Amélie is a beautiful blend of melancholy and wistful dreams

Amélie The Musical at The Other Palace
9.7front row score

Amélie The Musical is a musical interpretation of the French Romantic-Comedy film of the same name from 2001.

The Other Palace is Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s newest London theatre, hidden round the back of Victoria just a couple of minutes walk from the commercial hype of Wicked and Hamilton.

You’re almost guaranteed to see something more authentic and deeply-connecting in this lesser-known hub of new musical theatre.

The story follows the life of Amélie Poulain; a sad and disconnected protagonist who yearns for meaningful connections, yet distances herself from them. A sad case of pushing and pulling.

Amélie is, however, a dreamer. Her story is charmingly optimistic once you break through the intial veneer of melancholic distance, created inadvertently by Amélie’s parents who homeschooled her.

Audrey Brisson (Amélie) is undeniably the star of the show! She performs her role so convincingly. It is impossible not to yearn with her, and believe in her dreams.

Brisson carries the comic elements of this musical rom-com so sensitively that she manages to keep the mood light and dreamy, without cheapening the tone.

The orchestration of the show has similarities with Come From Away in that every member of the cast also plays an instrument (or many) through the performance.

Director Michael Fentiman’s dynamic staging adds a real depth to the show, instruments building on the hustle and bustle of the busier scenes – additional cast members in their own rights!

Creatively, Madeleine Girling’s set and Dik Downey’s puppets are both well worth a mention. The set makes excellent use of the space and frames the production perfectly from any seat in the house. And Dik Downey’s puppets powerfully evoke strong emotions of sadness, sympathy and yearning, whilst in other scenes break the tension with a truly comic turn.

If there were to be any element of the show which didn’t quite hit the nail for me, it would be the accents of the ensemble. Unless Paris has moved to somewhere in Eastern Europe?!

Brisson’s French accent was great – though to be fair she has a head start, being French-Canadian! But other members of the cast were less convincing, and there were moments during the performance where I thought it would be less distracting if they had stuck to their natural accent, rather than a put-on, somewhat-foreign something.

The show isn’t on for long, and I believe the run is largely sold-out, but if you can get yourself a ticket I would recommend it. Especially if you’re a dreamer – there’s a lot to connect with in this show.

Click to listen to the full Original Broadway Cast soundtrack of Amélie – The Musical here.

This production of Amélie opened at The Other Palace on 29 November 2019 and closes on 1 February 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with a 20 minute interval.

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The Boy Friend is a trip back in time at the Menier Chocolate Factory

The Boy Friend at the Menier Chocolate Factory
9front row score

The Menier Chocolate Factory, by London Bridge, is one of London’s most unique theatres – a studio crafted from an old chocolate factory. The current production of The Boy Friend takes you back to a time when this place was still making chocolate.

It’s the first time Sandy Wilson‘s musical comedy has made an appearance on the London stage in over 10 years, and it continues to shine a warm, nostalgic glow on the 1920s – now, remarkably, 100 years ago!

Set in the South of France at a Finishing School for fine and proper young ladies, the musical lightly flits between characters and their secret love interests.

The show has an old-fashioned charm to it, with characters launching into song, followed formulaicly by a dance break, then a false ending to allow for a round of applause, and then into a reprise.

The cast works well as an ensemble and Matthew White’s direction makes good use of the limited space in the studio.

Talking of the space, one man from the far bank of seats needed to leave midway through the first act and was forced to walk across the stage to get to the exit. None of the cast were phased at all, but I found it a little distracting for that moment…

The set design is fantastic for such a limited space, and each of the three scenes involves some quite substantial set changes – requiring the audience to vacate the studio in the first interval.

Neat white metal gates and railings shape the stage, which plays out to two banks of seating. The orchestra is masterfully worked into the space, in something of a beachside promenade bandstand in the corner.

Sandy Wilson‘s orginal score is very catchy and stays dancing around your head as you leave the theatre, especially the title track, which makes a few appearances through the show.

One of the extra touches that you can choose to enjoy at the Menier Chocolate Factory is a themed menu in their restaurant, before or after the show. On this occasion I would recommend it, as the menu wasn’t hugely exciting and the service was a little all over the place… but it’s good to know for the future!

This production of The Boy Friend opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory on 22 November 2019 and closed on 7 March 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes, including 2 intervals.

