Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Online Theatre: Every Time A Bell Rings

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Every Time A Bell Rings. 
The story of how Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, earned his wings is a familiar one. But even an angel has to learn their trade, and that’s a much lesser told tale. Join Clarence in his angelic education, as his celestial colleagues teach him the ropes, offer him advice and regale him with their own stories of how they gained their flying licences. Will he be ready when the call finally comes? 

This production of 'Every Time a Bell Rings' was initially meant to be performed live in front of an audience, whilst simultaneously streamed for those watching at home. The county town of Bedford however was moved into Tier 3 on Thursday, meaning that the production would have to be all digital. The show faced further hurdles in the following days, due to technical problems and the introduction of new COVID-19 regulations in relation to Tier 4. The team involved laughed in the face of adversity however, and continued working to ensure that theatregoers would have the opportunity to see this highly-anticipated production. They ultimately succeeded, going on to create a filmed production of the show that they could then release to the wider public. The perseverance demonstrated in this particular production really is admirable, especially in these turbulent and uncertain times. Theatre is facing more challenges than ever before, and the devotion of the Mangled Yard Theatre Company should be applauded. They worked exceptionally hard to ensure they could bring joy to those in need of it, and that in itself is extremely commendable. 

There are some really important messages explored throughout the course of the show, particularly in relation to fairness and justice. The most striking part of the entire production comes towards the end of the show, which explores recent controversy related to the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre. The aforementioned establishment is a detention centre for foreign nationals prior to their deportation from the UK, and is located in Bedfordshire. It has previously been alleged that the way in which the centre is run is unacceptable, and the show sheds light on the issue through a series of pre-recorded messages. I wasn't entirely familiar with Yarl's Wood, so I was intrigued to hear this particular story. It's important to raise awareness of issues such as these, and the show tackles it skilfully. 

My only critique for this production is that I did feel that there were certain missed opportunities that would likely have enhanced the overall production. The most prominent example of this was the Boris Johnson parody, who appeared throughout the pantomime segment. In this particular sequence, Johnson is given the role of 'pantomime villain', and is referred to as the 'Evil Baron Boris'. This topical skit had the potential to create a clever satire on the incumbent Prime Minister, though ultimately came up a little short. The actress performing the role did little to change her accent in order to impersonate Johnson, which in turn made this segment feel like something of a missed opportunity. I did feel that small additions such as these may have enhanced the comedic elements of the show, and thus benefitted the production as a whole.

In spite of this, it is still wonderful that this production is available to view, and it's great that audience members had the chance to watch it in the face of these new restrictions. Every Time A Bell Rings is a show for the whole family, and is well-suited to the Christmas period.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Friday, 18 December 2020

Online Theatre: Kuwento - 物語

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Kuwento - 物語.
‘Kuwento - 物語: Revisited Tales of Japan and the Philippines’, written by Nozomi Abe and directed by Yojiro Ichikawa, is a digital storytelling exploration of Japanese folktales told in English, providing the children and audience all over the world with the unique opportunity to experience the authentic Japanese culture. Its aim is to raise and increase awareness of Japan, and its culture, and to invite the audience to the world of Japanese aesthetics. 

This newly-launched production of Kuwento was recently uploaded onto YouTube, and is available for all to watch online. The producers involved have sought to find a way that can keep performance and theatre alive, in the uncertain era of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that those involved were able to put this production together in spite of the challenges faced is in itself remarkable. Those taking an active role in preserving the arts during these turbulent times should be commended for their work, and I applaud Théatre Lapis for all of their hard work. In addition to this, it should also be noted that this production is free to watch, which is all the more striking. Considering that there have been recent debates in relation to the accessibility of the performing arts, the way in which the producers have made this viewable for the wider public is highly admirable. 

