Tag Archives: Cleve September

“Ushers: The Front of House Musical” at The Other Palace

Director Max Reynolds has a great venue for his tenth anniversary revival of this funny show. With the scenario taking us behind the scenes of a fictional West End hit, downstairs at The Other Palace has a clubby feel that’s perfect for a piece full of insider jokes sure to appeal to a theatre crowd.

We see the romances and dreams of strong characters as they work with confectionary and merchandise, answering the same questions repeatedly, and clean up the audience mess. Two struggle with their relationship, another two fall in love, and a fifth is a fangirl searching for the leading man of her dreams (look out Michael Ball). It’s all tongue in cheek, and sweet, with neat roles for Bethany Amber Perrins (pictured top), Luke Bayer, Christopher Foley, Cleve September and Danielle Rose.

Daniel Page in "Ushers" at The Other Palace
Daniel Page

This is a strong cast, it’s great to have the chance to see them up close, and they all have strong voices and excellent comedy skills. Credit to Reynolds for getting the most out of them and the material. But the star of the show is Daniel Page who brings his pantomime skills to the role of villainous theatre manager Robin. He’s the one behind all the upselling, robbing the punters you might say, obsessed with sales figures and spend per head. It’s a joy to see a performer having so much fun in a role, making every line work and getting so many laughs.

In truth, the cast are funnier than the jokes. In particular, Amber Perrins makes the cooky Rosie hilarious when the character could be annoying. And the singing is better than the songs. While the music by Yiannis Koutsakos is solid enough, his lyrics (also credited to James Oban and James Rottger) are clumsy. Rottger’s book is strangely loose given how clear the structure is. These are problems. But what’s going on has such charm, they matter less than usual.

For full disclosure, I’ve worked front of house myself. I suspect many in the audience, let alone the cast and creatives here, have too. There’s a lot that is recognizable although, cleverly, the show is harsher about the theatre owners than it is about the public (it could be a lot meaner). But all the industry jokes and contemporary references are a hoot. While the show might not have the widest appeal, it knows its audience and serves its customers well. Don’t just see it once, go twice. And buy a t-shirt.

Until 19 May 2024


“The Little Big Things” at the Soho Place Theatre

This new musical is based on an inspirational memoir by Henry Fraser. A promising rugby player, Fraser had a life-changing accident that left him tetraplegic at only 17.  His brave acceptance of his condition and subsequent success as a mouth artist is a heart-warming story that’s hard to criticise. Yes, you will cry. But that doesn’t automatically make a show based on his life a hit.

Following Fraser’s positive outlook, there is a lot to be upbeat about here. The book for the show, by Joe White, is solid. The idea of having Fraser portrayed by two performers (Jonny Amies and Ed Larkin, who are both good) is great. One is Fraser’s ‘pre-accident’ self who stays with the other, haunts him you might say. The two need to say goodbye so that life can move on.

The show’s structure allows plenty of time for Fraser’s family. There is detail about how his three brothers (played by Jordan Benjamin, Jamie Chatterton and Cleve September) cope. And, of course, his parents, played by Alasdair Harvey and Linzi Hateley. Everyone does good job. That so much care is taken over how everyone feels is admirable.

Luke Sheppard’s direction also gets plus points. Sheppard gets a lot out of his mostly young cast and fills the stage with energy. There’s colour, too (remember, Fraser is a visual artist), with Howard Hudson’s lighting and Luke Halls’ video designs making the most of the new venue’s swanky facilities. It’s all aided by strong choreography from Mark Smith, which includes the super touch of using sign language. The show’s inclusivity is smart: making sure anything the able-bodied Amies does is followed by Larkin in his wheelchair is a powerful point and a dramatic highlight of the whole show.

For all the professionalism in the production, and a very hard-working cast, problems with The Little Big Things are too large to be ignored. The humour can most generously be described as plucky. Only Amy Trigg, as Fraser’s physiotherapist, really manages to land jokes. A lot of dialogue, which may well be authentic, comes across as obvious or even touching on manipulative when played out on stage.

Worse is still to come. The music, by Nick Butcher, is unimaginative. There’s an appreciation that different characters get different sounds. But none of the numbers interests and too many sound like bad boy band songs. The singing is good, but it is painfully obvious when strong voices (especially Gracie McGonigal and Malinda Parris) bulk out poor tunes. The lyrics, co-written by Tom Ling and Butcher, are horrid. One number is even based on get well cards. Far too many are inspiration quotes, the kind you find on social media. If you want to put them in a frame, that’s your choice, but please leave them out of songs.

Until 25 November 2023


Photos by Pamela Raith

“Bonnie & Clyde The Musical” at the Arts Theatre

Frank Wildhorn and Don Black’s score for this 2011 musical sounds exemplary. With consistently strong songs and smart lyrics, this is a show that can hold its head high. While not all the numbers feel as if they belong in a story about criminals – and the sense of time and place for these depression era degenerates isn’t convincing – there is barely a weak number to be heard.

The entire cast enjoys this solid material. The production has fine leads, with Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage taking the title roles. Given the stronger written part, Gage’s acting impresses. Director Nick Winston’s production is a quality affair. Although small, the venue feels appropriate for the show and the design from Philip Witcomb is neat, if far from lavish.

Natalie McQueen and George Maguire

Problems arise with Ivan Menchell’s book and the characterisations here. Time spent on Bonnie and Clyde, looking at their motivations and insecurities, is rewarding. But secondary roles – Clyde’s brother and his wife, as well as a law man who holds a torch for Bonnie – are poor. The performers – George Maguire, Natalie McQueen and Cleve September – sound good, but the roles are written either too comic or too sincere. These issues are worse when it comes to the crime couple’s parents.

Such poor parts are an especial shame, since focusing on how others feel and are affected by Bonnie and Clyde is the show’s smart move. Taking criminals as your protagonists in any drama must be handled sensitively. This show generally avoids the danger, as aspirations for fame seem silly and both fall into violence in a convincingly chaotic fashion. If there’s a little too much sympathy for the gangsters, the show never leaves us in any doubt about how destructive they are. And it really does sound great along the way.

Until 10 July 2022


Photos by Richard Davenport