3. ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ – an inside look at creating costumes at TR2

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As part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth bloggers’ scheme, I was invited to the wardrobe department at TR2, the theatre’s production and learning centre. We were shown around by Delia, the head of wardrobe, and we got to learn all sorts of things about how, where and why costumes are made, how much it costs, and even how to create realistic looking sick on clothes!

We were welcomed into the wardrobe workshop space, which was full of dummies wearing costumes, which I definitely mistook for real people a few times! Delia showed us some costumes from a production of Rebecca, which was at Theatre Royal Plymouth a couple of years ago, and explained that the costume budgets on shows vary hugely – from around £500 for small, local productions, up to £250,000 for high profile tours of well known musicals. On expensive shows just one garment can cost £1000 to make, especially when fabrics have to be made and printed specifically for a particular character in a particular show. Delia also explained that to work in wardrobe you have to be an all rounder – while individuals have their specialisms, they all need to be prepared to do a bit of everything – including doing the laundry, and even acting as a stand in dresser for performances at the theatre.

Next we went to the costume store: an enormous room full of thousands of garments. While the aisles and rails look crammed full and impossible to trawl through, the room is impeccably organised to make it easy to find any particular piece of costume required. Delia told us that they often hire out costumes to other organisations in the wider community, and that some garments are reused many times in different shows. She described them as ‘treasures I can reuse’, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it, because many of the pieces I saw were so versatile, and definitely ‘treasures’.

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We returned to the wardrobe workshop and Delia showed us some techniques to create special effects on fabric (her own specialism). She emphasised the attention to detail – like when creating fake mud to make clothes look dirty, she has to consider where the production is set, because the colour of mud in Yorkshire, for example, is quite different from the colour of Cornish mud! She used a dirty down spray to customise a pristine white T shirt, and showed us how to create fake blood by using a different spray, and also showed us some fake sick which was… interesting! She told us how different textures can be created using different substances, and stated that ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ due to the sheer amount of things it can be used to make! It was also interesting to find out that experimentation is a key part of creating the correct colour or texture, and that a lot of the wardrobe team’s work is trial and error.

Finally, we got the chance to have a go at creating some fake embroidery. This involved creating a piping bag full of acrylic paint and tracing over a print – it was harder than it sounds! The trick is to create a really small hole for the paint to come out of to maximise the precision when tracing over the lines. Then we filled in the gaps with paint and a brush which was much easier… GCSE art seems a long time ago! It was a really interesting and surprisingly therapeutic task to do and it certainly made us all be quiet for a while!

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Despite knowing very little about the business beforehand, I loved learning so much about the wardrobe department and costume making at TR2. I never realised how much detail goes into the costumes you see on stage, and the size of the costume store was simply immense. I’d like to thank Delia for showing us around and for being so helpful – I have a newfound appreciation for all that the wardrobe team do, as well as a newfound appreciation for PVA glue.

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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!

Get Ugly! – An interview with Tamar Broadbent

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Photo credit: Rebecca Pitt

I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview comedy writer and performer Tamar Broadbent about her show, Get Ugly! which she is taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Here’s what she had to say about it:

Hi Tamar. Your one woman show Get Ugly is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Could you tell me a bit about the show?

Get Ugly is a musical comedy about navigating newly single life after a break-up, with songs and stories about weird online dates, dodging hipsters, envying gym girls, freaking out about STDs and desperately trying to keep body hair under control. It’s about learning how to be a strong, independent woman (after figuring out what that actually means) and re-discovering your self-confidence after feeling (emotionally) like you’ve fallen bum-first in a dirty puddle.

How did the show’s premise come about? How much of it is rooted in personal experience?

 It’s all inspired by autobiographical events. When funny things happen that I believe are noteworthy, I try to turn them into songs. If they’re not a whole song, I try to turn them into a joke. For me it’s all about transforming life into lolz, trauma into un-tempo catchy tunes and a relatable lesson learned into something an audience can enjoy for an hour.

You’ve taken the show to Australia – how has the show been received so far by audiences across the globe?

At the Perth Fringe Festival earlier this year, Get Ugly was nominated for Best Comedy Show, which was incredibly exciting and made me spend ages dancing by myself on a train platform. I’ve also performed the show in Prague and Germany where it went down really well. I think certain things are universal… like heartbreak and vaginas.

How does it feel to be performing your own self written show at the largest arts festival in the world?

