October Revue of Reviews: What we watched last month

October was another busy month for us, meaning Mummy once again has a blog backlog. But with the latest lockdown shutting down all the in-person shows we had planned this month, it’s actually a nice feeling to still have so many shows to shout about. So this is a bumper blog celebrating the in-person shows we saw while we still could and a recap of our digital theatre reviews.

The Last Five Years (Southwark Playhouse)

The old entrance to Southwark Playhouse which is now the exit!

After its original run was cut short by Covid, Aria Entertainment’s production of The Last Five Years returned to a newly configured Southwark Playhouse (only to be curtailed a second time by the latest lockdown). We missed it the first time round but were lucky enough to get in early in the second run.

Throughout the first lockdown, Southwark Playhouse was the one venue that we had been desperate to get back to so we were delighted when they announced that they were bringing back The Last Five Years. It also came as no surprise to us that they put in innovative Covid safety measures. Their system gives venue flexibility to accommodate groups of different sizes (within the relevant restrictions) by placing perspex screens in between the bubbles booked for each performance. This means single seats are allowed, meaning we could do our usual trick of taking it in turns to see the same show on separate nights. Mrs Mummy went first, and made Mummy extremely jealous with her texts from her (very snug) seat in between two pieces of perspex. (Top tip – if you are going solo and want more space, try to book a seat on the end of a row as you will only have a screen up on one side!)

The set for The Last Five Years at Southwark Playhouse

The show itself was the perfect production of The Last Five Years, an unconventional musical charting the course of a five year relationship, with Jamie (Oli Higginson) telling the story chronologically while Cathy’s (Molly Lynch) account is played in reverse. The two performers are both incredibly talented actor-musicians, who play an array of instruments (most notably the piano that forms the centrepiece of the revolving set, which they use to accompany each other’s songs). During the 90 minutes, they take the audience on a journey that juxtaposes hope with despair throughout, briefly meeting in a joyful middle that is tinged with the sadness of already knowing where it is heading. Hilarious in places, dark and poignant in others, it’s a stunning revival that we are very glad to have been able to catch and we hope that it has a further life after the latest lockdown.

Songs for a New World (London Palladium)

The London Palladium setting up for the matinee performance of Songs for a New World

You wait seven months to see live musical theatre indoors and then two Jason Robert Brown musicals come along at once! The Lambert Jackson production of Songs For A New World (which was performed as a streamed show earlier in the year) transferred to the London Palladium for two performances on Sunday 11 October, starring Rachel Tucker, David Hunter, Cedric Neal and Rachel John. We didn’t watch the streamed version as we find it difficult to watch live online shows that clash with the munchkins’ bedtime, so we were incredibly excited when it was announced that the show was coming to the Palladium. Even better, we discovered single seats on sale, which meant we didn’t need to find a babysitter. With only two performances available, Mummy went to the matinee then did a munchkin swap with Mrs Mummy so she could see the evening show. And what a show it was!

Inside the Palladium ahead of the matinee of Songs for a New World

Regular readers will know that we are very much Rachel Tucker fan girls (of the kind who have slept outside the Apollo Victoria for Wicked cast change day seats and flown to see her in New York twice). So clearly this one was going to appeal to us. We are also big fans of David Hunter (who is both an excellent actor and hilarious on Twitter) and have recently discovered the sensation that is Cedric Neal (in his role as Simon in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre). We’ve also heard many great things about Rachel John but this was our first time seeing her live. And as her lone voice shattered the silence in an expectant Palladium, it became clear that this was going to be a very special experience indeed.

Like The Last Five Years, Songs for a New World is an unconventional show which focuses on ordinary events in the lives of individuals and is absolutely perfect for these extraordinary times. The cast, as expected, were superb and the atmosphere was electric from start to finish. The Palladium may not have been full but the noise made by the appreciative audience was like nothing we have heard at the theatre before (and, as already highlighted, we’ve done Wicked cast changes!) It’s incredibly difficult to choose highlights from a show that was spectacular throughout although we (predictably) loved all Rachel Tucker’s numbers. We’ve heard her sing Stars and the Moon plenty of times before and it’s always a treat but the one we were looking forward to the most was Surabaya Santa and she did not disappoint as the disgruntled, milk-swigging Mrs Claus. Other standout moments for us were every single time Cedric Neal opened his mouth and the guest appearance of newcomer Shem Omari James who brought the house down along with the safety curtain with his rendition of Steam Train. You don’t know him. But you will.

West End Musical Drive In (The Drive In)

The Drive In

As if we hadn’t had enough musical treats for one month, we were back at a Rachel Tucker show within the week, as she was reunited with her Wicked co-star, Louise Dearman for an afternoon at The Drive In. Ordinarily we can’t do Saturday matinee performances as the munchkins have 6 hours of dance and football classes between them, but as luck would have it West End Musical Drive In had managed to schedule our favourite duo for a half term weekend. It was fantastic to see the two of them performing together again and the set-list was spectacular. The obvious Wicked and Come From Away songs aside, highlights included Louise Dearman doing Let Me Be Your Star from TV show Smash (which we binge watched in lockdown and have had the cast album on our Spotify heavy rotation list ever since) and duets to Take Me Or Leave Me from Rent and I Will Never Leave You from Side Show.

The munchkins’ choice of seating!

We had an awesome afternoon and thoroughly recommend a trip to the Drive In. The atmosphere is great and it’s very Covid safe – You don’t have to leave the car if you don’t want to, although you can get out and sit by the car or even on top of it. The munchkins loved dancing on the bonnet (although we did draw the line when Quaver jumped on it)! We can also confirm that the Drive In team are very efficient at getting you back on the road if your battery goes flat!

A nice man jump starting our car!

Zippos Circus

Classified as an outdoor event, circus was one of the fastest forms of live entertainment to get back on its feet after the first lockdown. Zippos Circus has been on its Rebound! tour since the summer, boasting its first ever ringmistress as Tracy Jones steps in for veteran ringmaster Norman Barrett. After Easter and August visits to our local area were cancelled, we finally caught Zippos Circus in Blackheath (which turned out to be be final venue on the tour) during half term.

The entrance to Zippos Circus

Opening defiantly to “I’m still standing” this was circus at its finest, a glorious assault on the senses that had the audience open-mouthed in awe one minute, wetting their pants with laughter the next, and putting their hands over their eyes in terror at least one or twice. Quaver’s favourite act was the Timbuktu Tumblers, a Kenyan acrobatic troupe, while Crotchet enjoyed the Argentinian Bolas, Los Carmenos de Sol (an act we would best describe as a bit like Flamenco, but with weapons that are a cross between a twirling poi and a whip). One of the three Bolas, Germaine Delbosq, is also an awesome foot juggler, which went down very well too.

Foot juggling from Germaine Delbosq

As for the adults, we tend to agree with our friend Tweedy the Clown (former Zippo man, now the star of Giffords Circus ) who told us in an interview earlier this year that his favourite acts tend to be the dangerous ones, especially the Wheel of Death. We suspect he would very much approve of the Rebound! tour, which has danger in abundance! Not only does it feature a knife throwing act which will have you wincing, but it boasts both the Globe Of Death and Wheel Of Death. The former was a bit much for us, particularly when a brave young lady (wearing very little to offer any protection) stood in the centre of the globe while a motorcycle whizzed around her. We breathed a sigh of relief when she stepped out unscathed, only to soon be watching from between our fingers again as one motorcyclist became two…and then three. We needed the entire interval to recover.

The Globe of Death

The Wheel of Death was similarly scary, especially when the performers started skipping (yes, the kind with ropes!) and then jumping atop the wheel. Seriously impressive stuff, even if it does make your heart skip several beats. But that’s really the point. From sweet treats to death defying feats, nothing makes you feel quite as satisfyingly sick as circus.

The Wheel of Death (blindfolded!)

Reach for the Stars (The Albany, Deptford)

Our final show of half term (and, as it turned out, our final in-person show for at least a month) was Reach for the Stars, a Little Angel Theatre production (in partnership with The Albany and Arts Bridge Charity) inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to go into space. Aimed at ages 6-11 it was both educational and inspirational, with lots of fun facts and even a rap about the scientific method.

Bubble seating at The Albany

There was also some very nice, understated puppetry and, most importantly, a clear message about following your dreams against the odds. This last bit was somewhat lost on the munchkins though who, when asked about their dreams, declared that they wanted a horse and £1 million respectively. (After a bit of discussion afterwards, however, these turned into dreams to become a famous horserider and to be a ballet dancer.) It was brilliant to be back at The Albany (for the first time in just over a year!) and we can’t wait to get back into the building once it reopens again. As for Reach for the Stars, fittingly it has not let lockdown get in the way of its mission. Instead, it’s going online. You can get tickets here.

Digital Theatre

In addition to all the awesome in-person theatre we managed to get to last month, we also watched a lot of online theatre. All the online shows we saw were press performances, for which we have done full reviews. Check out what we thought of Play Along Plink and Boo (Can’t Sit Still), a specially filmed sensory circus experience for ages 2-7 which had us reconsidering our conclusions that only live and interactive shows can recreate the joy of live children’s theatre.

One great thing about online theatre is that it allows us to watch shows from around the world without leaving our own house. In a single afternoon we enjoyed two Zoom-based improvised shows for children from creatives on opposite sides of the Atlantic (starting with The Great Big Story Mix-Up (Roustabout Theatre) and continuing with Show Up, Kids! (Peter Michael Marino)). Zoom also allowed us to attend the Belfast International Arts Festival despite having never been to Northern Ireland. Read our full review of The University of Wonder and Imagination (Cahoots NI) (which Mrs Mummy described as the best digital show she has ever seen) and check out what we thought of Big Telly’s immersive Macbeth (which Mrs Mummy found rather more confusing on the grounds of not understanding Shakespeare at the best of times – but still very much enjoyed).

Overall, October was an excellent month of theatre, both online and in-person. Although November is shaping up to look a little different to the way we planned, we know there will be plenty of great stuff available online and we are very excited to see all our in-person shows getting rearranged (meaning January is starting to look very stagey indeed!)