An Update on My 2018 Goals

Before I share my goals for 2019 in a few days, I wanted to share an update on my 2018 goals. I, for one, am always curious about how people's goals are influenced by what they did or didn't achieve the year before.

I didn't check off all of them, but I made significant progress on quite a few. 2018 was quite a year for me. The nine months I spent in London and the month I spent at home were some of the best of my life, but I've had a bit of a struggle since moving to New York. But more on all of that in upcoming year in review post!

One: Go to an exercise class. 
I went to a yoga class at my gym in London in February. While I enjoyed it a bit, it wasn't exactly my thing.

Two: Read twenty-five books. 
There are still a few days left in the year and I'm hoping to bring my count for the year up to twenty, but there's no way I'm reaching twenty-five. I think I underestimated how busy I would be when I set this goal.

Three: Learn to use my DSLR. 
I definitely know how to use it passably well, though I want to do more photography. I'm very comfortable with using it for video after filming many YouTube videos of my own and videos for BroadwayWorld.

Four: Visit three historic sites I haven't been to before. 
I actually managed to check this off in February, thanks to lots of exploring while my friend Stefanie visited. We went to Oxford University and Warwick Castle and then I went to Strawberry Hill House with my friend Patrizia.

Five: Reach 350 subscribers on YouTube. 
I couldn't believe when I hit this in September because I kind of thought it was a goal I wouldn't reach. I'm now nearing 400 which probably doesn't sound like a lot, but it means a lot to me.

Six: Get a job post-graduation. 
I'm happy to be able to say that I'm now settled into my job at Spektrix, being at the end of my fifth week working there. After a bit of a painful job search, it's such a relief.

Seven: See 50 shows. 
I actually saw 83 shows this year, which is incredible to me. Six of them were in New York, one was a US tour, and 76 were in London. I'm willing to bet 2018 will forever hold my record for most shows seen as London prices are much lower and I was also writing reviews for BroadwayWorld UK. (I also saw The Grinning Man...six times.)

Eight: Practice French or German at least two times a week. 
I admittedly gave up on this goal. By a few months into the year, it just was no longer a priority to me and I had other things I would rather work on with my time. I do want to work more on keeping up my French in 2019, though I think I have to admit that German may not be my thing.

Nine: Meet new people. 
I certainly did this! In addition to becoming very close to some people I already was befriending at the beginning of the year, I made lots of new friends too. I got very good at actually making plans with people from going to the pub with my Dickens Museum coworkers to eating lunch with RADA friends outside the British Museum. I do feel like I need to renew these efforts in New York.

Ten: Be vegetarian/pescatarian for one week every month. 
Okay...I did this successfully until about mid-year when I gave it up. It wasn't that terrible, but it certainly was inconvenient at times and I realized that (like above) it's simply not a priority for me right now.

How did you do in upholding your goals and resolutions for 2018? I'll be back soon with my goals for 2019.

Top Ten Non-Christmas Christmas Movies

Sometimes you're in the mood for a Christmas-y movie, but not a Christmas movie, you know? Don't get me wrong; I love Christmas movies. I have Love Actually and White Christmas practically on repeat for all of November and December. But I also have non-Christmas movies that I love to watch during Christmastime.

Some of these are holiday movies because they feature Christmas in them while some came out in late December and thus are tied to it in my mind. And all of them are ones that I love to watch during the holidays...and all year round.

Meet Me in St Louis 
This 1944 classic is actually my favorite movie musical of all time. Not only is it a heartwarming story of a family of all girls growing up in turn-of-the-century America, it also features my favorite Christmas song of all time: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as sung by Judy Garland. (And yes, it should always be sung by Judy Garland and no, I don't approve of anyone who uses the "hang a shining star upon the highest bough" line.)

When Harry Met Sally
In all fairness, When Harry Met Sally is actually my favorite New Year's Eve movie. Has any movie ever had a more iconic NYE scene than the one at the end of this film? It also happens to be my favorite film of all time and every time I see a Christmas tree stand on the streets of New York, I think of Meg Ryan dragging a tree along the sidewalk.

This movie came out late November in 2013 so I kind of associate it with Christmastime. I unashamedly love Frozen (though I will fight anyone who says it's superior to Tangled) and it's such a great movie to watch with the family that doesn't require too much brain power.

This is a very underrated rom-com with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale being brought together by fate. And it takes place during Christmastime in New York City. This is one of those movies that veers on being a Christmas movie, but I think it has enough of a plot apart from the holiday that it counts for this list.

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday 
As you would expect of any young American woman who loves period dramas, I grew up obsessed with American Girl dolls. Samantha was always my favorite and her movie is an absolute delight, even now at the age of twenty-four. A turn-of-the-century movie about a beautiful rich girl who fights for a better life for her young orphaned friends? Throw in some wonderful performances by Anna Sophia Robb and Mia Farrow and a lovely Christmassy ending and you've got yourself a great film.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Speaking of children's movie's, I always associate the first Harry Potter film with the holiday season. Maybe it's because the scene in which Ron chooses to stay at Hogwarts with Harry for Christmas was always so poignant to me or maybe it's brainwashing by ABC Family. Either way, it's a great one to watch in December.

While You Were Sleeping 
While You Were Sleeping is another extremely underrated rom-com that takes place around the holiday season though this one is set in Chicago and features Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. Something about this movie just feels cozy to me and I love that it's not your traditional rom-com in the slightest.

Felicity: An American Girl Adventure
I'm not even mad that I'm featuring two American Girl movies on this list. How could I be when this one gives me a great performance by a tiny Shailene Woodley and a colonial Christmas ball? Add in some plots about rescuing a horse and navigating friendship as war threatens to break out and I'm hooked.

You've Got Mail
This movie is the reason that I used to dream about seeing New York during the holiday season. I think it shows NYC to its best advantage in all seasons but there's something dreamy about the winter part. Plus, it's the rom-com dream team of Nora Ephron, Tom Hanks, and Meg Ryan. Could it get any better than that?

