London’s Best Shows

As a singer, attending musical events and gigs in London is always top of my wish list but is often forgotten in favour of restaurant reviews. In the past few months I have prioritised performances and I’ve witnessed some phenomenal music and theatre.

Paul Simon and Sting – Paul Simon is one of my all-time favourite singers. His albums were the soundtrack to my childhood, and even now his songs remain top of my ‘most played’ list. When a rare opportunity arose to see him live at the O2, I jumped at it. He took to the stage with Sting and they shared an epic three hour set. It was a well-balanced evening of melancholy melodies and upbeat hits. The Sound of Silence was particularly memorable sung poignantly with only guitar at the front of the stage, and it was impossible not to dance when he performed the African-influenced songs from his album Graceland, complete with full band and gospel choir. Despite being seated in the cheapest seats at the top of the auditorium, I enjoyed every second of this momentous concert, Sting was surprisingly good too! If you ever get the chance to see this legendary man in concert I would recommend doing whatever you can to get hold of a ticket.

Alice in Wonderland – The Old Vic tunnels are a versatile space used for a range of theatrical projects and exhibitions. To celebrate the 150 year anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Les Enfants Terribles have created an imaginative production cleverly transforming this mysterious space into an immersive land of curiosities. As the trains rumble above, you will forget the real world as you follow the whisper of books down the rabbit-hole to meet the Mad Hatter and all his friends. Due to vast popularity, the show has been extended so you can now book tickets until the end of August 2015. Book here.

Sweeney Todd – I almost found out too late about this Sondheim production at The Coliseum, which was only on for a few weeks in April. I am often sceptical about semi-staged shows but with a stellar cast including Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson, I quickly felt involved in the production. The tickets (though pricey) sold instantly, so I queued up very early one morning to get myself a seat. Sitting on the front row, the singing was thrillingly chilling and the acting brilliantly intense. I hate horror films, but would never turn down the chance to see the demon barber of Fleet Street.

Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre

The opening of Sweeney Todd sends shivers down my spine unlike anything else. It is this show that illustrates the true genius of Stephen Sondheim. I was attending on my ownsome, not a plight I would often consider, but after performing in this unforgettable musical at university, I couldn’t turn down the offer of a single ticket.

This score has provoked much debate for musicologists and critics alike, who struggle to define the genre of Sweeney Todd. The music combines operatic and musical theatre elements. Indeed it was the first ‘musical’ to be performed at the Royal Opera House, in a breathtakingly grand production I saw many years ago. It is staged infrequently due to the troublesome nature of the narrative and the numerous faux murders on stage which do not lend themselves for easy interpretation!

I had high expectations when taking my seat in the stalls at the Adelphi Theatre last week – would the transferred Chichester show live up to my Sweeney standards? The technical team behind this production have created an imaginative and visually exciting show. Director Jonathan Kent understands Sondheim’s intentions and presents a unique but clear vision of this tale. The lighting design by Mark Henderson is incredibly effective, highlighting the necessary gruesome clues in the story, while creating an atmospheric environment.

The stage is suitably macabre: a threatening metal structure with staircases either side and a balcony which allows the chorus to peer out ominously. The mist and dim lighting causes the stage to fade eerily at the back, a mysterious backdrop for the tale of the demon barber. As the setting changes frequently, the set must be versatile and adaptable; Sweeney’s station sweeps on with a red chair gleaming maliciously while the pie shop is located on the left hand side.

Despite its humourous qualities (making pies out of priests, tinkers and tailors), this production manages to capture the vicious, cut throat deaths very efficiently! It must have required endless rehearsals to perfect these executions! The Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton partnership will certainly bring in big audiences, but the rest of the cast are equally exemplary. I loved the doll-faced Lucy May Barker who has a suitably shrill voice and naïve nature, perfect for the part. James McConville makes a brilliantly scrawny and scrappy Tobias, the young boy apprentice of Todd’s rival. It is a tricky role with a very high range for a young man but McConville dashes about the stage singing and acting superbly throughout, his rendition of ‘Not while I’m around’ is gorgeous.

Last time I saw Michael Ball on stage he was donning a wig, a fat suit and a sparkly dress, strutting his stuff as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. This performance as Mr Todd could not be more different, a menacing, destroyed man desperate and disillusioned after fifteen years imprisonment and the loss of his beloved family. Ball seems equally natural in this role thrilling the audience with prolonged stares and furiously powerful singing. Michael Ball is known for his musical expertise but who knew Imelda Staunton could sing so well? She excels as the grubby widower and pie-maker, she tackles the tongue twister songs with great expertise, expressing each syllable with impressive clarity and power. Every word could be heard even when the audience were laughing relentlessly!

Musically, the ensemble is faultless, soaring through the complex cross rhythms and unexpected harmonies. It is a challenging score even for seasoned professionals. The razor sharp band play the score beautifully, led by the talented Nicholas Skilbeck.

This is storytelling at its very best. Sondheim’s contribution to the modern musical is rivalled by none, this production of Sweeney Todd illustrates why.

Continues until 22 September, book here.