Theatre Breaks News

Theatre Breaks News 25/10/14.Cast changes&NewYear breaks


Actor leaves Dirty Rotten Scoundrels suddenly and is replaced by  known West End name.


Theatre Breaks News

Rufus Hound has left Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at very short notice. It all seems quite amicable, but rumours persist. He is replaced by Alex Gaumond. Do we care? Not a huge amount. They are both fine actors and the show is still booking through to March 2015.

From the sublime to the ridiculous -Les Mis and Book of Mormon both extend their booking dates

Les Mis is perhaps no surprise but The Book of Mormon? People can’t seem to get enough of its irreverent humour and so it marches on into the future, or at least February 2015. Les Mis on the other hand has extended booking dates right through to November 2016.


Memphis stars impress the critics

The Telegraph liked the show and loved female lead Beverley Knight’s voice but not so much her acting. The Guardian thought it ‘ a delightful show’ and the Evening Standard was impressed with performances and staging. They all gave the show 4 stars. It will be the public though who really decide. I suspect it will make a great night out and be popular for theatre breaks.


A new (?) Elphaba in Wicked

Wicked has a new Elphaba in the West End, Jennifer DiNoia. She’s not new to the role at all though. She has played Elphaba on Broadway, on the US national tour and in Seoul and Sydney. Her West End debut on Monday will make the 6th Wicked company she’s worked with.

Elphabas come and go, people have their favourites. (I must admit Kerry Ellis is probably mine). The thing is the show has tremendously high production values and standards. They are all good!

Controversial new musical Scottsboro Boys and  Dance ’til Dawn (a must for all Strictly fans!) added to the 3 day New Year Theatre Breaks deals on our Readers Offers site.

The Scottsboro Boys musical may be controversial, with its Black and White minstrels approach to a dark and deeply serious subject, but the critics seem to really like it. The Mail gave it 5 stars and described it as lavishly cheerful yet poignant” and “deeply riveting”! If you fancy seeing it over New Year it is available as part of the New Year Theatre Break offer.

Alternatively, lets talk about Strictly. Favourites from previous series Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace are back with a new show but this time in the West End.  Dance ‘til Dawn! is described on their website as “a sensational dance show straight from the Golden Age of Hollywood.”

3 day New Year Theatre Breaks deals on our Readers Offers site.

New Year London Theatre - 3 days - by Coach

New Year London Theatre – 3 days – by Coach


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I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical


I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical

I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical

I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical is a new musical comedy opening at the London Palladium this February 2014.  What can I say?

My first reaction was “Oh no!”, Viva Forever! all over again! Well known comedian writes huge musical turkey!  I thought it was going to be dreadful, until I watched this video from the Royal Variety Show.

It looks surprisingly promising!

Harry Hill’s new show takes us behind the microphones and under the judges’ desks at the biggest show on earth, as I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical exposes the stories we never see, behind the scenes at The X Factor. However this is not biting satire, this is a very affectionate look at the triumph of hope over not just experience but also every day reality. The show invites us to step through the looking glass into TV land, where anything is possible with the right backing.

Amazingly enough the show is is co-produced by the man with the highest waistband in the UK Simon Cowell himself! Never one to miss an opportunity for  brand promotion Cowell admits as much in this video:

The X Factor – Love it or Hate it?

The show is an affectionate parody of The X Factor and I suspect may well appeal to both fans and those who love to hate the show. I fall into the later category but even I was won over by the extracts I’ve seen so far.

Directed by Sean Foley, Nigel Harman (Shreck and Downton) will play Cowell with Ashley Knight and Victoria Elliot playing the other members of the X Factor panel.

Cynthia Erivo and Alan Morrissey are the love interest. Both have lovely voices and get some good songs to sing.
There are also talking dogs, singing hunchbacks and supermarket checkout women, and of course an Irish boy band, Alterboyz!

Hill says:

“We think it is the only musical for a while with a singing hunchback, a talking dog and a man on an iron lung, but we’d have to Google that to be sure. We’re pretty certain that you won’t have seen anything like it before and it’s great that Simon is backing it 4,500 per cent”

I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical Breaks

Our Readers Offer site has a wide range of theatre breaks to I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical but my favourite choice would be the Fabulous Friday Night Theatre Break. A ‘make your own way’ break with tickets for the show and a 4* hotel. This is a really reasonably priced luxury break. Your break includes:

  • A top priced ticket for a Friday evening performance of the show
  • Overnight accommodation at London’s 4 star Guoman Tower Hotel in a twin/double room
  • Full English breakfast on Saturday

Prices  for that break start from £109 each! Very reasonable, I think!

Do click through and check what’s available.




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Theatre Break Packages

Different ways to buy theatre break packages.

Theatre Break packages Meerkat

Theatre Break packages are not found on price comparison sites

There are several ways to buy  theatre break packages. You can do it through various sites on the internet, on your phone, or even in person. The one thing you cannot do is use a price comparison site to find the best deal. How you decide to buy your theatre break packages will depend partly on how highly you value your time and how much time you are prepared to spend comparing the various options. You might even decide you enjoy the process enough to put together your own theatre break package.

Specialist Sites for Theatre Break Packages.

