A night of 100 heroes

Last weekend I had the honour and privilege of attending “a night of 100 heroes” at St. Paul’s church in Covent Garden. It was an evening full of outstanding performances from leading names from London’s West End all to raise money for the North Kensington Fire Fighters who are running the London Marathon in aid of “Kids on the Green” this Sunday.

The evening was a hit right from the off, as soon as we entered the church and we found our seats the room was filling up around us. We overheard one of the volunteers say that the event was a sell out. The room was decorated with 72 heart shaped balloons, one for each of the fallen victims of the tragic fire. These balloons were then for sale at the end of the night to help raise as much money as possible.

The show began with an incredible performance from Nadim Naaman (who I had the pleasure of seeing as Raoul in Phantom). It was a beautiful performance and the perfect way to open the show.

Each performer came on the stage and sang one song, I was completely blown away by the level of talent in that room. All singing songs from hit musicals both from stage and screen.

A couple of stand out performances for me were;

Matt Harvey singing Heaven on their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar, his voice was utterly flawless.

Simon Bailey and Gina Beck’s performance of All I Ask Of You from Phantom was also perfect, the two performed opposite each other in Phantom so it was beautiful to see them perform it again. Both such beautiful voices.

Emma Lindars brought the house down with her rendition of Never Enough from the smash hit The Greatest Showman, you know it’s a great performance when the audience feel the need to applaud half way through the song – incredible.

The Barricade Boys never fail to impress when I see them live. It was a fantastic addition to the night when they came on stage and invited presenter and organiser (and fellow Barricade Boy) Kieran Brown to join them in a note perfect rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. Scott Garnham then stayed on stage and did a fantastic mash-up of Its My Life by Bon Jovi mixed with Master of the House from Les Mis. Such brilliant voices and a great group of guys. It’s always a pleasure to see them perform.

Amongst all the wonderful performances we were graced with the presence of a true hero, firefighter Tom Abell was invited on stage to give a speech and to give thanks to his team at North Kensington Firefighters. We also got to hear a beautiful poem written by one of the locals to Grenfell read by Harriet Thorpe.

It was an outstanding night with incredible organisation from Kieran Brown and Sabrina Aloueche. What a perfect way to celebrate the incredible bravery of the North Kensington Firefighters and a chance to reflect on that tragic event. Thank you to everyone involved and congratulations to the incredible performers.

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A night of 100 heroes

My top 10 (…12) of 2017

As it’s New Year and everyone is all about making the resolutions I figured I should set myself a few realistic ones for 2018. First of all I really need to work harder at this blog, I really love writing about films and talking about films, I’m always that person at events that seems to somehow turn the conversation on to “what did you think of Star Wars?” so I really should embrace my blog more. Not to mention I use it to get press passes and then fail to actually publish any of the stuff I write about the events. So that ends NOW. I am going to set myself the challenge of at least 2 posts a month, talking about either films I see in the cinema, film events I attend or just old favourites I watch at home. Please bare in mind, Santa did very well this year by bringing me the new blu-ray box sets of the MCU phases 1 and 2. So there will be a lot of Marvel heavy content in the posts.
My other resolutions (besides attempting to get a tattoo) are going to be to find a job I love and stick at it, find a new house and most of all GRADUATE! I am so close to the end of 5 years of film studies (with a lengthy gap after the first two) that I cannot wait to say goodbye to education and get on with working on a proper career.

So, the finish of 2017 on my blog I am going to do a brief breakdown of my top 10 films of the year, now this is likely to either change or be extended when I look back over my film journal. But this is just a spontaneous blog post as my parents are having a New Years Eve party that I’ve managed to escape by saying I have “uni work” to do….

So my top 5 films of the first half of the year (Jan 1st – June 2nd) year:

1 – La La Land – It doesn’t feel possible that La La Land was released this year, it feels like a lifetime ago. How could I possible have a post about the best films of 2017 without a mention to this film. Musicals are a huge part of my life so for a film like this to be brought to the big screen and get the recognition is deserved meant that the world still has time for musicals. I don’t necessarily agree with everyone that says its as good as the musicals of the golden age, but it sure is a modern homage to them. It’s a shame it didn’t win the Oscar, I don’t know if it deserved to win it but I definitely would have given it to La La Land over Moonlight.

2 – Manchester by the Sea – Anyone who knows me, knows how much I adore Casey Affleck and this is not the only film starring him that is going to make it on to my top 10 (see “second half of the year”). I have a real issue with connection to my emotions, not just when watching films but also in every day life, I have a slight reputation of being the girl that can’t cry. There is one scene in Manchester by the Sea where Lee Chandler has to deal with the realisation of a heartbreaking situation whilst taking full responsibility for it and Afflecks performance is utterly compelling. He made me feel like I’ve never felt before whilst watching a film – a well deserved Oscar. Kenny Lonergans script and directing effort is both beautiful and effortless. If I could have chosen the winner for best film at this years Academy Awards it would have been this film. I just love it.

 

3 – Hidden Figures – Another worthy Oscar contender, it’s unsuprising that my top 5 films of the first half of the year consist mostly of Oscar nominees because the competition was unbelievably strong. A shout out aswell to Haksaw Ridge which so nearly made the cut, another stunning film.
Hidden Figures for me was everything I wanted to see from an Oscar nominated film, it has an exciting story which centres around some incredible characters and touches on some very important topics. It carries the entire film with controversial issues without making it heavy-going and depressing to watch. It’s an uplifting possitive effort to educate people about real events that took place. The leading performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are a match made in heaven – three performances that deserve to be celebrated.

4  – Logan – I wasn’t going to compile this list without at least one Marvel film featured and this year it just had to be Logan. I firmly believe Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance and finally the super-hero genre would get the recognition it deserves. Jackman had to say goodbye to his beloved Logan/Wolverine in this epic finale to his 9 film run within the X-Men series. Although being a part of that huge franchise Logan really does stand on it’s own two feet as a powerful film with its brilliant story line and powerhouse performances. A long with its amazing lead performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the supporting cast also deserve some praise; Stephen Merchant, an unlikely choice for a superhero film, was absolutely fantastic and Dafne Keens debut was perfect as the role of Laura, Logans unknown daughter. A fantastic cast overall.
I was also lucky enough to see it as Logan Noir – an entire black and white edit of the film at the famous Prince Charles Cinema in London over the summer, it was the perfect film to see stripped back to black and white.

5 – Their Finest – Although to some people this might have been a forgettable film, it was one of the few films I gave 5 stars to this year. The film tells the story of a female film maker who has been appointed to make propaganda films during World War II. Filled with laughter and heartbreak this film really meant something to me, the story of Catrin Cole (played wonderfully by Gemma Arterton) is one of bravery and creativity and is incredibly moving. I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already seen it, I really did love it. Who wouldn’t love a film starring Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton?

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Ok, this isn’t going to make it on to the top 5 of the start of the year, because it’s not by any means the best of the series BUT it does deserve a mention. After the fall of ‘On Stranger Tides’ Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg pulled the franchise back perfectly with ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ (or ‘Salazars Revenge’ here in the UK) with the use of classic Pirates humour and a fantastic new cast, with the return of a few favourites. The Pirates series of films will always hold a special place in my life and I firmly believe “the more Pirates films, the better”.

And my top 5 (which has turned into my top 7) films of the last 6 months (June 3rd – Dec 31st) of the year:

6 – A Ghost Story – The second of Casey Afflecks films to make my list. The story of C, an introvert composer who has a sentimental attachment to the house that him and his wife live in. Killed tragically in a car accident at the start of the film, C returns to the house as a ghost to watch over his wife. One his wife has moved on and decides to leave the house behind C is left behind with the house and stays there whilst other families come and go.
It’s an absolutely stunning film that leaves you racking your brains to understand the movement of time. Two incredible leading performances from Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.

7 – My Life as a Courgette – It’s surprising that there’s an animated film on my list that isn’t a Disney or Disney/Pixar film but really I couldn’t not feature this one. My Life as a Courgette is a story set in rural France about a young boy called Courgette whos parents both pass away and he moves to an orphanage. Its a beautiful story told through the use of stop motion animation which I am a huge fan of. The colours and production design is stunning. I watched it with the British dub but I hope to see it in the original language soon.
I look forward to seeing it, hopefully, get a best animated feature nomination at the Oscars which is definitely deserves.

8 – War for the Planet of the Apes – I wasn’t sure if this would make the cut but the more I think about it the more I remember parts of it which I absolutely loved. One of my favourite things to see on screen is Woody Harrelson playing a villain and one of my favourite performances from him is in Out of the Furnace (2013) where he played one of the best on screen villains I’ve ever seen. His performance in the final installment of the Apes trilogy is brutal, he comes across as a true villain with self righteous intentions.
The new Planet of the Apes trilogy has showcased some of the greatest special effects ever seen on screen and that is mostly down to the outstanding performance from Andy Serkis in the lead role of Ceaser the ape. Throughout the trilogy we’re told the heartbreaking story of Ceaser and his tribe and this film just adds to that heartbreak but told in a beautiful way that, although the story is far-fetched, it somehow seems relevant.

9 – Dunkirk – Obviously Christopher Nolans’ World War II epic was going to make the list, in fact this is my number 1 film of the year. I find it hard to describe things like this that I love so much without just saying “it’s amazing, it’s brilliant, it’s perfect” but really this film is all of those things. From the intensely thrilling sound design with the use of a ticking clock to build the tension throughout the film to the painfully silent dialogue. One of my favourite things about it is the use of time, almost as it’s very own character, you’re thrown around all different time sequences as the film goes on, each character has it’s own timeline which crosses over with the other characters. It’s fascinating and genius, Christopher Nolan is a visionary and I for one am so excited to see what he comes up with next.
One of the things, that I always comment on, is the casting. I (along with a lot of people) was very unsure of the use of Harry Styles, former boyband member, in a film such as Dunkirk, but actually he surprised me and his character was so interesting. I think he actually did a great job. Mark Rylance was the screen stealer for me though, his calm exterior and typically British character made him relatable and interesting to watch. The rest of the cast were also fantastic, newcomer Fionn Whitehead and Tom Glynn-Carney were both brilliant as were the greats Kenneth Brannagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.
I can’t say enough good things about this masterpiece.

10 – Three Billboards (outside Ebbing, Missouri) – The summer of 2017 brought some really exciting new films into my life, mostly because I was lucky enough to get a press pass for the BFI London Film Festival which meant endless new films from all sorts of fascinating filmmakers, Malcolm McDonagh is one of them. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri was one I wasn’t sure about before going to see it, it was the closing film of the festival for press pass holders and for that reason I didn’t want to miss it. I was utterly blown away.
A heartbreaking story about a mother (Francis McDormand) who’s daughter was raped and killed, but the local police department lead by the respected Chief of Police (Woody Harrelson) did nothing to find the culprit. She takes extreme measures by leaving controversial messages for the police department to draw attention to there mistakes.
The script is compelling, a darkly comedic film full of whit and charm a long with an incredibly powerful monologue from McDormands character, Mildred.
I can’t recommend this film enough to everyone I talk to about it, it’s stunning and is likely to receive multiple well deserved Oscar nominations.

11 – Call Me By Your Name – Another film I wasn’t sure about before going to see it however, I absolutely loved it. A stunning love story between two unexpected companions who fall in love over a summer spent in the beautiful backdrop of the Italian Riviera. Two stand out performances from the leads Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet both tell their own personal stories with truth and honesty. I don’t want to say too much as it’s a fairy new film and I know a lot of people may not have seen it yet, but it really is stunning and worthy of a watch. Fingers crossed for some best actor nominations.

12 – The Greatest Showman – Start the year with a musical and end the year with a musical. That’s how I roll. The Greatest Showman tells the illustrious story of the founder of the great travelling circus, P. T. Barnum. Hugh Jackman appears to have made my list twice, a long with Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson.
The Greatest Showman is a musical theatre spectacular, if you don’t enjoy films where the characters are half way through a conversation and dramatically burst into song then this isn’t for you. But if you enjoy spectacular dance routines, unbelievable costumes, love stories, music, animals and just all round great entertainment then this is your film. It’s fabulous, really, truly, fabulous and what a great way to go out of the year. With a bang.

So that’s it! My top 10 (…12) of 2017. I have loved going to the cinema as much as I have (82 times to be precise) and attending multiple premieres, festivals, conventions and special screenings. Lets see if we can make the round 100 in 2018. Bring it on.

 

Films I am looking forward to on 2018:
– The Posts
– Ready Player One
– Maze Runner: The Death Cure
– Black Panther
– Avengers: Infinity War
– Early Man
– Sherlock Gnomes
– The Incredibles 2
– Coco
– The Crimes of Grindlewald
– Solo: A Star Wars Story
– Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
– A Wrinkle in Time
– Mary Poppins Returns
– Wreck it Ralph 2
– Isle of Dogs
– Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

And I’m sure there will be many, many more!

My top 10 (…12) of 2017

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.

 

 

Starlight Express @ The Other Palace