Posts Tagged ‘Wilton’s Music Hall’

Review – Mrs Hudson’s Christmas Corker – Spymonkey at Wilton’s Music Hall

December 7, 2014

For all that I love to go to the theater, it’s rare that I get invitations to go with other people, especially fully fledged “Here’s a particular show that I want to see and a date and everything” kind of stuff – unless it’s one of my Twitter friends with a spare to something. So when a friend of mine who lives out of town proposed a Saturday trip to the lovely Wilton’s Music hall to see a show by Spymonkey – well, I said yes without even looking up the details. I’d seen their Hound of the Baskervilles at the Duchess Theater in the distant past (apparently before I started this blog) and enjoyed it enough for it to burn its way into my mind for seven long years, waiting for this very moment to pipe up and say, “Oh yes, Spymonkey! They’re kind of funny, aren’t they! Let’s do it.” And so we did.

Now, Wilton’s is a bit of a stretch to get to but an utterly charming venue with a nice bar and great vibe once you get there. And this show, with a quirky three piece band and four very silly actors, seems to be well suited to the venue (and the occasionally shit sight lines don’t seem to be much of an issue). The show is set in Victorian times, in the Sherlock Holmes period – why, by gum, the Mrs Hudson of the title is actually Sherlock Holmes’ landlady – so the costuming and occasional music hall bits seemed to fit the atmosphere very well. The gag is that we are going to watch Sherlock Holmes solve some mysteries, sometimes with Watson, sometimes without, and occasionally with the assistance of random other people who are clearly one of the same four actors wearing a different costume. The actors are all having a good time and the audience was occasionally roaring with laugher – they were well up for the evening.

I, however, found myself a bit left behind by the whole thing. I didn’t get the second joke (a bit with Karl Marx singing something in German apparently from a 70s British TV show – passed right over my head), I was actually a bit upset when Watson was moping about Holmes being abusive to him, and the pattersong was done too quick for me to follow along. However, by the time the final mystery appeared – just how does a virgin get pregnant – I was having enough of a good time allow for a substantial suspension of disbelief as Holmes and crew made their way back 2000 years in time. I loved the arguments between God and the angel Gabriel, and was completely amused by Gabriel’s lascivious attraction to Mary, who had apparently gone without much physical attention in her life and seemed like she was likely to have none in the future – touched by an angel indeed! When God really chewed out Gabriel for behaving inappropriately, my sympathy was entirely with Gabriel, who at least recognized that Mary has a right to have pleasure no matter how much she was going to go down in history as a baby making machine. Go Mary! Go Gabriel! And go Spymonkey for making the most blasphemous play I’ve ever seen. Made me proud to be in a country where people weren’t walking around going, “HARRUMPH I’ve just been insulted” or, er, protesting or, um, setting the building on fire. So while the rest of the evening was a bit limp, the show ended like a rocket, BANG BANG mystery solved! It gave a whole new twist to the turn “getting into the Christmas spirit.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 6, 2014. It continues through December 31st.)

Mini-review – Ten Plagues – Marc Almond at Wilton’s Music Hall

May 10, 2013

More ambitious in concept that execution, Ten Plagues held high promise: gay cultural icon and passionate vocalist Marc Almond, the disintegrating elegance of Wilton’s Music Hall, and an original libretto and score by by Mark Ravenhill and Conor Mitchell (respectively). The theme of the plague coming to London is one that is extremely resonant today with the AIDS crisis; this was alluded to nicely in some animations of a ripple-ab’ed man that Almond at one point addresses as someone who has brought disease to him (and whom Almond sends away).

It all felt so good and so promising and yet …

Looking at it, I can’t help but think the horrible, dissonant, modernistic music was just too agonizing to make for a pleasant evening even at the trim time of sixty minutes (and about one couple evaculating per row). And then there was the thick banality of Mark Ravenhill’s lyrics: I thought of what a difference W. H. Auden would have made and wanted to cry at the wasted opportunity. Almond was dramatic and a pleasure to listen to, looking alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) debauched, decadent, and decayed (especially with his gold teeth and tattoos) – the perfect performer for the space. But he just wasn’t given enough to work with. A few wigs, the pianos, and a bit of lighting – aw, hell, but it all would have been different with better music and lyrics, wouldn’t it?

I’m not sorry I went even for £25, but it all just made me sad and gave me this incredible nostalgia for Susan Philipz’s Surround Me, because her nod to the plague history of London (at Tokenhouse Yard) did so much more and with so very little. She brought tears of nostalgia, grief, and loss to my eyes; Ten Plagues made me want to cry with frustration. Ah well.

(This review is for an event that took place on Thursday, May 9th, 2013 at 8 PM. It continues through May 18th.)

Remount review – All male Pirates of Penzance – Wilton’s Music Hall

April 10, 2010

This is just a shorty review, as last summer I went nuts for the all-male Pirates of Penzance at the Union Theater in Southwark and wrote a very detailed review, much of which is still correct and does not bear repeating. In fact, I wasn’t going to re-review the remount at all, but …

Speaking now of the remount at Wilton’s Music Hall, this is still a good show, a re-energized remounting of a dusty old classic. If you haven’t seen it before, you’ll love the inventive staging and comic choreography.

HOWEVER. I cannot just sit on my critical laurels and say “oh yes this is the best musical of 2009 come back to life and you simply must go.” Frederic (Russell Whitehead), Ruth (Samuel J Holmes) and the Major General (Fred Broom) are still there, and still brilliant: Whitehead is a star G&S lead with the kind of charisma that brought to mind teenaged girls swooning over sparkly vampires in Twilight. But with his gorgeous tenor filling Wilton’s Music Hall, any other voices not up to that level were brought into brilliant, shattering light; and, in the much enlarged space, Alan Richardson as the new incarnation of Mabel has all of the range to sing the role and none of the volume, even merely from the second row. In fact, much of the cleverness of the lyrics became muddled “well it seems to rhyme but who knows what they actually said:” deadly when wit is what makes Pirates shine. Perhaps Richardson was holding back; but Whitehead was not and I expected the two of them to sing apace.

Without some sharper diction or (god forbid) microphones, this Pirates is not able to rise into its former role as a brilliant reincarnation of a tired old classic. Yes, there are lots of fun touches with lighting (the failures to actually spotlight the performers I will ascribe to preview “working the kinks out” issues) and the comedy bits with the policemen’s mustaches, etc., are still worth a laugh. But if you don’t make the text happen, this Pirates is just a novelty show, enjoyable but not unmissable. From the laughter in the audience, it’s clear that people enjoyed themselves, but I’m quite sad that so much has been lost in the move from the smaller space and cannot recommend this as enthusiastically. It’s fun. It’s fine. It’s worth fifteen quid. But it ain’t worth dropping everything to see.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, April 9th, 2010. It continues through May 16th 2010.)

Best London theater, 2009

December 19, 2009

While I’ve still got three more shows before the season’s entirely over, I feel confident that I can now get the “what was the best” posts out of the way (complete list of shows here, grand total estimated to be 116). Best dance, best musical/drama are my categories, as well as a few special celebrations and a shaming here and there. Read on …

Discovery of the year: the Southwark Playhouse. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this small and atmospheric venue blew me away; the shows I’ve seen since have been of mixed quality (the recent and continuing Christmas Carol was a treat to be sure) but never made me feel financially cheated. Generally worth going to “just for the heck of it.” Now, mind you, Royal Court has been crowned “The New Donmar” (affordable prices, adventurous programming) and I’m planning on buying something akin to the entire spring season there, but it was hardly a discovery; it just became noticeable for its greatness this year.

Overdone gimmick of the year: “event” theater with movie or TV celebrities. Please, let’s have less of the classics being butchered by people who can’t act at extravagant prices. I realize this is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fantastic income London theater is experiencing this year, but good theater is not just about filling seats. I feel like seeing Jude Law/David Tennant/Keira Knightly on stage gets people to go just so they can say “ooh ah I was in the same room as INSERT NAME HERE” and does little to encourage the creation of good shows. The Donmar deserves an especial drubbing for going so mad for celebrity casting in their West End season – and what a horrible mistake to waste Judi Dench in that Mishima dog they put on.

Dance performance of the year: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “E=MC2” (full discussion here) I saw the Royal Ballet many times this year and they just weren’t doing anything this exciting – not really helping the cause of getting ballet into the 21st century and recruiting new audiences so much as sticking with tried and tried and tried and true (“Mayerling” twice in two years, please!). I also give BRB points for “best new story ballet of the year” even though I don’t think Cyrano was new and I don’t think I saw any other new story ballet this year (even though I do try to go see them when I can – well, okay, there was the Wuthering Heights ballet but it seemed more like a thought than a story).

