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.
Never before have I seen such a terrific parody of the classic 80’s sci-fi movie genre as comedy duo LoveHard have created in their new show Tales From The Elsewhere. Take all the classic examples such as E.T., The Goonies, Back To The Future, the recent phenomenon Stranger Things, strip them down to their nostalgic clichés and inject them with the energy, hilarity and genius of LoveHard; that is what this show is. And it is utterly, utterly brilliant.
Jacob Lovick and Tyler Harding look as if they have arrived at The Old Joint Stock by time travel, wearing funky 80’s jackets and headphones. And yes this duo consists of…well…two people, but they constantly and effortlessly swap through an entire suburban American town of individual characters in (literally) a whoosh. Distinctive voices and small mannerisms distinguish the cast members of this sci-fi story of a group of ordinary school kids, who discover some mysterious cassette tapes at a yard sale and inadvertently initiate a monster invasion putting their town in jeopardy. Jumping from the group of high school misfits, their crushes, bullies, moms, teachers as well as a pair of dim-witted undercover agents and cops to list but a few, the energy presented in this duo is so fast-paced and it is remarkable how they can remember each character’s certain aspects. Also their use of space around the small Old Joint Stock stage is effectively presented.
The humour relies on parodying the genre but also LoveHard parody themselves, especially at times breaking character and corpsing (particularly during a scene with a hunchbacked old man). Their one-liners and recurring gags are so clever, witty and to some extent reminiscent of the contrast of sarcasm and innocence of Rick and Morty as well as the humour of Leslie Neilson in Police Squad and Airplane!
What is also excellent about this show is that while lighting and sound effects are used, it is a very natural and organic form of theatre presented by this double act. It is simply the pure creative minds among two comedy geniuses that entertain and make us laugh for an evening. Wherever they are heading to next it is crucial that you grab yourself a ticket and witness LoveHard do what they so brilliantly do. I would rush to watch them parody any form of genre or tell any form of hilarious story as amazingly as they did in Tales From The Elsewhere.
Once again, Giovanni Pernice, best known for his 3 years on Strictly Come Dancing, brings his dance show to Coventry. Tonight, was the first night of a nationwide tour, Giovanni claimed to be nervous, but it didn’t show.
Born to Win loosely tells the story of Giovanni’s life from his parents first meeting to his time on Strictly. Of course, the tale is illustrated by dances varying from waltz to tango and everything else between. The dancing is as slick and polished as you would expect with the leads (Giovanni and Luba Mushtuk) more than ably supported by 6 other dancers with long dancing careers behind them. The footwork is lightening fast and the lifts breath-taking. With costumes and shoes that sparkle and delight as they spin and move across the stage the overall effect is one of polished perfection and energy. The second act themed around musicals didn’t seem to give the dancers or the audience a chance to take a breath as the tempo was raised.
With a simple and minimal set, (a few curtains lit to enhance the mood), the star of the show is of course Giovanni. He thrills the audience not only with his dancing, the hip gyrations being particularly popular with the mainly female audience, but also with his humour and story-telling. The costumes are also designed to get a reaction with a number of topless or open shirted outfits.
A standing ovation at the end sent the tour off on the road with smiles all round. Born to Win is a show that is guaranteed to get feet tapping and pulses racing.
With a warning of mild peril this much-loved Henry James thriller, adapted by Tim Luscombe, is faithful to the original.
Set in 1840, the staging and actors immediately draw the audience into the eerie atmospheric tale of a new governess agreeing to looking after two orphans.
The problem is that soon after arriving she realises they are not alone. She also learns of Bly’s troubled past but now is the time to confront what really happened. By using an unreliable narrator, it powerfully leaves the audience drawing their own conclusions.
The small cast all gave impeccable and powerful performances throughout. With a seamless and suitable adaption to their acting to suit when the story was set. This included Carli Norris as the governess; Maggie McCarthy as Mrs Grose, Annabel Smith as Mrs Conway and Michael Hanratty as the man. The two understudies were played by Jen Holt and Tom Macqueen.
All the costumes and staging helped to build the intensity of this psychological thriller. The audience remained silent throughout and the sense of unease was heightened by the inability to predict what was about to happen.
The clever use of staging effects induced panic and their were noticeable jumps from the audience before reaching the big finale.
Turning of the Screw plays at Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 14 April.
Graham Greene’s 80-year-old story takes on new resonance in Bryony Lavery’s dark and thrilling adaptation of Brighton Rock at The Rep.
This brooding tale of the criminal underworld follows teenage sociopath and gang leader Pinkie Brown (Jacob James Beswick) as he attempts to cover his tracks after a brutal murder, leaving a fresh trail of destruction in his wake.
In a demanding anti-heroic role Beswick owns the character of Pinkie, his exaggerated mannerisms work perfectly and he captures Pinkie's tortured nature, dominating arrogance and inner struggles with great skill.
Sarah Middleton produces a beautiful performance as naive waitress Rose, whose blind devotion sucks her into Pinkie’s dangerous world. The tragically abusive nature of their relationship is portrayed with power and sensitivity.
Meanwhile Gloria Onitiri is superb as the unwitting detective and good conscience of the piece, Ida Arnold, who won’t settle until she learns the truth. Onitiri’s naturalistic portrayal is striking throughout and she owns every scene to the point her character transcends the boundaries of the story itself.
Other members of the small cast produce an impressive series of cameos in which Angela Bain and Shamira Turner stand out with their versatility and characterisation.
A simple but striking set allows for slick changes of location to help the story move along at break-neck speed and a two-piece band playing Hannah Peel’s excellent score in the shadows adds cleverly to the constant sense of foreboding.
Pilot Theatre deliver a dark and thrilling reboot of Greene’s suspenseful story of the criminal underworld with bags of substance to match its considerable style.
Brighton Rock plays at The Rep until Saturday 14 April.
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