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Thursday, 14 November 2019

Stop Kiss at Above The Stag | Review

Show rating: ★★★★★
Accessibility rating: ★★★★

It's clear to see that LGBT+ representation has been improving on our TV screens, in films and on stage over the years but as a queer woman, I often feel as though I'm still not getting the representation I'd like. One of my favourite theatres are making strides to address this though, I've loved everything I've seen at Above The Stag previously, the UK's only LGBT+ theatre, but it's fair to say that in the past things have been more directed to a male audience and whenever I've visited I've been one of only a few women in attendance. So, when me and my girlfriend, Jemma, spotted this production we wasted no time in booking our tickets in the hope of finally seeing some accurate representation that spoke to us as women.

After Callie meets Sara, the two unexpectedly fall in love. Their first kiss provokes a violent attack that transforms their lives in a way they could never anticipate. Written and first performed in 1998, STOP KISS is still as potently relevant now as it was back then. - Above The Stag



It is unbelievable to think this play was written in 1998, as it easily could have been written this year. It wasn't that long ago that a story hit the news about two women having been attacked on a bus, but this time for refusing to kiss for a man's entertainment. It was a sobering reminder of how far we have to go still and I think that is what makes this such an important production. Whenever I hold Jemma's hand or kiss her in public I am always thinking about who is around us in the back of my head and potential consequences of showing a little affection in public, so as difficult as it was at times to watch such a realistic story play out, it was also comforting to see such accurate representation.

The majority of the play revolves around Callie and Sara as we watch as they fall in love. This show is packed full of heart warming moments and it felt so personal to watch this romance unfold on stage. Kara Taylor Alberts and Suzanne Boreel fulfilled these roles perfectly, their chemistry is a dream to watch and I really felt myself being invested in their story and rooting for them at every turn. The show switches between them falling in love and the aftermath of the attack, the result of them sharing their first kiss in public. These transitions are smooth and work beautifully, they really utilise the small space of the studio theatre with ease. Kara and Suzanne are supported by a strong ensemble, most of whom only appear in the scenes after the attack which adds an important dynamic, particularly to Callie's story as she tries to come to terms with the situation mostly on her own, the unfamiliar faces represent that perfectly. It also really beautifully shows how challenging it can be to have to come out to people again and again, especially during the era that this show is in set in.


One of the first things I remarked on once we'd left was that they didn't show the actual attack, and I really applaud them for that. I had a little anxiety during the show as we led up to the moment but, they know their audience well and know that showing the attack would serve no purpose to the story. This was more about their love story before and after, how each character reacted and dealt with various situations and about how complicated love can be. Everything was handled sensitively, this was truly such a refreshing production that means a lot to my girlfriend and I. There was a sweet moment in the aftermath of the attack where Callie helps to dress Sara during her recovery and she ends up falling on her and her wheelchair, a moment that will always mean a lot to us I think because that kind of sums up our relationship and I honestly never thought I'd see anything on stage that resembles our relationship. The writing feels so reflective of everyday life and the struggles that LBGT+ people face, but also that we fall in love and feel awkward just like everyone else, it's so relatable and it really showcased the importance of theatres like ATS.

It's difficult to put into words how much this show means to us both, the sheer joy it brought into our lives was just wonderful and we've already booked to go again. I can't recommend this show enough, but particularly to any LGBT+ women out there, I would love to see more shows like this at Above The Stag in the future and so it's so important that we show our support and demonstrate there is demand for our stories to be told authentically.

As for the access, this plays a big part in the theatre earning itself a spot on my list of favourite theatres to visit. Every part of the theatre is step free, I can see shows in the main theatre or the studio theatre and I can book those tickets online. The bar is accessible to me and there are a mix of high and low tables, as well as there being a decent sized accessible toilet. The only reason I haven't awarded them 5 stars is because they sadly don't offer a free or reduced price carer/companion tickets. However, other than that I truly cannot fault their access and I always feel welcome there.

