Thursday 27 January 2022

Spring Awakening


22nd January 2022, matinee


It's cold in these bones
of a man and a child


I never got to see the original award-winning production of Spring Awakening, but in my lonely teenage years I had the cast recording playing on an endless loop and sought out all the bootleg videos I could find on YouTube – I thought I knew the musical inside out, and of course, like many other MT-obsessed adolescents in the late noughties, it spoke to me deeply. Now, revisiting Spring Awakening more than a decade later I realise that it is so much more than the ‘ultimate teen angst musical’ it’s purported to be. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s musical is abundant with relevancies to audiences young and old alike. And while teens may feel the immediacy of its themes with the painful intensity preserved for the young, I can now see that it is also older generations – and indeed future generations – that must pay heed to its message.

In one sense, Spring Awakening is about the conflict between childhood and adulthood. Sater and Sheik capture the exquisite melancholia of growing up and the multitude of confusing, thrilling and horrifying feelings we all feel during adolescence. This is especially poignant in the Act 2 opening number, ‘There Once Was A Pirate’, which has been reintroduced in this production. While the musical covers difficult subjects surrounding physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the other overriding motif is the silencing of young people. As the characters try to make sense of – and question – the world around them they are repeatedly supressed and belittled by the adults in their lives that should be the ones guiding them. The frequency with which young peoples’ thoughts and actions are dismissed resonates still in a time where Gen Z and Millennials are being short-changed, ridiculed and scape-goated by the older generations in positions of power. ‘All That’s Known’ posits that ‘everything you say is just another bad about you’, highlighting the lack of communication and resulting wars between generations; a sentiment revisited in ‘Totally Fucked’ which perfectly echoes Greta Thunberg’s recent statement on world leaders’ position on climate change – ‘blah, blah, blah’. Rupert Goold’s protraction of this number is a masterstroke, the lingering awkwardness as the song peters out while the young cast fiercely stare down the audience is one of the most striking images of the production. Stunned into silence, there was no applause.

As such, Rupert Goold has rejected much of the whimsy of the original Broadway and London productions, in favour of a starker exploration of the purgatory of adolescence, in which the characters are trapped within a childhood dictated by unfeeling adults. This is consolidated by Miriam Buether (set) and Nicky Gillibrand’s (costume) assured design. The Tim Burton-esque monochrome aesthetic is chic, while also providing an apt framing device. By placing the young characters literally within a blackboard setting we see how the adult characters perceive them through a lens filtered by academic achievement and strict societal ‘rules’. Unnamed, bemasked and bewigged, the anonymous grown-ups are consolidated into a force of universal oppression. Yet the scholastic set also becomes an apparatus of rebellion when the characters pick up the chalk and annotate the world around them.

I particularly enjoyed Lynne Page’s choreography, which is punchy and humorous in the ensemble numbers (who doesn’t enjoy a well-timed hip-thrust in ‘The Bitch of Living’?!), while the combination of sensuousness and innocence in ‘The Word of Your Body’ is especially touching. The performances are uniformly excellent; Goold has assembled a fine ensemble of up-and-coming young actors that are indefatigable in their energy and show a passionate dedication to the piece. Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea’s Hanschen is genuinely funny and charming and Carly-Sophia Davies offers a fresh and edgy portrayal of the nomadic and troubled Ilse. I admired the quiet despair brought to Moritz by Stuart Thompson (also a stand-out in the recent National Theatre production of A Taste of Honey); his understated performance is heart-breaking, especially in the gently weary way he confronts his fate in the ‘Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind’ scene. Amara Okereke also gives a beautifully subtle performance as the sweetly naïve Wendla, and Laurie Kynaston leads with natural charisma, capturing Melchior’s intellectual anguish, earnest radicalism and boyish exuberance with great heart.

Spring Awakening may seem to be full of despair – and, to be fair, in our current political and social climate it’s difficult not to agree with such nihilistic sentiments – but the musical is not bereft of hope. In one of musical theatre’s most beautiful finales we are reminded that life continues, generations will grow, learn and prosper, and the pains endured in the pursuit of maturity are all threads in the rich tapestry of life. Yes, the plot is hard-hitting and damning, but we can all learn a thing or two about hope, change and empathy by looking to the past in remembrance of the future. This is a stunning production of a timely musical.

Spring Awakening plays at the Almeida theatre until 29th January 2022. 

