Tuesday, 30 June 2015

"Jesus Christ Superstar"
Nottingham Theatre Royal

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber's classic rock opera about the last days of Jesus Christ. It's difficult for a reviewer not to make comparisons with previous versions of the same piece of theatre and for me this production didn't live up to some of the other productions I'd seen.

For me it started off quite weak and I found the enunciation of the lyrics hindered the timing of the musical pieces and this started to grate after a while. Tim Rogers, who played Judas, which is what the story is really all about, seemed a bit shouty in parts which in turn made some of the lyrics difficult to hear. at times it was like listening to a Shakespearean actor present lines to rock music and this was just slightly off putting. That said in Act 2, he seemed to loosen up a bit and let the lyrics flow which suited the pace of the music and the timing came back.

Jesus was played by Glenn Carter, and again I wasn't that enamoured with this casting either. Sometimes it was difficult to hear him and at other times, he seemed to be shouting. I must admit though that the crucifixion scene was played out well. I was sorry that I couldn't warm to Glenn as Jesus in the way that I've been able to warm to other professional and amateur actors who've played this iconic role, and I can't put my finger on why that was. His "Gethsemane" also disappointed me as the note that should have been held wasn't and was slightly pitchy. He didn't, for me, live up to what I had expected.

X Factor's Rachel Adedeji played Mary Magdelene, and I afraid yet again she came as a disappointment as well. Her voice didn't suit the role. Okay she has a decent soulful voice but I got the feeling that she didn't commit to the songs. Her highlight for me though was, again in Act 2, with "Can We Start Again, Please", which she duetted with Peter, played by Edward Handoll.

There were several saving graces though in Cavin Cornwall who played Caiaphas. What an amazing voice and such stage presence. Herod, the comedy role, was again done different to other productions I'd seen and Tom Gilling ramped up the camp with "Herod's Song", brilliant piece of musical theatre. Pilate, was played by Johnathan Tweedie, and you could really tell the difference in vocal technique with Johnathan and the leads.

The lighting effects for this show were amazing and really created just the right emotive atmosphere, as did the sound design which at times sent shivers down the old spine.

All in all it wasn't a complete failure but there were parts that I really loved and others that maybe fell down for me compared to, say the Arena Tour with Tim Minchin as Judas and Mel Chisholm as Mary Magdelene, but these are big sandals to fill.

Great music and classic rock opera tunes but maybe the leads need to just let rip without shouting and control those big, long notes a bit more, and maybe relax into the roles.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 4 July 2015. if you're a fan, go see it, but if there's just a passing interest, I'd pass on it.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

"Grease" at Loughborough Town Hall
by Bright Lights Theatre School.

My first experience of this group and what an aptly titled theatre school because there were many bright lights on stage this afternoon; not shining on the stage but shining from the stage.

With an age range from 4 to 18 this large cast showed a little bit of nerves to start with, but then again which actor on their opening performance wouldn't, They soon got into their stride to deliver a strong and confident performance of one of the worlds best loved of the modern musicals. There were a couple of missed music cues but what struck me was the professionalism of the young actors as they found their cue for the following line and ran with it.

The ensemble gave great support to the main characters and it was lovely to see the enjoyment on the younger actors' faces during the dance routines and when giving their final bows. Such a show of confidence at such tender years should be, and was, applauded.

And so to the leads Danny and Sandy. Danny Zuko was played by Harrison Lightowler, who embraced the dancing and singing with great vigour. I am one for characterization and this boy played out the high school "jock" as a jack the lad with less arrogance but a great deal of confidence, and made Zuko as a slightly more intelligent, or maybe less goofy, version of the screen character, which in turn I felt made Danny Zuko easier to warm to. Harrison's facial expressions were good to note as well because sometimes younger actors can have a limited range of expressions but Harrison captured the light and shade of Zuko really well.

Sandy, the Olivia Newton-John role, was played by Sophie Draycott and what a lovely expressive voice she has. Her versions of "Hopelessly Devoted To You" and the reprise of "Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee" sent shivers up my spine. And what a transformation from college girl to sexy leather clad bombshell! No wonder Harrison's Danny seemed lost for words!

Lots of really strong performances but I must mention a few more who I especially enjoyed watching. Keisha Richards (Rizzo) gave an amazingly mature performance throughout and has a great voice for musicals. When she sung "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", which in my humble opinion is one of the most under rated songs from a musical, you really felt what she was going through. A definite highlight.

Billy Harris ( Doody) has a future in comedy characters. He really made me smile at his goofiness. Daniel Robinson (Johnny Casino and Teen Angel) absolutely nailed Teen Angel, and could be the best version I've seen at amateur level. Good, strong, powerful voice, mixed with a bit of cheeky humour attracted a loud round of applause from the very appreciative audience as he ended his "Beauty School Dropout" section.

Emily Brewin (Frenchy) also embraced the character of the highly pitched beauty school dropout who was just a little slow on the uptake, but a lovely character part for Emily.

The other Brewin in the cast, Zak, also presented a great characterization of Kenicke, with just the right amount of arrogance. His shining moment is of course the song "Greased Lightning", which he and the cast really embraced and again drew a massive appreciation from the audience. And a great stage car as well!

These are just a few of the actors, but there was not one person on that stage that didn't win my appreciation, admiration and applause.

There's a lot of,sometimes complicated choreography in this show, but excellently done by Nick Sutcliffe with additional help from Mary Garbe and Cara Dudgeon, who also did a good job with the musical direction of the show. The enthusiasm of the whole cast with this choreography shone all the way through.

It's nice to think that I could be watching some of the future professional musical theatre actors on that stage and if they carry on with the enthusiasm, talent, and gusto shown today, I've no doubt that in years to come some of these young actors from Bright Lights will themselves have their name in bright lights.

A fun couple of hours with some really talented young people. We all knew the songs and there was not one person who didn't leave the theatre without a smile on their faces. A job done well by everyone involved.

"Grease" is on at Loughborough Town Hall until Sunday 28th June 2015.

Monday, 22 June 2015

"SPAMALOT"
Nottingham Theatre Royal

I saw this show a few years ago at the Theatre Royal. I'm not a massive Python fan but I loved this show then. This time round I love it even more. They reckoned "The Servant Of Two Masters" was the funniest show in the world but this show blows that one out of the water.

Lovingly ripped off from "Monty Python and The Holy Grail", every single minute of this show is funny. King Arthur and his trusty sidekick, Patsy are looking for knights to join them to find the Holy Grail. Written by Eric Idle, who also made an appearance as God (comedically typecast) with the music written by John Du Prez. Here's a music fact, the two of them also wrote the theme to "One Foot In the Grave" and Eric recorded the song as well.

Arthur, Patsy, and the knights overcome several obstacles with lots of silliness and end up with the marriage of Arthur and The Lady in the Lake, aka Guinevere.

One of the songs state that you have to have a star to put on a musical and this show had many stars who shone very bright.

i just knew that casting Joe Pasquale as King Arthur was bound to be a success and I was not wrong, Joe was perfect for the role and even managed to get some ad libbing in the show. With Joe's talent for ad libbing and knowing just how far to go with it,he added a little something extra to the mix. How Will Hawkesworth (Robin), managed not to laugh in the "Helen Mirren" section, I'll never know, true professional.

Casting Joe's son, Joe Tracini, as Patsy was a casting made in comedy heaven, because they worked so well together. There's just something wonderful about an actor who doesn't have to do much to raise a smile, and Joe T has obviously inherited this talent from his dad. The coconut clacking Patsy is a wonderful role for Joe T. It's only when you see a TV actor like Joe Tracini on stage that you really appreciate their comic timing and acting talent. I've never been a fan of Hollyoaks, but after tonight I am a fan of Joe Tracini.

The Lady In The Lake was played by Sarah Earnshaw. Again, what an amazing piece of casting! Sarah has a flair for comedy which is only overshadowed by her beautiful,powerful voice. Her duet with Galahad, played by Richard Meek, of "The Song That Goes Like This" was musical comedy heaven and one of my many highlights of the show.

