Friday, 27 February 2015

The Indian Queen @ The Coliseum

Purcell Indian Queen ENO

As with many of Purcell’s works, The Indian Queen is an awkward beast. His final work before his death, it remains incomplete at just forty-five minutes long and its performance history is more chequered than its patchwork of scenes (debuting sometime in 1695).

Of course, it’s not really an opera at all but a masque, comprising songs, dances and monologues in the English tradition of semi-opera. The plot is based upon a play by Sir Robert Howard (in collaboration with John Dryden) which tells of the Spanish invasion of Peru and Mexico and was performed some thirty years earlier.

Except in this production at ENO, directed by Peter Sellars, the whole piece has been heavily amended. Retaining the Central American setting, Sellars has taken inspiration from the Nicaraguan writer Rosario Aguillar’s novel The Lost Chronicles of Terra Firma that, based on true events, explores the Conquistador invasion. The focus is Teculihuatzin, the daughter of an Indian chieftain who marries Don Pedro de Alvarado – she is meant to be a double agent but soon falls in love with him. The story is thus told from the feminine viewpoint: the titular ‘queen’ and her plight, torn between love for her foreign husband and duty to her people. This is put under further strain when Don Pedro commits massacre (in the Main Temple of Tenochtitlan - a key episode of the Spanish Conquest).

Much of the story is narrated in monologue by Maritxell Carrero, with set backdrops courtesy of Chicano artist Gronk that blend modern graffiti with colourful Mayan design. There is also dancing from a quartet of dancers representing mythological beings creating the world and meddling in its affairs, their stunning interpretive choreography mimicking Mayan poses. The costumes of the lead protagonists, meanwhile, are modern dress, drawing a parallel with modern conquerors. All this alongside Purcell’s music – not only from his original The Indian Queen but with additions from both his sacred and secular output. The orchestra is suitably raised from the pit, proving as much a pleasure to watch as to listen.

It may seem like a hodgepodge of styles, but under Sellars’ direction it works seamlessly. The stately beauty of Purcell’s music with a somewhat savage plot is an odd juxtaposition that’s exaggerated in this production, but if anything it brings out new qualities in the score, becoming something primal, erotic and modern. Having Teculihuatzin’s sexually charged wedding night accompanied by the fluttering counterternor of Vince Yi is a daring choice, but mostly the plight of the Mayans finds new poignancy in the yearning melodies and aching beauty of Purcell’s music.

The performances, too, are beautiful. Lucy Crowe’s Doña Isabel is a figure of restraint, with a pure and perfectly controlled tone (particularly in her rendition of “O Solitude”); by contrast American soprano Julia Bullock’s Teculihuatzin (making her ENO debut in a role written for her) is an impassioned performer. Noah Stewart’s Don Pedro is the image of masculinity with a wonderful tenor voice – his duet with Thomas Walker’s Don Pedrarias Dávila is a real highlight.

At three and a half hours long (with interval), Purcell’s original has been vastly extended – Sellar’s production is perhaps too long and at times self-indulgent. It’s also a monumental feat, incorporating multiple artistic disciplines into a grand and cohesive whole.


Watch: The Indian Queen runs at the Coliseum until 14th March.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Yarico @ The London Theatre Workshop

Yarico The London Theatre Workshop

You may not think model Jodie Kidd and her father John to be typical theatre producers, but with family ties to Barbados they have chosen to bring the anti-slavery narrative of Yarico to the London stage. The story is a compelling one: a British merchant, Thomas Inkle, is shipwrecked on an island where he is saved by an Amerindian woman, Yarico – the only member of her tribe to speak English thanks to her interest in Shakespeare. The two fall in love, but fate draws them apart as Yarico is sold into slavery in Barbados. Loosely based on a factual account from the seventeenth century, this musical adaptation has been ten years in the making, but suffers from an inconsistent tone.

It is a show of two halves. The first is overly pacey, cramming in far too much plot for what is, essentially, exposition for the events of the second half. For a story on slavery, there is a light-hearted feel to the events that feels a little jarring. Some comedy is welcome, but this feels like a swashbuckler pitched somewhere between Pirates of the Carribean and Pocahontas. It certainly has an epic, cinematic feel but it’s too big for the limited space of the London Theatre Workshop, most of which is taken up by the extensive percussion of the band.

Alex Spinney stands out early on for his performance as Inkle, offering a beautifully lyrical tenor, and Tori Allen-Martin is hilarious as Yarico’s tribe friend Nono. Yet the girl meets boy forbidden love story feels too familiar and the often comical plot is presented with a Hollywood-esque sheen. What’s needed is a greater grasp of the local ethnicity in both the music and the acting; the varying languages of the characters are cleverly depicted despite the whole cast speaking English, but it lacks authenticity.

Thankfully that comes in the second half. Here the narrative is altogether more intimate, with the focus on Yarico and her plight to free her fellow slaves. There is some spirited music, such as “Give Me My Name” and “Spirit Eternal” that allow for some wonderfully rousing ensemble harmonies and choreography to match the percussive music. This also allows the performers to settle further into their roles. Liberty Buckland eventually stands strong as the tragic Yarico, whilst Keisha Amponsa Banson provides plenty of tension as her rival Jessica, and Suzanne Ahmet proves vocally solid in a variety of roles.

