My 2017 Theatre Review – Memorable Moments

I’ve already set out my favourite productions of 2017, so this post will look back on the my most memorable moments, whether a performance, a scene, or a personal experience during a show, these are the moments that I’ll remember most from the last 12 months of theatregoing.

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1. David Tennant declaring he was “magnificently f*ckable” as Don Juan in Don Juan in Soho!

A theatre year is always a little more special for me when Mr Tennant is on the stage and earlier this year he took on the lothario Don Juan. It may not have made my favourite productions list, but he had some wonderful dialogue, this being my personal highlight!

2. The continued excitement and joy of the audience at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Next spring Broadway will finally welcome the Harry Potter play to the stage (with me in the audience), but until then the only place to see it remains London and being lucky enough to return to see the show a few times this year (including the final show of the original cast and a trip to see the new one), I continue to love the atmosphere in the Palace Theatre. It’s one of the two happiest theatres in town and you can feel the buzz of excitement from everyone around you. It’s simply magical.

3. Realising about 15 minutes in to Hamilton that I was under its spell

The Palace is one of the two happiest theatres in town and since early December, the other is the Victoria Palace Theatre, now home to the mighty Hamilton. You can read my review and my end of year review for thoughts, but I will always remember the feeling of knowing that not only was the hype justified, but that I was watching something very special indeed.

4. Getting to see another of my favourite actors on stage for the first time

I made two trips to NYC this year, but the first was driven by one aim – to see Josh Charles on stage! I’ve been a fan of his film and TV work for quite a while now and couldn’t miss the chance to see him in The Antipodes at the wonderful Signature Theatre. And the cherry on the cake – getting a chance to speak to him afterwards, plus an autograph and photo. He was one of the most genuine actors I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak to and it made my trip!

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5. A final trip to Groundhog Day and frustration that Broadway didn’t appreciate it more

Poor poor Groundhog Day. If only it had stayed here in London. I know it’ll be back here soon enough, but I’ll always be a little sad that Andy Karl won’t get longer in the role of Phil Connors. He really was wonderful and I’m so pleased I had one last chance to see it earlier this year in NYC.

6. Ian McKellen bringing Gandalf back to life for a few minutes on stage!

In July, Ian McKellen helped raise money for the Park Theatre in London through a week of special performances on a one-man show about his life and career. It was a very special experience, the highlight being the opening: a pitch black theatre, Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score playing and the voice of Gandalf, as if back in the Mines of Moria, coming out of the darkness as McKellen walked on to the stage. Unforgettable!

7. Being on the front row of the first official performance at the new Bridge Theatre!

I’ve been looking forward to this new theatre opening ever since it was announced and being able to be at the first official performance (there were two soft opening performances put on early) of a new London theatre was quite a thrill. The smell of fresh paint and new leather and a whole new building to explore. I look forward to many more visits to come.

8. My front row seat experience for Network and having Bryan Cranston look me straight in the eyes from mere inches away

Network is on my list of favourites of the year and not only did I enjoy the play and its commanding lead actor’s performance, but this was made all the more special, when Mr Cranston ended up sitting behind me during one of the scenes, resulting in him giving a direct performance to those of us sitting around him for a few minutes.

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9. The brilliance of the final scene of Out There on the Fried Meat Ridge Road at the Trafalgar Studios

I won’t ruin it for those yet to see this lovely show, but the final moments were so clever and fun that it had me smiling long after I’d left the building. It’s a show that I’m so pleased I didn’t miss.

10. The OTT reaction of the Broadway audience to Bette Midler in Hello Dolly

Now, first things first, I enjoyed the show and I thought Bette Midler was fantastic, but what wasn’t quite as enjoyable was the reaction of the audience during the show. I know the NYC custom is to applaud the famous names on their first appearance on the stage (as annoying as I find it), but every time she appeared, everything she said or did, was met with prolonged applause and cheers. Ultimately it distracted me from the show and drove me crazy!

11. Witnessing Ben Platt sob his way through “Words Fail” in Dear Evan Hansen

Hello Dolly may have been a less than satisfying theatre experience, but the same couldn’t be said for Dear Evan Hansen (on both visits). I will never forget watching Ben Platt’s performance and Words Fail in particular, as he managed to sing so beautifully through sobs, as the audience sniffled along with him.

12. The thrill of the unexpected in Robert Icke’s Hamlet, particularly Laertes in that final duel

I’ve talked enough about how much I loved this production, but it was filled with moments that surprised me, despite having seen Hamlet quite a few times now. No moment sums up the freshness of this production more than when I realised that Laertes doesn’t want to have the duel at the end! I have never seen an interpretation where Laertes has had second thoughts and when asking for a new foil is wanting to swap the poisoned one for another. It changed how I saw that character and made the end so much more powerful. Such unexpected thrills at the theatre are what make it such a wonderful experience.

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13. The RSC’s sound effect of the year that made an auditorium gasp

I only made one trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon this year, which was to see the RSC’s latest production of Julius Caesar and the moment I have not been able to forget was the moment a young boy seemingly had his neck broken. Yes, I know nothing is real on stage, but the sound effect used to create the illusion of murder in that moment was quite shocking!

