Something Rotten!, St James Theatre – 04/08/2016

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With going to the theatre as frequently as I do, it can sometimes be easy to regard what many see as a special treat as a normal or mundane experience. I can occasionally feel like going to the theatre to review a show is a bit of a chore and I often don’t enjoy the experience half as much as I should. But all those feelings were kept firmly at bay as I (quite literally) ran up the stairs of the St James Theatre in New York to enjoy my first ever Broadway show, Something Rotten!

As is the case with so many Broadway shows, it is easy to become so obsessed and familiar with them without even stepping foot inside the theatre. This was exactly how I felt before seeing Something Rotten! – I’d been a big fan of the soundtrack and watched numerous videos of songs on YouTube, but not once did I ever expect to actually be lucky enough to get to see the show in New York. Something Rotten! is set in Renaissance England and follows two brothers – Nick and Nigel Bottom – as they attempt to create the world’s first musical and oust William Shakespeare as the world’s greatest playwright.

The show itself did not let me down with enough innuendos to last Scott Mills years and just the right amount of childish, random humour that it didn’t become irritating. It is also very clever in the way it weaves references to both other musicals and Shakespeare plays into the story – some of them so cleverly hidden that only a few audience members got the joke, but others so obvious that everyone was in stitches. My only real criticism would be that the second half is far from as good as the first, but it by no means drags down the show as a whole and in fact one of the final songs Something Rotten ! / Make an Omelette was one of the funniest of the night.

Everyone in the cast gets their moment to shine – from the incomparable Brad Oscar during A Musical to the ensemble’s fantastic egg dancing, clad in full egg costume, during Make an Omelette. Also fantastic is Josh Grisetti as the humble and endearing Nigel Bottom, along with his complete opposite Will Chase, who makes a confident and arrogant Shakespeare.

Musically the show is fantastic, with Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick’s score incorporating so many jokes, references and styles that it’s almost hard to keep up. This level of variation keeps the show so entertaining and refreshing that you just have to go home and listen to the recording again (and again and again) until you’re word perfect. Favourites include the gospel inspired We See The Light and the tap-dance battle between Shakespeare and Nick Bottom (sounds ridiculous, but trust me it’s incredible) during Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top.

As if the show needed anything more, the costumes and staging are also incredible. This seems to be something typical of Broadway shows (well, based on the three I have now seen) even more so than West End theatre. The budget for these shows is clearly huge, and this shines through in the design. Set pieces appear and disappear almost out of nowhere to create a whole host of different locations. Gregg Barnes’ Renaissance inspired costume design never fails to delight, from large flowing dresses right the way through to huge egg costumes complete with fabric yolk which flies out when the actors’ heads pop out the top.

I really couldn’t have asked for a better first Broadway experience. I almost feel as if seeing Something Rotten! has reignited my love for musicals, and demonstrated that it can still be as exhilarating as the first time I ever step foot inside a theatre.

[5/5]

Truck Festival, Hill Farm Oxfordshire – 15-17/07/2016

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Three days of bands for less than £90 seemed like a complete no brainer to me so it was without question that I decided I would be going to Truck Festival in Oxfordshire. This was a decision I would come not to regret, despite a nightmare journey which involved trains (the only succesful element of the journey), finding a library to print out Beth’s forgotten ticket (shoutout to Didcot Parkway library), three busses (after being turned down by the first two) and a very long walk with heavy bags and a lot of alcohol. But once all was set up and the fun began, the struggle to arrive was worth it (p.s. I totally do not recommend using public transport to get to Truck Fest).

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Friday’s fun kicked off with The Magic Gang who’s set was perfect for getting into the festival mood. Favourites like Jasmine and Alright had the whole crowd singing, dancing and gently moshing along to a band who are gaining so much love all over the country at the moment. Following their set I saw Moose Blood and Neck Deep, before finishing the evening seeing headliners Catfish and the Bottlemen. Coming on to tried and tested opener Homesick the boys set consisted of their old classics mixed in with the few most recognisable songs from most recent album, The Ride. I wish we’d got there a bit sooner and been nearer the stage as I think the atmosphere there would have been even better, but the set was still incredibly enjoyable from a little further back.

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Saturday morning saw us take an emergency trip to Sainsbury’s once we released we definitely did not have enough food or drink to last us two more days. This also involved incredible scenes in the car park when we had to decant two glass bottles of brini into a plastic pink lemonade bottle in order to be allowed to take it back in to the festival. In hindsight although cheap this wasn’t the best drink we could have chosen – warm lambrini is almost definitely the worst thing I have ever tasted.

