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I’ve got a beautiful feelin’ no-one’s immune when you pick out a simple tune

Photo credit: BBC/Mark Allan

​​For various reasons, how most reviewers see a production can vary considerably from the ways in which most audiences see it. With that (albeit fleetingly) in mind, I enjoyed a couple of days away from the reviewing circuit to enjoy shows from a punter’s perspective.

I didn’t know at the time of booking that Prom 34 & 35, as the BBC had inelegantly called it – there has to be, of course, some way of distinguishing one prom concert from another – was going to be broadcast on BBC Four, live. And no, I wasn’t on the telly – I attended Prom 34, and it was Prom 35 that was broadcast (phew!). There’s nothing quite like being at the Royal Albert Hall in person to see it though, and while Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is very much of its era, this was a solid and beautiful production, technically in concert form but with extraordinary choreography (Alistair David).

Unlike the concerts of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra (which I heartily recommend), where dance sequences are set aside in favour of allowing the audience to look at the musical being performed afresh by concentrating on the rhythm of the music, the audience is given the full glorious song-and-dance spectacle. Scarlett Strallen as Laurey and David Seadon-Young as Jud Fry were the standout performers for me. This was a full, unabridged, three-and-a-bit hours long production, and if it did get a teeny weeny bit repetitive on occasion, this was more than outweighed by the knowledge that no corners were being cut here. My only complaint has nothing to do with the production: a man in the row behind mine insisted on loudly curling and uncurling a flyer for one of the other Albert Hall events (one was left on every seat) throughout, not having read the proverbial memo about keeping quiet as every Prom is broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

One of the joys of attending the theatre as a punter as opposed to a critic is that one can voice one’s opinions without having to pay attention to press embargos. I went to the first preview for what is technically a ‘re-revival’ of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar, an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, being reprised at that venue having done so well in terms of box office receipts last year. There was far too much stage smoke, and an acquaintance told me afterwards that he couldn’t connect with the setting and staging of the show as a modern-day rock concert. The near-unanimous standing ovation was well-deserved, however, and Declan Bennett as Jesus has considerably improved since last year. Tyrone Huntley as Judas is as sublime as ever, and a memorable moment once more occurs with Christ and the twelve disciples assuming (approximately) the positions they hold in Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ painting.

Recently the theatres at both the Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square ends of St Martin’s Lane have played host to the most extraordinary musicals I’ve ever had the privilege of coming across, and it is with sadness that Bat Out of Hell departs the London Coliseum on 22 August 2017, with Half A Sixpence leaving the Noel Coward Theatre shortly thereafter on 2 September 2017.

The Half A Sixpence cast at the performance I attended (Thursday matinee, 10 August) seemed to be in the process of using up what annual leave they have remaining between them. Sam O’Rourke played Arthur Kipps at the matinee; I am reliably informed Charlie Stemp was back on stage for the evening performance. I “shan’t” (to quote the script) list all the changes and who covered whom here, but it was interesting to see Jennifer Louise Jones’ more vulnerable portrayal of Helen Walsingham, though this may, at least in part, have been a response to a sharper, more acidic matriarch in Annie Wensak’s Mrs Walsingham (Emma Williams and Vivien Parry being the usual performers of those roles, respectively).

I wasn’t aware of any of the Sixpence cast changes before I got to the theatre: the show’s producer, Cameron Mackintosh, doesn’t let his actors tweet when an understudy is on – as I understand it, it is even written into their contracts, which seems to me to be a violation of the rights of both performers and audiences. As ‘West End Producer’ wrote in The Stage¸ “Telling understudies they can’t tweet implies that they are less important than other members of the company – which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s going to get to the stage where actors aren’t allowed to talk about anything to do with the show they’re in.” There are no such inhibitions as far as the producers of Bat Out of Hell are concerned, so when the tall, dark and handsome Benjamin Purkiss told his followers what his ‘final four’ performances in the leading role of Strat were going to be, I happily told an unofficial Bat fan club of 2,000+ members on Facebook that I’d quietly gone online and booked myself in to the Saturday matinee he was scheduled to do, even though I hadn’t budgeted for it.

I’ve seen him do it before, as well as the leading lead (as it were), Andrew Polec, who I stayed to see at the Saturday evening performance. I had dinner at the English National Opera’s ‘American Bar’ in between performances, so I went into the London Coliseum just after 2:00pm and didn’t leave until just before 10:30pm. There’s not much difference between the two Strats, really – both go for it with gusto and commitment, though Polec does have a stronger belt, and his hair continues to get progressively wilder as the run goes on. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought he was wearing a wig. The train home was a nightmare, mostly because of crowds returning from the London Stadium, where the IAAF World Championships athletics tournament was taking place, but the show took the words right out of my mouth, so to speak. I look forward to seeing it one more time before it’s ‘gone, gone, gone’ on its final performance in London on the evening of 22 August.

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