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.

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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.

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

Plymouth Blog Meet at the Orangery, Mount Edgcumbe – 07/05/16

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On Saturday 7th May, I attended the biggest and best South West blog event at The Orangery at Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall. The whole thing was impeccably organised by Ellie (of Little Ellie Mae, check out her blog here – she often writes about theatre too!), and I had such a brilliant time. This was the second blog event that I’ve attended, after the picnic last September, so it was really nice to catch up with bloggers I’d met there, along with meeting lots of new people as well.

I arrived in Cornwall on the Cremyll ferry – possibly the coolest way to arrive in the county – and silently wondered whether a few other people on said ferry were bloggers. I eventually plucked up the courage to ask three other girls when we all stopped outside the Orangery and looked a little bemused, causing us to realise that we were indeed all in the right place, and thus we entered the beautiful venue together.

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The theme of the event was Alice in Wonderland, and Ellie had really gone to town with the décor, with such impressive attention to detail! Every table was adorned with teapots filled with fresh flowers, Alice napkins, and sequins and flowers, while larger decorations hung from the chairs and tables, making it feel like a totally immersive wonderland. Once we’d all taken the obligatory photos of the amazing tables, I got chatting to some bloggers I’d never met before, and as always, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to talk to these new people, because we all had something in common.

There was even some live entertainment: two extremely talented girls sang and played the guitar in the background while us bloggers munched on the delicious canapes and talked some more. There were also some advocates for No7 and Benefit, and their tables were consistently busy throughout the afternoon, with bloggers getting skin consultations and free samples, which was a great addition to the event. There were a few giveaways full of exciting products from a variety of brands, and a photographer who took some great candid shots of us all.

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Credit: Owen Bush Photography

As I said, it always comes as a surprise to me at these events that I can just sit down with complete strangers and start talking. Although all of us bloggers are completely different and all write about a variety of things in our own unique styles, we all have our blogs in common. Blogging can, understandably, be a bit of a lonely hobby, seeing as all the time and work we dedicate to it is spent in our own company, on our laptops, in our rooms! So, to meet so many other people who share this solitary hobby is wonderfully refreshing and exciting, and I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many more people in the South West blogging community.

My second blog meet was such an enjoyable experience, and it was so great to see such a vast quantity of bloggers all together in one room. I’m so grateful to Ellie for organising these events for us, as without all of her hard work and effort I would never have had the chance to meet all of these brilliant, inspiring, creative people. Bring on the next one!

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