The story features three well-known Japanese folk tales, which have been passed down from generation to generation and have solidified themselves in Japanese history. On a personal level, I am not overly familiar with Japanese culture, so it was intriguing to gain this type of insight. The first two folk tales are particularly interesting, and proved enjoyable to watch. They featured messages of love and hope, both of which are likely to resonate with audience members both young and old. It did seem however that the third folk story was the weakest of the trio, at which point the narrative lost some of its momentum. The production may have benefitted from shortening this particular section, as certain parts felt somewhat prolonged. It wasn't necessarily clear what the intended message was either, so it is also possible that further clarity may have proved beneficial.

Due to pandemic restrictions, the show is animated in its entirety, with no live performances beyond voice acting. The drawings used to depict the story by Nina Martinez were extremely well designed, and they did an excellent job of conveying the story. Their colourful nature proved visually appealing, and their level of artistry was captivating. I appreciated the level of detail that was inserted into each drawing, such as the recurring cat cameos that appeared throughout the show.

The show features a musical score by Ryo Takeshita, with lyrics by Eden Tredwell. Whilst the music was to a high standard, it felt like it was somewhat few and far between. It is likely that the production would have benefitted from a greater use of music, as this may have enhanced the overall narrative. This however shouldn't detract from the quality of the music, which was outstanding. 

Whilst there are still aspects of the production that are in need of tweaking, Kuwento is an interesting piece of theatre and I applaud its creativity. Considering that the show is in its early form, it'll be interesting to see how it develops in the future. Hopefully we'll see it transfer to the stage in the near future, and the troublesome times of the present will be no more than a distant memory. 

Kuwento  - 物語 can be watched on YouTube for free here: Kuwento - 物語.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Review: Dream Machine

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Dream Machine. 
The Dream Machine : ‘Making your dreams come true’. The Make It Beautiful Theatre Company have presented four nights of improvised comedy using a new technique devised during their residency with Obra theatre company in France. Each night they will perform a brand new, full-length improvised play based on the audience's dreams...

Dream Machine is a unique concept, making use of improvisational theatre; a type of performance that I rarely come into contact with. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and thus it should be commended for its originality. The performers begin by engaging with an audience member regarding a recent dream, and then go on to create an entire production on the basis of that very dream. It is truly incredible to contemplate the notion that these new stories and characters are being created right before our very own eyes. The level of quick-thinking that is required to carry this out is awe-inspiring, and the performers certainly rise to the challenge. The production uses a minimalist set, comprising solely of two chairs. With these two chairs alone however, the actors are able to create this whole new world, and that in itself is also very impressive. Ultimately, Dream Machine proves to be a lot of fun from beginning to an end, and the time really flew by. The show provides non-stop laughter, and it was a joy to watch. In these trying times, it's great to have the opportunity to escape from the real-world, and lose yourself in a fantasy-world (or in this case; dream-world). 

The cast comprises of the Make It Beautiful Theatre Company, with the full cast including: Felix Grainger, Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson, Max Katz, Molly-Rose Treves, Yaniv Yafe, Will Stevens and Cara Steele. They were a very talented group of young actors, who were brimming with energy from beginning to end. They bounced off each other well, and had fantastic chemistry with one another. Each and every one of them had natural comedic abilities, and their comic timing proved impeccable. In addition to this, they way in which they interchanged characters throughout was particularly impressive. They switched characters throughout the piece, sometimes within a number of seconds, which is by no means an easy task. The performers however seemed to pull this off with relative ease, giving performances that felt genuinely believable. Most importantly of all though, it really seemed that the actors themselves were having so much fun onstage, which in turn made it fun to watch. From an audience member's perspective, it seemed as if they had enjoyed every moment, which certainly helped make the piece itself all the more enjoyable. 

Now for my final verdict on Dream Machine. I give Dream Machine...

Dream Machine is genuinely delightful, and it's distinctiveness is particularly striking. Additionally, the performances prove to be a particular highlight, and the actors involved are all extraordinarily talented.

