Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Review: Soldier On

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Soldier On.
The Other Palace, formerly known as the St. James Theatre, is soon becoming one of my favourite Off West End venues. I have seen three excellent shows at this venue over the past few years: The Three Lions in 2015, The Wild Party in early 2017 and Big Fish in late 2017. Therefore, I was rather keen to see what The Other Palace's latest offering would be like.

Soldier On tells the story of a worn-out director and former actor persuading a group of ex-combatants and their families to tell the stories of their lives both at war and at home. These stories give us a glimpse into the difficulty of post-traumatic stress disorder; there are wives that have to cope with violent or estranged husbands and mothers that feel alienated from their sons. I personally found the storyline of Soldier One to be extremely powerful, and the play truly does tell an inspiring tale. It is quite apparent that this play gives an exceedingly accurate portal of life after war, and how it affects both soldiers and their loved ones. Throughout the entire play, I was astounded by how life-like the dialogue appeared to be. There were several moments where it genuinely felt as if I could have been watching a live documentary. It is clear that Jonathan Lewis, the author of Soldier On, has made a large effort in ensuring that the play feels as life-like and real as possible. My only slight criticism for the writing would be that the audition scenes that took place at the beginning of act one did not feel as if they were necessarily needed. Whilst these initial scenes do provide introductions for the characters, act one could still easily function without them, and this would therefore also reduce the running time (which stands at two and a half hours).

The cast of Soldier On are utterly phenomenal; the ensemble is full of extremely talented actors and there are no weak links whatsoever. They all have great chemistry with one another, creating a unique and interesting dynamic onstage. All actors display a clear range of abilities in their performances, excellently portraying both the comedic and more darker elements of the play.

At the performance that I attended (28th of October), after the curtain call had taken place David Solomon, who portrays Harry, stepped forward to announce that at that performance they were to be joined by the Military Wives Choir to perform an original song together. I would just like to say how impressed I was with this performance; it was a lovely song and I was exceedingly moved.

The featured star of Soldier On is, drum roll please... ELLIE NUNN!

This was a really difficult decision, as all of the actors in Soldier On were remarkable, however after a lot of thought I decided to award it to Ellie Nunn. Nunn's performance as Sophie is outstanding. The character begins the play as lively and excitable, however we later see that this is only a front and deep down Sophie is going through an extremely difficult time at home with her husband, who is suffering from PTSD. Nunn portrayed all of the different sides to the character really well, hence why I reached this decision for featured star.

Now for my final verdict on Soldier On. I give Soldier On...

Soldier On was truly unlike anything I had ever seen before. It is a very powerful piece of theatre, and the cast all deliver sublime performances.

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 Reviewer

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Review: Precious Little Talent

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Precious Little Talent.
I was absolutely delighted to have been invited to the revival of Ella Hickson's 'Precious Little Talent' at the Courtyard Theatre. I knew very little about the play prior to viewing it, and therefore I did not truly know what to expect, but I am thrilled to report that I left the theatre pleasantly surprised.

Precious Little Talent takes place on Christmas Eve in the winter of 2008. The USA is buzzing with the election of a new President. Joey, a disillusioned English graduate, arrives in New York to visit her estranged father. But after a whirlwind midnight run through the city, she finds herself falling for an idealistic young American. As she fights to be remembered by her father’s failing mind, Joey must decide if she can let go of her fears and believe again in the American Dream. I found the storyline of Precious Little Talent to be really interesting, particularly in the way in which it explored themes of dementia. Having had several family members who have suffered from dementia, I truly did appreciate the accurate and appropriate portrayal of dementia. It is especially striking how Hickson subtly gives multiple hints throughout the first act that the character of George is suffering from Early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Similar to real life, it may not be exceedingly apparent at first, but multiple indications are shown throughout all of George's early scenes. In addition to dementia, Precious Little Talent also explores the interesting contrast of personalities between those from the United Kingdom and those from the United States of America. Having been to America on multiple occasions, it has been clear to me throughout the years that there is a significant difference between the optimism shown by Americans and the cynicism shown by British people. Hickson explores these differences at great length and all of them feel quite true to life.

