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Bloody hell: A Monster Calls, The King and I, The Jungle, Bring it On and Young Frankenstein

A Monster Calls

Sally Cookson’s brilliant and touching staging of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is currently at the Old Vic, London. There were many moments of genius, in the direction and delivery of this gorgeous production. It’s another lovely, solid effort from one of Britain’s most enduring directors. There is something seriously lovely about the coiled rope and choral beauty that explodes into propulsion and colour – and its ambition is matched only by its beauty. Take Kleenex.
THE KING AND I

THE KING AND I

The Tony-Award winning Lincoln Center Theater production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein epic The King and I is currently gracing The London Palladium for a limited engagement. Powered by the lung-busting magnificence of Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe’s star-power, respectively. The show-within-a-show in the second half does drag. But the dazzling spectacle and the skill of the performers on display is enveloped in designer Michael Yeargan and costume designer Catherine Zuber’s glorious work. I haven’t seen this much Gold Leaf since Follies.
Millennials will have only experienced the musical via the 1956 film. Yes, inert, and yes, problematic, yadda yadda, and, indeed creaky at times but at the heart of the sumptuous story is the struggle between modernity and tradition and production values. This is a unique showcase for the talent of many young actors of Asian ethnicity, too. The King and I is epic, timeless and superb.
Fun fact: the tiniest child in the small army of the King’s children is less than a metre tall. Adorable.
THE JUNGLE

THE JUNGLE

Is there a show that has had as much critical acclaim as The Jungle? First seen at the Young Vic last year, this vibrant migrant-crisis drama has moved into the West End. Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin’s production gets straight down to business placing us in the heart of an Afghan Café. Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s remarkable, rackety play is cleverly conceived; distinctively different. To that end, this kind of theatre is hard to get right but they do and the incredible company of performers bring the refugee crisis closer to home, making it more personal and difficult to ignore.
The essential grit in the oyster, though, is that towards the end, the whole narrative occasionally overestimates how much of a damn normal people give about politics and the charity appeal isn’t as clever as the creative team imagines. In fairness, none of that really matters, The Jungle is a harrowing reminder that everyone has a story worth telling.
I really tried to hate Bring it On – The Musical, but resistance is futile; it had me at “Being a cheerleader is like being a marine: you sign your life away.” It’s hard to resist this giddy musical based on the cult teen comedy. With songs by Lin-Manuel-Miranda and Ewan Jones’s choreography and direction give the whole show a lift. This originally premiered in 2011 on Broadway and the now the British Theatre Academy have brought it to Southwark Playhouse. Many of these bright young things will certainly go into the profession.
The chief glory of the show is Robyn McIntyre as Campbell, the captain of her high school team and vows revenge on her rival. A first-rate ensemble bless things with a remarkable energy, excellent comic timing and touching vulnerability. A predictable feelgood story but Bring it On is a blast, simply.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

I will miss Young Frankenstein. The show has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks, and tells the story of Frederick Frankenstein who inherits his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania.
Both times I’ve watched it – Brooks’ horror movie spoof has felt grotesquely pertinent to the #MeToo whirlwind. Last year, I found it a poignantly contemporary antidote to the endlessly offended culture; this time, I laughed harder without discomfort at the naughty satire on the politics within the piece. Hadley Fraser undoubtedly does a marvellous job as Dr Frankenstein. Lesley Joseph, I have to say, is really quite splendid and relishes the role as scene-stealing Frau Blucher. Also, I really rate Diane Pilkington who is consistently excellent as Elizabeth. The rather fantastic live cast recording has also just been released; so check it out.
Complaining about unsubtlety is beside the point with material like this. In fairness, this show is extremely funny so the individuals who took issue with Young Frankenstein are credulous individuals who take everything at face value and with hindsight, make the Creature look smart.
Overall: some people like Young Frankenstein, some people do not. The latter people are wrong.
Young Frankenstein is at Garrick Theatre, London until 24 August.
A Monster Calls is at Old Vic, London until 24 August.
Bring It On is at Southwark Playhouse, London, until 1 September.
The King and I is at the London Palladium until 29 September.
The Jungle runs at the Playhouse theatre, London, until 3 November.