So because it seems I've still yet to grasp the concept of taking a break, I've signed myself up for a few gigs before I get properly stuck into City of Angels!
First up on September 24th is The Story of Bart at the London Hippodrome. West End Star John Barr will be taking on the role of Lionel Bart telling you his story, joined by some very special guests performing Bart’s most unforgettable hits as well as one or two songs you haven’t heard before.
Next up on October 27th is Peter Polycarpou's Laugh and Be Happy at the Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel. Having performed in several previous incarnations of this evening of Randy Newman's songs alongside the glorious Poly, I can assure you it's a gorgeous evening (and the venue is bloody beautiful. And does cracking cocktails...!)
Links to book for the concerts are below; a very special prize to those who book both...*
*If your idea of a special prize is my undying gratitude.
John Barr sings Lionel Bart at the Hippodrome
Peter Polycarpou's Laugh and Be Happy at the Crazy Coqs
Alexander Bermange and guests at the Pheasantry
So I've been thinking. Thinking a great deal about the critical response to Dogfight, which has polarised newspaper columnists and bloggers alike in a way that no other production I've been involved in has done. Yet, this is the first time I've felt able to read reviews with genuine detachment; for I have never in my career felt so certain I was a part of something really special. A sentiment I can quite confidently state was felt across the board, by all involved in the production. It may sound arrogant to say so... But sometimes, you just know. It's in your heart, your gut and in the atmosphere of sheer joy that pervaded our rehearsal room from day one.
And so, to the critical response (spoilers ahead, for those yet to visit; fair warning!) I'm also assuming those reading hold a degree of familiarity with plot and characters.
For every five star review, every man and woman out there who adored the show, praised it to the heavens as the charming, funny, powerful, heartbreaking piece of theatre we all felt it to be; there was another who would damn the production with faint praise, for reasons frequently related to an inability to get past the misogyny they perceived the piece to be condoning.
I am a woman who proudly identifies herself as a feminist. The Everyday Sexism project, the many, many high profile women (and men) who publicly support feminism; even Beyonce's swiftly iconic turn at the VMA's recently, are all a cause for celebration. There is a very real turning of the tide happening, to my mind, as both sexes reclaim a word long stigmatised and begin to call bullshit when they smell it.
However, to those who have instantly cried misogyny at the premise of the show, who have bemoaned the marines' treatment of the women and claimed their behaviour is swept under the carpet with uncomfortable ease; I can't help but wonder if this is in some part a kneejerk reaction, maybe stemming from a sense of obligation to unequivocally condemn any and all bad male behaviour, without necessarily taking the time to try to contextualise and understand it?
Well, before you cry off with her head, let me attempt to do just that...
We are talking about a group of marines, a mere thirteen weeks into their training, about to be packed off to a country they know next to nothing of, many, many miles from home. A group of boys, some not even out of their teens. A group of scared children, the majority likely fairly uneducated, who have been drilled into turning a blind eye to the humanity of anyone but their military comrades. For how else can you demand of a group of teenage boys that they travel halfway around the world and kill with zero compunction?
They are males of the early sixties. Of Kennedy's era (the majority of the action of Dogfight occurs the day before Kennedy's assassination) the foreshadowing of which casts a desperately sad pall over their belief in their own invincibility. This was a time when equality between the sexes was not even close to being a reality. A time when Americans truly believed they were untouchable. A day later, that belief would implode and the slow erosion of the USA's unshakeable idealism would begin.
I am not condoning the men's treatment of the women of the piece, nor the revoltingly cruel nature of the dogfight itself, but neither am I able to entirely condemn them for it. It can arguably be viewed as one more step on their road to dehumanisation, of themselves and of others. I mean, this stuff actually happened, people. The dogfight was a very real marine tradition. It ain't pretty, but it's true. Shouldn't theatre, any art in fact, shine a light on the bad as well as the good?
To those concerned for the (assumed) terribly fragile feelings of those of us cast as 'ugly', I do think it worth quoting the authors' note in the script - 'the only requirement is that the audience not identify the women chosen as conventionally attractive within the context of 1963 America' (there's that magic word again, context...) Plus; jeez, we're actors. I could write all day about the sheer fun involved in playing someone who is not exactly the girl next door!
What troubles me about the hand wringing response from some quarters to the female characters is that it feels, quite frankly, almost patronising. There seems to be a willful blindness to the fact that for my money, almost all of the female characters are stronger, brighter and often more in control than their male counterparts. A fact that perhaps, just doesn't fit the narrative some seem determined to take from the show.
Rose is, by far, the most intelligent character onstage. When alerted to the true nature of the dogfight, she doesn't opt for a quiet exit, tail between her legs; instead, this shy, bright girl barely out of her teens takes a swing at her date and publicly, furiously and articulately, calls him out for his asshole behaviour. Even the song 'Pretty Funny', perhaps her lowest personal point in the show, steers clear of being entirely self pitying. She grits her teeth, refuses to shed another tear, reminds herself that tomorrow she'll 'forget to even care'. When Eddie returns to make inarticulate amends, she again calls him out on every ignorant statement he utters, every second of bad behaviour, never once letting him off the hook over the course of their evening together, opening his eyes to his own essential decency in the process. Rose is no feeble victim.
To Marcy; a woman of little education but ferocious street smarts. She is in control of her role in the dogfight and of the financial transaction involved every step of the way. Boland can insult her all he wants; she still walks away with a stomach full of free food, booze and a wad of cash. She tears into Rose's naivete in the process, expressing feminist opinions before such opinions were printed on banners and waved on marches up and down the country (albeit in slightly less fruity language, ahem). For my money, future Marcy goes back to school, gets stuck into women's lib, becomes a beloved of the oppressed, Mrs Madrigal type, taking in future Roses, growing pot on the roof. Marcy is a survivor, through and through.
Ruth Two Bears, a woman of few words (but Christ, can she pick them). Does she slink out in embarrassment on learning of the true nature of the evening? No. She calmly pours her drink over her date's head, makes her feelings crystal clear with one choice insult and (God, I hope) heads off with Marcy to continue drinking and shooting the stoical shit way into the night. More the behaviour of one utterly self possessed than one victimised.
Mama; a single mother, taking no nonsense from anyone, kind, caring, having single handedly raised Rose whilst running a business. Helpless female? What do you think?
Suzette, who seems to be having a rather glorious night with the drunken Fector. Even Chippy, who senses which way the wind is blowing and wrests back control of the situation in the whorehouse, realising it's safer and wiser to consent to one more john and be paid for it than risk the choice being taken from her. It's a terrible corner to be backed into, but she has the smarts to find her way out of it as best she can.
These women are victims of their circumstances, absolutely. However, to label them all simply as 'victim', to feel nothing but pity for them, is to deny them their strength. It's demeaning. It's reductive. I think it's inaccurate. In an outraged attempt to defend these 'pitiful' women, you do them the grave disservice of implying they are incapable of defending themselves.
The characters I truly pity in this show are the men. The BOYS. The boys who will never come back from a war they don't understand. The boys who don't know any better. The boys who cling to the mob mentality and to each other because it's the only thing that makes them feel safe, validated, powerful. The only thing that makes them feel like 'men'.
Now, let me make it very clear that I am not calling into question anyone's right to respond to a production however they see fit. It is purely the nature of the negative responses that has interested me and prompted me to scribble down my thoughts on it all, as it has so often come down to 'I dislike the men's behaviour, therefore I dislike the show.' Do you have to like the characters in a work of fiction in order to be able to see any artistic merit in it? Do you like how Richard III behaves? Medea? Do you see my point?
I'm genuinely asking. This blog is not the railing of an actor concerned their work has gone unappreciated and I sincerely hope it doesn't read that way. I am genuinely, deeply fascinated by the passionate responses, both for and against, that Dogfight has elicited. I guess I just wanted to throw my hat in the ring and become a part of the conversation. She loves a good debate...!