Henry George Lewis gives a tremendously convincing performance in the role of Sam. The character of Sam is American, and Lewis's accent was impeccable. Throughout the entirety of the play, there was not even a hint of an English accent in his portrayal; I was left seriously impressed. In his performance, Lewis remained lively and full of energy throughout the show. If all of this was not enough, he was also extremely charismatic. Playing opposite him in the role of Joey was Marta Kane, who gives a performance full of passion; it was immensely powerful. The different dynamics that she created with the characters of Sam and George made for fascinating viewing. Finally, last but by no means least, in the role of George, a victim of dementia, is Mark Keegan giving a compelling performance. Keegan portrays dementia in a nuanced fashion throughout the play, meaning that once the dementia takes full control over the character it is beyond heartbreaking. There are two different sides to the character of George, and Keegan displays this well.

Brock Elwick has masterfully directed this production and that is apparent throughout. It is clearly very well-staged, and I particularly liked the idea to have the actors enter into the audience and speak directly to us. I found that this really helped me, as an audience member, to be able to further connect with these characters. The lighting design, by Francesca Jones, is also yet another highlight of this production. The lighting is highly effective and helped to enhance the atmosphere.

The featured star of Precious Little Talent is, drum roll please... HENRY GEORGE LEWIS!

Henry George Lewis's performance was an utter joy to watch. Until I learnt otherwise, I had genuinely believed that Lewis was American; his American accent was flawless. His mannerisms and characterisation were perfection, giving an overall mesmerising performance.

Now for my final verdict on Precious Little Talent. I give Precious Little Talent...

Precious Little Talent surpassed all of my expectations. It is undoubtedly worthy of a four star rating. 

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 Reviewer

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Review: Heathers

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Heathers.
I first discovered Heathers through my love for Mean Girls the musical. After watching Mean Girls earlier this Summer, I encountered several people online who stated that Mean Girls bared a strong resemblance to Heathers the Musical. In actual fact, Heathers, based on the movie released in 1988, served as a major source of inspiration for the concept behind Mean Girls. Due to the fact that I consider Mean Girls to be one of my favourite musicals of all time, I was intrigued on the idea of seeing Heathers.

Heathers is set in Westerberg High, where high-school student Veronica Sawyer is simply just another of the nobodies dreaming of a better day. But when she’s unexpectedly taken under the wings of the three beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity finally start to come true. Until JD turns up, the mysterious teen rebel who teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it’s murder being a somebody. I personally found the storyline to be utterly gripping. Whilst the show is of a light-hearted nature with humorous characters, it covers topics surrounding dark issues, including bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault, and violence in schools. Despite Heathers being set in 1989, it is still as relevant today as it was when the film was first released. With 18 school shootings having taken place in the past year, it could perhaps even be argued that this storyline is even more important than it was in 1989. The book, co-written by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy, excellently captures the essence of what life can be like for those attending high-school. Additionally, I was also left rather impressed with the way in which the leading characters of Veronica and J.D. were written. Both characters are far more than two-dimensional characters; each had multiple layers and an exceedingly large amount of depth. The relationship between these two characters and how it progressed throughout the show made for fascinating viewing.

The score to Heathers, also co-written by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy, is exceptional. I had listened to a portion of the Off-Broadway cast album before entering the theatre, so I was somewhat familiar with the music before watching the show. Throughout the score, there are several really catchy tunes, and to call them memorable would be an understatement. My personal favourites from the score are the musical numbers of 'Dead Girl Walking' and 'Seventeen', both of which I have been playing on repeat for the past 24 hours.

Carrie Hope Fletcher in the role of Veronica Sawyer is incredible; there can be no other way to describe it. Throughout the show, she has an exceedingly engaging stage presence, maintaining a clear control of the stage. She showed a great range to the character, clearly showing the progression from this nerdy and awkward teenage girl, to this strong, menacing and powerful persona. She is also a remarkable singer, giving a powerful rendition of 'Dead Girl Walking'. Fletcher had an electric chemistry with her co-star Jamie Muscato, who was equally phenomenal. In the role of Jason 'J.D.' Dean, Jamie Muscato truly had every aspect of the character down to a tee. In Muscato's portrayal we are able to see the more juvenile and child-like side of J.D., his caring and kind nature with Veronica, as well as his psychotic and sociopathic tendencies when dealing with enemies and his troubled past. Elements of his performance also reminded me of the late Heath Ledger's stunning Academy Award winning performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. It was very much a compelling performance.

The lighting design, created by Ben Cracknell, is also rather admirable. Throughout the show, the lighting is often used to either symbolise the emotions of the character or to complement the costumes that the characters were wearing. It was clear a lot of thought had been put into this and it was highly impressive.