Painful lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost entirely unmusical, like it’s designed by academics to adhere to certain structures and generally not to be musical in any way.

Musical of the year: the nominees were: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical*; Company; Forbidden Broadway; (the all male) Pirates of Penzance; Silence the Musical. After tossing and turning, debating the hysterical brilliance of Silence (full of hummable, if utterly rude, tunes) and the extravagant, seedy intensity of Pirates, I’ve decided the award goes to … Pirates, which made an arthritic script come to life in a way I truly did not think possible. Rumor has it it’s going to be reprised at Wilton’s Music Hall this spring, though unfortunately I can’t find any information about it on their calendar. That said, Silence: the Musical is going to be done again at the Above the Stag theater – don’t miss out as there’s really little reason for it to be staged again so soon and it really is a hoot.

Best theater blog: I’m not going to list the ones I read (mostly because it’s a short list), but once again the West End Whingers have proven to have the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better now that they have a Twitter feed: getting a line from them to “buy your tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like that.

Show of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great shows were thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of productions being cranked out, this wasn’t nearly as competitive as I was hoping it would be. Still, I’ve weighed the best of the year (that I saw), and it’s clear: not only as best production but also as best script, Mike Bartlett’s Cock blew me away. Each performance was perfect; the close confines made it all that more intense; the words were exactly what they should be. It’s a damned shame it sold out so fast, but such good theater should never experience a single unoccupied seat for even one night. I can’t imagine it being remounted elsewhere without watering down the impact of seeing this in the round in a tiny (80 person?) house, but this was really just a tiny drop of perfection in a year that was otherwise a bit of a desert.

Right, that’s it for me: 116 shows in one year was probably about thirty more than I should have seen. I don’t even think I’m capable of remembering who the best actor and actress even were anymore. Next year, I’m hanging up my hat and taking it easy; I want 2010 to be a year when I see less shows and more that I like. This will require waiting until the reviews come in so I can more easily identify the productions that will suit me, and might mean that I miss a few that sharper people snapped up sooner – but I think it’s probably the way to go. Even sticking to a budget like I try to do, this year was taxing on my wallet as well as my sleep schedule. See you in the second balcony …

*Actually, Priscilla was never a contender for me. I just put it in there because it seemed like it should have been, especially given how expensive it was.

Review – Pirates of Penzance (all male cast) – Union Theatre Southwark

July 17, 2009


Last night Jason, W and I went to the Union Theatre to see Pirates of Penzance. I’m a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan (not mad like some but there are pictures of me performing in Patience out there) and I’m a fan of the Union Theatre and the excitement that seeing a musical in such a small space creates for me as an audience member. Furthermore, this promised the zest and zing of an all-male cast. Woo! It wasn’t going to be Company, that’s for sure, but it sounded like something that I would enjoy immensely – and at £15 a ticket, it was a great price.

From the start, it pulled me in, as the Pirates (led by Pirate King Alan Winner, a buttery-voiced singer) bounded and bounced onto stage, all bluff and bluster and with ten times the energy I have for an entire month, filling the room with bodies and voices and pulling you into “the show” (and away from dull reality) with a bang. There amongst them (I was pointedly looking for cross-gendered cast experience, but was confused for a bit as to whether or not the person in qustion was a pirate) was the cherry-lipped Ruth (Samuel J Holmes), all fluttering eyes and tattered skirts and as unattractive a 47 year old nursemaid as Frederick (Russell Whitehead) could ever hope to escape. Surprisingly (since I thought everyone was going to camp it up), Holmes was basically doing a very straight job of playing this comic character. (As an aside I thought Mr. Holmes was gorgeous, but I could see by Victorian standards he might not have cut the mustard – not that the aesthetic issues of “men in skirts” kept Frederick from swooning over all the other girls in the next scene.) Frederick himself was also played without irony, which is practically necessary as half the comedy in the character is laughing at how rigid and literal he is – without it, the plot can’t move forward.

