Seats at the Mayflower Theatre

As of March 2018, I have been to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton 20 times. Being the local theatre to my old uni, I made the most of my student loan by seeing many touring productions there! I therefore think I’m in a pretty good position to comment on the pros and cons of different seating areas at this theatre, so here are some of my thoughts on the views I’ve had of various shows.

Stalls

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My view of The Addams Family from seat T32 in the stalls

When I first started visiting the Mayflower, I almost exclusively sat in the stalls. The stalls area of this theatre is enormous – much bigger than at most other theatres I’ve been to. The stalls are great for seeing shows close up – it’s the best place in the theatre for witnessing discreet facial expressions, and for appreciating every little detail. However, I found that sitting in any of the front 5 rows means that you have to crane your neck upwards to see the action onstage, because you are so close to the stage, so I would recommend sitting anywhere from row F backwards. But then again, if you sit too far back then the overhang of the circle can block some of the scenery up high. Another downside is that although the seats are slightly banked upwards, with the seats at the back being higher than the ones at the front, you may still suffer if a tall person sits in front of you! (Disclaimer: I am 5 foot 2, so I don’t have much of a height advantage anyway). There is plenty of leg room in the stalls, and the vast amount of seats in this area means that there are lots of different pricing options.

Circle

I have only sat in this area twice, and don’t have a photo (sorry!). The circle is the middle section of the theatre, and it is split into two sections: the dress circle and the rear circle. It is very much the middle option for seats at the Mayflower, and it feels more cramped than the stalls, with less leg room; and the floor of the balcony above the audience’s heads makes it feel a little claustrophobic. However, the view is pretty good, especially from the front section (the dress circle), and I imagine that the view from the front couple of rows would have all the advantages of the stalls, plus a bit of extra height and no tall people in the way!

Balcony

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My view of Funny Girl from seat H21 in the balcony

You can always find the cheapest seats in the balcony, so this is a really good option if you’re short of cash, or if you’re not totally sure if you’re going to enjoy a show enough to justify spending upwards of £50 on it! The balcony is very steeply banked, so you shouldn’t have too many heads in your way. However, the seats are very far away from the stage, so it can be difficult to see specific details on stage that you can see from the stalls. You also have to climb up over 80 steps to get to the balcony, so that can be a ‘fun’ pre show workout (ew). I would definitely recommend trying to get central seats in the balcony however, as you’ll get a much better view from these than from the sides, despite being miles away from the stage.

Boxes

I’ve never sat in one of the boxes, but it does look pretty fun to have your own little private seating area! The view however probably isn’t the best as you would be side on to the stage, meaning you’d have to look around to watch the show. I would love to sit in one for the experience though!

Band pit

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My view of Billy Elliot from… the band pit!

Unfortunately you can’t buy seats in the band pit, but having had the pleasure of sitting in the pit for a show, here’s the view!!

There are definitely pros and cons for all of the seating areas at the Mayflower Theatre. I would say that the best seats are mid way back in the centre area of the stalls, because you’re far away enough from the stage to take in all the action, but you can also see the close up facial expressions of the performers. However, the balcony seats are often brilliantly cheap, and due to the steep incline of this layer, the view isn’t that bad at all. My advice would be to choose what’s best for you and your price range, and be sure to return at least 20 times like I have to try out all of the seating areas (except maybe the band pit…!).

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4. Theatre MDing: what I’ve learned

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Prior to coming to uni, I didn’t really know what an MD was. I didn’t know that I’d maybe like to be one, and I certainly didn’t know that I’d go on to MD 8 shows during my three years of studying. So when I applied to be an AMD for my first show at uni (thank you, Drowsy Chaperone prod team of 2014/15), I still wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for. I’d like to think that I now know a fair bit about MDing (musical directing), so here goes:

MDing is not just one job. It is many jobs.

