Set in London during the Thatcher years, My Beautiful Laundrette tells the story of young British Pakistani, Omar, who transforms his uncle's run-down laundrette into a thriving business with the help of old school friend Johnny as an unlikely love story blossoms between them.
There’s plenty to like about this production. From the opening moments it screams 1980s Britain with all its social and cultural conflict and the iconic sound of the Pet Shop Boys is the ideal backdrop for a story which in its day powerfully defied Thatcherism and all it stood for.
Jonny Fines is excellent as reformed bad boy Johnny and Omar Malik turns in a thoughtful performance as Omar.
There’s good support too from the likes of Hareet Deol as the spivvy Salim and Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar in the original some 35 years ago but this time portrays the character’s father.
But something isn’t quite right and in this stage adapation the story feels a little lacking in substance; even trite at times.
In the screenplay Johnny and Omar’s relationship is frustratingly unexplored but it somehow works in the context of the age. In this production their bond is so quickly formed that it lacks credibility, no matter how hard the actors try.
Elsewhere the dialogue frequently borders on the corny. What should be a touching moment, when Johnny tells Omar he is ‘his prince’, instead feels a little cringeworthy.
The set is cleverly simplistic but at times it leaves the audience confused about where we are. And even Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s 80s anthems feel like set change music which isn't properly integrated into the piece.
The Oscar-nominated original was leagues ahead of its time in the 80s and challenged the cultural absolutes and negative stereotypes which were so typical of the dogmatism of the day in a hugely important way.
This production threatens to, but never quite succeeds at making that story resonate with modern day audiences.
With its story of lust, love, betrayal and murder, allied to a battery of memorable tunes, Verdi’s first mature masterpiece has been a staple of the operatic repertoire since its first performance in 1851. But it wasn’t guaranteed that Rigoletto would be a success.
Based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse, that so scandalized Paris at its first performance, with its portrayal of the libertine French King Francis I, that it was immediately banned, Verdi and his librettist Piave had to agree to change the location and personnel of their story in order to get it passed the censors in Venice. Even then there were those who thought the character of the Duke of Mantua, who lusted after any and every woman, and was surrounded by courtiers only too happy to help feed his venal desires, would be to scandalous for the operatic stage. But balancing the libidinous Duke was his loyal, and very human fool Rigoletto, who harboured one great secret; he kept a teenage daughter hidden away, for fear what might happen if she was seen by the Duke and his minions.
Many directors have updated many operas into more modern settings, so it’s no real surprise to find ourselves in the White House at the time of President John F Kennedy. Yes, it’s certainly true that many powerful men down the years have held sway with almost autocratic power, and power over women has always been a part of that. And Kennedy was certainly famous for his love of the ladies, and, seemingly, them for him. But apart from that opening gambit, director James Macdonald’s production for Welsh National Opera (first seen in 2002, and here revived by Caroline Chaney) really adds very little to the story. Indeed the setting for Act 2, inside the Oval Office itself, feels very on the nose, and rather unsettled. Act 3 is much more successful, given that Sparafucile’s dwelling could be in almost any run down area of any large city, and we can just focus on the characters.
That said, once you get passed the setting and focus on the music this is a tremendous production. The cast is uniformly excellent, and the WNO Orchestra and male chorus bring real life and energy to Verdi’s vocal and orchestral inventiveness, full of sombre brass and delicately skittish woodwinds, under the direction of conductor Alexander Joel.
Heading the cast as the Duke/President Korean tenor David Jungoon Kim effortlessly sang his way through the required list of Verdi’s Greatest Tenor Arias. Possessing a bright ringing tone, ideally suited to this middle Verdi sound, Kim also demonstrated real acting prowess, being completely nonplussed by Monterone’s Curse, convincing in is wooing of Gilda, and then throwing her away for Maddalena without a second thought.
As Gilda fellow Korean Haegee Lee was no less impressive. Although possessing a smaller voice, her clarity was exceptional, allowing her to comfortably cross the large orchestra. Despite a small stumble in the final coloratura Caro Nome was delightfully crisp and playful, and young woman showing her first feelings of sexual awakening. And when she discovers her lover’s betrayal in Act 3 her confusion and shock were convincing.
At the centre of the action is Mark S Doss’s noble Rigoletto. It’s true that, in this staging we really don’t know what Rigoletto’s role is, but in a performance this committed it hardly matters. From the jeering opening scene, through the paternal duets with Gilda to the betrayal at the finale, Doss is in complete command of both his voice and the stage.
Support come from the enormously menacing voice of James Platt (Sparafucile), and the richly toned, seductive Emma Carrington (Maddalena).
Act 3, shorn of the necessity for the specific setting, really does pack a punch vocally and emotionally. The quartet (Bella figlia dell’amore) is beautifully staged, with all four characters allowed to demonstrate their contrasting emotions in Verdi’s musical highlight. The offstage chorus also added its eery sound to the colourful orchestral storm which, supported by Simon Mills’ lighting design, underpinned the whole final scene.
Welsh National Opera have demonstrated, yet again, that they are at the forefront to top quality operatic and theatrical performance.
This BITA production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's classic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar has a distinctly modern urban-industrial feel, the bedraggled followers of Jesus wearing blue jeans and tattered army green t-shirts rather than rags and sandals of the biblical era. Pop-up tents adorn the stage while an impressive metal structure stretches across and is omnipresent, a constant reminder of the contemporary feel of the piece.
During the opening number, Heaven On Their Minds you are immediately struck by the fantastic choreography by Attiye Partridge and Cleve September which throughout the play always adds to, rather than distracts from the fantastic lead performances.
The production is rightly at its strongest when both Jesus, played by Dec Foster and Judas, played by Max Eade are both on stage. The relationship between the two young actors was particularly excellent as they exchange intense looks from across the stage. A standout Gethsemane, which is often the litmus test of a good Jesus, was valiently sung by the 17-year-old and deservedly garnered one of the biggest applause of the night. Special mention should go to Eade's performance of Judas who truly made the role his own.
The production remains true to the source material, but adds and expands subtly to create a unique performance. A role that is famous for apadaption is Herod and his self titled King Herod's Song. Played by James Luckins a hilariously jarring appearance of a scooter riding Herod certainly added some levity and got a big laugh from the audience as a Herod – who bares a striking similarity to a current world-leader – danced with his adoring fans.
A wonderful production that should leave all those involved very proud and those in the audience excited to see what this talented company will do next.
JM Barrie's classic Peter Pan has enchanted children and adults alike for over 100 years so it's lovely to see this triumph brought to the stage to be performed by a youth theatre group, full of boys and girls that I'm sure don't want to grow up.
A feeling of magic, wonder and excitement fills your whole body when you enter the auditorium, with the orchestra pit and stage extensions dressed up with a woodland effect, and filled with fairy lights. Having already being greeted by a friendly front of house team, the audience knew they were going to be in for a treat. I'm not one for spoilers but by now you should all know the story of the boy who doesn't want to grow up. With Peter Pan flying off to Neverland with Wendy and her brothers John and Michael, joining the rest of the Lost Boys in their quest to beat the wicked Captain Hook.
This being SCMYT's second show after the success that was 'Joseph...', the bar was certainly set very high. It was pleasing to see a number of returning cast members from last year along with a number of new faces, who all look like they've been working together for years.
The show was lead by Nate Wallace. This 12 year old has a very bright future ahead of him based on last night's performance. He plays Peter Pan with great energy, but also with a softness to the character that comes across really well. His number 'The Cleverness of Me' showed what a beautiful singing voice he has and you can tell he's no stranger to the stage. Supporting Peter on his quest was Wendy Darling, played beautifully by Sophie Pegg. The caring motherly figure to all of the Lost Boys shone whenever she was on stage and had a lovely stage presence. Sophie sang 'Just Beyond The Stars' with ease. An excellent performance. Finley Waldron played Captain Hook well, delivering the correct level of nastiness and comic timing so to not be associated with a pantomime villain. There was a comedy moment where Hook's moustache fell off at the start of Act 2, but the laughter from the audience didn't phase him. Hook's right hand man, the clumsy, positive, light-hearted Smee, was played well by Ben Hayfield. His accent, costume and comedy timing made for a great overall performance.
The chorus full of excitable Lost Boys, the fiercely warrior-like Braves and the infamous Pirates, each member had their own character to play, whether it was to help or hinder Peter Pan. Some stand out performances by Bae Rooney, full of energy and a wicked laugh, Lost Boy Twins Gracie Cawsey & Emily Haycock-Lamb who had excellent stage presence.
It would be unfair of me to miss out the fact that everybody gave a sterling performance and you should all be very proud.
A nice use of the new digital screen at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall and an excellent range of choreography set by Jane Slassor, showcasing the many strengths of this talented group.
A great half term treat for all of the family with the show running for three more performances, including a matinee and an evening performance on Saturday 2nd November.
And remember, it's important to believe in fairies!
Embarking on its third UK tour, Nativity sparkles on the Wolverhampton Grand stage this week. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre production originally opened in 2017 and it returns in dazzling style. Penned by the talented Debbie Isitt and a team of sensational collaborators, the production stays true to the festive film of the same name.
The enthusiastic cast fill the stage with a pulsing energy right from curtain up. ‘Team Bethlehem’ represent the children tonight and they certainly do shine. Standout performances come from Nicholas Vakis, Alexander Hogg and Lyla Peters who each excelled in their respective roles. Hogg’s rapping skills are a particular laugh-out-loud highlight.
Jamie Chapman, clearly the king of multiroling, is hilarious as reviewer Patrick Burns, alongside all his other characters. Meanwhile, Charles Brunton blends comedy and villainy in equal measure as the overly-competitive Mr Shakespeare and Penelope Woodman brings a great operatic vocal to the role of Mrs Bevan.
The trio of Ashleigh Gray as Jennifer Lore, Scott Garnham as Mr Maddens and Scott Paige as Mr Poppy is a sheer delight. Gray’s stunning vocals soar through the auditorium and Garnham makes for a wonderful Mr Maddens. However, Paige’s Mr Poppy steals the show with his sensational performance. From beginning to end he is a bouncing ball of brilliance.
With a sprinkle of added cuteness with Pepper the dog as Cracker, Nativity is a glittering triumph.
“Please sir, can I have some more?” Oliver’s immortal plea couldn’t have been a more apt request when leaving Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society’s production of Lionel Bart’s musical based on Charles Dickens’ famous story. From the cheery opening chorus of Food Glorious Food this vibrant production, under the direction of David Shaw, was a delicious treat full of thumping good tunes and whip smart choreography by Amy Williams.
The dozen young performers who made-up Fagin’s gang and the workhouse children were uniformly buoyant and confident and it was great to hear such young voices singing with clarity throughout. In the title role, Harrison Eno is a sweet singing cherubic Oliver, and his new found pal, the Artful Dodger, played by George Blower was a real charmer.
Leon Davies gave us an exemplary Fagin – the perfect combination of a slippery, sinister crook played with a touch of wit. Anna Forster plays Nancy with gusto and passion. Her performance was full of infectious vivacity particularly when the stage filled with the lively chorus for a Cockney knees-up during the raucous Oom-Pah-Pah. The ensemble chorus and choreography in this scene really packed a punch.
The Bloomsbury scene was colourful and full of some lovely detail - the school mistress and her pupils, flower sellers and milk maids. Personally (and this is a minor quibble) I would have liked a little more contrast to the dynamics during the quartet of voices in Who Will Buy? - a softer pianissimo would have given it more space and a dream like quality.
Special mention must go to the live band (it would have been nice to have their names in the programme), led by musical director, George Stuart and in particular the beautiful solo Kletzmer violin that features as part of Fagin’s number, Reviewing The Situation (sung brilliantly by Leon Davies), as he dithers between crime and respectability.
A final special mention to the stage management team for the fluent staging and the evocative lighting by Matt Bird. It takes a lot of dedication to pull off a show of this quality so hats off to SAOS, it’s great to see such a thriving company. Consider yourselves a success!
Solihull audiences have been treated to not one, but two productions from local company Peterbrook Players this year, to celebrate their 50th anniversary. With performances dedicated to the memory of Stephen Bickerton, there’s a real poignancy to this production week.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic has lost none of its beauty and charm, and in the hands of the talented Peterbrook Players they have delightfully brought this show to life. Directed by Kirsteen Stafford there has clearly been hours, weeks and months of love poured into this production.
The vocals are sublime through the night, with harmonies that make the spine tingle and solos that soar through the auditorium. It is clear the cast are in safe hands with their Musical Director Paula Whitehouse, leading the band with great aplomb. There is a plethora of excellent performances, including the trio of supporting nuns: Alison Tumber, Rachel Perks and Chloe Rawson - shoutout especially to the colourful Lonely Goatherd scene.
Good comic support comes in the form of Andy Alton as Max Detweiler and Charlotte Boulton as Elsa Schraeder, whilst Cathy King proves that you only need a few moments on stage to make your mark with her hilarious cameo as Fraulein Schweiger.
The Von Trapp children are an absolute joy. The septet of Amelia Bickerton, Sam Weir, Jacob Young, Annie Stephenson, Alice Keddie, Lauren Meehan and Harlow Grant display an abundance of talent. They’re not only beautiful singers, but also well drilled in the polished choreography from Suzanne Ballard-Yates.
With such an iconic screen adaptation, it’s a daunting task to step into the shoes of any principal role, but the trio of Iona Cameron as Maria, Fiona Krober as Mother Abbess and Thom Stafford as Captain Von Trapp really make each character their own.
Krober is vocally stunning throughout the night, closing Act One with a stellar performance of Climb Every Mountain, whilst Stafford brings an aloofness to Captain Von Trapp which gradually fades away as he falls in love with Maria. A highlight is his emotive performance of Edelweiss.
Meanwhile Iona Cameron is on fine form in the role of Maria. She brings a vibrant, child-like energy to the role, blended with a real talent for comic timing. Her voice is stunning and she really does light up the stage each time she enters.
The story is set against the backdrop of the Third Reich movement and the rise of Hitler, and Peterbrook’s interpretation does not shy away from this. The addition of the historical references, scattered throughout, very much emphasise and remind the audience of what was happening not too far from the Von Trapp’s. Personally, these moments only required the video footage and historical background as it was poignant and striking enough.
There were some sound glitches through the night, but these were handled mightily well by the cast, who ploughed on as the issues were fixed quickly and efficiently. It’s a very small gripe for what really was a superlative performance.
The hills (and the Core Theatre) certainly are alive with the sound of music this week and Peterbrook Players have lovingly and wonderfully brought this show to glorious life.
If you’re looking for a show to brighten up a rather drab and dreary October then look no further than Wolverhampton Grand this week as they play host to the gorgeously glittery Rocky Horror Show.
Richard O’Brien’s legendary rock ’n’ roll musical has been touring the world this year and it doesn’t disappoint. As the audience took to their feet at the end, it’s clear that this show has lost none of its sparkle or splendour over the years.
Since being in Birmingham (at The Alexandra) earlier this year, it’s undergone some cast changes, including Stephen Webb who now follows in the heeled footsteps of Duncan James as the iconic Frank N Furter. Webb blurs the lines of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ terrifically well, with velvety smooth vocals that delight.
James Darch also joins the cast, excelling in the role of Brad and complementing the equally talented Joanne Clifton in the role of Janet - their vocals were on point through the night.
Other familiar faces include the wonderful talents of Callum Evans as Rocky, dextrous as ever he flips across the stage effortlessly, whilst Laura Harrison shines as Usherette / Magenta. Stalwart of the cast, Kristian Lavercombe, is on top form as Riff Raff.
Philip Franks makes for an utterly hilarious Narrator, with some excellent improvisational moments. His quick-witted responses had the audience laughing throughout.
The show never takes itself seriously, it is just sheer fun from beginning to end and a guaranteed night of pure joy.
“5-Star Fabulous Baby!”
Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company's production of Sister Act is being performed with an abundance of sparkling energy at the Lichfield Garrick this week - and it sure is 5-Star Fabulous Baby!
This well-loved musical comedy, based on the 1992 film, is directed by Paul Lumsden with choreography by Aimee Holding and with the musical direction of Sheila Pearson.
Lounge singer, Deloris van Cartier (MARSHA WEBBE) accidentally witnesses her boyfriend, Curtis (BEN ADAMS) commit a mob murder. Suddenly her dreams of becoming a big-time nightclub diva come to an abrupt end as cop Eddie Souther (JONATHAN BLAKE) persuades her to hide in a convent - the very last place Curtis would think of looking for her as he awaits trial. Disguised as Sister Mary Clarence and, under the watchful eye of Mother Superior (DEB CRUMP), Deloris moves into the convent, adopts the habit and joins the Sisters. Soon enough her singing talents are noticed and she helps the incumbent tone-deaf choir raise their voices and inject soul into the church, shaking the religious foundations with sassy dance moves and heavenly funk, all to the dismay of Mother Superior and all whilst trying not to be discovered by Curtis and his three stooges TJ, Joey and Pablo (ANIL PATEL, DAVE CRUMP and MATTHEW COLLINS). Meanwhile, Monsignor O’Hara (JOHN JOHNSON), one of the heads of the convent who has financial concerns for the church, announces they are to perform a special concert in front of religious royalty - the Pope! Deloris, afraid for the nuns’ safety, then has to confess who she really is and why she’s hiding there. Curtis and his gang close in but the Sisterhood stick together and prove that its good to be a nun.
Leading lady, Marsha Webbe, was an absolute delight to witness in the role of Deloris with exceptional voice, stage ownership and similar qualities in the role, I thought, as those of actress Alexandra Burke. Deb Crump’s portrayal of the vigilant and motherly Mother Superior was perfect with, again, an impressive and beautiful singing voice and strong stage presence, complimented by the humour and talent of theatre stalwart John Johnson. Pure comedy-gold performances (and dance moves in particular Anil!) were given by Ben Adams, Anil Patel, Dave Crump and Matthew Collins and Jonathan Blake was just heaven to watch as the lovable Sweaty Eddie, who deservedly gets his gal in the end. Too large a cast to mention individually but special mention must go to the principal nuns Beth Dickson, Paula Lumsden, Naomi O'Borne, Sally Midwinter and Sarah Corden who played their parts very similarly to the movie portrayals and certainly perfected audience expectation in characterisation.
With disco-themed score by Alan Menken, Sister Act features up-tempo, gospel-style numbers throughout, with live music provided flawlessly by the orchestra. The solo numbers interspersed throughout the show highlighted the talent of the cast, including Jonathan Blake’s ‘If I Could Be That Guy’, Deb Crump’s ‘I Haven’t Got A Prayer’ and Beth Dickson’s ‘The Life I Never Had’.
With strong supporting actors and ensemble, an impressive stage set, lighting scheme and sound design, wardrobe, perfected American accents and on-stage camaraderie, the show really did capture every essence of the story and deserved the standing ovation it received. Technically, it was well managed except for a few mic issues which were quickly resolved (and well done to the actors who continued with their performance without hesitation). But one of the main highlights of the show for me was the sensational choreography by the clearly talented Aimee Holding. Loved every move. Take a bow.
Congratulations to all involved.
Runs to 28 Sep
Even from the moment we step into the auditorium, we know we are in for such a fun and energetic night as the cast of Inua Ellams' vibrant play Barber Shop Chronicles are grabbing up people from their seats to join them up on stage to dance with them and pose in their barbers chairs. From then on we whizz through an uplifting set of stories set in the urban barber shops of London and parts of Africa to learn more in depth about the people who own them and the culture these men reside in.
Following sell-out seasons at the National Theatre, the Roundhouse and a world tour, this production is hilarious, touching and informative without being too didactic which not only comes from the poetic and passionate dialouge from Ellams, but Bijan Sheibani's production is so intricately detailed that it makes the eveing a delight to watch. The design by Rae Smith takes the tacky worldwide barber shop signs as the frame for the story which is told simply, but craftly on a floor of various barber shop chairs that are constantly on the move and swung about during the nightclub-like scene changes. Speaking of which, it is an excellent choice of familiar club tunes like going to Snobs or Walkabout on a Saturday night and African chants amd songs sung by the company that keep the piece at speed.
This cast of eleven men carry the evening fron start to finish without letting their energy drop and adding such life and soul to each of the various characters they play. But ultimately we gain a wide scope of British-African culture and their stories concerning race, politics, opportunity, masculinity, parenthood and relationships, stringed together by a common love of football. Yes, at times it may feel like a lot to take in and difficult to keep up with but nonetheless the pace and humour of it all keeps us head-bopping like we all just want to get up and dance and laugh.
It is a unique piece of theatre that is manifested by the idea of barber shops being a safe haven for conversation and friendly banter between men, where everyone respects each other. But this play truly does have something for everyone of all backgrounds to celebrate in our society today.
Barber Shop Chronicles runs at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 28th September.
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