Theatrical producer and director Bill Kenwright has crafted a show to celebrate the music of the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Elvis Presley in a new musical This Is Elvis, which focuses on his ’68 Comeback Special in his Las Vegas residency.
Whizzing through a catalog of 34 songs, this production is an electrifying tribute to one of the greatest entertainers of all time. The stage is lit with impressive rock-gig lighting by Nick Richings, showing the incredible band that sits centre stage. They are one of the best I’ve ever heard in recreating Presley’s timeless hits, along with the glorious backing vocals of the cast, some of whom play instruments.
But it goes without saying; the star of the show is indeed Elvis Presley himself - international tribute artist Steve Michaels. He has the looks, he has the voice, he has the moves, but what is amazing is the energy that Michaels holds in his performance as the King. It seemed as if most people around me even believed they were watching the real Elvis, at times myself included. The other surprising element of his performance is his emotive ability to convey Presley’s self-conscious and anxious personality in Act One. But Michaels is as utterly phenomenal as the real thing. How his vocal chords can sustain singing every night in the way that he does is mind-blowing.
The production however really is a show of two halves. The first act attempts to fit in the label of being a new musical with a narrative and book by co-producer Laurie Mansfield and Phillip Norman, while the second half is simply just a recreation of the ’68 Comeback Special gig. I was hoping to have learned more about the man himself through the storytelling, but it seems this production would have some re-tooling to do if it were to live up to other great biopic musicals such as Jersey Boys or The REP’s One Love: The Bob Marley Musical.
But that point aside, what this show has in common with those examples is the love for the music and for the artist. Also it is clearly a crowd-pleaser. The audience were quick to shout, cheer, get up on their feet, dancing along to the many hits being belted out by Michaels such as Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Suspicious Minds and Burning Love, to name but a few.
I guess, as a woman shouted at one point stopping the show; Elvis really is in the building.
This Is Elvis runs at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 24th March.
Contemporary dance, like modern art, can be a bewildering riddle to the novice spectator. Using form and rhythm, rather than implicit narrative, it challenges the audience to engage intellectually as well as emotionally, and view scenarios through a different lens. This is certainly the case with Ballet British Columbia, Canada’s leading contemporary dance company, who are currently on their first UK tour, and performed at Birmingham Hippodrome on Friday night. Three individual works by three different female choreographers- 16+ a room, Solo Echo, and Bill – created an overall performance that was mesmerising and impressive - a true celebration of the human body’s majestic physique, and its expressiveness in dance.
Simplicity of staging – a completely black set – and meticulous lighting directed the focus entirely on the dancers. Together or individually this ensemble of 18 performers twisted and turned, ran or even slid across the stage in a manner that was both beguiling and intriguing. Undoubtedly contemporary, occasionally moments of traditional ballet - pointe work, a pirouette – would emerge as a reminder that many of these dancers were classically trained and this was the at the root of their performance.
Indeed this is the effect that their Artistic Director, Emily Molnar, is seeking to achieve – “ I wanted to create more of a definition of what it means to be contemporary with the legacy of training in ballet.” In her own choreographed work – 16 + a room – placards are transferred across the stage, from dancer to dancer, telling the audience either that “This is not the beginning” or “This is not the end”: Rather we are in some middle state, like the creativity we are watching, which belongs neither in the past nor entirely in the future. This is an attempt to go beyond the norm, and not affirm a “museum of position” - in doing so it succeeds.
Ballet BC’s UK tour continues on to The Lowry, Salford and Alhambra, Bradford. Let’s hope they are back in Birmingham before too long.
It’s the end of the world. Petty human conflicts have lead to humanities complete annihilation and the four Horsemen of the apocalypse gallop to Earth as the harbingers of the end of times.
Except, one of them didn’t turn up.
Teatro do Montemuro and Absolute Theatre’s imaginings of the trials and tribulations of three of the Horseman of the Apocalypse left stranded on a desolate English beach front is beyond anything else the silliest, funniest dumb-show I have seen in years.