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Review: The Co-Op

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of The Co-Op. 
Welcome to The CO-OP. The dysfunctional acting agency that you'll never want to leave. After Jimmy and Caza lose their best friend at the agency, it all seems to be over. But can exciting and talented Charlie be the answer to their woes? Or will the secrets beneath The CO-OP be revealed? Over the course of an hour, experience the mad traditions and games played within The CO-OP as the three friends try to keep their dreams alive.

The story of The Co-Op is an intriguing one, primarily revolving around life in the performing arts. The play has previously been billed as "a love letter to film and theatre", and I couldn't have described it better to myself. The arts are something that many people take for granted, but The Co-Op demonstrates why we should cherish it. The playwrights clearly have a deep affection toward the performing arts, and this is something which shines clearly throughout. In spite of this, the show doesn't shy away from presenting the more negative aspects of our industry as well. The Co-Op seeks to paint an authentic depiction of what it is like to work in the industry, and does so with great success. It really captured the essence of what life is like as a struggling artist, and the monumental effect it can have on people's lives. The career choice of being an actor is a dream job for many, but it's far from easy; in fact, it is sometimes near impossible. Actors across the globe, no matter how successful, remain admirably dedicated to their field, and The Co-Op represents this notion well. The play has an interested set of characters, with each being unique in their persona. They were all flawed in their own way, and yet you couldn't help but feel yourself rooting for them to succeed. It was easy to relate with each of them in at least one sense or another, and their dedication to acting was truly inspirational. The plot of The Co-Op takes multiple twists and turns as it all unravels, and it was enjoyable to see the story unfold. I was kept on the edge of my seat throughout, and the time really flew by. 

The Co-Op consists of a trio of performers, including: Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson as Jimmy, Cara Steele as Cazza, Felix Grainger as Charlie. All three cast members were phenomenal, and they complimented each other's talents. The bond that the characters had with one another felt very believable, which was primarily due to the electric chemistry of the actors. They really immersed themselves in their individual roles, giving performances that felt genuine and life-like. Additionally, each actor was also required to portray various other roles throughout the course of the play, during which they demonstrated an impressive level of versatility. It should be noted that the actors also directed the piece themselves, which is an extraordinary feat in itself. Beyond this, two of the three actors are also responsible for having written the play. It is clear that the Make it Beautiful Theatre Company have a considerable amount of talent within their ranks, and I look forward to their future productions.

Now for my final verdict on The Co-Op. I give The Co-Op...

At a time where the performing arts face severe uncertainty, The Co-Op is a reminder of why so many of us adore this industry. It's an excellent piece of writing, and it's only grown more relevant since it was first written. It's an amazing piece of theatre, performed by a group of extremely talented individuals.

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Review: Beat the Devil

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Beat the Devil. 
On the same day that the UK government finally made the first of two decisive interventions that led to a conspicuously late lockdown, David Hare contracted Covid-19. Nobody seemed to know much about it then, and many doctors are not altogether sure they know much more today. Suffering a pageant of apparently random symptoms, Hare recalls the delirium of his illness, which mixed with fear, dream, honest medicine and dishonest politics he created a monologue of furious urgency and power.

Beat the Devil presents a harsh critique on the UK and US governments, heavily denouncing them for their actions during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. In what may be perceived as a scathing attack on individuals such as Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Donald Trump, playwright David Hare pulls no punches. No matter what your partisan affiliation is, it is hard to deny that the criticism posed by Hare wasn't at least partially accurate. There was certainly a lot of truth to what was said, and the play's content gives the audience plenty to think about. The use of satire is particularly admirable, and humour was used effectively throughout as a means of tackling these difficult issues. There are a number of genuinely funny moments throughout, and the audience were often in stitches with laughter. On a more serious note however, it provides a fascinating insight into what life is like when dealing with the virus. The monologue spares no details, and gives us a frank and first-hand account of Hare's experience with COVID-19. It was very easy to sympathise with Hare's plight, and it was clear he had been through quite the ordeal. The monologue proves to be very engaging throughout, and the time flies by. It's very easy to connect with Hare's writing, and the way in which it is written feels very personal. 

