Wednesday 8 December 2021

A Chorus Line

 Curve, Leicester

7th December, 2021

‘I hope I get it…’

In recent years Curve have really hit their stride producing guaranteed Christmas hits – from the luxuriously festive White Christmas in 2018 (currently touring the UK), to their note perfect revival of West Side Story in 2019. Their latest offering, A Chorus Line, is a solid and technically dazzling addition to the oeuvre.

The first question posed when rumours of a new staging of A Chorus Line begin to circulate is inevitably ‘Is the stage big enough to hold the eponymous line?’. This is never an issue for Curve, as the vast stage frames the ensemble beautifully, feeling neither cramped nor sparse. One could say this is the perfect venue. Utilising the theatre’s technical prowess to optimum effect, Howard Hudson’s lighting is truly spectacular, bringing scenic pizzazz to the minimal set. The technical aspects of Nikolai Foster’s production remain a big selling point. For example, the use of a handheld camera throughout is a nice touch. These projections provide a deeper insight into the emotional nuances of the normally ‘faceless’ ensemble figures and create an intimacy that could otherwise be lost in such a huge space.

Yet this is not merely a technical gimmick: Foster uses the close-ups to home in on the thematic relevancies of Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s 1975 musical, relating them to a new, contemporary audience. The sometimes invasive camera angles enhance the sense that Foster’s production sees the musical almost as a prototype for the talent shows that have ruled pop-culture for the past couple of decades. Director Zach’s (Adam Cooper) continual insistence that the dancers tell him the ‘truth’ and dig down to unleash their feelings is reminiscent of the exploitative nature of Simon Cowell and co.’s entertainment tv shows; shoving a camera lens into the faces of emotional hopefuls in an attempt to manufacture sympathy. This was our first time seeing this classic and it’s easy to see why those in the industry hold the piece in such high regard. I do think a weakness to James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicolas Dante’s book is that it can be a little navel-gazing. I prefer the subtler poignancy and psychological depth of Sondheim’s Follies as an insight into the workings of the showbiz ensemble. However, the company’s dedicated characterisation work and Foster’s masterful direction ensures each auditionee is believable to the core.

For me, where A Chorus Line really excels is in the comedic moments. I loved the self-deprecating nature of numbers like ‘Sing!’ and ‘Dance: Ten; Looks: Three’, both numbers played with relish by an endearingly excitable Katie Lee (Kristine) and hilariously gutsy Chloe Saunders (Val). Similarly, ‘Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love’, which recounts episodes of the excruciating embarrassment we all experience as teenagers, and the yearning feeling of those in-between years betwixt childhood and adulthood, strikes a wonderful balance between being very funny and capturing the pathos of the loss of innocence. This number is also a fine example of how the piece is a true showcase for the ensemble. Every cast member gets their moment in the spotlight. The final grand number is a fabulous juxtaposition, leaving the audience torn between being awe-struck by the gold-clad spectacle and mourning the loss of the individuality of the characters we’ve spent the last couple of hours getting to know.

Foster’s production is topped off by Ellen Kane’s sublime choreography. The dance routines are the kind that leave those who can dance wanting to learn the numbers, and those who can’t dance wishing they could. In all, A Chorus Line is a great example of triple threat theatre. The stamina of those involved in the show is outstanding and the affection the cast and creatives have is palpable. There were many moments that left me with a huge grin on my face and a thrill in my heart to be back at the theatre.

A Chorus Line plays at Curve, Leicester until 31st December 2021.


The cast of A Chorus Line. Photography by Marc Brenner

Thursday 2 December 2021

The Smeds and The Smoos

 Curve, Leicester

2nd December 2021


Far away in outer space

The Smeds and the Smoos have found their place


The Smeds are red and like sleeping in bed

The Smoos are blue and like eating green stews


The Smeds go swimming and eat brown bread

The Smoos sleep in holes and like jumping instead


According to Grandfather Smed and Grandmother Smoo

There can’t be a world in which you combine the two


So one day when Janet Smed and Bill Smoo mix

It triggers a world of intergalactic theatrics


The pair fall in love and go off to explore

“But you mustn’t, you can’t” their elders implore


So Janet and Bill decide to run away

They have each other and Donaldson’s wordplay


At home, the Smeds and Smoos must join hands

Off on a rocket to faraway lands


The Smeds and The Smoos has a wise message at heart

We have more in common than what sets us apart


There are puppets and songs all of which thrive

And the design brings Axel Scheffler’s drawings alive


Fun for families to never forget

Performed by Tall Stories’ fantastic quartet


The Smeds and The Smoos is produced by Tall Stories in association with Curve, based on the 2019 book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. It is directed by Toby Mitchell and designed by Barney George with music & lyrics by Jon Fiber & Andy Shaw for Jollygoodtunes. The puppetry is designed by Yvonne Stone.

The Smeds and The Smoos plays at Curve, Leicester until 31st December as part of a UK tour.

