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FILM:June 2013

Well, we certainly have a major film in Baz Luhrmann's THE GREAT GATSBY (cert. 12A 2hrs. 24mins.). Whether it is a true representation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's wonderful novel is debatable. It stars Leonardo Di Caprio as Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as the narrator of the story, Nick Carraway. The wild parties, drink, music and dancing are caught almost to perfection but the more intimate moments are lost in the general over-indulgence.

Di Caprio gives a good portrayal of the rich Gatsby who moves to a house across the water from the lady he is trying to win back. Once too poor to secure Daisy (Carey Mulligan) in marriage, he now yearns after her as she lives a life of wealth and indulgence with her brutish husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It is 1922 and, by chance, Nick moves into the house next door to Gatsby and becomes involved in his life as Jay uses Nick, who is second cousin to Daisy, to woo her anew.

Carey Mulligan and Leonardo Di Caprio

Nick watches and comments as Tom romances the wife, Myrtle (Isla Fisher), of the local garage owner, George Wilson (Jason Clarke) and Daisy falls under Gatsby's spell but is loath to leave her husband and child. Nick also observes the lavish parties thrown by Gatsby to lure Daisy to his opulent house. Jay, himself, keeps away from the throng of people enjoying his hospitality.

Luhrmann has caught the luxury of those wealthy enough to enjoy all the 20s have to offer. His use of 3D adds to the beautiful production design and lovely costumes (under the direction of Luhrmann's wife, Catherine Martin), but the characters get somewhat lost in all the excitement. In particular we don't see enough of the relationship between Myrtle and her husband (who are both very good actors) and Tom and Myrtle so that the tragedy, when it occurs, comes out of the blue. I am not sure that those who haven't read the book will be able to easily follow the early part of the film. Carey Mulligan looks and acts well as Daisy and, to my mind, is as good as Mia Farrow was in an earlier version. The director uses music that wasn't around in the 20s and it is not too intrusive. It is the emphasis on spectacle that detracts from the actual narrative and so distorts Fitzgerald's story. It is a notoriously difficult book to film and Luhrmann has made a good stab at it.

As far away from the gaudiness and loud music and in your face production design of Gatsby as you could get is THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (cert.15 1 hr. 43 mins.), the re-issue of the 1972 U.S. classic from the 70s. It is the third film that Bob Rafelson directed himself, after Head and Five Easy Pieces. In this story of two brothers, Jack Nicholson stars as David, a radio talk show host on a middle-of-the-night programme. He is a sad, depressed, character who tells his audience stories about his childhood. At the beginning of the film, David is giving a long monologue about how he and his brother let his grandfather choke to death. David is living with his father, who is quite old and sick. The other brother is Jason (Bruce Dern), who works alongside an African American mob. The opposite of David, Jason is outgoing and very energetic, currently involved with two women: Sally (Ellen Burstyn), an ageing beauty, and Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson), who Sally is training to be the next Miss America.

They come together after a time apart when Jason calls David and asks him to help him get out of jail. He is in Atlantic City, New Jersey and it is there that the main action takes place. He talks David into helping him set up a property deal. David is most sceptical but tags along with his brother and the two women accompanying him. While the men are opposite each other in terms of their characters, they seem to need each other, even though their understanding of one another is minimal. But as the somewhat strange business venture proceeds, tragedy strikes the brothers.

The film is photographed by László Kovács with an acute eye for the unusual view of Atlantic City in the winter. This is a holiday venue before the advent of casinos and tourist shops. Bob Rafelson manages to direct his actors in a naturalistic style yet with flashes of surrealism. Bringing to life this search for the American dream, the four main actors give sterling performances. The two women are Ellen Burstyn as Sally, the older of the pair, an ageing beauty queen who is attached to Jason and Jessica, (who turns out in fact to be Sally's stepdaughter), played by Julia Anne Robinson - whose only acting role this was as she died tragically two years' later - who is also sweet on Jason. Burstyn is excellent, showing brightness and gaiety at one moment and then a troubled aspect as she watches Jason kissing Jessica. Robinson has a luminous beauty and also a good comic touch which is shown when she tap dances in a spotlight as the group of four put on their own Miss America pageant. Jack Nicholson gives a subdued yet moving portrayal of the introverted younger brother and Bruce Dern excels in the role of the brash, gregarious brother with a criminal past. When they act together the screen sparkles with the force of the dialogue and the contrast between the loud, over confident Jason and the depressed, solitary David.