The cast of Spring Awakening.
Credit: Marc Brenner

Tuesday 25 January 2022


Curve, Leicester

24th January, 2021

Big ol’ slice of live your life pie

Following its West End run being cut short due to Covid, Sarah Bareilles and Jessie Nelson’s 2015 musical opened to a packed house at Curve last night as part of a UK and Ireland tour. It offers a sweet slice of Americana, well-balanced with fleshed-out, morally-compromised characters and topped with a belter of a ballad in ‘She Used To Be Mine’.

The story follows Jenna (beautifully played by Aimée Fisher at this performance), a waitress in a small, southern US town whose skill of inventing delicious pies provides an escape to her unhealthy marriage. Pregnant and scared of how her life might change, she finds herself having an affair with her doctor and dreaming of making something new for herself.

I had read some reviews which complained about the musical’s odd shifts in tone. It’s true that Waitress does swing from frivolous comedy to more serious fare quite quickly. The diner scenes led by Jenna, Becky and Dawn highlight the chemistry within the company and the onstage band. There is much to enjoy about these scenes including the awkwardness of Ogie (George Crawford), Dawn’s new date. The blue sky and open road provide a backdrop to Scott Pask’s bright diner to convey a sense of American optimism. Furthermore, the scenes in the gynaecologist’s office between Jenna and the awkward New England Dr Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis) climax to a funny montage involving a number of different pies and positions! On the other hand, outside the safe confines of the diner, there is a clear sense of Jenna being trapped in an abusive marriage to Earl. In fact, suggestions of alcohol problems, unemployment, and a host of unhappy marriages sprinkled across the town show that life is not always sweet as apple pie.

The result in these shifts is that several lines don’t land as well as you might expect and some plot strands don’t get properly resolved. But this refusal for pat endings is also quite admirable. There’s often a danger with this scale of Broadway musical for the shifts in tone to be overproduced, the emotional points carefully and mechanically timed to pull at heart strings. However, in Waitress, as in life, the contradictions of comedy and drama sit alongside each other like blueberry and bacon in a deep-dish pie. As Jenna says, she is “imperfect but she tries/ She is good but she lies” and she’s “all of this mixed up/ And baked in a beautiful pie”. The result is that Waitress has its pie and eats it.

Bareilles’ country/pop-ish score is very enjoyable and the ‘Sugar Butter Flour’ motif nicely signifies the flights of fancy where Jenna imagines what her life could be. And the eleventh-hour number ‘She Used To Be Mine’ really takes off. There’s a moment in it where the scruffy living room set rolls off and the stage opens up to leave Jenna singing out to the auditorium with the open sky behind her. It’s surely one of the most iconic moments of musical theatre in the last decade, and Aimée Fisher had the theatre in the palm of her hand.

Fisher makes Jenna instantly likeable, capturing her aw-shucks personality and contradictions subtly. Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins provide excellent support and comedic relief as Jenna’s best friends. And Michael Starke gives a nice performance as the diner’s owner, going from irritable customer to a paternal figure who ultimately gives Jenna the keys to her new life. And Diane Paulus’ direction keeps the show slickly moving forward and embraces the messy fun of baking. For all its flaws, Waitress is a hugely enjoyable and warm-hearted show which captures a bit of small-town USA. Go grab yourself a slice of red, white and blueberry pie.

Waitress plays at Curve, Leicester until 29th January as part of a UK and Ireland tour.

For further dates, please visit Waitress: The Romantic Musical Comedy | Official UK Tour Site (

Evelyn Hoskins as Dawn and the company of Waitress. Credit: Johan Persson.

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Rocky Horror Show


Curve, Leicester

Monday 8th January 2022


‘Let’s do the Time Warp again!’


Richard O’Brien’s cult classic hits Curve again, and once more Rocky Horror Show proves to be a bonkers funfest of innuendo, audience interaction and toe-tapping tunes.

Having seen the show a few times before I knew exactly what to expect from the affectionate pastiche of old B-Movies, but my husband (and co-blogger) was a newcomer, having never even seen the film adaptation. By the end he was humming along to ‘Science Fiction, Double Feature’ like an old pro!

