I think I’ve been fortunate in not seeing that many stinkers this year – and generally they’ve been freebies, so at least I’ve not lost too much money on them…
They’re not in any kind of order, just know that I really was not keen on them.
Bend It Like Beckham – Phoenix Theatre
Where do I start? This show seemed so promising, what with there being no other musicals out there with Bollywood influences. But it turned out to be mostly generic pop-based music that soundtracked the show, repeating the same song (or part of the song) several times. And the Beckham ballet was massively cringeworthy. And it was just SO LONG. Granted, I did see it during previews, but from speaking to some people who’ve seen it since it officially opened it doesn’t sound like it’s changed much, if at all. I went in with an open mind, enjoyed the Bollywood style numbers (truly bright & original) and came out with broken spirit. I’m just glad I’d had a few, er, shandies before going in… I cannot understand it being given 4 or 5 stars pretty much across the board.
The Point of No Return – New Diorama Theatre
Basically this seemed like a modern re-telling of Les Mis, but set in the Ukraine and without songs. I seem to remember not being able to follow which role each actor was playing at times; they all played several parts and there were several occasions when I got very confused wondering why that person was saying & doing certain things, then I realised that at that point they were being a different character. There wasn’t enough in the way of costume change or helpful dialogue to assist the audience. The story probably needs to be told, but the play definitely needs a re-think!
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – Aldwych Theatre
Another show that I just can’t understand the reviews for. It tells the story of Carole King’s life & career, just not in any real meaningful way. The dialogue was apparently unimportant to the show’s creative team – it seemed to me like it was a hindrance for them to have to write anything at all, let alone with any substance. It merely served to segue into the next song. And Gerry’s breakdown is borderline offensive. It comes on suddenly over a couple of scenes, giving the poor actor no real opportunity to portray it convincingly. As with Bend It, there is an issue with repetition here. A song would be performed as it was being devised by the songwriter (usually King), but then the whole song would be performed again by the act that had a major hit with it. Why not perform half in one style then finish it in the second style? It was just so unnecessary. Also, when you find yourself much more interested in the supporting characters, you know something’s not quite working.
Gatsby – Arts Theatre (West End)
Oh dear. Hours of my life I will never get back. This story has SO MUCH POTENTIAL to be a fantastic, showstopping musical – but this production was definitely not it. There was a worrying amateur feel to the whole thing, mostly in the way of writing & design. At least the cast did, on the whole, seem to possess some talent – although this did make it a bit baffling as to why they were associating themselves with this show… You’d know it was being produced on a budget from one glance, and I think actually the musical story of the OTT Jay Gatsby & the Roaring Twenties should be performed in a big space, with impressive sets, a large ensemble, the works. Party scenes tend to fall flat when there are so few people onstage. The music, whilst well performed by a talented orchestra, was a bit uninspiring & lacked any kind of variety. To think that I’d been excited about seeing this show! I can’t believe anyone could genuinely like (or even, dare I say it, love) this production – and I question their taste if they do.
Special mentions to…
‘Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined’: no story, and it just seemed like a very extended indie music video with an unnecessary (& badly timed) interval. Redeemed slightly by Kyle Riabko’s passionate performance – and I would buy the cast recording if it existed.
‘Dogs of War‘: an interesting one this – some brilliant acting on display, just a bizarre story & not necessarily great writing all the time.
‘Miss Saigon’: bleak, bleak, BLEAK. High production values, but basically just a combination of rip offs – Madame Butterfly & the Vietnam War for the story, Les Mis for the songs (the writers appeared unable to come up with many original themes).
‘Pride & Prejudice: The Panto‘: I’m not one for pantos anyway, but this was just plain bizarre. Nonsensical Austen vs Dickens narration, and cringeworthy, slightly amateurish versions of pop songs. Having said that, there were some funny moments that I enjoyed.
‘The Winter’s Tale‘: more undeserved 5* reviews & a forced standing ovation on press day. Branagh being the centrepiece of this production is its fundamental problem – he’s old school & just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the cast. Though, if I could, I’d happily pay just to see the second act.
‘Hamlet‘: what could have been the production of the year just didn’t live up to the hype. There were some truly brilliant performances, but the production as a whole felt like it had no direction or context – and I got a bit fed up of actors leaving the stage by running ALL THE TIME.