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Miriam Margolyes carries Sydney & The Old Girl over the line at the Park Theatre

Miriam Margolyes in Sydney & the Old Girl
6.3front row score

A few stops north of Kings Cross St Pancras, the Park Theatre is a tightly-packed 200 seat studio theatre with the most poorly designed circle I’ve ever sat in. It’s also where Miriam Margolyes leads the three-strong cast in the world premiere of Sydney & The Old Girl for a strictly limited four week run.

But back to the seating for a moment. This venue is so cramped. If you suffer in any way from claustrophobia, avoid any production at the Park Theatre.

It’s such a shame because intimate venues are so fantastic for emotional dramas. A small space draws out intense facial performances, and delivers powerful dramatic rawness.

This small space, however, is simply a fire risk. The two rows of seating in the circle are so slimline, that passing others to reach your allocated (bench) seat is a logistical struggle. Standing up to leave is equally challenging.

And, unless you’re 7ft9 you’ll need to rest your feet on a bar or have your legs dangling like a toddler in a highchair for the duration of the show.

About the show…

Miriam Margolyes: Sydney & The Old Girl

🎬 New trailer alert 🚨 Miriam Margolyes is BACK 🙌 Hear what Miriam has to say about playing the cantankerous character of Nell Stock in the World Premiere black comedy SYDNEY & THE OLD GIRL, coming soon to Park Theatre.After the sell-out success of Madame Rubinstein in 2017, EARLY BOOKING for Miriam's next stage performance is a MUST! Tickets 👉

Posted by Park Theatre London on Friday, 10 May 2019

It’s said that this piece by Eugene O’Hare is a black comedy. It’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of the critics put it, but there are certainly humourous moments which raise a smirk. It is certainly dark though.

Miriam Margolyes plays the role of Nell Stock – mother of Sydney (Mark Hadfield). The play is set in Nell’s East London living room – delapidated, with emergency sirens tirelessly wailing past.

Nell and Sydney are at each other’s throats for the whole 120 minutes of drama, intent on acerbically doing the other in. Well-meaning Marion Fee (Vivien Parry) finds herself caught up in the middle of the feuding relations, and gets thoroughly used by both players.

There is some depth of character in this new piece by O’Hare, but I sense that it is Margolyes final edit of the script that both lifts and deepens the characterisations here.

Mark Hadfield, by contrast, is unable to keep up and his depiction of Sydney swings between mentally-disabled to camp, with equally inconsistent accent work too.

The set design (Max Jones and Ruth Hall) is hyper-realistic, and is expertly framed. The stage is set within a 1 foot fourth-wall border, furthering the impression of Nell being trapped in this dingy box of flat.

The fully sold-out run ends on the 30 November and, speaking to Miriam Margolyes after the show, she doesn’t plan to transfer her performance elsewhere. She really does make this production, so it will be a hard act to follow if the producers do decide to take this show on the road.

The world premiere of Sydney & The Old Girl opened at the Park Theatre (Finsbury Park, London) on 31 October 2019 and closes on 30 November 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes, incl. one interval.

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Simply The Best show to discover Tina Turner’s real life story. Told through the inimitable music of the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

9front row score

Tina Turner’s eyes watch the audience shuffling to their seats from the Roy Lichtenstein-esque show cloth. Mirror balls are hanging from the Royal Circle, poised. It’s a Thursday matinee performance, and the Aldwych Theatre is packed.

I would usually be flicking through the programme in the 15 minutes before the curtain goes up, but Tina’s programme costs £12 (incidentally that’s £2 more than her 320-page autobiography – also for sale in the foyer). So instead I’m scanning the lighting grid for clues; six towers of blinders suspended above the proscenium arch, topped with a full-width LED screen suggest a concert is on the way.

Tina Turner’s story is bitter and gritty. The show opens in Nutbush – a small rural town in western Tennessee. Tina Turner – then known as Anna Mae Bullock – is a child, disliked by her mother who leaves her with her abusive father.

The musical tracks Tina Turner’s true story – raised by her grandmother before joining her (reluctant) mother and sister in St Louis. Turner is discovered by Ike Turner, who names her, marries her (forcefully), and abuses her for almost two decades.

Her story told through her own music, Tina is played today by Hannah Jay-Allan (Swing & Dance Captain), who hits the high notes and conveys the lowest of Tina’s low moments with equal conviction.

Ashley Zhangazha’s Ike Turner is unlikable and an insecure bully. Yet his contribution to Tina’s meteoric success cannot be overlooked.

