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.