Saturday, 23 February 2019

Review: Waitress

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Waitress.
Waitress tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress who is in an unhappy marriage to her husband Earl. When she unexpectedly discovers she is pregnant, she starts an affair with her gynaecologist and begins to look for ways out of her abusive relationship, embracing her unique pie-making skills as a chance for a new life. I first saw Waitress on Broadway in 2016 and adored it, so I jumped at the opportunity to see it in its West End transfer.

Waitress has a very heartwarming story to it. The character of Jenna has had a somewhat troubled upbringing and is stuck in a loveless marriage, and the audience are left rooting for her right up until the very end. Jenna's courage and perseverance in life is inspiring, and that, speaking personally, is what makes the story of Waitress so special. The show toys with what is perceived as being morally good, due to the fact that one of the central plot points revolves around an extra-marital affair. Whilst the affair should not be taking place, many are left actually wanting this couple to succeed. Therefore, Waitress is written in a way that could even make us question what is right and wrong. The book, written by Jessie Nelson, is undoubtedly very well written.

The score of Waitress, written by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, is equally as excellent. Throughout the past three years I have listened to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Waitress on numerous occasions and I still thoroughly enjoy it. There are a number of catchy tunes as well as beautifully written ballads; the score is well and truly exceptional. A few of my personal favourites include 'What Baking Can Do', 'You Matter to Me', 'She Used to Be Mine' and 'Everything Changes'.

In February 2018, former Pop Idol contestant Katharine McPhee joined the Broadway production of Waitress, taking on the role of Jenna. A year after her introduction to the show, she is now originating the role in London's West End. Katharine McPhee is perfectly cast in this role; she is true perfection. In preparation for this role, McPhee went on a month-long vocal rest, and it is clear that this has paid off as her voice was beyond outstanding. Her vocal range is exceptional, and this is quite evident during 'She Used to Be Mine'. Additionally, her acting abilities are also very good and her chemistry with David Hunter is electric. David  Hunter's performance of Dr. Pomatter was, for me, the overall highlight of the show. His portrayal was just as good as Original Broadway Cast Member Drew Gehling, if not better. Hunter has found a lot of comedy in this role, and there is no doubt that his comic timing is impeccable. To say that he had the audience in stitches would be an understatement. He also excels at the more serious side to the character, which we see during the number 'You Matter to Me'. Marisha Wallace, as Dawn, was also brilliant. Her big number of 'I Didn't Plan It' brought down the house and allowed Wallace to present her superlative voice. She has a larger than life stage presence, which is much needed for this particular role. Laura Baldwin, as Dawn, also gives an admirable performance and gave an all-round wonderful performance. Sadly though, Jack McBrayer as Dawn's partner Ogie, does not quite match the abilities of Baldwin. McBrayer appears to be a talented actor, but in this role he did appear to be somewhat miscast. The role of Ogie requires an actor with show-stopping abilities, and sadly McBrayer did not quite pull this off. Sean Prendergast, as Joe, was magnificent. His rendition of 'Take It From an Old Man' was tremendous. A special mention should also be awarded to Peter Hannah, as Earl, who created the perfect characterisation.

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

Waitress is an inspiring tale with an outstanding score, and the sublime performances of Katharine McPhee and David Hunter are worth the ticket price alone.

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, 21 February 2019

Review: Trial by Laughter

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Trial by Laughter.
In 1817, bookseller, publisher and satirist William Hone stood trial for parodying religion, the despotic government and the lustful monarchy. The only crime he had committed was to be funny. In 2018, satirists Ian Hislop and Nick Newman rediscovered this forgotten hero of free speech and question if just over two hundred years later our press has any greater freedom.

