Saturday, 30 August 2014

Autobahn @ The King's Head Theatre

Inside a car there's no escape.  Driving down the highway there's nowhere to go but speed on ahead.  It's inside cars that we're forced, however reluctantly, into conversation, a place where honesty and truth bubble to the surface.  And, like the titular autobahn where there's no speed limit, the words just come flowing out at full throttle.

Driving is also a deeply American ritual, so Neil LaBute's black comedy Autobahn (presented by American theatre company Savio(u)r) really is a darker look under the hood of the American Dream.  Structured as seven duologues all taking place within the same car setting, the characters range from the comic, to the absurd and the frightening.  What's striking, though, is the underlying realism - there's truth to these characters and their situations, from a silent mother picking up her rebellious daughter from rehab, to a wife cheating on her husband with multiple partners.  Humour underlines much of LaBute's witty script, largely focusing on grammar and wordplay, alongside a constant sense of foreboding.

Two duologues stood out in particular, reflecting the two extremes of the production: 'Bench Seat' and 'Road Trip'.  The former involves a young couple see-sawing between young love ("wanna make out?") and breaking up.  Zoë Swenson-Graham plays a psychotic, high maintenance girlfriend; Tom Slatter the hapless victim of her endless chatter.  It's a fun skit, but with an amusing youthful awkwardness that's highly relatable.

'Road Trip', however, is a total contrast, focusing on a young girl and her manipulative, paedophilic schoolteacher.  Where the other scenes have the audience awaiting a punchline, this scene has tension from the start: the outcome is easily predicted making the young girl's ignorance all the more horrifying.  A sinister subject, here sensitively portrayed by Swenson-Graham and Henry Everett.

In fact, it's no coincidence that both of these scenes involve Swenson-Graham, also artistic director of the company.  Her ability to transform from character to character is mesmerising, perfectly balancing comedy with truth.  She is the star amongst a very skilled, four-strong cast.

The images of endless highways projected behind the actors and the classic country-rock soundtrack make for a very American production.  Yet the universal themes of Autobahn ensure this play is relevant on both sides of the Atlantic.


Watch: Autobahn runs at the Kings Head Theatre until 20th September.

Many thanks to the kind folk at Official Theatre for the ticket. Follow #LDNTheatreBloggers on Twitter for more reviews.

Banks - Goddess

Sexy doesn't mean showing everything at once, flashing it all and leaving nothing to the imagination.  Sexy means subtlety, mystery, cool seduction and even a touch of darkness.

This Banks has in spades.

Since the release of her breakthrough single Waiting Game last year, the LA singer has become the bloggers' darling of 2014, seducing the critics with her moody, sensual take on R&B.  And after a number of EPs and singles, 'Goddess' is one of the most anticipated debuts of the year, essentially offering more of the same.

Banks is a singer who relishes the darkness.  Waiting Game set the template for her sound: all throbbing bass, fragile vocals and glacial synths.  It's no coincidence that she supported The Weeknd on his tour last year.

Across the full album, this sound is applied to different moods, reflecting both metallic toughness and haunting vulnerability.  "Fuckin' with a goddess and you get a little colder" she warns on the sinister title track, and on the menacing Beggin' For Thread she coos "My words can come out as a pistol / I'm not good at aiming but I can aim it at you".  On opener Alibi, though, she's less self-assured: "Please give me something to convince me that I am not a monster".

The lyrical focus of 'Goddess' is certainly the breakdown of relationships, exclusively from a feminist point of view.  It's epitomised by Drowning: "From the girl who made you soup and tied your shoes when you were hurting / You are not deserving".  And whilst less explicit than FKA Twigs, her views towards sex are equally, coolly provocative - "I wanna know how you taste" she knowingly sings on Stick.

From her deep lower register to the nasal timbre of her fluttering falsetto, Banks' default vocal mode is restraint.  It lends the sound a sense of cool detachment that only adds to the sensual nature of the music - when she does finally let loose (the latter half of Brain for instance), it's all the more poignant.

A couple of acoustic ballads bring her voice to the fore, though they're largely forgettable.  Banks is at her best when lithely slinking around delicate melodies supported by rich bass-heavy production, as on Fuck Em Only We Know and Waiting Game.  Though perhaps overly similar across the lengthy track list (and familiar to fans of her material), Banks' sensual, atmospheric sound definitely lives up to the hype.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Goddess
* Waiting Game
* Brain

Listen: 'Goddess' is released on 1st September.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Royal Blood - Royal Blood

The whole 'rock music is dead' debate is becoming a bit of a joke now. It reached a new level this week with Lorde winning the award for Best Rock Video at the MTV VMAs. Sure, she might have a gothic rebellious streak and she may have performed with Nirvana, but nobody could describe her music as rock. It's not as if there isn't plenty of guitar-based music around, it's just that it's not very good.

Enter Royal Blood. Where so many bands are blending their sound with other (commonly electronic) genres or edging towards pop, the debut album from this Brighton-based band represents a return to pure rock. This is an album about aggressive guitar riffs, powerful drumming and raw vocals.

What's so impressive is that this is achieved as a duo: Mike Kerr on bass guitar and vocals and Ben Thatcher on drums. Their sound is thick and heavy, without the need for extraneous instruments: direct, solid and hot-blooded. Imagine a blend of The White Stripes with the bass riffs of Muse (Hysteria in particular) and the deep, grunge sound of Rage Against The Machine.

The restriction of a duo does limit the sound a little – there’s little variety across the ten tracks of ‘Royal Blood’. But then, there are hardly going to be any ballads are there? Kerr and Thatcher are incredibly skilful at what they do, squeezing out every ounce of invention from their sound. This might be a heavy rock album but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for melody and hooky riffs. Kerr’s bass playing stretches to every inch of the instrument: the rich, weighty and distorted tone negates any lack of screeching guitar solo, whilst his deceptively simple riffs shudder through the ears. His vocals too range from an angsty wail to a cooing falsetto, whilst Thatcher’s machine-gun drumming never fails to drive the music at full throttle.

With such a consistent sound and high quality, few of the tracks stand out. A handful of singles may be familiar: namely staccato opener Out Of The Black, the gritty and visceral Little Monster, the frenetic riffs of Come On Over and the (vaguely) more muted Figure It Out. Blood Hands also sticks out for its slower, weightier pace, whilst Ten Tonne Skeleton simply demands to be cranked up to maximum volume. With each track hovering around the three minute mark, this is a rock album palatable for mainstream tastes. It might be short, but few albums this year have packed such a punch.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Come On Over
* Blood Hands
* Ten Tonne Skeleton

Listen: 'Royal Blood' is available now.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

New Pop Roundup

You want some new music?  Of course you do...

Nicole Scherzinger - On The Rocks

Ok, it's not quite Boomerang, but On The Rocks is definitely at the bottom end of Scherzy's output.  It's a massive step down from Your Love, the whole chorus conceit is dreadful, and it's just a middling mid-tempo jam.  Shouldn't she be back on X Factor or something?


Listen: On The Rocks is released on October 12th.

Nicki Minaj - Anaconda

Let's face it, we're only here for the video.  The song itself is just a lazy sample and a bad rap with insightful lyrics like "where my fat ass big bitches in the club?"  As for the visuals, if you like ass, jungles, ass, fruit, ass, Drake and some more ass, then you'll probably find much to enjoy.


Listen: Anaconda is available now.

Rae Morris - Closer

Fans of Bombay Bicycle Club may recognise Morris as their sometimes collaborator, but her solo material is a total contrast.  Closer mixes tinkling piano and electronics with an R&B beat oddly reminiscent of Return Of The Mack.  The result is a very clever piece of pop songwriting, proving Morris is definitely one to watch in the coming months.


Listen: Closer is released on 22nd October.

Troye Sivan - Happy Little Pill

Though the baby-faced South-African born Troye Sivan has been making music for a little while, his recent EP 'TRXYE' is his first major label release.  Though he may look like a cross between La Roux's Elly Jackson and James Blake, his music is very different.  Happy Little Pill is the lead single from the EP: sombre R&B-pop with a suitably moody video to match.  The rest of the EP follows a similar template but it's a brilliant listen.  It also has a track called The Fault In Our Stars, though it's nothing to do with the recent film.


Listen: 'TRXYE' is available now.

Labrinth - Let It Be

Pop doesn't get much worse than Beneath Your Beautiful, but thankfully Labrinth is taking his career in a more experimental direction with his new material, of which Let It Be is the first example.  And no it's not a cover of The Beatles.  Instead he unleashes his soulful vocals over trumpet calls, electric guitars, robotic vocals and a stomping military beat.  It sounds weird, but somehow it works.


Listen: Let It Be is released on September 28th.

Pale - Silence

Silence is a fusion of electro, soul and R&B, with an 80s feel and some guitars thrown in for good measure.  Its smooth, melancholic atmosphere washes over the ears like silk, much like the rest of this London band's output.  Their new EP should be well worth a listen.


Listen: Silence is taken from forthcoming EP 'The Come Back' released on 8th September.

Say Lou Lou x Lindstrøm - Games For Girls

If you thought Swedish-Australian sisters Say Lou Lou only did dreamy sad-pop then you're mistaken.  This track has production from Norwegian space-disco producer Lindstrøm, who lends a bubbling, playful note to the sisters' vocals.  This should provide a nice change of pace when it features on their debut album due next year.


Listen: Games For Girls is released on 12th October.

Bastille - Bad News

Taken from their forthcoming EP 'Oblivion', Bad News is more akin to the remix work from Bastille's mixtapes - all hypnotic synths, electronic beats and processed vocals.  If the new EP is half as good as this track it'll be a vast improvement on debut album 'Bad Blood'.


Listen: 'Oblivion' is released on 7th September.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Ariana Grande - My Everything

Dear Miley Cyrus

Your homework for this week is to listen to Ariana Grande's 'My Everything'.
This is how to graduate from the Disney school of pop to adulthood.


The Gizzle

I jest, but the reason for this is that Grande has what Cyrus is (for the most part) missing: good songs.  Wrecking Ball is a decent pop ballad, but by smothering it in controversy and shock tactics, it placed emphasis on her desperate need for attention rather than the music.

Grande is the opposite, which has already resulted in her being responsible for one of the most ubiquitous pop tracks of the year: Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea).

That said, how responsible is she?  She's managed to surround herself with the best possible team of songwriters, producers and collaborators, for a genre-hopping album that contains some of the best pop of 2014, including everyone from Max Martin to David Guetta, Shellback, Benny Blanco and Nile Rodgers.  Grande herself, though, is little more than a vocal gymnast conduit for the talents of others.

It's personality that she's missing, in person at least - something Cyrus admittedly has in spades.  Whilst the video for current single Break Free is a quirky, camp mess, Grande is almost vacant throughout.  The same can be said for her performance at this year's MTV VMAs.  It only takes one look to see through her blank stare and distinct lack of dance ability.

Yet it's the music that's most important for an album and that's where she scores points.  Through its mix of genres and her impressive vocals, it's a solid collection of (perhaps overly polished) songs; sassy with just the right amount of sweetness.  Or should that be sweet with just the right amount of sass?

Either way it's a carefully constructed balance, unlike Cyrus's explosion into extreme sexuality.  Take the moody, glacial Love Me Harder: it's left for The Weeknd to sing the provocative lyrics ("can you feel the pressure between your hips") so that Grande can keep her clean image.

That song is just one example of the contemporary collaborators and R&B feel that predominates the album.  Frequent rap breaks come from Iggy Azalea (Problem), Big Sean (Best Mistake), Childish Gambino (Break Your Heart Right Back) and A$AP Ferg (Hands On Me), but they never detract from Grande herself.  Another R&B influence comes from the use of sampling on Break Your Heart Right Back, a song about her ex cheating on her with another man (hence the use of Diana Ross's I'm Coming Out - see what you did there).  Be My Baby, with production from Cashmere Cat, is pure sensual 90s R&B.

Elsewhere, she dips her toes into EDM with Break Free (with producer of the moment Zedd), whilst the title track is her big Mariah moment.  And what album would be complete without a Ryan Tedder scribed pop-gospel ballad?  Why Try is an early highlight with its rousing, hooky chorus.  Even Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart, a serviceable piano-ballad written by Harry Styles of all people, isn't as bad as you might think.

To a cynic, this may seem like a series of check boxes ticked to overcome a lack of star quality.  Yet with 'My Everything' Grande has transformed from Nickelodeon princess, through Mariah imitator, to a bona fide popstar.  She is undoubtedly the breakout artist of 2014, no wrecking balls required.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Problem
* Why Try
* Love Me Harder

Listen: 'My Everything' is available now.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Basement Jaxx - Junto

Warning: I'm about to make you feel really old.  Red Alert, the breakthrough single from DJing duo Basement Jaxx, was released fifteen years ago (!!!!).  Since then they've gone on to become one of the most recognisable duos in house music in a lengthy career spanning two decades.