These are sites that just sell theatre break packages. They often specialise in one main kind of break. For example some sell mostly breaks for couples or small groups, others are happy to cater for larger parties. Some offer great deals for coach based breaks, others offer mainly rail breaks.  Each site has its own way of helping you personalise your package. That is what they are, really, think of your theatre break package as being like mini package holidays.

With some deals you get almost everything thrown in, like an all inclusive package holiday. This will often mean your tickets, travel, hotel, breakfasts and sometimes one or more dinners, maybe even entertainment on a second night, are covered by the package.

Others have a much cheaper headline price but lots of optional extras which push the final price up. It is hard to compare across deals like this because they are so different. Each company has its own way of putting together the break and its own rules for what is and is not included. It would be great if there were a price comparison site for theatre breaks in some ways but it is hard to see how it could be made to work with there being so many variables.

Alternative Ways of Buying your Theatre Break Packages

In addition to the specialist theatre breaks sites there are other ways to buy your theatre break on line. The rail companies sell theatre breaks, you can buy breaks through local or national newspapers, and sometimes individual hotels do breaks too. The thing about all of these is that they are almost always actually run by one of the specialist theatre breaks companies.They pay an ‘affiliate fee’ to the company you are booking through. Now this is not as such a bad thing. Oddly enough you are not paying any more for your break than you would if you book it direct with the specialist company. The theatre break agencies find it worth their while to pay for access to the other company’s customers. This is exactly how our Readers Offers site works.

Booking your theatre breaks packages off line

You can usually book your theatre break package by phone if you do not want to do it on the internet. All the agencies have contact numbers if you’d rather talk to a human being. Just remember to quote the reference number on the web page. This helps the agent know where you found their number and if you use our Readers Offer site means we do actually get our small (but very welcome) fee.

Another way to buy a theatre break package is to do it through a traditional high street travel agent. This is probably the most expensive way of doing it as they take a commission fee on top of the cost of the holiday. Not all high street travel agent actually offer theatre breaks and often they will be booking your break through one of the specialist companies anyway.

Finally you can put together your own theatre break. This is a bit more work but it can be worthwhile. Military precision in the planning stage will reap big rewards. Decide how you want to travel well before your preferred date. Decide whether you are comfortable being flexible about what you see or you have a particular show in mind. Think about where you want to stay, inner London or out of town. Once you’ve got it all sorted out get on line and track down the best deals for each element. Just don’t forget that your time has value too. If it takes you many hours to sort it all out that is actually quite expensive! Still you can bask in the warm glow of achievement if it all pans out according to plan.

(Image Credit cc Alonso Inostra)
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Theatre Breaks – how not to get ripped off

padlock Use a secure site when booking theatre breaks

Use a secure site when booking theatre breaks

It seems that what most of you want to know about theatre breaks is where to get the best deal whilst not getting ripped off. You want this advice on how not to get ripped off because some scary woman on You and Yours or Watchdog has convinced you that buying stuff off the internet is dangerous. You can lose all your money, be sold fake tickets and some nasty person will also steal your identity, max your credit cards and generally ruin your life. Sigh!

It is true there are some nasty sites out there, there are people who will steal your money and cheat you. The thing is it is not everyone. If you stick to some simple rules (Click that link for  the rules and a handy check list to print out too) you can book with confidence.

Theatre Breaks – You Get What You Pay For

Book with a reputable company, who are ABTA registered ,then you and your money will be safe but you do tend to get what you pay for. So if that trip with that famous web site whose name I will not mention but has to do with doing things at the latest possible time) is really cheap you should not be surprised to end up in the cheapest seats and in a cheap out of town hotel! Der! Having said that you may well still have a brilliant time, because live West End theatre and a nice but basic hotel still adds up to an affordable treat.

Cheap Seats, Mid-Priced or Only the Best?

Most companies do actually include mid-priced tickets in their theatre breaks, and some, like Omega who do our Reader’s Offers site, will let you upgrade to top priced seats for a supplement. Now, for myself, I wouldn’t bother as mid-priced seats are fine. Again though you get what you pay for. Some breaks include matinee tickets rather than evening ones. This is good if you want to spend the afternoon in the theatre but it is true that performances are not always quite as atmospheric in the daytime. Personally I’d rather see an evening show and if that’s what you want too, then you will have to shell out a bit more, maybe go for a slightly more expensive package or settle for fewer nights in London. You are not being ripped off you are just paying extra to get exactly what you want.

Hotels – Inner or Outer London?

You do get what you pay for in London, like the hotels. Often you see a cheaper price for out of town hotels when you are booking breaks. Now, this can be a very good bargain. It means if it’s a coach trip, that they ferry you into the West End in your coach and pick you up after the show. Good stuff, I think, and a great deal pleasanter than doing battle with the tube! Some sites though, often for rail or self drive breaks, offer hotels that are so far from the West End they are really hard to get back to and this is a pain! No one wants to shell out for a black cab and don’t even get me started about rickshaws. (Click the link and read about them if your must!) Basically if you go by coach or self drive then out of town hotels are perfect, and often actually slightly more luxurious than city centre ones. If however, you are going by train, then stick to ones within half a mile or so of the theatre. Otherwise you’ll hate yourself!

This brings me back neatly to your main point where to get the best deal whilst not getting ripped off. What can I say? You are going to have to do some research and make some choices if you want the best possible deal for your theatre break. Once you know what you want then it is much easier to look round a few sites and compare them. Still not sure? Have a look at this post over on Theatre Breaks Magazine to help you decide.