There remain some missteps, however. For every authentic musical number there’s a Disney-esque ballad that undermines the raw grit of the central love story, whilst the slightly racial connotations of the song “Chocolate” (in which the characters sing of their love for the drink) are a little uncomfortable to watch. And whilst there remains some comedy, the second half tries too hard to educate its (entirely white) audience: “The Same And Not The Same” is accompanied by a public whipping of a black and a white character that’s heavy-handed. In trying to ensure the central message isn’t lost amongst romantic slush, the show becomes somewhat preoccupied with preaching - to an extent this is a black story dumbed down for a white audience, just as Yarico is presented reciting Shakespeare for her British owners.

Yarico is far from a finished product – the producers have admitted as such. There is clearly some work to be done, but even in its current state this is a promising production with some glorious ensemble singing, a talented cast and a raw love story at its core.


Watch: Yarico runs at the London Theatre Workshop until 14th March.



Sunday, 22 February 2015

La Traviata @ The Coliseum

ENO La Traviata The Coliseum

Usually, we attend the theatre to see what goes on behind the curtain. Yet in this revival of Peter Konwitschny's production of La Traviata, the action takes place in front of a series of red curtains, the significance of which is unclear. Despite a sharp colour scheme, there is little visual stimulation - at the start especially (before the curtains open to reveal a larger, empty space) it feels more like a semi-staged performance.

This does throw the performances into sharp relief, which are something of a mixed bag. Soprano Elizabeth Zharoff makes her UK debut as Violetta, though at first she's a little shrill and struggles with the angular coloratura of Act I. Her lumberjack costume in Act II is also wildly misjudged. Later, though, she exudes passion and sings with sumptuous control, becoming a tragic heroine who is easy to empathise with. Ben Johnson returns as Alfredo and offers a beautiful lyrical tenor, though the relationship between the two singers lacks chemistry. This is in part due to a stilted libretto translation and equally direction that often leaves the characters separated, with Johnson frequently singing from the audience. It is merely distracting.

Though there is some lovely singing from the secondary characters, there are too few ensemble opportunities for them to really excel. That is, except Anthony Michaels-Moore as Alfredo's father Giorgio who gives a solid powerhouse of a performance.

Then there's the chorus, who's laughable overacting negates any emotional resonance from the lead characters. There are simply too many of them: they overcrowd the limited stage space and conductor Roland Böer struggles to keep them singing together in time. The Brindisi at the start of the opera is one of its most famous tunes, but here it's incredibly wooden.

Thankfully it's not the only tune in what is Verdi's most popular opera and Böer conducts the glorious orchestra with aplomb. Cutting out the intervals and stripping the opera to the bare minimum (with a straight runtime of 1 hour 50) ensures this is a swift and concise production - not to mention requiring substantial vocal stamina from the singers - but visually it all feels a bit lacking. The music is wonderful but the drama is missing some emotional truth to really set off the tragic narrative.


Watch: La Traviata runs at the Coliseum until 13th March.

Friday, 20 February 2015

FKA Twigs @ The Roundhouse

FKA Twigs Congregata

FKA Twigs is something of an enigma. She’s a woman who speaks solely through her art. And at this one-off gig at the Roundhouse, she gave everyone a glimpse of her ritualistic world. For an hour and half time stood still and nothing else mattered.

Twigs is an artist known as much for her visuals as her music. Yet this wasn’t a gig full of screens, backdrops, props and elaborate costumes. The focus was on her as she sang and danced her way through the setlist in a contemporary and balletic display, accompanied by a group of male backing dancers and contortionists. Each song was its own narrative with its own effect or routine: the jerking movements and lustful connotations of Papi Pacify performed on a rotating stage; a cage of red lasers used for Video Girl; vogueing during Give Up; recreating the floating cloth performance for Two Weeks. Together they created an over-arching narrative she entitled ‘Congregata’, representing the coming together of her multiple artistic ideas within her career. Visually her performance paralleled the music: stark and minimalist yet laden with meaning.

The whole evening was an intensely sensual and erotic experience: the percussive production, the sweet fragility of her breathless voice, the dark sexuality at the heart of each track. Her slinky dance moves, highlighted in silhouette, accented every beat of the music as she stared intently over the audience who stood silently transfixed. Not once did her performance drop (until the very end when she introduced the band and dancers). The whole effect was utterly hypnotising.

What was perhaps most erotic about her performance was that this was the single vision of one woman. Despite all the provocative, boundary-pushing imagery of domination and sexual power play, it was Twigs herself who dominated every element of the show, the only woman on stage taking total control of her artistry. She laid her soul and her sexuality bare. And being a one-off performance, it was a real privilege to watch.

Really, it’s an impossible feat trying to capture this unique performance in words, a performance that left many members of the audience speechless. Ultimately Twigs is neither singer nor dancer, but a performance artist. She is in a class of her own. Outstanding.


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Elliphant @ XOYO

Elliphant XOYO

Elliphant bounds onto the stage, a ball of aggressive, masculine energy. She snarls, she spits out her lyrics, she eyeballs the audience, she grabs her crotch. In one of her videos she pisses in the street.

It’s the sort of behaviour you’d expect from a young American male rapper. But Elliphant, real name Ellinor Olovsdotter, is a white female rapper from Sweden. She’s rude, crude and provocative, but that’s all part of her, frankly terrifying, charm. She chews up and spits out the stage; resistance is futile. Even when she makes a mistake, she rewinds and starts again because she "wasn't feeling it" - she's Elliphant, she can do what she goddamn likes.

