Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The Rubenstein Kiss @ The Southwark Playhouse


The Rubenstein Kiss @ The Southwark Playhouse

The first play from writer James Phillips which debuted in 2006, The Rubenstein Kiss explores the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who, in 1953, were executed for allegedly sharing atomic secrets with the Soviet Union. It’s a story that became emblematic of Cold War America and McCarthyism. With a few name changes (Rosenberg to Rubenstein) Phillips creates a narrative of political and generational divides inspired by this story, directed by Joe Harmston in this revival at the Southwark Playhouse.

On top of that, though, The Rubenstein Kiss is a love letter to Arthur Miller. Phillips’ script is littered with not so subtle references: most blatantly to Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable’s film The Misfits that Miller wrote, and to his play The Crucible. These aren’t even nods, but whole monologues devoted to drawing parallels. In addition, there’s the running thread of a sung aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, that crowbars in themes of sacrifice and purity further explained through monologue. It lends the play a clunky feel, as if following in the footsteps of others rather than creating an identity of its own.

The thematic parallels are warranted, however. The story of the Rubensteins is one of sacrifice and martyrdom, choosing to profess their innocence in spite of evidence held against them, knowing the consequence would be death. Equally, we witness evidence against them from their own family. The politics are a little murky, but there are plenty of shades of grey here that are ripe for drama, Phillips ultimately allowing the audience to side with or against the couple through a lens of governmental paranoia.

His play is structured with alternating timelines: the Rubenstein’s in the 50s and two young people in the 70s who, predictably, have a personal link to the case. Instead of explaining the facts (and therefore relying a little too heavily on prior knowledge), Philips focuses on a more intimate portrait of a family pushed to breaking point. The second act does eventually tie together the threads, but it’s a long and laboured slog to get there.

The performances are accomplished. In particular, Ruby Bentall brings inner-strength to Esther Rubenstein, proving the character to be the more courageous of the central couple. Elsewhere Sean Rigby brings some much needed humour as David Girshfeld, and Dario Coates and Katie Eldred have great chemistry in the 70s storyline.

Sean Cavanagh’s design is sparse and simple, the stage book-ended by flat pillars of New York scaffolding and the traverse staging literally putting the audience on opposing sides. Harmston’s intention to draw a parallel with our current political climate is intriguing if not altogether clear.

2/5

Watch: The Rubenstein Kiss runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 13th April.


The Rubenstein Kiss @ The Southwark Playhouse

The Rubenstein Kiss @ The Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Scott Rylander

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Blood Knot @ The Orange Tree Theatre

Blood Knot @ The Orange Tree Theatre

Apartheid seeps into the plot of this early play from South African playwright Athol Fugard like a poison. Set in Port Elizabeth, 1961, it depicts the relationship between two brothers who share the same mother, though their fathers are different. While one is black, the other can 'pass' as white.

It's this tension between brotherhood and racial difference that's at the heart of the play, underlined by the duality of dreams and reality.

Matthew Xia directs this revival at the Orange Tree Theatre that's more humorous than the subject would suggest. There's a playfulness between brothers Morrie (Nathan McMullen) and Zach (Kalungi Ssebandeke), revelling in boyish banter and power fantasies. The plot hinges on Zach's lusty desire for a woman, as Morrie persuades him to strike up a penpal friendship with a "well developed" eighteen year old. Yet when they discover she is white, things take a more sinister turn.

The set, designed by Basia Binkowska, is a shanty home that mirrors itself. On the one side sits Morrie, who tenderly cares for his brother in motherly, ritualistic fashion. On the other sits the childlike Zach, who is less naive than he initially seems. The shifting mood is supplemented by eerie, dreamlike electronic soundscapes from composer Xana.

The entire play takes place in the confines - and apparent safety - of this home. The first half plods. Fugard certainly humanises Apartheid, but the production feels static and repetitive. Racial tension simmers subtly under the surface as the brothers discuss their varying experience, differences in race running deeper than skin.

Yet Blood Knot is a play of creeping intensity. It's increasingly punctuated by the brothers' dreams and flashbacks, but there's tragedy in their japes. Eventually it culminates in a power fantasy of horrific proportions, their differences no longer performative but dangerously visceral. Both McMullen and Ssebandeke commit to authentic performances that slowly develop to an explosive, unsettling conclusion.

Though perhaps an edited, one act version would intensify that slow dread without a break, Fugard's play is thematically rich and deeply affecting. Over 50 years since its Broadway debut and over two decades since the end of Apartheid, it still resonates with the power to shock.

4/5

Watch: Blood Knot runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until April 20th.

