Thursday, 18 October 2012

American Idiot at the Wales Millennium Centre, Monday 15th Oct 7.30pm

Intrigue was what drove me to see American Idiot. I love musicals (a shocking revelation, I’m sure) and I was a fan of Green Day in my teens but I couldn’t see those two worlds meshing together. If they’d said Iron Maiden were doing a musical then I’d have been a lot less surprised - their music already has theatricality and an operatic quality - but Green Day? I wasn’t sure, but I was curious.

The thing about curiosity is that it sometimes kills the cat and though I can assure you no cats have been hurt in the witnessing of this show, a little bit of my spirit was. 

I’m not too familiar with Green Day’s American Idiot album but I came to understand that it’s a concept album in reaction to an angry, fearful and disenchanted post 9/11 America. The musical aims to follow the albums storyline in the same vein but I can’t help feel a good general idea is let down by a flimsy plot that’s hard to follow. This isn’t aided by the one dimensional characters who aren’t introduced well and therefore difficult to keep up with.

It’s a bit like Green Day went to see Rent and tried to copy the recipe but left out the key ingredients of heart and depth.

The story mainly follows the ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ character Johnny (played by Alex Nee) as he leaves the apathy of his hometown to try and find something more in the city but what he actually finds there is more of the same on a bigger scale.

It’s hard to give much opinion on performance since I found all the characters so flat and stereotypical but all the performers did the best with them that they could. Notably Trent Saunders as St Jimmy (who is, apparently, an alter ego of Johnny’s – it seemed to me he was more like someone he’d  befriended in a club) who stole the attention every time he was on stage and  Kennedy Caughell who managed to make her character, Heather, a bit more real and relatable.

My favourite moments of the production were the softer moments such as ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ (which I love anyway) and the song Johnny sings while love interest, Whatsername, sleeps next to him called ‘When It’s Time’ (which is the first time I’d heard this song).

The lighting was in keeping with a rock concert – bright and often turned upon the audience. The set was, once again, very Rent inspired with that same grubby, urban, industrial feel using scaffolding and warehouse style walls embedded with many televisions which are used to set the atmosphere throughout. One television is put into a shopping trolley and hung above the stage which I take to be a comment on the dumbing-down of America relating to consumerism and greed.   

What I find amusing about that message is the hypocrisy when you consider American Idiot’s own programmes – the high price for a start. I’m willing to pay £10 when it’s for a special event, such as Phantom’s 25th Anniversary but for a touring production in a regional theatre?? Extortionate. So what do you get for this? Damn good documentation and information I should imagine... right? Wrong. While there are many nice photographs from the production they’re not even of the tour. Hell, they’re not even of this cast!

So... what about this cast?? Who knows? I had to do some digging around on the internet to find the actors names because there’s not only NO CAST BIOS but not even a list of their names. Surely this is the main purpose of the programme? Thankfully, they have included some bios for the creative team. You’ll find it tucked away at the back.

The verdict – If you’re a big Green Day fan you’ll most likely very much revel in this show and enjoy watching scenes from the American Idiot album playing out before your eyes.
If you are a theatre fan who enjoys some of Green Day’s music you’ll find it lacking in most areas.
If you’re a musical fan who doesn’t like Green Day at all... why the hell are you even considering going? You’ll hate it.
If you’re someone who likes neither but does enjoy watching people in their underwear simulating very realistic sex scenes, turn up for most of the first act and the beginning of the second.

Though I like Green Day in moderation, an hour and a half of it was a bit much and I was quite sick of their three chord progressions by the time that curtain fell. And then they decided to do an encore. It was a Green Day classic though, but by that time I really couldn’t get into the spirit of ‘The Time of Your Life’ as I most certainly hadn’t.

American Idiot will be touring various locations throughout the UK, culminating at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo in London. If you want to catch it at the Wales Millennium Centre, it'll be there till Saturday 20th October. For more information and to book tickets, visit   

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Review: Matilda - Friday 5th October 7.30pm

**Warning - this review contains spoilers**

I doubt there is a person reading this who isn’t already familiar with Roald Dahl’s classic story ‘Matilda’; A story of a little girl with an extraordinary brain from a rather, shall we say, colourful family. 

