Miss Nightingale @ The Vaults

Set in 1942 London, Miss Nightingale is a saucy musical that chronicles a cabaret singer’s rise to fame, to the backdrop of the Blitz. Full of spectacular numbers and excellent performances, the show is hilarious and ridiculously fun, while also detailing quite a touching storyline.

In the middle of war-torn London, Sir Frank (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead), the wealthy owner of a cabaret club is looking for a new act to be a regular on his stage. Enter Maggie (Tamar Broadbent) – a nurse with a great voice and stage presence, and George (Conor O’Kane), a Jewish composer. Together the trio set out to bring entertainment to the London nightlife. But when Frank and George fall in love, Maggie’s ex Tom (Niall Kerrigan) does all he can to exploit the couple’s secret at a time when society forces them to hide it.

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Photo: Robert Workman

Matthew Bugg has created an excellent piece of musical theatre. The moving love story and World War Two setting add emotion to the piece, which is balanced by the upbeat songs full of raunchy innuendos, creating an uplifting atmosphere. The ensemble work well together on stage, and as the whole cast is made up of actor-musicians, their talent is endless. Broadbent is a delight as the title character, perfectly performing each bawdy number with energy and spot-on comic timing. Coutu-Langmead and O’Kane capture Frank and George’s love completely, presenting their relationship with affection. Frank’s conflicting emotions are pushed to the surface by Coutu-Langmead’s passionate performance, while O’Kane presentation of George’s witty language is charming.

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Photo: Robert Workman

Aside from the performances, the show itself feels more like an experience as The Vaults are completely transformed into a 1940s cabaret space. Designer Carla Goodman’s attention to detail is immaculate, with vintage trinkets and objects laid out even before you enter the auditorium. This theme continues onto the stage, where the cleverly thought-out costumes and props enrich each song.

Miss Nightingale is a funny and well-written musical that brings to life the 1940s cabaret scene, expertly performed by a terrific cast. The whole show is just superb.

Miss Nightingale is at The Vaults until 20th May.

2 Become 1 @ King’s Head Theatre

Kerri Thomason and Natasha Granger’s 2 Become 1 is an upbeat musical exploring female friendship and the evolution of dating, set to a 90s soundtrack. Bursting with nostalgia and girl power, the play perfectly captures the pop-culture of the era, and the talented cast present some truly hilarious renditions of these classic songs.

Jess (Granger) has just been dumped by her boyfriend, and to stop her from wallowing in self-pity, her friends decide to take her on a night out. From speed dating, to using Cosmo tips to impress men, to singing in the ladies loos, the girls do their best to cheer up Jess’ broken heart. But in the end, after a quick stop at the chippy, Jess realises she doesn’t need a man when she is surrounded by girl power.

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Photo: Liam Prior

The chemistry of the cast is exquisite on stage and it genuinely feels like these women have been friends for a long time. Granger captures the distressed dumpee’s character perfectly, and her physical comedy is brilliant. The stand-out performer of the piece is Jessica Brady, who plays the obsessive and fickle-hearted Amanda. Her powerful voice is the perfect fit for Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You,’ and along with the audience participation, this is the highlight of the piece.

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Photo: Liam Prior

While presenting a female-centric view through their characters, Thomason and Granger split the action with real-life recordings of men and their opinions on dating. Contrasting the 90s action with the contemporary recordings highlights just how much dating has changed in such a short period of time, especially with the internet. We see the character Molly (played by Thomason) muse about this at the end of their girls night out, commenting on just how ridiculous it would be to form opinions of people based just on the way they look.

Thomason and Granger have created a short and energetic piece, full of laughs and great throwbacks. Though their is an overarching theme about modern-day dating practices and how unorthodox they are when compared to 20 years ago, this is a very light-hearted show. With just the right amount of cheesiness, 2 Become 1 is a delight, and a great alternative Christmas treat.

2 Become 1 is at the King’s Head Theatre until 7th January.

Macbeth @ ZOO, Edinburgh Fringe

Fortitude Dance Theatre are a Nottingham-based company made up of students currently studying at various drama schools around the UK. Their debut show Macbeth is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s place set in the Acid House scene of 1989 Manchester. While the idea of this setting is a welcome approach to the text, especially by a young group of performers, the execution isn’t solid enough for a strong performance.

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After encountering three witches, Macbeth and his friend Banquo are spooked by their prophecy. When their first prediction comes true, Macbeth calls his wife to let her know what he has witnessed. In order to make sure what the witches foretold comes true, that Macbeth shall “be King hereafter,” the couple concoct a plan to kill their leader Duncan and fulfil the prophecy. Blood begets blood, until Macbeth meets a deadly end.

The company are skilled with their movements and the dancing in the performance is the most promising element of it, but there isn’t enough of it in the show. This “physical theatre” adaptation doesn’t get physical until Duncan’s murder scene a third of the way in, which is a disappointment. The performers also need to work on the delivery of their lines, as most couldn’t fully grasp which words to emphasise, often spitting the speeches out quickly. While the Acid House elements are present in the costume design and music of the show, more could have been done to incorporate the psychedelic nature of the genre. This would have worked especially well with the witches, and would have emphasised their supernatural nature. Overall, Fortitude Dance Theatre’s Macbeth lacks the understanding and energy to be an effective adaptation.

