It’s been a busy, busy few weeks. And that includes the week I took off work earlier this month (which now feels like forever ago, by the way) and was supposed to be relaxing, but instead ending up running around. In between an evening of speed dating, a talk about the Guantánamo banned books list, a Michael Kenna photography exhibition and a trip to the zoo in the freezing cold, I’ve also been to the theatre. Quite a lot. Still smashing that ‘once a month’ new year’s resolution!
So, here’s the February round-up.
Di and Viv and Rose (Vaudeville Theatre)
I was really sad to hear that Di and Viv and Rose is going to be closing early. It’s a story of three friends, who meet at university, and examines whether it’s possible to remain close with the friends you make as a teenager, once you all go out into the real world. The play has a cast of just three – Tamsin Outhwaite, Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell – although there are plenty of other characters just on the periphery of the story to keep things fresh. And it’s a comedy, but one that doesn’t try to steer round the bumps and shocks that happen in every friendship, and in life. It’s also great fun for any fans of the 80s. I really enjoyed Di and Viv and Rose, and it’s not closed yet, so there’s still time to check it out 🙂
Conclusion: emotional and thought-provoking; it’ll make you laugh and cry, and want to call up all your friends afterwards, just to say hello.
Made in Dagenham (Adelphi Theatre)
Another one that’s closing early. Made in Dagenham is based on the movie of the same name, which in turn was based on the real events of the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968. Gemma Arterton is great as strike leader Rita O’Grady, and the show itself is a lot of fun, even if it’s not the best musical I’ve ever seen. There were a few songs we could have done without (the one about America, which was completely superfluous and, well, just a bit odd), and it became clear very quickly that men are losers, women are awesome and politicians (the male ones, that is) are a waste of space. Not that I had too many problems with that, although I did feel Rita’s husband Eddie, on forgetting their tenth wedding anniversary, could have come up with a better defence than ‘I’m just a man, with a foolish brain’. Really, Eddie?
Conclusion: an entertaining evening, and worth seeing. It’s no Miss Saigon or Les Mis, but it does make you feel like a revolution might be quite a fun thing to do.
Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre)
One of my favourite shows, ever since I first saw it fifteen years ago. This was my third visit overall, and it was just as amazing as I remember. The tragic story of Kim, a young Vietnamese girl who falls for American GI Chris in the days before the fall of Saigon, is based on Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, and contains a hard-hitting message about the horror and waste of war. On top of that, it’s an awe-inspiring production – the kind of show you need to see more than once just to take it all in. The cast, led by Eva Noblezada and Jon Jon Briones, are all sensational, and the entire audience left the theatre, once again, emotional wrecks. Oh – and did I mention the helicopter?
Conclusion: awesome. That is all.
Jersey Boys (Piccadilly Theatre)
This was one that I was aware of but it hadn’t really occurred to me to see, until suddenly it felt like everyone I knew was telling me I should. So I did. And it was great. Taking a new approach to the jukebox musical, in that it actually tells the story of the band rather than a random made-up tale, Jersey Boys charts the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, from their days singing in the street to the height of their fame – and then how it all fell apart. It’s a lot darker than I was expecting (I’d assumed it would be light relief after Miss Saigon – which, to be fair, it still was), but still really good fun, and this time we left the theatre singing rather than sobbing. The show contains a lot of classic songs, some of which I didn’t even realise were originally hits for the Four Seasons, performed by four amazing singers. There are also some highly questionable dance moves, but probably the less said about those the better.
Conclusion: definitely worth the hype, and I’m glad I saw it. Jersey Boys is a lot of fun, and if you don’t stand up and have a little boogie at the end, then frankly I’m a bit worried about you.
Once (Phoenix Theatre)
Another repeat visit – this was my third time seeing Once, and I was curious to see how current star Ronan Keating would stand up against former leading men Declan Bennett and David Hunter. And the answer? Not bad… not bad at all. Ronan’s Guy is different, and probably not my favourite, but still a very strong performance, especially considering it’s his West End debut (and, as far as I’m aware, his first time acting). It was also my first time seeing Jill Winternitz as Girl, and she was great, full of the energy and sparkle required for the role. It’s a shame Once is closing, but there’s still a couple of weeks to see it, if you haven’t had a chance yet. It’s not your typical musical, in the same way that the original movie was about as un-Hollywood as you can get, but that’s why we love it.
Conclusion: still great, and a confident performance from Ronan. Unfortunately my enjoyment was ruined a bit by people around me texting, talking, eating, filming, heckling, whistling… but the show itself is brilliant.
Yeh Shen (Polka Theatre)
And finally, something different – a Chinese Cinderella story; you may have seen my review of Yeh Shen the other day. It’s primarily aimed at children but lots of fun for adults as well, so worth checking out if they happen to be touring in your area. Yeh Shen has puppets, dancing, countless musical instruments and a talented and versatile cast. And it was lovely to see children enjoying the theatre, and staying behind for the Q&A with the writer, director and cast; they asked some great questions!
And that’s all for February. Bring on March!
Reviews for London Theatre Direct
Jersey Boys – coming soon
Once – coming soon