Lyceum: A Taste of Honey (3.5*)

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Ian’s 3.5* Review:

A Taste of Honey is a 1950’s play that must have been cutting edge for its time.  Issues of race, sexuality, gender, generation gaps and class are explored, predominantly in the confines in a single flat.  I suspect that what modern audiences see in it is very different to those that saw it first.  Then it must have been shocking, bringing almost taboo subjects to the stage.  Starting a conversation that large parts of society weren’t ready for.

It still makes for an entertaining play, and I enjoyed watching it, but I came away just slightly unsatisfied.  I can’t quite put my finger on why.  Perhaps it felt a little insubstantial – plots that were once shocking are now much less so.  Perhaps the slightly pantomime nature of some of the performances, with unnatural breaks in the fourth wall, distracted from the story. Maybe a bit of both.

Ruth’s 3.5* Review:

I enjoyed watching this, it was compelling and kept my attention, but I don’t think I really ‘got’ it.  And I really couldn’t say why.  I guess I didn’t feel any emotional connection, or really any empathy, for any of the characters.  Which is a shame because I suppose they were having a tough time of it with their 1950s problems.

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99 Comedy Club, Leicester Square (4*)

Storm 99 Club Comedy Leicester SquareIan’s Reviews:

We decided to go to a comedy club at the last minute, and it proved to be a very entertaining evening.  I didn’t get the name of the compere, although he did a good solid job.  We’d been attracted in by Rob White who we saw at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011, but the others were good too.  I was slightly worried that being on Leicester Square this would be more of a tourist trap than a real comedy club, but I’d definitely come back if I found myself at a loose end in London again.

Robert White (5*)

We first saw Robert White at Late’n’Live at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 (pictured here) and we loved him!  In fact, he kicked the ass of bigger name acts in that notoriously lively venue.  We then went and saw his own show, which was also outstanding, and he was our “Discovery of the Year” for that year’s festival.  Seeing he was on the bill for this gig is what made us come along.

He didn’t disappoint.  His comedy is insightful, his wordplay obscure but spot on, and while he is certainly outrageous it is never gratuitously so.  He cleverly pushes the boundaries of good taste and social acceptability without stepping over the line to offensiveness.  His delivery is fast-paced and at physical and at times physical, musical, satirical and whimsical.  If you were to look back through this blog you’d see that I don’t give a lot of 5* for comedy (the only one at this year’s Edinburgh Festival was for East End Cabaret) but this was an easy decision.

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Cabaret (4*)

Cabaret, Savoy Theatre

Ian’s 4* Review:

Will Young’s performance is quite simply brilliant. His acting is mesmerising, and his vocal performance is flawless and full of character.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him when he was on stage.

Michelle Ryan was much weaker – I didn’t think she managed to put across the emotion that I think the part of Sally requires.  The vulnerability, fragility, mercenary actions, her volatile, almost bipolar nature, the depression and the energy.  None of it was really there.  Her vocal performance in the first half was competent but lacked charisma, but in the big number in the second half she just wasn’t hitting the big notes.

The rest of the cast did a competent job but the girls fell short of sexy some of the vocals weren’t that strong.  It was hard to live up to the standard set by Will Young.

Production-wise, it was visually attractive if unspectacular. I felt the design and lighting could have done more to support the change of mood over time, and the different scenes didn’t quite stand out from each other enough.

It’s hard to decide an overall score.  Will Young was exceptional and deserved 5*.  Everything else was lacklustre, but I’d go again just for Will if we hadn’t been there on the second last night of the run!

Ruth’s 4* Review:

The thing about Cabaret is that it is a dark dark story and in some ways the stage version is even darker than the film.  Which I like.  Set in 1930s Berlin, it explores the unexpected relationship between Sally (a nightclub singer) and Cliff (a writer) as the Nazi influence starts to overwhelm the city.  Sally is an optimist in the sense that she hopes she’s going to make it big and she hopes that the next guy she meets is going to be the one that sticks.  But she’s complicated, fickle and laden with emotional baggage so she never seems to get what she hopes for.  In the film, Cliff (well, Brian in the film) is a bit of an innocent who Sally draws in to a lifestyle on the margins of society, but in the stage show he is much more of a complicit partner.  But either way, Cliff is a traveller passing through Sally’s life.  When things get tough with the relationship, and when his ideological opposition to the Nazis gets too much, he can leave.  And he does.  But Sally is stuck in Berlin in a destructive cycle that she hopes will turn into something amazing.  It doesn’t turn out well for anyone.  Basically it is doom through and through, and it is the doom that gives it its edge.