Blood Knot @ The Orange Tree Theatre
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Sigrid - Sucker Punch

Sigrid - Sucker Punch

So here it is, “the sound of 2018”. It’s been over a year since Norway’s Sigrid won the BBC’s coveted Sound Of award and, after a steady stream of singles and EPs, we finally have a full debut album in 2019.

Thankfully, though, this isn’t simply a best of from the past year. All those previous releases have simply served to keep Sigrid in the public conscious, gearing up for the main event that – surprisingly enough – isn’t just predominantly new, it’s her best work.

Breakthrough hit Don’t Kill My Vibe still stands out as a powerhouse single, the semi-shouted chorus a cacophony of hooks, drums and empowerment. The rest of the album follows suit, with a series of tightly constructed, polished pop tracks. Don’t Feel Like Crying is a concise two and a half minutes of euphoric string stabs and giddy melismatic melodies. Mine Right Now starts intimate before building to a vibrant, neon-lit chorus punctuated by a repeated “hey!”. Basic, an anthem for basic bitches worldwide, revolves around a “na na na” earworm and succeeds for its clarity and, well, basicness. And if you haven’t heard Strangers yet, where were you last year?

As the longest track, In Vain, takes us on a journey and hits all Sigrid’s moods along the way. What begins as a heartfelt ballad of delicate vulnerability eventually finds power after the repeated “give it, give it up” bridge and the fizzing synths kick in. Level Up sees Sigrid in folk mode, while the album ends on a downer with the anything-but Dynamite. Her voice cracks beautifully but the energy drops. She’s far more comfortable in the throbbing 80s synths of Never Mine.

Listening to ‘Sucker Punch’ at last, it’s not hard to see why Sigrid was chosen as the sound of 2018. To an extent this is pop by numbers: Scandi artist sings sad bangers full of hooks, synths, and “heys!”. The songs are short, accessible, emotive yet upbeat and danceable.

It’s hard to hold this against Sigrid, though. This might be frothy pop but it’s so well put together that the infectious hooks are undeniable. There’s a carefree innocence to the songs that arrives in a flurry of strings and yearning melodies. It might not be an emotional sucker punch, but this debut will no doubt worm its way into your head.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* Basic
* Don’t Feel Like Crying
* Don’t Kill My Vibe

Listen: 'Sucker Punch' is out now.




Sunday, 10 March 2019

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

It seems that Marvel Studios have finally hit their stride. After so many films that struggled to balance sincerity and humour - leaning too heavily on the latter - with Black Panther they finally created a film that was both meaningful and entertaining. The key? Diversity.

That continues with the latest release, Captain Marvel. This is the first Marvel film with a female lead. It's a film that features a badass woman kicking ass. It's a film where the woman doesn't have a romantic counterpart. She is, instead, powerful on her own terms.

That's not to say the narrative is perfectly told. We're thrown straight in at the beginning, with warring inter-galactic factions, a protagonist with amnesia, and snippets of characters and information that don't altogether make sense. It's enough to be intrigued, but it relies on stereotypical and convenient sci-fi tropes.

From there, the middle section flatlines as our heroine crash lands unexpectedly on Earth. Though she is human, she is essentially an alien on the planet as she hunts down apparently evil shapeshifters. There's eye-rolling humour in the misunderstandings between her and the humans, and the pace plods as secret bases are uncovered and twists of mistaken identity are piled on top of one another. While Brie Larson's soon-to-be-known-as Captain Marvel is a character we care and root for, the overarching plot is unclear and meandering.

Where it does succeed is in its placement within the Marvel universe. The events of Captain Marvel take place prior to the rest of the series, so there's plenty of fun to be had seeing Samuel L. Jackson's young bumbling Nick Fury amongst the other agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and the film's climax sets up the whole Avengers plotline. It also allows for some fun 90s nostalgia, not only in the setting and costumes but a great grunge soundtrack.

The plot might be a clich├ęd affair, but really we watch Marvel films for some high-octane popcorn entertainment. Captain Marvel delivers. There's humour here based not on bathos but actual jokes - a welcome change - and Larson's sardonic performance is full of energy. Sure, her character arc of finding her true power is predictable, but when she does unleash her potential it results in some awesome action sequences and a huge amount of fun.

It culminates in a battle against multiple enemies soundtracked by No Doubt's 'I'm Just A Girl', representing everything that's great about this film in one scene. Like D.C.'s Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel proves that women are just as awe-inspiring as any other superhero.

3/5

Watch: Captain Marvel is out now.


Saturday, 9 March 2019

New Music Friday 08/03/19

Marshmello feat. CHVRCHES - Here With Me

Marshmello feat. CHVRCHES - Here With Me

This collaboration kind of makes sense. Last year's album 'Love Is Dead' from Chvrches was a continuation of their brilliant electro pop that undeservedly bombed compared to their previous two albums. So pairing up with a globally recognised producer is a surefire way of getting a hit, right? Yet Here With Me is so sub par, hints of the band's brilliance peeking through a dull non-chorus. You can practically here Lauren Mayberry gritting her teeth through every word.