Colour, incidentally, is what I’m first struck by upon entering the auditorium – so vibrant. This combined with the bombardment of words, letters and shapes creates the feeling of having stepped straight into a child’s imagination. Once again Rob Howell’s design takes my breath away, not just for its aesthetic beauty but for the thorough theme exploration. You may have seen pictures of the set but they do not do justice to the visual thrill of actually seeing it for yourself!

Making up the proscenium arch and borders are letters on scrabble blocks put together to create various words. These words initially seem quite random but turn out to have profound significance to the show. Words such as dynamite, scarf and acrobats – confusing at first but as Matilda relays the escapologist’s story you realise the importance behind them. It’s quite fun too, before the show and during the interval, seeing what words you can pick out.

The show begins on a burst of energy that continues to pulse from start to finish and never once wavers – not just from the children but from the adult performers too as though they are bouncing off the natural youthful liveliness these kids bring to the production.

The kids really are the stars of the show. That is unquestionable; so much talent and confidence with each and every one.    

 I saw Hayley Canham as Matilda and I’m astounded at the ability of someone so young to be able to carry the whole show while portraying such a complex character and do it all with unrelenting gusto. Her acting is so concentrated and intense that I’m completely drawn into her complicated world. She creates a character as believably as any professional 3 times her age. Here’s a youtube clip I found of her singing at a GB cultural event:-

Now, when I saw Steve Furst’s name attached to this production I did that internal sigh that I always do when I see names from the telly and expect to have to put up with a poor performance for the sake of bums on seats. BUT when I’m wrong, then I say I’m wrong and I was wrong about you (gold star to whoever can name the musical reference). I was actually so impressed with his Mr Wormwood, all the more so for it being completely unexpected. In his garishly loud green costume he portrays a character to match – a frenetic, slimy geezer of the delboy variety. He has a great stage presence and I’m so won over, I actually can’t imagine anyone else playing this role now. I urge you to see it while he’s still there.

Everything about the Wormwoods is gaudy and LOUD. Even down to the set for their house with its bright orange chairs and green walls; a house completely in tune with its occupants.Well, all the occupants bar one. That is, of course, Matilda. But her bedroom, her refuge, has soft blue walls to match her character – her kind soul but also her misery. I find the use of cold, steel blue lighting also an effective contrast to the vivid colours of the rest of the show, used for the subdued or sinister moments. It really puts an emphasis on the disturbing side of her situation.

This being the first time I’ve seen Matilda, I can’t compare David Leonard’s performance as Miss Trunchbull to Bertie Carvel’s and I think, actually, this is a good thing for I can judge without bias. Having created the role and from the praise that surrounds Mr Carvel, it seems to me like he gave a pretty unbeatable performance and this must’ve been a pretty daunting takeover.

David Leonard steps up to the mark, though, and inhabits Miss Trunchbull in all her repulsiveness. You can’t help but have a negative physical reaction to this character – the urge to shrink away, hide and possibly vomit. Since Matilda is all about words, the one’s that spring to mind for Miss Trunchbull are vile, repellent, intimidating, terrifying (I was in an aisle seat and every time Miss Trunchball walked past me I did feel very... little ... and quite afraid of getting sent to the chokey) another word I'd associate with her is brown. Brown because everything about her is brown - her office, her clothes and her attitude.

 I do, however, feel like Mr Leonard is still getting to know the character and that he hasn’t quite settled into the rhythm yet. Oh, and, if you’re sitting in the first few rows take an umbrella... as an acTOR, he spray spits.... a lot (actually this really suits the character. Makes her that little bit more vile).     

Hayley Flaherty as Miss Honey conveys her kind but nervous, shrinking violet character wonderfully and Annette McLaughlin bellows out Mrs Wormwood’s shallow & uncaring nature with fervour.

I think it’s also important to mention two others with smaller roles - Mark Goldthorp who plays the doctor/escapologist (as well as performing many ensemble numbers) and really shines in all these different guises and Melanie La Barrie as Mrs Phelps who you can’t help but warm to.

This show is made up of wonderful scenes that you will take away with you and remember. Many of them include magical moments created by Paul Kieve that will really make you gasp – it’s no small feat to twirl a girl around by the pig tails, throw her out into the audience and have her drop in the middle of the aisle!

The scene that resonates most with myself, and I think that nearly all adults would agree, comes right after the interval –a playground scene where the children glide serenely out into the audience on swings, imagining what they can and will do when they grow up. It made me feel a little choked up at the innocent ideals we lose when we actually are grown up and how we realise we still know nothing.

