Rosie Kay Dance Company recently premiered new work MK ULTRA, focusing on the generational gap in knowledge about mind control conspiracies within pop culture today. The work is therefore inspired by pop-culture conspiracy theory and the Illuminati, a shadowy elite cult that brainwashes child actors and singers, and controls mass opinion through puppet performers (who brainwash with music videos and mass entertainment vehicles). This sits on a hotbed of ‘Fake News’ and ‘Alternative Facts’ which often create headlines.
The classic musical Crazy for You is soon to reappear around the UK, as it embarks on a UK tour this summer. Adding to the excitement of the musical reopening, television presenter Caroline Flack will make her stage debut in the UK tour. Flack previously won the 2014 series of Strictly Come Dancing – and trained at Bodyworks in Cambridge – so a step onto the musical theatre stage will not be at all taxing for the performer.
Much-loved comedian Miranda Hart is set to make her West End debut in the musical Annie, playing the notorious Miss Hannigan in Nikolai Foster’s show. Foster will direct the new production of Annie at the Piccadilly Theatre, London to open in May this year, a distinct change for Hart renowned for her stand-up comedic talents. Musical theatre will be a new string to her bow, with fans anticipated to support the star’s venture into singing, dancing and acting.
The 1960s musical Hair is set to receive an immersive revival at The Vaults, in the heart of London, returning to the city for its 50th anniversary production. This new production of the acclaimed musical will be a particularly immersive one, celebrating the show’s anniversary in October, underground in The Vaults near to Waterloo in the city.
Hair will run at The Vaults from 10 October to 3 December, with previews from 4 October: it is set to be a hugely successful opening. Directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, the production will be preceded by an immersive experience including pop-up restaurants and themed stalls down in The Vaults, and added post-show entertainment will include ’60s discos, live bands, and screenings of iconic ’60s movies. In an experience similar to that of Secret Cinema, the musical is sure to delight and excite.
Hair is set in the East Village of New York in 1967, and tells the story of a tribe of young people yearning to change the world – under the shadow of the Vietnam War. It features the songs “Aquarius”, “Let the Sun Shine In” and “Good Morning Star Shine”, and has a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. With music by Galt MacDermot the show is a plea for change, and is particularly poignant in how relevant it could be regarded today.
The production will be mounted by four young producers; Katy Lipson, Ollie Rosenblatt, Joseph Houston and William Whelton. Whilst they have some experience under their belts the foursome are undoubtedly fresh-faced, however this unique transfer looks set to deliver for them. Already there has been a very positive reaction to the vibrant young production of Hair, providing it with both a future and longevity. At 50 years old The Vaults is the perfect setting to celebrate this continually topical and moving musical.
Theatre etiquette is a topic that springs up time and time again, albeit faster than the time it takes for your neighbour along the row to move from their seats to let you past to yours. This is just one instance in the theatre of behaviour that detracts from the theatrical experience for many audience members, where their enjoyment is tainted by the fact others cannot and will not behave accordingly.
Shuffling along the row to your seat aside, it seems many audience members – be it at a musical theatre show, a ballet, a straight play or even an immersive experience – are unable to abide by simple etiquette rules in the theatre in order to enhance everyone’s experience. A Saturday matinee performance is notorious for sweet wrappers and young children, but more often than not food is taken into the auditorium similar to the cinematic experience. Some may argue that this shift towards cinema is positive in encouraging new audiences to enjoy the theatre, however not at the distraction from what is happening on stage.
Mobile phones are another bugbear for many, audience members and critics alike. With a world that is increasingly technology-orientated, it is no surprise that mobile phones and tablets are constant in our daily lives. As the lights go down the audience is still awash with a glow as they check those final emails or social media sites, unwilling to turn the device off or even to silent. Sometimes said device even takes precedence over what is happening on stage, with all usher rules taking the backseat. Curtain call photographs are now in abundance as audiences strive to take them despite calls from ushers!
Whilst there is no doubt that theatre is changing, becoming more accessible and welcoming to new audiences, it seems unorthodox for the theatre etiquette to change so drastically too.
The London department store Selfridges – identifiable by its prominent yellow branding – is set to launch an 100-seat theatre this summer, that will allow customers to watch a Shakespeare production being rehearsed and performed within the store. In what appears to be a first for the performing arts, the department store will dip into its artistic side in order to provide its shoppers and other theatrical audiences with some theatre in its Oxford Street store in London.
In addition to Shakespearean delights in store, Selfridges has also teamed up with drama school RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) to provide two weeks of workshops and masterclasses for shoppers. RADA will precede the theatre company with a two-week residency from 4 July, offering customers workshops and masterclasses in areas such as stage combat. It is unclear as to how popular these sessions will be for shoppers, but an innovative idea nonetheless.
