13th Jul2016

Through the Mill (Theatre Review)

by timbaros

DB5S8393It’s Judy Garland times three in the new musical ‘Through The Mill’ now playing at Southwark Playhouse.

The show gives us Garland in three different stages in her life. There’s the young Judy before her Wizard of Oz role – ages 13 through 16 – brilliantly played by Lucy Penrose. Then we have the Palace Judy – the time in Garland’s life when she was performing on Broadway at the Palace Theatre, age 29 – with Belinda Wollaston in the role. Then finally we are presented with CBS Judy – the 47 year-old star (played by Helen Sheals) who was in the last year of her life during which she had her own television show on America’s CBS network.

These three eras of Judy’s life are superbly intertwined in a show that’s both fantastic and tragic. We all know that Judy died at the age of 47 in London due to an over-dosage of barbiturates. But she had such a tumultuous life, and it didn’t make matters any better in that she was an extremely insecure, and nervous, woman. Young Judy’s father (played by Joe Shefer) ran a cinema, but he also had a predilection for young boys. Her mother Ethel (Amanda Bailey) was an extremely controlling stage mother. But Palace Judy’s life isn’t much better. By this time she takes various drugs just to help her get through her day (and to get her on stage). Her life seems to be a mess, though she’s got her husband Sid Luft (Harry Anton) with her at all times. By the tim CBS Judy (who actually opens the show with a rounding version of ‘Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries’) sung brilliantly by Sheals, her life seems to be on track, she’s got a hit television show, but the network keeps on demanding more and more from her. It’s too much for a woman as fragile as Judy, and though her death is not played out on stage, we all know what’s going to happen to her.

‘Through the Mill’ is excellent. It’s all due to the three women who play Judy, they are all very good but it’s Penrose who shines a bit more because she plays a version of Judy that is young and innocent, and Penrose conveys that excellently. When Young Judy and Palace Judy duet on ‘Zing, Went the Strings of my Heart’ together in the intimate theatre, it’s an event! And when all three get together to sing the finale – ‘Over the Rainbow’ – there’s not a dry eye in the house. Director Ray Rackham, along with the rest of his crew, have staged a musical that’s larger than life in a theatre that’s as intimate as a living room. And the parallel timeframes used in this production is genius. Cleverly, the musicians also act in the show, from Carmella Brown who plays CBS Judy’s assistant, to Don Cotter who is very good as Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM who greenlit Garland for ‘Wizard of Oz. Please go see ‘Through the Mill,’ even if you’re not a Judy Garland fan. It’s a fabulous show.

‘Through the Mill is playing until July 30th. To buy tickets, please go to:

Through the Mill

21st Sep2015

Casa Valentina (Theatre)

by timbaros

Casa Valentina by Robert Workman 2015 1There’s a house in the Catskill mountains in upstate New York where several men go to dress up in women’s clothing. It’s also a new play by Harvey Fierstein called ‘Casa Valentina’ now playing at the Southwark Playhouse.

Fierstein, whose other show in the West End is Kinky Boots, gives us a bit of a twist on Kinky Boots’ theme where there are men who dress as drag queens purely for entertainment purposes. In Casa Valentina, we get straight men who dress up as women because they have that need. These men are from all different walks of life – yet they purely enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing, and there’s nothing sexual about it.

Jonathon (Ben Deery) shows up at Casa Valentina. He’s a bit nervous because it’s his first time at the house as he’s used to dressing up on his own when his wife is away. He meets the owners of the house, Rita (Tamsin Carroll), whose married to George (Edward Wolstenholme). George’s other name is Valentina, and it was his idea to create a safe space for men to dress up. Rita has accepted his fetish and is the glue that holds the house together. Along with looking after the men, she also provide a shoulder to cry on and and ear to listen to the men’s issues. Jonathon encounters a bevy of different types of men there: one is The Judge, whose woman’s name is Amy (Robert Morgan), another one is Bessie/Albert (Matthew Rixon) who has all he best lines and could possibly be modelled on Fierstein himself, and then there’s Isadore/Charlotte (with two woman’s names) (Gareth Snook) who leads the way for Transvestites and even campaigns at the highest level for people like them. But it’s the newbie Jonathon who has a hard time fitting – his stab at dressing girly falls flat, so it’s up to the ‘girls’ to dress him up and make him look pretty. And while these men may be camp, they are not gay, but they also want to remain anonymous. It’s political activist Isadore who riles them up with her suggestion that they all go public – strength in numbers she says. It’s get even more complicated when one of the men kiss Jonathon; this shakes up their entire unit like never before and it becomes a catalyst for their future relationship with each other.