14. Andrew Garfield bringing a tear to my eye, as he bid the audience a final farewell at the last performance of Angels in America in London

I loved this production, as I’ve already mentioned in my annual round-up and it was very special to be in the audience for the last performance (I was in good company as Mr Cumberbatch was there too). It’s a powerful piece of theatre, but watching Andrew Garfield give those final lines as Prior Walter, talking directly to us, was something I’ll never forget: “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.”

15. Experiencing the wonderful staging of The Great Comet from a stage seat

I didn’t love The Great Comet as a musical, but I could certainly appreciate the staging and the fun of the interaction with the audience when I watched the show from a banquette seat earlier this year. I wasn’t in a position to be picked on, thank god, but I did enjoy some fresh bread to eat and my own little egg shaker to join in with the percussion during the show, not to mention a close up seat for Josh Groban’s gorgeous singing!

16. My horror at the result of my audience’s vote on letting latecomers in to The Majority at the National Theatre

The Majority was a fun theatre experience, requiring each of us in the audience to engage directly in the journey of the performance through a series of votes on our keypads. The most horrifying for me? The narrow victory of those who voted to let latecomers in to the auditorium once the show had started! Fools!

17. My first ever time leaving a show at the interval

I know some people do this often, but I’ve never left a show early. I usually hold on, in the hope I’ll enjoy the second half more. However, on one trip this year, I just couldn’t face it. Ironically, Travesties was a show most people loved and many will no doubt say it was a travesty that I left, but it just wasn’t funny to me and I was bored. Maybe it caught me on an off day.

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So, what were your most memorable, personal theatre moments this year? I’d love to hear them and look forward to finding out what’s in store next year in theatre land!

Photo credits (besides me!): Don Juan In Soho = Helen Maybanks; The Antipodes = Joan Marcus; Groundhog Day/Hamlet = Manuel Harlan; Ian McKellen = Mark Douet; Network = Jan Versweyveld; Out There on the Fried Meat Ridge Road = Gavin Watson; Dear Evan Hansen = Sara Krulwich/The New York Times; Julius Caesar = the RSC; The Majority = Ellie Kurttz; Angels in America = Jason Bell; 

 

 

 

 

 

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My 2017 Theatre Review – Productions of the Year!

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again, when I look back at my theatregoing year and look forward to the year to come (that’s coming soon in another post). I’ve seen a slightly smaller number of shows in 2017, with a total of 56, but with repeat viewings of 13 shows, I’ve actually visited a theatre 80 times in the last twelve months, which isn’t too bad!

Although I’ve seen fewer productions, 2017 has struck me as a fantastic year in theatre land. I’ve seen far more hits than misses and choosing a top ten is practically impossible, so this list is going to run a little longer. The other interesting aspect of the year (well, for me anyway) is, as someone who tends to prefer plays to musicals, I’ve seen more musicals this year than any other, with a total of 12 of 2017’s list. This is undoubtably helped by my two trips to NYC, where Broadway continues to showcase far more musicals than plays.

So, after looking back through programmes, my reviews and most crucially, my memories, these are the standout productions for me in 2017!

1. Hamlet (Almeida/Harold Pinter) & Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre)

There was one production, for which I had huge expectations and on first seeing it in February, was so impressed by, that it seemed certain to claim my top spot. Well, that was until three weeks ago when I finally witnessed the newest musical to hit London. Therefore, this year’s top spot has to be shared between the Almeida’s utterly stunning production of Hamlet and Lin Manuel Miranda’s incredible musical, Hamilton. It was impossible to choose between them, as they both took my breath away in a way nothing else matched in 2017.

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play and Robert Icke’s production managed to exceed my expectations. You can read more thoughts in full on this here, but in short, it is a production that made Hamlet new again. It was thrilling, original, emotional and exciting, pulling new people to the theatre and Shakespeare and had me seeing scenes I know so well in a whole new light. Supported by a strong ensemble cast, led by the incredibly talented Andrew Scott, this was a sheer joy each and every time I saw it. It will be airing on the BBC in 2018, so don’t miss it!

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Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

And then there was Hamilton. Everyone has heard of it, whether you know all the words, or nothing other than the hype. Crucially for me, a Hamilton newbie on my first visit, it more than lived up to the hype. My first visit was the 2nd preview and already the cast was so good, you could believe they had been performing it for years. You can read my full review, but in summary, it’s an intelligent, exhilarating and unforgettable theatrical experience that you will want to relive over and over again.

2. Ink (Almeida Theatre)

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Next on my list is another success from the Almeida Theatre, which continues to go from strength to strength under Rupert Goold. Having missed this show in Islington, I’m so pleased it moved to the West End, as it’s just too good to miss. The play, written by James Graham, whose previous work I’d thoroughly enjoyed (This House, The Vote & Privacy), shines a light on the first year of  The Sun newspaper under Rupert Murdoch’s ownership. You may not think it’s your cup of tea, but it’s a fascinating insight in to the creation of the tabloid, which manages to be sharp, gripping and incredibly funny during its running time. I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did and that’s thanks to the brilliant writing, but also the calibre of the acting, with two superb central performances by Richard Coyle as editor Larry Lamb and Bertie Carvel (who just doesn’t look like Bertie Carvel!) as Murdoch. It closes on 6th January, so if you can still make time to see it, I urge you to do so.

