Review: Snow White at Chickenshed

The run-up to Christmas means different things to different people. For the team at Chickenshed, it means it’s time once again for the challenge of putting 800 people on stage in the company’s final production of the year. Not all at once – there are four casts rotating throughout the six-week run – but still, it’s no mean feat to direct 200 people at a time, particularly when the majority of them are children.

Photo credit: Daniel Beacock

This year, the inclusive theatre company bring us an alternative Snow White. Written and directed by Lou Stein, it’s set in 1960s London, with a feminist plot twist and a heartwarming message about inner beauty, the redemptive power of forgiveness and the importance of staying true to yourself no matter what. Oh, and there’s a couple of really, really catchy tunes that will stay in your head all the way home, whether you like it or not. In other words, it’s the very definition of a Chickenshed Christmas show.

The show isn’t technically a panto – though I was tempted to boo more than once at Sarah Connolly’s gleefully convincing wicked stepmother Jane De Villiers – but it has roughly the same format: lots of musical numbers, a fairly lightweight plot, fabulous costumes, random superfluous characters, a swift and somewhat implausible happy ending, and a little bit of audience participation. There’s even a man in a dress, courtesy of Ashley Driver, who totally steals the show as Jane’s delightfully sassy Mirror. If Kinky Boots ever makes a comeback (please, theatre gods) – I know who I’ll be backing to play Lola.

A bit of romance is also, of course, on the agenda (this is a fairy tale, after all), and Cara McInanny and Nathaniel Leigertwood make an engaging pair as Snow White and security guy/single dad Jason. McInanny has a beautiful voice, and really shines in the musical numbers as her character tries to understand who she is and where she belongs. But there are lighter moments too; the scene in which Jason “kills” Snow White on her stepmother’s orders, for instance, is both a bit surreal and very funny.

Photo credit: Daniel Beacock

Perhaps inevitably, given the sheer number of people involved, there are a few issues with acoustics and it’s sometimes difficult to make out all the lyrics to Dave Carey’s 60s-inspired songs (unless you happen to know BSL, as the whole show is also signed). What the musical numbers sometimes lack in vocal clarity, however, they more than make up for in terms of choreography and sheer enthusiasm. As previously mentioned, at times there are 200 people on stage, and to see them all dancing, singing and having fun together is not only an impressive directorial achievement; it also sums up exactly what Chickenshed is all about. As always, their Christmas show is a festive treat that’s guaranteed to warm your heart and send you home feeling a little bit better about the world. Who can say no to that?

Snow White is at Chickenshed until 11th January.

Review: A Pissedmas Carol at Leicester Square Theatre

We all know the basic plot of A Christmas Carol by now, right? Scrooge is a wealthy but stingy old man who hates Christmas, people and life in general. Then one Christmas Eve he gets visited by lots of ghosts, who show him the error of his ways and make him a new man by Christmas morning.

Photo credit: Rah Petherbridge Photography

That’s how it’s supposed to go, anyway. But all bets are off in this riotous production from Shit-faced Showtime – due to the fact that one member of the cast has got good and drunk before the show begins. The chosen one at each show (at press night it was Daniel Quirke, although for obvious reasons it’s a rotating duty) then proceeds to cause as much merry mayhem as possible, while their fellow actors, a compere dressed as Charles Dickens, and various audience members – as you might expect, this is a front row beware kind of show – gamely attempt to keep things moving along in vaguely the right direction.

Despite being familiar with the work of Magnificent Bastards – who first founded Shit-faced Shakespeare, before branching out with Shit-faced Showtime – this was my first time seeing them in action, and the show was exactly as silly and outrageous as expected. Though there’s occasionally the faint sense that the jokes may not be quite as out of the blue as they appear, the abilities of the rest of the cast to run with whatever happens on stage – aggressively floating mince pies, inappropriate observations about the wallpaper, bizarre new personal greetings – are impressive, and the results predictably enjoyable.

While the primary objective of the show is comedic chaos, and the apparent mission of the drunk is to sabotage proceedings as much as possible, what’s clever about the format is that there’s still a proper performance to be enjoyed here too. The fundamentals of the plot and script we know are all in place – albeit with a few unexpected tweaks of which Mr Dickens might not entirely approve – and the various festive musical numbers in Katy Baker’s production are beautifully performed (Issy Wroe Wright’s heartfelt Last Christmas is a particular stand-out moment). This gives the audience a bit of a breather from the relentless mayhem, and allows us to appreciate the talents of the actors not only as comedians but also as serious performers.