‘Casa Valetina’ is staged in the round and it works successfully as each character floats from one side to the other very gracefully, and it gives the audience a chance to stare at their costumes and makeup. While they all look like men who dress up as woman, there are feminine qualities that they all possess; holding a purse, puckering up, wearing lipstick, and more importantly wearing a dress correctly. And all the actors are quite fine in their roles. Ashely Robinson is perfect as Gloria/Michael – he’s got beautiful eyes that are accentuated when he’s wearing makeup; handsome and gorgeous at the same time. Carroll is fine as the wife who’s given up a ‘normal’ life to take care of the girls – she doesn’t seem to realize that perhaps she has ‘lost’ her husband somewhere in his dressing up. Rixon is fabulous as Albert/Bessie – very quick with his funny lines. And Deery is perfect as the newbie – timid and shy and not too sure that he belongs there. Fierstein has not lost it in his several decades of playwriting – ‘Casa Valentina’ is funny and dramatic and hilarious and everything you could ask for in a play about transvestites.

Casa Valentina is now playing until October 10, 2015. To buy tickets, go here:


28th Feb2015

Gods and Monsters – Theatre

by timbaros

James Whale was famous for directing the Frankenstein films. But he’s also known for being the subject of the hit 1996 film Gods and Monsters. Now it’s a play, produced for the first time and currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse theatre.

The play, as well as the film, deals with the platonic relationship Whale has with his gardener in 1950’s Los Angeles. Whale, played by an excellent Ian Gelder, and in the film played by the Oscar nominated Ian McKellan) is a man of older persuasion, a bit lonely who only has his housekeeper Maria (Lachelle Carl) to keep him company. One day along comes young reporter Kay Joey Phillips) who wants to know all about the Frankenstein films. But for every tidbit of information that Whale gives to him, Whale cheekily demands that he takes off a piece of clothing. But reminiscing, not only about his films but also about the time he served in the army reminds him when of he when he fell in love with a fellow soldier. And unfortunately, not all is well with Whale, he’s got some sort of medical problem, which is confirmed when he goes to see his doctor (Will Rastall).

Enter the new gardener Clayton Boone (Will Austin). He’s young, virile, sexy, muscular (perhaps a bit too much), and of course Whale takes a shine to him, asking him into the house for a cup of cold iced tea. Soon enough Whale invites Boone into the house for lunch, then he asks if Clayton would pose for him, as Whale enjoys painting. But Boone makes it clear that it’s only the face that Whale will paint as Boone won’t be taking off his shirt or pose, as he says, “In his birthday suit.” But of course eventually Whale gets him to do so, first topless, but then near the end of the show, in a very dramatic moment, at Boone’s insistence does he take off all of his clothes, asking Whale if this is what he wanted, while Whale is in the midst of one of his attacks. Whale gets his chance to seduce Boone but is unable to do so, and it appears that Boone wants to be seduced. Whale gets his wish, a wish that he has pined for, but is unable to do anything.

Russel Labey, writing an original script for the stage, does a good job incorporating the relationship Whale has, or would like to have, with these young men who come in and out of his life. Labey also smartly executes the wartime flashbacks Whale has that include both Phllips and Rasall playing the younger Whale and his love interest. This production is very well done in it’s small space, and it is Gelder who carries the show. He’s almost a dead ringer for McKellan, very believable in the part and even more so when he’s up to seducing the young boys. The rest of the cast is strong as well, though once Austin takes his shirt off its hard to imagine anyone having bigger muscles than him – to say its a bit distracting is an understatement. The male nudity in this show is not gratuitious – all of the young actors get naked – it’s all part of telling Whale’s story. Gods and Monsters is a well done production – not quite four stars but worthy enough to see.

Gods and Monsters is playing up until March 7th. To buy tickets, please visit: