The MGM Story Review

Upstairs at The Gatehouse 31 August – 25 September.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

The MGM Story is subtitled “The magic of the musical”, and this show truly delivers an evening of magical entertainment.

Chris Burgess is an old hand at expertly crafting a coherent and fully rounded show from huge back catalogues, and for this production has focussed on a few key musical behemoths from MGM’s history, and the struggles of Arthur Freed to keep on delivering box office hits. Sticking to the tried and tested format of four performers (two females, two male) and a small but perfectly formed onstage band, director and choreographer Matthew Cole manages to squeeze some nostalgic and authentic choreography making use of handy stepladders, clothes rails and wooden blocks in the small performance area.

After a quick whizz through the first musicals produced, the story hits its stride portraying the first audition of Judy Garland – a beautiful and haunting rendition of Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart by Emma Kayte Saunders – and carries on to tell of the troubled production of The Wizard of Oz, with a jaunty rendition of We’re Off to See the Wizard, If I only Had a Brain and a charmingly phrased version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Saunders doesn’t try to impersonate Garland’s voice, but captures the essence of Garland’s performances while adding her own twist. Moving swiftly through the Garland and Rooney years, the next musical examined is Meet Me in St. Louis – one of my favourite films, so I was in heaven during this section – with an energetic version of The Trolley Song and Miranda Wilford’s moving performance of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Easter Parade is up next with a heartfelt duet of It Only Happens When I Dance With You by Wilford and James Leece contrasting with a gloriously goofy version of A Couple of Swells by Saunders and Steven Dalziel. Burgess doesn’t sugar-coat the fact that some of the musicals churned out were purely commercial, lampooning an Esther Williams number with some dryland synchronised swimming, and highlighted Freed’s fall-back plan of plundering songwriters’ back catalogues to create their life stories. The men make the most of the spotlight before the interval with two songs from On the Town, leaving the audience buzzing.

Act Two, even though there are lots of exuberant numbers, has a more downbeat feel, as the narration charts the gradual decline in popularity of musicals and the end of the studio era. Doin’ What Comes Naturally is first awkwardly performed by Saunders as a miserable and miscast Judy Garland, and then by Wilford as her replacement Betty Hutton. The cast get to tap like maniacs in I Got Rhythm, and Leece makes a fantastic Gene Kelly in the Singin’ in the Rain numbers – with a much richer voice than Kelly. Dalziel steals the show with Make ‘Em Laugh – still able to sing strongly through his gymnastic clowning, and it is impossible to watch this version of Good Mornin’ without a cheesy grin on your face. After a sweet Gigi section, there is a melancholy performance of By Myself by Leece as the demise of the film musical is recalled. But the show ends on an upbeat note as the release of That’s Entertainment and its sequels in the 70s heralded the renewed interest in Hollywood musicals.

There are a few technical issues to be ironed out as lighting cues can be hit and miss. The band playing as the performers narrate is a good idea potentially, but the sound balance is at times a little off, and the words can be lost. Fitting their lines into a set interval also makes it tricky for the cast at some points, as they have a lot of lines and leads to a few stumbles. The sections where the backing music was absent were a lot more coherent. The use of a moveable floor lamp and an old style camera add to the atmosphere, but their positioning did obstruct the views of a few audience members.

These few issues aside, The MGM Story is a fantastic celebration of great musicals. Entertaining and exhilarating, leaving you basking in a warm glow of nostalgia, this is a must see show.

The Gospel According To Philip Review

Brockley Jack 30 August – 3 September, Theatre N16 4 – 8 September.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

If the actual gospels were this entertaining, then a lot more people would be going to church.

Arrows and Traps latest production, The Gospel According To Philip, is a romp through the highlight reel of Jesus’ Lord of the Dance Tour 30AD, as observed in excruciating detail by wannabe disciple Philip. In this new comedy, Richard Melchior and Heidi Svoboda have written the disciples as the nightmare pupils from hell, with poor Jesus (Pearce Sampson) getting stuck in circular discussions about tiny details as if he was a hapless trainee teacher. Philip (Will Mytum) hangs on every word Jesus says like an enthusiastic puppy, whilst James (Matthew Harrison-James) is the special needs pupil whose greatest achievement is turning up on time. Matthew (Gareth Kearns) delights in asking awkward but pertinent questions to expose the flaws in Jesus’ logic, and Paul (Alex Stevens) is ready to blame all evils on the gays – who he REALLY REALLY hates, especially their fit, tempting bodies. Simon and Thomas (Elle Banstead-Salim and Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes) have suspiciously luxuriant beards and appear to be more interested in Judas (Adam Elliot) than Jesus; while Peter (Tom Telford) is the teacher’s pet who is constantly tormented by the effortlessly cool Judas, whose tales of loose women provide the disciples with deeper insights than Jesus’ parables.

Jesus’ miracles are never seen, instead the consequences are reported by those involved. The wedding at Cana is described by the sobbing bride, sitting on the toilet complaining about Jesus taking over her big day, and Lazarus’ reunion with his widow doesn’t quite go to plan, probably because of the smell. The Last Supper is a hilarious disaster with Jesus stomping off to the garden for a smoke after having to use very interesting (and tastier) substitutes for communion. The writing is irreverent and insightful, taking a swipe at organised religion – Paul goes to Rome to set up his gold filled money obsessed death cult – but also celebrating individual choice and faith in humanity, summed up beautifully in Philip’s final gospel entry; made all the more poignant by the fact that writer Heidi Svoboda sadly died last year, leaving this play as a wonderful legacy. But most importantly, the writing is laugh out loud funny. Comparisons with Life of Brian are addressed swiftly and neatly, and God and Jesus even give their own scathing reviews of the fantastic temptation scene and Satan’s forecast of the horrors people will commit in Jesus’ name.

With costumes and props resembling an anarchic school nativity play, director Ross McGregor and the cast have developed a show that feels as if the cast are having just as much fun as the audience. Will Mytum is adorable as wide-eyed Philip, reading his gospel entries with a sweet lisp, and Pearce Sampson’s Jesus is fantastic, forcing a fixed grin as his patience grows thin with his followers. Adam Elliot is a joy to watch as Judas, manipulating and mocking the other disciples with cocky glee, and his double act with Tom Telford’s Peter is pure sibling warfare. Telford’s expressions as he is outwitted are a delight. Alex Stevens’ sudden transformations from Paul’s nervy near silence into rabid wild eyed rants about the foulness of gays will make you squirm and laugh in equal measure. Gareth Kearns makes you want to slap him as know it all Matthew, and Elle Banstead-Salim’s Mary Magdalene is full of hair swishing feistiness. Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes gives a well-judged, no frills performance as Satan, making him the sanest and most logical character in the play.

There are dance numbers too! Well, Jesus is the Lord of the Dance. Pearce Sampson’s choreography is simple, but every cast member holds character and delivers the ridiculous moves brilliantly, making the audience whoop with delight.

The Gospel According To Philip is wildly entertaining, irreverent and hysterical, but it has a sweet hopefulness running through it that will leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Everything you could wish for in a comedy – this deserves a long run in bigger venues. Spread the Gospel, and share the dance moves – Jesus rocks.

Punk rock one-man Sid Vicious play starring Dario Coates open this month!

Sept 19th – Oct 8th 2016, Above the Arts Theatre


Leon Fleming’s punk-rock one-man play about hero worship transfers into London’s West End after a UK tour, starring Dario Coates (Coronation Street, ITV; Another Country, Chichester Festival Theatre &

Trafalgar Studios West End) and directed by Scott Le Crass (Cancel the Sunshine, The Hope Theatre).

★★★★★ “The hairs start to stand on the back of your neck and you unexpectedly find yourself (…) perched on exquisite tenterhooks” (Grumpy Gay Critic)

Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious may have been a junkie and an alcoholic (and, let’s be honest, not much of a musician), but he was PUNK. More than anyone else at the birth of the punk movement, he kicked against the system and spat in the face of polite conformity. For Craig, living in a world that just eats people up and spits them out as mindless zombies, a place where people leave him and are never seen again, this long-dead anti-hero is all he has to keep him on the straight and narrow, to keep him from joining all the other sheep. And he’s not having a good day.

★★★★★ “Immersive theatre (…) gripping and provocative ” (LondonTheatre1)

This new 50 minute one-man play features a “mesmeric” performance (Theatre Wales) from Dario Coates as Craig, best known for playing Alex Neeson on long-running soap opera Coronation Street. Sid is directed by up-and-coming young director Scott Le Crass, who has been directing new work in London’s Off West End for over 8 years. The show comes to London after a rip-roaring successful UK tour, with sell-out performances and great critical acclaim.

★★★★ “Quick, energetic and focussed (…) recommended” London City Nights

If you’ve ever been obsessed with someone; if you’ve ever taken solace in music; if you’re an ageing punk who feels like the world is getting stranger every day – this is the convention-breaking, cutting edge theatre show for you.