A hilarious and heart-warming comedy staged with grit and irresistible energy
Set in the late 60s, Made in Dagenham, written by David Arnold and Richard Thomas (book by Richard Bean), centres around ordinary housewife and mum, Rita O'Grady, who acts as spokeswomen for the female workers at the Ford Dagenham plant. The group go on strike when they realise the evident inequality in pay, with females being classified as ‘unskilled’ and male workers being classified as ‘skilled’ and therefore on better wages. Based on true-life events of the Ford sewing machinist strike of 1968 this lively musical is based on the 2010 film which received four BAFTA nominations including Outstanding British film.
The power three – Paul Lumsden (Director), Sheila Pearson (Musical Director) and Maggie Jackson (Choreographer) have competently brought this hilarious, large-cast comedy to the stage with huge enthusiasm. With an excellent cast, band and technical team never a moment goes by without a clever and unexpected delight to keep the audience toe-tapping and in stitches which is exactly what you want from an evening’s entertainment.
Made in Dagenham is a heart-warming story that neither idealises or patronises; with some excellently and hilariously-portrayed chauvinism, typical of the era, it portrays women with unforgiving resilience yet unreserved humour. Charlotte Middleton stars as machinist-turned-spokeswoman, Rita, and leads the musical with her unfaltering voice and excellent character portrayal, with Patrick Jervis superb as husband Eddie.
Glowingly lovely performances are given by young actors Lewis and Kirsten McLaren who delight the audience throughout the show as the O’Grady children, Graham and Sharon.
Clare Pugh is tremendous as the potty-mouth Beryl, the audience clearly appreciating her comic timing and farcical sarcasm. Terrific work too comes from Emma Hill, Sally-Jane Adams, Paula Lumsden and Jo McWillie together with a super supporting ensemble who, although too large to mention individually, should be commended for being a company who find all the comic rhythms and emotion the story requires.
The period feeling of the 60s is well commended in the work of Maggie Jackson, Choreographer, and special mention must go to those routines with a bright and cheeky wit of their own complimented by an array of hot pants and knee-length boots to die for.
Loved Harold Wilson (James Pugh), although at first glance one could be forgiven for mistaking him for Columbo, but the accent and characterisation was well received, as was his brief appearance in a bumper car, much to the delight of the audience. And an equally excellent and well-sung performance by Vickie Beck as Labour politician Barbara Castle, sporting fantastic red hair in the perfect cut.
Good-looking, slick and hardly noticeable set transformations are complemented nicely with lighting that washed across the stage or made the necessary statement at the perfect moment. Just a few unfortunate technical hitches with intermittent microphones but this didn’t phase the performers as they sailed confidently through the quiet gaps with sufficient projection to ensure nothing was lost to the plot. Congratulations to wardrobe (Suzanne Harris) for managing such a large cast with so many costume changes, and how wonderful to see a real Ford Cortina Mark 1, or was it half a Cortina? Nevertheless no expense was spared in props, set or energy resulting in a great, great show.
Contains occasional strong language. Runs to 1 April 2017.
Don McLean famously referred to Buddy Holly’s tragic death in an airplane accident in 1959 as ‘the day the music died’ in his hit American Pie. But nearly 60 years later thanks to shows like Buddy, which opens at the New Alexandra Theatre this week, the iconic rock and roll star’s music is still very much alive.
The show charts the story of Holly’s meteoric rise from country life in Lubbock, Texas to international rock and roll stardom - staggeringly all achieved in the 18 months before his tragic death at just 22.
And this cracking show has everything a good Buddy Holly number had – pace, rhythm, energy and bags of natural talent.
It’s amazing just how many of Holly’s songs remain in the public consciousness - hits like That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue which helped to propel Holly and his band The Crickets to stardom. The last 45 minutes of the show may as well be a concert and features another tranche of iconic Holly hits like Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Hearbeat and Johnny B Goode.
Alex Fobbester delivers a memorable performance as Holly, capturing his mannerisms and hiccoughing voice quite brilliantly.
It’s difficult to think of a show that could be more exacting for a cast which has to act, sing and provide the music. And there isn’t a weak link in this line up.
Joe Butcher and Josh Haberfield support Holly well as his Crickets and Jordan Cunningham dazzles as Richie Valens, particularly in his performance of yet another iconic song – La Bamba.
Elsewhere Thomas Mitchells is brash and brilliant as The Big Bopper and Matthew Quinn impresses as Texan radio DJ Hipockets Duncan and in a rather hilarious skit as a camp club MC.
