The bond between mother and son is a beautiful thing. The bond between mother and daughter-in-law can be a very different story. At the centre of Party Piece, Richard Harris’s hilarious comedy, lies a tale of a disappointing son, his unfortunate choice of wife, and a perfectly cantankerous mother who “won’t go anywhere she isn’t wanted”. There is also a fancy dress party gone very wrong, a hideous yellow dress, and a temperamental barbecue with a mind of its own.
The story is set in the garden of 2 adjoining houses. One belongs to the elderly Mrs Hinson (Sheila Grew) who is suffering a rare visit from her son, David (Christopher Waters). Unfortunately for Mrs Hinson, he has brought his second wife with him, as the pair aim to persuade her to sell her house, ostensibly to move closer to David, but in reality to cash in on the street’s booming property prices. The other house belongs to Roma Smethurst (Jill Simkin) and her obsessive husband Michael (Rod Bisset). They are about to throw a fancy dress housewarming party, and are frantically preparing for their many guests. Unfortunately they receive a long string of cancellations and end up with 5 guests, three of whom are from next door. What follows was the complete descending of the party into chaos, and the complete deterioration of David’s relationship with both the women in his life, all of which had the audience in stitches.
The cast gave very strong performances throughout and really brought what was actually quite a stagnant script to life. Sheila Grew’s performance was particularly convincing as the cranky elderly lady desperate for attention whilst “staying quietly out of the way”. Her character was instantly relatable and her mannerisms almost too perfectly captured the elderly relative we all have or know. Liz Webster as Jennifer, whose hatred of her mother in law was almost tangible was also on fine form, even if throwing her zimmer frame over into next door’s garden was a bit of a low blow.
On the other side of the fence, Rod Bisset was hilarious all night, and watching him grow more and more hysterical as the party wore on was thoroughly entertaining. Add an inebriated Scotsman (and a highly flirtatious welsh woman) into the mix and it made for a riotous evening all round.
Party Piece runs from 9 – 19 March at the Grange Playhouse, Walsall.
Lionel Bart's Oliver! has lost none of its original charm and Walsall Operatic Society delivered an accomplished performance of this theatrical classic on the Lichfield Garrick stage.
Ably and confidently taking on the title role was the sweet and endearing Thomas Fletcher. With a lovely voice to match, beautifully showcased in Where Is Love, I'm sure he has a bright future ahead of him. He was matched well with the cheeky Artful Dodger, Madeley Wakelin, who held his own in the large ensemble as they broke into Consider Yourself.
Superb cameo performances came from Steph Coleman as a vocally pleasing Widow Corney, Adam Lacey as the bullish Bill Sykes and Simon Docherty made for a brilliant Mr Sowerberry.
However it was Lucy Follows's Nancy and Craig Smith's Fagin that shone from the adult ensemble. With exceptional acting and characterful performances, they were both a joy to watch on stage. Particular highlights included It's A Fine Life, As Long As He Needs Me and Reviewing The Situation.
The children's ensemble were one of the most impressive I have seen, with a special mention to Matthew Sykes who stood out in the ensemble numbers. Their character acting was spot on in Food Glorious Food and it is the hard work of director Richard Poynton and the rest of the creative team who have made this show one not to miss.
With fabulous dancing and music courtesy of Charlotte Mills and MD Ian Room, the entire cast should be utterly proud with what they have achieved.
John Steinbeck’s classic novel is brought to life in an adaptation by Birmingham Repertory Theatre in association with The Touring Consortium Theatre Company, showing at the Grand Theatre this week.
The story of two labourers, George and Lenny travelling across the country to find work, and with a dream of owning their own land is a standard across many school English syllabus and this is a production that plays well to this school group audience, with simple staging and clear characterisation throughout.
There are strong performances across the cast. William Rodell grows steadily into the role of George as the story develops, appearing more comfortable in role in the later scenes. Kristian Phillips gives an endearing performance as Lenny, drawing just the right balance of laughter and gasps of empathy from the audience. Together the two create a strong partnership from the outset.
There are excellent supporting performances from Jonah Russell (Slim), Ben Stott (Curly) and Dudley Sutton (Candy), ably assisted by the near show-stealing Tilly the Dog; while Dave Fishley makes a great impression in the smaller role of Crooks.
