Jason Manford – A Different Stage 13/11/2017

We’re a funny breed us Mancunians. We show affection by insulting each other, we’re fiercely territorial and we like to put gravy on everything. Above all else, we’re loyal; especially when it’s one of our own. So, after biting my tongue the first 17 times I saw Jason Manford lumped in with the kind of dad-dancing karaoke singing embarrassments like Nick Knowles (who I’ve loved ever since I could say DIY SOS) and Bradley Walsh (no loyalties there whatsoever) I can no longer keep my mouth shut.

Jason Manford is a comedian. Everybody knows this. But what people don’t know is, like me, Jason grew up with a Nanna who loves musicals, and has the same deep and enduring love for musical theatre that has had me going to London’s West End and back like a yo-yo since I was fifteen. Something else people don’t seem to know by now? HE CAN SING. I know, it shocked me too. The first time I ever heard Jason Manford sing was with Alfie Boe, singing “The Impossible Dream” on some TV show I’ve forgotten the name of in around 2010. Matt Lucas was supposed to be singing but Jason had to step in at the last minute. Now I’m not going to lie, when Jason stood up and said, “and now, singing with Alfie Boe is… me,” I was waiting for the punchline. Even when the music started I thought Matt Lucas was going to run on stage and push Jason out of the way, but that didn’t happen either. Instead an incredibly nervous looking Jason stepped up and sang a note-perfect rendition of one of my favourite songs, looking almost apologetic as he did so. Where did that voice come from, and more importantly, WHY is he not doing anything with it?!

I’ve come across Jason a few times since then, at Alfie Boe’s concert at the Bridgewater Hall, as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and, most memorably, at West End Live 2017 when he had to cover up every mistake Claire Sweeney made, which was a LOT, I mean how thick can you get?! co-hosted the event with Claire Sweeney. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing he’s got a sense of humour. On that stage, in front of thousands of stagey fans who would rip your arm off and beat you with it if you mispronounced “Jean Valjean,” he sang Stars from Les Misérables completely acapella with no warm up and no warning, just to fill a few minutes between acts. He’s seriously good. So, when my Mum text me and asked if I fancied seeing Jason live in concert I sent back “hell yes!” to which she replied, “good because I’ve already got the tickets.” Win!

I purposely didn’t buy or listen to Jason’s album before the concert as I wanted to be surprised – it worked. I was a tiny bit worried that, without any formal training, Jason’s vocals would be a bit superficial/less powerful than other musical theatre actors, especially alone on stage with live instruments. Nope. He blew the damn roof off with note after rich, deep note that filled your chest and, at times, made you cry (Stars is an emotional song ok?!) What I loved more than anything about the concert is how much it meant to Jason to be performing in Manchester. It was a reet family do for him, with parents and children and Nanna Manford herself all scattered around in the audience, and it was lovely to hear how he is still so proud to be from Salford. When he mentioned the Manchester Arena attack, which is still painfully fresh in everybody’s minds, he did it with gentle tact and genuine emotion that showed he really was as affected as we living at home were, unlike some I could mention who are really sorry for “Man…chester?” when they’ve never even set foot on Urbis, but I digress.

Another thing I loved was the diversity of the songs Jason chose. From Oasis to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which went a lot better than it did at West End Live – I’m looking at you Claire Sweeney), from Sunset Boulevard to a gorgeous little Irish folk song, he came out with track after track that roused the audience and showed off his impressive vocal range. My favourite cover of Jason’s will always be Stars from Les Mis (#JasonForJavert) but I really loved his version of Falling Slowly from Once, performed with special guest Tiffany Graves. It’s a gorgeously simple song with tricky key changes and no room to hide but he pulled it off amazingly well. (I also really loved the way he wrinkles his nose when he goes for a high note, but it would be highly unprofessional of me to point that out right?)

All in all, it was a brilliant night with two well-deserved standing ovations at the end, and I left feeling just a little bit smug that I’ve known all along that he’s one hell of a singer and he just proved me right in front of a theatre full of people. What more can I say? The boy done good.



The Wind in the Willows – 24/06/2017

It’s very rare that you find a show that stays with you for weeks afterwards and demands to be written about, but I just can’t get The Wind in the Willows out of my head, so here goes nothing for my first blog of 2017!

The first thing that attracted me to this show was the cast – Rufus Hound, Gary Wilmot and Simon Lipkin in particular. All three are very gifted comedy actors and they, in the roles of Mr Toad, Badger and Rat respectively, already made the show very appealing to me. I grew up watching The Wind in the Willows on an old video tape, so if nothing else it would be a nice trip down memory lane. I wasn’t expecting to fall head over heels for this wonderful show, but who could resist?!

The theatre itself, the London Palladium, only adds to the whole experience. It’s a stunning venue, lovingly transformed to reflect both the woodland and the crazy green elements of the show, without being too overpowering. (I’m looking at you Wicked). We were very kindly upgraded to the premium seats of the theatre and we could not have asked for a better view of the vast stage. As the show was still in previews at the time it was quite quiet in the audience but there was still a lovely, family friendly atmosphere.

The show opens quite gently, with a myriad of beautifully costumed animals dancing around the stage. Among them is Portia the otter (played by the brilliant Emilie Du Leslay) who is forever going off on adventures, much to the exasperation of Mrs Otter (Denise Welch) who has the thickest Geordie accent this side of Billy Elliot. Not that I’m complaining, who doesn’t love a feisty Northerner in a musical?! I also have to mention the Hedgehog family, whose costumes could well be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

One of the show’s many strong points is the relationship between Ratty (Simon Lipkin) and Mole (Craig Mather). The two work so well together, with Mole’s endearingly positive attitude and Ratty’s absolutely deadpan one-liners (bravo Simon Lipkin whose comedic timing is always absolutely on point). Their first duet “Messing About in a Boat” is so lovely to watch, with the two of them “rowing” around the stage in a little blue boat. Craig Mather is the cutest little mole I have ever seen with such a sweet voice and the perfect “country” accent, and Simon Lipkin is surprisingly gentle as Rat (bear in mind the last time I saw him he was in a musical with “poop jokes and Whitesnake songs”) but still retains that cheeky glint in his eye and range of facial expressions that just make you cry with laughter.

The entire cast of this show are so perfect that it’s hard to pick a favourite but I’m afraid I do have one, and it’s Rufus Hound. I can’t think of a better person to portray Mr Toad, he embodies the reckless mischief of the character so perfectly, and each costume is more outrageous than the last. His song “The Amazing Mr Toad” has been stuck in my head for at least three weeks now and it puts a smile on my face every time I hear it (which is at least 12 times a day now I have the soundtrack in my car).

I can’t praise Stiles and Drew enough for the absolutely flawless soundtrack to this show, there isn’t a single weak link throughout. From the gentle “Spring” to the decidedly haunting “Wild Wooders” the clever lyrics and catchy tunes will stay with you for a long time after the curtain goes down.

There is one character in the show that I didn’t particularly like, and I feel absolutely awful about it because the actor is so lovely and spent so much time with the kids at the stage door afterwards, but unfortunately I just have to get this point out. I really do not like the Chief Weasel. The rest of the show is so subtle and understated, and then out comes this crazy Weasel in a bright purple suit that just seems really out of place.

The actor himself has quite an unusual voice (think Alun Armstrong in Les Miserables) that didn’t quite sit right with me and for some unknown reason the Weasel sticks his tongue out every 30 seconds like he’s dancing a Haka. I totally get the fact that the Wild Wooders are, well… wild (sorry) but other members of the clan, for example Rosanna Bates, exude a sort of menacing, almost creepy aura without going too over the top. I’m sorry Neil McDermott!

On a more positive note, I did love Gary Wilmot as the wise old Badger. Gary Wilmot is a childhood hero of mine, in fact I first saw him on the very same Palladium stage around 14 years ago in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and if anything he has become an even better performer since then. He plays Badger with just the right amount of authority and wisdom, and Badger’s home is one of my favourite setts (pun intended), especially with the bookcase that spirals around the entrance. Full marks to the set designer Peter McKintosh, the show is stunning throughout.

The show comes to a decidedly chaotic end with probably one of the best stage entrances I’ve seen, courtesy of Rufus Hound. I left this gorgeous show with a lovely feeling of contentment and nostalgia; it’s just such a sweet, wholesome production with a crazy talented cast and creative/production team, and I shall be very sad to see it go in September. I will most definitely be going back more than once before then!





Gary Wilmot, what a legend!

My 2016 in pictures

Well it’s that time of year again! This year’s post is up a little early as I’m currently without wifi in my new house (and not coping very well AT ALL) so I’m “borrowing” my Mum’s internet connection for the evening. Once again please accept my apologies for my hideously neglected blog, I’m hoping to see a new show every month in 2017 and I may actually manage to write about some of them!

January – The Flying Scotsman.

I’m fairly sure it’s been mentioned on here before that I am a HUGE railway geek, (*insert shameless plug of my Railway Children blog here*) so when I heard that my favourite engine was going to run on the railway I visited as a child, I dragged my entire family along. It was bloody freezing and took about three hours due to various mechanical issues but it was still so much fun.

12400896_10153850478251764_1946097579035020986_n (1).jpg

February – One hell of a double show day.

This was probably one of the craziest double show days I’ve ever done. Matinee? Hangmen with David Morrissey. Evening? The End of Longing with Matthew Perry. I had ridiculously good luck at the stage door and manged to meet both of them, and was even semi-coherent!



March – 50 years of love. 

The 25th of March 2016 marked my Nanna and Grandad’s 50th wedding anniversary. They are such a wonderful couple and I love them to pieces, and to celebrate we took them out for afternoon tea. I even bought them both gold medals to mark the occasion!




April – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

My Mummy turned 55 in April and somewhere along the way we decided it would be a great idea to go to Southend to watch Jason Manford and Martin Kemp in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as her birthday treat. The show was amazing and the actors were so lovely – my Mum even got a birthday kiss from Martin Kemp!


May – Aladdin opening night. 

Having booked the tickets in November, I was very, very VERY ready for this show to open. I’d already seen the show on Broadway (I love being able to say that!) and loved it and the London cast didn’t disappoint. The show is spectacular and our genie Trevor Dion Nicholas is in a class of his own!


June – New York City / West End Live.

I can’t choose! I had an amazing week in New York, the highlight of which was seeing my first ever Jean Valjean, John Owen-Jones, reprise his role on Broadway. He was INCREDIBLE. Four days after landing back in the UK and still very jetlagged, I dragged my tired ass to Trafalgar Square for West End Live, a free event that showcases all of the musicals currently running in the West End. I was knackered, I got rained on, I got sunburned, it was the best weekend!




July – Moving home!

So after two years of living down South it was time to get this Manc back in the land of gravy and flat vowels. I really miss my little flat but I’m so happy to be back home with my family just around the corner!


August – family birthday fun!

This August my Grandad turned 78 and my Uncle John turned 60. We had two lovely family meals – so much food!



September – birthday celebrations and LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA!!

Again, I couldn’t choose. September was just too good. On the 4th I had the very surreal experience of watching a Lin-Manuel Miranda show in London with Lin-Manuel Miranda sat in the row behind me (read the blog here). Then on the 10th which also happened to be my 22nd birthday, I received an onstage birthday shout-out from a genie thanks to Nathan Amzi and Trevor Dion Nicholas (read that blog here). All in all a pretty crazy month!



October -My Nanna’s 70th birthday party.

My Nanna is huge on family. Seriously, the mafia has nothing on her. There are quite a few of us on that side of the family but we never seem to be in the same place at the same time, so it was really special when everybody came together for this party. She was so happy!


November – In the Heights.

I would not have made it through the absolute shite that has been 2016 without this show – really it should pop up every month! I was struggling to come up with something for November but, as always, this show got me through the hard times and put a smile back on my face.


December – moving out!

It was a long, hard and frustrating process but on the 1st of December myself and my best friend from high school signed a tenancy agreement for our lovely new house. We’re still settling in and there are a few teething problems (the boiler dying and leaving us with no heating/hot water TWICE being one of them) but it’s a new adventure and we’re both really excited to spend our first Christmas living together as strong, independent women 😉


Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I really do recommend that you write your own – it’s done me good to see that maybe the year wasn’t as bad as I thought.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore.



In the Heights – 18-20/09/2016

This latest trip was a birthday present from my Dad (thank you!) and I was determined to make the most of four whole days in London. My original plan was to see Kinky Boots, the new cast of In the Heights, Rachel Tucker in Wicked and then a cheeky In the Heights matinee before my train home… but when does anything ever go to plan?!

Kinky Boots was replaced by 27, a new musical directed by Sam Cassidy playing at the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, and then it was time to get back to the Kings Cross Theatre for In The Heights. I had mixed emotions about seeing the show with a new cast, but any doubts I had were extinguished about thirty seconds in. They are AMAZING. There is not one weak link within the entire ensemble, which is even more impressive when you consider how little time they had to rehearse the complex dance routines.

I have to mention two absolute assets to this new cast. First of all Arun Blair-Mangat, the new Benny, is sensational. His range is ridiculous, his timing is spot on, his acting is incredible – I could go on! He has such amazing chemistry with Gabriela Garcia’s Nina and he is more than a match for her powerful vocals. In three shows he never faltered, and his big note in 96,000? Wow!

The other stand-out for me was Stephanie Rojas who has taken over the role of Carla from Sarah Naudi, who is now playing Vanessa. Stephanie is a wonderfully gifted comedy actress and one hell of dancer. She has injected so much fun into the role and had me nearly crying with laughter during “No Me Diga.” She’s a brilliant find and definitely one to watch in the future.

The cast all received a much-deserved standing ovation at the end of the show and I couldn’t wait for my next Heights show two days later – turns out I didn’t have to!

Around 3pm the next day I decided to turn off my phone, have a shower and read my book for a while (I know; I’m out of control). About an hour later I turned my phone back on and all hell had broken loose. My phone was lit up with messages from my two Heights partners in crime Ann and Mandy: “Vas Constanti is on as Kevin at In the Heights tonight!” OH MY GOD! In the 45 minutes it had taken me to reply Mandy and Ann they already had their tickets sorted, and I had a dilemma on my hands. On the one hand I really wanted to see Rachel Tucker as Elphaba, but on the other hand I am NEVER in London when my favourite covers go on last minute. I didn’t want to risk waiting until the following day’s matinee in case I missed it. Sod it, back to the Barrio I go!