Photo credit: Rah Petherbridge Photography

If you’re easily offended by drinking, swearing, nose-licking (don’t ask)… you should perhaps give this show a miss, and maybe go and see a more traditional production of A Christmas Carol; there are, after all, always plenty to choose from in London. If, on the other hand, you’re tired of watching regular adaptations, you fancy a change from panto, or you just like the idea of watching a very good actor make an absolute fool of themselves on stage while several other very good actors try and keep a straight face – A Pissedmas Carol is well worth a visit for an hour of good-natured silliness, great entertainment and copious amounts (quite literally) of Christmas spirit.

A Pissedmas Carol is at Leicester Square Theatre until 5th January.

Review: White Christmas at Dominion Theatre

Like it or not, the festive season is well and truly upon us – and nowhere more so than at the Dominion Theatre, home until the new year to the West End transfer of White Christmas, following its critically acclaimed run last year at Leicester Curve. A glitzy, joyous and unashamedly cheesy spectacle with a stellar cast, this revival of Irving Berlin’s festive musical will undoubtedly send even the most determined of Scrooges away feeling at least a little bit Christmassy.

Photo credit: Johan Persson

Which is funny, really, since most of the show doesn’t have much to do with the holiday season, and for most of the evening it’s easy to forget we’re watching a Christmas show at all. Set in 1954, the plot follows soldiers turned Broadway stars Bob Wallace (Danny Mac) and Phil Davis (Dan Burton), as they team up with singing sisters Betty (Danielle Hope) and Judy Haynes (Clare Halse) to put on a spectacular new show. Their goal is to save a struggling Vermont inn, owned by their much-respected former general Henry Waverly (Michael Brandon) and managed by no-nonsense concierge Martha Watson (Brenda Edwards). Along the way, naturally, there are misunderstandings and miscommunications – but eventually everything sorts itself out, everyone falls in love, and it starts snowing just in time for their Christmas celebrations.

The production, directed by Nikolai Foster and choreographed by Stephen Mear, is undeniably brilliant. Highly polished and visually stunning, it showcases the talent and charisma of an exceptional cast. Leading men Danny Mac and Dan Burton are an effortlessly charming duo, and Danielle Hope and Clare Halse prove more than a match for them as the glamorous and accomplished Haynes sisters. The choreography and design are exquisite, and there are moments in the show – particularly during the lavish dance numbers, and any time the magnificent Brenda Edwards is on stage – that genuinely take your breath away.

While everything about the production is of the highest quality, the same can’t necessarily be said of the show itself, which sometimes struggles under the burden of a weak and dated storyline, and songs that are – with one or two obvious exceptions – not particularly memorable or relevant to what’s going on. (Which is not to say they’re not catchy; there’s a song about snow in Act 1 whose lyrics make no sense at all, but it’s still incredibly hard to sit still through it.)

Photo credit: Johan Persson

Still, it’s difficult to be too bothered by any of this because, well, it’s Christmas… Maybe it’s not perfect, and it certainly takes a while to get warmed up – but sometimes a bit of feel-good festive escapism is all you need, and on that front the show delivers in style. Before long the stage is overflowing with so much joy, romance and goodwill to all that ultimately, much like the snow song, this White Christmas proves impossible to resist.

White Christmas is at the Dominion Theatre until 4th January.

Review: FCUK’D at The Bunker Theatre

There’s a particularly poignant moment in Niall Ransome’s FCUK’D, in which two frightened boys huddle together under a railway bridge in the freezing cold, while above them commuters are absorbed in their phones and Christmas revellers make their merry way home, all of them oblivious to the children who need their help just yards away.

While this image has plenty to say about our society and way of life, it’s also a pretty good metaphor for the show itself. While other theatres opt for the crowd-pleasing spectacle of panto, not far away The Bunker is quietly doing something very different to mark the festive season – reminding us along the way that not everyone is celebrating just because it’s Christmas. FCUK’D is a simple, understated yet incredibly hard-hitting one-man show about seventeen-year-old Boy and his little brother Matty. Having been abandoned by their father and neglected by their mother, Boy lives every day in terror of Matty – the person he cares about more than anyone else in the world – being taken away. And he’s willing to do anything, even go on the run, to prevent that from happening.

Photo credit: Andreas Lambis

However touching Boy’s motivation, when it inevitably happens the two brothers’ flight always seems like a doomed enterprise. Boy is, by his own admission, rash and immature; he has no idea what he’s doing and is clearly as terrified as his confused little brother. Driven by desperation and fear, the pair have no money, shelter or transport and are forced to take increasingly extreme measures to survive in the freezing December temperatures. Their devotion to each other is such that we want them to make it, and yet we have to acknowledge their situation is unsustainable, and to question if this really is the way to give Matty his best chance – even if the alternative is a system that isn’t doing enough to help young people in trouble until it’s too late.

