Skylight – 20/08/2014

I really don’t know where to start. First of all, I booked this show to see Bill Nighy. I didn’t know anything about the play or the playwright; I just knew that if Bill Nighy was going to be on a West End stage then that’s where I needed to be. The tickets weren’t cheap and I’d love to say it was worth it but it really wasn’t.

I’d spent most of the day in various states of panic – everyone who had been to see the play had said the same thing: Bill Nighy is an absolute gent at the stage door. He was generous with his time and posed for photographs for up to an hour each night. Now I just had to comprehend the fact that I would be meeting the man whose films I had adored for almost eight years. Ha!

The play itself was… awful. There’s no other way to describe it. It has been suggested that maybe I didn’t understand the play and that’s why I didn’t enjoy it, and I find that extremely offensive. I understood it perfectly, I just didn’t like it. I didn’t connect with it on any level and the only thing holding it together was Bill Nighy’s exceptional talent.

The plot was that a young woman, Kyra, (Carey Mulligan) had had a six year affair with an older, married man named Tom (Bill Nighy) whilst living in his family home with his wife and son. When Tom’s wife found out, Kyra disappeared. Shortly after, Tom’s wife died of cancer and a year later he tracks Kyra down. Not exactly earth-shattering but enough to keep the audience engaged, if it were not for the fact that Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan had absolutely zero chemistry. It wasn’t even believable that they’d met before let alone been madly in love for six years. The only thing holding the play together was Bill Nighy – with his charm and grace it was easy to believe that a younger woman could have fallen for him (I certainly did!)

Carey Mulligan, on the other hand, was absolutely dire. She was so preoccupied with ensuring her diction was perfect and her voice carried that she forgot to inject any kind of personality into her character, and created a role so instantly dislikeable that the entire plot was ridiculed. Even her character’s appearance was infuriating – an incredibly baggy jumper she didn’t stop messing with for the entire play and a chin-length hair cut that she was constantly pushing behind her ears, only to have it fall directly back into her face. It was so frustrating!

Despite my grievances I sat quietly in my seat and basically watched Bill Nighy for two hours, wishing he was onstage when he wasn’t because that was the only time the play had any kind of life. He generated laughs from a fairly mundane script and even from a single look at times – he is a very talented actor and it was a privilege to watch him in action.

After the play had dragged to a close I clapped politely and then headed to the stage door. I was so intent on getting there that I didn’t utter two words to my Mum, but when we arrived we took one look at eachother and burst out laughing. What the hell had we just put ourselves through?! At least I was safe in the knowledge that it was over, and now I’d get to meet Bill Nighy as so many others had done before me. Ten minutes passed. Twenty. Thirty. By fifty minutes the crowd were starting to get a bit edgy, but I wasn’t worried. He always came out, everybody said so. I’d seen the pictures myself! Then a lovely man named Stephen from the Wyndham’s Theatre came out of the stage door. “Unfortunately Mr. Nighy and Ms. Mulligan have exited the theatre via the front door and will not be coming to the stage door tonight.”

I’m not going to lie, I felt like somebody had slapped me. To my acute embarrassment I felt my bottom lip begin to quiver and, without a word to anyone, I ran away from the crowd as quickly as possible before bursting into tears just around the corner from the theatre. I know I shouldn’t have got my hopes up and he’s only human and needed to rest etc etc, but what am I, a duck? I had to be in work for 6am the next day, I’d paid well over £100 to attend a show I didn’t even like and at the end of it? Nothing. Oh, and my make-up was ruined. All in all, a bitterly disappointing night.

Oh, and if you’ve seen Skylight and loved it and got to meet Bill Nighy and everything was wonderful – I don’t need to know. That’s like saying to someone “aww, your kitten died? I love playing with mine we have so much fun!”

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Genie, you’re free.

Sixteen years ago, on my very first trip to the cinema at the tender age of three years old, I came across a man named Robin Williams. He played an eccentric professor with a strange green substance called “Flubber” and I was hooked. Throughout my life this wonderful man was a constant, whether it was as a housekeeper or a robot, a doctor or a genie. He brought laughter to my life at times when there was none. I can’t count the times I’ve played “Friend like Me” at full blast or watched Mrs Doubtfire to cheer myself up, and it worked every time.

It was a little after 1am when I discovered that this brilliant, shining star had taken his own life. I cried and cried for this poor man who, despite bringing joy to millions of people, in that moment at least, could find none within himself. I cried with grief and sorrow, but most of all, I cried with fear. I don’t pretend to know what personal struggles Robin was going through or what finally tipped him over the edge, but I know the feeling of utter hopelessness all too well.

I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety at the age of sixteen, mere months after my Grandad died. It was my first experience of death and I went to pieces. I lost a part of myself the day he died and sometimes I fear that it will never come back. Depression is just a word that people throw around so carelessly, but it should be treated with great respect, because it can kill. If someone is diagnosed with cancer there are treatments available, set plans and schedules to follow, and the outcome can be predicted with reasonable accuracy. But what if someone is diagnosed with depression? They’re told to “think positive” or “be happy.” That’s like telling a cancer patient to “think healthy.” It’s just not going to work, it’s insulting and it can often make the situation worse.

