REVIEW: Heathers ★★★★★ – Theatre Royal Haymarket

“…a thought-provoking, brave, humorous delight.”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

Heathers is a musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy based on the 1989 film by Daniel Waters. The movie was one of the last in a string of movies set in American high schools providing insight into the environment where teens are forced to forge their identities, although Heathers was different from many others because it saw a female character as the leading protagonist.

The story revolves around Veronica Sawyer, an isolated girl who’s beaten down daily by the high school social hierarchy. The musical features archetype characters: the supreme beauty queens, the dumb jocks, the misunderstood and mocked; but Veronica spans the chasm between unpopular and popular. She joins ranks with “the Heathers”, the school’s most popular and pretty trio of girls who are above and governing the chaos beneath them, taking part in their games, turning against her childhood friend, and abandoning her principles and beliefs. Along her misguided path, she encounters JD, the new kid in school, and she is swept off her feet when he refuses to bow down to the social hierarchy and floors two bullies in a fight who no one else has the guts to stand up to.

What follows is the death of three high-schoolers by the puppet-master hand of the psychopathic JD, who’s left damaged and dysfunctional by his mother’s suicide and his father’s abuse, and seeks to unleash his wrath on those he deems corrupt. Caught in this whirlwind of uncertainty, Veronica pulls through and learns the lesson to believe in love and doing what’s right, not allowing hate, anger and resentment to control her actions.

Carrie Hope Fletcher (The Addams Family, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Miserables) triumphed in the role of Veronica. Jamie Muscato (Big Fish, Lazarus, Stay Awake Jake) chilled and enthralled as JD. Jodie Steele (Myth, Wicked, The Great American Trailer Park Musical) was phenomenal as queen-bitch, Heather Chandler. The entire cast excelled with Murphy and O’Keefe’s catchy score, including multiple fantastic numbers such as, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Freeze Your Brain’, ‘Dead Girl Walking’ and ‘Dead Gay Son’.

Touching on issues of bullying, popularity contests, teenage suicide, and exploitation of tragedy, Heathers is a thought-provoking, brave, humorous delight. This production transferred after a workshop run in the studio and then an Off-West End premiere at the Other Palace, and we are hopeful to see more of Heathers in the future.

Heathers is showing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 24th November 2019 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, read our guide.

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REVIEW: The Phantom of the Opera ★★★★★ – Her Majesty’s Theatre

…tragic, beautiful love story with a twist of ghostly chill”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

The Phantom of the Opera is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart, with additional input from Richard Stilgoe, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. The musical premiered in the West End in 1986, and it opened on Broadway in 1988 where it went on to become the longest- running musical in Broadway’s history.

It follows the story of young, budding opera singer Christine Daae, and her tutorage by a dark, mysterious man who calls himself the Angel of Music and haunts the Paris Opera House causing several “accidents” when his demands go unmet and warnings unheeded. Naïve and eager to excel in her career, Daae initially welcomes the Phantom’s attentions, but soon grows frightened by his darkness and obsessive passions. She turns to childhood friend and prospective suitor, Raoul, for comfort, which enrages the jealous Phantom. This love triangle leads to heartbreak and triumph as both men fight for Christine’s love.

The musical captures the chaos of theatre production, the gruelling rehearsals young dancers go through to perfect their craft, the splendour of the opera, and the sinister atmosphere surrounding the alleged haunting of the theatre. The bright, vivid costumes and elaborate, intricate set brings to life the experience and immerses the audience in the world of the Paris Opera House.

The whirling romance, grandeur of the art and sinister atmosphere is built in Webber and Hart’s masterpiece score, including countless iconic musical theatre ballads, including, ‘Music of the Night’, ‘All I Ask of You’, ‘Angel of Music’, ‘Masquerade’, and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.

The Phantom was played by Tim Howar (Chess, Rock of Ages, Mike and the Mechanics (music)), whose unorthodox, but powerful, voice suits the role and brings a new flavour to the long-established operatic role. Kelly Mathieson (Le Nozze de Figaro, Carmen) and Jeremy Taylor (Wicked, We Will Rock You, Evita) charm as Christine Daae and Raoul.

The Phantom of the Opera is a tragic, beautiful love story with a twist of ghostly chill. This musical has been running non-stop for over thirty years and still retains its magical, enticing, seductive qualities, and continues to live up to its reputation as one of the all-time great theatre classics.

The Phantom of the Opera is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre and is currently booking until 2nd March 2019 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to Her Majesty’s, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Unexpected Joy ★★★★ – Southwark Playhouse

“…witty, sassy, warm-hearted, relatable, and, as the title promises, joyful.”

★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

Unexpected Joy is a musical created by Bill Russell and Janet Hood, a piece which they began writing before gay marriage was made legal in the USA, and it remains relevant today as battles for rights still continue to rage.

The story is centred around three generations of strong women: the eponymous Joy, a singer-songwriter hippie with a fun-loving, love-all approach to life; her daughter, the conflicted and confused Rachel, whose reaction to her upbringing has led her to a strong Christian faith, but yet her fundamental beliefs are at war with her desire for peace in her family; and Tamara, Rachel’s daughter, a sassy, freedom-seeking adolescent. The family reunion rapidly descends into chaos when Joy reveals she is going to get married again – to Lou, a female musician with views vastly different from Rachel’s, and this adds more feistiness and spice to the already heated situation.

Each of the four characters have undeniable flaws and difficulty in expressing their emotions, and they find security and certainty in passionately standing up for what they believe in, no matter how contrary it is to the beliefs of those around them. The four are each very different people, but they are brought together by love and their passion for music, and, in the end, acceptance of their diversity.

The cast of four comprises: Janet Fullerlove (Oxy and the Morons, Fiddler on the Roof, Shakespeare in Love) as Joy, Jodie Jacobs (Myth, Bananaman, Lizzie) as Rachel, Kelly Sweeney (professional debut) as Tamara, and Melanie Marshall (Jane Eyre, Guys and Dolls, The Infidel) as Lou. The four have fantastic, powerhouse voices and maintain an obvious chemistry while their very different characters go off in their separate directions.

Unexpected Joy is witty, sassy, warm-hearted, relatable, and, as the title promises, joyful. It’s wonderful to see a show with such strong female leads, and the uplifting story is accompanied by a delightful score, including, ‘Like A Good Girl’, ‘What A Woman Can Do’, ‘You Are My Worst Nightmare’ and ‘Unexpected Joy’.

Unexpected Joy is showing at the Southwark Playhouse until 29th September (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Southwark Playhouse, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Little Shop of Horrors ★★★★ – Open Air Theatre

“…a colourful, camp riot of a show – bizarre, tongue-in-cheek, and a black comedic enigma”

★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

Little Shop of Horrors is a spoof musical by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken, based on the 1960 black comedy b-movie of the same name. The musical debuted on Off-Broadway in 1982, where it ran for five years and became the third longest running musical and highest grossing Off-Broadway show in history. This production is the show’s second revival in London, following the original West End run at the now Harold Pinter Theatre (then Comedy Theatre) in 1983, and the first revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2006 starring Sheridan Smith as Audrey.

The story revolves around a man-eating plant named Audrey II, which came to Earth following a “total eclipse of the sun” and is nurtured by the meek and mild, hapless Seymour, who works at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist, and who names the plant after Audrey, his co-worker and secret crush. Audrey II is played by drag queen, Vicky Vox, who has magnetic stage presence and both amuses and horrifies with the continual delivery of the plant’s catchphrase, “Feed me!”. The plant takes on a life of its own, blackmailing Seymour into feeding it more people after devouring Audrey’s sadistic, unhinged, dentist boyfriend, Orin (played by Matt Willis (Busted (band), Footloose, Wicked), in return for making Seymour and Mr Mushnik’s (played by Forbes Masson (Summer and Smoke, Big Fish, Boudica)) failing florist shop, famous and successful. Mushnik later adopts orphan Seymour as his son to ensure his loyalty to the business in the disguise of kindness and affection with musical number ‘Mushnik and Son’.

In addition, there is a cutesy, yet foreseeably ill-fated, romance between Seymour and Audrey, for which Marc Antolin (The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Into the Woods, Romantics Anonymous) and Jemima Rooper’s (The Norman Conquest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Respectable Wedding) overblown, animated caricature performances suit perfectly.

The setting for the story is Skid Row, a grungy, run-down part of New York, and Tom Scutt’s set design paints the scene of urban decay, city crowding and claustrophobia surprisingly well in the open-to-the-elements venue.

The trio of street girls, Christina Modestou (Six, Rent, Shrek) as Ronnette, Renee Lamb (Six) as Chiffon, and Seyi Omooba (Ragtime, Junkyard, Boxed) as Crystal, serve as the narrators of the show with their powerhouse vocal performances which shine through, never better than in the opening number of the show, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. The score includes many other songs including, ‘Grow For Me’, ‘Suddenly, Seymour’, ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and ‘Skid Row’.

Little Shop of Horrors combines themes of horror, romance, sci-fi, and urban decay. Satirising each element, this production is a colourful, camp riot of a show – bizarre, tongue-in-cheek, and a black comedic enigma.

Little Shop of Horrors is showing at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 22nd September (to book tickets, click here).

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REVIEW: Knights of the Rose ★★★★ – Arts Theatre

“…a thrilling tale of chivalry, bravery, tragedy and romance”

★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

Knights of the Rose is a musical created by Jennifer Marsden following the story of a band of brave knights. The simple tale of chivalry and knightly honour is perhaps unoriginal in itself, but it is brought to life by the epic score of rock hits, which include Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’, Meatloaf’s ‘Is Nothing Sacred’, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler, and many more, all of which capture the emotion and passion of the show. The musical is making its world premiere at the West End’s Arts Theatre.

The show begins with the knights’ triumphant return home from battle, and it soon becomes clear that two of the most eligible ladies in the kingdom, Princess Hannah and Lady Isabel, have more than one noble admirer, giving an early indication of forthcoming heartbreak. However, the joy of their return is short-lived, as the knights are soon summoned to arms once more when a threat is issued against their king. Henceforth, the plot twists and turns with acts fuelled by love, honour, betrayal and jealousy.

The cast of this production features many strong voices, including, Chris Cowley (Saturday Night Fever, Wicked, The Last Five Years) as Sir Palamon, Matt Thorpe (American Idiot, Jersey Boys, We Will Rock You) as Horatio, Oliver Saville (I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical, Wicked, The Navigator) as Hugo, Rebekah Lowings (Dick Whittington, Moby Dick, Jesus Christ Superstar) as Lady Isabel, and understudy Kelly Hampson (Legally Blonde, Ghost) as Princess Hannah (this role is normally played by Katie Birtill).

Knights of the Rose is a thrilling tale of chivalry, bravery, tragedy and romance, enlivened by its musical score and made sophisticated by its literary references to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, Marlowe and Wordsworth.

Knights of the Rose is showing at the Arts Theatre until 26th August (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Arts Theatre, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Tina the Musical ★★★★★ – Aldwych Theatre

“…a true testament to the power-house legend that is Tina Turner and an embodiment of her spirit, endurance and perseverance.”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

Tina is a musical by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins, following the story of the rock and roll legend, Tina Turner, which is making its world premiere at the West End’s Aldwych Theatre. The show opens with the silhouette of Tina as she prepares to go on stage and chants her ancestral music. Instead of then kicking off the show by launching straight into the glories of Tina Turner as the world-renowned solo singer, we cut back to Tina as a child in Nutbush, Tennessee, where she was born as Anna-Mae Bullock, and even then, we can glimpse the future strength of the woman and the makings of the star.

Over the course of the story, Tina endures many hardships, beginning in her childhood when her mother fled from her abusive father. Whilst the abuse in Tina’s later life is well-known, this moment in the musical comes as a shock to the audience because we see just how early domestic violence entered Tina’s life, and this then continued into her marriage to Ike Turner, who spotted her talents, gave her the name Tina Turner, and put her at the forefront of his band which became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

After splitting from the abusive Ike, the hardships continued as Tina struggled to re-establish herself as a solo act, with ongoing disputes over performance rights with her ex-husband and ex-professional partner, and the perception she was a “has been”. With help from record producer Roger Davies, she established herself as not just a solo act, but a rock and roll singer, and Tina of course went on to be crowned the “Queen of Rock and Roll”.

The show has themes of domestic violence and racism, but also ones of great endurance and, above all, spirit. It is a story of extreme highs and lows, but the spirited fighter, Tina, comes out victorious and, through the hardships, the audience is really rooting for her and is uplifted by her eventual success as an artist and freedom as a woman.

Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along, Bring It On, Dreamgirls) gave a knockout performance as Tina, having mastered the mannerisms and stage presence of the star, not to mention the range of vocals, from highs to gravelly lows, and she delivers a classy, soulful performance. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Low Road) played the unlikeable Ike Turner, showing his menacing, domineering presence in Tina’s life, but also allowing the audience to see his talented musicianship.

Tina is a sensational musical, a true testament to the power-house legend that is Tina Turner and an embodiment of her spirit, endurance and perseverance. The epic score consists of over twenty classic songs, including ‘Nutbush City Limits’, ‘Proud Mary’, ‘River Deep Mountain High’, and ‘Simply the Best’.

Tina is showing at the Aldwych Theatre and is currently booking until 16th February 2018 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Aldwych, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Bat Out of Hell ★★★★★ – Dominion Theatre

“…we’d love it to stay…well, till the end of time!”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

 

Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell is set in what was formerly Manhattan and is now Obsidian where a power struggle rages between tyrannical ruler, Falco, and a riotous, eternally young and reckless gang, The Lost; in the midst of which, there is a love story brewing between Falco’s daughter, Raven, and leader of the Lost, Strat, whose danger and wildness appeals to all Raven’s desires to break free from her captivity.

The musical made its world premiere in Manchester before opening at the West End’s London Coliseum. Following a sold-out run in London and Toronto, Bat Out of Hell is back with a blast at the Dominion Theatre where we’d love it to stay…well, till the end of time!

The introduction of ‘Love and Death and the American Guitar’ is more than fitting since it conjures images of Fender guitars, violence, blood, Harley motorbikes, rock ‘n’ rolls dreams and damnation, giving the audience a tempting teaser of what’s to come.

The cast of this musical are simply faultless. On display is a plethora of talent incorporating so many powerful, distinctive voices which all shine separately and together throughout the musical. Christina Bennington (Sweeney Todd, Show Boat, Oklahoma!), Sharon Sexton (Billy Elliot, The Commitments, Copacabana), Danielle Steers (Beautiful, The Bodyguard, We Will Rock You), Simon Gordon ((Moulin Rouge!, Julius Caesar, Jimmy Mac) who performed in place of leading man, Andrew Polec), Rob Fowler (Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, We Will Rock You), Giovanni Spano (Guys and Dolls, Dance ‘Til Dawn, The Who’s Tommy) and Wayne Robinson (Save the Last Dance for Me, Kiss Me Kate, Thriller Live) are just a few standout cast members who are backed up by an outstanding ensemble.

This abundant torrent of talent performs the score of eighteen classic songs (which are drawn predominantly from the Meat Loaf albums Bat Out of Hell and Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell) and two new songs written for this musical to perfection and fulfil Steinman’s forty-year ambition to see Bat Out of Hell released as a musical.

Bat Out of Hell serves as a masterclass of perfect casting, choreography, set and lighting design and catapults Jim Steinman’s rock ‘n’ roll creation into an epic explosion of debauchery, decadence and splendour.

Bat Out of Hell is showing at the Dominion Theatre and it is currently booking until 27th October 2018 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Dominion, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Strictly Ballroom ★★ – Piccadilly Theatre

“….woefully little dance and a weak, meandering plot which leaves a feeling of disappointment”

★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

Strictly Ballroom is a musical adapted from the 1992 movie for the stage by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce and it follows the story of Scott Hastings, an ambitious and unruly young dancer who delights in breaking the rules of traditional dance competitions and making up his own steps in his bid to win the Pan-Pacific Championships.

In a musical which promises dance in the title, there is a distinct lack of dance throughout with a very limited amount of focused dance numbers that are often abruptly cut short. The little dance there was in the musical was magnificent, choreographed expertly by Drew McOnie, particularly in the Paso Doble scenes, where the tension built was electric.

The plot itself is lacklustre: a rule-breaking dancer, a love-interest in the form of a clumsy yet brilliant beginner dancer, a disappointed mother who uses her son to try to live out her own career fantasies, and a whipped husband who was once like his son but had all his creativity, enthusiasm and confidence beaten out of him by his shrew of a wife. The musical is caught between not having the qualities of an all-out dance show and falling drastically short of having an adequate plot to carry a musical.

The musical’s score is made up of amazing hit songs from the pop back-catalogue, but, unfortunately, Will Young (winner of Pop Idol (TV), Cabaret), who played Wally Strand, the narrator of the story, isn’t strong enough a vocalist to do much justice to songs from Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Billy Idol, and David Bowie.

The cast of this musical all gave great performances with the material they were given. Zizi Strallen (Follies, Mary Poppins, Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man) as Fran, Jonny Labey (Eastenders (TV), In The Heights, White Christmas) as Scott Hastings, and Richard Grieve (Neighbours (TV), Home and Away (TV), High Society) as Les Kendall gave particularly notable performances.

Strictly Ballroom has woefully little dance and a weak, meandering plot which leaves a feeling of disappointment which even the iconic songs in the score and stellar performances by the cast members can’t lift.

Strictly Ballroom is showing at the Piccadilly Theatre and it is currently booking until 20th October 2018 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Piccadilly, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Chicago ★★★★★ – Phoenix Theatre

“…dark and deliciously intoxicating and seductive, and infinitely sexy”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

 

As the opening line of the musical proudly boasts, Chicago is a story of “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery”. The musical, which was adapted by Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb, and John Kander from Maurine Dallas Watkins’s play which satirised the women who were made celebrities by their murderous activities, is set in the late ‘20s on the Chicagoan backdrop. Prohibition was at its height in America, but despite governmental policy, bootlegging became America’s most profitable industry and drinking clubs flourished and became an integral part of Chicago culture.

Chicago follows the story of Roxie Hart and her fellow “celebrity murderesses” as they are rocketed into fame due to the public’s obsession with their sensational crimes. Defending these murderesses is Billy Flynn, a lawyer who makes something of a circus of the courtroom, corrupting justice by giving the jury “the old razzle dazzle” with his charms, and he specialises in re-writing the facts of a case to create grounds and context. Looking after the murderesses in jail is Mama Morton, who sets up phone calls, drums up press and tends to the girls while they are on trial.

The darkness of the show stems from the lack of respect for the facts and deliverance of justice, and all anyone cares about is money, fame, entertainment, and self-gain. The musical, indeed, makes a parody of the public’s fleeting attentions, as they constantly search for the next hot, blood-covered court case, leaving the previous sensations as unimportant cast-offs , quite literally old news. Perhaps this is the most disturbing message of Chicago, even more so than committing a crime for personal gain and fame, but the media and public’s fascination with gore.

This production of Chicago is led by Sarah Soetaert (Cats, Carousel, Fame) as Roxie Hart and Josefina Gabrielle (The Box of Delights, A Little Night of Music, Stepping Out) as Velma Kelly, both of whom gave sensation performances which were on point, suitably girlish, and all-smiles for the cameras. Ruthie Henshall (A Chorus Line, Cats, Miss Saigon) gave a classy performance as Mama Morton and excelled with ‘When You’re Good To Mama’. Cuba Gooding Jr (Jerry Maguire (TV), Tre Styles (TV), The Trip to Bountiful) gave a charming performance as Billy Flynn but struggled to hold his own in musical numbers.

Chicago is dark and deliciously intoxicating and seductive, an infinitely sexy show which sparks dreams of jazz, swanky parties and a world where you can literally get away with murder. Standout musical numbers include, ‘All That Jazz’, ‘Cell Block Tango’, ‘Me and My Baby’, and many more, all of which are supported by intricate choreography which draw the audience in and make for a very intimate theatrical experience.

Chicago is currently showing at the Phoenix Theatre and booking until 6th October 2018 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Phoenix, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Eugenius ★★★ – The Other Palace

“…lots of fun, entertaining and truly the geek-power musical”

★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

 

Eugenius is a musical by Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins. This production at The Other Palace marks its world premiere. The musical follows the story of Eugene, a high school boy with a passionate interest in comics, and his two friends, Janey and Feris, who share his interest. Eugene writes his own comic featuring Tough Man and Super-Hot Lady as the principal characters. A visit to the high school from a Hollywood producer presents the opportunity to take Tough Man to the big screen, and what follows is a series of trials which teach Eugene to be his own hero, follow his dreams and, chiefly, stay true to himself.

It is, in a lot of ways, a stereotypical story of a naïve boy with an idea that gets picked up by an industry expert and the boy, too trusting and too grateful for the opportunity, allows himself to be guided and his work corrupted, despite his friends trying to tell him to stand up for himself and the integrity of his work. However, Eugenius does have an interesting twist when Evil Lord Hector, the villain from Eugene’s comic, shows up on the film set, with disastrous consequences.

As well as references to superheroes and comics, the show also features wonderful parodies of musicals, including Chicago, Les Miserables, and Flashdance (which co-creator Ben Adams is currently starring in the UK tour production of as Nick Hurley).

The cast of this production were all superb, with standout performances from Laura Baldwin (Big Fish, The Little Beasts, Peter Pan) as Janey, Daniel Buckley (Fiver, Dead Simple, Jest End) as Feris, Scott Paige (The Addams Family, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Made In Dagenham) as Theo, and Cameron Blakely (The Addams Family, Into The Woods, Oliver!) as Lex.

Eugenius is a little slow to start but, when it does get off the ground, it is lots of fun, entertaining and truly the geek-power musical. The musical’s biggest strength is the catchy score, which is indeed ingenious, including, ‘Who’s That Guy?’, ‘Hollywood’, ‘The No Pants Dance’, and the title track, ‘Go Eugenius’.

Eugenius is showing at the Other Palace until 3rd March (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Other Palace, read our guide.

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