Wednesday, 30 March 2016

"Romeo & Juliet" Birmingham Royal Ballet
Nottingham Theatre Royal

There are some people who, for some reason, won't frequent the theatre to see a ballet, and I for one can't see why.

Ballet is a very special form of art that is not only very beautiful and emotional but is performed by absolute athletes in the field of dance. The physical strength of the male dancers as they whisk their partners in the air and hold them aloft, is truly spectacular and quite breathtaking. These dancers tell the classic Shakespearian tragedy with touches of comedy and emotion. 

You can get carried away with the music and story, the tragedy, the characters and the absolute magic of how dance can tell the tale of Juliet who falls for Romeo. Juliet's parents, Lord and Lady Capulet want to marry her off to Paris, a wealthy young Nobleman, but Juliet has other ideas. She dreams of Romeo one night on her balcony and he appears in the garden and they confess their love for each other.

The Montagues, to which Romeo is a son of, and the Capulets are enemies and this causes issues at the family party. This ends when one of Romeo's friends, Mecutio, is killed during a sword fight with Tybalt and Romeo avenges his friend by killing Tybalt, and is exiled. Prior to this though Romeo and Juliet are married secretly but with Romeo's exile, Juliet goes to see the Friar who gives her a sleeping potion which she takes. 

Her parents think she is dead but while Romeo is expected to take Juliet away, he doesn't get the Friar's message to say that Juliet has only taken a sleeping potion, and thinking she is dead, takes some poison himself, after stabbing Paris to death. Juliet then comes round and finding Romeo dead, stabs herself.

The sets are sumptuous, as are the wonderful costumes. The deep blood red outfits and flowing capes make a visual impact as do all the wonderful outfits for the ladies; there's been no penny pinching here! Every costume is eye catching.

The stage combat is an important part of this ballet and it is choreographed beautifully and each strike of the sword is on the beat of the music. It's realistic combat and at times cause you to have an intake of breath, due to the accuracy execution of the strikes.

There's a wonderful big orchestra providing the sound and under the musical direction of Koen Kessels, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia create a wall of sound that carries you on waves of beautiful music. You'll recognise at least one piece of Prokofiev's music, "Dance Of the Knights".

Everything about this production is classy and there's no fear of not understanding the story as everyone knows Romeo and Juliet and the dramaturgy is clear and concise. Directed by David Bintley CBE, this is a magical night out for anyone who loves quality theatre.

"Romeo and Juliet" is being performed by The Birmingham Royal Ballet until Saturday 2 April 2016.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

"Jekyll & Hyde" by People's Theatre Company
Nottingham Arts Theatre

This is the first time that I've seen this as a musical, and it's not that often performed, which is why this has come as such a very pleasant experience this evening. "Jekyll & Hyde" is the story of Dr Henry Jekyll whose human behaviour research proposition is rejected by the Board of Governors of St Jude's Hospital as "sacrilege and lunacy". Jekyll decides that he is going to carry on with his research, and tests his theory on himself, with horrific results, which included wreaking revenge on those who dared to say "nay" to his ideas.

The People's Theatre Company have a very bright star among many bright stars in their midst with the leading man, Curtis Taylor-Tipton. I've heard Curtis before in musicals but never have I heard him sing like this. His voice is amazing; it's power, emotion, tone, range and quality just takes your breath away. He creates an air of suspense as Hyde and when he appears in Lucy's room near the end, the way the lightning flash highlighted him, sent a chill over the whole theatre. Curtis has such an air about his acting that you are almost impelled to follow his every move on stage. You really don't want to take you eyes off of him. He is PTC's very own Ramon Karimloo and I have a feeling that he is destined for  a long career in musical theatre. West End theatres watch out in a few years' time. I can also imagine him having a successful recording career as well with that voice.

Jekyll's fiancee, Emma, played by Rachel Barry is mesmerising, and what a gorgeous voice she has. Operatic with a beautiful clear tone and the emotion and passion she has when she sings is just like floating on a  cloud. beautiful to look at and beautiful to listen to. What a combination.

Luke Grainger, as John Utterson, Jekyll's long time legal and personal friend also has stage presence by the Gladstone bagful, again blessed with a voice made for musical theatre.

Lucy, played by Lauren Gill, first meets Jekyll and Utterson in the rather dubious establishment, The Red Rat, where she is a lady of the night who is mistreated by the men folk she associates with but develops a soft spot for Jekyll, but to her cost. Lauren's voice was courtesy of Morven Harrison tonight due to a, hopefully short lived illness, for Lauren. Morven's voice has a touch of the Barbra Streisand about it, but you must feel a bit sorry for Lauren as she lip-synched her way through as I know Lauren has just as good a voice and Lauren must feel a bit frustrated about not being able to perform and sing. While we were robbed of Lauren's vocals though, we were blessed with Morven's.

It's a large cast made up with many well known and recognisable faces from Nottingham's stages. Rob Harrison as Simon Stride, Barry Hobbs as General Glossop, Lucas Young as the foppish Sir Archibold Proops and Paice Lees as Lord Savage. Paul Rice plays Bishop Of Basingstoke and Harriet Hollowell as Lady Beaconsfield, all meeting a grisly end at the hands of Jekyll. Jason Wrightham plays the bullying Spider who has a hold over Lucy and Jenny Scott plays Nellie from the Red Rat.