The title ‘MD’ means that you direct the music of the show. So you tell the cast what to sing and how to sing it, and tell the band what to play and how to play it. But there’s much more to the role than just bossing people around! Most MDs also act as rehearsal pianists before the band comes in, and the conductor for when the band are involved. This means that the MD has to carry out two completely different roles between rehearsals and shows, which is TERRIFYING. When I had to conduct a show earlier this year, I felt so thoroughly unprepared because while I knew the music inside out, I was so used to playing it on the piano, not conducting it for a 12 piece band! Other jobs include leading vocal warm ups, making cuts and adding repeats, and liaising with other prod team members. So onto the next one…

The cast recording will almost definitely not match up with the score. Sorry.

There is nothing worse than coming into a rehearsal (a bit underprepared, oops), and realising that the choreographer has worked very very hard to make up a dance to suit a certain song or dance break on a cast recording… which doesn’t match up with the score in front of you. I’ve since learned to comb through the score before rehearsals even begin, but this is such a laborious task, and even if discrepancies are spotted, the MD then has to explain how many bars are added/missing, and often disappoint the choreographer in the process. I’m aware that this makes it sound like choreographers are hard to work with – they’re not and I’ve worked with some wonderful choreographers! It’s just very annoying when this happens. Argh.

Vocal warm ups will become anthems… and sometimes they will have dance routines.

Every rehearsal starts with a vocal warm up (except one time when I forgot), and these vary from the technical scaley ones to the funny tongue twister ones. I’m not really sure where we get these warm ups from – I’m pretty sure they’re sort of spread around in little MD circles as we impart our knowledge onto one another! ANYWAY, one of my good MD friends at uni introduced a warm up called Ba Bey Bee Bo, which *somehow* got its own dance. (Note: the choreographer was not involved and no bars were added or cut).

During breaks, everyone will flock to the piano.

Now, I don’t really get this one. Picture the scene: we’ve been rehearsing for a few hours, and the director announces that it’s lunch time. The MD leaves the piano stool and BAM – 5 cast members are crowded around the keyboard, desperate to get their hands on it and play some choons. Sometimes this results in an awesome jam session, but sometimes it just results in everyone else leaving the room!

No one else really understands your job.

Whereas most people know what a director does and how they do it, and what a choreographer does and how they do it, not very many know how MDing works. This seems to create an air of suspicion around MDs themselves, and I enjoy this. Not only does one get a fair amount of street cred from being able to play the piano, sometimes people seem a bit mystified by the ability to read music. It’s good fun, and sometimes makes it easier to gloss over mistakes…!

So yes, there are a few things I’ve learned through MDing 8 different shows while at uni. I have certainly learned a lot, and that’s very much down to all the other fantastic MDs I’ve worked with while doing these shows (Becky, Joe, Gem, Andy, Izzi, Ben, Dave, Robbie <3). There’s always more to learn, and I definitely hope to do more MDing in the future, but I’ll always check whether the cast recording matches up with the score first. (Disclaimer: it probably won’t).

2. Broadway shows I want to see: Come From Away

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After the Tony awards, one might be fooled into thinking that there is only one new, innovative musical on Broadway right now: Dear Evan Hansen. And while Dear Evan Hansen is a brilliant show (from what I’ve seen and heard anyway… argh why is New York so far away), there’s another original show which was also nominated for best musical which, although having received much less media coverage, is also completely brilliant: Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away.

The show tells the story of 9/11 from a perspective relatively few people know about. When the American airspace was closed as a result of the terrorist attacks, 38 planes containing over 6000 people had to unexpectedly land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, almost doubling its population for a week while the passengers and crew remained stranded there. Telling this story on stage sounds like something of a challenge, and when one takes into account that the production only requires 12 cast members, all of whom multi role, acting as both citizens of Gander and as the ‘plane people’, the level of respect for all those involved in the show can only grow.

The show’s events take place during just one week (barring the epilogue which occurs on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks), and this is reflected in the fact that the music almost never stops. Even where there is dialogue there is often underscore beneath it, giving the production a sense of fluidity which very much reflects the lives of everyone in Gander during this particularly notable week. The ways in which the company switch between characters is extremely clever, especially as they sometimes even have to switch accents – for example, Lee MacDougall plays two characters: one from Gander and one from London! Come From Away is a relatively short Broadway musical, running at around 90 minutes, and this length also suitably shows the condensed time period during which the events occurred. Much longer and the piece may feel a little too indulgent, but the stories of the individuals are all summed up during the epilogue to provide audience members with a sense of closure just before the curtain comes down.