3. Angels In America (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

There was huge anticipation before Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking American play returned to the NT 25 years after its original production, with tickets selling out almost instantly. I had never read it, nor seen the HBO miniseries, but I knew this was a must-see due to the casting choices and was lucky enough to experience two separate “two-play days” over its run. It was not a comfortable play to watch, set in America during the mid-1980s, as AIDs caused the deaths of so many in the gay community, but was a sweeping theatrical epic, told across eight hours, which laid bare the horrors of the disease, the pain of those suffering from it and those who love them, as well as highlighting the difficulty many had in accepting their sexuality.

Marianne Elliot, one of Britain’s finest directors, ensures this is a powerful production, which takes hold of your emotions and holds on to them until the very end. The cast was also a treat, with Nathan Lane shining as the equally humorous and vicious Roy Cohn, Russell Tovey impressing as the ambitious Republican lawyer confused and afraid of his true sexuality, together with Denise Gough as his fragile, yet often darkly humorous wife, James McArdle as the man struggling to cope with the possibility of watching his lover die, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the wonderfully supportive and witty friend Belize and Andrew Garfield, as Prior Walter, trying to cope with his diagnosis and illness, the loss of his partner and the strage dream-like visitations from a rather scary looking angel. It was sensational and I’m thrilled to be able to see it again on Broadway next spring (with most of the London cast). Ticket details can be found at: http://www.angelsbroadway.com

4. Dear Evan Hansen (Music Box Theatre, NYC)

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Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Dear Evan Hansen was another show I had heard a lot of buzz about, but had managed to avoid listening to, before my trip to NYC in May. Personally, I prefer to see a musical fresh, without knowing all the lyrics in advance. I therefore didn’t know what to expect and a few hours and a few tissues later, I had another highlight of my year in the bag. The story of the show may be a little uncomfortable when you hear it – a shy teenager, isolated from the world because he feels he doesn’t fit in, finds himself at the centre of a local tragedy and its aftermath, through which he is able to find his place and his voice, as well as love and a family environment he feels he has never had.

Why did I love it so much? Well, the songs are rather lovely, the acting is superb (I saw the original cast on both of my two visits) and its central message that no one is alone; that we just need to reach out for help, is one that is more important than ever in the crazy world we live in now. However, on top of all of that was the simply breathtaking Ben Platt as Evan. It was an emotionally raw, incredibly moving, vulnerable performance, during which you truly believed Evan was real. How Platt was able to give such a performance emotionally and vocally (his voice reminded me of the first time I heard Josh Groban on Ally McBeal) through tears, I will never know. Yes, I cried. A lot. It was a privilege to witness something that will be talked about for years to come. Read my full review if you want to know more.

5. An Octoroom (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

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Photo credit: The Other Richard

After years of meaning to visit, I finally made it to Richmond’s wonderful Orange Tree Theatre this year and what a show to start with! Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ play (more from him later) was one I heard about through word of mouth. Everyone I knew who saw it, loved it and it was easy to understand why. Shows like this one are what theatre is made for; a show that was so original, inventive, powerful and funny and which turned stereotypes on their heads and made you laugh one moment, before being deeply moved the next. The play uses the plot of the Irish playwright Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama The Octoroon to shine a light on identity, race and culture in a way I hadn’t experienced before. The cast were wonderful, including Ken Nwosu, who has three different roles to tackle, sometimes two at once, Celeste Dodwell as Dora and Iola Evans as Zoe. Luckily, for anyone who missed it (or, those of us desperate to go again), it will have a run at the National Theatre next year, so add it to your must book list!

6. Consent (Dorfman, National Theatre)

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Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Another favourite from early in the year was Nina Raine’s new play, which dealt with the difficult and emotive subject of assault and the perceptions and attitudes that surround what is and what is not consent, made all the more fascinating by having the key characters be criminal barristers, now experiencing the issues from a very personal perspective. It was strongly written, superbly acted (including Anna Maxwell Martin and Adam James) and gave me plenty to think about for quite a while afterwards.

7. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre)

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

Otherwise known as Imelda Staunton’s first hit of 2017, this was my first time seeing a production of Edward Albee’s play and it will take some beating, as Staunton unleashed her incredible force on to the stage, as the domineering Martha. Her chemistry and interplay with Conleth Hill, as her husband George was at times deeply uncomfortable to watch, as they emotionally attacked each other, but three hours have never flown quite so quickly. You can read my full review for further thoughts.

8. Follies (Olivier, National Theatre)

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

To say I’m not a huge musicals fan, the fact three are in this list says quite a lot about how much I enjoyed Follies, especially as, I admit, I’m not a huge Sondheim fan either! A musical that takes a nostalgic look back at a different time, through the eyes of its four central characters, I loved the blending of the past and present, to highlight young hopes and dreams and how life changes us, as we grow older. The central performances, particularly Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton were phenomenal, yet, it was the entire ensemble that brought the story to life so vividly on stage, from Tracie Bennett and Di Botcher, through to Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer’s incredible operatic duet. Combine this with a live orchestra and the glorious utilisation of the Olivier stage to put on a true spectacle and this was a show I enjoyed so much, that I had to go back and see it for a second time.

9. Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The second entry for Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins in my list was the heart-stopping Gloria. With a pre-interval twist (well, I admit, I did see it coming) that required a sealed section in the programme, it provided one of the most shocking theatre moments of the year, whether you were expecting it or not. Jenkins’s writing brilliantly lays the foundations for that moment from the start (on a second visit, I was able to appreciate this even more), but this didn’t make it any less traumatic to watch, turning the second half in to an analysis of how we all deal with trauma differently. Would it break you, or would you capitalise on it for personal, monetary gain? This question is answered with dark humour, as we see how the characters are changed by what has gone before. Director Michael Longhurst did a superb job with the staging (including that pre-interval moment) and the acting was fantastic (including Colin Morgan and Kae Alexander to name just two). You can read both my spoiler and spoiler-free reviews for more details.

