Saturday, 24 March 2012

Sweeney Todd Musical Review

The classic Stephen Sondheim musical is back in the West End for a limited run.

It has a sung-through structure, which means that nearly the whole book is set to music. This is done very rarely among musical composers these days and showed the musical to be of a certain generic Sonheim-set. It is old-fashioned in all the right amounts and just the right side of operatic. The lyrics are smart - and sometimes rude, ‘There's a hole in the world like a great black pit and it's filled with people who are filled with s**t’, sometimes shrill, ‘City on fire’, sometimes just weird; ‘My friends’, the barber Sweeney directs to his razors.

The plot is a mix of strong and weak. The roles of Johanna and Anthony are insipid, but the actors did a credible enough job.  The fault was Sondheim’s characterisation. Anthony is entirely one dimensional, Joanna not much deeper, and no amount of passionate singing, and natural chemistry between Lucy Mae Barker and Luke Brady could lend them depth.

Stephen Sondheim isn’t to be condemned entirely on this point.  The failure of the love story between Johanna and Anthony is made up for by the fantastic characterisation of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett. An almost unrecognisable Michael Ball is brooding, intense, scary and funny in all the right parts as Todd.  But it is Imelda Staunton who steals the show as Mrs  Lovett. Funny, cruel, sympathetic, she has none of the lost glamour of Helena Bonham-Carter’s Mrs Lovett but this is an altogether less glamorous production than the film. This is to its credit.

The witty duet  between Staunton and Ball, ‘A Little Priest’, closing the first act, is the most memorable and funniest moment of the whole musical.  Its black comedy captures the style of the whole macabre comedy - fun, ridiculous, dark.  It is for the same reason that each of Sweeney’s graphic murders gets a big laugh. It is a Renaissance-meets-Victorian musical Revenge Tragedy.  This means, naturally, there is graphic violence at every corner of this show. There is barber’s chair throat-slitting, and a scene of self-flagellation provoked by forbidden lustful thoughts. It is not a musical for children.

It is a funny, interesting production with great acting from Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. Plotting and characterisation is variable, but in terms of music it’s a classic, complicated score, where the story is told credibly and intelligently through the music and lyrics.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Duchess of Malfi Review

The Duchess of Malfi doesn’t shy away from the more macabre aspects of Renaissance revenge tragedy. It is highly ritualistic from the first scene, where a candlelit funeral procession commemorates the death of the Duchess’ husband, the event that opens John Fletcher’s most thought provoking play.

Portrayals of the Duchess and her two brothers, and her new lower-class husband, Antonio, are traditional. The stately Duchess, Eve Best, is sweet, dignified, and a little bit coy, the perfect mix for her to become, alongside Antonio, the only sympathetic emotional centre in an otherwise ambivalent play. The Cardinal is a tower of Machiavellian corruption and religious hypocrisy; Ferdinand is a seething mass of suppressed incestuous desire, misogynistic control and classist prejudice.  All of this is played in the spirit of early 17th century stagecraft.  Indeed, the staging, full of wooden pillars and corner alcoves, and including a backstage exit and an overhanging bridge, reminds us of such a stage. The ‘arras’ covering the back exit, and the bridge, serve to stage the important theme of spying in many scenes.

The weak link in an otherwise sound cast is Bosola. The disillusioned, malcontent servant is notoriously hard to play, particularly when he takes over the unlikely role of revenge protagonist, in the final act. He has some of the most imagery-heavy speeches, which should sound simultaneously poetic and bitter. However, an incongruous Scottish accent, and disgusting rags amongst a sea of stately costume, injected more humour into the role than this sombre production should have allowed.

When this production tried to address the difficult blend of tragic feeling and mechanical humour, typical of Renaissance revenge tragedy, it had mixed success. Best’s long, realistic strangulation is a high point in acting, if not in audience morale. The reaction is to grimace, laugh when it starts to get awkward – she’s not dead yet!? – and finally squint behind half closed eyelids, in realisation that this death is played out in real time. It’s a departure from the stylised feel of the rest of the play, but it works surprisingly well.  Less successful is the fast-paced, bloody conclusion instigated by Bosola. This might be on account of Fletcher’s melodramatic, sometimes irrelevant, plotting. For more successful examples, think Hamlet, or, Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy. Such endings are always difficult to get right, Fletcher’s particularly so, but this was especially ill-fitting.

This production mixed the realistic and the stylised, the humorous and the terrible, with variable results. To a certain degree these various tones are existent in John Fletcher’s text, however, in the text they exist in parallel, rather than in canon. It is poetic, macabre and shocking in parts, a largely sombre take on a Renaissance classic.
Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Musical and Play Reviews

Our readers said that they value reviews of shows and use them often to make their final decision on whether to see a show or not. They also said that they care about critics’ reviews more than those of other theatregoers.

Well, given how important you said theatre reviews are, we actually went to see many shows ourselves to give you our honest view of some of the most popular West End shows.
We were objective and open of our opinions. You will see that our theatre reviews have all the good and the ugly! 
Tell us what you think, have we done a good job in bringing you unbiased reviews?
Monday, 19 March 2012

Special 48hr offer on Jersey Boys tickets

Hey Theatre Lovers,
This morning we invite you to a special 48 hours sale of the Award Winning Musical Jersey Boys. Don’t miss the best seats on offer from  £39.99! Offer is available on
In the race to be ‘ Best West End Show’ on BBC Radio 2, Jersey Boys is a true-life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Enjoy the electrifying performance, the heartaches, the triumphs and the music.
The sale starts today, 19 March at 10:30am and ends on 21 March at 10:30am. Reserve your seats now.
Don’t forget to share the offer with your friends and family and enjoy the sun today!
Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Legally Blonde Review

With an unlikely plot, a pastel-coloured set, and a surprisingly catchy score, this is a fluffy, fun-filled fairytale. Based on the 2001 film, Elle Woods is a naive fashion marketing major from Malibu who wins a place at Harvard Law School against the odds, with the intention to win back her schooldays sweetheart, Warner. At Harvard, she realises there’s more to life than chasing rainbows. While showing off her vast wardrobe of pink and navy pinstripe, she holds her own in the high powered shark-tank of law firms. It all sounds quite incredible. One must suspend reality to buy into the story (lawyers do not win cases thanks to their intimate knowledge of haircare), which renders any relevance to real world feminism a lost cause.