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: Three Dark Crowns

Quick summary: Dark, savage and mesmerising. 
Rating: ★★★★★
Try this series if you like: V.E Schwab, Neal Shusterman and Susan Dennard.


Read the full synopsis here

I bought and finished this book in two evenings worth of reading. The transitions between the points of view of the three sisters keeps you flipping the pages because you want to see what happens to the character after you’ve left them, and the more Blake unfurls tiny nuggets of information about each character, the more you are desperate to get to the next big reveal. I loved this book, and can’t wait to get into the next books in the series! I would also like to note at this point that I think Kendare Blake is exceedingly awesome, not least because her pets are called Tyrion Cattister, Obi-Dog Kenobi, Agent Scully and Armpit McGee. 

There is brutality and the promise of violence dripping off every page of this book – the very premise of it is that these three sisters have to attempt to kill each other to win the crown. Kendare Blake presents romantic, platonic and familial relationships, all while asking how much a person has to do before you can’t forgive them anymore, and questioning what truly makes a family. This exploration of human relationships is a real highlight of the book. 

The character development in Three Dark Crowns was also interesting and well thought out. At first, admittedly, it is confusing because there are lots of characters, and as it hops between the three queens, you don’t really get time to sit and figure it out as the plot unfolds. I also worried that there wouldn’t be enough development of the queens because it hopped between them so much. In the end, I didn’t see this as much of a problem, because the key characters came up often enough that you recognised them and the queens did get enough air time to give us an insight into their characters. As the book progresses, Blake cleverly weaves the personalities of the three sisters into your heart, and you soon realise you would be devastated for any of the three to die.

One thing I would have liked to have seen more of in the book would be a bit more world development. I am a sucker for knowing all of the little cultural details about the world I’m reading about, and I feel that this was the only element lacking ever so slightly from this book. Of course, this is only the first book and as I progress through the series I may get more insight into the world. There were some details, such as the Naturalist hunt, which were lovely, and ultimately it just comes down to personal preference. In my opinion, it does not take away from the overall success of the book at all. 

To summarise, I thought this book was great! Blake’s plot and character writing are fantastic, and she really keeps you on your toes the whole time. For anyone tempted to put the book down and not finish it (I see you, DNF’s…) I definitely say even if you struggle at the start of book, definitely push on because the final third is particularly good – the plot twists are spectacular and the character writing starts to really come to fruition. Three Dark Crowns is dark, savage and mesmerising. Give it a read. 

 

Rosie x 

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: School of Rock

Rating: ★★★★
Quick Summary: Young or old, Stick It To The Man, and go and see the feel good, uplifting and energetic School of Rock.

das
My Dad and I at the end of the show

School of Rock is an adaptation of the 2003 comedy film of the same name starring Jack Black. The musical is written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (composer), Julian Fellowes (playwright) and Glenn Slater (Lyricist), and is currently showing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in Drury Lane, London. 


T H E   S H O W

I first saw this show earlier this year, and alongside the ingenious fusion of rock, musical theatre and classical music influences, it was the vivacity and youthfulness of the cast that really stood out to me. I got the opportunity to take my Dad to see the show yesterday, and I knew he would love it simply because of the music; the show is saturated with nods to great rock songs such as Smoke on the Water, Satisfaction, as well as the rock concept album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. 

The thought that my Dad actually came away from the show with went beyond noticing the obvious witty and comically written play, and great integration of well-known and loved music into the score. The overriding feeling that you get coming away from this show is one that is relevant at any and every stage of your life: don’t get tied down by other people’s limiting beliefs. This can be from something as small as whether you read Vogue or Sports Illustrated, as Billy has to choose, or as big as whether you compete in Battle of the Bands or not. The positive message of “You Do You” is woven tightly throughout the whole show.

The only reason I gave this show 4 stars as opposed to 5 was that by the end, I did start to feel quite tired. I was sitting 4 rows from the front (I talk about ticket details later on), and so the noise levels were high throughout. HOWEVER, this is a tiny, tiny point and generally did not detract from the experience.


T H E   C A S T

Obviously, if you are going to see School of Rock then you are expecting a bunch of talented kids – and I can tell you, they do not disappoint! With cheesy over-acting thrown out of the window, the child cast of this production provides stellar vocal performances mixed with a convincing awareness of themselves and what they are trying to say. The harmonies in songs such as ‘Horace Green Alma Mater’ and ‘If Only You Would Listen’ highlights their cohesion and commitment.

I could not write a review on School of Rock without mentioning the musical talent of the kids in this production that I feel is unmatched on the rest of the West End. As Andrew Lloyd Webber announces over the loudspeaker at the beginning of the show, the children play all of their own rock instruments. The best moment in the show to demonstrate this is in the final song where the pit musicians all stand up and watch the show alongside the audience, as the children in the show alongside their mentor fake-teacher Dewey Finn rock their way through ‘Stick It To The Man’ and ‘Teacher’s Pet’, full of guitar, keys, drum and bass solos, bringing the audience to its feet. The musicality and finesse in their playing is professional in its standard.

The standout vocal performance came from the shy but brilliant vocalist Tomika, played by Fayth Ifil, who performed a rendition of Amazing Grace full of innocence and killer riffs to prove she can sing, which induced a thunderous applause from the audience. Also highly notable was the bossy and indignant Summer, played by Freya Yates, who was very impressive in her ‘Time To Play’, hitting a belted Db at the end of the song.

Among the adults, both Craig Gallivan (down-and-out amateur rock star, Dewey Finn) and Rosanna Hyland (music lover turned uptight Headmistress, Rosalie Mullins) had fantastic performances. Rosanna Hyland’s ‘Where Did The Rock Go?’ was full of emotion, bite and effortlessly clear top notes. Her rendition of Queen of the Night was unassuming and highly enjoyable. Craig Gallivan’s Dewey Finn was hopeful, uplifting and unfailingly energetic, all matched by his perfect diction and fantastic voice.

Side note, the cast is changing on 22 August. Details can be found here


T H E    T H E A T R E

As far as the theatre itself goes, the Gillian Lynne Theatre is modern, spacious and well designed. No matter what seat you go for, you generally won’t get a bad one as the stage is so wide that you can see from most angles. From the furthest to the side in the front row, you will see the whole width of the stage, albeit with a few missing spots deeper into the set. The seating at the back of the stalls and the upper circle is well rigged so that you can easily see over the people in front of you, and don’t have any of those “back-of-the-head” viewing moments.


T I C K E T S

The prices for this show are fairly reasonable if you are savvy when buying your tickets, and the show is absolutely worth the price. If you buy in advance (and maybe get matinee tickets) then you could easily spend a maximum of £35 a head in the stalls, which for a West End show is pretty good – I was seated 4 rows from the front with excellent views in seat D52, on a Saturday matinee performance for £35 per ticket.

The School of Rock website tells you the best dates with the best prices, so this is a great website to use.  Also don’t be afraid to be seated slightly to the side of the theatre, as the view is very rarely compromised!

Top tip: if you are over 5’4″, then a great cheaper ticket to get is in the front row of the upper circle. It is advertised as ‘restricted view’ because of a barrier and lighting rig that hangs over the front of the upper circle, but for anyone over 5’4, this does not obstruct at all, and the leg room is great!
If you’ve seen School of Rock, share your experience either in the comments or on our Instagram page!

Rosie x