Posts Tagged ‘above the stag theatre’

Review – Bathhouse the Musical – Above the Stag Theater

June 26, 2014

As a woman of a certain age (and tastes), it’s probably completely unsurprising that my idea of a brilliant way to start my pre-birthday celebrations was to go to the Above the Stag’s newish home, have several glasses of pink wine and them hope to be deliciously, salaciously, and possibly filthily entertained by a musical … featuring gay men … potentially wearing very little. Yes, people, there is a target audience for Bath House the Musical, and I am it. While I may not share the gender of 95% of the target audience, still, we’re a group of people that know what we want and we’re not shy about going out to get it. SHAKE IT BABY!

In addition, as a theater critic, I was interested in seeing a musical that was, to me, completely new. On the other side, from a sociological perspective, I was actually really curious about what might actually happen in a bathhouse! I’d been to some steam rooms, but I don’t think the frequently gender-segregated Bethnal Green Spa is really about anything other than health and socialization: bathhouses, by contrast, have a serious reputation for being the kind of place where hanky panky happens. And, as a woman, they aren’t exactly the kind of places I can just sneak into and have a poke around. So I went in to Bathhouse with high hopes that I’d be both entertained and educated.

In some ways, the plot was perfect for a newbie like me: sweet young Billy (Ryan Lynch) is going to the bathhouse for the first time, and he doesn’t have the faintest idea what to expect either! So we get a song (“Bathhouse ABCs”) explaining some of the basics of bath house etiquette, all of which was completely new to me (even though I feel confident the bathhouse compere does not go around in a feather boa). We also got an eyefull of the variety of men who were our bathhouse patrons – but instead of casting the show with uniformly young, ripped gents, we had a nice variety: the very ripped and muscular Beckham-like Matthew Harper; extremely boyish Joe Leather (who, despite being young, is the one who is looking for – as the song title says – “Bear”); heavy-set, hairy Tim McArthur; flamboyant Alistair Frederick; and middle-aged, South Asian Royce Ullah, who made the production feel like a real London bathhouse rather than one that was, say, in Miami or Los Angeles. The fellow spend most of the evening wearing just towels, accessorized with wrist-or ankle-bands holding their locker keys … and, while you were perhaps dreaming of (or fearing) full frontal nudity, our brave performers quite modestly only provide the view from behind – although, when the lot of them are in a big clump on the stage with Frederick at the middle, well, not being able to see everything that was implied didn’t make it any less hot. AHEM!

In addition to the cheerful stuff, we hit some other elements during the show, such as the difficulty of trying to navigate your way through internet contact and the fun of being not partnered up for the holidays … although as captured in song, with “Clicking for Dick” and “Christmas at the Baths,” you could see that the authors weren’t wanting to wallow in misery. In fact, the overall effect of the whole show was of cheer and not taking it all too seriously – it’s meant to be a pick-me-up (see what I did there!), and it succeeds at this well. I laughed and leered and giggled and just let myself enjoy the comic air (and handsome performers). As a summer show, you couldn’t ask for a better bit of fun than Bathhouse – and it’s a good thing for the performers because BOY this would be a chilly one to do in December!

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Friday, June 20th, 2014. It continues through July 20th. Pictures to follow!)

Review – Jack Off the Beanstalk – Above the Stag Theater

December 8, 2013

Just how much booze do you need to imbibe to have a good time at an adult panto? Based on my recent experience at Above the Stag, I’d suggest at least two doubles before the interval and a second during. This all depends, of course, on what kind of stomach you have from for the vagaries of the Scratch and Sniff card. Jasmine? Pine? Oh my God … is that Stinking Bishop? PHEE-YEW!

Jack Off the Beanstalk is the opening production in Above the Stag’s new space, a railway arch about 5 minutes walk from Vauxhall Station. It’s very easy to find and not at all dodgy (no matter how much that would add to the experience, but, hey, there’s always Chariots in the other direction for the truly bereft). It was having some early days hiccups the night I went, but the bar was in full working order, the seating was comfortable enough, and the layout of the theater still worked just fine for a light-hearted show – I mean, we weren’t really expecting them to put a full sized helicopter in the rafters, were we?

