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Posts Tagged ‘Josie Walker’

This is a breath of fresh air for the West End, full of energy and life-affirming joy, and perhaps the first musical to be inspired by a documentary?

Sixteen-year-old Jamie wants to be a drag queen, and to wear a dress to the school prom. His divorced mum Margaret, her friend Ray and his bestie Pritti support him, but his dad, his school and some of his classmates don’t approve. He’s befriended and coached by Hugo, a former drag queen, now owner of a shop supplying drag outfits, and starts developing an act for an invited audience at the local drag club where three other drag queens also provide advice and support. The showcase goes ahead, followed by the even bigger challenge of the prom.

Dan Gillespie Sells score and Tom Macrae’s book and lyrics are excellent; they bring a fresh pop sound, rather than a bog standard musicals one, the style of songs changing to match the characters. Kate Prince’s choreography is simply terrific, again fresh rather than standard musicals movement. The school scenes in particular have extraordinary authenticity and high energy. I liked Anna Fleischle’s design, with projections by Luke Halls, and it’s staged with great pace by Jonathan Butterell.

It seems like a very happy cast, visibly enthusiastic, many of them transferring from Sheffield with the show. Lucie Shorthouse is outstanding as Pritti, comfortable with both her Muslim culture and Jamie’s personal choices. The relationship between Jamie and his mum is at the heart of the show and Josie Walker invests a lot of emotional energy into Margaret, with her big second act song feeling like a big hug from your mum. Mina Anwar is lovely as the ballsy Ray, who’s love for Margaret and Jamie knows no bounds. John McRea towers over all of this with a supremely confident, passionate performance; an astonishing West End debut.

I watched the documentary after seeing the show and it proves it’s very faithful to Jamie’s story. The show’s message of tolerance, of everyone being allowed to be who they are, comes over loud and clear in what is clearly a populist and critical success. Lets hope it’s a commercial success too, so that we can get more fresh air like this into the West End.

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Walking through the foyers to your seats at the Cambridge Theatre is great fun as they’ve covered the walls with mini blackboards, each with a different chalked comment. When we got to our seats, in pole position in the front row of the Dress Circle, our mouthes fell open – Rob Howell’s extraordinary design spilled out from the stage onto the auditorium walls and ceiling.

Sadly, when the show started the sound was so bad we were missing a good quarter of the dialogue and lyrics (the developing cacophony of crisp & sweet rusting and malteser rolling increased that to 33%). What followed was brilliantly performed and executed (well, apart from the 15 minute pause to solve a technical problem – and I’m not entirely convinced it re-started at the exact point it stopped), but I didn’t think the book, music or lyrics were really that good. Has everyone been seduced by the spectacle and the hugely talented kids? 

I don’t know which Matilda we had, but she was brilliant. Bertie Carvel’s Miss Trunchbull is a wonderful creation, and Paul Kaye and Josie Walker as the parents are excellent. Matthew Warchus’ staging and Peter Darling’s choreography are also superb….but at the end of the day, I really do think this is all papering over mediocre material. It’s not a ‘great British musical’ – it’s an up-market kids show and somehow I feel Roald Dahl’s story would be served better by a minimalist imaginative staging at the Young Vic or BAC where the kids could use their imagination rather than have it shoved in their faces like a video game.

Of course, it’s not for me. Maybe it’s great if you’ve got a few hundred quid and a couple of kids with ADHD to amuse for a few hours……

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