Tag Archives: Josie Walker

“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” at the Apollo Theatre

This topical coming of age story won the critics’ heart at its Sheffield Crucible debut. Producer Nina Burns was an instant fan, too, and brought the show to London pronto. Although it doesn’t stand up well to scrutiny, it’s hard to be cynical about a school boy drag queen and a triumph of individuality over adversity. With its welcome diversity this is a true tale for our times and feel good fantasia.

The show has created an exciting new star – John McCrea – who takes the title role. The raving for McCrae is spot on, his stage presence and voice are remarkable; when Jamie acts like a star he makes you believe he is one and, best of all, his precocity is established without betraying the character’s youth and immaturity. For Jamie is obnoxious and self-obsessed – his drag queen name of Meme Me tells that much – yet McCrea manages to make him irresistible.

The ensemble is excellent: especially Lucie Shorthouse, as Jamie’s best friend Pritti, and Mina Anwar, as logical family member Ray. That McCrea carries the show is the fault of the piece rather than his fellow performers. Seeing so much from the central character’s perspective makes the show shallow. There are other great characters here and we should see their stories rather than just have them defined by Jamie.

Although it probably won’t bother many people, this is a collection of songs by Dan Gillespie Sells rather than a real musical. But many of the songs are good, a couple are memorable, and all are well performed. Monotony almost creeps in; too many numbers are mawkish and too many are solos or duets. The lack of songs for the chorus is surprising, given the strength of the cast, and provokes a sense of talent underused.

The oddest decision comes with Tom MacRae’s book. While his lyrics depict working-class life in Sheffield well, and there are some good jokes, the dramatic stakes are downplayed. There’s Jamie’s unbelievably supportive mother (an excellent performance from Josie Walker) and tolerant class mates – just the one school bully? Jamie does face prejudice, but it never feels enough of a threat. Maybe the theatre is the right place for this kind of wish fulfilment – it certainly makes for an enjoyable show – but tension is lacking. There’s no sense of debate or argument, just a token baddy and a school teacher who comes around eventually. The ironic result is a musical with a bold statement that is welcome, but leaves little to talk about.

Until 21 April 2017

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Johan Persson

“The Plough And The Stars” at the National Theatre

There are no surprises here. Howard Davies’ new production, co-directed with Jeremy Herrin, is the quality affair you would expect from the veteran director. Utilising the National Theatre’s expert stage management, and with a typical respect for a classic text, this show drips class.

It’s a forgivable irony that Sean O’Casey’s play about the Irish Easter rising of 1916, which focuses so much on the lives of the poor, should receive such a luxurious treatment. Vicki Mortimer’s set appears impressively expensive – it takes a lot of money to look that cheap – while detail and care run through the whole show.

Stephen Kennedy
Stephen Kennedy

With a steely confidence, Davies and Herrin take us deep into the lives of those living in a Dublin tenement house. Flynn and Covey (Lloyd Hutchinson and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) argue over politics while an agnostic drunk, made loveable by Stephen Kennedy, looks on. A good deal of humour is injected (I’m not quite sure O’Casey expected so many laughs at socialism) with the drama coming from the more serious Jack Clitheroe, portrayed convincingly by Fionn Walton, the one man willing to fight, despite his wife’s protestations.

Justine Mitchell and Josie Walker
Justine Mitchell and Josie Walker

The action doesn’t get going until the second half but when fighting starts the trauma of the battle is intense. Suffering focuses on the women and it’s the actresses who steal this show. Two great renditions of battle-axe neighbours come from Justine Mitchell and Josie Walker. On opposing sides of the struggle, their sniping is full of wit, but when care for one another creeps out it’s genuine and moving. As Clitheroe’s pregnant wife, Nora, Judith Roddy has a traumatic role; driven “mad with terror”, her whole body becomes rigid in the play’s relentless finale.

Added to these fine performances is a double achievement on the part of this production. The history and its frustrating complexity are clear; O’Casey presents many arguing sides and the directors do this justice. Also understood is the aim of showing the effects of violence on the most vulnerable, making the piece strikingly relevant. With no sense of the contrived – just theatrical power – this is a grade-A show.

Until 22 October 2016

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

 

“Matilda” at the Cambridge Theatre

Matilda The Musical is marvellous, the best thing I’ve seen in ages, and one of those pieces of theatre so remarkable that it can be recommended to everyone. That’s a bold claim for any musical, let alone a musical with children in it. When pressed, we know that good children’s theatre will appeal to all ages, yet many shy away from it. That’s the first great thing about Matilda: not only are the kids marvellous, but Matthew Warchus’s production itself is so strong the show becomes unmissable.

Dennis Kelly’s appropriately imaginative adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book manages to be sweet without being sickly. The story is dark, even frightening, as fairy stories should be: clever Matilda’s life with her parents is pretty miserable and things only get worse when she starts school. There are fairy godmothers here, of sorts, but Matilda knows that when something isn’t right you should sort it out yourself. She’s the embodiment of precocity and you can’t help falling in love with her.

Peter Darling’s inspired choreography complements the cast of talented youngster marvellously and the same can be said of the superb adult ensemble that joins in. Paul Kaye and Josie Walker are superb as Matilda’s awful parents – larger than life – just as they should be. But the star of the night is Bertie Carvel who plays Miss Trunchbull, the school’s hammer throwing headmistress with vocabulary expanding insults, in such grand style that his character becomes a creation in its own right.

Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull in the RSC Production of Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan. 11.2-0500
Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull

Miss Trunchball gets the best opening number for a transvestite on stage since The Rocky Horror Show. And that isn’t a sentence I thought I would write in this review. But it goes to show how unusual Matilda is, dipping its toe into insanity but firmly on the side of genius. The man we can thank for this is composer and lyricist (and successful stand-up comedian) Tim Minchin. Not only has he written some perfectly revolting rhymes and a string of great songs, even his incidental music is stunning, blending the magic and mayhem of the story to make this a wonderful theatrical evening.

Minchin’s songs tell stories – the key to musical theatre numbers – and move and develop the plot so that the show is compelling as well as funny and moving. Matilda will captivate you and her love of words is infectious – Matilda The Musical will have you reaching for the thesaurus to find new superlatives.

www.matildathemusical.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 25 November 2011 for The London Magazine