This year Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s youth theatre, The Young REP, bring a tale of innocence, acceptance and learning as they stage Ayub Khan-Din’s adaptation of E.R. Braithwaite’s autobiographical novel To Sir, With Love. It tells the tale of a hopeful electrics engineer who, after serving in the RAF during the War, finds the love for a new career as a teacher. As the tale continues, the story concludes with an endearing present from the children signed, To Sir, With Love. It is a commentary on modern society and brings post-war racism to the forefront of the piece, making it as relevant now as to when it was written.
Philip Morris leads the piece with strength as the passive Ricardo Braithwaite. In direction with Gwenda Hughes and Tom Saunders, he creates a real raw story for this character who changes the attitudes of the children, under the inspiration of the innovative head teacher Leon Florian (Andrew Pollard) – a character based on E.R. Braithwaite’s experience with pioneering educator Alex Bloom. However, it is his relationship with the young actors that is particularly poignant in this play, the only point I would make was that they are simply under used in the show and it would have been lovely to see even more from them. Aside from this, there is real strength in the performances from the talented Young REP. Charlie Mills is suitably cast in the role of the antagonistic Denham, who has a real turning point in the play from aggressor to peacemaker. Alice McGowan also stands out as the youthful innocent who takes a shine to Mr Braithwaite; her character nicely contrasts that of Mills and others who antagonize the action.
Also of note is the tight relationship between young Elijah McDowell’s Seales and Morris’ Braithwaite. Seen as a figure of advice, this connection reminds us that teachers are here for so much more than just to educate. One moment that felt a little underdeveloped was the death of Seales’ mum, as it could have been used more to heighten the duo’s relationship.
Simon Bond’s lighting design is simple and enhances the natural state of the story well and in collaboration with Michael Holt’s design it creates a nice setting for the show. At times, Holt’s set feels quite sparse, but is strong in the classroom scenes when the school desks fill the downstage area. Combined with the projection design of Louis Price, it comments nicely on the action that happens on stage.
To Sir, With Love reminds us all of the importance of understanding and education. It is a play that scrutinizes the audience in their reactions to the racism and actions on stage, ensuring that the main purpose is achieved: an education.
Catch it at The REP; it’s a real eye opener.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s long-established classic, South Pacific, may need no introduction but, to some, the wonderfully capable company who have brought it back to life on the amateur stage at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, may well do.
Manor Musical Theatre Company, whose first show, A Country Girl, was back in 1953, have their 2017 production spearheaded by the delightfully capable duo of Barry Styles (Emile De Becque) and Beth Hooper (Nellie Forbush) whose vocal abilities seldom strayed from sheer perfection and arguably, may not have been overly out of place on a more professional stage. At times, none more so than in his rendition of Some Enchanted Evening, Styles’ portrayal of the wealthy French planter brought back spine-tingling echoes of Giorgio Tozzi back in the 1958 film adaptation. It would not have been as successful however, had the two roles been at varying degrees of poise and professionalism. Hooper was equally as captivating as Ensign Nellie Forbush, a part which, amid an intense score, boasts perhaps the greatest challenge when one simultaneously factors in the diversity of song styles and the required choreographed accompaniments.
There was more joy to be found in the band, ably led by Director of Music Peter Bushby and the roles of the wily Luther Billis (Paul Wozniak) and courageous Lieutenant Joe Cable (Andy Hooper) who shone just as bright as the leads in their respective moments. Moreover, the three children who played Jerome, Henri and Ngana De Becque not only exhibited a masterful control of the French language, but also exceptionally polished vocal and dance performances which, when considering their ages, is all the more impressive.
As ever with live theatre, it was not without some small hiccups. Early on in the performance, at the arrival on stage of the male ensemble and Bloody Mary (Susan Bushby), the orchestra, correctly I might add, piped up but due to hesitation on stage only a handful began singing. To their credit, they recovered comparatively quickly to give really quite excellent renditions of Bloody Mary and There’s Nothing Like a Dame.
Under the directorial prowess of Pam and James Garrington, Manor utilise every inch of staging, showing unprecedented innovation to maximise both the height and width of the stage which gives at once the sense of being at a far grander show, something further fuelled by the ever-capable cast.
This is most definitely a show that does justice to, and perfectly embodies Rodgers and Hammerstein’s at once hilarious, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching classic and with the palpable camaraderie amongst the cast, it is without question well worth a watch.
Lichfield Garrick Youth Theatre have never been a company to shy away from a challenge, and they more than proved this tonight as they presented a polished production of the gloriously infectious Legally Blonde. Featuring a catalogue of wonderful numbers, LGYT exceeded their years (and then some) in this sparkling performance.
Under the dynamic trio of Julie Mallaband (Director), Oliver Rowe (Musical Director) and Jessica Lambert (Choreographer), the show was pacy, vibrant and energetic. There was never a lull and the band tackled the complex score with skill, with some nice additional musical touches.
The shining accomplishment in this production is the company’s astute grasp of comedy. It was perhaps one of the first amateur versions I had seen where every single comedic opportunity was exceptionally delivered and Legally Blonde, when done well, is hilarious. Boasting a suite of eccentric characters, each member of the cast relished their time on stage.
Leading the audience through the evening is pocket-rocket performer Sophie-Rose Dickinson. Her annoyingly squeaky Elle Woods really heightens the stereotype behind her character; however she played this to her advantage, successfully showcasing an amazing character transformation between Act One and Act Two. With a superb vocal, she was an absolute hit. Nathan De Giorgi complemented her well as the endearing Emmett Forrest, whilst Dominic Sterland delivered an impressively comedic performance as Warner Huntington III.
It would do the company a disservice to not individually name everyone involved, as all of them stepped up to the plate in this incredibly demanding show. However, there were some great supporting performances from Ella Fellows-Moore (Brooke Wyndham), Hudson Mitchell (Kyle) and the trio of Esme Wade (Serena), Bethan McCormick (Margot) and Hattie Rumsey (Pilar). And you cannot forget the laugh-out-loud pairing of Harry Singh (Nikos) and Ollie Willet (Carlos); their cameo appearance in Gay and European was an absolute highlight.
But it was the supporting principle ladies that really shone in this show. Georgia Waldron’s Paulette was a sheer joy. Her rendition of Ireland was expertly delivered and she brought a wonderful warmth, compassion and hilarity to the character. Meanwhile, Sophia Ford’s Vivienne was a truly sassy bitch and you couldn’t help but love her. She came into her own in Act Two, when she finally had the opportunity to show off her smashing voice; blimey, that girl has some pipes!
There is no doubt that this company is overflowing with talent and it is a credit to the fantastic creative team who work so hard week in, week out, to provide such a wonderful platform for young people to perform to a fantastically supportive audience of family, friends and the general public.
Well done LGYT, you’ve done it again!
Out Of This World is a striking piece of new writing from the acclaimed writer and director – Mark Murphy. It is a production that explores the feelings of undergoing an accident, and the subsequent effects in hospital, surgery and the handling of grief. The wonderful technical nuances are what make this such a successful play.
The ensemble has devised this story and, in collaboration with the design team, the final product is incredibly impactful. Notably, the aerial sequence with Itxaso Moreno as the paramedic saving Sarah Swine’s character with a series of pulleys and ropes is breathtaking and contrasts that of the comedic moments between Catherine Cusack and Swine’s characters. These scenes not only evoke a sense of comic relief to this strikingly dystopian setting, but also suggest a power struggle between the protagonist’s life decisions and are certainly a strong point in the production.