The music is based in the foundations of the folk genre, with the unusual band featuring instruments such as a bodhran, mandolin, bouzouki, and uilleann pipes. A 3 year BA Music degree doesn’t teach you about some of those instruments, I’ll tell you that much! Add the prominent use of the violin (or as it is called in the programme, the fiddle) to the mix and the overall orchestrations very much conform to the folk genre to represent the lives of the ‘Newfoundlanders’. The fact that all of the music in the show sounds very similar both ties the songs together, and illustrates the idea that Gander may be stuck in the past, and very much based on tradition and group activities. However, songs sung by the ‘plane people’, such as Me and the Sky (performed impeccably by Jenn Colella as real life female pilot Beverley Bass) explore other musical genres, such as classic musical theatre and even pop and rock, to emphasise the fact that they are outsiders – and therefore have a different way of life.

I simply adore the concept and realisation of Come From Away. I’d never heard the story of what the people of Gander did for the ‘plane people’ who ended up there as a result of the 9/11 attacks, but now the circumstances which stemmed from the disaster fascinate me. The music is incredible and totally fits with the vibe of the show, and the cast of 12 (and of course, the talented swings) do so well night after night to portray such a vast number of different characters. Obviously, I would love to see the show for real, but sadly I doubt that it has much of a life outside of America – as this is where the story is most relevant. Nonetheless, I shall continue to obsessively listen to the cast recording and watch every Youtube video in existence – and I encourage every other theatre lover to do the same.

1. So I’ve graduated… what next?

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Having graduated with a BA in Music a couple of weeks ago, I’m constantly being faced with the question: ‘what next?’. Thankfully I now have a concrete answer to that question because as of September, I have a proper full time adult job! But before that begins I’ve got a very exciting, theatre filled August – hence my (potentially silly idea) to try and write a blog post every day this month.

I’ve come to realise that this summer is likely to be my final long summer holiday, so I figured I’d better make the most of it. Having filled June and July with volunteering and working in schools to help with musical theatre projects, London trips, job interviews and flat hunting, August sees even more travelling and theatre, as well as a big birthday! First of all I’m taking part in a Youth Music Theatre UK (YMT UK) project as an assistant musical director for their show Jabberwocky, which is to be performed at the Theatre Royal Margate from 18th-20th August (plug plug plug). Having done a project with the company last summer in a lesser role I’m so excited to be involved again and have even more creative input on a fantastic piece of original writing.

I’m also going to visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time at the end of the month too. I’ve never been before, mostly due to the fact that I live in Devon, and Scotland is a very long way away from here! However, this year I’m going to deal with the lengthy travel times to go and see lots of theatre for a few days, including some shows which my friends from my (old) uni are taking up (writing ‘old’ uni felt weird. I haven’t had to do that before… *graduate crisis ensues*).

The end of August will see me coming back down to reality from the idyllic world of theatre and moving into my new house and preparing to start my proper job. It’s been and will continue to be a summer full of massive changes… I just find it a bit weird that your whole future is mapped out for you until this point: school, sixth form, uni… but then what? I’ve always been adamant that I didn’t want to move back home after uni, and although I have done that for the summer, it’s only temporary. However, when viewing places to live and being faced with adult talk about taxes and deposits and bills and pension schemes, a very small part of me wished I could escape it all and remain a well looked after child at home! But no, I love the freedom I’ve had at uni and I think continuing that immediately is the best thing for me to do – especially as my new job is close to the city I’ve lived in for the last 3 years.

So yes, expect many a blog this month. I’m excited to chronicle all my new experiences this summer and hope that no one gets too fed up with my incessant posting!

