Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I Believe, Finally!

Ghost The Musical at Leeds!

Initially I had no desire to see The Ghost The Musical until I learnt the musical was coming to the Leeds Grand Theatre during June 2013.  I decided then to give the musical a chance despite my reservations of Blockbuster movies being adapted on stage.  I enjoyed Sister Act and Dirty Dancing on stage last year so I subconsciously had a feeling I would enjoy Ghost too.  I felt reassured in a way because of the good reviews the tour were receiving. 

Well the musical exceeded my expectations. I was very impressed with the visuals and lighting used to give the state of the art staging it's maximum effect and the nature of the story told.  A big thanks to the company's talented creative team!  One criticism I had was the loudness during the show even if I appreciate this would have made the connective effects.

Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard wrote the music and collaborated with Bruce Joel Rubin in writing the lyrics.  There are some memorable lyrics the musical such as At the beginning, Here Right Now, the infamous Unchained Melody, the poignant I can't breathe, and the lively Are You A Believer.  Act One concluded with the moving Suspend My Disbelief/ Had a Life and musical numbers continued into Act Two such as the helpful Focus, the show stopping I'm Outta Here, and the reprise of Unchained Melody and the final moving The love inside.

I was entertained and moved with the show from the beginning until the end.  Wendy Mae Brown as Oda Mae Brown stood out for me the most and was my favourite performer in the show.  She fully embraced the role of the psychic with humour, professionalism and ultimately love.  I also enjoyed seeing Stewart Clark (Sam Wheat) and Rebecca Trehearn (Molly Jenson) perform the principal roles.  They certainly went on a romantic journey through the communication of the present world to the next one.

Ghost is touring around the UK this year and at beginning of 2014.  Further information can be found on this website.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Derek Deane's in-the-round production of Swan Lake

Swan Lake in the round at Royal Albert Hall, London

I arrived at The Royal Albert Hall for the evening performance of English National Ballet/Derek Deane's Swan Lake in the roundSwan Lake is my all time favourite ballet and my wish has always been to see this specific production.

I absolutely loved the staging of this ballet with the additional numbers of artists, 120 in total, performing in this production including 60 Swans during the Act II and Act IV scenes.  The choreography was first class and the artists' talents were demonstrated in the ballet.  Royal Albert Hall's Arena was transformed as a lake for the the Swans and artists entered the arena from various points in the auditorium.

Tamara Rojo, an international soloist and English National Ballet's artistic director, and Matthew Golding, a principal dancer from Dutch National Ballet, shared the leading roles of Odette/Odile and Prince SiegfriedJames Streeter joined them and performing as the dark and wicked Rothbart

I sat in the Circle and it got very warm and this combined with fatigue made my viewing a struggle especially in the final act.  However I appreciate the dancers need to dance in warm conditions to minimise injury.  I think for a future visit to a ballet at this venue I'll pay more to sit in the stalls.  It was good to see Sabine and Leni briefly after the show before catching the bus back to my hotel.  

Other than feeling very warm and uncomfortable with my skin problems during the final act I was glad to have seen such a fantastic production! Even if I welcomed the bed in my hotel that evening!

If you want to find out more information about the English National Ballet including any forthcoming productions, please click on their website.

I look forward to returning to the Royal Albert Hall in the not too distant future including the Proms which my Dad and I have booked for and next year for Romeo and Juliet in the round.

The following day I had a a fun day catching up with my friend, Vicky, and at end of the day I toasted a successful visit at the nostalgic Great Northern Hotel's Bar, adjacent to Kings Cross Station, before catching my train home.  Look forward to more London adventures very soon!!!

Seeing Once once isn't enough!

After a lovely day spent with my dearest friends, Alex and Annie, in London at the end of May I was back down this time for a couple of days (15th-16th June 2013).  It felt very strange returning to London and not seeing Phantom! I wasn't regretful with my decision and was glad to have taken the opportunity to see a different West End produciton.

