Jesus Christ Superstar at the Open Air Theatre

Lloyd Webber and Rice’s shows still reign supreme in London, and their latest revival of Jesus Christ Superstar is enjoying a second stint at the Open Air Theatre after last year’s sell-out run. The show undoubtedly holds a contemporary gaze over the original story but champions the rock opera making this production one not to miss.

Jesus Christ Superstar communicates the beginnings of the Easter story with a focus on Judas’ perspective of events. We see Jesus’ fame and following anger Judas, leading to the betrayal and eventual crucifixion of the Christ, all set to a dazzling rock soundtrack.

Timothy Sheader’s vision is so centred on the show’s rock origins that the music takes centre stage. Not only do the band command this great score, but the themes are woven into the production. Microphones, speakers and instruments form vital elements of the story; Judas’ noose and the cross itself in a haunting finale. The use of shine and glitter to signify sin is brilliant and lasting. Lighting, sound and set design come together with direction in this expertly thought-out piece of theatre.

The choreography puts the ensemble at the heart of the show. The repetitive, copy-cat canon of movement truly reflects the effect Jesus had on his followers, and subsequently the effect they had on his downfall.

With such a strong base to work with, the cast only heighten the show’s merit. Tyrone Huntley (Judas) performs with such passion and outstanding vocal ability. Heaven on Their Minds sets the tone for the production and his standard of performance doesn’t falter one bit.

Declan Bennett’s (Jesus) Gethsemane is not quite the highlight of the show in comparison. Although thematically it’s nice to incorporate the guitar into his performance, I feel the role in general isn’t suited to Declan vocally, despite some nice acting at times. The power just isn’t there in the high notes which is unfortunately something that has become expected from a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Collectively the cast and ensemble are unquestionably talented. Maimuna Memon (Mary) provides some lovely moments and Peter Caufield rightfully delivers Herod’s shockingly contrasting highpoint. Phillip Browne (Caiaphas) and Sean Kingsley (Annas) really understand the priests’ role and give fantastic performances.

The outdoor setting is perfect for this skilfully crafted production, the product of a creative team with collective, expert vision. Talented performances reflect the raw, rock-centred concept. Dramatic, compelling and performed with conviction – this is a must-see highlight of the summer season.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tickets are available directly from the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, with best availability from 28th August. Must end 23rd September.

Photo credit:

The Wedding Singer UK Tour

Dan Looney and Adam Paulden’s touring production of The Wedding Singer took to the floor for its first dance at the Churchill Theatre on Tuesday night, and trust me when I say this eighties pop hit is the matrimonial event that you don’t want to miss.

Based on the film starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, The Wedding Singer tells the story of performer Robbie Hart who hits rock bottom when left at the altar by his fiancée. He goes from wedding champion to love casualty but is saved from his downward spiral by waitress Julia. Engaged to notorious city trader, and cheater, Glen Gulia, will she realise what true love is before it’s too late?

With weddings at its heart, this show is always going to be a tad cheesy, but this production rises above that, balancing the light-hearted fun with emotional pull. Jon Robyns, as Robbie, leads with this spirit, with strong vocals and an effortless capability to win the audience over and bring them on his character’s journey.

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The bubbly eighties soundtrack is perfect for the show and is brilliantly punctuated by a strong book; witty and funny when it needs to be without taxing an audience who want an easy night at the theatre. Choreographically this production is more ambitious than I anticipated and it really works with this energetic ensemble who truly bring the show to life.

Ray Quinn, as Glen, once again proves he’s no forgotten X Factor star trying his hand at the touring scene. He is a confident musical performer, vocally and physically who really relishes this role. Our leading lady, Cassie Compton (as Julia), is cute and nicely portrays the girl with the white wedding dream, however seems to separate and force some notes which can be a little distracting. You’re spoilt with talent among the other supporting roles but special mentions must go to George (Samuel Holmes) and rapping Nan Rosie (Ruth Madoc).

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Technically, despite a few minor hiccups, the show is strong. The lighting is particularly clever and compliments the set and staging. The varying scene locations were handed well and the bar where the guys sing ‘Single’ is an understated stroke of genius, especially when coupled with Nick Winston’s ‘bottom half’ choreography.

It’s rare you find a touring production that so capably offers light entertainment with such sentimental heart. The Wedding Singer is charming, lively and above all uplifting. This is definitely a show to fall in love with!