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The worst clashes of the festival took place on Saturday, leaving us running between Main Stage and The Nest in order to catch Rat Boy, Sundara Karma, Spring King and Spector. Announced as the surprise act on the Nest stage just a few days before the festival, the atmosphere for Spector was absolutely incredible and definitely made them my favourite act of the weekend. Favourites like Chevy ThunderStay High and new single Tenner went down a treat, with people starting mosh pits almost as large as the tent.

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Saturday night was when the fun really started, as I went out to explore what nightlife Truck had to offer. After experiencing some grime on the Market Stage, discounting the silent disco as a result of its huge queue and enjoying a fun band in the Saloon Bar, we discovered Truck’s greatest feature – the Barn Stage. This place smells of cow poo and it is covered in mud, but the vibe more than counteracts the challenging conditions. People were going insane to the dance tunes being played out by the DJs, with everyone doing their own individual routines that must have looked ridiculous to any sober or sane person in the room.

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Had you told me on Saturday night that this Barn Stage would be even more fun on Sunday then I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but that is exactly the case. After again doing the rounds of all the other stages me and Zoë once again found ourselves in the smelly barn – but this time the dance music had gone to be replaced by a full on primary school disco party. Everything from Single Ladies to Total Eclipse of the Heart blared out into the room and it felt as if everyone there couldn’t believe their luck to have been invited to the best dance party on the planet. Not one person was having a bad time – and once you came into the stage it was impossible to leave until the music stopped at 2:30 in the morning.

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Sunday’s music was also great, with highlights including Market Stage headliners Mystery Jets and INHEAVEN who played the Veterans & Virgins stage. The atmosphere for INHEAVEN was amazing – although there were only a few people in the tent everyone there knew what a great band these guys were and it was only a matter of time before people were jumping and moshing together. Check out the cool gal in her bucket hat in this video.

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Truck was one of the best and most fun weekends I have ever had and I can’t wait to go back next year, if only to dance all night in a smelly barn.

A Younger Theatre: Operation Love Story, King’s Head Theatre – 27/07/2016

About a month ago (sorry this is so late I have been pretty busy!) I went to see Operation Love Story, a one woman show that follows the story of two people destined (or otherwise) to meet and fall in love. Sadly I visited this theatre pub 3 days before my 18th birthday or else I’d have definitely partaken in the drinking that was going on throughout the venue!

‘The course of true love never did run smooth’, once wrote William Shakespeare, and Operation Love Story follows one matchmaker’s attempts to ensure a local couple’s pursuit of true love runs as smooth as possible. Written by Jennifer Williams the play is equal parts heartwarming, heartbreaking and hilarious. It is also part of the King’s Head Theatre’s Festival 46, which is showcasing new British writing.

Read the full review here.

A Younger Theatre: On the Twentieth Century, Silk Street Theatre – 28/06/2015

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I visited the delightful Silk Street Theatre a couple of weeks ago to see On the Twentieth Century, a performance by final year students at the Guildhall School. While I didn’t love the show, the cast were excellent and the theatre itself was lovely with seats that were actually comfy!

‘On The Twentieth Century is a classic American musical that fits the stereotypical image of a Broadway show perfectly. Set on a 1930s train travelling from Chicago to New York, it follows the story of struggling theatre producer, Oscar and his attempts to bring Hollywood actress, Lily Garland back to the stage. Presented by final year students at the Guildhall School, this production showcases the talent of future stars of the stage, but the show itself is not without its shortcomings.’

Read the full review here.

 

Coldplay, Wembley Stadium – 18/06/2016

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‘Thanks for giving us your Saturday night’, said Chris Martin, ‘and for dealing with all the s**t you have to put up with for liking Coldplay’ he concluded, in the midst of Coldplay’s Saturday night closing song Up&Up. Coldplay are one of those bands that everyone claims to hate, but the 90,000 strong crowd at Wembley Stadium on Saturday (and the 90,000 strong crowds that filled the stadium for the previous three nights) prove that this is a band that really does have huge appeal. Perhaps the most varied crowd I have ever seen at a gig, it ranged from small kids with their parents to young couples to rowdy blokes  – and all were singing along to every word.