Little Women 
I think what writing this post revealed to me is that my favorite Christmassy films are all period ones. Little Women is an absolute beauty of a film and features one of my favorite ensembles of all time. While the film is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, the holiday section is heartwarming.

What are your favorite Christmassy non-Christmas movies? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. x

Review: American Son, Booth Theatre

Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, and Jeremy Jordan in American Son
RATING: ★★★★

It's hard to imagine a play more relevant to today's political and social circumstances than American Son. This show, written by Christopher Demos-Brown and deftly directed by Kenny Leon, examines what it means to be the mother of a black son in modern America. Kerry Washington leads the cast brilliantly, but each member is perfect for their role. The show isn't easy to watch -- and it shouldn't be -- as it causes every audience member to actually reflect on life in America today.

The show opens onto a Florida police station in the early hours of the morning as Kendra (Kerry Washington) tries to get information from Officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) about what they know about her missing eighteen-year-old son. Larkin's questioning soon reveals his racial bias, but it's laid plain when he proves much more helpful to Kendra's white husband Scott (Steven Pasquale). However, little information is available and Kendra and Scott's frustration escalates as they deal with Lieutenant John Stokes (Eugene Lee).

Kendra and Scott begin to argue not just over how they've raised their son but also about what caused their own separation as things start to unravel. The question of whether or not their son is in police custody or injured hangs in the air for almost the entirety of the show. The show is a succinct eighty-five minutes long but doesn't feel short. In fact, by the time it ended, I felt like I couldn't handle any more stress.

Steven Pasquale and Kerry Washington in American Son
Kerry Washington is stunning as the concerned mother Kendra who is eager to demand answers about her son's whereabouts. Unlike Kerry's character on Scandal, Kendra has little tact or patience in dealing with the men. She spends the show in one outfit with her hair slicked back into a ponytail. It's not a glamorous role -- and all the more powerful for it. It's a powerful portrayal and feels heartbreakingly authentic especially as Kendra starts to fall apart towards the end.

Steven Pasquale is equally well cast as Kendra's husband Scott. He perfectly portrays a charisma that covers his true personality until he begins to criticize Kendra for the way she has raised their son since their separation. This duality makes him feel all the more real.

Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, and Eugene Lee in American Son
Officer Paul Larkin is a very different role than the ones we're used to seeing Jeremy Jordan in, showing off his versatility as an actor. Though it's not a large role (Kerry Washington is very obviously the lead of this cast), he manages to make it very memorable. Similarly, Eugene Lee does a splendid job as Lieutenant John Stokes and the conversation between him and Kendra is one of the parts that has stuck with me most since I saw the show.

The show's set, by Derek McLane, is so realistic and thorough it almost seems more like a movie or television set. The whole show takes place on the one set with continual action but they make great use of the rather large space. 

Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale in American Son
The show has a chilling message about the truth of raising a black son in America. It's impressive how the character of the son permeates the show despite never appearing onstage. I would recommend that everyone who can should go see this play, but especially anyone who liked the recent film The Hate U Give as it deals with some of the same issues of racism and police violence. It's a powerful piece that demands attention -- and that I wouldn't be surprised to see at this year's Tony Awards. 

American Son is playing at the Booth Theatre until January 27. 
Photo Credit: Peter Cunningham 

Review: Anastasia, Broadhurst Theatre

Christy Altomare and Zach Adkins in Anastasia the Musical
RATING: ★★★★

When my family moved me to New York a few weeks ago, there was only one show that we all really wanted to see on Broadway: Anastasia. The animated film was actually the first one that I ever saw in a cinema and I've adored it ever since. When the cast album released last year, I was thrilled to find that they'd managed to capture the essence of the original while making some changes that thrilled my history-major heart. (Thank you, thank you, thank you for acknowledging that St Petersburg was Leningrad at the time this musical is set.)

I'm pleased to report that the show is absolutely gorgeous. The cast are brilliant and while the book is not perfect, the design is lovely. Under Darko Tresnjak's direction, the worlds of Soviet Russia and 1920s Paris take shape. The musical retained the charm of the film while also developing its darker side, by replacing Rasputin with the Soviet officer Gleb. New songs have been added to the show including some gorgeous solos for Anya that I actually prefer to the original ones.

Christy Altomare is perfectly cast. She captures the fairytale princess Anastasia and the scrappy street urchin Anya equally well. She has lovely chemistry with every person in the cast somehow and is able to portray Anya's struggle to remember who she is with surprising nuance. I feel so lucky that I got to see the show with her still a part of it.

Zach Adkins and John Bolton in Anastasia the Musical 
Sadly I didn't get to see Zach Adkins as Dmitry, but I did get to see the incredible understudy Kyle Brown. He absolutely never missed a beat. I have high standards for Dmitry, as the character was probably my first crush as a little girl, but Kyle actually exceeded them. His "My Petersburg" was definitely one of the highlights of the show.

My favorite member of the cast was definitely John Bolton as Vlad, Dmitry's accomplice. It's rare to see a performer with that much energy through his whole performance. He's one of those actors that's a joy to watch simply because he seems like he's having a great time. I love that the musical fleshed out the role of a Vlad a bit more from the film and John makes the most of it.

I was curious what I would think of Max Von Essen as the new antagonist Gleb. While I adore Ramin Karimloo's voice on the cast album, I wasn't sure that his interpretation of the character made sense to me within the plot. Max's Gleb is very different and worked much better for me within the context of the show. His voice is gorgeous (making "The Neva Flows" and "Still" splendid) and watching his internal struggle throughout the show was fascinating. He reminded me quite a bit of one of my favorite screen actors, Jeremy Northam.

Max Von Essen and Christy Altomare in Anastasia the Musical
I was so excited to see Judy Kaye as the Dowager Empress and her voice is still so gorgeous. Vicki Lewis is delightful as the Countess Lily and the physical comedy she and John Bolton have in "The Countess and the Common Man" is hilarious. The whole ensemble were lovely, especially the ballet dancers.