'Junto' is their seventh album following a four year hiatus.  Where there previous releases became increasingly experimental, this new material sees the duo returning to the carnival spirit of their roots (insert 'Rooty' joke here).  The title is Spanish for "together", which perfectly suits the party atmosphere and sense of togetherness the album perpetuates.  To quote the video for new single Never Say Never: "Without dance there is no love.  Without love there is no passion. Without passion there are no humans."

The Intro alone focuses on jungle rhythms and, as it bleeds into Power To The People (through a magical harp glissando no less) the horns and steel drums enter for a sound straight out of their early back catalogue.  It's a sound that continues with the heavy syncopation of Rock This Road and the infectious Mermaid of Salinas.  This is literally the sound of Latin summers.

That's not to say 'Junto' is totally backwards.  More so, it's a kaleidoscope of dance genres from the past, present and future.  Unicorn, for instance, is pure deep house; Never Say Never wouldn't sound amiss in contemporary charts; We Are Not Alone shuffles into the poppier end of the spectrum; Summer Dem focuses on funky, Get Lucky-esque guitars; Buffalo takes us to the darkest reaches of jungle; Something About You feels like AlunaGeorge with its futuristic R&B beat and bass combo; and Love Is At Your Side rounds out the album with a laid-back balearic-asian groove.

What's missing, though, is a big standout single (Never Say Never aside).  Basement Jaxx will remain best known for their pop crossover hits, including the likes of Red Alert and Good Luck.  It's clear, though, that the duo aren't interested in that anymore.  This return to their roots marks a return to pure dance music.  As a whole, 'Junto' is heavily percussive, rhythmic, propulsive and infectious.

In an age where dance music is becoming ever more minimal, edgy and futuristic, Basement Jaxx have taken a step backwards to offer something fun, joyful and altogether more human.  It is, after all, what they're best at.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Mermaid of Salinas
* Never Say Never
* Love Is At Your Side

Listen: 'Junto' is released on 25th August.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Luke Sital-Singh - The Fire Inside

In the words of Ned Stark: “Winter is coming”.  As the cold weather ushers in another season of picturesque, burnt orange landscapes, there’s no better soundtrack than singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh’s sepia acoustic strumming for a blustery autumnal day.

‘The Fire Inside’ comes off the back of a series of EPs (from which much of this album is taken), which led to a spot on this year’s BBC Sound of 2014 longlist.  Yes, he’s another guitar-playing troubadour, but his music is so sumptuous, nostalgiac and delicately melancholic, he cannot fail for you.

As you’d expect, Sital-Singh began as a solo acoustic artist, but ‘The Fire Inside’ sees him expanding his sound to a full band for many of the tracks.  Yet far from the folky jigs of Mumford & Sons or the tear-soaked guitars of Bon Iver, the full band is merely an extension of his sound.  More upbeat tracks like Greatest Lovers, Everything Is Making You, We Don’t Belong and breakthrough single Bottled Up Tight still retain his raw sound, tinged with melancholia.  The stark live feel of the production only highlights this, all warm harmonies and shivering guitars.

It’s the acoustic tracks that form the backbone to the album though.  Fail For You is simply stunning as it slowly blooms and unfurls with vocal harmonies and its heartbreaking chorus lyric - “I bought you the sky and the oceans too…the only thing I didn’t do was fail for you”.  At the core of the album is the tryptich of Lilywhite, Nearly Morning and I Have Been A Fire: the former centres on a piano riff that bares resemblance to Lana Del Rey’s Video Games; the second transports you to a frosty sunrise; the latter is a poignant and delicate depiction of a destructive relationship - “you were just a flower…gentle like a rose with charred and blackened toes”.

It’s impossible not to fall for these songs, predominantly due to Sital-Singh’s vocals.  Whether purring in a soft falsetto or a gut-wrenching outpouring of emotion, it’s a powerful voice of anguish and vulnerability.  Forget the boring and derivative Tom Odell, or the similarly Brit Award loved Ben Howard - Luke Sital-Singh is the best singer-songwriter since Damien Rice.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Lilywhite
* I Have Been A Fire
* Fail For You

Listen: 'The Fire Inside' is available now.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Anything Goes @ Cadogan Hall

Rodgers and Hammerstein may generally be considered the original masters of musical theatre, but Cole Porter comes a very close second.  Best known for the hit musicals Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate and High Society, he wrote over 800 songs during his lifetime.  A staggering achievement.

This concert performance of his music may only have contained 25 of those songs, but it proved nonetheless to be a jubilant celebration of his music.  And whilst the song list was heavy with numbers from the aforementioned musicals, it overall covered 14 of his 17 shows (and films).  Every number in this performance was memorable, no matter what show it originated from - with such a vast output, it’s easy to forget just how many brilliant songs Porter wrote.  Few people may remember his musical Born To Dance for instance, but fewer still would be unfamiliar with its hit song ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’. 

He certainly had a distinctive style, whether in his up-tempo jazz dances, his patter duets, or his love songs.  This collection of songs provided just enough variety to offer a suitable cross-section of his output, even if it was a little comedy and jazz-hands heavy.  It’s for this reason that Jenna Russell’s performance of the sumptuous ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ from Hi Diddle Diddle was such a highlight in an otherwise jovial evening – subtle, emotive and captivating.

The show featured performances from four musical theatre heavyweights (and gushing friends), who between them have a string of Tony and Olivier nominations and awards: the fun and frivolous Maria Friedman; the dry and witty Jenna Russell; the crooning Graham Bickley; and cool cat Clive Rowe.  Rowe, especially, was the standout performer with an effortless, rich vocal tone whether singing the Kiss Me Kate classic ‘Too Darn Hot’ or the silky ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’.  Aside from the odd tutti number, it was just a shame that the foursome never really branched out of solos and duets.

Concert performances can feel a little stilted with a lack of staging and movement, but Porter’s music is easy enough to revel in.  The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played brilliantly under the conducting of Richard Balcombe, though they sometimes overpowered the singers – especially the underused Royal Academy of Music Musical Theatre Company Chorus.  Still, with a general lack of musical theatre at this year’s BBC Proms, this concert provided more than enough to satiate fans of the genre.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Charli XCX - Break The Rules

With all the fuss over the new Taylor Swift single yesterday, the fact that Charli XCX also has a new single out soon drifted under many a radar.

