Bournville Musical Theatre Company has never been a group to shy away from some of the great musicals. Their varied repertoire is a credit to the talent the group possess and at their dress and technical rehearsal last night, it was no different. There was a palpable warmth in the auditorium and a wonderful excitement as the group brought this show to the Crescent’s stage.
As the orchestra struck up and the baton was lifted, it was clear we were in for a brilliant show. Under the Musical Direction of Chris Corcoran, the music delighted from the very first note. Corcoran’s MD’ing is always an absolute highlight and the super score swelled under his direction and talented musicians.
The energy continued to heighten as the cast took to the stage for the excitable opener Omigod You Guys. The female ensemble breathed exuberance into every lyric and dance move, precisely how you would want the show to open. Elle’s three best friends (Sophie Elle, Natalie Buzzard and Siobhan Ganley) provide a great comic trio, with solid vocals throughout; complemented well by the range of ensemble characters we meet along the way.
Phil Snowe made for a right creep as Professor Callahan. He’s such an unlikeable character and Snowe captured this well, plus he was in great voice as he delivered a threatening rendition of Blood in the Water. Claire Rough had a tough job. Not only opening the second act, but also having to sing the opening song, whilst doing some intense cardio skipping as Brooke Wyndham. Rough nailed it and her vocals were impressively strong considering she was swinging a rope around at the same time.
Elsewhere, Lily Moore’s Vivienne was gloriously cutting showing a great transition in the second act. Vivienne’s part really comes into it’s own in the second half; particularly during the title number Legally Blonde, and Moore’s voice really soared above the ensemble. Rhian Heeley’s Paulette was hilarious, showcasing her talent for comedy, with a standout moment being her Ireland (Reprise). It was lovely to see that her offstage husband played her onstage eye-candy Kyle and Adam Heeley played the role brilliantly.
There wasn’t a weak link within the principal casting, from a rather annoying and self-obsessed Warner (Peter Holmes) to the endearing and vocally impressive David Paige as Emmett; each person brought a great depth to their character. Plus, who can forget the gorgeous cameos from Tink (Bruiser) and Beefy (Rufus).
However, it was down to Chloe Turner to lead the way as Elle Woods and suffice to say, she more than impressed. A triple threat of acting, singing and dancing is essential for this role and Turner had it all. From opening to closing her focus and drive never faltered, as she confidently brought the whole show together.
Sadie Turner’s choreography was impressive, enthusiastically executed by the entire ensemble; it really lifted the show another notch. Under the assured direction of John Morrison, it’s abundantly clear that he knew this musical inside out, managing to pull out every little bit of comedy he could.
The audiences of BMTC’s Legally Blonde are surely in for a treat this week. If you’re able to grab one of the very few remaining tickets, do it now.
Legally Blonde plays at The Crescent Theatre until 28 April.
Please be aware, this review was written at the Dress / Technical rehearsal. We do not comment on anything to do with stops, starts or technical difficulties. We provide a fair review based on what we heard and saw.
Watching Funny Faces at Artrix in Bromsgrove last night the thought struck me, “Why did so many comic actors of my childhood become dependent on alcohol?”
The answer came to me when Sid James, played with great sympathy by Steve Dimmer, explained that being funny is not the same as being happy. This reminded me of something Joan Sims, portrayed in a sensitive and convincing performance by Caroline Nash, said in the first of the evening’s two plays: “…it’s a good job I’m a happy person…” This remark, spoken with a throwaway wistfulness that revealed that she was not, underneath it all, a happy person, sums up the sad lives of almost all of the stars mentioned over the course of the evening.
None of them were happy: Tony Hancock – paralytic on a London street and almost knocked over by Sid James’ taxi; Charles Hawtrey – so drunk on set he could hardly stand; Hattie Jacques – unable to control her weight and Kenneth Williams – so repressed he made his guests use a public toilet rather than the one in his flat. All spoken of with great affection by Sims and James, and all unhappy but funny.
