I have to admit, despite knowing who Nigel Slater is – I’m not massively familiar with his career or his books, includingToast. So going into the play adaptation of the book of his childhood, I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. What followed was one of the most heartwarming experiences I’ve had in theatre for a long time.

Toast recounts the coming of age story of well-known chef, Nigel Slater. It follows his life from 9 years old to 17, with everything being recounted through the memories of food, which is shared with the audience through treats being shared throughout the theatre for everyone.

The performances of all five cast members were faultless. Each gave nuanced and touching perspectives to the well-developed characters which gave the piece so much depth and really allowed the audience to connect with all the characters in some way. The relationship between Nigel (Giles Cooper) and his Mother (Lizzie Muncey) was especially powerful. Their chemistry was electric and it clearly showed how much Nigel’s relationship with his mother impacted his experiences with food.

The story (written by Henry Filloux-Bennett) is well-paced and brilliantly progresses from hilarity to heartbreak seamlessly. Within spoiling anything, the end of the first act made me feel as though I had been punched in the gut from how hard it hit me. I felt like I had to take a minute to recover as the house lights came up as it really affected me personally!

The use of set design (Libby Watson) was really intelligent. Lots of movable pieces of set allowed various kitchen and dining settings to be created from props being stored in every cupboard and draw onstage. It also clearly set the piece contextually – from the floral brown and yellow tiles to the various shades of brown throughout the set.

It would have been nice to have the cupboards be lined up a little neater along the back wall of the set – simply because as a perfectionist, this was a little annoying visually, but I was able to look over this and focus on the incredible performances instead.

Of course, what makes this play so unique is the use of food. Throughout the entire play, food is either being prepared, cooked, eaten or discussed in some capacity – even including a scene in which Nigel creates an entire dish on stage! For anyone who enjoys food, this play is simply a must! Especially when so many sweet treats are being passed throughout the performance.

It should be noted, that I loved how the inclusion of the audience eating completely changed the theatre etiquette during the performance. It allowed for appropriate small giggles and comments whilst food was being passed around but the focus was still paramount as soon as scenes progressed afterwards. It was like everyone was hypnotised by the performance – it was a fantastic atmosphere!

Overall, Nigel Slater’s Toast is an incredible piece of theatre. I left with both my heart and tummy full and I hope this is the beginning of a long and prosperous journey for this beautiful story of family and food.

Reviewed by Emily Schofield
4th July 2018
Reviewer rating: ★★★★★

The King and I will leave you fulfilled and comforted as it transports you to Siam.

As a fan of the classic 1956 film starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, I thought that I knew what to expect from this latest London production. But however high my expectations, this show has exceeded that tenfold and still managed to throw in a few extra surprises.

The story revolves around Anna, a welsh schoolteacher who comes to Siam to be a teacher for the King’s children. The show touches on the main issues of two completely different cultures meeting and expresses the desire for understanding between people, as Anna and the King learn to tolerate their differences.

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Photo: Matthew Murphy

Reviving her Tony Award winning role, Kelli O’Hara is the perfect Anna, with an incredible performance and stunning vocals. Despite the pressure of performing a role that’s so iconic, O’Hara made it look effortless, bringing her own take on the beloved character with ease.

She commanded the stage and led the rest of the cast with complete confidence and grace. Combined with her excellent chemistry with Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam, the duo did a fantastic job of showing the progression of their relationship and brought real honesty to their performances. The iconic “Shall We Dance” moment, is a real showstopper and one that the pair do with such ease and perfection. It’s infectious to watch them bounce off each others energy and the West End is lucky to have them.

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Photo: Matthew Murphy

The music, as expected, was spectacular. As a fan of the original film, I was already in love with the infamous Rodgers and Hammerstein score itself. However the vocals from the entire cast were so remarkable, that the music felt fresh and new, despite being classic songs that I’ve known for years. Especially the voice of Na-Young Jeon as Tuptim, which was beautifully powerful and gave me a new love for the character.

The entire cast gave their absolute all with their performances and delivered a wonderful experience combined. The energy was relentless and was such a pleasure to watch as an audience member.

One moment which really stood out to me was The Small House of Uncle Thomas, which was the ballet section of the second act. It was beautifully executed, with elaborate costumes (Catherine Zuber) and incredible choreography (Greg Zane/Emma Woods) which brought a tear to my eye! It was so refreshing and created a completely different dynamic which really helped to make this show as wonderful as it is.