(Top-Bottom) Tim Hibberd, Angela Laverick, Althea Burey and Dan Armstrong in The Smeds and The Smoos. Credit: Tall Stories.

Wednesday 13 October 2021

Tell Me on a Sunday

 Curve, Leicester

12th October, 2021

Dreams never run on time

The Watermill Theatre’s 2016 production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s one-woman, one-act musical has been revived for a UK tour. Tell Me on a Sunday (1979) centres on Emma, an English woman navigating the ups and downs of love and loss in Manhattan. Originally performed in the West End in 1982 as part of the double bill Song and Dance, and perhaps once a curio of Lloyd Webber’s work, Paul Foster’s production is fresh, stylish and beautifully carried by Francis Goodhand’s musical direction and a star turn from Jodie Prenger.

Lloyd Webber’s music and Don Black’s lyrics prove to be a song writing masterclass. There is something rose-tinted about Tell Me on a Sunday: Emma’s idealistic belief in love is largely unwavering; the English girl in search of the American Dream is a romantic idea; and Black’s playful lyrics, particularly in the title song, show Emma’s inclination towards optimism. But this is balanced with the turbulence of emotional conflict, accepting heartbreak and being let down in songs such as the show’s anthem, ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’. What I liked about Foster’s production is that he cleverly keeps the period setting without it feeling dated. Whereas others might be tempted to drag the setting into the present which could jar with the music and story, the effect of keeping it in the 1980s feels romantic and classy. After all, the experiences of the highs of love and lows of loneliness are timeless.

The audience instantly warms to Emma thanks to Prenger’s strong performance. She captures the wide-eyed sense of adventure from being in New York whilst also convincingly staying grounded with a sense of British wit and cynicism. Lines about the size of sandwiches in NYC and Black’s lyrics about Los Angeles in ‘Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad’ remain as funny as they are true. She plays the show’s conversational style very well and maintains Emma’s sense of hope. This is all played out on David Woodhead’s gorgeous design of Emma’s stylish apartment and a mini New York skyline, skyscrapers and Brooklyn Bridge becoming part of the furniture.

Overall, the intimate song cycle of Tell Me on a Sunday followed by a Q&A with Prenger and further musical numbers in the second act make for a great night out!

Tell Me on a Sunday plays at Leicester’s Curve until 16th October and then tours the UK until 20th November. For further dates, please visit Tell Me On A Sunday (

Jodie Prenger in Tell Me on a Sunday. Credit: Tristram Kenton

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Matthew Bourne's The Midnight Bell

 Curve, Leicester
11th October 2021


‘Maybe if I loved you less

Maybe you would love me more’


A new piece from Matthew Bourne is always a talking point and a treat to get dance fans excited. I’ve been a fan for around a decade now, having seen several of his shows at Curve, and his latest venture, The Midnight Bell, proves that Bourne has lost none of his choreographic innovation, verve and heart that has made him a legend of the British theatre scene.

Bourne has teamed up with frequent collaborators, Terry Davies (composer), Lez Brotherston (design), and Paule Constable (Lighting), to put the New Adventures signature spin on working class life in 1930’s London. What may seem an incongruous source material, the novels of Patrick Hamilton, turns out to lend itself well to Bourne’s lyrical style. Blending stories and characters from Hamilton’s oeuvre, the piece follows a disparate group of people as they traverse the streets and social mores of the Great Depression era. A young prostitute struggles with the affections of a fanciful bartender; a middle-aged spinster gets revenge on her cheating lover; an awkward marriage proposal unsettles the local barmaid – the place that links them all is The Midnight Bell pub, where lonely hearts congregate to drink away their sorrows.

There were some aspects of the plot that I found problematic, namely the resolution of the thread linking George, a schizophrenic, and flighty actress, Netta – the portrayal of mental health issues is not the most constructive – this seems to be a ‘Hangover’ (excuse the pun) from the source material. More successful is Bourne’s addition of a gay relationship between pub regular, Albert, and policeman, Frank. Bourne choreographs some beautiful pas de deux for them, in which the purity of feeling is pitted against the social attitudes of the time.

Brotherston’s set design conjures the pea-souper atmosphere of the smog-leaden, dingy streets of London; a world of mists, shadows and dark corners, the stage evokes a seductive seediness. Davies’ original score complements the setting without becoming a pastiche of the ‘olden days’. The music is strikingly modern in places, often accompanying the frenetic, hurly-burly of the ensemble set pieces, becoming thunderously percussive during the more dramatic scenes, and offering flashes of sumptuousness in the soaring strings that are suggestive of the high-romance films of the time. One of the most playful aspects of The Midnight Bell is Davies' frequent segueing into 1930s' popular music. Lip synced soundbites from classics by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter transport us into the fantasies of the characters, creating ironic contrasts with the scenes playing out around them. It’s a lovely, knowing way to draw the disparities between art and reality.

The cast succeed in creating highly empathetic characters, and I found that I got sucked into their lives as the show progressed. Michela Meazza is particularly memorable as the brittle, lonely spinster, and the clandestine relationship between Albert and Frank is touchingly played out by Liam Mower and Andrew Monaghan. Bourne has assembled a tight ensemble in which every person gets their individual moment to shine, creating an intimacy that can sometimes be missed from his more large scale shows.

