Chess: in concert #TheatreReview

Thursday 14th of April 2016, I had the pleasure of watching Chess, in concert, a production by my favourite – I am very biased! – Amateur Dramatics Group, The Hitchin Thespians

Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from Abba and lyrics by Tim Rice, which is set in the cold war era and comments on the political status of USA and Russia during that time through the parallel of a chess tournament. Historically the musical was a huge success in the West End where it played for 3 years, opening on 1986. No major attempts at reviving the musical have been made, but it continues to be one of the most relevant musical placing 7th in BBC Radio 2’s “Number One Essential Musicals” list, demonstrating its strength as a piece.

The Thespians, an operatic amateur dramatics society that has been around for over 100 years and decided to tackle this incredible piece but in a concert version. I loved every second but have to be analytical of a few things that theatrically did not work.

The space at Woodside hall where the thespians perform is rectangular, usually the stage is located at one of the narrower ends of the stage but this time they decided to go for a long stage and long seating. This allowed them to add the members of choir either side of the central stage. However, this caused a huge unbalance in the sound where audiences on either side could only really hear the choir directly infront of them. Audience members sat in the central area were welcomed with a fantastic wall of sound however.

Performances were excellent from the main cast, as usual the pool of talent in the society oozes and they never cease to impress. The band again was incredible, giving the sound of a full orchestra and musical band with just two pianos and a drum set. Overall for an amateur production, with limited space and flexibility they tackled their issues head on and tried to make it work as best as possible. Still a completely enjoyable performance and I think that for any growing theatre producer, actor, practitioner, director etc it is important to see as many productions that can show you the type of challenges that you can encounter. However, it is s much fun to come up with alternatives to make it work. So if you don’t come and watch the Hitchin Thespians, go watch your own local theatre group, to watch some incredible untapped talent and to learn more about the basics of the beautiful thing that is theatre and live performance.

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Woman in Black – #ThrowbackThursday

So November 14th 2015, I had the opportunity and pleasure of watching the Woman in Black live in the theatre, and today I am throwing it back to this theatrical experience.

Let me make it explicitly clear that I am awful with anything horror. I sat through the movie Woman in Black with a scarf wrapped around my head with just a gap for my nostrils where I could breathe and the tiniest slit in my eyes so I could barely see it. The sound of it alone is just agonising let alone the visual impetus. I felt that in the theatre it was made ten times worse, seeing as I could also smell everything and the performers are at arms reach.

The play itself is actually really different from the movie, in that is it all a recollection of a story and uses metatheatre as the story telling device. For those who do not know, metatheatre is when you are watching a play about a play, so theatre within theatre. This is how the piece is originally written and it works so well, with two primary actors taking on all the roles and making it a very intimate setting, which only adds to the creepiness of the whole affair.

Now I am painfully aware that OBVIOUSLY there is a third performer who plays the woman in black HOWEVER, theatrical license is everything and the performer who plays the woman in black is not mentioned AT ALL in the programme nor do they appear at the curtain call. This only adds further to the creepiness of it all. I did some extra research into this and found out that in the actual script she is not written in either. This is far too much for me to deal with, it is too creepy.

The production was amazing and they were all fantastic and really delivered the spooky story successfully. I for one will leave this behind as one of those things I have done and watched that I do not have to do again. That is how much of a wimp I am. That being said, I have to say that in the end – SPOILER ALERT! – for those who have watched it – she comes out, for the scariest bit after all the build up, the sound team are pressing those buttons with all their might, there is a fog machine going, you do not see her coming from anywhere but she appears in all her might, scary as hell, and she accidentally – or I am hoping it was accidentally – revealed her face and got lit up with a weird green light and no word of a lie, the woman in black looked like Elphaba the Wicked witch of the west. That really did help me go home less paranoid so I am so grateful, and I hope no one else saw that and it was just me.

You can watch Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in London. Tickets are available on www.thewomaninblack.com

Into the Hoods remixed – theatre review

Saturday 24th of October, The Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, London

How can I review something that was I was already pre-disposed to love? I am suppose to be unbiased here and give a critical analysis, but I am afraid that in this case I might fail. So this is a short one but good one, full of love for a company that I completely biased towards.

Zoonation is my favourite dance theatre company. They are mostly a hip hop dance company who reinvent and re-write very well known scripts, musicals to fit their genre. They put together narratives that not only fit the genre and the dramatic nature of hip hop, but also use stories that that still have some sort of echo in current times and issues.

Into the Hoods is a hip hop take of the popular Sondheim musical Into the Woods – if you had not guessed that already. The story in this case took place in a council estate in East London. The parallel was drawn with the witch as the Landlord who refuses to help two kids who are lost get home until they acquire 4 items for his daughter’s birthday.

Now none of this sounds extremely amazing, but it is quite outstanding to write some fantastic adaptations to fit such a specific genre. This is huge and Zoonation do it incredibly! I cannot say much more than continue sharing my love for Zoonation, a company that I try to always see shows from. As a lover of hip hop dance and theatre, this company really is everything I love in one and it makes me completely inadequate to form any coherent opinion about them.

I took my boyfriend with me to watch them and he was very constructive and had some opinions on the performances, but his opinion in this occasion matters not to me as I was as always completely mesmerised and taken by the company. I thought the dancing was fantastic, the characters embodied perfectly through the dance moves and shapes created with their bodies. I loved it. If you hadn’t guessed that already.

I would have to say that I was a bit upset that the show started a bit delayed due to technical issues, but only because I was getting a bit too anxious, other than that it didn’t deteriorate the performance at all. I would have to say as well that narrative wise, it is not the strongest production of Zoonation, Some Like it Hip Hop continues to be their best one and my favourite. However, the performers were incredible and really carried the piece through. I can’t say much more as I will just continue rattling on about my love for them, so I am going to leave you here with some trailers of their shows! Try to watch them live, it is pure joy on stage.

Zoonation, Into the Hoods Remixed

Zoonation, Some Like it Hip Hop

Note: The images are from Google and the videos from YouTube, not owned by me.

Miss Saigon – theatre review

Miss Saigon has only earlier this year returned to the West End and has taken the box office by storm and it is already set to shut by February 2016. As the production costs and maintenance are huge and the venue is not enjoying full houses all the time it is only natural to see it go away as fast as it appeared. So before it shut, I had the pleasure of watching it on the 19th of September 2015.

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Miss Saigon is the story of a Vietnamese girl, Kim, who is working in a brothel in Saigon. She falls in love with an American soldier, Chris, they quickly get married and try to move to the USA as the troops are vacating Vietnam, but she stays behind and unbeknownst to him, she is pregnant. The musical then follows the plot to their reunion and everything that happens in the mean time, politically in Saigon, now Ho Chi Min, and to the characters’ romantic entanglements in their own countries.

Knowing the history and background of the musical, I have to give the biggest praise to the creative team! Choreography and set played with each other beautifully. One of the most phenomenal numbers The Fall of Saigon is set with a set of moveable fences that rotate and change positions as we to and fro between Kim outside the fence and Chris stuck inside. With dancers flinging themselves fearlessly at the fence to truly demonstrate the desperation and desire to escape as well as the fear of those who wanted to keep the gates shut. It was beautifully created and truly showed that not only are the cast extremely talented, but are supported by a creative dream team. From Bob Avian, musical staging, Geoffrey Garratt, additional choreography, Totie Driver, Matt Kinley and Adrian Vaux, set design; this incredible group of people enable the cast to perform in a stage that not only supports the narrative and contextualises it. they are truly able to embellish the performance and add to the brilliant production of this musical. This also shows why the production is having to shut early, as cost wise I can only imagine the rotating sets and the live helicopter must cost a fortune to uphold. Regardless, for this alone, the sheer detail, flexibility and creativity of the set, the entire production was worth watching. In my opinion, one of the best uses of space in theatre I have seen in a while in terms of stage, set and choreography design. Bravo!

Let me talk about Jon Jon Briones. Jon Jon took upon perhaps the most iconic, comedic and full character of the entire show, The Engineer. A character that does not have a name per say, but leads and drives majority of the plot by his sheer cunning and desire and belief that he will go to the USA and pursue the American dream – fantastic number by the way. He is, in my opinion, the true star of the entire cast. The small nuances that made the character and he maintained throughout the show, from small hand gestures, quick flicks of the wrist and a nasal pronunciation of only certain words.He kept the character true to his sleazy self, but always with a flair of superiority and class. Jon Jon completely captured the Engineer, his slimy, self centered egotistical ways, his way of pretending and demonstrating himself as superior but then cowering at the first sign of fear. A true talent, with an amazing set of pipes to add the mix, I am proud to say he held his own to show the performing excellence that comes from the Philippines.

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Eva Noblezada was fantastic as Kim. Kim was a character that started off for me as truly irritating. I cannot stand women that are lead entirely by men in their lives, from the Engineer, to her father, ex husband Thuy and even driven only by potentially being with Chris, the entire first act of Miss Saigon truly makes Kim for me a very difficult character to like. That being said, political context and all she was very well written and developed. In the second half, as she has grown as a mother and we are introduced to her son Tam, we begin to see that not only out of love for a man who left her, but mostly an ideal of that, it is truly the love for her son that drives her forward. This for me is incredible. There are many people, feminists, that will say she should not need this incentive to move forward, but being a mother is the one thing that truly distinguishes us from men, it is a capacity only we have and a connection that only we can have with our children. As the presence of this boy nearly brought me to tears, I was interrupted from my potential crying by my mother and sister seated either side of me sobbing and sniffling relentlessly for Tam. Noblezada, accompanied by her phenomenal, awe provoking and goosepump causing voice, took on this challenging, powerful and multi dimensional character beautifully. She embodied Kim entirely, and I had the pleasure of seeing her transform from a quiet, shy but filled with morals young innocent girl to a woman with a purpose in 2 hours. It killed me to watch Kim’s end, but it was very much where the story was leading and Noblezada showed us a fighter and warrior the entire way. Truly fantastic.

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Disappointingly, her leading man left much to desire. And I LOVE THIS! I love that this man was a failure to his first love and child, I love that this man isn’t even man enough for his current partner. I love that he is torn apart and has no clue what to do with himself, and that even in war, he was weakened by his emotions, weakened by his desire to leave and love. I think this is a TRUE character. In that this person actually lives amongst us. A man with difficulty to accept and remember the troubled past of war, and that struggles with something that was ripped out of him. I am just saddened that they cast Chris Peluso to portray the fantastically real and failed character of Chris. A nasal voice, not much in terms of delivery of character development, it is a shame that he was not left in the background as an all swinging and singing chorus member. I feel this was not the role for him because he perhaps did not understand the complexity and wonderfulness of playing a character that is so completely damaged, a MAN in theatre that is so devastatingly broken. A man who was not capable of being the hero.

I had not come across Miss Saigon in film or stage before, and although I had some idea of the type of music and setting I was so overwhelmed by how well constructed it is. It was a true delight to watch it and be able to now share with you my views. It is an outstanding piece of theatre and music and I can see why it returns to the West End regularly, in spite of how costly it is to run. A genuine tear jerker, set in the woes of war we know devastated and destroyed a lot of families, people and countries, and that today we still see remnants of it. Overall one of the most phenomenal pieces I have seen, but do not think I could go through that much emotion again on stage. Give me 5 years to recover.

Miss Saigon is set to be removed from the Prince Edward Theatre in February 2016. It would be a true shame if you did not spend 2 hours of your time going to watch this. Click here for info and ticket details.