Stop Kiss is playing until 1st December, tickets are £22.50 each.
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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Only Fools and Horses The Musical | Review

Show rating: ★★★
Accessibility rating: ★★

I like to think that as a theatre goer I'm open to seeing anything, minus a few exceptions, but there are definitely shows that sit pretty far out from what I usually find myself gravitating towards. The shows I find myself returning to again and again tend to be pretty similar, usually quite modern and with some kind of dance element so, when my Mum wanted to see Only Fools and Horses the musical I was a little hesitant! West End Live came about though and their performance really had me hooked and wanting to see a little more. I grew up with the TV show constantly on in the background and my Mum adores the show so, off we went to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to see what it was all about.


I'll start off by saying that this is a definitely a production for fans of the show, you really do have to know the show quite well to be able to follow it all. They rely on the assumption that the audience already knows the characters and some of the iconic moments quite heavily so I think a regular theatre goer who just fancies checking it out might struggle a little. My Mum knew every single moment and I knew enough to get by, and it was clear from the audience reactions that most people there knew the show inside out. As such, whilst this is a musical, it's definitely not one that relies on it's music. It felt at times that some of the songs were definite filler songs, props to move things along to the moments that the audience are there for. There were a few standouts though, such as The Girl and the music I already knew such as Only Fools and Horses/Hooky Street and Margate were staged and performed incredibly well. Also, any songs that featured the dating agent/theatre announcer played by Oscar Conlon-Morrey were hilarious moments for me and really picked up the show when things had started to plateaued a little.

I really loved the staging of this production, they used their revolve in such a clever way to transition between each set, with most of the show being across a few key locations such as the market, the pub and Del Boy's home. Any moment the car was brought on stage seemed to be a highlight for a lot of people and it really showcased that this show knows it's audience and I really think that has been the key to their success. This isn't a show for musical theatre fans necessarily and that's okay because it seems there are more than enough Only Fools fans to fill the theatre night after night. I have to say, I think I would have been more disappointed had I paid more for our tickets than we do, most of the seats seem to cost more than £70 and I don't think I would have come away quite as impressed had we paid that.


Overall though, the show was a lot of fun and I'm really glad I branched out and saw something a little different! The use of the stage, the iconic moments and a few special moments made for a great theatre trip, sometimes all you want is just to watch something fun and not too deep for a few hours and this ticks that box perfectly.

As for the access, if you read my Heathers review last year you'll know that my experiences with the Theatre Royal Haymarket really haven't been great and I have to say I was really looking forward to them redeeming themselves, but it was not to be. The extent of the help of the staff started and finished with them letting us in the theatre and then showing us where the accessible toilet is. During this time the member of staff directed absolutely everything they were saying to my Mum, even when I was the one responding. I have never felt so small as when they were looking straight over my shoulder, as though I wasn't there. As was the case last time I was then left to struggle alone with the heavy double doors that led to the accessible toilet. Without my Mum having been there with me I've no idea how I would have bought a programme either and there was no offer of staff asking if they could get me a drink or if I wanted any merch. I was truly reminded of why I haven't rushed back to this theatre, I am left disappointed every time.


The wheelchair spaces in this theatre are at the back of stalls, with the overhang of the dress circle obstructing the top half of the stage/set. I missed a few things during Heathers last year because of it and missed even more with this show, with some of the more sweet moments happening up on the top part of the set, there were times where people were laughing and I had no idea what they were laughing at. The seat doesn't feel too far away from the stage but the restricted view was definitely an issue at times. The accessible toilet is still tiny and try as I did, I still cannot turn around in it so it's a difficult reverse out to make my way back to my seat. Wheelchair users can only access the auditorium so cannot access the box office, bars or merchandise.

Overall I'm glad I went along to see what this show was all about, and my Mum thoroughly enjoyed it! If you're a fan of the show then I think this musical is the one for you, it delivers on the iconic moments perfectly and the characters are brought to life in an authentic way. It was a fun show to see, it's just a shame that once again TRH let me down when it came to the access!

Only Fools and Horses the musical is booking until April 25th 2020, with Paul Whitehouse returning to the role of Grandad from January 2020.
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Friday, 1 November 2019

Lungs at The Old Vic | Review

These tickets were kindly gifted to me by The Old Vic.

Show rating: ★★★★★
Accessibility rating: ★★★★★

This is one seriously overdue review thanks to a bad case of tonsillitis which put me out of action for nearly a week but, regardless of how late this post is, this is one show that I just have to showcase after it truly blew me away. With a cast of just two and a bare stage, Lungs is certainly more of a stripped back production compared to the all singing, all dancing shows I usually gravitate towards and that is exactly why I loved it so much.

'I could fly to New York and back every day for seven years and still not leave a carbon footprint as big as if I have a child. Ten thousand tonnes of CO2. That's the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I'd be giving birth to the Eiffel Tower.'

The ice caps are melting, there's overpopulation, political unrest; everything's going to hell in a handcart - why on earth would someone bring a baby into this world? 

Directed by Matthew Warchus, Claire Foy and Matt Smith perform in Duncan Macmillan's hilarious emotional rollarcoaster of a play about a couple wrestling with life's biggest dilemmas.


This play has been described as an emotional rollarcoaster and that description couldn't be more fitting, never have I been taken on such a journey of high's and low's in this intimate way before. Essentially what you're witnessing is a 1 hour and 20 minutes long conversation, you almost feel like you're eavesdropping. The configuration of the seating really contributes to this too, I can only imagine how great that feeling must be for those seated on the stage, with a front row view into a couple's most precious and heartbreaking moments.

The barely there set is made up of solar panels and serves as a reminder of the big topics this play handles, such as climate change. The audience witness this young couple weigh up the pros and cons of bringing a baby into a world made up of political unrest and an unstable climate. The timing of this production couldn't be more relevant. There is another side to this play though, the way they handle the details of communication within a couple is something I've never seen on stage before. Everything was just so raw and compelling, I found myself invested in the couple's life in just a matter of minutes. It is more than just an emotional watch however, there are twists and turns that made the audience gasp and genius comedic moments from the very start as we realise that the opening scene takes place in Ikea. 
 
Photos by Manuel Harlan

As for Claire Foy and Matt Smith, I simply cannot think of two people more perfect for this production. Their incredible chemistry, seen on screen in The Crown, transfers on stage perfectly and it felt like a real privilege to witness two actors who know each other so well and therefore bounce off each other with ease. The script is not an easy one to perform but it felt like they'd been performing it for years, not days, as they relaxed into the roles so well. They convey emotion in a beautiful way and handle the difficult topics carefully whilst adding humour and lightness. I take my hat off to them as they truly gave a masterclass in acting. 


As for the accessibility, this is my first review since the work to make the theatre more accessible has been completed! I talked about it in depth in a recent post so if you want a more detailed look then head on over there, but here is a brief overview of what to expect if you're a wheelchair user. 

Rather than using a dark, tucked away side entrance patrons requiring step free access now enter through the beautiful second entrance on Waterloo Road, which still makes me heart happy every time I turn the corner and see it. From here you can take the brand new lift down to Penny, the bar and cafe, and the new accessible toilet, or up to the new foyer. There is a seating area in the step free section, as well as the box office and from here you can access both sides of the stalls. There are now 10 wheelchair spaces, 2 of which are situated next to each other so there is plenty of seating choice. I was in Row N, somewhere I've sat many times before and as always it was an incredible unrestricted view of the stage. You can also now book access tickets online if you sign up to their free access membership, something I really recommend doing. I've already used it to book tickets online for A Christmas Carol and it is so much easier than ringing up! The access at the theatre now is simply incredible and I'm really excited for their future plans to improve it even more. 

Unfortunately you don't have long left to catch this incredible play, it closes on 9th November but if you can squeeze in a trip there are still a few odd tickets on the website, as well as there being a lottery on Today Tix. Look out for returns on the website too! 
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