There are a few clumsy moments where the dialogue is a little laboured and the pace of the action is uncomfortably slow. Disappointingly, the clever visible scene changes, staging and cast-led sound effects which kick-start the production at the beginning, setting the scene well and really aiding the flow of the piece, give way to traditional scene changes in blackouts as the production develops. More consistency in this would just add a final touch to bring everything together as the show builds towards its touching final scenes.
However, in a theatre that was sadly plagued with noise in the first half (rustling sweet wrappers, mobile phones, chatting and more) this is a production that managed to turn a restless audience into one who in the final scenes were holding their breath in suspense as the final curtain fell.
After returning from Knowle Musical Society’s production of Sweet Charity, there is no denying that it feels like I’ve been on an acid trip. Filled with a plethora of quirky numbers, the multi-award winning musical has graced the Broadway and West End stages since 1966, originally directed and choreographed by theatre legend, Bob Fosse. Now, it is brought to the Solihull Arts Complex, by the local society who has delighted audiences with their productions of A Tale Of Two Cities and The Addams Family.
Following the story of gullible dance hall taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine on her quest for love, she has a tendency to fall for the wrong man. Nicki Willetts excellently played the title role. Her characterful acting complemented her oozing confidence and as the show progressed she came into her own, banishing any first night nerves. She was well matched with James Gough as the endearingly jittery Oscar Lindquist, who’s acting shone through, especially in the entertaining elevator scene.
Strong support came from Sophia Bailey as the feisty Ursula, Carl Hemming as the Italian film star, Vittoria Vidal and a delightful cameo from Patison Harrigan as Daddy Brubeck. A particularly hilarious highlight came in the scene with Hemming and Willetts as she is shoved in the bedroom wardrobe with a platter of food and beer.
Under the musical direction of Chris Corcoran, choreography by Abi Soley and direction from Peter Haden, Knowle Musical Society have successfully delivered a piece of Broadway history to the audiences of Solihull.
Sweet Charity plays at Solihull Arts Complex until 12 March.
Splendid, marvellous, wonderful: all words one can imagine tumbling from the moustache-laden mouth of the charming protagonist of The 39 Steps, Richard Hannay, and boy are they accurate to describe the deliciously witty adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's comedy thriller, playing at The REP until Saturday.
Richard Ede is superb as a dapper and somewhat mischievous Hannay and lights up the stage from the moment he tells his lofty tale from what quickly becomes the relative comfort of the armchair at his London apartment.
Hannay is bored. No, he’s more than bored; he’s tired of the mundanity of his bourgeois life. That is until a chance encounter with mysterious German woman, Annabella Schmidt (Olivia Greene), puts him at the centre of something unmistakably not boring. And when Hannay’s time with Ms Schmidt is cut rather violently short he finds himself on the run and in the midst of a quest to discover the truth behind the mysterious 39 Steps.
What follows is far-fetched, farcical and bloody fantastic.
This is a four-man (or rather three-man and one woman) production, but it may as well be a cast of 20. One simply loses count of the number of hilarious comedic cameos duo Rob Witcomb and Andrew Hodges produce. One moment they’re a pair of nincompoops on a train, the next a theatrical performer and his unintentionally droll sidekick, the next a bedraggled Scottish couple, the next an even funnier bedraggled Scottish couple. It should be hard to keep track, especially when the two ingeniously transform before the audience’s eyes with nothing more than small costume changes and shifts in persona, but it’s a testament to the quality of their acting and the tightly choreographed production that it merely adds to its hilarity.
With these two at the helm and Olivia Greene chipping in with a number of equally comical cameos, most notably the painfully posh Pamela, the production is quite simply a tour-de-force of comedy acting and timing. It’s all aided with an ingenious use of scenery and props with more than a few gags bringing the audience right in on the action.
One scene, in which Hannay looks out of his window and Witcomb and Hodges, as two spies, run on downstage equipped with a lamppost each time he peeks behind the curtain, is just one example of the wonderful wit behind this adaptation.
“Oh there’s the telephone,” Hannay exclaims equipped with quizzical look to the audience in another scene, before the thing rings moments later. It’s another layer of comedy altogether, but one which sits so cleverly with the story itself.
Aided by slick scene changes and humour which never lets up; the story moves with pace and ever-increasing hilarity to its conclusion.
There’s only one criticism: it ends too soon. You just want this triumph of comedy theatre to go on and on.
The 39 Steps plays at The REP until 5 March.
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