Tag Archives: Soho Place Theatre

“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

“Brokeback Mountain” at the Soho Place Theatre

Annie Proulx’s short story is about atmosphere rather than action. The troubled love affair between cowboys Ennis and Jack is a powerful tale of repression and loss, but part of what makes it special is that not that much really happens. Bringing the story to the stage is a tough call that Ashley Robinson’s adaptation and Jonathan Butterell’s direction handle intelligently. It is a shame that the results are mixed.

Butterell has secured fine performances from the show’s exciting casting. Here are two West End stage debuts to take note of. Stars from the States, Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges, are strong as Jack and Ennis respectively. Hedges makes the taciturn Ennis a strong figure whose torment over his sexuality bubbles under the surface. Faist’s Jack is charismatic, full of energy and humour, but the audience can still see his pain. As for that all-important chemistry, Butterell takes advantage of the venue’s intimacy to create quiet, moving moments.

Despite the enjoyable performances, with Faist and Hedges easily holding the stage and showing impressive confidence, the pace overall feels regrettably rushed. A sense of time passing and opportunities lost isn’t conveyed and the show comes close to being cold. Jack’s statement that “we could have had a good life together” comes as something of a shock – it seems we are near the end of the show too soon. The meditative quality of the source material is lost.

There is little sense of menace in the piece. The men’s employer is aware of the affair and simply disapproves, while in the final scene Jack’s mother seems sympathetic. As part of a lack of threat, Jack’s wife is reduced to a slim figure (despite Emily Fairn’s commendable efforts in the role). It becomes hard to remember the risks being run by the couple’s romantic getaways and why the two cannot live together. Meanwhile, there is the device of an ‘older’ Ennis watching the action. It’s not a bad idea, and adds some melancholy moments, but having him continually on stage means that the role blends into the background, despite Paul Hickey’s commitment.

Eddie Reader in Brokeback Mountain
Eddi Reader

Firmer ground come with the show’s most innovative move – the music. Described as a play with songs, rather than a musical, it’s the compositions by Dan Gillespie Sells that add most to seeing the story on stage. Eddi Reader performs with an excellent band – it all sounds wonderful. What we hear, with the aid of Christopher Shutt’s impressive sound design, provides romance, tension, humour and, above all, atmosphere. The pace that the show needs is clearest here – more music might have led to more emotion.

Until 12 August 2023


Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Marvellous” at the Soho Place Theatre

For the opening of the first purpose-built theatre in London for 50 years, a production from the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, is sweet. Unfortunately, Marvellous does not live up to a title that tempts fate.

Yet Marvellous has many admirable qualities. Like its subject (and one of its writers), Neil Baldwin, the show is all about feeling good. An eccentric character who did not let any label stand in his way, Baldwin is an inspirational figure. And although it’s based on a film, director Theresa Heskins tries to make the show as theatrical as possible. Well done.

The New Vic is in the round – just like this new swanky venue. I suspect that made the transfer seem like a good idea and Heskins handles the format expertly. But an easy fit doesn’t make up for the show’s failings or even play to its strengths. The latter first. While Baldwin was a true local hero (and mascot for the football club), a lot of information about the Potteries is taken for granted. The detail would go down great where the show comes from, but the jokes (and the nostalgia) need tweaking for a wider audience.

As for failings – well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. There’s nothing wrong with Marvellous… but it is long. And it’s too clear that an easy edit would improve the show considerably.

The performances are good, especially Suzanne Ahmet who plays (mostly) Neil’s mother, and Gareth Cassidy who shows off a lot of accents. The cast nearly all take on the role of Neil through his life so there are lots of jokes about performance and the acting craft. And they are joined by a ‘Real Neil’ (Perry Moore did a great job the night I saw the show), whose naivety adds to this source of fun. Everyone is hard working, with slapstick and physical comedy thrown in.

The problem is that every joke is repeated.

It’s sweet that Neil has a ‘magic’ shopping bag that props appear from, that the cast pretend to be cupboards, or that local radio presenters who comment on the footie are impersonated. But we don’t need these jokes in triplicate. While the story is fun and Neil Baldwin winning, it does go on… and on. The ideas on inclusion and community can’t be argued with. But the delivery is laboured and the message ends up heavy handed.

Until 26 November 2022