10. Oslo (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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Photo credit:Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

I had wanted to see this Tony award-winning play in New York, but decided to wait for its arrival at the National Theatre, where a ticket would cost me a fraction of the price. It was certainly worth the wait, proving to be an insightful, intelligent, engaging play about the lead up to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and Palestine; a story I knew almost nothing about. It may have been long, but it certainly didn’t feel it, as JT Rogers’ script moved us through the ups and downs of the behind the scenes negotiations, where a Norwegian couple unexpectedly found themselves at the centre of such important talks. The acting was very good (putting aside Toby Stephens’ wavering accent) and I left the theatre keen to learn more about the subject matter, which, following recent world events seems more relevant than ever. Oslo finishes tomorrow (30th December), so you still have a couple of days left to catch it if you are quick.

11. The Ferryman (Royal Court Theatre / Wyndham’s Theatre)

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Photo Credit: Johan Persson

It’ll come as no surprise that Jez Butterworth’s latest play makes my list, as it is appearing on every 2017 theatre list at the moment and with good reason. Following the wonderful plays Jerusalem and The River, his latest success tells a powerful story, set in Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1981, which weaves The Troubles in to the history of one family and their struggle to confront the past and move forward. This may have been Paddy Considine’s stage debut, but he was superb and had fantastic chemistry with Laura Donnelly. I laughed, I gasped and held my breath as the tension grew. The Ferryman continues to run at the Wyndham’s Theatre until at least May 2018 and it is certainly worth a visit.

12. Network (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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Photo credit:Jan Versweyveld

I had never seen the film the play is based on and so didn’t really know what to expect, my excitement peaked by the chance of seeing Bryan Cranston on stage and he certainly didn’t disappoint, as the news anchor, who has finally had enough of the world and decides to let everyone watching know exactly how fed up he is. The production’s staging is quirky, but the on-stage audience restaurant did feel a little unnecessary to me. However, with such a powerful, commanding central performance from Cranston, you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Plus, hearing almost 1000 people shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” in unison was quite a unique experience, which in 2017 couldn’t have been more timely. Although tickets are scarce, you have until 24th March to try and see this production.

13. King Lear (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

There had to be some Shakespeare in my top productions of the year list and this year it was Chichester’s production of King Lear, which I admit isn’t one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. However, this version, with such a brilliantly talented cast, managed to bring both intimacy and a sense of vast scope to the small space of the Minerva theatre. Ian McKellen was excellent in the lead role, clearly revelling in having a second chance to take on Lear and he had strong support from a cast that included Kirsty Bushell, Dervla Kirwan and Danny Webb.

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So, those are the productions that truly stood out for me in 2017 and which I’d happily see again in a heartbeat. Special mentions also to The Girls (a musical that deserved a longer London life), Jodie Prenger’s heartwarming Shirley Valentine and a final visit to Groundhog Day in NYC (Broadway, I’m still disappointed in you for letting this one go so soon).

I’d love to hear your highlights! Over the next couple of days I’ll be continuing by look back at the theatre year, with my most memorable theatre moments from the last twelve months and my favourite performances.

 

 

 

 

Tips for First Time Visitors to the Victoria Palace Theatre for Hamilton

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Hamilton has finally arrived in London, with previews beginning a few days ago. In 2015, I wrote a post on this blog containing tips for those travelling to London to see the Barbican’s Hamlet and as so many found it useful, I thought I’d try and think of some helpful tips for anyone new to the area, coming to see Hamilton. As I’ve already seen the show twice here, I can also give some insight in to the entry process. Oh and I’ve also written my thoughts, as a newcomer to the show, which you can read here if you’re interested.

1. Getting There

The Victoria Palace Theatre is very easy to get to, due to the fact it is located so close to the Victoria underground station! If you want to go straight to the theatre on arrival in Victoria, take the Cardinal Place exit from the underground station and you will exit on the same side of the road as the theatre, which will be to your right. The photo below shows this exit and the theatre is just hidden by the station itself. It is also worth downloading the Citymapper app to your phone, as this is an easy way of finding out the best route to somewhere in London.

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There is also a useful map via the Delfont Mackintosh website here: Area Map

and another here: Victoria Palace Theatre – Google Map

2. When to arrive?

The theatre recommends that you arrive 60 minutes beforehand, although it is opening 90 minutes before the performance time (6 p.m. for evening shows and 1 p.m. for matinees). The queue to enter does move quickly (provided you have the right documents ready – more on that below), but the advantage of arriving early is that you have more time to join the merchandise queues! There are kiosks on stalls and circle levels, but the queues do get quite long, so make time for it if you plan to buy anything. Hopefully an online shop and perhaps even a physical shop, as in NYC will open in the future, but for the moment, the kiosks are the only option.

3. Meeting the rest of your party?

As all of your party must be together before you are allowed to enter the theatre, you should arrange to meet at a designated spot. The area in front of the theatre can get quite busy the nearer it gets to show time, so I’d suggest standing to the side, or meeting outside the tube station.