Then it was a quick switcheroonie off stage and suddenly the pirates were all back in white skirts and neck ribbons (and plimsoles) and voila we had our maidens! I loved seeing the cast in both roles like this – it added to the comedy – and they actually did a fair job of falsetto singing. Gloriously, lead girl Mabel (Adam Ellis) had a strong high voice that was verging on a counter-tenor. Ellis positively blasted Mabel’s lines out, most appropriately considering he had about 12 other maidens to sing over at times! (Ellis unfortunately didn’t have the clarity of tone that might have come from, well, being a girl, or perhaps actually being operatically trained, but I had no problems with suspension of disbelief as he put the character out well and was a good singer.)

This leaves the question (in terms of leads) of our Major General – a very important role! – and when Fred Broom came onto the stage with his mustache drawn on I about popped a gut. He was the spitting image of my friend Marcus. And of course he sang well – I have just come to expect it from the Union. He managed both gravitas and a quivering lower lip – and he really was a hoot, and darned pleasant to listen to, really doing justice to the role.

But of all of the characters, it was the policemen who just did me in. Instead of the fairly representative costuming of the pirates and girls, for the policemen the costume designer apparently went right for the Dali (or perhaps Magritte) school of costume design – the men (who further whittled down the ranks of the Pirates, briefly confusing me that this was actually a plot point, that Frederick had recruited his former pirate friends to work as constables, thus meaning they had no one to arrest) carried mustaches on sticks to show that they were law enforement officials. They continued holding on to them while they fought the pirates, including when they were on their backs or stomachs with the pirates sitting on them. At one point, they were grinning hysterically behind their cardboard facial hair and I was about losing it because they were kind of freaking me out. It was genius, really.

Oddly enough, I couldn’t remember having seen this show before – though I was sure I must have, but there was something about dumping all of the actors in my lap (more or less) and eliminating the set (well, there were some curtains and a rope) cut out all of the grounding references for me – and anyway, 1998 was a long time ago! Furthermore, I was confused because I could remember several of the songs (besides “Modern Major General”) referenced elsewhere, though God knows where I heard “How Beautifully Blue the Sky” (I remember “With Cat-like Tread” from Annex Theater in Seattle).

The thing is, in this intimate space, I could hear and understand pretty much every word that came out of the actors’ mouths, a critical thing for G&S. On big stages, the words get lost, and losing even 20% is a real problem in following along. But at the Union I could see the actors speaking, and when I couldn’t understand just by listening (if I were, say, distracted by something silly going on toward the rear of the stage), watching would shape it right up. That means that even for the patter songs I was able to laugh at almost every joke. And this made it practically a new show for me – not bad for a production that’s well over 100 years old.

A lot of what made this show so lively, though, was the staging. From the suggestive way Ruth fed a carrot to the Major General’s pushbroom hobby horse to the spankings to the extremely lewd fondling of one of the “maidens” by her pirate captors, the cast took advantage of one opportunity after another to make this play fun to watch as well as to listen to. I think G&S dies by its chorus, rather than its leads, and Pirates had everything to be proud of in terms of providing full-stage action.

Based on the number of times I looked over and saw the rather poorly W laughing his face off, I think we can consider this show a success. It helps that Pirates is a funny, witty show with a fantastic libretto; but Union made a show that too often seems dusty as a pharaoh’s tomb genius, with an energetic cast that paid attention to the bones of the show while having a great time playing with the presentation. I’m glad I rushed to see it in its first week, because chances are, like every other musical the Union Theatre has put on, this is going to be another sell out. Nice job, guys!

(Pirates continues at the Union Theatre through August 8th. For more information on this show, please see the Boise State Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, which includes all of the lyrics and tons of other supporting material.)

Review- Wink the Other Eye – Wilton’s Music Hall

August 4, 2008

What a grand time I had on Saturday when I went to Wilton’s to see Wink! I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect given the one review I’d read, but since I’m a fan of sing alongs and I like the old theatrical traditions (vaudeville, burlesque, and music hall), I wasn’t about to miss this, and rushed through a meal at the tasty and nearby “Bon Appetit” Lebanese restaurant (133 Leman Street, really very close and in a neighborhood that’s a bit of a wasteland) to be there on time. The format was a sort of loose story (the history of the hall combined with the life story of a few of the characters) framing the performance of a variety of songs. I was in very good luck as the audience the night I went was very much up for it, and shouted right back at the performers (or just made slightly off color comments) and were over all just very participatory, almost at the level I’d expect of Rocky Horror Picture Show (but not quite at panto level). The audience also sang along with every number, which was especially impressive given that only a quarter of the songs had their lyrics in the program.

