Kinky Boots: Theatre Review

I try not to revel in the misery of others. The exceptions I make for this rule are limited to: when someone is mean and they stub their toe, when someone I love accidentally sends a text about their ex to their ex, and when someone has to give theatre tickets up.

So when Hazel, the lovely Hazel, sadly passed over her tickets for the Kinky Boots preview night, despite her clear reluctance, I couldn’t help fist pump. Sorry Hazel.

Telling the kinda-true-story of a Northamptonshire shoe factory that, despite their passion for men’s brogues, just can’t shift footwear. The defeated Charlie, who hesitantly inherits the boring business, stumbles across Lola. Lola, a six foot black drag queen who demands the sexiness of blood red and skyscraper heels, struggles to find boots that fit the sauciness bill, and round her size fourteen tootsies.

Lo and behold, in true fairytale musical fashion, this unlikely duo make a dynamite pair, and frolic into the sunset with a song and a touch of sass.



The London production of Kinky Boots was incredible. Lola, the real star of the show, gave me shivers when she sang, and certainly got the biggest laughs out of the audience- for all the right reasons. As with any drag character, there is a way to play them that pays homage to their humour and daring without turning them into pantomime leftovers, and I must say that Matt Henry gives Lola all the life, warmth and wit she deserves.

My love of drag artists and the talent of Matt Henry had me pining after more Lola scenes-  I tweeted Andrew Lloyd-Webber during the interval letting him know I’d be more than happy to throw my money at a musical about her day to day life. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, (I’m looking at you, Orange is the New Black), the side characters are more interesting than the main characters, and Kinky Boots is no exception.

c/o @KinkyBootsUK

c/o @KinkyBootsUK

As much as you grow to love Charlie, he takes a few scenes before you really feel for him. In fact, it’s not until he has a meltdown, launching an attack on Lola, that I have any real investment in him. I guess that’s the curse of playing a guy who’s defining characteristic is not being all that sure of himself- but Killian Donnely knocks it out of the park when he belts out ‘Soul of a Man’.

The stand out moment for me, despite there being so many to choose from, is an easy win for the incredibly funny The History of Wrong Guys. Lauren, who has an inadvised crush, tries to convince herself- to no avail- that she doesn’t fancy our hapless protagonist Charlie. Funny, light and smart songs like this punctuate the whole show.

Kinky Boots is a real strutter of a show, and I cannot honestly recommend a better way to spend an evening. Not until Lola gets her own solo stint at my local pub, anyway.



Soften The Grey: Theatre Challenge Review

I know everyone is busy these days, but believe me when I saw I was busy when Sofie, invited me along as her plus one to review two-man-show Soften the Grey earlier this week. Normally I’d have said no, not enough time to look at this link, sorry can’t go. I glanced at the buffering screen on my phone as I waited for a synopsis to shuffle into view and before I had time to click away I’d decided, ah stuff it, I’ll go.

So off we went.

We went for dinner at La Cafe Divina, where, true to form, I was a whole hour late (thanks TFL!) and had to trust Sofie with placing my order despite having practically stood her up. Maybe it shows that I’m a lesser person and would have sabotaged her order had I been the one getting pitying looks from waiters for an hour, ordered her a bowl of pasta with no sauce/cheese/meat and shrugged when she arrived- but alas, Sofie is a much better person than I am and gracefully ordered me a lovely and filling seafood linguini (thanks girl x).

Scoffing that down in enough time to guarantee indigestion and the new possibility I could enter speed eating contests in the future, we made it to the Hope and Anchor pub with just enough time to grab a (very flat) cider and pull up our seats before the show started.

Soften the Grey is a teasing look into the afterlife, written, directed and performed by Jake Hassam and Nigel Munson. We’re onlookers in a Citizen’s Advice Bureaux beyond the grave, after a poor unfortunate soul dies in a diving incident.

Sounds a little macabre, doesn’t it? Well surprisingly, and refreshingly, it’s not. The dialogue toys with deep dark questions and with softer, lighter moments to avoid becoming an angsty piece- the last thing anyone needs after being stuck on the Central line for fortyfive minutes, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Receptionist fronts the Bureaux, echoing every public sector customer serviceman in his deliberate pencil pushing. There’s something child-with-ant-under-a-magnifying-glass about the way he puts our dear dead diver friend through his paces when deciding on the outcome of his life- which afterlife is for you? What have you done right? What have you done wrong? What was it all about? Who let the dogs out? The questions I’m know we all ask ourselves on lonely nights.

We flash back through the diver’s life, witness to important moments that will decide his eternity, which pave the way for some wonderful intimate scenes that have every audience member holing their breath- Damien’s kiss being a notable highlight of the entire hour. Led by the Receptionist, we are welcome to make our own judgements about the ol’ diver’s life value, who is purposefully relatable in a hundred ways- not least that he spends most of the show in a Zebra onesie.

I’d sensed a little ghosts-of-Christmas-past-future-and-present in the Receptionist, who lauded his knowledge and position of the diver- so I put it to Jake and Nigel when we met with them after the performance. They were delighted. “It’s nice to hear that there are more layers to the show than we expected!“. The definite Dickensian undertone of the Receptionist reaches out in other ways- the punishment scenes are dramatically Victorian- but there’s always a steady undercurrent of chirpy humour; “I can’t die, I’m only 25″ -”The early bird catches the worm!”.

Overall, I’d say the name Soften the Grey doesn’t do this play justice. It’s deliciously thrown in, but gives no clue as to the lightness of the show, despite the big questions. This was an absolute joy to watch, and I absolutely demand that you get your butts down to Hope and Anchor to catch it before it leaves us for wherever plays go when they pull the final curtain.




The Cherry Orchard: Theatre Challenge Review

As the world’s newest theatre critic, I had to see me some proper theatre. You know, the stuff they made you study at GCSE.

Having seen that The Young Vic had some cheeky cheap seats, I chirpily booked myself on to see The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. The Young Vic offers “Standing seats” for around a fiver. Thankfully, a “Standing Ticket”, doesn’t mean you’re watching from the wings with leg cramp- you have to wait with the other paupers until the people who paid for specific seats are settled in, then run in to nab the best remaining- which I guess is risky business, but I got a pretty good view.

I have to admit, I’ve always fancied myself as one of those luvvie types who can quote the rest of the Hamlet “To be or not to be” soliloquy. I’m also the type to call it a “soliloquy”, rather than “speech”. You get the idea.

The thing is, I’m not a very good one. I’d never heard of Anton Chekhov, or The Cherry Orchard. I had no idea what to expect, and had no idea how big this play is. With this in mind, please take my interpretation with a pinch of salt. I resisted every urge to google it all afterwards, so these are purely my own, poorly informed thoughts.


Okay. We’re transported to Russia, inside a big ol’ crumbling house. There’s this poor pretty servant girl and two wispy daughters, all freaking about “Mummy” returning. I’m going to keep calling her “mummy”, despite this being creepy, as I cannot recall her name ever being used.

From what we can glean at this point, Mummy is returning from some ill-thought-out affair in Paris. Everyone’s stressed that returning to this house will trigger her grief for her son that drowned there. Oh, and Mummy is broke now. Scene.

On scurries Mummy and the rest of the family, and for the next hour an a half, I cannot even begin the describe the plot. It’s small instances of complex conversations that I’m sure have meaningful metaphors going on, all linked by inexplicably running everywhere. One dude proposes a toast to a bookcase, Mummy breaks down a couple of times, for some reason everyone is really mean to the frail old butler, and people are constantly referencing being broke-ass-hoes but still find the pennies to pay for a Jewish band to do a gig in their living room. There’s a brief earthquake, a few existential moments, and a bit where the governess stalks across the stage butt naked. She later shouts “I don’t even know how old I am” and takes a bite out of a cucumber before stalking offstage. I’m not sure she was part of the cast, come to think of it.

Ultimately, the house and the estate gets bought out by some douche who is probably the only guy that makes sense the whole play. His assistant then beats up and (spoiler alert) locks the old frail butler in the house as everyone drives off and The Cherry Orchard is chopped down.

 …Don’t ask me.

After thirty minutes of staring baffled at the stage, I decided to just accept that I would’ve enjoyed the play more if I’d read about the plot beforehand, and allowed myself to be immersed in the strange, bizarre intensity.

I had a few semi-intelligent thoughts throughout. Ah, this is demonstrating the significance of financial power in relationships. Ooh- isn’t the class divide stark, etc. Mostly, I spent the whole time questioning why everyone walks really fast. Like really fast. Even if they’re only travelling from one corner of the stage to the next, they fucking sprint. Why? Is this also a metaphor? Who knows.

Ultimately, it was a fiver well spent, and I would recommend it if you’re a) well into Russian class systems or b) up for flexing your brain muscles a bit.



Great Britain: Theatre Challenge Review

Theatre Challenge round two!

It’s time for the Entry Pass! Entry Pass is a free scheme that sells £5 tickets to 16-25s- so this was always going to be one of my trips. I decided to use the Pass to see Great Britain, a National Theatre-turned-West-End show that has a gazillion ads on the tube. I roll past these ads everyday on the commute in, and when I saw they had cheap seats, I was suckered straight in.

It’s a satirical look at the dodgy dealings of  the News of the World  a fictional paper, the Free Press. Paige Britain, the cut throat, morality depraved News Editor leads you through the play in a defensive/accusatory tone of voice- that familiar cocky justification of tabloid misbehaviour “it’s what the reader wants!”. In a play that echoes real life, there is no embarrasment about the comparisons being drawn. The Guardianer, ahem, has a tagline “We think so you don’t have to”. The fictional kidnapped girls are the Mills twins, the real kidnapped girl is Milly Dowler. This is a no holds barred show.

We sit in on the editorial meets, follow Paige as she discovers how to hack phones, watch heads of the police departments get very cosy indeed with journalists. The wit is razor sharp and brash- “she suffers from dwarfism” – “You can’t say that!”- “…she enjoys her dwarfism.” and the headlines that emblazon the stage often got bigger laughs than the cast themselves did, a personal favourite being “Immigrants eat swans”. The show is a mesh of barely disguised real-life media scandals, and the whole energy and style is like living in the chaotic mind of a tabloid.

Now. I’m going to straight up come out with it- I wasn’t that impressed. While some of the show is delicious- “Since when did the Free Press publish obituaries?”- “Every day, Diana Princess of Wales”- there is an uglier side. A few racist jokes drop dead on their feet, leaving an awkward silence. Paige breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience it is their fault the go out and ruin lives. Many of what could’ve been big laughs were swallowed up by a near empty theatre and a couple of actors, ludacrisly, just weren’t that good (like the half hearted extra who wanted to get rid of ‘Page Seven girls’ and Kassam, the police commissioner who was exceedingly flat for such a juicy character). The whole cast was led by Paige’s energy, played by a perfect Lucy Punch, who seemed to dredge them up to her level with some difficulty. It’s not what you expect from a play that has been described as “raucously funny”.

One thing that really ground my gears was how empty the theatre was. The cheap seats were on the Upper Circle, but an interval snoop showed me that the auditorium was barely half full. It’s frustrating for us five pound ticketers to sit on the edge, with a chunk of the stage missing, knowing full well that all the good spots are empty, and it must’ve been frustrating for the people who spend small fortunes on the stalls to realise they could’ve bought something for a great deal less and picked a seat when they got here. I definitely think that if a show has massively undersold their night’s tickets, there should be some system to rejig the seating plan to make sure everyone’s getting a fair deal. This play needed either a filled theatre or a nice intimate one, not something halfway in between.

Overall rating is this: I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not bad, so if you have a spare fiver and you can use the Entry Pass, it’s worth an evening, but I wouldn’t bother paying full price. The editorial meetings were the highlight, but the bum notes and accusatory edge bottomed out for me.



  • Price: £5 using Entry Pass
  • Remaining: £43
  • Shows so far: Two!