Support was from Reef (who we missed) and Lianne La Havas, who performed in a gazebo for reasons that are yet to be confirmed. It meant anyone sitting was unable to see her as, well, she was inside a gazebo. No idea if Reef got this same treatment – maybe it was something to do with Coldplay wanting their staging to look even better compared to this very odd setup.

Kicking things off with A Head Full Of Dreams, there was a no expenses spared pyrotechnic display featuring fireworks and a rainbow of confetti that fired along the b-stage showering the whole stadium in multicoloured tissue paper. This excitement continued throughout, with Coldplay’s staging including so many different tricks it’s hard to know where to start. There were fireworks throughout (occasionally filling the venue with so much smoke I could hardly see the band anymore!), regular confetti cannons, incredible lighting displays including a small circular stage in the crowd which had different images projected on it. And, of course, the now famous Coldplay light-up wristbands. If you’ve seen these on the telly you’ll know the idea, but when you’re actually there seeing the effect live it is really impressive. The bands light up every colour imaginable in time with the music to create a spectacular effect. In a space as huge as Wembley Stadium there needs to be some way to make everyone feel a part of the show – even way up in the furthest away seat – and the wristbands did this perfectly.

Coldplay have so many big songs that it’s impossible to have a dull moment. Standout moments were definitely during Adventure of a Lifetime as the wristbands kicked into overdrive, the crowd was showered with bouncy balloons and everyone was told to kneel down then jump up together as the chorus came in. A Sky Full of Stars was also one of my highlights, along with a remixed version of Paradise. They also included a nice amount of older material, including classic singalongs Yellow, The Scientist and Fix You along with rarely played Green Eyes which sounded lovely from a small breakout stage at the back of the crowd.

A fantastic show by a band that I’d definitely go and see again. Well worth ‘all the s**t I put up with for seeing Coldplay’!

Invincible, Mercury Theatre – 28/04/2016

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Invincible is the story of Emily and Oliver, a mismatched couple who decide to move up north to raise their family when the recession means they can no longer afford their London lifestyle. It is equal parts heartwarming, hilarious and thoughtful, documenting the shift in culture the pair experience as they invite their new neighbours, Dawn and Alan, round for olives and (non-alcoholic) drinks.

Torben Betts’ script is outstanding, combining humour with real moments of touching poignancy. Each of his characters fills a distinct purpose and personality, and the inner workings of these four people together makes for a fascinating social situation. The tension and conflict created by not only the north/south divide between the characters, but also between each couple’s personal situations is a delight to watch. With the first act very humour focussed, it makes the dramatic revelations in act two all the more impactful and leaves you with much to consider.

Each member of the four-strong cast is fantastic, doing more than justice to the strong sense of character created for them by Betts’ script. Graeme Brookes is excellent as Alan, really bringing the main comic character of the play to life. Emily Bowker is also commendable as her namesake Emily, demonstrating both her passionate political views and her slightly softer side with equal finesse.

The set by Victoria Spearing is charming, with a miniature town made of colourful wooden blocks adorning the front of the stage through which a tiny train weaves to mark the start of the play. Behind this is the main set, a cosy family home with some lovely exposed brickwork and white painted wooden doors (similar to those that can be found in my own home!). Tim Speechley’s lighting also plays an integral part, with a large backdrop indicating night and day along with characters switching on and off lights in order to set the right mood.

Wholly entertaining and entirely charming, Torben Betts’ Invincible is well worth a watch. It’s emotional without being too heavy, and funny without cheapening any of the social comments it’s trying to make. Go to have your heart simultaneously warmed and broken.

Invincible is playing at the Mercury Theatre until 30th April, and is touring the UK until 18th June. 

A Younger Theatre: Forever Plaid, St James Studio – 08/04/2016

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The St James theatre is by far one of the loveliest in London, so it was with great pleasure that I visited it a couple of weeks ago to review Forever Plaid for A Younger Theatre. Although the show wasn’t my favourite, it made for a fairly relaxing Friday evening (asides, that is, from the audience participation).

‘The basis of Forever Plaid is so absurdly simple yet incredibly strange that I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea was generated in a primary school classroom. It follows The Plaids, an all male harmony group who are back to give a performance to remember – back, that is, from the dead. Yes, the idea here is that the young group was hit by a bus before a concert they never had the chance to give, and have returned tonight in order to sing to their biggest crowd ever. All this was explained during the first few minutes by an absent voiceover and left me feeling rather dubious about the quality of events to come.’

Read the full review here.