Review: Oranges and Elephants

My Friday night was spent at the charming Hoxton Hall – a refurbished music hall, soaked in history – which is partially enhanced by the new musical currently on there: Oranges and Elephants, a show exploring the life and times of the all-female Victorian gangs of London.

We’re treated to a full female production here – both on stage and off. Working class writer, Lil Warren, conceived the idea, creating a musical with music and arrangements by Jo Collins and direction by Susie McKenna. It’s a lively interpretation of the two infamous Victorian gangs; the Oranges of Bethnal Green, and the Elephants of Elephant and Castle, pushed towards crime to escape crippling poverty.

We’re welcomed by the boisterous and bellowing Chair, played by Susannah van den Berg. She narrates and shifts the story along, at one point breaking up the action by directing the characters herself, for a wonderful comic effect. And, in true music hall fashion, she encourages the audience to sing along using the song sheets provided. On the whole, the songs are fun and catchy, with hilarious feminist banter:

You’ll never tire of London

Her style, and vicious wit

But if you have a fanny

You are in the bloomin’…

Shiny bubbles!

We are introduced to the Irish women of the Elephant gang where we meet the sombre, yet incredibly talented, Nellie (Christina Tedders), who dreams of being a star, but also happens to be an exceptional thief, dragged into the gang life and dictated to by their ring leader, Annie (Liz Kitchen). These women are tied to “The Family Code”, as expressed through song. Tedders stands out throughout, with a stunning, yet fittingly melancholy tone to her voice, and like the rest of the cast, is able to pick up an instrument at any given moment. These women carry the whole show, as they sing and play all the instruments – from violin through to accordion, to create an authentic music hall-esque sound.

On the other side of the coin we have the Jewish gang, the Oranges – an altogether less “family” like gang, who mainly bully and abuse each other. They are led by the “apparently” monstrous Flo, played by Kate Adams. Fundamentally, this part is miscast; her soft voice and body language does not scream gang leader. I think Rebecca Bainbridge who plays psychotic Ada would have been a better, more terrifying fit – although, I feel she overacts at times. As a gang, I find the Oranges less believable and more like Victorian caricatures (or perhaps it’s just unfortunate that they’re all dressed like the Artful Dodger). As a general note though, I really appreciate the period dress and set design by Sara Perks.

The stage at Hoxton Hall showing a detailed map of London.

The whole status-quo is tipped on its head when Mary (Sinead Long) arrives in London from the North; she’s thrown from pillar to post, becoming a precious commodity and bargaining tool between the gangs. However, here is where my confusion around the musical itself begins. It appears to showcase itself as a strong, female-led cast, tackling the issues women faced at the time, yet when the Oranges have possession of Mary, they act like men – leering, forcing themselves onto her and caring only about her aesthetic beauty. They are simply mirroring the Victorian patriarchal norms of the time.

Nevertheless, the story is broken up by a beautiful, Tipping the Velvet-esque tragic love story between Mary and Nellie, as the two attempt to escape. At this point they share a charming little duet, striking the balance between wonderful comic timing and tenderness.

This show is a fascinating insight into an area of history so rarely investigated – the lives of real, working class women. I understand that it didn’t receive rave reviews – but I for one am glad to see more women creating theatre. Over thirty women were involved in this project, which is incredibly inspiring as a woman just dipping her foot into the theatre industry. I’m sick of seeing re-runs of tired, patriarchal plays such as Glengarry Glen Ross – traipsing through the same masculine power-plays. The stage is for exploration, and I for one am glad of shows like Oranges and Elephants that shine a light on the stories still left untold.

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I’m barely able to believe my eyes as I find myself in the queue outside the Victoria Palace Theatre for the much anticipated Broadway success, Hamilton on its second night on the West End. The energy is palpable as the audience eagerly anticipate the hip-hop musical about one of America’s founding fathers.

Well, in short – it is worth the hype. Directed by Thomas Kail, this show is nothing short of slick. The choreography (Andy Blankenbueler, Stephanie Klemons & Carrie-Anne Ingrouille) is mesmerising, constantly moving the story along, portraying epic battle scenes with energy and accuracy. The ensemble play an integral role in the whole piece – all of whom are highly talented. It’s especially worth keeping an eye out for Miriam-Teak Lee (ArtsEd Alumna).

Naturally, the music by Lin-Manuel Miranda is out of this world – with elements of hip-hop, rap, R&B and classic musical-esque ballad numbers. My favourite song by far is ‘Schuyler Sisters’, and it certainly does not disappoint. The sisters bring high levels of sass and a stunning array of vocals. The oldest, Angelica Schuyler (Rachael John) blows my mind – she is by far my favourite sister, but Rachael brings a whole new strength to the character. You really feel the connection between herself and Hamilton, truly highlighting the tragedy of this love story. Her voice is strong, assured, and put simply – sublime. Eliza Schuyler (Rachelle Ann Go), brings a more classical musical theatre feel to the role, truly showcasing her vocals in the ballad, ‘Burn’. Goosebumps are had all round.

The Schuyler Sisters (From Left) Rachelle Ann Go, Rachel John & Christine Allado. (Sourced from Playbill)

Michael Jibson brings the comic relief as King George, interjecting at various moments to complain about America’s independence. He gently oozes the laughs out of the audience, truly relishing every moment as he does. His scenes become a firm favourite, as the audience begin to chuckle knowingly as soon as he steps on stage.

Similarly, Jason Pennycooke who plays Lafayette in act one and Thomas Jefferson in act two is a massive ball of energy. His Thomas Jefferson is a fabulously camp, Prince-esque looking diva. Act two covers a lot of political ground, so his comic timing and energy helps keep the scenes light.

The biggest surprise is Aaron Burr, played by Giles Terera. As the “villain” of the piece, Terera’s Burr is witty and likeable. You begin to sympathise with his plight against Hamilton, as he works just as hard, but somehow misses the mark every time. Terera ties the show together, providing narration throughout and absolutely smashing ‘The Room Where It Happens’ with his soulful vocal.

Giles Terera as Aaron Burr (Sourced from The Telegraph)

And of course, we have the man of the moment – Alexander Hamilton, played by newbie, Jamael Westman. Although reasonably new to the industry, Westman shows sublime talent, performing with a level of calm and control, yet effortlessly expresses the excitable passion that sits within Hamilton’s character. It’s undeniable that he has a very bright future ahead of him.

But the whole show hinges on the inevitable shooting in the duel between Hamilton and Burr. When the moment eventually comes, the ensemble tackle it with precision – one member holds the bullet as it slowly nears toward Hamilton, as the others play out his life before his eyes. It’s a powerful, heart-wrenching moment as you read the minds of both men, fighting their own personal struggles.

Hamilton may tell a story of American history, but it proves itself to be the show of our time; there’s diversity, strong female identity, politics and pro-immigration (“Immigrants – we get the job done” was followed by a raucous cheer). Without realising at the time of writing, Lin-Manuel Miranda created the voice of hope and strength in a time of great darkness. If you’re going to see any show in your lifetime, make it this one.

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Review: Romantics Anonymous

I’m officially living in London now – still feels a bit surreal if I’m honest! Everything has happened very fast and up until now I haven’t had a moment to breathe. Thankfully, I don’t start my new job until next week, so I have spent this week doing life admin, catching up with London friends, gymming and of course – watching a bit of theatre!

And what better place to start than The Globe? I managed to nab tickets for £20 to Romantics Anonymous, a musical adapted by the wonderful Emma Rice from the French-Belgium film Les Emotifs Anoymes. Tickets would have normally been around £40 for seats near the front, but because I’m part of The Globe mailing list, they gave me a voucher code to get £20 tickets – pretty neat. For ticket deals, I definitely recommend joining theatre mailing lists, as well as some of these money-saving tips from a blog I did a while back!

Anyway, I couldn’t have asked for a better show to welcome me to London. It’s a quirky, tongue-in-cheek romance between talented chocolate maker, Anglique (Carly Bawden) and Chocolate Factory owner, Jene-Rene (Dominic Marsh) – both very socially awkward people, fumbling blindly through the small challenges of the every-day. It’s so charming, my cheeks hurt from smiling. It’s so rare that two introverts are placed as the stars of a show, but it works wonderfully, shedding light on the characters who struggle to have a voice. Here are some quick reasons why you need to book your ticket to see this show NOW:

The Characters

Angelique is truly adorable. She’s a ridiculously talented chocolate maker, but shies away from the pressure of taking credit for her work. Jene-Rene is lovingly hopeless, listening to meditation tapes while his chocolate business he inherited from his cautious (and hilarious) father (Philip Cox) begins to crumble around him. 

The supporting characters tie the whole show together. Each has their distinct charm, but two in particular stand out for me. Marc Antolin plays Ludo, a sassy Welshman who works at the Chocolate Factory, rolling his eyes and passing judgement. He’s gutsy and mesmerising to watch. Similarly, I can’t take my eyes off Joanna Riding who plays both Magda, the strong and stable Chocolate Factory worker, and Angelique’s powerhouse mother. Her presence is astounding and her singing voice, incredible – a microphone isn’t necessary!

Magda (Joanna Riding) Sourced from The Globe Website.

The Set

Designer, Lez Brotherston hit the nail on the head with this one. Everything about the set is charmingly vintage, with neon light signs for each establishment the characters encounter. It’s jazzy, bold and camp – summarising the show as a whole really, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. It also adds to the comedy of the piece as characters announce where they are, gesturing above, and the neon light sign they require lights up. So camp, so wonderful.

A good view of the stage. Sourced from The Globe Website.

The Music

The classic French accordion undertones go hand in hand with the folky music – Emma’s staple style. Overall, the music by Michael Kooman, and the hilarious lyrics by Chrisopher Dimond capture the whole essence of the show and bring it all together.

So what are you waiting for? Romantics Anonymous runs till 6 January 2018, so book your tickets!

Don’t forget to follow and tweet me at @theatregirl_94

Review: A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer


It’s a scary word, you shouldn’t say it – mustn’t put a dampener on the conversation.

It certainly isn’t anyone’s first choice for a musical topic.

But isn’t that strange? For an illness that affects everyone on various scales, it’s so rarely spoken about in a true and honest way. Whether it be your grandparent, your friend, your sibling or you, at least one name comes to mind when someone mentions cancer.

This is why Bryony Kimmings and Complicate decided to tackle it once and for all.

And thank goodness they did.

We follow Emma (Amanda Hadingue) who is taking her baby to the hospital for a check up after some concerning results. During her time there, she is dragged through the wacky Alice In Wonderland style world of the Kingdom of the Sick. To create the physical presence of cancer, she is introduced to all-singing, all-dancing cancer cells wearing colourful, sparkly padded bubbles, giving an almost tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee vibe. They tend to lurk around and follow the cancer patients throughout. Various shaped air bags burst through the hospital doors as the show progresses, until the whole stage is taken up by monstrous cancer cells, suffocating the lives of those affected.

Amy Booth-Steel as a cancer cell (Sourced from BakChromeeBoy blog)

Emma meets a variety of cancer patients during her stay, all going through a smorgasbord of emotions. Laura (Golda Rosheuvel) is in denial about her terminal cancer, stripping off to a reveal a sparkly catsuit and singing a disco number; Rosheuvel plays her with such strength and enthusiasm that you can’t help but admire her stubborn nature. Shannon (Rose Shalloo) is another stand-out character who is waiting to find out whether her unborn child carries her cancerous gene; her head is firmly on her shoulders and she is fearless when she sings her ballad Peace of Mind.

Some of the cast members including Emma (Amanda Hadingue) and Gia (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) sourced from The Guardian.

But this show doesn’t dwell on the tragic moments; it grabs cancer by the balls through humour and anger. The ensemble song Fuck This is by far a highlight as they boldly reject society’s dictatorship over their emotions; the expectation to remain positive is slammed down, they embrace their rage and it’s beautifully enlightening. This song is led by Gia (Naana Agyei-Ampadu), a passionate, black American woman who serves as the young, feminist voice of the group; her voice is outstanding.

Admittedly, it needs a bit of tightening in parts and some ideas could be explored in a different way. For example, Mark (Hal Fowler), a lung cancer patient still very much attached to his cigarettes is a challenging character to come to terms with. Within the time given, he perhaps required some more development to aid our understanding of his story.

Nevertheless, it’s confrontational, funny and heartbreaking; near the end the fourth wall is broken and the actors begin to reveal their characters as real people. The audience are then invited to speak the name of someone they know who has been affected by cancer. The whole room murmurs for a good two minutes and it’s one of the most powerful and solidifying moments I’ve ever encountered. I’m not quite brave enough to speak the name I have in mind, but it’s there in the room and I feel a sense of peace.

I leave feeling raw, but enlightened. At first, I wasn’t sure I could face a show about a topic so close to my heart, but it truly exceeded my expectations. Theatre is there to entertain and challenge, and Complicate certainly achieved this.

If you liked this then please do subscribe to my blog and give me a follow @tesshenderson94 Check out my previous review on a play about the infamous Beastie Boys… Licensed to Ill.

My Top 10 Must-See Productions of 2016!

New year means new shows! Here’s a list I compiled of all the local productions I plan to see in 2016!

1. Wendy and Peter Pan – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

11th December 2015-31st January 2016.

I impulsively bought tickets for this as a birthday treat in January. As an RSC Key member, the tickets only cost me a fiver each – so why not?

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the RSC productions I have seen before, and this one in particular looks amazing. Wendy is played by Mariah Gale who I saw previously in Measure for Measure as Isabella, and she was captivating.

I’ve had a little look at some images from the show and it looks magical, fun and a little dark, (for good measure). Also, the flying scenes and Captain Hook’s ship look incredible.

I literally feel like a kid at Christmas. V.Excited

   2. We Are Brontë – The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.

19th-23rd January 2016.

As a big Brontë fan, I’m really looking forward to seeing this wacky production.

With a mix of physical theatre, clowning, improvisation and stand-up; the gothic themes of romance, repression and madness are seen from a completely different perspective. This show happens to be on at the same time as Jane Eyre at the Bristol Old Vic (which is my number 3!), so it will be interesting to see two very different sides to the gothic genre.

  3.  Jane Eyre – Bristol Old Vic.
21st January-6th February 2016.

Jane Eyre is in my top 5 list of favourite books ever. This production came to the Old Vic in 2014 and I missed it, so I am determined to go and see this. If there is a single show I will make time for, it’s this one.

Madeleine Worrall as Jane Eyre at The Bristol Old Vic. Sourced from ‘The Guardian’.

I’ve heard some really fantastic things about it. From the pictures I’ve seen the set looks simplistic, yet effective, with various levels used stylistically throughout. There’s even a live band on stage which adds to the dynamic and passionate feel to the play. Just watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean.



  4.  A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Tobacco Factory, Bristol.

26th-30th January 2016.

I have already bought a ticket to see this with my friend Georgia! This play has been adapted from a book by Eimear McBride and follows the story of an Irish girl from the womb to twenty years old. We see her battling through life as a child from a deprived Irish background attempting to make sense of the world around her.

I’m really looking forward to watching this because it’s so rare that you see truthful female representations on stage, as I’ve commented on before in my earlier blog. I’ve also heard that the writing is incredibly strong and resilient, which I hope will help inspire my own creative writing.

  5.  Toast – Theatre Royal Bath.

7th– 12th March 2016.

Matthew Kelly in ‘Toast’ at Theatre Royal Bath. Sourced from TRB website.

This play was first performed in 1999 and was written by Richard Bean who later wrote the hilarious play One Man, Two Guvnors which I saw last year, and the very successful musical Made in Dagenham.

There’s no denying that he is a very talented playwright, hence why I would like to check out this comedy drama. Set in a baking factory in Hull, we follow 7 men facing a crisis that could change everything.

I’m hoping it’s as good as his other work – we’ll have to wait and see.



  6.  1972: The Future of Sex – The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.

8th-26th March 2016.

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Awkward sexual encounters of the 70’s discussed in all its garishness.

I keep asking myself why I have added this to my list.

I just reckon it’ll be a bit different. Also, they won the Stage Award for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is pretty darn impressive.

   7. The Witches of Eastwick – Redgrave Theatre, Bristol.

9th– 12th March 2016.

It’s a UWE show! I keep meaning to see this musical as I’ve been told multiple times by musical lovers that it’s amazing. I have some friends involved in this too which is exciting; I always enjoy going to support my actor mates!

All I know so far is that it’s raunchy and the songs are really good.

Sounds ideal.

  8.  Trainspotting – The Loco Klub, Bristol.

6th-17th April 2016.

I saw this production at the Edinburgh Fringe and it was incredible. It was a bold, gritty, truthful in-yer-face play, exuding all the qualities of the film but creating a more immersive experience. You walk into a rave at the beginning; there’s audience interaction, unashamed nudity, thick Scottish accents and a powerful script.

Gavin Ross in ‘Trainspotting’ at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sourced from ‘Grumpy Gay Critic’.

I most definitely want to see this again and I would recommend anyone who is a fan of the film to check it out. Even if you’re not much of a theatre-goer, I reckon you would really enjoy this.



   9. Maria Ferguson: Fat Girls Don’t Dance – Bristol Old Vic.

18th April 2016.

I find spoken word so captivating so I had to fit it in somewhere. In Fat Girls Don’t Dance, Maria Ferguson tackles the theme of women’s bodies and her relationship with the two loves in her life: Food and Dance.

The idea of body image in today’s social media-mad society is something that I am very interested in and plan to write more about, so I hope this will help inspire me.

  10.  Goodnight Mister Tom – The Egg, Theatre Royal Bath.

26th– 30th April 2016.

‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ at The Egg Theatre, Bath. Sourced from TRB website.

This classic book (and film, actually) made me cry so much. It is personally one of my favourite stories written about the war – along with The Book Thief. I truly hope this production lives up to my expectations.

I haven’t been disappointed by a show at The Egg yet, so I hope this will be added to the list of successes!


If you’re interested in seeing any of the shows above, let me know! Theatre buddies are always welcome.

Merry Christmas everyone, and I wish you all the best for the new year!


Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) Kneehigh.

Kneehigh’s wacky modern musical, Dead Dog In a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs) has returned to the Bristol Old Vic this year, and we’re delighted!

I went to watch it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was more than happy to go see it again. It’s a story of immorality, violence, power and money; I suppose in that sense you could liken it to Macbeth. In fact, it’s a re-vamped version of The Beggar’s Opera, a satirical musical by John Gay.

And a satirical musical ‘Dead Dog’ also proves to be; the play questions the human need for power through corruption, it challenges our political system and urges us to change our ways while putting the audience in stitches the whole time.

How the hell do they manage all that?

With a cracking cast, of course! There was a slightly different cast this year, but some of our favourites remained. What never fails to amaze me about this production is the actors’ musical abilities; if they’re not singing, they’re playing instruments in the background or playing kick-ass violin solos (Lucy Rivers: Widow Goodman). Ultimately, they are an amazing ensemble of performers.

But I do have a fond favourite; with her big presence, comic timing and

Rina Fatania as Mrs Peachum

hilarious one-liners, Mrs Peachum played by the wonderful Rina Fatania was back with a vengeance. Mrs Peachum is the Lady Macbeth we love to hate; she is the backbone to all the dodgy schemes as she plots to kill off Mayor Goodman so that her half-witted husband can take his place.

And of course we cannot forget the main compulsive villain and bad-boy, Macheath, played yet again by the talented Dominic Marsh. With his strong London accent, cockney swagger and charming demeanour, he exudes a Russell Brand appeal, which obviously impresses Polly, the Peachum’s innocent young daughter. Ah, the familiar bad-boy complex.

However, moving onto the new actors this year, the main newbie who stood out was most definitely Jack Shalloo who played Filch; his voice was to die for. In fact, I think they introduced a song especially for him this year, as I don’t recall Filch having a solo song before. Filch is a lovable character who provides the only source of hope in this otherwise bleak setting, and Shalloo does a great job in making him even more likeable with his beautiful, yet forlorn solo.

The Music.

Thanks to the composer Charles Hazlewood, it’s certainly a quirky mix of trip-hop and folk with the occasional rocky riff. The songs are very catchy, which is ideally what you want from a musical. My favourites, aside from Filch’s solo which I’ve already mentioned are as follows:

  1. Take Me Somewhere Far Away: Macheath and Polly Peachum.I would associate this song as being the most ‘musical-like’ with a beautiful melody (which I’ve had in my head all week!) and cracking harmonies. Angela Hardie who plays Polly has a lovely, pure, Maria-from-West-Side-Story-esque voice which contrasts nicely with the low raspy quality of Macheath’s.


  1. Ninja Butterfly: Lucy Lockit.A nice jazzy number which is later juxtaposed with a rocky-style reprise. We see the soft, vulnerable side of the pick-pocketing Lucy Lockit, then her jealous rage only shortly after; it’s brilliant. Although I must add, the actress who played her, Beverley Rudd had a very strong Northern accent, so I didn’t realise she was singing the word ‘butterfly’ for ages- doh.


  1. Money: Whole Ensemble.

Trip-hoppy, catchy beat. Enough said really.


  1. Mrs Peachum’s Cautionary Tales: Mrs Peachum.Possibly one of the funniest songs in the whole show. Mrs Peachum tries to tell Polly some home-truths in her sassy, no-nonsense way.


The Set/Props.

The set has a play-ground appeal to it, which leans toward the idea that corruption is simply a game; a way to get to the top. It’s put to great use as the actors swing from bars and enter scenes down the slide. Yet, it was made out of jagged and distressed-looking dark wood and the lighting was generally dim throughout. Thus, we are constantly reminded of the

The Set.

dark elements of murder and greed that run through the play.

Another interesting element was the Punch and Judy show; a running theme during the course of the production. Yet again, it harks back to the theme of playfulness, but is tainted with the abusive and violent aspects Punch and Judy are associated with.



If you like quirky, satirical musical theatre then I totally recommend that you go and see this. I feel that especially after recent events, the message of this play resonates. It questions the system that we are under now and implores us to wipe the slate clean and try again; undo all the wrongs that we have made.

Controversial- but that’s what theatre is all about.