 Edinburgh is my favourite place in the world. I know it like the back of my foot – sort of and some bits of it still surprise me, but I’ve performed at the festival for five years running and it feels like my home away from home. To be performing this show there, having taken it across the globe and back, feels like what I’ve been excitedly waiting to do for ages.

Have you made any changes to the show for this year’s stint in Edinburgh?

I’ve added two new songs and am saying a lot of things I haven’t previously said (that makes it sound like they’re ground-breaking things – they’re not. Perhaps compost-breaking). The whole thing’s had a re-vamp and is finally where I feel I’ve always wanted it to be. I’ve very proud of the show and can’t wait to share it with everyone.

What is it like performing a one woman show every night? Does it get tiring being the solo performer?

It of course requires you to be in good shape (she says eating pizza and drinking wine) but I find performing a show that you love can give you more energy not less. I once did a student play at the Fringe that I hated and afterwards I slept until December. Now – I am very much alive and awake and not at all addicted to caffeine (stop shaking, Tamar!).

What do you think Get Ugly can teach audiences about 21st century female empowerment?

 I’m not a fan of the word ‘teach’ because I’m not sure I’m 100% qualified to impart wisdom when I still tie my shoelaces using the bunny ears method. However, I hope that Get Ugly will ‘show’ the audience that we all go through those ‘ugly’ bits of life that we hope people will never find out about, that you never see in a perfectly filtered Instagram existence. That we all have awkward, mortifying moments in life and that they don’t define us – that it’s possible to celebrate them and point and laugh at them and even turn them into songs!

I would love the show to teach that being bullied by the media, others and ourselves about how beautiful we think we are or are not is a miserable waste of time. Like many girls I grew up believing that beauty was value, and I allowed my sense of self-worth to be affected by how ‘attractive’ I thought I was, and especially how ‘attractive’ I thought other people (namely, boys) thought I was. Performing comedy was the first thing that really helped me get away from this mode of thinking and it’s something I wish I could make the teenage girls believe who I now see obsessively watching make-up tutorials on YouTube.

The show’s not overtly about this – I wanted to explore these issues and especially the relationship between appearance and female self-confidence whilst first and foremost telling a very real, human story about heartbreak and loss and, most importantly, making people laugh.

What is your favourite moment in the show and why?

At the moment, it’s a new song I’ve just added which involves an audience member that if you want to find out about you will have to come and see the show (!). It’s crazy and absurd and I love it (the audience seem to as well, which is a real plus!). My favourite moment of the show changes every day though, because the show changes every day.

Have you got any funny stories or mishaps that have happened during performances that you can tell me about?

In Australia, a guy who I’d gotten up on stage with me said, on mic, ‘there’s lipstick on your teeth, that’s why everyone’s laughing at you’. I called him a bearded c**t and we low-fived. It was all very good natured, but the irony didn’t escape me that I performed the rest of a show about how we shouldn’t care so much what we look like whilst trying after every other line to subtly tongue away a non-existent stain from my two front teeth, all the time crying on the inside.

Where would you like to take Get Ugly next?

America. Canada. Hull. Anywhere that will have me!

 Tamar Broadbent: Get Ugly will be playing at Underbelly Med Quad (Clover), Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG from Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2017 (not 14th) at 17:30.

Backstage tour: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

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Credit: Becca Pettit

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a unique piece of theatre which has been subject to great critical acclaim since it first opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. Now embarking on its second UK tour, audiences all over the country are being swept up in Christopher Boone’s story. I was invited on a backstage tour of the show at Theatre Royal Plymouth along with five other bloggers to learn more about the play and to get a closer look at the props and set. We were met by Stew, the company manager, who talked us through the different aspects of the show and opened our eyes to how much detail has gone into creating this production.

We started by looking at the towering set, and Stew explained that it takes 6 hours to get it into the theatre, and 12 hours to put it all together and make it function. We saw the versatile white boxes which are used in various ways throughout the show, as suitcases, train seats, and even a toilet! Then we moved on to looking at the props, starting with Wellington, the four legged victim of the story, and I was amazed at the gruesome detail that been applied to the dog, as well as the detail on other set pieces, such as the model of Big Ben and the tiny houses. Stew told us that ‘Curious is all about detail’, and I saw first-hand that this is certainly true.