The latter is an example of some neat touches which make this production truly immersive for the audience. One minute we’re given a glimpse backstage as The Crickets nervously prepare for a concert in Harlem, the next the curtain comes down and we’re treated to the sense of anticipation that must have gripped crowds waiting to see the great star back in the 50s.
By the end Fobbester and this small but brilliant cast had the audience in the palm of their hands and they were left, quite literally, begging for more.
Buddy is a rocking and rolling tribute to an icon lost all too soon. A reminder, if one was needed, of just how influential and enduring this immensely talented young man’s music is and a poignant glimpse into what could have been.
The show runs at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 1 April.
Peter James’ novel Not Dead Enough is brought to the stage following successful tours of other novels, The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple.
DS Roy Grace is called to investigate a death with a sexual twist. Was it a game gone wrong or a murder? It reminds him of an unsolved case from 10 years ago, could it be the same killer? With the help of his girlfriend working in the mortuary, Cleo Morey and his colleagues Glen and Bella, Roy peels away the layers to try to solve the case.
DS Grace is played by Shane Ritchie who brings many aspects to the role as a man who is conflicted between professional experience, personal judgements and emotional ties. Laura Whitmore is professional Cleo, with a dark sense of humour but a playful and emotional side. The range of emotions both these characters go through gives the actors a chance to show their diversity and talents. Brian Bishop (Stephen Billington) is the husband of the murdered victim. His performance is multi-layered and totally convincing at all times, drawing you into the story.
The staging is impressive. With no scene changes the action flows seamlessly between the mortuary, police office and questioning room. Other locations are depicted with a clever use of lighting and haze. Having all the locations constantly on display never distracts or gets confusing.
Part of the fun of a murder mystery is trying to solve the case before the characters. This one will keep you guessing to the end. There are moments of high tension but these are balanced out with light humour in places. A thrilling and enjoyable production.
Set in a non-descript bedroom, on the eve of a pending departure this one-act one-woman show written by Ambreen Razia introduces the audience to Shahida, a 16 year old Muslim girl growing up in Hounslow. Using only basic set, props and minimal lighting effects combined with excerpts of a recorded iphone video diary projected on to a wall, Shahidaretells her story of friendships, fights with her family, exam stress and her first love.
Nyla Levy gives a captivating performance as Shahida, engaging the audience from the outset with just the right balance of wit, street attitude and energy. Switching effortlessly between the characters in Shahida’s story, she quickly creates a whole world of people in her bedroom, with the various personalities (Shahida’s Mum, Aunty, Sister, her friends, etc) all becoming instantly recognisable from the slightest change of posture or voice.
This is a true coming of age story, told through the rambling thoughts of a 16 year old who is struggling to make sense of who she is and who she wants to be. Razia’s script achieves the remarkable balance of telling a complicated story clearly, while still allowing the confusion of her central character to come through, yet making the story instantly relatable to each audience member. Whether it is the memories of a first kiss or the fragile nature of teenage girl friendship groups that strike a chord, or the pressure of having to make up your mind on the role of religion, family ties and your place within society; there is something within Shahida’s diary recognisable to everyone.
Notably, many of the audience commented on the way out that it was so true to life, and this is where the real success of this piece lies. For a short while we were transported into Shahida’s story, powerless to help her make her decision but involved all the same. This is modern day storytelling at its best.
Backstreet Theatre Company rocks audiences at the comfortable and friendly venue the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock with The Rock of Ages.
Beginning the show with immediate humour from the show`s narrator, Lonny Barnett, we`re taken back to 1987. The story begins at a club named Hollywood Bourbon Room where aspiring rocker Drew Boley works and then falls for a newwaitress and aspiring actor, Sherrie Christian. There`s a problem though that goes by the name of Stacee Jaxx, a rockstar playing at the club.
At the same time the club, owned by Dennis, is also under threat of demolition because of two German developers. This is because the pair, father and son, Hertz Klinemann and Franz have convinced the mayor to clean up the “sex, drugs and rock-and roll” activity on the Sunset strip. This sparks uproar and upset with city planner Regina and she goes on to passionately protest the redevelopment plans.
With a live band centre stage, the cast danced, sang and rocked their way through hits such as Hit Me With Your Best Shot, We Built This City and Don't Stop Believing. With a noticeably devoted cast, the vocals were strong and the choreography was fun and entertaining to watch. Here I Go Again was a particular highlight and the audience loved it.
Ian Smith delivered an impressively funny performance as Lonny Barnett. Complemented well by Dennis Dupree, played by Paul Lycett, their onstage pairing was hugely entertaining to watch together and they had the audience in stitches with their rendition of Torvill and Dean`s Bolero. James Price who played Franz also got many laughs with his flamboyant character performance. Vocally Sanjit Choongh, who played Sherrie, gave some particularly strong performances as did Caroline Wilson, as Regina. Everyone was well cast, talented and delivered wonderful performances.
All the costumes helped to easily transport the audience into the story and the stage design was unique and effective. Through the combined efforts of the performers and those backstage the story evolved seamlessly and professionally. Scrupulous effort has been put into every detail which resulted in a performance which goes far beyond any expectations. This included extra humour being injected in unexpected places (such as the protester signs and the use of printed t-shirts).
With its fast pace, talent, humour and atmosphere this is one that could be watched again and again. They wowed, they rocked and they left their audience very happy with a performance of an incredibly high standard.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, so the saying goes. And award-winning Coleshill Operatic Society does its very best to take the musical adaptation of the iconic television parody Acorn Antiques and make it something mighty at the Core Theatre in Solihull this week.
The amateur version places Acorn Antiques in Manchesterford, where the store is threatened by a plan to turn the high street into a consumerist utopia. Mr Clifford, Miss Babs and Miss Berta fight to stave off a hostile takeover from coffee company representative Bonnie but a startling revelation changes everything.
There are some laudable performances from the company. Mickie Brown is enjoyable as a rather brash Mrs Overall, while Liane Hughes and Claire Collins make a good comedy act as Miss Babs and Miss Berta, supported really well by a commanding Karen Swann as Bonnie.
Meanwhile Paul Gosnay is just the ticket as Mr Clifford and Mark Hughes nails smarmy, emotionless loan shark Tony.
Even Sydney Evans and Lewis Reeves do well as Mimi and Hugh and Christine Standford stands out in a delightful performance as occasional thong-wearing shop owner Christine.
Translating television to stage is never easy and some of the things that made the original so great, the farcical camera work and subtle looks, are understandably not possible. Nonetheless Wood’s comic genius pops up all too infrequently in this version of the show and unfortunately there's a real lack of pace - particularly in a mammoth first act.
It almost feels like the changes made to the Olivier-nominated professional version have taken away it's magic - certainly not the society's fault.
Chris Corcoran’s orchestra does a great job and some of the more enjoyable numbers include Doing the Tip Top Tap, which includes some good choreography from Mickie Brown, Shagarama and perhaps the strongest - The Old Small Print, performed well by Tony and his loan-sharking assistants.
Well done to the society and to director Joyce Eyre - it’s great to see a group take on a new show and there’s clearly no shortage of talent here. Sadly the stage show just doesn't quite capture the sprinkle of Victoria Wood magic that grew Acorn Antiques into a mighty, comedy oak.
I have to admit, I was skeptical of this new musical. Wondering whether it would just be another Jukebox musical, and although it is clear that the show is about Marley’s music, there is a strong storyline and this production is visually quite a spectacle. One Love creates a real atmosphere in The REP, mixing the vibrant reggae music of Bob Marley within the context of the conflict-centered life story that he wrote his songs in. Mitchell Brunings handles Marley's character with ease, allowing for a completely authentic performance, instead of a carbon copy. Complementing this is Kwame Kwei Armah’s writing and direction, which translates both the aggression and love of Marley's life.
Delroy Brown as Marley’s manager Don Taylor has a strong presence coupled with some stunning vocals, but it would have been wonderful to see and hear more from him. The same is felt for Alexia Khadime as Marley’s wife Rita, who becomes the antagonist to Marley in the latter of act two with a heart-wrenching duet mash-up of No Woman No Cry/Waiting In Vain. The strength of the ensemble is also present during musical numbers such as Burnin’ and Lootin’, Exodus, Concrete Jungle and War, as well as others featured across the musical.
Other standout performances came from Adrian Irvine as Micheal Manley and Simeon Truby as Edward Seaga. Leading the two opposing political parties, their strong presence on stage built up the tension, with edge-of-the-seat anticipation as the show reached its climax. The moment the two shake hands in front of the Jamaican people is the pinnacle of the conflict that drives the story in this musical. It is clear that writer Kwei Armah has centered this conflict within the writing and this is well executed by the large cast and is further strengthened by Coral Messam’s Movement Direction.