One of the things that I loved the most was actually the design of the show. It's the best use of projections (designed by Aaron Rhyne) that I've seen in a theatre in a long time as they create many different backdrops. I love how they staged the scenes on the train and I thought that Anya's flashbacks were done very well. The costumes, designed by Linda Cho, are stunning especially in the pre-revolution Russian scenes and the Paris section of the show.

Christy Altomare in Anastasia the Musical
It's no secret that I cry in a lot of musicals, but not many can make me cry multiple times in the first act. (If anyone else misses their grandmother, ready.) Getting to see one of my favorite childhood films come to life on stage with a great cast and beautiful design, with added elements of historical accuracy and a darker undertone, honestly felt like a dream come true. This is definitely a show that I'll be returning to, as soon as possible.

Anastasia the Musical is selling tickets on Broadway through June 2019. 
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy 

Interview: LUCIE PANKHURST, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

A former dancer herself, Lucie Pankhurst has choreographed and movement directed for television, theatre, commercials, and film. The films she has worked on include Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep, Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie, and Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristin Stewart.

More recently, she was the choreographer for one of my favorite films of the year, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You can check out my video review of the book and the film here. I was thrilled to have the chance to chat with her about what it's like to choreograph for film and her work on the Guernsey movie.

Lucie Pankhurst
How did you first become interested in choreography? 
I fell in love with music first and by the time I could toddle, I was wigglin'! Music evoked stories and feelings in me that I could live out and exorcise through dancing. My parents were supportive of this development, for which I'll always be grateful, so I started doing creative movement classes before committing to the absurdly short life of a professional dancer.

I understood how short it was going to be, so prioritised performing while I could and learned from some of the most gifted and successful choreographers at that time, but I'd been steadily working as a choreographer all along. For me, choreography, the making of the dance, was part of being a dancer...and, in truth, when you've been doing it for all of your conscious life, your default setting is to see and experience life in terms of movement and dance.

Glen Powell and Lily James
What's the process of choreographing for a film like? 
It depends on the requirement, on how much the dance has its own significance within the narrative. So, Florence Foster Jenkins had an uncut sequence of dance, because that character was taking the floor and dancing, as part of his story. That lead to three months of tutoring, as well as the choreography of the sequence itself. With Snow White, the movement on screen was incidental, used in this case to show Snow White and her Little People getting more comfortable with each other and having a moment of enjoyment while on a dangerous quest.

In any case, the script is first to contextualise the movement, followed by the music for me to prepare for the first meeting with the director, who'll describe what they want the scene(s) to serve. Then, communications with the 2nd A.D. to schedule sufficient rehearsals, which will be filmed and shared with the director, producers, costume department and talent in question to practice and refine before shooting.

How would you say choreographing for the screen is different from choreographing for live dance or theatre? 
With live dance or theatre, you have to put emphasis on links and continuum in a way that is eradicated by the editing process of television or film.

The choreography in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is beautiful. Was there anything in particular that inspired you? 
Thank you! My inspiration was easily found. I love jazz music of pretty much any era with a fervent passion, so the scene in the jazz club was dreamy for me. As usual, I research and check that I'm historically accurate - a process that is inspiring enough in itself. Lily James has a dance background, so could pick up choreography pretty much through osmosis and Glen Powell committed his efforts and attention to the task with an energy that was an utter credit to him!

From the Guernsey movie
How does choreographing something set in a historical period like the Guernsey movie or Florence Foster Jenkins differ from something like Maleficent?
If I'm working on a scene that demands historical dance, it really is my duty to all who have gone before to research as thoroughly as possible. Maleficent, although set in a fairie tale, was an approximately medieval fairie tale, so I researched medieval dance and the special interest groups that keep this alive.

Do you have to take the costumes the actors will be wearing into account while choreographing? 
The ladies and gents of the costume department are often wonderfully a few steps ahead of me and insert crafty elasticated gussets and splits into skirts...!!

How do you work with lead actors like Lil James and Glen Powell who might come in with varying levels of dance experience and need to be worked into dance numbers? 
I work as required and as rehearsal and availability render possible. Often, the actor in question will proactively request what they feel they need.

What was your favorite part of working on the Guernsey film? 
This isn't a great answer, but all of it. It was a joy working with the director, Mike Newell, who also had a great appreciation of the impact of well-captured dance in a scene. Lily James and Glen Powell couldn't have been more gratifying to work with and to top it off, I had wonderful dancers!

Is there anything that you're working on now that you're excited about?
I've just finished filming the Horrible Histories Movie, which was a fairly relentless series of I'm pretty excited to see how that comes out!

You can find out more about Lucie Pankhurst from her website. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Photos taken from Lucie Pankhurst's website or from the Guernsey trailer. 

LIFE UPDATE: I Moved to New York!

As is usually the case when this blog suddenly goes silent, I've been going through a big life change in the past couple of months. In early September, I left my beloved London and moved back to the United States. It was incredibly bittersweet: I was thrilled to be reunited with my family, to meet my newest baby cousin, and to get to live at home for a few weeks but I was also heartbroken to leave London.

At City University
Going to London might be the single greatest, most wonderful, best thing I've done in my entire life. I feel that I returned to the United States a very different person. I'm more confident, my resume is much more impressive, and my friend circle now extends across the globe. I saw hundreds (!!) of shows, forged a great career as a writer, discovered my love for fundraising, got to work at my dream company, volunteered at an important historical site, and made friends that I know will last for a lifetime.
It took my dad and many, many suitcases to move me back!

I spent a blissful few weeks at home in North Carolina relaxing, hanging out with my sister and my puppy, and adjusting back to the Eastern US time zone. I got to celebrate my baby cousin's birthday, go to Chicago to see my dad's family and meet my cousin's (now) fiancé, and visit my alma mater to see a friend. But mostly I spent my time unpacking, going through my things, and repacking for the next big step.
With my beloved Bella on my birthday

Last weekend, my family drove a U-Haul trailer from North Carolina to New York and moved me into my new apartment. I've moved into a place in upper Manhattan with two of my best friends from college, Kimmy and Andrew, and Andrew's adorable puppy, Charlie. While my family was here, we went to see Anastasia which I had been dying to see and it was every bit as good as I'd hoped (review hopefully coming very soon).
My first Broadway show after moving here!

I know the question on everyone's mind next is: where are you working? The truth is that I haven't found a job yet. I'm applying to museums, theatre companies, and entertainment agencies across the city so if you know of any job openings, please do let me know.
My room before we arranged everything
Today I also applied to two historic sites as a volunteer and I'm hoping to get this blog and my YouTube channel back up and running as soon as possible. Otherwise, I'm trying to learn to sleep through the noise, use the subway, and find cute coffeeshops to do job applications in.
All moved in!
If anyone has any New York tips or things to do (I love a good historic site or museum!), please do let me know in the comments or on Twitter. And of course, keep an eye on my Instagram and Twitter for an announcement when I do land a job. x

Shows I Saw in August

So August's round-up is a bit late, but I thought it was worth posting especially since there won't be one in September as I'm spending most of the month in North Carolina and will likely only see one show this month. (It's a bit of an adjustment!) August was odd month because my family visited, I went to Disneyland, and my best friend Kimmy visited so my normal theatre schedule was rather mixed up, but I still saw some incredible shows.

Broken Wings - Review
My favorite show that I saw in August was new musical Broken Wings based on the book by Middle Eastern poet Kahlil Gibran. I interviewed writer and composer Nadim Naaman about it for BroadwayWorld UK earlier this summer and was so impressed with everything that he said so I was overjoyed when I fell legitimately in love with the show. It's so important to support new work and especially to support telling diverse stories.

The Aristocrats
I got to take my family to see the Donmar Warehouse's latest show, The Aristocrats. Not only was it a beautiful touching show with a splendid cast, but I was so excited for my family to be in the theatre that I love so dearly.

I also got to see another Brian Friel piece at the National Theatre, which I raced to one day after being at Summer in the City. It was such a contrast to The Aristocrats and really made me think that I need to see a lot more Irish plays. I was so blown away by the set and it's definitely my favorite play I've ever seen at the NT.

Kinky Boots
When Kimmy was in town, I knew that I had to take her to Kinky Boots as she'd somehow never seen it before and my favorite understudy ever (Jordan Fox) was on as Charlie for several weeks. I adore Natalie McQueen (who I interviewed for BroadwayWorld UK) as Lauren so seeing it again was such a treat. It's now my second most seen show and it always brings me such joy!

Spring Awakening - BWW Review
I had never seen Spring Awakening before so I was thrilled to get to review the British Theatre Academy's production (and it was fun to take Kimmy to a press night). It's definitely not my sort of show, but it was a really great production.

Lieutenant of Inishmore - BWW Review 
You might remember that I adored Lieutenant of Inishmore last month so perhaps it's no surprise that I returned not once, but twice this month. This play is one of my favorites I've ever seen and just such an absolute delight if you have a dark sense of humor like I do.

Young Frankenstein 
I saw Young Frankenstein's second performance back in the first week that I lived in London so it seemed fitting to return with some friends during the last week of its run. It's not a show that I particularly care for, but Hadley Fraser was utterly charming in the role. I also went to the stage door after and got to thank him for introducing me to the Donmar years ago (through the NT Live of Coriolanus) which was such a special experience.

A Monster Calls 
Everyone raved about A Monster Calls so I was thrilled when a wonderful friend offered me tickets to the final performance, but...I didn't love it. It was a bit too absurdist for my taste and I didn't connect with the storyline which was a shame. But I'm very glad that I saw it because I think that seeing theatre you dislike helps you develop your taste just as much!

Les Misérables 
I had no plans for my final Friday night in London so is anyone surprised that I impulse bought a ticket to Les Mis? By pure coincidence I happened to sit in the same row for this trip (my eleventh time seeing it) as I did my first time I ever saw it back when I was sixteen. I was so excited to get to see Dean Chisnall as Valjean because I interviewed him for BroadwayWorld earlier this summer and we had the nicest chat at stage door after. It was such a lovely end to my time in London!

A Brief Hiatus

I just wanted to quickly address the fact that this blog is very briefly on hiatus as my life has been going a bit crazy, but that I'll be back within the next couple of weeks with lots of exciting new posts.

Essentially the last few weeks have been filled with visits from family and friends, a trip to Disneyland Paris, and my first time attending Summer in the City, the UK's biggest YouTube convention. I'm currently in a mad dash to finish my dissertation before it's due next Friday and start packing to move home in the first week of September.

I should have my SitC vlog going up on my YouTube channel this weekend, but this blog is effectively on hiatus until I finish my dissertation. I just didn't want anyone to wonder what's going on. Wish me luck and I'll be back with a new post hopefully very soon! x

Interview: ASHLEY MILNE, Bad Dog (Edinburgh Fringe)

I'm so excited to have my first theatre-themed interview on this blog and especially thrilled that it's with my dear friend, Ashley Milne, the writer of Bad Dog which is currently on at the Edinburgh Fringe. Ashley is a student at the University of York and I can't wait to see what plays (and musicals) she will write in the future.

Bad Dog is on at the Edinburgh Fringe to 18 August. It is an original psychological horror exploring sisterhood and trauma. It is co-directed by Alice Lloyd-Davies and Ben Wilson and stars Sophie Lorraine Parkin as Eve and Jess Corner as Grace.

How did you become interested in writing plays?
I've loved theatre for as long as I can remember, and was acting for basically all of my childhood. At the same time, I was journalling obsessively, writing very sad poems about girls I thought were pretty and whacking out little short stories and the like. At A-Level, my Drama/Performing Arts courses involved some low-level writing and devising, and me and my good pals (Rhiannon Culley and Charlie Pittman!) ended up realising we wanted to try this writing malarky outside of school and wrote a musical called Bridge Over Oblivion. The experience of that and the support of my family and friends made me realise that if I wasn't writing for theatre, it was a big old mistake, and so I've been trying to write for the stage ever since!

(Fun fact: I did a monologue from Bridge Over Oblivion for my Acting for Non-Majors class last year.) 

What's it like studying at the University of York? 
Dreamy. I love my course, Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance, and all the friends I've made there -- including my collaborators Alice Lloyd-Davies and Ben Wilson! -- but I mostly just really love the Drama Society for letting me play silly parts and mess around, but also for supporting my writing inside the Drama Barn and externally, by taking it to the Fringe.

What plays or playwrights are you really excited about right now? Whose work do you admire? 
No surprise to anyone who knows me at all, but I think Alistair McDowall is the most exciting, interesting playwright to come out of British theatre in the past decade; is the most fascinating relationship drama I can think of, and I reread his Plays One whenever I feel like I'm hitting a creative wall. 

I'm also hugely inspired by the work of Lucy Prebble, Simon Stephens, Lucy Kirkwood, Nick Payne, Polly Stenham and Stacey Gregg to name a few. I wish I could be a little more eloquent as to why, I just think they've been telling incredible stories. I also think Bad Dog probably has echoes of Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill in there -- and by echoes, I mean blatant theft.

Sophie Parkin in Bad Dog
Can you describe Bad Dog to us?
This is the kind of question that has a tendency to flummox me, because in my head it's about some very specific things but also not very much at all. I hope it's a spooky story about two sisters trying to reconcile themselves to their past, but I also think it could probably be about quite a few other things. 

How excited are you to be bringing this show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? 
Just reading that sentence made my heart do a little flip. I really, really, really cannot wait to see all the incredible theatre that the Fringe has to offer, meet people who have made amazing work, and watch the amazing Sophie Parkin and Jess Corner say words that I wrote every day. 

Can you talk about its trajectory from being written to going up to Edinburgh? 
I wrote first drafts of Bad Dog to be assess for my degree, which feels like a very long time ago really. It was performed in a one night show in the University of York's Drama Barn, and we got quite a positive response, so me, Ben, and Alice decided to stay up till half three in the morning writing a pitch for DramaSoc to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe. And then the next night, we did another all-nighter making a presentation. The next day, Ben texted me at work to say it'd been selected and I cried behind the till. 

What's your favourite thing about this piece? 
The people who are working on it. I don't know anyone I trust more than Ben, Alice, Sophie, and Jess; they're all such committed, sensitive people who really bring the best out of the text and add more to it than I ever thought possible. It really is beyond my wildest dreams. 

What's been the most challenging thing about it thus far? 
I really am trying to think of a challenge and am struggling. Other than my little fears and worries about the rug being pulled out from under my feet and everyone laughing because I'm not a writer after all, and all the shaking I do anytime Bad Dog gets performed, I really have loved every moment of it. 

Sophie Parkin in Bad Dog
Why should people come see Bad Dog
Because a lot of people I truly believe to be the future of British theatre have worked on it. I think it'll probably suck you in for its forty-five minute running time, just because the atmosphere the team have created is so intense and nuanced and wonderful. 

Are you working on anything else right now? Anything exciting coming up? 
I'm currently nearing the end of writing my newest play, called Snort, Inhale, Dissolve to be performed in the Drama Barn next term -- also directed by Alice and starring Sophie Parkin and James Chetwood. I hope people like that one as much as they've liked Bad Dog. And I submitted some of Bad Dog sometime ago to the Royal Court Theatre and -- somehow -- managed to get into their New Writer's Programme, so that's also a fun and exciting writing thing I get to do! 

You can find Bad Dog on Facebook and Twitter and buy tickets online. You can also find Ashley Milne on Twitter. Let me know if any of you go see the show! 

Bad Dog's show poster was made by Eleanor Hibbert. Photos of Sophie Parkin by Greg Tiani. 

Review: Broken Wings, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Rob Houchen and Nikita Johal
RATING: ★★★★★

There is nothing more exciting that when you've hyped up a new piece of work to all of your friends and family and then it's even better than you expected. From the moment I first heard about Broken Wings, I was hooked. I love supporting new musicals and especially diverse work so an original musical based on the life of the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran sounded amazing to me.

I fell in love with the concept album and was so excited that the short four day run the musical got to do at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (my favorite theatre!) coincided with my family visiting from the States so that they could see it as well. (They're all as in love with it as I am.) In June, I got to interview co-writer, associate producer, and star Nadim Naaman for BroadwayWorld UK about the new work he'd created.

Broken Wings is an emotional, soaring musical based on the semi-autobiographical poetic novel of the same name by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, first published in 1912. (If you didn't know, Gibran is the third best-selling poet worldwide.) Its book was written by Lebanese West End actor Nadim Naaman and its score by Naaman and the Qatari composer Dana Al Fardan.

It tells the story of a young Kahlil Gibran who has returned from Boston to his native Beirut to further his studies. There, he runs into his father's friend Farris Karamy and spends much of his time with him and his beautiful daughter, Selma. The two easily fall for each other, but there are barriers to their love. The themes of immigration, women's rights, religion, relationships between parents and children, and the freedom to love who you love are sure to resonate with a modern audience.
Soophia Foroughi, Nadim Naaman, and Rob Houchen
One of my favorite things about Broken Wings is that it's narrated by an older heartbroken Gibran in New York City, looking back upon his youth. I love musicals that are told in retrospect (like Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton) because I think the sense of impending trouble can add to the energy of the show. This production brilliantly staged the older Gibran in the background of many of the scenes, watching as his younger life plays out.

While the book is really rather wonderful, it's the music of Broken Wings that I fell head over heels for. The score itself reminds me of Maury Yeston's music (particularly Titanic) but with a Middle Eastern element. Many of the lyrics are clearly taken from or inspired by Gibran's poetry so they have a clear poetic influence in them. "Selma", one of Young Gibran's solos, is easily my favorite song of the whole show but I also love "'Til Death Reunites Us", "The Spirit of the Earth", and the "Prologue". You can read my review of the whole album here.

In addition to writing and associate producing the show, Nadim Naaman played Kahlil Gibran, aged 40, a role he's perfect for. His vocals are very well-suited to the music and he brought both a charisma and heartbreaking devastation to Gibran. I often found myself watching his reactions to the events unfolding before him. It's strange to think that the narrator Gibran we see had only eight more years left before his death.

The young Nikita Johal did an impressive job as the beautiful and intelligent Selma Karamy, particularly considering that she stepped up from the ensemble only a week before when the actress originally cast in the role had to pull out of the production for personal reasons. I appreciated that she somehow lent both a fragility and strength to the character and was touched by her acting in many scenes.

I've been a fan of Rob Houchen's work since seeing him as Marius in Les Mis years ago, so I was thrilled that he was playing Kahlil Gibran at the age of 18. Houchen has one of the best voices in the West End and his "Selma" was fantastic. The way that he portrayed Gibran's journey from a fresh-faced, optimistic boy to a heartbroken, melancholy man was astounding.

Adam Linstead was wonderful as Selma's father, Farris Karamy, with an appropriate warmth and lovely voice. Nadeem Crowe lent a great humor and charisma to Gibran's friend, Karim Bawab. He easily stole the scenes he was in. One of the standout performances was Soophia Foroughi as Gibran's mother (and a few other assorted roles). She has one of the best voices I've ever heard on a stage and brought me to tears with "Spirit of the Earth".
Soophia Foroughi and Rob Houchen
The cast was rounded out by a wonderful ensemble, with Irvine Iqbal as the evil Bishop Bulos Galib and Sami Lamine as his wastrel nephew Mansour Bey Galib. Broken Wings was one of the shows that is improved by the obvious love the cast has for it.

While this was a short 'semi-staged' run at the Haymarket, it boasted an impressive yet simple set and costumes. The beautiful costumes, designed by Nik Corrall, helped to ground the action in the place and time period. The set was also gorgeous with many moving set pieces that helped to fully realize the action, designed by Claudio Rosas and Mira Abad. I can't imagine anyone directing the show better than Bronagh Lagan and I'd love to see her design a large-scale production in the West End.

I loved that they gave out free programmes to everyone who came to see the show. As an American who is used to Playbills, I'm often frustrated that it's hard to learn more about the show you're seeing and who is in it without buying a programme. I thought it was a very nice gesture to give all the audience a programme so that they could learn more about Gibran, Broken Wings, and the talented people who put this show together.

Broken Wings is a beautiful well put-together musical in its own right, but the most important thing about it to me is that it brought a Middle Eastern story to a West End stage, written by Middle Eastern creators. I believe that sharing diverse stories on the stage is important, especially those by diverse creators, particularly because of how it can help people see themselves represented.
Nadeem Crowe and Rob Houchen
It was amazing to be a part of an audience that had more Middle Eastern people in it than I'd ever seen in a theatre before and know that many of them probably had grown up with knowledge of Gibran and were getting to see that part of their history represented on the stage. I felt that I actually learned about early twentieth-century Lebanon and Gibran himself and I am definitely planning on reading the novel the show is based on within the next few months.

I will never forget the way the audience leapt to their feet at the beginning of the curtain call the night I saw it, the first night of its run, or the look on Nadim's face when it happened. I hope that this show goes on to have a long life -- I'd love to see it have a full run in the West End or on Broadway, but I'd especially love to see it have a life in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Broken Wings ran at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from August 1-4. You can find the cast album featuring many of the actors from its run on iTunes. 

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Shows I Saw in July

It's not quite the end of July yet, but as my family are coming to visit (they get in today!) I know that I won't be seeing another show until August. I had a great month for theatre in July, seeing some incredible new shows and returning to a couple of my favorite plays.

The Light Princess - Review
I started off the month by seeing The Light Princess in Concert at Cadogan Hall with Rosalie Craig, Hadley Fraser, Louis Maskell, Gabrielle Brooks, and a whole talented cast of people. I fell in love with this beautiful feminist, unconventional fairytale and haven't stopped listening to the cast album since.

Prom Queen - BWW Review
One of the coolest things I got to do this month was go to the workshop of a new musical called Prom Queen at The Other Palace. It's based on the true story of a Canadian teen who sued the Catholic school board when he wasn't allowed to bring his boyfriend to prom. While it was clearly still a work in progress, it showed true potential and was a fun night.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore - BWW Review
This is without a doubt the most I've ever laughed in a theatre. This dark comedy is a satire on terrorism currently starring Aidan Turner (of Poldark fame). It was such a strange delight and definitely one that I'll be returning to in August.

The Diana Tapes
I interviewed James Clements, who both wrote the show and played Andrew Morton for BroadwayWorld UK, and he invited me to come see it. It's based on the story of how Princess Diana smuggled out tapes for Andrew Morton to write his tell-all biography of her. I thought it was a really interesting take on modern celebrity and the press and the cast were all fantastic.

Tartuffe - BWW Review
I already spoke last month for my love for this show but I actually returned twice in July. By the last time, I had stopped using the subtitles and was very proud of myself that I was able to understand about half of the French on my own! I was also very lucky this month because my friend Rhiannon won a backstage tour of the Haymarket and took me along, so I can say that I've been on the set for this show now.

Red - BWW Review
This is another one that I saw (and reviewed) last month and returned to this month with Rhiannon. It was possibly even more wonderful a second time around and I'm so thrilled that they've announced that they're going to stream it to cinemas across the UK and US in November. Definitely get a ticket for that -- I'll be going for round three in the cinema!

Titanic (UK Tour) - Video
After many months of wanting to, I finally saw the Titanic tour and it absolutely blew me away. I love this musical and Maury Yeston's music and this cast and production are insanely wonderful. I was particularly blown away by Niall Sheehy and Greg Castiglioni, two of my favorite actors, who are wonderful in their parts.

Mamma Mia - Review Coming Soon
I went to see Mamma Mia for their special film release celebration night and was in no way prepared for how much I fell in love with it. I had seen the film before, but the stage show is such an absolute delight and this current cast is fantastic.

Exit the King - BWW Review 
This is the only show I saw all month that I didn't like. While Rhys Ifans was fantastic and the set was really cool, I felt the show was far too long...even though it was only one hundred minutes. This is the only one that I wouldn't recommend unless you're a big fan of Rhys Ifans.

