After over a year off theatres around the country being forced to close their doors, curtains finally rose again over the summer. To start off the term, the Cherwell Stage team and friends reflect on their favourite shows from over the summer…

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, London Palladium

The musical spectacular returns to the West End in a colourful blur of tap dance, belting and glitter. In this new staging from director Laurence Connor, a talented child cast joins Alexandra Burke as the Narrator, recent grad Jac Yarrow as Joseph, and Jason Donovan as the Pharaoh. With impressive set design and choreography, I found it to be a joyful celebration of musical theatre as a genre. 

Is God Is, Royal Court Theatre 

Is God Is is a genre bending exploration of the impact of domestic abuse. It was half revenge tragedy, half Western thriller – it was one of the most gripping pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. I was also lucky enough to sit in the front row, and the intense heat of the real life flames onstage made me feel like I was genuinely part of the play landscape itself. Royal Court do fab £12 tickets for Under 26, which I very much recommend!

The Last 5 Years, Garrick Theatre

In this production, Jason Robert Brown’s emotional two-hander musical is reimagined around a revolving grand piano. The show tells the story of the same relationship from two perspectives moving in opposite directions – this show sees the parts of Cathy and Jamie taken on by actor-musicians Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson, bringing something new to the characters.

Carousel, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

This extraordinary revival gave the Rogers and Hammerstein classic new life. The breathtaking reorchestration by Tom Deering gave a new and surprising impact to the well-known score. Relocated in a northern English fishing town, the production lent into the heavy, dark and bleak elements of the show. The juxtaposition of the grim and heartbreaking with that soaring elegant score made the show work in a way I never expected. Part of me has always felt the musical can veer a little close to romanticising its abusive relationships, but with overwhelming music and some stunning performances, this production resonated with a defiant, emotional message (one of solidarity in the face of abuse and hardship). It is lovely to see theatre reset after so long, but it is inspiring to see it revive and attempt to do better.

Camp Siegfried, The Old Vic 

Camp Siegfried featured a stunning performance from Patsy Ferran as a child at a Nazi indoctrination Spring Awakening-esque summer camp, coming to terms with her sexuality and the pressures of conforming to the racist ideology. The play was also beautifully directed by Katy Rudd in a verb minimalist style – my only criticism was at times the writing was slightly heavy handed, drawing out the parallels between 1930s Germany and Trumpland America a little too explicitly. 

Sunnymead Court, Arcola Theatre

There may be lots of large-scale musicals on the West End right now, but that doesn’t mean new writing isn’t out there. In this refreshing small-scale short play, writer Gemma Lawrence tells a new kind of love story – the show is set on two balconies during London’s first coronavirus lockdown, as two women meet eyes from their flats in the middle of summer. I really hope to see it produced on a larger scale!

Diana: The Musical

The past few years have been somewhat of a high-point for movie musicals. From Tom Hooper’s 2019 adaptation of Cats, to the recent release of Kay Cannon’s Cinderella, as well as the release of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, which was filmed in 2016 and only released last year on Disney Plus, stage shows keep finding their way onto our screens.

The infamous story of Prince Charles and Princess Diana is no exception to this rule, with a musical adaptation of Diana’s story being released on Netflix.

Titled Diana: The Musical, the production certainly seems to be playing on the Diana hype after Emma Corrin’s portrayal of the Princess on series four of The Crown. Diana: The Musical, however, follows a different trend to many of the movie musicals which have come onto our screens in recent years. Whilst Hamilton, Cats, and Cinderella all had made names for themselves before being on screen (either as stage-shows or literature), Diana: The Musical has yet to have a proper theatrical run.

The show has been filmed in a theatre with no audience, seemingly recreating the feel of a real theatre show for a mid-pandemic online audience. Yet, this approach seems to fall flat; whilst the release of Hamilton last year was greatly anticipated and brought back the nostalgia of being in a theatre, now that theatres in the US and the UK are open, many are eager to get back to watching shows in person. Furthermore, the ill-fated story of Diana is perhaps, at this point, slightly overdone, with a film starring Kristen Stewart, titled Spencer, being released in November.

The release of this musical also raises questions about the nature of the movie musical. Do they take away from the real enjoyment of watching a show? Are stage musicals even suited to the very different media of film and television? Reviews of Diana: The Musical certainly suggest otherwise, with the show being universally panned by critics.

Contributions by Ollie Khurshid, James Newbery, Katie Kirkpatrick, and Maebh Howell.

Image Credit: Beth Scott

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