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The Full Monty – back in the West End?

The full monty

The Full Monty the play

The Full Monty may well be back in the West End fairly soon but it will be a very different production to the one we’ve seen in London before. The Americanised musical version of the show was last in London in 2009 for a short run at the New Players Theatre. This time the show is described as “The Full Monty – the play” and it has been totally re-worked for the stage.

For this Sheffield Theatres production the original writer of the screen play Simon Beaufoy went back to the Sheffield setting of the film and has worked hard to re-imagine it as a play with music.  The songs we all remember from the film are still there but this time it is primarily a piece of theatre. He has kept some of the set piece routines, including the dole queue scene. I heard him on Front Row on Radio 4 last night talking about the show and he said felt he had to keep that iconic moment from the film. The unemployed steel workers dole queue dance routine should work really well on stage so I can see why he’d want to retain it.

It is Beaufoy’s first time writing for the stage and he said that it had been much harder than he thought but he is happy with the result. It seems he is not alone as the play is already sold out in Sheffield and tour tickets are going well too. A West End transfer is on the cards, if the show can find a theatre. The tour ends in May so watch out for the show in the West End either over the summer or early autumn 2013. It is not a huge cast so it won’t need to go into one of the really large theatres.

The cast look good with Kenny Doughty, Craig Gazey, Simon Rouse, Keiran O’Brien, Roger Morlidge and Sidney Cole in the main roles. The Full Monty

The show is already a sell out in Sheffield and I think it will do well on tour. Whether it can last in the West End for longer than the previous production is another question. Neither American productions lasted very long. Despite the Broadway version having been voted best musical in 2002 when it ran  in the West End, it closed after less than a year. I’d like to think the re-staged version could. It will appeal to a similar audience to Calender Girls and comes from the same producers. That show did very well for theatre breaks and lasted longer in the West End than some predicted. The disco music which remains at the core of The Full Monty is hard to resist and if they have managed to retain the power of the film’s strong narrative it should be an excellent show.

I can’t wait to see it! How about you?



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Les Misèrables on stage or on film?

Les Misèrables the Film

I’m just back from seeing the new Les Misèrables film. I waited a bit longer so I could see it in my favourite small cinema at the Barbican in London. I’m sorry to say I am slightly underwhelmed by the film. I went with every intention of loving it but I just didn’t.

There were some good performances. I though Russell Crowe was amazing. I know he has not got the best voice in the world but unlike some of the critics I was quite impressed by him. His portrayal of Javert, the obsessive policeman is compelling. Jean Valjean  is played by Hugh Jackman and his was also a very good performance. Then of course the tragic Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway was also excellent. Amanda Seyfried (Cossette) and  Eddie Redmayne (Marius) made a charming couple. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, were funny and slightly creepy, as expected. The child actors were stars, of course.

There were heroic set pieces. The opening sequence of the film is incredible from that point of view, but somehow the whole thing for me just didn’t quite gel.  The story is tragic and should be moving. Some people are obviously distressed by the end of it. Not me. There were a couple of moments when I had a lump in my throat. I’m not going to say when, spoilers! But that’s all it was. It did not make me cry or really feel anything much. The sad bits were too sad, too frequent and unrelenting. The funny bits were too arch and overblown to really be funny. Somehow there isn’t time to get to know anyone much apart from Valjean.

It’s often the problem with stage musicals. Things that work on stage just don’t transfer to the big screen. On stage we can get to know a character really quickly but that just doesn’t transfer to film. Everything is happening too fast. A connection with the audience can be made by a character like Éponine (Samantha Barks) by gestures and looks that make us feel for her in a way that I just didn’t in the film. It wasn’t that she gave a bad performance, she was very competent.  It was more that we hardly got to know her before her part was over.

As I felt the music rising to bring us to the end of Act 1 I wanted to have the actors there on the stage in front of me, to feel the emotion heighten, have that moment of tension as the curtain falls and then to nip out for a glass of red! Going straight on to the next scene just flattened it for me. I think it might be time to bring back the intermission!

By the end of the film there is full on emotion and powerful singing. The flags are waving but I just didn’t get that incredible feeling you have at the end of an emotional performance, when the actors have given their all. There wasn’t that release as we watch the ‘dead’ come back to life to take their curtain calls, that feeling that we’ve all travelled through the story together.

On the whole Les Misèrables the film gets a subdued 7/10 from me. Maybe I’m just a sucker for live theatre!

Les Miserables

Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre

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Theatre Breaks in Manchester or London?

ThTheatre breaks in Manchester

Theatre breaks in Manchester or London?

Theatre breaks in Manchester are becoming more popular with so many West End musicals currently on tour. It can be hard to decide whether Manchester or London is the right choice for your theatre break.  I made a little diagram to illustrate some of the things you might want to consider.
Let’s look at the problem in more detail.

Theatre Breaks in Manchester – pros and cons


  • Convenient – Manchester may be nearer for you to travel. It is also smaller and has a more compact centre. This makes it very easy to get around. The little free city centre buses are quick and frequent, if you need to travel further then the trams are idea.
  • Pleasant – Manchester city centre has really improved greatly over the last decade. It is a pleasant place to walk around.
  • Things to do – Manchester has great shops, galleries and museums. Not to mention fantastic night life, with wonderful clubs and bars.
  • Cost – hotels and tickets may well be cheaper than the equivalent in the West End.