Which is pretty apt really.  Despite a brilliant debut album – 2013’s ‘True Romance’ – that followed a string of singles, it wasn’t until her feature on Iggy Azalea’s Fancy earlier this year (plus her own current single Boom Clap) that Charli XCX has garnered mainstream attention.  All radars are now firmly aimed towards her forthcoming album ‘Sucker’ released in October.

Break The Rules is everything you would expect from a Charli XCX single, which is what makes it great.  Punk-pop aesthetic; youthful, anthemic, shouty chorus; glorious mix of guitars and synths; and a “na na na” hook.  Ironically for the song title, she’s become the master of her own template largely set out by her hit with Icona Pop, I Love It.  The rebellious Break The Rules is bound to thrust her even further into the limelight - let’s hope she can follow it up with an equally successful (but more rule-breaking) album.


Listen: Break The Rules will feature on ‘Sucker’, released on October 21st.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Taylor Swift - Shake It Off

Forget the music, when will Taylor Swift get her own chat show?

In a livestream in front of a studio audience, she revealed new single Shake It Off and details about her forthcoming album '1989', as well as answering fan questions.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a more charming popstar.

And a popstar she is now, officially.  '1989' is being marketed as her "first pop album", which is a bit strange really when 'Red' was the album that saw her transition from countrystar to popstar.  She's described it as her most cohesive and favourite album to date, stemming from "not wanting but needing to write a new style of music".  Now she's all-out pop, with not a country twang in earshot.  It's all a bit Disney feelgood anthem really.

The main influence on the album is "late 80s pop" and its bold, daring nature - hence the album title, also the year of her birth.  Daring and bold are not words you could use to describe Shake It Off, however.  For starters she's got back together with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together songwriter Max Martin.  With its blaring horns and (to quote Swift herself) "this sick beat", she's lost her country roots for something that's utterly contemporary.  This is Pharrell's Happy for 2014 Part Two.

The video, meanwhile, is just an excuse for Swift to play dress-up in various outfits.  It's fun, frothy and self-deprecating.  And despite the twerking, if anyone can get away with cultural appropriation it's Swift, not Miley Cyrus.

In part Shake It Off is nauseating, but it's also an unadulterated pop hit.  It's no 22, but it's undoubtedly destined to be one of the biggest, meme-generating tracks of the year.


Listen: '1989' is released on October 27th; Shake It Off is available as a pre-order bonus.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Imogen Heap - Sparks

Imogen Heap has always been one for technology.  Nobody else could make robotic vocals and a keytar into such a tearjerker (Hide and Seek - later ruined by Jason Derulo).  'Sparks', though, is her most outlandish album yet.  And for Heap, that's saying something.

Locational influences range from the River Thames (pianistic opener You Know Where To Find Me) to the Himalayas (the evocative Climb To Sakteng) and the Chinese city of Hangzhou (the collision of ancient past and electronic present in Xizi She Knows), whilst sound effects include a dishwasher door, a Bhutanese dranyen (a lute-like string instrument), and "the words of a crumbling wall to 700 fans' voices" - according to the press release.  Weird.

Then there's The Listening Chair.  Inspired by an actual chair in which people were recorded responding to the question "what is the song that still needs to be written?", Heap composed a piece divided into five one minute sections that each represent seven years of her life.  And it's not even finished - every seven years she'll continue to add another minute of song.  Ultimately, though, it's little more than an interesting conceit.  Of more emotional value is Lifeline, a crowd-sourced piece written as a response to the Sendai earthquake.  In particular, the album is full of asian influences, owing to the amount of worldwide travelling Heap has done over the lengthy course of writing.

Fans will already recognise a number of the tracks on 'Sparks'.  The excellent soundscape of Propellor Seeds was first released way back in 2011, whilst Telemiscommunications appeared on Deadmau5's 2012 album 'album title goes here' (though you can hardly pick out his input).  The Listening Chair also debuted in 2012 at the Proms.

Clearly, then, 'Sparks' has been a labour of love, but somewhere along the way Heap appears to have forgotten about songwriting.  There are some truly amazing sounds - the buoyancy of Me The Machine, the subtle layers of Propellor Seeds, the electrifying juxtapositions of Xizi She Knows - but for the most part she's far too concerned with technological wizardry and unique futuristic concepts to actually write a pop hook.  Run-Time is a rare exception as it bubbles and froths before a pulsating final section.  Combining her trademark breathy vocals with pop electronica, this is the Heap we know and love.

Individually there are some interesting songs full of intellectualism and creatively layered sonic textures, but the ideas are too disparate to come together as a cohesive album.  This may be Heap's most ambitious album to date, but it's not her most musically satisfying.  It's just too clever.


Gizzle's Choice:
* You Know Where To Find Me
* Run-Time
* Xizi She Knows

Listen: 'Sparks' is released on the 18th August.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Ryn Weaver - Promises

It's funny when you think about it how, in this day and age, fame can sprout overnight from seemingly nowhere.

That's certainly the case with pop singer-songwriter Ryn Weaver.  Off the back of a single track, she's risen from nobody to a potentially huge artist.  Now, a mere few weeks since that release, comes her first full EP.

That first track, Octahate, is present on 'Promises' in all its glory.  It's definitely the highlight of the EP, but you'd expect that from a collaboration with Michael Angelakos (of Passion Pit fame), producers Cashmere Cat and Benny Blanco, and songwriter Charli XCX.  With its percussive verses and gloriously pounding chorus hooks, it sets the bar high.

Title track Promises, follows a similar sonic template, adding warm vocal harmonies; Stay Low shimmers with lofty synths; and Sail On features yearning melodies and guitars for a more mournful take on her sound.  Together, this is an EP of slick and unique indie-pop that's incredibly confident for such a young, overnight sensation.  Clearly Weaver has the talent to back up the success.


Listen: 'Promises' is available now.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dogfight @ The Southwark Playhouse

A group of marines arrive in the big city to woo the ladies for one night only before heading off to war.  Yes, it's the plot of Bernstein's On The Town, but it's the same notion that forms the basis of Dogfight, a new musical that originally debuted off-Broadway in 2012, based on the 1991 film of the same name.