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Then it was time to go on stage! The floor is covered in tiny squares (892 to be exact), and the floor and three walls are all covered in grids. Although the set may look simple at first, there are eight projectors used in the show which really enhance the visual aspect, and LED lights are used to inject different colours and moods into various scenes. The grid squares are labelled with letters and numbers around the sides, and Stew told us that the directors used these squares during the rehearsal process to help with the precision of the blocking – for example, an actor would be instructed to stand in box A7 for a certain scene. I found it really interesting that a show so based in logic and maths is blocked in such a mathematical way – and this must play a part in enhancing the performance. As Stew told us, ‘it’s all grid work’.

Understandably, there are many people working on Curious to ensure that it runs smoothly for all 8 performances a week. There are 10 cast members in the show, plus an alternate Christopher, and 4 understudies. There are two Christophers because it is such a demanding role – the actor portraying him never leaves the stage except during the interval. There are also 16 crew members, unusually outnumbering the cast number! These numbers prove how technical the show is, and how although it has a small cast size, it requires many people working hard backstage to make the show happen. Stew said that audiences often forget that Curious is a play, because it is so much more than a play – perhaps even a ‘play with the infrastructure of a musical’. Although the scale of the set is so big, the intense detail of the props means that the performance still feels intimate and relatable.

A primary aim of the show is to introduce the audience to Christopher’s world. Stew told us that this is why the set is effectively a box, because this box represents his mind. We also learned about the music for the show, which is all based around prime numbers – for example, at the start of the show a drum rhythm is heard, and the accents are on beats 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11 (the first prime numbers). This makes the audience subconsciously inhabit Christopher’s world because he adores maths, and prime numbers – so it makes sense that the background music would be based around them too. I find this incredibly clever, and again, it’s something that the audience would not pick up on, making it another example of the show’s attention to detail.

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The backstage tour gave me and the other bloggers an invaluable insight into the world of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The scale of the set and detail of the props is astounding, and it is clear that so much thought has been put into every tiny aspect of this production to make it unique and authentic. So many individuals work hard to make this show as good as it can possibly be, and I can’t wait for more audiences around the UK to experience this extraordinary piece of theatre.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 1st July. 

Review – School of Rock – New London Theatre, 24/06/17

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Having adored the film growing up, and being a massive Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, I was extremely excited and intrigued to watch School of Rock (the musical) at the New London Theatre. As the show presented a rather different subject matter (and indeed musical style) for the composer to tackle, I was interested to see what he and the rest of the creative team had come up with. And amazingly, this production manages to tick all the boxes, while also striking the perfect balance between remaining loyal to the original subject matter and bringing something new to the story – a combination which many musical adaptations struggle to achieve.

Naturally, the first thing that springs to mind about School of Rock is the fact that a sizable portion of the cast is made up of child performers, some of whom have to be quadruple threats (meaning that they are equally talented at singing, acting, dancing and playing a musical instrument). Add on the fact that the lead actor playing Dewey Finn needs impeccable guitar skills as well, and this must be a tricky show to cast.

Stephen Leask portrayed Dewey Finn at this performance, and he is absolutely incredible. He inhabits the character so well, and he very much manages to make the role his own. His introductory song ‘When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock’ is energetic and brilliantly executed, introducing the audience to his lively, spontaneous character. I also enjoyed his interactions with the children, as well as with Ned (played by Oliver Jackson) and Rosalie Mullins (Florence Andrews).

Three teams of 13 children each perform a portion of the shows each week, and they are surely some of the most talented young people in the West End right now. I adore Caoimhe Judd’s performance as Summer – her characterisation is impeccable and hilarious, and she leads the act 2 opener ‘Time to Play’ with great conviction. Special mentions must also go to Jude Harper-Wrobel as Freddy, Jack Goodacre as Zack, James Lawson as Lawrence and Selma Hansen as Katie, who all perform on their respective rock instruments live at every performance. The children performed brilliantly as a unit too, with the song ‘If Only You Would Listen’ being a particular emotional highlight.

The rest of the cast give great performances too – Florence Andrews’ rendition of Miss Mullins’ heartfelt song ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’ is another musical moment to remember, and the ensemble do well to create contrasting environments of both a gaggle of posh, pushy parents, and a set of strict, education-loving teachers in the staffroom. The ‘grown up band’ must also be acknowledged for accompanying Lloyd Webber’s exciting score when the children are otherwise occupied. I absolutely adored watching the band members hanging over the edge of the suspended band ‘pit’ to encourage the children during ‘Teacher’s Pet’ – they had been made redundant by this point by the kids actually playing their rock instruments live!