Plotwise, we’ve got a hunky Jack (Chris Clynes) and his dorky brother Simon (Toby Joyce) trying to save the Trott family farm, with some help from the friendly fairy, Fanny Goblin (Stephanie Willson), and the amenable Maisie (Rosie Bennett). There’s a fair amount of rural vs urban and northern vs southern competition going on, but the corruption of people like Lord Fleshcreep (Ian Hallard, unexpectedly yummy) is universal, and ever so much more fun when he’s trying to repossess a farm so he can use it for a lame rock festival. And, bonus; we have the mockery of silly reality TV celebrities with Cillian O’Connell (the rather tasty Joseph Miller), whom you can’t help but hope will hit it off with Jack so we can watch them both kiss and perhaps take their shirts off. Phwoar! Er, or maybe that was just me.

Unfortunately the first act dragged a bit (way too much time in the farmhouse with Dame Trott (Matthew Baldwin), who was certainly funny and a good actor but didn’t have enough material), and I found myself, oddly, wishing for more songs. I was also wanting some more political jokes – oddly, something that seems even easier to slide into an adult panto than a family one, and something which I really enjoy. But I liked the gags that got us scratching the numbered smell spots on our cards, and I was having a lot of run booing Lord Fleshcreep (and watching him flirt shamelessly with the guy sat in front of me), and then the next thing you know it was the interval and I was all set for a good gossip. My guess is that since this was early in the run, it’ll probably tighten up a bit (insert joke here).

Act two pumped it up (snicker) with the introduction of “The Giant” (Steven Rodgers) who managed to ruin both my memory of what “golden” thing Jack stole from him (wasn’t it a harp?) and what exactly got him known as a “giant” in the first place (I swear it was HEIGHT!). We got the opportunity to see Jack dance around in a tiny pair of golden pants and the much more horrifying prospect of Dame Trott in a giant golden pinnie. And did I mention Kylie the Cow?

As anticipated, it all had a happy ending, especially for the various star crossed lovers. I’d say it was a good night out for everyone – except for Lord Fleshcreep – and can happily report that you did get to see the people you wanted kissing at the end. Hurrah!

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013. The show continues through January 5th. Book quickly if you want to go as the groups of 5 and 10 that get block seats make it sell out long before the end of the run. And make sure you have a drink before and during the show.)

Review – Dangerous – Above the Stag Theatre

June 20, 2010

Above the Stag has become the only pub theater in London I frequent; its emphasis on gay-friendly productions dovetails nicely with my own theatrical interests. Their summer season started on Wednesday with Dangerous, an all-male version of “Dangerous Liaisons.” I’d convinced my friend Andrew to come with me based on that, but apparently I confused him a bit; he thought it was being done a la Pirates of Penzance, with the roles being male and female but all played by men. No, no, let no one be misled, this play is about gay men scheming about who they sleep with and treating it all like a game with no rules as long as one achieves one’s goals. It’s very much in keeping with the original “Dangerous Liaisons,” provided you’re clear (let me repeat) that all the roles are male and the setting is modern London (and Bournemouth, described originally as Brighton, which is clearer for the geographically challenged such as myself). Even better, the website promised “this production contains male nudity,” which, given that I was planning on going as part of my birthday celebrations, made it all seem even more enticing.

NOTE: the program appears to have credited the wrong people with the wrong roles. I am assuming blond Matthew Blake is Alexander Valmont and brunette Luke Harris is actually Marcus; if the actors in fact have the wrong pictures attached to the program and not the wrong names, my apologies.