Dogfight, however, is the antithesis of Bernstein's charming, romantic fairytale.  Set in 1963, the marines have a wager to see who can bring the ugliest girl to the party on their last night before heading to Vietnam.  It's a perverse game and an interesting twist on the usual boy-meets-girl narrative, though the relationship between protagonist Eddie Birdlace and Rose Fenny soon becomes clichéd and predictable.

Mostly, their relationship just isn't believable.  As a whole, the marines are utterly unlikeable and near impossible to sympathise with; a group of smarmy, aggressive jarheads out to corrupt the innocence of young girls like Rose.  Jamie Muscato offers a brilliantly frightening performance as the unpredictable Eddie, but when he treats her so badly it's difficult to see what Rose sees in him.  Why should she give him a second chance?  It's an overly romantic development in an otherwise raw and realistically toned musical.  And with the emphasis on the central couple, the characterisation of the supporting cast suffers.

The music, from Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, is wonderful, elevating a simple love story.  Mixing modern musical theatre with some Dylan-esque folk and contemporary rock and roll, it is a surprisingly complex score with some beautiful ballads.  And whilst the male vocals are suitably laddish, the female performers are stunning.  Rebecca Trehearn is underused besides a belting delivery of the title song, whilst Laura Jane Matthewson has a beautifully warm and gentle tone perfectly suited to the innocent Rose.  Some words (lyrics and script) are lost through poor diction, though this may be more of a sound issue.

Director Matt Ryan does provide a powerful ending with a well realised and shocking scene of the marines in Vietnam, though the political elements feel a little tacked on.  It's a predictably tragic end that highlights the difficulties of marines re-integrating into society, but it begs the question: does their sacrifice excuse their misogynistic behaviour?  Not in my book.


Watch: Dogfight runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 13th September.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Jessie Ware - Say You Love Me

She’s done it again. ToughLove is already one of the tunes of the year and that’s before the full second album has been released.

Say You Love Me, though, is something of a departure for the London singer.  That it was co-written by Ed Sheeran is immediately apparent – his trademark acoustic guitar is all over this track.  But don’t let that put you off.  Ware’s vocals are as spine-tingling as ever as they float during the chorus of “’cause I don’t wanna fall in love if you don’t wanna try”, subtle electronic inflections and rhythmic pulses driving the track along.  It all builds towards an emotionally intense second half, all the musical elements colliding with a gospel choir in one long climactic crescendo.

It’s instantly recognisable as Ware’s work, but miles away from the sombre moods of Tough Love.  Tender and honest, it looks like full album ‘Tough Love’ is shaping up to be an album of the year contender.


Listen: Say You Love Me features on forthcoming album ‘Tough Love’ released on 6th October.

The Saturdays - Finest Selection: The Greatest Hits

The Saturdays have gradually become the laughing stock of pop, a baby-making conveyor belt with all personality dissolved in a series of EDM bangers.  They lack the tunes of Girls Aloud or the zany character of the Spice Girls.  They may have begun their career with a colour scheme and funky haircuts, but this soon became identikit hair extensions and electronic beige.

That said, ‘Finest Selection’ proves that they’ve had a pretty decent time of it since their debut album ‘Chasing Lights’ in 2008, with just as many hits as misses.  Their best work hasn’t always translated into chart success however, the twenty tracks collected here juxtaposing for instance 2013’s terrible What About Us (their second number one) with some under-appreciated gems such as their debut single If This Is Love, Work (one of their best tracks that criminally under-performed in the charts) and impassioned ballad My Heart Takes Over.

There are some huge pop tracks here, from the Flo Rida featuring Higher, to the massive chorus of Ego, the fizzing Up, the club-pop of All Fired Up (“keep me on your raduh”) and recent single Not Giving Up.  In close proximity, though, many of the uptempo EDM tracks bleed into one another (Notorious and 30 Days included).  Even the best of the best can sound forgettable.

It’s for this reason it’s such a shame that some of the more recent, personality-filled tracks failed to reignite their career.  Yes I’m looking at the weird and wonderful Gentleman (“I let you taste my rainbow, you could at least be faithful”) that’s almost so bad it’s good, and the 80s pop of Disco Love.  They prove that the girls are far better than the EDM fodder they mostly served.  In retrospect, the more stripped back tracks rank highly in their oeuvre, namely the soaring Forever Is Over and the excellent Missing You (their best track, no question).

Indeed, looking back their best period was undoubtedly the ‘Headlines’ album of 2010, with its string of hits: Missing You, Ego, Higher and Forever Is Over.  ‘Chasing Lights’ may have been a strong debut, but let’s forget the twee Issues.  And the less said about Just Can’t Get Enough the better, here included as a final, token effort.

‘Finest Selection’ does include a couple of new tracks, which fit neatly into their current EDM mould: What Are You Waiting For?, the clichéd 808 and the bland piano-led Walking Through The Desert (the end of their career?).  The album would lose nothing if they’d been omitted.

So what’s next for the girls?  Family life, more babies and, for Frankie, a slot in the next series of Strictly.  The Saturdays are unlikely to have cultivated any solo careers (in music at least) but they’ve spawned some decent pop over the years.  This is the only album you’ll need.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Forever Is Over
* Disco Love
* Missing You

Listen: ‘Finest Selection’ is available now.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Ella Henderson - Glow

It’s fair to say that Ghost has been the surprise hit of the year.  A talent show contestant from two years back who many had forgotten, Ella Henderson has so far managed to transcend the X Factor with a bona fide smash.  Yet she was clearly destined to be big.  A song written by Ryan Tedder only fuelled the fire.

Power ballad Glow is only going to continue her success (and the G's).  Somewhere between Adele’s Set Fire To The Rain, Coldplay's Princess of China and the ecstasy of Katy Perry’s Firework, it pairs her soulful vocals with militaristic drums and touches of electronica, bringing a modern edge to the gospel/soul of her previous single.  This is a hugely confident second single from an artist producing solid pop music.

You can see it now: the return of the X Factor live finals, Henderson belting out her chorus of “we are brighter” backed by a choir and a slew of pyrotechnics, wind machine tousling her hair as Cheryl Cole (or whatever her surname is nowadays) quakes in her boots.  Henderson may have come sixth, but she’s already a popstar far beyond the usual X Factor fare *cough* James Arthur *cough*. Let’s hope the album can live up to expectations.


Listen: Glow is released on September 14th, with debut album ‘Chapter One’ arriving on September 22nd.

Monday, 11 August 2014

FKA Twigs - LP1

FKA Twigs is currently being hailed as the new princess of R&B.  And rightly so.  From Jessie J backing dancer to releasing one of the most startling and entrancing debuts of the year, she’s come a long way.