Don't bother.



Ava Max - So Am I

Ava Max - So Am I

Sweet But Pyscho came out of nowhere at the end of last year and now the American singer follows it up with So Am I, featuring a twee chorus that's truly vomit-worthy. "Do you ever feel like a misfit?" she questions, before noting "it's ok to be different." The production is trite pop stuff that's ultimately forgettable. She's aiming to be the next Lady Gaga, but so far she seems more one hit wonder.

Don't bother.



Call Me Loop - Body Like Yours

Call Me Loop - Body Like Yours

Body Like Yours is immediately recognisable as Call Me Loop. That's saying something for an artist with only a handful of singles and no debut album yet. Her style is bubbly and sensual pop - not necessarily original, but polished, fun and a refreshing change to most dance-pop in the charts. Body Like Yours is taken from her new EP 'Drama', five short songs that whip by in a colourful but gossamer light haze.

Worth a listen.



Sam Fender - Hypersonic Missiles

Sam Fender - Hypersonic Missiles

Fender won this years BRITs Critics' Choice award and marks the welcome return of guitar music to the mainstream. His vocal alternates from a light falsetto to a rough, soaring tenor over chugging guitar riffs fit for stadium tours. And where his lyrics are powerful and socially conscious, his recent Live Lounge cover of Ariana Grande's Break Up With Your Girlfriend... shows he's not averse to pop either. Hypersonic Missiles balances those two sides: the lyrics reference political chaos but its chorus is a hopeful sing-along with squawking saxophone. A Bruce Springsteen for our times.

Worth a listen.



Louis Tomlinson - Two Of Us

Louis Tomlinson - Two Of Us

Yes this is a tragic song about Tomlinson's mother who passed away a couple of years ago. To write such a candid song is admirable. But lyrically, this is a trite GCSE poem put to music. This is not the song of a superstar.

Don't bother.



The Chemical Brothers - We've Got To Try

Chemical Brothers - We've Got To Try

Another track from the duo's forthcoming album 'No Geography', We've Got To Try is soundtracking the current F1 season. It's fitting then that the video features a dog in an F1 car, while the track itself revolves around an acidic hook, with a repeated soul vocal sample and sun-dappled strings breaking through the weird, futuristic electronica.

Worth a listen.



Gesaffelstein feat. The Hacker & Electric Youth - Forever

Gesaffelstein feat. The Hacker & Electric Youth - Forever

Recently reaching a new audience as the producer of The Weeknd's Lost In The Fire, French producer Gesaffelstein now releases his new album 'Hyperion' from which Forever is taken. He's amongst a long line of similar artists - Daft Punk and Kavinsky especially - inspired by 80s techno, all deep bass, clipped beats and spacey effects. It's a heady, intoxicating mix that's at once menacing and enchanting.

Worth a listen.


Friday, 8 March 2019

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

It takes a while to get into Waitress. Finally landing in the West End after its Broadway debut in 2016, it is Cath Kidston The Musical, a sugary sweet confection in shades of pastel. It's twee and cute and trying oh so hard to be relatable.

The story is gently feminist. Jenna, the titular waitress (Katharine McPhee), is an ordinary woman and her fellow waitresses Becky (Marisha Wallace) and Dawn (Laura Baldwin) discuss their ordinary problems: marriage, dating, pregnancy, drooping breasts. Jenna dreams of winning a bakery contest so she can leave her abusive husband and follow her dream. It's a show about sisterhood and motherhood and being your authentic weirdo self - all worthy themes.

Yet the delivery is lighter and fluffier than a sponge cake. It means the stakes never feel too high. It is the plight of the everywoman, as dramatic as a 90s rom-com. There's a meet-cute with a boyish gynecologist, a saccharine romantic sub-plot with the cartoonish secondary characters, a gruff old man who's really a big softy. There's never any doubt of a happy ending.

The more you taste, though, the more palatable it becomes. The sugar rush erodes the walls of cynicism to reveal a wholesome centre that oozes out like bittersweet chocolate. The inevitable big climax is full of flavour and you're left sobbing at the end at the sheer loveliness of it all.

Much of that is due to the score from singer-songwriter Sarah Bareilles. Uptempo, piano-driven love songs are instantly recognisable as her work and the infectious hooks will ensure each song becomes a theatre school audition staple. McPhee's voice is well suited to the role and it's clear that she's the main draw for much of the audience. It's soft and light with a beautiful tone that flutters with trilling melisma, her pop style making up for a lack of diction. When she sings "She Used To Be Mine" she has us all in the palm of her flour dusted hands.