I'll finish by saying that for me (and I think I can safely say, for the entire company), working on this show has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I've never worked with a happier, more supportive group of people, or felt more creatively satisfied. I'm amazed and delighted that a production that has brought such happiness to the lives of all involved has hit such a nerve with audiences, for better or worse.
Below is a selection of quotes from reviews; both positive and negative, in the interests of fairness!
Curious as to what all the fuss is about? You have two weeks to find out.
15/9/14 UPDATE - Since writing this blog, a number of further articles have been written in regard to our production; links to which are included below, for those interested!
Dogfight; offensive or outspoken? - Paul Taylor, The Independent
Man bites dog as Dogfight actor hits back at critics - Mark Shenton, The Stage
Theatre Thought: Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse - Katie Brennan, Bloody Hell Brennan
Dogfight – Misogynistic, Or Just A Show About Misogynists? - James Waygood, Grumpy Gay Critic
So I'm squeezing in a gig amidst the Dogfight run; for which if you haven't already booked tickets, please do. This show is f'ing beautiful, if I do say so myself. Laura Jane Matthewson and Jamie Muscato are bloody astonishing in the lead roles and the rest of the company are also nauseatingly talented and a joy to work with. Possibly the happiest rehearsal room I've ever been in. Already very proud of this one.
Anyway, back to the point of this post! This gig is in aid of raising funds for an eleven year old chap called Nate Leung to attend Sylvia Young's performing arts school. This guy is the most enterprising eleven year old I've ever come across; as well as gathering an impressive crowd of West End performers for this gig, he's been taking warmups at various productions across the West End, selling handmade loom band bracelets to West End performers and has set himself many more challenges to raise the fees required. You can find out more about his progress and make a donation on his fundraising page, link below.
I'm incredibly impressed by his drive and determination (he's eleven for Christ's sake. ELEVEN. Hats off.) It's already shaping up to be a great gig and it would be lovely to see some of you there. It's on Sunday, August 17th at Cecil Sharp House, 7:30 start. Tickets can be purchased by calling 0203 737 3066. Please bear in mind that tickets cannot be purchased on the door, so best get in quick!
Nate's fundraising page (inc. ticket info)
So my next role is in a show that in all honesty, I'd never even heard of before getting a last minute call to audition for it....!
However, having spent some time getting to know Dogfight, I'm now hugely excited to be a part of the European premiere production at the Southwark Playhouse. Based on the movie of the same name and set in 1960's San Fransisco, it tells the story of young marine Eddie and Rose, the waitress he enlists to win a cruel bet on the night before he and his friends are deployed to Vietnam.
I don't want to give away too much about how Marcy (aka yours truly) fits into the story; suffice it to say that she's about as far removed from any of the roles I've previously played as it's possible to get! I can't wait to get stuck into rehearsals and the gorgeous score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
The production runs from August 8th-September 13th. Given that tickets for In The Heights at the same venue were like gold dust recently, I'd advise booking sooner rather than later!
Hope to see some of you there. I'm most looking forward to getting my hands on her teeth. You'll understand if you see the show....
link to tickets
Here's where you can find me lurking and warbling for my supper over the next few weeks.....
First up is Emerging Artists at the Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel, this Saturday June 7th. Following last November's successful launch (as part of the inaugural London Festival of Cabaret), Emerging Artists features British-based writers and performers presenting original work in their own unique way. Each evening will introduce a new talent from the world of songwriting, performing, and musical theatre. I'll be performing a comedy number (hooray! For once I don't have to cry on cue, ha!) by Victoria Saxton and Julian Blakemore. It will be my first time performing at this gorgeous venue, very much looking forward to it.