It’s impossible to talk about FKA Twigs (real name Tahlia Barnett) without discussing her visual artistry.  From the covers of her previous EPs to her sometimes shocking videos, she evolves from a china doll to an alien-beauty with oversized eyes, a golden goddess suggestively pouring water out of a finger, and a shadowed figure being strangled by a lover.  Not since Bjork have we seen such a complete artist, every aspect of her music career meticulously planned and inventive. 

None more so than the actual music.  Most commonly described as R&B (and compared to the icy cool of Aaliyah), her music stretches the genre to its barebones limits.  Despite a plethora of well-known producers, such as Dev Hynes, Paul Epworth and Sampha, LP1 is utterly cohesive.  The production is sparse, spectral and stark; the sounds of processed beats, pulsing synth bass lines and shattering electronica on, for example, singles Pendulum or Two Weeks sounding familiar yet utterly alien, each texture shattering in a vacuum. 

Above all, though, LP1 is deeply sexual, with lyrics consumed with carnal desires.  “When I trust you we can do it with the lights on” she purrs on Lights On, before hurtling into the throbbing Two Weeks and her ecstatic vocal sighs of “mouth open, you’re high”.  Hours centres on the lyric “I could kiss you for hours” above production that fractures, breaks and implodes.  For its four and a half minute length, time quite literally stops and hovers in an oblivion of ecstasy, perfectly capturing that feeling of being utterly consumed by a partner.  Later, on Numbers, she becomes more accusatory: “was I just a number to you?” she questions above trip-hop rhythms and echoing percussion.  The result is an intoxicating album that’s frighteningly yet alluringly sensual, appealing to the most primal of instincts.

The success of the album is also down to Barnett’s breathy vocals, at once vulnerable, fragile, innocent, haunting and melancholic.  Her sighs may sound girlish (perhaps disturbingly so given the lyrical content), but there’s a real depth of emotion and maturity – a human in an otherworldly soundscape.

LP1 is an album that’s far from courting the mainstream.  It’s low on hooks and variation, whilst a couple of standout tracks from her EPs are curiously missing (namely Water Me and Papi Pacify).  But does that even matter?  This is the product of an artist with a singular vision, who stands far away from, and above, the crowd.  I could listen for hours.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Two Weeks
* Hours
* Pendulum

Listen: LP1 is available now.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - James Gunn

Guardians of the Galaxy gets off to a pretty terrible start.  We witness a young, teary-eyed Peter Quill at his mother’s deathbed, his despair as she passes on, before he runs screaming from the hospital…and is swiftly abducted by aliens.  TITLE SCREEN. 

It’s a horrible juxtaposition that pretty much sums up a film full of jarring changes of tone.  No sooner is mum dead but she’s quickly forgotten, the only link to Earth being Quill’s Walkman that plays a mixtape of 70s and 80s soul tunes whilst he’s off guarding the galaxy.  It’s laughably anachronistic, though it does provide some unique tongue-in-cheek charm to a film in an otherwise crowded superhero genre.

The music is just one example of a film that, like Avengers Assemble before it, uses comedy to paper over the gaping cracks in the plot.  Is it too much to ask for a superhero film to provide thrilling action alongside a decent story?  With the exception of Nolan’s Batman films, it seems the two are mutually exclusive.  Fun action aside, Guardians of the Galaxy has a narrative that jumps from planet to planet with little development following a hilariously awful cast that includes Zoe Saldana making green skin look sexy as Gamora, Vin Diesel as the humanoid plant Groot (because who else is tough and wooden enough to play a walking tree?), and Bradley Cooper as a talking raccoon(!).

Moreover, the film is essentially Marvel’s attempt to copy the grandest of space operas, Star Wars.  In addition to the helmeted villain with a funny voice wishing to destroy a planet and the general look and feel of the world, specifically the relationship between Cooper’s bounty hunter raccoon Rocket and Diesel’s linguistically-challenged Groot directly parallels that of Han Solo and his companion Chewbacca.  Quill, too, is essentially riffing on the same charming, womanising mercenary character, though thank God for Chris Pratt.  Definitely the actor of the moment, he’s come a long way since his goofy role in Parks & Recreation and here provides some much needed humanity.

Most of all, Guardians of the Galaxy commits the cardinal sin of superhero movies by failing to provide a convincing nemesis.  Lee Pace’s Ronan is a weak and underdeveloped villain amongst some vapid guff about an infinity stone and his rarely seen but apparently all-powerful master, the sort of rubbish that’s been shat out by a teenage boy in his sleep.  Who exactly are the guardians guarding the galaxy against?  Too easily do they succumb to clichéd characterisation and unfunny one liners.  “You said it bitch, we’re the guardians of the galaxy”, spits Quill in the film’s final scene (left wide open for the inevitable sequel).

Dear [Star]Lord it’s bad.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Between @ The Kings Head Theatre

All the way from South Africa comes Between, a play that frankly explores sexuality and relationships.  Having already performed the piece in their native country, as well as in Dublin, Edinburgh and Brighton, Between now comes to London at the Kings Head. 

This is visceral, provocative and incredibly brave theatre.  The narrative juxtaposes three contrasting male relationships: two young boys experimenting with their sexuality; a young student falling for his teacher whilst learning to recite Shakespeare sonnets; and an adult couple experiencing opposing views of sex.  Under the overarching view of a single protagonist, we witness the gradual development of sexuality through a series of amusing, painful and heart-breaking vignettes.  The various characters are depicted by the two-strong cast of Nicholas Campbell and Oskar Brown (who also wrote the play).  The chemistry between them in each scene is palpable, brimming with believable sexual tension as their physicality develops from boisterous boys to solemn, troubled adults.  The minimal staging, meanwhile, only heightens the intimacy of the piece.

What’s most striking about the play is its intense honesty and, at times, brutality.  Brown, in his writing, doesn’t shy away from challenging the audience with troubling issues.  A young boy screams at another calling him a faggot and beating him into submission (a typical schoolyard scene many can relate to, whether as victim or witness).  The adult couple develop from tender and loving, to one slapping the other and demanding to be “fucked”.  The student-teacher relationship is perhaps the most interesting: whilst the end result is predictable, the sympathetic portrayal from the two actors is electric, whilst the use of Shakespeare sonnets adds a healthy dose of romanticism.  Their love may be forbidden, but it offers a contrasting innocence to that of the boys and the bitterness of the adults.  No matter how far the limits are pushed, however, Brown’s writing is consistently sensitive to the subject matter.