The show was just as flawless as the previous night. I’m so happy that Jocasta Almgill agreed to stay with the show as Daniela for two weeks, and I’ll be sad to see her leave the show on the 2nd of October. Go and see her if you get the chance!

Norma Atallah also had a really good show as Abuela Claudia – her relationship with Sam Mackay has grown so much and she acts “Paciencia y Fe” so brilliantly. Sam Mackay was as consistent as ever, putting in yet another faultless performance as Usnavi.

My personal highlight though was, of course, the lovely Vas Constanti as Kevin Rosario, (*shameless plug* read my recent interview with him here). He plays the role with such authenticity, really pouring his heart and soul into every scene. His performance of “Inútil” is done with such passion and acted perfectly – you could see the audience siding with Kevin as he tried to do what was right for his family. It’s a very genuine portrayal of the role and I’m so glad I got to see it again, even if it was all a bit last minute!

The brilliant thing about this show is you can go and watch it three times in three days and still enjoy every second. In every show I see something different and the new cast have really upped the stakes, making the show fresh and exciting. The Tuesday matinee was just as energetic as the previous two shows (and Vas was still Kevin – yay!) and before I knew it, it was time to head home. 11 whole days until my next Heights show – what am I supposed to do until then?!



An interview with… Vas Constanti

Something very exciting has happened… Theatre Therapy has officially surpassed 25,000 views! To celebrate this achievement I have decided to do something totally out of my comfort zone and conduct my first ever interview, with Original In the Heights cast member and author of the Mythvolution series Vas Constanti. Read on to find out what we can expect from his third novel, where his inspiration comes from and what it was like to perform for Lin-Manuel Miranda!

So Vas, you are part of the original West End cast of In the Heights – what first attracted you to the show?

I was convinced to do it by my agent! I’m delighted he did, this show is so special in its content. At times it fills you with joy, and then, just when you think you’re safe, it devastates you!

The show has had a very successful run with 3 Olivier Awards and 9 What’s On Stage nominations – was there a point that you knew you were a part of something special?

No, not really, everything just kind of crept up on us! We thought we were just this little show with the big heart, but the attention we started to receive soon changed all of that, and performing at the WhatsOnStage awards and the Oliviers was wonderful.

You recently had the chance to perform the show in front of its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda – what was that like? How did you and the rest of the cast handle the pressure?

For me, it was just another show. Things like that don’t bother me; he’s just a normal human being like the rest of us. Some of the cast however went nuts and the audience that night – well, I’m sure they could be heard cheering as far away as Washington Heights itself. They were amazing!

The Kings Cross Theatre is quite an unusual venue with the audience on either side of the stage – how has the show/your performance been adapted to accommodate this?

There is no room for error as at every angle you can be seen. Concentration and awareness are paramount!

As well as playing Piragua Guy every night you also understudy the role of Kevin Rosario – how do you put your own spin on the role?

I am actually now contracted as alternate Kevin. After performing the role over 120 times, I consider the role as my own when called upon. I just think of my own young family and imagine what I would do and how I would react if the circumstances were the same.

Which song is your favourite to perform within the show, and which song is your favourite to listen to from backstage?

It’s actually not a song but Kevin Rosario’s last speech. The joy within his heart is exposed and his emotions released. To listen to, well it’s “Enough.” Josie Benson was incredible and it was an honour to play her husband. She had so much passion. I loved her.

Josie was certainly incredible in her role. If you could play one female role in any musical, who would it be and why?

It would be Fantine from Les Miserables. The injustice she suffers and the sacrifices she makes for her daughter just break my heart. Finding the depth of emotion to play such a role every night would be so rewarding.

Do you have any advice for all of the aspiring performers out there?

Trust your own talent and soak up all you can regarding your craft.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?

Just being able to do something I love as much as I have, is highlight enough.

You currently have two novels available to purchase on Amazon – what inspired you to write the Mythvolution series?

I wanted to leave something for my children to remember me by when I’m gone. An adult tale that would inspire them to be good people, kind and caring and interested in the world around them!

What can we expect from the third novel in the series?

Closure and revelation. The power of the Earth becomes evident as everyone is placed in peril and all we have to save us is a rag tag gang of sentient animals led by a lipstick wearing rabbit!

Intriguing! Where does your interest in mythology stem from?

It stems from reading some wonderful novels and brilliant plays and by watching the fantastical movies of the incredible Ray Harryhausen (who is the man behind films such as Jason and the Argonauts [1963] and Clash of the Titans [1981]), and of course by past holidays to my beloved Greece.

Lastly tell us a fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by looking at you!

I love to cook and apparently, I’m pretty good at it!


You can catch Vas in In the Heights until the 8th of January 2017 (click here to book tickets) and I also highly recommend you check out his books on Amazon! Fancy a preview? Head to the archives page to read reviews of the first two novels in the series and follow Vas on Twitter (@Vasmythvolution) for the latest updates!