It is the combination in creative collaboration between Murphy’s direction, Lizzie Powell’s lighting design, Nathaniel Reed’s sound design, Becky Minto’s set & costume design, Pod Bluman’s projection design and Alex Palmer’s rigging design that makes this such a visual spectacle. The shifts in Minto’s crisp and clinical set, heightened by hard edged, clean cut, cold lighting, to an array of immersive projection is what successfully takes you from the surgery to the mind of the protagonist as she undergoes medical treatment. Minto’s set is assured and clear in its presentation with genuine moments of awe when Reed’s sound design deafeningly drops and Minto’s twenty-odd chairs drop on bungee cords from the roof of the stage. Complete design uniformity is clear; they have set a new impeccable standard, illustrating the opportunities available to other companies.
Murphy’s writing clearly lends itself to theatrical and visual spectacles, but there are times when the book feels somewhat underdeveloped and almost late in its explanation of the story. It is very confusing until our female protagonist (Sarah Swire) directly addresses the audience telling them what is about to happen, in an almost Brechtian approach to address the chaos of the first half an hour. When the plot does become clear, there is more scope for this stunning young actress to explore her character creating some moments of raw emotion with her late husband (Scott Hoatson). Their compelling relationship culminates when an abstract scene between the two allows Swire’s character to decide whether to stay with her husband in death, or return to life.
Out Of This World is a visually striking new piece of theatre with real charge and energy from the cast and creatives. They have managed to produce a work that is so technically advanced, it is to be commended. A plot that explores grief, power, guilt, control and life; it is a production well worth immersing yourself into.
Catch it on its tour across the UK this year.
Stephen Sondheim's & Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd is considered by many his tour de force of Musical Theatre, with a complex score and a meaty plot to sink your teeth into, Studley Operatic Society had certainly took on a huge challenge. Resetting the musical within 1930's London was certainly a brave move, for a musical set in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, but the change of scene, setting it within the great depression, with its crumbling buildings and bright red barber chairs shed a new light onto the piece.
Directors Kevin & Alison Hirons had certainly cast a superb line up of principles, with not a weak link in sight, with soaring vocals and steady characterisation, they held the show well throughout. Paul Mitchell played a demanding Sweeney Todd, his stage presence and vocals were strong throughout, a perfect leading man for the production. Lou Watton played Todd's meat grinding sidekick Mrs Lovett to a tee, her madcap comedy timing yet stumbling awkwardness hit just the right notes. The duo could really delve further into the mischievous chemistry between the two characters, the scheming malice of the two leads is always joyous within the show, and it would be lovely to see even more of that!
Special mention must go to Julian Bissell, who played the most unsettling Judge Turpin that this reviewer has ever seen, his stunning deep vocal technique truly made my skin crawl, and the staging of Mea Culpa was utterly disturbing. A delight of darkness.
With a score as complex as Sweeney Todd, it is always a big challenge for an amateur company, but the scale and scares of the piece do rely on the ensemble's ballads throughout the production. The SOS ensemble can afford to give these moments even more attack, but this company should be commended for their tackling of such a difficult and complex score - one that most amateur groups shy away from.
They have successfully set a unique atmosphere with a gargantuan set, breaking the confines of the Redditch Palace Theatres tight proscenium arch. There were some stumbled scene changes, but these can be forgiven for the ambition of the piece, you felt immersed in the world with fantastic costumes, wigs and scenery to match.
Sweeney Todd is a fantastic 3 hours of pure Sondheim and Wheeler brilliance, and is a rare treat to find on the amateur theatre scene, get down to the Redditch Palace Theatre while you can, to see some fantastic, ambitious dark comedy from Studley Operatic Society.
The music and lyrics of Frank Loesser were brought ably and brightly to life by Solihull On Stage in their brisk and pacey production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying at The Core Theatre, Solihull.
With a small but meticulously drilled cast, this slick performance really does bear testimony to the phrase 'quality not quantity'. With a cast of just 23, we were quickly transported into the world of J. Pierrpont Finch, whose rise from window washer to Chairman of the Board of the famous World Wide Wicket Company is charted in this quirky story. Finch, played with supreme authority by Simon Chinery, ducks, dives and wheedles his way to the very top of the company in a very short space of time. Chinery's strong vocals, accomplished acting and excellent comic timing really brought the character of this cheeky chappie to life, and his rise to the top, whilst falling in love with Rosemary Pilkington, (beautifully portrayed and sung by Jess Shannon), was delivered with conviction due to the high quality of the accompanying leads and well rehearsed chorus.
The set was simple and added an effective backdrop to the production; the music, pitched at absolutely the correct volume and tempo throughout, was conducted with perfection by Mel 'O' Donnell, and the choreography by Sarah Golby, which was simple and energetic, was the icing on the cake of what was an extremely entertaining and convincing show.
In a production with so much to praise, it would be wrong not to mention the precise and tight harmonies in Been A Long Day and I Believe In You, and the wonderful characterisation of Dennis Hoccom as the head of the mailroom in The Company Way. The chorus singing was exceptionally strong throughout, with pleasant harmony singing and good diction at all times.
In such a strong line up of lead roles, it seems unfair to refer to specific performers, but special mentions must go to Nicki Willetts as the dizzy gold digger Hedy La Rue and Nicky Ginns as the slightly down trodden Smitty, who both shone in an already sparkling line up. The male cast were equal to the task, with Carl Hemming as J.B.Biggley, Keith Parry as Bud Frump, Adam Scott as Bratt, Sam Turner as Gatch and Matthew Bennett as Jenkins all bringing added value to the overall quality of the lead line up.
A massive congratulatory shout must go to the Director, Peter Haden, for the high standard of this production, and who even made it on stage late on in the show as the outgoing Chairman of the Board (and the ultimate winner of the hand of the opportunist Miss La Rue).
The only down side to this show were the empty seats in the auditorium. So if you want a real lift during these last cold days of April, then get yourselves along to The Core Theatre, grab yourselves a ticket, and sit back and be entertained by this highly talented bunch of people.
You won't be disappointed.
As prologued by the rock obsessed Lonnie (Simon Pugh) WBOS are ‘taking it back to a sexier time’ where the company take the audience through the music of the 80s to narrate a tale of one girl, one boy and one bar. As the young Sherrie (Olivia Jones) ups and leaves home in search for a better life - living the rock dream on the Sunset Strip. Conflict arises on the entrance of Drew (David Walters) who becomes a catalyst for the events that unfold. Their love heightens in numbers such as High Enough and contrast the more brash numbers in the show with ease. West Bromwich Operatic Society have once again delivered an energetic performance of a much loved classic, with some real show stealing performances.
Jones leads the musical as the aspirational Sherrie complimented well by Walter’s rock-geek Drew. Jones’ voice heightens musical numbers such as I Wanna Know What Love Is where her vocal ability shines. Her on stage romance – Stacee Jaxx (Lyndon Flavell) fulfills his comic role with ease and ability. His natural comic talent is clear and is a hit with the audience, as he portrays this self-orientated superstar. Comedy continues right across this rather crude musical in the faces of Dennis Dupree (Gregg Yates) and his bartender Lonnie (Simon Pugh) which climaxes in the latter of the show with a farcical rendition of Can’t Fight This Feeling.
Further noticeable performances include Sarah Moors as the lustful Justice Charlier, and her vocal strength is key to her role in supporting Sherrie through the narration, particularly in the latter of act two during Every Rose Has Its Thorn – a definite strong point in the production from the whole cast.
Its staging is also clever with clear intention from Ben Cole’s Direction, placing isolation at the heart of the piece, exploring the character’s individual struggles. Cole’s direction continues like this throughout and along with Claire Flavell’s Choreography, the performances are striking in larger numbers. It would be nice to see a bit more done with the staging of The Final Countdown, simply because it's such an iconic hit..
However, the staging of Any Way You Want It/I Wanna Rock is ingenious and shifts between the rock-like state of Colin Wood’s lighting design, helping to define the shifts in composition for the musical number – this lighting creates some striking images, particularly in the overture. Juxtaposingly, George Stuart provides an utterly captivating performance as Franz Klinemann and delivers a hilariously intuitive rendition of Hit Me with your Best Shot - it's a near show stealing moment.