  • Choice of show – there are good shows on in Manchester but there just isn’t the range available that the West End offers.
  • Attractions – London wins here hands down. Whatever your interests London has something to offer, from established favourites like the London Eye to new attractions like The View From The Shard (I so want to do this!!) It has everything that Manchester has and then more.
  • Value for money – this one might surprise you. A two day coach trip London theatre break will give you much more than just a show. It turns your break into a little mini-holiday. The price difference per person between that and a one night break in Manchester is very small. Plus it is quite hard to find actual breaks in Manchester, mostly what is on offer are one day coach excursions. These are fantastic value if you just want to see a show and you are happy to arrive home in the wee small hours, but they are not theatre breaks as such.

Which is it to be – London or Manchester?

I think for me I’d have to say that the West End is the better choice for a theatre break. However if you just want to see a show, and it happens to be on in Manchester (or one of the other regional theatres) then you won’t be disappointed.  Manchester theatres are currently offering Cats, Wicked, Priscilla Queen of the Dessert, Lion King and Warhorse.

A Gap in the Market?

The trouble is that Manchester just isn’t quite set up for theatre breaks yet. The packages are hard to find and not such good value as London when you do find them. However this could change. Manchester has some fantastic theatres, great hotels and it should be a good destination for a two day city break that includes a show. There’s a gap in the market here I think and it would be interesting to see someone fill it. I should admit here that I have a soft spot for Manchester, having lived and worked there once upon a time. I’ve been very impressed with the recent renovations to the city centre and I think Manchester is keen to give London a bit of competition. A two day break in Manchester would give you a chance to see more of what the city has to offer.

Which will you choose? Check our Readers Offers for Regional Theatres or London Theatre Breaks.


Manchester Opera House



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Les Miserables Movie TV Special

Les Misèrables Movie Special

Today Wednesday 5th December is the World Premiere in London for Les Miserables the movie, and while all the glitterati are assembled in the West End, a team from ITV will also be conducting interviews to add to a TV special to go out on New Year’s Day afternoon, that’s Tuesday, 1st January 2013 ITV1 from 4:50PM to 5:45PM

Michael Ball and Emma Willis will be recording footage around the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, where all the world’s big movie premieres take place now, in order to host this special programme. The narrative will show how a much loved classic book has gone on to become Les Miserables the most successful musical in the world and has now been transformed again into one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year.

The Odeon Leicester Square has a capacity of 1679 seats, and a photogenic frontage with an instant red carpet with balustrades and portable trees that spring up on an almost weekly basis as new films are launched to the press there. The press photographers’ pack have an institutionalised area to stand and park their stepladders and flashguns while waiting for the opportunity to snap that all important ‘arriving in a gown’ picture of the A List celebrities who are either the stars of the film or just VIP guests for the occasion.

But getting back to the press release about the TV Special for Les Mis the Movie:

The one-hour programme includes exclusive interviews with the cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne.

The programme takes a fascinating look back at the phenomenal success of the stage musical, showing footage from some of the 42 countries where is has enjoyed success as well as clips from the star studded birthday and anniversary performances.

Producers Cameron Mackintosh and Eric Fellner along with director Tom Hooper give a fascinating insight into how this masterpiece was created. From the inspired casting choices to the locations and the many challenges they faced.

Les Misèrables Movie Special shows how this movie broke new ground with the actors singing live, by exclusively showing the orchestra recording sessions at Abbey Road and insightful behind-the-scenes footage.

That’s actually sounds quite promising, that they will be showing some of the technique used with the stage actors to capture live singing for a movie. Any film maker, recording technician or singer should be interested as the kind of technology which is becoming increasingly available to all, and which lends itself to a live performance aesthetic, may be converging in some respects with what the professionals are now turning their enormous budgets towards at a much higher level.

The TV Special is also going to catch a much wider captive audience airing as it will on New year’s Day in the afternoon. This should result not only in piquing a growing interest from people developing an intention to go and see the movie when it it release in the UK nationally from January 11th, but also in the course of the year more people will start to think about going to see the ultimate live on stage version by booking Les Miserables theatre breaks to London’s Queen’s Theatre itself.

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The Sam Wanamaker Theatre

Sam Wanamaker Theatre

Sam Wanamaker Theatre

As Andy pointed out the other day, plans are well under way to create an early 17th century indoor London theatre on the same site as the Globe Theatre. The new theatre will be called The Sam Wanamaker Theatre and will open early in 2014.

Sam Wanamaker, the creative force behind the original Globe, always intended that there should also be an indoor theatre on the site. The space the theatre will take over has been in use as rehearsal rooms since the building was originally constructed 15 years ago. It will be based on plans for a theatre that, as far as we know, was never built. The theatre will cater for an audience of three hundred and fifty.  There will be two galleries, a pit for 60 people standing and some high cost seats close to the stage.