Chris Wedge has made a delightful CG animated film, EPIC (cert. U 1hr.42mins.), which can be seen locally in 3D or 2D. Unlike The Great Gatsby, which has made some people feel sick watching it in 3D, Epic is worth making the effort to see the 3D version. The views of the fields, flowers and various insects are very pretty. Amanda Seyfried voices 17-year-old Mary Katherine, known as M.K. She returns to visit her father, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Suseikis) who is not so much an absent minded Professor as seemingly unaware of anything else in the world other than his work. This includes his daughter as he rushes around trying to prove that there is a forest containing very small people.

By chance M.K. finds herself involved in the life of the Leafmen, who are, indeed, the little men her father has been looking for. We meet young Nod (Josh Hutcherson) and his guardian Ronin (Colin Farrell), who takes care, too, of Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) and also cares for her. As the Queen dies M.K. manages to catch the magic pod, the "Life-force of the forest" she's holding and makes her way to Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler, rock and roll icon from Aerosmith), who will ensure the forest and natural life continues. Wicked Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) tries hard to stop the Leafmen and it is up a small group led by M.K. and Nod to save the Leafmen's world. There are a number of interesting characters: two comic animals, Mub, a slug (Aziz Ansari) and Grub, a snail (Chris O'Dowd) play a major role. While the animals always look fine, the 'human' faces have a strange appearance.

There used to be children's films and adult films but now we are given family films and all the better for this trend as - taking Epic as an example - there is much here to be enjoyed by all ages. It is an interesting and different kind of story with good, well-thought through characters and beautiful photography.

Also highly recommended: Steven Soderberg's BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (cert. 15 1hr. 58mins.), which is based on the autobiography of Scott Thorson, the much younger lover of the over-powering Liberace, and their six-year relationship.

Wonderful performance by Michael Douglas as Liberace. He captures the performer and the gay side of the star. Matt Damon manages to be gay without being at all camp. Well-written dialogue and great production design makes this a must-see for anyone who remembers the original entertainer as well as those who want to see acting of the highest order. There is a nice little cameo from Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother (how time flies for those of us who loved her in Singin' in the Rain!).

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon

You could say warts and more warts about BEWARE OF MR BAKER (cert. 15 1 hr. 32 mins.), a documentary about the very bad-tempered drummer. Ginger Baker. An unusual film just because it does actually give you a real picture of the musician - gifted in everything except personal relationships including partnering women. The poor director, Jay Bulger, is hit in the nose by Baker and still perseveres with his filmmaking.






There is a really exciting production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG at the Harold Pinter Theatre (booking until 27 July). Although the show was initially a failure in 1981, it has now been given a new lease of life by Maria Friedman in her first directorial effort. And what a grand production it is. The reverse chronology here works to the advantage of the show both in terms of music and story. It starts in 1976 and ends in 1957 and tells how a struggling composer, Franklin (Mark Umbers) and his playwright friend Charley (Damien Humbley) make friends with Mary (Jenna Russell) and remain in touch throughout their lives even though Franklin becomes a famous Hollywood producer. They have their difficulties as Damian remains true to his moral conviction and both he and Mary disagree with Franklin's lifestyle and gradually the friendship turns to disillusionment.

Musically, the show works in this backwards storytelling and Friedman enhances the words and music with her directing skills. We initially hear Franklin's wife singing Not a Day Goes By outside the divorce court, and it is a most bitter song. When she first sings the song, it is seven years earlier and is now a love song that she sings on her wedding day. Sondheim's score is exact and musically interesting. It is also extremely well executed.

The cast are all of a very high standard - not just the three leads but the minor ones as well. Russell is often heartbreaking as she yearns for a better and different life but ends up as an alcoholic. She has a super voice and is able to act out the songs. Umbers is spot on as Franklin who begins as a creative enthusiast and ends as someone who enjoys the riches of fame. In a smaller role, Humbley also puts the songs across well and shows us how his character remains true to his ideals. The structure of this musical, although unusual, works well and this is an absorbing and exciting night at the theatre.

Box office: 0844 871 7615

GEORGE SAVVIDES reviews THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at the Trafalgar Studios, London:

This deliciously funny comedy from Mischief Theatre began life at the Old Red Lion under the title "The Murder Before Christmas" before it was revived earlier this year at the same venue under this new title. From the moment the audience enters one is aware that something is not exactly right - the stage managers are still running around and fixing things on the purposely naff set while the lighting and sound operator still searches for his Duran Duran CD. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are staging their most ambitious project yet - the 1920's murder mystery "Murder at Haversham Manor" and try to forget past failures such as "Ugly and the Beast" and "Two Sisters". But the stage is set for disaster, with a wobbly set, jammed doors, props and furniture not in their right places and the dialogue which literally goes round in circles.

