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My Stagey Week 40

On Monday I went along to the press night for Translations by Brian Friel at The National Theatre which returns after a sell out run in 2018.

I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t see this show originally because I didn’t really feel it interested me. My interests changed this year, when it was announced that Fra Fee was taking over the part played last year by Colin Morgan.

Fra is an old friend who I met when we both worked on the film adaptation of Les Miserables. He is one of the most encompassing actors I know, as well as being an accomplished musician and incredible singer. He is also a very charismatic and typically charming young Irish man with great hair.

Directed by Ian Rickson, Translations is a play about colonialism set in Ireland between the Act of Union and the Great Famine in the 19th Century.

It was first performed at the Guildhall, Derry, Northern Ireland in 1980, and starred Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea who also produced it. The play transferred to New York the following year and was revived on Broadway in 1995.

This new production now stars along side Fra Fee, Rufus Wright, Jack Bardoe, Ciaran Hinds, Amy Molloy, Julian Moore-Cook, Judith Roddy, Liadan Dunlea, Dermot Crowley, Seamus O’Hara, Michael-David McKernan, Paul Lloyd, Sarah Madigan, Gareth Clarke, Adam Collier.

The National Theatre does have a habit of bringing successful shows back for a second run. Often they have some cast changes, but generally the play it self, the set and staging remain the same.

Whether artistically, peddling shows again and again could be considered lazy programming, it does allow opportunity for people who couldn’t get tickets during initial sell out runs the chance to now see them, and for anybody revisiting the show there is that opportunity to discover more or to see a slightly different interpretation, especially if a new actor is appointed.

When Follies returned in 2019 after its Olivier winning production in 2017, one of the most notably differences was Joanna Riding taking over from Imelda Staunton. For me, I have to say, and with no disrespect to Ms. Staunton I much preferred Jonanna Riding’s performance and what she brought to the role.

Having not seen last years production of Translations, I am unable to compare Fra Fee to Colin Morgan, and without bias all I can say is that Fra gives an electric performance that is intricate and detailed.

The static set which effectively represents the foundations of a stone clad dwelling surrounded by soil is simple yet sufficient.

The story and characters are illustrated well, providing an authentic insight in to this forgotten period in Ireland’s history. The opening sequence of act two is brilliantly hilarious with two characters struggling to understand each other’s language, their miscommunication becomes one of the most charming scenes in the play. The ending might seem abrupt, but leaves you with enough understanding and indication of where the story and these characters are going.

After the show I joined a drinks reception with lyricist Richard Thomas who wrote the book and lyrics for Jerry Springer the Opera which Nicholas Hytner brought to the Lyttelton Theatre as the first production in his opening season as director of the National Theatre in 2003.

Richard and I chatted about his experience with the National, and were then joined by Declan Bennett who has been working with Richard recently in his new show AA that was presented earlier this year as part of MT Fest UK at the Other Palace.

I then chatted to Fra, telling him how wonderful I thought he was, as he bashfully played it down. This is Fra’s second time at the National following As You Like It in 2016.

After devouring handfuls of canapés I left the boys to enjoy the rest of their evening and made my way to Freedom Bar Soho for Kinky Kabaret.

In this special evening, all the acts were selected by Duane Lamonte from the ITV show Dance Dance Dance. These included Cocoa Divine, Abi Carter Simpson, Jessica Lovelock, Shanice Kudita, Becca Folkes, and boy band YLR.

Hosted as always by Carl Mullaney it was nice to see a new mix of acts who I haven’t seen before, and they were all brilliant.

Boy band YLR had the crowd on their feet with their infectious dance routines, whilst Abi Carter-Simpson’s comedy set went down a storm too. Becca Folkes gave a particularly beautiful performance after she made reference to abuse she had received as a child, saying that it went on to inspire her to perform and overcome her past. It was a very moving speech followed by a stunning performance.

All the performances can be found on my YouTube page:

Duane Lamonte Ft. Cocoa Divine.

Abi Carter Simpson.


Jessica Lovelock. Ain’t Nobody.

Shanice Kudita.

Becca Folkes‬.

Stefan Mahendra.

Duane Lamonte Ft. Jermaine Jackman.

On Tuesday I was at the press night for the new production of Afterglow at the Waterloo East.

Written by S. Asher Gelman, Afterglow was produced earlier this year at the Southwalk Playhouse in June. Originally directed by Tom O’Brien it is now directed by his assistant Steven Kunis based on his original work.

The entire cast has been changed and now features Benjamin Aluwihare, Adi Chugh and Peter McPherson.

Afterglow divided critics at the Southwalk

Playhouse, however I really liked it, and wrote about it in my blog, My Stagey Week 23:

Despite liking the original, I was unsure why a new production has been brought back so soon, and why it has come to a much smaller theatre.

On one hand, this could provide a chance to make some changes and modifications based on audience responses and feedback, and certainly in the hands of a new director provide the opportunity to interpret and present the play in a new or different way.

Instead Afterglow at the Waterloo East Theatre, is simply a scaled down replica of the original Southwalk Playhouse production. The set and design is exactly the same, only smaller, and nothing appears to have changed with regards to direction. Elements like the scene transitions that many people originally didn’t seem that keen on, have remained.

Cast changes in theatre traditionally occur once a year, where I do sometimes revisit a show to see what the new cast brings to it. A year seems to allow enough time for a show to regress far enough in to my memory to allow me to look at it again from a different view.

Having only allowed four months in this instance, it proved difficult to assess the new cast or to merit them, when the production is so reminiscent of the original. If anything at points it felt like I was watching an understudy run.

The new cast include Peter McPherson, who is an old friend of mine, although this is the first time that I have seen him act, apart from I did see him dance in West End Bares.

I was apprehensive as anyone would be watching for the first time a friend act in a play, but was relieved and delighted by how good Peter is. He had firm control of the American accent and commanded emotional journey his character takes.

For me, Afterglow still remains a brilliant play, and although it might have taken me a little bit of time to adjust to the new line up, I still think this play offers an incredible insight and reflection on modern gay relationships.

I also uphold my opinion that this play offer universal appeal, and should not be written off as just a gay play for a gay audience. By presenting it at the Southwalk Playhouse and Waterloo East it has the potential to reach a broader audience, although having Men’s sauna Pleasuredrome advertise in the programme does suggest where this play is being marketed.

Afterglow is on until 24th November

On Wednesday I travelled up to the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester to watch Mame.

Starring the incredible Tracie Bennett this is a stunning and delightful musical, which I am surprised has not been seen more often.

Having met Tracie a couple of times, she has a wildly wicked sense of humour and personality that translates into every performance she ever gives. With multiple Olivier and a Tony nomination, Tracie has been flawless in every thing I have seen her do, and here as Mame, she is simply majestic.

The rarely staged musical opened on Broadway in 1966 starring Angela Landsbury and Bea Arthur, before transferring to London in 1969 where Ginger Rodgers played Mame. It was revived again on Broadway in 1983 and for its 40th anniversary at the Kennedy Centre in 2006.

Returning to the UK, for the first time in fifty years, Mame at the Hope Mill Theatre has been directed and choreographed by Nick Winston with the brilliant Alex Parker as musical director.

Joining Tracie is the formidable Harriet Thorpe who work deliciously next to each other. Both actress have such subtlety and comical command in the performances, they are utterly joyous to watch.

Jessie May, who previously appeared in Hair at the Hope Mill Theatre, and famously took over from Madalena Alberto in Aspects of Love at short notice when she was taken ill, is unrecognisable with a mousy brown wig concealing her normally delectable blond hair. Jessie is hilarious in the role of secretary Agnes Gooch.

Lochlan White is one of the three boys who share the role of young Patrick, and is brilliant, having also appeared in Rags at the Hope Mill Theatre, which transfers to the Park Theatre next year.

I mentioned last week, about my discomfort watching the awkward performances from the young actors in The Lion King, but here, I was incredibly impressed by Lochlan who is superb and definitely one to watch.

The cast is completed by Tim Flavin. Chase Brown. Benjamin Wong. Lewis Rae. Hugh Osborne. Mark Faith. Liam Wrate. Jabari Braham. India Thornton. Aston Newman Harrington. Soo Drouet. Pippa Winslow. Grace Chapman. and Lauren Chia, who collectively form an incredible all singing all dancing troupe, easing life in to Nick Winston’s stunning choreography.

It is easily one of the best shows I have seen at the Hope Mill Theatre, by far eclipsing a lot of the work I see regularly in London.

The attention to detail in the set and costume sets the whole production off as a delectable musical feast.

It is on at the Hope Mill theatre until 9th November:

On Friday evening I was at The Union Theatre to watch their latest production Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1949, in was made famously in to the movie starring Marilyn Monroe in 1953. The musical opened in London in 1962, and a production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre followed in 1998.

With music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin this production has been directed by Sasha Regan with choreography by Zak Nemorin and musical direction by Henry Brennan.

The set by Justin Williams is simple but striking and very effective, allowing lots of space for Zak’s brilliant choreography.

The cast include, Abigayle Honeywill. Eleanor Lakin. Freddie King. George Lennan. Aaron Bannister-Davies. Ashlee Young. Arran Bell. Esme Bacalla Hayes. Florence Beaumont. Jo Bird. Lewis Rimmer. Stephen Loriot. Jasmine Davis. Patrick Cook. Liam Dean. Maria Mosquera. Tom Murphy. Virge Gilchrist.

The cast all look great and show superb dance skills, with brilliant vocals to match.

Collectively they are all superb, and bring energy and character to a fabulous show packed full of classic show stoppers including “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”.

Abigayle Honeywill stands out as the blond bomb shell, whilst Eleanor Lakin also commands the stage with equally brilliant performances. Freddie King’s handsome looks are subdued behind a pair of glasses but his superb voice resonates through.

Overall it was brilliantly directed by Sasha who stages the production effectively with minimal props or scenery.

It was nice to catch up with Sasha after the show, whose daughters had spend most of the half term with her at the theatre, it adds to the homely, family feel that Sasha has created at the Union Theatre, and with their step dad performing in Mamma Mia in the West End, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sasha’s girls follow them in to the business.

On Saturday afternoon, I watched The Niceties at The Finborough Theatre.

Written By Eleanor Burgess this is a two hander starring the incomparable Janie Dee and Moronke Akinola in her professional stage debut.

This was honestly a remarkable play that really impressed me.

Janie Dee, is unequivocally one of the finest actresses in theatre, as well as an undisputed brilliant dancer and singer. Like, Tracie Bennett, she brings an attention to detail and an authenticity to every performance she ever makes, and her acting is consistently alive and truthful.

In The Niceties she plays a history professor with Moronke Akinola playing one of her students. Set at an elite university in America during the last year of the Obama presidency The Niceties creates fierce debate that covers race, revolution, American history and academic process.

Moronke Akinola who recently graduated from Bristol Old Vic is remarkably good. It’s a confident, assured and perfectly balanced performance.

Directer Matthew Iliffe does an excellent job.

There is a subtle use of lighting by Lucia Sanchez and sound by Kate Marlais to under pin the tension that is almost subliminal.

Matthew is rapidly becoming one of my favourite young directors, having adored his work on The Burnt Part Boys and Maggie May.

What I enjoyed most about Eleanor Burgess’ writing is how she balances both the two characters to show fairly their strengths and flaws.

The writing is provoking and captivating, and it was fascinating to watch the audience react and talk about the play during the interval and afterwards. Especially the clear view points and divide between younger and older members of the audience, who each had very contrasting opinions.

On Saturday night I dressed up as IT and joined the hoards of party goers at this years sold out Sink the Pink Halloween Party.

I always dress up to these, in full costume and mask and go alone, so that nobody recognises me, as I relish in spotting people I know and freaking them out.

The costume which I bought from EBay was so realistic, thanks to my mum who helped take it in, so that it fit me perfectly.

I had a brilliant night which continued in to Sunday morning, and was photographed by lots of people, including Denise Van Outen who asked for a photo with me.

The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here:

And the audio version can be found as a podcast here:

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