One of the main things that makes School of Rock a brilliant piece of art independent of the film is the fact that the creative team have added other dimensions to the writing. In this musical adaptation the audience gets a much larger insight into the lives and thoughts of the children, and these are explored through both speech and song. So while School of Rock may draw audiences in through its name and association with the original material, it allows everyone to leave with a slightly different perspective on the story and characters.

School of Rock is one of the most exciting, energetic and innovative pieces of theatre in the West End right now. Despite some reservations from the public and the media, Lloyd Webber has written a score which totally delivers, providing classic rock tunes as well as emotional ballads. The children do an astounding job (especially those who play instruments!) and Stephen Leask leads the company with great conviction, creating a hugely likable character from the off. The show combines undeniable talent with great fun, and it really is a show for everyone – whether you’ve seen the film or not.

My watchable and listenable dissertation

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During my final year at university, I’ve been bombarded with questions about my degree, and also what on earth I intend to do once it’s finished. My answer to the latter tends to be a mumbled ‘I’m not sure yet… I have a few ideas… it’s too early to start looking really’ until my interrogator realises that enquiring about a third year’s future plans is not a particularly good idea. However, the other most frequently asked question is about my dissertation, which is usually met with looks of surprise once I announce that I’m not actually required to do one, and instead explain that I’ll be playing a 45 minute long piano recital. Trust me, it’s a pretty good conversation starter, and hopefully it’s a pretty good blog starter too.

Music is a rather unique degree subject – final year students are required to take one double module, which can be either a dissertation, a large composition, or a 45 minute performance recital. Seeing as many music students’ main strengths lie in the practical aspects of music rather than the academic study of it, it makes sense to offer alternatives to a dissertation. I chose my repertoire in September, selecting pieces by Beethoven, Brahms and Ravel, and consequently practised them for eight months until my recital in May. That sounds like a long time, and it really was! There were times when I felt thoroughly bored of my pieces, but then I’d consider a new concept which could totally revamp my performance. It felt like my entire year was leading up to recital day.

However, performing my own recital wasn’t the only responsibility I had that day. My friend and I agreed to page turn for each other’s recitals, and his was at 2pm, a few hours before my own at 6:30. Now, the role of the page turner is hugely underrated. All you have to do is sit beside the pianist and turn the pages of their music that they are unable to turn themselves, due to their hands being understandably preoccupied. But the knowledge that you could sabotage someone else’s performance through vacantly forgetting to turn a page at the correct time is SO UNBELIEVABLY STRESSFUL. Anyway, I paid full attention to this recital meaning that it thankfully went very smoothly.

So, with one task over it was time for me to start preparing for my own recital. It took place at Turner Sims Concert Hall, which is a brilliant venue, and I feel privileged every time I get to perform there. I managed to practice on the grand piano prior to my performance, which was great preparation. Unlike other instrumentalists who carry their own familiar instrument around with them to perform on, pianists have to be prepared to adapt to whatever piano is in the performance venue, which can be a challenge when you’re used to practising on a very different instrument.

Suddenly, the nerves kicked in. Half of me wanted to perform immediately to get it over with, but half of me never wanted 6:30 to arrive! Upon arrival at Turner Sims I handed the exam marshal my paperwork and paced around the green room. The most nerve-wracking bit was waiting behind the door to walk on stage, but as soon as I made my entrance, I was greeted by the view of around 25 of my friends (and my mum!) in the audience applauding me, and I was thrilled to have their support. I sat down at the piano and began to perform. I played the pieces pretty much as well as I could have done, although I started to get a bit tired during the final two – 45 minutes is a very long time to play solo for. I played the final chord with a flourish, bowed, and walked off stage with a feeling of accomplishment and pride. I’d done it! I’d performed the equivalent of a dissertation.

Performing my final piano recital was one of the most terrifying yet rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was definitely thrilling, but I’m not in a particular hurry to do it again any time soon, especially given the amount of preparation required and how much stamina I had to build up to do it. I learned so much from studying my repertoire in detail, and my recital day will definitely stick in my mind as one of the most significant days of my uni career. And, although I now have a concrete answer to ‘did you do a dissertation?’, I’ll still have to explain to anyone who asks that l have no idea what I’m going to do once I graduate.