This play does not rely on words (apart from the occasional grunt, squeak, sigh and roar) but instead on a universal language of clowning (physical comedy). Much like their concepts, the cosmic forces of Pestilence (Eduardo Correia), War (Paulo Duarte) & Famine (Abel Duarte) lack most forms of normal communication as well as any regard for any human social convention.
These three hapless beings are gradually transformed into gibbering buffoons who by the end have cast off any aspersions that they were there to do anything other than have a good time – and eat. The action of the play ramps up on the discovery that without their colleague (Death), none of them can die – hilarity ensues as they decapitate, stab and gut each other with abandon! Smearing thick white Sun Screen and having spent too much time in the Sun (leading to bright red noses) leads the trio to change from intimidating riders to classic personifications of the traditional clown. As the Horsemen are transformed, so too is the audience – asked, asked again, then dragged on to the Stage to become bird catchers, a stand-In Death, a line up in a Footy match or a disciple at the Last Supper – you should see this show with a view of being sat on, hugged or handled at any stage. A word to the wise is not to be reluctant it only makes you more likely to be picked.
It was expertly handled. There were no slip ups, not a foot, fish or fowl was misplaced. These clowns were exact in every mis-step, fake punch, ladder climb and bonk to the head. Not only being incredibly funny, but also assuring the audience that they were in safe (if inept) hands.
This is International Theatre at it’s best. It is clever and expertly devised and though the Stars of the Hour (and 10 minutes) were the three Clowns on Stage, mention must be made to the whole collaborative team for creating such a marvellous evening of witty, silly and cuttingly clever entertainment. Hands down a thoroughly enjoyable performance (unlike any other you will ever see) which is guaranteed to be a treat for anyone – any age, any language.
Walsall Operatic Society
A production of professional standard that would not be out of place on any West End stage
Stephen Sondheim’s Tony and Olivier award winning musical thriller is set in 19th century London and comes to life in Wolverhampton this week.
Former barber, Benjamin Barker, has returned to his apartment above a pie shop in Fleet Street with his new identity of Sweeney Todd, having previously been banished from England by crooked Judge Turpin and his servant Beadle Bamford. The Judge’s intention had been to pursue Todd’s wife, Lucy, who later poisoned herself leaving their young daughter, Johanna, in his care .
Todd (Richard Poynton) meets the lively Mrs Nellie Lovett (Steph Coleman), the proprietor of a pie shop in Fleet Street. Mrs Lovett laments about the scarcity of meat, describing her crusty offerings as the worst pies in London. She soon discovers Todd’s true identity and, enamoured, confides in him, revealing the fate of his wife and daughter. Todd swears revenge and Lovett presents him with his old collection of glisteningly sharp, silver razors. Todd is persuaded to take up his old profession only this time with the intention of cutting more than beards. Lovett and Todd embark on a new business venture - the killing of all future customers, which in turn conveniently boosts meat pie sales as Mrs Lovett takes to the kitchen with her tasty, new pie filling as Todd plans a way to finish the Judge and rescue his daughter.
For a so-called amateur production this really is a triumph. Directed by Tim Jones it is a production of professional standard that would not be out of place on any West End stage. With a smoggy and powerful two-tiered set, beautifully sung and richly costumed throughout, it is an absolute joy to witness. Every minute of direction and choreography is carefully considered to ensure that quality of both performance and showmanship remains at the top of its peak throughout. Sondheim’s musicals are wordy, complex, and fulfilling, to be tackled by only the most competent of companies and Walsall Operatic have produced the goods to perfection. Well played and musically directed, with seamless scene changes, the shortest of humanly-possible blackouts (given the array of set pieces), the show is set to a pace that ensures surprise after surprise and delight after delight.
