Quite a varied week in London theatre for me. A revival of a musical based on an iconic film, a workshop for a new musical and an intense one act play about a marriage breaking down. Where else would you get the variety?
Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Running until: 2nd July 2022
Tickets link: https://openairtheatre.com/production/legally-blonde
Elle Woods is back in London in a brand new revival in Regent’s Park’s glorious open air theatre. It’s a show you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be staged here given it originated in London after the 1980s. But it’s a bold choice as this’ll hopefully diversify the theatre’s audiences. The musical follows the same plotline of the film with our protagonist Elle changing gears from studying a fashion merchandising degree to studying law at Harvard to follow her ex boyfriend Warner. It’s a larger than life musical that is slightly over the top at times but all in all good fun.
I had seen a production of this many years ago when I caught the tour in Bromley. But with this production, director Lucy Moss has helped revamp the show to speak to a 2022 audience. This included references being updated in the script with mentions to celebrities like Khloe Kardashian and Timothee Chalamet. There is also one reference that had been changed from MTV to Instagram that suddenly made me feel about 100 years old, but it still felt natural within the piece. The entire cast work so well as a tight knit ensemble, led by the exceptional Courtney Bowman as Elle Woods. She is just absolutely phenomenal and really nailed the character. I absolutely loved Nadine Higgins who was excellent as Paulette and there wasn’t enough of her, to be honest. She was utterly joyous anytime she was on the stage. There were wonderful supporting turns from Michael Ahomka-Lindsay as Emmett and Vanessa Fisher as Vivienne. But for me the scene stealers were Lauren Drew as Brooke, even when she was in the ensemble, she has gigantic stage presence, you can’t help but see her. And Billy Nevers who was iconic in every role he played amongst his ensemble track.
But I think the technical elements really let the show down. The blinding pink set covered in streams of, what I guess is meant to be, Elle’s hair but just looks like straw. I assume the intention is that we’re seeing this play out in Elle’s head. But I don’t think this works in the Harvard scenes when Elle is meant to be the odd one out. It sort of works with the costumes with the Harvard students in brown, but feels weird to be against a pink backdrop. The choreography doesn’t really come alive until act 2 where Whipped Into Shape and There Right There feel like proper showstoppers. I was also slightly nagged that the Bend in Bend and Snap wasn’t really a bend, it was more of a drop.
That said! It’s still a very fun night out and I would recommend going to an evening performance so you can watch the show was day turns into night. It’s also really wonderful to see such an inclusive cast in terms of representation, so much so that other producing houses should take note. I do think there was more potential to make this a truly great production.
Halls The Musical (workshop) at the Turbine Theatre
I popped to the Turbine Theatre at the end of this week to see a workshop presentation of a new British musical, which was very exciting. The musical takes place in a student flat and follows 8 university students and the struggles they face while they’re there. This review won’t be as long as the one above because it’s still very much in the developmental stage. But I found this to be a really pleasant musical by Jennifer Harrison and George Stroud. I never went to university so don’t have anything to compare it to, but I imagine a lot of university students would find the show relatable. The cast in the workshop were excellent and it was nice to hear a range of British accents reflected and represented as well. I also found the scenes that touched on classism really moving as well. Those type of scenes are quite a rarity in theatre but glad to see an issue like classism brought to the forefront.
I’m hopeful the show will have further life. The theatre already had merch for sale in the foyer for the workshops so I anticipate that plans are afoot for a full production of this. I had a great time watching the workshop and can’t wait for a full production to arrive. Definitely one to look out for!
Middle at the National Theatre
Running until: 18th June
Tickets link: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/middle
So when the show I was initially meant to be seeing on Friday night was cancelled, I luckily managed to get a ticket to see Middle in the Dorfman Theatre at the National. The play had been on my radar for a while and I was glad to get a chance to see it. This is the second in a trilogy of plays by David Eldridge about the overarching theme of relationships. The first one, Beginning, I had seen in the West End a few years ago and enjoyed it. In Middle, we follow a married couple whose relationship has reached a crossroad. Over the course of a night/morning, our protagonists Gary and Maggie discuss what could have possibly stalled their marriage.
The two performances from Claire Rushbrook as Maggie and Daniel Ryan as Gary were utterly fantastic throughout. Both had really great chemistry together but also had standout moments on their own. David Eldridge’s script is well done and while the script does have a good deal of comedic moments, it raises the tense and more serious moments to such a high dial that it creates such an anxious atmosphere in the auditorium. This paired with Polly Findlay’s direction, really heightens what is going on in the play. Despite being in my mid 20s and having never been married, I actually found the play to be really relatable (not just because Gary is also a West Ham fan). Outside of their marriage breaking down, it’s essentially about 2 humans who feel stuck which I think a lot of people can relate to. Conversations in the play involve feeling stuck in your career, in being a parent, within your families. This really helped fully flesh out the core theme of the play by asking the question how can we move past this? Technical wise, the play has a beautiful set design by Fly Davis, which was so detailed that at some moments I genuinely thought I could’ve been watching this in someone’s kitchen. There was also really wonderful lighting design by Rick Fisher, particularly as the hours in the play passed.
Have really tried to avoid giving spoilers here, but I do highly recommend seeing this while you still can at the National. A truly human play about the human experience with two fantastic performances at the centre.
What have you seen this week? Let me know!
Until next time,
Categories: On Stage