REVIEW: Matilda the Musical (UK National Tour)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: ‘When I Grow Up,’ I want to be Matilda.

Meet Matilda. The talented young story-teller suffers while living with her TV-obsessed family, but discovers her hidden talents when she meets her new school teacher, Miss Honey. Tim Minchin’s musical, based on the well-loved book by Roald Dahl, perfectly captures the heartwarming story of this earnest, charming little girl.

Matilda the Musical is currently touring the UK as well as showing on the West End, and I went to see the show on its opening night in Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, with the touring cast. The show opens with an entourage of precocious children and their over-bearing parents in the comedic number ‘Miracle’, and from this moment onward you can expect to be bowled over by the young talent on the stage. With effortless soaring high notes from Bruce (played by Toby Mocrei when I saw it), adorable characterisation from Lavender (Chantelle Tonolete) and, of course, a powerful little leading lady in Matilda (Sophie Woolhouse, who makes her professional debut), the child cast brought outstanding vibrancy to the stage.

The thrillingly terrifying Miss Trunchbull is played by Elliot Harper in this production, and he is an absolute joy not to be missed. While Harper highlighted the menacing and intimidating elements of the Trunchbull, he also brought her to life through his comic timing which made her seem awkward and almost childish at times. This was a really interesting characterisation, and one that elevated the character beyond the two-dimensional villain she has always been known as.

If the cast does not do enough to facilitate your enjoyment, then the set and production most certainly will. With swings, scooters and moving steps in the gate of the school that spell out the alphabet, the set of Matilda is absolutely incredible. The ‘swing choreography’ in ‘When I Grow Up’ is a highlight of the show.

As I’ve said before, the Southampton Mayflower is a great place to go and see shows. The way the seats are raked means you can’t really have a bad view, and the acoustics of the room are fantastic. It is definitely worth a visit.

Matilda the Musical is pure joy and excellence. With themes of family tension, vulnerability, overcoming bullies, being yourself and supporting your friends, this show is both a fun time and an educational one.

 

Matilda the Musical is showing at the Southampton Mayflower Theatre until the 6th July, and will then be showing at Norwich Theatre Royal from 16 July – 17 August. Buy tickets here

REVIEW: The Audience (NST, Southampton)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: For those who love good old Queenie, and for those who don’t.

 

A revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience is currently showing at the NST City in Southampton. The play premiered in the West End in 2013, and stages the Queen’s private weekly meetings with her prime ministers. It poses questions of the Queen’s character and the necessity of the monarchy in our modern society, all the while showing us the comic and witty side of our serious figurehead. “Often funny, sometimes confessional, occasionally explosive” (NST Southampton), The Audience is a masterpiece not to be missed.

65 Years. 13 Prime Ministers. One Queen.

Queen Elizabeth is a public figure that we perhaps do not take much time to sympathize with. The Royal Family is steeped in tradition and protocol, and so it is very easy to forget that the head of that institution is also a person. Faye Castelow perfectly captures this tension between the figurehead and the people in her portrayal of Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is passionate about her country and the Commonwealth, but also about fairness and justice. She is not permitted to state opinion on political affairs, and yet her facial expressions and body language go a long way to show how she feels. Droll, intelligent, likeable and very upper class, we see Elizabeth as both a “postage stamp with a pulse” and as a woman trying to maintain her integrity in a position that demands she compromises it.

The staging for this production includes a large conveyer belt which wheels the Prime Ministers out onto the stage, adding a layer of comedy but also a more profound statement on the longevity of the Queen’s service as well as the seemingly never-ending trail of middle-aged white men that seem to occupy the PM position. Paul Kemp is a triumph as the male PM’s, where he embodies the essence of all of them with remarkable skill and finesse. His Harold Wilson was the stand-out, with witty comedy and poignancy in his diminishing health, showcasing a close bond with the Queen.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole show is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, played by Lizzie Hopley. Thatcher storms into Buckingham Palace in a rage about a newspaper article that has been published stating Elizabeth’s poor opinion of her. A wonderful scene then ensues in which Elizabeth and Thatcher engage in a hostile confrontation, stalking up and down the conveyer belt towards each other in what feels like a hunt, yet we cannot quite tell which is the predator and which is the prey.