The most striking element of Trial by Laughter is that it is, in actual fact, based off of a true story. William Hone was a real person, and after making an enemy of King George IV (then known as the Prince of Wales) he was forced to engage in a three-day long court battle to fight for his freedom. Trial by Laughter sports an important message; no matter how hard Hone's battle for freedom and justice was, he fought tirelessly until he won. Additionally, the way in which the play explores the ideas behind freedom of speech are particularly interesting and are likely to resonate with a modern-day audience, despite the fact that Trial by Laughter is set in 1817. The show is excellently written, however I do feel that it could perhaps do with trimming. Certain scenes felt somewhat repetitive, particularly during the parts that are set in the courtroom. Trial by Laughter currently stands at two hours, plus a twenty minute interval. Therefore, if shortened, the play could potentially take form as a one-act play.

In the leading role of William Hone, Joseph Prowen gives an utterly captivating performance. Prowen engages with the audience very well and has an exceedingly large amount of charisma, which is essential for portraying Hone. Pater Losasso, in the roles of Cruikshank and Flunky, also gave an outstanding performance. He was well-suited to both characters, and his onstage chemistry with Prowen made their friendship highly believable.

Now for my final verdict on Trial by Laughter. I give Trial by Laughter...

Whilst certain elements of Trial by Laughter felt somewhat repetitive, it still makes for interesting viewing and sports a number of excellent performances.

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

Thanks for reading!

-The Reviewer

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Review: Pinter 7: A Slight Ache / The Dumb Waiter

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Pinter 7: A Slight Ache / The Dumb Waiter.
Throughout the past five months, Jamie Lloyd has directed a season of 'Pinter at the Pinter'. Each production features a selection of Harold Pinter's short plays performed back to back with a variety of different performers. The season is concluding with Pinter 7, which has paired A Slight Ache with The Dumb Waiter.

A Slight Ache revolves around a middle-class couple, Edward and Flora, who invite a match-seller into their home. The match-seller may be silent, but what begins as a pleasant midsummer’s day slowly descends into total chaos. This play was originally written as a radio play, however in recent years it has been performed as a fully staged theatrical production. On this occasion, however, Lloyd has chosen to return the play to its original form, and has re-imagined it as a staged radio play with the set consisting purely of a radio station and two microphones. The character of the match-seller, who usually makes an appearance in fully staged theatrical productions, has in this instance been removed. The audience are therefore left to conjure up the appearance of this character in their minds, which allows imaginations to run wild. Lloyd's decision to not have the match-seller physically appear on stage helps to create an element of mystery to the play, which makes for very interesting viewing. Lloyd's direction and staging of this piece is undoubtedly excellent. A Slight Ache has a compelling storyline, and the impact that this unseen character has on the characters of Edward and Fiona is fascinating.

Gemma Whelan, as Flora, gives an exceptional and all-round excellent performance. The dynamic created between Whelan and John Heffernan, who portrays Edward, was truly intriguing. Heffernan's performance was particularly compelling, however. Heffernan, at first, presents a characterisation of a pompous man with no apparent issues, but as the play progresses we see Edward becoming more and more unstable as a result of this mysterious match-seller. This progression was excellently portrayed and it was an absolutely astonishing performance.

The Dumb Waiter, on the other hand, sees two hit-men sit in a basement room awaiting confirmation of their next target. Gus, the younger of the two, is asking many questions to learn from Ben, the senior member of the team, as their evening takes unexpected turns. The Dumb Waiter is a highly engaging play, largely due to the themes explored. The play is mostly comical, however there are a number of darker elements to it.

The Dumb Waiter's main strength comes from the magnificent duo of actors that have taken on the roles of Ben and Gus: Danny Dyer and Martin Freeman. Dyer is highly impressive in the role of Ben. He begins the play as being full of confidence, however as time goes on Dyer shows signs of anxiety and insecurity. This progression is well performed and very believable. There is no doubt that Danny Dyer was well and truly perfect for this role. Martin Freeman as Gus also gives an extraordinary performance. He too portrays the change in character well, with Gus at first appearing somewhat unsure of himself and later gaining heaps of confidence, to the point where he has even overtaken Ben. The dynamic created between Dyer and Freeman really is quite something. Their heated exchanges were a particular highlight and throughout these moments it was clear that the stakes were rather high. This was therefore helpful in creating a tense atmosphere, both on stage and in the audience.