The set design (Michael Yeargan) is one of the most visually impressive parts of this production. The detailed walls of the palace instantly transformed the theatre into the Palace of Siam, and the beautiful scenery for Lun Tha and Tuptim’s meeting in the garden was breathtaking and incredibly romantic. The atmosphere each change of set created fitted perfectly for each scene and really helped to bring the performances to life, contextually.

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Photo: Matthew Murphy

However, the children are what really make this show what it is. Their energy and joy throughout was infectious and made the show feel so much more truthful and heartfelt. They stole my heart from the beginning and lifted the spirits of the entire audience.

My only criticism would be that this show could potentially be difficult to experience depending on where you are sat. I think if you were sitting at the back of the theatre with a more restricted view, it would be difficult to capture the emotion and power that makes this production so special. For me, it’s worth experiencing up close in order to fully be impacted by the show. I think from a distance, it would be difficult for the show to affect you as personally as it impacted me.

With that being said, The King and I is a true spectacle. With polished performances from the entire cast and a story that will leave you in tears. It’s a real treat and definitely worth a watch whilst it’s here in the West End!

 

You can catch The King and I at the London Palladium until September 29th. http://thelondonpalladium.co.uk/event/the-king-and-i/

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Reviewed by Emily Schofield
20th June 2018
Reviewer rating: ★★★★

Kiss Me Kate is an incredibly energetic and entertaining show in which the art of Shakespeare imitates the lives of the actors performing it. With a large cast and operatic score, this production welcomes you to the chaotic life of backstage theatre in which drama is as prevalent onstage as it is off. 

The show tells the story of Fred Graham (Quirijn De Lang), an actor and director working opposite his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Stephanie Corley). As their rekindled love sparks drama offstage, the complications of romance begin to influence the production’s performance, with hilarious consequences.

The cast were brilliant, with committed performances from everyone and an incredibly energy that was tiring just to watch throughout. However, Aiesha Pease (Hattie), Zoë Rainey (Lois Lane), Joseph Shovelton (First Gunman), John Savournin (Second Gunman) really stood out with their performances. I found myself watching them whenever they appeared onstage and was captivated by them during the whole show.

The set design and costumes (Colin Richmond) in this show were phenomenal. The use of colour and period pieces made it very easy for the audience to distinguish the action onstage from the backstage scenes. The Shrew’s onstage set cleverly transformed throughout scenes to transition between dance breaks which allowed the show to flow steadily in between songs and scenes with ease. The lavish designs were also just a pleasure to watch and really allowed all the actors to stand out individually, especially in very busy and populated scenes.

Cole Porter’s score is integrally woven into the entirety of this production, creating a clear and energetic atmosphere til the very end. Especially in the opening number, “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, which was one of my favourite moments of the entire performance, as it perfectly captures the anxiety and excitement of a show’s opening night. I did find that the music began to get a bit repetitive at times, with the 3 repeat gag of reprises being a bit overused. However if these slight hiccups are overlooked, the music is thoroughly enjoyable and gives the piece, and equally the performers, a huge amount of character.

The only element of the show that really bothered me was the story. I found it quite slow-paced to start off with and a little difficult to initially grasp. There was also a lot of sexist undertones throughout the piece, which, whilst understandable in a period piece, felt outdated and a little uncomfortable for a modern audience to watch. However I respect that this was in keeping with the original material.

The dance breaks in the show were where this show really shone, especially the tap routine planted in the middle of the second act which was a delight to watch, All the choreography (Will Tuckett) had so much life and energy, and felt very natural in its’ progression and place within the show.

Overall I enjoyed the experience of watching Kiss Me Kate, and would recommend it to any fans of classic musicals as it is an entertaining night out.

 

Reviewed by Emily Schofield
25th May 2018
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★

The Biograph Girl made its UK debut in 1980, and after only two productions that year, hasn’t had another UK production up until this current run – nearly forty years later. Linking back to classical musical theatre whilst also taking you on a journey through cinema of the early 1900s, this show is certainly a unique experience.

Playing at the Finborough Theatre, in which the space may appear to be too small of a space for companies larger than three or four, however the nine actors of the Biograph Girl did a fantastic job of using their small staging to their advantage, creating an intimate atmosphere between the performers and the audience as this story unfolded.