Review: OSCiLLATE, Sadler's Wells

RATING: ★★★★

Despite having been a dancer for fifteen years, I rarely go to dance shows and even though I live only a fifteen minute walk from one of the greatest dance venues in the UK, I'd never been to a show at Sadler's Wells before tonight. When I asked to review the UK premiere of OSCiLLATE, an innovative new tap show, I was thrilled.

OSCiLLATE is the first work by a British tap dance company to be performed at Sadler's Wells. It's by Old Kent Road and has been put together by founder and artistic director Avalon Rathgeb and co-choreographer Dre Torres. According to the programme, the show "explores human interaction and the effects of communication on relationships."

I've never seen tap done quite like this. While some of the moves are familiar, it has a clear influence from other styles of dance like lyrical and contemporary. There was even a number where the dancers took off their tap shoes and made the rhythmic noises with just their feet.

One of the coolest things about the show is its electronic music, which was composed for it by Kenneth Mockler. A short video is projected at the beginning which caused me to think more about the music I was hearing. It was amazing how well the electronic beats went with the tap dancing. I also enjoyed the couple of numbers that were done without music, especially the ones with spoken word narration instead.

The piece was also well-lit with the lighting helping to set the mood of the piece. I really enjoyed the number that uses lamps and how the switching off and on of them blended with the sounds of the tap shoes. Is it strange that I also loved that the tap shoes all the dancers wore weren't the typical black, but an off-white color? It seemed to emphasize that this isn't your traditional tap company.

The show is a blend of solos and ensemble pieces. I felt that the way they used partnering was really wonderful and included moves that I'd never seen before. It was great to see two women dancing together as that's rarely seen in tap.

If you have any interest in dance, OSCiLLATE is well worth seeing. In all honesty, I'm not sure I understood the full message or journey of the show, but I certainly enjoyed seeing tap done in a very different and exciting way.

OSCiLLATE is on at the Lillian Bayliss Theatre at Sadler's Wells on 24-25 July.
I was given a press ticket to review this show, but all opinions are my own. 

Review: When the Curtain Falls by Carrie Hope Fletcher

RATING: ★★★★★

Carrie Hope Fletcher's novels are always a wonderful blend of whimsical romance and heartwarming self-discovery and When the Curtain Falls is no different. Carrie's latest novel is a dual-timeline romance set in the same theatre sixty years apart. It shows off Carrie's knowledge of the theatre world and while many of Carrie's past books have included fantasy elements, this is the first with a supernatural ghostly plot line.

The main plot revolves around Olive Green, a West End actress, and Oscar Bright, a famous soap star, who are playing romantic leads in a new production of When the Curtain Falls at the Southern Cross Theatre. They struggle to navigate their feelings for each other amongst the rest of the show's cast, Oscar's insecurities as an actor, and his fame. Before long, it becomes apparent that there are spirits in the theatre. Could it be the ghost of Fawn Burrows, the beautiful young actress who played the lead in the original production of the show back in 1952 before a tragic accident? And what does stage doorman Walter Brown know that he's not letting on?

I was swept into this story immediately upon starting it and ended up reading the book in two days, staying up until 2 am each night because I couldn't put it down. Carrie's writing style is very lyrical, but easy to read. This book is less whimsical than her earlier novels but equally delightful. Some might class it under young adult fiction, but I think it would be appealing to people of many ages, particularly those who love or work in the theatre industry.

My favorite thing about the novel is the characters, both main and supporting. The villain of the piece feels real and truly frightening, while the minor antagonists are fun to hate. I loved all of Olive's friends in the cast and I'd like to be Olive's best friend myself. I found both romances really engaging; I was actively rooting for each couple, but there were enough legitimate obstacles in their way to make me question what was going to happen next.

I loved that the book has little posters for the show, When the Curtain Falls, throughout it for both timelines. I thought that was such a great design touch and it really helps you feel like the characters and the show is real.

I will add a content warning that there are some scenes of violence and a scene of sexual assault within the novel. I think that they're done very tastefully and they're absolutely necessary to the plot and not gratuitous at all, but a warning feels appropriate.

If you love or work in theatre and appreciate novels with beautiful romances, then this book is certainly a good one for you. I'm having to restrain myself from immediately rereading it and I'm recommending it to all my friends in addition to my readers. I'd actually love to see a stage adaptation of this novel one day...

Review: For King and Country, Southwark Playhouse

RATING: ★★★★

When I was at the Southwark Playhouse to see The Rink, I saw a poster on the wall for For King and Country that showed men in World War I uniforms and I went home and booked a ticket immediately after the show finished. World War I has always been one of my favorite periods to study and art written during or about it has long fascinated me. This moving play definitely didn't let me down.

For King and Country is a court room drama set on the Western Front in 1918. Young Private Hamp is on trial for desertion, a representation of the three thousand men who were tried for desertion or cowardice during the war. This production by Dilated Theatre, directed by Paul Tomlinson, is a surprisingly thrilling piece for a WWI play without any front-line action.

The play, written by John Wilson, was first performed in 1964 and was later adapted into the film King and Country. This is the first time it's been performed in London in over thirty years and it commemorates the anniversary of the war beginning in 1918 in support of the Royal British Legion.

In the play, simple Northern boy Private Hamp has deserted somewhat unconsciously and been court-martialed. When Captain Hargreaves is assigned to his defense, he quickly realizes that poor mental health (the term used at the time was "shell shock") was the cause. There is a tension that builds throughout the play as Hamp refuses to believe in the outcome that everyone else expects: death by execution.

Adam Lawrence exudes honesty and simplicity as Private Hamp, though it's clear that there is a general unease underneath his cheery surface. He makes it easy to see why the other soldiers treat him so sympathetically, as he earnestly insists that the trial might go in his favor. Lloyd Everitt, on the other hand, exudes intelligence and gives a beautiful arc as Captain Hargreaves goes from defending Hamp from a sense of duty to a belief that he doesn't deserve to be punished for something done while in a fragile mental state brought on by war. 

The supporting cast do a great job of backing these two men up, providing a range of beliefs on Hamp's innocence. Andrew Cullum plays the Medical Officer O'Sullivan who insists that Hamp is not actually suffering from shell shock but who seems to teeter on the edge of a breakdown himself. 