Reviewing Theatre: My Experiences

I have, inadvertently, become a theatre reviewer. I’m a person who reviews theatre on the internet, albeit it casually on my own amateur blog. Since I started this blog back in April 2015, I’ve reviewed every single professional production I’ve seen – that was, until last month, when I became extremely aware that I could no longer really view a show without critically judging it and planning my impending review. This, along with the fact that I was really struggling to write about Groundhog Day (purely because I adored it so much and was so overwhelmed by it that it was near impossible to put my feelings into words), led to a brief period of just wanting to enjoy theatre rather than overthink it. Obviously there’s a case for both, and they’re not mutually exclusive, but I think a break is needed every so often.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether bloggers should be able to say whatever we like on the internet about the shows we see, when we’re not technically professionals or being paid to write, but given that bloggers (usually) pay for their own tickets, there’s nothing stopping us from expressing our feelings towards a show.

But then there’s the issue of how personal reviews should be. As I just mentioned, bloggers can write anything, in any style: they can review in first person, in whatever tense they like, with focus on any aspects of the show that they see fit, to any word count (unless they’re on commission… but that’s another matter). So how much should be written about the reality of how good the show is fundamentally as a piece of theatre, and how much of the reviewer’s own opinion and personal connection to the show should be expressed? Although again, there’s not necessarily any ‘should’ where bloggers are concerned.

I went to see the UK tour of Mamma Mia earlier this week, and came out buzzing, as I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Having been totally obsessed with the movie around the ages of 12 and 13, finally getting to watch it live meant a lot to me and was a great experience. The song packed, crowd pleasing second act was great fun to watch, and I had an amazing time. However, once I distanced myself from this initial on the surface enjoyment, I realised that Mamma Mia is fundamentally not a perfect show… it’s far from it. The early scenes need work, and some transitions aren’t as smooth as they could be. It’s flawed, but audiences adore it – and I am no exception. So when I write my review in the next few days (I think my reviewing strike has passed… for now…), I’ll have to work hard to make sure that my own opinions of the show don’t cloud how good it really is, because although I don’t have to, I like to achieve an objective view point.

I’ve learned a lot since writing my very first review on this blog (which I now read back and cringe over. So badly). It’s intriguing how and why some shows are so easy to write about, while others have me staring at a blank word document for hours, struggling to start. The point is, reviewing is a tricky business, and I’m happy continuing as a blogger with no set standards to meet. Reviewing is, and should be fun and that’s why I do it. It can just sometimes become a little difficult to remove my own personal connection to a show from an objective piece of writing – hence reviewing hiatus. Which, as clarified, is now over, so if any production companies are reading, please still offer me comp tickets…!

Star casting in musical theatre

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Photo: Alastair Muir

“Is there anyone I’ve heard of in it?”

As a regular theatre goer (that might be an understatement), this is a question I get asked an awful lot before or after going to see pretty much any show, regardless of its genre, venue or target audience. Obviously to most people, especially those who don’t visit the theatre a great deal, a celebrity in a leading role (because when are stars ever cast in the ensemble) is a huge attraction, and can make the difference between buying a top price ticket and not going at all.

Star casting can be a brilliant thing, but only when said star is able to fulfil the role just as well as a thoroughly trained and experienced musical theatre performer. The big name advertising can have the ‘bums on seats effect’, raking in money and new audiences to see a show that they may not have previously considered seeing. However, when it is evident that a celebrity has been cast in a part purely because of their large fan base and appeal, it can be rather frustrating for both other performers, and audience members who have paid good money not to watch just one star, but to watch a piece of theatre as a whole.

Now for some examples: I saw Jason Manford play Caracatus Potts in the current UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in February, and was very impressed with his singing, dancing, acting, and general presence and charisma in this role. And although his name possibly isn’t quite big enough to encourage hordes of new theatre goers to see the show, it definitely helps in the show’s advertising campaign. However, watching Craig Revel Horwood portray Miss Hannigan in Annie last year was a completely different story, and judging by the roars of laughter every time he appeared on stage, I’m sure that a considerable proportion of the audience were indeed there for the opportunity to see the Strictly judge in drag. And this would’ve been fine if he’d actually delivered in the role, but I failed to enjoy his performance very much at all.

