Recently, I flew to Europe for a three week working vacation.
My plan was to spend part of that time in London, with a view to catching some of the West End’s best and brightest plays, musicals, revivals and Broadway transfers.
At the moment, there is a massive range on offer, which made deciding what to see a tremendous challenge. I did however, want to cram as many shows into eight days as humanly possible.
Being this overwhelmed for choice, YouTube proved to be a wonderfully helpful resource. After running a brief keyword search, I discovered a terrific channel run by Rukaya César.
Rukaya has created a vlog where she generously details her viewing experiences for theatre fans online. This exciting self – starter is using the power of social media to spread the word.
Often joined by her friend Shaun Nolan, the pair have covered many of the latest shows including ‘Dreamgirls’, ’42nd Street’, and ‘The Girls’.
Two aspects of their reviewing style really stand out.
The team have a natural chemistry, and combined, they share their detailed musings with enthusiastic and thoughtful flair. This passion for the performing arts also transcends the computer screen. As a viewer, I actually felt like I was part of their theatre – going adventures together.
Most of the reviews are divided into three distinct sections, pre – show anticipation, mid – point thoughts at interval, and a post – show wrap – up.
Of the eleven musicals and plays I caught, based on their reviews, Rukaya and Shaun’s informative vlogs helped me to choose seven. One musical called The Life, I had only heard of in passing. I’m so glad I went, as it has become a firm new favourite.
I respect so much what they are doing for the community that I contacted Rukaya, asking if she and Shaun would like to answer some questions for Theatre People.
The team’s answers, along with helpful links to their respective promotional websites, YouTube, and Instagram accounts, are below. Enjoy!
How did you both become interested in theatre?
R: I’d been to the theatre with my family a few times as a kid but for local productions, and when I was a teenager my mum would take me to London with my Nana and Grandpa to see a couple of shows here and there, like We Will Rock You, Legally Blonde and The Lion King, but it was when I saw Wicked that I became pretty obsessed. I think it’s a show that gets a lot of people hooked on theatre and it’s gone from there really!
S: It’s was my Grandma’s interest that got me more than anything. When she told me about theatre at a very young age, I became obsessed – I was young, about 5 years old! My favourite shows have always been Miss Saigon, Into The Woods, Les Miz and a couple of others in the years that followed with shows like Dreamgirls and Hairspray. The first show I ever saw was Hairspray in the West End when my Grandma and my Aunt took me almost a decade ago and then I realised just how magical the world of theatre really is
What was the motivation to put together a vlog?
R: I used to write about theatre on my blog, and found that for me personally there was a lot of pressure on it – if you wrote people may assume you’re trying to be a professional critic (maybe not so much nowadays with the number of theatre blogs, but back when I started that’s how it felt), and so I transitioned to YouTube naturally as I was comfortable with cameras. There weren’t many theatre ‘vloggers’ or YouTubers when I started doing and we’re still a rare breed now! I love using this platform to talk theatre and feel happier sharing via video, and I’ve luckily built a lovely little community from it.
S: I’ve never tried theatre vlogging as I felt the same as Rukaya does with blogging but obviously the opposite to her. I started my theatre blog three years ago to the week actually as it went well with the theatre writing I’d got myself into doing freelance with a couple of companies. I never wanted to become a theatre critic and I still don’t but about three years ago, it was a great way to see a heck of a lot of theatre and to share my “knowledge” – if you can call it that – with the world. I’ve also always been a passionate writer so it’s been a great way to keep my mind ticking daily!
You mentioned people contacting you from all over the world? Where are they from?
R: Yes! It’s amazing. Most recently I’ve had viewers in Australia and Canada contacting me, both saying that they enjoy my vlogs and being able to see more of what’s happening in London’s theatre scene as it’s not as easy for them to access this. YouTube Analytics tells me my audience is mostly from the UK, then the USA, followed by Australia, the Philippines and then Germany, an interesting mix!
S: It makes me so excited to see people engage with London theatre from across the Globe. I’ve been obsessed with Broadway in New York since I first discovered theatre over a decade ago so I am that foreign fan to many other people, so when people engage with the vlogs that Rukaya makes of us both or when they reach out to me on Twitter for a chat, it really warms my heart.
Which shows so far have you enjoyed the most, and why?
R: This is such a hard question. I’m gonna be a cop out and not answer this one, maybe I’ll make a video on it! 😉
S: Unlike Rukaya, I’ll be more open with my answers to this… It’s a long list though so I’ll just name a couple of standouts to me: I adored People, Places and Things which was at Wyndham’s Theatre last season. It was such a fantastic play and production that it fast became one of my all-time favourite plays – a list that hasn’t been amended in over five years! This season, I’ve enjoyed Ivo van Hove’s new production of Hedda Gabler at the National, James Macdonald’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Starring Imelda Staunton (my favourite play of all-time), John Tiffany’s production of The Glass Menagerie (my second favourite play of all-time) and Casey Nicholaw’s new production of Dreamgirls at the Savoy, which is a dream come true.
What specifics do you look for when recapping a show?
R: I know for a lot of people they may not have seen the show I’m talking about, so I like to focus on my opinions of the performers, and the basics of the show such as set, music, choreography, and briefly discuss the plot that I know is accessible information to the public – no spoilers!
S: When I sit down to write a review, I always cover every element of the show because I’m always paying attention and am as big of a fan as I am a nit-picker. When I finish a review, it’s normally around 1000 words as I’ve covered everything in my normal order: my love for the show and how I came to discover it, a story summary, the cast, the book/music, the director, the set design, the costume design, the lighting design, the overall affect… simple!
Which shows so far haven’t lived up to expectations, and why?
R: Very recently I saw Aladdin for the first time, and considering the budget of Disney put behind it, I certainly expected a lot more from it! I feel like I’m quite easy when it comes to shows, a show has to be really bad for me to not enjoy it but this one in particular just didn’t do it for me.
S: I feel like I got to the stage about a year ago where I had seen so much theatre, I finally had a good eye for what I considered to be bad or good. I’ve seen a few things in the past few years that I just didn’t enjoy – like Aladdin as Rukaya said when I saw that last year, the revival of The Last Five Years that was at the St James Theatre last year, and also The Play That Goes Wrong when I saw that for the first time a couple of years ago – but I think my most recent let down for a show was the revival of 42nd Street that just opened in the West End the other week. Everyone is raving about it and I used to be such a fan of the show, but in all honesty, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as some other musicals that opened in the West End recently.
Have you ‘stage doored’ and met the stars? If so, do you have any tips or suggestions for fans planning to do the same thing.
R: When I first started getting into theatre I did go to the stage door a lot, particularly at Wicked! I’ve certainly calmed down now that I live in London, I think that’s partially due to laziness as I know I can pop back another day to meet a performer! I personally think it’s a really fun experience though, and I’ve made a lot of friends through hanging round at stage doors! My tips for stage door newbies: don’t expect that you’ll get to see cast members always, remember that they’re humans and this is their way in and out of work, and if they’ve had a tiring day they might not be up to signing and taking photos! Also, have a Sharpie on hand, and try to stay calm – I promise you’ll have a better experience with the performer if you remember to breathe and keep your cool rather than freak out over them! I get it, they’re awesome, but trust me on this one.
S: I’m not one to fan girl very often (not outwardly so anyway) so I’ve never seen the desire for going to a stage door as most of my love for a performer makes me want to chat to them about their craft as opposed to stop for a picture, but when I used to go to the theatre with a group of friends some years ago, we would almost always stage door. I think the most recent time I did was two years ago in New York when I accidentally stood at the stage door and met Sierra Boggess and Tyne Daly after It Shoulda Been You… happy accident! I think my best tip for people going to the stage door is to wrap up warm, be patient and remember that you don’t need to prove how big of a fan you are by talking loudly about how many times you’ve seen the show. It’s rather annoying!
Are there any shows on Broadway you would like to come to London?
R: I’m impatiently waiting for Finding Neverland to finally get over here, and excitingly Fun Home has been confirmed for 2018 so I’m looking forward to that! I think Waitress is a strong contender to be here and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dear Evan Hansen makes a transfer too. I wish I’d seen Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening as it sounded incredible, check out the Broadway Backstory podcast on it for some insight!
S: As I said before, I am a huge fan of Broadway shows so yes, there are so so many. I’m still waiting for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder to transfer. It supposedly was after winning the Best Musical Tony three years ago but nothing has come of it. I’d also love to see Dear Evan Hansen like Rukaya said and would also love to see last year’s Best Play Tony-winner The Humans, which was produced in part by Sonia Friedman so maybe she’ll bring it to London soon. She is however bringing Fun Home to London next summer like Rukaya said, which I saw on Broadway the week after it won the Best Musical Tony in 2015 and adored with all my heart. Would also love Something Rotten to make a transfer too as I loved it when I saw it in New York as well!
Are there any West End shows that would translate well for American audiences.
R: I find these kind of questions really difficult, I’m sure Shaun will have better answers than myself! Off the top of my head I think depending on the success of The Play That Goes Wrong that has recently opened on Broadway, I can definitely see Mischief Theatre taking more shows of theirs over to the US. I think it’s tough for new writers and work to get a leg up into the West End as it is at the moment, let alone overseas, but hopefully that’ll change.
S: Oh Rukaya, you know me too well…! I actually think about this a lot when seeing a show as I’d definitely consider myself to have a rather Americanised taste when it comes to theatre; I’d happily see every single show currently running on Broadway, but I’m not overly fussed by everything I’ve seen currently in the West End, if you catch my drift. I think Harry Potter will obviously work amazingly with American audiences when that transfers in the Spring and I think the same for Gypsy with Imelda Staunton which is meant to be heading over there next year as well. Dreamgirls and Groundhog Day will both also work brilliantly over there too and I also have high hopes that shows like Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour will get a chance at somewhere like the St Anns Warehouse or BAM Brooklyn because I think it’s something everyone will like – it’s hard to list too many shows though as the West End is full of Americanised musicals at the moment!
Are there any booking agencies or online services you recommend?
R: I’m a huge fan of TodayTix as they’re available in so many big cities, including London of course! They’re also the go-to for online lottery and rush tickets so I feel like they’re really paving the way for affordable tickets with a few clicks. They also have a referral scheme where you can get credit for introducing people to the app which is awesome! I feel very lucky to have been able to get to know some of the team at TodayTix personally and the work they’re doing is great. Also, another theatre site I adore is SeatPlan, a website where you can upload photos of the theatre seats you’ve been in and can review them for others so when they go to book a seat they can check out the view beforehand, it’s GENIUS!
S: I want to start by saying that I endorse Rukaya’s choices wholeheartedly, especially SeatPlan which I have also used since it began and am obsessed with it. When I do go to book a ticket, I am much more of a fan of booking directly from the box offices / the official show’s website these days as I trust them the most with my booking, but I am also a big fan of a website called Compare Theatre Tickets, which is like a price comparison website for theatre tickets which is genius as Rukaya would say! I also think Last Minute has some brilliant deals on if you sign up to their theatre mailing list. My biggest theatre ticket booking secret though is this: if you’re going to see a show – especially one from ATG – and you want to avoid the booking fee, use LoveTheatre instead. It’s a discount theatre ticket website owned by ATG who don’t charge booking fees and the offer the same seat selection as ATG do on their official website. Handy to bear in mind!
Links to Rukaya’s sites
Links to Shaun’s sites