The Midnight Bell is well worth a visit for fans of Bourne’s work. There is much to entertain and enthral, namely Davies' playful score, Brotherston’s evocative design and the exquisite performances from the New Adventures company. Bourne remains one of the most talented and intriguing theatre-makers and I am consistently in awe of his storytelling prowess.


The Midnight Bell tours the UK until 27th November. For all venues and dates please visit

The cast of The Midnight Bell
Credit: Johan Persson

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

Curve, Leicester

Monday 20th September

‘Beautiful, a little bit of glitter in the grey’


This past weekend saw the return of the much-loved West End Live in Trafalgar Square. A free festival for theatre lovers, the event has increased in popularity each year (I still remember the early years when everyone was crammed into Leicester Square and only a handful of shows took part!), and eventually it will outgrow its current home too (where next? Hyde Park?). It’s a true highlight of the theatrical calendar and I have many fond memories of attending every year as a birthday treat with my mum and sister. And it was on such a day several years ago that we, alongside thousands of fellow musical fans, were treated to Dan Gillespie Sells’ acoustic preview of a couple of tracks from his new musical project: an adaptation of a little-known documentary about an aspiring teenage drag queen from Sheffield. Little did I know on that scorching afternoon in June that Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (co-written with Tom McCrae and original Director, Jonathan Butterell) would be the biggest new British musical in a decade, playing over 1000 performances in the West End, spawning a film adaptation (which was released on Amazon Prime last Friday), and now heading off on it’s first (belated) UK tour.

The story is simple but effective. Sixteen year old Jamie New longs to be a drag queen, an ambition he keeps secret from his classmates and his waspish teacher, who continually tells him to ‘keep it real’ while recommending that he pursue a ‘normal’ career such as becoming a fork-lift driver or prison guard. With the help of his selfless mum, studious best friend and a local veteran drag queen, Jamie fulfils his dreams, though not without hitting a few snags along the way.

While the musical’s themes of acceptance and embracing individuality are universal, it’s a quintessentially British show. Jamie’s glamourous fantasies are juxtaposed with the kitchen-sink reality of life in a working-class community, and the relationship between Jamie and Margaret is touching and grounded representation of single-parent families. McCrae’s amusing yet low-key plot, coupled with Butterell’s simple direction, is one of the show’s selling points, as the emphasis is placed on small, everyday situations, based in a relatable environment. Jamie isn’t aiming for fame and fortune, he isn’t campaigning on a global scale, his goal and driving passion is his determination to wear a dress to his school prom. The scale is small, but the stakes are high and highly personal, making the final triumph that much sweeter. Hopefully every young person watching that has ever felt different, or had to hide their true self can identify with Jamie and find inspiration from his story.

Gillespie Sells’ music is catchy without being cloying, offering a mix of poppy bangers such as the title song, ‘Work of Art’, and ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’, interspersed with sweetly contemplative numbers like ‘The Wall in My Head’ and ‘It Means Beautiful’. Margaret’s Act 2 showstopper ‘My Boy’ is a tear-jerking and heart-warming ode to a mother’s unconditional love for her child, delivered with powerful emotion by Amy Ellen Richardson. The domestic setting occasionally gives way to glorious flights of theatrical fancy, courtesy of the drag performers at the local Legs Eleven club. A particular highlight is camp noir pastiche number ‘The Legend of Loco Chanel’, as Shane Richie’s Hugo has a blast recounting his alter-ego’s misadventures of old. Curve veteran Sharan Phull also excels in the role of Pritti, Jamie’s kind and fiercely loyal best friend, while Shobna Gulati offers great comedic support as family friend, Ray. Layton Williams returns after leading the show in the West End, and his Jamie is wonderfully endearing, charismatic and sympathetic. Williams has excellent comic timing and in his sheer effervescence he emanates that elusive quality that producers world-over clamour for: Star Power.

Neither cynical nor saccharine, Gillespie Sells, McCrae and Butterell’s show is currently the jewel in the UK Musical Theatre crown. I have no doubt that Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will continue to delight audiences for years to come, and has hopefully paved the way for more home-grown musicals that celebrate the unapologetic joy of individualism within British culture.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie plays at Curve until 25th September and continues to tour the UK. For full tour details please visit: 

The cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Credit: Matt Crockett

Monday 13 September 2021

East is East

 Birmingham Rep

11th September, 2021, matinee

Tradition see, Ella

25 years after its first performance at the Rep, Ayub Khan Din’s comedy about a British-Pakistani family in 1970s Salford returns home to Birmingham. In Iqbal Khan’s production for the Rep and National Theatre, East is East feels like both a modern classic and as fresh as a new play.