The featured star of Heather is, drum roll please... CARRIE HOPE FLETCHER!

This was an extremely difficult choice between Carrie Hope Fletcher and Jamie Muscato, however I eventually chose to award it to Fletcher. Fletcher gives an astonishing performance and it is one that is highly memorable. She has an astounding voice and a clear wide range of acting abilities.

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

Heathers delivers several important messages, has a great score and two incredible leading performances. Therefore, I have decided to award it four stars!

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 Reviewer

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Review: King Lear

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of King Lear.
Unsurprisingly, there has been an exceedingly large amount of hype surrounding Ian McKellen's return to the stage in the titular role of King Lear, which has has stated will be his 'last big Shakespeare part'. I had previously seen him perform in No Man's Land at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2016, and I consider myself to be a great fan of his acting. This production had been sold out for the vast majority of its run, however I was extremely fortunate to have gained a cancellation ticket.

As expected, Ian McKellen gives a masterclass of a performance in the role of King Lear. The most admirable aspect of McKellen's acting abilities is the way in which he is so natural when performing on the stage; every word that he utters flows perfectly. His presence upon the stage is truly quite something. He is highly captivating from start to finish, holding the audience in the palm of his hands until Lear's final breath. McKellen plays Lear's descent into madness particularly well, making the progression of the character from beginning to end clear to all audience members. As well as McKellen, there are multiple performances in this production that are also highly impressive. Kate Bushell and Claire Price in the roles of deceitful daughters  Regan and Goneril are both outstanding. They portrayed the two characters exceedingly well, convincingly showing the sly nature of the two sisters. It was particularly interesting to see how both characters changed once they came into power and were no longer overshadowed by their father, the former King. Luke Thompson, as Edgar, is also phenomenal. Half-way through the play, Edgar takes on the alter-ego of 'Poor Tom', which allowed Thompson to demonstrate his wide range of acting abilities. Edgar is a kind, sane and loving being, whereas Poor Tom is a cruel, mad and vulgar character, and I feel that Thompson clearly contrasted Edgar with his alter-ego. In this production, the role of Kent has had his gender reversed, and this new interpretation of the character is performed by SinĂ©ad Cusack. When I initially heard about this gender reversal I was not sure what to think, however having now seen the production I really appreciate this change. It helped to add an extra layer to the text, and at the end of the play when Kent announces that she intends on killing herself in response to Lear's death, it was perhaps hinted that the female-Kent had in fact been infatuated with her fallen King. Cusack excels in this role, and is particularly good at demonstrating the change in character once Kent is forced to disguise herself as a man. Finally, last but certainly not least, Danny Webb as Gloucester was remarkable. Gloucester goes through, arguably, the largest progression of character throughout the course of the play. The character begins as an arrogant and somewhat rude Earl, only to go through a major downfall which leads him depressed and suicidal. The character of Gloucester in act one is the polar opposite to what the audience then see in act two. Webb captured this perfectly, giving an astonishing performance in the process.

A wide range of costumes, designed by Paul Willis, can be seen throughout King Lear, with everything from royal cloaks to military combat uniforms. All costumes featured were of a very good quality. The lighting, which has been designed by Oliver Fenwick, was equally as impressive. The lighting, along with the music which accompanies this production, were essential in creating an intense and thrilling atmosphere, particularly during the battle scenes. The accompanying music to the infamous 'eye-gouging' scene was also rather interesting. Whilst Cornwall and Regan take part in horrifically torturing their opposition, the Four Seasons hit song 'Beggin'' is played, making for a fascinating juxtaposition. The special effects of rain used towards the end of act one was also excellent and very creative. This little extra touch gave the play a strong essence of reality and helped to make the scene in which this takes place far more dramatic.

The featured star of King Lear is, drum roll please... IAN MCKELLEN!

As I previously stated, there is a lot of hype regarding McKellen's performance as King Lear and deservedly so. He is so utterly gripping to watch, and as an audience member it is difficult to take my eyes off of him for even a second. If this is to be McKellen's last ever Shakespeare performance, he has certainly gone out on a high.

Now for my final verdict on King Lear. I give King Lear...

This production of King Lear sports a handful of exceptional performances as well as some rather interesting creative aspects, and therefore I have decided to give it four stars.

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 Reviewer