Richard Poynton as Sweeney Todd commands and appropriately darkens the stage with his creepy and powerful psychopathic personality and singing. In contrast, Steph Coleman, as the perfectly bubbly and wicked Mrs Lovett, livens the stage with her music hall style portrayal and exceptional vocal. Craig Smith as Adolfo Pirelli, brilliantly plays the persona of the flashy Italian barber with just the right amount of flamboyance and later turn of character. Meg Hardy as Johanna and Chris Room as Anthony pour out their hearts with passion and fear, treating us to some excellent singing, and Neo Hughes lights up the stage with his portrayal of young simpleton Tobias Ragg, playing the character with conviction and humour, warming the audience with his initial vulnerability then suspicion as the story unfolds. Katy Ball plays the Beggar Woman brilliantly, with exuberant expression and madness, and the arrogant Judge Turpin, played perfectly horribly by Simon Docherty is the man we love to hate, who we long to see in the meat grinder as we bizarrely take sides with Sweeney. Judge Turpin’s loathsome side-kick Beadle Bamford, played assuredly by Nick Hardy, happily accepts the offer of a free shave, only to have his screams joyfully accompanied by Mrs Lovett on her harmonium, all resulting in a seemingly effortless, wonderfully crazy, musical production in a magnificent theatre, supported by a strong ensemble and a competent technical team.
As stated by Richard Poynton, this is indeed a "razor sharp production". Suitable for everyone and well worth a ticket. Runs to 17 March.
“To die would be an awfully big adventure”.
Strange to be quoting Peter Pan at the start of a review of another play about a soldier in World War 1. But in Paul Nolan’s very personal, meticulously researched, portrayal of his own great-uncle’s desire to sign up, serve and “do his duty”, James O’Neil actually utters this line out loud. And in the context of seeing an energetic, vital young man take on this responsibility, the quotation makes perfect, grotesque, sense.
In Rory Nolan’s vibrant and visceral performance he perfectly encapsulates the boy in the young man at the start of the story, growing into the soldier, but never the hero. This war is real, and both writer and actor demonstrate, through word and gesture alone, both the camaraderie, but also the horror and, maybe most surprisingly, the boredom of war.
Corinne Emerson, as older sister Ivy, shows us family life in Coventry before 1914, and we get snippets of life back home while the boys were away. This was a real family, emphasized by projected pictures of the O’Neil family.
There are no special effects here. No charges across no-man’s land, no dismembered bodies to jar our view. Nolan and his two actors let the words tell this very personal story. Personal to them, as Coventry people, telling a local story. But that makes it all the more universal for all of us.
And, no, this is certainly not just “another play about World War 1”. It’s far more intimate, and the lack of spectacle forces you to concentrate on the individual story being told.
The Window will return to The Albany in November to mark the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day. It will be a fitting tribute to both one man, and all the young men who did their duty.
The Window runs at The Albany Theatre until Saturday 17th March.
2018 marks the 250th anniversary since the creation of the circus. And what better way to celebrate this form of entertainment than seeing it bought into the 21st century?
Combining traditional circus elements with contemporary theatre, Cirque Beserk! is a joyous, upbeat spectacle that should be witnessed by everybody of all ages. The whole evening is eye-popping, jaw-dropping, filled with acrobatics, stunts, danger and thrills, but above all fun. Yes, we may have seen a lot of it all before on the global Got Talent shows, but nothing compares to being in the same room as the action, knowing there is a risk of it going wrong. While I could not keep my eyes off what I was watching, my heart stopped at various moments in anticipation – heaven knows what I would have been like sitting on the front row.
These international performers are terrific at what they do in their acts. The Timbuktu Tumblers wow us with their incredible street acrobatics and limbo with fire. The bushy-haired Bolas Argentinas throws and spins his weights around creating highly-skilled rhythms as they hit the floor, accompanied by Gabriel and Germaine Delbosq who also join in and play the drums. Germaine also amazes us with her brilliant juggling skills using her feet and flames. But another sensational act is the Tropicana Troupe who, with the giant seesaw, have us on the edge of our seats as they backflip and somersault at incredible heights. Speaking of heights, the aerial acrobatics of Jackie and Laci Fossett have the audience gasping in astonishment, with the knowledge that there is no safety net underneath. Also the knife-throwing of Toni and his assistant is something that doesn’t fail to impress us.
However, The Moustache Brothers are the ones who carry the show, combining acrobatics with physical comedy, like watching an incredibly energetic silent film. They are hilarious and likable, providing a delightful, intimate contrast from the other larger acts.