The play is a one-man show, with Ralph Fiennes taking the helm. I have seen Fiennes multiple times on both stage and screen, and not once has he given a bad performance. He's an extremely gifted actor, and his talents know no bounds. Fiennes is extremely versatile, as shown through his delivery of Beat the Devil; he often goes from comedy to drama in a number of seconds, and does so seamlessly. The anger that Fiennes channels at the UK and US governments was extremely believable, and felt both authentic and sincere. On the comedic side of things, his jokes were delivered faultlessly, and he had impeccable comic timing. 

Now for my final verdict on Beat the Devil. I give Beat the Devil...

Beat the Devil is an engaging piece of theatre, and one that certainly provides food for thought. Additionally, the leading performance of Ralph Fiennes is extraordinary; his talents are unrivalled.

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Monday, 31 August 2020

Review: Sleepless

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Sleepless.
When eight-year-old Jonah phones a Seattle radio show and gets his dad, Sam, to talk live on air about the heart-breaking loss of his mother, Sam instantly touches hearts across America. Nearly 3,000 miles away, journalist Annie starts to ask herself whether Sam could be more than just a great news story. It looks like love is in the airwaves, but how do you know if he’s the one for you if you’ve never even met? Perhaps only a last-minute dash to the top of the Empire State Building can prove that somewhere there’s someone for everyone...

Development on a musical adaptation of the movie 'Sleepless in Seattle' first began in 2009, and continued all the way up until 2020. The show went through several creative overhauls and postponements, before finally announcing a run at London's Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in early March of this year. Unfortunately, the show faced a further set-back with the COVID-19 pandemic, creating further obstacles. However, upon the recent announcement that live performances could re-start, the producers decided to push ahead and at last open Sleepless. This was a very bold move, and one that should be commended. Sleepless is the first large scale in-door show to open in Stage 4 of the government's roadmap to reopening, requiring social distanced seating. In spite of the financial impact this may have, the producers were still eager to open their show as planned in order to give the industry some hope and provide financial stability for those employed in theatre. One can only hope that this will pave the way for other theatrical productions to open in the near future, and hopefully this marks a new beginning.

Kimberley Walsh, formerly a part of girl group Girls Aloud, stars in the leading role of Annie Reed and completely steals the show. It goes without saying that Walsh is a talented singer, but her acting skills are equally as faultless. She conveys the character very well, clearly demonstrating Annie's overly idealistic and romantic nature. Harriet Thorpe, as Annie's mother Eleanor, was also outstanding, and proved to be one of the show's many highlights. Thorpe was very well-suited to the role, and had a real kindliness to her characterisation. Her rendition of 'The Way He Said My Name' was enchanting, and simply a delight to watch. Cory English is also worthy of a special mention, having performed the role of Rob. English has a huge stage presence, and stole the spotlight upon every entrance. He provided much needed comedic relief to the show as a whole, and really brought the fun-factor to it.

The musical score of Sleepless is entirely original, with music by Robert Scott and lyrics by Brendan Cull. The score is enjoyable, and has some pleasant tunes throughout. My one and only critique of the score is that it is not necessarily the most memorable. That is not to say that the music is disagreeable, but I imagine the show would likely benefit from adding one or two big production numbers that really stay with the audience long after departing the show. The orchestrations however, by Larry Blank, were flawless. The entire orchestra are very much worthy of praise, and they were truly excellent.

Now for my final verdict on Sleepless. I give Sleepless...

Sleepless features a handful of very talented performers, as well as pleasing music and outstanding orchestrations. It's great to see live theatre re-starting, and hopefully there will be more of this to come!

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Online Theatre: 'Carousel', 'Kings of Broadway 2020' and 'Grease: Live'

Hey readers!
It's time for my mini-reviews of Carousel, Kings of Broadway 2020 and Grease: Live.
With live performances slowly re-starting across the nation, this is likely to be the last of my online theatre series. I thank all of those that have stayed with me during these trying and testing times, and I remain optimistic for the future. Hopefully theatre will be back in full force soon, both bigger and brighter than ever!