Depression should not be kept in the shadows. It needs to be treated like any other illness – raise awareness, talk about it, teach people to recognise the signs. For months I felt like I was in a pit so cavernous I could never claw myself out, and the more I tried the deeper I buried myself. I didn’t know I was suffering from depression, I didn’t even know what depression was! I am so lucky that my Mum recognised the signs and convinced me to get the help I needed.

Robin Williams had family, fame and fortune, but he also had demons just like so many others. His battle with depression was devoured by the media but never understood. While there are still people thinking “what has he got to be depressed about?” there is work to be done. I am not ashamed of my depression and neither should anyone else be.

The world is so lucky to have had someone like Robin Williams, who brought laughter to so many even when he couldn’t laugh himself. I will remember him for his spirit, his talent and his selfless nature. He may not have been able to save himself but he saved many, including me. I’m not sure I believe in heaven and hell but I hope that Robin is in a place where he can finally be at peace with himself.

Genie, you’re free.

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Dessa Rose – 01/08/2014

*contains mild spoilers*

After about three false starts trying to write this blog, I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to do this show justice. I’d never heard of “Dessa Rose” before – I didn’t even know where the venue it was being held at was – but I did know the name Cynthia Erivo and that was enough for me. I’d had the pleasure of seeing Cynthia live at one of Scott Alan’s concerts back in May and she truly is an extraordinary talent.

As it turned out, I’d walked past Trafalgar Studios hundreds of times before on my adventures around London. It’s not one venue but three, each studio putting on a show simultaneously. “Dessa Rose” was being held in Studio Two, a room with just three rows of seating on three walls, with the front wall serving as a backdrop for the show. The musicians were dotted around the room and it reminded me immediately of the Southwark Playhouse, although much more intimate.

“This powerful and moving story, set in 1846 in the ante-bellum South, follows two young women on their journey to acceptance. Passionate and innocent Dessa Rose is a young slave faced with a barrage of hardships because of the colour of her skin while Ruth, a young white mother, faces difficulties because of her gender. Through this extraordinary tale, Ruth and Dessa discover the value of unconditional friendship and establish a deep and lasting bond.” That synopsis was all I had to go on, so when the show started I had no idea what to expect.

One of the first things that struck me was Cassidy Janson. She played Ruth alongside Cynthia Erivo’s Dessa Rose and she was a fascinating actress to watch. Ruth’s mother had always told her to act as a lady – straight back, proper dress, polite demeanour. Throughout the show I noticed little things about Cassidy’s performance – she would sit down and slouch slightly, and then draw herself back up, her back poker-straight, as if she was remembering the lessons her Mother had taught her. Such a simple touch that could easily be missed, but her commitment to the role and her understanding and portrayal of Ruth was something very special to watch.

From the outset there were some shocking moments that had me crying out and reaching towards the stage as if to try and stop the horror unfolding. The choreography of these moments was so precise that it really did seem violent and spontaneous – there was no time for the actors to think, they just reacted and it made the show so raw that it was almost uncomfortable to watch. I had to remind myself several times that, while this story may not be true, thousands of others did suffer like this. It wasn’t just the product of some warped mind, deliberately setting out to shock and stun. It was real.

Jon Robyns played Adam Nehemiah, a man who had come to see Dessa, now pregnant and languishing in prison, to document her story. Day after day he listened to Dessa’s plight and, although it was never spoken, it was clear through his actions and things he said to himself, that he was falling in love with Dessa. It seemed that Dessa was intrigued by this man too – until she took advantage of his lapse of concentration by hitting him over the head with a bedpan and making a break for it. I have to admit I didn’t see that coming!

With the help of her friends Harker (Gabriel Mokake) and Nathan (Edward Baruwa) Dessa escapes to Ruth’s farm where she has her baby, who Ruth begins to nurse because Dessa is too frail and emaciated to produce any milk. Dessa sees this as Ruth taking ownership of her child and, despite Ruth’s insistence, refuses to name her child until she is free.

I have to mention Edward Baruwa who plays Nathan. I fell head over heels for the energy and mischief surrounding his character and, through the whole of the second act, was sat on the very edge of my seat praying that nothing bad would happen to him. In another show his forbidden romance with Ruth would have been cliché and maybe even a bit boring, but the way Cassidy Janson and he played it, you longed for them to be together and cursed the fact that they could never be. Their love scene was delicate and hesitant and beautiful and I found myself holding my breath, not wanting to intrude on their very private moment.

I won’t tell too much about the ending, only that it was an unexpectedly happy, albeit bittersweet one. Cynthia Erivo is a truly sensational talent, playing Dessa Rose perfectly, not once breaking character despite a few scenes which must have been tough to perform. She was in love, heartbroken, bitter, hardened, happy, desolate, broken, scared and oh so beautiful and you couldn’t help but care for and even cry for this poor young girl.

