Thursday 27 February 2020

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre

The sets are lavish; the costumes sumptuous; there's fire and projections and special effects. The Prince Of Egypt is a spectacle of magical theatrics. But what's happening underneath it all?

Based on the 1998 Dreamworks animated film of the same name (mainly remembered for its Mariah and Whitney duet), it's not just the story of Moses saving the Hebrews from the Egyptians but of two brothers in conflict and the tension between family and duty. Luke Brady and Liam Tamne are strong leading men as the proudly responsible Moses and spoilt Ramses, but they cannot escape the cartoon characterisation of the film. Neither can Christine Allado as stroppy love interest Tzipporah.

The Lion King set the bar for animated theatrical adaptations over two decades ago, a bar that is yet to be matched. The Prince Of Egypt is remarkably similar: an outcast member of the royal family who must return to his people to make amends, complete with a spirit guide to show the way (here voiced by the people rather than a lion). There's a healthy dash of Wicked too and not only for Stephen Schwartz's score - Moses' story is a similar triumph of the outsider.

Speaking of the score, it mostly follows that from the film with some new additions. There's plenty of typical Egyptian flair and Jewish melodic writing to provide character, where memorable tunes are missing. Up-tempo dance numbers are when the show is at its best, but as soon as emotions rise to the surface, it all descends into gushing melodies and slushy Hollywood romance that loses what makes the music distinctive.

Director Scott Schwartz's aim was to bring humanity to the story. That's been taken literally by choreographer Sean Cheesman. The ensemble are used to great effect, morphing into chariots, undulating rivers, and shifting sands. It lends the production a balletic quality with some beautiful stagecraft, matched by shimmering lighting and effects. It's surely a visual feast.

Yet the first half is leaden with exposition that lasts far too long, while the second half races through plagues and drama alike in a swift montage. There's a glimpse of real emotion eventually with a string of ballads that has Moses questioning his faith, the mourning of tragic deaths, and the predictable climax of 'When You Believe' that Allado and Alexia Khadime assuredly nail. Finally this Prince of Egypt tugs at the heartstrings and both Schwartzs are given a chance to stretch their musical muscles outside of the film's confines.

Until then it feels a little soulless, its focus on visual spectacle more than the real emotion the narrative deserves. As blockbuster theatre with brilliant performances of somewhat shallow material though, it's surely a success.


Watch: The Prince Of Egypt runs at the Dominion Theatre until October 2020.

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre
Photos: Tristram Kenton

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Killing It @ The Vaults

Killing It @ The Vaults

There's a mystery at the heart of Killing It - written by Josephine Starte - that remains unsolved by the play's end. That may seem frustrating, but it puts the audience right in the position of its three characters mourning the loss of a young man lost at sea. It's their desire for closure that propels the drama as they deal with their grief; the intimacy and tension in Starte's script is palpable.

It doesn't quite begin that way though. Following three interlinking stories - the man's girlfriend, mother and grandmother - it feels fragmented, reflecting their now fragmented lives. Characters interrupt one another, nothing quite flows. Death haunts these characters, but initially no one seems overly upset about it.

There's plenty of macabre humour here, mainly centered on girlfriend Molly (also played by Starte). Her method of coping is to create a stand-up show based on her feelings. Here Starte's writing shines with raw and relatable comedy and an almost Fleabag-esque delivery - it's this plotline that ties the piece together and makes you wish to watch a full set of stand-up. The other fragments feel underdeveloped by comparison.

Yet slowly Killing It creeps up on you, like the subtle drips and sloshes in Julian Starr's sound design. All the props are situated in water-filled containers around the stage: water, here symbolic of death, soaks everything, droplets of memory splashing on to the stage. The real triumph of the piece is its relationships between three women of different generations - the relationship between Molly and grandmother Margot (Janet Henfrey) is amusingly quirky yet surprisingly tender in the end.

That goes for Killing It as a whole. What begins as an offbeat dark comedy catches you by surprise with its heartfelt conclusion.


Watch: Killing It is performed at The Vaults Festival on 25th and 26th February.

Killing It @ The Vaults
Photo: Toby Parker Rees

Monday 10 February 2020

Carly Rae Jepsen @ Brixton Academy

Carly Rae Jepsen @ Brixton Academy

Squeaky, bubblegum pop. A tiny popstar with an unremarkable voice. Hordes of gay fans.

No, it's not a Kylie Minogue gig. It's Carly Rae Jepsen, the gay man's current popstar of choice. Call Me Maybe may have been a worldwide hit, but Jepsen has since remained something of a cult favourite, delivering underrated pop albums and becoming the queen of memes.

At a live gig, though, you'd be forgiven for thinking she's the biggest star on the planet, such is the devotion of her fans. Every song is known by the mere intro, every lyric chanted back, every moment met with a scream.

It's Jepsen's ordinariness that makes her so appealing. Hers are frothy songs about love and relationships, never too deep, just on the right side of emotional, her simple lyrics easy to relate to. Each is anchored to an undeniable hook, ensuring they're all memorable. There's no weak link; every song is a banger.

Perhaps that's best demonstrated by the cutesy I Really Like You and its repeated chorus lyric that bubbles with the excitement of lust. Or the fizzy rush of love in Run Away With Me. Or sex jam Want You In My Room. Or cheeky breakup anthem Store. Every stage of a relationship is covered.

Regardless of your favourite, Jepsen never takes herself too seriously in her songs. And that tongue in cheek tone translates to her onstage persona as she bounds across the stage full of zeal. Her joy is as infectious as her melodies.

The setlist is some 24 songs long, racing through each three minute track in a relentless, vibrant confection, rarely pausing for breath. There's little chat or banter, no set dressing, no extravagance. It's just earworm after earworm after earworm...

And it's the music we're here for, Jepsen merely a conduit of its power. You could argue it's all lowest common denominator pop, as frivolous as it is flirty fun, relatable to the point of being basic. Yet, like the best pop, it's pure escapism, its energy lifting the heart and soul.

Case in point: Cut To The Feeling comes on, the confetti cannons burst and for three joyous minutes everything is right with the world.