The escapism of theatre

Isn’t theatre a wonderful thing! Whether you are watching a serious play, a comedy or a musical, you will normally find yourself smiling at some point during the show. You may smile during it, at the story line or the characters or you may smile after it at the joy that for 2-2.5hrs you managed to escape your normal life and forget all your worries. This is the joy of the theatre!

Theatre allows us to be temporarily part of someone else’s world, be they fictional or fact, for the time that show is on, you don’t care. You embrace your self in the story being told on stage.

The reason you are there shouldn’t be relevant to anyone but you, you may have a little extra work stress or someone close to you with ill health, whatever it is, if you love theatre then it will always help. It maybe that you chose to go to different shows each night of the week, or maybe you find one particular show that gives you that buzz and makes you feel normal again. Either way it is your way of coping, your way to make you feel better, to forget what ever other worries you have going on and simply bury your head in the sand for a couple of hours.

So often people are judged for making this choice, by their friends, their families, other theatre goers, but worst of all by the performers themselves. It’s very easy to judge someone when you don’t know their back story, we all do it. That woman on Jeremy Kyle who wants to sue her own mother for not giving birth to her as a boy, those parents on the news defending their darling child who’s just scammed a pensioner out of her life savings, that person who gets the same tube as you every morning, we judge! It’s who we are, it’s what makes us human and that’s fine because we do this judging silently, to ourselves or to our nearest and dearest. What we don’t (or shouldn’t) do is openly judge that person, to their face, for simply doing something to stop the pain.

People say it’s an unhealthy addiction to go to the same show multiple times, I disagree, unhealthy addictions are alcohol or heroin. What’s unhealthy about sitting in an auditorium and feeling pure joy with no repercussions on your health?!?!

And what a lovely feeling it must be as a performer to look out at the audience and see that familiar face smiling back at you, how lovely to think ‘I don’t know what this person if going through, but I am really touched that myself, my colleagues and our show is helping them through this difficult time’ how nice to know that your job is having that impact on someone’s life. How lovely to think that, in some circumstances, you maybe the reason that person can still get out of bed in the morning, the thought of seeing you and your show in the not too distance future is what gets them through their week.

With a growing increase in Mental Health problems and adolescent suicide, in a time when bullying should no longer exist, let’s all embrace what happiness we can and hopefully be able to go through this without the judgement of others, making you feel bad for doing something that feels so good.

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Performing Arts at its best

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Anyone who has an interest in, performs in or obsesses over theatre will know that last week the Old Vic hosted a production, directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, of Jekyll and Hyde. The production only ran for 11 performance so I felt extremely privileged to bag myself a ticket to the final performance on Saturday night. And it was like something I had never seen before.

I have personally never watched a show which has no dialogue or lyrics, I also (and I know I should probably be ashamed of this fact) have never seen Jekyll and Hyde. I knew the basic idea behind it, but not how the story panned out. I had no trouble at all following the story being performed in front of me, from the second the performance began I couldn’t have tore my eyes from the stage for love nor money, what I was witnessing in front of me was completely mesmerising, hypnotic almost. The set was simplistic, consisting of a scaffolding poles style build, revolved by the cast, with three sections, split to represent Jekyll’s flower shop, his laboratory/bedroom and outside. Although minimal, it worked perfectly to accompany the story but to not distract away from the focus of the show, which of course is the impeccable dancing being performed around the set.

The entire piece was elegantly danced, to a beautiful soundtrack, by a strong cast of 12. The leading roles were portrayed by Daniel Collins (Jekyll) and Tim Hodges (Hyde). Both of them captured the essence of their character and played it beautifully. The personalities of the characters shone through in their movements and expressions.

Every member of the cast showed amazing stamina and dedication to the part they were representing, each of them equally as strong as the next. They worked incredibly well as a team, showing great trust in each other and performing in perfect synchronisation during the group numbers, not a single slip up or person out of place. The scenes showing the transition between Jekyll and Hyde were very clever, using sharp, jaggered movements and strobe lighting ensuring the switch over was discreet and almost magical.