I caught my train at a very ungodly hour on the Saturday morning.  I was very concerned about missing my train so I chose not to sleep the night before.  So I went down to London on a total lack of sleep and with only half an hour or so kip on the train journey! At the last minute I chose to see Once and because of my early arrival into the capital I went for a day ticket.  I've heard very good reviews about the musical and some of my theatre going friends and acquaintances have enjoyed seeing it.

The advantage of an early arrival gave me an opportunity to be guaranteed a day ticket and I got a front row stalls seat! I then met up with Annie for drinks and lunch and afterwards I made my way to the Phoenix Theatre for the matinee performance of OnceOnce is refreshingly different to the many musicals I've seen on my theatre journey. The musical is based on the movie written and directed by John Carney and Enda Walsh is the playwright for the work on the musical. The Broadway production won numerous awards since its opening.

There was only one stage scene, inside of a bar, used throughout the show. The audience is invited to go up on the stage and purchase drinks from the 'bar' before the show and during the interval.  The drinks are rather expensive but you're given a souvenir beaker for which your drink is put in. Some of the cast members came on stage to warm up playing some music before the show actually started. To me the interaction with stage and audience is unique.

From the beginning I was transfixed with Once with it's incredible journey and the heart rendering relationship between  the Guy (Declan Bennett) and the Girl (Zrinka Cvitešić) through their love of music.  Their musical talents were complimented through the support of their families and from the Irish and Czech communities in Dublin.  It was interesting to see Valda Aviks (Baruska) who was my first ever Carlotta in Phantom!

The talented creative team have put together a wonderful production.  The story is projected beautifully with its incredible music.  The principals of the show are supported by a great cast of talented musicians and singers.  There were some moving musical numbers including the Tony Award winning's Falling Slowly and other amazing songs such as If You Want Me and When Your Mind's Made Up.

My overall thought of Once is something you don't see just once! I highly recommend the musical and I plan to see it again very soon! For further information about this amazing musical, please check the official website

After Once I caught the underground to the Royal Albert Hall for the evening performance of English National Ballet/Derek Deane's Swan Lake in the Round....which will be in my next post so please keep tuned.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Musical Theatre meeting the Rat Pack!

Photo Credit: Ginger Boy Productions Limited

A wonderful evening at the Leeds Grand Theatre seeing Three Phantoms recently took place.  I have seen this event before at the Plymouth Pavilions in November 2011 so I knew I was in for a good time!

The concert starred Earl Carpenter, Matthew Cammelle and Stephen John Davies.  I had the privilege of see Earl perform as Phantom in both the London and the recent UK Phantom Tour (In Cardiff, Liverpool and Birmingham).  I saw Matt twice as Raoul in London during 2000 and 2001 and Stephen as Emile in South Pacific (UK Tour) last year in Leeds (This is when I learnt he has was the Phantom for London's 10,000th performance).  There was Rebecca Caine whom I've seen at this event before and the guest artists included Alistair Barron whom I recently saw in a variety roles at the recent UK Phantom Tour.

In the first act, the Phantoms shared some funny experiences with their association as the Phantom in the West End.  Songs were sung from Scarlet Pimpernel, Ghost, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story and Chicago.  The company sang impressively Les Miserables I Dreamed A Dream without musical accompaniment.  Earl sang magnificently Stars and Matt sang Empty Chairs, Empty Tables with full conviction.  The act ended on a high with the company singing One Day More.

Alistair Barron was indirectly introduced amidst humour in Act 2 by the Phantoms.  All of them sang Big Girls Don's Cry by Frank Valli and Four Seasons.  Further songs were sung by the artists from Kiss Me Kate, King and I and I was impressed with Earl's rendition of Matilda's Hammer.  A perfect introduction for my debut to seeing the musical at the end of July.

We then reach the iconic part, I think, of the show.  A bit of Phantom entertainment awaits us! The artists sung a selection of songs from Yeston's Phantom, Ken Hill's Phantom and also Love Never Dies.  Ultimately the The Phantom of the Opera had it's individual attention with selected songs sung from my favourite musical.