Some very good ensemble pieces for the Red Rat scenes as well as the street scenes were terror lurked close at hand, making the township very nervous to be out at night.

Now if I hadn't known that there was a live orchestra in the pit, I would have sworn that this was a recorded soundtrack because the sound was so good. Sounding like it had a full orchestra in there, musical director David Hails, did an amazing job.

Although the scenery and sets weren't extravagant, they created just the right atmosphere and that worked well, showing that you didn't need big sets and flash scenery to make an impact. A simple idea, which I imagine wasn't as simple as it looked, designed by Chris Brawn and Paul Rice.

An effective and evocative sound and light design by the College Street Technicians which created just the right atmosphere for the different moods.

Directed by Chris Teasdale, this was a labour of love for Chris and it showed. The whole cast did him proud, and I'm sure that he is very proud of his wonderful production and his incredibly talented cast.

It would be lovely to find out that through the week the audience figures increased because this is now one of my favourite shows of this year and I would really hate for anyone who loves quality theatre to miss out on this amazing production. You will find your mouth dropping open at times at the incredible vocals and you may not get the opportunity to see quality and class like this again if some of these actors decide to try their hand in London, and I do believe that this is a possibility with the standard of tonight's show. So get your tickets while you can.

"Jekyll & Hyde the Musical" is on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre, by the People's Theatre Company, until Saturday 26 March 2016. just watch out for the sound of a swish of a cape and a top hat on your way home!!!
"13"
Robert Martin Theatre, Loughborough.

"13", written by Jason Robert Brown, is all about approaching 13 years old for Evan Golding as he grapples with his parents' divorce, prepares for his impending Bar Mitzvah, and navigates the complicated social circles of a new school. He wants his party to be the best ever and to achieve this he has to have all the popular kids there but his best friend at his new school is one of the town's "freaks", as the other kids label Patrice; well we all know how spiteful and cruel kids of that age can be, Evan tries to fit in but along the way makes a few errors of judgement along the way.

Performed by Bright Lights Theatre School Performing Arts, which is an offshoot of the Bright Lights Theatre School, this is their debut show, and what a debut. Produced by Nick Sutcliffe and Patrick Croft and directed and choreographed by Nick Sutcliffe, this is one of the lighter of Jason Robert Brown's musicals and all the cast members are about the age of the characters in the musical, which is good to have age appropriation when  nailing roles. And nail them they did....

James King, who played Evan, really embraced the role and has great confidence. Match that with a really strong voice, and lets's face it with him featuring in the majority of the songs in the show, he'd need to. He also has the makings of quite a good dancer, coping with the choreography of the musical well with a natural ability. A good array of emotions shown as he deals with comedy and the more serious side of the impending Jewish teenager.

Evan's new friend in the town where he's been forced to uproot to, labelled the "lamest place in the world" by Patrice, who we quickly see has a crush on him, is played by the instantly likeable Hannah Bailey, who also has a very strong voice. She is the labelled "freak" because she doesn't fit into the "in crowd" and you find yourself rooting for her because of her loyalty and her non agenda attitude.

The other "freak" is Archie, who has a degenerative illness and walks with aids. Patrice is his best, and only friend and sticks up for her when Evan humiliates her in public. He guilt trips Evan into arranging a date with the "hot" girl in school, Kendra. Archie is a brilliant comedy role and Daniel Robinson is a cracking young actor with a mature sense of comic timing. He waited just long enough for the laughs to subside before delivering his next line in one part, where some may have steamed in with the next line before waiting. He has a natural comedy feel for the role and again, you find yourself getting behind him and laughing with Archie, and not at Archie.

The "jock" of this piece is Brett. Evan knows that if he can get Brett to come to the party then all of the kids will follow like sheep. Brett wants a date with Kendra and Evan arranges this for him, but all does not go to plan. He gets his first kiss at the theatre but not with who he was expecting it to be with.  Charlie Stackhouse plays Brett and his two lackeys, Malcolm and Eddie played, again with a lovely comedy feel by Matthew Kingsbury and Billy Harris respectively. Just listen to "Hey Kendra" which highlights the comedy in these three characters.

Kendra and her best friend Lucy are perfectly cast. Played by Lydia Tyler and Sophie Draycott, they both have lovely voices, both quite contemporary which is just what a musical like this requires. Lydia and fellow cast member Katie Lavine, who plays Charlotte, also choreograph the cheerleader dance "Opportunity", showing another string to their bows.

The whole cast work really well together and are totally believable as a group and they look like they are having a ball out there. The passion, energy and enthusiasm shine through, and there's so much talent here that i would be very surprised if many of these kids don't go on to etch out a career in performing arts. The ensemble pieces were well choreographed and well performed.

Getting the mix of band sound to singer/actor is always an issue, and while there was a few moments where the band slightly overpowered the singers, what I did notice was the band, under the expert direction of Peter Fines, drew back on the volume during the show, which helped the enjoyment of the musical. It's very often only on opening night, when the theatre is full, that you can get that mix right, so it is a fine line but they got it, crisp and clear.

As director of the show, Nick has brought out the very essence of the troubles of approaching teenage years in the cast and the hard work from all involved is evident. A brilliant comedy, well acted, well sung, and the comedy lyrics were understood and delivered knowledgeably by the cast. 

The stories and situations here are ageless and we've all been there, but if you want to relive them all over again, "13" is at the Robert Martin Theatre at Loughborough University 23 March 2016.

Monday, 21 March 2016

"Annie"
Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

This whole musical has been re-imagined, and what a makeover it's been given. It's fresher, more pacy but just as bright and breezy with just the right amount of social comment on poverty, neglect and greed to keep it grounded and relevant. It also has more of a dance feel to it with new choreographed pieces.

Annie has been left at an orphanage and is still confident that her parents are coming to collect her, one day. The orphanage is run by the nasty Miss Hannigan who gets them cleaning and sewing from the early morning till late at night and feeds them "mush".Her life changes forever when she is chosen to spend Christmas at billionaire Daddy Warbucks mansion, something he does every year for one lucky orphan. Warbucks tries to find Annie's real parents for her by a radio appeal and that's when the greedy worms come out of the woodwork. Enter the nasty Rooster, fresh out of prison and looking to lay his hands on some easy money to allow him, his girl Lily and Hannigan to live on "easy street". But we all know that in musicals, the bad guys never win!

The sets have changed from the depressing orphanage and opposite ends of the spectrum wealth of Daddy Warbucks mansion to a very clever "jigsaw" effect set, designed by Colin Richmond, which also echoes Annie's life, as she too is putting her life back together as in the pieces of a jigsaw. It's eye-catching and very fresh looking and draws you into the musical straight away.

The orphans never fail to impress me whenever I see this show and tonight they were amazingly good. Their choreography, from Nick Winston, was spot on and punchy, quite literally, and again with a modern edge. They do a wonderful dance routine to "Never Fully Dressed Withoout A Smile" and of course "Hard Knock Life".

The "Annie" I saw was played by the feisty Elise Blake. Annie has the biggest chunk of the singing and she coped with the vocals remarkably well. From the heartfelt ballad "Maybe" to the rousing theme of the show "Tomorrow" and the military style "Hard Knock Life", Elise took it all in her stride with great confidence.

Lesley Joseph, who I've seen play Miss hannigan before was on top form. The director, Nikolai Foster, also seems to have been doing some re-imagining of some of the characters and Ms Joseph's Hannigan seemed to have an even more spiteful bite to her, which I thought was great. The clothes for Hannigan were played down to reflect the dowdiness and there was a lesser focus on the alcoholic side of the character, it was subtly hinted at. Lesley is turning her portrayal into the ultimate Hannigan for me with some lovely choreography pieces, especially with Rooster and Lily.Looking ever so slightly like Cruella de Vil with the hair, she is one of musical theatre's best comedy baddie female roles. A role that Ms Joseph obviously revels in by looking at those twinkling eyes.

Warbucks is played by Alex Bourne and what a class act he is. the air of authority shines through the performance, and the way his character comes round to the idea that not all orphans are boys and warms to Annie is lovely to see. His singing and dancing talents are obvious and carries an air of Hollywood glamour with the role.

Grace, Warbucks right hand woman, is straight out of Hollywood musicals with that beautiful voice and classy outfits. She is the epitome of glamour. Played by Holly Dale Spencer, this is one lady who I never tired of seeing on stage. A well cast pairing for Warbucks.

Rooster is Hannigans' kid brother and he's after the money that goes with the reward when Warbucks puts up the money to find Annie's parents. There's not a nice bone in Rooster's body, well it obviously runs in the family. Jonny Fines sings and dances his way admirably through the role and also, if I'm not mistaken, has introduced more of a rooster call into the act as well as a bit more strutting about, just as his name implies.A brilliant confidence oozing performance who, if it were panto, you'd be booing whenever he appeared on stage.

Lily, Rooster's latest squeeze, has also had a bit of a change. Previous production has had her as a simpleton like gangster's moll with a squeaky voice. well that's changed and the voice has been lowered and she looks more classic gold-digger, albeit of the uptown variety. Djalenga Scott creates a more real version of Lily and turns in a classy performance.

Oh and we can't forget Amber, who played Sandy the dog, who didn't come on for her round of appaws at the end.

Musically there are many mics to be mixed with the musical instruments of the orchestra, under the direction of George Dyer. The mix between actor and orchestra, especially as there were many ensemble pieces with the orphans etc was perfect. You could hear every note from the orchestra and every word of the songs, the sign of a professional sound designer in Richard Brooker.

It's fresh, funny, has some classy dance routines ( I love a good bit of hoofing), songs we all know "Tomorrow", "Hard Knock Life", "Maybe", "East Street" etc. Characters who are lovable, even the bad guys, and a wonderful feel good, heart warming feel about the whole show. Whoever said never work with children or animals never envisaged "Annie" and I for one am pleased to say that this saying was completely ignored.

"Annie" is on at the Nottingham Royal Concert hall until Saturday 26 March 2016. You'd be a fool to miss it!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

"Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare
Lace Market Youth Theatre.

Although Shakespeare titled the tragedy "Julius Caesar", the play really centres around Brutus and the conflicting demands on honour, friendship and patriotism. Casear only appears in the second act as a ghost to Brutus, in the same way as Macbeth did in that Scottish play.

This is the youth section of the Lace Market Theatre and they really embraced the poetry of Shakespeare and made it sound as if it was their second language; they looked so comfortable delivering the Bard's script. I often feel that there's just not quite enough animation in some of the actors I've seen perform Shakespeare, because the drama in the work lends itself wonderfully to animated behaviour. Not so here as I thought it was spot on. Obviously director Roger Watson has worked long and hard with his cast to get the fine line just about perfect.

As you walk into the auditorium, the stage is sparse; just a couple of multi-raised platforms and a bit of graffiti with an archway with barbed wire, designed by Roger Watson. This created a modern feel which was carried through with the contemporary costumes, This worked really well because of the younger cast. The energy and youthfulness of the cast made, what is an exciting play anyway, into a charged, and even more exciting piece of theatre.

It's a large cast, 26 in all which gives a realistic feel to the crowd scenes, making such an impact from the start as they storm through the theatre to the stage, immediately getting your attention from the very start. Another exciting piece of direction.

The lighting plays a big part in the scene setting of the play and Kerry Newcombe is responsible for the design of the evocative moods created and the exciting thunder storm effects. It shows what an integral part of this play the lighting is by the amount of people in the lighting team, Charlie Bailey, Simon Carter, Rosina Reading, Jon Watson and the multi talents of Roger Watson again.

Caesar was played by Finn Doherty and he brought an air of command to the show when in character, looking the part of the Roman military man. A really solid and confident performance.

Brutus, plated by James Green,and the real star of the show (a little in the way that Judas is the star of the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar") is, again, perfectly cast. you can see the mental struggle between his love of Caesar and his patriotism which then spills out into his speeches. Once more an incredibly confident and exciting performer to watch.

There were so many wonderful performances and performers in this cast that I can't mention you all by name, and I think from the rapturous applause at the end of the show, they all knew they'd done an excellent job. they don't need me to tell them just how good they all are. A brilliant cast, an exciting story with multi-murders, what more could you want?

Many people, especially younger people, can be scared off of Shakespeare because of the style he writes in, but this is so easy to follow and is such a great story, performed so well that i can easily say that this is a play that everyone will enjoy and understand. Go on, lend an ear to it!

"Julius Caesar" is  being performed at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 19 March 2016.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

"Acorn Antiques" by The Cast
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

Written by Victoria Wood, this was bound to be funny,and it's more than that because in the hands of these actors, "Antiques" is one of the funniest plays I've seen this year so far. Acorn Antiques is run by Miss Babs and Miss Berta, aided by their friends and cleaner: Mrs Overall and Mr Clifford. Soon, they discover a third sister, Bonnie who is initially scheming and devious,even sacking Mrs Overall. The plot unfolds and the sisters are faced with financial problems and eventually family secrets are revealed. The show ends with the return of Mrs Overall, a windfall, and the marriage of Miss Bertha and Mr Clifford. Well that's the main story, but there;s so much more to this wonderful comedy musical.

There's not a single member of the cast who isn't essential to the comedy cogs of this well oiled mirth machine, so let's take a look....

Miss Babs, played by Carrie-Anne Corner is so good you forget Celia Imrie. Babs is the sexually frustrated man-eater with a lovely line of double-entendre. Tie that in with a great singing voice, shown off well in  "Have You Met Miss Babs" and you have one third of the sisters.

Miss Berta is portrayed by Carolyn Smith, another killer of a comedy role, with just a touch of sadness as she recalls about the time that she nearly married Mr Clifford, but due to a freak accident, this didn't happen. Thanks to another freak accident with a tea tray though, a happy ending ensued.

Miss Bonnie is the baddie of the piece, well one of them, and at times gets a panto baddie reception with "boos" and "hisses" coming from the audience.Alex Taverner revels in this role and I loved the comedy that Miss Bonnie brings to table by way of the very talented Alex T. A wonderful trio of very funny characters and actors.

Mina Machin plays Mrs Overall, and if ever Julie Walters hangs up her overall for this part then Mina can step into this role with the greatest of ease. Not only does Mina look like Julie Walters in the role, but she sounds like her and she has all of the Mrs O's characteristics down to a tee. the character is comedy royalty and there's a scene where Mrs O goes up the stairs in a stairlift and waves to the audience who take great pleasure waving back. Oh but i was longing for Mina to do a Royal Wave in the way that the Queen does. Just an observation, mind! 

As I said, all of the characters were crucial to the musical so let's have a look at some of the others....

Mr Clifford, who is the Duncan Preston role is played by Jason Parker and his whole mannerisms remind me so much of Duncan's portrayal.

Derek (Chris Collington) and Mr Watkins (Martin Holton) play the only two men in the village who iron their cardigans!! Martin stepped into the breach just hours before curtain up after Keith Butcher took ill earlier. I hear that Keith is on the road to recovery which is good news.

There's a lovely comedy section which involves the two young shop helpers Hugh and Mimi, which shows Victoria's knowledge of classic comedy sketches as she seems to have been inspired by a sketch from Abbot and Costello with a clever word play scene around the names. Hugh and Mimi are transformed from two chavs to respectable antique lovers. Zach Foster and Emily Corner give brilliant character performances in these roles.

Tony is the other baddie. As the loan shark who tries to con the sisters out of the shop, Adam Richmond brings a slimy, almost devilish  feel to the character, who changes from the hard hearted con man, thanks to the actions of Mrs O and her macaroons!!

The rest of the cast play various other roles as shop owners, the lollipop lady, and the postman who was also on the radar for Miss Babs, well he is male! Every one of them giving faultless performances.

As per the TV version of "Antiques" there are shaky walls, missed cues and even the bits which weren't supposed to happen added to the comedy and got laughs where they weren't scripted in...cue door handle!

The orchestra, under the musical direction of Dave Dallard was, as usual, crystal clear, and not too loud that you couldn't hear the actors. A nice mix, thanks to Ben Tennett at the sound controls.

Beautifully and lovingly directed by Rob Corner, who obviously has an eye and ear for getting the pace of the comedy spot on. With this show playing up to the fact that missed cues are part of the comedy, playing it like this is harder than playing it to the cue as you want to and going against the comedy grain isn't easy. It's like Les Dawson playing the piano; he was a talented pianist but playing for comedy was harder.. you get what I mean don't you?

There are some wonderfully choreographed pieces here, especially the end piece which is straight out of Hollywood, via Manchesterford,
and a very clever tap routine, all choreographed by Laurie Trott.

You know, I can't find anything in this show to constructively criticise because these bunch of amateur actors gave an amazingly good performance to a professional level, which is what I had expected anyway. I've not smiled or laughed so much since "Fawlty Towers" on stage a few weeks ago, which shows that local theatre groups are just so talented where comedy is concerned. Don't always rely on professional shows for the big laughs because the talent is here at a local level. Now!

"Acorn Antiques" is on at the Duchess Theatre in Long Eaton until Saturday 19 March 2016.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

"Gangsta Granny" by David Walliams
Nottingham Theatre Royal

David Walliams is one of Britain's best loved comedy actors and his quirky sense of humour has also made him a best selling author of eleven children's books; one of them being "Gangsta Granny".

While being a funny play, as with all the best plays that are humorous, it also gives out a serious message and here it's to not take the elderly for granted. Ben is Granny's Grandson and he stays with her on Friday nights because his "Strictly" loving parents have their dance classes on that night, Ben hates staying overnight with his cabbage loving gran and practically begs his parents to come and fetch him, which they refuse to do. It's while on an unplanned visit that he discovers that his gran has a secret, and isn't quite as boring as he first thought!

Although the play is aimed towards the younger audience, this is one of those magical plays that appeals to all ages. It has a good story, albeit with some sadness towards the end, which also gives the message that you can follow your dreams, however simple those dreams may be, and not bow down to what other people want you to be, so there are several grown up sideline themes to the play.

Ben is played by Ashley Cousins. Very animated and with brilliant timing for comedy for one so young, but he has credible CV built up already and is going to make a wonderfully versatile adult actor.

Laura Girling and Benedict Martin as his parents who want him to be the next "Strictly" star, a far cry from what Ben wants. Benedict also plays the neighbourhood watch man Mr Parker. This character is as close as you'll get to David Walliams taking on one of these roles and you can recognise the Walliams' characteristic in this role.

Granny, played by Gilly Tompkins, is  a dream to watch as the ninja gangsta pensioner with the love of everything cabbage infused, which has obvious drawbacks, or is that blow backs!

There are several minor characters who work hard doubling up as other characters, and a special mention to Alison Fitzjohn who plays just about all the other female characters, apart from The Queen (Louise Bailey), who also makes an appearance towards the end of the play, confessing that, as a gran herself, her Grandsons also find her a little boring. Well I never!

Umar Malik and Richard James are the other two actors with the many costume and character changes.

The secret of the massive impact this play has is in the lighting of then play and the timing of the lighting, designed by Jason Taylor, is perfect. giving the play the maximum impact. Good sound, thanks to Nick Sagar, and the choreography for the entertaining scene changes is by Paul Chantry and Rae Piper.

The set, designed by Jacqueline Trousdale, is very cleverly thought out with all sets folding in and out of three tower blocks. With the way the design of this worked, it reminded me a little of "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In the Night Time".

Directed by Neal Foster, this is a lovely piece of theatre for all ages and David Walliams knows how to write a good tale which keeps everyone watching, and reading of course.

"Gangsta Granny" is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 19 March 2016. Use your kids as an excuse to go and see it. they'll love you for it.

Monday, 14 March 2016

"Shafted" by John Godber
Lakeside, Nottingham

There's a few things that you can guarantee when going to see a John Godber play. Comedy, interesting characters and down to earth, plain speaking language. All of these and more are in John Godber's new play.

Dot and Harry, played by Jane Thornton and John Godber, travel through 30 years from 1984 to 2014, following the miner's strikes. Harry has lost his job and feels that Maggie Thatcher's government has "shafted" him and Dot. The loss of his job has also stripped him of a lot of his pride, but not that much that he sells their window cleaning round because it's not what he feels he should be doing. He is a proud man and doesn't want to accept anything beneath what he thinks he should be doing, and careful enough for him not to delve into the £80,000 redundancy fund.

Dot is holding down two jobs while he stays at home, and you can guess that this is putting strain on their marriage, and that's when Dot comes up with the idea of them running a Bed & Breakfast in Bridlington. Harry, steadfast and stubborn, digs his heels in because he doesn't want to leave the place that he knows and loves.

Dot is shown as the manipulator of the pair and Harry being the stubborn one, but Dot digs her heels in as well and she gets her way. Does that make her a manipulator or just a clever, strong and independent woman?

In act two we find the pair towards the end of their lives with Dot being pushed around in a wheel chair, which starts a clever reverse history of their life going back to the day they left their home in Upton. It's also quite a subtle reversal as Harry is literally pushing Dot around whereas before Dot was the one who did the pushing of harry in the direction he needed to be going, in every sense of the word.

One thing about Godber's characters that I love is the realism of the characters and the chemistry between the man and his wife. Being real life man and wife, the chemistry is there and this really shows in the way that they act, react and speak to each other, making Dot and Harry instantly believable and you warm to them from the start.

This could have been a political story but it's not. There are enough films and plays that deal with the miner's strike but this deals with the aftermath of the strike, it's about how Dot and Harry coped with the cards they were left with. They were given lemons and they made the best lemonade they could. And when it's all stripped back, at it's base, this is a love story between two people who stuck together through thick and thin. That love and respect for each other shows through and I don't think these two could really do without the other, despite how they sometimes berate each other.

The language at times is coarse, again something that Godber isn't afraid to shy away from, injecting realism and creating totally believable roles and situations.

The play is created in separate scenes of action, each one split by a piece of music from the era. Act one from the mid 1980's with act two drawing on music from Ellie Goulding, back through the 1990's and again to the mid 80's.

This isn't a long play but it packs a lot in with some trademark one liners and regional sayings and accents. Directed by John Godber and Neil Sissons with the effective lighting and set designed by Graham Kirk. It's a play that will make you think how much something that happened over 30 years ago affects those still around who, like me, can remember the strikes and the hardship at that time. It'll also give you some chuckle muscle action.

"Shafted" is being performed at Lakeside, Djanogly Theatre until Saturday 19 March 2016.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

"Look Back In Anger" by John Osborne
Derby Theatre

The original "angry young man" play which has come home to roost to Derby. I must admit that I've never seen the film and this, I think, was a bonus in seeing this play for the first time.

 It concerns a love triangle involving an intelligent and educated but disaffected, working class young man, Jimmy Porter (Patrick Knowles), his upper-middle-class, impassive wife Alison (Augustina Seymour), and her haughty best friend Helena Charles (Daisy Badger). Cliff, an amiable Welsh lodger, attempts to keep the peace is played by Jimmy Fairhurst and Ivan Stott plays Colonel Redfern.

Patrick keeps his character simmering like a pressure cooker, which you feel is just on the verge of boiling over, but just when you think it's all going to kick off, the lid is put back on. he keeps an air of tension and gives the impression that he could be a dangerous man if he did lose it.

Augustina, again simmers but delivers a really passionate and heartfelt breakdown at the end of the play.

Daisy, as Helena, manages to fall under the bad boy Jimmy's spell, proving that the more you appear to dislike a certain person, is more likely to be hiding a passionate longing for them. She becomes a carbon copy wife set by Alison, and the circle continues.

Jimmy, who I remember from "Brassed Off" a few months ago at the Derby Playhouse, appears laid back to start with but even a best friend can only take so much verbal and physical, albeit friendly, abuse.

Although the play was written in the 1950's many of the subjects brought up by Jimmy Porter are still rife today. the homophobic comments, the class system and the attitude towards women are still current topics.The play proves to be an influential and important piece of modern literature which is still on many a school's curriculum.

The set is split into quarters with sections of the period flat easily divided and was designed by Neil Irish. Simple and effective with loads of props to keep your eyes roaming about for various knick knacks of interest.

Director Sarah Brigham brings out an almost impossible tense atmosphere in act one which also spills over into the second part. there's also an air of walking on egg shells when around porter and this nervous anticipation creeps into the audience.

"Look Back In Anger" is on at The Derby Theatre until Saturday 26 March 2016.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

"Copacabana" by Erewash Musical Society
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

Now here's a musical that isn't performed frequently by either professionals or amateurs. It's a good musical, just not a great musical, and while I can see the attraction in choosing this one because of the glitter, glitz and glamour, you need a little more than this to pull it off. It's not a case that I didn't not enjoy "Copacabana", I just didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would. Maybe I set my own expectations too high.

"Copacabana" is all about Stephen who is a struggling songwriter, trying to write that one song that will make his name. He dreams about the song while he is getting ready to celebrate his wedding anniversary, and his thoughts run away with him. he is transported back to 1947 with all the glamour of the nightclubs of the period. He is Tony and Lola comes into his life as a struggling singer. he gets her a job at the club he works at, the Copacabana, but when Rico comes on the scene, she is kidnapped and whisked away to perform at Rico's club, the Tropicana, and she is set to replace Rico's latest starlet squeeze, Conchita.

Sam Griffiths is the musical director and under his guidance, the orchestra of eleven, plus Sam on keyboards, are their usual powerhouse of crispness. With such a big sound this meant that some of the vocals from the actors suffered slightly and in an attempt to sing over the orchestra there were some strained notes. I don't mind a loud orchestra because it gives impact to the show, no issues at all from me with the sound.

The choreography, by Laurie Trott, was brilliant and quite complex at times with loads of Hollywood style glamour, but I noticed that the dancers were not as tight as they maybe could have been. if you think of the Busby Berkeley films of the 1940s, everything and every dancer was synchronised and this was lacking in parts here. Some of the dancers even looked like they were just going through the motions. 

Some of the dancers were brilliant and embraced the magical choreography, and they outshone the others. For some there was a lack of passion and commitment, I felt. I did however love the Bolero section as well as the glamour girls, despite the fact that some forgot to smile, and there was the occasional looking at their feet when the heads should have been held up.  I can remember hearing the phrase "eyes and teeth" as these were what needed to be on show most; I saw plenty of eyes, and read what was behind them, but I didn't see an over abundance of teeth. if you're not enjoying being there on stage, at least mask it by smiling, that way the audience will feel comfortable in knowing that you're enjoying it as much as they are.

I loved the cinematic back drops which made for a simple and efficient scene change and brought the stage to life. I also loved the amazing costumes which gave the era its' glamour and decadent feel. I loved the lights and the lighting effects and I loved the musical arrangements of Manilow's music. Barry's music isn't the easiest of musical pieces to sing, a bit like Abba. There are complex key changes and with Manilow's  background in jazz and classical music, some of his pieces of work can be difficult to master, another reason why "Copa" isn't one of the most performed musicals.

Directed by Matt Powell, you can tell he has enjoyed this experience and he has been passionate about this show. 

Lewis Haycock played Tony/Stephen and while I've seen Lewis perform better than this, he did make a convincing leading man and managed to hit all the big notes, which I was really impressed with. There were a few odd notes though and I know that if he is honest with himself, would agree. Lewis is a really confident performer and that's why I couldn't work out when he sung the songs, he didn't, for me, perform them. There is a difference. I used to teach and do judo and you could tell by looking in your opponent's eyes and at their body language what his/her next move would be, and I could see that level of telegraphing with Lewis. Don't get me wrong, i look for these things and any one who wasn't looking out for it would not notice a thing, so I'm sorry if this seems over critical. He did a cracking job though on the whole and I finally got to see the full passion in his performance right at the end when he performed "Copacabana".

Stephanie Ure was lovely as Lola/Samantha (Stephen's wife) and she has a really easy on the ear voice. Her dance steps were well executed and graceful and she has some really nice comedy bits in the show.

I absolutely loved Gary Lever as Sam, the boss of the Copacabana. Here is someone who really performed his songs and created a totally believable character. He reminded me a great deal of Melvyn Hayes, especially in his Hawaiian outfit, and what about that wig? The comedy in Sam really lifted the show.

As did the gorgeous Clare Toska as Rico's "old" starlet Conchita. Clare was brilliant in this role and she lit the stage up with her smile. Her accent didn't stray and was believable. She  danced and sung brilliantly and she made me smile every time she appeared on stage.

Another wonderful character part was Gladys, the cigarette seller who travelled round the Copacabana selling tobacco, cigarettes etc. Fiona Wright I absolutely adored you and you really brought Gladys' character out, even down to that walk. I loved Gladys.

Steve Wood was the nasty Rico and another really well executed character part which i enjoyed.

Although I enjoyed the show, this wasn't the best I've seen the Erewash Musical Society perform and that's what irked me as I know what a talented group they are and how much hard work goes into every show they put on. I feel that maybe the choice of musical could have been wrong, but you have to take that chance. For me there was plenty of great music but, sadly in some performances, a little lacking in passion needed to pull off a convincing performance down at the Copa.

"Copacabana" is on at the Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton until Saturday 12 March 2016.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

"Half A Sixpence" by LAOS
Loughborough Town Hall

This, sadly, little performed musical from the sixties is my first experience of Loughborough Amateur operatic Society, as I missed out on seeing "Sweet Charity" last year, and what an introduction to this very talented bunch of thespians. You'd have to be a penny short of a farthing not to enjoy this energetic show. My money's on it being a total success by the end of its' run, this coming Saturday.

"Sixpence" is all about Arthur Kipps,  an orphan who is a shop boy and lives below the shop, owned by Mr Shalford. Kipps unexpectedly inherits a fortune, and climbs the social ladder before losing everything and realizing that you just can't buy happiness until he goes back to what he had before and marries his original sweetheart, Ann,

The musical was originally used as a vehicle for Tommy Steele back in 1967 and features eleven of the fourteen songs sung by Kipps, so there's a lot of pressure on James Highton who plays Kipps in this musical. James rises to the occasion with a strong and distinctive voice. Vocally he blends well with the ensemble numbers as well as the songs with the shop boys, Chitterlow and Ann. He has a clear tone which is also powerful, making sure that you hear every word of the songs. A confident and instantly likeable leading man who creates a realistic chemistry with Ann. You can see the enthusiasm in numbers like "Flash, Bang, Wallop", "Money To Burn" and "The Party's On The House" as well as a lovely air of melancholy in "She's Too Far Above Me", To me James was like a cross between Melvyn Hayes and Anthony Newley, fun with a great singing voice.

Ably supported by his fellow shop boys Liam Patrick (Sid), Ian Dean (Buggins), who also did a brilliant job as choreographer, especially as this was his debut for LAOS in this field. Josh Hill as Pearce completes the trio of co-workers with Hipps. There are some lovely, almost barbershop harmonies when the four sing together. Again some very energetic dance routines for the quartet.

The shop girls, Flo (Rose Morris), Kate (Nicole Ray), Victoria (Gemma Hopwood) and Emma (Gemma Baxter) were a lovely compliment to the male contingent of the shop, both looks wise and vocally.

Mark Chinnery (Mr Shalford) put the boss into bossy, or should that be the other way round, as was Sue Reynolds as Mrs Walsingham, one of the upper class ladies of the family that Kipps very nearly married into. Along with Mrs Botting (Kate King), they would have made Arthur's life a living hell. Helen Walsingham completed the female Walsinghams and was played by Nikita Collington.