A Winter’s Tale

The indoor theatre will allow for productions in winter and in inclement weather.  This indoor theatre will be little more comfortable with a covered auditorium with a painted roof. It will be lit by huge numbers of candles in large candelabra.  With a wooden frame construction theatres of this type were real fire hazards and often burned down. In fact London theatres were notorious for burning down, which is why no original examples exist. Theatres went on being fire hazards long after Jacobean times:

When The Drury Lane Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1809 its owner Sheridan was at the House of Commons. He left and went to a little coffee house opposite his property and drank a bottle of port with his friend Barry, coolly remarking, “it was hard if a man could not drink a glass of wine by his own fire.” The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald Mayes

Of course this ‘modern’ old theatre has been designed  with the approval and help of the London Fire Brigade. It will meet all current safety standards and will  have a very effective sprinkler system.

Not Just for Shakespeare

The theatre will not just be for Shakespearian productions. The company hope to also use the theatre to stage a wider range of period plays. Apparently there has also been interest from early music groups and even opera companies. They may be able to use the indoor theatre when the Shakespearian productions are back in their summer home, outside.  It would be amazing to see Jacobean tragedies like Webster’s Duchess of Malfi or The White Devils, performed in an authentic candle lit setting or perhaps, an early opera or maybe an Elizabethan masque.

It is a logical extension of the work of the Globe I suppose but it does give me pause for thought. Part of the rational is to recreate the plays as they were once seen and I’m slightly uncomfortable with this. I know the Globe is a huge commercial success and does a great deal to promote and educate about the works of Shakespeare. These are not museum pieces, historical tableau to be viewed and dissected. To me they live or die on their capacity to function as drama. They should be universal, after all Shakespeare is, his work can stand any number of interpretations from Baz Lurman’s Romeo and Juliet to a Japanese Macbeth. The works of John Webster, Ben Johnston or even Aphra Ben can find a place on the modern stage not just as period pieces but as works in their own right, as the recent Old Vic production of the Duchess of Malfi showed.  After all we still perform the plays of the Oresteia, even though they are 1000s of years old.

I think the historians will find out a great deal about the way the plays worked by playing them in this way. It is a sort of experimental archaeology and valid in those terms but I would hate to think it might be used to produce definitive versions. Modern companies need to feel that like the earlier generations they can take these plays and make them their own, bringing our modern concerns and understanding to the play. The whole point of the historical cannon is that it can still be made fresh and is universal enough to speak to new audiences. Drama is not something you can pickle or preserve in aspic, it has to live and breath on the stage.
Using the pronunciation of the time would also make the plays more authentic but few productions of Shakespeare, even at the Globe attempt to deliver everything in a Black Country accent. Academic thinking has varied over time but many now think that is how most people spoke then.
By playing the works in an approximation of their original setting it might be easier to work out how they were spoken, especially, comic moments may be revealed. I think this was the case with some ‘jokes’ which have often been cut or hurried over in modern productions. Once in their original environment they suddenly ‘worked’ and people spontaneously laughed, even though they may not have quite understood the elaborate word play beloved of the the Elizabethans. It also became apparent that some plays had spaces where actors could insert bits of comic ‘business’ and that these too still worked. This had been known in theory of course but once the plays were done in a more original setting it was confirmed.

Theatre As Theme Park

the globe

The Globe Theatre and International Shakespeare Centre

Much can be learned by this sort of recreation but I suspect we might just be turning the theatre and these plays into historic theme parks. Whilst the Globe is very worthy I’m not sure the most ‘authentic’ productions actually do much for people’s perception of Shakespeare as lively, vibrant and relevant to their lives now. You see them streaming into and out of the Globe and the International Shakespeare Centre all the time and I can’t help but wonder what they make of it. I will admit that the latest  authentically all male production of Twelfth  Night with Stephen Fry has made a successful West End transfer. The show is supposed to be very entertaining but then Twelfth Night is actually so funny, even mediocre high school productions can get good laughs!
I am concerned that this new theatre, for all its worthy ambitions will become yet another tourist trap on the London circuit.  The new ‘old’ theatre may become a drama museum where hoards of teenagers are forced to attend ‘authentic’ productions of the plays they have to study for GCSE, A Level or EBac.

Curmudgeonly is such a harsh word!

On the other hand maybe I am just being curmudgeonly. After all I was dragged to see a production of Richard the Second at The Swan in Stratford Upon Avon in 1974 when I was doing my A levels, expecting to be bored senseless. I had very little interest in Shakespeare and felt slightly resentful at having to ‘do’ him again. During my O levels I’d seen a dire production of Macbeth at the Library Theatre in Manchester and it had somewhat put me off. At 18 I did my best to be hyper cool about the whole thing and to look down my nose at chocolate box, touristy Stratford but once in the Swan Theatre I was smitten.  That was John Barton’s famous RSC production with Ian Richardson and Richard Pasco alternating  the roles of Richard and Bollingbrook. Richardson was Richard the night we saw it.  Stunning! I still remember the huge semi-circular gold cloak and John of Gaunt with a bird-like beak mask and stilts! Not terribly authentic that production, but very impressive and showy. One reviewer at the time suggested there “…is nothing wrong with the RSC that could not be cured by a vow of poverty” but I was 18 and a sucker for all the bling! I loved it and suddenly the play made sense. (I got an A by the way). A good production of The Duchess of Malfi might have helped me get there less painfully too!

So I suppose what I’m saying is that seeing a good production is what matters. The theatre, sets and costumes are important but not the main thing. Maybe The Sam Wanamaker Theatre will provide scope for more high quality, interesting productions and more unwilling 18 year olds will be entranced. I do hope so.