Aladdin – 10/09/2016

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling TWENTY TWO! I booked these birthday tickets for Aladdin when they were first released in November 2015, so I was more than ready for this show, but nothing could prepare me for just how amazing it would be!

For my birthday I’d originally decided to do the matinee of Aladdin and an evening showing of In the Heights, but then In the Heights decided to close for the week to rehearse the new cast (how inconsiderate!) so we turned Aladdin into a day trip to save on accommodation costs. This meant getting up ridiculously early, driving to the station, getting the train to London, watching the show, getting the train back to Manchester and driving home. Never again!

We hit a few snags on the way, unluckily for us it was Manchester United vs Manchester City up North and Watford vs West Ham down South so there were LOTS of people, but we made it to the theatre in plenty of time. The seats were AMAZING – I highly recommend Row C of the stalls! I had sent Nathan Amzi who plays Babkak a quick message before the show to let him know where we were sat but there was no need – he spotted me straight away and kept catching my eye throughout the show. It’s very hard to concentrate on a show when someone keeps pulling faces at you from the stage!

The show itself was brilliant. Don Gallagher is the perfect Jafar, his “evil laugh” is spot on and he has really captured Jafar’s droll, dry delivery which is what I love about him in the film. His make-up is fantastic too and he has three on-stage costume changes within about 30 seconds, which I still can’t figure out how they do!

I LOVE the magic carpet – as soon as the set falls away and Aladdin and Jasmine started flying around the stage, you could hear a collective “wow” from the audience. I have seen the show four times now from four different angles and I have come to the conclusion that it is, in fact, an actual flying carpet. That’s the only explanation!

Three new characters are introduced to the stage version of Aladdin – Aladdin’s three friends Babkak (Nathan Amzi) Kassim (Stephen Rahman-Hughes) and Omar (played this afternoon by (Kade Ferraiolo). This trio works so well together onstage – what I love about Stephen Rahman-Hughes is that you never quite know what he’s going to do next, and he really has fun with the role. Kade Ferraiolo was a brilliant Omar and Nathan Amzi was in a league of his own as Babkak. He has some brilliant lines (and some food jokes that will make you groan) and he makes light work of the tricky choreography and ridiculously high belting he does.

My absolute favourite song in the show is “Friend Like Me.” It’s my favourite part of the original film and the stage production is absolutely spectacular. Trevor Dion Nicholas, who we stole from Broadway and now refuse to give back, is sensational and so consistent throughout. He sings, he tap dances, he does Bruce Forsyth impressions, his talent knows no bounds! When he triumphantly finishes “Friend Like Me” the audience went crazy, and rightly so! From the stage the genie laps up the applause and then says “thank you, thank you! I’d like to thank my Mother, my Father, and Alison happy birthday thanks for coming!”

… WHAT?!

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t immediately burst into tears. Surely I was hearing things? I was still shaking at the interval when I got a message from Nathan: “Did you hear your surprise?” Erm, yes!

It took pretty much the entire interval to calm myself down, and I spent pretty much the whole of the first song miming to Nathan how much I bloody love him. I was more than ready for the song “High Adventure” where Babkak, Omar and Kassim fearlessly (ahem) rush to save Aladdin from the dungeon, when the safety curtain came down. I don’t remember this part of the show? It turns out the elaborate set had gotten stuck, and it took 15 minutes to get going again. To the Prince Edward Theatre’s credit, they kept the audience informed throughout and handled the situation very well. It did cut in to my stage door time though!

The rest of the show went without a hitch, and after a cheeky “happy birthday” from Nathan during the curtain call, it was time to go. I was more impatient than ever to get to the stage door, and everybody seemed to be moving so slowly! When we finally did get out of the theatre it was pouring with rain – like that was going to put me off?!

With the 15 minute show stop and all of the glitter/make up Trevor Dion Nicholas has on I wasn’t expecting to see him after the show so I sent him a quick tweet to say thank you so much for the shout-out – thanks again Trev, you are amazing!

When Nathan came out of the stage door he came straight over and said “here, this is for you.” It was an Aladdin poster signed by the whole cast with “Happy 22nd birthday Alison” written along the top. I damn near started crying again! Instead I literally jumped on him and gave him a massive hug, which attracted the attention of every single person at stage door. Oh well! After lots more hugs and me babbling “thank you” about fifty times we both had to run for food. I was still in a bit of a daze – what the hell happened today?!

I’ve said it about a million times already on various social media outlets, but THANK YOU Nathan for going out of your way to make my birthday so special, I can’t even put into words how much I appreciate not just my birthday but everything you’ve done for me in the four years I’ve known you. You are one in a million!


In the Heights – 04/09/2016

First and foremost, I’d just like to point out that I never had any intention of going to see this cast change. When it was announced that the 2015/2016 cast would be leaving on the 4th of September I already had a show booked on the 1st of September and, in an uncharacteristically sensible move, I decided I couldn’t justify two trips to London in four days. Unfortunately the post-show blues (and the post-show Jack Daniels and coke) hit me pretty hard that night and when my friend Sarah just happened to mention that she had a spare cast change ticket, I ended up accidentally buying it. Oops.

