2016 has been the year that Break A Leg has been out and about seeing what the off-west end productions and theatres have to offer. I have adored going to see new spaces, places and new faces – it’s been aces! So, without further ado… here are the top five choices from among the many I have had the pleasure of reviewing:
Steel Magnolias at The Hope Theatre – this was obviously going to take my number one spot when it also won the Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Award for Best Off-West End Production! I had no idea how this was going to play out on stage when I first took the wonderful people at The Hope up on their press invitation. I knew the film and I had no pre-conceived ideas of how it would translate to stage. For a start off it felt as though I was in the salon from the outset, I was completely engrossed and in the interval my husband turned to me and said “this is absolutely brilliant”. We were itching to get back up to see the second half! It was so good that I returned with a group of friends which included two of my website’s Patrons, Judy Buxton and Jeffrey Holland and I paid to see it again. I have fallen in love with The Hope and Matthew Parker is one fabulous Director who has my continued support. The actresses in the cast were all previously unknown to me, except that I had interviewed Samantha Shellie (Shelby) and Stephanie Beattie (M’Lynn) ahead of seeing the show. I have taken all of them to my heart and I am a firm fan of each and every one of them now. It’s the first time I’ve been wowed by a group of performers I haven’t previously seen on TV or in the West End. I could sit and watch this play again and again, even now.
The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice at The Union Theatre – this has always been one of my favourite films and I have studiously avoided seeing it on stage in case it didn’t match my expectations. I am so glad that a friend happened to be Stage Managing it and asked me along. Not only was I able to be there to see the final production staged at the old Union Theatre, but I was so over-awed by the show itself that I would have gladly returned to see it again. Little Voice works brilliantly in an intimate setting, it adds power to the piece in a unique way that I can’t put my finger on. I am also delighted to have been introduced to the superb talents of Charlotte Gorton, Ken Christiansen, Carly Thoms, James Peake and Glenn Adamson. All names to watch out for, believe me.
The Fix at The Union Theatre – so, when The Union Theatre moved across the street unto its new premises, my friend was stage managing again and over I trotted to see The Fix. The only off-west end musical I have seen in 2016 and what a musical it was. Ken Christiansen was in the cast which was a huge draw for me after his incredible performance in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, and Lucy Williamson was taking the role of Violet Chandler. I was already familiar with Lucy’s work and I think she is one of the most impressive triple threats out there. I had listened to the soundtrack of this production before, but watching it in the spanking brand new space and in an intimate setting was an experience I will never forget. Christiansen and Williamson were an absolute force, together and blew the roof off a musical that has entered my personal top five. Hats off to Michael Strassen, who directed it and a big shout out to Sarah-Marie Maxwell who was an exceptional member of the ensemble and who I am keeping tabs on!
Blast From The Past at Upstairs at the Gatehouse – there may be some bias here as my friend wrote, directed and starred in this production, but I had seen it performed previously in 2015, before she was my friend. The longer script for this incredible tribute to the nail bombing at the Admiral Duncan pub was a bonus in what is a cleverly crafted comedy drama. Anna-Lisa Maree, who wrote, directed and starred in the show has a Derren Litten-style eye for finding humour in the most extraordinary of circumstances. The play enables Judy Buxton to get her teeth into roles that you wouldn’t normally associate her with, a northern tart and an Irish clairvoyant for two. Richard Rhodes who is known for aliases such as Sheila Simmonds and Cookie Monstar, played Nathan/Phoenix Rose brilliantly and his comedy impersonation of Cher makes me chuckle to this day. It also gave me the chance to see Anna-Lisa as an actress, and she is no one-trick pony, let me tell you. Look out for more from this talented lady.
Two Short plays About Gays at The Hope Theatre – this one was on my radar courtesy of one of my website’s Patrons, Judy Buxton. She wanted to see her friend, Louise Jameson in the production. Off we went and we were very much looking forward to our trip to The Hope, as I had already been twice by this point and Judy had been once. Greg Ashton had written both short plays and he starred in both pieces, too. He is such a talented man, I am so delighted that our paths have crossed. Middle Aged Rent was the first of the two plays and Greg co-starred with Joseph Martin. It was a thought provoking piece which was performed with minimal fuss and that allowed the script to speak for itself. The Diva Drag followed and this starred Greg with Louise Jameson as his character’s mum. What an amazing platform this was to show another aspect to Louise’s talents. It also allowed Greg to showcase another nuance of his own performing abilities. I absolutely loved both plays and The Hope was the perfect setting for them.
So… let’s see what 2017 has to offer, shall we? Bring it on!