Will Mytum gives an utterly compelling solo performance as both Boy and Matty (he even has a convincing play-fight with himself at one point). Delivering Niall Ransome’s rhyming verse in a way that highlights the poetry but still sounds completely natural, Mytum has all the swagger and false confidence of any teenager, but with a haunted expression that reveals the self-loathing and insecurity lurking not far beneath the surface. Then, all of a sudden, it’s like a switch is thrown as he transforms into Matty and we see all the fear and doubt fall away. Matty is adorable – innocent, inquisitive, and with such absolute faith in his big brother that he’ll follow him anywhere, no matter what it might cost.

Photo credit: Andreas Lambis

The rest of the production, which is also directed by Niall Ransome, is similarly understated, with effects that – unlike in many festive shows – support the central performance without trying to be the main focus. Peter Wilson’s ominous score helps to build the tension, while the set by Grace Venning captures the harsh urban environment of Boy and Matty’s world. And Jess Bernberg’s brilliantly effective lighting combines with Ransome’s words to show us things we can’t see, like the flickering orange of a flame, or the blue lights of an approaching police car.

FCUK’D is not your typical Christmas show, but that’s not a bad thing; pantos are always good festive fun, but they’re also about as far from the real world as it’s possible to get. At this time of year perhaps more than any other, when we can get so absorbed by shopping, wrapping, cooking and partying, a shot of reality – however sobering – might be just what’s needed.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Interview: Matthew Seager, Bobblehat Festival

With Christmas now just a couple of weeks away, it’s fair to say the holiday season is well and truly upon us. And this year there’s a special festive surprise (or 24 of them, to be more accurate) lying in wait around Wimbledon, courtesy of the team at Bobblehat. But what’s it all about, and why should we be excited?

“Bobblehat is London’s first live advent calendar,” explains Creative Producer Matthew Seager. “Every day from 1st to 24th December a different door opens somewhere in the Wimbledon area, and an exciting event takes place. We’ve got poetry, theatre, music, dance, comedy and much more. 24 events, 24 days, 24 locations… what’s not to be excited about! Oh, and it’s all FREE…”

Extempore (20th December)

Bobblehat is the first project for William Alder Productions, which was founded in 2016 to create new experiences for audiences by putting on exciting events in unusual places. “Will is the Artistic Director, running the event with me and General Manager Sam Griffiths,” says Matthew. “Will worked on a similar event in Winchester back in 2015, although we think the idea of the advent festival originated in Stockholm.

“Both producers are born and brought up in Wimbledon, so it seemed to make sense to launch here. This festival is all about great events in unexpected places, so I think it takes a pretty in depth understanding of the layout and location of the town to really match the right act with the right location.”

With so many different locations to organise, the team first had to secure support from the local business community. Fortunately, that didn’t prove to be a problem: “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Matthew. “Firstly, the festival would most definitely not have gone ahead without the sponsorship and all round support of Love Wimbledon, who are just brilliant. In general, when seeking support from a local business, the most successful approach is just to be passionate about the event and the town. These people own a business in Wimbledon so, in general, it we’re able to get them excited about this then they are happy to support.”

Louise Alder (23rd December)

Matthew and the team have particularly loved the challenge of putting together the month-long programme: “I think that’s one of my favourite parts. We’re in a position to contact artists we already have a relationship with, as well as get in contact with artists we’ve always admired and wanted to work with. Also it’s an opportunity to go to Edinburgh and see lots of shows all over the UK in search of a truly varied programme.”

With the festival now nine days in, there have already been plenty of highlights – and Matthew assures us there are plenty more to look forward to. “They’re all my favourites! They really balance each other out, which is important. We opened with award-winning Shakespeare company The HandleBards in the lower car park of Centre Court shopping centre, we’ve had a silent disco guided tour and an interactive musical family show where you colour in your favourite Christmas meal.

“Coming up we’ve got sketch comedy double act Goodbear on the 14th, who sold out at the Soho Theatre recently. I’m really excited about Extempore theatre – of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical in the West End – with their two-hander Rhapsodes on the 20th, Lead Suspect, a dog murder mystery, on the 21st, and internationally award-winning Soprano Louise Alder on the 23rd. But they are alllll brilliant and there’s definitely something for everyone.”

Attending a Bobblehat event is easy – and if you’re out and about in Wimbledon you might even find yourself turning up to one by accident… “You can’t book tickets, you just turn up to the door that is advertised on our website or social media,” explains Matthew. “It will open at either 4pm or 7pm, and away we go. There will be a sign outside and we’ve definitely had people stumble upon events whilst out and about. I wasn’t sure how that would work going into this, but it’s wonderful to attract both groups of people who have researched the event as well as those who just happen to be around.”

Check out the Bobblehat website or follow @wearebobblehat to see what’s coming up. All events are free to attend.