Restricted West End

Yes, it’s another project!

Whenever I go to book a ticket online I totally ignore the “restricted view” warnings. I would rather take my chances on the day – sometimes you can see perfectly and sometimes you’re practically hanging off the balcony to get a half-decent view (I speak from experience). Other people are a little more wary when it comes to these seats and this is where my idea came from.

I have booked to see seven West End shows over a two week period, and every single seat has a “restricted view” warning (except Wicked but intriguingly the seat next to it does). I will use my ninja camera skills to take a picture of the view from each seat and will upload these along with my usual theatre blog. I hope you will enjoy this project as much as I am sure I will enjoy researching it!

The seven shows are:

The Commitments – Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Les Miserables – Queen’s Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Blithe Spirit - Gielgud Theatre* Shaftesbury Avenue.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Savoy Theatre, Strand.

Wicked – Apollo Victoria, Wilton Road.

Billy Elliot - Victoria Palace* Victoria Street.

Jersey Boys - Piccadilly Theatre* Denman Street.

(* venues I have not visited before.)

 

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The Perfect Murder – 15/04/2014

*Warning – this post contains spoilers and an unusually high concentration of fangirling*

First and foremost – I did not want to go to see this play. My Mum is a huge Peter James fan and it just so happened that a stage adaptation of one of his books would be coming to Manchester starting on the 15th of April – my Mum’s birthday. She decided that this was what she wanted to do for her birthday and so two tickets were booked. Lucky me. I did perk up slightly when I saw the cast included Steven Miller who played Lenny in Casualty, a programme I’ve watched religiously since I was about three, and Gray O’Brien who played the incredibly scary Tony Gordon in Coronation Street.

Before the show we decided to have a nice meal at a Pizza Express around the corner from the theatre. The meal itself was lovely; it was the fellow customers were the problem. I have a lot of tattoos on my arms and I was wearing a sleeveless top – cue lots of looks ranging from curiousity to downright disdain. The man on the table next to me said that I was “more Pizza Hut than Pizza Express.” Luckily my Mum had gone to the loo at that point and didn’t hear him, otherwise he would have been wearing his meal.

After the meal we headed over to the theatre, and realised it was press night. After buying a programme we settled down in our seats. I was definitely in the minority in this audience, which has happened before, but this particular audience was very hostile and I was getting very sick of being glared at. I was looking around the theatre to try and spot anyone under 50, when Freddie Flintoff walked past. It was a very surreal moment. Now I was a tattooed teenage delinquent who was also bright pink and fangirling her arse off – not at all suitable for a play as serious as this. The man next to my Mum actually huffed at me. I would have said something but he took up half of Mum’s seat as well as his own and I didn’t really want to take him on.

As the play started I was sceptical – one of the first characters introduced was a psychic prostitute called Kamila, played by Simona Armstrong. Detective Constable Roy Grace, played by Steven Miller, went to her for advice about a missing boy. He handed her the boy’s phone and she was able to tell where the boy’s body was and what tool had been used to kill him. Kamila was also visited by Victor Smiley (Les Dennis) three times a week every week, and he told her of his plan to kill his wife with cyanide, cash in her life insurance policy and live happily ever after. He said it was so planned out it couldn’t possibly fail – he kept the cyanide in the shed and he was going to mix it with some paint then paint the spare room where his wife sleeps because of his snoring. She would be overcome by the fumes and die, and the death would be put down to a mistake in the manufacturing of the paint. Simple. Even if that fails he has some cyanide in an almond essence bottle, and is going to bake some into some of his wife’s favourite snacks. He then declares his love for Kamila and asks her to come away with him after the murder, and she agrees.

Victor’s wife Joan (Claire Goose) is also having an affair, with a man named Don Kirk, played by the ridiculously gorgeous Grey O’Brien. In his first scene he is in the bedroom in some tiny underpants and nothing else. Wow, just wow. Joan and Don then talk about their plan to empty Victor’s bank account and run off together. As he is leaving Joan and Victor’s house Victor comes home early and Don sneaks out of the back door. Victor and Joan then have an argument about Victor constantly watching murder mystery programmes, although Joan does quite like “Benedict Cucumberpatch” which tickled me. She also hates the way he smokes cigars in the house, and sometimes hums the “Dambusters” theme tune without realising.

Later in the week Victor is made redundant and is only being paid 27 weeks’ worth of wages. Joan decides to cook him a sugar-free meal to comfort him (Victor has type 1 Diabetes so has to control his sugar levels). After Victor’s second helping of chocolate pudding Joan reminds him to take his insulin, which he does and then sinks onto the couch. As he does he begins to feel a little strange, and then collapses onto the floor. It turns out that Joan had loaded the meal with sugar and replaced his insulin with sugar water to send him into a hyperglycaemic coma. She and Don would then move him into bed, she would sleep in the spare room and then find her husband dead in the morning.

This is where the play really began to get going. As Don and Joan went to move Victor’s body he woke up and went for Joan, who hit him on the back of the head with a hammer. Victor puts his hand up to feel the back of his head and his hand comes away absolutely covered in blood, which he wipes over his face in shock before collapsing on the couch. It was so well done and I just did not see it coming – my jaw hit the floor when I saw the blood!

While Joan is holding the hammer in shock Don is flapping his arms repeating “bloody hell. Bloody hell!” which was absolutely hilarious, despite the macabre circumstances. They then proceed to wrap Victor’s body in bin bags, seal him up with masking tape and put him in the freezer. That night while Joan is in the house alone she thinks she can smell cigar smoke but puts it down to Don smoking in the house.

Kamila rings DC Grace when she senses something is wrong with Victor. She picks up a necklace he gave her and tells the detective that Victor is in a cold, dark space and, although DC Grace is sceptical at first, he agrees to pay Joan a visit. In the meantime Joan has had Victor declared missing to try and cover her back. When DC Grace is gone, Don decides to bury Victor under the patio. What happens next was my favourite part of the entire play.

When Joan enters her living room she can hear the music again, and can smell cigar smoke. Suddenly a piercing scream filled the theatre, which made me jump out of my skin and utter something very un-ladylike. Then the lights began to flicker and Joan runs upstairs to the bedroom, barricading the door shut. The door handle begins to rattle and the music gets louder, until the door swings open to reveal Victor, smoking a cigar with his head covered in blood, staring blankly at her. It is the scariest thing I have ever seen live in a theatre – I was terrified!

When DC Grace visits Kamila again she tells him that somebody has cut off Victor’s head and hands and buried the body under the garden. DC Grace arrests Joan and Victor’s body is found, just where Kamila said it would be, minus his head and his hands. Case closed. Joan tells the police that Don killed Victor and forced her to go along with it, and is released on bail. When she returns home she finds some almond macaroons that Victor had made in the kitchen, pours herself a glass of wine and settles down to watch TV. All of a sudden, Victor appears behind her wearing leather gloves and wielding a crowbar. It turns out he wasn’t dead after all – when Joan and Don put him in the freezer the cold woke him up and he was able to work himself free and escape. He then found the body of a tramp in their shed – the tramp had opened all of the chemical bottles looking for a quick high, hadn’t put the lid back on the cyanide and suffocated. Victor cut off his head and his hands and put him in the freezer, and then Don buried the tramp under the patio thinking it was Victor, leaving Victor free to “haunt” Joan.

Victor makes Joan write a confession, stating that it was her who killed Victor and Don had nothing to do with it. All the time Victor keeps repeating “have another macaroon Joan.” Joan starts to choke and Victor says “Ah yes, you like almonds don’t you Joan. Do you know what else tastes like almonds?” “Cyanide” Joan gasps in horror before collapsing to the ground clutching her throat. Victor puts the TV on to mask the sound of Joan dying and then, when she is dead, puts the confession on the table with the bottle of almond essence that contained the cyanide, to make it look like Joan had committed suicide. There is a knock at the door and in walks Kamila. She had been feeding DC Grace false information about Victor’s murder, and the two of them were going to disappear, using Victor’s hefty redundancy payout to start a new life together.

All throughout this last scene, Les Dennis was incredible. I was on the second row in the stalls and I actually found myself cowering away from him! Claire Goose was brilliant too, her acting was just flawless and her death was convincing without being too over-dramatic. It wasn’t until the curtain call that I realised that there were only five cast members – an entire play with only five people!

As I mentioned before it was press night, and this is where the fangirling comes into play. In the interval I got up to go to the loo, and found myself walking directly behind Freddie Flintoff. He was heading to the bar at the back of the theatre that was for press only, which just so happened to be right next to the ladies toilets. Just as he was going in to the bar we managed to grab him and ask for a picture – he is so tall! He practically had to bend double just to reach my height.

On the way back from the toilets I was still in total disbelief when I spotted Ian Puleston-Davies. That was too much; I went into full fangirl mode. I was bright pink and shaking like a leaf as I went up to talk to him! Ian Puleston-Davies currently plays Owen Armstrong in Coronation Street, but I’ve been a huge fan of his since he was in Ghost Boat with David Jason in 2006. He is an absolutely phenomenal actor, and I had said to my Mum literally the night before whilst watching Corrie that I would love to meet him one day, and then there he was! It was totally insane. He was so lovely to me, and absolutely made my night when he said “oh I love your tattoo. Tattoos! Wow!” After all the stick I had been getting that night it was so amazing to have someone I admire that much react positively to my tattoos. I made a point of telling him that I loved him in Ghost Boat, despite the fact that he shot David Jason (I will never forgive him for that) and he said “oh I know, the nation wept.” Well I certainly did!

After the show we were walking towards the exit when my Mum nudged me and said “look behind you.” It was only bloody David Neilson who plays Roy Cropper in Coronation Street. I was in total fangirl overload! We waited at the top of the stairs and I asked him for a picture, and while I was on my phone bringing up the camera he noticed my phone wallpaper and said “aww are those your cats?” To which I replied “yes, they’re my babies.” Smooth. He also said he liked my tattoos (woo!) and I told him how much I loved watching him in Corrie.

When I got to the stage door I was already a total mess, so it’s a miracle I managed to talk to any of the cast! Les Dennis, Gray O’Brien, Steven Miller and Claire Goose all signed my programme for me and were all so lovely to the people at the stage door. As we headed back to the tram I had the biggest grin on my face – what a night!

**additional note** I sent this blog to the play’s author Peter James and he was lovely enough to reply.

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Freddie Flintoff

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Ian Puleston-Davies

 

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David Nielson

 

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Les Dennis

 

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Gray O’Brien

 

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Steven Miller

 

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Stage Door Project

I absolutely love going to the stage door after a show – for me it’s all part of the experience. I have an album full of my stage door pictures and I started up this project to see the stage door pictures that mean the most to you. Below are the people who were kind enough to share their photos with me and I want to say a huge huge thank you to each and every one of you!

Mark Johnson.

Mark is a fellow theatre lover who is running the Bupa 10,000K to raise money for the Curve Theatre in Leicester (click here to see his sponsor page and donate). He is also raising money via an auction of “stagey items” – to find out more click here.

Photo #1 – Rowan Atkinson. 

“I met Rowan by chance – I was in London seeing David Bedella perform a concert at the Leicester Square theatre. The concert finished early and I had time to wander around London before my train home to Leicester and, by chance, I ended up outside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where Oliver! was playing. There was a big crowd outside the stage door and I wandered over to see what the fuss was about – it was Mr Rowan Atkinson, who was playing Fagin at the time. He was only signing programmes and things to do with the show so sadly I didn’t get his autograph, but I did get a photo. Unfortunately I had to take it myself and I barely got in it, but still, I’m there alongside one of the most incredible comedy actors of all time and I will cherish my luck for being there and meeting him, even though it’s not the best photo.”

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Photo #2 – David Bedella and Kara Lane.

“This picture is from the stage door at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in Nottingham. I am with two of my favourite performers, David Bedella and Kara Lane, who were both in the Rocky Horror Picture Show (2009/10 UK Tour) playing Dr Frank-N-Furter and Magenta/Usherette respectively. I have followed their careers ever since and will continue to support them wherever possible. I am so happy I have them both together in a picture and they kindly both signed the picture which is now framed and up on my wall.”

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Photo #3 - Rachel Grundy and Maria Coyne.

“Another two ladies from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, this time from the 2012/13 40th Anniversary Tour. These ladies are undoubtedly two of the nicest and most down to earth people I’ve ever had the joy to meet, and they’re truly incredible on stage too. This picture is at the Curve, my local theatre here in Leicester and it was just a joy to meet them both and get them together for a photo. Both of them will go on to big things, and they deserve to.”

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 Marie Dubreuil.

Next up is the lovely Marie. She runs her own blog – “On My Way” and is one of those rare people who is just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

Photo #1 – Jamie Ward.

“The reason why this photo is one of my favourites is very probably because his interview has been the best I’ve ever done.
And maybe also because he’s such a lovely person :)”

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Sarah Holmes.

My lovely best friend who has come with me to more shows than I can remember – she’s usually the one taking my stage door pictures!

Photo #1 – Ross Hunter, 24.07.2013.

“This became one of my favourite photos as soon as it was taken. Alison and I had gone to see Rock of Ages with Tanja, our friend from Germany. Tanja has one of those giant cameras that needs focusing, lining up perfectly and getting into the right lighting – basically one of those huge complex things that I love, but I only have a little digital thing. Anyway, Tanja said to Ross she needed to do a test shot to make sure the camera was set up right for her picture with him. Poor Ross wondered what was going on! I was stood  there saying “just pose Ross it’s fine, just smile” and he’s stood there saying “but it’s just me!” Bless him. I solved that problem by jumping into the picture with him, resulting in this picture – it turns out Ross and I both thought the photo was brilliant. It’s quite possibly one of the best and it always brings back some very happy memories.”

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Photo #2 – John McLarnon and Mark Dugdale, 09.03.2014.

“These two are quite possibly the most perfect double act out there. I absolutely love them both to pieces and I think this photo what I love about them. There were quite a few of us there that day yet I always get picked on by Mark – we always have a laugh together that’s for sure. We all had our time with John and he was hanging back waiting for Mark. Before they both disappeared I asked them for a photo together and this was the result. There were some more but this is definitely my favourite. Because they are both taller than me they were talking over me saying what they were going to do – as it turns out, when you put them together you get a very amusing photo.”

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Photo #3 – Tim Howar, 31.08.2013.

“Anyone who knows me will know how much I love this man. I cannot put into words how much he has done for me – he always cheers me up whenever I need it no matter what, and if I need to talk to someone I can always rely on Tim. This picture was taken a few weeks after I had been talking to him because I was upset and it was nice to thank him in person. It was a day filled with plenty of Tim time and I finally got to meet his lovely other half Jodie Oliver and their adorable little puppy Rocky. All in all it was a very good day :)”

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 Jennifer McKinnon and Kira Etherington.

These two are completely inseparable – it doesn’t surprise me at all that they even sent in a joint picture!

Photo #1 – Nathan Amzi and Selina Hamilton.

“We love all of our stage door pictures, but this is our favourite one. It was taken on the last night of Rock Of Ages, and never fails to make us smile. The cast of Rock of Ages were all so lovely, but Nathan and Selina were both extra lovely to us, and to get a picture with both of them, as the show closed its doors, was something that was a bit extra special for us.”

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Olivia Edmonds.

Olivia is a treasured friend of mine who runs her own theatre blog, “Thoughts of a Blue-Eyed Girl.

Photo #1 – Tam Mutu, January 2013.

“Not only is this a picture where I actually look half decent, but, despite having several pictures with Tam, this one is particularly special as it was taken by Craig Mather! The three of us were the only ones left at Stage Door and Craig was more than happy to oblige :)”

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Photo #2 – Hadley Fraser, January 2014.

“The story behind this photo is what makes it special! Having not been able to get tickets to see Hadley in CORIOLANUS, I asked a friend, when we visited London in January, to show me where the Donmar Warehouse was – as I actually didn’t know! Little did I know that as we were about to walk away from the theatre now that I knew where it was, that we would actually bump into Hadley and end up chatting for ages! I think my smile says it all :-)

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Photo #3 – Geronimo Rauch, October 2013.

“This was after the first time I had seen Geronimo as the Phantom. I had spent most of the evening crying so it’s probably better that there are shadows in this picture! I had such high expectations for him in this role and he totally obliterated them and then some! It was so lovely to see him absolutely beaming when talking about how much he is loving being behind the mask!!”

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 Abe Calimag.

Abe has to be one of the most dedicated theatre-goers I know. He lives in Virginia, USA and travels all around the world to see different shows – I met him at the last Rock of Ages show in London in November 2013.

Photo #1 – Janet Krupin, 18.08.2012.

Janet Krupin is literally my favorite person in the world. I have other photos with her that are “better pictures,” but I love this one because it was taken moments after we first met. After seeing Bring It On for the first time, I waited away from the stage door to let the crowd of 12-year-old cheerleaders have their way. As Janet made her way down the line, she’d say, “Hi, I’m Janet. What’s your name?” After chatting with everyone, signing Playbills, and taking pictures, she thanked them each by name. How could you not love her just for that? In addition to being a talented performer, Janet is such a warm, kind, and fun person to be around.”

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Photo #2 – Taylor Louderman, 20.10.2012.

Taylor Louderman is another one of my favorite people in the world. From the first time I saw her at Broadway in Bryant Park, I knew she’s a star. Shortly before this picture was taken, she told Playbill.com that the leading role she’s dying to play is Glinda in Wicked.  As we stood in front of the St. James talking after a show, someone walked by randomly blowing bubbles. The result is this serendipitous photo, which I take as an omen that someday soon, we’ll be seeing her at the Gershwin coming and going by a bubble of her own.”

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Photo #3 – Cristin Milioti, 19.08.2012.
“I love this photo not because I loved Cristin Milioti as Girl in Once, which I did, and not because she’s Ted Mosby’s baby-mama, which she is, but because through a quirk of fate and timing, her hand and the poster with Steve Kazee’s arm line up perfectly to create this creepily epic image.”
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Kerrie Nicholson.

Kerrie is a new-found friend of mine who runs her own theatre blog, “Confessions of a 20 Something.”
Photo #1 – Jon Boydon, Edd Post and Matt Nalton, 05.04.2014.
“This photo, with Jon Boydon (in the red), Edd Post (in the green) & new member of the cast Matt Nalton, was taken after seeing Jersey Boys a third time at its new home at the Piccaddily Theatre. The boys star as Tommy Devito, Bob Gaudio & Nick Massi respectively. Pure & simple: I adore this show, it’s my favourite. It gives me a buzz that that any other show has yet to equal, I get to the interval and want to rewind, and when it ends I’m already thinking: ‘when can I go again?’ They are great fun and lovely to talk to- I’ve met Jon & Edd before and it was lovely to finally meet a Nick Massi in Matt. It was excellent to meet the three of them together, usually it’s separately and minus whoever was playing Nick!
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Photo #2 – Hadley Fraser, 01.06.2013.
“This photo with Hadley Fraser was taken after seeing him as Sid Sorokin in The Pajama Game in Chichester.  I think THE WORLD of this man. He’s incredibly talented, introduced me to those I now feel are my closest friends and is just, quite simply, a pretty kick ass human being. He’s always so kind and thoughtful towards me and I treasure each experience I’ve had with him.
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Photo #3 – Julian Ovenden, 11.10.2012.
“I met Julian Ovenden at the Curve Theatre in Leicester after seeing Finding Neverland. This gorgeous musical was the first opportunity I’d had to see Julian perform live, and I was reminded constantly why I became a fan of his wonderful voice in the first place. He’s also incredibly charming – I think I embarrassed myself as got a little too excited when I saw him (literally sitting there with this huge grin on my face, almost bouncing in my chair in anticipation) but I don’t think he minded -  when he caught my eye he smiled and wandered straight over with a cheeky glint in his eye.”
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I absolutely could not resist putting my own three favourite pictures in!
Photo #1 – David Tennant, 13.08.2011.
My first ever stage door picture and isn’t it a beauty! I cringe every time I see this bloody photo. I was so ridiculously starstruck and I couldn’t get two words out when I met him, or for about an hour afterwards. He was so kind and tolerant and he even came back to check that the picture had turned out alright.
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Photo #2 – Ross Hunter, Dan Fletcher, Tim Howar, 04.11.2013.
Yep, I got photo-bombed. This was originally a nice, smiley picture with Ross Hunter, but then Dan Fletcher and Tim Howar came out of the stage door and quite literally dived in. I was on a crutch at the time for my bad hip and I very nearly got knocked over! I didn’t even see Dan behind me I was laughing at Tim, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw the final result!
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Photo #3 – Nathan Amzi, 02.11.2013
Of course my last picture is a picture with Nathan. It’s no secret just how much I adore this man – he is kind, generous, supportive, approachable… I could go on and on and on. This photo was taken after the last ever Rock of Ages show and, as soon as Nathan came over to us, I burst into tears at the thought of not seeing him again for an indefinite amount of time. Every time Nathan gives me a hug he picks me up, but as this was the last time I said “why is nobody taking a picture of this?!” and, to my surprise, he swept me clean off my feet! As you can see I had the biggest grin on my face as it was just so typical of Nathan to cheer me up and make me laugh when I was upset.
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The Commitments / Dirty Rotten Scoundrels 29/03/2014

Yes, it really has taken me this long to go and see The Commitments! Because the majority of our Sunday would be spent travelling from London to Manchester, we decided to have a “Mothering Saturday” instead. Ever since I booked the tickets in January my Mum had been telling me incessantly that she wanted to see Ian McIntosh as Deco. We had seen Ian make his West End debut in Rock of Ages as Joey Primo, and have followed his career ever since. Ian is now Ray/Ensemble and Alternate Deco in The Commitments (he plays Deco every Tuesday and Sunday evening). I was happy to see the principle Deco Killian Donnelly – I had seen him live as Courfeyrac in the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Misérables so I already knew he was a very talented performer.

After a very loud lunch with friends, we headed over to the Palace Theatre – a new theatre for me. That place is a maze! After buying a programme I had a flick through, and at first I didn’t notice the cast list, which was tucked into the front cover. As I pointed out Killian Donnelly to my Mum the slip of paper fell out. I picked it up and had a quick read – “Cast at this performance… Ian McIntosh as Deco.” I couldn’t believe my eyes! Please don’t think that I didn’t want to see Ian as Deco because you are totally wrong, in fact I have booked a Tuesday night performance specifically to see him as Deco. I just could not believe that my Mum had got her way! I reluctantly showed her the cast list and she howled with laughter before showing me a smug smile that didn’t move for the rest of the performance. I was just gobsmacked that all of her “I wish it was Ian” moaning had actually worked!

To cut a long story short, I bloody loved the show. It was more like being at a concert! Ian McIntosh was just incredible – I couldn’t get over the change in him. He was so confident on the stage and his voice was absolutely insane. Mark Dugdale, another ex We Will Rock You cast member, had a much bigger part than I had anticipated and I absolutely loved watching him on the stage – I was lucky enough to see him as “Khashoggi” in We Will Rock You and he has come on in leaps and bounds since then. There were two more familiar faces – John McLarnon who was “Rebel Leader” in We Will Rock You and Brian Gilligan. I loved seeing John on stage again but I couldn’t look at Brian – the last time I saw him was at After Show in November, where he played a game called “Irish gay lick” with a cast member from Once. No, that’s not a typo. I have seen more of that man than I had ever anticipated (I will include one picture below – I didn’t write a blog about that show because I genuinely had no idea how.)

This was not a fun stage door. There was a group of about six screaming, roaring drunk, middle aged women who pounced on any poor soul who came out of the theatre. I cringed as they pawed at Ian and thought about just walking away – I probably would have if Ian hadn’t spotted me and asked me to wait for him. It was great catching up with him but while I was talking to him Brian Gilligan came out of the stage door which made the whole thing quite awkward. I also got a brief hug from John McLarnon who had to run off because he had an appointment to get his phone fixed. I knew from We Will Rock You that Mark Dugdale doesn’t come out in-between shows so, after I’d said goodbye to Ian, me and my Mum walked to The Savoy Theatre for our next show.