Funny Faces is an evening of two one-act plays – ‘SIMply Joan’ and ‘Wot Sid Did’ - both one-handers, minimally staged and reliant on two strong actors who can each hold their audience for the best part of an hour. Nash and Dimmer achieve this with ease: their performances are charismatic and convincing, with both actors moving from the light of hilarious anecdotes to the shade of confronting their own weaknesses.
As Joan Sims ‘the Queen of the Carry Ons’, Caroline Nash is hugely sympathetic. Using the conceit of taking a break from the last night wrap party, she unfolds a biography that took her from RADA to BBC costume drama ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’. “I’m happy in the spotlight” she says, and certainly the packed audience in the Artrix Studio applauded most appreciatively.
Steve Dimmer shows Sid James in the hour before his final, fatal heart attack in Sunderland in April 1976. Before he even spoke we saw, through subtle make-up and well-sustained acting the ravages that booze had wrought on James – indeed he gets through the best part of half a bottle of Scotch during the play.
His is a less understated play than ‘SIMply Joan’, but Dimmer manages to show the pain beneath the jokey, matey face that James presented to the world. Of course, it is Sid’s love for Barbara Windsor that reveals the sensitive, lonely man he was. Although he appears to take nothing seriously, especially his relationships with women, he always returns to ‘Babs’, despite some pretty severe ‘warnings’ from Windsor’s gangster husband.
For many in the audience this was not the evening they had expected – no coarse jokes, only one trademark chuckle. Instead it was a thoughtful and complex explanation of how two people, both in their way national institutions, were, underneath it all, lonely and sad. Yes, there are laughs, but there are many poignant moments, none more so that when Joan Sims explains why she could not attend her close friend Hattie Jacques’ funeral.
Funny Faces is a satisfying show featuring two outstanding performances: very definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.
It says everything about Noel Coward that nearly 90 years after he wrote Private Lives (in just four days) it's still making audiences chuckle.
London Classic Theatre's production brings out the best in Coward's farcical look at the lives of two wealthy 1920s couples on their ill-fated honeymoons.
The enduring beauty of the story lies in its simplicity and Michael Cabot's decision not to meddle with Coward's original is what makes this delightful production so enjoyable. One change he does make, along with many other directors, is to carve the play into two acts rather than the original three - absolutely the right decision for a modern audience.
As Cabot says in his programme notes, the lives of the idle rich were fertile fodder for Coward. What's remarkable is that fun-poking is just as funny nearly a century later.
The first act takes place entirely on the balcony of a French hotel where Sibyl and Elyot Chase (Olivia Beardsley and Jack Hardwick) are on their honeymoon and Victor and Amanda Prynne (Kieran Buckeridge and Helen Keeley) are celebrating theirs in the adjacent room.
The newly-weds are not exactly madly in love and it quickly becomes apparent that's because Elyot and Amanda are lamenting the loss of their earlier failed marriages - to each other.
When the two see each other and share a drink their feelings are rekindled and they elope to start a fresh. In the second act the action moves to a Paris apartment to see the rather volatile results of their reconciliation.
Jack Hardwick shines as entitled chauvinist Elyot with his droning condescension and short temper and the play is at its very best in the scenes with he and Helen Keeley's temperamental Amanda Prynne.
Keeley is the star of the show. Her frantic portrayal of Amanda really captures the essence of the upper class tedium at which Coward so relished poking fun.
The pair's chemistry is excellent and the preposterous love-hate nature of their relationship is brought to life with great hilarity and vigour in the second act.
Meanwhile Olivia Beardsley and Kieran Buckeridge shine too as the unexpected victims of Elyot and Amanda's amor fou. Beardsley portrays a delightfully dim Sibyl and Buckeridge excels as the jittery Victor.
The action maintains a great pace which gets ever faster and funnier as the play reaches its ludicrous conclusion.
To appreciate Coward's masterpiece truly one has to consider the period in which it was written. In fact the play was almost censored for being too risque and reviews of the day described it as 'delightfully daring'. To a 2018 audience daring it is definitely not, but entertaining it most certainly is.
Private Lives plays at the Belgrade Theatre until Saturday April 21.
