effective.  The excellent five-piece ensemble with Musical Director, John Davies, was upstage, but as if in an orchestra pit, next to steps leading to a large platform enabling some variation of height for the performers.

Imagine you are at a performance and come to the showstopper number for that particular show.  This is then followed by a showstopper from another production, followed by yet another showstopper, and yet another.  This was TOPS recipe for a splendid musical evening.

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Bull and Contractions

Job’s Worth

Bull and Contractions

by Mike Bartlett

The Questors (Double Bill) at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 16th October

Review by Nick Swyft

Tonight Questors put on a double bill of hour-long plays by controversial modern playwright Mike Bartlett, about two very different forms of workplace bullying.  In both, the setting is a high pressure sales environment, where making the numbers underpins everything, and job security is scant to non-existent.

The first play, Contractions, is a two-hander, featuring Alison Griffin as an anonymous manager, and Anne Marie Ryan as Kate, a new recruit into her team.  It takes the form of a series of mini appraisals in which it becomes clear that the manager has issues of her own, zeroing in on Kate’s personal relationships with her team.  These interviews become increasingly intrusive, and at first the questions asked were very funny, partly because the audience could see how outrageous they were.

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Secret Life of Humans

Treasure Trove

Secret Life of Humans

by David Byrne

Progress Company at Progress Theatre, Reading until 16th October

Review by Nick Swyft

What would one expect to find in the secret locked room of one of the world’s leading intellectuals?  What could Jacob Bronowski (call me ‘Bruno’, everyone does!), writer of The Ascent of Man, possibly have to hide from the world?  A corpse, or some plundered work of art, or even his porn stash?   No.  The answer was far worse.

The plot of Secret Life of Humans revolves around Bronowski’s grandson Jamie (Katie Moreton), meeting Ava (Lara Collins), on a chance Tinder date.  Ava has spent her life studying Bronowski, and becomes drawn to the boy when she finds out who he is.  They end up going to the family home, where she learns of this secret room.  Jamie doesn’t seem particularly interested in talking about his grandfather, more in getting into bed with Ava.  She, however, is about to lose her job and career, and needs the sexual distraction he provides.  The secret they discover distresses Jamie, since he always believed his grandfather was a good man.  For Ava, however, it provides her with what she needs to salvage her career. 

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Great Ideas, By Geniuses

Scrumping For Gravity

Great Ideas, By Geniuses

Privates at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 10th October

Review by Andrew Lawston

In the opening moments of Great Ideas by Geniuses by Privates, a small torch projects the show’s title on to the inside of a small tent, using two transparent slides.  The second one is back to front, and is hurriedly reversed.

From the moment the tent revolves to reveal all three performers cramped inside, it’s clear that we’re in for an enjoyable evening of spirited physical comedy.  While the performers all begin the show dressed in primary-coloured jumpsuits, they are quickly shedding costumes and knocking themselves unconscious left, right and centre.

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The Pirates of Penzance

Fired-Up Fun

The Pirates of Penzance

 by Arthur Sullivan, libretto by W. S. Gilbert  

Opera Anywhere, Hampton Hill Theatre, 8th October then on tour until 13th June 2022

Review by Eleanor Marsh

Gilbert and Sullivan – the very names conjure up the image of a chorus of thousands, sumptuous costumes and set, full orchestra and an audience more likely to be humming the tunes on the way in than on the way out.    Opera Anywhere, however is a small touring company and a programme of one-nighters throughout the country does not lend itself to any of the above.  And this company do not attempt at any point during the performance to be anything that they are not, which results in a refreshingly innovative approach to this most traditional of traditional pieces.

All credit to Tristan Stocks, who as well as playing our handsome hero Frederic, is responsible for directing the piece, which was definitely the funniest production of this old warhorse that I’ve ever seen.  The device of every principal entering from the same door through the audience did get a little tired, but when it worked – and it worked best for Catrin Lewis’ Mabel – it worked well.  And a little predictability over entrances and exits is a small price to pay for squeezing so much humour out of Gilbert’s libretto.  There were gags where I’d never seen gags before and it did make me think how wonderful it must have been to have been in the audience for the first ever performance of the Savoy operas, when every joke was not only new, but topical too.

With a “chorus” of four, also doubling as named characters, there was never any possibility that the company would get away with just singing the notes.  Those four actor-singers were uniformly excellent, not only in singing well, but also in getting all the humour out of each character they played.   The chorus of ladies (who also doubled as Edith, Kate and a random policeman), comprised Freya Jacklin and Olivia Bell and they had some wonderful scene-stealing business that had the audience laughing out loud.  Really excellent performances from both.

Maciek O’Shea, Mark Horner and Sam Young as the “male chorus” – and also Samuel, Sergeant of Police and the Pirate King respectively were all fine singers with excellent comic timing and all got well into their stride during the evening and by the middle of Act Two they were on fire.  The courage of their own convictions would have seen them deliver performances of true excellence from the opening chorus.

It is very difficult to tour a show of this kind and the company absolutely understood that it is far more effective to rely on the material and performance and have a minimal set and basic costumes than to go overboard (pun intended) with a complicated design element to the show.  This simplicity of design was mirrored in the musical supervision by Matthew Rickard who wisely kept the accompaniment to piano and woodwind.  Less was definitely more and it was a real treat to see a company understand this so well.

The audience at Hampton Hill Theatre were audibly chuckling throughout the evening at a production that provided an element of fun that we’ve been lacking for the last year or so.