In a Salford terrace, George Khan, having moved from Pakistan in the 1930s, runs his family like his business. His wife and children all work at his chip shop and he’s got plans to marry two of his sons off to an acquaintance’s two daughters. He waxes lyrically about the values he was brought up with and demands respect, instructing his children how many baskets of potatoes to peel almost as punishment. His children largely want to rebel from this. Whether that’s with their fashions and wanting to stay out all night, or studying Art at college (not Engineering). They peer through the venetian blinds at the chip shop to check if their dad is coming and sprinkle curry powder around the living room to hide the smell of bacon. We’re told that one son has been banished from the family household after choosing to be a hairdresser, so the stakes are high. The great success of Khan Din’s play, and indeed in Khan’s production, is the utter believability of the characters. The actors gel fantastically and we are plunged immediately from the get-go into a totally credible illustration of family life. The kids squabble continually, they moan and groan at their parents, yet there is always an underlying fondness to the jibes.

We see this world through the (camera) lens of George and Ella’s youngest son, Sajit. Picked on by his siblings, misunderstood and sometimes forgotten by his parents - as the only uncircumcised boy in the family, this presents the initial catalyst for Khan Din’s skewering of cultural frictions - Sajit’s confusion and insecurity manifest in his a shabby, smelly old parka, that he wears constantly, as a comfort blanket. Noah Manzoor portrays Sajit’s wide-eyed innocence and anxiety very well, and the ubiquitous parka takes on a life of its own in the hilarious denouement. Another stand out is Amy-Leigh Hickman, who impresses as George and Ella’s only daughter, Meenah. Strong-willed and independent, Meenah rules the roost, always having the last word over her brothers, and Hickman plays this with infectious glee. While often complaining about her parents’ rules and her dad’s insistence on embracing Pakistani traditions, her fiery temper, quick wit and impressive ability to have an answer to anything and everything, reveals an affinity with her father that is both comic and quite touching. Of all the children, Meenah appears to be the most like both her parents.

Sophie Stanton gives a lovely performance as the endearing, put-upon Ella. Her exasperation is as tangible as her fierce loyalty and devotion to her family. While perhaps often a foil to her husband and children’s more gregarious antics, Stanton makes the most of Ella’s droll one-liners. At the centre of the play, Tony Jayawardena is a big presence as patriarch, George. He is larger than life, and often very, very funny. Jayawardena portrays George’s wild hypocrisies with hilarious credulity, whether that be his flip-flopping opinions on the partition of India and the Pakistani war, or his opinions on arranged marriage and interracial relationships. Yet, the humour underlying George’s irrationality doesn’t deprive the character of bite. As Jayawardena demonstrates, George can turn on a dime, transforming into an imposing physical threat to his family. In fact, the bursts of violence are all the more shocking because of the humour elsewhere.

Although much has changed since the 70s, the characters and issues are still recognisable. This is a play about the push and pull of home, about a sense of belonging and being betwixt and between different cultures. It’s this that much of the production’s well-played comedy and pathos derives. As the final scene reaches the heady heights of a very British cultural form, farce, George’s somewhat old-fashioned ambitions fall apart. As Abdul says in the play, he has ‘no right to tell us what our culture should be’.

Both provocative and rousing, nostalgic and contemporary, audiences can still relate to the humour and themes of East is East 25 years later. As the audience rapturously cheered at Ella telling Mr Shah to ‘Sling your bleeding hook, go on, piss off’, it’s a timely reminder that what unites us is greater than what sets us apart. This reaction to a play from a large audience is what I’ve missed about theatre during lockdown – theatre at its best, surely.

East is East plays at Birmingham Rep until 25th September before transferring to the National Theatre from 7th-30th October as part of a wider tour.

Sophie Stanton and Tony Jayawardena in East is East. Photograph: Pamela Raith

Thursday 9 September 2021

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

 Curve, Leicester

8th September, 2021

Mendacity is a system that we live in

The RTST’s Sir Peter Hall Director Award champions emerging directors tackling big plays for audiences around the country. Previous winners include Nancy Medina who directed a masterful production of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate in 2019. Back in January of last year, the current recipient Anthony Almeida featured in Curve’s season preview ahead of this revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). At the time, we wrote that he spoke eloquently about his affection of the play’s emotional setting and how he threw away any assumptions when reading it. Over 18 months later, on a hot September night, we finally got to see his production. Almeida’s fresh take on the play brilliantly evokes the heat and intensity of the Deep South setting.

Rosanna Vize’s design opens with a translucent gauze circling Brick and Maggie’s bedroom. The white curtain cools the heat of the room and hints at the wider plantation beyond the gallery doors. Brick and Maggie play much of their opening scene behind it and on opposite sides of it to each other, evocative of an emotional barrier between the two. If this offers a degree of protection to the heat of the Delta, it is soon ripped down in one of Brick’s drunken struggles, revealing the room, including its harsh red floor, as a confrontational space with nowhere for the characters to hide. Vize’s design is effective in its simplicity, and nicely synchronised with Almeida’s direction in that both are stripped of any fuss.