Stoke Rep Players
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote more than sixty plays in his lifetime combining both contemporary satire and historical allegory. He became the leading dramatist of his generation and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His extensive works include Pygmalion, written in 1912, which was later employed as the basis for the well-known movie My Fair Lady.
Mrs Warren's Profession was penned in 1893, and first performed in London in 1902. The play is about a former prostitute, now a madam and brothel owner who attempts to form a relationship with her daughter. It's a play about secrets - underlying a mysterious tone as every interaction and conversation seems to carry a sequence of surprises and revelations which in turn leaves the listener questioning this secrecy, the denials and corruption that would have been, in its day, cleverly disguised by upper class civility. The title may reference Mrs Warren but the story really belongs to Vivie and about how this new relationship with her mother changes her.
Directed by James Freeman with set design by Eloise Hands, the Stoke Repertory Theatre Players bring this dramatic and thought-provoking play to the stage this week.
Kitty Warren is played assuredly by Caroline Wicks who, being no stranger to the stage, shows both the strong, witty and gentle sides of Mrs Warren’s personality as she tries in vain to convince her daughter of her lifestyle and choices. Elena Fox plays Vivie Warren brilliantly and is convincing as the headstrong, sensible young woman who battles with her emotions throughout the story, keeping her moral head held high.
Hopeless romantic artist Mr Praed, played by Chris Potter, visits Mrs Warren and happens upon Vivie. His devotion to art and beauty is a contrast to Vivie's stark realism. Potter plays the part well and upholds this gentle contrast as the story unfolds.
Vivie’s love interest Frank Gardner is played by James King. Frank is the dashing and charming yet unemployed and uneducated son of Reverend Gardener (Howard Thorpe). Although Frank sees Evie as a financial and social meal ticket, King's portrayal of Gardener is admirable as he plays both an untrustworthy, immoral character but also a protective one when he defends Evie from Crofts.
The plot deepens as we discover Reverend Gardner's history with Mrs Warren. Thorpe plays this part perfectly as the Reverend fails to hide his true self and reveals himself to be just as immoral and as guilty as everyone else. Quintessential Victorian gentleman, Sir George Crofts (John Wicks) is Mrs Warren's business partner who surprises us with an unexpected proposal. Crofts is the antagonist - an honest yet calculating and selfish man, prepared to get his own way, later revealing a secret primarily out of spite.
Excellent and flowing performances by a strong and competent cast ensure a well paced production. The revolving stage ensures a quick set turnaround for the four acts and the beautiful gardens, home and office scenes are well dressed and a delight to see. Luxuriously costumed and very well read this is a play for lovers of great classic and reflective literature.
Runs to 21 April
Political turmoil reigns supreme in James Graham’s thrilling and hilarious look behind the scenes at Westminster during the chaotic Labour government of the 1970s.
Set in the beating heart of one of the most unstable and critical periods of British political history, this ingenious production depicts the trials and tribulations faced by the government from 1974 to 1979 in all their frenzied glory, as it battles to remain in power while lurching constantly between slender majority and hung parliament.
The story of this surreal period of British politics is told through the whips of each party – the dogged MPs responsible for making sure their colleagues, and in the case of a minority government a significant number of others, back the party in votes in the House of Commons.
It’s to the great credit of the creator that the show is at once a robust education on the politics of the period, a fun-poking insight into the machinations of Westminster and a shrewd parallel with today’s political landscape.
In truth the remarkable story of the survival of Wilson and Callaghan’s governments need little exaggeration and the story is rightly loyal to a quite astounding timeline of events. Over the course of four and a half years the government contended with the deaths of a number of its MPs, the constantly changing allegiances of the minority parties (sound familiar?), or the ‘odds and sods’ as they were collectively known, and a series of scandals.
It’s a story with political wrangling to rival The West Wing but with none of the gloss - House of Cards with a cup of tea, a fag and a please and thank you for your troubles.
Martin Marquez is terrific as Labour’s tenacious chief whip Bob Mellish and James Gaddas shines as his dogged deputy Walter Harrison; the man doing his best to pull more strings than an orchestra to keep the increasingly fragile government afloat.