Macbeth @ C, Edinburgh Fringe

It is always a challenge to find a new approach to any Shakespeare play, and when the Fringe boasts of over 10 productions and adaptations of Macbeth, it can be hard to stick out from the crowd. But when a group of 17-21 year olds from Hackney get together, they’re able to bring a breath of fresh air to Shakespeare’s play.Set in the cutthroat world of the British music industry, TWIST Theatre Company’s Macbeth is an exciting and energetic musical adaptation that does not disappoint.

Duncan King (Kieran Smith), founder of the music label King Records, has worked his way up from a poor London Estate, to owning a successful business in the British Music Industry. Duncan has helped talented young people from his estate also achieve success, like friends Macbeth (Andre Fyffe) and Banquo (Ryan Yengo). When the Witches, a group of three rejected female artists, make predictions about Macbeth and Banquo’s futures, the two brush the young women off. However, as Macbeth’s first prophecy is fulfilled, he becomes determined to do all he can to make sure he gets to the top of King Records as predicted by the Witches. Encouraged by his partner-in-crime Lady M (Malika Cholwe), Macbeth decides to do all he can to achieve this goal, even if that includes murdering those close to him.

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Chowle is the stand-out performer as Lady M. Her beautifully smooth voice exerts power on stage, easily influencing Macbeth’s choices. Similarly the Witches, performed by Dominique Florent-Lee, Shadale Grant and Kali Mcloughlin are outstanding. The hiphop, R&B and Grime influenced music allows the company to play around with Shakespeare’s text, rhythmically weaving it into modern-day London. In particular, the use of Afrobeats during the Witches’ potion scene is very enjoyable to watch, especially as the dancing seemingly intensifies their supernatural power. Like Fyffe and Yengo’s skillful rapping, the Witches use music as a way to strengthen their bond, unity and power.

TWIST Theatre Company’s Macbeth cleverly infuses poetry with music, dance and comedy to create a fresh new adaptation. While highlighting the dog-eat-dog world of the music industry, the company showcases their immense talent and very visible love for performance, producing a great musical. To top it all off, the show ends with a step dance, so what’s not to like?

Macbeth is at C (+1) until 20th August.

Sex Workers’ Opera @ The Pleasance

Created by sex workers, their friends and their families, Sex Workers’ Opera is a show that brings together a collection of verbatim performance, some very funny sketch scenes, dance, poetry, song, video and much more. It is bold and sexy, and although it can feel awkward at times, it has some very touching moments.

Co-directors Alex Etchart and Siobhan Knox use a mother-daughter relationship to frame the action on stage. The mother serves as a tool to question the actions of the daughter, a sex-worker, and comes to represent the voice of ordinary people: those who can never fully understand sex-workers. Presenting the mother in this way allows the action to be naturally guided by questions the mother would like answers to about sex-work, helping audiences understand the characters and their stories.

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Photo: Julio Etchart

The piece brings up legitimate and important points raised by those who do sex work as a profession, bringing to light stereotypes and perceived expectations. There is humour in the piece, such as a scene depicting different types of pornography, and what the government deems “acceptable”. But serious issues are also discussed, like the disadvantages of criminalisation, the effects sex work has on people and their families, and the safety of sex workers themselves. Etchart and Knox tackle these issues lightly, with humour and sketch, as well as  with some very intimate and touching moments.

The delivery of the stories is authentic, and the sincerity of the performers draws in the audience. For example Vera Rodriguez’s touching story about her life as a sex worker, her abusive partner, and the consequences of their relationship. Her interest in photography shines through the stunning photos projected on the screen. Rodriguez was also one of the strongest performers, the skit between her and her client asking for relationship advice was the funniest moment in the show.

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Photo: Julio Etchart

The interactions between mother and daughter were a chance for the audience to question the scenes before and reflect on what they had witnessed. However the repetitiveness of the dialogue in these transitions felt uncomfortable at times. It would have been better if they were kept shorter , which would have helped with the awkwardness of the performances. Additionally, the technical elements of the transitions as a whole were very weak and felt under-rehearsed. This meant there was a lot of waiting and watching people move things around on stage. If they were slicker, this would have cut down on the running time, which at 3 hours (including the interval) feels too long.

This isn’t to say, however, that the show isn’t worth watching. The intriguing characters, their lives, their stories, and how they deal with adversity is the Sex Workers’ Opera‘s soul. The cast is comprised of those who identify as straight, LGBTQI, have disabilities, and hail from around the world, and their diversity is celebrated. The show tackles a serious issue in a very theatrical way, making it accessible, enlightening, and a great show to see.

