That Stagey Blog
My Stagey Week 39
This week it was proven that you should never write any one off, especially a young promising writer.
On Monday I visited the Bunker Theatre to watch a new play by Annie Jenkins called Karaoke.
Produced by Pluck Productions, a relatively new company established by actors Philip Honeywell and E.J. Martin who have had success with the play Alkaline at the Park Theatre, that E.J. starred in, as well as Birthday Suit at the Old Red Lion, which both E.J. And Philip appeared in.
This time around, Philip was taking a turn to perform again.
From what I have seen, Pluck Productions is certainly not just a way for E.J. and Philip to continue to produce work for themselves as actors. Both are accomplished and hard working producers with a very professional approach, and a clear drive to create new British writing that is interesting and relevant. As a partnership they show a vested interest and commitment to making collaborative theatre of a high standard, and champion new writers, directors and performers.
Through Pluck Theatre they also run scratch nights where they present excerpts of varying works in progress.
As an actor, I first met Philip when he was part of the team workshopping an adaptation of James Whaton’s first book Out In The Army at the Old Vic Workrooms, he then went on to perform in A Clockwork Orange at the Park Theatre which I also saw him in. Philip is a brilliant and versatile actor and very captivating. He is clearly drawn to characters and work that challenge convention. In Karaoke he plays a gay bar tender called Darren who defies any typical conception of how gay characters are presented. He’s not camp. He’s not flamboyant and he’s not particularly well dressed. His sexuality doesn’t define him. It’s a huge and welcomed departure from how most theatre present gay men.
It is one of four very well observed and authentic characters brilliantly drawn by Annie Jenkins in Karaoke.
I was first introduced to Annie Jenkins work A Tinder Trilogy when it was produced at Theatre 503 earlier this year, and wrote about it in My Stagey Week 25, https://www.thatstageyblog.com/post/my-stagey-week-25
Although I commended the strong performances in A Tinder Trilogy by the three actresses, a condemned the writing for not being varied enough and said by the end that I was simply bored.
Directed by Lucy Grace McCann who also directs Karaoke, I also felt that the three characters merged into one, which was partly down to the actresses all being relatively the same age and casting.
In Karaoke we were already off to a good start, as indicated by the stunning portraits used in the marketing by Pluck Productions.
Each of the brilliant shots gave a clear indication of four different and distinctive characters.
Joining Philip Honeywell in the cast were Lucy Bromilow, Christopher Jenner-Cole, and Jackie Pulford.
Jackie I had met before, when I interviewed her as part of the cast of Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens at the Union Theatre.
My first impression of Jackie was that she is a remarkable actress who doesn’t know how good she is, and so I was delighted when I saw that she had been cast in Karaoke.
Karaoke is essentially four intertwining monologues woven together as their characters intercept each other. Within this, their stories are connected and reference one another, without the characters engaging directly with each other.
The performances are well directed and well staged with all four actors on the stage and active without pulling focus from the character who is speaking.
The actors were all incredibly believable and each beautifully brought to life the authentically written characters. The whole piece felt alive and engaging as a neat story arc built with a superb pay off.
Pluck Productions were savvy to work with The Bunker Theatre to present Karaoke across six evenings in conjunction with We Anchor In Hope. Borrowing two nights a week from their schedule, they also borrowed the incredible set designed by Zoe Hurwitz that works perfectly for Karaoke, without costing them a fraction of the build costs.
It’s enterprising measures like this that makes Pluck Productions such a promising start up company, that I feel will soon begin to have a huge impact in the theatre scene.
It was a shame though that it limited the run to only six performances. Spreading these out across three weeks must have been a huge challenge for the actors consistency, however that certainly didn’t show, and I would imagine it actually helped to build word of mouth about the show across three weeks in a greater way than a week long slot would have achieved.
I must also give credit to Sound designer James Hunter who cleverly selected and incorporated a selection of karako songs which played as the soundscape throughout the play.
I had managed to chat to E.J. before the show who had introduced me as a friend and supporter of Pluck Productions, and as long as they keep producing brilliant work like this, I’m proud to be considered both.
I had just enough time to chat to Jackie and Philip after the show to congratulate them on their triumph before I made my way across town to Freedom Bar Soho, to catch the end of Tuck Shop’s The Crown Presented by Kitty Scott-Claus and Ophelia Love and arrived just in time to watch finalists Dakota Schiffer and Lola Rose in a lip sync challenge.
On Tuesday, I was invited by Old School Theatre Collective to watch a new play called 4 Stages as part of the Clapham Fringe Festival Bread & Roses Theatre.
I had already had varying success when it came to Clapham Fringe Festival, having thoroughly enjoyed the brilliant reading of Mercy but struggled to find the positives in The Wild Flesh.
4 Stages is credited as being written by B C Allen, but then he lists himself as producer and actor under the name Brett Allen.
Although not uncommon for actors and writers to distinguish themselves in this way by altering their name for different projects, but it did seem a bit odd to use two different names within the same project, and I think it would have been clearer just to use one name.
I’ve discussed before the trend and varying success of actors who do write and produce their own work, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s recent triumph at the Emmy’s proving that it is possibly to successfully do all three together. However it does takes a lot of skill and a great level of ability in each discipline independently in order to bring all the elements together successfully.
4 Stages was directed by Natasha Kathi-Chandra with Amber Sinclair-Case, and co produced by Andrew Braidford and Patricia Allen.
Brett was joined by cast members Andre Skeete and Natasha Redhead.
The 75 minute play is set across four evenings within one year, and centres around a couple and their friend who meet to play board games, and begin interviewing each other to learn more about their pasts.
The play has a good premise and takes a surprising and emotional turn that is delivered to a level of success. There is certainly no disputing that all three actors were able draw out the emotional authenticity to elevate their performances.
However their performances felt uneven as a whole. The intimacy and connection between the characters was certainly convincing but there were some moments were the performances were a little wooden.
The overall pace of the play could have been slowed down to allow some time for impact and reaction, a lot of the emotionally charged parts felt sped over and weren’t allowed to land or breath, which was a shame.
On the whole, it was a very moving story, and certainly had a lot of elements that worked. Ultimately the play did feel tainted by the team’s collectively inexperience, however I must commend everyone involved.
It takes courage and conviction to believe in your own work and where else are you going to gain experience than by presenting it in front of an audience.
On Wednesday I went to watch the brilliant
Joker movie at the cinema which honestly is a masterpiece. After this I met my friend Sarah for dinner and drinks in Angel.
I then went to watch Tickle a new production from Lambco Productions at the Kings Head Theatre.
I was first introduced to Lambco’s work when they produced Boys in the Buff at the Kings Head, originally I thought it was a little cheap and very crass. However it was later refined and rewritten as Skin Deep, which was a much greater production that went on to tour.
Skin Deep reinstated the message at the heart of the show about body confidence and allowed the music to come through rather than just being a musical where the cast strip off.
Tickle was inspired by the 2016 documentary HBO documentary Tickled about “competitive endurance tickling”. The documentary unveiled a far more sinister side to this jovial online craze, that delved into child pornography, exploitation, and black mail.
Influenced by the documentary producer Richard Lambert enlisted Chris Burgess the writer of Skin Deep (nee Boys In the Buff) to write the book music and lyrics for Tickle.
Director Robert McWhir former artistic director of the Landor Theatre with a wealth of experience in LGBTQ+ work at Above the Stag was brought in to direct.
As a gay man, and an avid supporter of new writing and musical theatre, I will always do my best to support and endorse, or at least see the promise in new work, especially any with LGBTQ+ themes, and I do often find it conflicting when I see something that stands out for all the wrong reasons. Although I want to remain supportive, sometimes I feel compelled to be honest.
Tickle was as a sixty minute all singing, all dancing frolic taking the 9.30pm late slot at the Kings Head and I’ll be completely honest, it left me feeling uncomfortable and awkward.
On one hand, I could possibly forgive this for being the first sharing of brand new writing, and as with Boys in the Buff, rewrites and further stagings did result in the more favourable Skin Deep; perhaps I should acknowledge Tickle as a work in progress, look for the potential in it and hope that this is just an early stage in it’s development. However, Tickle was not being presented as a work in progress.
Frankly, it embarrasses me that this is the standard of new British LGBTQ+ writing, because it really isn’t good enough, and audiences should not be settling for this.
Richard Watkins appears as Tina Tickle, a demeaning role that undermines his own abilities. Rich is a brilliant performer, who deserves better than being relegated to playing a cheap caricature. I interviewed Rich earlier this year, after he wrote and produced his incredible one man show Happily Ever Poofter. In it Rich set out to change the narrative for how gay characters are depicted in theatre. I was really proud to see Rich making waves in this movement. I just couldn’t understand why Rich is now playing characters like Tina Tickle.
The character of Tina Tickle was unclear, and in the changing landscape of non-binary and trans visibility, I was genuinely confused by what they were trying to present by casting a man in drag, other than to relegate the character to a panto villain and reduce the whole production to a farce.
For me, this was part of the Tickle’s overall problem that contributed to completely undermining the core premise of the original documentary Tickled.
There are some strong and resonating themes, about privacy, sexual awakening and extortion that are trivialised by the form Tickle takes.
James McDowall and Ben Brooker play two naive young men who need money, and are manipulated in to taking their clothes off and tickling each other.
Although you could argue that’s exactly what these young actors are being asked to do in their professional debut here at the King’s Head Theatre.
It’s murky territory to draw this comparison, but it was certainly something that sprung to mind, during the gratuitous and unnecessary scene where both actors strip completely naked.
With no clear artistic intent or reason, it served only I assume to titillate the audience, in the same way that the original online tickle videos were designed.
There was something overwhelmingly disturbing about watching two young and new actors being asked and instructed to remove all their clothes in a theatre that prides itself in paying them equity minimum rates.
Did they feel comfortable being naked? Did they have a choice? Or were they just doing it for the money.
On reflection, perhaps Tickle presents a worryingly too accurate depiction of the original documentary.
On Thursday I watched the workshop presentation of Daryl Griffith’s Zombies The Musical at The Other Palace.
I will point out that, I was not invited to review or watch this workshop presentation and that I went to watch it of my own accord. As it is a workshop, I recognise that it is under development, and not subject to scrutiny. But as I do with everything I see, I will still offer my insight and perspective.
First of all, It’s quite telling how they have chosen to brand this production.
It’s an old school trend to use the composers name before the title, although it does still occur. Currently at the Charing Cross theatre you will find Stiles and Drewe’s Soho Cinders where as Wicked as an example will always supersede it’s brand.
The placement can be down to marketing but is prominently down to licensing and specific instruction by the author.
It’s an interesting choice, in this case as Daryl Griffith is either upholding an old school value in having the composer’s name before the title of the show, or the producers are assuming you know who he is, or that his name has more value or commodity than the show’s title.
I’ll be honest, I did not know who Daryl Griffith is, and was drawn simply by the title, and the fact that this is new British writing and musical theatre.
I was also attracted to this production as it featured Joshua Tonks.
I first met Josh when he played Rolf in the Sound of Music in Regent’s Park, although he has a gorgeous voice and trained at Arts Ed. Josh has spend some time away from musical theatre, to explore his passion for work in horror films which has has taken him away to LA. So for Josh to return to musical theatre, this must certainly be an interesting project.
Daryl Griffith, as I had to find out by reading up on him, is a prolific orchestrator and conductor, having worked with Matthew Bourne, and has orchestrated movies including Harry Potter and Star Wars.