She's joined by some wonderful performances by the rest of the cast. Together with Wallace and Baldwin they make a great comic trio, with voices that blend in subtle harmonies. Comedy actor Jack McBrayer, best known for his role in 30 Rock, threatens to steal the show from McPhee as the geeky and eccentric Ogie, while David Hunter proves his vocal chops as the romantic lead Dr. Pomatter.

The band are mostly on-stage, giving an intimate chamber musical feel that suggests perhaps the small scale drama of Waitress would be better suited to a smaller theatre. Yet like the smell of a freshly baked pie, the lure of the show is irresistible. You'll lap up every crumb, leaving your heart as satisfied as your belly.

4/5

Watch: Waitress runs at the Adelphi Theatre until October 2019.

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

Waitress @ The Adelphi Theatre

Photos: Johan Persson

Friday, 1 March 2019

New Music Friday 01/03

Carly Rae Jepsen - Now That I Found You

Carly Rae Jepsen - Now That I Found You

Carly Rae and Queer Eye is the perfect pairing, an antidote to the politically hard times we live in. Now That I Found You will be the theme to the new series from the Fab Five and its fizzing pop joy will underscore hair flips, sassy comebacks and feelgood sincerity. "There's nothing like this feeling baby / now that I found you," she sings over throbbing synths and instantly catchy earworms. There's nothing like a Carly Rae pop banger either, the exuberant "now that I found you!" in the middle eight a literal high point.

Add to playlist.



Marina - Superstar

Marina - Superstar

Marina has been open about her struggles with mental health and its clearly influencing this era of new music. Superstar is a sad banger through and through, the song's fragility reflected in her soft vocal and delicate piano underpinned by deep beats and a chorus you can dance to. The new album is 'LOVE + FEAR'; this track combines the two.

Add to playlist.



Tom Walker feat. Zara Larsson - Now You're Gone

Tom Walker feat. Zara Larsson - Now You're Gone

Tom Walker winning the BRIT for British Breakthrough was certainly a surprise. Now You're Gone (from his album 'What A Time To Be Alive') doesn't do much to dispel that. The house beat beneath the otherwise plaintive production is an interesting contrast and Larsson's vocal is a welcome addition. But Walker's personality doesn't exactly shine through.

Worth a listen.



benny blanco, Selena Gomez, J Balvin, Tainy - I Can't Get Enough

benny blanco, Selena Gomez, J Balvin, Tainy - I Can't Get Enough

At first listen there's not much to this song. Four featured artists yet it consists of little more than a hummed hook and a beat. That beat creeps up on you though and seeps into the brain. With its mix of US and Latino artists, this has the potential to be a real global hit.

Worth a listen.



Emily Burns - Too Cool

Emily Burns - Too Cool

Burns is churning out the hits at the moment. Too Cool is a breathless pop track with a playful edge typical of her style. There are plenty of small details too: the vomit noise at the line "it kind of makes me sick" in the second verse; the expansive post-chorus; the extra layers in the final chorus. Could this finally be the hit she's been looking for?

Add to playlist.



Sigrid - Sight Of You

Sigrid - Sight Of You

A week to go until Sigrid's album is out. So why not release yet another single? There are no surprises here, with heavy string stabs and a classic pop feel that's buoyant and catchy but not quite her best. Let's save something for the album release, eh?

Worth a listen.



Jonas Brothers - Sucker

Jonas Brothers - Sucker

After a pretty successful solo career, Nick Jonas has returned to his brothers for this new single, their first since splitting in 2013. The bass in the verses is as sexy and stylish as the cover art, but the stunted chorus is a letdown. Sucker is notable more for its video that features the brothers' girlfriends - it makes you wish they'd form a supergroup instead.

Worth a listen.



Ellie Goulding - Flux

Ellie Goulding - Flux

Is Ellie Goulding trying to have an Adele moment? Flux is a piano ballad about past lovers, a stripped back affair without the synths and beats we've come to associate with her. "I'm still in love with the idea of loving you," she sings over minimal production, while the accompanying video is all black and white and moody and raw. This puts too much emphasis on her voice that doesn't have the necessary power to make this work.

Don't bother.


Troye Sivan @ Eventim Apollo

Troye Sivan @ Eventim Apollo

The screams are deafening. Legions of young fans fill the venue, no doubt followers of Troye Sivan from his YouTube days as well as his pop career. You get the feeling this is the future of pop, not just from Sivan's rise on social media, but what he represents to these fans: empowerment.

