Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Amateur Dramatics): Theatre Review

The last time I saw Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert on stage was on Broadway when I was 16 years old, during a holiday to New York with my best friend. So when that same best friend got me tickets to see Priscilla in Sheffield for Christmas, I knew it was going to be a good one. We didn’t actually realise until the week of the performance that we were seeing an amateur dramatics production rather than the UK tour (whoops), but looking into Croft House Theatre Company and finding out that not only were they a charity but also big on inclusive theatre, I was already a fan.


It pains me even to admit this, but…I’m going to say it. I don’t remember everything about seeing the show itself on Broadway. That’s in no way a reflection on the show, but on my problematic memory: I would’ve just been starting with my chronic illness at that time, and my brain just couldn’t process memories in the way it should have done (and hasn’t done since). I remember sitting there and thinking of how incredible it was, that I adored it and that it really made me feel something, but mainly all I can actually recall is the drag queens’ stories, amazingly catchy tunes and a hell of a lot of glitter. Essentially, my happy place. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that seeing the show in Sheffield was like seeing it for the first time, but already knowing that it had big shoes to fill.

The highlight of the whole thing for me was undoubtably Cynthia’s Pop Musik performance. I can’t find a cast list for the show anywhere, but the lady playing Cynthia seriously deserves a medal for having the guts to execute that performance the way she did, and she deserved every bit of the huge round of applause she got. I also thought the three girls playing The Divas were fabulous; I can’t pretend to know anything about singing, but my best friend (who’s much more qualified to have an opinion than me) thought their voices were amazing. The three lead Queens did a great job and I was especially impressed with the ease at which they performed in heels: they strutted more confidently than bestie and I did in our own heels whilst borderline staggering to the theatre, on rainy cobbles, after drinks, on a high pain day. I don’t want to imagine what we must have looked like to anybody who saw us.So, I started writing about this performance and ended up deleting the whole thing and starting again because I sounded like such a ridiculous snob. I think it’s important to remember that this was a community theatre production, and it’s completely unfair to compare it to UK tours and West End shows and that incredible Broadway production we saw all those years ago. So with that in mind, I thought the show was really entertaining. I liked how it was kept fast-paced and dynamic, and how it went to special lengths to engage the audience, who were a wild bunch to start with. It was cute to be surrounded by people who were obviously friends and family of the cast and who wanted to show their support. Less cute when you couldn’t actually hear what was being said because of people in the audience pointing out and yelling at their talented offspring then talking about how good they were through all the scenes they weren’t in, but still. Moral support is nice.

I have to admit, there were things that weren’t so good during the performance. The choreography seemed to be just the same few moves over and over again, and from where we were sitting (right at the top of the balcony), the chorus never seemed to hit formations or be in a straight line when they were supposed to be in a straight line. I’m sure these are just ridiculously minor things that no other person would notice, but that last thing was particularly painful just because I spent my entire childhood being screamed at if we didn’t hit staging positions on time.

I think the biggest let-down for me was one key moment that I remember clearly from the Broadway show: where they arrive back from the pub and find the transphobic message graffitied on the side of the bus. On Broadway, the contrast from the seconds-ago ecstatic scene to this sudden turn of events was gut-wrenchingly sad. However, I don’t think this performance made the most of that moment: the audience seemed to interpret it as a funny, banter-like occurrence, rather than the heart-breaking act of cruelty it was originally intended to be. Maybe that was just down to the audience though, rather than the cast. There were also quite a few technical difficulties throughout the performance, but I thought the cast handled them beautifully: professionally, discreetly as possible and if necessary, addressing them with humour.

What else? Oh, I thought the set and costuming were fabulous. Going into the show, we weren’t quite sure if this was going to be a low-budget thing with really naff scenery and props, but we were pleasantly surprised. Priscilla herself was there in all her fabulous glory, and I hope the people behind the scenes get the credit they deserve for the hard work that undoubtably went into the whole production. I’m glad this rendition of the show was as glittery and sparkly as ever (as you know, glitter is a core feature of my existence), and I absolutely loved the use of the giant party poppers at the end: that, combined with the amazing whole cast performance of I Will Survive really helped the show to finish on a high and go out with a bang.

Overall, I think the show had both great and not-so-great components, but I really respect the amount of work that evidently took place by those both on and off the stage to put together this creation, and I hope everybody involved is proud of what they accomplished. And most importantly of all, the audience absolutely loved it. I enjoyed the show (particularly the cracking soundtrack which will be in my head for the foreseeable future, not even sorry) and was reminded of just how much I adore this musical, so thank you and congratulations to Croft House Theatre Company for a great evening!

Find out more about the company and keep updated about their latest productions here!

Pippa x

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Cirque du Soleil Varekai Tour: Show Review

Seeing Cirque du Soleil has been right at the top of my bucket list ever since I knew what a bucket list was. I’ve waited patiently for 10+ years to see them, and now that I have, I can officially confirm that it was everything I wanted it to be and that I’m seriously contemplating running away to become some sort of trapeze artist.

We should probably start with a bit of context: when I was younger, I was training to be a professional ballet dancer. Alongside the classical discipline, we had intensive enhancement sessions in other genres outside of dance, to support our development and widen our employability. One of my intensive courses was circus skills training, and I think this is where I first heard about Cirque: the company takes on classical dancers as artists and at that point, it was actually a feasible career possibility. I looked them up and can remember falling in love with their Alegria production. Everything blended so beautifully together, and it was like somebody had taken all of my favourite things and smushed them all together into this beautiful piece of art. Since then, I’ve listened to Cirque’s soundtracks, watched YouTube videos, and even seen a showcase of their performers on holiday one time, but I’d never seen a production. I’d spent years pondering the cheapest way to go abroad and see one.

So fast forward to 2017 and I’m finally seeing a production: not in Las Vegas, not in Mexico, not in Canada, but in good old Sheffield. The next best thing, right? There’s a few parts of my experience that may have been affected by location that I’ll talk about later but ultimately, once Cirque began, I was in the forest where the show Varekai is set, and nowhere else. Hideously cliche, but true.

Varekai, meaning ‘wherever’ in the Romany/Gypsy language, follows on from the Greek myth of Icarus. Icarus, who has fallen from the sky, lands in the forest and has to learn to trust fate to keep moving himself forward. Each act in the show represents a part of his journey and demonstrates how trusting yourself will lead you to where you need to be. So, there’s a moral to the story, subtly intertwined into all the flashy dangerous shenanigans that lets face it, everybody is waiting for.

The first half featured aerial net work, synchronised tumbling, dance trapeze and ended with a Georgian dance performance. And, even after seeing all these terrifying stunts that came before it, the Georgian dance was the real highlight for me. I feel like dance is sometimes overlooked by a lot of people in a show like this but I swear, it was one of the best dance performances I have EVER seen. Michael Montanaro’s choreography was incredible, and the male dancers were doing freaking TRIPLE tours en l’airs like it was no big deal. Which, in normal person speak, translates as they could jump in the air, rotate at speed and probably have time to make a cuppa before they came back down again. Ridiculously good.

The second half featured slippery surface acrobatics, aerial straps, roue cyr (mind-blowing controlled movements with a hoop), sticks and hand balancing, and an acrobatic performance on crutches which really got me thinking. So, if anybody sees me dangling upside down from my wheelchair in the future, you’ll know why. And hopefully you’ll rescue me, because if you’ve seen my wheelchair you’ll know it can barely withstand pavement these days, let alone a wannabe disabled contortionist trying to navigate herself around the Tesco free-from aisle.

The big finale was the Russian Swings acrobatics, also known as the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. Acrobats would jump from giant moving swings simultaneously,  somersault through the air whilst narrowly missing each other, and land on the other swing across the stage, which was still moving. It probably doesn’t sound as terrifying in words, but I’m not exaggerating when I say it brought on a mild episode of tachycardia. The show ended whilst I was still recovering from second-hand stress, and I couldn’t believe that two hours had passed by so quickly. Since then I’ve been horizontally reliving the experience (minus the tachycardia) and planning an inevitable road trip around America to see the other shows. Who’s in?

My only (very minor) grievance isn’t a reflection on Cirque, but a reflection on seeing Cirque in Sheffield. I don’t know if it’s just a British thing rather than limited to Sheffield, because I know Cirque isn’t quite as prestigious here as it is in other countries, but I do know that there were a lot of idiots in the audience that night. The warning that not only were photos and electronics prohibited during the show, they were distracting and dangerous to the cast, did naff all. People’s phones and cameras were flashing and beeping all the way through, with seemingly no regard to the person swinging 20 feet above the ground on a trapeze, by the skin of their neck. GAH. I wouldn’t want it on my conscience if somebody got hurt, but clearly doing it for the Instagram was more important to these people. And don’t even get me started on how distracting it is for the rest of the audience too.

ANYWAY *inhales deeply and moves on*, the experience overall was unforgettable. What I loved particularly about Varekai was the creative direction, the subtle but always relevant story, the comedy (which I wasn’t expecting so much of) and the sheer talent of everybody involved, both on and off the stage. It’s almost impossible to describe: it’s not a circus, it’s not so much a performance or a showcase, but more of a unique work of art. Somebody combined dance, creativity, acrobatics, good music, and even some trampolining into a multi-talented company that creates beautiful concepts, and I feel so lucky that I finally got to witness one for myself.

To those who’ve put up with my fangirling over Cirque du Soleil for all of these years and thought seeing a show would bring an end to it, I can only apologise.

Pippa x

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Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – Theatre Review

So, my Year of the Theatre is officially under way, and we’re kicking things off with Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. We saw the matinee of this show on Saturday 21st January at the Aldwych Theatre, and it was the perfect way to kick off my friend Olivia’s birthday celebrations!

To be completely honest, I’d never given much thought to seeing this show before. I knew it had fab reviews, had won the same awards as some of my favourite musicals, and I never doubted that it would be amazing. However, there’s always been something else at the top of the list for me, usually shows either from my own generation or that I could relate to, that I think I would appreciate and understand more.

In spite of that, I really enjoyed it! The story follows the life of Carole King and incorporates the songs that she and her friends created, both with former husband Gerry Goffin, and on her own. To say that neither myself nor either of the two friends I went with knew anything about Carole King or her story beforehand, the plot was easy yet engaging to follow. I was slightly unwell on the day and was concerned that the plot would go straight over my head due to brain-fog, but I had no problems at all and the performance held my attention all the way through. The cast were beyond talented: Cassidy Janson has the most gorgeous voice, and I loved Lorna Want’s performance and witty one-liners as Cynthia too.

However, the real winner for me in this musical was the soundtrack. When I first began listening to it, a few weeks prior to seeing the show, I couldn’t believe how many of the songs I knew or recognised, and I had no idea that Carole King was associated with them. It’s beyond difficult to pick a favourite on such a feel-good soundtrack but I loved ‘Chains’ in particular. I’m conscious of sounding like a cynical granny here, but whilst I was watching the show, I couldn’t help wishing that the charts were still full of songs like these. To think how much popular music has changed in what’s really quite a short amount of time is bizarre… kids these days, eh?

Overall, I really enjoyed this musical and was glad that I experienced and enjoyed something that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked out for myself. I do think I would have appreciated it a lot more if I grew up in the generation where this music was produced; some of the jokes and references that had the audience in stitches were lost on me. In spite of that, I’d really recommend seeing this show for a sunny yet moving insight into the life of Carole King: a woman whose undeniable talent shaped a generation of music, but most importantly has given me another killer soundtrack to jam along to when I’m supposed to be doing something more productive.

Pippa x

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Kinky Boots: My first Theatre Review

 

Edit (December 2017): If this is the first post of mine you’ve read, I advise you to back away slowly. This was not only my first blog post but my first theatre review, before I even really knew what a theatre review was. I strongly advise you to check out my more recent stagey posts instead, but… if you must read it, do take it with a pinch of salt, and try not to cringe as much as I just did reading it back. Although I regret nothing in terms of the fangirling: I do love me some Kinky Boots.

~

Before I start writing about the upcoming shows I’ll be seeing in 2017, I HAVE to talk about Kinky Boots. I got to see this show in December 2016, so consider this a Throwback Thursday. That’s a thing that people do, right…?

Kinky Boots had been at the top of my mental must-see list for a couple of years, so getting tickets for my birthday in November was a Huge Deal and I honestly couldn’t believe it. I don’t get to go to London too often due to my health and travel and ticket expenses and so on, so to have a trip to Covent Garden at Christmas (eek) and lunch with friends, topped off with seeing an amazing show on the West End, was incredible.

I wasn’t disappointed. The thing that made Kinky Boots stand out to me was the undisputed message that it’s completely okay to be who you are, regardless of what other people think. It highlighted the extreme nature of prejudice against LGBTQ+ people, or in fact any people who are different, and just how damaging thoughtless words and actions can be. It showed how much courage it can take to simply exist as yourself in today’s society. Taking such important messages like that and combining them with sassy one liners, gorgeous drag queens and an abundance of glitter is a game-changer. I don’t believe that any person in the audience, no matter how aware they already were, didn’t have their eyes opened just a little more by this show. The choreography, costuming, and the production in it’s entirety just worked, and the whole performance seemed to fly by.

I am officially obsessed with the character of Lauren, flawlessly played by Elena Skye. I’m sure any woman who hears ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ would struggle NOT to find it relatable on some level, but it made my life complete. In fact, the entire soundtrack made my life complete. If I was able-bodied, ‘Raise You Up’ would have me booty shaking and catwalk strutting around my bedroom for approximately 90% of my free time but since I’m not, dramatic hair flicking and jazz hands are almost just as satisfying. Even if you’re not a show person or haven’t seen Kinky Boots, I can guarantee the original West End recording of that song (the album is on Spotify) will give you that lovely glowing feeling in your belly for the rest of your day.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that since seeing Kinky Boots in December, I’ve thought about it at least once a day ever since. It’s the kind of thing that stays with you, and I believe that would be the true even for somebody who wasn’t a huge musical super fan. So, in case I haven’t stressed this enough, I love this show. It’s the only one of my all-time favourites (so far) that hasn’t made me cry, and that’s simply because the whole thing was so uplifting that I’m pretty sure my face looked like the heart-eyes emoji. Possibly combined with the one that’s drooling a little bit.

10/10… everybody needs to see this show at some point in their lives.

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