Favourite West End Shows

Last month (yes, I planned on doing this post over a month ago but didn’t get round to it!) I went to one of my very favourite events in London… West End Live. Held annually in London’s Trafalgar Square, West End Live is a free event showcasing musicals and plays from across the West End in a bid to get more people interested in theatre. This years line up was brilliant and, as always, I left with a list of ‘must see’ shows as long as my arm, that I intend on ploughing through before next years event. But, it got me thinking about the shows I have already seen (and there are a lot!) and which ones I’d recommend to anyone who wasn’t such an avid theatre-goer or anyone coming into the West End for the first time.

So… I dug out some (there were too many to take off the shelf without everything falling over!) of my theatre programmes and took a trip down memory lane, to compile a list of my top five, must see West End Shows.

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My first experience of theatre was seeing Starlight Express when I was very young, not long before it closed in London (which is why I have ruled it out of my top five today). I just remember being so in awe of the people on that stage, the incredible costumes, the music, the lights – just absolutely everything! It was like a drug and I needed more. Unfortunately, Starlight has never returned to London (something I hope and pray for on a regular basis!) so I felt it wasn’t really a contender for a recommendation post, however, if it does ever return I urge anyone to go and see it, for it was just truly spectacular.

Compiling a list of just five has not been an easy challenge in the slightest! In the end, I went with shows I feel I could see over and over again, or productions that any new theatre-goer would do well to start with. So, without further ado, here we go…

 

Les Miserables (Currently at the Queens Theatre)

This one speaks for itself really! Officially named as the worlds longest running musical, seen by over 70 million people in 22 different languages around the world and still going strong today, Les Mis is undoubtedly my favourite musical of all time. While it’s backdrop of 19th-century France and the revolution may seem a bit grim, the tales of love, hope, passion and sacrifice are so beautiful, I could cry over it time and time again, without ever getting bored. Such a beautiful, thought-provoking production from start to finish, Les Miserables is definitely one to tick of the bucket list.

 

Legally Blonde (Currently preparing for a 2017-2018 UK Tour)

I first saw Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre, many moons ago, when Sheridan Smith was still a relatively new household name. Having loved the film, I jumped at the chance to see the show with very little expectation, but left with it firmly sitting pretty in my top five shows. The music and lyrics were so catchy, so hilarious, that (if I’m honest here) I haven’t stopped singing them since. The hilarity of the entire production; which follows Elle Woods in her desperate attempt to win back the man she loves, and in turn gain a place at Harvard Law School in the process, still sticks in my mind today and I left the theatre with the biggest grin on my face possible. Sheridan Smith was the most perfect Elle Woods, and while I am looking forward to seeing it’s revival on tour next year, I wonder if anyone else can possibly suffice… I shall have to wait and see.

 

Wicked (Currently at the Apollo Victoria)

Wicked was always going to be on my list, before I’d even sat through my very first production. Since I was little I have adored The Wizard Of Oz and couldn’t resist the chance to see the ‘untold story of the witches of Oz.’ Full of the most spectacular sets, costumes and show-stopping songs, you get an overwhelming sense of magic from the moment you first set foot through the theatre doors. It tells the tale of an unlikely friendship formed between two young women, who eventually go on to become Glinda The Good and The Wicked Witch Of The West, in the much loved Frank Baum tale. Wicked is now the 17th longest running show in London’s theatre history and still going strong.

 

The Bodyguard (Currently at The Dominion Theatre)

Probably the show that surprised me the most in its jump into my top five. Chosen by a friend, I had little expectation of this musical other than to spend a few hours singing my heart out to Whitney numbers! The Bodyguard follows the story of a young superstar, Rachel Marron, who is being unknowingly stalked, whilst former Secret Service Agent, Frank, strives desperately to protect her, and the pair unexpectedly fall in love. The story line, the music, just everything about the show is so compelling and beautiful that I couldn’t help but make it one of my top five.

 

Matilda The Musical (Currently at the Cambridge Theatre)

This stems a lot from my childhood love of both Roald Dahl and Matilda, as well as my overwhelming astonishment at how phenomenally well one little girl can carry an entire West End performance, with such complex dialogue and energetic routines, night after night. If you are unfamiliar with the story (where have you been?) Matilda is the story of a special little girl with very extraordinary powers. Unwanted and misunderstood by her family, Matilda finds solace in the comfort of stories, and eventually in the arms of her caring school teacher, Miss Honey. The songs, written by the ingenious lyricist Tim Minchin, really bring the classic Dahl tale to life and Matilda now delights audiences in both London and Australia.

 

So, there you have it… My top five recommendations of must-see theatre performances here in London. These will, undoubtedly change from time to time, as I witness the brilliance of yet more London theatre, but for now – enjoy!

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Review; Oliver Twist

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Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the charmingly intimate Regents Park Open Air Theatre in London to see their production of the much loved Dickens classic, Oliver Twist.

The open air theatre is a magical experience for any avid theatre-goer, with its small stage set in amongst beautiful greenery and twinkling fairy lights hanging from vines all around, it is the perfect place to sit back, relax and enjoy a summer show. Being so small and intimate, the characters were able to mingle in the crowd to give it a more immersive feel than a standard West End production.

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The production, though not what I expected, was incredibly clever. Performed with just a small cast, including just the one child playing Oliver himself, who took turns portraying the different characters throughout the story. The set is housed in just three metal shipping crates, which opened in different ways to reveal the different locations Oliver travels to throughout his journey, and just minimal set design added to help distinguish between each.

If I’m honest, I had expected more singing; those traditional ‘Oliver!’ songs I grew up singing as a kid, lots of little orphans dancing about the stage, but in fact there was none. I had also expected it to feature a lot of Oliver’s time at the orphanage, with the famous “Please Sir, can I have some more?”. But to my surprise, that phase in his life was brushed over pretty quickly, just a recounted memory, and the majority of the production focused on the people and places Oliver encounters as a runaway. Just goes to show how much my childhood memory can really be trusted!

All in all, I adored the intimacy and the charm of the glorious Open Air theatre and couldn’t fault the wonderful acting throughout the production from such a small cast. It was a wonderful way to spend a sunny afternoon in London, and I thoroughly recommend both Oliver Twist and The Regents Park Open Air Theatre to anyone. I’ll just have to wait until it returns to the West End before I can enjoy singing my heart out to those much loved Oliver! classics!!

 

Book Review; Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Last week I arrived home, after a busy but beautiful few days in Dublin and some delightfully long airport delays (cheers Ryan Air!), to find a package waiting for me in the hallway. Inside the package? … Only the best cure for holiday blues – the newest Lisa Jewell book, ‘Then She Was Gone’. I mean, aside from the fact that Book Post in general is overly exciting, Lisa Jewell happens to be one of my all-time favourite authors and I’d spent months in high anticipation, waiting for the release date. I began the book the following day, after many hours of sleeping off Dublin, and completely and utterly fell in love.

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Ellie Mack is the golden girl of her family; beautiful, clever, popular – then, in the blink of an eye, she disappears, leaving behind her grieving family; fractured in the wake of her disappearance, and her beloved mother, clutching at straws whilst allowing everyone else to simply fade into the background.

From then on in I devoured the novel, page after page, reading frantically to retrieve the answers as fast as I could, a desperate need to know what really happened to Ellie Mack. There were cleverly placed hints throughout, some quite early on, that had my mind racing with ideas and caused me to declare (several times) “I’ve got it!”… But I hadn’t.

Each of the characters had their part to play. All so intrinsically linked and beautifully entwined in one another’s live, creating this web of possibilities as we journeyed with them to piece together the events of the fateful day Ellie disappeared. And Laurel Mack, grieving, desperate mother of Ellie, was quite possibly the most heart-breaking character of all. Watching her push away her family, her other two children who paled in comparison to her beloved Ellie, witnessing her hurt and resentment as she stumbled through the days and years that followed. I felt as though I was an invisible insider, a fly on the wall, silently watching her life fall apart. That was until she met an intriguing stranger and his highly intellectual daughter – who bore a striking resemblance to Ellie.

Witnessing the key characters piecing together small fragments of information, all those years after Ellie’s disappearance, was insatiable – I couldn’t get enough and I couldn’t turn those pages quick enough. Watching, silently, as group dynamics changed, as answers were found and as lives, particularly Laurel’s, changed so dramatically, was both heart wrenching and joyful in equal measures. In fact, I shed several tears throughout this book (which technically isn’t difficult for me – I’m a bit of a cry baby!) and just felt so involved, so linked with the grief and the confusion the family were facing. The end of the book, those long awaited answers, evoked such a mix of emotions, I really felt as though I was riding the rollercoaster with The Mack’s.

I don’t think I have ever (or will ever) have a bad word to say about a Lisa Jewell book but, as an avid reader, I do believe ‘Then She Was Gone’ is one of her best yet. Somewhat very different to her earlier novels, but so incredibly captivating and a storyline that just leaves you wanting more, every time you are forced to lay down the book. So, I urge you to head out and pick up this book; devour the life and disappearance of Ellie Mack and see for yourself what a truly wonderful writer Lisa Jewell is.

Book Review; Shtum by Jem Lester

Last week, whilst sitting in the sunshine, I finished the beautiful Shtum by Jem Lester; and incredibly moving and thought provoking novel following the life of a young boy with Autism and his family’s struggles.

Jonah is ten and doesn’t communicate at all. He is severely autistic, with speech and language difficulties, still in nappies and prone to violent outbursts. Shtum largely centres around his parents fight to get him into an appropriate secondary school, battling the Local Authority’s view that he should attend a provision they have deemed unsuitable for his complex needs.

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Working in Special Education myself, I was immediately drawn to the book and felt such ties as I was reminded of the battles these families face to get the best education for their children. It is a stark reminder that, some children are hugely lucky in their educational environments, whilst others struggle under the weight of mainstream school cuts and unsuitable provisions.

Having spent years in mainstream, watching children with additional needs struggle to have their needs met, largely through the lack of money ploughed in from the government, I could wholeheartedly sympathise with what Jonah’s parents had to go through, in order to meet his needs.

I also loved the way in which the novel explored the relationship between his parents and the guilt and hurt they faced every day, due to their son’s needs. Parent’s have enough pressures and stress at home, dealing with their children’s additional needs, without the need to worry about their education also. Too many families are facing tribunals, costing them thousands of pounds, which most do not have, in order to fight for their children, who cannot fight for themselves.

It angers me that there are still too many children, in unsuitable educational settings, with staff having to go the extra mile to ensure their needs are met, despite a lack of funding and space to do so. Each and every child has the right to an education, one that is suitable to their own specific needs. We shouldn’t still have families fighting, schools struggling and unhappy children – it doesn’t need to be so hard.

I was completely moved by Jonah’s story, relating to every word as I watched parent’s I know fight for their own children. It is a stark reminder of the struggles these children and their families face on a daily basis, and the ignorance and stigma that still surrounds their very complex needs.

Jem Lester writes so beautifully and honestly, reducing me to tears on several occasions throughout Jonah’s story. And, whilst I was glad to see his journey reach a happy conclusion, that is not always the case for so many children just like him.

I strongly urge anyone with a background in Special Educational Needs or anyone with a desire to learn more, to pick up this beautiful, heart wrenching novel. You won’t be disappointed!

Much love, Manchester.

This isn’t the sort of thing I’d usually write about but sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine today, my thoughts were pulled back to those innocent victims who wouldn’t be doing the same thing and I felt compelled to get my thoughts and feelings out.

Monday night’s atrocity instantly reminded me of my childhood; spent gallivanting around London enjoying concerts from many beloved artists… particularly Girls Aloud! Now, in my twenties, those memories are some of the happiest times from my childhood, and I still have friends whom I met on those journeys. But now, I wont ever step foot inside another concert arena without the chilling reminder of what everyone faced that fateful night and how their experiences have been ruined, forever, because of it.

My first concert was in fact Hear’ Say, back in the days when mobiles and digital cameras weren’t a big thing so (un)fortunately I don’t have any horrifically embarrassing photos to share… But I’m sure my Mum does somewhere! My older brother and sister-in-law were the lucky beings who got to share in my first concert experience with me, and I felt so proud and grown up being beside them… and of course staying up late on a school night!  We laughed, we danced, we sang and I left with a beaming smile, decked in the latest Hear’ Say merchandise, ready to recount my experience to anyone who would listen! It was a magical night, a right of passage for any young child, and a memory the three of us still recount fondly today.

Later I went on to attending shows with friends (when my sister in law didn’t beg to come – as much as she pretended she didn’t like them!) Some I’d even met through the artists themselves. Girls Aloud tours were an annual thing back then, and most definitely the highlight of our year. They took many weeks of careful outfit planning, dance routine practising and rushing to ensure we were there hours before the event, in case we chanced a glimpse at the girls themselves. I longed for those tours, to be in a room surrounded my people who knew what I felt, who loved the music as much as I did. They were some of the most carefree moments of my youth.

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Seeing those five girls, who I idolised, up-close and personal, singing our hearts out and feeling completely carefree is a feeling that I still remember so well today. It is a feeling every person in the Manchester Arena was robbed of on Monday night. They should all be spending this week in a bubble of excitement, recounting the night over and over, but instead many are facing the week in hospital, in pain and mental torture, and 22 of them will never make it home.

I’ve always looked forward to the day my nieces and nephews, and maybe one day even my own children, are old enough to go to a concert. I’ve wanted desperately to be the one to take them, to share in that magical experience of their very first concert and to make it as special as I possibly can for them. But the constant reminder of how that went so very wrong, for so many people attending Ariana’s show on Monday, will forever be imprinted in my mind. Those names and faces who lost their lives and their loved ones, those who fought so bravely to help those in need, will be constantly reflected in every concert I now attend. And I know I’m not alone.

It saddens me how such wonderful memories from my childhood, have been destroyed for so many young people there on Monday night. No one should go to a concert, somewhere that should be filled with joy and happiness, and not return home at the end of it. The only comfort I can find, is remembering that buzzing feeling that flooded my body immediately after a concert. It was one of the greatest feelings, a true sense of happiness, and that is what everyone there experienced in the moments before the tragic event.

I know words are not much, but they are all I can offer. My thoughts and love are with every single person affected by Monday’s nightmare and they will be, forever. I cannot begin to comprehend the unimaginable grief those families will be going through, as I struggle to make sense of it all myself. To those who lost their lives, may they sleep peacefully, and to those who battle on, may you find peace.

Much love, Manchester.

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Theatre Review; The Addams Family

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Everyone’s favourite, kooky family are currently touring the UK and last night I headed to The New Wimbledon Theatre to spend the evening with The Addam’s Family.

Being the first professional production of The Addam’s Family in the UK, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Other than a few glimpses into the rehearsals on YouTube, I had nothing else to go on, so headed into the evening fairly ‘blind’. But, from the minute I heard that it was touring, I knew I had to experience the magic.

The production has a wonderfully, talented cast, with some famous names in the line up – Eastenders Star, Samantha Womak, stars as head of the family, Morticia, with Les Dennis playing the hilarious Uncle Fester by her side. But, equally as amazingly talented are the other members of the company, who may be less well known than their famous co-stars. Personally, I was completely blown away by Carrie Hope Fletcher’s portrayal of Wednesday Addam’s and her phenomenal vocal talent. An up and coming talent in the theatre world, she was someone I was extremely excited to see announced for the role and she definitely doesn’t disappoint.

The entire show had the audience laughing from start to finish; it’s well built-in jokes and hilarious one liners were well timed, in between some equally humorous musical numbers that will be stuck in your brain for weeks to come. The show perfectly captures the kookiness of the family; including the wonderfully weird, Lurch, who has a side-splitting solo near the end of the show that reduced the audience to tears … of laughter!

With the obvious challenge of being on tour and constantly on the move, the set was an impressive design, featuring some of The Addams’ gruesome home decor, such as the stretching wrack, and the clever use of Uncle Fester as a sort of narrator to distract your attention from the bigger set changes.

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All in all, I adored my evening with The Addams Family and it completely topped my expectation. I truly couldn’t recommend the show enough and urge anyone who loves theatre, hilarity and the kooky Addam’s Family of their childhood, to go and see it in a theatre near you soon! This production is touring until November so there is plenty of time to check it out.

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A (Very Late) Theatre Review; An Inspector Calls – The Playhouse Theatre.

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The weekend before I flew out to Australia, I was lucky enough to catch the final show of An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre London.

This is a play I studied at GCSE, and like the geek that I am, absolutely fell in love with the clever way in which it was written and the morals embedded deep within it. Since then I have been desperate to see it performed live, and have been waiting (rather impatiently) for it to return to the West End at a time when my schedule coincided.

I took my best friend, as a sort of joint birthday treat as I would be missing her birthday whilst I was away. I organised it quite last minute so our seats were pretty high up, but actually still provided a wonderful view of the stage. The theatre itself is situated on the banks of the River Thames and is a fairly small, but equally beautiful theatre.

The production was also a small affair; just an hour and a half with no interval, a small cast and a minimalistic, but incredibly clever, set. The entire play is set, and performed, in the house of The Birling family; a well to do, upper class family, with plenty of money. The house has large windows and doors so that the audience can see in at the beginning of the show, when the family are sitting down to a dinner party. As the show goes on and the investigations get under way, characters begin climbing from the doors and windows, onto the balcony and the street below. The house is the largest and main piece of set that is used throughout the entire show, with only merely props to accompany it.

The show centres around a police inspector who makes a surprise visit to the Birling Family, looking for information about a woman who was rushed to the infirmary after swallowing disinfectant. Initially, each member denies anything to do with the woman or her unfortunate situation, but in time they each realise they did in fact know of her in one way or another.

What I have always loved about the play is the fact that the it encourages you, the audience member, to become a part of that family, a part of that young girls life, and to think about your own morals, judgements and actions. A line that has always stuck with me, since my very first read, is ” One Eva Smith has gone but there are millions and millons of Eva Smith’s and John Smith’s still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do”, which I think is a very thought provoking line and very prevalent in the society in which we live in. It’s easy to forget the tiny interactions we have with people who are near strangers; in the shops, on the train, walking along the street, and how easily the things we say or do can have a much greater impact on their lives than we realise. For we are just one piece of a huge puzzle, and we know nothing about the lives they are living and the struggles they may be facing. The entire show really forces you to think about being more understanding, less judgemental and an all round better person.

I am thrilled to have caught the play in it’s final run in London and only hope that at some point in the near future it returns for more. And if it does, I urge anyone to buy a ticket and head down to see it, because it really is a life changer and an utterly fantastic show. You won’t be disappointed!

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