TORUK: THE FIRST FLIGHT | London, O2 Arena

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Cirque du Soleil’s 2015 arena spectacular, based on James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), is coming to London. Still the highest-grossing film of all time at $2.8 billion, Avatar is about how, on the planet Pandora, a local tribe of Na’vi become endangered by the expansion of a mining colony. This contemporary circus show is a sort of prequel, set thousands of years before the events of the film.

In Avatar, Jake Sully becomes the sixth person to successfully ride a great leonopteryx, also known as a toruk: any rider is then named Toruk Makto. But who was the first Toruk Makto? Set around 837 BC, the show follows the journey of Entu, the first Na’vi to become a Toruk Makto, in order to save the Tree of Souls from being destroyed by a volcano.

Cirque du Soleil are globally renowned as the greatest circus on earth, and audiences can expect plenty of jaw-dropping acrobatic stunts. However, this differs from most Cirque du Soleil shows in that there is a narrative core. The show also has a large focus on puppetry, animating the wild and diverse creatures of Pandora: viperwolves, direhorses, austrapedes and turtapedes. The leonopteryx/toruk flies using reverse-string puppetry, with the puppeteer beneath the creature.

Toruk also features multimedia audience interaction, where audience members use a mobile app to to influence visual effects and interactive content during the performance. It’s Cirque du Soleil pushing their art to the limits: no wonder this has been such a global hit show for the last four years. Book now!

Take flight with the ancient Na’vi in London for seven performances only, 26 — 30 June 2019.

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AMÉLIE THE MUSICAL | London, New Wimbledon Theatre

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A new musical, based on the much-loved, five-time Oscar-nominated 2001 film, is embarking on an extensive UK tour. It’s already wowed critics at the acclaimed Watermill Theatre (Newbury), and now comes to south London. The musical originally ran for two months on Broadway in 2017, and has now been extensively reworked, following successful international touring to Japan and Germany. The songs are by Daniel Messé, including lyrics from Nathan Tysen, and a book by Craig Lucas.

Amélie is the story of an astonishing young woman who lives quietly in the world, but loudly in her mind. She secretly improvises small, but extraordinary acts of kindness that bring happiness to those around her. But when a chance at love comes her way, Amélie realises that to find her own contentment she’ll have to risk everything and say what’s in her heart.

Amélie is played by the delightful Audrey Brisson (The Elephantom, Pinocchio and Pericles (National Theatre), The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic) and more). Nino is played by musical theatre star and all round heart-throb Danny Mac.

Come and be inspired by this imaginative dreamer who finds her voice, discovers the power of connection and sees possibilities around every corner. Although times are hard for dreamers, Amélie is someone to believe in.

Amélie visits Wimbledon until Saturday 25 May 2019. £13 tickets are still available.

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PÉLLEAS ET MÉLISANDE | London, Playground Theatre

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Debussy’s celebrated 1902 opera, Pélleas et Mélisande, is the only opera he ever finished. Normally running (with intervals) at three hours, Opera on the Move’s new production has cut it down to 90 minutes straight through, with a cast of just six: three men, three women. Edited and rescored for two pianos by Peter Brook and Marius Constant, this is a dark tale, in which things are rarely as they seem.

Based on Maeterlinck’s inscrutable 1893 symbolist play, a stranger arrives in a strange land. Golaud (Benjamin Schilperoort) discovers Mélisande (Emilie Cavallo) in the forest. Enraptured and obsessed, he brings her home to be his wife. In this home of dying patriarchs, jealous minds and hopeless futures, it is not Golaud she sees, but his brother – Pélleas (Ben Thapa).

Directed by up-and-coming director Gareth Mattey, this new production embraces the surrealism of this fin-de-siècle masterpiece. True to the original, this scaled-down production will be performed in French with English surtitles.

London’s Playground Theatre in Latimer Road is the perfect place for Opera on the Move’s first fully staged opera, bringing together an international cast of singers and performers. Founded in 2018, Opera on the Move is a touring company based in London, who believe that opera is an exciting, engaging, and accessible art form, dedicated to bringing it to places it’s never been before.

Playing 8th and 10th May only. Book tickets online.

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THE SHED | A new venue with a mission

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We’re 18 months out from America’s next Presidential election and lecterns bearing the names of candidates with bold visions are 10 a penny. Familiarity with the sheer number of campaign launches that have been photographed, streamed and reported over the first 3 months of 2019 therefore lent some camouflage to just how heavily The Shed borrowed from the political playbook throughout its press launch this week. Then again, this is entirely apt for the plucky new cultural contender with civic, national and indeed global ambitions — the candidate’s name on the lectern this week was ‘The Shed’.