"Set in a coastal New England town, Carousel tells the story of Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow who fall in love one summer evening. The barker of Mrs Mullins' Carousel, Billy is known for his womanising, yet settles down with Julie despite the warnings from her aunt Nettie Fowler and best friend Carrie Pipperidge. As Julie and Billy marry their relationship becomes fraught and Billy does his best to stay out of trouble, especially when his friend Jigger offers him easy access to money."

I first saw Carousel two years ago during its Broadway revival at the Imperial Theatre and found it to be outstanding. As a result, I jumped at the chance to see a different take on the show, and was particularly intrigued to see Jessie Mueller tackle the role of Carrie Pipperidge, having previously seen her as Julie Jordan. The musical score of Carousel, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is utterly phenomenal. It's a true classic, with a handful of beautiful melodies throughout. A few of my personal favourites include 'You're a Queer One, July Jordan', '(When I Marry) Mister Snow' and 'Soliloquy'. In this particular production, Kelli O'Hara starred in the lead role of Julia Jordan; a role which she excelled at. O'Hara boasts incredible vocal talents, and had a clear warmth to her characterisation. Likewise, Nathan Gunn, as Billy Bigelow, also had a marvellous voice, and delivered a stellar rendition of 'Soliloquy'. Jessie Mueller was also excellent, giving the character of Carrie Pipperidge a sweet and child-like innocence.

Carousel can be watched on YouTube for free here: Carousel.

Kings of Broadway 2020

"Charity concert that premiered 31.5.20 and is raising money for Acting For Others, NHS Charities Together  and Black Lives Matter Global Charities."

Whilst having taken place quite some time ago, Kings of Broadway 2020 was a wonderful event that served a very fitting tribute to these brilliant composers, including the likes of Jule Stune, Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim. Some very talented performers were a part of this, and it was a true delight to watch. Whilst each and every singer was exceptionally gifted, it was Jamie Parker and Deborah Crowe that stole the show with their incredible rendition of 'Too Many Mornings'. In spite of my adoration for 'Follies', this is not a song that I have given much thought to prior to this point; never before had I appreciated how hauntingly beautiful it was. Ramin Karimloo was yet another highlight of the concert, giving a phenomenal rendition of 'Being Alive from the musical 'Company'. Karimloo has a real powerhouse of a voice, and I'd love to see him one day star in a revival of 'Company'. Special mentions must also be given to the stunning orchestra who performed the Overture from 'Gypsy', as well as Samantha Spiro. 

Kings of Broadway 2020 can be watched on YouTube for free here: Kings of Broadway 2020.

Grease: Live

"After enjoying a summer romance, high school students Danny and Sandy are unexpectedly reunited when she transfers to Rydell High. There Sandy must contend with cynical Rizzo and the Pink Ladies in attempt to win Danny's heart again."

Grease: Live features an exceptional cast, with each and every one of them having a wide array of talents. It is however Vanessa Hudgens, in the role of Betty Rizzo, who steals the show. On the day of this live broadcast, Hudgens was unfortunately struck by personal tragedy, and yet she still went ahead with the performance and gave it her all. This was an outstanding display of professionalism, and it was more than admirable. Additionally, the leading performers, Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit, were also excellent, and well-suited to their roles. The musical score of Grease is written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and that too is remarkable. Almost every tune is extremely memorable, and will likely stay with you long after viewing. A few of my personal favourites include 'Those Magic Changes', 'Beauty School Dropout' and 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do'. The most remarkable aspect however of this particular production is the scenic design, by David Korins. The set covers a wide range of different locations, and the amount of detail and effort put into it is truly awe-inspiring. 

Grease: Live can be watched on Netflix here (please note that a subscription is needed in order to view): Grease: Live.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer