Starlight Express @ The Other Palace

*BEWARE, SPOILERS!*

I know I don’t normally review theatre productions, but I just can’t resist for this one.

Starlight Express Workshop Performance, 15/09/17
The Other Palace, London

This was a very different production of this wonderful 30 year old classic. It was a semi-staged, 3 day run on a tiny stage. The idea behind this workshop style performance was that creative director Arlene Phillips had the chance to make changes to it to make it more current and acceptable in today’s culture. I will discuss some of the changes made and if I think they worked or not.

Please bare in mind, I have seen this musical twice before; once about 20 years ago at the Apollo Victoria and once on tour in Milton Keynes, I’m not an expert when it comes to Starlight but I am making these comments based on my own opinion. 

Let me set the scene, the stage at The Other Palace is round and has a ascending audience. The band is located above the stage on a mezzanine style platform.

ACT 1:

The show opened with Control making his way up to join the band and sat at the front of the platform. Already we see new additions to the show, this is the first time that we have seen Control in person, usually he is just a pre-recorded voice over.
Instead of having Control playing with a toy train set, they have set him up with a headset and iPad and having him playing a train based game on there, this is the first major update we saw.

‘The Entry of the Trains’ opens the show with a bang, a huge opening number and allows the principle racers to be introduced. There have been a few changes to this, the trains names for one have been altered to make them more relevant and one (although I think we could do with a couple more) of the trains is now played by a female.
The British trains name has changed from “The Prince of Wales” to “Brexit”, I personally am not a fan of this change, although this joke is relevant now, I think it will get old very quickly. I also used to like that the gag with the British train was that it was always running late, this was and still is relevant and therefore would still remain funny, however, they have changed it to being a bumbling fool which some people may find offensive and quite frankly, isn’t as funny.

There are a couple of new songs in the first act which provide the female roles with some more activity which I think is great. I’m glad they haven’t changed the personalities of the coaches, they seemed to be more present in the first half than what I remember from the original soundtrack.
If my memory doesn’t deceive me, they have cut “He’ll Whistle at Me” which is not a great loss, it is a boring and predictable song and never brought much to the show.

The freight trains, one of my favourite parts of the show, have changed also since the original cast recording. The used to be called the Rocky’s, but from what I remember, they changed when the show went on tour to the Hip Hoppers (I personally prefer the Rockys!) One of the Hip Hoppers is now played by a girl, which is fab!

I am so glad they haven’t changed Greaseball at all, he’s a fantastic character, one that you love to hate, and he brings a sense of American humour to the show which I think is important to the story.

Electra is also still the same and I’m glad of that, however, in this production they’ve got him wearing 8 inch red heels which I absolutely loved but does this mean we’re not going to see him in skates in the future? Are the skates going forever? I think it would be a crying shame if so.

I had a thought whilst I was watching the show, about the gender of the characters, aside from some of the principles couldn’t all of the ensemble, and perhaps Mamma/Pappa and the Rockys, be played by either sex? I think it would be great to change from performance to performance. Why couldn’t Flat Top be played by a male and have his understudy as a female? I think it would be great!

We then get introduced to Mamma (formally known as Pappa!) and she belts out her wonderful blues number and leads us to the end of Act 1 when Rusty gets his time to shine with Starlight Express. I was very disappointed with this rendition of this song, for me it is one of the most beautiful songs in the show and it’s completely different to the original. They’ve kept the chorus the same, which is great, but the versus are very different and I didn’t feel the song ever really took off.

The production itself is fantastic, the cast are incredibly talented and so funny and the creative team have made great use of the space available to them. I liked how there were parts, mostly during the race scenes, where the cast moved up and down the aisles around the auditorium, much like when it was in the Apollo Vic they would have skated around the audience. The races worked really well, and I loved how they wrote into the script that the “lights weren’t working and kept going out” because the races couldn’t have been staged properly in that theatre, and this also gave the audience the chance to appreciate the band without any distractions.

ACT 2:

Opened with the much adored “The Rap”; so happy this has made the cut in the revised version. Fantastic song and brilliantly performed.

Red Caboose is a character I don’t remember from the original, maybe he’s just got a new name but either way, he has a new song which was fantastic and he’s an interesting character in the way that he plays with Greaseball, Electra and Dusty to try and double cross them. He soon gets his comeuppance in “One Rock’n’Roll too Many” (another of my personal favourites) which was definitely a highlight of the whole show, still just as funny as it was the first time I saw/heard it 20 years ago.

Pearl is not my favourite character by any means but she was given a couple of new numbers in this production and I don’t find her quite as annoying as I used to. Of course, everyone is routing for Pearl and Rusty throughout the whole show and they’re duet at the end of Act 2 is really sweet.

As it was a workshop production we were given feedback forms to fill in based on our opinion of the show. One of the questions was “were there any parts of the story that you found confusing” in response to this question, yes, there are two plot points that I don’t quite understand; Does Mamma die and turn into the Starlight? and Why do the Rocky’s hate Rusty so much that they end up beating him up? Maybe once there’s a fully staged version of the show I will get the answers!

I really didn’t want this review to be about the cast, I spend too much of my time writing “this person was great” and “I hate this actor” and really this post is more about the production. But, I can’t leave without just making a shout out to the entire cast, the principle performers were all fantastic and given that it is only a 3 day run their character development is incredible. The ensemble on the other hand, I really don’t know how to say it, they were just breathtaking, they all played swings and therefor were portraying about 3-5 characters each and still made it so easy to follow the story without the use of sets, costume changes and makeup.

I’m so glad to see more female performers in this show, as it’s always been quite a male dominated cast, however, I think particularly for Dustin they need to cast a heavier actor.  There are comments made throughout the script about him being a heavy coach and that’s the reason Mamma breaks down in Race 1. I’m not saying the guy that played him tonight wasn’t any good, the complete opposite actually, he was brilliant and had a really stunning voice. I just think we need to see a bit more size diversity and this character is a great one for that.

One last thing before I go to bed – thank you, thank you to the creatives behind this new revised version of this amazing musical, for not cutting my favourite song from any musical ever; U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. For as long as I can remember this has been my favourite and I would have been gutted if it had been cut. (Just like I was when Little People was cut from Les Mis, I’m looking at you Mackintosh.)

Please come home Starlight Express, London has missed you.

 

 

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Starlight Express @ The Other Palace

The Limehouse Golem

*SPOILER FREE REVIEW*

As always, I will start this post with an apology for my absence to my 2 readers… This summer has been a crazy one, I worked an amazing job at an exciting “film casting related” company and moved house twice. Today I will be enrolling into my new University. But before any of that starts, I needed to get to the cinema, it had been too long. I think I’ve been twice over the last 6 weeks or something.

So I went to see the new Bill Nighy drama, The Limehouse Golem. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, but thanks to one of my best friends I am getting much better at going into films with an open mind, so that’s what I did.

The film is set in 1800’s London and follows D.I Kildare (Nighy) as he tries to unveil a series of murders that have taken place. It’s a good old fashioned murder inspection film with detail to gore and interesting characters. I was very impressed with the casting, I usually don’t speak particularly highly of Douglas Booth however in this film he really blew me away. He was incredible, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him dedicate himself so much to a role. Olivia Cooke was also brilliant, she lead the cast perfectly and her character development was impressive. And just a quick shout-out to Daniel Mays who plays the D.I’s assistant copper, I always love Mays in everything he’s done and it was really nice to see him get a big role in something totally different. The story is full of twists and turns and some big surprises. I loved the script, the dialogue was fast paced and kept you wanting more.

Just a quick final note to the production designers of the film, this is a nerdy film student thing to have noticed, but there really are some stunning shots throughout. The use of lighting is perfect, I couldn’t help noticing the use of silhouettes and how powerful they are. They really captured the eerie-ness of London in that era, from the people living in poverty to the grand home of the Creeds, it really is stunning.

I’m happy to say (as you can probably tell) I really loved this film, it was perfect for a gloomy Sunday afternoon. If you want to see a good old fashioned British drama, this is the one for you.

The Limehouse Golem

Ready Player One

After perusing through IMDb this morning whilst I was supposed to be doing college work (it still counts as research, right?) I made my first stop at my favourite (living) directors page and was completely taken aback by the amount of work this man has lined up. Steven Spielberg has been my favourite director/producer since I first found out what a director/producer was, his work has inspired me, and continues to do so every time I watch one of his masterpieces. Because, in his world, everything IS a masterpiece.

He has 18 producer jobs in the works, 5 of which he is directing himself. And although the hype seems to be focusing on the “Untitled Steven Spielberg Project” formally known as “Posts” being given an awards season release date, my heart and eyes are set on Ready Player One. I recently read the book, and it has shot straight to the position of my favourite book I’ve ever read (Harry Potter doesn’t count on that list, it has a list of its own, for obvious reasons). RPO follows the story of Wade, played in the film by Tye Sheridan who I adore and I had the honor of meeting at the X-Men Apocalypse premier, Wade lives the world we know, only different, it has been completely destroyed by the ever-marvellous human race, and now practically everyone lives within a VR video game called the Oasis. Wades mission is to complete a game set up by Oasis inventor James Halliday, played in the film by SIR Mark Rylance (anyone who knows me, can now see why I am so excited about this film). Completion of the game will result in Wade being a multi-millionaire, give him the chance to escape his horrible family life, and be free of the horrors of the modern world.
James Halliday is obsessed with 80’s pop culture, something I am also quite the fan of, and throughout the book there are constant references to films, books, music and comics that rose to fame in the 80’s.

As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but imagine seeing this incredible story, written by Ernest Cline, on the big screen.

I don’t doubt for a second that the 18 films that Spielberg is currently producing will be wonderful, incredible and as always masterpieces, but for me, the excitement lies in Ready Player One.

And so, the countdown begins.

351 days to go.

 

(also – read the book. do it.)

Ready Player One

20 films in to 2017

It’s now March 14th, I have just seen my 21st film of the year. Kong: Skull Island. I have actually been keeping a hand-written film diary which seemed like a great idea at the start of the year but apparently it means I write a lot less on here.

There’s already been some incredibly successful, high-budget, blockbusters this year that I have thoroughly enjoyed, things like; Logan, Passengers, Kong, The Great Wall (despite Matt Damons dodgy Irish accent, I still love him) and Hacksaw Ridge and we still have so many to come, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor: Ragnarok and Power Rangers to name a few. I have also just started hearing a bit more about the new Charlie Hunnam hit, The Lost City of Z, which at first I thought looked boring and ridiculous but actually after reading some reviews and watching some trailers for it I’m actually very interested in seeing this film. It looks like it could be something great.

I also followed all of the Oscar nominees like a hawk, I managed to see all the Best Picture contenders before the awards took place, my favourite from the day dot was Arrival, I also loved Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion and Hell or High Water. I was disappointed in Moonlight and Fences, which unfortunately Moonlight went on to win Best Picture, in my opinion it didn’t deserve it, it was a film made for all the wrong reason, political drivel that was made with one intention, to win the BP Award at the Oscars, props to them – they did what they set out to do. But I truly believe Hidden Figures should have won, it was a beautifully told important story. (I’m aware this is a controversial opinion, I don’t think I need to worry about the half a dozen people that actually read this blog, but it is my opinion and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, I just didn’t like it.)

Aside from all of that, one of the films from this year that seems to have stuck with me from the first moment I watched it was Manchester by the Sea (again, controversial, I like it for the film and the talent, not the actors themselves). It was one of the most visually beautiful films, New England is such a beautiful place and it’s nice to see the scenic shots on the big screen. Casey Afflecks portrayal of a man dealing with guilt, grief and trauma is so compelling, you felt every single word he said and it was the first film, in a long time, that I actually managed to have some empathy for the characters. I am now currently reading the screenplay and have downloaded the soundtrack because I just can’t get enough of it. Kenny Lonergan is an absolute genius and his words are so soothing yet heartbreaking at the same time. I true visionary. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

So 2017 seems to be going off with a bang, we’re now into the third month of the year, second of the film year, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the year brings.

I am still working on my challenge to see every Oscar Best Picture winning film, I think I might have ticked a few more off the list since I last wrote. I watched Million Dollar Baby the other night and found it extremely dull. I’m surprised it won as much as it did, but that’s just me.

What’s next? I’m not sure, the dreaded remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is being released world wide on Friday so maybe I’ll drag myself kicking and screaming to see that at some point and I want to see Ben Wheatleys Free Fire once that’s released, see if it’s any better and less pretentious than High Rise. But until then, I’ll just stay sat on the sofa working my way through my ever-growing DVD collection.

MTFBWY

20 films in to 2017

Yes, I finally watched Trainspotting

It’s only taken me like, 10 years since I first heard about this film to get round to watching it. It’s been sat on my DVD shelf for the last 2 gathering dust. I’ve actually been putting it off for ages because I don’t like films about drugs, but, it’s a classing, a cult favourite and as a media/film student I felt like it was something that had to be ticked off the list.

As anyone who knows me will be aware, I’m not the biggest Danny Boyle fan although I agreed with the Academy when he was awarded the gold statue for Slumdog Millionaire, because I absolutely loved that film.

Trainspotting, where do I even start? Everyone knows it, even if you haven’t seen it, you know it, you can picture that awful photo of a very underweight Ewan McGreggor and you just know it’s not going to be the easiest watch. No, I didn’t like the narrative, the script lacked umph, but the shooting techniques used were beautiful and the cast were completely perfect. I love Kelly McDonald to the moon and back, and seeing her in this completely different role to what I’m used to was great.

I’m still a bit, unsure of what I think about the film as a whole, but technically it was perfect and I am very glad I’ve finally got round to watching it… I won’t be rushing to Cineworld tomorrow to catch T2.

I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. It is what it is and that’s that.

 

Yes, I finally watched Trainspotting

2017 …so far

Yep, as always, I’ve left it ages since writing here but I guess that’s mostly because I don’t think anyone reads it haha! So what’s the point?

2017 has begun with a bang for me in the film world, I’m loving almost everything I see at the cinema at the moment. That time of year is here again, awards season, I live for this period of the film calendar! There’s so much to be excited about and so much I’ve already enjoyed.

My top film for 2016 was Arrival, the script, the acting, the production design, the direction, the narrative was all phenomenal. I loved love loved it. And having Jeremy Renner to look at for the duration of the film was also a nice treat. I really do love that man! I was luck enough to get a glimpse of him and Amy Adams at the Arrival premiere back during the BFI Film Festival here in London. Another highlight of the last 6 months for me, unfortunately I didn’t get to view any films at the festival but I went to a lot of the red carpet events and it was so much fun! I saw some real idols and had the chance to be involved in the celebration of the industry I know and love so much. It was great!

So back to the present, 2017, what a year so far and we’re only 31 days in! I am keeping a handwritten journal of all the films I’ve seen at the cinema this year so I can have a final headcount of how many I watch because I have no idea how many I watched last year and I would be so interested. I’m looking forward to looking back over it this time next year to reminisce on some of the films I’d forgotten about.

So, I’ve seen 6 of the 9 best picture nominations for this years Academy Awards. Arrival being the highlight but, saying that, I’ve loved them all. La La Land is beautiful and wonderful and deserves all the recognition it gets, it’s so exciting to see the old art form from the Golden Age back on the big screen where it belongs. Emma Stone is a sure win for the leading actress category. Hacksaw Ridge, although a tough watch, a very tough watch, I really did love it. I have a lot of love for war films anyway and Andrew Garfields performance was great. He’s really growing into a serious actor. It’s very exciting to see. Manchester by the Sea, I really don’t know how I can put into words how much I loved this film. Casey Affleck is just incomprehensible, his performance was chilling yet beautiful, cold yet so warming, hard to watch yet addictive. I don’t know how else to say it, I really don’t. I can see him picking up the golden man on February 28th. Lion, also amazing, held together wonderfully by Dev Patel and his wonderful youngerself Sunny Pawar, a brilliant young actor who we can only expect great things from in the future. It was a beautifully heartwarming true story and I really loved it. (I’ve said that a lot so far, I told you, I have loved everything so far this year!)
So what have I got left? Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences. All award favourites so far this year and I’m really looking forward to seeing them all. Bring it on!

On a personal note, I have set myself the task (with my best friend, whom I will be attending the BAFTA red carpet with in 12 days!) to watch every film that’s ever won the “Best Picture” gong at the Academy Awards, it’s a heck of a challenge with 89 films to watch, one a year since 1928. I have watched 18, so I have quite a way to go. But I will start a new thread and keep you all (ha ha) updated with my progress.

So, until then, I bid thee a farewell.

May the force be with you, always.

2017 …so far