Some may say that a performance of Rocky Horror is only as good as its audience – the heckles, the dressing up, the dancing, the interaction – the audience become an important character in the show as the main cast onstage react to the general atmosphere of risqué bonhomie in the auditorium. Last night we had all the usual heckles and many of the funniest moments resulted from Philip Franks’s Narrator reacting to these ad libs. Franks is having a ball in the role and cracks sharp gags aimed at a range of targets, from Prince Andrew to Curve’s recent production of A Chorus Line. Lauren Ingram also impresses as Columbia in her scene-stealing tirade of daftness in the second act and Stephen Webb’s gravelly Frank is charismatically fabulous.

The tour remains in fine shape and all the classic songs sound as great as always, my favourites being ‘Dammit Janet’, ‘Sweet Transvestite’ and ‘Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me’. It’s impossible to watch the show without tapping along and the atmosphere is giddily infectious. This is a show that all theatre fans must see at least once, yet Rocky Horror only gets more enjoyable on repeat visits!


Rocky Horror Show plays at Curve, Leicester until Saturday 15th January.

For full tour dates please visit:

The cast of Rocky Horror Show
Credit: David Freeman

Monday 10 January 2022



Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Saturday 8th January, matinee


‘Leave your troubles outside […]

In here life is beautiful’


Is it too early to herald the theatrical event of the year? I suspect not, as I doubt I will see another show in 2022 that matches the allure and sense of occasion as Rebecca Frecknall’s much anticipated production of Cabaret. Entering the venue through the bowels of the Playhouse Theatre, its transformation into the Kit Kat Club transports the audience to Weimar Berlin; dingy lighting spotlights dark corners, the beer and schnapps is free-flowing and musicians and performers mingle with the crowd. Moving up through the building the design becomes more gaudily opulent, the walls and ceiling drip with velvet and gold and the lamp-lit tables populate the auditorium. A lot of thought has been put into Tom Scutt’s immersive and intimate design, and the evocation of the decadence of the era creates a wonderful complicity between the audience and events portrayed onstage.

Frecknall utilises deceptively simple staging to pack a punch, including some beautiful use of the revolve stage; most notably in the initial rendition of ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’, which is eerily mirrored in the final downbeat tableau. This simplicity ensures that the immersive club setting never falters, while allowing the performers, music and choreography to tell the story with hazy continuity. Frecknall also pulls off a striking coup de theatre involving anti-Semitic vandalism that hammers home the danger and violence creeping into everyday life in Germany.

The ensemble numbers at the club strike the right balance between vaudevillian kitsch and Brechtian social commentary. I particularly enjoyed ‘Money’ here, with the ensemble clad in shackle-esque fringing conducted around the stage by a skeletally-bejewelled Emcee. The number is wonderfully creepy. Eddie Redmayne demonstrates a fine skill for musical theatre in an incredibly commited performance. Redmayne’s is a highly physical and at times ethereally abstract interpretation of the Emcee; from hunched sycophant, to spritely imp, to rousing balladeer and, eventually, becoming an unnervingly anonymous figure of Third Reich uniformity.

Jessie Buckley also attacks her part with fearlessness. While I can understand why her Sally may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I adored her erratic bolshiness and rough charm. Buckley really conveys the infuriating incongruity of Sally’s character; at once frank, credulous, brash, wily and world-weary, she is a force of nature and utterly compelling to watch. Buckley’s rendition of ‘Maybe This Time’ is quietly emotive and Sally’s façade betrays the tender wounds beneath. Similarly, the delivery of ‘Cabaret’ here is unlike any before. The essence of the show, and in particular the character, is calcified into an electrifying 3 minutes of chaos. Showstoppers such as this contrast with the sweet domesticity of the Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz heartfelt subplot. Liza Sadovy and Elliot Levey are gently humorous and endearing, which made me care about their relationship a great deal. Similarly affecting is Omari Douglas’s Cliff. His horror at the events unfolding around him is completely believable and he is engaging and credible as the ‘sane man in an insane world’.

Having been a long-time fan of Fosse’s film adaptation (and being rather underwhelmed by the touring version of Rufus Norris’s production a few years back), this version of Cabaret has brought to light new aspects of the musical to appreciate. Frecknall’s vision is relentless: we revel in decadence while being cowed by the undercurrent of menace. The performances are pitch-perfect and I anticipate this production will shape portrayals of these characters for some time to come. In all, one of the greatest piece of praise I can offer is that I think I could see this production again and again and always find something new to enjoy or think about. What a start to 2022!


Cabaret is currently booking until 1st October 2022 at the Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre.

Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley in Cabaret
Credit: Marc Brenner