Rebecca beautifully sang Think of Me and the whole company sang Prima Donna in perfect harmony.  The final highlight was Earl, Matt and Stephen singing in unison Music of the Night and Wicked's Be Good during the Encore with photo taking/audience interaction!

A big thanks to everyone involved including Annette Yeo, Mandy Watsham Dunstall, Yvonne Marie Parson and the musical director, Anthony Gabrielle for a successful evening!

After a reluctant curtain call, some of us met the Phantoms at Stage Door.  It was nice to have finally met Alistair Barron after seeing him on and off stage many times during the Phantom UK Tour.  I hope Three Phantoms return locally in the not too distant future where I can be guaranteed another good night out!

Matt Cammelle and Me (Stage Door, Leeds Grand Theatre)
Alistair Barron and Me (Stage Door, Leeds Grand Theatre)
Earl Carpenter and Me (Stage Door, Leeds Grand Theatre)
Stephen John Davis and Me (Stage Door, Leeds Grand Theatre)
Anthony Gabrielle and Me (Stage Door, Leeds Grand Theatre)

Friday, 7 June 2013

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

Another play in another city! I recently went to see A Doll's House at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre.  Ashamedly, I never heard of Henrik Ibsen and his literature until my friend suggested that we travel across the Pennines and see the play. 

Ibsen's A Doll's House at Manchester's Royal Exchange
I felt the play had a rather slow start with this two way happy family dialogue between Nora (Cush Jumbo) and Torvald (David Sturzaker).  Half way though Act 1 when Nora's secret of the past was revealed, courtesy of Krogstad (Jack Talton), which had begun haunting her.  The plot thickened and my intrigue grew stronger as to what was going to happen.  During the interval, I was ready to learn to what would have become of Nora when the secret is out and how this would have affected her future including her family, society and most importantly herself.

Not long into Act 2 her past secret where Nora's independent decision making was applied was disclosed.  Torvald made patronising references about how she should behave in a social and legal capacity.  Legally, at the time, women weren't allowed to make independent decisions and had to leave the decision making with their husbands.  Socially, Nora was expected to be submissive to her husband and wasn't encouraged to fulfill her potential and talents.  As the theme of the book goes, she was a doll living in a doll's houseTorvald's  supposedly complimentary pet names, such as bird, were childlike. Nora had to do what was expected by her husband in a masculine and unequal society whether it was willingly or unwillingly.   I didn't think Torvald deliberately made her feel this way and he was just as much of a victim of the patriarchal society and system.

Credit: Production team, Royal Exchange Theatre.  David Sturzaker (Torvald) and Cush Jumbo (Nora) in Ibsen's Dolls House

Analysing this from a Western and Modern Day perspective, Nora yearned to be her unique self.  On her husband's discovery of the secret, she had begun questioning the society she lived in.  The disclosure have suggested an awakening call to her self discovery and the necessity to be liberated from the prescribed life she had.  This meant making sacrifices in order to explore her full potential through empowerment. She courageously found her voice and was able to express articulately to Torvald how she felt and embarked on the journey to find her true identity and individuality. 

Messages and themes explored from play reminded me of how women were portrayed during the Victorian and Edwardian times at the end of 19th Century/beginning of the 20th Century.  A domestic revolution took place, parallel to Ibsen's Nora, such as the Suffragettes Movement which had begun just before World War I and how this revolutionised women's roles on secular, political and social spectrums.  Coincidentally, at the same time I saw this play, I read Fiona MacDonald's article, At the feminism frontier in the Metro Newspaper and how certain women, such as Emily Davison, courageously fought for women liberation.  Her quest ended tragically but she began the long journey of campaign for women's rights and liberation.

Today, women are accessing more and more opportunities including a voice and the right to vote.  However there are still some noticeable exclusions in a number of countries and many campaigns and political uprisings are working very hard to fight their belief of what is right. Many are risking their reputation, livelihoods and imprisonment.