I would personally argue that these plays were quite well paired, due to the fact that interesting comparisons can be made between both A Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter. Both plays create interesting character dynamics, where even the closest of partners are forced to turn on each other. Pinter explores themes of paranoia in both, with all main characters in both plays displaying certain traits of anxiety. Additionally, A Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter each have underlying meanings and they feature endings that could be left open to interpretation.

Now for my final verdict on Pinter 7: A Slight Ache / The Dumb Waiter. I give Pinter 7: A Slight Ache / The Dumb Waiter...

Both A Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter are excellently written and feature phenomenal acting. It is for this reason that I have decided to award Pinter 7 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

Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Basic Theatre Awards 2018/19

Hey readers!

Today, I am pleased to officially confirm that for the fourth year running, the Basic Theatre Awards will yet again return!

For my newer readers, I first launched the Basic Theatre Awards in 2016 as a celebration of the anniversary of the year that The Basic Theatre Review was created. In these awards, I nominate a selection my favourite shows and performances of the year, and I ask my readers to help me choose the winners.

2018 has been yet another excellent year for theatre on both sides of the pond, and I hope that my chosen nominees will reflect this. A full list of nominees will be published on my Twitter account (@TheReviewer23), so feel free to check that out as well.

If there is a performer or a show that you are rooting for, then please spread the word. There will most likely be shows on this list which you may be unfamiliar with, but not to worry! If there is a category that you wish not to vote in, then simply leave that question unanswered.

Here is a link to the vote:

Good luck to all of those nominated!

-The Reviewer

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Review: Come From Away

Hey readers!
It's time for my Come from Away review.
Come From Away tells the remarkable true story of thousands of stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland, Canada that welcomed them in. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships.

Come From Away's storyline is not only exceedingly powerful, but I would even go as far to say that it is inspiring. In today's world, hate can be found throughout each and every society. A common thought of many, including myself, is as to why people simply cannot show kindness to one another. Come From Away shows the outcome of such kindness, and teaches its audience to give a helping hand to one another in times of need. This is a show likely to leave many with a lump in their throat. This musical deals with what is, understandably, a very sensitive issue however it does so tastefully and respectfully. It still, however, successfully conveys how many people would have felt in the aftermath of 9/11, giving the audience a clear sense of the different emotions people had at the time. I found the story to be gripping and I was fully invested from beginning to end. The show lasts a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes, and not once did my attention drift.

The cast of Come From Away are, to say the least, phenomenal. They work with one another to create pure magic onstage and they all have an electric chemistry. Each cast members plays several different roles, and the range of skills demonstrated by each individual actor is highly impressive. Even with only a very minimal costume change, it is crystal clear as to when the actors have changed character as a result of the changes in physicality and accent. Portraying a range of different characters is often a hard task, however it is done flawlessly in this instance. Whilst all the cast are outstanding, I feel that Rachel Tucker deserves a special mention for her performance as Beverley, Annette and Others. Tucker steals the show with her stunning rendition of 'Me and the Sky', and gives an all-round exceptional performance.

The score of Come From Away, composed by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is also wonderful. The music contains rock, folk and Gaelic-sounding strains and it had a certain Celtic influence to it, which I particularly liked. I found the music to be very uplifting and it complimented the story well. The orchestrations were also brilliant and it was an utter delight to have the orchestra onstage for the finale.

Creatively, Come From Away remains flawless. Christopher Ashley gives a masterclass in direction here, and he is undoubtedly deserving of the Tony Award that he received for his work on Come From Away. The musical staging, by Kelly Devine, is also superb; a particular highlight of Devine's work is the staging of 'Screech In', which helped to create a lively and exciting atmosphere. The lighting design, crafted by Howell Blinkley, was also first-rate and really helped in creating certain moods and effects.

Now for my final verdict on Come From Away. I give Come From Away...

Come From Away gets given one of my rare five-star ratings. This musical has it all; a gripping story, a great score, an exceedingly talented cast and excellent creativity. It was truly and utterly flawless.

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

Thanks for reading!

-The Reviewer