Nearly 80 years since it hit Broadway and 65 years since its hugely successful film adaptation scooped an Oscar, Oklahoma remains a firm favourite for amateur theatre companies everywhere.
SOSage Factory, the youth arm of Solihull on Stage (SOS), delivers this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic at a level any theatre group could be proud of.
The group has a pedigree for producing quality shows and it’s impossible not to go with high expectations but this show exceeds them yet again.
Set in the early 1900s, this whimsical tale of love between a cowboy and a farm girl still has a real charm about it. It’s hard to imagine someone more suited to the role of the handsome cowboy Curly than Charlie Loughran, who is simply excellent from the moment he enters the stage singing the iconic Oh What a Beautiful Morning.
Loughran has an effortless voice with a beautiful tone and he holds the stage brilliantly. Every note is bang on and this is an extremely accomplished leading man performance.
He’s well matched by Anna Sutton as the hard-to-get farm girl Laurey, who also has a lovely tone to her voice and portrays her character’s combination of innocence and sass with real skill.
Eliza Clark does a brilliant job of ageing up as the spirited matriarch Aunt Eller and James Newman does a grand job as the Persian peddler Ali Hakim, showing real maturity to land his character’s comedy.
There’s a real standout performance from Kathryn Ritchie who is superb as Ado Annie. Her stage presence, voice and acting are all exceptional and this performance wouldn’t look remotely out of place in an adult production of the show.
Dan Bradbury is strong as the simple but good-hearted Will Parker and Ross Evans makes for a menacing Jud Fry, who challenges Curly for Laurey’s affections. Loughran and Evans' voices sound delightful together in Pore Jud is Dead.
Elsewhere there’s strong support from Erin Craddock who gives a lovely performance as Gertie Cummings, with perhaps the most annoying laugh anyone has ever heard on stage. And Ruairi Silcock does well as Ado Annie’s father, who is eager to marry her off to the highest bidder.
Each and every member of the society puts their all into the numbers and the energy and enthusiasm of the chorus is once again one of the production's biggest assets. The Dream Sequence and Oklahoma are both particularly strong numbers.
Sarah Golby’s choreography is not dumbed down for the youngsters and they cope with it really well. And Mel O’Donnell’s band ably belts out the show's familiar soundtrack.
Oklahoma is seen by some as a stuffy, old-fashioned has-been of a production, but this is an iconic show which many regard as paving the way for modern musicals. And SOSage’s production shows there’s plenty of life and entertainment for audience in this old dog yet.
Well done to everyone involved in another triumph.
Lichfield Operatic Society delivered an evening of fun and humour to Lichfield Garrick Theatre. Spamalot is a musical comedy adaption of the Monty Python 1975 film the Holy Grail. Based in medieval England King Arthur goes on the hunt for the Holy Grail with his recruited knights of the round table. Along the journey they meet some killer rabbits and other eccentric characters such as the Lady of the Lake and Not Dead Fred.
King Arthur, played by Pete Beck, delivered a strong lead performance and showed great chemistry with his side kick Patsy, James Pugh. Sir Galahad, played by Adam Gregory, Sir Lancelot, played by Adam Lacey, Sir Robin, played by Patrick Jervis, and Sir Bedevere, played by Cameron Morgan, also worked well together. All cast members delivered hilarious performances and Dan Anketell had the audience in stitches with his version of French Taunter. The comedy highlights included coconuts, Not Dead Fred, and the song “I’m all alone” which showed off Pete Beck and James Pugh’s comedic abilities.
The Lady of Lake, played by Victoria Elliot, embraced the opportunity to showcase her strong vocal talents. The song “Always look on the bright side of life” had the whole of the audience singing on both occasions it was performed. There was also impressive dancing talent and agility from the cast, with all dancing well-choreographed throughout.
Uniquely during the performance the cast members came off the stage and were immersed in the audience. Lichfield Operatic Society also managed to make references to Lichfield within their performance which garnered even more laughs from the audience.
A lot of effort had clearly been put into the set and the stage was made effective use of. The props were also used to great effect and often added to the many laughs of the evening.
Spamalot provides a strong witty script, a devoted cast and many, many laughs.
Spamalot is at Lichfield Garrick until 29th February.
There is something inherently theatrical about the slapstick comedy/silent film period of over a hundred years ago. It is a time when effects and resources were limited in Hollywood causing the entertainment to come solely from the performers on screen. However Told by an Idiot return to The REP to celebrate this glorious form through the fictionalised meeting of icons of the screen; Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.
Writer and director Paul Hunter has completely jam packed this (virtually) word-less play with some of the finest slapstick and physical comedy to tell this utterly bonkers story. But essentially it works almost as a dance that is so intricately choreographed design to surprise us and bring a fresh laugh with every movement thanks to Nuna Sandy (of ZooNation)'s choreography and the physical comedy from Jos Houbden.
But it also the sheer energy and boundless professionalism from the cast that keeps this piece moving from A to B. It is phenomenal how these four performers can keep this style of silent comedy and slapstick going for 90 gloriously funny minutes without it getting repetitive or nothing short of pure brilliant fun. Amalia Vitale's performance as Charlie Chaplin is one that shines just as bright as he did himself alongside Jerone Marsh-Reid equally comical and wonderful performance as Stan Laurel (among a few other characters). Vitale and Marsh-Reid have perfectly captured some of the hints and subtleties to incorporate into their performances but also present us with something fresh thats purely designed to entertain us from the get-go. Nick Haverson likewise also shines and has all eyes on him in the many supporting characters such as Fred Karno, Oliver Hardy and Charlie' dad and later the butler. But a special mention must go to Sara Alexander who spends the majority of the evening (as well as playing Charlie's mother, Hannah Chaplin in a couple of scenes) performing some of the most incredible piano music. Not only does it provide some quintessential underscore for the silent style, composed by Zoe Rahman, but it also has a lot of character adding both comic effect in places as well as tension for the more dramatic parts.
The four of them have this wonderful ability to transport us to the busy locations within the story and with no doubt makes it look like they are having so much fun on Ioana Curelea's jungle gym-like set design, which is squeaky floorboards, trapdoors, a fireman pole and plenty of suitcases and lifeboat rings to give that early 1900's nautical feel.
Whether you grew up watching these sorts of films or not, there is a lot to be marveled at in this piece that will tickle your funny bone and be impressed by the highly energetic performances by the cast. It is nothing short of pure old-fashioned entertainment that is sure to bring a smile.
As part of it’s 35th anniversary celebrations Lichfield Musical Youth Theatre are presenting a concert series in the city’s new arts venue The Hub, featuring alumni from the company, many of whom have gone on to train professionally in the performing arts and, in many cases, secure work in the business.
This concert of The Music of Stephen Sondheim is the first of these ventures, and sees LYMT’s Artistic Director and MD Oliver Rowe, himself a performing alumnus of the company, take to the stage with four former members of the Youth Theatre. The concert has been put together, as these fundraising ventures often are, with minimal rehearsal time (the guest performers are now based all over the country), and as a result there were a few moments during this first performance where people were not as assured as I’m sure they would have liked to be. But that being said, when things worked well, the audience were treated to some wonderful performances, drawn from the full range of Sondheim’s shows.
From one of his earliest works Nichole Morrin gave a powerful and assured performance of Some People (Gypsy), as well as the sardonic Could I leave you (Follies). Dan Breakwell was especially effective in the title song from Anyone Can Whistle. And his delivery of Hello Little Girl from Into The Woods, with Rebecca Newman as Little Red Riding Hood, was suitably creepy. Mr Rowe himself demonstrated a very good light tenor, especially in the less well known Finishing The Hat (Sunday in the Park with George). And it was another number from that same show, the powerful Move On, performed by Mr Breakwell and the final soloist Lizzie Wofford, which proved one of the emotional highlights of the evening.
Miss Wofford possess a powerhouse voice, but also the acting skills to match it. These were especially well displayed in the sarcastic Ladies who lunch (Company) and the tour de force The Worst Pie in London (Sweeney Todd).
It was good to hear some songs from the less familiar Sondheim scores, especially Unworthy of your love from Assassins (Mr Rowe and Miss Newman) and a couple of great songs written for the Warren Beatty film of Dick Tracy. The ladies all had a whale of a time vamping it up as Mazeppa, Electra and Tessitura, the three burlesque dancers in You Gotta Get A Gimmick (Gypsy).
The evening was supported by an excellent 7 piece band led from the piano by Ian Stephenson, arrangements by Jack Hopkins, and presented in the exquisite surroundings of The Hub at St Mary’s, a venue very well suited for this format of evening.
All in all a great way for LMYT to begin celebrating it’s 35th Anniversary.
Many of us, particularly if you grew up during the late nineties, will remember Louis Sachar's book Holes as either the novel read in your English class or the Disney movie starring Sigourney Weaver, John Voight and Shia LaBeouf. Now Stanley Yelnats and the orange boiler-suited inmates of Camp Green Lake have grabbed their shovels and made their way to the stage in this new UK touring production directed by Nottingham Playhouse artistic director Adam Penford.
It has to be said that this stage adaptation doesn't deviate from the story or film at all, it is a completely faithful re-telling of what has become a modern classic. But frankly this is a story that discovers a lot of themes, twists and turns that Sachar originally explored in his writing that it doesn't particularly need anything new bringing to it., Even if you're not familiar with it, you will easily become invested into the plot and the colourful characters. It is also humorous, at times ruthless and filled with heart. Penford's production matches this with a great deal of fun and creativity with a fast flowing narrative voice from the principal characters without skipping a beat nor slowing down.
As an alternative to a prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit, the bad luck-ridden Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake in the scorching Texas desert where he is made to dig one hole every day, five foot deep, five foot wide. James Backway's innocence that he brings to the character provides a large amount of likability whilst adding comedy and naivety as the new boy on the scene. There he is faced with the other inmates; X-Ray, Armpit, Magnet and Zero by which Harold Addo, Hentry Mettle, Joëlle Brabban and Leona Allen each embrace their characters with unique personalities and humour going from initially alienating Stanley to accepting him as one of their own a.k.a the Caveman. In particular, Allen as Zero is most transformative of the characters but all together it conveys the warm-hearted theme of friendship through the most unlikely of places, adding sentimentality to the story. Particularly as they are faced with the corrupted staff, The Warden, fiercely and furiously played by Grace Davey, Mr Sir the cantankerous counselor played by John Elkington and the bullying Mr Pendanski played by Matthew Romain. They are part of the talented enemble that each plays more than one character from the present or throughout the past during the stories of Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather" or the infamous outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow.
On a technical level, the set design by Simon Kenny is simple, however it shows a real sense of the western American desert with effective and atmospheric lighting by Prema Mehta. The puppetry by Matthew Forbes for the yellow spotted lizards, tarantulas and rattlesnakes are also greatly effective giving a notion of danger throughout the story.
While this may not be the most spectacular of productions, it utilises the more traditional ways of story-telling in theatre, aided by cast of that give a heck of a lot of energy. It is a story that covers a lot of notions of friendship, racism, dedication and the chance to better ourselves with plenty to dig into. But in the end it is a delightful adaptation that is guaranteed to be enjoyed by both children and adults.
Holes runs at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 22 February
In this world where we live, there should be more happiness. The timeless comedy of Morecambe and Wise in Eric & Ern certainly brought joy and smiles to the capacity audience last night.
The show is a banquet of set comedy routines, familiar dialogue lines and recognisable physicality, and these were all rapturously devoured by the spellbound audience. Played out with vivacity and freshness, Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens masterfully shared this iconic comedy which must, in the rehearsal room, have been a labour of love. Their chemistry, timing and characterisation struck every right note with the audience, and indeed, in exactly the right order.
Up against such brilliance, Sinéad Wall also shone brightly. Engaging in the comedy as the invited musical talent, she rose to the expectation with aplomb with her Send in the Clowns. Later, she proved her impressive musical abilities with a fine solo that evoked enthusiastic applause from all.
The Stratford Playhouse venue richly enhanced this joyous performance. The circular auditorium space supported that sense of something special being shared amongst a theatre-going community. Impeccable care was extended to the patrons, encouraging a relaxed and jovial expectation of the show. The prowess of the stage management, in the movement of small set, was slick and seamless, whilst the technical folk exercised subtle, timely and restrained skill in terms of lighting and sound. The inclusion of late 70s and early 80s hits as prelude music was a touch that gently nudged the audience into the spirit of the age.
The show is now on UK tour. Any who have their seat booked are in for a treat. If you wish for a show to bring you sunshine, this is the show for you.
Alan Bennett’s The History Boys is a slick and effortless watch. The story focuses on a group of school boys who are applying for prestigious universities. Alan Bennett’s writing has been much celebrated, but this show doesn’t just rely on great writing.
With the clever use of a large screen high above the main stage and music, the audience was immediately engaged. The staging provided a believable classroom and the camaraderie between the boys felt genuine. The story was easy to follow through the writing, acting, comedy and the use of music.
All of the cast had great chemistry, giving excellent performances, complementing each other well. Hector, played by Ian Redford, is a central character to the story and he delivered a strong acting performance throughout. Frustrations between Hector and Headmaster, played by Jeffrey Holland, were well demonstrated, whilst Victoria Carling, who played Mrs Lintett, delivered a wonderfully believable performance. The relationship between Hector, Ian Redford, and Mrs Lintett, Victoria Carling, was particularly touching. The new teacher Irwin, played by Lee Comley, also illustrated his acting prowess as his character developed.
Timms, played by Dominic Treacy, and Posney, played by Thomas Grant, provided many laughs. They both had the audience laughing out loud on numerous occasions during the show. Thomas Grant also demonstrated his vocal talents while Frazer Hadfield, playing Scripps, showed his musical abilities with his piano playing. The character Rudge, played by Joe Wiltshire Smith, also stood out for his acting and for providing many funny moments.
The energy and pace was well maintained throughout and as the character Rudge would say “It’s one thing after another!”
The stage felt spacious, open and well used, with unnoticeable transitions, due to the clever use of the set, space and music. The entire performance showcased the impressive directing skills of Jack Ryder.
The History Boys provides quality, professionalism, an easy watch and many laughs. It plays at Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 22 February 2020.
Band of Gold was a popular TV drama in the 90s which showed the gritty world of Bradford prostitutes. Kay Mellor’s stage version now tells a story of the murder of a new prostitute. In doing so it offers both realism and adult humour.
The cast is full of some well-known names which includes Andrew Dunn (Dinnerladies) as Ian Barraclough, Shayne Ward (Coronation Street, Les Miserables) as Inspector Newall, Gaynor Faye (Emmerdale, Playing the Field, Calendar Girl) as Rose and Kieron Richardson (Hollyoaks, Heartbeat) as Steve. Unlike as advertised the role of Anita was played by Virginia Byron during the evening’s performance.
The main strength of the show was the quality of acting and Carol, Emma Osman, stood out for her strong presence on the stage in her portrayal of a feisty experienced prostitute. Gina, played by Sacha Parkinson, was also convincing in her role of an abused wife who was drawn into the world of prostitution. Believable tension was also created between Gina and her abusive husband Steve, played by Keiron Richardson. The character of Rose, played by Gaynor Faye, helped to add lightness and humour to an otherwise dark story.
There was heightened tension in more dramatic scenes such as when Gina was being abused by her husband and another when her mother suggests that she should stay with her abusive husband. Light heartedness was also injected into the show throughout, with the use of adult humour and swearing. Despite there being no grand finale, the story ends with a reveal...
The costuming and staging aid in creating believable grit.
If you enjoy dark dramas, good acting and witty adult humour you’ll likely love this show.
Band of Gold is on at The Alexandra, Birmingham until 15 February.
Photo Credit : Robert Day
Based on the book of the same name by Alex Wheatle, Pilot Theatre brings the world premier adaptation of Crongton Knights to the stage in Coventry before it tours around the country.
Crongton is a fictional representation of an inner city. The Knights are the band of 6 friends that we follow as they embark on a mission to save the reputation of one of the group. Their mission takes them not only on a journey through the city and into dangerous territory but also into each other’s lives.
The action all takes place on one turbulent night in the city meaning the small cast are on stage for the whole time. The story is told through acting, music, rap and dance. In times of high drama, the action is slowed down to convincing slow motion, making sure nothing is missed. This stylisation is used to great effect to portray various things including running a distance, on a small stage this would otherwise be impossible. All of the songs dotted through the play are a Capella with the cast harmonising and beatboxing. The vocals are haunting when the tension is high and vibrant in the good times.
This small cast all bring something different to the stage. The characters are well observed and are totally believable, the way they move, talk and interact with each other means any young adults in the audience will relate to them. It is impossible to single any of the cast out, everyone is strong and on point no matter what part they play. Their vocals match the impeccable acting.
In a studio space the set has to represent all of the scenes, this set is a triumph of design as it rotates and changes angles showing stairs or doors or platforms that become everything from a school yard, a bus and a housing estate. Decorated in graffiti it gives the whole piece an edgy street feel that perfectly fits the play.
This production contains high drama and tension in a real-world setting. There are messages and lessons to be learnt but these aren’t hammered home to the point of preaching, they are subtly woven into the story. It is a vibrant tale of our time that beautifully illustrates the complexity of teenage life in an inner city. It will have you on the edge of your seat one minute and laughing the next. The tale will open the eyes of the adults in the audience and hopefully resonate with the teens.
On until 22 February 2020
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