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Viva Forever Reviews

Viva Forever is the new Spice Girls musical at the Piccadilly Theatre, written by Jennifer Saunders and produced by the team from Mamma Mia! so there is a certain pedigree there which has raised expectations for a new British musical hit in the West End.

Viva Forever! poster

Viva Forever! poster

Although Viva Forever has been created as a theatrical vehicle for about twenty of the Spice Girls vibrant and anthemic songs from the 90s, there is a real story weaving the whole thing together into a show in its own right, but how well have they managed to pull this off in comparison with the global success that is the Mamma Mia franchise?

Press night hasn’t quite happened yet so it is not normally done to publish reviews of the preview performances of the show, which are still something of a work in progress and may change significantly before the opening night. When the press reviews and others start to come in we will link to some of them from here, but in the meanwhile I thought it would be illuminating to flag up a rather eloquent blog post written by a young student who has never written a review before.

Fiona Grundy is a 20 years old Film and English student at the University of East Anglia and went to see Viva Forever earlier this week, this is her review:

The main points coming out of Fiona’s review of Viva Forever are probably about the comedy and the close comparison with both Ab-Fab and Mamma Mia but the question I’d like to bring to the front is the question of audience singing!

the musical should be treated as it is, a fun and cheesy romp (theatre attendants were trying to stop audience members from singing??!).

My only problem with the theatre in which we saw the musical was the theatre staff who discouraged people from singing along! I was so shocked, I was told by my friend that in Mama Mia singing along was encouraged (and musicals are, as I was led to believe, meant to be fun and laid-back events).

we were discouraged from singing


Remember again that this was only a preview performance, so the policy which the poor theatre staff had to try and implement may have been experimental. There may have been bad experiences with earlier previews1 which led to the attempt to stifle audience singing. I can imagine a scenario in which so many fans who know the songs word for word turn up and try to sing together that when the musical versions pauses or deviates from the old records, the audience just carry on with the version they know and a terrible clash of timing occurs, with some serious part of the drama or dialogue being drowoed out. This would spoil the show for the rest of the audience, a majority perhaps who have paid their money to hear the professionals on stage singing, not the amateurs in the stalls! It will be interesting to see whether they keep up the “No Singing” policy or relax it on the opening night and subsequent performances.

Thanks also to Fiona for digging out the Viva Forever! cast video below.

  1. actually, it looks like this may have been the first preview of all !! []
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Wanamaker New London Theatre?

A new London Theatre

No, not THE New London Theatre, A new London theatre. The news is that a brand new

Sam Wanamaker Blue Plaque

Sam Wanamaker’s Blue Plaque

theatre has started being built in London. This new theatre is being constructed in order to work in conjunction with the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The Globe is an open air theatre or partially so, which means it isn’t open all the year round so the new one will have a roof. It’s named after the man who was instrumental in getting the Shakespeare’s Globe project built, and always intended there to be two theatres. Sam Wanamaker was his name (he died in 1993). The London fire department finally agreed that it can be possible to use naked flames on stage in a wooden theatre so now the work has begun to recreate a Jacobean pit theatre according to some plans which are believed to portray the oldest known illustration of a theatre in England.

The Sam Wanamaker Theatre

The Sam Wanamaker theatre is due to be open to visitors as early as January 2014 and is sure to be sold out as are nearly all plays especially Shakspeare plays put on at the Globe theatre which only runs for the summer season due to the nature of being open to the elements. Will most of the recreated jacobean theatregoers be required to stand up and eat acorns though, or will there be adequate seating? Well the Sam Wanamaker Theatre will reportedly seat 340 people with two tiers of galleried seating and a pit seating area. They will be able to watch candlelit performances of plays running from October to April each year, with other events over the summer months, such as early chamber music and period opera while the plays are on at the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre as happens now.

Sam Wanamaker Theatre

Sam Wanamaker Theatre

The shell of what will become the Sam Wanamaker Theatre was built in the early 1990s but has been in use up until recently only as a rehearsal and education space. Now that the fire regulations and most of the finance have been sorted out, the final construction phase for the interior can begin.

Artistic director Dominic Dromgoole said:

The Sam Wanamaker Theatre will allow the Globe to continue its experimental vision of going back to the future. Just as with the Globe itself, these unique playing conditions offer an opportunity to refresh our understanding of Jacobean theatre, and to provoke new visions for the future of how theatre can be made.

That’s not really  the future though, is it Dom. It’s the past. It would make a good title for a movie or two though!

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Weekend Theatre Breaks

Weekend Theatre Breaks in London

If you need to travel any distance to get to see that big London show you’ve been promising yourself then the best way to justify it is to make a weekend out of it with weekend theatre breaks.

Hotel for Weekend Theatre Breaks in London

Hotel for Weekend Theatre Breaks in London

The thing is, weekend theatre breaks give you the chance to get settled in to your hotel before going to the theatre and an extra day for doing something else special in London. That’s why they are so popular with musicals fans from anywhere a little bit further away from London, such as Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Middlesborough, Darlington, Crewe, Grimsby, Newcastle, Carlisle, Swansea, Caermarthen, Exeter, Plymouth, Truro and Penzance. Full Weekend breaks, that is to say three day breaks with two nights hotel avoid the cumulative effect of two consecutive days travel on the following week.

Over on our Readers Offers booking site, The London Theatre Showstopper Weekend break (3 days by rail) is for a show on a Friday night, whereas the London Theatre Weekend 3 days – by Rail is for a Saturday night show. The weekend break option for coach travellers is the London Theatre Dine & Dance 3 days – by Coach break which includes a Saturday Matinee show.

New Year’s Weekend Breaks

There’s also a special New Year 3 day break which is still bookable at the time of writing but hurry up, because thee are selling out fast! New Year falls on the Monday this year so it’s a Sunday to Tuesday type of weekend with a choice of going to see the show on the Sunday or on New Years Eve itself, depending on which musical you opt for out of those which have special New Years Eve performances on those particular days. There is availability for We Will Rock You, Billy Elliot and Mamma Mia on the Monday, New Year’s Eve itself, but if you go to the theatre on the Sunday 30th December the choice could be between Jersey Boys, Matilda, Shrek, Lion King, Top Hat and Wicked!

2013 Weekend Theatre Breaks

For the whole of the rest of the year, the choice of shows is as large as possible including all of the favourites : Les Miserables, Phantom of The Opera, The Mousetrap, Woman in Black, Singing in the Rain, The Lion King, BiIly Elliot, Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys and some new ones like Viva Forever, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Chorus Line and more.

Last Chance to See

There are a few shows coming to the end of their run in the West End so if you don’t want to be kicking yourself for having missed one of them, can I remind you that there are still a few weekends left in December and during the Spring of 2013 the following definite closures have been announced so it will be the last chance to see:

* Rock Of Ages in the Glorious Shaftesbury Theatre closes on 6th January 2013 , then reopens at the smaller Garrick Theatre on the 18th so if you want to see the bigger version of the show, book now for December.

* Dreamboats and Petticoats returned to the West End at the Wyndhams Theatre but must close on 19th January to make way for a play with Rowan Atkinson called Quartermaine’s Terms.

* Loserville is a British musical closing on January 5th 2013.

* Shrek the Musical closes on 31st March 2013

Things to do in London on your free day

Just in case you think a whole weekend in London is a long time to fill up with activities apart from going to see a West End show here are just two suggestions for things to do during your free time there.

Museums and Galleries

London is home to many fine museums and art galleries with extensive static collections and also touring exhibitions. You could revisit the Tate, the V & A the National Gallery or the British Museum or check out one of the smaller ones such as the Saatchi Gallery, the John Soane museum in Holborn or the Design Museum at Shad Thames.

Eating out

London must have the most international cuisine available of anywhere in the world so you can find a great little place somewhere central for lunch where you can experience the taste of great food from Korea, Portugal, Eritrea, Nepal, Estonia, Peru or hundreds of other places, or stick to something London is famous for such as the East Asian food in Chinatown or a great Indian curry from Brick Lane.

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Constellations – A Play

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had taken a different turn in life. You know, those moments when decisions waver in the moment, and fate could be determined in one of two opposing directions.What if the other one had happened instead? I’m picturing the scene where a stark dilemma is  haunting me, I stay up all night trying to decide whether to take one course of action or another, whether to go or stay. It’s finely balanced and could go either way. I finally make that decision, plump for one option over the other and exhausted by the mental exertions, fall asleep. Then I wake up in the morning and do the exact opposite. So much for free will. Life then takes its course, but almost certainly a very different course to the one that would have been taken if the alternative option had prevailed. I’m not taking about minor decisions here – what to wear, who to invite, whether to take the train or the bus – but the big life changing ones. Which country to live in, what career to pursue, who to have your children with. The problem is that we only live our lives through the perspective of one of the possible pathways. The one we have sort of chosen. The other possibilities, the paths untaken, remain unknowable. There is a philosophy though which maintains that each of the endless variety of trajectories does indeed exist in its own version of the universe. Every time a decision is there to be made, like a fork in the road, both of the eventualities stretch out into the future waiting for us to walk along either one path or the other. This would mean that two versions of our future selves are already inherent in the decision making process, and if you were able to look down from a vantage point above time and space you would be able to see both of them at once, going their separate ways. This view would reveal something called ‘the Multiverse’, a boundless place where unlimited outcomes occur simultaneously. It’s not a philosophy I agree with myself, but it could make a bloody good play!

The Physicist and the Beekeeper

Constellations is a single act double handed play which explores the different ways in which the interrelated behaviours of two people might unfold by depicting the multiverse live on stage. I wont explain how it’s done exactly, but suffice it to say that we get to see many different iterations of the same scene while examining the effect of subtle changes on outcomes further down the line. So its not a conventional play then, not a concatenation of consecutive scenes in order taken from a single historical timeline, with or without flashbacks, but neither is Constellations an experimental drama, with different outcomes each night dependent on audience participation or some other randomness. The purpose of the unconventional structure is not really to explore alternative universes in a science fiction sort of way, but to act as a vehicle for exploring some insights into the reality of human relationships and the way we might try, ultimately in vain, to steer them.

The Duke of Yorks theatre has a reputation for putting on short runs of interesting plays which otherwise probably wouldn’t make it into the West End, and Constellations is only 65 minutes long in a single act with just the two actors as the full cast, which means the quality of the writing and the production have to be superb. The reason why this play has made it so far is because it was so well received previously at the Royal Court Theatre. With theatres unwilling to take a punt on anything that strays from the mainstream with revivals, juke boxes, long dead playwrights and celebrity casts the presence of Constellations in the West End helps to restore a little bit of faith in a London that can be thought provoking and a challenge to the emotional intellect.

Constellations could either do really well and go on and on, or fall flat on its face and close early but inevitably it will do both at the same time.


Constellations – a play by Nick Payne

Cast of Constellations: Rafe Spall and  Sally Hawkins. Director: Michael Longhurst. Producer: Royal Court Theatre, Writer: Nick Payne

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The Book of Mormon Musical

The Book of Mormon Musical

The Book of Mormon Musical – fresh faced young men

The Book of Mormon musical is coming to the West End. The Book of Mormon is opening at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March 2013. The producers have decided to bring over the current Los Angeles production cast members Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner as the two Mormon Elders sent to Uganda to spread the Christian word.

I’m really not sure what the UK audience is going to make of it! The Mormons,  as we call them, are really followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and call themselves latter day saints. Mormonism is such a US thing. They even just nearly voted one in as president!

Here in the UK it is a small and fairly insignificant religion, with far fewer churches and little political influence. We’ve all had Mormons on our doorstep at one time or another. We know about the clean cut American young men who travel in pairs and dress conservatively but how much does the UK public know about what Mormons believe? It is hard to make satire work if your audience does not understand quite what it is you are satorising. I suspect the older amongst us (cough!) will associate Mormons with having lots of wives (they don’t any more and haven’t for over 100 years!) and a particularly salacious court case about a kidnapping  in Devon and some mink lined handcuffs(!) back in the late 70s. Google it if you must, I refuse to link to the Daily Mail!

Back to The Book of Mormon musical. The first thing you should know is that it is brought to you by the makers of South Park. Yes that offensive, juvenile and often screamingly funny cartoon. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park have worked with with Avenue Q co-creator, Robert Lopez on the show.  This might prepare you for what the show is like, maybe. Expect raw, rude, deliberately provocative humour. Mrs. Whitehouse wouldn’t have liked it. If you ever saw Avenue Q then you get the basic idea. Avenue Q was basically Sesame St with sex and lots of swearing.  American humour can be a bit broad and unsubtle but, if you can get past feeling offended, then it can be very funny.

Get an idea of what to expect from this clip in which they discuss one of the main songs ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’. This is perhaps the production’s most controversial song and they really expected the audience to walk out during it! I think they were slightly disappointed that no one did!

The Book of Mormon, musical gold or an all American turkey?

The Book of Mormon Musical

The Book of Mormon Musical – this is Africa, not the Lion King.

So once you get past the swearing and irreverence of the show, the next big question is ‘Will it be a good night out?’.

My answer to this is a resounding “Yes! How could it not be?” It has so much going for it. It is a live musical, not a juke box show, with high production values, it has been a hit on Broadway and it has a great cast. The London cast includes: Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner from the Los Angeles production, plus Alexia Khadime, Stephen Ashfield and Daniel Buckley. The music is good, high quality stuff. The words and dialogue have some witty moments. There are excellent sets and costumes. The plot is amusing and even if we don’t ‘get’ all the Mormon references we can all still enjoy laughing at the Americans :-) The African setting lets the show play around with poking fun at Disney’s Americentric viewpoint in general and at the Lion King in particular. It seems to be the sort of show that will sweep you along and it certainly won’t be boring.

See what dates are available for Book of Mormon theatre breaks



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Carmen Theatre Break

Carmen will be a theatre break with a difference. An opera rather than a musical and The Royal Albert Hall rather than a West End venue. It can be hard to find breaks to operas rather than plays or musicals, so I was delighted to see this one.

It is great that our new Readers Offers site has put one on for this unique show. What amazed me was that if I’d looked in the Theatre Breaks section I’d never have found it! It was hiding in the London Entertainment section! Luckily Andy spotted it yesterday and I thought you might be interested. (There’s a break to see Swan Lake there too! If you prefer ballet to opera)

Carmen theatre break

Spot the Carmen theatre break

As you can see you can either go for two days by coach or two days self drive. The production runs from 23rd Feb 2013 to 2nd Mar 2013.  The theatre break includes one night with breakfast in an outer London hotel for the coach trip or an inner one for the self drive and your rear circle ticket for a Saturday evening performance.  You can upgrade your ticket for a supplement but as it’s the Albert Hall everyone should get a great view anyway. Prices are from £99 each for the self drive and £149 for the coach break. I think it will be a great choice for a theatre break at the end of February. All that sizzling Spanish passion is just what you need to spice things up at the end of the winter!

Carmen has to be one of my favourite pieces of opera, a great story with wonderful spectacle. I thought at first that it was just a concert performance but it isn’t. This is a fully stage version and it will be amazing in this venue. David Freeman Royal Albert Hall staging of Bizet’s  Carmen was first seen in 2002 and it has been back a couple of times since then. It is an opportunity to see a fully staged opera in London for a fraction of the price you would pay at one of the opera houses.

Just let this sweep you away:

Carmen’s music is well known to just about everyone, even if you have no interest in opera as such. So many familiar tunes and arias means it is one of the most accessible operas. This production is sung in English making it really easy to follow the story. Unlike some operas Carmen is not an overly complicated plot and there are no boring bits!  The thing I love about it most is the combination of a really dramatic interesting story with the power of Bizet’s music. Stunning! I think I want to go too :-)

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