4. What do you need to bring with you to enter?

On both of my trips to see the show this week, the process for entry has been very strict, but very efficient too. Unlike other shows where you are told you’ll need ID and then no one checks it, the Victoria Palace is very serious about its requirements, to try and dissuade people from buying inflated tickets on a secondary market.

Only join the queue to enter once all of your party has arrived, as you won’t be allowed entry until then. You will be asked to present your email ticket confirmation, photo I.D (passport or driver’s licence) and the credit/debit card that you paid with. After documents have been checked, you’ll be directed to a door to enter, on which your bag will be checked. Following the bag check, you’ll enter the theatre and your credit/debit card will be swiped and your souvenir ticket slip will be printed. At that point – you’re in!

5. Inside the theatre / Seating chart?

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The newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre is a lovely theatre, with plenty of bars on its various levels, as well as lots of toilets! Above is the Ticketmaster seating chart and a couple of my photos from the inside of the auditorium are below. I’ve also added a link to the indispensable resource that is Theatremonkey, which offers insight in to seats and their views of London’s theatres and will become very helpful once seat reviews of the newly refurbished building start to be submitted.

 

 

6. Food & Drink

There are plenty of places to eat around the area of the theatre, thanks to the regeneration that has been taking place for the last few years. There is everything on offer, no matter your budget or taste, for example sandwiches and snacks from Pret, Costa and Eat, or various restaurants including Bills, Browns, Jamie’s Italian, Zizzi, Wagamama. Oh and there’s also a Shake Shack for those in need of a good burger! A great site on the Victoria area can be found at the Create Victoria website: https://createvictoria.com/food-and-drink

7. Stage Door

The stage door itself is out of sight at the moment, due to the on-going building works. However, for those hoping for autographs, there is an area behind some barriers at the side of the theatre, where fans can gather to wait for any actors who exit that way, but there are no guarantees of who you will see and whether they will stop to sign. Wrap up warm though, as it gets very cold!

8. Still looking for tickets?

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Although most tickets for the first block of dates have been sold, you can still pick up tickets in a variety of ways:

(a) Official Website – Keep checking the website for availability, as the odd ticket is still available for certain performances until June 2018. Tickets for the next booking block (from July 2018 onwards) will be released in the next booking period. Visit the website here: Tickets

(b) Daily lottery – £10 tickets are available every day via the Hamilton lottery. To enter, you need to download the official Hamilton app from the website, or enter online. Lotteries open at 4 p.m. and close at 2 p.m. the following day. You can enter for a maximum of two tickets in each lottery draw.

(c) Late Release Premium Tickets – A limited number of premium-priced tickets will be released online at 12 noon every Monday for all of the following week’s performances.

(d) Standing Tickets – As yet, there are no standing tickets available, but the website refers to further details of the Grand Circle (top tier) stand-in tickets being announced at a later date.

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If I think of anything else that may be useful, I’ll be sure to add it to this post! Enjoy the show!

 

Theatre Review – Hamilton – I’ve joined the revolution, as this astonishing show explodes on to London’s theatre scene!

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Ever since Hamilton burst on to the New York theatre scene in 2015, with such universal praise and adoration, I have been intrigued. After ticket lottery failures when I’ve been in NYC and the rising Broadway ticket prices, I decided to wait for the London transfer to see the show for myself. So, before Thursday night, two weeks ago, I had not heard a single second of its soundtrack and I knew only the very basic historical facts. You couldn’t be more of a newcomer to this musical than I was.

The big questions people are now asking me: Could anything live up to the level of hype that Hamilton has (remember it has already won 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize)? Would I want to go and see it again?

By the time I emerged from the Victoria Palace Theatre later on that Thursday night, the answer to both questions was a resounding YES!! In fact, I was so desperate to go again sooner than April (when I have my next ticket booked), that I bought a single ticket for the following Saturday’s first matinee to relive it all again! And now, on the eve of press night I’ve seen it four times (yes, I may have a slight problem….)!

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Jamael Westman & company. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Seeing four previews, also means that I have been lucky to already see both Alexander Hamiltons twice (Jamael Westman and Ash Hunter, including Hunter’s first two performances), so I can give my thoughts on both interpretations, which have formed more, the more I have seen the show.

So, for the uninitiated like me, inspired by the biography by Ron Chernow, Hamilton tells the lesser known story of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean, who arrived in New York and went on to become one of the most vital individuals in the shaping of the foundation of the U.S.A; from his determination to help secure freedom from the British, to his defence of the new Constitution, to his creation of a financial system for a new nation as its first Treasury Secretary. It’s the story of a man who strived to achieve so much and has been, to a certain extent, overlooked by history.

Until now, that is! In fact, one of the finest achievements of Hamilton is that it is informing thousands of audience members about a period of history they may know little about, especially if they aren’t American. It’s the best history lesson you’ll ever have!

Why is it so incredible? Hamilton executes every element of the show to perfection. You may be thinking that the style of music isn’t for you, but you’ll likely by thrillingly surprised. It’s genuinely impossible to choose a favourite song, as the show moves so smoothly from one to the next that it’s hard to separate them. Each one adds to both the progress of the story and the emotional depth of the show. Very few musicals manage this, which is why very few truly capture my imagination. In this case, I left the theatre and immediately downloaded the soundtrack to listen to it all over again and to marvel at the intelligence, wit, passion and power of Lin Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics. Heck, I now know a good few of them off by heart.