Meanwhile on the opposite benches William Chubb channels withering 1970s Tory with staggering precision as the Tories' chief whip Humphrey Atkins and Matthew Pidgeon is excellent as his deputy Jack Weatherill. The interactions between he and Gaddas skillfully capture that very British approach to political opposition; plotting to bring each other down one minute and sharing a joke and a drink the next.
Meanwhile Miles Richardson in the first half and Orlando Wells in the second keep the action moving with ingenious ease as the Speaker of the House and Tony Turner and Natalie Grady are standouts among a stellar supporting cast as Mellish's salt of the earth replacement Walter Harrison and tenacious newbie Ann Taylor respectively.
As the government’s attempts to hang on to power become more and more fraught the story winds its way to its inevitable and poignant conclusion. The show's emotional powder is kept well and truly dry with the result that a scene in which Ian Barritt’s loyal but ailing MP for Batley and Morley finds out his vote may have saved the government from a devastating vote of no confidence is heart-breaking.
Clever staging and lighting allows the action to move at breakneck speed from the gritty Labour whips battling to keep power in one room to the snobbish Tories trying to wrestle it from them in the next (left and right of the stage respectively of course). And in a really nice touch the Commons benches on stage are filled with audience members who get a front row seat from which to observe the action.
Among all of the hilarity and absurdity of this warts and all portrayal of Westminster, This House still manages to leave you with the feeling that Parliament, for all of its flawed traditions, is a grand and ultimately worthwhile institution.
Big Ben, the huge face of which looms over the production throughout, provides a symbol of a fragile Labour government which, in the words of that famous Conservative election poster, ‘isn’t working’ and as Thatcher's iconic words bring the show to a close one can't help but feel a sense of nostalgia for what has been lost.
Nonetheless, though this utterly compelling production portrays a bygone era of Westminster politics, its modern parallels are where it is at its most profound.
It’s a reminder to those old enough to remember, and an education for those who are not, that the political turmoil of today are anything but new. And, in the words of Sir Nick Clegg, a man not inexperienced in minority governments, an exquisite portrayal of the reality of parliamentary democracy, or as Clegg puts it 'one of one of the most enduring dilemmas of politics down the ages - the balance between principle and practice, idealism and reality’.
This House plays at The REP until Saturday 21 April.
"Mind-blowing musical madness and mayhem..."
In a whirl I left the very warm and welcoming Derby Theatre last night thinking to myself did that just happen? This was my first Spam experience. Although its been on stage for yonks I just haven't been in the right place at the right time to witness it and, being an avid fan of all things Monty Python, Carry On, British sea-side and good ole traditional English panto, I was glad I did as it was right up my flagpole.
This hilarious, ripped-off stage version of the original Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie really is just as funny and insane as the critics have reported and it certainly dazzled me into a frenzy, leaving me feeling happy and energized and eager to buy a coconut. Not bad for a Tuesday night out.
Eric Idol is a legend. His writing and song lyrics are beyond genius and his popularity still sits at the top after 50 successful global years in the comedy business. Its a musical mickey-take, a ridiculous slapstick with the all-familiar Python flown-in cardboard feet, a killer rabbit, invisible horses, bad puns, musical madness and mayhem.
With the show set at a fabulous pace the cast, as a whole, is simply glorious, lovable and untouchable with Bob Harms leading as King Arthur and Sarah Harlington as Lady of the Lake, both vocally magnificent. Director Daniel Buckroyd has ensured a seamless production of the highest standard and the choreography by Ashley Nottingham is notably outstanding - from fish slapping Fins to glitzy show girls, from dancing knights to ballet dancing princes, the audience is treated to hilarious tap routines, high kicks, chases, death scenes and character routines performed by an adept all-singing all-dancing cast who own the stage completely.
Musical Director, Dean McDermot, keeps everything running in perfect time and the simple set design is all that is needed, considering the cast's personality is big enough to fill a football stadium. Excellently costumed and with tech perfection this show is five star. Get a ticket if you can and if you can't just remember to 'always look on the bright side of life!'.
Runs to 21 April. Suitable for everyone.
A brand-new musical has arrived in town, inspired by Sting’s childhood experiences this personal, political play brings a wave of welcomed freshness to the UK’s musical theatre scene.
Setting sail on a UK-tour, this new musical promises to touch the hearts of audiences alike, telling the familiar tale of the importance of a united front when faced against all odds. Set against the backdrop of the diminishing shipbuilding industry, the play tells of the courage of one community in opposing the closure of their shipyard, but more than that it shows how each person’s life is deeply affected, and intertwined with the next by the shipyard, where Utopia, the last ship is soon to set sail.
It comes as no surprise that when Sting is behind the music and lyrics, the most poignant moments of the musical are found within the songs. It is fair to say every cast member sings their heart out on stage, which is the power needed to deliver such emotive musical numbers. Choosing to focus more on voice than movements highlights where the heart of this musical lies: the lyrics.
Do not worry; this play is not all doom and gloom. There are comical moments threaded throughout, with a particularly memorable number performed by Frances McNamee, as Meg, whose childhood sweetheart went off to sea, and let’s just say he did not hastily return. The bitterness felt becomes one of the best moments on stage, as with the support of her fellow shipyard women, Meg eagerly warns that you should never trust a sailor.
The set design is inventive, making use of a tight space to manoeuvre between different locations around the shipyard throughout the play. With a clever use of screens, you are transported from the gates of the shipyard, to a church within seconds. The main backdrop is a large wall surrounding the shipyard; barely changing throughout this is a reminder that this yard is what grounds the people around it, and is essentially their life.
The Last Ship plays at the New Alexandra Theatre until 21st April.
75 years since first opening on Broadway, Leamington & Warwick Musical Theatre Society gloriously brought to life Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical triumph, Oklahoma!
Unlike many musicals that open with grand ensemble numbers, Oklahoma! opens with just one actor, Curly, taking centre stage as he sings one of the most iconic numbers, Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’. Chris Gilbey-Smith made for a swaggeringly smooth Curly, with sublime acting and a super voice he really did take centre stage through the night. His pairing with Bex Walton’s Laurey worked incredibly well. Walton brought a great feistiness to Laurey and their duet of People Will Say We’re In Love was a particular highlight.
Sally Jolliffe delighted as Aunt Eller, she was a warm and glowing presence on the stage throughout, with great comic moments sprinkled in her performance. An equal presence, but not for the same reasons, was Tom Vickery as Jud Fry. His brooding character was incredibly unnerving. There was a great supporting ensemble and I must say it was refreshing to see assured characterisations from these smaller, but no less important roles. In particular, Nelle Cross as Kate and the rest of Laurey’s girls.
There were some diction issues, with the accent causing lines to be missed and some occasional imbalances in the sound meaning that some lyrics were missed, however, this is only a small criticism of what was an incredibly slick production. Director Stephen Duckham added some clever nuances in to hide the larger scene changes, but even these were executed expertly. Perhaps some of the most impressive changes I’ve seen in an amateur performance.
However, the stand out element of this show lay in its stunning choreography, crafted by Hannah Hampson. The Farmer And The Cowman showcased this excellently in its vibrancy and celebratory atmosphere, however the pinnacle was the Dream Ballet, with Charlotte Cochrane in the role of Laurey in this beautiful sequence. It was utterly entrancing and a testament to Cochrane, Hampson and the talents of this company.
Musical Director Matt Flint breathed wonderful life into Rodgers’s music and there was nothing more joyous than the entire ensemble taking to the stage for the title song, Oklahoma! Full of vim and verve, LWMS proved that age is no obstacle; 75 years on and there’s still a sparkle there.
In the literary work On Lying In Bed And Other Essays by G.K. Chesterton, the great man describes Charles Dickens' masterpiece The Pickwick Papers as “...a sense of the gods gone wandering in England.”
Which is exactly how it felt tonight at The Core Theatre as an enraptured audience were entertained by Peterbrook Player's superb production of Spamalot. I do not think a single person would have been surprised to have seen the odd celestial being wandering around, so out of this world was the whole show.
