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[Review:] WEST END DRIVE IN: WEEK 4 (online).

This review will consider Week 4’s instalment of the West End Drive In. Our first performance is by Hiba Elchikhe, and what can I say? Well…the curtsy at the end was good? Other than that, Elchikhe regularly performed throughout this production with a breathy, faltering vibrato and what I can only explain as guttural explosions as found in this opening song on the word ‘flown’ in the lyric, ‘He has FLOWN too close to the sun’.

Moving quickly on to Matthew Corke. Another performer, just like last week, who just stands there, energyless, lacking any physicality, hoping his wavering vocals will do the work for him. Choosing songs that do not match his voice type, Corke sounds simply terrible when delivering higher-pitched or low-toned notes, his voice faltering and breaking, and this seems to be a propensity shared amongst all of these so-called star performers, something also true of last week’s performers too. When crescendoing, Corke fails to move his microphone away from his mouth; this repeated flaw certainly needs work. However, saying this, overall, when singing in mid-range, his voice is very pleasing to the ear, and I can thankfully say that his rendition of ‘Sandy’ from Grease was pitch-perfect, even if he missed his cue at the beginning — a mixture of his fault and that of the technicians cueing the music; again, as last week, communications need to be tighter in regard to technicians knowing when performers have actually reached the stage.

Trevor Dion Nicholas was also…mediocre. His diction was disgraceful in places, his voice often sounded forced and breathy, and I was incredibly dissatisfied when Shenay Holmes revealed that he had been wanting to perform ‘Be Prepared’ from Disney’s The Lion King since he was a child, and THAT is what we get: a low-energy performance lacking movement and vitality. I was disappointed that his first song was the fourth slow song in a row! What a way to start a West End production! Perhaps it was different to be there in the moment…and perhaps there are many audience members who like one slow song after another. However, the two disinterested children who took, instead, to playing It, running around the car park in a supposedly socially distanced and COVID-safe environment [a nod to how well guest safety is really managed], might inform us otherwise. I must admit, though, vocally, he is a very strong performer with a good voice, but these singing and performing fundamentals need to be addressed first.

This week, there are still very fundamental issues with organisation, my main frustration being with crew and cast members standing visibly off stage, having a quick natter whilst a performance ensues. If you are not on stage, remain unseen! Surely, I should not need to comment on that basic rule. Similarly, we have Corke trying to hide on the edge of the stage –– I have no idea why; he was in plain sight — before his duet with Elchikhe, as if waiting for an introduction or something… And heaven knows why it was decided that for the production’s birthday, the tiresomely long, full version of ‘The Time Warp’ should be included for the audience to repeat the dance moves to over and over again for over four minutes straight.

Finally, though: no pop songs, no songs from film musicals! Finally, we have a line-up that actually fits the purpose of the production… I spoke too soon; there is one at the end: Trevor Dion Nicholas sings the audience out with ‘I’m Still Standing’ by Elton John –– your guess as to what significance that song has in this production is as good as mine! –– before one last encore from Holmes…which was the same song as last week.

I cannot stress enough that Holmes, as was the case last week, is really the shining beacon of hope for this production. The other performers should really study her stage presence and energy. Though hosting techniques did become rather repetitive this week, and whilst introductions before songs are becoming increasingly vapid and seem to be sponsored by Disney Plus with its countless references, Holmes’s performance abilities are simply divine. An engaging, captivating and dynamic performer with an astounding voice and vocal range. My only other criticisms would be to just be aware of how instructions to the audience come across, as sometimes, for some reason, her tone sounded rather acerbic and patronising –– but this was rare –– and secondly, if something is introduced to the audience, it must have purpose, and so when the audience are asked, ‘Who misses theatre? Put your hands up if you miss theatre!’, this should not be something to quickly move on from but something that steers content on to something else.

Additionally, I cannot express my frustration well enough with how many times the audience were asked to ‘make some noise’…perhaps there was a reason they were so silent?! I cannot think of a performance during this production, including in Holmes’s segments, wherein the audience were not told to do this. It became highly repetitive and, frankly, irksome.

Again, this week, no visuals to comment on. No costume, no lights, no set, no props… Nothing of visual appeal, not so much as a stage light or a fragment of confetti.

Overall, once again, a very disappointing production.

“A vapid production worsening as the weeks go by.”


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