Another issue with the concept is the problem of what happens when the celebrity is ill, or can’t perform for some reason. This has become particularly relevant recently due to Sheridan Smith’s lengthy absence from the West End production of Funny Girl, with audience members demanding refunds and firing abuse at her poor understudy. However, having seen Zoe Birkett, the alternate performer for Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard, audiences are in no way being short changed if they happen to see an understudy rather than a household name. Obviously there’s going to be some inevitable disappointment, but celebrity status doesn’t necessarily correlate with being an incredible performer.

Star casting has been the topic of many a heated discussion in the theatre world as of late, and it’s definitely not an issue that’s going to disappear any time soon. As long as celebrities in musicals are making the producers money, such casting is going to continue, whether individuals are completely suited to the roles or not. Celebrities in leading theatre roles can absolutely be a good thing, but a balance needs to be achieved – and we’re definitely not there yet.

Cast recordings and becoming obsessed with them

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As I’m frequently reminded, theatre going is an extremely expensive hobby, and consequently I spend far more time listening to cast recordings than I do attending actual shows. So that involves seeing anywhere between 1 and 5 shows in a month, compared to listening to cast recordings on every journey I go on, as well as at various points throughout every day at home.

More often than not, before attending a new show I like to familiarise myself with the songs through listening to a cast recording (and often through playing the songs from the piano vocal score too). I find that this makes me even more excited to see the show live, and to hear my new favourite songs being sung for real. This was particularly apparent when I went to see Mrs Henderson Presents, because having listened to the original West End cast recording it was incredible to hear those same actors sing the songs in real life.

My current example of this is In the Heights; the cast recording of which has become my summer soundtrack. I started listening to it merely to get to know the songs (and because I love Hamilton… more on that later) but now I’m thoroughly obsessed, and counting down the days until I see it in the West End!

On the other hand, on numerous occasions I’ve gone to see an unknown show on a whim as a last minute decision, and have come out desperate to listen to all the songs all over again. Examples of this include Phantom (when I saw it for the first time in 2012), Oklahoma, Jersey Boys, Shrek and The Bodyguard. The only issue with this is that belatedly obsessing over the music only makes me want to go back and see the show again – which with touring productions (and my student loan) isn’t always possible!

And finally, there’s the frustrating situation of being totally enthralled by a cast recording but having no chance of seeing said show for quite a while… a la Hamilton. Never have I been so invested in a cast recording as I am with this one, and I love that it’s long enough to almost entirely fill my train journey between home and university. Even listening to the Miss Saigon soundtrack makes me a little bit sad that I won’t be able to see it again for a while. Sigh.

The better known, long running shows tend to have numerous cast recordings, from different years and productions, and it can be really interesting to compare these. For example, as much as I like the Stratford recording of Matilda, I feel that the Broadway version is superior in terms of orchestrations and sound quality. I own several different recordings of Les Mis but couldn’t possibly choose a favourite – each has its own merits and downfalls – although it’s always fun to try and guess which of the 5 versions of On My Own on my iPod has started playing when it’s on shuffle.

I absolutely adore cast recordings, and they’ve got me through many long car and train journeys (funnily enough, most of said lengthy journeys are to go to the theatre!).For me, obsessively listening to the songs from a show is the best way to get excited about seeing it, but it can also be so great to revisit the music after seeing a show live. And seeing as these CDs cost considerably less than a ticket to see the actual show, sometimes I have to make do with not seeing EVERY show live in order to make this hobby a bit less of an expensive one!

Extra musical references in The Book of Mormon

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Before I went to see The Book of Mormon at the end of March, I thoroughly educated myself on all the songs from the show and became completely obsessed with them. I very quickly noticed that several of the musical numbers very closely resemble songs from other musicals – and given the mocking, parodic nature of this show, this was not surprising! So, as a kind of sequel to my most read post (extra musical references in Shrek the Musical), here are the references I’ve noticed in The Book of Mormon!

The Lion King

The references to the famous Disney musical are probably the most blatant ones in the show, and these are likely to be noticed by the majority of the audience. For example, at the airport an African woman sings a variation of the introduction to the Circle of Life, before revealing that she’s never actually been to Africa herself. In response to the revelation that he and Elder Price are going to Uganda in Two by Two, Elder Cunningham exclaims: ‘Oh boy! Like Lion King!’ and this is followed up by him asking whether the phrase Hasa Diga Eebowai means ‘no worries for the rest of your days’, as in Hakuna Matata. Elder Cunningham must be a bit of a Lion King fan!

Wicked

There are numerous parallels to be drawn with Wicked due to the focus on two wildly different people who then become firm friends, but the song You and Me (but mostly me) very closely resembles Defying Gravity. Both songs include mentions of ‘unlimited’ possibilities, and Elder Price’s cry of ‘but mostly… ME!’ is reminiscent of Elphaba’s expressive ‘it’s ME!’ Musically, the bass lines of the songs are extremely similar, and they both end in Db major.

A Chorus Line

Although Spooky Mormon Hell Dream primarily creates a terrifying Mormon Hell, there is a more upbeat, jazzy, swung section in which the ensemble whip out top hats a la A Chorus Line. The music and choreography become very similar to that of One, with high kicks and well formed lines.

Hairspray

The finale song in The Book of Mormon (Tomorrow is a Latter Day) is extremely similar to Hairspray’s finale song: You Can’t Stop the Beat. They both have the same groove, tempo and similar treatment of solo and ensemble singing in alternation with each other. They’re both positive, happy numbers looking forward to the future!

The Sound Of Music

The spoken/sung section of I Believe can definitely be linked to I Have Confidence from The Sound of Music. In both songs, the protagonists are preparing themselves for big, scary missions and are trying to psyche themselves up – plus both songs are based on religious beliefs, with Maria being a nun and Elder Price being a Mormon (obviously…). Both songs share the lines ‘to do the things I’d never dared’ and ‘oh, what’s the matter with me’, and the line ‘a war lord who shoots people in the face, what’s so scary about that?’ is uncannily similar to ‘a captain with seven children, what’s so fearsome about that?’

Annie

This is a bit of a tenuous one, but Elder Price’s vocal motif of ‘Orlando’, and then ‘I love you, Orlando’ seems to be reminiscent of ‘Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow’, from Annie. But this could be me looking into it too much…

Sister Act

Another tenuous one: there is a section in Two By Two where the orchestral accompaniment drops out and the cast clap a beat to accompany themselves, and this rhythm is identical to the one in Hail Holy Queen in Sister Act.

There may well be even more extra musical references in The Book of Mormon that I’ve failed to notice, so I might find even more as I continue to obsessively listen to the soundtrack and hopefully go and see the show for a second time in the near future. As with Shrek, I think that it’s so clever when a musical includes nods to many other famous shows, because it makes those of us who are perceptive musical theatre nerds feel like we’re in our own little club. Or is that just me?!

Stalls vs. circle vs. upper circle

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My view when I watched Shrek from the upper circle

Oh yes, it’s that age old debate: are the high ticket prices of the central stalls and front of the circle really worth all that extra money when you can view exactly the same show from the balcony, or even from standing at the side of the stalls for a fraction of the price? Theatre ticket prices have risen dramatically recently (and this was picked up by the press when they noticed the extortionate cost of a family of four going to see Elf at the Dominion over the Christmas period), making theatre going a very expensive hobby. But is it worth the extra money to have a slightly better view?

I’ve been going to the theatre fairly regularly since the age of 6, and my family and I would almost always sit in the stalls. I assume this was because it seemed like the best option – you’re closest to the stage, and surely buying top price tickets would guarantee the best seats. So as I got older and started going to see musicals alone, I would still usually book a seat in the stalls, because I knew that I liked the view from there and that I would be getting the best possible experience of each show.

However, I have, on occasion, sat in the circle or upper circle, and have been pleasantly surprised by the view from there. Last summer I booked a last minute ticket to see Shrek the Musical, and there were only upper circle tickets left. And although the view obviously wasn’t as good as from the stalls (what I’ve become used to!) and I could see the tops of the performers’ heads most of the time, it wasn’t actually that bad. I could see right into the band pit too, which is an obvious bonus for me! I also sat in the upper circle on my second visit to see Jersey Boys, but whereas I’d been pretty central for Shrek, for this one I was to the side. This meant that my view of the stage wasn’t amazing – but for a second viewing I didn’t mind that much, because I’d already seen the fantastic show from a top price seat in the stalls a couple of weeks earlier.