Ann was played by the lovely Becky Bakewell. To quote another musical, lovely to look at and lovely to listen to. her solo song, "I Know What I Am" was quite splendid and sent a shiver up the spine to make the hair on my neck rise. Some lovely light and shade in Becky's performances, from the angry "I Don't Believe A Word Of It" to the slightly sentimental "Long Ago" duet.

Chitterlow, the actor and playwright in the play, delivers the news of the inheritance to Arthur, was played by Richard York. A lovely over the top ham performance by Chitterlow ,not by Richard. It looked like Richard mastered the drunken stagger and slur part, and I imagine hours of research may have gone into mastering the character.

Young Walsingham, the abtholute cad of the pieth, wath camped up with an added lithp, which made the role even funnier and played for maximum laughs and comedic affect by Andy Marmoy.

It's a large cast with a combined ensemble of fourteen others aside from the main roles. All slotting in nicely and making the full ensemble choreographed scenes feel like a fun day on the set of "Eastenders" (if you can remember "fun" and "Eastenders" being used in the same sentence).

A wonderful orchestra created a lovely clear sound and was under the musical direction of Hazel Needham. Directed by Nicola Dexter,l who was in the last production of "Sixpence" by LAOS in 2004. she brought out the fun and the energy in the actors. There's only one thing I would have changed if I was director and that was at the close of Act One. The act ended on the brilliant "If The Rains Got To Fall" with the cast, part kneeling, to the lights being dimmed to close. they then made their way off of the stage after the applause. I would have had the curtain come down so the last we saw of the cast would be in the final positions, not getting to their feet and making their way into the wings. i suppose that's why I'm reviewing though and not directing the show!

Some simple but very effective and colourful scenes, which were changed with the absolute minimum of fuss, and some wonderful costumes made this an aural and visual delight.

A thoroughly enjoyable show which is great fun to watch. The story is not over complicated so is easy to follow, The songs are recognisable and had the practically full Town Hall audience clapping their hands, stamping their feet and if they had big bass drums, they would be banging them as well. A talented bunch of people who obviously love doing this show because it shows in their enthusiasm.

"Half A Sixpence" is being performed by Loughborough Amateur operatic Society at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 12 March 2016.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

"The Dance Of Death" by August Strindberg
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre

This is a surprising play, as well as a new one to me, as is the writer, Strindberg. Surprising because from the brief description I had, it was to be a bit of a depressing affair. Well it's not because there's a lot of comedy here, in the most depressing of situations.

"Dance Of Death" can be translated in a couple of ways. Edgar is ill and is due to celebrate his and Alice's 25th wedding anniversary but we discover that he is ill, although he has tried to hide it from Alice. It could be the merry dance they lead each other towards his imminent death, or it could just be the death of their marriage.

They insult and pick away at each other verbally,and at times physically, insulting the staff and each other. Introduce into this volatile mix Alice's cousin, Kurt, who's support for the pair changes like the wind.

Purposely I read nothing about this play, or Strindberg, just so that i'd get the full un-cushioned or pre-warned affect of the play, and that's the way I like it. Strindberg seems to write in the same way as some of the great Northern writers, because he creates real characters who you can believe in, characters who have a certain freshness and truth to them, this automatically breaks down any barriers between the audience and the character in the quickest of time.

Fraser Wanless as the retired artillery captain and tyrant is wonderful, and possibly one of the best roles I've seen Fraser portray. He made me believe the character, his vitriol and nastiness towards his wife. He's a liar, the opposite of what you'd expect from a man of his calibre, as in the first half he comes across, or gives the image of having no money. In the second half, he's quite flush!

In the second half, Alice, who was a former actress, seems to be a stronger person and less caring and human, until the final twist when her would be future world seems to be crashing down around her, and Edgar gets his way again. Alice is played by Kareema Sims, and it's lovely to see both quality actors letting rip with some emotional scenes. At first it seemed like Alice may be a weak character but the slow burn soon dispelled that idea.

Kurt, played by Graeme Jennings, is also a slow burner. He looks decidedly embarrassed, like a naughty school boy, when Edgar is ripping into him at the start but it is in act two that the tiger in Kurt was released. Again some powerful words and scenes from Kurt, especially as his relationship with Alice evolved and exploded.

The fourth character is the maid, Jenny, also doubling as Maya, played by Danielle Wain.

Directed by Paul Johnson, he manages to bring the emotion out of the actors, and the subtle sideways glances from Edgar and Alice at the start and end of the play, just adds that little something which makes you believe that these two, even though they profess to want the other out of their lives, they do have feelings for each other.

A simple set, in the upper part of the theatre, it doesn't add anything to the play, but it's not supposed to enhance the play or the script. Oliver Lovely created the set to be unobtrusive and it did the job it was meant to, and let's face it, without the simple table, chairs, chaise longue and piano, the actors would be upstanding throughout.

The sound design of the effects were subtle but effective in setting the atmosphere and creating an external space away from the performing area. painting pictures in the viewer's imagination.Designed by Gareth Morris.

An interesting play, which is something that the Lace Market Theatre do so well. I know that I'm in for an education whenever I'm at the Lace Market Theatre and their choice of productions need applauding for being just a little different and brave in their choices.

"The Dance Of Death" is on at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 5 March 2016.