The combination of Morgan’s writing, Hodges‘ directing, Vize’s set design and the performances from Castelow and Kemp make The Audience unmissable. The private meetings liken to therapy sessions for the Prime Minister, and throughout we get a sense that all of the Prime Ministers are very similar men, just in a “different tie.”  By the end, we feel we have grown to understand the Queen, her PM’s, and the delicate balance that keeps it all together just a little bit more than we did before we started, all the while being entertained with Elizabeth’s wit and perfectly posh accent.

 

See The Audience at NST City, Southampton from 24 May – 22 June. Get your tickets here

 

 

 

REVIEW: Catwoman Soulstealer

Quick summary: Giving ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ a whole new meaning.
Rating: ★★★★☆

Try this series if you like: DC Comics (obvs), Cassandra Clare, Daniel José Older, Richelle Mead


In this rewrite of DC’s Catwoman, we are re-introduced to the badass anti-hero Selina Kyle, and her ‘band of merry men’, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. We also meet Luke Fox as the ex-military do-gooder, Batwing. Full to the brim with high-stake heists, romance, allies and enemies, this stand-alone book is good for hard-core fans and comic book rookies alike.

The world-building in this story happens quickly. Within the first few pages we are introduced to the teeming, corrupt underworld where Selina Kyle spends most of her life. We learn about the social hierarchies and some of the basic politics of Gotham City but are expected to fill in the gaps ourselves as far as societal culture goes. When it comes to feeding the reader information about the world, it is more ‘tell’ than ‘show’; for example, we find out that Selina’s sister Maggie is very ill, but instead of finding this out through clues such as her coughing, or taking medicine, Maas writes “with her mother gone and her sister sick, no legit job could pay as much or as quickly.” This does the job, but I would have liked a teeny bit more subtlety.

As far as the characters go, they are interesting and reasonably well-developed. Selina Kyle has an interesting storyline; a female anti-heroine who is interested in protecting the people she loves, but ultimately has no qualms over committing high-level crimes. She is cunning, wily, an excellent fighter and adept at having secret plans that aren’t revealed until late in the novel – Maas’ forte, it seems! Her secretive personality complements the brash insanity of Harley Quinn and the stoic, green-fiend Poison Ivy well, and overall I found her character to be an enjoyable and pleasing read.

Some reviews make the comment that Luke Fox is only present in the book to give Selina a love interest, and, as a black character, to add diversity to the cast. I did not find this at all. I read him as a man struggling to keep control over his PTSD, Gotham City while Batman is away, and his growing feelings for someone he really should not be feeling things for. He frequently commented on police brutality against the black community, and this did add a good dimension to the book as there was the antithesis of him being targeted by law enforcement for his skin colour and yet he is the one protecting the city from criminals. I found it ever so slightly basic in its delivery; it was similarly more ‘tell’ than ‘show.’ This is not, however, a criticism of Luke Fox as a character – I liked him, I saw his good intentions, and although he was a bit vanilla, he complemented Selina’s character well.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I got through it quickly. The plot, world-building, eand characterisation were arguably not anything jaw-droppingly special, but they held my interest, and I was invested in what happened. For both A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass (Maas’ series,) I found that while I enjoyed the first book, the later books in the series were where I became truly captivated. Perhaps Maas’ writing is like cheese or wine – it is good at first, but it gets really good over time. If we were to have a series made out of this, then I might fall head over heels in love with it, but as it stands, I love it as you might love a close-ish friend. You’re not my family, you’re not my soulmate, but I get on with you and I’d hang out with you again.

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: 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!