I was very impressed with Eugene Simon's portrayal of Padre, the young preacher sent to provide support for Hamp, who struggles to reconcile his belief in God in the face of such suffering. Best known for his work on Game of Thrones, Eugene gives a beautiful performance. Even a few weeks later, I'm still haunted by the way he cries when Hamp is told of his fate. 

Jacqueline Gunn's immersive set keeps the audience firmly set within the front lines of the Western Front, even if the action takes place within a court room. It adds to the somber mood of the play and creates a sense of the danger that lurks outside the room. Robbie Butler's lighting design and Philip Matejtshuk's sound design are best on display during the scene changes, during which the ensemble recreate snippets of battle scenes, moving through the space. 

The play has much to say about PTSD and mental health, which are incredibly relevant today, as much of it centers around different characters' opinions on whether or not Hamp truly has shell shock. It also seems a commentary on the effects that war has on men, as we see that many of the characters and not just Hamp are starting to lose their grip. 

The 306 British soldiers who were executed during World War I for desertion or cowardice were officially given a pardon by the British government in 2006. For King and Country is a touching tribute to them that forces the audiences to consider how many men died because of the war's effect on their mental health. If you've any interest in World War I, I highly recommend going to see it before it closes on 21 July. 

Photo Credit: Alex Brenner 

Review: The Light Princess in Concert, Cadogan Hall

RATING: ★★★★★

I had the pleasure of seeing the absolutely delightful concert version of The Light Princess at Cadogan Hall recently. The show's music and lyrics are written by Tori Amos with a book (and lyrics) by Samuel Adamson. This concert staging was produced by Club 11 and the Alex Parker Theatre Company, whose work I always love.

When I saw that Hadley Fraser and Rosalie Craig were doing this back in February, I immediately booked for the chance to see them in a show together. When the additional casting (Louis Maskell, Gabrielle Brooks, Trevor Dion Nicholas) was announced, I was so pleased that I already had a ticket to see this amazing cast. However, I found myself falling in love with this beautiful, unconventional, feminist fairytale itself by a few numbers in.

The show is based on a fairytale written by George MacDonald in 1867. The original production was at the National Theatre back in 2013 and developed a near cult following, even extending past their original run. It was directed by Marianne Elliot, whose work I admire and whose revival of Company I'm so sad to be missing. A cast album was released in 2015 that I really need to listen to!

The tale is about two kingdoms that are at odds, called Lagobel and Sealand. Both countries have suffered the loss of their queens and both kings have become cold and hard in response. However, the royal children have reacted very differently. Princess Althea of Lagobel rejects the sadness that plagues the kingdom after her mother's death and as a result, gravity loses its effect on her and she floats in the air. Her father locks her in a tower with the orphan Piper to focus on his eldest son and heir. 

Meanwhile, the kingdom suspects that the King of Sealand may have killed his wife and thus do not risk publicly mourning for her. Her eldest son Prince Digby becomes morose and never smiles and is known as the "Solemn Prince of Sealand". When the two meet, they find themselves feeling for the first time in years but can they make it work when their kingdoms are at war and they both have unfeeling fathers to stand up to?

Cadogan Hall is a beautiful venue, so any concert staged there is going to be a wonderful experience. I also appreciate anything that Alex Parker conducts as he's a joy to watch. The concert staging did make the plot a bit difficult to follow at times, but luckily there's a fairly comprehensive summary on Wikipedia! 

The music for the show features a wide range of sounds, some of it very traditional musical theatre, some more poppy, and some that almost seem to have alternative influences. A lot of the numbers are very narrative and company driven; there are actually few proper solos in the show. My personal favorites included "Gravity", "Darkest Hour", and "The Whistleblower". "Nothing More Than This" brilliantly showed off Rosalie and Hadley's voices and "Bitter Fate", which is largely a duet between Prince Digby and his younger brother Llewelyn, is my favorite number of the entire show. 

Rosalie Craig reprised her role as Princess Althea and was absolutely astounding. I'd seen Rosalie before in The Ferryman, but had never seen her in a musical and she blew me away. From her stunning vocals to her compelling acting, it was a flawless performance. I loved that she gave Althea real character. She was even perhaps a bit bratty at times, not at all your typical princess. I also enjoyed seeing Rosalie applaud for all her co-stars from the stage; you could feel her love for the show!

Hadley Fraser has been one of my favorite actors for many years, so I jumped at the chance to get to see him in a show with his wife. The two of them are also alums of the Donmar Warehouse, where they've both done numerous shows so it was exciting to see them in something together. Hadley's voice was so well suited for this music; it sounded like the feeling of being wrapped up in a warm blanket. (Does that even make sense?) Hadley brings an intelligence and a dignity to all of his roles that I thought was so well suited to Prince Digby. 

I recently saw Gabrielle Brooks in the Donmar's The Way of the World, but had no idea that she could sing so gorgeously. I felt that she stole every scene she was in as Piper, Althea's best friend. Her song with King Darius was a highlight of the whole show.

You might know Louis Maskell from The Grinning Man, but it was great to see him as Digby's younger brother Llewelyn. His vocals were beautiful as always and his voice blended particularly well with Hadley's. It was a small role, but a rather nice one, and he definitely made the most of it.

Another small role, the Falconer, was played by Laura Pitt Pulford, a name I've often heard but I'd never seen her in anything before. Her parts were another highlight of the show as she has a beautiful voice and, I have to say, her dress was gorgeous.

Trevor Dion Nicholas, best known for playing the Genie, played King Darius, Althea's father. I was so impressed with how wonderful his acting was, especially for a concert staging, and his voice was of course astounding. I loved seeing King Darius's character arc over the course of the show.

Seeing the concert at Cadogan Hall made me wish I'd been in the UK to see the full staging of The Light Princess at the National Theatre as the photos I've seen make it look incredible. However, it was a wonderful night out that reminded me that this gorgeous fairytale deserves a further life.

You can check out my video review of The Light Princess in Concert below:

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