Tag Archives: Sammy Graham

Strike up the Band

Strike up the Band

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Strike up the Band

Strike up the Band

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 8th March 2019



“Beth Burrows as Joan displays exceptional acting abilities as well as charming vocals”


I’ll be the first to admit I’m a massive fan of musicals, so was surprised to learn of one I wasn’t already familiar with. Strike Up The Band was written by George S. Kaufman in 1927, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, and is a satirical look at America’s lust for war. The story centres around Horace J. Fletcher (Richard Emerson), a bigshot cheese factory owner who, with the help of various political figures and businessmen, gets the USA to declare war on Switzerland, who have recently opposed tariffs imposed on its cheese.

The show’s comedy value is clear from the start with the song “Fletcher’s American Cheese Choral Society” proving an entertaining opening number. We are then introduced to an array of characters, including Mrs. Draper (Pippa Winslow), a society woman intent on pursuing Horace, and her daughter, Anne (Charlotte Christensen), also looking for love in the form of Timothy Harper (Adam Scott Pringle). Meanwhile, Jim Townsend (Paul Biggin) uses a degrading newspaper article to get the attention of Horace Fletcher’s daughter Joan (Beth Burrows), both of whom have clearly fallen for each other.

The entire cast have done a good job of developing their characters and all show great vocal and acting skills. Richard Emerson as Horace J. Fletcher is a convincing power-hungry businessman, with Charlotte Christensen embracing her role as a naive young girl with love on the brain. Her scenes/duets with Adam Scott Pringle are particularly entertaining. A special mention must also go to David Francis as George Spelvin, who delivers a masterclass in comedy acting as a mysterious spy-like character.

A fairly simple set (Camille Etchart) with nostalgic props suffices and is brought to life with Giulia Scrimieri’s spot-on period costume.

Songs are well delivered with the help of a six-piece band, although this did overpower the singing at times, particularly during ensemble numbers. That being said, there are some definite musical gems scattered throughout. Personal highlights include “Hangin’ Around With You”, “Homeward Bound” and “The Man I Love”, a song in which Beth Burrows as Joan displays exceptional acting abilities as well as charming vocals.

Although bonkers and, at times, a bit difficult to follow, this is a musical that certainly has relevance today and will introduce audiences to some of the Gershwin brothers’ lesser-known songs – there’s even a bit of tap dance thrown in, for good measure! Thanks to director Mark Giesser for bringing this well-performed satire to the London theatre scene.


Reviewed by Emily K Neal

Photography by Andreas Lambis


Upstairs at the Gatehouse thespyinthestalls

Strike up the Band

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 31st March


Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Night at The Oscars | ★★★★ | February 2018
After the Ball | ★★★ | March 2018
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018
Nice Work if You Can Get It | ★★★★ | December 2018
Bad Girls The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019


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It’s Only Life – 4


It’s Only Life

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 15th June 2018


“Bucchino’s songs embrace the full spectrum of contemporary urban living with sensitivity and wit”


It’s Only Life, John Bucchino and Daisy Prince’s musical revue of twenty-three heart-breaking and hilarious songs, is already a well-known enterprise in the world of American musical theatre. And rightly so: Bucchino’s songs embrace the full spectrum of contemporary urban living with sensitivity and wit. Laid side by side, the songs dip, twist and soar, telling a collective story of stasis, desire, love, heartbreak and redemption.

The ensemble of five performers master these songs beautifully. Recent graduates Sammy Graham and Will Carey keep their cool amongst the more experienced performers Jennifer Harding, Noel Sullivan and Jordan Shaw, and, apart from some lyrics getting lost at the beginning, the vocals are flawless. Harding exudes pathos narrating the crossing paths of two lovers in ‘Sweet Dreams’, and Carey memorably toys with his audience in the hilarious ‘On My Bedside Table’, gritting his teeth trying to prove he is not at all phased by “the fact that you and I are definitely through”. ‘Grateful’ bookends the piece and allows Sullivan a moment to show off his vocal range and power. It’s refreshing that these performers can show restraint when it’s needed. This is a show about the songs and the story, not ego.

Justin Williams’ design stands out from the off. Cleverly using pastel blues, pinks, greens and oranges on a simple white background, Williams has created a space where props are close to hand and levels are used to maximum effect. Our stories can move from downtown bars to lonely bedrooms with little effort and give the songs a crucial context. Tania Azevedo’s direction too, is unflashy and in full service to the symphony of stories. No movement feels unnecessary, and the precision of the cast shows a wide variety of environments that the space itself would never allow.

The message of It’s Only Life is hardly original, but kindly reminds us to embrace the things we fear. These songs act as stepping stones, from risk to risk, and we can only learn as we go how best to get to the other side. Ultimately, it’s a redemptive and moving revue. I saw audience members crying, holding hands, laughing out loud. The ensemble, representing a sexually diverse Britain, behave familiarly with their audience as if to say: “These are our stories, but they’re yours too”. And that is where It’s Only Life really succeeds. Anyone can find a story here, or a moment, to relate to.

It’s Only Life is an unforgettably enjoyable experience that comes highly recommended. Great songs, great vocals, great emotions … what’s not to love?


Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photogrpahy by Pamela Raith


It’s Only Life

Union Theatre until 7th July


Previously reviewed at this venue
Carmen 1808 | ★★★★★ | February 2018
The Cherry Orchard | ★★★★ | March 2018
Twang!! | ★★★★ | April 2018


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