It is a crying shame this production had such a short run and many people missed out on witnessing an utter masterpiece, I can only hope we will soon see more beautiful work from Drew McOnie and when we do, I advise each and everyone of you to grab a ticket and spend a couple of hours captivated by the magic of dance.

If you only see one show between now and 18th June…

I honestly can’t say enough good things about this show, from the story, the set, the acting, every single detail of this show has been well thought, written, planned and portrayed.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot of the show (however there may be slight spoilers), I went in knowing absolutely nothing about it, I just had other people’s recommendations, I didn’t know the story at all. I think this made it even more breathtaking, as I didn’t know what to expect.

The set was very minimalistic and additional props slid on from the sides of the stage. The direction of the play was very cleverly done, the show was not performed to the audience, but performed as if you are an onlooker, being able to watch the story pan out from the sidelines.

Denise Gough’s acting was absolutely mind blowing, the emotion she portrays throughout the entire show was mesmerising. She has invested 100% (if not more) into this show and at no point, considering she barely leaves the stage from curtain up to curtain call, did her acting falter, she grips you into her character from the very beginning and you stay engrossed for the entire time. You spend a lot of the show trying to pick out the truth from the fiction watching a seemingly angry woman progress and open up to show an incredibly vulnerable and broken young girl. You are taken on an emotional roller coaster that is so beautifully played out you find yourself shocked and angry one minute, laughing the next and then in floods of tears, genuinely wanting to reach out and help her. The closing scenes are incredibly heart-wrenching, as the whole story comes together and you begin to truly understand what you have just witnessed. Gough proved she was worthy of ever single inch of her Olivier award and I only wish there were a thousand more awards she could be given for this role, as I’m just not sure that one completely shows exactly how incredible she is.

The entire cast were extremely strong, particular mentions to Barbara Marten and Nathaniel Martello-White. Barbara plays several main characters throughout the show and portrays them all to show a distinct difference, yet equally showing a similar theme throughout. Nathaniel’s character goes through some big changes throughout the show as  an almost secondary character, yet at times, you feel yourself becoming as engrossed in his story as the main character.

 

So I urge every single one of you to go and beg, borrow or steal a ticket to this show and embrace every single moment of this stunning master-class in acting!

 

Stunt casting gone too far?

I will truly admit I was a little bit shocked when I read the news that Rebel Wilson will be taking on the role of Miss Adelaide in the Westend production of Guys & Dolls, when I saw the news on Twitter I actually checked my calendar to ensure I was right about the date and it wasn’t, in fact, April 1st. I’m sure many people know Rebel from films such as Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids and How To Be Single, she is a funny lass, and we know from Pitch Perfect she can carry a tune. Now my concerns here are more in her acting skills, we know she can do funny, we’ve seen this a lot, but what about the more serious parts of the story? When Adelaide is upset that Nathan won’t marry her, during songs such as Sue Me, will she able to portray these emotions or will she try to make it comical?

This show is a classic and there are certain things that shouldn’t be messed with, whilst Adelaide should have you laughing with her during many parts of the show, there are also parts where you should feel for her, parts where you should almost feel sorry for her that she is basically being pushed aside by the man she loves due to gambling. It does concern me that she may bring too much comedy to the role and take away from it a lot of what is suppose to be there.

As this is Rebels first show I will certainly be giving her the benefit of the doubt and go along to make my own mind up. I am also interested to see how they tackle the costumes she will be wearing, for anyone who hasn’t seen the show, Adelaide spends portions on the show in leotard style corsets and there is a line in the show that refers to Adelaide wearing these style of outfits, so I will assume they won’t be able to be changed too dramatically, they may think it will add to the comical value to keep her in these costumes, it may however lead to quite uncomfortable viewing, especially for those in the front few rows of the stalls!

Being her first show it will also be interesting to see if she can cope with 8 shows a week and be able to with stand the demands of a physically, emotionally and vocally demanding role. Having said that, she has an extremely talented understudy; so if she does take time off, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

I was very lucky this week to catch Guys & Dolls at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. I count myself as extremely lucky to have caught it in this location in particular, and I think anyone else who did should also count themselves as extremely lucky. The reason for that is, quite simply, Lucy Jane Adcock. For those who don’t know, Lucy is the understudy for Miss Adelaide in the Westend, currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre, and will continue to be Rebels understudy. For the last 3 locations on the tour, whilst Louise Dearman had some planned time off, Lucy was given the opportunity to join the tour and take on the role, and boy did she do just that!