Sivan is, arguably, the most pre-eminent openly gay popstar of today. He doesn't shy away from gay experience; in fact his songs reflect every facet of it, from joy and exuberance, to sadness, uncertainty and vulnerability. And his fans are there with him, screaming for a hopeful future. When he sings Heaven (a song about his coming out experience) and the audience flickers with rainbow coloured lights held aloft, it's a sign of solidarity.

This popularity is yet to translate into sales and chart success, however. Two albums into his career and Sivan is yet to have a top twenty solo hit in the UK (his highest chart position is at 13 with his Charli XCX collaboration 1999, performed here without her). Perhaps his fans are here for him personally as much as musically.

The lack of chart success is mystifying owing to the quality of his songs. Seventeen opens the show in muted fashion, before we burst into songs like Bloom, Plum, Lucky Strike and Wild - all uptempo fizzing electro pop tracks coupled with a backdrop of fizzing lights. Sivan struts across the stage in a suit and tank top, frequently pausing with arms outstretched in a pose reminiscent of Michael Jackson. He owns every inch of this stage, putting in a performance that's every bit the stadium-filling popstar. Every song hinges on an infectious hook. Each has that euphoric "end of the night" feeling.

The facade is broken between songs as he chats with the audience, at one point literally sitting on a sofa for a natter. In today's pop scene, relatability goes hand in hand with superstardom and Sivan has both in spades. He admits his nerves to the audience, he quips "I feel like I'm in the Lizzie McGuire movie", he speaks of his own sexuality. He even stops the show to sing happy birthday to a fan.

Halfway through he offers us a moment of reflection with a series of downbeat ballads. "Do you feel like getting depressed for a little bit?" he jokes, before singing the heartfelt The Good Side. Sivan sings in a smooth tenor and soft falsetto, inviting us to laugh, cry, dance and everything in between.

Before long, though, he launches into more upbeat pop: the menacing rave of Bite, the playful fun of 1999, the sultry Dance To This (sadly without Ariana Grande). "This was one of the most special gigs of my life," he admits before the cinematic Animal. And then he's back for an encore of Youth and My! My! My!, two songs that sum him up. While the former is a nod to the youthful zest of both him and his fans, the latter is pure unadulterated pop brilliance. It lurches into a dance remix, the light show practically explodes, and the ensuing screams leave our ears ringing into a hopeful future.

4/5

Troye Sivan @ Eventim Apollo

Troye Sivan @ Eventim Apollo

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life @ Jermyn Street Theatre

Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life @ Jermyn Street Theatre

There's a lot wrapped up in that subtitle, "an attempt at life". It was one of many considered by playwright Harley Granville Barker for this somewhat feminist work, but it's particularly apt for both the play and this production. There's a sense of uplifting positivity to it, of aiming for better, of emancipation. Yet it equally connotes something less than successful, a misfire.

Agnes Colander receives its premiere at the Jermyn Street Theatre some 120 years after it was written, directed by Trevor Nunn. Granville Barker decided against putting the play into production at the time and that's largely for its provocative, progressive view of women. Now, its impact has faded though it remains a curio in this prolific writer's output.

At the centre of the play is the titular Agnes (Naomi Frederick), a thoroughly modern woman by Edwardian standards. She is a dissatisfied artist seeking her place in the world, a place that is not at the side of a man. Yet, having left her husband three years earlier, she finds herself (shockingly) living with another man and pursued by a third, both of whom bring out different sides in her personality. She is coquettish and coy, but also an irresistible temptress. She is an independent woman beholden to no one, a walking contradiction who cannot be held down in one place for too long.

And so her attempt at life is her striving to find her own voice - as an artist and as a woman. Of course, this is not how a woman should act in the eyes of the two men who, paradoxically, seem enchanted by her difference. When she's described as "unwomanly" she seems positively thrilled.

In its gender politics, the play is as much a statement on masculinity too. In Otto (Matthew Flynn) we have a brutish, controlling and overbearing form of masculinity; in Alexander a more boyish, naive and pathetic image. Both seem weak against the sheer force of Agnes, Frederick's performance encapsulating her varying moods and her strength.

Nunn's production, though, doesn't quite have the biting radicalism the play hints at. This is an understated period piece with solid performances from the cast, and appropriate music (composed by Steven Edis) and set and costume design (Robert Jones). Yet there's a lack of necessary sexual tension; instead it all feels too polite and underwhelming, moving at too slow a pace to generate any real drama. This attempt at life ultimately fizzles.

3/5

Watch: Agnes Colander runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 16th March.

Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life @ Jermyn Street Theatre
Photo: Robert Workman

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Come From Away @ The Phoenix Theatre

Come From Away @ The Phoenix Theatre

For a musical about international relations across the Atlantic, it's fitting that the production team of Come From Away - including a long list of producers - come from both sides of the pond. With book, music and lyrics written by Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the show won at the 71st Tony Awards in 2017 and has toured extensively across the US, Canada and Ireland, before finally arriving in London's West End. It's a timely, vital production.

