Magic Mike Live
Reviewed – 29th November 2018
“opens in the cheesiest way imaginable, but ends up unexpectedly challenging stereotypes”
Channing Tatum brings his hit Las Vegas show to London’s Hippodrome Casino with heady anticipation. Magic Mike Live promises to give women everything they want and need and I’m delighted to say it delivered.
There is a loose narrative involving Sophie (Linder-Lee) and an Italian waiter dubbed Mike (Sebastián Melo Taveira), who she has summoned on stage using the power of the unicorn (yes, it is as bonkers as it sounds). Sophie wants to teach Mike how to please a woman, and so begins Mike’s journey as he learns to dance from his fellow performers.
It’s tongue in cheek, much more so than the films were. But unlike the films (barring Tatum of course), the entire cast really can dance. They are not restricted to posing and grinding to raunchy R&B, but excel at break-dancing, tap dancing, and even Mission Impossible style aerial stunting. Melo Taveira is jaw droppingly good, particularly during an intensely seductive duet performed in the rain with Hannah Cleeve. But talent abounds in this show and is not limited to dance alone. In one number, each guy gets out an instrument (of the musical variety) playing live to Zayn’s PILLOWTALK.
The MC, Sophie, is often one step ahead of the audience. She preaches that women can ask for what they really want out of the men in their lives, and also gives a lesson on the importance of consent. The show opens in the cheesiest way imaginable, but ends up unexpectedly challenging stereotypes. There are some surprisingly progressive messages for a show which, at its core, objectifies the male body.
The staging makes sure you’ll have a night to remember in every seat of the house. The central stage supplemented by a raised balcony, for the glorious benefit of the upper circle, and the performers mingle with the crowd among the cabaret style tables. Such attention to detail is also given to the fake ‘unicorn’ bills which are handed out to be thrown to the dancers for encouragement, not that they need much more of it with the constant whooping and cheering.
I will be explicit. There are thirteen attractive, impossibly fit, male dancers who all strip off during the show. Some of the time they keep their clothes on, but the biggest screams and applause come when they don’t. It’s a show which knows its audience, but supplements the sex appeal with technically brilliant performances and high production values. A strip show for the discerning lady, if you will.
Reviewed by Amber Woodward
Photography by Trevor Leighton
Magic Mike Live
Hippodrome Casino until October 2019
The Biograph Girl
Reviewed – 24th May 2018
“Occasional ripples stir up the action but the whole staging needs a good shake up”
Commissioned as part of the Finborough’s ‘Celebrating British Music Theatre’ series, “The Biograph Girl” is playing on the London stage for the first time since its 1980 premiere. With book and lyrics by Warner Brown and music by David Heneker (the composer of “Half A Sixpence”) it is a celebration of Hollywood’s glorious era of silent film, charting the fifteen years during which the industry transformed itself from its disreputable, ‘fleapit’ beginnings through to the birth of the first talking pictures and its glamorous multi-million dollar prime. In 1912, no self-respecting actor would appear in the “flickers”, as they were referred to, but by 1927, those same artistes, with the help of trail blazing moguls, laid the foundations of the movie business and launched the Hollywood star system.
The show is a nostalgic reminiscence of the silent movies, a tale of the heartbreaks and triumphs of the key players, concentrating on the flawed genius of director David Wark Griffith, along with Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, both of them great silent film stars. Mary Pickford was known as ‘The Biograph Girl’ – after the studio – though this telling of the story fails to justify her having the titular role. This is very much Griffith’s story, played with a cool assurance by Jonathan Leinmuller. Sophie Linder-Lee’s Pickford, while emulating the original character, replaces her outward innocence with petulance which distances her from the audience’s sympathy. Instead Emily Langham quietly pulls focus with her sensitive portrayal of Lillian Gish – the ‘First Lady of American Cinema’.
The intimate space of the Finborough captures the ad hoc feel of early cinema where everything was done on a shoestring and sets were often cramped and improvised, and in this way the piece certainly lends itself to the confined dimensions of the theatre. The almost total lack of set however, whether a deliberate concept or one dictated by budget, strips the play of any sense of location. Likewise, Holly Hughes’ choreography abandons any perception of the period.
What does capture the moments of nostalgia and hold our attention is Warner Brown’s book and David Heneker’s music. The tunes are sophisticated yet still memorable. One particular highlight is Joshua C. Jackson’s heartfelt rendition of ‘Rivers of Blood’, a politically charged number that was cut from the original production. The cast deliver the ensemble numbers with a collective poise that emphasises Heneker’s skills as a composer, while Musical Director Harry Haden-Brown calmly navigates them through the score. Sometimes too calmly.
And there lies the problem with this production: there is no turbulence. Occasional ripples stir up the action but the whole staging needs a good shake up. Director Jenny Eastop has missed a whole bag of tricks and has merely delivered a monochrome product that should be fizzing with flashes of light and shade. It is a gift of a story, and a much more innovative staging is needed to do justice to this hugely talented cast too. The subject matter (and Heneker’s music) is too important. In his heyday, poetic beauty was something David Wark Griffith most wanted from the screen. He felt that the motion picture industry was losing sight of that, declaring later in his life: “We have taken beauty and exchanged it for stilted voices”. Eastop should take note.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Lidia Crisafulli
The Biograph Girl
Finborough Theatre until 9th June
Previously reviewed at this venue