The Wrong Side of Prohibition – Thespis Project Theatre Company, 25/02/17

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Photo credit: Luke Stratta

Thespis Project Theatre Company is a relatively new establishment which brings new theatre to the city of Plymouth. A few other bloggers and I were kindly invited to a performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition which explores the lives of flappers and gangsters in 1920s America, performed in the brilliantly appropriate speakeasy bar, The Tigermilk, at The Duke of Cornwall Hotel. Thanks to the unique, immersive experience the cast provided us with, it was an exciting evening of exploring new writing which was performed by a promising cast.

The play was cleverly staged around the tables and chairs which seated the audience members, creating a totally immersive show and holding everyone’s complete attention throughout. The costumes were lavish and appropriate for the era, and the general décor of the bar created a stunning back drop for this historical piece, making it the perfect venue for this production.

Anastasios Chalas portrayed the authoritative, manipulative club owner Tony very convincingly, displaying some powerful dramatic acting and good interactions with the other characters – while allowing the audience to feel a small amount of sympathy for him at times. He was well supported by the smaller male characters, who collectively managed to convey the extremity of gender inequality within the society at the time.

Some of the most promising scenes came from the young women playing the showgirls – I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Frankie Hill as Jennie and Sarah Lawrence as Maggie, whose forbidden love was beautifully displayed in some tender scenes. They were complemented well by Heather Brown as Rose, the oldest and most experienced show girl who is even able to manipulate Tony, and Bryony Harvey who portrayed a believable mothering figure to the showgirls. These individuals displayed great promise within their roles, with Lawrence’s emotive acting proving particularly successful.

Another stand out performance came from Nicola Tyrer as Anna, the young Greek girl who is brought to the club at the beginning of the play. Her transformation from a timid girl into a confident singer was realised brilliantly, and Tyrer’s beautiful voice was showcased in her acapella solos, which she performed impeccably; remaining perfectly in key throughout and displaying a good level of acting through song. The contrast between her and the other girls was also evident, not only through their appearances, but also through their levels of experience.

This production was completely different to anything I’ve seen before – I loved the way that the actors broke the fourth wall through delivering their scenes in amongst the audience members – and lines which directly applied to us such as ‘what’re you looking at? Get back to your drinks!’ were both funny and believable given the setting we were in. The production felt far more intimate than your average show in which there is a clear divide between the cast and the audience; and getting to chat to members of the company afterwards was an added bonus!

I had a brilliant evening watching The Wrong Side of Prohibition, and it was really exciting to experience new theatre in the South West. The cast delivered the material impeccably, with some promising performers among them, and the location was simply perfect. I’d like to thank Thespis Project Theatre Company for inviting us to their performance, and I can’t wait to see what they go on to do next.

Like their Facebook page here.

Disclaimer: Thespis Project Theatre Company invited me to their performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition, but all thoughts expressed here are my own.

My top ten shows of 2016

After yet another accidental blogging hiatus (because I’ve apparently been too busy putting on shows to write about shows), I thought I’d (try to) get back into the swing of things with a list of my favourite 10 shows I’ve seen in the last year. So here we go:

  1. Mamma Mia, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre)

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I enjoyed this a surprising amount, and that might have something to do with 12 year old Megan’s intense obsession with the film. The UK touring production is a lot of fun and features a really talented cast, so this energetic show was amazing to experience.

  1. Murder Ballad (Arts Theatre, London)
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Photo: Marc Brenner

Apart from the fact that it featured Ramin Karimloo (*screams*), this was a cleverly captivating four person show. I loved the intimate feel of it, and the rock style music was performed impeccably by this tight set of performers and musicians.

  1. Avenue Q, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton)

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Avenue Q is an absolutely hilarious show that I would recommend to anyone (except perhaps the easily offended…). Despite being initially dubious of the use of puppets, I soon came round to the idea when I realised the charm and hilarity they bring. Add in some catchy musical numbers and it became one of my favourites this year.

  1. Mrs Henderson Presents (Noel Coward Theatre, London)
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Photo: Paul Cottas

I think one of the main reasons I adored this show was due to the fact that the audience got to experience it in the city in which it is set – the feeling of watching the Blitz take place on stage was like no other! Additionally, the story is fascinating and the music is sublime too.

  1. The Wind in the Willows, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton)
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Photo: Marc Brenner

This is a heart-warming little show which, for one just starting out, is totally brilliant. It’s visually stunning, and the original score features some lovely songs that I just can’t wait to hear again.

  1. Billy Elliot, UK Tour (Theatre Royal Plymouth and Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff)
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Photo: Alastair Muir

Okay, so this is the only show on my list that I had seen before 2016 – but this was the new touring production (which I saw 4 times in various capacities… obsessed?). Billy Elliot has been updated for new audiences all over the UK, and I can’t praise this production highly enough.

  1. Jesus Christ Superstar (Regents Park Open Air Theatre, London)
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Photo: Johan Persson

This was an outstanding theatrical experience, and I’m so glad I managed to see this show over the summer. The cast delivered the show’s stunning material brilliantly both visually and aurally, and the on stage band were incredible too.

  1. In the Heights (Kings Cross Theatre, London)

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This was another unique show to experience, and hearing Lin Manuel Miranda’s music live still managed to blow me away even after listening to the soundtrack to death. In the Heights is amazing, and London is really going to miss it when it closes in the new year.

  1. The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre, London)

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And the award for the funniest show I’ve ever seen goes to… The Book of Mormon, hands down. The music is amazing and the cast have such great comic timing, creating an absolutely hilarious show. I’m desperate to return!

  1. Groundhog Day (Old Vic Theatre, London)
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Photo: Manuel Harlan

I mean, it’s a musical and it’s by Tim Minchin – is it really a surprise that this was my favourite show of the year?! Groundhog Day managed to completely overwhelm me with its stunning music and brilliantly told story. I can’t wait to see where the show goes next (hopefully somewhere near me after Broadway… please?)

Review – Together: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 06/11/16

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Two of the most well established male musical theatre performers have joined together to tour the country, entertaining hordes of adoring fans – most of whom have got to know them through their starring roles in mega musicals such as Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. Michael Ball and Alfie Boe have become household names thanks to their hugely successful careers, as confirmed by the ‘full house’ signs that adorned the outside of the Mayflower Theatre for the pair’s Southampton show.

Performing a mixture of show tunes and other numbers (including some jazz and swing tunes), this is the definition of a crowd pleasing show. The singers’ charisma and charm see them sail through the song to song transitions with ease, as they enjoy poking fun at each other and playing up to the audience (which mostly consisted of elderly women who swooned at their every word!). The on stage band are a joy to watch, and I very much appreciated the constant name checking of featured players, and in particular, the MDs. It’s brilliant to see a band getting so much credit thanks to being so integral to the aural AND visual aesthetic of the whole show.

The musical theatre numbers are definite highlights in the set list. The opening song (Somewhere from West Side Story) features gorgeous harmonies and an extremely clever orchestral arrangement, and is a brilliant way to kick the show off, setting the mood for what’s to come. Another favourite is Tell Me It’s Not True – although given that Blood Brothers is one of my favourite musicals, I’m probably biased! Alfie and Michael give a beautiful rendition of this emotional song, although it did feel as though the sound balance wasn’t quite right at times, especially during moments where the song pulled back a bit.

Although most of the songs performed are duets, the second half features some solos. While Alfie plumps for swing numbers and moves away from show tunes, Michael gives a stunning performance of Gethsemane, to the amazement and appreciation of the musicals loving audience. It must be refreshing for the artists to shake things up a bit and sing songs from genres that they’re not primarily known for, but there is no denying that the vast majority of the audience came hoping for an evening of show tunes – so understandably, these were the songs that got the best reactions!

This leads me onto the Les Miserables medley, which is outstanding. Apart from the fact that I was majorly fangirling and constantly in disbelief that I was hearing the original Marius and one of the ultimate Valjeans singing such iconic songs from one of the best musicals of all time, it is impeccably arranged, and each song seamlessly leads into the next. The harmonies are sublime, and it is the perfect way to end the show (apart from the encore of course!). Given that the audience consisted of so many Les Miserables fans, this was always bound to be a hit.

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s ‘Together’ tour will definitely continue to sell out to enthusiastic audiences for the rest of its run – and rightly so, given the incredible talent of these two performers and the brilliant show that they have put on. It’s a show for quite a select audience, but a very present audience in the current theatrical climate nonetheless. And speaking as someone outside of the key demographic (i.e. a third of the age of the majority of audience members!), I think they’ve made the show pretty much the best it can be.