The epic finale is the one we’ve all been waiting for; The Motorcycle Globe of Death. At this point we know the risk of danger has increased when it needs stagehands with fire extinguishers on stand-by. But it does not disappoint. And just when we are impressed by the Globe, it one-ups itself bit by bit and the cyclists absolutely deserve the cheer that they get by the end, in what is a death-defying stunt.
Running at only 1 hour and 45 minutes, it is a short and sweet show, but the fun never stops or drags out. I’ve never had an evening in the theatre quite like this before. This is simply entertainment at its best and this is what we need for pure escapism right now.
Cirque Beserk! runs at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until 18th March.
Written by Anthony Horowitz, Mindgame is a psychological thriller that certainly lives up to its name.
Mark Styler is a novelist, writing true crime stories, who wants an interview with a serial killer as research for his new novel. He is granted access to Fairfields asylum where he meets Dr Farquhar before his interview with the infamous Easterman. As the meeting progresses Styler starts to wonder what is actually going on.
The small cast of three keep the audience intrigued as the story develops. Andrew Ryan (Mark Styler) and Michael Sherwin (Dr Farquhar) both give strong commanding performances throughout, displaying a range of facets to their characters. Nurse Paisley (Sarah Wynne Kordas) is the third character, also with hidden depths. With some difficult moments to portray, Kordas more than holds her own against the rest of the cast as her character too expands.
There are subtle changes to the set during the play that add to the air of confusion, this is also aided by the strange music that eerily plays and cuts out for no reason.
Mindgame will leave you questioning all you have seen during the play, it’s the kind of thing you want to see twice to pick up all of the nuances that you will inevitably miss the first time. All of this combines to make a truly gripping evening.
Mindgame runs until Saturday 17th March.
Within the wonderfully intimate confines of the Old Joint Stock Theatre, this week they have joined forces with Illuminate to present a re-staging of City Love, which played at the Fringe last year.
Set in traverse, the simple yet effective staging immersed the audience from the get-go with a reimagining of the London tube network forming the backdrop. The intertwining tube map serves as a metaphor for the relationship we see unfolding on stage, the twists, the turns and the inevitable collision of these two characters.
Elizabeth Lloyd-Raynes fizzes as Lucy. She’s the one embracing her independence, she lives on her own just about making ends meet and makes sure she pops to buy her Fairtrade coffee before work to show her colleagues she cares about the environment. Meanwhile we have Sam Blake, who delivered a fine performance as Jim. He’s the guy living in the basement of his sister’s place, he does his job, pays the bills and gets by. Nothing particularly special. Yet these two, rather different characters on the surface share many of the same hopes and fears, and their love story is a delightful whirlwind.
The beauty of this show lies in its simplicity, it isn’t necessarily a ground-breaking storyline, but it has real heart. Running at just 60 minutes, you are taken on a journey through the lives of Lucy and Jim, who first meet on the Number 12 night bus, following a series of awkward glances. The audience at times become the fellow bus passengers and at other points they are the best friend Kim, Lucy’s Mother or Lucy’s Father. It’s clever and utterly compelling. You are sucked into their story as you see them fall in love and then watch as their lives begin to crumble.
There are moments when the plot feels a little overpacked, especially as the storyline spirals near the end. Nevertheless, the performances delivered in this two-hander are convincingly beautiful and an even greater achievement is that in this mere 60 minutes you become emotionally invested in their relationship. From humour to tragedy, so much joy and hurt was captured in the short space of time.
Littered with many a laugh throughout, both actors really did shine and the direction from Karl Steele meant that this raw and touching piece of theatre glowed in the Old Joint Stock Theatre’s space.
City Love plays at the Old Joint Stock Theatre until Saturday 17th March.
Writer: Simon Vinnicombe
Carousel remains a timeless classic with a strong message of hope that still resonates in today’s world. No matter how dark or difficult life can be, there is always hope for a brighter future. Astwood Bank Operatic Society certainly brought that message loud and clear to a very appreciative first night audience!
David Steele (Billy Bigelow) led the cast with presence and charisma as the rough-talking Carousel barker. His voice was extremely well-suited to the lyrical songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Indeed, his performance of Soliloquy was a real highlight of the show. Performing alongside him was the equally talented Sophie Grogan (Julie Jordan) who put all she had into the role and gave an extremely emotional performance. She was able to show the turbulent journey of the character throughout the show and many a tear was shed when she began to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone and broke down on her cousin Nettie’s shoulders.
Great laughs were provided by Jo Hargreaves as Carrie Pipperidge. Her excellent comic timing gave us much-needed lighter moments in this dark storyline and she certainly delivered! A special mention must go to Michael Treagust (Enoch Snow). I learnt from the programme that this was his first ever part in a musical – I can assure you we would never have known! His assured performance gave us laughs and his confident singing voice suited Mr Snow’s character well. Will James was perfect as the mean and moody Jigger Craigin but also showed a lighter side, bringing out some more excellent comic moments.
I would have liked to have seen more of the story told through the extended sections such as the Prologue and the Ballet as I felt some of the meaning of these pieces was lost. I am also unsure as to the success of moving the action of Carousel to the 1950s as the final, emotional scene being played in a school gym lost some of the timeless magic. However, the projections were an excellent idea and Carole Massey’s production was full of both fun, laughter and pathos.
A wonderful orchestra accompanied the performance, under the baton of Musical Director Austin Poll. There was not one issue of the balance between voice and orchestra all night!
A large chorus (although there never seem to be enough men!) were well-drilled and added some great harmony singing to the larger numbers. However, a special mention must go to the small group of ladies, including Melanie Hart (Nettie Fowler) who performed the backing harmonies to What’s the Use of Wondering – a really poignant moment.
If the audience’s reaction was anything to go by, Astwood Bank Operatic Society should be proud of their achievement.
Carousel runs at the Palace Theatre, Redditch until Saturday 17th March.
More than a decade since the film adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's hugely successful book received critical acclaim, Giles Croft helps The Kite Runner soar to new heights in an immersive, bold and deeply moving production.
The Kite Runner tells the story of two Afghanistani boys, Amir and Hassan, who grow up together in Kabul against a backdrop of political turbulence and religious division.
Amir's father is one of Kabul's most successful businessmen and employs Hassan and his father, Ali, on his magnificent estate. Despite their contrasting stations and their ethnic and religious differences the boys are friends who take part in kite fighting together. But an encounter with an older boy which ends brutally for Hassan leaves Amir wracked with guilt for doing nothing to stop the attack and he becomes resentful of Hassan's unflinching loyalty.
The boys are forced apart and Amir and his father flee Afghanistan as the Taliban seizes control of the country, leaving them to rebuild their lives as refugees in America. But Amir is unable to forget his betrayal of Hassan and when he hears from a friend of his father's years later, he learns a shocking truth and sets about seizing his last chance at redemption.
This immersive production tells the story from Amir's point of view and Raj Ghatak delivers a simply astonishing peformance in what must be one of the most exacting roles in theatre. His transitions from present day narrator to the character in his own story are seamless. It's nothing short of an acting tour de force and Ghatak is able to envelope you completely in his character's world. The grief, the sadness, the guilt, the joy; you're with him every step of the way. It's all so very real and beautifully portrayed.
The set is genius in its simplicity with a curved stage and revolving backdrop helping the action to move swiftly and convincingly. There are some really clever pieces of choreography and when it's time for the story to move along Amir simply breaks out of the scene and into present day narration with remarkable clarity.
Jo Ben Ayed plays Hassan with intense vulnerability and portrays his character's loyalty to Amir quite beautifully. He and Ghatak are thoroughly believable as two boys whose friendship is doomed by the prejudice around them and the production handles the disintegration of that friendship following Hassan's attack brilliantly.
Soroosh Lavasani is chilling as the snarling villain of the piece, Assef, and Gary Pillai turns in a powerful performance as Amir's outwardly brash but secretly tormented father.
Elsewhere Karl Seth adds an important air of authority and meaning to the tale as Amir's father's long-time business partner and friend Rahim Khan.
This is a production with real heart which brings new depth to a heart-rending tale.
The Kite Runner plays at The REP until 24 March.
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