Above all, the varying situations are easily relatable – no matter what your sexuality.  The voyage of self-discovery, infatuation with a teacher and a relationship hinging on sex: these are all themes that we’ve experienced at one time or another.  Switch one male character to a female and the play would lose none of its impact.  Love, in its various guises, is at the core of Between; it is a universal notion.  After all, why should homosexual relationships be any different?


Watch: Between runs at the Kings Head Theatre throughout August.

I was lucky enough to chat to writer/performer Oskar Brown after the show about the meaning behind the play and its gradual evolution…

What can audiences expect from Between?
We always say they come to watch love, sex and everything in-between.  It’s an exploration of sexuality and love and the weird part between the two of them. It’s about relationships, it’s about sex, it’s about how people find each other. We do say that instead of a dress rehearsal we have an undress rehearsal!

And why the title Between?
When I first sat down, I decided I wanted to write about the relationships between people and what happens there, because they’re fascinating. I’m only 28 now but I’ve probably already seen too much!

How did writing the play first come about?
Once again relationships.  It’s just interesting how sometimes you have those relationships where you’re the one who wants to have a lot of sex and they won’t answer, then suddenly it’s the other way around and you’re like “where do I sit?  What’s happening there? Where does that come from?  Maybe it comes from when you’re younger?”  So I explored with Nicholas and some other friends, we talked about sexuality when we were younger and crushes we had.  Then there’s that exciting line between the teacher-student relationship, sometimes you have that teacher you’re excited about and you wonder what would happen there.

Did you specifically set out to write a ‘gay play’?
No, I set out to write about sex and sexuality and it just happened.  I originally thought it would be a straight play, I envisaged it to be performed by a guy and a girl.  I was like “OK I’m not going to complain, it works better this way”.  I don’t believe in labelling someone or something as gay, so we’ve actually decided on a new term: we say people are ‘queer cultured’, which means you don’t happen to be gay, but maybe you like to dress nicely, you like good food, you go to clubs that aren’t aggressive and full of male testosterone with men competing for women, but you’re not necessarily gay.

What made you decide to include Shakespeare sonnets?
Originally I wanted it to be about piano actually - it was definitely about teaching something. And then our director Geoffrey said to me “I don’t know anything about the piano, you don’t know anything about the piano, let’s do something that we know about.  We do Shakespeare - let’s make it about sonnets”.  We supplemented the original script with Geoffrey teaching Nicholas how to do the sonnet, so we used bits and pieces of that and structured the script around it.

Did you guys all meet in Cape Town?  What’s your working relationship like?
We did, Nick and I went to the same University in Cape Town and Geoffrey is the head of the drama department, so that’s where we met him and we’re his pupils. The relationship is interesting how it’s changed because on one level there used to be the student-teacher relationship, but we’ve worked for so long together that we became colleagues, and now we’re friends as well. Sometimes he wants us to do something and shifts back into his teacher-student role. We jokingly call him Dad because when we’re travelling around we look like his two younger sons, or his two younger lovers - that’s also happened!

So that’s informed the play?
Oh a lot.

Have your experiences in South Africa affected the play at all?
We didn’t set out to make it a South African play. Some things we took out:  there’s a moment when one character asks “what were you drinking that day?”, he used to say brandy and coke and no-one anywhere else in the world drinks brandy and coke, it’s very South African!  So we decided to make that a little more generalised [they now say vodka].  We don’t make a show of hiding our accents or anything like that.

Has the play evolved as you’ve continued touring?
Yeah it keeps evolving, just some of the jokes we’ve added. We’re now working on creating a version that other people can read with all the jokes in. The original script makes for very dry reading as there’s so many little things we’ve changed and that we do in the performance.  We’re now making sure there’s a record of how it’s actually performed!  It has changed heaps and it’s always changing.  For this run we have an extra monologue that wasn’t in beforehand, so we’re always adding and refining.

You’ve performed Between internationally, have audience reactions differed from place to place?
Not that much actually.  What’s been really nice is how well received it’s been wherever it’s gone, showing that it doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay or lesbian or whatever.  They’ve just been like “this is cool, we get this”.  We’ve had lesbian women come up to us saying “wow the relationship between the young boys at the beginning, that’s totally me!”  That’s really exciting, that no matter where we go in the world everyone’s the same.

Is it important to you to attract a varied audience?
I don’t think so, we get a lot of people who see the show who don’t normally come to the theatre which is so cool!

And lastly what’s next for the Between boys?
We’ve got this run and if it goes well we’ll come back again next year. Nicholas has moved here with an acting visa (he’s looking for an agent!) and I’m working in film in Berlin so heading back to that.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Famished Land @ The Greenwood Theatre

New musical The Famished Land has been written under extraordinary circumstances.  Based on the novel from Elizabeth Byrd, the music has been composed by Jennifer Whyte whilst her father Robin wrote the lyrics.  Robin has sadly been taken ill, leading to this showcase performance to see their collaborative work realised on the stage.

Set during the Irish famine of 1845, the plot focuses on 16 year old Moira McFlaherty (Zoe Rainey) and her struggles to survive and look after her family.  At its core is a love story between her and Liam (Matthew Gent), a typical construct in an otherwise untapped setting.  Recreating the whole novel is an ambitious undertaking and, with its grand score, The Famished Land feels almost like an Irish Les Miserables.  The tragic events are certainly worthy of such high drama, with one particular twist in the second act being especially horrifying.  After Moira’s climactic solo towards the end however, the final scenes feel somewhat deflating with an almost tacked on happy ending.

It’s the music that truly impresses, though.  Performed with full orchestra, the picturesque beauty of the sweeping score was absolutely apparent despite this being a showcase production.  Folk melodies, Irish whistle, harp and guitar, plus lush vocal harmonies, provide a gloriously evocative image of Ireland, where the narrative depicts a much darker picture.  The only criticism is that with so much underscore throughout the show, it gives little opportunity for the drama to breathe during the often short scenes, the narrative teetering into melodrama on occasion.  The singing, too, was excellent, particularly from Rainey and Gent in the lead roles.  Mostly, it was the choruses that impressed with a gorgeously full sound – the ensemble number that opened the second act, led wonderfully by Emma Harrold, was a stunning representation of the show’s potential.