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Irish Gay Lick with Brian Gilligan

Irish Gay Lick with Brian Gilligan

I do not have a good history with this theatre. This is where I saw Legally Blonde (aka “my worst nightmare: the musical) and Let it Be (I didn’t even make it to the interval.) Luckily I had already seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels so I knew that this would definitely be a case of third time lucky.

I first saw the show in Manchester when it was in previews (you can read the blog here) so I was excited to see what had changed since then. One thing that I was glad hadn’t changed: the incredible cast. Once again I squealed like a little girl when Robert Lindsay came onto the stage – I can’t help it! John Marquez who plays his trusty companion Andre, was on top form. I noticed subtle little things in his character that I must have missed the first time – he is very understated but, if you pay attention, also very funny. It’s easy to miss his subtle little changes in expression, and his character has an incredible wit that left me cursing myself for not paying enough attention to him before.

Samantha Bond seemed so much more relaxed in her role this time around, as did Rufus Hound. He was having more fun with the role and with the audience and he clearly has a brilliant rapport with Robert Lindsay – they work really well together. One of my favourite parts of the first act was the song “Oklahoma?” performed by Lizzy Connolly who plays Jolene. How she manages to stay in character I will never know – she performs the song with a perfect Oklahoma twang whilst line dancing, jumping into the splits and even firing a gun. She had me in absolute stitches, as did the next song “Ruprecht.” This scene is all about deterring Jolene from wanting to marry Lawrence (Robert Lindsay.) Rufus Hound’s character Freddie poses as Ruprecht, the repulsive younger brother who eventually scares Jolene away. It is an absolutely hysterical number that had me, and the rest of the theatre, crying with laughter.

Another person I didn’t appreciate the first time around is Katherine Kingsley. My God that woman is good. Her voice, her acting, her comedic timing, they’re all absolutely perfect. She performs stunning duets with both Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound and plays her character so flawlessly that you can’t help but fall in love with her goofy, clumsy, ditzy persona.

There is only one thing wrong with this show – I still didn’t see the twist at the end coming! Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen and I was watching out for anything that might give it away, my jaw still hit the floor and I have a feeling if I see the show five times or fifty it will still come as a complete shock, which is a testament to the writers and the performers. I have already booked to see this show a third time and I can’t wait – this is fast becoming my new favourite musical on the West End.

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Wicked – 28/03/2014

This was the first of a three show weekend in London to celebrate Mother’s Day. I booked this show specifically to see Emma Hatton play Elphaba, and Jeremy Taylor play Fiyero. They were both on stage the first time I ever saw We Will Rock You, Emma as Scaramouche and Jeremy as Teacher/Ensemble, and I had the pleasure of meeting both of them on numerous occasions.

After an uneventful trip to London we checked in at our hotel (if you can call it that – it was a room with a bed and a sink. Do NOT stay at the County Hotel on Upper Woburn Place, unless you fancy sharing a toilet and a bath with the entire floor. The only reason I didn’t switch hotels there and then was because I knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room) and headed to Victoria. I didn’t even bother with the Underground with it being 5:30pm on a Friday night in Central London, but the bus ride took so long that the meal at Zizzi’s we had planned was replaced by a hasty King of the Day each from the Burger King in Victoria station.

We were seated in the circle – row Q – which gave us a very impressive view of the entire stage. I was on the end of the row which got more and more annoying as the show went on because of the constant stream of people who showed up late (my biggest pet hate – it’s so rude!) I had already warned my Mum that I was probably going to burst into tears the moment Emma ran on stage in all of her emerald green glory, and I was right. I was just so damn proud of her! As she belted out her first big song “The Wizard and I” the tears were streaming down my face. The last time I saw her as Meat in We Will Rock You I was staggered by how much her voice had developed since she began Elphaba rehearsals, but that was nothing compared to this – she was absolutely sensational.

I had just about recovered when on comes Jeremy Taylor as Fiyero. I am beginning to think they paint those jodhpurs on – every woman in the room was following his every move! I know Jeremy as a very sweet and shy person, so to see him on stage strutting his stuff as the arrogant prince was a real treat. Jeremy would be my sixth Fiyero, and he blew the others out of the water. His “Dancing through Life” was cock-sure and confident and the entire audience (including me) was putty in his hands. I know from watching him in We Will Rock You that he is a brilliant dancer, and he made the tricky choreography look effortless. And that voice! I never had the chance to see Jeremy as Galileo (he was second cover after Scott Monello) so this was the first time I had ever heard him sing on his own – he really is exceptionally talented.

I have to admit I didn’t take to Savannah Stevenson’s G(a)linda at first because she plays it very differently to Gina Beck who I was very fond of, but she totally converted me during her rendition of “Popular” – she had me in stitches as she pranced around the stage. As the story progressed I fell more and more in love with Emma’s portrayal of Elphaba. She is a very talented actress and gave Elphaba a cheeky edge that I hadn’t seen before.

