Tag Archives: Steven Dexter

“The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me” at the Studio, New Wimbledon Theatre

David Drake’s hour-plus monologue covers coming out, the AIDS epidemic and activism. Steven Dexter’s forceful direction of this off-Broadway hit does the script justice and the performance from John Bell is a stage debut to cheer.

The show’s subject matter is important, but this ground has been covered before, not least by the playwright whose name features in the title of the show. Legacies – cultural and political – are important to Drake. But he also brings an originality that offers something new, even if the writing is sometimes laboured.

Infused with a love of song, from musicals to disco, the language is heavy with rhythm. Bell delivers the script well but the lines themselves aren’t easy to follow. The twists and turns in Drake’s thinking are invigorating but also dense. You might think of the show’s segments (a childhood prayer, nights spent cruising or protesting) as lyrics waiting for songs.

The language doesn’t make the show an easy one to perform. All the more credit to Bell, who enhances a sense of continuity and character for scenes that too frequently feel disconnected. The actor juggles a mix of sex and violence bravely and brings humour to the show successfully.

Aided by exceptional lighting design from Aaron Dootser, the show has plenty of emotion and insight. The strongest moments focus on theatre. Yes, Drake is preaching to the converted (I’m not surprised the piece is award winning) but skilfully including lyrics in his script is only the starting point.

The title refers to Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, only recently revived at the National Theatre. It’s that play that leads to the political awakening we watch here. Reflecting and admiring on culture and community, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me serves as a mirror that reflects the importance of representation in a rewarding fashion.

Until 26 February 2022


Photo by Mark Senior

“Pippin” at the Charing Cross Theatre

Among the many devotees of Stephen Schwartz’s musical, originally written in 1967, director Steven Dexter is an expert. Having staged the show at a pop-up venue last year (a boon between lockdowns), Dexter is back with his hippie-inspired version of the piece. Bigger and just as accomplished, this intelligent take on the Summer of Love does Pippin proud.

I’m still not a fan of the show. Yes, it has great songs. Although the score is contrived. And Roger O. Hirson’s book has wit, even if the humour is dated. But this story of Charlemagne’s son, presented by ‘Players’ who form a show within a show, is a tricky affair: a cautionary tale too close to reactionary in its suspicion of dreams and ambition.

Any reservations aren’t shared by Dexter or his eight energetic cast members. Akin to Pippin’s search for meaning, this production has a “goal and a plan”. And it is well executed. More serious than you might expect, considering the Players’ promises of what we are about to see, the production has more magic than merriment. Take the performance of Ian Carlyle, who makes for a sinister and in-command Lead Player, there’s an appropriately dark edge to proceedings.

Genevieve Nicole in Pippin
Genevieve Nicole

With strong performances from the (not-so-well-written) women in Pippin’s life, we are never allowed to forget they are Players, too. The effect is cold. Genevieve Nicole gets the most out of her big number – she’s super as Pippin’s let-it-all-hang-out grandma. While Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson as the stepmother manipulates events at court in style. It’s only Natalie McQueen, as Catherine, who really cares for our hero and makes the show’s sweet love song, with lots of laughs, enjoyable.

Ryan Anderson in Pippin
Ryan Anderson

The big danger is that Pippin himself becomes something of a puppet. Arguably he is exactly that and Dexter makes the case forcefully. And, who really likes Pippin anyway? Schwartz wanted him to check his privilege half a century ago! More credit to the show’s lead, Ryan Anderson, who get as much sympathy as he can for the character. Genuine emotion comes late (the penny drops – that’s why I’m not a fan) and, when it arrives, Anderson does well.

It is with dancing that Anderson, and the whole cast, excel. Choreographer Nick Winston comes into his own with smart moves, superbly executed. Engaging with each song, adding depth and interest, there’s extraordinary insight into the characters. Winston’s work sculpts the roles. With a nice big space, staged in the round, the dancing is the most joyous part of the show and, too frequently, the most emotional. It’s with the movement in the production that this Pippin moves.

Until 14 August 2021


Photos by Edward Johnson

“Pippin” at the Garden Theatre

More than a little mad, Stephen Schwartz’s musical, ostensibly about the son of Emperor Charlemagne, has a big revival in this small-scale venue.

This new version of the phenomenal hit has a cast of six who create a band-of-players feel that, along with the traverse staging, suits the setting. And director Steven Dexter hits the mark creating hippy vibes: dating from 1972, the show is very much of its time.

Ryan Anderson does a lovely job with the score’s main theme and its clever love song, where he is joined by Tanisha-Mae Brown making a strong professional debut. Anderson’s Pippin also manages some character development (no small achievement in this role) from awkward to angry – well done.

Tanisha-Mae Brown, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe and Ryan Anderson in Pippin
Tanisha-Mae Brown, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe and Ryan Anderson

Anderson may take the lead, but the production’s sextet works especially well together. They seem like they’re having fun! The cast’s skills show Nick Winston’s choreography superbly, impressive work for such an intimate space.

Pippin has great tunes and smart enough lyrics. The cast do well with the humour (which in truth is one note) aided by jokes about the lo-fi staging and theatre under current conditions. Joanne Clifton deserves special mention for camping it up as Pippin’s gran and his stepmother.

While Dexter has done well, it’s still hard to really get involved with this “anecdotal review”. Pippin’s search for fulfilment is exposed with deep cynicism – fair enough – but the self-conscious storytelling isn’t as clever as it would like and ends up feeling frosty.

Thankfully, Anderson manages to inject some genuine emotion. And the show’s overbearing concepts, with the sinister idea that Pippin is being manipulated, are in the capable hands of Tsemaye Bob-Egbe who performs as the Lead Player; her excellent voice and commanding presence brings the whole show together.

Until 11 October 2020


Photos by Bonnie Britain

“Fanny and Stella” at The Garden Theatre

After 149 days of live theatre lockdown – yes, I have been counting – I was always going to love the first trip back to a show. Thank you, thank you, LAMBCO Productions, for the first fringe production since March. But, sincerely, Glenn Chandler’s play with music is a jolly affair that is well worth seeing. It’s entertaining, interesting and a lot of fun.

Chandler takes on a lot, and admittedly over-reaches. Based on true events, a show-within-a-show format tells the story of performers Ernest Boulton (AKA Stella) and Frederick William Park (Fanny), who dressed as women offstage as well as on and were arrested for doing just that in 1871. The history is light: there’s not enough shock about the men’s “painted faces” and not much peril. It is in questionable taste that the medical examination Boulton and Park had to undergo is played for laughs. And the idea of either man as a transwoman is not explored. Chandler’s decision is to entertain, and this is what he does.

Alex Lodge in Fanny and Stella at The Garden Theatre Vauxhall
Alex Lodge

Going for pleasure makes the setting of The Eagle pub garden in Vauxhall appropriate and the audience were clearly smiling under their face masks. All manner of crudity and old jokes are allowed and the cast camp it up considerably (David Shields’ clever costume designs are useful here). Special mention to the hard-working Mark Pearce, who takes on so many roles and accents. And to Alex Lodge, who plays one of the (many) loves of Fanny’s life, injecting some romantic moments and also doing well as a gutter-press journalist.

The evening’s stars are Jed Berry and Kane Verrall in the inimitable title roles, which both the script and director Steven Dexter balance nicely. The chemistry is great and there’s a convincing sense of sisterhood along with some fine comic timing. Both work the crowd wonderfully. All of this is accompanied by Charles Miller’s clever little songs – all, importantly, performed live. It really is a great night out… the best I’ve had in 149 days, actually.

Until 25 August 2020


Photos by Alex Hinson

“Loserville” at the Garrick Theatre

A new musical is an exciting prospect for the critics: the thrill of the potential next hit or the perverse pleasure of a failure. Most shows, and Loserville, the newest to open in the West End only last night, fall firmly between the two extremes. The question is whether or not you should bother to see it – and my answer is yes, especially if you have someone young to take along.

Loserville is a coming-of-age story and, like many in the genre, is probably best embraced by those still young. It is set around the idea of the first ever email and presented to the audience as if they can’t really imagine there was ever a world without the web. The ‘geeks in their garage’ characters have the laudable aim of helping the world to communicate, and the mildest of reservations about corporate capitalism. It’s all very wholesome fun.

A joint effort from Elliot Davis and James Bourne, the later formerly of Busted fame, it’s spot on when it comes to a familiar kind of teenage angst. The insecurity, frustration, even anger of young people, along with their sense of fun and excitement, is palpable. All expressed in perky guitar pop, highly catchy and impressively effective as storytelling, it should be a hit.

The kids coming of age in Loserville do so in America in 1971. This poses some problems – the cast struggle with their accents, especially when it comes to singing them. There’s little sense of period, only the briefest musical reference, and any sense of nostalgia fails to convince. The dialogue lacks snap and the jokes aren’t funny enough: it’s passable to rhyme Uhura with cooler in song, but the sci-fi gags are overplayed in the script. However, the production itself is well done, directed with clarity and conviction by Steven Dexter, and aided by Francis O’Connor’s charming low-fi set.

And none of these criticisms are going to stop you having fun. The story of Michael Dork and his friends’ trials and passions goes at such a pace, any subtlety would probably be steamrollered anyway. The large cast, mostly making their West End debuts, are so full of energy, you can’t help but admire them. Highlights include Aaron Sidwell in the lead role and Richard Lowe as his sidekick Lucas Lloyd.

Alongside their enthusiasm, that sense of teenage intensity means the cast occasionally perform with almost embarrassing sincerity – once again your reaction probably depends upon your age. Bourne knows what he’s doing, he’s sold enough records to teenagers already, but shame on my cynicism – like Google, Loserville doesn’t have an evil bone in its body, and is sure to be a winner with plenty.

Until 2 March 2013

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Written 18 October 2012 for The London Magazine