What’s somewhat jarring is hearing this white Swedish rapper with a Jamaican accent. That, alongside the constant barrage of crass language, almost feels like she’s a parody of Jamaican rap artists. Yet living in LA and frequently visiting Jamaica, she’s clearly surrounded herself with that culture. It comes naturally to her, making her far more authentic than Iggy Azalea.

Musically she’s heavily inspired by dancehall and reggae. Sharing the stage with her DJ, she raps over heavy beats and shuddering bass lines in thick Patois. If anything, she’s akin to a Swedish M.I.A or Santigold in her mix of electronic and world music influences, as well as her half-sung half-rapped vocal delivery. Alongside dirty, grinding tracks like Booty Killah and Look Like You Love It (both taken from her most recent EP, pictured), there are tracks like Down On Life and Live Till I Die that have a greater electronic slant and sing (shout) along choruses. She’s Swedish after all and isn’t afraid of a good hook. Then there’s All Or Nothing with production from Diplo and Only Getting Younger with Skrillex, which give an idea as to the hard, raw edge of her music. 

Occasionally her political views get in the way of her music. In one break between songs she raps about Save The Grey – nothing to do with that recent film, but her activism project. It’s a little intrusive and preachy when fans just want to see and hear her perform, but equally it’s refreshing to see an artist connecting with politics through their music. Elliphant represents the outsider and difference – her music is a loud, brash celebration of that, crotch grabs and all.

The best track of the night, though, is One More featuring Danish singer MØ (sadly not in attendance). The two artists share a punk attitude and pair together in total unison, but MØ’s inclusion brings more creative and interesting production than the usual dancehall beats. It makes you wish Elliphant would embrace her Scandi roots a little more (musically at least) rather than the faux-Jamaican style she’s adopted. Still, she’s a powerhouse performer who deserves to be globally recognised beyond the usual token rap feature on most records these days.


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love Songs

Susanne Sundfor Ten Love Songs

Memorial, at the half way mark of ‘Ten Love Songs’, is a ten minute ode to heartbreak that exemplifies Sundfør’s bizarre concoction of styles. What begins as a sombre curio turns into a stomping power ballad and then a Rachmaninov meets Mozart orchestral piano concerto with an expansive melody that Matt Bellamy would be proud of. It illustrates not only the change of styles between songs but within them too: the preceding Kamikaze turns an electronic disco track into a haunting harpsichord solo; the early folk sounds of Trust Me morph into widescreen moodiness.

This schizophrenic approach to musical style is perhaps indicative of the heartbreak at the core of the album. It might be called ‘Ten Love Songs’ but in Sundfør’s world, romance isn’t easy. Opening track Darlings laments the end of a relationship (“it’s written in the stars…everything must come to an end”), whilst the rest of the album lyrically descends into Fade Away, Silencer, Kamikaze, Memorial and Delirious. There’s plenty of anger here, from Accelerate’s “wars erupting like volcanoes” to “I told you not to come, my victim number one” on Delirious, both accompanied by angular, industrial synths. Equally there is futility in the lyrics of Darlings and Kamikaze, whilst the tragedy of Slowly is summed up in the lyric “we have different heartbeats but all the same heartbreak”. She covers all aspects of her subject: noir-ish brooding, hopeless pining and pure ecstasy.

Heartbreak breeds creativity, though, and ‘Ten Love Songs’ is incredibly inventive. Sundfør’s voice lilts with raw energy through each soaring pop melody, the production shifting beneath her from weeping chamber music to industrial disco. There are magnificent juxtapositions aplenty: the archaic organ and bubbling synth bass in Fade Away; the cosmic Silencer fading into the pulsing melancholy of Kamikaze; the sumptuously crystalline Slowly pairing steel drums with space-age synths and gradually modulating chords. It all amounts to an album of glorious synthy art pop with a flair for the cinematic and a heart-wrenching, relatable core. Sundfør is already huge in her native Norway and she deserves to be over here too.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Fade Away
* Kamikaze
* Slowly

Listen: 'Ten Love Songs' is available now.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

50 Shades Of Grey (2015) - Sam Taylor-Johnson

50 Shades Of Grey

It was a typical Saturday. I'd buried my head in Thomas Hardy novels, finished my shift at the hardware store and was off to the cinema with friends. I wouldn't be drinking of course, I'm boring like that. I'm not even sure why my friends put up with me. And so, decades old flip-phone in hand, I headed down the street to the cinema, running in my weirdly pointy Aladdin-style flat shoes, my poorly cut fringe plastered to my forehead.

We were about to watch a film called 50 Shades Of Grey. I'd never heard of it, because I'm really boring and far removed from popular culture. I still have a MySpace page you know. My friends were eager to see it so I tagged along. It's because I'm a really passive personality, incapable of making any sort of decision for myself. If only I had a partner to control me and tell me what to do 24 hours a day...

Anyway, we settled into our seats and the film began. It was pretty dull to begin with. Quite literally actually: the film director had taken the title to heart with the visuals. Being an average girl with average looks, average intelligence and zero personality, I really identified with the character of Ana. For instance, my friends are far more bubbly than I am and I too am incapable of walking through doorways without falling over. She even had my shitty flip phone and penchant for frumpy hand-me-down fashion!

But then there he was: Christian Grey. My eyes widened as I stared at the screen, my teeth involuntarily biting my lip. The crisp white shirt, the lightly curled hair, the grey eyes as grey and lifeless as everything else on the screen. My inner goddess was doing somersaults. It was if this Adonis of a man was staring right at me, no other person in the cinema existed. But why would this impossibly rich and handsome man who apparently does no work whatsoever but has somehow amassed a fortune and the most amazing flat I've ever seen be looking at me? I gnawed on my lip and gurned like a starving junkie. Not that I've done drugs. Did I tell you I'm boring?