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Giles Terera & company. Photo: Matthew Murphy

As an ensemble, the Hamilton London company is also one of the slickest, most cohesive units I’ve ever seen on stage and that was even from their 2nd performance and two weeks later, they are even stronger! It’s as though they have been playing these roles together for years, which is a testament to their abilities!

The style of the music of Hamilton, which blends hip-hop, rap, RnB and more traditional-style musical numbers, dictates that the pace of the show is incredibly fast and yet, there is not a moment where the actors, detailed choreography, lighting or sound effects falter; all coming together under director Thomas Kail to bring to life so vividly what is the strongest production on any stage at the moment.

What is it that makes stories about revolutions so compelling to watch as musicals I wonder?! My all-time favourite has always been Les Miserables and Hamilton is the only one to rival it, in terms of its sheer power and emotional range it presents on the stage. Certain numbers gave me the same chill of excitement as Les Mis and that was a huge surprise for me. It’s a truly thrilling, exhilarating, exciting, emotional and uplifting experience, that very few shows will ever match. I honestly never expected it to, so decisively, exceed my expectations.

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Michael Jibson. Photo: Matthew Murphy

As the cast are all so strong, it’s difficult to pick out individual performances and each audience member will have their favourites. I loved the character of Angelica, who was the first one to bring a lump to my throat during “Satisfied”; a song which reveals something about her that I hadn’t expected. Rachel John is both a superb vocalist (having already impressed me in The Bodyguard) and actress in the role and really stands out in this show. Giles Terera’s charismatic portrayal of, as he says himself, the villain of the story, Aaron Burr, is also very good indeed, with “The Room Where It Happens” being some of my favourite moments in the production. His Burr feels much older than Hamilton and his friends and Terera brilliantly plays his growing frustration on the trajectory of his own life. Much like the best characters, he isn’t simply a villain, but a man who ultimately makes a tragic mistake.

Obioma Ugoala’s George Washington is a strong and likeable commander, who also commands the stage whenever he is at it centre, while Jason Pennycooke brings the humour and wit of Lafayette and then Thomas Jefferson to life. Although I preferred Angelica as a character to Eliza, who is far less interesting, I did find “It’s Quiet Uptown” between Hamilton and Rachelle Ann Go’s Eliza very moving, capturing two people dealing with loss in such a poignant way. Then of course there is the small, but hugely memorable role of King George, here played sublimely by Michael Jibson, who received huge applause from the audience after each brilliant appearance and is one of the highlights of the show.

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Rachelle Ann Go; Rachel John; Christine Allado. Photo: Matthew Murphy

As for the lead role, having already seen both actors who will be taking on that responsibility in London twice, the good news is that whether you see Jamael Westman or Ash Hunter, you will see a first-class performance. They both bring their personalities and little personal touches to the character, but are equally strong. Westman’s Hamilton is perhaps the grittier, cockier, big brother, when compared to Hunter’s younger Hamilton. He also perhaps more charismatic and has already settled down in to the role with confidence since I saw him two weeks ago. Ash Hunter however perhaps elicited a more emotional response from me; his Hamilton coming across as less arrogant and a little gentler. What really matters though, is that they are both already strong, confident and overflowing with enthusiasm, which shines on the stage.

So, to sum it up. At 7:29 p.m. on Thursday 7th December, I was a Hamilton newcomer, sceptical about the hype and fully prepared not to see the magic that seemingly captured every audience member who experiences it. Two weeks, four performances and multiple listens to the soundtrack later, I’m a fully paid up member of the revolution! My next pre-booked ticket for the show isn’t until April but, just like Aaron Burr, I want to be in the room where it happens far sooner than that!

Do anything you can to see this show. The ticket prices in London are nowhere near as steep as New York and the impressively tight ticket arrangement will hopefully limit the success of any extortionate secondary market. I’ll be writing a further post with information and tips for those either coming to London for the show, or for those looking for tickets, but my main message – Buy a ticket now and if you can, book two performances in one go, as you’ll undoubtably want to go back!

Welcome to London, Hamilton! Now that we have you and Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, we officially have the two happiest theatres in the world in this incredible city! If you do decide to come and are looking for tips for your visit, or are looking for tips getting tickets, I have also written a separate post that I hope will prove useful: Tips for First Time Visitors to the Victoria Palace Theatre for Hamilton

Hamilton continues its run at the Victoria Palace Theatre, with press night tomorrow (on 21st December 2017). There is limited availability until June 2018, with the next block of tickets to go on sale soon. For more information, visit the website here: http://www.hamiltonthemusical.co.uk

 

 

Theatre Review – A majestic King Lear at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester

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(All photos credited to: Manuel Harlan)

Ten years ago, I hadn’t yet become the theatre addict I am today and so, as a result, I missed out on seeing Sir Ian McKellen’s King Lear at the RSC, having to make do with watching it on DVD. Undoubtably a theatre legend and one of the actors I now never fail to see on stage, there was no way I was missing out a second time and last night saw me back in Chichester to see McKellen’s return to this iconic Shakespearean role. Seating only 283 people and running for just over a month, I certainly felt lucky to have a ticket.