Back row - Lauren Chinery. Nova Skipp. Emily Langham. Joshua C Jackson. Front row - Matthew Cavendish. Charlie Ryall. Jason Morell. credit Lidia Crisafulli
© Lidia Crisafulli

The music, written by David Heneker with lyrics by David Heneker and Warner Brown, was by far the best aspect of this show. The beautifully complicated harmonies of the actors filled the small space wonderfully and were a complete joy to listen to. I especially liked the song Every Lady, in which multiple characters sang different lyrics to the same melody line which was really lovely to listen to. The music envoked the majority of the emotive power of the show, something that I think the actual story missed a beat on.

Describing the story of this show is a little complicated, unless you simply say it is the biography of pioneering director D. W. Griffith, which is very broad and doesn’t encapsulate the full experience. It felt like a lot of small separate stories being told together through the connection of film, however it frequently felt like the challenges the characters were facing were being dismissed and moved on from very quickly, which made it difficult to latch onto anything or have any sympathy for the characters. A prime example of this would be Rivers of Blood, which is sang by a Man of the South (played by Joshua C. Jackson). This song discussed the tensions that Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation, caused as well as the racial tensions it invited. This plot point could have been expanded much more and had more of an impact on the rest of the story, but instead it involved one solo song and then the aforementioned tensions were never mentioned again. It made the story feel unfinished and unsatisfying, and left many loose ends by the end of the show. Maybe if the book had focused more on one of the many story lines that it used, the story could have been developed more and we as an audience could have felt more attached to the characters in their weaker moments.

Joshua C Jackson. credit Lidia Crisafulli
© Lidia Crisafulli

Despite the issues with story, the cast still delivered a wonderful performance that I enjoyed quite a lot. The comedic timing of Matthew Cavendish in particular was brilliant throughout. However Harry Haden-Brown, the show’s musical director, was also very impressive in the show and he played piano for the entire show and was the only musical backing given to the cast whilst singing. He played the entire score himself as well as playing the small role of Spec towards the end of the second act, which was amazing!

Overall The Biograph Girl was a very interesting experience. I don’t think it’s the kind of show that large audiences would enjoy, hence being performed in such a small space, however it is a good night out and the music is well worth a listen.

The Biograph Girl plays at the Finborough Theatre until Saturday June 9th.
https://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2018/the-biograph-girl.php

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Reviewed by Sophie Ross
12th April 2018
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

This week the The Comedy About A Bank Robbery celebrated it’s second birthday in the heart of the West End, the Criterion Theatre and we were lucky enough to be invited.  An evening that promises to fill you with endless laughs, perfectly timed jokes and a stellar cast, it’s no wonder the Mischief Theatre Company continues to triumph with every show they produce.

The premise of the show is simple – a priceless diamond is entrusted into the hands of the Minneapolis city bank and everyone wants to get their hands on it. Through a couple of love triangles into the mix and that’s the show in a nutshell.

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 The cast are made up of Samson Ajewole as Neil Cooper, Jack Baldwin as Officer Randel Shuck, Leonard Cook as Robin Freeboys, Sam Fogell as Sam Monaghan, Matt Hunt as Mitch Ruscitti, Chris Leask as everyone else, Holly Sumpton as Caprice Freeboys, Peter McGovern as Warren Slax and Jenna Augen as Ruth Monaghan. What makes Mark Bell’s production special is the array of wonderfully different characters who always land themselves into sticky situations adding great comedic value each time. Every character brings a different element into the show and the balance works really well.
Standout performances on the evening were Peter McGovern as 60 year old intern Warren Slax. His attention to detail and incredibly timed comedic points, worked wonderfully in the show. His character is the guy you’re rooting for throughout the piece and Peter plays this very well. Jenna Augen as Ruth, the banks secretary. What’s great about her role is the fact that she seems like the innocent, trusting type but without giving too much away, her character does a whole 360 by the end of the play. Something that the audience don’t expect but it makes for a good plot ending.
This acting troupe are the real deal and worth keeping an eye on as they continue to grow this franchise. With simple but effective sets and great lighting design, every element of this play just works. If you’re looking for a fun night out at the theatre – this is the show for you.
The show has now extended until April 2019.
You can book tickets here: http://www.thecomedyaboutabankrobbery.com/