Like most of my last-minute plans, it was a bit of a mess. I was supposed to be meeting my friends at 6pm for some food before the show, but my train decided to stop in a tunnel for fifteen minutes and I was now running late. I pulled my phone out to call ahead and apologise and a message from my friend Olivia popped up on my screen: “be warned – Lin-Manuel Miranda is IN LONDON!” If I wasn’t so breathless from speed-walking down Euston Road I would have screamed. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the creator of In the Heights and Hamilton, and is also one of my biggest literary heroes. Not three weeks ago I had lyrics from In the Heights AND Hamilton tattooed on my ankles, and now here he is, in London… surely not for the same reason I’M in London?!

Any doubts that we had over the reason behind Lin’s sudden appearance were eradicated as soon as we got to the theatre. There were cameras everywhere, several girls looked like they were going to faint/burst into tears and there was a “VIP” section cordoned off inside the theatre bar. I was in a bit of a daze – three days ago I wasn’t even going to the show, and now there’s a possibility Lin-Manuel Miranda could turn up? This kind of thing just doesn’t happen to me!

The bar itself was absolutely buzzing with excitement, and I found myself hovering near the entrance just to catch a bit of a breeze – it was boiling in there! People were still walking in to the theatre and I spotted Joe Aaron Reid, who previously played Benny, at one of the tables. I turned to point this out to my friend Karen when I noticed a shy-looking man with gorgeous brown eyes walking past. I smiled at him and he smiled back before heading over to the VIP area. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “he looked just like Lin!”



Once I’d regained my composure slightly we headed in to the auditorium. By pure luck my seat was directly behind my friends, so I leaned forward to have a chat with them. The theatre was absolutely packed except for three empty seats directly behind me. Surely not? Yep! In walks Lin and his lovely wife Vanessa and down they sit, directly behind me. This must be what having a stroke feels like.

You may have picked up on the fact that I’m quite a big fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, so the biggest compliment I can give to the cast of In the Heights is that, as soon as the show started, I completely forgot who was sat behind me. Every single member of that cast put their heart and soul into their performance and it was the best Heights show of the fifteen I’ve seen so far.

I will forever be in awe of Sam Mackay as Usnavi. He doesn’t just act that part he really feels it; when Usnavi’s heart breaks your heart will break right along with him. He plays Usnavi with such an open and pure heart and it’s impossible not to fall in love with the character he has created. His relationship with Eve Polycarpou, who made a brief return as Abuela Claudia, is so beautiful and genuine and it was so good to have her back!

I am very sad to see Philippa Stefani go – her portrayal of Daniela is just brilliant. She is such a gifted comedy actress, to the point where people laugh in anticipation of what she will say or do next before she’s even uttered a word – she can have an entire theatre in stitches with one flick of her hair! She added so many nuances to Daniela and gave her such a fiery, feisty personality that she’ll be a hard act to follow.

All of the leading ladies were on top form – Emma Kingston belted out a riff in 96,000 that gave me actual goosebumps, and Gabriela Garcia will always be my Nina. She is a brilliant actress with one hell of a voice, and gives Nina a cheeky, flirty edge that I really love.

I was just about holding it together until Josie Benson stepped up to sing “Enough.” Josie has been with the production since it opened at the Southwark Playhouse in 2014, and she is an absolute powerhouse. Every single time she performs this song she leaves me absolutely stunned, but this last one was her best. Before she even sang her first note there were tears streaming down her face but she never faltered and belted that song out with everything she had. By the end of it I was crying too and I didn’t hesitate to jump up on to my feet for a standing ovation when she finished, as did half of the theatre!

It was during little wobbles like this that I was so thankful that Vas Constanti was on the stage as Piragua Guy – he never fails to put a smile on my face! Not only does he have one hell of a voice with a great rock edge to it (my favourite kind) he is also hysterically funny. He’s constantly adding new elements to his role that catch me off guard and make me laugh out loud, which was a welcome distraction from a very emotional night.

As the show drew to a close the reality of the situation seemed to hit the cast – it broke my heart to see Cleve September performing his final dance solo with tears in his eyes, and don’t even get me started on his line “it’s the end of an era.” That was way too close to home! I’m going to miss him playing Sonny and the relationship he has with Sam Mackay on stage – #bromance! Definitely watch out for Cleve in the future, he’s a star in the making.

After a very emotional finale (my mascara was effectively ruined by this point) the lovely producer of the show Paul Taylor-Mills gave a moving speech and then passed the mic over to Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lin talked about how part of his soul would always be with the show and how, having always been a bit of an outsider, this show had allowed him to feel included within the theatre community and this really resonated with me, as some of the closest friends I have were made through the theatre. Click here to watch the full video (all credits to WhatsOnStage) and one day I’ll be able to watch it without crying!