“When I grow up/ I will be smart enough to answer all/ The questions that you need to know/ The answers to before you’re grown up”

Having since read the programme thoroughly which includes an interview with Tim Minchin (who wrote the music and lyrics ... though I’m sure you already know that) I’ve discovered that my reaction to that song was exactly what he intended... the clever man.  

I think there’s little doubt that Matilda will be one of those long running shows (though nothing is certain these days) but don’t let that make you complacent – go see it soon while this brilliant cast are performing... you can always go again and again afterwards. I know I will be.

Matilda is currently running at the Cambridge Theatre. For more information  and to book tickets, please go to  

Monday, 8 October 2012

Saying Goodbye to Ghost: The Final Performance

I wasn’t really sure what to expect of a closing night of a west end performance as I'd never been to one before. Part of me wondered whether it would be full of over the top sentiments being shared amongst die hard fanatics and usually professional performers weeping uncontrollably.

I’m happy to say this ridiculously farcical scenario that I’d concocted was just that – a concoction. What I got instead was an atmosphere of an audience united in a joy and admiration of a musical that, sadly, hadn’t pulled in the audience numbers it deserved and performers who channelled all that emotional energy into well honed performances, heightened by the occasion.

As the wall of sound that is the overture began, the air was electric and the cheers raucous. I won’t do a review of the show in general as I already reviewed it in June – if you’d like to read the full review please click here. Instead I’ll just pick up on a few things.

The audience appreciation of Sharon D Clarke made her, evidently, the favourite. There were cheers after not just every musical number she performed but every scene! There’s a lot of love for this actress and there’s no doubt about why - Her voice is phenomenal and her comic timing perfect to the beat.

There was a heavy poignancy when the heartbroken Molly sings – ‘When it’s over it’s over, I have to let go’ considering the meaning this has not only to the story but for the show itself.

The ensemble were really given a chance to let go and enjoy performing together one last time during the upbeat song ‘Talking ‘Bout a Miracle’ and they threw all that last night adrenaline into it. Particularly Ashley Knight who plays the tap-dancing hospital ghost; you could really see the genuine smile of pride as he danced with his fellow cast members one last time. It was a smile of pure contentment within that moment.  

As we reached the climax of the show, already emotional for its content, I hear sobs all around. I’m not much of a crier in public - I prefer to hold it in till my throat gets all tight and I get a headache - but when Sam says “It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you”... that really gets me. I think it would for anyone who’s ever lost somebody. I’m listening to it now as I write this and it’s set me off again!

Then the tears rolled again during the final curtain call in reaction to seeing Mark’s eyes shiny with the threat of tears followed closely by Siobhan no longer being able to hold back. I find it so touching that these companies form such close bonds that it’s really like the separating of a family.

Photos courtesy of Lee Barfield @barfieldsrcool 

Photo courtesy of Lee Barfield@barfieldsrcool 

To mark the ending of the show the director, Matthew Warchus, came on stage to give a small speech and offer his thanks to the cast and crew. He talked about the process of putting the show together and the demanding nature of the technical aspects, upon which he brought out Rob Howell, the designer and Paul Kieve, the illusionist (they are the guys dressed in jeans & black tops in the photo on the left - I couldn't get over how ordinarily such creative geniuses dress). If you were at the show then I was the one whooping madly for them. Having studied technical theatre I have a real admiration and respect for these two. You’ll find their names credited to many shows, so keep an eye out.

 Warchus words culminated with the following sentiment:-

“I hope this doesn’t sound big headed but I think this really is the west ends loss”

Sad times - Flight cases taking away
bits of the Ghost Set

Photo courtesy of Lee Barfield
And though I don’t mean to judge prematurely ... I can’t help but fervently agree as the Spice Girls jukebox musical, Viva Forever, waits in the wings to take over at the Piccadilly Theatre next month.

If we can take positivity from this, however, it’s that a tour is definitely in store starting next spring bringing this fantastic musical to a wide range of new people all across the country.  I just really hope it doesn’t lose any of its punchy impact during the scaling down.

There's not a lot of information on the internet as of yet regarding the tour but  like their facebook page or if you don't have facebook keep an eye on the website

If you haven’t read it yet, also check out Mark Evans’s last blog as part of Ghost

Keep Believing