Ibsen wrote a very moving story and the book offers opportunities for further adaptations and directions including his wonderful production. Bryony Lavery did a an amazing adaptation which was perfectly directed by Greg Hersov.  Both Lavery and Hersov ensured that the messages raised from the story were given to the audience who could relate them in their everyday journeys.  Cush Jumbo's exceptional performance as Nora made it worth attending this unmissable play.  My next aim is to read the book.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Blood Brothers - Parallel Journeys!

I recently saw The Blood Brothers at the Leeds Grand Theatre.  This review will draw out the messages which I think the producers and Willy Russell, the author, are trying to get across to its audience and fans.  A number of parallel issues, I've observed ,could be related to which society in general are experiencing such as:
  • Economic climate
  • Social issues and class system
  • Mental health and well being
  • Dreams and aspirations
Economic climate
Mrs Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) experienced dire financial difficulties.  Her husband left her and she had to rely on benefits to support her ever growing family.  She is also in debt from owing money to catalogue companies and the bailiffs regularly visited her house.  The circumstances ultimately led the decision to unwillingly give away one of her babies to Mrs Lyons who she had worked for.  One could argue that it might have looked to appear that Mrs Johnstone had sold the baby.  However it was recalled that she had refused the severance payment from her cleaning job.

It is a similar situation to many families today.  Many are experiencing financial difficulties with minimum pay increases in their salaries and the hiked prices in food and energy bills.  And also with the welfare reforms being applied since April 2013 many more will feel the negative effects.  There are many sad stories to be told out there.

Social issues and class systems
Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons were such contrasts in their social standing.  Mrs Johnstone, a single mother, and Mrs Lyons, married to a successful business man and lived in a nice house in an affluent area.  It was demonstrated in the musical how each of the mothers asked Micky and Edward not to visit their homes.  As well as this it might suggest they were conscience about their position in society as well as their secret.

Today, there is a rich and poor divide in society and it seems to be growing wider instead of narrowing.  This ultimately leads to attitudes towards the poorer neighbourhoods which is experiencing social deprivation and health inequalities.  These issues have an impact on the families and communities.  The Local Government is tackling some of the issues by commissioning local agencies to work with residents and communities who are in need of the support.

Mental health and well being
I can draw a number of characters who had experienced mental health problems during the musical. I chose to discuss Mrs Lyons.   It's down to the fact she was unable to have a child of her own.  Since she was given Edward, her mood changed from stable to an insecure one.  This could be down to the secret that she never actually gave birth and only had received the baby before Mr Lyons returned home from a business trip.  This has an impact on the bond between her and Edward.

I don't think Mrs Lyons had many friends and usually was alone in the house and didn't talk about other friends.  Perhaps the isolation and loneliness have had an effect on her mind.  And speaking from personal experience I know how powerful that can be and this leads to anxiety and irrational feelings.  This was demonstrated when she threatened Mrs Johnstone in Act II and this underlies how insecure she really is with having one of the twins and fully knows she never had that maternal bond with Edward in contrast with Mrs Johnstone especially with the locket.

Today there are a lot of complex situations within families, communities and societies which affect many people.  These are triggered from various social and economic issues and these made more difficult and complex which conformations and pressure the society puts on one another.  Each situation is unique but not necessarily understood even if there is more awareness today. What Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons did was probably the unheard thing at the time but in parallel it's common but usually unreported.

Dreams and aspirations.
Mrs Johnstone had a dream to live in a lovely house, enough to eat and have a job that pays her bills.  Linda wanted a nice family, live with a nice house and Mickey to have a stable job.  She was able to achieve this with the help from Councillor Lyons but it turned out not to be a popular move for obvious reasons. Both women faced challenges from a number of existing issues with the family and society such as Micky's mental ill health and the challenges it had brought on the family.

It isn't any different today.  Many are aiming and being aspired to being what they want to be despite obstacles they face.  I can personally relate to this and I continue to pursue my goals despite the many set backs I have to face.

The Narrator (Warrick Evans) gave an excellent analysis of the story and doesn't judge what is happening or what has happened.  He invited the audience to make up their minds about this story.  I appreciated Blood Brothers even more on my 5th visit to the musical.