It’s the second time I’ve seen him perform in the intimate space of the Minerva Theatre (the first being 2011’s The Syndicate) and it’s clear that he thrives on the added power that comes from being so close to the audience and the play itself also benefits from the intimacy of the venue; drawing you in and holding your attention, despite the lengthy running time (just over 3 hours, plus an interval in this case).

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However, Jonathan Munby’s production is much more than its leading actor, boasting an incredibly talented ensemble cast. Sinead Cusack is a highlight as the Countess of Kent, whose loyalty and love of her King causes her to follow him in disguise, despite his cruel treatment of her, after so many years of service, in the opening scene (so brilliantly staged here, with Lear playfully taking great delight in cutting up the map of the UK with a pair of scissors – Scotland to Goneril, Northern Ireland & Wales to Regan, and England, the last third, which is then ripped in two, if you were wondering).

The strength of the female roles in King Lear is always one of my favourite aspects of the play and this production did not disappoint. Dervla Kirwan plays Goneril with a poise and maturity the comes from being the eldest sibling, exasperated by her father’s behaviour and slowly driven further and further down a path that doesn’t seem natural to her. Interestingly, in this production I never truly despised Goneril and by the end, I still did not believe her capable of the murder of her sister. She just did not seem dark enough for such actions in Kirwan’s hands.

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Kirsty Bushell’s Regan on the other hand, thrives on the darkness that descends; dancing around to music during the torture of the Earl of Gloucester, clearly turned on by the whole twisted experience. Bushell is excellent throughout this production, using her sexuality to manipulate and control those around her, before being foiled by her sister’s jealousy of her seduction of Edmund.

I always have the most sympathy for the Earl of Gloucester (how could you not?!) and this production was no different with  Danny Webb delivering a strong, moving performance, particularly in his scenes with Jonathan Bailey as Edgar/Tom. Bailey is fantastic as the loyal, loving son, wronged by his father and brother, in the same way as Cordelia is wronged by Lear and her sisters (and Bailey’s Edgar seems to care a great deal about her, based on Bailey’s reactions to her casting off and later death). He doesn’t go too far with the pretence of madness either; it’s always just a means to an end and his counterpoint, Edmund, is also wonderfully portrayed by Damien Molony. I’ve seen more evil portrayals; more devious ones too, but Molony comes across as extremely believable throughout the play.

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The Minerva may be a small space, but Paul Will’s set is never lacking; creating multiple locations with ease and enhancing the power of key moments in the story (especially when combined with Ben and Max Ringham’s music and sound). I particularly loved how the red carpeted dias began to resemble a pool of blood, expanding outwards from beneath McKellen’s feet, as the rain from the storm lashed down on him. This Lear may keep his clothes on (unlike his 2007 performance), but the scene is no less powerful.

Some aspects of the production didn’t quite work for me. After a promising first scene, Phil Daniels’ Fool seems to fade away in to the background and is forgotten much too quickly when compared to others that I’ve seen. Also, despite strong performances from both McKellen and Tamara Lawrance individually, the love between father and daughter never really shone through, resulting in Cordelia’s death and Lear’s grief lacking depth for me. Having said that, King Lear never draws from me the same emotional response as say, a powerful production of Hamlet, which has been known to bring me to tears. Perhaps it’s the fact I never really feel sorry for Lear, feeling he brings his miseries on himself, or perhaps some plays resonate more with some audience members than others.

However, McKellen’s portrayal throughout the production of a man clearly starting to feel his age, resulted in a much more believable ending. All the moments of him trying to catch his breath, as if on the verge of a heart attack and the added wheezes, meant that his sudden death during the play’s final moments seemed inevitable, rather than out of the blue.

King Lear will never be my favourite Shakespearean tragedy. However, this production is one of the strongest I’ve seen. It was engaging, engrossing and a thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience. Making your way to Chichester to try for a returned ticket is absolutely worth the effort.

King Lear continues its run at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester until 28th October 2017. Running time: 3 hours (or just over), plus a 20 minute interval. Although sold out, keep an eye on the website for returns or head to the theatre on the day to join the returns queue. For more information, visit the website.

Theatre Review – Apologia – An Impressive Production

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The latest production at the Trafalgar Studios had all the indicators that it would be something special. It’s the latest play by the brilliant Alexi Kaye Campbell, directed by Jamie Lloyd and a show that would see the return to the London stage of Stockard Channing (best known for television roles in The West Wing and The Good Wife and film roles including Rizzo in Grease), as well as a promising supporting cast, including Freema Agyeman.

Having now seen the production, I can say that it more than lived up to my expectations, proving to be a powerful, emotional exploration of a family and how the choices and secrets of one member, in this case, the matriarch, can impact on the others.

This review is my first for the fantastic Blogtor Who site! To read the review in full, please click on the link below: 

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Mid-Year Theatre Review 2017

As we are now well in to July, my mid-year theatre review is well overdue. 2017 is already shaping up to be a fantastic year of theatre and there is still so much more to come (I’ll talk a bit about that at the end). I already anticipate my top ten of the year will be a difficult selection, so at least this way, more of the productions I’ve loved in 2017 will make it on to at least one of my lists!

So, these are the current highlights of my theatre year. They are in no particular order, as I always finding ranking productions that way quite difficult, unless something stands head and shoulders above the rest.