The entire cast was flawless, especially performing in such an intimate space where it must have been so hard to concentrate and stay in character with the audience in such close proximity. I made a point of tweeting the director Andrew Keates to tell him what an absolute gem of a show he has created, and he and the cast and crew fully deserve all of the praise being heaped on them. “Dessa Rose” is a hard-hitting yet beautiful show with a solid cast and a storyline that makes you weep with sadness and joy and I cannot recommend it enough.

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An Evening with Kristin Chenoweth – 12/07/2014

I first got tickets to see Kristin Chenoweth in April 2013, but unfortunately she cancelled the night before due to a problem with her work permit (she didn’t have one). When she announced her concert at the Royal Albert Hall I was in the process of moving from Manchester to Kent, and so money was tight and I knew I’d miss her again. Then, What’s On Stage started a competition on twitter – share the link they posted and you’d be entered into a draw to win a pair of tickets to see Kristin Chenoweth. I shared the link and didn’t think about it again – until they messaged me saying I’d won! After lots of jumping around and screaming I rang my Mum and told her that I wouldn’t be coming home to visit that weekend because I’d won two tickets to see Kristin Chenoweth – I’ve got my priorities in order!

I decided to take my lovely friend Becky who I met on Twitter and who is also a massive Kristin fan. Neither of us had been to the Royal Albert Hall before – that was an experience in itself! Probably the most beautiful venue I’ve ever been to although I felt very out of place in the posh borough of Kensington! What’s On Stage didn’t tell me where I would be sitting so we were both nervous and excited as we queued up to collect the tickets, which turned out to be for two seats in row 14 of the stalls. Not too shabby!

As the lights went down the band played an instrumental medley of a selection of songs from various musicals that Kristin had appeared in, and that’s a fair few! This went on for a while and the tension kept building until all of a sudden Kristin appeared on the stage. I couldn’t believe she was actually here! She is so petite it’s hard to believe that she can belt out those big notes but she did it with ease. She performed “Maybe This Time” which is a personal favourite of mine, and it was such a treat to see her perform it live. A few songs in she introduced her first guest (I didn’t even know there would be guests) and it was Peter Lockyer, the West End’s current Jean Valjean! Becky and I looked at eachother, both absolutely stunned. It really was our lucky night!

The thing that I love about Kristin is that she is so versatile – she can really let loose with those high notes but she can hold back too; she can sing anything from Country to Disco to Classical and each song sounds entirely unique to Kristin. There were so many moments that made my jaw drop throughout the night, but a personal highlight was when Kristin sang a version of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. When she announced she was going to sing a Les Mis song I presumed it would be “On My Own” or “I Dreamed a Dream” so when I heard the opening notes of “Bring Him Home” I went into shock! I have heard that song performed by some truly exceptional male vocalists, but Kristin’s version was so stripped back and so pure that she made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. By the time she’d finished I was covered in goosebumps and had tears streaming down my face – as did every other person in the audience!

Kristin also performed a self-penned song named “WWDD?” or “What Would Dolly Do?” inspired by her idol, Dolly Parton. Halfway through the song Kristin stopped singing and said “you know what, what WOULD Dolly do?” then pulled out her phone as if to make a call, and a video of Dolly Parton answering appeared on the big screen! It was so well done and so simple yet really effective and more than a little bit impressive!

Kristin’s next guest was none other than the fabulous Kerry Ellis who was the UK’s first Elphaba almost 10 years ago. The duo then went on to perform “For Good” from Wicked which is a big, emotional song. I was in absolute awe of Kerry and so was Kristin, who was so mesmerised that she almost missed her cue! I’ve listened to the Wicked soundtrack hundreds, maybe even thousands of times but to see Kristin perform this song live was truly special, especially with such a talented singing partner. She also sang “Popular” from Wicked after talking about all of the different Glindas around the world, and sang different parts of the song in different languages, complete with her own little Glinda traits. That must have taken so much time and concentration to learn but she made it look effortless!

Kristin’s final guest was the incredible Alison Jiear and I’m fairly sure that the Royal Albert Hall roof is still in orbit somewhere after they blew it off with their insanely powerful duet of “No More Tears (Enough is Enough).” It was quite a bizarre sight – Kristin is so teeny tiny and Alison is big and beautiful but they matched eachother note for note with neither of them holding back.

The most moving moment of the night was when Kristin performed Lady Antebellum’s “I Was Here.” The lyrics touched my heart and Kristin performed the song with such passion and raw emotion that I was holding back the tears. She told the audience to always follow your heart and work hard towards what you want to do and never ever give up. It was such a magical moment – I felt like she was talking directly to me. I’ve been having a very hard time lately trying to find my path in life, but Kristin’s words touched me and renewed my determination to succeed, doubters be damned. The word “inspiration” is thrown around so often these days that it has lost some of its meaning, but Kristin is definitely an inspiration to me and, in that moment, she saved me.

