The best theatrical experience I’ve had this year: Alice’s Adventures Underground.

Les Enfants Terribles creates a masterpiece of promenade theatre that enchants, enthrals, and enraptures the audience.

I’ve got something to admit: prior to attending Alice’s Adventures Underground, I didn’t know a lot about Alice in Wonderland. I know, I know. What an amazing childhood I must’ve had. I honestly think it was just one of those things that passed me by. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the basic premise, but I definitely wasn’t an expert. So when my lovely friend Daniella asked me along for press night, I couldn’t refuse. It was time to take the plunge into the infamously weird and wacky Universe that Lewis Carrol created over 150 years ago.

When I arrived at The Vaults, I was gobsmacked. Right from the get-go, I was transformed into another world: one of intrigue and illusion. The foyer was beautifully designed (and the cocktails were to die for.) I instantly felt like I was in immersed in this world, and the show hadn’t even started yet: my only regret is that I didn’t get there sooner.

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Above: Taste testing the delicious cocktails and curry chips prior to the performance. (Mine was aptly titled the Chesire Cat.)

I had no idea what I was about to experience when the 8:45 performance of the show began. What makes Alice’s Adventures Underground unique as a piece of promenade theatre is that the audience is given a choice: near the beginning of the performance we were asked whether we would like to EAT (some kind of jelly) or DRINK (a pineapple-like liquid.) Whatever we chose would affect the way the show unfolded for us. Later, we were sorted into card suits (I was a club, descended from soldiers.) This further affected our experience. Even before the performance came to an end, I immediately became curious as to what the other audience members who chose differently were confronted with, and it convinced me into deciding that I should probably return for a repeat visit.

Intricately designed by Samuel Wyer, and directed by Les Enfants Terribles founder Oliver Lansley, the show is beautiful in every sense of the word. Without giving away too much information, every minute detail has been carefully thought of: from the sprawling banquet hall to the tiny (and often claustrophobic) winding corridors.

I am gobsmacked at the talent of this cast, who perform 36 times a night, and who regularly rotate characters. They are not only actors: they are singers, acrobats, comedians, contortionists, puppeteers, and tour guides. Performers who are only fit for Wonderland.

Beg, borrow, or steal a ticket. You will not regret it.

Thank you to Daniella for bringing me along, and Raw PR for an incredible night!

Alice’s Adventures Underground is playing at the Vaults until September 23rd. Book your tickets here.

Marketing image courtesy of Jason Joyce.

The Girls Review: Blooming Brilliant

Gary Barlow’s and Tim Firth’s new musical is joyous, and not getting as much praise as it should be.

As I walked into the lovely Phoenix Theatre with my friend Naomi, I was met with some good news by the usher: “You’re sitting in the grand circle this evening? I’ll be able to give you both a free upgrade!”

Although  I was obviously delighted by this revelation, I will admit that I grew weary: why were we being upgraded? Why weren’t people going to see the show? It’s a Thursday evening performance, it should be close to sold-out, shouldn’t it? Is it terrible?

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I know: just because a show isn’t selling that many seats doesn’t mean it’s an awful musical (commercial success does not equate to artistic brilliance Conor,) but the thought definitely crossed my mind.

Set in Yorkshire, The Girls tells the story of Angela (Annie) Baker, who is left widowed after the death of her husband John. In a desperate bid to help Annie in her time of grief, Chris, her best friend of forty years, becomes inspired to raise money for a hospital sofa to commemorate him with. Together, Chris and Annie convince their other friends to participate in a nude calendar, in the hopes of raising the much-needed funds. The result: this heartwarming and hilarious new musical.

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Cheeky

Based on a true story, the show has proved to have an impressive shelf life (first the 2003 movie adaption, with a play that followed.) This musical version is written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth. I really enjoyed most of the musical performances, but it definitely wasn’t the most memorable score. The cast all gave exceptional vocal performances, and the songs interweaved with the story effortlessly. From the rousing opening number (Yorkshire) to the emotionally vulnerable Scarborough (performed brilliantly by Joanna Riding.)

Each leading lady was given their moment to shine, and it’s simply impossible to pick a standout performance. The supporting cast was just as strong, and Ben Hunter, Chloe May Jackson Jenny, and Frazer Hadfield had the auditorium in hysterics. It was lovely to see three young performers in their West End debuts relishing every minute.

So, here’s to The Girls: the West-End desperately needs more shows like it.

The Girls is playing at the Phoenix Theatre until Saturday, the 15th of July. Get tickets here.

Cheap Theatre Tickets (And How To Get Them.)

I am a drama student in London, and that’s really cool. London is undoubtedly one of the best theatre cities in the world, which is obviously incredibly exciting for someone like me.

However.

London theatre is expensive.

Ask anyone who knows me though, and they will tell you that I go quite a lot. As a result of this, people tend to assume that I must have a lot of money, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. (I just know a lot of tricks.)

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Theatre in London can be accessible enough, you just have to know where to look. I have therefore decided that I should write a blog post about it: because there’s bound to be someone out there who will benefit from it, right?

In this blog post, I will list some cool and nifty ways I managed to get some really cheap seats to a London show. I hope you enjoy!

1. Compare Theatre Tickets:

comparetheatretickets.com is an amazing website, with such a simple concept. It is basically the London theatre version of Travel Supermarket. You simply select the show you would like to see and the date you want to see it on, and the website will compare dozens of different ticket sites to find the best deal for you.

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On a purely personal note, I have found the site From The Box Office to be an amazing resource, which I discovered through Compare Theatre Tickets. Not only have I found some amazingly cheap seats here, it also gives me the added benefit of being able to simply pick my purchased tickets up at the box office prior to the performance.

2. Day Seating.

No “Go to the theatre for cheap” list would be complete without mentioning day-seating. For those of you who are unaware, day-seating is essentially when you turn up to the box office on the day that you would like to see the performance and wait for it to open so you can purchase those glorious admission slips.

For example, if you are between the ages of 16-25, you can get a £5 ticket to Matilda on the day of the performance. As the box office is opened at 10 am each morning, most people get to the theatre for around 8. Although it is a wait, it’s actually quite fun when you’re with a group of people who share your excitement for the show. Different shows have different policies though, so make sure to do your preparation in advance.

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Loving life with my £5 Matilda ticket.

TheatreMonkey is a great resource for this. The site has information on every single West End show and their policy on day seating. Not only that, but there are also personal reviews on the site and hints and tips on how to nab a good seat.

TodayTix

TodayTix is a mobile app that you can buy fairly inexpensive tickets on. The best thing about it though, is that you can enter numerous lotteries for free. At the moment of writing, lotteries are available for Kinky Boots, The Bodyguard, Lazurus, No Man’s Land and The Entertainer. If you win, you pay between £15-£20 per ticket for the front row of the stalls, which is truly an amazing deal.

As well as that, there are also a number of shows offering rush tickets. Every morning, on the day of a performance, the app will release rush tickets for the first few couple of rows. The prices start at £20 for these seats (currently Oil, Ragtime, The Tempest) and £25. (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.)

Pro-tip: Make sure to share your entry on your social media accounts and get your friends to do the same! If you do this, you will get another entry. As I always share on my Twitter and Facebook, I stand a bit more of a chance.

Lotteries:

If you aren’t in it , you can’t win it.

Some shows are just too popular, and so producers have decided to set up their own lotteries. Although much more of a phenomenon in New York, lotteries are starting to pick up steam in London, too.

The Book of Mormon, a musical which still dominates the West End, is one show that offers a lottery. To enter, simply show up to the theatre before the performance and pop your name and details onto a lottery slip. Two hours before the performance, 21 names will be drawn and you will have the option to purchase either one or two tickets for the front row of the stalls for only £20 each.

You can also enter the weekly online lottery here.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play which is embracing the lottery system, too. Every Friday, forty tickets are released to the general public for both parts of the play. Winners can book up to two tickets for £20 per part, and the seats are among the best in the theatre. The chances of winning for this show are low, but you just never know- miracles do happen.