However, save for her stage name and early music, the show highlights the important contributions of her subsequent two managers – Rhonda Graam (Francesca Jackson) and Roger Davies (Oscar Batterham).

Without her Australian novice, Roger Davies, Tina Turner would have been discarded in the dustbin of woulda-coulda music history. In debt to Ike, and trapped in Vegas: Private Dancer crossed with cleaning lady.

Without her fateful three-week trip to London, to record with a band cobbled together by Davies who had wanted Tina to record What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina might never have hit the levels of superstardom for which she’s now known.

She would also have never met her now-husband Erwin Bach (Edward Bourne), who – though sixteen years her junior – has been Tina’s partner since the late 1980s.

Mark Thompson’s staging of Tina Turner’s life story makes clever use of the space. The exposed wood floor, with doors and walls that raise from the ground, and the full-wall screen upstage managed to turn the stage from small-town church to stadium and everything in-between.

Credit also goes to Anthony Van Laast and the dancers who perform his challenging and fast-faced choreography.

I just wish all members of the audience gave the cast, other audience members and indeed Tina herself, the respect that we all deserve. From my seat in row D, I can see at least phone screens through the performance.

As you enter the Aldwych auditorium, there are amusing signs that ask audience members not to sing or dance during the show. It’s a shame they clearly need to add no Facebook scrolling or WhatsApp messaging too.

If you love the music of the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, then get yourself a seat at the Aldwych Theatre for this raw show, that leaves you feeling unbeatable by the end.

As an amusing aside, the production’s official website would like you to know that “Tina Turner will not be performing in this production” – I wonder how many people had to ask before that made it (in bold) to the booking page?!

This production of Tina – The Musical opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 17 April 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including one 20-minute interval

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History in the remaking. SIX is a new breed of pop musical that is getting new audiences excited about theatre and history.

8.7front row score

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss‘ retelling of the old Divorced-Beheaded-Died-Devorced-Beheaded-Survived trope, shows the power of musical theatre in reframing a story we think we all know.

SIX is a 75-minute girl power concert that lets Henry VIII’s six wives tell their own stories for the first time.

The musical was originally written by Marolow and Moss for the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017.

It’s fair to say that it was seen by the right people, and it has absolutely taken off since then and is enjoying a sell-out run, a UK Tour as well as international runs in the States and Australia.

The music is distinctively poppy and I can see certain songs (such as Anne Boleyn’s Sorry, Not Sorry) becoming very successful outside of the show as well.

The six Queens were all extremely dynamic and the tempo continued to punch at full throttle for the whole “concert”.

Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn) caught my attention in particular; Boleyn is given some of the best moments in the show – probably warranted as she’s probably the most individually well-known of Henry’s wives.

Though, as Catherine Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed) points out, whilst the premise of the show does without the King himself, no one would know who these six ladies were if it weren’t for him.

I saw Courtney Stapleton (Alternate Jane Seymour & Catherine Parr) as Jane Seymour and she was also very good.

Disappointingly, the Programme (which costs in the region of £1 a page…), is not up to date so the actress who performed the role of Anna of Cleves does not get a mention.

The show is turning out to be one of the Arts Theatre’s most successful productions and they keep extending the current run.

The theatre matches the show really well; Emma Bailey’s pop-rock concert staging fits the space and gives the Queens enough space to strut their stuff, whilst keeping the energy from leaking away.

And credit is most certainly due to Carrie-Anne Ingrouille for her hip and snappy choreography – she gives the Queens their own personal sass and style, whilst nailing the ensemble pieces, effectively emulating the huge arena concerts of the Spice Girls.

The result is a punchy pop concert that is both educational and entertaining in equal measures.

Thank goodness Kenny Wax, Andy & Wendy Barnes and George Stiles (Producers) decided to throw their expertise and weight behind this rule-breaking student show – it deserves every success!

This production of SIX opened at the Norwich Playhouse on 11th July 2018. SIX is currently playing at the Arts Theatre until 5th July 2020.

Running Time: 75 minutes, without an interval.

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The Man In The White Suit is a comic trip down memory lane. The 1951 comedy leaves Ealing for the West End.

9.2front row score

If you’re game for a laugh, head to the Wyndham’s Theatre for Sean Foley‘s stage adaptation of the 1951 Ealing Studios film The Man In The White Suit.

Stephen Mangan stars in this new stage adaptation of the comedy, which centres around a socially-bizarre chemistry graduate from Cambridge who has invented a new type of thread which never tears or stains – meaning you only need to buy one of everything and you won’t have to worry about laundry either!