Of the performers, my favorite was Kali Hughes, whose voice as she sang on a swing completely transfixed me, reminding me of of the power of Eva Tanguay and her “I Don’t Care.” It was really nice to see all of the actors just hamming it up to their maximum extent, though – Mike Sengelow didn’t take being the waiter as meaning he had a bit part – he was fully in the role and then seamlessly switched into the role of a young boy later on, doing such a smooth job I missed noticing it was the same actor (though later on I put two and two together). And even though the “showgirl” character (Suzie Chard) and the “sweet innocent” (Lulu Alexandra, blonde curls and pink cheeks, my!) were hardly deep, they had great stage presence and were really fun to watch. On top of that, the singing from everyone was really great. Good job, guys!

I realize some people may wonder why I so highly praised this in some ways amateurish show – it was very much lacking in polish and the plot, such as it was, existed mostly as a device to fit songs around – but all I was looking for was a good night out and this gave it in spades. If you like singalongs, cockney culture, and/or the history of theater, I would highly recommend seeing this show. If you want to practice ahead of time, here’s the songlist (starred ones are in the program – you can see how there’s not nearly enough lyrics to get you through the evening!):

Wotcher ‘Ria*
Birmingham Bertie
Never lost her last train yet
Oh! Mr Porter*
Champagne Charlie*
Have some more, Mrs. Moore
A little fancy does you good
Father come home with me (“Mother’s been waiting since tea”)
Don’t Dilly Dally on the way*
It Really Is a Very Pretty Garden
It’s easy to be a lady if you try
That’s the little bit the boys admire
They made me a present of Mayfair Crescent
Joshua (“nicer that lemon squash you ‘a”)
Ta ra ra boom de a
She’s lost her honest name
Come into the Garden
Swing me just a little bit higher (the very sexy song Kali Hughes performed)
The man on the flying trapeze*
Enemy of Agar (? – can’t read)
Keep the Home Fires Burning*
My Mother Said
God Save The King (I sang “America the Beautiful since this was the song I knew to this music)
Standing at the Corner of the Street
The girl I left behind
Stairway to Devon (joke)
Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous
One of the Ruins that Cromwel Knocked About a Bit*
Bless Her Name/Champagne Charlie
I live in Trafalgar Square

Apologies for not knowing the correct names for many of these songs. Fact was, I’d never heard most of them before so I was just guessing about the titles. I was in the minority, though!

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of Saturday, August 2nd.)

Preview of August: a month in theater

July 28, 2008

Shockingly, there are several days left to July and I have not a single show in store. That said, I do have some things scheduled for August, but not much yet due to going out of town a few times. (It’s summer, what can I say, I hear the call of the sea.)

August Theater Plans
5 (Tuesday): Wizard of Oz at the Royal Festival Hall. This is a birthday present and I’m looking forward to it! UPDATE: This was miserable.
6 (Wednesday): Pygmalion at the Old Vic. Hey, better late than never, and you can’t get much later than closing week. What’s amusing is that I actually won tickets to this show early in the run, but it was on a night when I was hosting a party so I couldn’t go. Ah well. I’m sure it will be much better now that the Old Vic’s lack of AC will be heating up the action on stage that much more. UPDATE: Brilliant, too bad it’s closed now.
12 (Tuesday): Three-Penny Ring Cycle at the National Theatre. It’s one act, it’s musical, it’s based on two classics, what’s not to love? UPDATE: Bah, we were rained out, or had a rain delay, so we got refunds and went home.
13 (Wednesday): All-male Mikado at the Union Theatre (Southwark). This will mean I’ve seen the Mikado twice this year, but the Union Theatre has won my heart and thus will get me to make the bet this one will have ten times the charm of the first. UPDATE: Bah again, this was sold out. Why didn’t I buy my tickets sooner?
15 (Friday): West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells. They’re about the cheapest seats I could get but they’re still a lot – but I’ve never seen this before and it had to happen.
23 (Friday): Naughty cabaret at The Roundhouse. With friends. Naughty friends.

Also, I’m aiming to fit in the Victorian Music Hall thing at Wilton’s and Into the Hoods – it should make for a busy month all in all even though eight shows makes me feel like I’m kind of sleepwalking my way through it.