Review: ‘Hamilton’ @ Victoria Palace Theatre, London

hamilton‘Hamilton’ is the hottest musical of the moment, and only one viewing tells you why: it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before in the West End. A hip-hop, rapping retelling of America’s independence and the man history seemingly forgot – it’s breathtaking and spectacular in how it handles history in the most spellbinding way.

The casting is genius; look anywhere and it will tell you typical white roles have been recast to reflect the diversity of the current nation, and it works so well. You listen to the story more; it sounds silly, but we’re used to middle-class white history on a blackboard in school, snooze time. Mix in a brilliantly talented diverse cast and music that has no place in the 18th century and suddenly learning becomes a hell of a lot more interesting – maybe the curriculum could take note for future lesson plans…!

The set was brilliant; a la ‘Les Miserable’ and the touring ‘Phantom’ of a few years past, the revolving stage is a great way to add pace and reflect the rhythm of the music in the actions of the characters. It’s a job in itself not getting dizzy when you realise you haven’t blinked for a while because you’re so caught up in the action!

Cast-wise, wow. I’ve never seen a musical where I’ve been as captivated by the ensemble as the main cast; there were times I was so busy watching them that I realised I’d not seen Hamilton creep off stage or a mysterious woman appear on stage! It was even more astounding that the cast wasn’t anywhere near as big as I thought it was when the final bows came; some doubling up was obvious of course, but you don’t realise how much energy everyone has put into so many roles throughout, and its a real testament to talent that they make it look effortless.

But let’s be clear: the absolute star of the show is the genius soundtrack. It’s difficult not to love Lin-Manuel Miranda (the man behind the music) when you see him in interviews or, indeed, hear him on the original soundtrack; the man has created something that spins you around energetically and then makes you sit still and appreciate it quietly. When you see ‘Hamilton’ (and you must), get home and get that soundtrack on. Repeatedly. Like annoying the neighbours, that kind of repeatedly.

‘Hamilton’ is sure to be around for a while yet (and if you go soon the Genie from ‘Aladdin’ is George Washington!), and it’s more than worth getting your hands on the gold-dust tickets when you can; history just got a hell of a lot more interesting.

The Magic of ‘Aladdin’

The Disney spectacular on everyone’s minds at the moment has to be the newly-released live-action ‘Aladdin’ starring Will Smith, but there’s only one ‘Aladdin’ you should be worrying about – the one that leaves its West End home at the Prince Edward theatre at the end of August 2019!

My birthday treat this year was tickets to the outstanding ‘Aladdin’, and here are five reasons to sweep up your tickets before the magic carpet flicks its tassels and flies on its way!

  1. The Genie. Straight from Broadway, he is the standout star of the show. He is the sassiest, funniest and most brilliant comic character I’ve ever seen on stage; you were begging for more Genie time, and his extended version of ‘Friend Like Me’ didn’t disappoint!
  2. Everyone else! There’s not a bad actor in the house, and my particular favourites were Jafar (who doesn’t love a bad guy?!) and Aladdin’s new friends that replace (although obviously not entirely) Abu – their song was particularly memorable, I dare you not to be humming along at the very least!
  3. The songs you love. I’ll admit, the backdrop and romance of ‘A Whole New World’ made me shed a tear – it was absolutely perfect. There are new ones and the classics, but all are perfectly tailored to the story and lift you up and mellow you out in true style.
  4. The glib references. Whether it’s cutouts of monkeys, the cheeky Disney songs twisted into ‘Friend Like Me’ or the parroting reminiscent of the actual parrot Iago compared to the human one, they know what the audience wants, and make you laugh when giving it to you.
  5. The magic and the wonder. It’s not just a cave that provides wonder, it’s the spectacle on stage – the scenery, the magic, the slapstick…It’s all just brilliant, and at times breathtaking, a real feat of stagecraft that needs to be seen to be believe.

 

So you’ve got til the end of August 2019 – get yourselves to Agrabah for a final Arabian night!

Review: ‘Macbeth’ @ The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

I love ‘Macbeth’, it ranks up there with my favourite Shakespeare plays, and finding out Christopher Ecclestone was playing the titular character was the final drop of incentive I needed to book my tickets to see the RSC’s latest production of The Scottish Play.

And Ecclestone was fantastic: brooding, conflicted, frustrated, fearful – he did it all and seamlessly so. It was post-crowning that the role really took flight; Ecclestone’s portrayal of ambition fearfully achieved was convincing and gripping, something to keep you on the edge of your seats (dangerous when you’re in the high ones like we were) until the bitter end.

Lady Macbeth…I was less convinced. Don’t get me wrong, overall Niamh Cusack was good, but I felt like a decision hadn’t been made over whether she was power-hungry, insane or simply overly-emotional. If a route had been picked it might have been easier to figure out why she pushed Macbeth as she did, but it seemed like neither of them wanted to ‘o’erleap’ their ‘vaulting ambition’, which is the sole purpose of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth’s mental torment: pushing him over the edge. I think it was most apparent following Duncan’s murder: one moment Lady Macbeth was the ‘unsexed’ woman, bloody, bold ad resolute, and the next she seemed to be blaming Macbeth for being so foolish. I couldn’t quite place what Lady Macbeth wanted, and I found that a little difficult to follow. However, the classic sleepwalking scene was outstanding, as was Lady Macbeth’s role in the banquet scene, so there were definite peaks and troughs.

The setting and scenery were used well, particularly where the (spectacular!) Porter was concerned (that blummin’ vacuum cleaner!!). Everything had a place and if something was unnecessary, it wasn’t used. The only mild (and I mean mild!) criticism I had was that the perspex box above the stage where the characters were during the post-war celebrations, where Lady Macbeth heard Macduff’s son’s cries and then sleepwalked through, wasn’t viewable from the second tier; I can’t imagine what it was like on the third. This was a shame because it literally needed a foot more glass and it would have been successful, and I did feel like we missed out on some key aspects of the performance.

Standout moments? The Porter was an absolute scream, punctuating the madness with stark reality and a reminder of life continuing in darkly humorous ways – he was a character used well throughout the play, not just in his one key speech like in other productions. He really did make me shiver when cleaning up after gruesome moments (like the Macduff massacre – a terrifying moment that was captured brilliantly by mother and son alike, and making her pregnant? Awful but a stroke of genius for the tragedy of Macbeth).

Another moment had to be the ghost scene with Banquo: the fact that no ghost appeared in Macbeth’s first rantings first of all had me going ‘what?!’ and then I saw it as brilliant; you got to see what the diners saw, before seeing what Macbeth saw when the ghost finally made his ethereal, terrifying appearance. I loved it, and it was one of my favourite production moments of the whole performance.

And I loved loved loved the clock. Another Porter moment of genius setting a stopwatch, the tension (and a moment where you blinked and thought ‘blimey, where did the time go?!’) mounted and Macbeth’s doom crept closer; it was a silent reminder that the truth will out and wrongs will be righted, and I loved how understanding it was.

Finally, I have to reflect on what once was; in the 2011 Macbeth at the RSC, one of my favourite choices was having the Weird Sisters as children dangling from the heavens speaking down to the cursed Macbeth, and a similar concept was attempted this time, but I wasn’t convinced by the kids in onesies with teddy bears I’m afraid; they were too cutesy to be wicked, and looked too snuggled up to cause real harm, so I couldn’t believe in their ill-will sadly. They were a little better in the second half, particularly when complemented with the dead cast members as the Prophecies, but overall it wasn’t the choice for me.

In what is overall a haunting performance with a killer cast, ‘Macbeth’ is encoring at cinemas soon and plays at the RSC throughout May, and is definitely worth catching while it’s around – Ecclestone and co. overall produce a fascinatingly dark demise of a former hero for you to sink your teeth into.