I want to thank Kristin Chenoweth for such an incredible, powerful, moving, magical concert. It’s not often you leave a concert or a show with a renewed sense of purpose and determination but Kristin spoke to my heart and inspired me to carry on and for that I will be eternally grateful.

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The Book of Mormon – 02/07/2014

*Warning – contains, swearing, spoilers and spooky Mormon hell dreams*

To be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around this show! Thanks to a glitch on the Delfont Mackintosh Theatres website, for a brief period of time a few months ago all £150 premium tickets from July onwards were selling for a mere £15 – that’s a saving of £135 per ticket. Naturally there was a mad scramble to purchase these mythical tickets before the theatre realised their mistake and put the prices back up, and I was one of the lucky few. I was now the proud owner of two, top price stalls tickets for The Book of Mormon, and praying daily that I wouldn’t get an email from the theatre asking for the other £270!

I was originally supposed to attend the show with my Mum but the date crept up on us and by the time we realised, the train fares from Manchester were more than the original ticket price, so I asked my friend Kirstie to come with me instead. Neither of us had seen the show before and had no idea what to expect – we soon discovered that it’s best to watch the show with an open mind!

We were seated slap bang in the middle of row G in the stalls and I could not have asked for a better view. The opening song of the show, “Hello” is absolute genius, so simple in its staging but so effective. We are then introduced to Elder Price played by the ridiculously talented Gavin Creel. You can’t help but fall in love with this camp, egotistical Mormon mincing around the stage and being fawned over by the other Mormons. He goes on at great length about how he can’t wait to start his mission in Orlando, Florida. As the Elders are assigned their mission buddies and locations “Two By Two” Elder Price is paired with Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner) and sent to Uganda.

I fell head-over-heels in love with Jared Gertner the second I saw him – he is just so cute! Elder Cunningham is a short, goofy man with a hilariously high-pitched voice and no concept of personal space, the exact opposite to tall, slim, perfectly groomed Elder Price. The contrast between them is enough to have the crowd in stitches. At the airport Elder Price sings about how he is going to change the world “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” and Gavin Creel acts this out perfectly.

Upon arrival in Uganda they are greeted in song by the locals, who tell the two Elders that whenever anything goes wrong they simply sing “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (Elder Cunningham: Does it mean no worries for the rest of your days?! One of my favourite lines in the show!) After joining in this catchy song, Elder Price stops one of the locals, Mafala Hatimbi, to ask what this magical song means. “Well, Eebowai means “God” and “Hasa Diga means… fuck you. So I guess it means… fuck you God!” Cue a chorus of “fuck you God (in the eye!)” from the entire ensemble. I did warn you!

Elder Price and Elder Cunningham tell the story of the “All American Prophet” to the village but they are not interested – they are too worried about General Butt-fucking-naked coming to the village to circumcise all of their women. Yep. Nabulungi, (Alexia Khadime) who is Mafala’s daughter, is very taken with the idea of going to paradise and sings about “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (Salt Lake City). Alexia has a stunning voice and, even though she is in her thirties, is very believable as a naive young girl, unlike Gavin Creel who is 38 claiming to be 19. Somehow he makes it work!

The absolute highlight of the show for me was Jared Gernter’s solo “Man Up” right before the end of Act One. After an argument with Elder Price in which Elder Price decides to request a transfer (I actually wanted to jump onto the stage and hug Elder Cunningham at this point – he looked absolutely crushed!) Elder Cunningham decides to stay behind to help the village by himself. Having never actually read the Book of Mormon he decides to improvise slightly with hilarious results.

The second act opens with “Making Things Up Again” which includes cameos from Yoda and Darth Vader – no, really! While Elder Cunningham continues to spin wild tales, Elder Price suffers the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” which is by far the more bizarre thing I have ever seen on a West End stage. There were sparkly devils dancing around, glazed donuts everywhere and, at one point, Adolf Hitler. When he wakes up Elder Price decides to return to the village but is shocked to find how successful Elder Cunningham is.

Elder Price reaffirms his belief in God and The Book of Mormon (“I Believe”) which was Gavin Creel’s best moment. He was passionate and believable and still with a touch of comedy – a couple of times I was anticipating some big notes and was left a little disappointed but Gavin was note-perfect and mesmerising to watch.

Thanks to Elder Cunningham’s embellished version of the Book of Mormon the whole village now wants to be baptized – cue an absolutely brilliant duet, “Baptize Me” between Nabulungi and Elder Cunningham. It was stuffed full of innuendos and hilarious lyrics and was the perfect tonic to the usual soppy love songs that are all too prevalent in some musicals. The missionaries are so impressed by the Elders in Uganda that they decide to visit them personally and the villagers all want to put on a show about their new-found beliefs – tears were actually rolling down my face I was laughing so hard! As it became obvious what Elder Cunningham had done the looks of horror from the other Mormons and shock and a touch of smugness from Elder Price were absolutely hilarious.