Sex Workers’ Opera is at The Pleasance until 29th May

Gatsby @ Union Theatre

Theatre company Ruby in the Dust celebrate their 10th anniversary with a reprisal of their original musical Gatsby, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Before the Union Theatre, the show had reached several other venues in London with critical acclaim. This time around however, the company’s classic doesn’t hold up to its previous recognition.

Narrated by Jay Gatsby’s (Nicolas Fagerberg) friend and mentor Meyer Wolfshiem (Paul DuBois) Gatsby is told as a flashback, and follows Fitzgerald’s story quite accurately. The show opens as Wolfshiem is discussing Gatsby’s death with Nick Carraway (Blair Robertson), who was his neighbour. We find out that the reason for the title character’s lavish parties was to finally meet Daisy Buchanan (Joanna Brown), whom he was once in love with. Daisy is now unhappily married to Tom Buchanan (Zed Josef), and when she meets Gatsby again, the two rekindle their love, leading to a tragic end.

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Photo: Roy Tan

The idea of Wolfshiem as a narrator is an interesting concept, as it is a refreshing take on the classic that allows the audience to see Gatsby through the eyes of the man who helped him become the rich and charismatic character he is. However as the show continues, it becomes clear that this perspective is not going to give an alternative narrative to Gatsby’s character. Instead this is just a musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby which lacks the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties it is trying to convey.

There are elements of the era director Linnie Reedman stages really well. The jazz sounds of the period are entertaining during the upbeat songs, and it’s great to hear the talented cast doubling up as the musicians. At points however, the instruments drown out the sounds of the singing making the lyrics hard to pick up, which sadly becomes quite distracting. Similarly, some of the performances were so over the top, and accents so inconsistent, that it became hard to concentrate. In a large space, the exaggerated performances would be perfect for the musical, but at the Union Theatre’s intimate space, it came across as very obnoxious.

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Photo: Roy Tan

DuBois was an oddly  likeable Wolfshiem, engaging from the onset, and the character that stood out the most in the show. It would have been great for him to have more narrative throughout which would have given him a chance to be more involved in the story. Another stand out performance was by Josef, who portrayed Tom’s arrogance and immorality brilliantly and with charisma. One person who lacked on that front was unfortunately the great Gatsby himself. Fagerbeg’s portrayal was not very memorable, and it was difficult to see him as the man with the enigmatic persona and lavish parties.

The costumes were one of the more redeemable qualities of Gatsby, the dresses and suits oozing 1920s glam. But on this occasion the disappointing elements of the show outweigh the more enjoyable aspects of it. Apart from the few memorable performances, this musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby doesn’t live up to its greatness.

Gatsby is at the Union Theatre until 30th April

The Taming of the Shrew @ New Wimbledon Studio

Another great performance by the Arrows & Traps Theatre Company, previously known as Shakespeare Sessions. This time it’s a gender-inverted Taming of the Shrew at the New Wimbledon Studio. In a play that is considered to be problematic for modern audiences, director Ross McGregor switches the genders of the characters, pushing the audience to think about who is actually ‘tamed’ in the end of the play.

Drunk Christopher Sly (a hilarious performance by Christopher Neels) is tricked into thinking he is a lord by a group of actors, who then perform for him the play.  Bianco (Samuel Morgan-Grahame) is desperate to marry one of his suitors, but his mother Baptista (Cornelia Baumann) will only permit this once his older brother Kajetano (Alexander McMorran) is married. Kajetano’s argumentative and angry character means no woman wants to be married to him. That is until Petruchia (Elizabeth Appleby) decides she needs a husband. The two become married, and amongst the mistaken identity and love quarrels, so begins the process of Petruchia’s taming of Kajetano.

Appleby presents an exceptional performance as Petruchia. She manages to balance her character’s taming techniques with genuine love for Kajetano, which allows the audience to feel more sympathetic towards her than they normally would feel towards Petruchio. I understand that by inverting the genders, this was the director’s intention. McMorran is equally impressive opposite Appleby. His power on stage mixed with the character’s vulnerability is perfectly portrayed. I was always on Kajetano’s side. McGregor’s adaptation does not glorify violence against men by empowering the women in the play, but shows that even as a male, the character of Katherina/Kajetano is essentially a victim of abuse, whichever way Shakespeare wanted to portray it. I think that is something important to take away from the play.

At times the chaos on stage does become overhweliming. The several caricatured and over the top servants do distract from the main action, and it becomes difficult to remain focussed on the actual dialogue. But some good does come out of this, such as Lucy Caplin’s portrayal of Grumia, Petruchia’s Servant. She was hilarious and really fun to watch. Norma Butikofer also stands out in this play. She has a great voice, and changes effortlessly from character to character, playing each role very convincingly. The ensemble work very well together.

The gender politics in Shakespeare’s play is perfectly explored in this adaptation, and it is genuinely so nice to see so many women present on stage. This never takes away from the understanding of the characters themselves, but adds another layer of interpretation. Through the framing device, however, McGregor lets us know that we as a society still have a long way to go in truly achieving gender equality. Overall, this is another great Shakespeare adaptation from a very talented company. More please.