Colloquially known as 'the 9/11 musical', Come From Away is an ode to collaboration and a celebration of community. It's based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland off the coast of Canada whose residents, during the terrible events of 9/11, cared for over 6,500 strangers who were left stranded when their planes were diverted. These 'come from aways' were of all nationalities and, over the course of a week, were all welcomed equally, given food and shelter, and lived in a safe haven in the midst of a global crisis.

Fittingly, this is a collective story with no single narrator or standout character. The town of Gander became a microcosm of the world and the narrative of Come From Away is a collage of interwoven stories that mirrors global diversity. There are moments of racism and misogyny, but above all defiance and compassion are at the heart of the plot.

The effect is to humanise a world-changing event, to highlight the everyman, the small town folk, the otherwise unrecognised heroes. We see snatches of small moments and interactions that seamlessly blend into a broader picture, just as the folk score segues from song to dialogue and brings the whole cast together as one.

This is very much an ensemble piece. Twelve actors flit frequently between multiple roles and accents as both Newfoundlanders and 'come from aways', further cementing that sense of community. It is a remarkable achievement by them all, especially in the beautifully balanced choral singing and cleverly choreographed movement. That said, Rachel Tucker is given the standout song of the show, "Me And The Sky", which she powers out in a stunning rendition, and Cat Simmons is touchingly mournful singing "I Am Here".

Where this type of show could all too easily fall into tweeness or overwrought melodrama, Come From Away deftly sits in between. It's moving yet uplifting, tragedy balanced with lightheartedness and comedy, while the snappy dialogue and short interlinking scenes ensure it moves at a swift pace over its relatively short runtime with no interval to break the flow. In short, it's a heartwarming, feelgood musical that revels in the very best of humanity: the kindness of strangers. And in times of crisis, that's exactly what we need.

5/5

Watch: Come From Away runs at The Phoenix Theatre until September.

Come From Away @ The Phoenix Theatre
Photo: Matthew Murphy

Saturday, 16 February 2019

New Music Friday 15/02/19

Cardi B & Bruno Mars - Please Me

Cardi B & Bruno Mars - Please Me

Cardi won big at the Grammy's last week but there's no pausing for breath. She's back with another new single, bringing Bruno Mars along for the ride following last year's Finesse. There's something of a gender flip to this song that I am all for: female rapper in the verses, male vocalist in the chorus. Mars sounds positively orgasmic, while Cardi is sexually aggressive in her verses - "dinner reservations like the pussy you're gon' eat out". The sexy 90s production ensures this all remains palatable, but you'll need a cold shower afterwards.

Add to playlist.



Jessie Ware - Adore You

Jessie Ware - Adore You

Jessie Ware returned last year with the house vibes of Overtime, her first new track since the release of third album 'Glasshouse' the year before. For Adore You she returns to the club, co-written and produced by Metronomy's Joe Mount. There's a bit of a modern Robyn flavour, but Ware's cooing, breathless vocals shine in the romantic chorus.

Add to playlist.



Maisie Peters - Stay Young

Maisie Peters - Stay Young

On paper, cutesy singer songwriter Maisie Peters is little more than a John Lewis Christmas ad singer. But Stay Young has a fun pop feel in its ode to youth and growing up, held together by that "stay young" hook. She's set for big things this year and this track sets her up for chart and radio success apart from her previous folky beginnings.

Worth a listen.



YUNGBLUD with Halsey feat. Travis Barker - 11 Minutes

YUNGBLUD with Halsey feat. Travis Barker - 11 Minutes

Halsey lends her vocals to this emo alt-rock track from Doncaster's YUNGBLUD. 11 Minutes is a tragic duet full of contradictions - "you're the best I've ever had / you're the worst I've ever had" - that reflects the confusion of love. It wouldn't be a stretch to see this climbing up the charts, triggering a return to nu-metal.

Worth a listen.



Zedd & Katy Perry - 365

Zedd & Katy Perry - 365

If Katy Perry wanted to make a splash, she should've come back with a decent pop banger. Instead, she sings on this flat, tired Zedd track that will go nowhere.

Don't bother.



Chaka Khan - Like A Lady

Chaka Khan - Like A Lady

The second song to be released from Chaka Khan's new album 'Hello Happiness', this is classy and timeless. Futuristic swishes and synths rub shoulders with an infectious disco beat, string stabs and that incredible vocal. Listen to the rest of the album for more sexy space disco.

Worth a listen.



Foals - On The Luna

Foals - On The Luna

On The Luna follows the well received Exits as indicative of Foals' forthcoming double album. The chugging, rhythmic guitars will have you dancing like few rock songs, the time signature changes will keep you on your toes, and the twinkling synths will have you ascending to the stars. Foals are sounding as strong as ever on this new material.

Add to playlist.



Avril Lavigne feat. Nicki Minaj - Dumb Blonde

Avril Lavigne feat. Nicki Minaj - Dumb Blonde

After the honesty of her comeback single Head Above Water, this just reeks of desperation: simultaneously a reminder of her punk-pop beginnings while trying to stay relevant, playing with - yet relying on - outdated stereotypes.

Don't bother.



Years & Years, MNEK - Valentino

Years & Years, MNEK - Valentino

Two queer icons of pop collaborating on a gay pop song about "fuck boys", with a title perfectly timed for this week. It's a fun bop, especially with the Spanish guitars, even if it doesn't quite live up to the best of their individual work.

Worth a listen.



Lizzo - Cuz I Love You

Lizzo - Cuz I Love You

This might not have a flute solo, but this soulful new love song proves the power of Lizzo's vocals unashamedly.

Worth a listen.



Thursday, 14 February 2019

Ariana Grande - thank u, next


Ariana Grande - thank u, next

Listening to ‘thank u, next’, the latest album from the current reigning queen of pop Ariana Grande, it's clear she's redefined the pop album for 2019. Music alone is no longer enough. This is a pop cultural event that works on multiple levels, defining Ariana not only by the music, but by her relatability and her meme-worthiness.

This really is an album for the internet age. Lead single and title track thank u, next has become a meme since its release, while its accompanying video – an ode to Mean Girls and other teen rom-coms – broke records in its first 24 hours on YouTube. The title of closing track break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored seems particularly primed for the internet; it immediately got fans’ attention when the tracklist was released. And while the album’s second single 7 rings received a (mostly) positive reaction, fans have since started a hashtag to boycott the song in an attempt to get break up with you girlfriend, i’m bored to the top of the charts. Such is the power of fans in this digital age.

It all ties in with the relatable pop star, social media allowing artists to interact directly with their fans. That’s certainly the case with Ariana, whose fans have stood by her over the past couple of years through engagement, break-ups, tragedy and every other twist and turn of her life. ‘thank u, next’ addresses all of this, working like a puzzle box for fans to decipher lyrical context. Other references add to the pop cultural fun – “highlight of my life, just like that Fenty Beauty kit,” she sings on make up, in a nod to Rihanna’s beauty company.

On a deeper level, though, this album is clearly catharsis for the singer. Beat for beat it takes us through her emotional relationship history over the last year. It begins with the downbeat romanticism of imagine, perhaps referencing the impossibility of love with ex-boyfriend Mac Miller who passed away from a drug overdose. Through needy, NASA and bloodline she gives reasons why a relationship would break down, from neediness to time apart and not wanting to commit. Introspection comes with fake smile, Ariana at her most open and vulnerable: “I can’t fake another smile…And I won’t say I’m feeling fine / After what I been through.” Later that continues on ghostin in which she tragically admits “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again over him.” By the end, the album is flipped on its head with the empowerment of its final few songs. Not merely satisfied with a kiss off to her past lovers with the title track, she ends the album openly coming for your man.

Initially at least, ‘thank u, next’ seems least satisfying on a purely musical level. Known for her pop bangers, this album lacks a big pop moment in the vein of Break Free, Into You, or no tears left to cry. It also sees her leaning more heavily into hip-hop, filling the void that Rihanna has seemingly left behind, for the time being at least. bloodline is a re-tread of Side To Side. 7 rings is tritely based on ‘The Sound of Music’ song My Favourite Things.

Repeated listens prove fruitful, however. The personal connection provides a compelling overarching narrative and, just as the lyrics are filled with little details, so too the production comprises little sonic nuggets. The yearning, rising whistle tone hooks of the gospel-tinged imagine. The warm synths and space whooshes of NASA. The half-rapped pre-chorus in bloodline. The delicious guitar line in bad idea that’s slowly overtaken by cinematic strings in the bridge; the way, in that same song, the outro pitch bends and distorts the vocals. The breathy, otherworldly harmonies in ghostin. The simple hook and playful tone of thank u, next juxtaposed with its sassy sentiment. The anthemic break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored that certainly lives up to its brazen title. Throughout, deep trap beats and delicate vocals create a sensual, intoxicating mix. 

Even beneath the fun and the memes and the raw, cathartic lyrical content, the songs of ‘thank u, next’ ensure Ariana Grande will remain on the radio, YouTube and streaming services for as long as she's written about online. It seems 2019 has already been won.

4/5

Gizzle’s Choice:
* NASA
* Bad idea
* Break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored

Listen: ‘thank u, next’ is out now.




Sunday, 10 February 2019

Boy Erased


Director Joel Edgerton tackles a tricky topic in Boy Erased. Based on the real life memoirs of LGBT activist Garrard Conley, it's a film that commendably faces up to the dangers of religious gay conversion camps in America. But it's so wrapped up in its agenda, that its narrative plods and stumbles.

Lucas Hedges plays the lead Jared, a young man wrestling with his sexuality. His father, Russell Crowe is a pastor and deeply religious; his mother, Nicole Kidman, meekly follows her husband.

When Jared admits to his parents that he's had sexual thoughts about men, they send him to a religious gay conversion camp led by the villainous Victor Sykes (Edgerton). Alongside a group of other men and women, they're subjected to humiliation and religious manipulation. They're forced to relive trauma in front of one another, admit to their shame. And they're told to direct their anger towards their parents, believing that we're not born homosexual, it's a behavioural issue. It is deeply harrowing.

That the film is based on real events makes it all the more poignant. These camps still exist across America and it's undoubtedly Edgerton's agenda to highlight their destructive power. In that sense, Boy Erased is a vital film in the fight for equality and acceptance.

But the narrative falters. Largely, that's because the underwritten Jared is a bland cipher through which we simply witness the horrors in the camp for ourselves. We never truly develop an attachment to him as a character. He's vulnerable, but barely do we see him actually struggling with his sexuality or his loneliness. Two flashback scenes lurch to two extremes - a troubling attempted rape and a tender moment of sweet innocence - but it's not enough. He's left to merely wrestle with the morality of his situation, which is somewhat a given.

Instead, the emphasis is less on self-discovery and more about the horrendous experience he's forced to endure by his parents. It's they who have the more interesting narrative arc. Do they deserve his forgiveness? Can they be redeemed? There's an issue with casting here too: Hedges may get the most screen time, but for emotional power it's hard to compete with the star power of Kidman and Crowe. Musicians Flea and Troye Sivan also pop up in the peripheral cast.

The washed out and dreary visuals may suit the downbeat tone of the film, but it's all a bit one-note and falls flat. Where emotional resonance is required, Boy Erased feels too cold and muted to make enough of an impact.

3/5

Watch: Boy Erased is out now.


Friday, 8 February 2019

New Music Friday 08/02/19

MARINA - Handmade Heaven

MARINA - Handmade Heaven

It's been four years since 'FROOT', so it's great to have Marina back with some off-kilter pop. In that time she's dropped the diamonds, learn to deal with her mental health and rediscovered herself. That all comes together in Handmade Heaven, using imagery of nature to suggest insignificance and lack of purpose. Marina's falsetto is unmistakable; here it soars over cinematic production. Dreamy, sad, beautiful. Welcome back.

Add to playlist.



ionnalee - Open Sea


After her project as iamamiwhoami, Sweden's Jonna Lee last year released a new album under the moniker ionnalee. Open Sea is the first track from its follow up, but it remains typical of her style: icy synths, disco beats, and a widescreen sensibility. This track stands out though, for its bubbling production, aquatic lyrical imagery, and a particularly fizzy middle eight. The forthcoming 'Remember The Future' is going to be a treat for the ears.

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Anna Of The North - Leaning On Myself

Anna of the North - Leaning On Myself

From Sweden to Norway, here's another Scandi returning artist. Leaning On Myself is a more sparse affair when compared to Anna Of The North's 2017 debut 'Lovers', glacial 80s synths swapped for an echoing guitar riff and a slow, shuffling beat. It's more personal too, as the title suggests, with lyrics influenced by a personal breakdown. An anthem for anyone who's feeling alone.

Worth a listen.



Kim Petras - If U Think About Me

Kim Petras - If U Think About Me

Kim Petras has released not one but three new singles today. 1, 2, 3 dayz up features SOPHIE and has the producer's idiosyncratic computerised sound all over it. Homework with lil aaron is pure teen romance. But the highlight is If U Think About Me, a pulsing, whirring, rush of a synth-pop track.

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Khalid & Disclosure - Talk

Khalid & Disclosure - Talk

Khalid is racking up quite the discography, collaborating with R&B, pop and dance artists alike. This latest track - the first from his forthcoming second album - falls into the latter category, with production from Disclosure that glistens and twinkles over an addictive staccato beat.

Worth a listen.



LYRA - Falling

LYRA - Falling

Singer-songwriter LYRA is set to be one of Ireland's hottest new talents this year. Dramatic production full of lush strings and a thundering beat create a sense of empowerment juxtaposed with lyrics detailing a cheating lover. It's that distinctive voice that really stands out though: intense, haunting, and with a hint of lilting Irish flair.

Worth a listen.