I won’t reveal too much about the ending of the show, only that it received a well-deserved standing ovation. The entire cast is so strong it’s impossible to fault anyone and special mentions have to go to Kevin Harvey and Chris Jarman who have created two absolutely perfect characters. I know I’m gushing but I love love love Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner and the sweet friendship between their characters. This show is surreal and offensive and downright weird in places but I came away from it with a smile on my face and I will definitely be seeing it again soon.

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John Owen Jones – 21/06/2014

I have been a huge fan of John Owen Jones ever since I saw him as Jean Valjean in a touring production of Les Miserables in Manchester four years ago. I’ve seen the show a few times since then but he has remained my firm favourite. My already huge respect for him doubled in May when he stepped in at a Scott Alan gig and sang an extra song with no rehearsal whatsoever because another guest hadn’t turned up. So, when I saw that he’d be performing an intimate gig at the Hippodrome Casino, I knew I had to go.

I booked two seats in a “Beautiful Booth,” one each for me and my Mum, and I didn’t know at the time that these tickets also included a meet and greet session after the show, so not only would I be seeing him perform live, I’d also be meeting him afterwards. It’s safe to say that I was very excited and also a tad nervous!

Not only is John Owen Jones a ridiculously talented singer, he’s also very quick-witted and definitely more than a little bit mischievous. During one song there was a bit dramatic pause before the crescendo, and John used this time to take a huge, exaggerated drink from his water bottle, much to the bemusement of his band.

I was frequently left in awe by not only the sheer power of his voice but also the control he has over it, performing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s trickiest scores with no trouble whatsoever. The highlight of the show for me was, of course, Bring Him Home. I was instantly taken back to the Palace Theatre, Manchester, watching this amazing show for the first time. By the end of the song tears were rolling down my face and I definitely wasn’t the only one.

The interval was a tad surreal – I used some of the time to get to know Kirstie, the lovely lady who I knew from twitter but not personally. I had persuaded her (oops) to upgrade to a booth so she could sit with me and my Mum for the show and it was great to finally meet her in person (earlier that day I’d had a bit of a fright meeting someone from Twitter who was nothing at all like I’d imagined). I also went to the loo and, on the way back to my seat, realised that Elaine Paige was sat in the booth next to me. I used to spend every Sunday with my Grandparents and my Grandma would listen to Elaine Paige religiously – a trait she passed on to me. I nervously approached Elaine to ask for a picture and she pulled me into the seat next to her and gave me a huge hug – I nearly cried! Partly because I was so overwhelmed to be sat next to Elaine Paige and partly because the first thing I wanted to do was ring my Grandma and make her insanely jealous.

The second act passed by far too quickly and was followed by THREE encores including “Delilah” (John is Welsh after all) and a tricky little song called Minute Minuet that his pianist had bet him £10 he couldn’t sing live. John won.

After the show everyone in the booths was ushered over to a roped-off area at the other side of the casino bar. Everybody was looking around nervously and then all of a sudden John appeared – he’s very tall! Nobody wanted to be the first to approach him (I for one was glued to my seat with nerves) but my Mum decided it was my turn and, for the second time that day, I was dragged over to meet one of my heroes. I don’t know what I expected when I finally met John Owen Jones after four years, but I didn’t expect to talk about tattoos, Rock of Ages and Steel Panther! John is definitely one of the coolest people I have ever met and he was such a sweetheart, doing everything he could to make me feel at ease. As I tried to take a selfie and realised he was far too tall, he took my phone from me, rotated on the spot to find the best light and took a few pictures of us both. I was overwhelmed – I know they say never meet your heroes but I am so glad I finally had the chance to meet John and I am proud to call myself a fan of his.

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West End Live 2014

I’m not sure if this counts as a show, a concert, a festival or none of the above, but I blogged it last year so I thought I’d give it a go this year too! Thankfully this year I would be travelling to West End Live from my new flat which is just an hour away from Charing Cross Station. My Mum came down from Manchester for the weekend and we didn’t even leave the flat until 10am, which was a big improvement from the 8.30am train last year!

We arrived at a boiling hot Trafalgar Square just in time to see Savannah Stevenson, Willemijn Verkaik and Jeremy Taylor representing Wicked. They were all in costume, even Willemijn, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her in her full length black dress and full make-up! If she was uncomfortable she didn’t show it and performed a great version of “For Good” with Savannah.

I had no interest whatsoever in trying to get into Trafalgar Square itself – it was very hot and very crowded and I saw several people being carried out by ambulance staff throughout the day. No thanks! Instead we found a great spot at the side of Trafalgar Square, where not only did we have a brilliant view of one of the big screens but it was also easy to get to the “stage door” in-between performances.

As the Wicked cast were leaving the stage my Mum nudged me and gestured behind us – the cast of Les Miserables were all walking down the street in full costume, and they looked fantastic! I particularly loved Peter Lockyer in full Jean Valjean costume and make-up with a pair of sunglasses on. Not very French Revolution!