Williams plays with space in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The private sanctuary of the bedroom becomes a public arena for humiliation and personal confrontation of unwanted truths. Characters are in a constant struggle for privacy and breaking that privacy: whether that is Maggie locking the door only for Big Mama to come in, or Mae, Gooper and their five ‘no neck monsters’ trying to interrupt. In Almeida’s production, this is blasted open. There are no walls meaning phone calls from the hallway take place centre stage and Big Mama stands over Brick from her first entrance. Everything is out in the open. This is no more apparent than in the scene where Big Daddy confronts Brick about his alcoholism and relationship with his friend Skipper. Whereas in the text, the gallery is an offstage place for eavesdropping, here the intruders are ever-present, watching their private conversation from the sides. As Big Daddy says, ‘It’s hard to talk in this place’.

It’s a fascinating play, a crucible of familial tensions and personal demons. It’s made more interesting by having two versions of Act Three. It’s my first time seeing the play, but I notice they’ve chosen the original Broadway version, different to the original version Williams wrote. Almeida has made some other strong choices. Placing the interval at the height of Act Two allows him to build the tension again in the lead up and aftermath of Big Daddy’s exit in the second half. Imagining the final phone conversation between Brick and Skipper also gives us some more insight into what Skipper meant to Brick. Almeida also has an eye for detail for the peripheral characters, always watching from the side-lines. I particularly enjoyed Sam Alexander’s Gooper absent-mindedly tucking into Big Daddy’s birthday cake, candles still lit, as he stared into the distance struggling with the fact he’ll always be second best.

There are moments when Almeida’s direction reminds me of Ivo Van Hove’s treatment of the ‘classics’, most notably in the moment in Act Three when Big Daddy struggles, but is ultimately, undoubtedly, triumphant in lifting an upended table. This is reminiscent of the equally vivid ‘chair scene’, which was afforded new resonance in Van Hove’s 2014 production of A View from the Bridge. The scene echoes that production not only in its menacing tension, but is also evocative of Van Hove’s aesthetic focus on stark physicality off-set by an ethereal sense of purgatorial unease. This approach suits Williams’ play, where physical, mental and emotional boundaries are crossed and blurred in a space where there is literally nowhere to hide.

The production features some fine performances, led by Peter Forbes’ Big Daddy. He growls at Big Mama to be quiet and roams the stage like an older lion trying to keep control of his pack. The character provides much of the humour to the play but it’s often coarse or at the expense of someone else. In a way he feels like the keystone, all the other characters either fawning over him or playing in an unwinnable game of one-upmanship for his praise. That is all apart from Brick, searching for the ‘click’ in his head. Oliver Johnstone gives a physical performance as the faded football star. He’s often in a world of his own either hobbling around stage in search for his next drink or bouncing a balloon at the back of the stage. Rounding off the central performances, Siena Kelly is magnetic as a breathless Maggie, seductive yet malicious, headstrong yet desperate. Kelly manages to balance the many facets of the character while maintaining an odd, yet entirely believable purity of spirit. Kelly is most definitely a name to look out for.

Almeida has shown with this production that he has a bright future ahead, and in updating such a well-known play proves that there are still unplumbed depths in all the classic plays. In exposing the bare bones of the play, and placing the relationships at the fore, Almeida has created not only a highly entertaining piece of theatre, but a tableau of family life that can still resonate with modern audiences.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof plays at Leicester’s Curve until 18th September, before touring to Liverpool Playhouse, Marlowe Theatre Canterbury, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, Theatr Clwyd, and MAST Studios Southampton until 30th October.


Oliver Johnstone and Siena Kelly in Cat on Hot Tin Roof. Credit: Marc Brenner


Wednesday 28 July 2021


 Vaudeville, London

7th July, 2021, matinee

There’s no straightforward explanation I’m afraid

This is the first time I’ve seen Constellations but, in the spirit of the play, I wondered how differently I might have watched this latest iteration of Nick Payne’s modern classic if I’d seen the original production in 2012. It’s feasible that I could’ve seen it. 2012 was around the time I started to go to London on my own and see a greater variety of theatre. And I did see Laura Wade’s Posh as part of the same West End season of Royal Court transfers so it is entirely possible I could have ventured to this. Back then, I was a single, unemployed student still living at home. Now, in 2021, I’m a married, employed homeowner still at university. Where will I be, I wonder, when the next iteration of this play comes about?

Constellations is a love story between Marianne, a scientist, and Roland, a beekeeper, which plays with the possibility that we’re part of a multiverse. It’s a world (or several) where all of our decisions and their outcomes ‘can co-exist simultaneously’. As Marianne puts it, ‘in the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes’. In a running time of 70 minutes, Michael Longhurst’s economic production played on Tom Scutt’s striking and now iconic design, we see glimpses of their relationship playing out in the multiverse. The idea is elevated by this revival having four different casts to reiterate the amount of possibilities to be pondered over. Dramatically, this concept is entertaining and scientifically, it is mind-boggling. I don’t normally enjoy doing such a biopsy on a play (who am I kidding, I love it!) but Constellations has left me craving further meaning.