There is no part of her performance that can be faulted, she sang and acted the role like a true professional leading lady and danced the role to a standard I am yet to see by another Adelaide. From the moment she stepped onto the stage she shone through the entire theatre, she took on the role and made it her own. Lucy brought brilliant comic timing and equal amounts of emotion, she kept the audience captivated with Adelaides story, they laughed along with her as she grew forever frustrated at the love of her life, Nathan Detroit (Played by Maxwell Caulfield), sympathised with her as he continued to let her down time after time and then rejoiced with her as she finally managed to get the man of her dreams!

Each part of the story was beautifully played out, at no point did Lucy over play the part for laughs, she played it naturally and honestly and the laughs and applause from the the audience were genuine.

With that in mind is it time for theatre to take a stand and stop stunt casting. Instead letting the leading roles go to performers who have spent their lives training and undoubtably make the best performers, giving the audience exactly what they want…an incredible show!

Understudies should be celebrated, not silenced


So there is been a lot of news at the moment linking to understudies in the westend, with the whole Sheridan Smith situation and add to the mix Glenn Close and Matthew Perry, there has been a lot of it going around. Most stories however are focusing on whether you have the right to see the “Star” or not, now what I would like to highlight is when people want to see a particular understudy, should they be allowed to have the opportunity to do so.
There are many people who are in the westend and are covering for leading roles who will tweet when they have dates to cover, or tweet the day they are on. However it seems recently that not all companies want this to be done, some companies would rather they don’t tweet to alert their fans to what, may well be, the only time they are going to be on covering this role. Giving their fans, friends, family the chance to come and see them. I can slightly understand this being an issue if they are covering for a “star” as people may get funny over not seeing them, however there are many people out there, including myself, who absolutely love to see an understudy and love the opportunity to watch some of my favourite performers be given the chance to perform in a leading role. It has come apparent recently that many companies do not want performers to tweet at all when they are on, they don’t seem to want the world to know that their unsung heroes are getting the chance to shine, to allow the performer themselves to have the support, they deserve, from their fans.

I find this all very strange, the fact that companies hire covers, means they must know that without them some days the show just simply couldn’t go ahead, so if they know how important these people are, why do they shy away from celebrating them?
It is bad enough that award ceremonies won’t recognise understudies and swings. These people have to learn multiple tracks and be ready at the drop of a hat to step up and cover a different track, sometimes half way through a show. This maybe someone in the ensemble or with a supporting role having to know their own track and that of a lead, or it maybe a swing who has to basically know every single track on the stage. Some nights I have been at shows where covers/swings have basically saved the show and without them the show would have had to be cancelled. Yet year after year the awards come around and there is no mention of them, no award for working their arses off all year and sometimes getting penalised for wanting to share their pride at being on. These awards celebrate, and quite rightly, the amazing leads and lets face it, we have quite a few currently in the westend. But these people learn one track, they do that same track every show. They may play around with it a little but basically their role is the same each show. Yet the people who could be playing 2-8, or maybe more, tracks a week, sometimes covering multiple tracks in one show, these people don’t get celebrated, these people sometime go their entire career being some of the best talent you will ever see on a stage, yet they never get the break they deserve as basically they are too talented to be a lead, they are an asset to the ensemble.

So basically my suggestion to these shows is screw those people who will kick off about not seeing the “star”, stick to your policies that a certain performer cannot be guaranteed and tell the world, loud and proud, when your covers are going on!

Understudies should be celebrated, not silenced!