Review: ‘Wicked’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

It was third time lucky for seeing ‘Wicked’ it seems – my favourite ever performances of ‘No Good Deed’ and ‘As Long as Your Mine’ and a fantastic production, one that you should definitely see if you get the chance!

wicked-04-683x1024.jpgTaking us to Oz before Dorothy and Toto, ‘Wicked’ is the untold¬†story of the witches of Oz,¬†and one designed to make you rethink what good and evil really is. I have to place myself firmly on Team Elphaba, and Amy Ross was a spectacular Elphaba – you could feel the hurt and pain that led her to being who she is, and every word sang emphasised this characterisation. Team Glinda, never fear, your Glinda is just as good as my Elphaba – Helen Woolf is hilarious and emotional in equal measure, and I’ve never been so moved by the heartbreak she faces in the second half when she betrays Elphaba to the Wizard and Madam Morrible.

 

The sets and costumes travel well and are truly spectacular – it’s always the worry that when a show tours something might get lost, but if anywhere’s equipped to cope with the grandeur of Oz it’s the Birmingham Hippodrome, a stunning venue for a breathtaking musical. From Glinda’s bubble to Elphaba’s flight in ‘Defying Gravity’, it was all incredibly staged and truly mesmerising theatre.

And, of course, where would a magical show be without the supporting cast? From Aaron Sidwell’s Fiyero who convincingly moves from shallow to caring(and looks darn good whilst doing it), to the bitter Nessa Rose (Emily Shaw) and the naive Boq (Iddon Jones), there isn’t a faulty cog in this production, and they’re all fighting it out to pull on your heartstrings until you’re an emotional mess by the end!

Performance of the show had to go to ‘No Good Deed’ and the Fiyero riff that made the my arm hairs stand on end; I could have listened to that song on repeat for the whole three hours (although Amy Ross might have gotten a little weary of it I suppose).

It’s a musical that’s as fun as it is emotional and meaningful, and despite not having a green wicked witch in the world (yet), it resonates with so much going on in the world right now that it reminds us to look at things a little differently and make sure we know what’s wicked and what’s not before blustering our way through life. Get to see ‘Wicked’ on its tour and I guarantee you’ll be seeing a little green in everything around you, and humming a wicked soundtrack to boot.

Review: ‘Twelfth Night’ @ RSC Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Filled with hilarity, unexpected gravity and musical mayhem, ‘Twelfth Night’ was a comedy treat at the RSC when I saw it on its final night in Stratford-upon-Avon.

With a backdrop in the Indian country of Illyria this time, it’s a colourful and loud performance which is what makes it brilliant and captivating. The RSC never does disappoint with sets and these were spectacular, my favourite being the garden ornaments used in the infamous box tree scene with Malvolio – with artwork baring its genitalia at you, you know exactly what’s going to happen but that doesn’t stop the inevitable from also being hysterical, especially in the hands (quite literally) of the bumbling Sir Andrew Aguecheek and the brash Sir Toby Belch!

Character-wise, it’s insanely difficult to pick a performance of the night. The cunning group of Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabia (not a misspelling, Fabian loses his manhood in this performance!) were a real highlight and whilst the main plot was, of course, captivating, you couldn’t help but lean forward in anticipation when you saw the dastardly quartet re-enter the fray. However, if absolutely pushed to pick a favourite…Fabia, for being the absolute perfect foil to every single character she came across, and being hilarious in her own right of course!

Now, with every good comedy comes a divisive element – mine was the odd appearance of shouting. Sounds weird, was weird. Sir Toby’s sudden outburst at the box-tree plot which quickly snuffed out its hilarity, Feste’s hiss (literally) at Malvolio at the end, and other bits in-between – it just snuffed out some of the comedy in that moment, perhaps to intensify Malvolio’s tragedy (I’ve genuinely never felt sorry for him until this production) and to bring the rule-breaking of the twelfth night to a close. Maybe by purpose and design, but something was unsettling about it, but then shouldn’t Malvolio’s plot be just that for a modern-day audience?

However, this was a minor point in a major hit – I particularly love when Shakespearean productions don’t shy away from musical elements and the RSC never does, and they always have the most spectacular band on hand. Everything pulled together to make order from chaos and right from wrong in a wonderful version of a classic comedy. Sadly, this was the final performance, but who knows what might happen – after all, Hamlet’s been touring for almost a year now so Shakespeare is definitely a stuff that will endure, and if not…well there’s always next time!