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It was also recently announced by Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of the London production of the hit musical Hamilton, that a lottery system will be put in place for the show when it opens next year. SCREAMING.

National Theatre Entry Pass:

Seeing shows at the National Theatre is truly a humbling experience, so if you’re between the ages of 16-25, make sure to sign up for Entry Pass. The scheme, which is completely free, offer £5 tickets to members, and allow them to take a friend for just £7.50. When you collect your tickets at the box office, simply bring your ID to prove your age and voila, you’ve now scored a ticket to a show in a theatre that many consider to be the pinnacle of British theatre.

Young Barbican, The Royal Court,  The Royal Opera House, and the RSC are some other companies who offer ridiculously cheap theatre tickets to students and young people. I was originally surprised at the amount of offers available to students from institutions like these, but remember- they see it as an investment. I am more than happy to partake in it.

Prompt:

Prompt is a great new site that not a lot of people know about. Every day, between 12 and 3, tickets for a number of West End shows go on sale to students, starting at just £16. This is bad news for people who aren’t in education, but honestly, we need the discounts.

Previews:

Previews is the time allotted to a show before its official opening, when it is first tested out on an audience. Tickets for these performances will always be cheaper, so make sure to enquire at the theatre box office/ through their website and social media accounts.

Mousetrap:

Mousetrap is an amazing theatre education charity that was set up with the sole intention of bringing theatre into the lives of disadvantaged young people. The site is free to sign up to, and once you have done so, you are entitled to £10 tickets (if you are between the ages of 19 & 23) or £5 tickets (between the ages of 15 & 18.) A great thing about the scheme is that there are often post-show talks with the cast and creative team, which really is priceless.

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My theatre tips:

  1. When you go to the theatre for the show itself, go to the box office and ask if any seats have become available in a better area of the theatre. If it is not a busy night,particularly on a Monday/Tuesday, the box office staff will upgrade your seat free of charge, no questions asked. I recently paid £10 to see Michael Crawford in The Go Between and I ended up being moved to the fifth row of the stalls for free. Why? Because the theatre wants to give off the impression that the show is selling well. As a result, they would much rather have all audience members in one section of the theatre.
  2. Be a box office whore.  I turned up to the Cambridge Theatre an hour before a Wednesday matinee of Matilda and managed to get 2nd row stall seats for £30 each. To some, this might still seem expensive, but when you consider that the audience members sitting beside me paid in/around £125, you realise it’s worth it. If you are nice to the box office staff, they will be nice to you.
  3. Use SeatPlan. The site will help you locate the seat you are about to buy and let you read reviews and see the view from the seat. It really is so useful to see whether or not the price you are about to pay is worth it, and has helped me out before.
  4. Get on social media and follow theatre accounts. Retweet/share/like/ enter every competition, because you probably will win something. Trust me, it works- I won two tickets to see Dudley Dursley in Hand to God, a hilarious play that ran on the West End earlier this year. (It was even funnier because it was free.) Some of my favourites to follow are London Theatre Direct and Stage Faves.

That’s all I can think of for now, but if anything comes to mind, I will make sure to add it to this post.

Have a great week.

Conor. x

A Pacifist’s Guide to The War on Cancer Review: You’re So Vain.

Bryony Kimmings’ and Complicites’ enjoyable new musical arrives at the National, but comes dangerously close to biting off more than it can chew.

Contemporary musical theatre is an art form that too often gets a bad reputation for being mundane and unimaginative. It doesn’t take an expert to formulate why this might be- a quick glance at the glossy exterior of the West End in 2016 and it’s clear to see that Theatreland has become over-saturated with outdated revivals, tacky jukebox musicals, and diluted screen to stage adaptions.This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become laborious to sit through yet another extravagant adaption of a Roald Dahl novel.

