REVIEW: Eric Lu at Turner Sims

On Tuesday 2nd April, 2019, Eric Lu made his first appearance at Turner Sims Southampton following his success at the Leeds International Piano Competition. The scene was set with dimmed lights across the auditorium and a warm, muted spotlight on the centre-stage piano. As soon as Lu walked on stage, there was a hush across the audience, everyone excited to hear what this new young talent had to offer.

First we heard Mozart’s ‘Rondo in A Minor’, and we were introduced to Lu’s ability in exquisitely gentle playing. Every note was incredibly precise, graceful and tranquil. This was a theme that continued throughout the performance. In every piece, Lu managed to capture controlled pianissimo that created an ambience of complete calm in the concert hall.

In the second half, we heard technical prowess in the Handel ‘Chaconne in G,’ with a combination of speed and breath-taking accuracy. In a perfect contrast to the more meditative first half, Lu tackled the Handel with fervour and vivacity, lighting up the room by showing off the many variations on the sarabande theme that seem to increase in difficulty and speed as the ‘Chaconne’ goes on.

This exciting sarabande preceded the final piece of the evening, Chopin’s ‘Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor.’ To balance this programme, the ‘Funeral sonata’ needed gravity, anguish and a focus on all of the colours and shapes within this piece. Lu conquered all of these elements to bring the concert to a resounding and poignant close. Sometimes, he would tip his head back and look upwards, showing his emotion and passion at particularly moving moments. The highlight of the sonata was undoubtedly the third movement, the ‘Marche Funèbre.’ Here, the sombre bass was matched effortlessly by the mournful right hand, and the energy we heard in the Handel fused together with the delicate quiet of the Mozart to create a beautiful culmination of all of Lu’s skills in this pivotal moment of the recital.

Ultimately, Lu provides some soul-bearing moments of fire and passion, but the real pièce de résistance of his playing is the artistry with which the pianissimo moments are played. His playing fills with poise and beauty, allowing him to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Not only does this showcase the quiet and reflective moments, but also accentuates the elements of intensity when they come, and for this Lu was rewarded with a resounding cheer at the end of his performance.

REVIEW: SIX the Musical (Arts Theatre London, West End)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: A #MeToo era statement musical filled to the ruff with riffs, harmony, and Renaissance puns.


Six the Musical is the newest musical based on historical events to hit London. The six wives of King Henry VIII join together on stage in a Spice-girl-esque concert to inform the audience on all the grievances they have against their shared husband. In a competition to crown the leader of the band, each queen has a solo song to show the audience how they suffered the “biggest load of B-S from the man that put a ring on it.”  Through each song we get a glimpse into the personality of each queen, and also the personality of Henry VIII even though he never appears on the stage. 

 

T H E    S H O W 

Now, there is no doubt that this musical is founded in feminism. Six women, standing on stage and demanding back their independence, as well as proving to the audience that there is more to them than just being married to a famous man.
This sentiment, however, takes a while to get to. At first, it seems the show will not pass the Bechdel test – yes, there’s more than one named woman on stage talking, but all of their conversations are about a man! Or so it seems, until the penultimate song, Katherine Parr’s “I Don’t Need Your Love.” Finally, we hear one of the queens stand up and say “Henry… I will never belong to you!” and tell the audience all the other amazing achievements of her life that were nothing to do with men. She tells us to remember how she was a writer, helped women to independently study scripture, and got a woman to paint her picture. This makes the show less of a preachy feminist statement, but more of an observation of how we are remembered once we die, and how society should change to see women as more than just a wife. 

 

T H E    C A S T 

The cast of Six consists of the six wives, and four musicians. 

Jarneia Richard-Noel makes her off-Westend debut as Catherine of Aragon, and you cannot tell she is a rookie. She oozes confidence and is great at directly addressing the audience, which fits well into the format of this show.
Her song is followed by Anne Boleyn, played by Millie O’Connell, and their characters are polar opposites. While Catherine of Aragon is refined, O’Connell’s Boleyn is always up for a good time, and also hilarious. Natalie ParisJane Seymour really comes alive in her solo song, where she showcases her effortless top range and whistle tones, as well as her discerning stoicism. 

Having seen the show twice, I have seen two different Anna of Cleves’. The first time, I saw Alexia McIntosh, a graduate of Birmingham School of Acting, and she Cleves as a  ballsy, fiery character, perfectly happy to live it up in a palace in Richmond. Her comedic timing was excellent, and really sold the song. The second time, we had the alternate Anna of Cleves, Vicki Manser. The characterisation was completely different, but no less excellent. Manser brought cheekiness and equal hilarity to the role, often looking to the audience as if letting them in on a joke.
Then, Katherine Howard. Howard was beheaded for her promiscuity but Aimie Atkinson, who takes on her role in the show, shows the audience a different side of the young queen. An insight into a story that would now be considered a part of the #MeToo movement, Atkinson takes us through the highs and lows of being a “10 among 3’s” in the Tudor period. Atkinson is sassy, quick-witted and vocally flawless. 
Finally, we have Catherine Parr, “the one who survived.” Parr is played by Maiya Quansah-Breed, who brings peace, soul, and wisdom to the role, essentially acting as the mature leader of the group bringing them all together to celebrate their independence and female badassery. 

 

To conclude, the whole show is lovably corny, but at the same time a very sharp commentary on modern day society. Marlow and Moss use the framework of Tudor England to construct a show that cleverly makes you think about how you view women in our society, 400 years later. On the other hand, Six is also a feel-good, uplifting night out that makes you laugh and dance along in your seat. It really is a show where you can take whatever you want from it. A British musical in an entirely new format that pushes all the right buttons; there’s “No Way” you should miss this show. 

 

Rosie x

REVIEW: The Remnant Chronicles (Series)

Quick summary: Marmite series. I loved it, some people hate it, everyone should try it. 
Rating: ★★★★☆
Try this series if you like: Laini Taylor, Veronica Roth & Holly Black


Check out the full synopsis here

We have three main points of view in this series; Lia, Rafe and Kaden, and the transitions between the POV’s are pretty seamless. The thing that really drew me to the series in the first place is that for a substantial part of the first novel, we know that Lia is being hunted by an Assassin and a Prince, but we don’t know which of the two men is which. There is a big sense of intrigue throughout the series, and I personally think this makes up for the fact that there is less magic present throughout than you might expect for a fantasy series. 

As far as the character of Lia goes, it is a nice touch that her true skills come in language and social interaction. In an almost feministic statement, Lia wants to change her fate, and show the men around her that she should be allowed to make her own choices. She is a headstrong dreamer, with a capability to lead and change the world for the better.  All of these qualities are a fantastic combination for the protagonist of a YA Fantasy series. 

There is a love triangle in these books. Now, I know many people who hate love triangles with a fervent passion, and all I can say to these people is that you will probably not enjoy this love triangle any more than other love triangles. It is pretty subtle and non-intrusive as triangles go, but if we’re honest it doesn’t have anything on the Mark-Kieran-Cristina steamy triangle of The Dark Artifices. I was reasonably satisfied with the ending, because I felt it did reflect the state of the characters in the books, and wasn’t too abrupt. 

The plot of the first book of this series, The Kiss of Deception, gets very mixed reviews, especially in the Goodreads comments. Some readers loved the slow-paced, gentle dreams of Lia, our main protagonist. Others, however, felt that for a series described as high fantasy, there was not enough action, adventure or plot interest. For me, I stand with the lovers of Lia’s quiet dreams. She is a princess who spent her whole life surrounded by the promise of magic, war and kingdom, and when old enough faced the threat of being married off to a man she didn’t know or love as a political pawn. I think it is very plausible that she would want a quiet, understated life after that. Although I understand the argument that the sleepy seaside town scene goes on for potentially too long, I didn’t find myself bored, and by the second and third books the scene wildly changes. 