Eleanor Marsh, October 2021

Photography by John Alcock

We Are As Gods

Angels Dance on Pinheads

We Are As Gods

James Cousins Company at the Battersea Arts Centre until 10th October

Review by Suzanne Frost

James Cousins has been a rising star to keep an eye on for some time, and an interesting choreographer to follow.  As a graduate of London Contemporary Dance School, raised in the occasionally deeply self-conscious and serious world of contemporary dance, he has lately and very consciously embraced the much more commercial sector, collaborating on big West End shows, in pop music videos and fashion.  His takeover of Battersea Arts Centre, entitled We Are As Gods, is his first large scale immersive experience, intended as a celebration of dance and life after eighteen months of lockdown.  “Immersive” and “Experience” are words that are being used with careless abundance these days, so it might be useful to break down what actually happens: a cast of 70 performers – nine professional dancers from James Cousins Company, over 30 students from Cousin’s alma mater London Contemporary Dance School, plus groups of community dancers from the local area – are scattered around the many halls, stairs and secret passages of Battersea Arts Centre, moving in and out of performance moments where they mainly present previous works from Cousins’ existing repertoire.  So, there is not much actual new dance to see here, but the setting largely makes it a novel experience. 

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Dirty Dancing

The Time of My Life

Dirty Dancing

by Eleanor Bergstein

Karl Sydow and associates, at Richmond Theatre until 9th October, then on tour until 18th December

Review by Mark Aspen

Dirty Dancing opened its tour at Richmond, so I took my maiden aunt.  No, just kidding!  But the lady I did take with me remarked “We gals thought when Aiden Turner did the bare-chested scything in Poldark that that was pretty sensational, until now, seeing Michael O’Reilly take his shirt off”.    O’Reilly plays Johnny Castle, the heart-throb lead and, judging by a very enthusiastic audience, Dirty Dancing has quite an aficionado following, ladies of all ages, who know just what to expect.  

Mentioning this sets the atmosphere for the fast-paced, high-energy show that opens the theatre’s own autumn programme, and opens the doors of the magnificent and much-loved Richmond Theatre after over eighty weeks of Covid closure, dark days now blown away by the light and sound and life of a dynamic musical. 

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Der fliegende Holländer : Preview

Firmly Anchored

Der fliegende Holländer : Preview

Normansfield Theatre, Teddington from 22nd October

Preview by Thomas Forsythe with Tamara Ravenhill and Alan Bain

Opera critic Thomas Forsythe discusses Rose Opera’s forthcoming production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer  with the Artistic Director of Rose Opera Tamara Ravenhill  and the Designer, Alan Bain

TF:     May I say how much I enjoyed the Rose Opera Gala 2021 back in June.  No Wagner there though, so I was wondering, why did you choose Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) as your main opera for this autumn?  It is surely a challenge to produce for a smaller company and it doesn’t at first seem to be one of the crowd pleasers which are frequently produced by such companies?

TR:     Thank you.  When founded, Rose Opera aimed to explore unusual and challenging grand opera repertoire in an accessible and affordable way.  We would like to show that some pieces which by reputation are “difficult” can be presented by smaller groups in a compelling fashion, making these operas better known and loved by wider audiences.   With this opera we are fortunate in many ways – a powerful story from the lore of the sea and an exploration of love and redemption.  As an early Wagner (as is Wagner in general) it is vocally very challenging, yet lyrical and melodic.  Rose Opera is fortunate to have capable singers to sing this repertoire well, both principals and chorus.  This opera contains a very substantial part for the chorus (ships do need sailors!) so needs a capable chorus who like a challenge.   In many senses it is a crowd pleaser, but not one that is performed frequently; it was last seen at the Royal Opera in 2015.

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The Browning Version

Perfectly Carved Cameo

The Browning Version

by Terence Rattigan

The Questors, at the Questors Studio, Ealing until 9th October

Review by Emma Byrne

Watching the perceptive and penetrating The Browning Version with our 21st century mind-set, it is almost impossible to believe that Kenneth Tynan once dismissed Terence Rattigan as one of a slew of Non-Controversial Western Playwrights.  This perfectly carved cameo of a one-act play exposes themes of gender, repression, and desperate compromise.

Simon Taylor as Andrew Crocker-Harris carries the emotional weight of the evening in his portrait of a man who has built a façade only to see it become a prison.  We see him pinned between the casual cruelty of his wife Millie (Caroline Ash) and the careless condescension of Dr Frobisher, the Headmaster (Robert Gordan Clark).  Although the play takes place in real time, the slings and arrows of two decades of life are revealed.  The younger, more confident master, Hunter (James Burgess) is Ægisthus to Crocker Harris’ Agamemnon, but Rattigan is bold enough to conjure a different ending, which Burgess and Taylor play with a deeply moving connection. 

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Grand Opera Gala

Wake the Soul

Grand Opera Gala

Instant Opera, Richmond Theatre until 25th September    

Review by Mark Aspen

“To wake the soul with tender works of art”.  Alexander Pope’s words, inscribed over the proscenium arch at Richmond Theatre, could not ring more true as the theatre reopened to the public once more after 555 dark days of the pandemic.  As its doors flung open, there was a general feeling of elation, not only from the arriving audience, but from everyone in the theatre.  “One of the most completely preserved Frank Matcham theatres” was back.  In the 122 years and 8 days since its doors first opened, nothing, including two World Wars, had forced its closure for so long.

So it was with a great sense of occasion, and a palpable excitement, that the audience took its seats for Instant Opera’s Grand Opera Gala.   For a theatre so firmly grounded in the local psyche, it was appropriate that the honour of being the first production back on the baize went to an opera company that has flourished since it was founded just under five years ago, decamping from its usual local home at Normansfield Theatre in Teddington.

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