This is a production with heaps of strength and worth seeing just for the impressive performances, and set-integrated band led by Adam Joy as Musical Director.
WBOS are Not Gonna Take It Anymore so Come on Feel the Noise and get some tickets for Rock Of Ages at the Wolverhampton Grand this week!
Fame - a story of growing up, self-discovery and teenage love as the students and teachers discover what life is like at the High School of Performing Arts. Wing It bring this to the Albany Theatre Coventry as their Easter production in a version that stretches the original setting.
Hannah Roberts’ direction is strong with clear character understanding and heightened use of the Albany's particularly wide stage. Connor Clifford’s choreography contrasts the realistic direction, but nevertheless creates strength in the ensemble numbers, with a particularly nice moment in Dancin on the Sidewalk. A very quick side note must also go to Ashley Kirk for his graphic design work. The logo and programme for the show delivered a real professional feel to this amateur production.
Rory Beaton’s lighting adds vibrancy to the stage with some striking images, notably in the song Fame, there were a number of blackouts which did break up the pace, however the imposing industrial set creates a rocky feel to this classic school set musical.
Casting for the show was strong with a well characterized and focused ensemble backing some feisty leads. Ashley Clifford and Libby Simpkins have a striking connection as Schlomo and Carmen and their rendition of Bring On Tomorrow in act one, is impressive. In the latter part of the show, the reprise of Bring On Tomorrow is both powerful and eerily emotive.
Simpkins' is ideal for the role of Carmen and, having seen this young actress perform previously, it is noticeable how well cast she is in this production. In L.A is a pure show stealer and Simpkins leads this vocally with ease and heaps of raw emotion. This scene is one of the strongest visually as the direction takes a turn and places one of the dancers - Elena Fulea - as a symbol for Carmen’s downfall behind the glaze - it is honestly striking and heightens the sense of desperation.
Other stand-out performances include Star Lydster-Cochrane as the antagonist Ms Sherman and Grace Bend as Ms Bell in their aggressive rendition of The Teacher's Argument. Nick Jones is also well cast as the agitated, dyslexic Tyrone and Jones' dance ability is clear throughout the show, showcasing his talent as he led the ensemble in Dancin On The Sidewalk. He is paired well with Kate Doran as Iris, another strong dancer, making for incredibly realistic performances from the duo. The strong comedy of Alex Howarth's Joe Vegas and Kirsten Hamilton's Mabel Washington juxtaposes the more serious numbers, allowing for a comic lift to each scene.
Finally, a perfect relationship is found in the faces of Maeve Dolen as Serena and Nathan Routledge as Nick Piazza. Their chemistry is natural and in classic numbers such as I Want To Make Magic and Let's Play a Love Scene, their vocal ability shines. They are the supporting leads, but are fantastically strong and their scenes are definite moments of excellence.
With a production like Fame, there is real scope for taking a risk with the design. This production team have done this, and presented an authentic and excellent show. Congratulations to all on another successful production.
Just off Broad Street, Birmingham, The Crescent Theatre brought 90s indie hits back on Saturday, with anthems from Oasis, Pulp, Blue, Supergrass, Republica, Kula Shaker and many more. All of which are embedded into an intergalactic sex comedy story.
With its inspiration drawn from 1954`s B-Movie The Devil Girl From Mars and 1991`s The Girl From Mars, the story begins with a martian dominatrix called Nyah, who plans on kidnapping earth men for breeding, after crashing her flying saucer behind a pub in Bedfordshire. Things might not go quite as she planned though when locals Sally, the barmaid, and Leon, the wannabe rock star, learn of her intentions.
Natasha Temperley, who played martian Nyah, was well suited to her role, with a strong dominant presence whilst on the stage. The songs were very much suited to her voice and she gave a particularly impressive performance of Radiohead`s Creep. Leon, played by Niall Walsh, and Sally played by Julia Collar, worked well as a duo together. They delivered comically and vocally with great duets. All three gave solid vocal performances and despite some technical issues in the first half, this was handled well.
Whilst the set was basic with its 90s touches, it worked well at being both B-Movie style and capturing the decade. This was also enhanced by the costumes, including various fashion pieces such as striped tracksuit tops, flairs and lots of union jjacks!
The humour and references made in the writing also helped evoke the 90s nostalgia, with nods to Friends, Men in Black and The Matrix. Plus, the addition of two burlesque dancers allowed for 90s choreography to be weaved into the narrative, with moves from Spice Girls and All Saints recreated on stage.
A live 5 piece band took centre stage with their musical abilities clearly on display. The band members also contributed lines to the show, which was a touch that helped to move the show along and added extra sprinkles of comedy.
Towards the end the audience were singing the hits and we were all dancing and clapping along!
Five Star Theatre have gathered a strong, talented cast of young performers from across the area for this production of Boublil and Schonberg’s classic musical. Only currently available on amateur release for youth productions, Les Misérables is a gift of a show for any performer to get their teeth into and always draws a large audience. A successful box office is guaranteed – but audience expectations run high.
The cast of 51 performers aged 7-18 have clearly put a lot of time and hard work into this production. From the youngest street urchin to the principal cast, each performance is confident, slick and delivered with enthusiasm. This is a vocally demanding show and the whole company meet the challenge head on with strong choral singing, sharp harmonies and solo performances that show great maturity. They are led with a charming performance from Tom Cowan as Jean Valjean who surpassed his years to play the role of the convict as he aged from young to elderly man. He was well matched by Luke Marriott as Javert who was perfectly imposing on stage for this role. Together the two created an excellent partnership that carried the show along.
There were strong all round performances too from Sophie Brant (Fantine), Sasha Roberts (Gavroche) and Julian Carrouché (Enjolras) while Hannah Wade (Eponine) and Cait Bridgman (Cosette) shone with emotionally-charged performances. The final scene combining many of these voices was beautiful.
Completing the principal line-up Charlie Brayson gave a gentle, affectionate performance as Marius while Lewis Graham and Catarina Mendez were an excellent comic pairing as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, and Megan Gyles sang well as Little Cosette.
It is often apparent in productions such as this that casting the show must have been a difficult task, as there are so many performers in smaller and chorus roles who stand out as much as the principals. From their roles in the chorus a few stood out that were worthy of mention and who I am sure we will see again in future – full credit to Benjamin Mulley (Feuilly) Emily Goodwin (Factory Girl) and Ella Sparks (Factory Worker) for making the most of their time on stage.
The staging for such a large company has been handled extremely well by the production team, with directors Ethan J Smith and Sophie Pulley making good use of the space available and while this is not a particularly dance-heavy show the incorporation of Catty Giles’ subtle choreography is effective, particularly in the busy wedding scene where different group dances helped build the crowded room atmosphere. This is all aided by a simple but impressive set design by Tim Belk: the appearance of the barricade in act 2 provoking a ‘wow’ from many audience members around us.
There were only a few points. I would have liked a little more light on the stage, as from our seats at the back of the gloomy Benn Hall I struggled to make out the features of many of the cast’s faces – particularly in the early scenes. It was a pity that the production used recorded backing track instead of live accompaniment. Having seen this version before with live music I know it is an option, but whether through limitation of the venue or necessity of budget and performance licence, the lack of flexibility in the music did lessen the impact of the beautiful score. At times it felt like it hindered the talented cast of performers, as without the ability to slow the tempo to let the singers’ emotions lead the big well-known ballads, the show raced along and lost some of the intensity in places.
And the final distraction was the number of people in the audience who were constantly checking their smart phones for an update on the time or in some cases sending messages mid-performance. The young cast were working their guts out to entertain onstage and it was such a shame that this was not being fully observed by those in the audience. A growing sign of the times perhaps, and not something I would usually remark on in a review; but if companies such as Five Star Theatre are evidently working so hard to encourage young people to get into live theatre – and doing an impeccable job of it – then the least we as their audience can do is encourage them too!
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