Tag Archives: Darren Bell

Heartbeat of Home

★★★★

Piccadilly Theatre

Heartbeat of Home

Heartbeat of Home

Piccadilly Theatre

Reviewed – 11th September 2019

★★★★

 

“audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers”

 

Billed as a show about people leaving their home in search of a brighter future, the producers of the Irish dance sensation Riverdance now bring us Heartbeat of Home. Playing at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End, this almost two hour dance extravaganza brings not just a high octane group of Irish dancers, but representatives from the dance traditions of flamenco, Latin, and street dancing as well. Add to that a vocalist, backed by a gospel choir, and a terrific group of onstage musicians, the danger is that this show has too much talent and not enough of a narrative to bring it all together in a coherent way. 

It is left to the cyclorama to present the story of these dancers, and it must be said that this one works to spectacular effect. It portrays mostly sea scenes in the first half of the show, including a ship leaving the shores of home, and a scene of a dazzling storm at sea. In the second half, which focuses on the lives of the emigrants in their new home, the cyclorama focuses on a variety of cityscapes, but also one impressive trip across the rugged scenery of the western United States. One cityscape in the show pays tribute to the iconic photograph of iron workers taken by Charles Ebbets. Here the choreography and set projections on the cyclorama come together seamlessly to present death defying dancing that really does look as though the dancers are performing on a beam high above New York City. In Heartbeat of Home, the whole effect is a bit like being at an IMAX theatre with live music and dancing. The talents of lighting designer Peter Canning, set designer Alan Farquharson, set projection designer David Torpey, with additional set projections by David Mathias, are all used with mesmerising effect.

Not surprisingly, the main reason audiences will seek out Heartbeat of Home is for the dancing and the music. It is a treat to watch the dancers enjoy showing off not only the moves of their own traditions, but bringing off a few moves from each others’ traditions as well. But this “fusion dance” style works better in the second half than the first, as one might expect. And if the time on stage is always weighted heavily in favour of the Irish dancers, their breathtaking sequences are what keep the show moving forward, and the audience cheering and applauding. Ably assisted by featured dancers Maggie Darlington and Bobby Hodges, Irish dance Choreographer John Carey delivers the goods, and anyone who enjoyed Riverdance will not be disappointed by Heartbeat of Home. The dancing is admirably supported by a band of highly talented musicians who work together flawlessly to play composer Brian Byrne’s lively music. Under the direction of drummer Mark Alfred, the music is as varied as the dancing, but once again, it is the Irish soloists who put on a stunning display of virtuosity. Patrick Mangan plays like the All-Ireland fiddle supremo he is, and Cathal Croke is another champion on the uilleann pipes. Robbie Harris on the bodhrán drum holds the audience spellbound, and the dancers in constant motion.

Heartbeat of Home is more of a hybrid than a true descendant of Riverdance, although it has several recognisable features in common. Nevertheless, it offers a hugely enjoyable evening in the theatre, and audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Darren Bell

 

Heartbeat Of Home

Heartbeat of Home

Piccadilly Theatre until 13th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Austentatious | ★★★★ | January 2018
Strictly Ballroom | ★★★★ | April 2018

 

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The View Upstairs
★★★

Soho Theatre

The View Upstairs

The View Upstairs

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 25th July 2019

★★★

 

“It does all become a touch stereo-typed, and the crying scenes lead too predictably into the love scenes”

 

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York; widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights. We have come a long way as a society since then, but Max Vernon argues in the musical “The View Upstairs” that we still have a long way to go. He spearheads his argument by sending the central character Wes (Tyrone Huntley) back in time to 1973, overlapping past and present. We are reminded of the television series, ‘Life on Mars’ as Vernon’s script makes frequent use of jokes and dramatic irony about a future that the audience already knows, but which the characters of 1973 do not.

Sometimes the device works too well, and we are left with an overpowering sense of nostalgia for the past that conflicts with the intended message of the piece. Wes, a present-day fashion designer, is buying a burnt out building in New Orleans and, for reasons that are not remotely touched upon, he is transported back in time and he finds himself in the Upstairs Lounge; a real-life gay bar that was the target of a homophobic arson attack that took the lives of thirty-two people – the deadliest attack in the U.S. until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, but one which was ignored by the wider American media and public.

The musical is a celebration of the regulars of the bar – a disparate band of odd folk sharing drinks and wisecracks in a kind of queer ‘Cheers’. Lee Newby’s lavishly ramshackle set evokes perfectly the time and territory we are in. As does Vernon’s score which is snappy and uplifting and, although not exactly memorable, stirs memories within ourselves. Presiding over the bar is John Partridge’s ‘Buddy’, the resident pianist who becomes ‘straight’ whenever he goes home to his wife and kids. Partridge cleverly conveys the mixture of resentment, embarrassment and liberation of the closet gay of that time. Other stand-outs are Garry Lee’s Freddy; burly builder by day and drag queen by night, and his biggest fan – his mother (a very watchable Victoria Hamilton-Barritt). Love interest Patrick, played by Andy Mientus, gives Huntley’s Wes a run for his money, while Declan Bennett’s bitter Dale injects a much-needed dose of menace. It does all become a touch stereo-typed, and the crying scenes lead too predictably into the love scenes. But we are eventually shaken out of any sense of complacency towards the final scenes, especially if you don’t know all the historical facts beforehand.

But what carries the show are the performances. A lot of numbers are packed into this one act musical but the energy and vocal agility of all the cast provide the spark that sets this piece ablaze, despite the dampening effects of some over-familiar moralising.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell

 


The View Upstairs

Soho Theatre until 24th August

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
No Show | ★★★★ | January 2019
Garrett Millerick: Sunflower | ★★★★ | February 2019
Soft Animals | ★★★★ | February 2019
Angry Alan | ★★★★ | March 2019
Mouthpiece | ★★★ | April 2019
Tumulus | ★★★★ | April 2019
William Andrews: Willy | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Does My Bomb Look Big In This? | ★★★★ | May 2019
Hotter | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Citysong | ★★★★ | June 2019

 

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