Putting its best foot forward, the launch of New York’s latest cultural institution ties in to three crucial areas of political success: policy, personality and philanthropy (cash money). The first of these dominated the podium section of the launch. The team at The Shed has carefully built an institutional philosophy that offers a framework for collaborating artists, a brand for New York’s audiences to latch on to and a yardstick by which success can be measured. To this end, it was set out that the venue is to give a sense of ownership and collaboration to the city it stands in and the creative contributors it welcomes. This is to be a venture that champions risk taking, curiosity and adventure. A beacon of innovation on the West Side of New York that reaches out to all of the boroughs as to fund creativity and facilitate exploration. There will be no high and low culture at The Shed, only culture — a message reminiscent of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ message that got so horribly mangled in the UK’s 2010 election. Speaking to this point specifically, Tamara McCaw —The Shed’s chief civic program officer— borrowed from Nina Simone to say that they aimed to ‘reflect and respond’ to the communities of New York City.

On personality, the backers of The Shed are hoping that their institution’s name and reputation becomes synonymous with the celebrated creative DNA of Alex Poots. The founder of Manchester International Festival has proven on more than one occasion that he has the trust (another popular buzzword throughout the launch) of artists, audiences, funders and administrators. Moreover, he’s demonstrated what alchemy can be achieved with this level of artistic belief. Speaking confidently without notes, Poots was compelling and clear about how he sees The Shed’s mission and is convincing on the topic. Perhaps one of the star qualities that would prevent him from running in an actual Presidential race but makes him the perfect candidate for this one is his European-ness. In fact, of the four artistic curators that sat in a panel during the launch of New York/America’s new arts centre, three were European (Emma Enderby and Hans Ulrich Obrist completing the group with Tamara and Alex). The Shed seem to be betting on this transatlantic skillset bringing international flare to the venture, not an uncommon leadership skillset pursued by New York’s established Anglophilic art centres such as The Metropolitan Museum and most recently Lincoln Center.

It was however left to the bonafide politician in the room to say the word that was being skirted around in all the artistic conversations, a word that underpins the ability to get to the point of launching any ambitious American candidacy. Mid-speech, Dan Doctoroff —Michael Bloomberg’s former Number 2— stumbled momentarily saying that it took ‘so money…I mean, so many people’ to pull this all off. It was a moment of accidental humour, a Freudian slip that was disarming in its brief, truthful nudity. It has taken so much money to make this all possible. It was $45million from Frank McCourt that got the ball rolling, a $25million gift from Ken Griffin that kept it on track and the priceless use of City Land that motivated countless other philanthropists, sponsors and supporters to generate an initial budget of over $500million. That’s the money that’s giving the Shed a chance to disrupt the US arts scene and put the wind up veterans such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and BAM. That’s the money that brought in the architectural invention of Liz Diller and David Rockwell to craft a positively European space capable of delivering a mission more akin to London’s Barbican or Southbank Centre. That’s the money that has filled their offices with superstars like Poots who can bring in super-duper stars like Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones to advice that they should bring in yet more star power, lending this clout to the newest addition to an already bulging cultural scene.

Every good political campaign needs a soundtrack; Bill Clinton harnessed the power of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ and Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ mantra was fashioned into a harmonised battlecry by will.i.am. To that end, The Shed’s quest for the hearts and minds of New York and the world beyond really gets going in the 5 shows that comprise Soundtrack Of America: tracing the family tree of African American music as performed by the next generation of that mighty organism (a concept devised by Poots and McQueen). Will it be the soundtrack to launch the sort of career that all at The Shed are hoping for? They’ve given themselves every chance of success, it only remains to be seen if the following years deliver the diversity of voters…I mean audiences from the cross-section of their immediate society (and the world) that they’ve so clearly set their sights on.

Explore the length and breadth of The Shed’s inaugural programme here.

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ONE MAN BAND FESTIVAL | London, The Blues Kitchen

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Innovative, unique and utterly bizarre, One-Man Band Festival celebrates the supreme talents of those Dick Van Dyke-inspired musicians that take to the stage solo, but still deliver the full sounds of a multi-piece band: this is an unmissable week-long celebration of some of the very best in the game.