You could imagine the excitement then when the brand new original musical A Pacifist’s Guide to The War on Cancer opened at the National Theatre in the Dorfman auditorium. The show, which is a self-described “all-singing, all dancing examination of life with a cancer diagnosis”[1] is a co-production between performance artist Bryony Kimmings and the ground-breaking theatre company Complicite. Marketed as a piece that aims to ask the tough questions about “the big C” that no one wants to talk about, and examine the effects it has on people’s lives, the main subject material that the show grapples with is one that perhaps does not mould well with the form in which it is to be presented. Who wants to watch a musical about cancer? As a paying audience member of the National Theatre, how am I supposed to react to this? It is a frightening but exciting prospect, and most theatre-goers are at least intrigued to want to find out more.

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The company of A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer. Photo Credit: The National Theatre.

The show is introduced by Kimmings herself in the form of a voice-over. She talks about how she wanted to write a musical that forced us to talk about the tough issue of cancer, and how important it was that society as a whole confronted the disease. Although this is obviously admirable, the addition of the voice-over becomes a problematic tool that is used too often throughout the performance. It  often felt like Kimmings only employed the use of the voice-over to clear up any criticism that an audience member might have of the performance. It felt almost authoritarian, and it seemed like Kimmings used it to explain what her artistic vision was, rather than let her audience try to figure it out for themselves. Aside from this feeling like it was an insult to our intelligence, it just didn’t work. At one point, when the voice-over is utilised to talk directly to the actors on stage, it feels completely stagnated and motionless- an effect that slows down the pace of the piece and makes the musical feel disjointed and incoherent.

The main action of the story centres around single mother Emily, who has brought her baby son Owen into hospital for a number of scans. As she waits for her son to be returned to her, we get to meet a diverse range of patients all suffering from some form of the killer disease, each with their own individual story to tell.  These characters (such as Laura, the middle aged woman suffering with ovarian cancer and Mark, a chain smoker diagnosed with lung cancer who yearns for a second chance with his daughter) are instantly more accessible and endearing than the main character.

The biggest problem with the book of this musical (written by Kimmings and Brian Lobel) is that there is simply too much plot and not enough time. The moments that we get to spend with the patients, while often brilliant, are way too fleeting. Although Amanda Hadingue gives a lovely performance, the character of Emily fails to thrill- she is incessantly whiny and tiresome, and a lot of time is wasted in trying to get people to sympathise with her. It is admirable that the creators of this show want to tell the stories of a wide array of personal experiences with cancer, but the result is less than commendable. A more even delegation of time devoted to different characters would immensely improve the show- especially because most of the writer’s eggs seem to be placed in a very Emily- shaped basket. Luckily, Tom Parkinson’s music strings the show along nicely, and it never feels out of place. There are some exceptional vocal performances in the show- most notably from Naana Agyei- Ampadu who plays Gia, and Gary Wood, who plays Stephen.

Of course, A Pacifists Guide is not necessarily the first musical to talk about and address illness. Rent, a 1990’s Jonathan Larson rock musical about the AIDS epidemic in New York City at the turn of the millennium, was a musical that dominated Broadway for a long time and was one that seeped into the American mainstream psyche as a result. In a slightly different vein, Next to Normal, the 2007 Tony Award- winning musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, tells the story of a woman battling with her worsening bi-polar disease after the sudden death of her son. Clearly, there have been other musicals that have engaged in a dialogue around the topic of illness. The success of both of these shows can be found in their modesty. They were created to simply tell a story. It is at this point that I believe that A Pacifist’s Guide gets it wrong.

In the latter half of the second act, when it is revealed that the characters we have grown to love in the musical are based on real people, the fourth wall is immediately broken and the musical quickly spirals into a sentimental orgy of emotional sensationalism. Kimmings, who probably had the greatest of intentions, leads the audience through the range of emotions she thinks they should be feeling, instead of just letting us experience it for ourselves. The final result is something that feels quite contrived and manufactured, and comes dangerously close to feeling very self- congratulatory.

I left the theatre at the end of the performance feeling an amalgamation of emotions that I still haven’t quite processed, but perhaps that was the point. A Pacifist’s Guide to The War on Cancer is by no means a perfect musical, but no one can deny it is brave in its questioning about a subject that most people tend to avoid. For that, I commend it.