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1. Hamlet (Almeida / Harold Pinter Theatre)

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This production of Hamlet was probably my most anticipated show of 2017 and I’m thrilled it not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them, so much so that it’s probably my favourite Hamlet, a crown that has been Mr Tennant’s ever since 2008. It’s simply because Robert Icke’s decisions with the text and how to stage certain scenes is fresh and innovative. Watching this Hamlet had me experience the story and the motivations of certain characters in a whole new light. Thrilling, exhilarating and incredibly emotional, it’s ensemble cast are superb and it has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever seen on a stage. You have until 2nd September to see it. Go, go, go! Read my first review of this production here.

2. An Octoroom (The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

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I bought a ticket to An Octoroom after reading so much praise for it on Twitter from theatregoers whose opinions I value more than any professional critic and I’m so pleased they brought it to my attention. Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’s play was the complete theatre experience – surprising, inventive, powerfully emotive, yet funny in places too. The cast were superb (especially Celeste Dodwell as Dora) and the staging truly brought the play to life in the intimate space of the Orange Tree. I would love to see this have another life somewhere in the West End.

3. Dear Evan Hansen (Music Box Theatre, Broadway, NYC)

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Besides Hamilton, this is probably the most talked about show in New York at the moment and I was taken by surprise by how moved I was by it. It’s an emotional story about feeling alone, wanting to belong and giving people a hope that if they reach out, someone will help them and Ben Platt’s central performance is one I will never forget, so full of raw emotion, not to mention an impressive vocal. I don’t have the soundtracks to many musicals, but I listen to this one quite often. Read my full review here.

4. The Little Foxes (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Broadway, NYC)

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I was unable to see both versions of this play, in which Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternate the roles, but despite this, it remains one of the strongest productions I’ve seen so far the year. I chose to Cynthia as Regina and Laura as Birdie and I wasn’t disappointed. Nixon was truly cold and calculating in the role, while Linney brought the tragedy of Birdie’s life to the stage. With a beautiful set and a strong ensemble, particularly Richard Thomas as Regina’s husband, who no doubt would have been happier with Birdie, this was a joy to watch. It would be lovely to see this play come across to London soon.

5. Angels in America (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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I have a second trip to this epic two play event next month and I certainly cannot wait to experience every moment of it again. Told across 8 hours, this seminal play is certainly not an easy one to watch, but its story is one that we should all see. The cast is one of the finest you could wish for, with Denise Gough bringing yet another raw and stunning portrayal to the stage, together with Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey and James McArdle. However, it was Andrew Garfield that blew me away as Prior Walter, a character so full of life, whose journey is the axis of the story. It will be a production talked about for years.

6. The Ferryman (Royal Court Theatre)

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Jez Butterworth has already established himself as one of the best playwrights we have and he follows Jerusalem and The River with another powerful story, set in Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1981, which weaves The Troubles in to the story of one family and its struggles. Paddy Considine’s stage debut is certainly impressive and his chemistry with Laura Donnelly shines off the stage. You will laugh, cry and probably gasp before the three hours of The Ferryman has passed. Buy your tickets for its West End run (until January 2018) now.

7. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre)

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There are only two words really needed to explain why this production is on the list – Imelda Staunton, who is utterly outstanding as the acid-tongued Martha! To be fair though, that doesn’t do justice to the other fine performances (especially Conleth Hill as her weary husband George). There was something darkly entertaining about watching Martha and George tear shreds off each other and some of the sharp, biting dialogue had me laughing out loud, even as I grew more and more uncomfortable. I can imagine it’s easy to overdo the dramatics in this play and yet director James Macdonald’s production didn’t do this. In fact, in a frightening way, it feels very believable. Read my full review here.

8. Consent (Dorfman, National Theatre)

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Another success from the National this year was Nina Raine’s latest play, which focused on the powerful subject of rape and consent, in the context of a group of criminal barristers, whose professional and personal lives become caught up in what is a difficult topic to think about. Intelligently written and superbly acted by its cast, I was gripped by Consent from start to finish and wish I’d had the chance to see it twice.

9. Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

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A second, but fully deserved, entry for Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins is a play that has such a powerful end to Act One that the programme has a sealed spoiler section! I’ve already seen this twice to fully appreciate the sharp, biting dialogue, which makes you laugh one minute even when you shouldn’t, before making you gasp the next. You have until Saturday to catch it if you can. Read my spoiler-filled review here, or the spoiler-free one here.

10. Shirley Valentine (UK Tour at Lyceum, Sheffield)

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A trip with my parents to the theatre to see this revival of Willy Russell’s production surprised me for the simple fact that I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Effectively a one-woman show, in which Jodie Prenger brought the iconic Shirley Valentine to life, it made me laugh, but was also rather moving too, as this older woman bravely reaches for a fresh start in life. I left the theatre with a huge smile on my face and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

 

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Special mentions so far this year also need to go to the continued magic of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, whose original and new cast ensure the Palace is the happiest theatre atmosphere in town, The Glass Menagerie, which I managed to see before its run ended and a NYC return trip to the glorious Groundhog Day!

Coming up is Ben Whishaw back at the Almeida in Against, the arrival of the Follies at the National (even more Imelda Staunton!), the opening of a brand new London theatre in the Bridge Theatre, whose first show Young Marx stars Rory Kinnear and Oliver Chris, Apologia with Stockard Channing and the arrival of the Tony Award-winning Oslo, to name just a few.

Yes, there’s no denying the end of year review is definitely going to be tough in 2017!