So I was a large glass of rose’ to the wind when the show started, figuring that would lead to the greatest enjoyment and enhance the general joie de vivre of the evening. As the lights brightened, we had a piercingly blue-eyed Rosemonde (Stewart Dunseith) playing Scrabble with the shifty schemer Marcus (Luke Harris); Rosemonde is apparently not long for this world and Marcus’s working on getting his name at the top of Rosemonde’s will. As R retires for the evening, our other major schemer, Alexander (Matthew Blake), appears. Marcus wants to whinge about how his lover is cheating (well, almost) with his personal trainer Jason (Jon R Harrison), who rather insultingly isn’t even putting out as he’s waiting for “twoo wuv” before sex; Alexander, meanwhile, is crowing about his new infatuation with an almost-priest he “accidentally” maneuvered into finding him in flagrante. Can Alexander seduce this soon-to-be man of the cloth? More importantly, can he use his “no one can resist me” charms to wreak revenge on Marcus’s faithless boyfriend – by seducing his personal trainer – and thus win the prize of a night with Marcus?

Well, if you’ve seen the movie or read the book, there aren’t a lot of mysteries here about the story that is going to be told; the joy is all in watching it unfold, as the heartless duo put their pieces into play – and get a piece or two on the way. The lies and tales all become increasingly hysterical, as Alexander portrays himself to one person as a near-suicidal, wanna-be straight boy and to another as a selfless soul who only wants to see young love united; meanwhile Marcus is manipulating one person after another and making sure that the final outcome will be the one to most benefit himself.

Making this play modern and gay-male oriented made it a hell of a lot of fun; we have characters emailing and texting each other, posting incriminating videos on the internet, and generally creating as much trouble as modern technology can make possible. I also felt the emphasis on a culture of gossip and reputation might be one that felt more real in a more closed society than that that is London as a whole; I could absolutely believe that one could easily be very well known very quickly in such a scene, a critical element for making the tension seem real. And the differences between London and Brighton seemed very natural; overall, the translation from the original setting to this one worked well. An

The cast was a bit mixed, but I’m pleased to say our leads were not only handsome but also convincing, both as they lied to their “friends” and as they lied to each other – and to themselves. I especially loved the scene when Alexander shoved chocolate rolls into Jason’s mouth, leaving poor Mr. Harrison with so much food in his mouth he could barely finish his scene, which ends with a kiss. It was positively sadistic. I’m afraid I was laughing so hard I might have disturbed the actors; on the other hand, a woman at the end of the row was apparently providing a running commentary throughout the play, which was so noticeable the cast members were talking about it after the show. (“She was wonderful! We wanted her to come every night!”) However, I had some problems with the ending, in which Rosemonde finishes the Scrabble game with the word “schemer.” A fifty point, seven letter bonus? How was that possible when he had clearly just put the word on so it met up with another one? It would have had to have been six letters at the most! Of course, I had originally heard “schema” (damn those English accents) so I was even more wrought up before Andrew clarified my mistake. Oh well. Overall, I had a grand time, and if you like your plays rude, raunchy, and fun, Dangerous is probably right up your alley.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 18th, 2010. Dangerous continues through July 11th and will be followed by Blink Twice, which I’m REALLY chuffed about seeing.)

Review – Silence: The Musical – Above the Stag Theatre

January 31, 2010

I have to say, when I first heard a song from “Silence: The Musical” during “Blink – and You Missed It” at the Above the Stag Theatre in August, I had no idea that this was going to mark the start of a theme for six months of theater-going. Although I might have hesitated to see a musical version of Silence of the Lambs, as I am in fact terribly squeamish and quite adverse to the sight of blood, the very funny song in “Blink!” convinced me that I could easily go without getting squicked, and thus I said yes to the production at the Baron’s Court Theater in October. It turned out to be one of my two favorite musicals of 2009 (the other being the all-male Pirates of Penzance), with shockingly hummable, if generally unsingable (in polite company) songs, sharp characterizations, and a genuinely interesting story. And it was hysterically funny. So of course when I heard it was being performed again, even though a mere three months later, at the Above the Stag theater, I jumped on tickets (a good thing as it’s now already almost sold out for the run).