After Billy Elliot had performed a medley of songs from their show it was Les Miserables’ turn. There was a huge round of applause when Carrie Hope Fletcher took to the stage as Eponine and performed a flawless rendition of “On My Own.” Peter Lockyer then took to the stage, minus his sunglasses, and sang “Bring Him Home.” Wow. He was amazing. To finish their set the entire cast sang “One Day More” which gave me a chance to check out the new Javert, David Thaxton. There were a few sound problems so I didn’t hear as much as I would have liked but he certainly looked the part – I can’t wait to get back to Les Mis and see the new cast in action!

After Phantom of the Opera (I still can’t take to that show) and Miss Saigon (they kissed A LOT) it was time for The Pajama Game. I let out a little squeal as Gary Wilmot came onto the stage – I had been a huge fan of his for around fifteen years. I saw him as Fagin in Oliver! when I was 4 years old, then again as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when I was 9. I also watched him religiously on children’s TV – he read a story called Big Bad Barney Bear once and I watched it so many times I wore the tape out. In short, he was my hero. By this time my friend Mandy had joined us and we watched the performance together with my Mum.

Afterwards I told Mandy how much I loved Gary Wilmot and she immediately dragged me round to the back of the stage to meet him. I was absolutely terrified! I was literally shaking as cast member after cast member exited the stage door before, finally, there he was. I made absolutely no attempt to catch his eye so Mandy pushed me forwards and told Gary I was a huge fan. He smiled at me encouragingly and I managed to tell him I’d seen him in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and he was the one who inspired my love of the theatre. I also told him I was incredibly nervous! He was so lovely and kind and I found it really easy to talk to him once the nerves had subsided. I even plucked up the courage to ask for a picture. “Of course!” he said and pulled me in for a cuddle. Grinning like an idiot I took my phone out to take a selfie and he said “did you say you were really nervous?” “Yes?” I said warily. “Right then!” he said and gave me a huge kiss on the cheek. If he wasn’t holding me so close I would have fallen smack on the floor in shock! I recovered just enough to thank him for the picture and then practically ran to my Mum who informed me that I was bright pink. I wonder why!

Mandy stayed with us to watch the Jersey Boys and then wandered off to see how big the queue to get into the square was. After Mamma Mia and The Bodyguard I checked the time – 2.30pm already! I was aching from standing up and fairly sure I’d burned in the sun, so me and my Mum decided to head to the KFC in Leicester Square for something to eat.

There was one act that I had been looking forward to ever since it was announced – Nathan Amzi would be on the West End Live stage for a 20 minute set. Originally it was announced that he would be joined by Christina Marie and the cast of In the Heights, but Christina Marie was unable to perform (what a shame) so Louise Dearman stepped in at the last minute. I was so excited to see In the Heights again and even more excited to see Nathan!

They were due on stage at 5pm so, at ten minutes to, I went into Trafalgar Square (thankfully it was less crowded) and managed to find a great spot with a brilliant view of the stage. I made lots and lots of noise when Nathan came on the stage and, though I was slightly disappointed he didn’t do a solo, I loved his performance of “Power of Love” with Louise. Nathan then left the stage (boo) and Louise sang “Let it Go” from Frozen and she was absolutely sensational. She then left the stage to make way for the In the Heights cast and my God they were good. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Sam Mackay, Johnny Labey, Emma Kingston, Wayne Robinson – they were all incredible and looked to be having the time of their lives. Every single audience member was dancing along, including me, especially when they finished the set with “Carnaval del Barrio.” Oh, and Nathan? Your Spanish was spot on!

After a mad dash to get to the stage door I was happy to find lots of my lovely ROAdies already there waiting. They all teased me about Nathan “oh I wonder why you’re here?” but I’m used to it by now! When he came out of the door they all stepped back so I could have my hugs first and I love them all so much for that! After huge hugs and a quick photo with Nathan I said goodbye to him and the ROAdies and headed off for an ice cream. I was ready for bed by that point but I had a John Owen Jones concert to go to at 8pm – bring it on!

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Rock of Ages on tour: Bromley 20/06/2014

This would be my 35th Rock of Ages show and, I’m going to be honest, this show was riddled with mistakes but my God it was funny. I was a lot more enthusiastic about seeing Stephen Rahman-Hughes as Lonny and was also very happy to be seeing Stephen Rolley as Drew. I saw his first ever alternate Drew show in Manchester and even then he was sensational, so I was eager to see how much he’d improved since then.

After a quick (and delicious) BBQ Whopper at Burger King, where Lucy and I ran into Abe, it was time to head to theatre for a very strangely timed 5pm matinee. Of course the first thing we did was check the cast list and we didn’t half get a shock – there was no Dan Fletcher! The role of Dennis would be played by Chris Southgate. Now I was nervous again – that meant only two members of the West End cast (Cordelia Farnworth and Cam Sharp) would be on the stage as Rachel McFarlane was still off sick. I’d only just adjusted to a new Lonny and now there was a new Dennis as well?! On the bright side it meant seeing Tara Verloop as Waitress #1 again.

We took our seats, front row of course, and waited for the show to start. Now that I was able to relax and enjoy Stephen Rahman-Hughes it gave me time to watch the other new cast members. Abigail Climer is a very strong Justice and I really do love Kylie Michelle Smith, but Chris Southgate as Dennis was not good. Not, as it’s been suggested, “Because he wasn’t Dan” because I’ve seen three other actors in the role, but because he sounded like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. I don’t know what made him put that voice on, I hope it’s because it was his first show as Dennis and he was nervous, but I’d advise him to drop it. It didn’t sound natural and turned Dennis into a bit of a parody role. He also fluffed a few lines but again, it was his first show as Dennis so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Stephen Rolley really does remind me of Oliver Tompsett’s Drew but he also has a youthful quality about him that Oliver lacked – he’s more believable in the role of Drew. His “High Enough,” which is a really difficult song to sing, was passionate and more than a match for Cordelia Farnworth’s powerful vocals and he was also a brilliant actor, taking Drew from eager and innocent to bitter and jaded with ease.

As I mentioned before there were a couple of hiccups in the show but, for the most part, they were handled professionally and without fuss. During the “Beaver Hunt” segment of the show the song was played too early which meant that Tom Andrew Hargreaves, who played Joey Primo, had to think on his feet, which he managed perfectly, aided by Stephen Rahman-Hughes who pulled a face at Lucy, Abe and I as if to say “what happened then?!” but managed to get the show back on track with his natural comedy timing.

The biggest mistake came from Abigail Climer. As Drew, now a pizza delivery boy, knocks on the door of the Venus Room, Justice answers, calls the girl who the pizza is for and then has a conversation with Drew about Sherrie. So Stephen Rolley comes along with his pizza box, knocks on the door… and nobody answers. Looking slightly confused he waited a while and then knocked again. From our seats in the front row Lucy, Abe and I could see into the wings on that side of the stage and you have never seen anything more hilarious than Abigail Climer, in her full Justice costume and make up, hurtling into the wings from backstage and throwing herself through the door – clearly a missed or forgotten cue somewhere along the line! To her credit she picked up the scene very well, if a little breathlessly, and I don’t think the majority of the audience noticed anything had gone amiss. Lucy, Abe and I, however, were all laughing so hard we couldn’t sit upright.

The rest of the show passed without incident, unless you count the very drunk women on the front row declaring that they “wanted one of their own” after watching Cam Sharp as Franz. Thankfully we found a shortcut to the stage door that cut out three flights of stairs and settled down to wait for the cast. The stage door was wide open and it was very amusing to see various wigs and costumes being carried past, and I was very surprised to hear the cast’s 30 minute call – they didn’t have long inbetween shows did they?!

Despite this there were many cast members who were lovely enough to spend some of their short break with us. I met the dance captain Russell Smith who is also understudy Franz – something I definitely wouldn’t mind watching! Chris Southgate provided some entertainment when he came out still in his Dennis wig which was clipped up at the back and looked absolutely hilarious! I also had a lovely chat with Jack Lord who plays Hertz and is a fellow Manc who actually grew up about fifteen minutes away from where I grew up. Small world! Stephen Rolley was very generous with his time and I made sure to tell him how much I loved him as Drew and finally, Cam Sharp was not impressed that the two women wanted to keep him “I’m not an entity!”

It was absolutely amazing to be back at Rock of Ages for those two days and it seems that the show still has all of the understudy chaos it had on the West End. I’m very tempted to try and reach 40 shows before the end of the tour – that’s only five more!

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Russell Smith

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Jack Lord

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Chris Southgate

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Cam Sharp

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Stephen Rolley

Rock of Ages on tour: Bromley 19/06/2014

Up until fairly recently I had absolutely no idea where Bromley was but, after a quick conversation with my lovely friend Lucy, I discovered not only that it was just 30 minutes away from my new flat, but also that Rock of Ages would be playing there for a whole week after I moved in. It would have been rude not to go really so, after a day of assembling flat pack furniture, Lucy and I headed back to the Sunset Strip.

Although I was very excited to be back I was also very nervous – this would be the first time I’d see Stephen Rahman-Hughes as Lonny. If you’ve seen the show before you’ll know that Lonny is the glue that holds the show together – if Lonny isn’t right, the show wouldn’t work. No pressure, Stephen. There were only two changes to the cast: Abigail Climer would be playing the role of Justice instead of Rachel McFarlane which meant that Tara Verloop would be on as Waitress #1. This also happened to me in Manchester so I already knew what a fantastically talented actress Tara Verloop was, and was very excited to see her perform again.

This show was also a bit of a ROAdie reunion with myself and Lucy joined by Bonnie and two of her friends, Mandy, Kimmi, Kate and Abe (so sorry if I’ve missed anyone out) which meant we pretty much took over the front row. As the music started I automatically looked to the top of the stairs and felt a nervous knot in my stomach – for the first time in almost three years I had no idea what to expect when that door opened. As Stephen Rahman-Hughes burst onto the stage it was definitely a shock to the system but I couldn’t help smiling as his quirky, silly and slightly camp Lonny bounced around the stage. He looked like he was having a ball!