Next, one for you North Walian folk; on Saturday, June 14th I'll be performing alongside Leanne Jones, winner of BBC's The Voice and some familiar faces from We Will Rock You casts past and (just) present, at Snowdonfest, Gwydir Park, Llanrwst. There'll be loads going on from 12pm onwards, so come and make a day of it! I might just be resurrecting my Killer Queen past.... Can't wait!
A reminder that you'll find me back at West End Fest on Sunday, June 29th. If you're at all interested in all the glorious Broadway musicals yet to make it to London, you won't want to miss it...
Then on July 13th, you'll find me back at what is starting to feel like a regular haunt, the St James Studio. Ill be appearing in a concert production of The Confession Room, an original British musical about a group of people who come together to spill their most embarrassing secrets and stories. There are some fantastic West End faces lined up to take part, don't miss out!
More lining themselves up, but this will do you for now. Mainly because my brain might start bleeding if I think much further ahead. Anyone want to invent a microchip that will download song lyrics straight to my brain....?
Links to tickets
Emerging Artists at the Crazy Coqs
West End Fest
The Confession Room
First of all, a disclaimer...
I have gone back and forth for days about publishing this post, because I am not in the habit of making my personal life public. The relationship I have with social media has always been and will likely continue to be an uneasy one; whilst I'm aware that part, if not most of the attraction for those that subscribe to the likes of twitter is the desire for an insight into the personal lives of those they watch on stage or screen, the expectation that we can, should and will bare our souls to strangers, publish our thoughts and actions no matter how trivial, troubles me. Surely we should all be out there simply living our lives as best we can, rather than obsessively documenting a glorified, 140 character version of it for the edification of strangers?
However; now my time on Ghost is at an end, having thought long and hard about it I feel I'd like to try to explain a little of what this particular show has meant to me and why. A thank you of sorts, I suppose, to those who gave me this opportunity, to the wonderful companies I've worked with these last couple of years and to you, the audience, for showing up and sharing in the story. For without you, truly, there is no story.
Just short of four years ago, I lost my boyfriend to suicide. There is simply no way to put into words the impact of a loss like that in the lives of those left behind. Your world comes crashing down around you and you are left staring at its shattered remains, mutely wondering how to begin to put the pieces back together. Wondering if there's any point even trying, when the most essential piece is suddenly gone.
I remember the down the rabbit hole feeling of looking over my shoulder at home and almost shouting to him that I'd found the missing blender (earth shattering information after a recent disastrous attempt to hand-blitz breadcrumbs). Catching myself, realising it was one more useless piece of information he'd never know, was akin to being punched in the stomach. I'd regularly pick up the phone to call him. I wanted nothing more than to curl up in his arms and rant about just how fucking terrible it all felt; trouble was, the very person I was longing for, the only one who's comfort I really wanted, was himself the reason for this indescribable grief. It made no earthly sense.
Not a day goes by when I don't think of him. I wonder about the man he would be today, the dreams he might have achieved, the lives he would have touched. The fact that I will never share another day with him, never see him growing older and wiser, never see my soulmate again; well, that's a brick wall I'm still running into from time to time today. His death has been the single most devastating experience of my life. For a long time, I pretty much just gave up.
But... The wonder of what I am lucky enough to do; the wonder of theatre, of storytelling, is in its capacity to take us both away from ourselves and into our deepest self at the same time. To allow us to tear a hole in our hearts and souls, examine what we find; our most unspeakable hopes and fears, truths and deceits, our glories and our shame and offer up what we excavate as truthfully as we can, that those watching might see elements of their truth reflected back at them, might even come away having gained something.
What I do for a living has long been an emotional outlet for me. And it has helped to keep me alive through this loss; alongside the unstinting, irreplaceable support of friends, family and colleagues, who have shown me more kindness and patience than anyone could possibly deserve. It has allowed me to unleash the grief I was all but drowning in day to day and miraculously, connect with rooms of living, breathing people who were willing to share in that journey.
