Cabaret – 2013 tour (4.5*)

2013-10-21Ruth’s 4.5* review:

This was my second viewing of this production of Cabaret this year, which seems a little excessive except that Will Young was so extraordinary in it that I had to see it again now it has left the West End and is on tour.

I’ll not go over old ground, it is essentially the same as last time and you can read my thoughts on that here.

The main change was to the female lead playing Sally Bowles.  Last time Michelle Ryan was lacklustre.  This time Siobhan Dillon did a lovely job.  It was a different interpretation of Sally Bowles to either Michelle Ryan or Liza Minelli.  Less desperate and defiant.  Siobhan’s Sally Bowles had a manic sweetness about her – very posh totty, very highly strung, very vulnerable.  And as the show went on, she unravelled.  Cabaret – her swan song – was heartbreaking.

Worth emphasising, Will Young was charismatic and exquisite and this alone is worth seeing Cabaret for.  In particular, his Tomorrow Belongs To Me was wonderful – so pure, and then so appalling.  Has to be one of the best endings to a first act in any musical I’ve seen (except maybe defying Gravity in Wicked).

I’d give this production a 4.5* – up half a star from last time, thanks Siobhan – but still not a perfect 5 because in my opinion the plot lacks a bit of pace.  It may be true that the meandering plot serves to set up the punch of the dark and shocking ending, but it lost my interest in places.

Ian’s 4.5* Review:2013-10-21

I agree with Ruth.

Will Young was mesmerising once again.  Siobhan was much better than Michelle Ryan as Sally Bowles.  The production was good but not inspired, and the chorus didn’t quite sell the sexiness of the Kit Kat Club…


Russell Brand: Messiah Complex (4*)

Ruth’s 4* review:

Russell Brand is well known for being over the top.  An ex drug addict and sex addict.  I’ve read his autobiography My Booky Wook.  Silly, grandiose, unreliable, a bit much.

These days Russell is reformed, and his public image appears to be all about the critical analysis of social issues.  He conducts himself with a bit of class and his writing is beautiful and lyrical and eloquent.  His articles and some of his media clips get shared on Facebook a lot, and usually to a positive reception.

I’ve wondered if he might be a genius.  But I wouldn’t say I’m a fan as such in that I haven’t particularly followed his comedy, but I do find him so so interesting as a man.

From what I’ve seen of Russell on TV – particularly his early work – he is a real disruptive game changer in the field of comedy.

And that’s why I wanted to go and see him perform live.  As a comedy fan I thought it would be a shame if I never saw that.  So we bought tickets on the day to see him at the Usher Hall.  God our seats were crap.  Anyhoo.

Russell was, as expected, creative and articulate and charismatic.  His set was extremely coherent and well crafted, and wonderfully delivered.  He’s a fast talker and used big words and big concepts, and is not shy to quote the great philosophers.  No dumbing down here.  I like that.  He was also self-deprecating (albeit in an attention seeking manner) which I found to be quite charming.

Russell’s show had a point, and the point was delivered through a variety of methods from the satirical to the sly to the silly to the downright crude.  Things started off pretty intelligent and built up to an extremely vulgar finale, but none of it was superfluous it all contributed to the narrative.

And it was funny.

Liked it.

Ian’s 4* Review

2013-10-12 Russell Brand_0005Russell Brand was pretty good. He’s charismatic and clever, and the show was really well written – it felt coherent. A solid 4*.

I will NOT be sitting in the upper circle in the Usher Hall again in a hurry. The seats are tiny, close packed and uncomfortable. I scarcely fit in the darned thing.

On another note, this show was NOT age appropriate for a 13-year old.  Russell did try pointing this out to the lad and his parents…

2013-10-12 Russell Brand_0004











Stewart Lee: Much A-Stew About Nothing (4*)

Ruth’s review:

You know those wanky music snobs who only go to small intimate gigs of up-and-coming bands?  Well I’m a wanky comedy snob who only goes to small intimate gigs of up-and-coming comedians.  Usually.  But today I went to a proper comedy show at a large theatre that I had to pay more than £20 for.  To be fair I got more than two hours of material from a single comedian, so that is decent value.

Stewart Lee.  I like him, I’ve known of him for many years and seen him a few times at the Fringe.  Didn’t get in quick enough for tickets this year, hence I had to go and see his tour.  Stewart’s stuff is really not for everyone.  He isn’t a mainstream comedian because his stuff is a bit – well, weird – but his career has had longevity and he has a loyal following.

In this show we got four half hour sets from Stewart, plus an encore.

Each went down well with the audience (largely comprised of men in their late thirties).  I laughed a lot.