And it’s this potential that was clearly visible from this performance, even with some negatives.  The staging was minimal, though the discreet projections and use of a wooden table were inventive; the overuse of dry ice was unnecessary; and the reliance on scripts was incredibly distracting – especially as some cast members had clearly learnt their lines and others had not.

Yet this is understandable when the cast had a matter of days to put the show together.  The cast and orchestra delivered an inspiring performance of a show that deserves far more than a one-night affair.


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Neon Jungle - Welcome To The Jungle

Girl power is certainly in the midst of a renaissance at the moment, whether it be the multitude of solo female popstars who dominate the charts, the bubblegum pop of girl band Little Mix, or rock-pop sisters Haim. Neon Jungle fall somewhere on the 'highly unoriginal' end of the spectrum.

Even the title, 'Welcome To The Jungle', is derivative. The album comprises EDM banger after EDM banger. Anyone who's heard singles Braveheart, Welcome To The Jungle or Trouble that make up the opening three tracks will know what to expect: identikit production of pounding beats, deep basslines, shouty choruses and R&B vocals.

This continues with the remains of the album, from the synth-heavy Can't Stop The Love, to the faux urban-cool of Bad Man and the funk guitars of Future X Girl (more than a little reminiscent of Ke$ha's Die Young). So Alive is the best of the dance-pop, but that’s to be expected when written by Charli XCX. Only on Fool Me do the girls take a breather, the ballad finally letting their minimal harmonies ring through.

The deluxe version of the album includes a number of acoustic tracks, most of which merely expose their weak vocals – in particular their cover of Hozier’s Take Me To Church, a song that’s totally out of place within the rest of the album.

What’s most offensive is their cover of Banks’ Waiting Game on the album proper. Not only is this a vastly inferior version containing little of the original’s subtlety and sombre mood, but this was done without permission and before Banks’ own album has even been released. Banks released a statement saying she was “uncomfortable” with the cover. Perhaps Neon Jungle should come up with their own music before stealing that of others?

The main reason the girls are doomed to fail, though, is their distinct lack of personality. This is an absolute requirement for girl bands, from the Spice Girls’ nicknames to the various characters of Little Mix. Even The Saturdays had a colour scheme. But who are Neon Jungle? Why should we be listening to their music? ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ offers few answers.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Braveheart
* So Alive
* Fool Me

Listen: ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ is available now.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Edges @ The Tabard Theatre

This production at the Tabard Theatre London might mark the UK professional debut of Edges, but it's definitely something of a fashionable show at the moment.  A song cycle of contemporary musical theatre songs exploring coming of age issues, its songs have become particularly popular among twentysomethings not only for the subject matter but for the ease of which the show can be produced for fringe and other small-scale venues.

Originally written in 2005, the musical is already beginning to show its age through its various 00s references, so it's surprising that it's taken so long for a professional production to arrive in the UK.  In particular, the show's most famous song "Be My Friend" (a.k.a The Facebook Song) already feels dated - all the cool kids are on Twitter nowadays.

This production, directed by Adam Philpott, has attempted to provide a slight overarching narrative to link the songs together, exploring the connections between four friends.  It's a clever idea but it doesn't always flow smoothly from song to song: if the four actors are meant to be playing the same characters throughout, there are some jarring shifts in personality and supposed narrative.  It does, however, provide a sense of progression, from the heartbreak of songs like I've Gotta Run to the full company penultimate number Ready To Be Loved.

The four actors also have a welcome dynamic between them, but their banter between songs is often too quiet.  Indeed, throughout the hour-long show some comedy moments are frustratingly underplayed, whilst others are misjudged.  Mostly, the two male characters are distinctly unlikeable and immature: from the annoying frat boy humour of Pretty Sweet Day, to the insensitive simulated gay sex in Man Of My Dreams.

By contrast, the two female performers are excellent.  Rebecca Jayne-Davis offers a cutesy performance with a big voice for such a small frame.  Mostly though, eyes and ears will be drawn to the stage presence of Christina Modestou.  Fresh from her role as Nina in the UK premiere of In The Heights, she performs with great maturity, believable acting that draws us into each of her solos, and a powerful and confident vocal.  She is the star in a fun and uplifting show aimed squarely at a young audience.


Watch: Edges runs at the Tabard Theatre until 30th August.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Marry Me A Little @ The St. James Studio Theatre

After performing in the original cast of Sweeney Todd in 1979, actor Craig Lucas finally got the opportunity a couple of years later to create his own cabaret show.  His idea?  To take a number of unpublished and unheard songs from Sondheim’s back catalogue into a revue-style show with a loose narrative.  The result was Marry Me A Little.  After Lucas requested permission from the composer, Sondheim replied “Well, I think that it’s a terrible idea, but go ahead”.  Thankfully he did.

The show really is a celebration of Sondheim’s music, comprising hidden gems and clever songwriting.  The narrative is vague, detailing the breakdown of a relationship between a man and a woman.  The two characters exist within one space, their stories overlapping as they drift in and out of each other’s lives.  It’s a typically abstract construct, proving Sondheim’s uncanny ability to capture love, relationships and human emotion in musical form.  The opening Two Fairy Tales cleverly juxtaposes two contrasting views in its fragmented lyrics; witty wordplay is in abundance, particularly in the amusing Can That Boy Foxtrot!; and throughout, the songs are full of masterful storytelling, music and drama in perfect symbiosis.  It’s a well-rounded selection of songs too, exploring lust, love, sexual tension, laughter and heartbreak.

With just two performers and complex music it’s a demanding sing, but Laura Pitt-Pulford and Simon Bailey are exquisite.  Bailey’s soft vocal is full of character, his natural performance utterly convincing and in total contrast to his last West End role as Liam in I Can't Sing.  Pitt-Pulford, meanwhile, has a stunning voice ranging from a delicate soprano to rich jazzy tones.  Together their chemistry is believable, drawing us into their relationship through the raw honesty of their performances and the music.  Director Hannah Chissick and designer Simon Anthony Wells have provided plenty of modern touches, with a contemporary apartment set and inspired use of props such as the couple playing Wii golf during Pour Le Sport rather than being on an actual golf course.

Indeed, it’s the timelessness of Sondheim’s music that’s apparent above all.  The songs still work dramatically as standalone numbers taken out of their original context, as well as fitting into the loose narrative, whilst the universal themes are relevant to every generation.  This intimate show is not to be missed.


Watch: Marry Me A Little runs until 10th August at the St. James Studio Theatre.