What: The Bodyguard
Where: Adelphi theatre
Pic credit: Paul Coltas
It’s a show guaranteed to make fans catch their breath in a moment of nostalgia in memory of Whitney Houston, but the Rachel Marron character is now firmly in the hands of Heather Headley and, by all accounts, is smashing in The Bodyguard – The Musical.
The characters, Rachel Marron (Headley), and Frank Farmer, played by RADA trained Lloyd Owen, were made famous on film by the late Ms Houston and Kevin Costner and tell the story of a much sought after diva under threat from an unknown stalker and therefore... in need of a minder.
Former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is hired to protect the singing superstar. Each aspect of her life is now in his hands and he takes his role seriously. What they don’t expect is to fall in love.
The romantic thriller features a whole host of irresistible classics including ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘So Emotional’, ‘One Moment in Time’, ‘Saving All My Love’, ‘I’m Your Baby Tonight’, ‘Run to You’, ‘I Have Nothing’, ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and one of the greatest hit songs of all time –‘I Will Always Love You’.
Tony and Grammy award-winning Heather Headley made her West End stage debut as Rachel Marron, having originated the role of Nala in The Lion King on Broadway, and later going on to play the title role in Aida for which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Headley’s vocals are stunning and she makes Houston’s songs her own.
A singer who has been a duet partner to Andrea Bocelli, featured in many of his American and international tours, and sung at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Headley’s debut solo album, This is Who I Am, was nominated for two Grammy Awards. Her third studio album, Audience of One, won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album.
Co-star Lloyd Owen was last on stage in London playing leading roles in Sarah Helm’s Loyalty at Hampstead Theatre and J T Rogers Blood and Gifts at the National Theatre. Previously his theatre credits include: The York Realist, Julius Caesar and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
On television Owen is best known for playing Paul Bowman-MacDonald in the BBC’s long-running drama Monarch of the Glen and Indiana Jones’ father Professor Henry Jones Snr, in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, as well as other television credits.
The cast comprises Heather Headley (to 10 August 2013) and Lloyd Owen (to 7 September 2013) alongside Debbie Kurup (Nicki Marron), Mark Letheren (The Stalker), Ray Shell (Bill Devaney), Nicolas Colicos (Tony Scibelli), Mark McKerracher (Herb Farmer), Sean Chapman (Sy Spector), David Page (Rory Fryman) and Oliver Le Sueur (Ray Court).
The Bodyguard was recently the recipient of the Whatsonstage.com Award for Best New Musical. Other accolades include Best Actress in a Musical and best set designs. No surprise there, the blend of technical and multi-media is awesome, particularly when the stage close and unfold like an intriguing origami paper trick into the grand home of Marron and her concert performances.
The producers, whose idea it was to go after the stage rights to The Bodyguard film, have made it clear that the show is not a 'Whitney Houston tribute show' but one cannot help but feel nostalgic about it.
See Bodyguard, the Musical from now to Sat 27 April 2013 & Mon 29 April to Sat 28 Sept 2013
Check dates to see when Heather Headley is not scheduled to appear.
Venue: Adelphi Theatre, 409-412 Strand London WC2R 0NS
Adm: £20-£68.50 plus booking fee.
Info: 0844 579 0094 / www.thebodyguardmusical.com
What: Julius Caesar
Where: Noel Coward Theatre
A political thriller of ambition, jealousy and betrayal is a concoction that is easily recognizable around the world, but in this new adaptation by the Royal Shakespeare Company it is brought to East Africa where a stellar cast tease out how a new vision for state can collapse when there are struggles between shifting loyalties of patriotism and friendship.
Considering the many coups and wars across the continent with the genocide in Rwanda or the suppression in Zimbabwe, it is understandable why Africa provides a potent backdrop for a modern interpretation. Jeffery Kissoon is a regal and likeable Caesar – unaware that his senators are plotting his murder – because they fear that he will assume control of republic Rome and change it into a monarchy where he alone will call the shots. Despite the warnings from the soothsayer (the oracle) and his wife’s dreams not to go to the Senate because she saw people bathing in his blood, Caesar is adamant that he must go to talk shop. It is there that he meets a savage and bloody death. This play contains one of the most famous speeches when the charismatic and manipulative Mark Antony, Caesar’s friend, speaks to the mob to explain his death: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
The conspiracy is orchestrated by Brutus (Paterson Joseph) and his brother in law Cassius. Joseph’s performance is nuanced – veering from earnest where the audience initially buys his arguments of bringing Caesar down to self delusional in describing Caesar's murder one where "we shall be called purgers, not murderers". Moreover, Brutus is shown to be stupid when he dismisses Cassius’ suggestion to kill Antony, Caesar’s friend, because it is Antony who brings about his downfall. Caesar’s murder is never truly justified because the fear of him becoming a dictator lives in Cassius’ and Brutus’ imagination.
Director Gregory Doran has infused African influences throughout the play. With bulging eyes and dreadlocks, the soothsayer is like a masquerade in a grass skirt dancing furiously to afrobeat and highlife. Whipped up by Caesar’s death, when the angry mob mistakenly identifies a poet as a conspirator against him, he is burnt alive with a tyre around his neck– a jungle justice style used in Nigeria. The togas worn by the senators now echo the style of traditional wear by men in central and southern Ghana where cloth is wrapped around the body and one end draped across the shoulder. Other colourful attire hint towards vibrancy of the Nigerian catwalk.
Michael Vale has created a striking set muted in the tones of sub Sahara Africa with an overpowering bronze statue of Caesar – suggesting his looming dominance which threatens the senators and it comes crashing down at a key moment. His tired looking amphitheatre links the modern with the new – its Roman origins to the suggestion of part football stadium .
The first half of this production is fraught with tension and backstabbing – quickly building up to a climax. The only two female characters, Adjoa Andoh and Ann Ogbomo, wives of Brutus and Caesar respectively give strong cameos as they try to save their husbands from their fates. It is such a shame that Shakespeare didn’t allow for them in the second half which doesn’t have the same dynamism and compression as the earlier part.
This gives the impression that the women were just antidotes to their husbands' hot tempers and so lack complexity. What prevails throughout the production is high octane energy, particularly as the male characters blast their way through their lines; it harkens to who can be the biggest, baddest alpha male. Unfortunately this means that it lacks subtlety - leaving little space to feel some kind of emotional cleansing.
The play runs until Sept 15 and then will be touring nationally.
What: Meet the Adebanjos
Where: Broadway Theatre
Consumer power is real: the fans of the award winning web series-cum-TV show, Meet the Adebanjos, successfully lobbied for a live production of the show in Catford to celebrate its one year anniversary.
Some things are hard to translate from screen to stage, but what emerged was a lively and infectious comedy chronicling the escapades of a modern British-Nigerian family living in south London – complete with the authentic lingo, mannerisms, and mentality of first generation parents who still try to impose cultural boundaries on their children.
Stingy father Bayo, played hilariously by a booming Wale Ojo, decries taking his wife, Gladys, to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant to celebrate their anniversary where he will pay a fortune and not be served pounded yam and soup.
And so, rather than doing that he tries to woo her through giving flowers (a wreath from the local cemetery) and a Tesco value blender that will help her to make his favourite dishes. It is only when his son Toby suggests creating a romantic atmosphere at home that he succeeds – but of course Bayo, in spite of his poor efforts that frustrate Gladys to tears, wants to seal the night with a bit of good loving upstairs.
Playwrights Debra Odutuyo and Andrew Osayemi, who are also cousins, have a great ear for dialogue in mixing Nigerian phrases up in British English – which all adds to the humour. And their work is performed by a fantastic energetic cast that can also lean into physical comedy where needed.
However, some of the characterization is stereotypical of the genre – teenage Toby is a typical exaggerated Cassonova with the painfully awkward oyinbo (white) friend, Kevin, who can yam out some spicy egusi soup and pounded yam, Gladys is the matriarch pinning the family together, and Sade is the shallow, vain daughter in a constant power struggle with her brother.
It would have been great to see some character arcing as this show comprised two separate episodes whereby in the second the family is forced into a prayer meeting when Gladys discovers that Sade wants to go out for Halloween .
Director Shade Olati has teased out standout performances from the wild Aunty Funke (Moji Bamtefa), the non paying lodger, who has no problem making her rotund body the central joke in the opening skit. Pastor Michael is another delightful character by Andrew Apraku with a great moonwalk dance, robotics, and jangling arms.
Watching it onstage brought back memories of Desmond’s, the popular Channel 4 sitcom that focused on a Caribbean family living above a barbershop in Peckam. It was popular and had a long run because the characters were recognizable and so were the themes of culture clashes, loyalty, and aspirations.
Hopefully Meet the Adebanjos will follow the same trajectory – fame and fortune in the mainstream.
by Uchenna Izundu
What: Egusi Soup
Where: Soho Theatre, London
Playwright Janice Okoh concocts a wonderful brew of hilarious family politics, mirthed with secret heartaches, and difficult self realisations in her debut play Egusi Soup, examining how a family prepares in London for the first year memorial of the late Mr Anyia in Nigeria.
Within the intimacy of the tiny theatre, Okoh does a sterling job in unravelling the Nigerian mentality of matriarch Mrs Anyia (Ellen Thomas) who carries her whole household (bar the kitchen sink – probably because it couldn’t fit) in her suitcases as she packs for the memorial. Going home to dance in front of her in laws and commemorate her husband requires a family that knows how to keep up appearances and this is the crux of the problem.
Daughter Grace is not yet pregnant despite being married to her entrepreneur husband, Dele, who dabbles in Wahala fashion and the Nollywood film industry – leading Mrs Anyia to wail that she hopes she doesn’t have “rotten eggs”.
Other high flier lawyer prim and proper daughter Anne, for some reason, just can’t seem to bring home a man. No amount of prayers or charms offered by Pastor Emmanuel (fantastically played by Lace Akpojaro) seems to change the direction the wind is blowing – leaving Mrs Anyia convinced that her husband’s enemies are plotting against them.
Nick Oshikanlu and Rhoda Ofori-Attah
Okoh inserts great one-liners that give an amusing insight into the ethnicities that make up Nigeria’s 150 million-strong population.
In recalling a story to Pastor Emmanuel about how her luggage was stolen by a Yoruba woman under the guise of help, Mrs Anyia insists that an Igbo person, the tribe from which she is from, could never do that. Dele, her Yoruba son-in-law disagrees, insisting that if it was an Igbo person they would have stolen it and then tried to sell it back to her. It is a common joke in Nigeria that if you want to know if an Igbo person is truly dead, wave money under their nose.
The cast’s physical and farcical comedy hit the spot as throughout this lively paced production, the audience was in hysterics with murmurs from some of the older members, “We’ve been exposed, oh!”
Although it is not convincing that they were previously close, Okoh explores the dynamics of the sisters’ relationship as Grace is suspicious of Anne’s return – she was not there for their father’s burial and neither did she spend time consoling their mother.
Anne and Grace represent different elements of the Naija dream: Grace is married to a Nigerian, plays wifey who brings out soup and blindly supports her husband, slipping into an accent whenever he is around. Anne is highly educated with a career promising partner level in a New York firm. Reconciling these against the backdrop of the memorial preparations, expectations of home people, and of course, the late great Mr Anyia is the raison d’etre in this production, which is successfully done.
The presence of Mr Anyia lingers heavily as no-one is allowed to sit on his favourite chair ‘as it has not been up to a year” since he passed on. It is clear that his expectations were the lynchpin of this family where British and Naija culture are at a crossroads.
Set and costume designer, Louie Whitemore, adds to the authenticity of the claustrophobic Naija household and she has chosen a wonderful print for Thomas’ grand entrance in her traditional outfit.
With a funny cast and tight performances, this work deserves a bigger venue and longer run. I sincerely hope it can get the attention it deserves.
by Uchenna Izundu