When an understudy becomes the lead


Photo credit to @LucyJaneAdcock

So there has been a lot of talk about understudies recently and how they can be over looked and under-appreciated. I personally LOVE an understudy! I will often go out of my way to see an understudy, many of my favourite performers have come onto my radar because I have seen them covering a leading role and many people currently playing leading roles started their onstage journeys as understudies.
One person I would like to talk about in-particular is Lucy Jane Adcock. I originally knew of Lucy when I saw A Chorus Line for the for first time back in 2013. We went during previews and Lucy was one of a few covers on, she was covering, what is arguably the leading female role, Cassie. This was the first time Lucy had been on and I was blown away by her performance. Her energy on stage was incredible and she delivered the role perfectly.
As I didn’t have a comparison, I went again to see the show a few weeks later, hoping to see Scarlett Strallen, but once again Lucy was on covering the role, her second time playing the role. Once again I was left speechless with her performance. I went onto see her many times playing this role and each time she gave it her all. She played the role fragile when needed and pulled out the determined fiestyness needed for the confrontational scenes with Zach. Her dancing during The Music and The Mirrors was faultless and the passion she put into that role was incredible.

Lucy then went onto do Happy Days: A New Musical on tour, where she covered for 2 leading roles, Mrs Cunningham (Played by Cheryl Baker) and Pinkie (Playing by Heidi Range). Lucy got on for both of these roles at different points of the tour, at one show having to step in midway through. Unfortunately I only managed to see her playing Mrs C, but she did an incredible job of this, and from what I have read and heard she also did an equally impressive job covering Pinkie, despite some disgruntled fans at one particular venue.

She then returned to the westend and joined the cast of Matilda. In this show she, once again, covered 2 female lead roles (1st cover Mrs Wormwood, 2nd cover Mrs Phelps). She was lucky enough to get on a play both roles on several occasions.

Lucy then joined the cast of Guys & Dolls, as ensemble and first cover Miss Adelaide, opening first in Manchester before coming to the Savoy Theatre and then going off on tour. Although they then extended the westend run and moved to The Phoenix and most of the cast stayed with this production. During the run at the Savoy, Sophie Thompson was extremely reliable and didn’t take a single day off, meaning Lucy never got on, however when the tour cast was announced it was also announced the Louise Dearman (Tour Adelaide) would not be performing for the first Saturday of the tour and only doing it for around a month (although it was later announced Louise would have a months gap before returning to the show to finish the tour). Despite Lucy never actually being on to play the track the company had faith in her and asked her to go to Liverpool and cover for Louise on that Saturday. I have friends who were at the show that day and said she was incredible and performed like a leading lady and, had they not have known, they would not have said it was her first time. Baring in mind she was with a completely new cast than she had been use to performing/rehearsing with. Now to bring me back to title of this post ‘When an understudy becomes the lead’ Lucy is now playing the leading role of Miss Adelaide on tour.

Another example of this is Emma Hatton. I first saw Emma during her first year in We Will Rock You, when she was second cover Scaramouche. I saw her playing the role on her first performance and she was brilliant. She then went on to become 1st cover Scara and 1st cover Meat, playing Meat equally as beautiful. After leaving WWRY Emma went on to join the cast of Wicked as Stand-By Elphaba and is now currently playing the principal full time.

Also Amy Lennox, I saw her first as Margot in Legally Blonde, where she was 1st cover Elle Woods, a role I also saw her play. She was then given the role of Elle for 2 weeks, in Aberdeen on the tour. She is now playing a main role in one of the biggest shows currently in town (Kinky Boots for anyone that doesn’t know lol) And whilst we are on the topic of Kinky Boots, Killian Donnelly (Who was nominated for an Olivier for his role in Kinky, as was Amy Lennox) also started out as a cover, Les Mis being one of the biggest shows around and Amy Ross who was 1st cover Elle Woods on the UK Tour.
So basically my point is, when people are moaning about the fact they have to sit through the understudy, maybe they should remember a few things, 1. That person would not have been entrusted with being a cover for that role if they weren’t able to go out and perform the role. 2. One day that same person may just be the lead you are seeing in a show. 3. Sometimes the understudy maybe more to your personal tastes and you may actually end up enjoying them more than the person you thought you were going to see in the first place. 4. Think of that person who is having to go on and cover, especially if they are covering for a “name”, whilst you are tutting and booing in the auditorium and complaining all over social media. These people probably have a hard enough time knowing that people in the audience are going to be disappointed to not be seeing the “star”.

Just sit back, enjoy the show that is being performed in front of you and appreciate the performers who are on stage, instead of spending the whole show bitter about the ones that aren’t!