Sunday, 23 May 2010

Rainbows Aren't Always As Colourful As They First Seem

So Danielle Hope is going to be Dorothy. Now don't get me wrong, congratulations to her, and let me say at this stage, I am not having a swipe at her talent or commitment. So please please please don't have a whinge saying how good she is. I am not disputing this one bit. I am just disappointed that we now resort to reality TV programmes to find new talent for London's West End musicals, especially when there are people just as equally talented who have worked a million times harder going through the conventional route of drama schools etc to make a name for themselves and fulfil their dreams that they have worked so hard to get to.

Unless you strike it lucky, its drama school, then a host of shows with opportunities growing each time, starting in the ensemble and eventually making it to a lead role if you play your cards right. Success isn't just thrust upon you, it takes a lot of hard work, and I suppose a bit of luck. John Barrowman's first big UK show was opposite Elaine Paige in "Anything Goes", he happened to be in the right place at the right time. A drama school trip in London, where via a family member in his native Scotland he learned of the auditions for the part. He went along, wowed creative team, and got the part without even finishing drama school... so never discount luck (when accompanied by talent of course). Either way, I just think it is wrong that someone should have it made so easy for them in comparison to the "normal" route an actor or actress would take to the top.

Now as a friend pointed out, television shows like this have drawn new people into the theatres. People who maybe wouldn't have gone before, and I think the ticket sales over the last few years really do represent this. Cameron Mackintosh said in an interview that during the recession ticket sales at his theatres were actually doing better than the boom years before hand. He cited that during the last year when money has been tight for so many, people were not taking holidays and therefore had opted for days out instead.

Whilst there may be some truth in this, I can't say I fully agree with Mr. Mackintosh. I think that there is a much younger audience at the theatres these days, certainly more so than five or ten years back, when the theatre was seen as entertainment for the mature middle class married couple. I however feel now days that theatre is becoming more accessible for people of all backgrounds, namely due to there being more family shows and musicals in London than ever before. In my opinion the market has simply shifted meaning there are more people that want to go to the theatre than in years gone by. I will admit that these reality TV shows have their benefits as they have helped the increase in business for numerous shows, but I can't help but wonder if there are better ways to get our London productions exposure on television.

I know some people will point out the obvious, that many of the contestants on these shows are already drama school students. Thinking back to the days where they were hunting for someone to play Joseph, there is a great example that springs to mind... you know? The show which Daniel Boys should have won. It was a shame that the other bloke was victorious, mind you... he didn't do too bad out of it. He married Denise Van Outen if I recall correctly. Though what is bugging me at the time of writing this is that I cannot remember his name for the life of me.

Anyhow back to Daniel Boys, he was a member of a local amateur dramatics society locally to me. He went on to study at the Guildford School of Acting, and after his disappointment in the search for Joseph (i forget what the show was actually called... I want to say "Any Dream Will Do" but I have an inclination that I may be wrong) he landed a role for 2 years in Avenue Q, went on tour with John Barrowman and recorded a cd of his own (which is very good I will have you know, its called "So Close", go buy it from I-Tunes... after you have finished reading my blog of course). If truth be known, I think he has made more of a name for himself than Lee Mead has (yes I did have to Google his name, it was bugging me that I couldn't remember). I believe Lee is in Wicked these days, but I may be wrong... none the less Daniel, for a runner up hasn't done too badly at all!

Like Daniel both Lee Mead and Danielle Hope have come from drama studies to these television reality shows, and I don't dispute that they both have talent and have worked hard to get where theyare. I just cant help but feel that students who have taken the conventional drama school routes, will feel short changed. The only consolation is, those who make their name in theatre the hard way are remembered, take Elaine Paige or John Barrowman... they are names that are loved and respected among theatre goers. Will the likes of Jodie Prenger or Danielle Hope be remembered in such high esteem in ten or twenty years time? I'm not so sure they will.

Saturday, 22 May 2010


Mark Rylance... Its not a name I had come across before now, I have to be honest most of my focus is on musicals, so no matter how good an actor someone may be, if they haven't been in a musical the chances are I will not know who they are. But just like the seasons of the year, I too am changing, I have found a passion for plays at the moment. Maybe it is down to the fact that I am in a couple over the next 12 months, or maybe Ive just got bored of musicals having currently seen the vast majority of the ones which are on in the West End at the moment.

Mark Rylance came to my attention when I decided I wanted to see the show Jerusalem, which was running for a limited season at The Apollo Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue until the end of last month. There was a lot of hype about the show, which won Mark an Olivier for best actor. Tickets were also very hard to come by, and I was extremely lucky to get mine I hasten to add. But as we all know, I am a tad fussy. Lets face it I don't really like Wicked the Musical all that much... and everyone loves Wicked! So there was every chance too that this too wouldn't live up to my expectations. I do also have a tendancy to pick wholes in productions also, so it would be interesting to see how this would fair in the Gareth ratings.

Thankfully I can tell you it blew me away. Rylance is one hell of an actor who brought the role of Johnny Byron to life. So much depth, passion and diversity, he captured Byron's ever changing emotions throughout whilst maintaining the characterisation he had meticulously pieced together for the role. Also in the show, staring as "Ginger", best known for roles in that terrible comedy "The Office" and of course "Pirates of the Caribbean" was Mackenzie Crook. Another fantastic actor, though I must say... I absolutely hated "The Office", I have never come across a so called comedy that has lacked humour, what a boring series that was. Quite how it was as successful as it was I will never know. But rest assured my prejudice against the show was not held against Mackenzie Crook personally, he is an outstanding actor who seemed so at home on the big stage where he forged a fantastic rapport with Rylance.

I guess all that went against the show in my opinion was its length. 3 acts and over 3 hours long, I think they dragged it out a little too much. There were parts of the show that could have easily have been edited out, but that said its a minor criticism of a fabulous show. Though I will be honest the ending was a little weak by my liking. I think I would have liked to seen Byron go out with a bang. When his past catches up with him which results in him being brutally beaten and branded, he commits suicide by torching his caravan, at least that is what you are supposed to believe. These final moments were strung out and in my opinion just lacked the adrenalin that it needed to finish the show in a dramatic fashion.

The scenery however was in a league of its own. It is by far the best and most realistic set I have ever seen. You could easily think you were in a forest, the trees and shrubbery were so real, the addition of live chickens (among other creatures) gave you a sense that you really were among the great out doors. I have seen many shows but not a single set has come close to the design of Jerusalem. Whoever designed it is a genius! I think it is too easy to forget the people behind the scenes who make shows like this happen. So a fantastic job Mr set designer, whoever you may be!

In all, a little long but outstanding throughout, the show was bursting with quality. Its just a shame it was only on for a limited season, I think it could have gone on for a couple more months or more with ease. The extremely limited availability of tickets would back this up too. But thats life I suppose.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Connor Doyle Legacy Continues

Remember Connor Doyle? If you are a regular at Billy Elliot The Musical or sad enough to read my blogs on a regular basis it will be a name you will have heard many times. Connor first came to my attention in the summer of 2009, (opposed to the summer of 69) when he was cast for a six month spell in Billy Elliot The Musical playing the role of Michael. I have always been of the opinion that the supporting actors have a responsibility greater than the lead when it comes to bringing the show to life. After all it is these support actors who mould the storyline for the principals.

Having seen multiple boys in the role of Michael I knew from the start that Connor was something special. He stood out from the crowd, he was better than the rest. At this time all the attention was on Jake Pratt who had found five minutes of fame on Britain's Got Talent... shame Jake never had much talent... but lets not go there. The fact is Connor was overshadowed by Jake's five minutes of glory. Well not exactly overshadowed, it never really phased Connor at all... he simply went out there and showed them who was boss. He would wow one audience after another, in fact I would safely say from what I heard as people left the show, he left a bigger imprint on their memories than any other Michael or in some cases the Billy.

In the early stages of this year however Connor was invited back to the show to plug a gap in the rosta between George Maycock leaving and Joe Massey starting as Michael. Despite on paper having outgrown the role, he accepted the challenge. I must say this was great news, not only for me as someone who holds Connor in such high esteem, but also for the show, which in my opinion would never be able to replace Connor with someone of the same or higher standard. Mind you, I did say the same about Lewis Cope... then Connor came along. But we all know that lightning never strikes twice!

The question on everyone's lips however was "Could Connor do it?", after all having been away from the show for 5 months, there was always the risk that he would be rusty and be unable to get up to peed in the 3 - 4 weeks he had to perform in. Well for all you doubters out there, I can assure you it was like having the old Connor back again... ok quite a bit taller and much deeper, but still an outstanding performer. So natural, and suited to the role, he works the comical moments to his favour, steeling the show. I saw him alongside Dean as Billy on one of his first shows back, and I have to be honest, he out performed Dean ten fold. Now I will be honest, as nice a guy as Dean maybe, he has yet to impress me as a Billy. Furthermore Connor even out performed Tom Holland who I have spoken of highly in the past. He simply doesn't settle for second best.

Although I have seen the show many times with many different people, I actually finally managed to convince my mum to see the show, she had never been before, and in honesty had never shown any interest in seeing the show either. Now I must stress my mum loves theatre. We go together once or twice a month, so had she of wanted to see it she would have by now. Because of all my various commitments I don't often have too much time to spend with family, so its nice to have this time with my mum. Anyway, she had never been too keen on seeing Billy, but interestingly was very keen to see Connor. I think she realised what a positive influence ha had been to me in my own acting work, I guess she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, she liked the show, and thought Connor was outstanding... now for someone who wasn't too keen on even seeing the show in the first place, that is quite a statement.

Whats more it gave me chance to catch up with Connor and his family, something I hadn't been able to do at least face to face for some time. Whats nice is Connor has always taken the time to acknowledge me, come over for a chat, hell I even got a hug after the final show. Its nice to feel appreciated.

So whats next for Connor? The future is looking very optimistic, he has some television work lined up among other things. I don't know if I am allowed to say wheat he is doing publicly just yet, so I will save it for another blog another time. But its exciting times for Connor and I think you will be seeing a lot more of him in the future... and I will be honest, he deserves all the success in the world. A genuine nice guy with a lot of talent!