Tag Archives: Turbine Theatre

“But I’m a Cheerleader: The Musical” at the Turbine Theatre

Musical theatre and Jamie Babbit’s 1999 cult film are an easy fit in this new show. If it seems a stretch to make a rom-com movie about teens undergoing gay ‘conversion’ therapy, adding show tunes only aids the quirky appeal. Camp as can be and a lot of fun, this show has a serious aim that makes it utterly heart-warming.

These teens are confused and unhappy, so of course you feel for them. They are being treated terribly. And, for all the stereotypes on stage, Bill Augustin’s book makes sure this is a set of characters we care for. It’s a firm base for the show.

Megan Hill - But I'm a Cheerleader - The Turbine Theatre - Photo Credit Mark Senior (2)
Megan Hill

Cheerleading Megan, whose parents pack her off to the True Direction camp before she herself understands her sexuality, is simply sweet but Josie Kemp (stepping up to the role for Jessica Aubrey) does a great job. The romance with a girl called Graham is made more interesting by performer Megan Hill’s carefully controlled angst.

As for the comedy – that’s OK, too. The show has to play with being tasteless (those stereotypes aren’t going to please everyone) and that’s tricky. Take the ‘Simulated Sexual Experience’ that is part of the therapy – it’s flat, despite a good number and a lot of effort.

But I laughed – and the delivery of the jokes will probably improve during the run. The dialogue itself is tight (having the cheerleaders as a kind of Greek chorus could have been explored more). And the show has a great villain (another good move) in Mary Brown, who runs True Direction… with mixed motivations! Another Cover, due to Georgina Hagen’s indisposition, Freddie Love gives a star performance to be proud of, delivering Mary’s many insults with relish.

There is a feelgood factor to But I’m a Cheerleader that proves winning and extends to the cast – this is a show that enjoys letting performers shine.

Doubled-up roles allow cast members Ash Weir, Michael Mather and Kenneth Avery-Clark time in the impress. In superb voice as the camp’s instructor Mike, Noel Sullivan gets to don a wig as a drag queen. And Ciaran Spencer – a third cast member stepping into a different role – should also be pleased. Best wishes to those ill and well done all on working together so well.

It helps that what the cast has to work with is solid as well as upbeat. The music by Andrew Abrams is heavy on preppy, with neat cheerleading touches, although ballads show further skills. The opening numbers are strong and the finale of the first act excellent. Augustin’s lyrics are clear, sometimes a little too easy, but getting Gertrude Stein and Georgia O’Keeffe into a song scores points. Best of all, this is more than a collection of songs – Abrams has written a coherent score that will please anyone who loves musicals.

The show is cramped, despite the clever set by David Shields, so the choreography from Alexzandra Sarmiento doesn’t get much of a chance. I take this as a good sign. There’s a confidence to the piece that bodes well and creates a great atmosphere. But I’m a Cheerleader is begging for a bigger venue, and plenty would cheer if it got one.

Until 27 November 2022


Photos by Mark Senior

“My Night With Reg” at the Turbine Theatre

Matt Ryan’s restrained revival of Kevin Elyot’s play proves enlightening. The story – of lust and unrequited love among a group of gay friends – balances comedy and tragedy. Sensitive to, but not enthralled by, the combination of laughs and tears, Ryan presents a surprisingly downbeat version. A melancholy edge gives the 1995 script a timeless quality.

My Night With Reg is very funny. The waspish banter and bickering makes for great one-liners. Pairing the introverted Guy with his extrovert friends is key to much of the humour. The larger-than-life Daniel and the smaller roles of Benny and Bernie are vividly portrayed by Gerard McCarthy, Stephen K Amos and Alan Turkington respectively. The jokes are there, but each performer makes sure their character’s individuality and pain are clear. You end up feeling a little too sorry for everyone you see.

The sense of tortured souls is even more pronounced with central roles. Guy is a nervous figure, which can be fun. But laughing at him proves hard in Paul Keating’s fraught portrayal (you start to wonder if this prim figure might have serious problems). Edward M Corrie takes the part of Guy’s life-long crush, John, hitting the bottle and looking lost throughout. Both performances are consistent and careful, but to a fault. Making both so miserable strips the play of surprises.

James Bradwell in My Night With Reg at The Turbine Theatre - Photo by Mark Senior
James Bradwell

A final character, the much younger Eric, comes to the fore and makes a star role for James Bradwell. Appropriate to the play’s elegiac nature, Eric’s naïve questions about how to live and love are well delivered and Bradwell gives the role depth. Ryan focuses on questions around monogamy and honesty – the Aids epidemic that Elyot was responding to becomes more of a backdrop than you might expect.

While the trauma of Aids for a generation of gay men is always given its due, what could have been an ‘issues’ play, looking at a moment in history, is opened up. Ryan might be taking us closer to how the gay community experienced the epidemic – as it unfolded, rather than an event with a narrative constructed afterwards. And he makes those concerns about fidelity and truthfulness present in the play ring out louder than ever. The thoughtful approach brings benefits to both play and production: win-win.

Until 21 August 2021


Photos by Mark Senior

"Torch Song" at the Turbine Theatre

This is a five star start for Paul Taylor-Mills’ new venue next to Battersea Power Station. Opening with an iconic play is clever. Even better is giving us the chance to see this new version of Harvey Fierstein’s classic, which the author revised for its 2017 New York revival. The much loved wit and wisdom of drag queen Arnold is still here but the piece is now sharper and more serious. Recruiting hot talent Drew McOnie to direct, and top notch performers too, The Turbine Theatre has made a precocious debut on the London theatre scene.

A mammoth role, Arnold is surely as attractive to a performer as he is to an audience. But it’s still a coup to get an actor of Matthew Needham’s stature to take the role. Needham has the charisma needed but brings a rawness to the part that makes Arnold’s trials in love, and trauma in life, especially moving. Arnold is always self aware, it can become grating. But Needham gives the role maturity and provides a wild streak to the character that destabilises the self control and creates an energy that balances all the brilliant wisecracks. None of this diminishes Arnold but it makes him more human. The role is still inspirational; Needham gives us a man truly “filled with possibilities” as he searches for love and respect.

Bernice Stegers in Torch Song at the Turbine Theatre
Bernice Stegers

The clear danger in the play’s previous incarnation, Torch Song Trilogy, is that Arnold overpowers the play. Fierstein has corrected this by beefing up other roles and making them more than foils. Arnold’s mother seems more forceful than ever. Taking the part, Bernice Stegers can land a Jewish joke as well as anyone, but there’s also such pain, anger and confusion in her depiction that it is breathtaking. It’s Fierstein’s triumph as a writer that he can present an alternative view, even if offensive, so well. Arnold’s lover and his son provide two professional debuts in the production – Rish Shah and Jay Lycurgo. Both should be proud that they give these roles their due; both are written and performed as feisty and smart independent men.

Matthew Needham & Rish Shah in Torch Song at the Turbine Theatre
Matthew Needham & Rish Shah

Daisy Bolton makes her role, Arnold’s ex’s ex, intriguing – you want to know what happens to her next. As for the ex, the love of Arnold’s life Ed, the character is made more of a constant and Dino Fetscher rises to the challenge of a substantial role. Ed’s opening encounter with Arnold is a monologue, impeccably delivered, and Fetscher makes the character’s shame about his homosexuality moving. Ed’s arguments about staying in the closet are respected and given space, essential for the drama and challenging to the audience.

Matthew Needham & Dino Fetscher in Torch Song at the Turbine Theatre
Matthew Needham & Dino Fetscher

All the performances do justice to Fierstein’s skills, as does McOnie’s direction. Famous first as a choreographer, it isn’t too fanciful to suggest those skills show. McOnie understands the rhythm of the arguments as the characters dance around their positions. The staging is never fussy and for the second act, Fugue in a Nursery, putting most of the action in a giant bed proves wonderfully clever. Moments when the actors step off the small stage become charged but are never over-used. The direction adds a stylishness that enhances the script, making this production of a strong play, exceptionally powerful.

Until 13 October 2019


Photos by Mark Senior