Art for entertainment's sake

Fab West End Shows to See

Many of us love to go to the theatre to see our favourite actors in live action on the stage as for us there is nothing to compare with a live performance. I have seen a number of West End shows in the last two years, some absolutely fantastic, while others were not so good. Here is my take on the shows I have seen, which are my favourites and which did not step up to the mark.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

priscilla queen of the desert

There is only one word to describe this show, that is an adaptation of the 1994 film success Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and that is spectacular! I saw this show in The Palace Theatre in Londons West End, while even before we got into the theatre I knew it was going to be amazing as sited on top of the entrance to the theatre stood a massive sparkly pink stilleto heeled shoe!

The Story

Priscilla is the story of two Australian drag queens and a transexual who travel across the desert to Alice Springs in an old bus in order to put on a show for one of the drag queens ex wife. Its an hilarious romp that sees the trio encounter prejudice along the way, while in the end they do find some sort of peace and happiness. One of them especially,Tick, as he gets to meet the son he has never seen.

One of the main characters Bernadette has had a sex change and is looking for love, while the younger of the three is full of fun plus is very over the top camp that only adds to the humour. Priscilla is the name of the bus the ladies travel in across the desert but Priscilla unfortunately isn’t reliable and breaks down resulting in all kinds of hilarious consequences, while Bernadette meets the man of her dreams when the mechanic turns up to repair the bus.

The Production

As far the the staging goes this show is fantastic! The costumes are so over the top but fit the piece well, while the speedy costume changes are nothing short of amazing as some of the changes are done before your eyes leaving you puzzling, how did they do that so quickly without me noticing?

All the outfits the drag queens wear are wonderful and very imaginative, with colourful bell bottom trousers and outrageous wigs, while the loud makeup is just spectacular! Priscilla, the bus, sits on a turntable on the stage that spins around at various stages and speeds resulting in a very realistic effect.

The music is vibrant and loud with some superb pop classics such as It’s Raining Men by the Weather Girls getting the audience on their feet. There is one particular scene where Felicia, one of the drag queens is on top of the bus inside a huge pink sparkly shoe singing opera, when the shoe moves out over the audience creating quite a stir as it looked phenomenal!

The Cast

Jason Donovan played Tick/Mitzy Del Bra in the production I saw and gave a sterling performance although his vocals were not as good as the other cast members in my opinion. Thats not to say his singing was bad but his voice just didn’t seem as strong as his co stars voices were. That said, fans of Jason, as I am, are very forgiving, while Jason Donovan is a big name that pulls in audiences due to his worldwide “Neighbours” fame.

Richard Grieve however was my favourite. He took on the role of Bernadette the transexual and played the female role so well that I did forget at times that he was actually a man. His singing was superb, while he played the part of the sad Bernadette with such sympathy that I immediately warmed to her wanting her to find that all illusive love match she so craved. Richard has also played the part of Tick in the past ( saw him in that role too) but Bernadette for me is his winning performance every time. Some of you may remember Richard who played a gay vet in Emmerdale a few years ago and also featured in the Australian soap Home and Away.

Adam/Felicia was played by Graham Weaver who put in an excellent performance in the role with superb dancing and singing that engaged the audience from the minute he came on the stage. His comical timing was superb and Felicia delivered many superb one liners with great aplomb. Giles Watling who is a seasoned actor played Bob, Bernadette’s love interest, performing the part in a believable way making me wish for him and Bernadette to become a couple. In fact all the cast of Priscilla were phenomenal!

My Verdict

As you have probably guessed I rate this stage musical very highly as it is one of the best I have seen in a long time. The acting is superb, the music is amazing, the sets and costumes are wonderful in fact I don’t have a negative thing to say! If you have not seen the stage production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert then I recommend you do when it plays in a theatre near you.

The Thirty Nine Steps

the thirty nine steps

I have long been a fan of the film versions of The Thirty Nine Steps from the original Robert Donat depiction of Richard Hanny through to Rupert Penry Jones’s excellent portrayal therefore I was very excited to be invited to watch this West End production of the John Buchan novel.

The Story

The Thirty Nine Steps involves our hero Richard Hannay being mistakenly accused of murder so has to go on the run to prove his innocence. Set in and around 1914 the story involves secret agents, both British and enemy spies plus Hannay’s struggle to prove his innocence, while also revealing what and where are The Thirty Nine Steps.

Hannay travels to Scotland where he hopes to discover the headquarters of a mysterious secret organisation that he thinks are involved in the murder that he is mistakenly accused of. There he meets his love interest who ultimately assists him in solving the mystery.

The Production

We don’t usually associate The Thirty Nine Steps with comedy but this particular production is just that, while there are only four actors throughout the whole piece who play all One hundred and thirty nine parts! The result is an hilarious romp from start to finish that has laugh out loud moments at regular intervals. I have to say the four actors involved work very hard with some speedy costume and scene changes that seem impossible but are definitely achieved with panache.

The Criterion Theatre is the venue and is just the right size to put on this superb production. Ellie Beaven plays many of the female roles including Annaballa Schmidt, Margaret and Pamela and I swear if you did not know, you would think it was a different actress every time as she does it so well. Her depiction of the love interest with her oh so posh accent is superb, while her German accent is very realistic and believable.

Richard Hannay is played by the superb Ben Righton admirably, while he captures the essence of the character but also has a great comedic talent too. Other cast members include the fabulous Greg Haiste and Nick Holder who swap in and out of their respective roles at such breakneck speed its hard to keep up.

I particularly liked the scene in the Scottish hotel where the secret agents arrive looking for Hannay. It was hilarious as one of the actors was dressed as the female owner down one side and a male down the other swapping position from side to side as required during the conversation. The audience were in stitches and rightly so as this was so well done. I can only say that the actors involved in this production must leave the stage thoroughly exhausted following their performances.

My Verdict

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this production but I have to say I was not disappointed. The acting was superb, subdued when required and thoroughly over the top in a farcical way when needed. The whole show played along so quickly that I felt that I hadn’t been seated that long before the production was over. The Thirty Nine Steps is a fantastic play filled with laughter and fun that is an alternative to the more serious film depictions of the story. If you have yet to see this play you really do have something special to look forward to.

The Woman in Black

the woman in black

Anyone who enjoys a really good ghost story will surely love this great production of The Woman in Black. Playing at The Fortune Theatre in London’s West End it is one of the longest running productions due to its phenomenal success with audiences. The cast does change from time to time therefore I can only judge on the performances I saw at the time.

The Story

Kipps is a young solicitor who is dispatched to Eel Marsh House to tie up the affairs of the late owner who has recently died. On entering the house Kipps feels a strange atmosphere then sees a vision of a woman in black. Kipps tries to find out more about the strange woman but the locals are very tight lipped therefore he must embark on his investigations alone.

Later in his life Kipps relates the tale to an actor hoping that telling his story will somehow set him free from the memories that haunt him from that time. The play is based upon the 1983 novel by Susan Hill sticking mostly but not entirely to her original format, while this eerie ghost story though simple in nature is spell binding and very scary for those of us that frighten easily.

The Production

To say that this play is spine chilling and gripping is an understatement as the atmosphere produced throughout is edge of the seat stuff that has you entirely gripped. The main protagonists in the play when I saw it were Arthur Kipps played by Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, who puts in a sterling performance and Ciaran Hinds who plays Sam Daily a landowner who wants Kipps to leave.

Radcliffe although quite young fits the part well and delivers a very believable performance as the grieving Kipps who has recently lost his wife during childbirth leaving him bereft. Hinds on the other hand suits the part he plays well giving off an air of superiority and menace as the play goes along.

Tension builds and builds throughout and sometimes I felt like hiding behind my hands just in case! The ending in this production is slightly different to that in the book, while if you have not read the book this will not affect your enjoyment of this very scary play!

My Verdict

I really enjoyed this play even though it was sinister and frightening most of the way through. The cast created an eerie atmosphere bringing the story of Kipps to life well. When we left the theatre I found myself looking behind me. After all I needed to make sure that the woman in black was not following us home!