1. Wednesday 20th March: Dollar Bill + Hollowbelly in Shoreditch (Free)

Dollar Bill is a one-man band that seemingly achieves the impossible with the wide collection of sounds he delivers at once. It’s raw, stripped down, stompin’ and rockin’ blues with drums, a guitar, a harmonica and singing going on all at once.

Hollowbelly is one-man punk blues band, with a 3-string cigar box guitar in his hands, a blues harp at his mouth, a pre-war marching drum at his right foot and a 1930’s low boy at his left. Authentic, fast and furious stuff.

2. Thursday 21st March: Son of Dave + One Man Destruction Show in Brixton (£10.50)

Son of Dave is a maverick Bluesman, providing a one-man harmonica and beat-box experience. He performs catchy, original, world class shows all around the globe.

One Man Destruction Show has created his very own one man rock n’ roll garage n’ blues band.

3. Friday 22nd March: Bob Log + King Size Slim at Jazz Cafe, Camden (£15)

With Bob Log, Delta blues meets electro in a live show that can only be described as a man in a jumpsuit and full-face helmet rigged up with a telephone receiver barrelling around in a lifeboat while beating away on a hollow-body guitar.

King Size Slim’s music is rhythm-led, heavy on the bass and rootsy in the melody. A powerful performer and a must-see on the blues circuit.

4. Tuesday 26th March: Ian Siegal + Big Joe Louis in Brixton (£15)

Ian Siegal presents songs from his latest album All The Rage. Titled Best Male Vocalist and Best Acoustic Artist in the UK Blues Awards 2018, Ian Siegal is a must-see musician for 2019. Classic Rock tags Siegal “a national treasure” and MOJO magazine ranks him “the cleverest writer and most magnetic blues performer in the UK”.

Big Joe Louis is a powerful force on the modern UK blues scene, whose style and authenticity are unparalleled on this side of the Atlantic.

5. Thursday 28th March: Lewis Floyd Henry + Hip Bone Slim in Camden (£4)

Lewis Floyd Henry busks daily on Brick Lane, and has clocked up millions of views on YouTube. A one-man, multi-genre, traveling sonic medicine show, it’s Jimmy Hendrix one moment and Biggie Smalls the next.

Hipbone Slim (aka Sir Bald) plays stompin’ rhythm and blues on guitar, harmonica, foot drums, and maracas, in a very eclectic set.

Book online for these amazing one-man band shows.

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LITTLE ECHOES | London, The Hope Theatre

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Published this year by Methuen Drama, Tom Powell’s Little Echoes now receives a full run at The Hope Theatre in Islington. Three haunting monologues interweave amid lightbulbs and microphones in this 90-minute exploration of London “as you’ve never seen it before”.

16-year old Danielle (Maisie Preston) meets danger in the VIP area of a pop concert. Professional relationship manager June (Ciara Pouncet) seems cool and collected, but all is not as it seems. Shaj (Mikhael DeVille) navigates feelings of intense anger and hatred in the wake of a violent acid attack on his young brother.

One of the UK’s most up and coming new playwrights, Tom Powell won the OTR National Radio Drama Award and the Footlights’ Harry Porter Prize. He is part of the Soho Writers Alumni Group and in 2015 he was shortlisted for the Soho Young Writers’ Award for his first play the bear hunt. This year he attended the Royal Court Introductory Group and was shortlisted for HighTide’s First Commissions programme. His third play White Light has recently been selected for the Arcola’s PlayWrought festival.

The production is directed by Stephen Bailey, and partnered with Beyond The Streets, a charity that works to create pathways out of sexual exploitation.

Little Echoes is playing until 9 March 2019.

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COMPANY | Hong Kong, Sha Tin Town Hall

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Sondheim’s groundbreaking 1970 musical comedy is coming to Hong Kong in a brand new Cantonese translation by Jacob Yu and Wong Ming Lok. The musical revolves around Bobby, a single man who is unable to commit fully to a steady relationship — let alone marriage. The five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends, all come together in a celebration for Bobby’s 35th birthday.

As well as the main translator, Jacob Yu also directs and produces, and set designs too. Stoa Lau is the Music Director and Sound Designer, with lighting by Ivan Chen and costumes by Shybil Yuen, in addition to choreography by Nikki Ng. The cast includes: Amanda Lee, Peco Chui, Andrew Cheung, Beilosi Fung, Margaret Cheung, Sung Boon Ho, Lan Chun Chun, Tunes Ting, SiuLung Wong, Joanna Ko, Billy Yip, Vivian Chan, Tony Li, Terrence Leung.

The original Broadway production was nominated for a record-setting fourteen Tony Awards, and won Best Musical. Many of the songs have passed into musical theatre legend, including: “Being Alive”; “Side By Side” and “You Could Drive A Person Crazy”. The current gender-flipped production in London’s West End is also nominated for many awards.

Don’t miss the chance to experience this hilarious, punchy musical about love and relationships in Cantonese.

Book online at Urbtix until 24 February 2019. Check out Theatre Space’s Facebook page for more information.

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THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY ON ICE | London, SSE Arena Wembley

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The Wonderful World of Disney On Ice has been touring worldwide since 2017 and finally, for the first time, reaches the UK. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse invite fans on a treasure-filled journey bound for heartwarming adventure.

Audiences can expect a huge selection of excerpts from from across all of Disney’s hits, including: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1939); Aladdin (1992); The Lion King (1994); Tangled (2010); and — of course — Frozen (2013). You’ll also get the chance to see characters from The Little Mermaid (1989); Toy Story (1995); and, for the first time in the UK, Finding Dory (2016).

As well as all this, there’s also Disney Princess parade, and the whole clubhouse gang come to join in the fun too. Plus, you can learn the Mouse Bounce dance during the Fit to Dance pre-show!

Disney On Ice shows are always inspiring, featuring a huge cast of some of the best figure skaters in the world. Produced by Feld Entertainment, Nicole Feld says, “Whether this is your first time attending Disney on Ice or you’ve been coming for years, our goal is to create an atmosphere where families can create a dialogue between generations and bring to light their cherished memories.”

The Wonderful World of Disney On Ice brings beloved characters, both classic and new, to life through cutting-edge figure skating, incredible costumes and stunning set designs. Innovative lighting, thrilling special effects and breathtaking skating make it an experience the whole family will remember forever.

The Wonderful World of Disney On Ice plays at The SSE Arena, Wembley, 13 – 17 March 2019.

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Scotland’s East Neuk Festival unveils 2019 programme

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Scotland’s East Neuk Festival (ENF) returns for its 15th festival, 26 – 30 June 2019, inviting audiences on a musical adventure in beautiful and unique locations along East Neuk’s picturesque coastline. The festival promises major artists, unique collaborations and a large-scale art installation for the 2019 ENF, filling the hidden corners of Scotland’s coastal area of the East Neuk in Fife.

Percussionist Colin Currie and his new Colin Currie Quartet will be teaming up with community musicians of the East Neuk, for this year’s Big Project for massed percussion. Pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja, Pavel Haas Quartet and Belcea String Quartet will all be coming together to present a unique series of five concerts, while Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita will make their ENF debuts with a three-concert residency.

A large-scale art installation in the grounds of the National Trust for Scotland’s Kellie Castle will celebrate the communal Drying Greens of yesteryear, and culminate in an afternoon of family activities and pop up performances from the Tullis Russell Mills Band (in its centenary year).

An evolution of the ENF Retreat sees two past Retreatants – violinist Benjamin Baker and violist Diyang Mei – return to the festival to play solo, chamber and concerto dates. Festival Director, Svend McEwan-Brown, said: “ENF is all about relationships: we love when our favourite musicians return, collaborate and take new directions at the festival. Experimenting is a risky business, and we are proud that artists of such stature trust us to support them as they do it.”

Read the brochure, get excited, and start booking.

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CIRCA | London, Old Red Lion Theatre

Recommended

After premiering with a cast of twelve at the Theatre de Meervaart, Amsterdam in 2016, followed by an acclaimed run with a cast of seven at The Vaults in London, Tom Ratcliffe’s company work.Theatre returns in a co-production with Harlow Playhouse.

“I can’t wait to be bringing Circa back this year for a longer run in London, and then to Harlow,” says Ratcliffe of his debut play. “The play has become even more topical over the past two years, and loneliness amongst the gay community is something that needs to be spoken about. The play has developed over the past two years and it’s something I cannot wait to share with everyone.”

In the 21st century, being gay is supposedly more integrated than ever: marriage is legal, parenthood is possible, and #LoveWins is trending on Twitter. But in a world where sex is readily available, what does it mean to be in a gay relationship in the modern age? And why are so many gay men still lonely?

Circa explores the blurred identity of the gay relationship in the modern age. Following the story of one man’s romantic life, we are taken through the different relationships and encounters he experiences over a period of thirty years, joining him through the joys and pitfalls of love.

Book online at www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk. Tickets from £12.

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