Producing Daryl Griffith’s Zombies The Musical as Executive Producer is film and TV music editor and composer Bradley Farmer.
Casting Director Harry Blumenau assembled an incredible cast that included Joanna Woodward. Stephen Rahman-Hughes. Sophia Lewis. Joshua Tonks. Michelle Bishop. Ashley Samuels. Verity Power. Pearce Barron. Jaqueline Tate and Jeremy Batt.
Daryl Griffith himself conducted the five piece band, which was rare to see. I’ve never known a band be conducted, especially not in the studio space of the Other Palace. But then Daryl Griffith is a brilliant conductor, and there lies the first glitch. Daryl, sadly is not a brilliant music lyric or book writer.
The story opens with a generic blond women falling in love with the handsome cool guy, throw in some other cliches, an accident prone fool and a queeny gay, and you have all the hall marks you would expect from a less than ground breaking first stab at writing a musical.
Although, and I cannot dispute, the score did sound beautiful, when it came to the songs it was hard to determine whether they were a pastiche of other work, as they did seem to mimic the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Whether it was intended as a satire, the show was full of ‘dad jokes’ which again were reflective of the author and not the characters he was writing for. There were some lines that distinctly stood out as jarring from what the character would say.
Although sung and performed well by the experienced and brilliant cast, it felt unfortunately that they were making something a lot better then they were be given to work with.
As I said, it’s unfair to judge this too firmly, as it was a workshop presentation. However, I did also notice that the band were reading from beautifully blinded and printed manuscripts. This suggested one thing, that there had been no alterations or modifications made.
As with most workshops, the intention is to work on them. The suggestion is in the name ‘work-shop’. Often songs will be cut or changed each day as the show is worked on and presented each evening. It is this opportunity to gage an audience, and try different things.
In this case, this working development did not seem interested in developing. Also by appointing himself to orchestrate the band during each performance, Daryl Griffith prohibits himself from watching the show, and being able to see how it is being received and which bits are working.
It renders the whole experience as more of a vanity project. I feel that if this project has a future then they would need to bring in an experienced writer to help develop the lyrics and books. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t write his own lyrics.
On Friday evening, I finally got chance to watch Brooklyn the Musical at the Greenwich theatre.
Directed by Adam Haigh who brilliantly choreographed Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens at the Union Theatre that was also designed by Justin Williams.
The cast of five are some of the best vocalists I know, Sabrina Aloueche, Emily-Mae, John Addison, Andrew Patrick Walker, and Hiba Elchikhe.
Sabrina started out as Young Cosette in Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre, and returned years later as Eponine at the Queens Theatre she also played Scaramouche in We Will Rock You. Her voice is ridiculous. She has a solo show at the new Boulevard Theatre in Soho on 14th November. Tickets for this can be found here: https://boulevardtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/finale-sabrina-aloueche/
John Addison is ridiculously handsome and now dating Madalena Alberto whom he met when they were both in A Christmas Carol. He has just spent a year in School of Rock.
Andrew Patrick Walker I met recently at the Hope Mill Theatre, where he was in Jerry Springer The Opera, and saw him perform recently at Freedom, and was honestly blown away by his voice and stage presence. There is a video of him performing ‘Disclosure’ by Sam Smith at Kinky Kabaret on my YouTube page: https://youtu.be/P6Bv4mM66OE
Emily-Mae who also performed that evening also has a phenomenal voice which blew me away. There are videos of here too: https://youtu.be/PVlGzlz5N5I
Hiba Elchikhe who plays Brooklyn, vocally has the most challenging role which Hiba masters with ease. She is an incredible performer and actress, having played Jasmine in Aladdin in Australia.
Brooklyn the Musical was originally produced on Broadway in 2004, closing eight months later and toured in 2006.
The show would perhaps have since disappeared in to obscurity had it not been for how incredible the songs are, which have continued to live on as favourite and revered classics in musical theatre.
It was a bold undertaking to revive this show and to give it its European premier at the Greenwich Theatre. Written by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson, it takes the form of a play within a play, and acknowledges that the plot takes influences from Annie, Madame Butterfly, Movin’ Out, and Rent. But here lies the problem, it fails to find its root and feels like a mishmash.
The story simply isn’t strong enough to carry the show, despite the brilliant songs within it. The structure is also problematic, with the stand out song ‘Once Upon A Time’ feeling like it comes too soon into the show, providing its peak mid way through the first act. From here, there are still other great songs and great performances but the momentum struggled to sustain.
Despite this, I could not get enough of this cast, each in their own right have divine voices and are skilled performers. It was honestly worth watching just to hear these incredible voices come together.
The set by Justin Williams looked incredible, with huge attention to detail. This was easily the largest scale production Justin has designed, which he accomplished perfectly.
After the show I gave each of the cast a quick hug as they were swamped by fans with gifts.
On Saturday, I finally got to see The Lion King at it’s 20th Anniversary Gala.
I tend to only to openings and closings of shows, so when it came to the Lion King that is in no danger of going anywhere, I simply hadn’t got round to seeing it until now.
I was twelve years old when the film came out in 1994, and remember having the game on my Sega Mega Drive.
The stage adaptation that opened on Broadway in 1997, after a try out in Minneapolis, transferred to the West End in 1999, where it is still going strong with sell out shows.
It has become a global smash with a UK tour also starting this year.
I dressed up for the gala in my suit and bow tie and arrived as champagne was being handed out to everyone, I had a great seat in the stalls and was very excited to finally see this show.
The show is simply a stunning theatrical experience. From the moment the music begins, the lighting and staging serves to transport you to the Pride lands.
The musical does a very very good job of incorporating authentic cultural styles, and is simply beautiful.
The use of puppetry to create the animals is remarkable.
The original film notable white washed the cast using white actors to voice the majority of the characters, Disney rectified this recently with their live-action remake by using a more diverse cast.
With the musical, lengths were also made to rectify the original casting, by predominantly using actors of colour throughout the cast. Despite this, my only criticism is that they still direct the actors to use RP accents.
Although complying with the characters established in the film from 1994, it does however now feel updated and tired to represent Scar, for example, as the typical panto villain with a posh English accent. Twenty five years later, we would hope that we have moved on from these cliches and stereotypes, and it surprises me that the production of The Lion King, has not yet moved towards rectifying this by updating and mortifying the performances to allow for different voices and accents which aren’t so cliche.
The accents along with some of the ropey dialogue does bring the production down as it serves to cheapen the entire show.
There have been some small updates that include Zazu singing Let It Go and making a joke about a Primark curtain, which again cheapens the brand and the production.
On the whole, I enjoyed the show, and was blown away by the dance and puppetry, however I do feel that twenty years in, they could perhaps updating some elements that are feeling old.
On Sunday I joined the legion of gay men who made the pilgrimage to The O2 to watch Cher: Here We Go Again Tour 2019.
At 73 years old, Cher is nothing short of remarkable, and her concert was everything you would want from her.
It was camp, colourful and fun. Cher racked through a host of costumes and wigs between sixteen of her classic hits.
With a team of brilliant dancers, the concert was a sheer spectacle, although I was a little disappointed, if I’m honest, that Cher didn’t talk more between songs. Only once did she give an eight minute long monologue, other than that, nothing. I was hoping, and would have loved more interaction and banter from her.
None the less it was an incredible show, and she did sing all my favourites. It was incredible just to be in the room and to now say I once saw Cher in concert, especially when she came out to perform If I Could Turn Back Time in the exact same thirty year old costume. Incredible.
Here are all the videos that I made from the evening:
All or Nothing.
The Beat Goes On
I Got You Babe
Welcome To Berlesque
Walking In Memphis
The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)
I Found Somebody
If I Could Turn Back Time
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/6CjEqiNUq-o
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Vlog-39--Audio-e8e8d0