To summarise my views of this series; I liked it. It had some interesting plot points, I loved the inclusion of language, I didn’t hate the love triangle, and I really enjoyed Pearson’s treatment of magic. I feel some people will love it, some people will hate it, and that’s ok, but I do recommend reading it! 

Rosie x

REVIEW: Wicked (Apollo Victoria, West End)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: “I couldn’t be happier” to tell you to get to your nearest showing of Wicked as soon as you can! You will be “changed for good.” 

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: “I couldn’t be happier” to tell you to get to your nearest showing of Wicked as soon as you can! You will be “changed for good.”


Wicked the Musical is an adaptation of the Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which is, in turn, a retelling of the timeless Wizard of Oz. Wicked is currently showing at the Apollo Victoria, London, the Gershwin Theatre, New York and is also on tour in the U.K. and U.S.


T H E   S H O W

I am not ashamed to admit I have seen Wicked a fair few times. The ticket prices are reasonable, the London theatre is near accessible train and bus stops; but most of all meaningful friendships, vocal riffs, and a girl overcoming her bullies and critics all mesh together into this green, glittery, wonderful atmosphere that is not to be missed.

Part of the allure of the show is that it is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, the children’s novel written by L. Frank Baum. It is interesting and thought-provoking to see scenes you know so well flipped on their heads, and have all your preconceptions of characters snubbed. You see the back story to well-loved characters from the Wizard of Oz, such as the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin-man, meaning you leave the show with the satisfied feeling of knowing the world of Oz better than when you came in.

The true pièce de résistance of Wicked, however, is the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda. We follow the two witches through their schooldays at Shiz University and into the rest of their lives, which are changed “for good” because of each other. Throughout the show, you see them love and loathe each other, and fight for and against each other. It is a very wholesome experience to watch these two women figure their way out through the highs and lows of friendship.


T H E   C A S T

Now. Believe me when I say you need to get to the Apollo Victoria as soon as you possibly can to witness Alice Fearn’s performance of Elphaba. She completely captures Elphaba’s desire to succeed, explosive, gritty personality and enduring determination for good. This coupled with her stellar vocal performances make her an awe-inspiring Elphaba. The reaction from the audience after key songs (“The Wizard and I”, “Defying Gravity,” “No Good Deed”) is electrically charged. There is something about watching a performer completely encompass the character and give everything she has got to the audience that revitalizes and reawakens you: this is what Fearn gives to every single audience member in that theatre.

Sophie Evans, who has also played the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, takes on the task of the popular, enterprising Glinda. She captures the nuance of Glinda perfectly and especially comes alive in the more politically charged Act 2. The vivacity in her characterization is palpable, and there are moments during “Thank Goodness” and the Finale where her performance is tear-jerking. Bubbly, funny and unafraid to show the darker sides of Glinda, Evans was made for this role.

Other key performances came from Tom Hargreaves as Fiyero and Rosa O’Reilly as the Wicked Witch of the East, Nessarose. Both have strong and engaging voices which make you empathize with their characters on their journey’s through the show. Their interactions with the Good and Wicked Witches not only bring dimension to their own characters, but also to that of Elphaba and Glinda.


T I C K E T S

As I mentioned before, the tickets for Wicked are very reasonable. If you book well enough in advance, you can get tickets in the stalls for around £30 and £22 for the circle.

If it is your first time seeing the show, I do recommend spending the little bit more money for stalls tickets so you can fully see the facial expressions and all the little intricate details. However, the audio and views in the circle are still pretty good, so for £22 you will still get a very good show experience.

Day tickets
Are you a student? If you tip up at the box office on the day of the show you can purchase the best available ticket for only £29.50. Just remember to bring your student ID card.