The store will have a traverse stage, a box office, a designer royal box and a bespoke lighting rig from White Light, forming the Refashioned Theatre. In presenting Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Selfridges has teamed up with theatre company the Faction. The theatre company will offer audiences and shoppers the chance to watch rehearsals, which Selfridges has compared to the experience shoppers have while looking at its own window displays. Marrying shopping with art can seem a vast leap, however the elements are similar in making passive observations of what is being presented. Rehearsals are in action, running in the space from 18 July to 22 August, with the play being performed from 23 August to 24 September.
The play will feature nine actors, in addition five digital cameos where images will be projected on to shop mannequins, integrating the two further. The new collaboration will go just some way in celebrating Shakespeare400 this year.
New cast have joined the London production of Disney’s The Lion King this summer, including New Zealander Nicholas Afoa who has taken on the role of Simba at the Lyceum Theatre.
Afoa made his stage debut in the Australian production in 2013 and played Simba in the Sydney production of the musical between 2013 and 2016, performing more than 860 times. The opportunity to play the role in the West End brings Afoa to London for the first time, as he embarks on his second professional theatre engagement.
The Auckland-raised performer had a promising rugby career with the All Blacks until he was sidelined by injury. After recovering and dedicating himself to his theatre career, nearly a decade later the 30 year-old beat 400 other hopefuls to the role of Simba in the Australian production.
What caused your transition from rugby pitch to stage?
I suffered an ACL and miniscus tear in a rugby game when I was 23. My introduction to theatre wasn’t until years later as I spent a lot of time trying to rehab the knee and come back to rugby. I also spent time trying to start a band and focus on my solo music. I eventually accepted the fate that was the end of a rugby dream and focused on these artistic qualities; I feel so lucky to be where I am right now.
Did you undertake any formal training as a result?
My formal dance training really started once I had landed the role. Now being part of the show has become such a huge part of my life and I feel like I am training and improving my skills every day. It is great to be around so many talented performers and teachers in an environment where everyone is constantly learning.
Describe a day in your life.
I like to spend time with my wife, go to the gym, keep in touch with family back home and go to vocal classes or ballet classes to keep my body up to speed.
How important is your ranging and diverse world experience in your work today?
I wouldn’t be able to bring the same depth to the role if it wasn’t for my life experience over the last 10 years, the interactions I have had with people, the trials I have overcome and what I have learnt from overcoming them. I worked as a youth counsellor for four years, where I learnt so much about adolescent behaviour and the way young people (like Simba) view the world around them and perceive themselves – these are all things that helped me to bring Simba to life.
What’s the most rewarding thing about the performing arts?
The most rewarding thing is how, through your passion, you can also inspire and move others. That’s what drives me, especially if I’m feeling tired. The fact that somebody in that audience, young or old, is being positively affected by the show is the most rewarding thing.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I always say a little prayer moments before swinging on stage. Whenever I can I will watch young Simba and Mufasa in the first act. Their scene gives me an extra emotional boost that I carry through into the second act.
What is it like being part of The Lion King?
It’s very humbling. Every day I learn something new. I’m in an amazing show surrounded by talented, passionate people. I still consider myself very fortunate and never once take it for granted.
What were you most looking forward to about beginning your Lion King contract in London?
What I was looking forward to most was learning and experiencing new energies and actors, seeing how that would affect me as a performer and being able to see what contribution I could make. It was also a chance to experience life outside Australasia as I have never been this far away from home.
What is your advice to an aspiring dancer?
I see with the dancers I work with how dedicated every dancer is to maintaining their own standards. What dancers’ bodies go through is mind-blowing. It inspires me to keep bettering myself. My advice would be to keep working hard, but also give yourself time and space to heal when you need and to also take in some of the world around you. While it’s good to be driven we can get so set on our dreams that sometimes we lose touch with our surroundings. This is also where we learn the most about ourselves and in turn makes us better and rounded performers.
Ricardo Walker-Harris is one of the newest cast members in Disney’s The Lion King, currently playing at the Lyceum Theatre in London.
Born and raised in Angel, Islington, Ricardo always loved to dance but was unaware it was a possible career option. He did not even know what a drama school was until it was suggested he attend one, but he successfully gained a place at Urdang on the foundation course and subsequently got a scholarship to train there for a further three years.
Ricardo auditioned for Disney’s The Lion King in December 2015 and joined the production in May 2016. See Ricardo in action here.
Have you always wanted to be on stage?
When I was ten years old I told my entire primary school I wanted to be the ‘English Will Smith’ so I guess there has always been a part of me that has enjoyed performing in front of people, whether that was in the playground when I was younger or now on a West End stage.
Where did you train, and what was it like?
I trained at The Urdang Academy for four years. I did the foundation course for a year and then went on to do the three year diploma course. It was tough, especially in my first year. I had pretty much no experience when it came to musical theatre, but as you get into it you learn what you’re good at and you have plenty of people to help you with the skills you are lacking.
Describe a day in your life now.
I always have a nice and relaxing morning, and often spend it baking cakes for the cast to eat. The evenings are unpredictable as I share a dressing room with seven other boys. It could be nice and peaceful while we all nap to some jazz music or there could be some samba being played!
How important is your ranging and diverse training in your work today?
For me it’s incredibly important to be as diverse as possible. As a dancer it’s always good to know as many styles as possible so you are ready for any audition and this often requires being able to sing. With so many new musicals coming out at the moment a casting might go out for a hip-hop dancer with the ability to rap or a strong jazz dancer who can sing opera. You just never know when you work in an ever-changing industry.
What’s the most rewarding thing about dance and the performing arts?
For me it would be the ability to inspire people wherever you are. A lot of people will be inspired by going to watch shows but inspiration can be found in so many places; I was inspired by a relative dancing in the front room of my mum’s house.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
After I’ve stretched and done my warm up I usually start tap dancing. I always fidget when I’m nervous, so that’s my way of releasing my nerves without looking too crazy in front of the cast!
What were rehearsals like for The Lion King?
Amazing, but without a doubt the most rigorous rehearsal process I’ve ever been through. We always started with the most complex choreography in the morning, so I always made sure I got in at least thirty minutes before we started so I could really warm up my body. If anything goes wrong, we repeat the number. By the time I did my first performance in front of an audience, I knew the choreography so thoroughly, and it is this attention to detail that makes The Lion King such an outstanding show.
What were you most looking forward to about starting your Lion King contract?
It was such an amazing moment when I found out I was going to be joining The Lion King. It is such a massive production to be a part of and there is so much talent amongst the cast and creatives of the show. I loved trying on the costumes, as every time I tried on a different outfit, it would feel more real.
What is your advice to an aspiring dancer?
Never stop trying to be the best. If you get injured be patient, wait for your body to heal. If you can’t afford to go to class then dance in your kitchen – I sure did and I still do! If you have people pushing you and making sure you don’t get a minute’s rest just know those are the people who truly care about you. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it was not for my mum, and you wouldn’t be reading this either! I owe it all to her and that’s because she is always there making sure I am giving it everything I have. If you feel like you have no one to support you though don’t worry, be brave and tell yourself you can do this.
The iconic musical Cats will return to the London Palladium later this year, playing a final ten week season from 23 October 2015, having already seen its West End revival earlier this year which was a huge success. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s creation will go on sale on 14 May for the run, which plays from 23 October 2015 to 2 January 2016.
Casting is yet to be announced for the production’s strictly limited season, however the original Palladium run has already seen pop star Nicole Scherzinger and musical theatre star Kerry Ellis play Grizabella. Later this year Cats will tour to Blackpool ahead of its return to London, and the iconic singer Jane McDonald will play the iconic role of Grizabella. These three women follow in the footsteps of the original Elaine Paige creating the role.
Lloyd Webber’s musical is directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Gillian Lynne and design by John Napier. 2014’s high-profile return of the show reunited the original creative team, including director Nunn and choreographer Lynne. The musical takes inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s poems about the feline creatures to tell the wonderful story of the Jellicle cats and the Jellicle ball. Its triumphant return to the West End last year was a delight for its original – and new – fans. Only recently did it close after its Olivier Award-nominated run.
Featuring much-loved songs including Mr Mistoffelees, Macavity: The Mystery Cat and the iconic Memory, given its resounding success by Paige as Grizabella, Cats was first staged in 1981, when it went on to run for a record breaking 21 years. The show continues to delight fans and be a favourite amongst musical theatre enthusiasts as it is now enjoying further success from 2014 to 2015 and onwards.
There is a site-specific Mamma Mia! set for cities worldwide, with the first Mamma Mia! The Party is being produced in Stockholm by Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus. The New York Times has reported that the Abba-centric musical Mamma Mia! will receive a new ‘immersive’ staging in a Stockholm beer hall. The beer hall is situated near an Abba museum; the show’s creative team will transform the beer hall into a Mediterranean restaurant, hugely similar to the Greek tavern featured in the show.
The news comes in the wake of the recently acclaimed site-specific production of Sweeney Todd, which transferred from a pie shop in Tooting to a ‘mock-up’ in the West End. The concept appears to have sparked a trend, in which immersive musical theatre performances are the go-to for a fun night out whilst engaging – in this case – with all your favourite Abba songs.
Ulvaeus will be producing Mamma Mia! The Party, which is set to open in January 2016; if the site-specific musical is a success it will then be replicated in other cities. The idea for Mamma Mia! The Party was born from Ulvaeus’ experiences in the theatres staging Mamma Mia! all over the world. In the show’s finale the audience enjoy dancing in the aisles and singing along, as a result of the happy mood the show has created.
Mamma Mia! The Party is therefore an extension of the show, transferring it to a Greek restaurant for a big party and a real-time story. Mamma Mia! The Party will not follow the precise storyline of the stage show and film, as the plot will be semi-improvised from night to night, based on interactions with the audience, with stories being created based on Abba songs. The concept looks set to be a huge success, with audiences experiencing something different every night.