It is a confidently directed production by Mark Bell that works a treat and the actors - all former LAMDA graduates - embrace their roles with great relish which is highly infectious. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields are also in the show and their contribution is essential in conveying the necessary style. Dave Hearn is excellent as the wide eyed Cecil Haversham, the murder victim's brother who is having an affair with his fiancée Florence Colleymoore (Lotti Maddox). They share a lovely chemistry between them and treasure the thought of being on stage despite the fact that everything is collapsing around them. A very funny comedy very much worth seeing!

Note: this play has now ended its run at this theatre

Telling spooky tales to a group of mates in an Irish pub is just right for the intimate setting of the Donmar Warehouse Theatre. THE WEIR (until 8 June), written by Conor McPherson and directed by Josie Rourke, has a near-perfect cast of actors, who put across all the loneliness of their individual characters.

Taking place in a rural setting in 1977 (the year the play was premiered), Brendan's pub welcomes three men to their evening pint or three. Joining them this evening is a stranger, a woman who asks for white wine. As each of the men tell their stories Valerie, who seems, impressed, listens carefully before topping them with a chillingly tragic tale of her own.

Brian Cox as Jack, Ardal O'Hanlon as Jim, Risteard Cooper as Finbar work well together and are believable as mates. They are supported by ever-helpful Barman, Brendan,(Peter McDonald). Dervla Kirwan displays the right mixture of awkwardness and city sophistication as she joins in the banter. Unused to ladies in his bar, Brendan takes Valerie into the house to use the toilet.

This is a very well-written play with a great setting - it looks as though the characters are sitting in a genuine pub. Cox is excellent as the seemingly gruff Irishman who expresses his loneliness in a magnificent speech at the end.

Box office: 0844 871 7624

Two Russian plays - unknown to me before seeing them here - are playing at the Arcola Theatre, London (until 1 June). LARISSA AND THE MERCHANTS, by Alexander Ostrovsky in a new version by Samuel Adamson, is directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin in a lively production on a long platform with the audience sitting (on hard benches) on each side. The different venues are depicted simply, with a table and waiter for the coffee house. Starting with a dance with two musicians we move on to Larisa's story.

Set in 1878 in the fictional city of Bryakhimov on the Volga river, Larisa (Jennifer Kidd) is about to marry a nerdy Government official. She is finally engaged after being introduced by her pushy mother (Annabel Leventon) to many suitors, all of whom reject her as she is of Gipsy blood and, more importantly, has no money for a dowry. She is not in love with her future husband, Yulii Karandyshev (Ben Aldiss).

Larisa finds that past suitors now seem to be interested in her, but not for marriage. She once again falls under the spell of Sergei, who has previously discarded her, ("He's perfect" she announces) and leaves with him. However, it all goes disastrously wrong.

There are good, age-appropriate performances (in that they all look the right age for the character they are playing) with lively gypsy music. This is performed in the Studio Theatre.

Also at the Arcola in their Main Theatre is SONS WITHOUT LOVERS (until 15 June), a new version of Anton Chekhov's Platanov. Adapted and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, the audience sits on three sides with a balcony over one side. There is a very small acting space. Although originally set in 1880s Russia, in this version it is now modern times and the 'hero' Misha Platonov is dressed in torn trousers. He is a village schoolmaster, who sees, "No point to anything."

Jack Laskey as Platonov

The women around him don't share this view and one after the other they fall for him and about his person. Although he has a sweet, helpful wife, Sasha (a nice, modest performance by Amy McAllister) he responds to the women and finds himself chasing skirts rather than dealing with more weighty matters. Full of self-disgust, he is like a Russian Hamlet.

Jack Lasky as Platanov is one to watch out for in the future - he is mesmerizing and it is obvious why women find him sexily attractive in spite of his care-free attitude and appearance and uncombed hair.

The women surrounding him are all good, with their own characteristics: there is Susie Trayling as a rich widow; Marianne Oldham as a newly married quiet lady until she gets near Misha and Jade Williams as an angry feminist.