There are also day tickets for the general public at £29.50 (again go to the box office on the day; it is first come first serve) and concession tickets at £32.00

If you have seen Wicked, share your experience in the comments, or on The Rosie Word Instagram!

Rosie x

The current cast of Wicked on the West End:
Elphaba – Alice Fearn
Glinda – Sophie Evans
Fiyero – David Witts
Madame Morrible – Melanie La Barrie
The Wizard – Andy Hockley
Doctor Dillamond – Chris Jarman
Boq – Jack Lansbury
Nessarose – Rosa O’Reilly

REVIEW: The Book of Mormon

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: The man sat next to me turned to his girlfriend at the interval and whispered “I think I just wet myself a little bit.” Enough said.

So. ‘The Book of Mormon’. Obviously, this show has had rave reviews all over the board, and the prices are pretty steep, so my expectations were HIGH.

‘The Book of Mormon’ is playing at the Prince of Wales theatre in London, just off Piccadilly Circus. My seat was C7 of the circle, which cost me £59.75. Considering this was one of the cheapest tickets for the show, I was expecting it to be one of the cheaper views of the show; i.e. visibility would be ok, but not anything special. However, the circle seating is really steeped, and so the view from any of the seats is pretty fantastic. You can see the whole depth and width of the stage from this seat, and I can imagine that the view is clear from most seats. Not to mention, the people sat in front of you are not an obstruction in the slightest.

Also, if you are a massive music nerd like me, then from these seats you can see directly into the pits, which is a nice little perk.

Finally, in terms of the theatre, I feel like I have to mention how ridiculously nice the staff at the Prince of Wales were. I know that most theatre staff are friendly, but the Prince of Wales staff were above and beyond in their customer service.

T H E S H O W

In terms of the show in general, I feel that everyone knows that it is funny. It is hilarious. However, what I wasn’t quite anticipating was how cleverly funny it is (then again, coming from South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, alongside Robert Lopez, we would expect nothing less.)

The musical takes an abundance of hard-hitting topics, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, gender inequality, race, oppression of the LGBT community, finding purpose in your life, and mental health, and talks about them in a comedic light. This is so important, because comedy is inherently accessible, and so talking about these crucial topics through comedy brings them to the surface in pop culture conversation. Not only does it bring them to the surface, but it also starts to shave away the taboos surrounding them.

If you’re not in it for the philosophies behind the comedy, then you can still get so much out of the play because of the combination of slapstick comedy, dry and witty humour, and impeccable comedic timing.

T H E C A S T

The cast currently on the West End are also massive contributors to the success of the show. Because the Andrew Rannells/Josh Gad interpretation is so distinct, and is the sound that people generally associate with ‘The Book of Mormon’, I think it is quite difficult to have an authentic voice and sound in the parts of Elder Kevin Price and Elder Arnold Cunningham. Having said this, Dom Simpson (West End debut) and J. Michael Finley (West End debut) do an incredible job of bringing something new to the roles. The characters are cheesy, and sometimes the ‘typical showy broadway actions’ sway slightly towards being annoying, but the delivery of the characters was so convincing I really didn’t care. The fact that Dom Simpson is only 2 years out of training, and playing this large role at such a high standard is testament to his talent and hard work. Another notable performance was Leanne Robinson as Nabulungi (West End debut). Her vocals were edging towards perfect, with an amazing flexibility and tone control, especially in “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (Reprise)”, is really admirable.

T H E P R I C E

One downside of the show is that it is pretty expensive. I went on my own (I’m super cool and really enjoy going to shows on my own) but if you were paying for two of you, or for a whole family, the prices start to pick up. It is not as expensive as Hamilton, but generally you would only get tickets below £50 at the back half of the circle, which is quite steep and potentially not ideal for vertigo sufferers. I would say either queue for returns or book at least 12 weeks in advance because then you’ll avoid booking fees. Although it is expensive, the quality of the day/night out you will get from it is well worth the money, in my opinion.

Another note is that if you have youngish children/you’re offended by strong language, there is very strong explicit language in the show, quite consistently.

Overall, the show is hilarious. But, more than that, there is an overriding positive message throughout the show, and it touches on some really important societal topics, and is the sort of show that keeps your brain ticking as you keep noticing and remembering things days later. I have a friend who said she knew someone who didn’t want to see it because they thought it was anti-Christian. My message regarding this is absolutely don’t rule it out because of preconceptions you might have. The play undoubtedly is using Mormon practice as a means for comedy, but also it acknowledges positive sides of religion, such as how it can help people, and give them hope.

Just go and watch it.

The current cast of The Book of Mormon on the West End features Dom Simpson as Elder Price, J. Michael Finley as Elder Cunningham, Leanne Robinson as Nabulungi, Steven Webb as Elder McKinley Richard Lloyd King as Mafala Hatimbi, and Michael Moulton as the General.

Rosie x

REVIEW: Dunkirk

 

Quick summary: Detailed, intriguing, edge of the seat
Rating: ★★★★

This contains spoilers… sorry!



 

The pre-conceived ideas I had of this film were that it was likely to be good and I was likely to enjoy it because 1) it was directed by Christopher Nolan, and 2) it is historical which is always a genre I enjoy. I expected it to be full of action, fast-paced, excellently shot, and I also thought that maybe the plot line might be a bit stagnant. Usually I find in war films that although I love the basis of the film and the history behind it, I find I can’t get invested in the plot line or the characters. Other things I knew about the film was that there was quite a young cast, perhaps to emulate the age of soldiers who actually were in Dunkirk; also, Christopher Nolan both wrote and directed the film, and so the cohesion between the writing and execution of the film was probably going to be excellent.

My initial reactions were that I loved it, and that the casting was great. It was thought-provoking and emotional, I was often on the edge of my seat, and the emotions invoked were very authentic to the horrors of the war. The music was a major highlight for me – there was a continuous ticking noise, much like a clock, throughout most of the major scenes, and this made me think of the feeling of time running out; the sound emphasised and intensified the panic and hysteria present in such dramatic situations as those in Dunkirk. The plot was nowhere near as stagnant as I thought it would be, and in reality was complex and fast-paced. The characters were well developed and you were invested in whether they survived or not; it was this interaction between the audience and the story which, for me, elevates it above other war films I have watched.

Other key aspects that impacted me as I watched the film and as I came away were mostly to do with subtleties that had been implanted which actually contributed massively to the overall effect of the film:

  • The youth of the actors added to the authenticity of the experience because you could really imagine people that age in situations that were being portrayed on the screen. This almost made it more harrowing because the fact that some soldiers were barely adults makes their deaths seem even sadder.
  • The aesthetic of the actors was also interesting – the majority of the soldiers on Dunkirk beach had dark hair. This mass of dark haired young men made them all look like carbon copies of each other; this emphasised that lack of individuality that war creates. We did not know who all of the characters were, just as we do not know who all of the men that died in WW1 and WW2 were.
  • Having said this, there was something profoundly human within all of the characters. We see two examples of this – one where Peter (played by Tom Glynn-Carney) lies to Cillian Murphy’s character about the death of George (Barry Keoghan), and the second where Alex (Harry Styles) gestures a helping hand to the man he had just called a German spy in the previous scene. These two examples of a glimmer of humanity shows those watching the film the saddening truth that this was young boys fighting against the loss of humanity.

Overall, I loved this film because it was complex and interesting, and emotional; it was sad because it highlighted that everyone was impacted, and no-one could escape the horror of war (George is an example of this.) In fact, George as a character was a microcosm of a generation of boys eager to join the war effort and who paid with their lives. Ultimately, it was the juxtaposition of hope for an end and survival with the hopelessness of fighting against a seemingly relentless enemy in a quintessentially human struggle for survival that made this film so touching, poignant and so damn good!