There’s something about Stewart Lee’s style and delivery that is totally unique.  It is calm and prepared and coherent and yet strangely repetitive and sardonic and odd.

But it is clever, clever, clever stuff.  Carefully woven, impeccably timed, and deeply satirical.

I like his stuff, but I really do love him.  I think I wish he was my fun uncle.  Or maybe I am developing a more ‘romantic’ interest.

From Here to Eternity (3.5*)

2013-10-04Ruth’s 3.5* review:

From Here to Eternity – based on the book and film – is Tim Rice’s new musical in previews in the West End this week. We were just passing through London and bought the cheapest of cheapie tickets (£15) instead of going to the pub or cinema. Then when we got there the balcony was shut and we were upgraded to middle stalls. Win?

I enjoyed From Here to Eternity throughout. The cast were pretty good, the songs were nice, the story was interesting.

Of particular note, the set was understated but very nicely done and the lighting was great and really added to the set and the ambiance.

Darius Campbell did a solid job as one of the leads, he has a lovely voice and it was a confident performance. I was in the same year as Darius at Edinburgh University. I didn’t know him, but I knew people that did. Weird to think.

I really liked the finale – which culminated in a song which was catchy, well presented and poignant. If I’d been more invested in the characters I’d have cried. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Because, honestly, it was all kind of bland. Despite having some racy content and language the production overall felt old fashioned and I can’t say I’ll remember a huge amount about it next week. It lacked… something.

The other thing to mention is that the show was strewn with casual racism and homophobia, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It wasn’t gratuitous, it was certainly in keeping with the time and often required to advance the plot. But… felt strange to a contemporary (and unashamedly PC-brigade) ear.

Ian’s 3.5* Review:

From Here to Eternity is a new musical by Tim Rice and with Darius in one of the lead roles. It only opened on Monday, and we bought cheap tickets before then in the spirit of adventure. As it turns out we needn’t have rushed, the upper circle wasn’t in use at all and we got upgraded to pretty good stalls seats.

The show is set in Hawaii in the run up to the Pearl Harbour attack, and follows the soldiers of G-company, most of whom have enlisted for a 30-year stretch to escape the great depression, not really expecting war. The story follows the relationships, romances, and tribulations that ultimately end in a series of tragedies almost unrelated to the violence of war. It sounds like all the right ingredients are there for a dramatic and ultimately poignant show, but it never really felt like it got going properly.

The lighting and set are noticeably very good. The quality of the singing is above average although the dancing was a little slack. The pseudo-military physicality and dance seemed weak in comparison to the National Theatre of Scotland’s “Black Watch” (which I must watch again on DVD). There are some quite cool bits where the dancers go all slow-motion which are well done. The plot evolves a little slowly and I didn’t really feel involved by any of the characters. There are some good songs, but I don’t remember the tunes today so I won’t be out to buy the soundtrack. A few of the songs seemed to be there to remind any “hard of thinking” audience members what was going on and what everyone was thinking…

A very pleasant way to pass a couple of hours, but not a musical likely to become a new classic! 3.5* from me!

Dark Road (4.5*)

2013-09-26Ruth’s review:

Dark Road is an original new play, set in Edinburgh, from Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson.

The plot focuses on Isobel, Scotland’s first Chief Superintendent, as she revisits the case of a serial killer that she worked on as a young police officer 25 years earlier.

The husband and I like to watch police dramas on the TV, but it is so unusual to see a police drama on stage – so that was a nice change.  As always at the Lyceum this play was buoyed by great acting, and as always it was so well staged.  The set was magnificent and was occasionally supplemented with projections which worked really well.  The use of music was subtle but generated a lot of tension, in fact I think rarely have I been to such a tense play.  People in the audience screamed.  Which, actually, was scarier than the play itself.

I enjoyed the story a lot, there was a good deal of character development and the plot was twisty and interesting.  If anything I think the plot was overly complicated for the production, as the other elements came together to make it sufficiently exciting and captivating without the need for excessive detail.  If anything, the slightly superfluous detail led me to overthinking as I watched which detracted from the tension, but the plot could have progressed without some of it.

I’d say overall this play was brilliant and with a bit of tweaking it could be exceptional.

Ian’s 4.5* Review

I absolutely loved this.  Tense.  Exciting.  Dark.  Funny.  Captivating.  It’s wonderful to see the “police drama” genre on stage, and the plot is classic Rankin, delighting in the gruesome and twisted mind of the criminal and in blurring the lines between good and bad, right and wrong.  The staging is brilliant too, I love the concept and the execution.  It gives the piece a feel of being bigger than it actually is – somehow more cinematic.

