The classic children’s tale of Alice in Wonderland was recreated very well in this production from Blue Orange Arts, giving it a refreshing modern twist. Playing at the Blue Orange Theatre until 11 June, the cast performed with never-failing energy and enthusiasm as they whipped through musical interludes, quick costume changes and entertaining scenes.
Bethany Goodman kept good control of the story and came across well as the innocent and curious Alice and interacted well with a myriad of other hilarious and enchanting characters of Wonderland, portrayed with great skill by Matthew Tweedale, James Nicholas and Charlotte Fox.
Highly effective use of projections and sound effects really caught the audience’s attention – an extremely creative way of easily changing sets during the whirlwind tour of Wonderland! The space was used effectively, with characters sometimes coming in from behind the audience, making you feel as if you were part of the story. Participation was always encouraged in the songs – favourites being the tea party song (Move over! Move along! TEA!) and the rock-and-roll version of the Duchess’ lullaby.
The group should be commended for showing great imagination and ingenuity in the scene where Alice suddenly grows enormous, trapped in the White Rabbit’s house – a simple yet creative method to show this was to arrange painted blocks on a very small scale, as well as scaled down puppets of Bill and the White Rabbit being used to great comic effect. In addition, the successful use of physical theatre during Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole really gave a sense of falling into a mysterious and unknown land.
The audience interaction sometimes fell a bit flat (through no fault of the cast, but the children in the audience initially being quite shy and quiet), but the cast were not fazed and bounced effortlessly back into the fun and fantasy of the story.
If you don’t know the original story very well, some sections felt a tad disjointed and therefore confusing, and some characters were not always clearly introduced. However, it still made for a highly engaging and fun production that the entire audience was enchanted by; a wonderful, family-friendly show that captivated everyone from the start.
Two of the stars from BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace bring The Last Tango to the Belgrade Theatre for an evening of great music and stunning dancing.
The Last Tango is not a set of standalone dances, there is a story to be told, the story of George. George (Teddy Kempner) enters an attic, full of things from times gone by. As he walks around he finds long forgotten items, each one precious because of the memories it awakens. We are taken back to when George was a young man, played by Vincent Simone. During the evening we go through his life as he meets a girl (Flavia Cacace) falls in love and their times together.
There are varying dances to illustrate the story from uplifting jives, quicksteps, flowing foxtrot and of course a few Argentine tangos. The ensemble were as entrancing and foot perfect as the celebrity dancers, playing the parts of waiters, friends, soldiers and many more. Matthew Gent gave his velvet toned voice to many of the numbers bringing further depth to the show.
The highlights were the Argentine tangos danced by Vincent and Flavia, which each had a different feel and emotion running through it. Throughout the show the couples dance chemistry was obvious as they moved as one around the stage.
Of course the costumes are a delight as they flow and move around the dancers, most notably in the foxtrot and Flavia's flamenco routine. The attic sets creates the backdrop for all of the dance routines leaving plenty of space for the dancing. It gives George a place to watch his memories and enables some beautiful shadowing moments where his younger self echoes his movements.
The Last Tango is an old fashioned tale of love told through beautiful traditional dances, it was a hit with the sell out audience. This weekend it is the hottest ticket in town.
Saying a production belies its ‘amateur’ status is a phrase you will often read in a theatre review, almost to the point where it borders on cliché. What the audience of WBOS’s superlative production of Made in Dagenham were lucky enough to witness, however, could have graced any professional stage. For a local company, it was almost impossible to find fault, from the principals to the chorus, through to the stunningly good band, brilliant choreography and fantastic direction. You don’t see theatre of this calibre every day.
Made in Dagenham is a touching story about the Essex town’s factory workers’ fight for equal rights and fair play. In a man’s world, we witness the daily struggles of ‘busy women’ desperately trying to run a home, raise their children and graft every day for very little money, just to make ends meet. Their world is turned upside down when the management at their local Ford plant is going to downgrade their status to unskilled workers, causing unrest amongst the workforce. The situation comes to a head when machinist Rita O’ Grady, played by the precociously talented Rachel Davies, is nominated to talk to the management and express their outrage. Their twisted, misogynist views only force the women to storm out of the meeting and straight onto the picket line. This has far-reaching consequences in more ways than one.
Being a figurehead for a nationally publicised strike leaves Rita’s life in tatters, nearly costing her; her children, her marriage to Eddie (John Wetherall) and her sense of who she is. She stays resolute, however, and supported by her comrades, gives the speech of her life to bring about the equality they have fought so desperately for.
One of the remarkable things about this production is the strength in depth in the performances. Made in Dagenham has well over a dozen numbers sung by different members of the company and every one of them was on point. Tim Jones gave a hilarious turn as hapless Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, brilliantly supported by his foppish dancing civil servants. Sarah Moors was excellent as “Secretary of State for taking on the Unions”, Barbara Castle. Lorraine Foggin’s Beryl may have turned the theatre blue, but the show was richer for it. These are a select few of a raft of wonderful performances which just kept on coming.
The production team also need to be congratulated for putting together this extraordinary achievement. Musically, it was faultless. Every harmony was tight and the chorus blended together beautifully, even during the energetic dance routines. When the whole company was onstage and just singing out, however, the sound they produced was spine-tingling. The set was wonderfully effective, capturing the industrial feel of the factory perfectly, whilst seamlessly becoming a house, or a Whitehall office.
This production defied all expectations, even from a company as talented as WBOS, and should you have the opportunity to see this towering triumph, you will not be disappointed.
Made in Dagenham runs until Saturday 28 May at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton.
There was a palpable sense of anticipation entering the intimate confines of the Blue Orange Theatre for Night Project Theatre's performance of The Last 5 Years. Playing in the Birmingham space for just one night, the show embarks on a short tour for the rest of the week.
Originally premiering in 2001, Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years is blisteringly poignant. Tracing the 5-year relationship between Jamie and Cathy, the audience were instantly sucked into their world. Whilst Cathy moves backward in time to the beginning of the relationship, Jamie hurtles towards the end, with just one touching moment where they meet on their wedding day.
The somewhat claustrophobic staging reflected the intensity of the relationship, between the unwavering love and the fraught silences, plus the touches of atmospheric lighting (Chris Lamb) framed some poignant moments.
The show is a lot to ask of two people. It's a rollercoaster of emotions and it is left to Guy Houston (Jamie) and Jenne Rhys Williams (Cathy) to lead the way and bring the audience into their world.
On the whole this was achieved, through believable performances that highlighted the various emotions and events experienced within their relationship.
A slightly nervy start quickly dissipated and Houston made for a superb Jamie. With particular highlights being the delightful Schmuel Song and Nobody Needs To Know. His charismatic stage presence held your attention and although there were some moments when he could have projected a little more, these are small gripes that will certainly clear up as the week goes on.
Williams's Cathy was sweet, although it felt at times she doubted she could hit the bigger notes in the song, there were moments where it was clear she had the range. This is again something that is likely to settle after the nerves of opening night. Her interpretation of Climbing Uphill was hilarious and incredibly well acted and both Houston and Williams captured the ups and downs of a relationship beautifully.
With excellent support from a quaint 2 piece band (Chris Corcoran and Sunim Koria) and clever direction from Ian Page, Night Project Theatre continue to challenge themselves and bring new and lesser performed musicals to the Midlands.
As we hit the half way point of the Shakespeare 400 anniversary year, more and more productions and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays are making their way on to stages, television and cinema screens up and down the country. Amateur to professional, graduate performers to seasoned actors – all are taking to the stage to pay tribute to the great canon of plays and their creator.
The current production of King Lear from Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Royal Exchange Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company has been anticipated as a highlight of The REP’s season; with a host of well-known names billed to be taking part. Sadly the production I saw this evening failed to live up to expectation.