Despite many villagers of Trimley geeing Sidney Stratton (Stephen Mangan) on towards his dream cloth, Sidney finds himself in a tight corner once his experiments seem to have led to a truly unbreakable and untarnishable material.

The rich textiles barons are terrified that their wealth is about to vanish before their eyes, so will do anything they can to prevent the cloth from being made. On the other side of the factory-divide, the workers have realised that an indestructable material means fewer clothes will be needed… which means fewer clothes will be made… which means fewer workers to make them… which means bad news for them.

Only Kara Tointon’s terribly posh Daphne Birnley – daughter of a textile factory owner – is on Sidney’s side to the end. So much on his side, that she has fallen in love with him!

The ensemble brings the character of the Ealing Comedy to life with new songs, written by Charlie Fink – former frontman of Noah and the Whale.

I would recommend buying a programme if you go to see this show because the interviews with Fink and the writer-director Sean Foley are interesting reads.

Michael Taylor’s set design is also an undoubted star of the show, delivering the punchline of as many jokes as some of the characters.

I particularly enjoyed Daphne’s car journey, with Sidney clinging on to the outside of the car as she continues her cross-country journey nonplussed that he is swinging off the rear of her car like a scarf in the wind.

The Man in the White Suit was originally based on Roger MacDougall’s play The Flower Within The Bud, which I had never heard of before seeing this production. Perhaps it’s one to take a look at – it’s certainly led to some very entertaining theatre in its current mutated form.

This production of The Man in the White Suit opened at the Wyndham’s Theatre on 27 September 2019 and closes on 11 January 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including one 20 minute interval

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Two Ladies: A Somewhat Unbelievable New Play by Nancy Harris premieres at the Bridge Theatre

7.8front row score

They claim this play is a work of fiction, but you can’t help but draw the obvious comparisons to the current First Ladies of America and France.

Set amidst a fictional summit, this play must be considered as a political statement on a very real, and current, situation.

The play is only on for a very short run at the Bridge Theatre, between London’s Tower Bridge and City Hall, and stars Zoe Wanamaker and Zrinka Cvitesic in the leading roles.

Wanamaker plays Helen, First Lady of France – notably older than her Presidential husband (read: Macron). Cvitesic – the undoubted star of the show – presents an Eastern European wife of America’s President (read: Trump).

The characters don’t stray far from the real world. Nancy Harris‘ play, however, attempts to delve into the emotional trials of the First Ladies’ situations – politically and personally. However, it is in many ways a little far-fetched and trite.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner – co-founder of the Bridge Theatre, and former Director of the National Theatre – “Two Ladies” simultaneously unites and divides the two ladies, who are locked in a hotel conference room for the duration of the one-act play.

Do the ladies have more in common with each other than with their powerful husbands? do they, in truth, have more in common with the people out on the street than they do with their husbands?

The set, which I always like to consider, was simple and unexciting. Designed by Anna Fleischle, it captures the corporate blandness of a hotel conference room.

I particularly enjoyed the lift lobby, which is partially obscured by frosted glass and the double doors to the room.

Hytner uses this space expertly to create authentic depth of scene, by having security personel constantly waiting outside the room – on-stage but off, in many ways these unscripted performers had just as challenging a role to play as the two title characters, with their 100 minutes of dialogue to perform.

The play asks many questions, and leaves all of them unanswered. A perfect play for you if you enjoy discussing your thoughts and ideas after the curtain has fallen.

Go with a friend who likes to muse over possibilities and ponder why and what if.

The World Premiere of Two Ladies opened at the Bridge Theatre on 25 September 2019 and closes on 26 October 2019.

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I commend this debut to the House. Simon Woods’ Hansard is a sign of more to come

8.3front row score

The Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre) isn’t a bad spot to stage your first play as a writer. Simon Woods has really landed on his feet here with his 80-minute one-act political comi-drama.

There are certainly more than a few clever, witty moments through the play, though I can’t help thinking that the Oxford graduate is something of a poor man’s Alan Ayckbourn at present.

The play, set in an expansive Cotswolds house, with a garden (off-stage) blighted by foxes, carries the audience through a morning with Diana and Robin Hesketh (Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings).

The Heskeths have been married thirty years – he’s a Conservative MP, whilst she presents herself as resolutely Left.

The comic spite in their political disagreements in the first half of this play were too big a challenge for me to believe in their marriage. They were a marriage of convenience – a writer’s convenience – and not, for me, grounded in reality.

However, there was a real and gritty element to this story. It took an hour or so to discover it, but the clincher at the end is really very arresting.

I would have liked to delve more into the couple’s painful history a little earlier in the play, which might have helped ground some of the throwaway, witty to-and-fros.

Simon Godwin’s stage directions work well on the wide Lyttelton stage. Constant movement, sometimes focused, sometimes aimless, mimiced real life expertly.

But it was mimicry.

The play was an open manifesto. It was not suggestive, but instructive. It was not subtle, but a poster for the political movement of gay rights and the internal struggles of the Conservative Party to get there.

A word, as always, about the set: designed by Hildegard Bechtler the set struck me as almost cinematic in its proportions. Wide – 16:9 wide. And deep too – there was a real depth to the stage, with rooms leading into rooms into rooms.

I liked the open but clear separation between the front rooms, allowing the actors to partake in a wide dance, engaging with each other as if joined by a elastic bungee cord, but never close enough to touch.

Hildegard should have a stern word with Jackie Shemesh (Lighting Designer) about the “sunlight” streaming in from the Stage Left windows. About as believable as the longevity of the protagonists’ marriage.

The World Premiere of Hansard opened at the Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre) on 3 September 2019 and closes on 25 November 2019.

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Florian Zeller’s The Son is a must-see West End transfer

9front row score

The third of his Mother, Father, Son tryptic to strike the London stage; The Son deviates from the other two plays in its style – more direct, less abstract, more graphic.

The three plays, whilst tied together in title, are actually stand-alone plays so you don’t need to have seen The Mother or The Father to make sense of this production.

Translated by his ongoing collaborator, Christopher Hampton, The Son is set in Paris and hones in on the pains and tribulations of a troubled teenager Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston).

Laurie Kynaston’s raw performance in the focal role is convincing and upsetting. John Light, who plays his father Pierre, is also remarkably convincing – exposing the struggles of fatherhood – separated from Nicolas’ mother and with a new-born baby with his girlfriend, Sofia.

The two mothers in this play were less convincing for me, and at times felt like they were saying lines, but the emotion pouring from Kynaston and Light carried the show.

The one-act play, directed by Michael Longhurst, was harrassing throughout and powerfully charged through without me feeling the need for an interval.

That said, it certainly wasn’t light entertainment, and at the final curtain I felt drained and needed a long walk.

I went with a friend who is a Psychologist, she said watching this play was like being at work.

Lizzie Clachan’s set design was simple and clever, with a second room that was partially revealed and obscured at different moments during the play, indicating different locations in an otherwise static set.

The Son opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on 24 August 2019 for a 10-week run.

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)

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West End

Ambassadors Theatre

One of the smallest theatres in the West End sits quietly off of Charing Cross Road.

Designed by W G R Sprague, who also designed the neighbouring St Martin’s Theatre, the Ambassadors Theatre opened on 5th June 1913.

The theatre’s first production – Monckton Hoffe’s Panthea – only survived 15 nights, but this was not to be a sign of the theatre’s future successes.

Address: Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London, WC2H 9ND

Nearest Stations: Covent Garden (Piccadilly Line)

Nearby Hotels: The Z Hotel Soho, Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street, Kettner’s

Capacity: 444 across two tiers (Stalls and Dress Circle)

1924 introduced London audiences to the great Ivor Novello, making his stage debut in Deburau. The inter-war period also saw the Ambassadors Theatre launch the stage career of Vivien Leigh, who made her stage debut aged 22 in The Mask of Virtue.

History was made on West Street in 1952 with the opening of the world’s longest running stage production: Agatha Christie’s who-dunnit The Mousetrap.

The production played at the Ambassadors Theatre for 21 years before moving next door (to the St Martin’s Theatre), benefitting from their larger auditorium.

The late 1990s marked a new period of transformation for the theatre, as it was carved into two separate studio making space for a Royal Court Theatre residency (1996-1999).

The new millenium saw the theatre returned to its original design, and renamed the New Ambassadors Theatre for just short of a decade.

The New Ambassadors Theatre – as it was – hosted several plays and comedies, making use of the venue’s intimacy.

More recently the theatre has seen an increase of musical theatre productions, including the Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Little Shop of Horrors and the decade-long run of Stomp (2007-2018).

Since the departure of Stomp, the theatre has played host to a series of short-run productions, including the London premiere of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole – The Musical (2019).

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