There is a real aggression and the sense of searing political anger is evoked well in the choreography, reflecting the unsettled movement of Jamaica. ULTZ’s design blends in with the performers, transporting you into Jamaica with ease from the start of the show. The steps leading down to the audience is a lovely touch, making the experience fully immersive and this is further heightened by the stunning performance from the band, led by Sean Green as musical director and orchestrated by Simon Hale. The set allowed for the band to be fully hidden or completely exposed, which was a great feature and the actor-musicianship from the performers brought Marley’s music to life in the theatre.
Tim Lutkin’s lighting design complements Duncan McLean’s projection seamlessly creating a textured setting to the Jamaican heritage. There are some striking moments which effectively contextualize the reality of the 1950s Jamaican conflict.
Running until 15 April at Birmingham Repertory Theatre you must not miss One Love. This new piece of musical theatre has such strength in story and you should experience it purely for the creative’s braveness in producing this work. Complete with a standing ovation sing-a-long at the end of the show, you will walk away feeling both reflective and inspired by Marley’s beats.
Set your watches to nostalgia, as All Shook Up roars in to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre this week, courtesy of the Wolverhampton Musical Comedy Company.
Built around many of the hugely popular songs of Elvis Presley - Heartbreak Hotel, Love Me Tender, Don't Be Cruel, Can't Help Falling in Love and of course the titular tune - it tells the story of how a sleepy 1950’s town in middle America awoke to the power of rock and roll with the arrival of mysterious leather-clad roustabout, Chad. One young female resident by the name of Natalie is especially taken with the newcomer, and sets about trying to win his heart by any means necessary, much to the dismay of forlorn overlooked best friend Dennis.
Liam Sargeant as the Elvis-inspired leading man Chad although baby-faced does carry the character with confidence beyond his years and engages with co-stars and the audience brilliantly, particularly with comedic moments in Act 2. Similarly Zac Hollinshead as Dennis and Katie Astbury as mechanic Natalie both gave assured performances, with a particularly impressive vocal performance from the latter. Slapstick moments and wacky expressions poured from Hollinshead’s loveable sidekick and quickly established him as an audience favourite.
A talented supporting principal cast offered interesting contrast and body to the central love triangle, with particularly good turns from lovestruck teens Jess Olford and Mike Astley as Lorraine and Dean. Colette Forsyth as Honky Tonk owner also demonstrates a powerful singing voice, particularly in her rendition of There’s Always Me.
The company as a whole were great to watch – the choral Can’t Help Falling In Love With You at the close of the first act was a highlight – and despite some pretty complex and vigorous choreography didn’t appear to tire or make hardly any noticeable mistakes at all; an impressive feat, especially for a cast so young.
Unfortunately the narrative moves at such pace that no character arc really gets to develop enough for believable relationships to build, meaning that the audience never really invests in any of the stories. And although packed full of snippits of hits you would expect from a jukebox musical, none ever quite reach the full musical potential and are often cut-off in their prime - through no fault of the company, it must be added.
That said, they had clearly worked incredibly hard to prepare a sleek and entertaining production and the show concluded with another well-moved and energetic performance, and was met with the rousing applause that the cast richly deserved.
If you’re looking for a fun night out then be sure to take a look.
The year is 1953, the place is Dublin and the music is anything that has soul. This week at the New Alexandra Theatre it’s time to take a step back and experience a tale about a working class band who make it big through sheer grit, determination and passion. Rodney Doyle's classic comes crashing into the theatre with real intention to entertain audiences with the ‘Hardest working band in show business…The Commitments’.
The protagonist in this story comes in the face of Jimmy (Andrew Linnie) who drives the band to come together and stay together choosing the styles of music they perform, leading to record companies signing them. Linnie’s leadership and management is key to the character, his place in the story really speaks for the working classes of the 1950s. Doyle’s book places youth at the heart of the tale and shows the struggles and achievements that one man can make despite his background. Linnie's Jimmy comes to a nice closure in the latter of act two where Joey (Alex McMorran) gifts Jimmy his motorbike. As a piece which recognizes the importance of passion for your art, Joey’s parental guidance over Jimmy presents a nice melancholic moment, one of few in the show, but never the less, it rounds off the story nicely and Caroline Jay Ranger’s additional staging and direction for the tour heightens it’s cleanliness on stage.
Kevin Kennedy's satiric pessimist Jimmy's Da is a brilliant addition and the character’s comedic efforts steal the show. There is a perfect combination of Doyle’s comic book writing and Kennedy's extensive stage career, allowing for a complete and consistent performance. Another particular highlight in the cast was Brian Gilligan's interpretation of Deco: arrogant, bullish and yet fundamentally talented as the strongest singer in the group and Gilligan’s striking vocals reflect this. As with most of the cast, his characterization is clear and intention is key to the telling of such a strong narrative.
Further from Gilligan’s vocals, it is the music that drives The Commitments to be such a notably strong musical – Alan Williams’ musical supervision and arrangement is clever and honest in its portrayal of the original story, bringing real light to the stage. The company’s additional band (led by Musical Director Matthew J Loughran) creates a real strength to the musical numbers and it is the actor musicianship that adds some real flair to the show, making the performances all the more authentic.
The show’s design is strong with Jon Clark’s lighting exploding onto the stage, ingeniously developing from classic, clinical feel to a full concert rig. Soutra Gilmour’s set design feels a little out of place on the large stage of the Alexandra, but again, its intention is clear evoking the authentic Irish setting.
It comes without surprise that, as all good Jukebox Musical's should, The Commitments leaves the audience with an extended encore mash-up, finishing the songs we didn't get to hear in the narrative. The audience leave with a whopper of an audible treat as the band plays the audience out.
The Commitments shouts music, passion and energy - and this UK tour does not disappoint.
Theatre has an invaluable power. It has the incredible ability to transport you into another world - just for a few hours. And although many shows have this skill, Billy Elliot stepped it up yet another level as it opened at Birmingham Hippodrome. The UK tour has settled in the heart of England and boy is it one to watch. Utterly captivating from the moment the curtain rose, the show takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as you follow the life of little Billy Elliot and his journey to become a dancer.
Facing many obstacles along the way, including his bigoted Father (Martin Walsh) and a bullish Brother (Scott Garnham), Billy overcomes all of this in a heart-warming production that addresses many sensitive themes, from homosexuality to violence and politics.
Littered with brilliant music, the show feels less of a musical, but more a show with music. And this is a good thing. The storyline alone is wonderful and the addition of music lifts it, injecting an added energy and warmth.
Lewis Smallman's Billy is of course the star of the show. His talent shines and it was made lovelier by the thought he’s a local lad from West Bromwich. Playing to a home crowd, there was a palpable thrill in the atmosphere. His breathtaking dancing kept audiences on the edge of their seats, resulting in a rapturous applause at the close of Act 1. What makes this role so incredibly special is the need for a triple threat performer. Dancing, acting and singing – Smallman had it all in bucket loads. Showcasing his trio of skills in Electricity, the passion for his craft was irrefutable.
The notable highlight was undeniably the wondrous Swan Lake sequence. As Billy dances with his older self (Luke Cinque-White) tears welled in the eyes. Poignant and touching, the mirrored choreography was nothing short of perfection. His relationship with his deceased Mother (Nikki Gerrard) was also beautifully conjured up, particularly through their moving interaction in The Letter. Although the Hippodrome’s vast stage could easily take away the intimacy of these scenes, it was the lighting (Rick Fisher) and set design (Ian MacNeil) that cleverly sucked you into their world.
Annette McLaughlin was superb as dance teacher, Mrs Wilkinson. In great voice her hilarious acting was a joy to watch. The trio of McLaughlin, Smallman and Daniel Page (Mr Braithwaite) in Born to Boogie was an absolute crowd pleaser and had the audience in fits of laughter. However, you found your gaze would always take you to McLaughlin, and as her tenacious character mellowed there was a real beauty to her final exit.
Lovely support came from the entire ensemble, with foul-mouthed Grandma (Andrea Miller) delivering many a scene-stealing moment and Martin Walsh as Billy's Dad showcasing true skill as he transitioned from ignorance to acceptance. But it was Michael (Elliot Stiff) who shone. When paired with Smallman they were a sheer delight to watch. They're roof-raising anthem to being who you are, Expressing Yourself, really struck a chord. The words are clever, witty, funny, yet incredibly powerful and the whole number was a plethora of colour and sparkle.
The intricate combination of direction (Stephen Daldry) and choreography (Peter Darling) was clear throughout. Solidarity provided a particularly standout moment as police, miners and ballerinas combined, as scenes overlapped one another. This pinpoint precision allowed smooth transitions throughout the show and was further aided by the ingenious set design.
This is an absolute corker of a show and you'd be mad to miss it. I guess I can't really explain it, I haven't got the words, but just go and see it!
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