Reviewed by Emily Schofield
28th March 2018 
Reviewer Rating: ★★★

After it’s successful Off-Broadway run, Ruthless! has made it’s West End debut at the Arts Theatre, and is “Born to Entertain” you in a hilarious, yet disturbing way.
Ruthless! tells the tale of right year old Tina, who dreams of being a broadway star and is willing to go to very extreme lengths in order to win the leading role in her school play. With a darkly comic undertone throughout, this show disguises itself as a naively-irritating golden age-esque musical before suddenly revealing it’s truly morbid intentions.
The cast were wonderful, with stunning performnces from Damcing On Ice’s Jason Gardiner and original Broadway revival cast member, Kim Maresca. However the stage truly belonged to the young girl playing Tina, Anya Evans, as her presence onstage was captivating and meant that I just could not take my eyes off of her performance throughout the whole show. A notable mention should also go to Tracie for her fantastic rendition of “I Hate Musicals” which was the true star of the end of act one.
Morgan Large’s set design was perfectly in keeping with the tone of the show, especially the contrast between the sets of act one and act two, which completely changed the atmosphere of the show.. However costume design, also by Morgan Large, was the most engaging visual element for me. With lavish 1950s inspired gowns as well as Broadway sequinned dresses – every member of the cast had a beautiful outfit which perfectly complimented their character.
One issue I did find with the show was the lack of emotional connection. Whilst this is a common trope within comical shows, it was rather frustrating as an audience member to be unable to relate to any of the heavily stereotyped characters within the show. Whilst every joke still landed well, it was quite a challenge to be invested in the story when I had no connection to any of the characters involved. Perhaps if this show had a slightly more human sentiment to it – this show would be much more impactful for its audience?
Regardless of its emotive integrity, Ruthless! is an enjoyable night out and certainly a unique experience. It stands out brilliantly in the currently heavily-contemporary West End line up and will undoubtably leave its mark during its run at the Arts Theatre.

We spoke to Wicked UK’s Standby Elphaba, Laura Pick to see what life as a standby is really like…

Laura PickTTH: For people that don’t know the difference between an understudy/standby, can you explain?

Laura: An understudy normally has a role within the ensemble. But a standby, especially in this instance is there purely to cover one role and doesn’t have an ensemble track.

TTH: Can you remember your first show as Elphaba? Were you really nervous or buzzing with adrenaline?

Laura: I remember it well, as it was the night before I was supposed to make my debut. I was nervous, especially in the beginning, but as soon as I settled in to it I was just concentrating on what I was doing.

TTH: What do you do pre-show to warm up/get ready?

Laura: I like to get in a bit early and do a proper thorough warm up myself before getting green and heading for company warm up. I always like to have a nice warm herbal tea, and a good steam with my Dr Nelsons inhaler.

TTH: Is it harder to stay motivated when you’re not in the show every day? Personally I don’t think so, I try to keep busy, and I keep the show ticking over all the time in case I’m on unexpectedly. I just really love my job, so motivation isn’t really an issue.

TTH: What was the standby audition process like?

Laura: Very similar to most audition processes. Intense at time, but pretty standard. Song of your own choice for the first round and from that point on you get material from the show, the further you get the more material you are given to perform.

TTH: You’ve recently just completed your first 8 show week at Wicked, how did you find it?

Laura: Since I’m not used to doing it all the time I cleared my calendar and tried to get as much rest as possible in preparation (I’m so glad I did, because I needed it) but that allowed to me to enjoy every second in the evening. I loved getting to perform all week. I mean, who wouldn’t love being Elphaba every day?

TTH: Do you have a favourite moment/song from the show?

Oooh, I don’t think I do you know. Or there are too many to name…

TTH: Do you feel the pressure when you’re on with different people that you may not have previously had time to rehearse with? or do you like the challenge?

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Laura Pick with current Glinda Sophie Evans

Laura: I don’t feel the pressure no, it’s refreshing going on with new people, because it keeps you on your toes.

TTH: Do you have any advice for somebody wanting to enter the same industry as you?

Laura: Don’t give up, work hard, and if you really want it, keep at it. I almost threw the towel in a few times, but you have to persevere. If you would have told me this time last year you that I would be Standby Elphaba in Wicked I would have laughed.

You can catch Laura in Wicked by checking out the holiday dates here: https://www.wickedthemusical.co.uk/london/about/cast-creative