“a thoroughly enjoyable show with craftsmanship that you don’t find every day”
Bright, genuinely funny and completely naïve – “Dumbledore Is So Gay” by writer Robert Holtom and director Tom Wright is where Harry Potter meets The Butterfly Effect.
Jack is a young man. Jack (Alex Britt) is a Pottermaniac (and not-so-proud Hufflepuff). Jack is also gay, and has a big crush on his best friend. But life is brutal, especially for young boys with a non-mainstream sexual orientation. At school and at home, he is expected to be someone quite different – or rather, be with someone quite different – therefore, he decides to utilise some Harry Potter magic to change a few things from his past.
The simplicity and minimalism of the production are actually quite impressive. The set consists of three wooden crates which are functionally a couch, a bar, school desks and even a few more things. There are only three actors – Alex Britt as Jack, alongside Max Percy and Charlotte Dowding who play multiple roles from Jack’s life – his best friends, his parents, his bullies, his teacher, his lovers. Britt’s Jack has lots of youthful naivety and charming determination which makes him delightfully relatable for young audiences. Percy and Dowding are both very skilled at making all of their parts quite unique.
Robert Holtom’s witty and poignant writing has some cleverly placed counterpoints that blend more and less serious parts into a harmonious whole. And though this harmonious whole is admittedly utterly naïve, it also remains in accord with Jack’s immature character. One may wonder if use of magical realism isn’t but an excuse for presenting triggering themes in a more digestible way, but it definitely is engaging for the target viewer. Tom Wright’s direction is smooth, clear and dynamic, deftly utilising the very limited resources (and seemingly very limited budget).
It is not a play that will change the world. It is not a play that will set a new standard for LGBTQIA+ theatre. It is, nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable show with craftsmanship that you don’t find every day.
“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.