The play’s structure is fascinating. It initially reminded me of Caryl Churchill’s Blue Heart (1997). Scenes jump back to the beginning and are replayed, sometimes with minor word fluctuations, sometimes with momentous changes. They head in different directions, relationship dynamics shift, motivations and moods change. It can jump from rain to sunshine, from violence to tenderness. But it also largely follows a chronological narrative arc:

·       First encounter

·       Getting together

·       Splitting up

·       Dance lessons, reuniting

·       Proposal

·       Diagnosis

·       Waiting for the taxi

·       Dance lessons, reuniting

These rough sections are interspersed with snippets which jump forward to late in their relationship when Marianne’s illness is quite advanced. I was expecting one scene to swap the characters’ roles – for Roland to become the scientist and Marianne the beekeeper. This may have added a dynamic of another possible universe, but I now think it would have been a frivolous, redundant change. Instead, although Payne presents different outcomes in different universes, there is structure, purpose and sentiment behind it, and we care all the more for Marianne and Roland because of it. Maybe such an exercise in breaking down the scenes is futile but it’s natural to seek meaning. Meaning is something Roland mostly craves. He wants to know what exactly Marianne does for a living, why doesn’t she want him to stay the night, when does he have to move out, what her diagnosis is. And he admires the simple existence of bees: ‘If only we could understand why it is that we’re here and what it is that we’re meant to spend our lives doing’. Marianne is perhaps more accepting of the unknown. However, in one universe it is Roland who is more accepting of uncertainty. What is it, I wonder, which led to that outcome? As Marianne says, there’s no straightforward explanation I’m afraid.

Reading the text, it’s all played out as one scene with each universe separated by a line. This flow is achieved by Longhurst’s short, sharp changes evoked by pops of sound and sudden lighting changes. In this version produced by the Donmar Warehouse, Zoë Wanamaker played Marianne and Peter Capaldi played Roland. Casting an older couple opens up new interpretations to the text. For instance, when the couple reunites at dance classes, Roland tells us Heather is getting married. We later find out this is his sister but I initially assumed it was his daughter from a previous marriage: another life. And when Marianne reveals her diagnosis, we hear that it may have been in her favour if she was under 40. Age alters how we perceive her illness. But overall, their age prompts us to reflect on their lived experience and the multitude of other lives and outcomes they may have, the time they’ve spent together and indeed the time they’ve spent apart. Could it be that they’ve known each other 40 or more years by the time they’re contemplating life without Marianne, making that penultimate scene all the more poignant:

We have all the time we’ve always had.

You’ll still have all our time.

Once I



There’s not going to be any more or less of it.

Once I’m gone.

There are certainly parallels with Payne’s Elegy (2016) which also starred Wanamaker at the Donmar. Here the language is more prosaic, characters wear their heart on their sleeve more, but both plays seem to be interested in how we articulate ourselves. It’s a beautiful play, cathartic, full of multiple interpretations, humour and warmth. On another note, we both felt safe and confident in the safety measures Nimax Theatres had put in place.

Constellations plays at the Vaudeville Theatre until 12th September, 2021. Wanamaker and Capaldi have finished their run, however the other three companies continue to play in rep: Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah play until 1st August; Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey play from 30th July-11th September; and Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd play from 6th August-12th September.



Wednesday 9 June 2021

The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber

 Curve, Leicester

8th June 2021


‘Feel the magic in the making’


When I was 7, my primary school did a production of Cats. You had to be in the years above to be in it but this didn’t stop me being consumed by it for weeks. I was obsessed with the songs (‘Skimbleshanks’ and ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ especially) and my dad got me the recording of the London production on VHS – during the concert Madalena Alberto tells a similar story of being introduced to Andrew Lloyd Webber (and musical theatre in general) this way. I remember we got to watch one of the last dress rehearsals and, as we sat on the dusty parquet floor, I was mesmerised by how the school hall was transformed into the junk yard set. A stage was put up and a starlit backdrop covered the back wall, adorned with bin lids and incorporating the folded-up climbing apparatus which the cast used as part of the show. The following year, I was similarly obsessed when we did Joseph and I was old enough to be in the cast. I remember being bumped up from Chorus member to one of the Brothers (Naphtali), watching the hall transform this time with a backdrop of pyramids and palm trees, and spending summer afternoons stopping after school to rehearse the show. Like many kids, these musicals were my gateway into a lifelong passion for theatre. It seems fitting then that as theatres reopen, Curve is welcoming back audiences (and hopefully enchanting a whole new generation of youngsters and future theatre-lovers) with a celebration of the UK’s most prolific musical theatre composer.


The Lord himself, appearing on screen at various locations throughout Leicester, guides us through the evening - a musical biography of sorts - moving chronologically (for the most part) through his oeuvre. The set pieces are punctuated by Lloyd Webber’s anecdotes: his and Tim Rice’s misguided foray into pop music with their song ‘Kansas Morning’ (which had later success when rewritten as ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ in Jesus Christ Superstar); the touching inspiration behind his Requiem; and how he persuaded the edgy hit-maker Hal Prince to take a gamble on directing a ‘High Romance’ (Phantom). These biographic morsels are an intriguing glimpse into Musical Theatre history and Lloyd Webber’s slightly awkward delivery ends up being rather endearing.