A brilliant supporting cast made this an evening that I won't forget for a long time. The show is funny, possibly the funniest show I've ever seen,and especially in the hands of Pasquale, Tracini and Earnshaw, this trio put all previous casts in the shade.

There are some memorable songs here as well as memorable performances. The aforementioned "The Song that Goes Like This", "He's Not Dead Yet", "I'm All Alone", the very camp "His Name Is Lancelot" and of course "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life", which Joe Tracini teased into life with twinkle in his eye, knowing the reaction it was going to get.

Every actor looked like they were having just as much fun on stage as we were in the audience, and that kind of enjoyment is so contagious.

It is bright, it is fun, it is camp, it is brash and ever so non politically correct, and that is a perfect recipe for a good old night out at the theatre. And another directorial success for the very talented and all round nice person, Mr Christopher Luscombe.

"Spamalot" is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 4 July 2015

Friday, 19 June 2015

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell
Nottingham Playhouse Ensemble.

Orwell's classic tale of greed, power, deceit and rebellion performed brilliantly in the Neville Suite of The Nottingham Playhouse. An ensemble of mixed ages really gel to produce a wonderfully exciting and fresh approach to this classic political masterpiece.

One night, all the animals at Mr. Jones' Manor Farm assemble in a barn to hear old Major, a pig, describe a dream he had about a world where all animals live free from the tyranny of their human masters. old Major dies soon after the meeting, but the animals, inspired by his philosophy of Animalism, plot a rebellion against Jones.

Two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, prove themselves important figures and planners of this dangerous enterprise. When Jones forgets to feed the animals, the revolution occurs, and Jones and his men are chased off the farm. Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm, and the Seven Commandments of Animalism are painted on the barn wall.All goes well with the rebellion but then greed sets in and everything changes, and not for the better for most.

Re imagined and set in a modern day "sweat shop", there are no animal costumes and minimal sets, but you know what, they weren't missed by me because the story is so strong, and the cast told the story so well that you were carried along with the plot. Performed "in the round", which is, I imagine, something that would pile the pressure on with the younger actors, but they performed like seasoned pros, never missing a cue or word. A totally professional and confident cast.

A fairly large cast in numbers but didn't seem that way when all were in the performance area, A nod towards the stage management and direction from Louise Pearson and Allie Spencer respectively. From the youngest cast members Oran McGuire and Rachel McDonald-Hulme, who were cool, calm and collected as the narrators, to Sandra Keeling who played Benjamin the donkey and Bryan Ledbetter, who played the old horse, Boxer, it was really good to see such a wide age range working so well together.

Anyone who has been to any production in The Neville Suite will know that it's not the biggest performing area but the space was utilised so well and part of this image of space and area was down to the lighting, designed by Martin Curtis, who also did a great job with the sound design as well. Acoustically a success for clarity.

Space being limited, the choreography of the play is also vital, especially with having a cast of 23, most of which are on stage at the same time, and Amanda Hall played a big part in the direction of this as well as being assistant director with Nathan Powell.

Sometimes when you "update" a masterpiece, which incidentally was first published in 1945, there is that fear of losing something, but nothing was lost here and it doesn't hurt to freshen up a strong story to attract a new audience when it's been done as lovingly as this. Still as relevant today with the power struggles and greed that's rife in the modern world, this is one play that I'd insist any follower of modern literature and modern theatre should visit, and revisit.

A top notch production and cast which is on at the Neville Suite, Nottingham Playhouse only until Saturday 20 June 2015. A massive well done to everyone in the cast and behind the scenes.

Monday, 15 June 2015

"Jumpy" by April de Angelis
Lace Market Theatre

"Jumpy" is primarily a play about a 50 ish woman who, in her youth was a Greehham Common protester, but is now fighting her own battle with getting older, her husband Mark, her relationship with her best friend Frances, and her daughter Tilly. Some would say Tilly is a bit wayward but, being the father of a teenage daughter, Tilly is just being a normal teenager who has a need to be herself through teenage expression.

There are various relationships which evolve and disintegrate over the span of the play, mainly with Tilly and her various "friends", who often appear on stage just in their pants, making sure that we, the viewer, have a fairly good idea at what has been going on.

Liza Pybus (Hilary) plays a very natural mother who has all the worries over her daughter's out of school activities, but also plays out a very sympathetic view of the angst when you have a teenage daughter who is at that age where she wants to break free. A lovely comic, and at times sad portrayal of a "normal' mother, wife and friend who just wants to do right by everyone.

Tilly, the 15 year old daughter, is played by Heather Pearson. Heather is still of the age group where she can worry a parent and by being of this clan, makes for a beautifully realistic and believable character in Tilly. I saw a lot of my own daughter in this characterization with the language and attitude, but it was also lovely to see that mother/daughter interaction as well as the bitter hatred from the teenager. Some nice black and white shades of character and you can see the development of Tilly's maturity from the start to the end.

Frances is the comedy/sexy character here, and who better to do sexy/comedy than the lovely Kareena Sims. There's a scene that combines both sexy and funny when, whilst on holiday with the families, she reveals her latest idea of performing burlesque. Again a real naturalness about the role and Kareena's acting. I found myself making comparisons with some of the strong female TV comedy characters in sit coms; characters like Bev Callard's character in "Two Pints Of Lager" and Lesley Joseph's Dorien in " Birds Of A Feather".

The play is more female focused and the male roles, while being played excellently, were definitely not to the forefront of the story, and that's good to see because there aren't too many good plays that bring the female characters to the fore. It's like the women are the Christmas Tree and the male characters are the baubles and lights which are dotted around to make bits of the tree look pretty. But while a tree looks good on its' own, you'd miss the sparkly lights and baubles, so they are important to the whole visual image.

Thomas D Lang plays Hilary's husband Mark, Dan Logbottom (Roland), James Green (Josh), Alistair Jack (Cam), Josh and Cam being Tilly's young sleep overs, and then last but no means least Grainne Cockrill-Pearsonas Tilly's pregnant school friend, Lyndsey. Grainne has a quite emotive speech in Act 2 as she deliberates on her life choices.

The set, while simple in design, is transformed with ease from Hilary's place to Dan and Bea's place (Roland and Bea being Josh's parents; Josh being one of Tilly's piece's of fluff who does make an impression in the play), to the holiday setting. This set transformation is carried out by the cast members and stage hands and the design by Neil Duckmanton is effective without being distracting.

There's some strong language, which may offend because some sections are quite strong, so the play may not be for the easily shocked, but it's a gritty story which you'll associate with if you're a parent. If your not a parent, you'll still love the realism of the characters, the themes and the comedy of the situations as well as the energy and emotion. Men will love it for Frances and the other female characters and the ladies will also have something to ogle over with the younger male actors who, shall we say, didn't overtax the costume department, or the florist!

It's funny and it is well worth seeing all this week at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 20 June 2015.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

"Rhinoceros" by Eugene Ionesco
at New Theatre.

This was my first visit to The New Theatre situated in the University Of Nottingham campus, not a million miles away from Lakeside's Djanogly Theatre. It's a small theatre but ideal for little gems like the one on this week, "Rhinoceros".

"Rhinoceros",written in 1959 is a play which belongs to the school of drama known as the Theatre of the Absurd. The inhabitants of a small town turn into rhinoceroses, (or should that be rhinocerii?), but the only human who does not succumb to this mass metamorphosis is the central character, Berenger, who is criticized throughout the play for his drinking and tardiness. The play explores the themes of conformity, culture, philosophy and morality.

A talented cast, who at first I thought some were slightly over the top and shouty, but maybe that was the onset of the rhinoceros transformation as a couple of the characters, before the full metamorphosis, turned loud and angry, so that could be the omen!

Some lovely comic touches in the script, well performed by the major as well as the lesser characters. All the actors have performed before, a few of them with Lakeside productions "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Dr Faustus", so were fairly familiar to my eyes.

The main character, Berenger was played by Eoin Buckley, and good to see him continue with the quasi comic roles, following on from the last role I saw him in in "Midsummer Night", and nice to see him take on the lead role as well. He showed a very natural acting ability and I found watching the scenes with him and Max Miller like eavesdropping on a private conversation. Both actors made me believe in their characters and to see past the actor.

Jake Leonard played a blinder as Jean. Berenger's friend, who took pleasure in berating him, and quite frightening in his scenes as he turned into a Rhino.

One man, who has a great voice for, well anything he wanted to do, is Joe Hincks. Not only does he do the pre show voice over but plays Berenger's boss, Mr Papillion. Papillion looks to be on the verge of a breakdown as he tries to pull his staff back to the work focus, just before the onset of the rhinos, and this scene makes for a giggle or two. You can almost see the bursting blood vessels in Papillion's neck!

I also loved Emma Kendall's role as the Logician, just for the off the wallness of her character.

Director, Chris Trueman, said that he had had fun directing the show and was a "real hoot" and I believe him because I also had a real hoot watching this madcap, humorous and quite frightening at times play.

I must also mention the lighting and technical directors Sam Osborne and Joanne Blunt for some, at times, subtle but effective lighting effects, all adding to the feeling of menacing, approaching terror of the play.

"Rhinoceros" is on at New Theatre, University of Nottingham campus until Saturday 13 June 2015.

http://newtheatre.org.uk/whats-on/

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

"MADAME BUTTERFLY" by the People's Theatre Company
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

While I do not profess to know a lot about opera, I know what I like. While I was waiting to go in I was told by a gentleman, older than myself, that I didn't look like the average opera fan, and I suppose I don't. But maybe this shows that opera lovers can come from all walks of life, and after all, what does an opera fan look like?

This was my first full blown opera experience and, maybe I'm finally growing up, but I absolutely loved it. There was so much passion and energy in this music and it will completely overwhelm you. You may feel very emotional and not know why you feel like you do, and that will be quite the norm. I knew the story and the music but nothing will prepare you for the extent of emotion you will feel at this tragic love story and the amazing singing.

"Madame Butterfly" is the story of Cho Cho San (Butterfly) who. at 15 years old, falls in love with Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton from the U.S. of A. They marry and then he returns home, promising to come back to her, which he does. Three years later he returns with his new American wife that he had married just a year before; but he has come back to take his son by Butterfly back to America. Butterfly is destroyed and takes her own life.

An amazingly emotional story which when coupled with the incredible vocal talents on show at The Nottingham Arts Theatre, will have you close to tears and, like myself, thoroughly drained by the end. It is no over exaggeration to state that this is as good as anything you'll see from any of the named operatic companies, at a fraction of the price.

There is absolutely no way that I could highlight any one of those performers on stage over the next one because it would be impossible to do so. Saying that though, Sarah Helsby-Hughes who played Madame Butterfly was exceptional, the sheer power and emotion of her voice and performance will really get to you, maybe in a way that you didn't expect. Sarah has performed with some of the best opera companies in Europe, USA and Japan, and to have her perform in Nottingham with the People's Theatre is a real treat,especially for us in the audience.Sarah also directed Madame Butterfly.

You can listen to any music through your headphones and feel emotion, but whether it be rock, classical, pop, punk, r 'n' b, dubstep or whatever floats your boat, hearing that music and seeing it performed live just feet away from you will reach inside you and bring out a very different kind of emotion from you. And that is so true of opera.

With a clever addition of a few items on stage, the set for "The Mikado", designed by Andrew Nicklin, is transformed into Butterfly's Oriental abode. Once again the orchestra is magnificent. With the set and the wonderful costumes, you'll feel that you've been transported back in time to Japan of the early 1900s.

It is wonderful to see opera at the Nottingham Arts Theatre and they should consider doing this on a more regular basis.

"Madame Butterfly" and "The Mikado" can be seen at The Nottingham Arts Theatre on alternate nights until Saturday 6 June 2015. If you area fan of opera, you'll love it, if not, then take a chance because I think you're about to be converted.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

THE MIKADO by The People's Theatre Company
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

I've had the pleasure of seeing some brilliant shows at the Nottingham Arts Theatre, and many have really excited me as a theatre goer. Shows like "Macbeth" and "Les Miserables" have really impressed me and "The Mikado" can be added to that list.

This is an amazing, fautless, funny and wildly entertaining show that has been updated to show the Japanese gentlemen dressed in smart suits and bowler hats, a cross between "Man Men" and "The Clockwork Orange".

It's the story of Nanki Poo who arrives in a small Japanese village called Titipu. he is in search of his love, Yum Yum, who unfortunately for him is betrothed to KoKo, who has been appointed the Chief High Executioner as a way of avoiding being killed himself for the crime of flirting. there has been no executions since KoKo was appointed and to stop the town from being downgraded to a village, KoKo has to execute someone. As Nanki Poo is a rival for KoKo, guess who is number one on the list. There is only one thing, KoKo has never executed anyone and he did not intend to start now, plus there is more than meets the eye with Nanki Poo.

The People's Theatre Company have put together a stellar cast for this Gilbert & Sullivan spectacular, which is one of their most loved and most performed operettas. Do not let that term put you off either, "operetta".Gilbert & Sullivan are the operetta equivalent to Shakespeare in their wit and wordplay and there's so much fun to be had in this tuneful musical masterpiece.

Drew Dennis (Nanki Poo) shows off a well trained, controlled voice for opera, but that is no surprise as he is part of the Derby Gilbert & Sullivan Company, as is Stephen Godward (Pooh Bar), both of which turn in brilliant performances both acting wise and musically. Stephen also highlighting his ability for comic characterization.

Tom Parry (KoKo) makes a wonderful comedy pairing with Stephen as the Executioneer and plays KoKo as a cockney wideboy complete with suit, wide tie and spats, adding even further to the comedy of the character. Tom does not often take to the stage and I wondered why after seeing him as KoKo because he is wonderfully natural in this comedy role without it being forced.

Pish Tush, one of the gentlemen of Titipu, is another brilliant character. Played by John Carter, he tries to suppress the comic side of the play and introduce a more serious side but without fail because by doing this, he actually enhances the humour. Think Captain Peacock from "Are You Being Served" and that's what effect you get.

And then there are some wonderful female roles. Alexandra Hazard (Yum Yum) has a gorgeous voice which falls so easy on the ear. Crystal clarity and again a natural for playing the comedic side of the character. What a wonderful performance from Alexandra.

Elaine Bishop (Pitti Sing - which is English baby talk for "pretty thing"), really lives up to the "pretty thing" title and she also is blessed with a wonderful clear mezzo soprano voice and a natural acting ability as well. An accomplished performer and no stranger to the Gilbert & Sullivan circuit.

And I loved Jean Krzeminski as Katisha, the lady promised to Nanki Poo as his wife. Once more, another gorgeous and controlled voice and a very stylish, comedy performance. Jean has been performing Gilbert & Sullivan operettas since she was 16, and that love for the musical style really shows.

The enunciation of the clever lyrics of W S Gilbert brought home the rich humour of the text. You could hear every single word, spoken and sung, and all this without the aid of microphones. This again showing the professional standard of all the actors with their clarity and projection.

And what a brilliant orchestra. Sixteen piece led by Derek Williams and directed by Andrew Nicklin, giving a beautiful rounded musical sound. If you hadn't known that there was a live orchestra in the pit, you would have sworn that you were listening to a CD of the music.

I can't recommend this show enough or praise it higher. A truly professional show from every one involved and I imagine that Andrew Nicklin, who also directed "The Mikado" must be a very proud and happy man with this show. And that goes for all the actors, musicians, lighting and sound people.

"The Mikado" can be seen at the Nottingham Arts Theatre on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon, but on the strength of their opening night, I'd get in there really quick... and while you're at it, get a discount when you buy tickets for Puccini's"Madame Butterfly" which is on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night as well.