You can catch The Wedding Singer at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley until Saturday 5th August before it continues its UK tour. Full touring details here with Bromley tickets on sale here.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Good at Heart – Wicked Young Writers 2017

Here’s my For Good award shortlisted entry for the Wicked Young Writer Awards 2017. You can read my other shortlisted entry, Time to Talk, here.

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

I reckon Anne Frank knew what she was talking about. In this sometimes dark and down-trodden world, the musings of a remarkable thirteen-year-old girl ring in my ears and force a smile on to my face.

It’s amazing how something so terrible can remind you of the best in the world. Even in the midst of chaos and fear, good always seems to win through.
On Wednesday 22nd March 2017, London came under attack. It wasn’t for the first time. The parallels with 2005 were painfully familiar. I remember watching the news, listening to the radio, worrying about loved ones and crying over the deaths of strangers. It’s heart-breaking that such blindingly human emotions of pain and loss can be caused by another human being.

Keeping your faith in mankind is tough in this challenging, modern world. Unfortunately there will always be people out to get you. There will always be bullies and jealousy. There will always be ex-partners who treated you bad but won’t go away. There will always be people who judge a book by its cover and never challenge their miscalculated stereotypes. There will always be thieves, violence and killers. There will always be those who make it their purpose to cause fear and terror.

When you think about it, it’s actually an unyielding, never-ending struggle in life.

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So why do we keep going? How do we keep going? Well, it’s because we must. There’s something about the human race that is so powerful and relentless that it cannot be stopped. It’s our overwhelming force for good.

We all know deep down that the world is full of good. For every person out to cause harm, hurt or fear, there are thousands that want to stand against them, with kind hearts and selfless souls. The kind of people that make friends with the ones being bullied instead of giving into popularity. The people that make you realise what true love is. The people who accept you wholly for who you are despite all your hang-ups and inhibitions. The people who work long, anti-social hours to provide care and life for strangers. The kind of people that run towards danger to save others over themselves.

Those are the true humans in life as they are the people who make life worth living for. If you’re sitting here reading this you will already know who these people are in your life. We all have them because the world’s supply is endless. Good is in abundance.

In these tough times focus not on the people who spread hate, but on the people who spread love. When I hear the worst imaginable news in the media, I always remember the wise words of Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So cherish the light that our fellow humans create in this world. Grab onto carefree moments and treasure the silly, insignificant things that keep you going, because let’s face it; we could all use more news stories about a pair of kids gate-crashing their dad’s important skype interview with the BBC.

Because silly, insignificant things lead to acts of kindness that cement your faith in humanity. The little girl who wrote a letter to policemen, thanking them for keeping us safe. The man who kept his restaurant open to feed the emergency services for free as they worked tirelessly dealing with an unthinkable incident. The man who laid down his life to protect hundreds of others.

There’s hope and positivity wherever you go, you just need to open your heart to it. We may not always be able to stop the path of hatred, but we can stand up to it with love and make the world better, one random act of kindness at a time. I value the ability of humanity every minute of every day. And that’s why I still believe, in spite of everything, that the world is truly good at heart.

Footloose UK tour at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

The Churchill Theatre celebrated it’s 40th Birthday this week as the Footloose tour headed to Bromley. Led by pop favourite Gareth Gates and Blood Brothers actress Maureen Nolan, the production is fun and lively, although unfortunately flawed by its re-imagined concept.

After his dad runs out, dance-mad teenager Ren McCormack moves to the upright American town of Bomont with his mum. Instead of finding a fresh start, Ren discovers that the tragic loss of five partying teenagers has resulted in dance (and the evils that come with it) being completely banned. He alienates himself as he attempts to fight the system, not helped by falling for the daughter of the town’s strict vicar, but he soon encourages his classmates to stand up for what is right and bring life back to the conservative community.

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This new touring production of Footloose takes the show in a new direction with the introduction of actor musicians. Sadly someone’s missed a trick here and having an on-stage band really dampens the effect of some scenes and distracts from the intimacy of others. When two characters are arguing and one storms towards a piano instead of storming offstage, it goes from serious to almost farcical.

For a show so centred around dance and its influence, why detract in any way from the brilliant choreography? The cast are good, and obviously quadruple threats in many cases, but why have ‘good’ dancers with instruments when you can have incredible ones without? It seems a shame that maybe cost-cutting and slightly too radical artistic direction have clashed here to lose what could have been an amazing musical production.

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose. Photo Credit Matt Martin (3)

The good news is that this is not a wasted night at theatre despite noted flaws. Footloose has a truly strong 80s soundtrack that slots seamlessly into the plot and an energetic performance from Joshua Dowen as Ren is a welcome charming consistency. Gareth Gates as Willard certainly proved popular and the audience warmed to his likeable character, and probably his body too!

It’s a shame that the show is hampered by the actor-muso angle, an idea that may seem revolutionary but in practice strips the production of some of its iconic qualities. Saying that, it still has heart, it still showcases talent and people still get up for a dance at the end, which is in reality all that some people want from a night out!

⭐⭐⭐

Footloose plays at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, until Saturday 22nd July before continuing its tour of the UK. Tickets available here.

Photo credit: Matt Martin

Discovering you were always a Gryffindor

Harry Potter turned 20 last week and of course the internet was rife with Potter mania. Everyone seemed to be reminiscing, quizzing themselves on HP trivia and sorting themselves into houses. Now I’ve always thought I was a Ravenclaw. In the least big-headed way possible, I’ve always been ‘clever’ (you can read that as nerdy) and when looking at the other house traits I thought Ravenclaw was always the best fit. But when I decided to log into Pottermore for the first time and sort myself properly, I got a bit of a surprise.

Now it might have been coincidence, but I think there was a bloomin’ good reason that I discovered that I was actually a Gryffindor in the week that I had a massive breakthrough with my mental health. Last week was the week I got on a tube without having a panic attack.

For those of you that know my story, you’ll know this is a pretty big deal. I’ve been suffering with anxiety triggered by cleithrophobia for many years now.

(I know… I didn’t know what it meant at first either! It’s the fear of being trapped.)

It’s a pretty debilitating condition that can spring up randomly and hold you back in so many situations. For me it mainly stopped me getting on public transport, which is a pretty annoying thing to have to contend with when you live and work in London. But it also stops me getting into lifts, being in large crowds and doing certain activities that most people find fun, like riding rollercoasters for example. In fact, at the worst of times I couldn’t even sit in the middle of a row in the theatre without freaking out. Disaster!

So you can imagine that when I took the metropolitan line from Liverpool Street to Aldgate and back again last Thursday I was pretty shocked with myself to say the least. I was nervous yes, but I didn’t go into a panic. I didn’t enter that negative, never-ending roundabout of bad thoughts. I didn’t expect the worst or tell myself the worst WILL happen. I was positive. I was brave.

Bravery is not a word I have ever associated with myself. Even from a young age I’ve been a complete chicken. If someone said I was a Gryffindor, I would have laughed and likened myself to Neville in his early years!

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I’m not very adventurous as a person and my anxiety condition has only played on that side of me in recent years. Things that I was always just a bit ‘scared of’ suddenly became serious phobias, and that soon turned into severe anxiety.

Recently I’ve been working on something to tackle my anxiety head on. It’s all very exciting and pretty HUGE to say the least, but… I can’t divulge any information just yet. I know, I know, how boring, but I promise this isn’t one of those annoying cliffhangers to make you come back and read my blog again – I just can’t talk about it publicly yet. You’ll see why, but you will probably know all before the year is out.

But what I will say is that it has changed something fundamental in the way I view my mental health condition. I now believe in myself that I can overcome this. For someone like me, who has battled anxiety and her inner demons for a long long time, this has always been a difficult thing to imagine. I felt for years that I was resigned to this life; driving everywhere, paying above the odds to park and forever missing out on things because I ‘just couldn’t hack it’. I thought that I would have to accept it as normality and just get on with it.

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But that’s changed now. I’ve been shown that I can get through this. It’s been tough and it’s still gonna take a lot of time and perseverance but just being able to see and imagine that ‘end goal’ as a more tangible and achievable thing is fantastic. And maybe getting the news of my true Hogwarts colours last week might have just given me the little boost I needed to step on that train.

But you don’t need to be in Gryffindor to know that you can be brave. Anyone can be brave when you have the right attitude and the right support. You can reach that position. If you’re reading this and thinking that there’s no chance of change, whatever your demon is, then challenge that thought immediately and realise there is a light at the end of that dark tunnel!

You’ll find out more about how I got to this point soon I promise you. I’m really hoping it can help more people but different things work for different people. So keep that faith, stay positive and open-minded, and believe that you can achieve!

Stay tuned for news. In the meantime I’m off to buy myself a maroon and gold tie…

Wait, have I ‘Longbottomed’?!

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