Preview: Come From Away touches down in Europe

2019 looks set to be more than a little exciting in the West End, with Broadway hits Dear Evan Hansen and Waitress among the shows heading to London over the coming months. This week saw the European launch at Canada House of another American import: multi-award winning Come From Away, the story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in thousands of passengers stranded by the 9/11 terror attacks.

Written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away will have its European premiere at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin from 6th December to 19th January, before taking up residence at London’s Phoenix Theatre from 30th January.

On September 11th, 2001, as news broke of the terror attacks in the States, U.S. airspace was closed, leaving 7,000 people on planes with nowhere to go. Landing in Newfoundland, they were taken in by the residents of Gander, who had dropped everything to get the town ready, and worked tirelessly for five days to make their unexpected guests feel at home.

It’s hard to imagine how a musical inspired by 9/11 could be uplifting, but this heartwarming and universal story, which celebrates friendship, support and resilience in the darkest of times – not to mention the unique and infectious Newfoundland spirit – has been warmly received across North America since it was first performed in Ontario in 2013. “People around the world are hungry for stories about kindness,” said writer David Hein in a video message sent to the London launch, as he and Irene Sankoff prepared for the opening of the North American tour in Seattle. “We can’t wait to share it with the world.”

Directed by Christopher Ashley, winner of the 2017 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, the European cast includes former Wicked star Rachel Tucker as Beverley Bass, the first female captain for American Airlines, who was among those stranded in Gander. Starring alongside her will be Jenna Boyd, Nathanael Campbell, Clive Carter, Mary Doherty, Robert Hands, Helen Hobson, Jonathan Andrew Hume, Harry Morrison, Emma Salvo, David Shannon and Cat Simmons.

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

The London launch concluded with cast performances of three musical numbers from the show, and even after only two days of rehearsal guests were left in no doubt that we’re in for a treat when Come From Away touches down in Europe. Get booking now for this joyous celebration of the very best of humanity – in a world that often feels a very dark place, this is exactly the kind of story we need to be sharing, and I for one cannot wait.

Book now for Come From Away at Abbey Theatre, Dublin (6th December to 19th January), and Phoenix Theatre, London (from 30th January).

Theatre Thoughts: 8 ways we can all #BeMoreMatilda

It’s almost eight years since a little but mighty show called Matilda first opened in Stratford-upon-Avon. Based on the novel by the legendary children’s author Roald Dahl and with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, the award-winning musical moved in to the West End’s Cambridge Theatre the following year, and has been delighting audiences of all ages there ever since – many of us more than once.

Why this universal appeal? Well, perhaps it’s because even though the central character – Matilda Wormwood – is only five years old, she’s the kind of person most of us wish we could be. Not only is she much cleverer than a lot of grown-ups, she’s also braver, kinder and has a far clearer understanding of the difference between right and wrong, as well as a greater willingness to step up and fight when she sees something that’s not fair. There’s a lot we can learn from her – so to celebrate the show’s (almost) 8th birthday, here are 8 ways we can all #BeMoreMatilda…

1. Don’t let other people write your story

It’s your life – so stop worrying about what other people think, and live it the way you want. She may only be five years old, but Matilda already knows who she is and what she likes, and she isn’t about to let her horrible parents, or her evil (and slightly unhinged) headmistress, tell her she’s doing it wrong.

2. Turn off the telly and read a book

Despite the best efforts of Mr Wormwood to convince us that books rot kids’ brains and make them boring, put bookworm Matilda next to her TV addict brother Michael, and there’s only ever going to be one winner… (All together now: “Backwards!”)

3. Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

It may be true that two wrongs don’t make a right – but it’s also true that you can’t always beat injustice by sticking to the rules. If Matilda teaches us anything, it’s that sometimes you have to think outside the box and get creative – even if it does mean being a little bit naughty.

4. Learn to speak another language

Speaking another language is a great skill to have – it can help you get a better job, make new friends, see the world; there’s even evidence it can help delay the onset of conditions like dementia. But most importantly, you never know when it might come in handy to save your family from the Russian mob.

5. Work on your power pose

Matilda has a number of signature power poses, and she may well be on to something, as apparently there’s scientific theory proving a good power pose can do wonders for your confidence. Also, let’s be honest – it’s quite fun.

6. Never let a little thing like “little” stop you

Nobody proves better than Matilda that size isn’t everything. She may be tiny, but she doesn’t let that stop her taking on her huge, hammer-throwing headmistress, Miss Trunchbull – who, like most bullies, is also a massive coward. And she’s not the only one; inspired by her example, it’s the “revolting children” who ultimately come out on top.

7. Be proud of being a girl

Guess what, Mr Wormwood? Not having a “thingy” isn’t the end of the world… 😉

8. If it’s not right… put it right

A particularly powerful one to end on. Whether it’s destroying library books, force feeding chocolate cake to a small child or, er, murdering someone’s dad and stealing his house, Matilda knows when something isn’t right, and she won’t let anyone get away with it. If we all took a leaf out of her book and stood up against injustice wherever we saw it, just imagine what a very different – and much better – place the world could be.

Want to #BeMoreMatilda? Why not start by booking your tickets to this funny, inspiring and ever so slightly bonkers show – visit matildathemusical.com to find out more.

Smile! A Fundraising Concert for Nathan

On 12th February, the Orchard Theatre in Dartford will be hosting Smile! a fundraising concert featuring a stellar cast of West End performers, in support of seven-year-old Nathan Box. Nathan has a rare brain tumour called Hypothalamic Harmartoma, which causes him to have more than 25 seizures daily and is having a devastating effect on his everyday life and development. He recently appeared on ITV News – this video contains some upsetting footage.

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The good news is that Nathan’s condition is curable; the bad is that the necessary treatment’s only available in Texas. His family have successfully raised the £100k they need to pay for the treatment itself, but now need to find an additional £50k to cover flights, accommodation, extra tests, scans, travel insurance and any added costs they may encounter when Nathan’s in the States.

Tickets for Smile! cost just £30, which is a bargain price to see a cast of over 100 including the likes of Lyn Paul (Blood Brothers), Simon Lipkin (Avenue Q), Dean Chisnall (Shrek The Musical) and Hugh Maynard (Miss Saigon), along with a live 42-piece orchestra led by the current musical director of Blood Brothers. The performers are all giving their time for free and every penny collected from ticket sales will go to Nathan. And thanks to an anonymous donor, all the money raised by the concert up to £20k will be doubled, meaning the family could raise as much as £40k in one night.

all-so-far

For anyone who can’t make it to the concert but would like to show their support, there’ll also be a sponsored seat scheme. This again costs £30, and every sponsored seat purchased is donated to Ellenor Children’s Hospice, allowing a child in their care a free night out at the theatre.

This promises to be a spectacular night of musical theatre, for a really good cause. To book tickets visit the Orchard Theatre website, or to purchase a sponsored seat, call the Ticket Office on 01322 220000.

Or find out more and help spread the word by following Smile For Nathan on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Here’s the full cast list so far:

LYN PAUL– New Seekers, Blood Brothers, Taboo, Cabaret
HUGH MAYNARD– John in Miss Saigon (West End & DVD), Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd, A Christmas Carol, The Lion King, Notre Dame De Paris, Follies, We Will Rock You, Dancing in the Street, Sister Act and many more!
SIMON LIPKIN– West End Productions of Avenue Q, Rock of Ages , Guys and Dolls along side Rebel Wilson, Spamalot, Assassins, Disaster Musical as well as many more!
DEAN CHISNALL– Shrek in Shrek- The Musical ( Theatre Royal Drury Lane West End & UK and Ireland Tour), Love Never Dies (Adelphi), La Cage aux Folles (Playhouse), Never Forget (Savoy and tour), Evita (Adelphi), The Women in White (Palace)
JOE SLEIGHT– Wicked (WestEnd) ‘Cover Boq’, Midsummer Nights Dream (Middle Temple Hall London) ‘Puck’, Blood Brothers (UK Tour) ‘Perkins’ & ‘Peter Pan in Peter Pan at the Wycombe Swan’
JENNA LEE JAMES– Scaramouche, Meatloaf and KillerQueen in ‘We Will Rock You’, of whom she is the ONLY person in world to have played all 3 female leads. Narrator in ‘Joseph’, Mary in ‘Tonight’s The Night’ & Alternate Donna in ‘Mamma Mia’
PAUL WILKINS– Marius in Les Miserables (West End, Asia, Manila, Singapore & Dubai)
MICHELLE PENTECOST– Grace Farrell – Annie, Vava – Paraside Moscow, Elphaba – Wicked, & Eva Peron – Evita
NANCY HILL– Grease (West End), Tracy in Hairspray, Sweeney Todd (ENO) with Emma Thompson
LAURA HARRISON– Lucille Frank in the Hope Mill Theatres production of ‘Parade’, Donna Marie/Miss Jones Cover Mrs Lyons in ‘Blood Brothers’, Tiger Lily in ‘Peter Pan’, Audrey in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’
JODIE BETH MEYER– Understudy for Jodie Prenger in Tell Me on a Sunday, Petra in A Little Night Music, High School Musical (UK Tour), Aspects of Love (UK Tour), Pirates of Penzance, Svetlana in Chess and Eponine in Les Miserables (Channel Island tours)
MELANIE BRIGHT- We Will Rock You (UK Tour) The Who’s Tommy (English Theatre Frankfurt and European Tour) Quasimodo (King’s Head) The Gypsy ‘Acid Queen’ in Tommy (Winter Gardens) and Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre) where she understudied and played the role of Fantine. Film includes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros) and Delilah in Samson and Delilah.
DEAN KILFORD– Perkins and Understudy Eddie – Blood Brothers (UK Tour), Dandini/Buttons- Cinderella, Dick Whittington- Dick Whittington, Sunday Night at the Palladium & is the current host and commentator for The Non League Show!
All images used with permission from Nathan’s family.

Review: Dirty Great Love Story at the Arts Theatre

In a world that feels increasingly dark and depressing, a little light relief goes a long way. Dirty Great Love Story by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh is a sweet, heart-warming romantic comedy about a perfectly imperfect couple, a much-needed bit of escapism for fans of Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, Friends, even Harry Potter – and if you also happen to be single and in your 30s, I recommend getting yourself down to the Arts Theatre for a good old giggle.

Recently heartbroken hen Katie and lonely, geeky stag Rich wake up together in a Travelodge after a boozy one night stand. She can’t get out of there fast enough, despite his awkward attempts to make her stay – but when two of their friends unexpectedly get together, it seems they’re doomed to keep bumping into each other. Will they overcome their differences and realise they’re meant to be together? (Obviously, we all know the answer – but let’s pretend we don’t.)

Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard
Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

The show was originally performed by its writers, but now stars Ayesha Antoine and Felix Scott, who in taking Katie and Rich’s names still leave us wondering whether the story we’re hearing, with all its toe-curlingly embarrassing details, is actually autobiographical. Like all the best romantic comedies, Dirty Great Love Story brings together two flawed but ultimately likeable characters – the cheers of support from the audience as Rich prepares to declare his love are heartfelt and genuine. The pair also play an assortment of the couple’s annoying friends, switching with ease between accents and personalities, but it’s in their scenes as the two main characters that sparks really fly.

Dirty Great Love Story began life as a 10-minute “poetry duet”, and the full-length show maintains this rhyming verse – but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all that roses are red nonsense; it turns out you can make poetry out of anything, including boob bothering, gluten-free croissants and even an unfortunate vomiting incident at the worst possible time. The use of language combined with the actors’ skilful comedy performances result in some full-on belly laughs – even if a few of them are prompted more by surprise (of the “did they really just say that?!” variety) than anything else.

Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard
Photo credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

Director Pia Furtado and designer Camilla Clarke wisely keep the staging simple, allowing the actors and the writing to take centre stage, armed only with a couple of stools and a fabulous pair of sparkly heels. This means we don’t have to waste time with costume or set changes, and the show can keep flowing at an enjoyable pace. That said, there is one nice touch at the end from lighting designer Mark Howland that offers a final cheeky wink to the cheesy sentimental rom com format we all know and love (to affectionately mock).

Dirty Great Love Story is the perfect night out for girls and guys – unlike most romantic comedies, which focus on just one side of the story, this takes on both. The result is a show that celebrates love in all its clumsy, embarrassing, screwed up glory, and brings our favourite romantic cliche – “opposites attract” – firmly back where it belongs. Highly recommended.


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… 😉

Review: Dead Funny at Vaudeville Theatre

On a night when, as it turned out, we needed a good laugh far more than we realised, there could have been few more appropriate plays for my first outing with Theatre Bloggers than Dead Funny; the clue is, after all, right there in the title. Interestingly, though – and not unlike the brewing news story we were trying to avoid – Terry Johnson’s play takes a sudden dramatic turn at the eleventh hour from absurd comedy to something much more serious.

It’s 1992, and Eleanor (Katherine Parkinson) is attempting to revive her failing marriage to Richard (Rufus Jones) with some exquisitely awkward sex therapy. Unfortunately, they’re interrupted at the crucial moment by their neighbour Brian (Steve Pemberton) with the news that comedian Benny Hill’s just died – which gives Richard, leader of the Dead Funny Society, just the distraction he’s looking for. But as he arranges a farewell gathering for Benny, little does he realise the surprises the evening has in store…

Photo credit: Alastair Muir
Photo credit: Alastair Muir

I was only 10 in 1992, so most of the references to deceased comedians went slightly over my head. But those moments feel dated for a very deliberate reason; the less we can relate to or remember them, the funnier the rest of the play becomes in comparison. And so we find ourselves firmly on Eleanor’s side in her scathing mockery of Richard and his friends, as they reproduce their favourite sketches for (presumably) the millionth time, while refusing to acknowledge the mess that is their own existence. Real life, as it turns out, is much funnier than any comedy sketch – but it can also be a lot more painful.

Katherine Parkinson is spot-on as the quite literally sidelined Eleanor; as the group outsider she’s rarely centre stage, yet still manages to steal the limelight with some perfectly timed and beautifully withering put-downs of the rest of the group – all the more ironic for the fact she’s the one who’s supposed to have no sense of humour. But as her world crumbles, she also shows us the pain of a woman who realises she’s devoted years to a man who can’t – or won’t – give her the one thing she wants. Steve Pemberton is wonderful too as the flamboyant Brian, the one member of the Society who seems genuinely likeable, and who’s also hilarious in his own right (though not always intentionally).

Photo credit: Grace Wordsworth
Photo credit: Grace Wordsworth

Rufus Jones, in contrast, is splendidly dull and pompous as Eleanor’s husband Richard, so much so you start to wonder why she’s wasted ten years on him. And a strong cast is completed by Emily Berrington – just the right amount of whiny as Society member and smug new mother Lisa – and Ralf Little as her indifferent husband Nick.

Somewhere around the middle of a fairly predictable food fight, everything suddenly gets a bit serious, and the final scenes are unexpectedly sombre – though of course there’s still room for a couple more gags before the curtain falls. And so this outrageous comedy comes to a rather messy and bittersweet end, reminding us that life, however ridiculous it might be, can’t be packaged up neatly into a half-hour sitcom. At some point – unfortunately – it’s time to stop laughing and face reality.

Thanks to Theatre Bloggers and Stagedoor for organising the trip.


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… 😉