Review: Love From A Stranger

Agatha Christie is the most successful female playwright of all time including the legendary The Mousetrap which is now in its 66th uninterrupted year. This year a national tour of Love From A Stranger, from Christie’s repertoire shared with Frank Vosper, is making its way around the UK and has stopped off in Cardiff’s New Theatre.

Love From A Stranger is a psychological thriller following protagonist Cecily Harrington who, after winning half of a sweepstake, yearns for adventure away from her apparently dull engagement. All of this becomes a startling reality for her when the worldly Bruce Lovell comes to impulsively view her London flat for rent. The two embark on a whirlwind romance as Cecily abandons her fiance of five years for a marriage within weeks and a remote country cottage.

I loved the flawless character construction and seamless acting. Each member of the cast’s acting really fitted the tone and period of the play. However, there were three standout actors of the piece. The main example being Helen Bradbury’s construction of the complex balance between the naivety but headstrong character of Cecily Harrington. Her ability to both know what she wants but also be easily led was constructed in the most perfect way. Similarly, Sam Frenchum’s alterations as Bruce Lovell were pulled off so flawlessly within his vocal range were shocking but in the best way possible within this play. The final truly stand out performance came from a character type I’m usually not a fan of. Nicola Sanderson’s portrayal of Louise Garrard effortlessly blended this play’s specific form of comedy and the tone of dramatic form of conflict perfectly and still created a form of likeable character despite her vocal opinions.

However, despite these amazing cast members and the ensemble of actors supporting them, one aspect of this play truly stole the show. The set, and by extension lighting design, was absolutely wonderful. The ingenuous use of three areas which slide to reveal further areas and the extension of the second act to add a dark room and upper area to the added staircase were executed beautifully. While I say they stole the show they enhanced the performances rather than distracting from them. For example, as Bruce appears at the top of the stairs you can see hints of the floor of presumably the second floor but this is never fully lit or even referred to so it added to the tone of mystery. The sound design also enhanced shocking moments of lighting design such as blackouts and fade-outs, however, issues with static became quite distracting.

Unfortunately, my major issue with this play actually comes with the book believe it or not. I found the first act, while paced reasonably well, to be lacking in dramatic moments which stood out. I was surprised when the lights come up as there simply seemed to be no drama other than the obvious actions of Cecily. While the second act was far more dramatic there seemed to be a discrepancy with what clues the play was leaving which were obvious and which were seemingly subtle. All of the seemingly subtle plot points or symbols seemed to come to absolutly nothing and looked forgotten as the play came to its conclusion. On the other hand, all of the obvious clues resulted in my figuring out some major reveals halfway through the act.

Even in the ending which I thought to be the best moment of the play’s script attempted multiple twists within its ambiguity but the ultimate final result left me actually preferring one of the previous ‘versions’ over the reality. This also was not helped at all by the ambiguity of the final ending which left it unclear how much Cecily knew even though Bruce was seemingly directly revealing aspects to her and overall you are left with questions but not the questions you want to be asking.

Therefore, this play is truly a treat for those interested in theatre construction. If you want to see an ingenious set which is actually unlike most I have seen or well-constructed acting then this is the play for you. Overall I give Love From A Stranger three out of five stars.


 Sunset Boulevard 2017/18 UK Tour: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review

Despite the heavy snowfall and cancelled shows on the previous two nights, I was lucky and the Wales Millennium Centre decided to go ahead with the Saturday matinee of the award-winning UK Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1993 musical, Sunset Boulevard. Based on the 1950 American film of the same name, Sunset Boulevard returns to tour the UK depicting Norma Desmond, a fading movie star from the silent era struggling to adjust to the medium’s switch into vocal performances, as she meets Joe Gillis, a young screenwriter exploring what he’s willing to do for his big break, as their lives begin to reflect the world of their professions.