And then there were the sex scenes. My friends told me there were less than in the book and some scene with a tampon had been removed. But it didn't matter to me. The mere sight of Christian removing his top was enough for me to feel the love balls between my thighs stirring in my panties. My inner goddess, meanwhile, was doing unspeakable things. Christian leered into the screen with those dark eyes, seemingly whispering straight in to my ear, and bit into a piece of toast with a ravenous hunger that reminded me of my own. I chewed my lip for good measure, the blood dribbling down my chin.

Being a virgin (boring), the idea of being dominated and spanked seemed new yet apparently perfectly normal to me and the sex scenes were nowhere near as erotic as the media has apparently made out (my friends are journalists, I'm too boring to read a newspaper). As Beyoncé purred the words to a song called Crazy In Love (I'd never heard it), Christian's whip cracked, there was a flash of glorious pubic hair and then he was thrusting. I felt myself flowering in my seat. I didn't care that Christian had no personality and the central couple made no sense. I didn't care that he was buying affection through improbable gifts (oh look a car!), even though a new phone would've been ideal. I didn't care that Christian had no issue touching up girls in front of his family (with one apparently famous girl in a silly wig and an incomprehensible accent). I didn't care that this was a highly unbelievable adult fairytale that my inner goddess would be wet dreaming about later. Pass me the contract, and I'd sign before you can say "red room of pain", preferably with a Grey-branded pencil I can suck on suggestively. It'd give my lip a break.

Towards the end it all got a bit dark. Christian confessed he was "fifty shades of fucked up" (my inner goddess suddenly realising what the title meant, the stupid cow) and his vulnerability finally revealed an ounce of personality. The film was a power play that, far from glorifying a BDSM relationship, was about an average girl changing a very troubled man for the better. The English literature student in me found this intensely deep and moving, whilst my inner goddess wanted Christian to move in deeply. The slut.

And then, in a dramatic climax it all ended as it began in a lift, leaving me gasping for more as I gave my bruised lips a final nibble like tasteless chewing gum. From now on I won't do romance. I've been enlightened. My tastes are very singular: Christian Grey.

Holy cow.

Miss Saigon @ Prince Edward Theatre

Miss Saigon Prince Edward Theatre

As a child, visiting the theatre in London was a big deal. The bustling city, the magnificent theatres, the epic stories to be told. It was special.

Now, as an adult, Miss Saigon brings back those feelings. It is a true piece of event theatre. In part that's due to the name (and that of the composers, Schönberg & Boublil of Les Mis fame), but also it's the grandeur of the Prince Edward theatre, the electric buzz of the audience, and the sheer amount of money and polish that's gone into the production.

In short, Miss Saigon has everything a musical should have.

Its plot, a retelling of Puccini's Madame Butterfly set in the Vietnam war, is an intense love story that teeters into melodrama yet somehow remains credible. Its lead characters are richly drawn and easy to root for. Its historical setting is detailed and believable in its tragic mix of East-meets-West. Its only flaw is that it's somewhat long-winded, but the lengthy running time whips by quickly enough.

The score, meanwhile, is Schönberg and Boublil's best - yes, it's better than Les Mis. It's got all the big tunes you'd expect: "The Movie In My Mind", "Why God Why?", "Last Night Of The World", "Bui Doi". The first half especially is just a string of hits, merging American showtunes, Asian romance and military marches. Yet for all its emotional bombast, it's the smaller touches that bring it to life: the mournful sound of a flute, the gentle plucking of a zither, the sumptuous vocal harmonies of the wedding scene. Gorgeous doesn't begin to cover it.

With music like this, simply performing the notes would be enough. But the cast go above and beyond. As the Engineer, Jon Jon Briones brings humour with a showstopping delivery of "The American Dream", whilst understudy Dale Evans has a richly lyrical tenor as Chris, silkily manoeuvring through difficult and consistently high melodies with ease. Tamsin Carroll also brings touching emotion to Ellen, the other woman. Eva Noblezada, though, is an absolute revelation as Kim. She balances the innocence and strength of the role, with an angelic voice of vulnerability and power. It is as if she is singing straight to your soul - no wonder her songs are frequently accompanied by sniffles in the audience.

Spectacle is just the icing on the cake. And it's not just the famous helicopter, impressive as that is. Its the size of the sets, the precision of militaristic choreography, the stunningly designed backdrops, and even the simplicity of a song performed in spotlight. The amount of detail is astonishing, presented with cinematic flair (though screen imagery during "Bui Doi" feels a little heavy-handed). It's no wonder there's a film adaptation in the works.

And so it's clear: Miss Saigon is the best production currently on the West End. Yes, it's blockbuster entertainment, but it puts every other show into perspective. This is how musicals should be done.


Watch: Miss Saigon is booking until December 2015.

Friday, 13 February 2015

New Pop Roundup

Florence + The Machine – What Kind Of Man

Florence + The Machine What Kind Of Man

Florence + The Machine: The Hype Strikes Back. How do you follow up a majestic Brit-winning, Mercury nominated debut? With an overblown, bombastic sequel. And, after a four year hiatus, how do you follow that?

So far that remains to be seen. What Kind Of Man appears to be a slight change of sound: what begins as a haunting ballad with heavy vocal processing soon turns into a bitter and twisted rock track full of stabbing guitars. It’s the sort of track that harks back to the likes of Kiss With A Fist from ‘Lungs’, though it lacks the memorable, soaring melodies of her earlier work. Then there’s the contrasting introductory video for forthcoming album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ that’s mostly a pretentious orchestral instrumental.

What these both have in common, though, is a great flair for the cinematic: the former a traumatic love story, the latter a dance with a mirror-self. So far, though, it seems more effort has been put into the visuals than the music.


Listen: What Kind Of Man is available now. ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ is released on 1st June.

Madeon – Pay No Mind (feat. Passion Pit)

Madeon Pay No Mind feat. Passion Pit

French boy-producer wonder Madeon wowed us all in 2012 with his track Icarus, blending colourful Daft Punk funk with neon whizzing synths and rhythmic sample manipulation. Three years on and his debut album has finally been announced, including this summery house-pop collaboration with Passion Pit. Released at the end of March, it should be an absolute joy.


Listen: Pay No Mind will feature on debut album ‘Adventure’ released on 30th March.

MKS – Back In The Day

MKS Back In The Day

Look, there are too many jokes to be made about this absolute shambles of a comeback. Flatline was brilliant but since then the girls’ return has, well, flatlined. Now another track has surfaced, Back In The Day, and as the name suggests it’s a retro 90s gospel ballad that features a sample of Ahmad’s 1994 track of the same name. Though it features some nice vocal harmonies, it’s too mellow to make much of an impact. Hopefully now, though, they’re back for good.


Listen: here.

Emile Haynie – Come Find Me (feat. Lykke Li, Romy)

Emile Haynie Come Find Me feat. Lykke Li, Romy

Haynie is probably best known for his work producing Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born To Die’ album and this track, taken from his own forthcoming debut, has a similarly downbeat and evocative feel with its lush strings and synths. Add in a wistful vocal from Lykke Li plus some gentle guitar from the xx’s Romy Madley Croft and the result is a meditative wonder.


Listen: Come Find Me will be included on Haynie’s debut album ‘We Fall’ released on 24th February.

Incubus – Absolution Calling

Incubus Absolution Calling

16 year old me was very excited to hear this. That said, Incubus’ career has slowly declined with each recent album and Absolution Calling is unlikely to prove their relevance, even if the title sounds more like a Muse track. It might be far removed from their funk-metal early days, but it’s a thumping and melodic alt-rock track that’s stadium and festival ready. Don’t dismiss them yet.


Listen: Absolution Calling is available now and will feature on a forthcoming EP, ‘Trust Fall (Side A)’, on 24th March.

Kwabs – Perfect Ruin

Kwabs Love + War

Kwabs has outdone Sam Smith with this new track, a raw and soulful ballad. His voice is beautiful as the melody soars in the chorus, accompanied by sombre piano, strings and a subtly pulsing beat. This is an artist full of surprises, even before his debut album is released in May, but Perfect Ruin is his strongest track to date. Gorgeous.


Listen: Debut album ‘Love + War’ is released in May.

Say Lou Lou – Nothing But A Heartbeat

Say Lou Lou Nothing But A Heartbeat

AT LONG LAST Swedish-Australian sister duo Say Lou Lou are releasing their debut album in April. Since they first came to attention with the beautifully dreamy Maybe You back in 2012, the girls have gone through a name change and a string of moody electronic tracks. Nothing But A Heartbeat veers more towards the electro-pop end of the spectrum, which should only ensure the album doesn’t get bogged down in a dirge of melancholy feeling.


Listen: Debut album ‘Lucid Dreaming’ is released on 6th April.

Marina And The Diamonds – I’m A Ruin

Marina And The Diamonds Froot

Another month, another new Marina track in the run up to ‘Froot’. I’m A Ruin is the strongest yet: a tantalising glimpse at the darker, electronic direction of the new album. Fittingly, the video features strong Madonna Frozen vibes. My hunger for some ‘Froot’ is growing every day.


Listen: ‘Froot’ is released on 6th April.

Prides – Higher Love

Prides Higher Love

Prides make an obvious comparison to Chvrches. Both bands are from Glasgow and both deliver synth-pop full of sing-along hooks and strong rhythms. Prides, though, are altogether more joyful and Higher Love is no exception. Synths fizz and beats clatter beneath a chorus ripe for live shows. The band are currently on tour and are likely to be a major draw at this year’s crop of summer festivals.


Listen: Higher Love is available now.

Charli XCX – Boom Clap

Charli XCX Sucker

Just for lolz, and to prove what a legend she is, here’s Charli XCX singing Boom Clap in Japanese.

Jekyll & Hyde @ Greenwich Theatre

Jekyll & Hyde Greenwich Theatre

It takes a lot to bring something new to the Jekyll and Hyde story, but that’s exactly what Sell A Door have done with this new adaptation from Jo Clifford. Set in a dystopian vision of 2022, this is a modern and relevant retelling that sees the doctor as a cancer specialist struggling under the weight of his scientific research and his inner demons.

As a trans woman, Clifford has a keen engagement with the themes of duality and transformation that permeate the narrative. There is a sense of Shakespearean grandeur to her script, that pairs Victoria language with modern influences, creating a heightened futuristic vision to match the poetry of Stephenson's novel. It is dense and thematically rich, but doesn’t always offer a lucid plotline. What eventually emerges is a parable for sexuality and accepting oneself, demons and all, though this only comes to the fore in the final moments. It is perhaps too sudden an ending, Clifford having trouble tying up each thematic thread.

There’s a great sense of theatricality to it all too, with plenty of asides to the audience and self-knowing humour – the actors seem acutely aware they’re performing, even if their initial introduction feels clunky. This allows for a meta-character in the form of Rowena Lennon playing a number of nameless female roles. It’s a clever way of injecting further multiple personalities into the production, though its implementation as a metaphor for the role of women in society feels a little overblown, especially in the final monologue.

Just as Jekyll must learn to accept his darker counterpart, this is a production that truly embraces the darker side of life. There’s an industrial, steampunk aesthetic to the set that’s complemented by a clattering, abstract, synthy soundtrack. As it rotates on the stage (perhaps symbolic of different sides of the same character), the cast slither, crawl and writhe in the darkness and the light, with stunningly stark lighting design from Charlie Morgan Jones. In the midst of it all is an outstanding performance from Nathan Ives-Moiba as Jekyll and Hyde. This is a visceral, physical performance as he transforms from one character to the next – Jekyll a well-spoken intellectual, Hyde a gruff beast of a man. Ives-Moiba is the star attraction in this deliciously sinister and often frightening production that brings gothic horror into the 21st century.


Watch: Jekyll & Hyde runs at the Greenwich Theatre until 14th February, before touring across the country.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown @ The Playhouse Theatre

Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown The Playhouse Theatre

It’s no wonder that, in 1988, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown became the international breakthrough hit for famed Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. It is quite possibly the most Almodóvar of Almodóvar films, establishing much of his cinematic style: the Spanish setting, the farcical humour, the bright colour scheme and, most of all, the focus on female characters.

This musical production based on the film is no different. A farcical melodrama involving a voiceover actress who is left by her married lover, it plays out on a stark white set filled with luminous block colours – like a Mondrian painting in theatrical form. Equally, much like the production itself, it feels a little sterile and lacks that typical Latin fire.

Indeed, Women feels about as Spanish as Mamma Mia is Greek. Aside from the opening number introducing us to 1987 Madrid, only the odd Spanish accent gives away the setting. There’s a lack of passionate chemistry between protagonist Pepa (Tamsin Greig) and her lover Ivan (Jérôme  Pradon); instead the focus is the titular women including Ivan’s mad wife Lucia (here understudy Rebecca McKinnis) and Pepa’s ditsy model friend Candela (another understudy, Marianne Benedict). The plot jumps between narrative strands without much development, as Pepa meets Ivan’s son and his fiancée, Lucia attempts to take Ivan to court, Candela sleeps with a known terrorist, and Ivan moves on to Lucia’s lawyer. Eventually, this disparate madness reaches a head by which point we still haven’t really got to grips with each character. Mostly, Ivan – the main source of each nervous breakdown – is rarely seen on stage and is ultimately a shallow, womanising Lothario. As such, we never really understand what is driving Pepa to the edge besides misplaced love.

The primary issue, though, is the score. As is often the case with film-to-musical adaptations, the music comes second to plot. Here it is perfunctory at best, lacking any sense of melody and simply cramming each musical line with text. Stylistically, it’s beige jazz-lite Latin lift Musak. Imagine listening to “The Girl from Ipanema” on repeat for two hours, a slowly shuffling concoction of light percussion and fluttering guitars. It’s only in the final a capella number, sung by the female characters in glorious harmony, that the music makes any impact at all. As a singing taxi driver, Ricardo Alfonso does offer some Spanish guitar and a wonderful tenor, but for the most part the score lacks any flamenco flair.

It’s down to Greig to hold the show together – and she does a brilliant job. Vocally she is not the strongest singer, but her comic timing is exceptional with a performance that delves into the emotional truth of the character in a cast otherwise filled with one-dimensional, if entertaining, caricatures. This farce amuses, but it’s more Costa del Thames than Costa del Sol.


Watch: Women runs at the Playhouse Theatre until May 2015.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Gods and Monsters @ Southwark Playhouse

Gods and Monsters Southwark Playhouse

Sex sells. It’s an age old promise that’s been taken to heart in the promotional material for Gods and Monsters that has centered on the impossibly muscular physique of actor Will Austin. If the sight of some man flesh is enough to get you in the theatre then so be it, but any hopes this play may offer some gothic horror in the vein of its subject are quickly dissipated.

Stripped back, this is an interesting portrayal of a very troubled man. Based on the 1998 film of the same name (starring Ian McKellen) and set in the 1950s, it focuses on the later life of James Whale, director of the 1931 horror film Frankenstein. Yet where the film includes scenes of the man at work on set, this play takes place solely in his home, minimising any links to his work. Instead, it explores his inner-conflict with his homosexuality and the trauma of serving in WWI. Sexual thoughts result in a strange psychosis and inexplicable headaches as he reminisces on the past. This is shown through some tender flashbacks performed with wonderful conviction by Joey Phillips and Will Rastall that add depth to the drama, breaking up what is otherwise a lot of long, drawn out exposition.

Yet the storytelling is hidden under layers of nudity, homoeroticism and cliché. Suffering from his illness, Whale is mostly bound to his study where he leers at the young buff gardener outside before inviting him in to act as his life-drawing muse – it’s an incredibly hackneyed plotline. Austin, as gardener Clayton Boone, is a wooden structure of masculinity who parades around the stage as if competing in a body building contest. Ian Gelder’s Whale, meanwhile, is a randy old man who speaks only in eye-rolling sexual innuendo, refusing to answer a young male student’s questions unless he takes off his clothes, and forever asking Boone to take his shirt off ‘for his art’. Yet there seems to be little artistic value in the amount of nudity in the show, it’s just awkward to watch. Gelder is unable to bring warmth to the role and Whale's relationship with Boone never develops. He is literally a monstrosity of homosexuality with few likeable factors to redeem the character.

This is somewhat the point. In a subtle parallel to the Frankenstein story, Boone is not quite the hard-edged man we expect from his physique; likewise Whale is far from a helpless old man, he is an evil and masterful manipulator and sexual predator. And is there any wonder this is the case when homosexuality was illegal at the time, gay men privately trapped in the closet? Equally is this not an antiquated, grim stereotype that need not be perpetuated? Should we merely consider the play within its historical context, or is it counterproductive to today’s efforts for equality and acceptance?

Lachele Carl does at least bring some humour to her role as Whale’s housekeeper and Jason Denvir’s set design is well constructed, though it feels too spacious and lacks intimacy. Yet if Gods and Monsters is meant to be an in-depth assessment of the gay male gaze, it just comes off as shallow and sleazy.


Watch: Gods and Monsters runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 7th March.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

She Loves Me @ The Landor Theatre

She Loves Me The Landor Theatre

There’s only one piece of entertainment that most people are gearing up for this Valentine’s day and that’s the spank-tastic Fifty Shades of Grey. But for anyone wanting a little more old-fashioned classic romance this February, you could do a lot worse than She Loves Me.

The musical (with music from Jerry Bock and lyrics from Sheldon Harnick) premiered on Broadway in 1963 – the third adaptation of the Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo following successful films featuring James Stewart (The Shop Around The Corner) and Judy Garland (In The Good Old Summertime). That’s not to say this musical doesn’t have a modern relevance. It concerns a sales clerk in a perfumery, Georg (John Sandberg), who falls in love with a girl he’s never met but regularly writes letters to. In today’s internet age, we’re no strangers to blind dates, social apps and ‘catfishing’, but this is an old-fashioned tale of slushy goodness. When Amalia (Charlotte Jaconelli) joins the perfumery and reveals she also has a lover by letter, it’s clear how the rest of the musical will pan out.

With that predictable plot in mind, it’s a shame the show suffers from some pacing issues. She Loves Me is long, stuffed with extraneous, underdeveloped peripheral characters and rapidly dropped plot points. When one clerk leaves to open up a rival store, we never hear of the competition. When another clerk (the lovably ditsy Ilona played by Emily Lynne) falls for a rich optometrist, we never hear the outcome of their romance. The only character to undergo a transition is Joshua LeClair’s Arpad, who goes from delivery boy to clerk with a permanently fixed grin that epitomises the happy-go-lucky tone of the show. We all know the ending from the start, but it’s a slog to get there.

This isn’t helped by a score that relies too heavily on slushy Disney-esque ballads (and an irritatingly repeated barbershop number whenever a character leaves the store). The sweet-voiced Charlotte Jaconelli (of Britain’s Got Talent fame) certainly excels in these numbers with a light operatic vibrato, but her counterpart Sandberg is far from the typical male lead – his crooning sounds a little rough by comparison. Mostly, it’s a shame that the ensemble are so underused, besides one jarringly sexual dance number that features a hilariously camp and eccentric turn from Ian Dring as a café waiter. Instead, the focus is very much the central couple who form a charming partnership that’s easy to root for, amidst a cast of colourful and endearing characters and a well-designed set that makes great use of limited space.

And then, just as expected, it all just…ends.


Watch: She Loves Me runs at the Landor Theatre until 7th March.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Little Light @ Orange Tree Theatre

Little Light Orange Tree Theatre

As much as it's nice to have a little break in the middle of a show, sometimes a lack of interval is a real blessing. In the case of Little Light, it allows the tension to ramp up without distraction as events unfold in realtime, the drama crescendoing towards a shocking climax.

However, it takes time to tune into Alice Birch's quirky dialogue. There is a distinct rhythm to her script that sometimes feels disjointed, with amusing repetition, witty remarks and sudden shifts. This works to throw us off the scent and keep us guessing in what begins as a typical dinner party drama. Alison (Lorna Brown) and Teddy (Paul Rattray) are hosting, inviting her pregnant sister Clarissa (Yolanda Kettle) to the table in a long-standing tradition. What that is we're initially unsure of, but when Clarissa's new partner Simon (Paul Hickey) arrives unexpectedly it throws tradition into disarray.

The script cements these offbeat characters, their family values seeming foreign and strange: their conversation, their choice of food, their repeated mannerisms. Simon, then, is our conduit into the drama. Kind and gentle, he is far too polite to make a scene but is as confused as we are at the behaviour of the others. There is much comedy in the situation, the early scenes perfectly encapsulating the awkwardness of the outsider at a family meal, the bristling tension between characters tangible in the air.

Soon, the play takes a darker turn as the reasoning behind these almost psychotic characters is revealed: grief. After a terrible tragedy, the embittered Alison has become consumed by jealousy at her sister's pregnancy; Teddy is helpless to assist her; and the charmingly quirky Clarissa falters under the weight of guilt. Perhaps too often the plot is presented through monologue, but each is delivered poetically and profoundly by the outstanding cast as their world crumbles around them - literally in the case of the simple yet effective set design.  Kettle, in particular, offers a heart-wrenching performance as Clarissa.

Little Light ultimately is a rich exploration of the fear of childbirth, the typical 'family with a dark secret' narrative given fresh individuality in this production. After the success of Pomona last year, it's clear that the Orange Tree Theatre is intent on offering new and exciting drama. Long may it continue.


Watch: Little Light runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 7th March.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Molly Wobbly @ The Leicester Square Theatre

Molly Wobbly The Leicester Square Theatre

“The bar is over in the corner there, get yourself a drink – you’ll need it”. It’s not often you’re given such advice by an usher on the way in, but it’s advice I should’ve heeded.

Molly Wobbly is a very silly new musical that revolves around an extended breast gag – it concerns the inhabitants of Mammary Lane, a mysterious potion that causes an inflamed rack, and a tit factory that isn’t really a tit factory at all. Somewhere there’s a confused message about plastic surgery and owning our bodies, but it’s buried beneath a flimsy plot that hangs between each set-piece song like gossamer.

This is a musical comedy that fails on both levels. The crude humour is juvenile at best and vile at worst, with a script that throws in references to clits, bukkake and the odd fuck purely to induce shock laughter. If a man in drag singing about a one night stand that left him with an anal prolapse is your idea of a fun night out, there’s plenty to enjoy. I’m all for a bit of camp fun, but camp is not a substitute for intelligent comedy. There is nothing clever here, only worsened by a distinct lack of comic timing. The music, meanwhile, is pedestrian, lacks originality and fails to advance the plot in any notable way.

What’s worse, it’s performed with all the finesse of a low-budget pantomime. The grotesque characterisation certainly fits with the oddball macabre style, but it just comes off as a poor man’s Tim Burton, the central role of Ithanku (Russell Morton) splicing together Edward Scissorhands with the Metz Judderman. And the usher from earlier? He’s part of a bizarre cinematic introduction that unnecessarily breaks the fourth wall, confusing what is already a convoluted plot.

Frustratingly, there is clearly some talent on stage, particularly from the three female leads. Cassie Compton and Stephanie Fearon both offer sweet vocals as Jemma and Ruth, but it’s Jane Milligan who most impresses as Margaret - the only character to provoke a laugh. The performers are so much better than this dire material.

Call me a prude. Say I’m lacking a sense of humour. Most likely, I just wasn’t drunk enough.


Watch: Molly Wobbly runs at the Leicester Square Theatre until the 14th March.

Photos: Darren Bell

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Big Hero 6 (2015) - Don Hall, Chris Williams

Big Hero 6

Back in 2009 when Disney bought out Marvel, it threw up a number of possibilities for crossover appeal between the two companies. So far, their output has been kept fairly separate, but Big Hero 6 - produced by Disney and based on a lesser-known comic from Marvel - is their first major collaboration. It represents the best and the worst of the merger.

As with most of Marvel's work, Big Hero 6 is a geek fantasy with a serious inner message, here: grief. Set in the futuristic (and clunkily titled) San Fran Tokyo, our hero is (the imaginatively named) Hiro - a 14 year old robotics genius with a seemingly limitless imagination and pot of cash with which to develop his ideas. After the death of his parents he lives with his aunt and his older brother Tadashi, who also happens to be a robotics expert in the local science university. Yet when Tadashi dies in an unfortunate accident involving Hiro's self-developed microbots (which are subsequently stolen), Hiro befriends Tadashi's legacy Baymax, a walking marshmallow healthcare robot who becomes a surrogate brother. Together with Tadashi's student friends (who apparently have no issue hanging around with a child and following his lead without question), the gang form a band of technological superheroes to discover who stole the microbots and uncover the identity of a mysterious man in a kabuki mask.

All of this allows for some exciting Avengers-esque set-pieces involving various powers, ranging from the cool (freely suspended wheels allowing for super velocity and laser cutting swords), to the lame (exploding goo from a handbag) to the downright weird (a Godzilla-like monster suit). The main focus, though, is the loveable Baymax, who is eventually transformed into a flying, karate-chopping robot with a heart of gold - the ultimate protector and a preferable big brother compared to the boring Tadashi. He's hardly Wall-E though.

If much of this sounds familiar, it's because it's full of issues that have plagued Marvel films since the dawn of time. The narrative beats follow an all too familiar and predictable pattern; the lead is a troubled and not particularly likeable teen; the peripheral characters are sorely underdeveloped; and the story is rife with plot holes. This might be a fantasy film, but it asks us to suspend our disbelief too far - for a film built around science, little of it actually feels plausible. Most of all, the metaphor of dealing with grief is utterly forced and trite, resulting in a film that is eye-rollingly corny.

So what of the Disney influence? The House of Mickey has always been known for its top notch animation, whether hand-drawn or computerised, and Big Hero 6 is no exception. The metropolis of San Fran Tokyo is beautifully realised and detailed, bringing together American and Japanese influences like trams, the Golden Gate Bridge, neon signage, oriental temples and a futuristic, chiptune soundtrack. Realistic lighting and stunning particle effects ensure this is one of the best looking animation films of recent years.

Another Disney tradition is the inclusion of a short film before the main feature. Feast is the story of a very hungry little dog who finds love for his owner, told through gorgeous cel-shaded animation. It's exactly the sort of thing Disney does best. Yet when a five minute short is better than the film you've actually gone to see, you know something is wrong.


Watch: Big Hero 6 is out now.