Box office: 020 7503 1646

Highly recommended: PASSION PLAY (Duke of York's Theatre until 3 August). Peter Nichols' play has the unusual device of the two main characters having alter egos. Here Samantha Bond is the other half of Zoe Wanamaker's betrayed wife while Oliver Cotton is the alter ego for Owen Teale, the husband who falls for the conniving siren, played by Annable Scholey.

Annabel Scholey and Zoë Wanamaker in Passion Play

Somewhat boasting in her description of her marriage of 25 years, Eleanor (Wanamker) is in no way prepared for her husband James (Teale) to fall for his late friend's widow (Scholey, playing the vampire so well that members of the audience have been known to boo her!).

Worth seeing for Wanamaker's most moving performance as she begins by being self-satisfied with her good marriage and ends up being agonisingly mentally injured by her husband's betrayal.

Box office: 0844 871 7623

Directed by Lia Williams, the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production of THE MATCH BOX at the Tricycle Theatre, London (until 1 June) is such a sad little play. Leanne Best plays Sal and delivers a monologue about the death of her 12-year-old daughter. As we listen to her account of how she didn't believe her friend who brought the news to her or the policemen who came to her door soon afterwards. It was only with the arrival of her parents that she faced up to the awful truth.

We now see the young woman in a very simple room with a bed, table and upright chair on an island off the coast of County Kerry. She seems to be confined there. Her daughter was shot, caught in the cross fire of young boys fighting. All the time she talks Sal plays with matches as we gradually discover their significance.

It is written by Frank McGuiness in a simple and imaginative yet realistic manner so that Sal's description of her child being still warm to the touch but not breathing, even after death, is absolutely correct. The part of Sal is acted in such a heartrenderingly true fashion by Best, who interprets all the nuances of the grieving mother that the audience is left almost stunned at the conclusion.

I had a brief falling-out with one of my favourite people on the matter of principles after seeing Henrik Ibsen's PUBLIC ENEMY (Young Vic until 8 June): after recounting an incident of some 50 years back, she accused me of lacking principles! As one who is unfortunate enough to be too truthful at times, it was met with (temporary) resentment.

All this as a result of this new translation by David Harrower played in modern dress by a very competent cast. In a brightly lit, excellent cinemascope set (the stage is very wide) showing the inside living-room of Dr Stockmann's attractive house with a lovely view we meet Thomas Stockmann (Nick Fletcher), who is the chief Medial Officer in the Norwegian spa where they live, just as he announces that he has discovered that the town's spa waters are toxic. Far from being praised for his announcement, his brother, the Mayor (Darrell D'Silva), local journalists and indeed the small business men and almost all outside his immediate family, turn against him.

Nick Fletcher and Darrell D'Silva in Publc Enemy

It is at this point that Stockmann addresses the community - but in fact he is speaking directly to us, the audience - and tells us, "The majority has power…the minority - the men who see things from a different angle, the men who are true to what they see - …the minority is always right". At the time of hearing this it almost makes one want to stand up and cheer!

If you want a well-argued play and one that will make you think, but, hopefully, not make you quarrel, this is it.

Box office : 020 7922 2923

Do go and see THE HOTHOUSE (Trafalgar Studios until 3 August): Jamie Lloyd's very funny production of Harold Pinter's play about the staff of a psychiatric hospital. John Simm is unrecognisable as the dour father in the recent The Village on TV and here he displays a comic touch second to none…well Simon Russell Beale as the boss is full of swivel eyed double takes and rightly deserves his place at the top of the acting league.

Roote (Simon Russell Beale) runs a sort of psychiatric institution/rest home. On Christmas day, as he is trying to celebrate with one of his members of staff, Gibbs (John Simm), he learns of two disturbing facts: one of his patients - all are identified by numbers, not names - has died and another woman has given birth. The rest of the play shows Roote getting more and more apoplectic as he attempts to sort out the double disasters. He is not greatly assisted by his staff, who rush in and out giving their own views on the situation.

Simon Russell Beale on left and John Simm in The Hothouse

Sharp, biting dialogue is delivered at speed by a terrific cast ably led by Russell Beale and Simm. The play is uproariously funny and it is so good to have a laugh aloud comedy to enjoy.

Box office: 0844 871 7632

Well, for me at least, summer has officially arrived with the beginning of the seasons at the Globe Theatre and the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Jeremy Herrin uses the open air setting well to convey a shipwreck and then the stories that take place on the island ruled by Prospero in THE TEMPEST (Shakespeare's Globe, London until 18 August). Here he seems to concentrate more on the relationship between Prospero (Roger Allam) and his daughter, Miranda (played by Jessie Buckley, a finalist in the search for Maria in the BBC show, I'd Do Anything ), and the realtionship between Prospero and the shiprecked men.