It was a crazy, crazy night and one that I will never forget. I want to say thank you to the entire cast and crew of In the Heights for staging such an incredible night, and a special thank you to Lin-Manuel Miranda for your incredible words and your passion and for having the determination and talent to create a show that will stay with me for the rest of my life. No pare sigue sigue!






Mythvolution Part Two – Snafu!

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends!” This phrase immediately sprang to mind when the second book in the Mythvolution series finally arrived (a bit of advice – order them both at the same time, the wait between books was torture!) I couldn’t wait to dive back in to this crazy world of legend and superstition and I was certainly not disappointed! Here’s a snapshot of what to expect in book two:

“Vincent Russell’s world is turned upside down when he and his animal menagerie learn from an unexpected source that the only way forward, is to believe in the tales of the past! Whilst they try to unravel the mystery of Creation, long forgotten identities are exposed and bonds are forged and broken. Mother Earth’s unimaginable secrets are revealed and what was once thought impossibly magical appears to become as real, as life itself! And all the while, someone and someone are just trying to rule the world!”

This novel definitely puts the “myth” in Mythvolution. Ancient legends are brought to life and are intricately woven together with the stories of our much-loved menagerie to create a series of events that will take you on an exhilarating ride with a thrilling conclusion. Through these stories we learn that we must look to the past in order to secure our future, and maybe even make some sacrifices along the way in the hope of preserving the world that Mother Earth has gifted us with.

It’s a bold move on the author’s part to utilise these ancient and revered stories, but he does it with such delicate craftsmanship and integrates them so well within his own story that you find yourself believing that his creations were always a part of the legend. It’s a very clever mix of old stories and new concepts pulled together with incredible skill – it blew my mind!

Overall I would say the second book is more intense that the first with more of a focus on the mythological, but it still holds many messages that are so relevant to how we live today. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and, as with the first, there are so many powerful, thought-provoking quotes that showcase the author’s way with words, my favourite being “remember to live your life as if bathed in sunlight, because it will always rain.”

The mystery and intricacy of the Mythvolution series has me well and truly hooked, with its subtle elements of humour and tragedy and the ever-present gleams of hope and faith keeping me on my toes until the very end. I can’t wait to see what the next book has in store for this madcap gang – bring on book three when it’s released!


Mythvolution Part One – Living the Oolaballuh!

*warning – contains mild spoilers*

You can learn a lot about people from their writing. Read any one of my blog posts and you will find that I am always honest, frequently sarcastic and prone to bouts of uncontrollable, slightly biased fan-girling. Every time I publish a new post I will turn my laptop off and hide for a few hours, because the thought of other people reading and analysing my material terrifies me! So when the lovely Vas Constanti, a very talented actor currently performing in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights in the West End, mentioned that he had written a book and asked me to read and review it, I was a little bit nervous. What if I didn’t enjoy it? It’s not in my nature to hold back my opinions, whatever they may be!
It turns out I had nothing to worry about. Just like my blogs betray my short temper and tendency to rant, you can tell this book was written by someone with intelligence and sensitivity to the greater issues that are currently surrounding us. I was hooked!

I tore through the novel in less than 24 hours, absorbing the messages behind the text and cursing when I reached the end. This book takes you on a journey that will make you contemplate evolution, spirituality, mythology, religion, morality… and rabbits wearing lipstick.

To give you an idea of the madness you will encounter, I’ve popped the official blurb from Amazon below (where you can also purchase the book in kindle or paperback form for a very reasonable price – I’m not even getting paid to say that!)

“Vincent Russell, a young socially inept geek, thought he was working on a project to help the environment; he thought the reason for his employment was his unique invention. How wrong could he be?

Behind the doors of a country Manor house, a group of micro chipped creatures with unique personalities are monitored whilst being exposed to a mysterious elixir. A chance discovery, however, forces them into a bungled breakout that incredibly, accelerates the group’s evolution. This transformation divides the menagerie in two. One group, of psychotic, yet, show-tune loving twin terrapin leadership and deadly arachnid membership, crave revenge upon mankind. The other, guided by an incredibly intelligent rabbit cursed with peculiar issues, just wants to get along.

As everyone endeavours to survive, they unravel the unlikely mystery behind their very existence in a barmy adventure that carries them far and wide across an endangered world and into realms of improbability!”

Intrigued yet? You should be! Within this book are a plethora of unique characters you can’t help but grow attached to. My personal favourites are a pigeon named Albert whose language chip is on the blink and a monkey named Hannibal who has something rather unusual lurking under his helmet.

My favourite thing about this novel is how thought-provoking it is.  A particularly inspired conversation between a monkey and a jackhuahua (google it) about mortality and the existence of the afterlife really struck a chord with me. They discuss how, when our bodies expire, we leave behind an imprint of ourselves: “this is like your spirit, a memory, a sense of what was once there.” It’s a truly beautiful exchange between two unlikely allies, and definitely resonated with me, as I am a firm believer that the ones we love never truly leave us (thank you JK Rowling for that quote). I definitely wasn’t expecting to shed a tear reading this book, but that did it!