As cast member after cast member came onto the stage my excitement grew – everybody had improved so much since those first few shows in Manchester, Noel Sullivan in particular. The last time I saw him was on press night in Manchester and he was so nervous, but not this time. He commanded the stage and belted out note after note with impressive power and control. Cam Sharp was, of course, absolutely spectacular as Franz. He’s grown so much in the role and is definitely the best Franz I have ever seen.

I just can’t take to Jessie May as Regina – she’s technically very good but there’s just something missing. There are no layers to her character she is just very tough and determined all the way through and I missed Regina’s softer side. Don’t even get me started on how she pronounces “Franz.” Everyone else in the cast pronounces it “Fr-a-nz” but for some reason Jessie says “Fr-o-nz” which is very distracting and more than a little bit annoying, and I know I’m not the only ROAdie who feels this way.

Tara Verloop was absolutely sensational as Waitress #1 – I have a huge amount of respect for swings as they have to learn so many parts and are often thrown on at the last minute but Tara attacked the difficult choreography with enthusiasm and looked like she’d been playing Waitress #1 all of her life. Kylie Michelle Smith also stood out as Young Groupie. She’s an incredibly sexy woman and gave Young Groupie a cheeky, flirty edge that made a refreshing change, and she had good chemistry with Tara and Imogen Brooke who plays Constance. Imogen herself is also very talented – the way she completely melts in front of Stacee Jaxx is so much fun to watch and she is a very able dancer too.

By the second act I was really able to enjoy myself and fell head over heels for Stephen Rahman-Hughes’ portrayal of Lonny. It is SO different to anything I’ve ever seen before but that’s what makes it so good. It would have been easy for Stephen to go onto the stage and play the role as Simon Lipkin or Nathan Amzi did, but instead he has taken the role and tailored it to suit his own impressive talents. He is so funny and has built up a great rapport with the rest of the cast – his programme scene had me in stitches when he declared the audience were “just a bunch of Kents.”

It was a very rowdy stage door with all of the ROAdies in high spirits after a brilliant show, and to their credit the new cast members took it in their stride. They must have been warned about the ROAdies beforehand! Talking to Stephen Rahman-Hughes after the show only made me like him even more, he is humble and polite and just a lovely, lovely person. I barely had time to berate Dan Fletcher for nearly killing me with confetti (I had opened my mouth to say something to Lucy and instead got a mouth and nose full of confetti and I’m fairly sure I swallowed some. He also dumped a handful in my hair for good measure) before he was away – apparently he had somewhere to be. After many hugs and laughs it was time to leave, but Lucy and I couldn’t resist booking tickets for the next day on the train home. Well, it would have been rude not to!

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Stephen Rahman-Hughes

Times are a changin’!

Ok so, while I have five minutes to sit down and chill I thought I’d keep you all updated on what’s been going on over the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, I recently got the keys to my very own flat! As I’ve mentioned before I’m starting a Professional Writing course in September at North West Kent College (read the full blog here). The course is perfect, the course director rang me personally to offer me a place and I will (hopefully) graduate with a foundation degree in two years time. It’s all amazing. There’s just one problem – I currently live in Bacup, Lancashire, which is roughly 250 miles away. That’s one hell of a commute. So, as of Sunday the 15th of June, I will be living in Chatham, Kent which is about 30 minutes away from the college and 45 minutes away from London. Basically, it’s perfect for me. I’ve had a great time ordering furniture (I am a flat-pack genius) and I can’t wait to get down there and put my own stamp on it.

That in itself is a lot to get used to, but I also recently had a call from a recruitment officer at PGL offering me a summer job as an Activity Instructor. Believe it or not I absolutely adore outdoor sports and I have been applying regularly to PGL since April 2012 – I’m still in a state of shock!

For twelve weeks I will be based at their Marchants Hill base in Surrey teaching archery and supervising children on low level rope courses – after I’ve learned how to do it myself that is! My contract takes me right up to the start of college and, whilst it’s a bummer that I won’t be in my new flat for another 12 weeks, the job will provide invaluable experience as well as an added bonus free food and accommodation.

I will also be working towards both a Level 2 Certificate in Introductory Work in the Outdoors and a Level 2 Certificate in Hospitality and Operational Support. I have the option of going back to PGL at a later date to finish these qualifications and even work towards an Intermediate Apprenticeship in various areas including Sport and Recreation, Customer Service, Business Administration and Hospitality, so this really is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’d be crazy to turn down.

As you can tell I’m going to be pretty busy over the next 12 weeks and so I won’t have much time for the theatre, but I’m going to try and get to London as often as I can (contract, funds and energy permitting!) I’m definitely attending West End Live on the 21st/22nd of June  and I am also seeing John Owen Jones at the Hippodrome that weekend so I’m not going cold turkey!

I’m really excited about the next few months and I am really looking forward to resuming my theatre blogging in September.

Alison x

 

My job for the next 12 weeks!

My job for the next 12 weeks!

 

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Made my mark on my new flat!

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