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Posts Tagged ‘Louise Dearman’

The programme for this caught my imagination this year, so I booked for six of the eight showcases of new musicals at the Turbine Theatre. The first was cancelled, so I ended up seeing five. Each was around an hour long, with no set but some costumes and props.

I started with Jet Set Go!, not exactly new, a reworking of an eleven year old Edinburgh fringe show by Pippa Cleary & Jake Brunger, who went on to give us a superb adaptation of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole which I saw in Leicester, the Menier & the West End. It’s a very funny piece set on a transatlantic flight (and during their stopover in NYC) exploring the lives of the crew. Great fun, with a brilliant cast, in which Lizzy Connolly and Samantha Thomas shone with show-stopping comedy numbers.

The Assassination of Katie Hopkins wasn’t new either, having had a full production at Theatre Clwyd in 2018. I’m not sure this unstaged one hour version did it full justice, but the originality of the score and the suitability of the subject matter to the form left me wanting to see a full production. MD Mark Dickman did a fine job playing Mark Winkworth’s score on solo piano and the cast of six delivered Chris Bush’s lyrics with relish.

The festival hit a high note with veteran musical theatre partnership Stiles & Drew’s new musical adaptation of the film Soapdish, whose writer, Robert Harding, also responsible for the show’s book, made the transatlantic journey to be part of it. The premiere league cast included Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford, who squeezed every ounce of comedy from this hilarious piece about a soap star and her nemesis. It was great to see Alice Croft and Nic Myers, Arts Ed students who wowed me there in Freaky Friday last month, in this exceptional cast. I can’t wait to see a full production.

Another established writer, Jason Carr, better known as an orchestrator, arranger and accompanist, was responsible, with Poppy Burton-Morgan, for the fourth offering, Coldfront. This is a very different, original two-hander set on a park bench where an unlikely relationship unfolds. The songs were nice, but there was a little too much sung dialogue and the performances weren’t well matched, though it was good to see Anna Francolini again.

The final showcase wasn’t new either, the third iteration over 12 years of Craig Christie’s Eurobeat, a satire / homage to that contest. They weren’t able to camp it up as much as it needed, with no set and few costumes, though Daniel Jacob was excellent as the glittery drag host Marlene Cabana. The four entries – Spain, Ukraine, Norway and Vatican City (!) – were very good, but there were only four, plus one for the compere.

For some reason, I was expecting brand new shows as work-in-progress from people new to musical theatre, so with only two out of four shows not produced before and those from established writers, one which had been workshopped twice before, it didn’t really fulfil my expectations, though I didn’t dislike any of them, the performances were excellent and I had a lot of fun.

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So this month’s musicals concern immigration & racism in the early 20th century, men replaced by machines in the 20’s, revenge against a whale, refugees in Africa in the present day, living with cancer, two American sisters intent on showbiz success in the 50’s and this, conjoined twins in a freak show. Well, you can’t say musical theatre doesn’t provide variety.

This show by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger (whose Dreamgirls is about to get it’s long overdue London premiere) is apparently the true story of the Hilton sisters. We first meet them in a freak show, with a fortune teller, tattooed girl, bearded lady, half man half woman, lizard man, three legged man, dog boy and human pin cushion! The boss owns them; they aren’t paid. Talent scout Terry and his side-kick Buddy, an entertainer, turn up and seek to woo them away from the freak show, promising a more reputable career in showbiz as a song and dance act.

Things go well in their new world until romance gets in the way, Violet becoming infatuated with Buddy and Daisy with Terry. Buddy proposes to Violet on New Years Eve, but Terry makes it clear he wants them separated first. They decide to go ahead with one wedding (the mind boggles), a big occasion in public in front of 60,000 people, when it all becomes clear it’s just a different kind of freak show. It’s not a stand-out score, but its good enough. I just couldn’t get comfortable with the subject matter. The trouble for me was that watching a musical about the sisters sometimes seemed like a freak show in itself.

It is an excellent production by Hannah Chissick. takis’ design is terrific. The band under MD Jo Cichonska sounds great. Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are both superb as Daisy and Violet respectively, looking like twins in identical costumes and wigs, with one in higher heels to even them out, and sounding great together. Haydn Oakley and Dominic Hodson are fine romantic leads, and there’s an excellent supporting performance from Jay Marsh as the twins friend and protector Jake. I just wish I could feel the same about the show.

 

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