As a Python obsessive, I must confess to feeling a certain sense of trepidation as I took my seat. The plot of Spamalot is taken from the 1975 Monty Python film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and I was not convinced that the unique genius of The Pythons could be reproduced anywhere, let alone in Solihull.
How wrong could I be?
The story revolves around King Arthur and his recently recruited knights attempting to find the Holy Grail. In a stunning line up of chivalrous persons, Andy Alton shone as the slightly long suffering and depressed King Arthur. It was a testimony to his 33 years treading the boards that he was able to maintain his rather melancholy character throughout the whole show, with all the madness going on around him. He was ably assisted in his quest by Patsy, his servant and loyal steed, played to perfection by Gregory March. Their rendition of I'm All Alone brought the house down. Special mention from the line up of knights (including Michael Greene as Sir Bedevere and Mike Bentley as Sir Robin) has to go to James Gough, who's comic timing and delivery took comedy to a new dimension, both in his portrayal as the 'outed' gay Sir Lancelot and also as the French Tauntor; if sent to the EU, this latter character could easily derail Brexit with one single word!
The strength of Monty Python always lay in it's success in poking fun at, and parodying of, 'The Establishment' and the order of things, and nothing showed this off better than Thom Stafford's brilliant portrayal of Dennis. He initially will not become a knight due to complex reasons surrounding the role of the Executive and the electorate in a democracy, but is then easily turned (and thus becomes Sir Galahad) by the introduction of The Lady of the Lake, portrayed with utter conviction and star quality by Penelope Simpkins. She completely owned the stage in all her scenes, and her rendition of Whatever Happened To My Part not only had the audience in stitches, but I suspect struck a chord with many an overlooked diva sitting in the audience. Her strong vocals really stood out among some stellar singing.
In every production there are a few roles which have the potential to steal the show, and the role of Prince Herbert, played with comic genius by Richard Perks, was one such part. It was testimony not only to Python's clever writing but also to Perks' natural understanding of the nuances of comedy that his conversation with Sir Lancelot about curtains had the whole audience rocking with laughter.
There were some sparkling cameos; Robert Bateman's portrayal of Not Dead Fred, not to mention his dancing, was excellent, Brendan Bloomer as Chief Ni Knight had the audience laughing uncontrollably, Richard Haddock was wonderful as Dennis's mother and no mascara was safe when Richard Bateman as The Black Knight challenged King Arthur to a duel and ended up with no limbs.
It seems too churlish to single anybody out, so strong was the line up; from principals through to dancers/Swamp Castle Guards/Herbert's Father, there was not a weak link anywhere. Every single person performed to the highest standard.
The costumes were magnificent and the set superlative. The band played with conviction and credit for the whole matchless performance has to go to the production team of Richard Agg, Jonathan Clark and Suzanne Ballard-Yates for drilling the entire cast into turning out such a West End standard show. The singing, dancing and acting were of top quality from everybody, and the tail of this motley band of knights and their search for, and ultimate success in finding, the Holy Grail was hailed by a well earned standing ovation at the end.
It was impossible not to be looking on the bright side of life as we left the auditorium, and this peerless production ensures that the legacy of Monty Python not only lives on, but is more than alive and kicking!
Spamalot runs at The Core Theatre until Saturday 14th April.
In a unique and hilarious celebration of musical theatre, the Old Joint Stock was rocking with laughter last night as Stage Door Johnny took to the stage in his premiere solo show Less Miserable.
Cabaret meets musical theatre in this absolutely laugh-a-minute show, as ‘Johnny’ rips off various musical standards. But it was more than just an evening of songs re-imagined, it was sheer genius.
Without spoiling any of the surprises, the jokes came thick and fast and for any musical theatre fan it was an absolute delight. With lyrics tweaked, Good Morning Baltimore became Good Evening Birmingham and The Surrey With The Fringe On Top became an expletive explosion.
Cats met Cats Protection, Evita met Europop and much more as the audience were left in fits of laughter.
A true star, Stage Door Johnny brought everything you could possibly want in a performance and squeezed it into a neat 75 minutes. When he comes back, which he no doubt will, make sure to grab a ticket because this is musical theatre cabaret at its most joyous.
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