This is very close to being a 5* review, but falls just short as it didn’t feel completely coherent.  It started off feeling quite character-centric, but that then got a little lost in the middle which was totally plot-driven with just a few moments of character focus which were slightly disconcerting.  Then the ending (surprising, dark, twisted and brilliant as it is) went back to being more character based.  I liked the twisty nature of the experience, but for me it felt slightly like a longer work that had been cut down based on “favourite scenes” rather than “coherent audience experience”.  That would be easily fixed I suspect.

A brilliant first play from Ian Rankin – get your tickets now before they sell out!

The Book of Mormon (4*)

2013-09-06Ruth’s 4* Review:

I absolutely love the cartoon movie musical South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut so was delighted to learn that the writers of this had written an original stage musical in The Book of Mormon.  I tried to see it on Broadway two years ago but tickets were booked out months in advance, and we booked for this and paid a hefty £75 each five months back.

In The Book of Mormon, two naïve young Mormon missionaries (Elder Price and Elder Cunningham) are sent to Uganda to spread the word and baptise the locals.  But of course preaching the Mormon religion in the gritty reality of Africa causes all sorts of shenanigans and a crisis of faith.

To my surprise The Book of Mormon takes a more considered and balanced approach to presenting the Mormon religion than I had expected.  It isn’t an out-and-out mockery and it certainly isn’t cruel or even particularly cynical.  Granted, the naivety of the Elders’ approach to the religion presents it as a ‘self mocking’ religion and this is cleverly reinforced by the African people’s reaction to it.  But this isn’t Jerry Springer the Opera, or even Jesus Christ Superstar in how far it goes.  And the Mormons are cool with that.  Rather than kicking up a fuss they have taken out adverts in Broadway Playbills encouraging audiences to find out more.  Good for them, shows a bit of class.

So they say, Matt Stone (one of the show’s creators) described The Book of Mormon as “an atheist’s love letter to religion.”  I can absolutely relate to that, to me the beauty in the piece related to its hopeful and optimistic message that a lot of religious people are doing their best to do good.  Religion is the tool that inspires them and the specifics of the message are less important than the good they do.  I’m grateful for people in my life who have used religion to do good for me, and this shone through The Book of Mormon and made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Worry not though, The Book of Mormon is filthy and outrageous too.  It is tongue in cheek, and silly, and rude.  In some places it goes well beyond what the audience for stage musicals will be used to.  Lots of laughs, some gasps of horror, and plenty of speechless silence.  And there’s some parodies of the musical genre in there too which is fun for a musical lover.  Overall The Book of Mormon is very coherent and cleverly done.  The songs are great, plenty are catchy enough to hum for days after.  We talked and laughed about all sorts of bits of it afterwards.  For me the highlights were the African people’s AmDram production of the origins of the Mormon religion, plus the song ‘I Believe’ which I think might be genius.

So I enjoyed it, and some of my friends loved it.  The audience gave it an enthusiastic standing ovation.  And I thought it was… pretty good.  A very solid production and decent in all respects.  But.  It could have been better, it almost felt like they were not trying hard enough and coasting along on the hype.  The singing was just about adequate, the dancing was just about adequate.  But that’s all really.  It lacked a certain tightness and charisma and energy.  If the performances were as intelligent and witty as the writing this could have been amazing – and I bet the Broadway version was just that.

Ian’s 4* Review:

I really enjoyed The Book of Mormon, and the humour was clever and generally good-natured enough to get away with being outrageous at times. Given what a huge deal it is in the West End at the moment (after its massive success on Broadway) I was slightly surprised that the cast seemed good but not excellent. The dancing wasn’t that tight, the musical performances were competent but unspectacular and there was a bit of a lack of charisma and chemistry.  A great show with a slightly mediocre cast by the standards of the West End or Broadway.


Eh Joe (4*)

Ruth’s 4* review:

We went to see Michael Gambon in Eh Joe, a staging of Samuel Beckett’s play as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.  In this play we see Joe’s reaction to a voice – presumably in his head – speaking to him about his life.

I loved the staging of the play, very visually interesting as Michael Gambon’s face was projected onto a large transparent screen across the front of the set.  It reminded me of Alan Cumming’s Macbeth where Alan Cumming was also displayed on CCTV.  I really liked it.  Gambon never said a word, but his face was hugely expressive.  This was a short play – only half an hour – but it absolutely flew.  It felt like ten minutes.

2013-08-29Ian’s 4* Review

Tonight we saw the Samuel Beckett piece “Eh Joe” at the Lyceum as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. It was really very good, and a very clever adaptation of a television piece for stage making use of a huge projection from a camera focussed on the face of the sole performer, Michael Gambon.  Intense.  Compelling.  The time flew by,