Thursday, 22 June 2017

“The Grain Store” by Year 2 VWNC Performing Arts Acting Students
Create Theatre, West Notts College.
In complete contrast to Tuesday’s choice of theatre at Create, the second year students tackle a pretty grim subject in the terror famine that caused seven million deaths in Ukraine and neighbouring lands in 1929 as Stalin launches the first of his Five Year plans. The play is adapted from the book by Natal’ia Vorozhbit and translated by Sasha Dugdale.
It features a close knit community which stands in the way of Stalin’s plans to create a Socialist Soviet Union. They are robbed of their land, their religion and ultimately their freedom and independence. It’s their story.
And what a story! Grim and shocking as it may be there's also a lot of comedy comes through with the translation. The shocks are in your face with the inane and senseless shootings of the kulaks (skilled farmers). they are lined up and one by one shot, almost as if it were a sport.
There's a Romeo & Juliet feel about it as well with Arsei and Mokrina. The play also has a "play within a play" theme which soon becomes clear to be an almost predictive image of what was to come under Stalin's rule.
When the peasants are forced to perform a jovial dance for a propaganda film with the promise of food as a reward, this is cruelly taken away from them, causing absolute uproar from the starved and weakened peasants.
This cast of Year 2 students worked as a complete unit. They performed with a naturalness, making the characters completely believable. They say that an actor has to walk a mile in the shoes of the character they're performing to get under the skin of the character. No one could do this in this play and that didn't stop this bunch from giving a professional and emotion packed performance.
The actors were Alex Palmer, Alice Bradley, Bradley Turner, Olivier Van De Braak, Caitlan Emmas, Cassidy Hankinson, Dan Wilkinson, O'Cean Ria Tucker, Hannah Brown, Harry Watson, Jack Thorpe, Julian Salmon, Sindja Sosina, Tom WilsonMatthew Lamb, George Davis and Shannon Mansfield-Throsswell. Every one a vital piece of the jigsaw that made this Russian play such an entertaining and enjoyable play to watch.
The relative sound effects and music created an apt feel for the period and geography of the play and the lighting also gave the right atmosphere. Another job well designed and carried out by Sam Nicholson and Kian Staley.
Also giving the right geographical and era feel were the clothing and costumes, designed and made by Kerry Pilcher with additional help from Sally Danby.
I loved the choreography which started the play off and depicted the mood of the villagers at the start of the five years. This joyous mood in contrast to the way the villagers were beaten down until broken.
I would've like to have known who the director was, as they did a wonderful job creating that balance between the lighter moments and the tragedy.
A wonderfully gelled cast who presented an intelligent and extremely watchable piece of Russian theatre. I look forward to seeing some, if not all of the cast in local theatre productions in the future.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

“Cats” by VWNC Musical Theatre Students
Create Theatre, West Notts College
“Cats” is one of those musicals that has grown on me over the years after I realised that there was no deep meaning behind the musical and took it at face value. The value being a set of T.S.Eliot poems from 'Old Possums Book of Practical Cats' set to Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music which takes in the characters and personalities of the cats in the lead up to “The Jellicle Ball” where one cat is chosen to Journey to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn.
"Cats" isn't the easiest of musicals to perform. It's very physical and you need good breath control with the vocals and on the whole this young cast coped with this well.
The cast are a mix of newer actors as well as some of whom had more experience,and, not knowing any of the cast, you could see the difference. That's not a bad thing because there are some real rough diamonds here and with a bit of polish, who knows where their talents can take them?
Director, Charlene Roberts, has compacted the musical which kept it pacy. Charlene was also responsible for the wonderful choreography, which really highlighted the talented dancers in the cast.
All the technical stuff was looked after by Sam Nicholson with help by Kian Staley on the lighting side.
Vocal coaching was by Cat Orton, who has done a great job with these students and a soundtrack that's not easy to perform.
Hayleigh Wade (Grizabella) gets to sing THE song that everyone knows from the show "Memory". Not the easiest of songs to perform but she tackled it well with plenty of emotion, but maybe just a tad too much power. Hayleigh has a powerful voice and it's learning to get that projection and power plus the emotion of the song just right. As I said, not an easy one to perform.
Shauna Martin (Old Deuteronomy) was another hit. My only note was, for an older cat, Shauna just needed to move a little slower as she came down the steps to reflect the age of the cat.Apart from that I loved the character.
Zach Fretwell (Mungojerry) and Kat Henderson (Rumpleteaser) make for a very entertaining pair as the cats with the gift of the gab an a good set of vocals between them. Good chemistry.
Tessa Stewart (Demeter/Jennyanydots ) is the Old Gumbie Cat in the song which introduces the Cats. Nicely performed by Tessa.
Tia Wilkins (Bomballurina/Jellylorum) is another actor taking on dual roles. I love Bomballurina as a character as she is such a flirty cat and has several of the singing parts, which suited Tia.
Ellie-Louise Gartland (Victoria) stands out for her white costume. Playing a younger kitten, she also has to have to show the flexibility in movement of a kitten, which she does with ease in the solo dance after the "Naming Of the Cats"
Bethany Whyman (Mr Mistofilees) lights up the stage, quite literally as this magical cat. A good characterisation role for Bethany.
Matilde Stokes (Skimbleshanks) is fun and energetic, just like the ever so important Railway cat himself.
James Murphy (Munkustrap/Gus the Theatre Cat) is one performer who caught my eye in both roles. We first see Munkustrap at the start and he is the focus of all the cats' attention. Playing this character also gets the audience's attention and you are drawn to James' dance ability in this role. A very flexible dancer who also has a good voice for musical theatre, and with a bit more vocal training could have something special.
Gus the Theatre Cat is also one of my favourite characters in this musical and, being quite opposite to Munkustrap, it shows James' ability to show another side of his character acting.
Jordan Eyre (Bustopher Jones). I really wanted Jordan to project more as his voice got lost after the front row. he did recompense though later when Bustopher's story was told and I did get to hear him the closer he got to the front of the stage. Another one of my favourite characters and I loved the characterisation in Jordan's voice.
One thing that I would have loved to have seen was Rum Tum Tugger really let go a bit more. This character is the show off cat and I felt that there was so much more scope to be more arrogant and showy. Never the less I still enjoyed seeing the actor, whose name I don't have, enjoying herself in this role.
All in all, this was a very entertaining production, and as I said, not the easiest of shows to perform but there's a whole lot of talent here and I'm so pleased that I was asked along to see these students. Some future stars on the rise for local theatres.

Monday, 19 June 2017

"Ivanov"
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.
I've never really been a fan of Chekhov so it was with mixed emotions I took my place at the Lace Market Theatre for one of his lesser performed plays, and a comedy as well.
Knowing the calibre and the past roles of many of the actors, I was confident that the night wouldn't be totally lost on me. Slowly but surely I warmed to the play, mainly due to the comedy and the talents of the cast.
Chekhov wrote the play in 10 days after being commissioned to write a comedy. Initially Chekhov disliked the play so re-wrote it and, like myself, warmed to it. I can't believe that Chekhov and I have the same theatrical leanings!
For the past five years, Ivanov has been married to Anna Petrovna, but she is now dying, unbeknown to Anna.
The doctor, an 'honest' man as he frequently reminds the rest of the cast, informs Ivanov that his wife is dying of Tuberculosis, and that she needs to recover by going to the Crimea.
Ivanov is unable, and unwilling, to pay for the trip as he is heavily in debt. Ivanov is criticised for heartlessness and for spending time with friemds, the Lebedevs instead of his seriously ill wife.
Sasha, the daughter of the Lebedevs, is infatuated with Ivanov. She throws herself at Ivanov and he is unable to resist: the act concludes with the two kissing. Unfortunately, Anna arrives unexpectedly at just this moment and witnesses the betrayal.
It all ends very dramatically!!!
Playing Ivanov is Robert Goll, an actor who is just as at home performing Shakespeare as he looks playing Dame in panto or Hector in "The History Boys". Regular review readers will see that I hold Mr Goll in high esteem and playing this troubled and melancholic Russian is just another classy piece of theatrical success to doff my reviewing cap to Rob.Always a very natural actor, the words and the comedy just spill from his mouth as if they were his own words.
Joanna Hoyes plays the long suffering Anna, and once more a lovely naturalness about this performance, and by Act Three, she really is not looking too well, Anna that is not Joanna. A passionate performance.
I loved the quirkiness of Marcus Wakely's performance of the Uncle Malvei
Mark Gadsby entered as a fun character, up for a laugh as Ivanov's estate manager, Borkin by putting a gun up to Ivanov's head whilst reading and then he became more serious when he found out about Ivanov's financial situation. A nice character turnaround.
The "honest" doctor is played by Daniel Radcliffe lookalikey, Daniel Potts. Another clean cut performance from Daniel with plenty of fire in his speeches.
The Lebedev family are played by Hugh Jenkins (Pavel), Sue Drew (his wife) and Gina Radford (Sasha). Really good performance by all but loved the final scenes with Gina (no spoilers here!!).
The classic "over the top" character is a wealthy widow called Marfa, who provided a great deal of comedy,and frontage, and was played by the lovely Michelle Smith. What a costume!
Other cast members were Carole Barton (Avdotia), James Whitby (Piotr), Malcolm Wilson (Gavrila), Lorna McCullough, Marie Morehen, Sophie Owen, Cosima Santoro and David Watts as Guests.
Directed by Cynthia Marsh, she retained the comedy and pace coming just right, and as a non Chekhov fan, even I was entertained.
Rose Dudley designed the set which reflected the era and financial status of the families well.
Giving atmosphere to the piece was a subtle sound scape and design by Matthew Allcock and lighting, designed by Hugh Philip.
I part mentioned the costumes earlier but they were really rather magnificent.
I'm not going to say that this is going to be one of my favourite plays performed by the Lace Market Theatre but you have to acknowledge that it was probably a bit of a risk, not being the most well known of plays, Theatre is all about taking that chance and introducing plays like this to the mainstream theatre goer.
It may not be in my Top 10 but it was by far not the most un-entertaining couple of hours I've spent in a theatre. And I must add a thank you to whoever was in charge of the air conditioning as it was lovely and cool in there tonight.
"Ivanov" is at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 24 June 2017.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

“Pomona” by Alistair McDowall
Nottingham New Theatre
The play’s title refers to a mythic concrete island in the heart of Manchester and the action starts with a young girl, Ollie, in pursuit of her missing twin sister. Ollie is swiftly drawn into a completely surreal environment.
There’s a suggestion of secret worlds hidden deep within modern cities and hints at fantasy lands as depicted in the stuff that “Dungeons & Dragons” is made of, scratching the dark underbelly of the urban fantasy underworld.
This play is very difficult to describe, story wise. Thinking about it, I don't think any description of the play would do it justice because it's like a virtual jigsaw where all the pieces fall into place right at the end.
It's a very physical play which incorporates a certain amount of contemporary choreography, at times almost balletic in some moves.
McDowall is a young and talented playwright who has had great success with this play as well as other ambitious and exciting projects such as “Brilliant Adventures” and “X”. “Pomona” is just the modern style of play that the New Theatre do so well, especially with the core audience the theatre attract.
There’s explicit language, sexual situations and violence and the constant atmosphere of unsettling threat. This is made clear right from the word go where we see Ollie and Zeppo meeting for the first time. That air of danger hangs about throughout the play, which rightly so is performed straight through in a two hour block..
Having seen many plays here at Nottingham New Theatre over the last couple of years, I've seen all of the cast in other plays and roles so had an idea of the strength of this cast.
Michaela Green (Ollie), Niamh Caines (Fay), Charlotte Sanders (Gale), Kate O'Gorman (Keaton), Jamie Watt (Moe), Jonny Khan (Charlie) and Max Miller (Zeppo) all put in very passionate performances, which at times was quite shocking and emotive.
One scene where Moe was describing his violent past and now just wanting to touch another human left the audience in complete silence, but this was only a lead up to a very dark conclusion.
Another scene that really hit me was when Charlie was breaking down when he couldn't do away with one character and the relationship with Moe was wonderfully played out, again though leading to yet another dark ending.
The lack of any physical set wasn't even noticeable and wasn't even missed. The set that was used was utilised well and designed by Beth Wilson, nothing detracting from the complex storyline, only adding to the physicality of the play.
The lighting, designed by Sam Osborne, was so evocative, adding to the depressed and dangerous atmosphere, as was the subtle sound scape, designed by Joanne Blunt and Felicity Chilver.When it exploded into dramatic life, you knew it.
Directed by Maddy Strauss and produced by Grace Williams, assisted by Angharad Davis, the attention to detail was noted. the fight choreography was exciting and frightening, as was the stunt work co ordinated by Laura Wolczyk.
“Pomona” is at the Nottingham New Theatre on the University campus near Lakeside until Saturday 17 June 2017.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

“A Judgement In Stone” by Ruth Rendell
Derby Theatre
Eunice is taken on as a housekeeper by the Coverdale family. She has kept her illiteracy a secret and is obsessed by continuing to keep it so. Unknown to her new employers, she has already murdered the father for whom she had been caring, and has falsified her references. She is so desperate to hide her inability to read and it's that chink in her armour that brings her downfall, and that too of the Coverdales..
Producer Bill Kenright has amassed a star studded cast for this Ruth Rendell classic mystery of murder in cold blood which resides in Derby Theatre all this week, until Saturday 24 June.This is a thriller where the murder is no mystery, but still retains the shock value.
No stranger to Derby Theatre, Andrew Lancel returns to play Detective Superintendent Vetch. Cool, calm and collected, you have every confidence that he will get his man... or woman.
Ben Nealon is Vetch's partner in fighting crime; a little more, but not that much more animated than Vetch, but a nice contrast.
Sophie Ward plays Eunice Parchman, and for me the star of the piece. She plays a character much older than herself and makes the role completely believable. From the start you almost pitied her, but in Act Two you could see that darker, more influenced side develop and appear. Brilliant characterisation.
Mark Wynter, well known for his hits like “Venus In Blue Jeans” in the 1960’s is well versed with murder mysteries and thrillers, especially those of Agatha Christe. Mark plays George Coverdale, the Mozart loving head of the family. We get to see why Bill Kenright uses Mark so much in his theatre plays as his naturalness shines through. We even get to hear some vocals from the man. I also noted that his stage timing is spot on with the slap he delivers to Joan Smith; quite a jaw dropping slap!
Deborah Grant plays the receiver of the slap, the busybody post mistress who likes to know what is going on by reading the village's mail; one reason why George Coverdale hates to have her in his house. She's also insanely religious, spouting her opinions and proud of her un-Godly past. Another excellent character piece.
Rosie Thomson plays George's wife, Jacqueline Coverdale. A bright and upbeat character who loves the attention and flirting of the family handyman/gardener, which obviously keeps her looking and feeling young.
Joshua Price plays the teenage step son, Giles Mont. Forever stuck in his books who shows a slightly obsessed side of his character when he discovers religion of a darker edge.
The Coverdale daughter, Melinda, is played by Jennifer Sims. This character brings about the downfall of Eunice after she discovers the Parchman secret. Taking after her father George for her love of music and forever carries around the Christmas present of a cassette player everywhere she goes, and is pivotal in discovering what really happened on that fateful Valentine's Day. A birthday that George would live to regret!
The iconic Shirley-Anne Field plays Eva Baalham, the cleaner who becomes second fiddle to Eunice.It's a pleasure to experience such a legend performing locally in this tour, plus she gets to deliver some very dry lines.
Anthony Costa, who since leaving the band Blue has carved a decent career in stage work and again, no stranger to the Nottingham and Derby theatres. Ant plays the bad lad turned good lad gardener/handyman at the house. He has an eye for the ladies, as we find out when questioned about his alibi at the time of the murders.
I love the set and I want the book cases (my wife wants the grey Chesterfield). The set is designed by Julie Godfrey, and in fact, I wouldn't mind that set in my house.
Lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and there are very subtle light changes here that some may not notice but, as the play flicks back and forth back in time and to the present, the lighting also changes. This makes it easy to distinguish the time zones with a lovely fluidity.
An unobtrusive soundscape also creates an air of reality and puts you there in the story, just like them proverbial fly on the wall.
I must also mention the rapidity of the costume changes. Even though it may just be the swapping of a coat, as in Eunice, or the change of a jumper or tie with George. These changes moved the time on naturally, and there were several of these changes in quite quick succession. Little things like this make a good play a wonderful play and something that Director, Roy Marsden obviously has had an eye for in his long and successful career.
There are some shocks in here and the audience were audibly shocked in some parts. The wonderful writing of Ruth Rendell is as sharp as ever after all this time, and when you have a great cast, a sharp Director and talented technical crew, you can't fail to present a cracking night of thrills.
This thrilling production is being performed at Derby Theatre until Saturday 24 June 2017, so don’t miss out!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

“Funny Girl”
Nottingham Theatre Royal
It’s been a long and anticipated wait for this touring production to come to Nottingham but it was well worth it. The film, which starred Barbra Streisand was made 50 years ago with the original stage version opening on Broadway on 26 March 1964.
The musical is semi-biographical, based on the life and career of Broadway star, film actress and Comedienne Fanny Brice. Her rise from her own dream world of being a star to being "The Greatest Star" who allows no one to rain on her parade!
Natasha J Barnes takes on the role of Fanny Brice in Nottingham and other venues where Sheridan Smith shares the part during the tour. Fanny says “That’s where I live, on stage” and how true is that one sentence because Natasha comes alive.
There were a couple of moments where a giggly Natasha had to deal with a rogue false moustache and something unexpected in Darius's pants, which made her giggle.
The standing ovation, richly earned, for Natasha also looked to choke her up, in complete contrast to her giggles earlier.
The physicality of the comedy is handled really well by Natasha as are the vocals, and there are some belting songs for Natasha to tackle. From the heart-felt “People” to the rip- roaring staccato of “Don’t Rain On My Parade”
Darius Campbell (nee Danesh) plays Nick Arnstein, the object of Brice’s affections. It’s good that people are now recognising Darius as a performer of quality, something that many Pop Idol TV reality show singers have had trouble shaking off. Darius is now a seasoned theatre performer, singer, film producer, author and TV actor, oozing charisma as he sings and dances his way into Fanny's, and the Nottingham audience's hearts.
The supporting cast were excellent and fun to watch, especially Nova Skipp as Mrs Brice, Myra Sands as Mrs Strakosh and Zoe Ann Bown as Mrs Meeker, the poker playing trio. Joshua Lay (Eddie), Jennifer Harding (Emma), Lloyd Davies (John), Martin Callaghan (Mr Keeney) and Nigel Barber (Ziegfield) all wonderful character actors. The rest of the ensemble perfectly cast.
It goes without saying that the choreography would be amazing and choreographer Lynn Page didn't disappoint with some wonderful tap, ballet and ballroom sequences.
Loved the costumes. All that class with the men in tuxes and bow ties and some incredibly glamorous costumes for all the ladies.
Marvellously lush and layered musical arrangements under the musical direction of Ben Van Tenen in charge of a crisp and tight orchestra.

A colourful and classy set design by Michael Pavelka.

The whole production, directed by Michael Mayer just sizzled and sparkled with class and cheekiness.
“Funny Girl” is laughing all the way to the bank at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 17 June 2017 because this show is a big success.