And it is the desperation in Liza Minelli’s interpretation of Sally that made the film in 1972.  Michelle Ryan showed no desperation.  Or even any plucky optimism, or sexiness, either of which I guess could be another interpretation of the character.  It was a bland emotionless performance lacking in any depth, and she came across a bit like a public school girl on a school trip.  This made the big number at the end (Cabaret) very disappointing.  No hopes, no dreams, no completely deluded and misjudged optimism.  Just a very mediocre karaoke version of the song.  I’ve seen a non-English speaking ‘female impersonator’ in Malta do a better job (true story).

I wasn’t hugely keen on the romance between the old couple in the boarding house either.  It was nice, and then painful (in a good way), but it slowed things down a bit.

But don’t think I didn’t like Cabaret, because I did.  And the reason was the bright shiny star that is Will Young as the EmCee.  I thought he was outstanding in every way, I could not fault his performance.  He was funny and mischievous and sinister and creepy.  He looked great, he danced well, and his singing was bang on.  It’s a tough role and very exposing but he easily pulled it off, making even the hardest bits seem effortless.  The song at the end of first act – Tomorrow belongs to me – was a particular highlight.  It includes singing with and without accompaniment and shifting the tone from pure to evil over the course of a couple of minutes.  He brought tremendous presence to the role.  I think it might be the most impressive performance I have ever seen in a musical, I will certainly go out of my way to see him in other things in the future.

And the end was chilling.  Which does finish things off nicely and make up for the nonsense that was Michelle Ryan’s last song.

Billy Elliot 4.5*

Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace TheatreIan’s 4.5* Review:

I really loved this, and the cast were fantastically talented, especially the children who are amazing dancers!  A great job of transferring the film to musical format, with some songs that are really stuck in my head.  I could easily see this again.  A lot of elements of it brought back memories of the TV news when I was little, all the images from the miners strikes, which aded real power to it.

There are just a couple of reasons this doesn’t get 5*.  One is that I felt the first half was (after the opening number) a bit disjointed for a while.  It took me a bit to get into it.  The other is that after the emotional peak of the show, there is too much gratuitous jazz-handsy razamataz for my taste.  The story has some really important messages, and while I recognise the need for some sort of number to get the cast on stage for their bows, there was far too much of this for my taste.  It sort of diluted the emotional impact of a really moving story for me.

That said, I’d thorougly recommend this show to anyone!

Ruth’s 4.5* Review:

Warning, here be spoilers.

I’ve wanted to see Billy Elliot for a while as it gets excellent reviews, but because it gets excellent reviews it is rarely offered at a good price. I’ve now exhausted all the cheap ones, and thanks to GILT was able to get an excellent deal on this.

I thought it was excellent, I loved it from the start. I liked the film back when it came out but somehow I think the stage production works even better. I found it more powerful anyway. The way that the ‘boy taking up ballet’ storyline is set against the backdrop of the miner’s strikes of the early 80s makes for awkward viewing (in a good way) – the tone of it and the colours – dark and angry for the miners, light and fluffy for the ballet scenes.

I love the frustration of the ballet teacher – she’s stuck in a small depressed town delivering mediocre ballet lessons to talentless kids. And then, unexpectedly, Billy turns up and she thinks he might just be good enough to make it but there seems to be too many barriers in the way.

It is heartbreaking when Billy’s dad puts his values to the side by crossing the picket line so he can pay for Billy to travel to audition at the Royal Ballet School because he wants him to have a chance of a different life even if he’s not entirely supportive of the route Billy has chosen, and then just as bittersweet when the community pitches in money they don’t really have in the hope that one of their own might be able to get out and have a successful future. Even if it is in ballet 🙂

And then, at the audition, Billy has no idea how to act or how to talk about his love of dancing and he nearly blows it because unlike the other kids he is completely out of his comfort zone. It is a very moving commentary on the fact that sometimes, putting an opportunity in front of someone isn’t enough if they have not had the life chances that would help them to exploit it. And getting in to the Royal Ballet School would be just the start of the challenges for Billy of course, in the 80s with his accent and his background and his education. Talent isn’t quite enough. In the film we see an epilogue – adult Billy dancing the lead in Swan Lake with his friends and family in the audience – and we know it is going to be OK. None of that in the musical, which is a shame I think, but I guess it ends with a bit of hope in a bleak situation.

Anyway, 4.5* from me. I loved loved loved it and I could watch it again immediately. Great story, good pace, nice songs.

Tremendous dancing from the lad playing Billy, particularly at the close of the first act which was worthy of a standing ovation in itself. Throughout, he does a good job of ‘learning’ to dance (rather than being just good all the way through!) and there is also a nice dream sequence style piece where Billy dances with his older self.

Oh and the singing in British regional accents which I’ve only ever really seen in the West End in Blood Brothers before. Lovely.

I’m dropping it the half star because I think the singing was ‘good enough’ rather than outstanding (although that made it quite charming) and I’m not sure they’d got the sound quite right for us up in the cheap seats…