No role has ever been closer to my heart than that of Molly Jensen, for what I assume by now are obvious reasons. I have never so wholeheartedly identified with a character in my life. As well as being a professional gift, she has been a personal godsend. Through her strength, courage and fortitude in the face of tragedy I have been able to explore my own grieving process and feel I have, finally, truly begun to move forward. It is no exaggeration to say that this show has helped me to heal and believe I could put my life and my heart back together. Granted, the pieces fit very differently now, but fit they do.
I shall miss Ghost and the woman I've had the privilege of playing with all my heart. I suspect roles that mean this much to you, both as actor and as human being, are a once in a lifetime piece of good fortune. But whether that proves to be right or wrong, I can continue in this profession a happy woman. My love for this particular job? I will sure as hell be taking it with me.
P.S. Alex Holland is far, far from being just a postscript in my life story. I could sit here and write about the man he was until the end of time and not come close to capturing the endless reasons he was so loved by so many. The best possible insight I can offer anyone is to allow him to speak for himself. Check out the link below.
A few more gigs for you!
So I'm finally home in London and back to my more or less usual routine of gigging whenever I can!
First up on Sunday April 13th at the Leicester Square theatre is Words Shared With Friends, a launch concert for the upcoming album of the same name. With music by various composers and lyrics by Robert Gould, the album features vocals from myself as well as a host of other West End performers and will be available for purchase from April 14th.
The live show will include songs from the album plus some special bonus material – and will include some world premieres! My Lands Shore fans will want to check it out...
Next up on Sunday April 27th at the St James Studio is West End Switched Off, again a launch concert for the upcoming album of the same name. This is set to be the first in a series of albums that arrange musical theatre songs that you know – and a few that you may not – into unheard acoustic, ‘unplugged’ covers, collaborating with a wealth of talented musicians and performers. The night will give the audience the chance to have an up-close and personal experience of some of the never before heard tracks on the album before the official release.
The St James has fast become one of my favourite cabaret spots in London so I'm delighted to be performing there again alongside some amazing talent!
Check out the links below for more information and to purchase tickets. Hope to see some of you there!
Words Shared With Friends
West End Switched Off
After a hugely successful concert last year we have come round to FOR JOANNA - CHAPTER 2.
On Sunday, Nov 10th on the Battersea Barge, we'll be providing an afternoon of music inspired by a wonderful lady who was cared for by the St Christopher's Hospice and in her name we are raising money for the charity.
An array of West End Performers are singing including myself, Jack Shalloo, Julie Atherton, Jennifer Tierney, Andy Coxon, Katie Paine, Stevie Tate Bauer, Owain Williams, Matt Elson, Andrew Bryant, Caroline Deverill, Charlotte Myers, Lauren Varnham, Brian McCann, Sabrina Aloueche, Thomas Sutcliffe, with more to be announced.
As last year, it promises to be a special day and you don't want to miss it!
Doors open at 1.30pm, show starts at 2:00pm. I'm reliably informed that tickets are almost sold out already, so be quick if you fancy coming along!
To book tickets, click here
Ghost Is Dancing update!
For the last 5 months 12 terrified technicians from the Ghost touring company have been taught to dance by 12 professional dancers from the cast all in aid of the BBC’s Children in Need Appeal.
On Sunday 3rd November they will demonstrate their skills in front of a panel of Judges as part of a grand charity fund raising gala at the Mayflower theatre, Southampton. With a star cabaret, charity auction and lots of surprises this is the one charity event of the year that you wouldn’t want to miss.
Tickets for the show can now be purchased via the Ghost Is Dancing website. I promise this is going to be a brilliant event, do come along if you can make it! You can also sponsor our amazing couples; check out the rehearsal footage which will be posted over the coming weeks and pick your favourite...!
Anything you can spare will be much appreciated, it's for an amazing cause. If Whoopi Goldberg can spare the time to record a good luck message for us (legend) then I'm sure we can all find it in ourselves to spare a few quid!
Please, please help us get #ghostisdancing trending; retweet for your lives! x
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