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Review: The Grinning Man

Victor Hugo’s novels have proved to attract and inspire the creation of wonderful theatre. From the world famous Les Miserables and Disney’s theatrical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame the latest addition to this collection is L’Homme qui rit (The Man Who Laughs) which has been adapted into Tom Morris’ (War HorseThe Grinning Man. Hugo is my favorite author with The Man Who Laughs is one of my favorites and I’m glad to see this adaptive tradition still continuing and going strong.

This production is the definition of brand new. After premiering at the Bristol Old Vic in October 2016 it transferred into Trafalgar Studios’ Studio One, In London’s West End, from December 2017. It has already extended it’s run once and I was so happy that I got the chance to see it. In this review, I’ll be reviewing both this specific production, including some changes from the Bristol production, and the overall narrative of the piece.

The narrative of The Grinning Man entirely belongs to the leading man Grinpayne portrayed amazingly by Louis Maskell. Grinpayne is ‘The Grinning Man’ himself who travels to the Trafalgar Fair in Lonnn’Donn to display his unique grizzly face and his childhood story through puppetry alongside his adoptive sister and lover Dea, adoptive father Urus and Mojo. Grinpayne, however, is constantly preoccupied with his childhood promise to find the one who inflicted him with his grin and kill them. Louis Maskell’s talent really shines through as Grinpayne. He performs about 90% of the show with the bottom half of his face covered but he doesn’t let it impact on his singing voice and the emotions in his face transfer brilliantly. His construction of Grinpayne’s relationship with his identity and disfigurement is very original and comes across so well during ‘Labyrinth’. While lyrically I prefer the Bristol Old Vic version of this solo (a video of Maskell’s performance of that version is on YouTube thank goodness) the West End version ties in the events of the narrative to that point while keeping hold of Grinpayne’s unique view of his own situation and I still love the song.

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Review: Gallowglass

Ruth Rendell is undoubtedly an intriguing author and the stories she crafts are signs of an intuitive imagination concerning the murder-mystery genre. However, the theatrical adaptions of her novels on stage add yet another level of intrigue and craft which is always interesting to watch.

This is what drew me to Gallowglass from Middle Group Theatre Company, currently running at Cardiff’s New Theatre. I’ve previously seen A Judgement in Stone translated onto the New Theatre stage and I wanted to see both another Ruth Rendell story and another attempt to bring her work onto the stage. This review will be a review of the narrative as well as the purely theatrical side of this production as, in the case with most murder-mystery plays, the characters are the driving force of all action meaning that a review of the actors and production is intertwined with the narrative itself. This review may also possibly contain spoilers though I will do my best to avoid stating them point blank.

As I usually do, I’m going to start with the positives first. This production indeed is an exhibition of high quality, committed acting. It is refreshing to see that production has apparently been taken out of the rehearsal room as each actor had clearly defined their interpretation of their character and fully immersed themselves within it. There were no seams to any of their performances and, once the play had started, you were fully engaged with their personalities.

It can often be difficult to inject humour into these dark and mysterious plays. However, Dean Smith’s portrayal of Joe Herbert, a man who is pulled from jumping in front of a train by Sandor Wincanton and forced to dedicate his life to him and his schemes in return, seems to do it effortlessly. Even in highly dramatic scenes, I found myself wanting to focus on Smith simply to see Joe’s reaction to the events. I really appreciated the injection of humour which felt completely natural rather than being out of place or annoying.

Rachael Hart’s portrayal of Tilley also injected humour into tense scenes with her one-track minded goal of securing some form of financial gain. However, she was also quite intelligent in her view of the construction of the crime which was interesting in how heightened Hart’s focus was on the more stereotypical aspects of Tilley’s nature.

The sets built explicitly for the stage, often depicting the interiors of both of Wincanton’s apartments, Paul Garnett’s home and Tilley’s camper were genuinely beautiful pieces of set design. The split stage between Garnett’s house and the other locations was very well done, and the transitions as the left-hand side changed between each location were seamless. I think that this was a really intriguing take on the usually fixed nature of the house/split setting of the genre.

However, this production highlights a specific newer aspect of set design which I am certainly not a fan of. I’m really against the reliance upon screen projection as a replacement of set design. I understand and have seen, that screen projection can be made well when used more in moderation rather than a straight replacement for a piece of set design. Unfortunately, when a screen is placed in front of these built sets, this production falls into the latter category. The only time I really liked the use of the screen was when the right-hand side of a forest scene was faded out by the lighting on Garnett’s home. If this were a moderate use of the screen, then I would have liked it, but I think the reliance upon it to fill in for set design was too strong and let to awkward moments such as Garnett skipping stones away from the sea in the beach scene.

Paul Garnett (Paul Opacic) and Nina Abbott (Florence Cady) were my favourite characters within this story regarding their development and roles. My favourite lines of the play were Nina’s and I feel that she represents quite a strong female character within the genre of the play, rather than the damsel in distress.

However, the roles of both of these characters fell into one of my main issues with this play. The narrative of the play is bizarre. That’s the only word I can think to describe it. I feel that the dialogue for Sandor Wincanton was the primary cause of this as the play felt like two and a half hours of spoken exposition, five minutes of action and actual plot and then five minutes of the ending, which dumped a massive amount of information. I just wanted more from the script. I found those five minutes of dropped information at the end far more interesting than the majority of the dialogue in the whole play, but it’s quick nature just made it too confusing to take in. I wish that this was reversed as it would have made the narrative far more engaging and intriguing. Even when there were small twists in the story, the order in which they were revealed was strange as the first killed the shock factor of the second. Every action felt predictable and, when discussing the narrative with my friend afterwards, we felt that there were many different directions in which the events could have gone which would have been more interesting.

Overall, I was very disappointed with the construction of the narrative of this play, and I just wanted more from the script. I really liked watching the actors construct these characters. However, they just didn’t have much at all to work with. I’m going to give this production two stars purely for the set design and standard of the actors. However, as the narrative is so predictable, exposition-heavy and the good characters disappear for the sake of dropping information on the audience this production just wasn’t my favourite.

Upcoming Theatre Shows (2018)

Deadline day for uni has finally passed! That means that my 2018 has now officially started (and I can go back to feeling a bit more human). So, I decided that the best way to start 2018 off on a good note was to let you guys know what exciting shows I’ve already booked for myself.

I will admit that one reason for this blog coming out so far into January is because I’ve only just stopped booking for myself, but some of these shows were scheduled last year or two years ago… basically, 2018 has been a long time in the making. I’m incredibly excited for all of them, but I will include little write-ups about each one as to why I booked them. I’ve also included trailers and ticket links (click the show name) where possible so please enjoy these shows as much as I do!

I’m hoping and expecting that this list won’t be identical to my ‘2018 wrap up’ theatre blog at the end of the year because I’m sure that other shows will come up throughout the year. However, the shows below are the ones I already know I have coming up.

So, I hope you guys have had a lovely new year and here is to start 2018 off in the best way possible.

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Review: Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon is touring! After an incredibly successful revival at the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre, Cameron Macintosh’s juggernaut of a production transferred both to Broadway and onto a UK Tour. This UK Tour has now landed in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre with quite a long run straight over Christmas and New Year. So of course, I simply had to buy tickets as soon as they were released to see how this cast would tackle the well known and loved show.

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Legally Blonde: The Musical Review

Legally Blonde has returned to the UK. I remember this show as one of the first musicals that I saw all the way through, years ago when I was really getting into them by searching for anything that I could on YouTube, thanks to the MTV screening of the original cast. I really love that cast but I was very excited to see what this new UK tour would bring. It was also quite exhilarating to see it performed whilst the tour stopped in the hometown of the leading principle Lucie Jones who has taken on the role of Elle Woods. As I was very familiar with the story and the music from the MTV screening in this review I will be mainly talking about this particular production and it’s cast.

Originally based on the hit Reese Witherspoon film, Legally Blonde follows Elle Woods on her quest to regain her ‘true love’ Warner Huntington III. This quest brings her to Harvard Law school and we are treated to an inside view as Elle’s attempts to impress Warner actually evolves into a journey of self-discovery and a new career.

Before getting into the cast, I’m going to start with my favourite part of Legally Blonde. The instrumental versions of the songs that appear throughout the show and as the overture, but mainly in the finale, are amazing and beautiful. This production really captured that and it was a treat to hear. Although it made me very sorry for the orchestra when people continue to talk over them I urge you to go and listen to these orchestrations if you get the chance.

Elle Woods is a surprisingly complex character. Of course, as a sorority president obsessed with all things bright and pink, she is perky. But the story shows that there is far more to her than that. Lucie Jones’ portrayal of Elle was certainly intriguing. She incorporated Elle’s initial smarts and talents almost effortlessly into her original perky attitude from the top of the show rather than switching from one to the other. Lucie Jones also has an amazing ability to switch from the perky aspects of Elle’s personality into the more emotional moments and back again without it looking forced. And I have to say, her belt at the end of ‘So Much Better’ is amazing. She really is an amazing talent to watch.

Rita Simmons, similar to her on-screen sister Samantha Womack, left their famous roles in Eastenders to tour the UK in musical productions. Her commitment to the role of Paulette was amazing. She was hilarious throughout and her singing talent really sounded out her characterisation.

This production really epitomises the show’s message of ‘girl power’ as it really was the women in the cast who stole the show. Vivian is a character famous for coming out with some amazing notes during the ‘Legally Blonde Remix’ and the finale and Laura Harrison truly lived up to that. However, not only is she an amazing singer but I also really liked her portrayal of Vivian from the beginning. I feel that she made Vivian far more human so her character development was far more believable. I was also quite surprised at just how much I liked Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham. She stole the show slightly at the beginning of Act Two with ‘Whipped Into Shape’ and I was tired just watching that routine and the fact that she could sing so effortlessly afterwards was amazing.

While the women stole the show, I must admit that I was not a fan of Bill Ward’s interpretation of Professor Callahan. As soon as he came on to sing ‘Blood In the Water’ he was loud, almost shouty, brash and flamboyant in his movement. As he stayed exactly the same throughout the whole show it seemed to turn him into a slightly more comic villain and didn’t make his actions towards Elle surprising or shocking towards the end of the show. I think I much preferred Michael Rupert’s interpretation of Callahan as a smooth, calm lawyer.

I did notice some strange choices in terms of, possibly, musical direction during this production. Well, I’m not sure what it was but it was quite strange. Throughout some songs in the show, there were added pauses in the middle of musical lines and strange exaggerations on certain sing words. It’s hard to describe but it was most visible in ‘Chip on My Shoulder’ (one of my favourite musical theatre songs). This issue made me really dislike this version of the song. The pauses and exaggerations change the song from quick almost sarcastic speak-singing, which is what I love Emmett’s character for, into a jerky and almost annoying song. It’s a real shame as well because at the end of the song, and during ‘Take It Like A Man’, David Barrett showed that he does have a lovely voice and can really sing. I just wish that the arrangement of this great song had been kept the same to work in his favour. I feel that this may have also affected the girls of Delta Nu during the opening as their lines felt too exaggerated to be natural and the pauses and exaggerations made them sound like they were reading the lines as one-offs rather than as parts of conversations. Basically, some of the choices made in this production stopped some aspects feeling completely natural and smooth. However, this was easily combatted by the talent I have mentioned above and the very sweet development of Elle and Emmett’s love story which was handled very well both by Jones and Barrett.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of seeing Legally Blonde be brought to life by a brand new cast. It was thrilling and the girls really did steal the show. If you’re a fan of the original Broadway production I would recommend that you give this version a try – but, if you’ve only seen the film of Legally Blonde and are looking for an introduction into the show then I could not recommend this more.

Legally Blonde is running in Cardiff’ New Theatre until Saturday the 25th of November before continuing on its UK Tour. You can buy your tickets here: http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/event?id=13450

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