The music is a real treat for fans and newcomers alike. Best described as a ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation, Lloyd Webber, along with Director Nikolai Foster and co. have sifted through the back catalogue and selected only the gold standard of tunes. From the powerhouse aria ‘Gethsemane’, to the plaintive ‘Another Suitcase’, or the sensuous ‘The Music of the Night’ to the underrated ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’, the show revels in a variety of Lloyd Webber’s successes (Phantom; JCS; Cats; School of Rock; Evita; Sunset Boulevard), ensuring that every song is a certified banger. That’s not to say the less successful productions are completely glossed over. Lloyd Webber is self-deprecatingly honest when addressing his shows that didn’t work, from the disaster that was the original Jeeves musical (later revised as By Jeeves in the 90’s) to the creative snags in the London premier of Love Never Dies (an issue that was fixed in the subsequent Australian production). However, despite his extensive body of work there were some misses that were conspicuously absent from comment *ahem*Stephen Ward*ahem*.


Lloyd Webber’s music is often criticised for being trite and overproduced. But the truth is, at his best as seen here, Lloyd Webber’s melodies soar and hit a musical sweet-spot that many have tried and failed to emulate. These songs have become standards for a reason and it was a pleasure to hear them performed by an excellent cast including three previous Evitas and two veteran Phantoms. A lush acapella opening features a clever mash-up of songs that the cast clearly have a lot of fun with. Despite suffering a leg injury Karen Mavundukure (a highlight of Curve’s production of The Color Purple) raises the roof with her storming rendition of ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’ from Starlight Express, and Jessica Daley demonstrates astonishing versatility and a vocal range to die for in her various roles, a particular highlight being her effortless performance of ‘Love Never Dies’. Tim Rogers belts out ‘Gethsemane’ before transforming into playful scamp, Mr Mistoffelees , and newcomer Shem Omari James brings a fresh exuberance to proceedings in his roles as Judas and Joe Gillis. Madalena Alberto and Ria Jones show us just why they have the reputation as some of the best of Lloyd Webber’s leading ladies with their charismatic turns as Eva Peron and Norma Desmond. Jones’ rendition of ‘Memory’ is chill-inducing, and incredibly poignant. Foster and co. capitalise on this moment with some simple but exquisite staging; Jones’ lament is accompanied by a single ‘ghost-light’, a theatrical superstition transformed into a symbol of hope. For theatre, and for the world, the lyrics ring true; ‘a new day is dawning’. Finally, special congratulations to Jennifer Lane Baker, as Trainee Director on the production she admirably stepped in for the injured Mavundukure during the ensemble numbers. Ah, I’ve missed the spontaneity of live theatre!


Since reconfiguring Curve’s stage and auditorium Ben Cracknell has truly come into his own with some outstanding lighting design. The immense rig is a character in its own right as the lights literally dance around us during the upbeat numbers, creating an exciting and immersive atmosphere. It was also lovely to see the return of the Curve Young Company in the larger ensemble pieces. The past year has been tough on everyone, but the sacrifices of the younger generation have been innumerable, and to see these teens thriving once again is exemplary of the hard work and pride that Curve takes in their commitment to the wider community.


It was a thrill to be back in the theatre, and we were thoroughly entertained and left Curve humming our favourite tunes. This celebration of a life’s work is representative of the resilience of the arts community. Long may music and stories continue to inspire and enchant audiences world-wide. Theatre is back and the only way is up!


The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber plays at Curve until 19th June.

For tickets and more information please visit:

Madalena Alberto and the cast of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber
Credit: Ellie Kurttz

Friday 21 May 2021

Curve Season Launch

Curve, Leicester

20th May 2021


‘Love endures’


It had been over 14 months since we last set foot in Leicester’s leading producing theatre to see the launch of the new tour of Phantom of the Opera. Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, described the heartbreak and uncertainty of the fateful day when audiences arriving to watch the show last March had to be turned away at the doors due to new government Covid-19 guidance. He went on to explain how he and Artistic Director, Nikolai Foster, sat that night in an empty auditorium, the iconic Phantom chandelier looming overhead, and vowed to do everything they could to ensure the survival of Curve. More than a year on, the monumental support extended to Curve by the local and wider theatre loving community shines through as they successfully reopen their doors to audiences in a season that celebrates togetherness, art and home.

Prior to our arrival we were sent a comprehensive set of instructions detailing Curve’s safety procedures. Their strategy has been intricately thought-out and was implemented with immaculate diligence; the safety of everyone involved was, rightly, at the forefront of proceedings. A brief list of safety procedures includes: all audience members and staff wear face coverings; hand sanitizer is located throughout the building; zoned entrances and staggered entry times; contactless ticket scanners; socially distanced seating and increased ventilation in the auditorium (we’re advised to bring a jacket as it can get a little chilly); in-seat hospitality services; track and trace; and temperature checks via infrared cameras. The auditorium that usually seats 1,600 has been reduced to a maximum capacity of 533. Reducing capacity by this scale may seem extreme and detrimental to the atmosphere of a night at the theatre, yet Curve’s state of the art design means the new configuration seems completely natural, and the in-the-round set up ensures we still feel that sense of unity as an audience. The new triple revolve (donated by Cameron Macintosh) that was used so effectively in the @Home streaming performances of Sunset Boulevard and The Color Purple allows fantastic 360° views and is a great addition to the theatre’s already impressive infrastructure.

So, now that theatre is well and truly BACK it’s onwards and upwards and Curve has an exciting programme of shows coming up over the next few months. The team continue to support local artists by launching the new season with a two day showcase of new work on 21st & 22nd May. We were treated to some taster performances from dance group Wayward Thread and some brilliantly witty musical comedy from Sheep Soup. I can’t emphasise how exciting it is to see fresh work again, and amidst all the chaos of the last year Curve have even managed to schedule the world premiere of Katie Lam and Alex Parker’s Am Dram: A Musical Comedy. The team has assembled a stellar cast including Janie Dee, Wendy Furguson and Curve regular, Sharan Phull, to tell the self-professed ‘love letter’ to community theatre. If Laura Pitt-Pulford’s performance of ‘Out In The Light’ is anything to go by, Am Dram promises to be a warm, heartfelt show with a large dollop of British whimsy. Audiences can book tickets now for performances from 27th – 29th May.

Equally exciting offerings come from old favourites including Aakash Odedra who cements his long-standing working relationship with Curve by returning to celebrate his dance company’s 10th Anniversary with a revival of Rising, which plays 24th & 25th May. Odedra spoke beautifully about the themes of community and home in his work, a sentiment which extends to much of Curve’s season this year. In August audiences can look forward to RENT: in concert, an event that promises to be deeply moving as Jonathan Larson’s seminal musical reflects on the suffering and resilience of the human spirit, a theme that is particularly relatable of late. Elsewhere, the team have programmed their own ‘love-letter’ to theatre with a run of Andrew Lloyd Webber concerts (7th – 19th June) and that most stagey of musicals, A Chorus Line, playing over Christmas. Melanie La Barrie treated us to a sneak peak of what’s to come with her barn-storming rendition of ‘What I Did For Love’, which is bound to ensure a sell-out festive season.

While Curve have a well established reputation as a producing house, the theatre has recently garnered attention as host to a fantastic and varied array of touring shows. Rescheduled runs of Hairspray (4th – 9th October), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (20th – 26th September), and Six (28th September – 3rd October) are joined touring productions of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (13th – 18th September), the sublime Magic Goes Wrong (16th – 24th July), the world premiere of Peter James’ thriller Looking Good Dead (1st – 3rd July), and Matthew Bourne’s latest venture The Midnight Bell (11th – 16th October). Tempting announcements for 2022 include the new tours of Mamma Mia, Waitress and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the launch of a new touring production of The Cher Show from creatives Arlene Phillips and Oti Mabuse, and the launch of Curve’s new touring production of The Wizard of Oz.

Any regular patron of Curve will know how committed the team are to championing young people and new talent: from their own stellar Curve Young Company to the break dancers frequently seen in and around the foyer. I’m so pleased to see that this ethos continues in an upcoming piece we are particularly excited about; the rescheduled production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Originally planned for Autumn 2020, the play is to be directed by 2019 RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Awardee, Anthony Almeida, who last year spoke so eloquently about his plans for a fresh, reimagined take on the classic. This advocating of new talent is why I adore my local theatre and I can’t wait to see Almeida’s vision manifest on stage. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof plays at Curve from 3rd - 18th September.

Curve have maintained their commitment to nurturing new talent and educating young people over the last year, as seen in a recently published retrospective report. Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic over the last year Curve has reached a variety of audiences on an international level, interacting with 650,000 people across 120 countries. Their embracing of digital platforms has enabled communities, local and international, to benefit from the arts even in the darkest of times. ‘In Conversation’ interviews, online classes, highly acclaimed streamed productions, and the continuation of the Young Company via online workshops demonstrated the resilience of Curve and the arts in general as well as a determination to make theatre more accessible for everyone. Stafford mentioned that, while eager to get back to live performances, the theatre is keen to maintain its digital presence and work within the community.

Over the course of the evening it was evident that as the world has evolved due to the pandemic, so too has theatre and the arts. While there have been many devastating losses in the industry, the emphasis is now firmly on the positive, as theatre makers have adapted and gained new skills that will make theatre even more exciting and accessible as we move forward into a new era.

I cannot wait to attend a full show, but this taster has more that whetted my appetite for theatre-going and I am so proud to call Curve my local!


For full details of all scheduled shows please visit 

Credit: Ellie Kurttz