I have to say, though, I was quite surprised to have the show announced as the “European premiere” right before it started … had my trip to Baron’s Court been a dream? The front of house man (perhaps Peter Bull, artistic director?) insisted that it was the “full” version (some songs had been cut from the other?), and the website itself says this is the “European professional premiere,” which, well, I don’t know what to say, but I don’t really feel like it’s reasonable to call this the European premiere of the show given that it was really no more “fully” produced than the other one was, though this was decidedly actually the version that (more closely) matched the original ’95 NY Fringe Festival, as Christopher Gattelli is given credit as the director. This means that watching them both, I got to see this version as being what the director’s vision of the show was, as opposed to the Tom Murphy/Imperial Productions’ version, and I do seem to remember hearing at least one song I hadn’t in the first show.

Right. Review. Synopsis? Speech impaired wanna-be FBI agent, Clarice Starling (Tory Ross), is asked by irritating FBI man Crawford (Tim McArthur) to interview terrifying imprisoned serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Miles Western) in order to help draw out clues that might help catch current serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Fabian Hartwell). As she grows closer to Hannibal and closer to finding Bill, the question becomes: will she arrive in time to save latest prisoner, Catherine (Catherine Millsom), or will Lecter … or Bill … get Clarice first?

Now, this all sounds like it would be quite grim, but with cheery little songs like “I Wanna Size 14” (Buffalo Bill’s ideal girl) and “If I Could Smell Her Cunt” (Lecter’s paean to feeling human again), almost-tap dancing lambs (they clacked their little hooves together, which was good enough) and hit you with a two-by-four foreshadowing (the missing pen, the deaths’ head moths), it’s clear through and through that this is meant to be funny, and the occasional gory or grim bits are just Guignol ha ha’s (except for the pictures on the walls of Crawford’s office, I could really have lived without those).

The cast itself was good – the nice singing voices I now practically take for granted in London theater (crazy to think this was a “fringe” production given the professionalism of the cast – hard to understand why any of them were on “the small stage,”), good line delivery, etc. Tory Ross had a nice dry touch to her Agent Star that I really enjoyed, and Shakella Dedi as Starr’s best buddy Ardelia Mapp had a great scene-stealing moment when she ripped off her workout clothes to reveal a blue sparkly mini-dress that she worked within an inch of her life. Pins and pipes – can’t wait to see Dedi take a bigger role in the future, as she’s loaded with talent.

And yet, and yet. While I enjoyed the use of an all-lamb Greek Chorus, especially all Mikado-ized for Starr’s “telling it MY way” bit, I couldn’t help but compare this to the other production and find it lacking. Western may have performed Lecter as requested, as a one-dimensional nutjob, but I far preferred Tom Murphy’s better-rounded creep, who actually seemed like someone who COULD gain Clarice’s trust … before making her eat her tongue. And I missed the heavier development of both the lesbian subtext and sexual harassment of the Baron’s Court version, not to mention the tap-dancing corpse and the overplaying of the “high colonic appointment card.” So while Above the Stag produced a show I’d say would be a fun night out, it just didn’t hit the highs of the Baron’s Court version, which I considered unmissable. But, you know, I also had the hots for BC’s Buffalo Bill, Jame Gumb, and while Fabian Hartwell did do a nice job of tucking his junk and even wrote “Fuck me” on his abdomen, it was no comparison to the sight of all that twinkling body jewelry Jame put on display when he whipped off his kimono.

But I digress. This is certainly a fun and silly night out and well-priced at £15 quid a ticket, but with the other version so fresh in my mind I can’t as enthusiastically recommend it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, January 29th, 2010. Silence runs through February 28th and is already almost completely sold out: buy your tickets today if you’re the least bit interested.)

*Credits to the director for actually using a Safeway shopping bag, a nice touch of American authenticity that I and my two American friends appreciated. However, someone needs to be reminded that, when an American spells the letter H, it is pronounced “Aitch.” “H”aitch is strictly for Englishers – a small niggle in a nearly perfectly American accented production.