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I heard the first note of “Defying Gravity.” I felt a familiar lump rise in my throat and I tried to choke back the tears, but as soon as Emma’s voice rang out “it’s not her, she has nothing to do with it. I’m the one you want. It’s me! IT’S MEEEEE!” I was gone. I’m getting teary now just thinking about it! As I watched Emma rise up the entire theatre disappeared – I was absolutely captivated. She attacked the song with such power and force and belted out note after incredible note until I thought she was going to burst right through the ceiling. As she thrust her broomstick into the air and let out that final riff, I didn’t breathe. I didn’t even notice the tears streaming down my face; all I could see was Emma. As the curtain came down and the house lights went on I felt cheated – bring her back!

I rang my friend Sarah who had also seen Emma as Elphaba but I literally couldn’t speak – I was totally dumbfounded. I knew Emma was good but bloody hell! Then Sarah reminded me – I still had Elphaba and Fiyero’s duet coming up. My mascara can’t take much more of this!

I have to say that, apart from Defying Gravity of course, the scene between Boq and Nessa Rose in the second act is my favourite. It’s so intense and Katie Rowley-Jones and Sam Lupton are amazing – how they transform themselves from the young, eager students in the first act to the hard, bitter people they are in that scene never fails to amaze me.

Before I knew it, Elphie and Fiyero had run off together and it was time for their duet – “As Long as You’re Mine.” As I have said before, Jeremy was the sixth actor I had seen play Fiyero, and I was fed up of weak-voiced Fiyeros getting drowned out by incredible Elphabas. My first Fiyero was Matt Willis and to be honest I didn’t even realise it was a duet he was that feeble. But Jeremy? Wow. He more than held his own against Emma’s strong voice and, not only could you actually hear him, but the intensity and the emotion between the two of them was so strong it took your breath away.

After the show, I dragged my Mum to the stage door to wait for Jeremy and Emma. I had warned her that Emma could be a while seeing as she was currently painted green and that I would wait for as long as I had to. As well as getting a long-awaited hug from Jeremy (I’d not seen him since the We Will Rock You cast change last October) I also had the pleasure of meeting Savannah Stevenson and Martyn Ellis, who stepped in as The Wizard of Oz in January 2014 when Sam Kelly had to withdraw from the show due to ill health. After finally having my programme signed by a very tired-looking Emma Hatton it was time to leave and get some sleep before a two show day tomorrow.

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My interview with “Theatre Fans” and a new project.

My lovely friend Mark has started a project where he interviews theatre fans to find out a bit more about them. I was more than happy to take part and you can read my interview here. If you fancy taking part yourself then click here to find out how!

I have a similar project in mind starting tomorrow - I have a huge album full of stage door pictures and I want to see yours! Send in your favourite stage door pictures and tell me why they’re your favourite (maximum of three per person.) I will put them together and post them on my blog on Saturday the 12th of April so please send in your photos no later than Friday the 11th of April. That gives you just over two weeks to pick your favourite photos and send them in to alison.willman@yahoo.co.uk.

Feel free to spread the word – in fact please do!

Me, myself and my tattoos

I’ve been thinking about doing a blog post about my tattoos for a while but I wasn’t sure that anybody would be interested. For one thing – it’s not theatre related! (Although most of my tattoos are.) Then yesterday (25/03/14) I had a tattoo done that was very personal to me and posted it on twitter. One of the responses was “you have some of the best meaningful tats ever!!” – this absolutely made my day.

Every tattoo I have is to document a certain moment in my life or something or someone that has had an impact on my life – I don’t just get tattoos for fun. I don’t want a tribal tramp stamp or a cluster of stars behind my ear because they wouldn’t mean anything to me. Every tattoo I have has been carefully planned and designed by me with the help of my brilliant tattoo artist Mike (at 2nd Skin Tattoo) who has done every tattoo of mine except the first one. My tattoos tell my story so far, and as I continue to learn and grow as a person, I will continue to add to my collection.

Below are the 16 tattoos I have so far, with a little paragraph explaining what they mean to me. You can look at one or all sixteen and please feel free to comment on them (but be nice – they’re permanent!)

1. “Sometimes the dreams you come in with, may not be the dreams you leave with.”

This was my first tattoo, done on my 18th birthday (10/09/2012.) Deciding what to have for my very first tattoo was incredibly difficult – I had lots of ideas but I wanted the first one to be something very special. I chose this quote, from the musical Rock of Ages, because the show was a big part of my life at that time, and continued to be until the last show on the West End in November 2013. I know other people who have this quote too – some have lifted the quote directly from the script like I did, and some have a slightly different version. I chose to stay true to the script because that’s how Nathan Amzi, my first ever Lonny, always said it in the show. This is the version I heard first and the version that really resonated with me. It’s a reminder to me that your dreams can change, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

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2. “Yesterday is just a memory.”

This is also from Rock of Ages, and is placed on my left shoulder (it’s hard to tell from the picture) and it’s from the song “High Enough” originally performed by Damn Yankees. The placement of this tattoo is very important – every time I am tempted to look over my shoulder/look back on what has already happened in my life, I am reminded that it is just a memory. It can’t hurt me any more, I can’t change it, it’s best to move on and make new memories.

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3. “So just close your eyes, honey here comes a lullaby.”

Again, placement is very important with this one. The lyrics are from the song “Lullaby” by Nickelback and are on my ribs on the left – close to my heart (as cheesy as that is.) This song pretty much saved my life – I struggled with crippling depression in the first two years after my Grandad died, and any time I was feeling particularly low I would watch the music video for this song, because it felt like Chad Kroger was singing directly to me. I’d been a Nickelback fan for around seven years when they announced their UK tour and when the band performed this song, Chad Kroeger pointed directly into the stand where I was sitting. Call me superstitious but to me, that was a sign and I had the lyrics tattooed on me a week later.

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4. My owl.

This was done on Halloween 2012 – the day before the two year anniversary of my Grandad’s death.The owl is to represent my Grandad who I always called “Wise Old Owl.” He’s sat on a cherry-blossom branch because, when he was 75, he travelled to Japan with my Auntie to see the cherry blossom trees in bloom. The script underneath is my Grandad’s handwriting which my artist meticulously copied and tattooed for me.

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5. Ofelia.

Yes, this tattoo has a name. She is a Day of the Dead woman, and I am very aware that she is not to everyone’s taste! I studied Spanish language and culture for four years from GCSE through to A Level, and it absolutely fascinates me. She is named after the little girl in “El Laberinto del Fauno” – Pan’s Labyrinth.

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6. “London Calling.”

I am very proud of this tattoo as it is the first one that I designed myself. It represents my love for both traditional and musical theatre and, of course, the West End.

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7. “Defy Gravity.”

Pretty self-explanatory if you’ve seen or heard of the musical Wicked!

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8. Lupus butterfly.

If you look closely you can see that the body of the butterfly is actually a purple ribbon, to represent my support of sufferers of the auto-immune disease Lupus. My Mum lives with this condition and I see the effects of Lupus on a daily basis. The butterfly is on my left hip, and my Mum has the exact same one on her right hip, to show that we are in this together.

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9. “La Vie Boheme.”

This tattoo is from the musical “RENT” and is the title of the song that celebrates the differences between people that make us unique – something that I believe very strongly in.

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10. “24601.”

Again, very self explanatory if you’ve seen the musical Les Miserables! (If you haven’t – where have you been?!) I have been asked on more than one occasion why the 24th of June 2001 is so important – my sister was born on the 24th of August 2001 and believes I did it for her but got the date wrong.

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11. Compass.

Another tattoo I am very proud of. This is a visual representation of the quote “go confidently in the direction of your dreams” – hence the combination of the compass and the dream catcher.

Image12. Sherrie.

Yes, another tattoo with a name. This is to represent the closing of the musical Rock of Ages and how I will always carry the show with me. Unfortunately it was VERY new on the day the show closed – I couldn’t get close to any of the cast because I was too scared that they would bump my arm (which a couple of them did.)

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My beloved Harry Potter tattoo! You would not believe how long it took me to settle on a design. I read the first Harry Potter book when I was 11 years old, the fifth book was so heavy for me that I had to read it lying on the bed with the book propped up on some pillows, and I secretly stayed up until 2am to finish the last book. I am irrevocably in love with Severus Snape (and Alan Rickman for that matter) and this line broke me. It takes a ridiculously talented writer to elicit such emotion from one word and it’s a word that will reduce me to tears for the rest of my life.

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14. “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”

I had the two stars added to my compass tattoo because I don’t want to lose sight of my childhood dreams of becoming a successful writer. I didn’t want the stars as a separate tattoo, and I think that they blend in quite nicely.

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15. “Little engines can do big things.”

I was very nervous about getting this tattoo because it shows what a geek I am! It comes from the film “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” and it is so true. I have been underestimated so many times because of my size and I have been told that “little girls” can’t do certain things – watch me! I have watched Thomas the Tank Engine all my life (my Grandad’s fault – he was determined to pass on his railway heritage somehow) so this film is very very special to me, as is this quote and the sentiment behind it.

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16. Gerald.

Yet another tattoo with a name! (In my defense I only name the ones with faces.) This is for my Grandma, just like my owl is for my Grandad. Again my artist very carefully transferred my Grandma’s handwriting on to my skin, as well as the goofy cartoon giraffe. My Grandma collected giraffes – she easily had over 200. She liked the ones that were a bit different or that had a personality – as soon as I saw this giraffe I knew he was the one. I’d love to say my Grandma would approve but I’d probably have gotten a reet bollocking for having yet another tattoo!

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