When I went to see the dress rehearsal of Billy Elliot, the seating was unallocated. We couldn’t sit in the stalls because of all the tech desks, creative team members and a photographer, so we were all ushered into the dress circle and upper circle. I ended up sitting in the front row of the dress circle in the centre, which was actually great! I did however have to sit up straight though so that the safety rail didn’t obscure my view due to my lack of height! I also sat in the dress circle on a visit to see Memphis the Musical, and was, again, quite pleased with the view. I find that you get a better overall view of the show from a bit further back, and don’t have your line of sight obscured by people’s heads as you do in the stalls. However, you can miss a lot of intricate acting, whereas in the stalls you can read every facial expression perfectly, and even identify understudies and child performers in the absence of a cast board.

Despite the fact that, in the past year, my eyes have been opened to the positive aspects of sitting in the circles, I still invariably select seats in the stalls. I find that having a close up view of the show makes it so much more personal and really emphasises the live aspect of theatre – whereas those sitting at the back of the upper circle may as well be watching a TV screen. For now, I think I’ll primarily stick with the stalls, but I’ve definitely realised that, especially for second viewings of shows, sitting in the circles isn’t that bad – and the view of the band pit from up there makes it a bit more appealing too!

Billy Elliot – My encounters with the show

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To celebrate the recent opening of the first ever UK and Ireland tour of Billy Elliot the Musical at Theatre Royal Plymouth (read about my experience of watching a dress rehearsal here), I’ve decided to have a nostalgic look back at my various encounters with this show, which is definitely one of my favourite musicals of all time!

It’s difficult to say when I was first introduced to Billy Elliot. I think I watched the film (which isn’t the musical version) when I was around 10 or 11 as I was very into dancing then, and I no doubt heard the famous song Electricity during my childhood. However, it wasn’t until a holiday in London in 2013 that I decided to go and see the show in the West End – knowing very little about it at the time. I absolutely loved the show instantly, and requested the CD and piano score for my birthday. I remember playing and singing The Letter from my new piano score on the morning of my 17th birthday, because I’d been longing to play it for so long… I think that was the first thing I did that day!

The Billy Elliot songs became my soundtrack of summer 2013, and I became obsessed with the lesser known songs from the show such as The Stars Look Down, Expressing Yourself, and Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher, although The Letter remained my favourite. This was one of the first songs that I ever sang harmonies to (which is a pretty big deal, considering the fact that I harmonise to practically every song I hear now!). I remember listening to the song on repeat on long car journeys and feeling so proud of myself once I finally nailed both Mrs Wilkinson’s and Billy’s Mum’s harmony parts.

Although my Billy Elliot obsession gradually faded after summer 2013, I still regularly played and sang the music with my friends at school during our free blocks, and then when another London trip was organised for early 2015, I decided it was time for a second viewing of the musical – especially seeing as rumours of its closure were already circulating due to the Victoria Palace Theatre’s impending refurbishments. So I saw the show for a second time in April 2015 and it was just as brilliant as the first time! The songs were so familiar, and watching The Letter Reprise probably made me the most emotional I’ve ever been while watching a musical!

It must have been mid 2015 that the UK and Ireland tour was announced, which I was immediately incredibly excited about – especially as it was going to start in Plymouth! I followed the casting announcements very closely, as well as the other venues the show would be visiting. I was so excited when Theatre Royal Plymouth invited me to the very first dress rehearsal of the brand new production, and it was such a fantastic experience. I’ve got tickets booked to see the show in Plymouth at the end of March, and then I intend on catching it at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton in early 2017 towards the end of its tour.

Billy Elliot is definitely one of my favourite musicals, and soon it will be the one that I’ve seen the most times! It’s such a brilliant story with comical and emotional moments, and I’ll always have a special link to the new touring production having seen it at such an early stage of its development. I can’t wait to see it again in a few weeks, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to catch it on tour, or at the Victoria Palace before it closes next month.