Review / Thoughts
“MT FEST was a huge success”
The reason I’ve written this piece as a review/thoughts piece is because I didn’t see enough of MT FEST to give it a full review. This is also the reason why I haven’t given it a star-rating, as I didn’t think this would be fair. Instead I’ll be reviewing a little of the one show I did see, though not being as critical as I usually would be, as I’m fully aware it was only a 45-minute snippet of a work-in-progress. I’ll also be discussing the MT FEST in more depth and giving my general thoughts on it.
For those of you who don’t know, MT FEST was a programme of shows set up by Paul Taylor-Mills, described as “a taster menu of new musical theatre”.
The festival ran at The Other Palace for just under two weeks.
As well as these 45-minute excerpts, the festival also featured a range of other theatre experiences. The “Night Caps” were a series of late-night informal concerts with West End stars, featuring names such as Luke Bayer, Sophie Isaacs, and Emma Kingston. The “Team for Two” programme featured afternoon conversations with some key theatre experts, and the “Beam Brunches” were morning songwriter showcases, shining a light on some of the most exciting new creators of musical theatre.
There are so many things that I think were right about this festival. Firstly, the showcasing of new musicals can only be a positive thing for British Theatre? I must admit, I haven’t researched into the producers and creatives of the shows in the season, but as British Theatre Festival, I thought this was an incredible step in the right direction for having more homegrown British theatre on our stages, rather than copying from Broadway. Not that I’m not incredibly excited about the smash hits that have come over from Broadway this year (Waitress and Come From Away to name a few), but it’s nice to see some Brits being celebrated also.
The casts involved in the shows I think were also mainly British, giving many artists a platform. The show I saw in the MT FEST also featured a student ensemble, which I think is great too as gives young and aspiring performers the chance to perform and add something to their CVs at the very least.
The price of the tickets was also hugely accessible. One show ticket was £12.50 but if you booked two tickets, it became £20, meaning you and a friend could see a great piece of British Theatre for £10 each. Bargain. In addition to this, if you had the time to see all eight shows in the festival, this would have only cost you £76, a mere £9.50 per show. You simply can’t fault those prices.
I thought it was also incredibly interesting to see the work a musical goes through before hitting our big stages. At the start of the show I saw at the festival, we were told that the show had been to a similar festival in New York (the National Alliance for Musical Theatre) and detailed further stages it had been through, and still has yet to go through, before we see it outside of MT FEST. As an avid theatre fan, I felt honoured to be invited to understand the process that musicals go through, which I was truly fascinated by.
This is what I also think was great about the “Tea for Two” programme. In these discussions, topics included dance in theatre with Arlene Philips as the key speaker, marketing a new musical, audition tips from Cameron Mackintosh Ltd’s Head of Casting, and so much more. Not only are these talks incredibly interesting, but they are incredibly helpful for those considering a career in any of theatre’s roles.
The “Night Caps” also offered fans an intimate way to see their favourite theatre star live without paying huge amounts for a ticket and sat miles away from the stage. The whole festival was inviting to everyone in so many ways and I can only applaud and thank Paul Taylor-Mills for producing it.
From what I saw from social media, the first MT FEST was a huge success; I saw so many people going to either the shows, Night Caps, Beam Brunches or Tea for Two programmes. In so many ways, the festival was inviting, welcoming and enjoyable. I’m sure the producers also rendered MT FEST it a success because 2020 series has already been announced and is in the works. I am looking forward to it immensely.
The only slight critique I have is that I thought the 45-minute musical excerpts would have been performed by “unknown” actors. However, casts included names such as Carrie Hope Fletcher, Luke Bayer, Oliver Ormson, Jamie Muscato and more names within the musical theatre world. I would be curious to know if this was always the plan to have a sort of “star” casting, and would also be interested to know what the sales for tickets were like before and after these casts were announced.
However, as I have said, the show I saw did include a student ensemble and a handful of less well-known names, so I still stand firm that MT FEST championed the best of British.
THE ASTONISHING RETURN OF…THE PROTAGONISTS
Now onto my mini-review of the show I got to see!
The Astonishing Return of…The Protagonists tells the story of a group of superheroes who, in their prime, saved the world from multiple evil villains and catastrophes. Moving on 20 years, however, The Protagonists are faced with bigger problems: menopause, receding hairlines, and daughters going off to college.
We were told that The Astonishing Return of…The Protagonists was different from the rest in the MT FEST series as it actually has a 2-hour long script and music, unlike some of the other shows which were just in progress. We were treated to a 45-minute snippet and it was truly great fun.
The cast was completed by Christina Bennington as Penelope, Cameron Blakely, Rob Fowler as Captain Marvelous, Tiffany Graves as Eagle Woman, Leo Ihenacho as Dr Zappus, Kane Oliver Parry as Voltman, and Oliver Ormson as Fishboy.
The show was great fun and although I haven’t seen Eugenius, it did remind me of it, and unfortunately, Eugenius did close after a short run, making me wary of the future for The Protagonists.
There was much I liked about the show. The song between Penelope and her father was stunning, touching and beautifully performed. Voltman’s song was hilarious and catchy, and the whole score was clearly in the musical theatre genre, yet was still unique.
Even though the actors still had scripts, were only on a small stage and singing into stand-up microphones, the personality of each character was made clear through some basic physicality and great vocality in both speech and song.
The show, even in just a 45-minute snippet, had me truly belly-laughing and I think it’s one that many audiences would enjoy if they gave it a chance.
I would be curious, however, to know where The Astonishing Return of the Protagonists sits along with other musicals. As I said, it did give me Eugenius vibes, but is definitely too rude to be a family-fun show or one for kids. And if it’s competing with more adult shows on the West End, this ranges from Les Miserables to Waitress and everything in-between, so I’m not sure where it would fit in at the moment.
The story was catching and the 45-minute snippet did leave me wanting more. Should this musical be made into a full-scale production in London I would like to see it and would encourage others to do the same. How long it will last though? I couldn’t say.
A great fun show with a lot of potential and I hope to see it arriving somewhere soon!