All throughout this book there are little pockets of contemplative writing within the story that open up questions about religion, mythology and even our relationship with the world we inhabit. I was a little afraid at the beginning that I wouldn’t understand it but after the first few chapters I realised it’s not about dissecting or understanding the book but about letting it wash over you and open you up to new thoughts and ideas. Vas manages to instigate these debates without any bias which is no mean feat, especially when it comes to discussing something as subjective as religion.

One more thing I have to mention? My god this book is funny! There are some phrases in there that will make you laugh out loud, my favourite being “I’m as knackered as a wannabe WAG traipsing around nightclubs looking for a mediocre footballer with more spots than brain cells to kiss and tell on!” There are little gems like that all the way through that stop you from getting too caught up in your own thoughts and so many puns that will make you laugh in spite of yourself. (Dolphins being awkward on porpoise? Come on!)

All in all I am so glad that I read this book. It made me laugh, cry, think, hope and fall in love with a motley menagerie that had me asking questions on subjects I rarely consider. I want to say a big thank you to Vas for introducing me to the crazy world of Mythvolution – now get cracking on the next one!


In the Heights – 03/01/2016

In my defence, I never planned to see this show twice in one week. Also, technically, the shows were in different years, so the fact that I saw it twice in five days is cancelled out. Sort of.

In all honesty I had a bit of a nightmare after the first show – something along the lines of leaving my phone in a bar, running back to get it, missing my last train home in the process, and having to spend £70 on a taxi home before crawling in to bed at 3am, all before a 9am shift at work the next morning. It was NOT a great end to my night, and I didn’t want it to ruin the last time I saw the show. So I booked another ticket.

I first saw this show back in May 2014 (read my completely unbiased blog here) when it had a run at the Southwark Playhouse. I knew I wanted to see it again at some point, and the fact that Nathan Amzi would be reprising his role as “Piragua Guy” for two weeks only was an added incentive to get back to the Barrio.

The set was very different to the set-up at the Playhouse – In the Heights is currently sharing the King’s Cross Theatre with a production of The Railway Children (insert shameless plug of my blog of that show here) and so the stage is set out like a platform, with a thin strip of stage in the middle (the tracks) and tiered seating stretched out along either side of it (the platform). It was interesting to see how the set had been adapted for this unusual stage; structures stood like bookends at either end of the stage, and all of the action happened in the middle, with entrances and exits made through the functioning doors of the buildings.

I absolutely raved about Sam Mackay in my last Heights blog, so please forgive me for being a bit repetitive. This man is a magician. I have never seen anyone rap so confidently, so consistently and made it look so damn easy! I was struggling to even keep up with line after rapid line, but Sam never faltered.

There were a few changes to the cast since the last time I saw the show – Jade Ewen and Lily Frazer took on the roles of Nina and Vanessa, with Philippa Stefani stepping in as Daniela to cover a VERY pregnant Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. Each girl was an absolute powerhouse in their own way, with Philippa Stefani proving herself to be a very talented and hilarious character actress, really building the role of Daniela and making her a sassy, feisty Latina with a wicked tongue and a cheeky glint in her eye.

Of course I have to mention Nathan Amzi who was, as always, an absolute joy to watch. As versatile as ever, he danced around the stage with a huge, infectious smile on his face, never dropping a beat and producing some pretty impressive riffs in the process. It’s a shame he can’t stay in the show for longer as the role was practically made for him, but I’m very excited to see him in Aladdin in May!

But I digress – what I really love about this show is it brings to my attention things I never usually notice. The lighting is so powerful and so integral to the show that it takes your breath away – the strategic use of total darkness, with actors holding lights on the stage to illuminate their movements is just breathtaking. My favourite part is during a blackout the darkness is penetrated by “fireworks.” It really looked as though there were fireworks lighting the sky. It was magical, so a HUGE pat on the back to Hugh Hudson the lighting designer.

I also love the costumes in this show – almost everyone wears very form-fitting costumes that seem to weld to their skin, without looking cheap or unflattering. The costumes seem to move with the actors and enunciate their movement, making the choreography look fluid and flawless. Every single dance number was so tightly choreographed, so technically perfect and so full of energy it was very hard to keep still in my seat, so another huge well done to Gabriella Slade, costume designer, and the wonderful Drew McOnie for his stunning choreography.

I studied Spanish for over five years at school, from GCSE right through to A-Level, and what I love the most about this show is how true it is to the Latin culture. From the feisty, rapidly speaking women to the amalgamation of Spanish and English within a sentence, the attention to detail within this show both from the director (Luke Sheppard) and the flawless cast, and the passion with which they perform, are what really make In the Heights one of the best new musicals on the West End.






%d bloggers like this: