Funny Girl – Manchester Palace Theatre

Don’t tell me not to live
Just sit and Putter

Sheridan Smith’s interpretation of Fanny Brice’s rise from Brooklyn musical halls sparkles with energy. She easily handles the big numbers in this show, as well as the emotional depth of how she handles her personal life.

Life’s candy and the sun’s
A ball of butter

But then it is a piece from its own time, with some rather dated views on the roles of women and men within relationships, which are held up to be right and proper. But at least we establish that Fanny won’t let anyone rain on her parade.

Don’t bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

I couldn’t work out how the set was moving until I saw this video (with the Orchestral Overture) of how it was built. Fascinating to watch for someone like me who belongs firmly in the audience.

Cleopatra – Chorley Little Theatre

Its panto time! For this edition of using our Chorley Little Theatre membership, we also took the little lad, because panto is really for the children after all. He asks a lot of the time when he can go to the theatre again, and when something suitable for under-fives comes up at any vaguely local theatre I try to take him. For this one he was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

This panto was written by the local director, for “Little Theatres” to put on. It stuck faithfully to all the tropes, but with a story we hadn’t already seen a hundred times. There were only two little criticisms, firstly that the Evil Asp was too scary: my reception-aged child was genuinely terrified and he wasn’t the only one hiding on a parent’s knee in the audience. He didn’t want to watch the second half until we explained that we needed to see Cleopatra defeat him and we were all going to shout “Booo” even more loudly to let him know we weren’t really scared of him. And secondly, the sing-along was very complex with an unfamiliar tune (instead of a minor rewording of a nursery rhyme/carol) so even I struggled to follow and the young audience didn’t stand a chance.

But we still had a fabulous time. The chorus were great: doing complex dance routines and singing well known songs. Everyone liked shouting “Ali Ali Ali!” although at the end my son reported that a man and a lady and two ladies had got married. Apparently he didn’t quite get the cross-dressing part! I didn’t have the heart to tell him that one of those two ladies was supposed to be a man…

And in the little one’s own typing:

BEAUTIFUL  WEDDING AND DRESS AND THANK YOU FOR MAKING THE MONSTER GO DOWN!

Edit: I’m told the song is a One Direction song called “History”. I am clearly not down with the kids.

Hair the Musical at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Prior to seeing this I knew that Hair was a 1970s musical that significantly changed the direction of musical theatre, but not the storyline or any of the songs. So seeing it was due to run in Manchester, I booked tickets to go with my Mum – who had been considered too young for even the LP when it first ran.

Set in a hippy community during the Vietnam war years, we were taken on a journey through anti-war, but mostly anti-draft protests, free love and drug usage. I was most drawn into that political debate on war and freedom – and how strong fears and passions merged with mob-like behaviour with the social norm becoming to refuse law whilst also (allegedly) refusing to harm others.

I was blown away by the score and the quality of the cast and music: helped by Hope Mill Theatre being a very intimate venue: with only around 100 seats and most of those only two rows deep, a lot of the time we were eye to eye with the actors and there’s nothing to make you feel part of the story than a moment with eye contact, linked hands and someone singing right to you.

The cast sang well and were convincing, and the music was rocking: my favourite part was at the end when we were all pulled up to dance on the performance area once the actors had all taken their bows.

Breaking the Code – Royal Opera House, Manchester

Regular readers may have noticed I’ve been on a bit of a theatre binge lately. This is mostly because going to the theatre triggers more theatre because I find out about other interesting things I need to see. But this Manchester Science Festival play was my first time in the Royal Opera House in about a decade: its a good place to go, a fully “in the round” (or heptogon/octogon) space where the action is surrounded by the audience.

Breaking the Code is of course quite light on actual code, and much heavier on Turing’s personal life and relationships. There are however a couple of lovely little maths monologues. I was most puzzled however by the line:

“You haven’t heard of Hilbert. Its a great shame”

Because to my mind, everyone knows of Hilbert’s Hotel. A wonderful place, although it is somewhat tiresome to always be moving rooms. But then probably we can’t assume the whole audience does!

However even knowing what was going to happen next, the ending is still somewhat out of the blue. The problem seems to be simply that there was too much material between mathematics, personal life and legal trouble to be fitted into a two hour play and therefore something had to give.

It was very well produced in the Royal Exchange: a simple system of horizontal and vertical light bars were moved up and down to form room outlines, with the only other set pieces used being a few chairs and a single table that were moved about to form different rooms. Gave a real sense to movement between scenes, even if poor Daniel Rigby (playing Alan Turing) hardly left the stage for the whole play.

Ragtime – Charing Cross Theatre

I had barely heard a song from Ragtime before we saw it this weekend – but it was the most suitable-looking show on in London this weekend with tickets available that we hadn’t already seen, so front-row tickets were booked.

Of course we didn’t know what to expect: but from the opening number it was clear we were in for something which was both deep and rocking. There are some seriously catchy tunes, heartbreak and politics. A lot of it is looking frighteningly relevant to the way the world is currently moving (as we saw this in the week Trump won the presidential election).

I really enjoyed the way this production had all the instruments onstage, and a simple set of two walkways that swung back and forth and was used imaginatively. Part of the fun was how the pianos were used as furniture on stage: I was amazed how much jumping on and off the tops was manageable without slipping or standing on the keys.

Other bits of fun whilst we were in London: John Soane’s museum, a fascinatingly packed house of everything he had collected in a lifetime, and of course a trip to the London Review of Books bookshop.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

Like a lot of my generation, I read every Harry Potter as it came out. I can tell you where I read each one, from the first I “borrowed” from my little brother aged 11, cycling to the local town on release day to buy The Prisoner of Azkaban, through to a group of friends driving to the supermarket to pick up all our copies of The Deathly Hollows (and snacks) just after midnight, and spending the whole morning curled up in someone’s parents’ lounge, all of us devouring it with equal enthusiasm.

With Harry Potter framing much of my teenage years, of course I picked up a copy of The Cursed Child. There are spoilers below the cut.

Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne”

I Love You Because – Chorley Little Theatre

I’ve kept meaning to go to a performance at Chorley Little Theatre for a while, so this week picked up a ticket for I love you because.

I didn’t know anything about this musical before I walked into the auditorium, the cost of tickets being such that I was happy to buy one whatever the show was. It was a wonderfully lighthearted love story, with the traditional star-crossed lovers working out who they are and what love means. I came out humming the very catchy theme, and bought the soundtrack that evening.

As for Chorley Little Theatre, again it is very impressive. The actors and acting were great, the set was tidy and the musicians were fabulous! Plus I had a hot chocolate for £1 in the interval (getting up for work early the next morning). I’m now considering buying a season ticket for 2016/17 and will be back.

Avenue Q – 2016 tour – Manchester

The sun is shining its a lovely day
The perfect morning for a kid to play
But you have lots of bills to pay
What can you do?

Finding ourselves entirely free on a Saturday evening, we browsed the local theatre listings, and realised that it was the last night of the Avenue Q run in Manchester. That was enough to have us at the box office, picking up a couple of the last tickets available.

We’d previously seen the first run of Avenue Q in London in around 2008, from West End “cheap” seats. But on tour, we were comfortably in the middle of the stalls, with leg room and a great view. I don’t know how much this contributed to it being much better than either of us remembered, making us both laugh at the puppets mocking their own fates. The characters are surprising convincing and empathetic, and I have several of the songs still in my head.

For a silly light-hearted musical, it is surprisingly deep in places. The more “adult” content did have me cringing in places though!

The Book of Mormon (Musical)

A brilliantly funny (and very crude) musical which I got to on the West End see as my main birthday present. I was very impressed at how they balanced between making fun of Mormons who have gone out to Missions and treating those Mormons as good people who try to rationalise their own beliefs. Apparently they did this so well that the Church of Latter Day Saints actually likes the musical (and the program includes adverts for the actual Book of Mormon).

The music has good repeated themes throughout to tie the production together, as is sufficently catchy that when I hear “Hello” I now automatically follow it up in my head with “…my name is Elder Price”.

The Rivals

As an alternative to a book review, last night we went to see The Rivals at the Royal Theatre in Bath. This is a comedy of manners set in Regency Bath.

The actors were generally very good, and Mrs Malprop played her part fantastically, with the audience laughing throughout. I hadn’t previously known that this was where the word “Malpropism” came from.

Our pre-theatre meal was more rushed than planned, but was still a very nice pizza in the Market bar across the road from the theatre. This also gave us a perfect view of the BBC crew doing their opening night filming.

If you are in the area, try to see this in the next week. Its definitely worth it.