The Tempest at the Globe Theatre with Roger Allam as Prospero and Jessie Buckley as Miranda

The magic parts are performed simply with an athletic Ariel (Colin Morgan) and a banquet that is set on fire. Caliban (James Garnon) is a convincing half-fish half-human monster. There are tender romantic scenes between Miranda and young, enthusiastic Ferdinand (Joshua James). One can understand their feelings as first love blooms. Allam at times seemed to be treating his part in ironic fashion. While he has a good, vibrant voice, it is not very musical. He is more homely than magical. Buckley attacks her part energetically and you can believe in her voiced amazement at all the wondrous men around as she has only known her father and Caliban before.

On the afternoon I attended, it was a typical English summer's day, starting with brilliant sunshine and ending with rain. You will need to take, or hire, a cushion if you purchase a seat. If you are able to stand for nearly three hours (only sitting down in the interval) then the best bargain in the London theatre is the £5 standing places for "groundlings."

Box office: 020 7401 9919

At the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, the first play of the summer season is a surprisingly good production of Harper Lee's novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (until 15 June). Surprising because the book doesn't appear to lend itself to an outside production, but director Timothy Sheader has managed to bring this story of racial intolerance combined with the pursuit of justice to this green setting where, amidst the trees of North London, it plays out with conviction.

It begins in a not very promising manner with members of the cast reading from the book as they move amongst the audience. Whilst the main characters all have American actors, not all the minor ones do, which is sometimes grating to the ear. The set is chalked on to the stage showing 'our house,' etc. The cast then sit on each side of the stage holding and sometimes reading from the book.

Robert Sean Leonard and Izzy Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird

When Tom Robinson, who is black, is accused of raping a white girl, the white lawyer, Atticus Finch (Robert Sean Leonard) takes on his defence. In the small racially prejudiced town, Tom stands little chance of acquital but, Atticus, observed by his young daughter Scout (on press night, Izzy Lee), who is the narrator, puts forward a telling case for justice and the importance of doing what is right. "In our courts all men are crated equal" asserts Atticus.

Once it gets dark, the action takes on a more intimate feel and the set, even the courthouse, works just fine. That the production works so well is due in no small part to Sean Leonard who is just as one imagines he should be in the part of Atticus - strong, noble and honest. This theatre has started the season with flying colours.

Box office: 0844 826 4242

There are two new productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon: HAMLET and AS YOU LIKE IT (both until 28 September).

Jonathan Slinger as Hamlet

I found Hamlet a competent, workmanlike effort. Directed by David Farr, who presents a clear play with everything clearly spelt out, it is not very exciting. Jonathan Slinger's Hamlet is somewhat dull though, again, carefully presented. There is lots of action in the play and Slinger displays anger at Ophelia (the tender Pippa Nixon) and at his mother, Gertrude (Charlotte Cornwell), but somehow it wasn't dramatic enough to hold my attention.

I guess the memory of David Tennant's Hamlet in 2008 is just too dominant a factor - he was so superb that it is hard for anyone to else to measure up to him. The play takes place in the 1960s and this setting works well.

Gregg Hicks, playing both the Ghost of Hamlet's dead father and Claudius, Hamlet's new stepfather, not only brings out the poetry in Shakespeare's verse but also gets the characteristics of each person exactly right. Hicks has a great hand curling gesture as the Ghost beckoning his son forward. Slinger's Hamlet is a very ordinary, down to earth guy without the upstanding bearing of a Prince. There is one unusual bit of staging when Hamlet comes on stage singing Ken Dodd's "Happiness." I liked Cornwell's Gertrude, who acts astonished when her son confronts her and even more so when he kills Polonius in mistake for Claudius. Nixon's a most modern Ophelia, with very short hair. She has to put up with quite a degree of violence from Hamlet in his, "Get thee to a nunnery" speech. The play livens up after Hamlet returns from his voyage to England.

Pippa Nixon appears as Rosalind in As you Like it. This is a superb production and Nixon is the best Rosalind I have seen since Vanessa Redgrave. The play is directed by Maria Aberg with such style and vivacity and a real feeling for the language of Shakespeare as well as the spirit of the play. Another modern dress production, this has Orlando in a hoodie, but it all works fine. The simple set works well also and the changes of venue are indicted simply.

There is a real frisson of love at first sight as Orlando and Rosalind look at each other. When the two girls dress as country folk, Nixon's almost flat-chested look in her trousers and braces works really well and her hair is cut from long to very short so that she is an acceptable young man in the forest of Arden. Touchstone is made to look like Max Wall with a false red nose, white face and bowler hat. Audrey dons a matching red nose to marry Touchstone. Jacques (Oliver Ryan) is most miserable in the forest and can't wait to leave. There are real tears in Nixon's eyes as she hears lovelorn shepherd Silvius (Michael Grady- Hall) pining for his disdainful Shepherdess, Phoebe (a lively performance from Natalie Klamar).

The whole production is well performed and directed with verve. But the chief delight is Pippa Nixon's Rosalind which is so delicately performed that I am reminded just why this is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

Box office: 0844 800 1110

Greg (Max Bennett) is very much in love with his new live-in girlfriend Ginny (Kara Tointon). When she goes off to visit her parents in the country, he follows her. Greg arrives first and joins her mother in the garden, although in Alan Ayckbourn's comedy RELATIVELY SPEAKING (Wyndham's Theatre until 31 August) it is not so straightforward and, in fact, the people living in the country house are not Ginny's parents at all but the husband is, in fact, her lover!

There are lots of double entendres which are very well played particularly by the older couple, Felicity Kendal as the wife, Sheila and Jonathan Coy as Philip her husband. The mistakes pile one on top of the other in this short play (only 2 hours including the interval) so that the audience is in fits of laughter almost from the beginning.

Felicity Kendal (Sheila), Max Bennett (Greg) and Kara Tointon (Ginny) in Relatively Speaking

The two sets show the contrast of the couples' lives with Ginny's flat in London consisting of a very small room with a bed and facilities off it while the older couple have a lovely garden with a pretty house in view behind it. Director Lindsay Posner extracts every ounce of humour from the play, which is so well-written that all the actors have to do is to perform to the best of their ability - which they do here and the result is hilarious.

Box Office: 0844 482 5120

Following in the footsteps (almost literally) of Le Cirque Soleil, Casus, an Australian alternative circus quartet, perform amazing feats in their show KNEE DEEP at the Riverside Studios (until 22 June). On a fairly small platform, with the audience on all sides, the three men and one young woman perform acrobatics, balancing acts, gymnastics, twirling from ropes and even tightrope walking and origami. They also walk on eggs.

They use amazing strength: at one point the woman has a man balancing on her shoulders and the other two men off the ground on either side of her body. Each artist has a separate moment to themselves when they perform some extra special trick alone on the stage, including one beating percussion on his own body. The only rather distasteful act is when the young woman hammers a nail into her nostril - a look-away moment!

The variety of styles of the music adds greatly to the overall non-stop performance. It only lasts an hour but there are some extraordinary acts here and it is long enough to have your heart in your mouth…as it were. Well done Emma Serjeant, Jesse Scott, Natano Fa'anana and Lachaln McAuley.

How lovely to see the attractive Lee Mead on stage. In THE WEST END MEN (Vaudeville Theatre (until 22 June) he is joined by three others, David Thaxter, Glenn Carter and Matt Willis, to perform songs from West End shows. Under director/choreographer Mitch Sebastian they perform separately as well as together. Although a couple of the male stars have better voices than Mead, he is certainly the best looking of the bunch.

David Thaxton has a lovely musical quality to his velvety voice and he and Glenn Carter put across the songs with proper respect for the words and emotion behind them. Carter has a lighter voice but it is most expressive as he acts out his solos. Matt Willis, from the group Busted, has a pop voice and puts across his songs in that manner. Lee Mead might not have the best voice but he is great looking and sings satisfactorily - even with the bad throat that was announced at the beginning of the show.

The small group of musicians are placed either side of the acting area. The stars walk up and down steps set in the middle of the stage then round behind the musicians and back again. There is not much here in the way of choreography.

I liked the group performing a medley of songs from West Side Story - their voices blend nicely. Most of the music is good, but I didn't like the different arrangement of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific. The four singing Bring Him Home from Les Miserables didn't work well as the song really needs just one to bring out the pathos.

After the interval Kerry Ellis joins the men on the stage. She has a strong jazz-type voice and is a welcome addition. Also in the second half is a huge chorus who walk on singing from Les Miserables. Altogether a most pleasant evening and it makes a welcome change from some of the loud, raucous musicals around.

Carlie Newman

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