A stark set and dramatic lighting made for an imposing opening sequence that set the scene well, with Rakie Ayola, Debbie Korley and Pepter Lunkuse as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia respectively, each giving just the right level of passion and subtle reaction in establishing the sense of family discord from the start in response to Don Warrington’s Lear – an intriguing portrayal of an ageing man struggling between his desire to retain control and the pressures of an ailing mind. A strong start too from Fraser Ayres as Edmund and Alfred Enoch as Edgar in the parallel subplot of brothers at war with each other.
However these strong beginnings soon gave way to a very static production that saw little variation in pace or energy. The circular set design soon became problematic, with cast placed in circular formations in a way that somehow felt exclusive to the audience. Without the entrance of a named host in to a scene, it was often difficult to mark the transition from scene to scene and thereby establish which character’s house the story had moved to. The strong delivery and establishment of character at the beginning plateaued into a set of performances that saw little development and left me feeling detached from the majority of performers on stage.
There were some touching performances throughout, in particular Wil Johnson (Earl of Kent) and Miltos Yerolemou (Fool) who both managed to break through the fourth wall barrier and make a lasting connection, yet overall the production lacked the capacity to draw real emotion from its audience.
Perhaps it was the vastness of The REP stage which hindered the production. I cannot help but wonder whether the production would engage better with its audience by having them in closer proximity with the cast, playing a smaller venue or in the round. In a play that focuses on family drama and relationships, it is essential that the audience can connect with these families and go on the journey with them, but the distance established between auditorium and stage in this production makes this connection difficult to sustain.
As the programme for Jackie the Musical says, if you were a teenage girl in the 1970s Thursday was the biggest day of the week – the day Top of the Pops hit the screens and the magazine Jackie hit the shelves.
Profiling the heartthrob pop stars of the era and offering beauty, fashion and romance tips, by the mid 70s it was selling more than 600,000 copies a week. Taking its inspiration from the iconic magazine, Jackie the Musical ingeniously combines a slice of 70s nostalgia with a modern story of love in middle age.
Protagonist Jackie (Janet Dibley) is 54 and in the process of moving house with her teenage son following a split from her husband when she happens across a box full of her old magazines.
As she tries to discover new love her naive, frilly-dress clad younger self (Daisy Steere) returns to advise her. The two have great chemistry on stage with some lovely comedic interchanges cleverly highlighting the difference life has made to Jackie’s perspective.
Dibley is a natural as the present day Jackie; it’s all rather effortless for her but authentic and hilarious for the audience. There’s excellent comedy support in the form of her young-at-heart best friend Jill (Lori Haley Fox) and the bartender at their favourite bar, Frankie (Bob Harms), who steals the show with renditions of classics like Crazy Horses and Puppy Love.
Elsewhere Graham Bickley shines as Jackie’s ex John and Tricia Adele-Turner is hilarious as his needy new squeeze, Gemma (the horse). Michael Hamway is superb as Jackie’s teenage son David, bringing the house down with his high-octane version of 20th Century Boy. While Nicholas Bailey puts in a star turn as Jackie’s new love interest Max.
The action has a wonderful pace to it with snappy dialogue segueing seamlessly into a series of visually stunning and tightly choreographed song and dance routines. A gifted dance ensemble is central to the action, and Anthony Starr, as its main male member, is magnificent throughout.
The ingeniously easy to manoeuvre set is spectacularly 70s, equipped with raised platform, disco balls and colour everywhere. Scene changes are done by members of the cast but it's barely noticeable because it's all choreographed into the routine. There are some very clever nods to the magazine too, like the use of speech and thought bubbles during some scenes and a number of delightful interludes from agony aunts Cathy and Claire (Laura Mullowney and Hayley-Jo Whitney).
This is musical theatre at its very best, and a love for 70s music is really not necessary to enjoy this show. You'll know the songs because they're classics, but this isn't some shameless trudge through hits of the decade to get the 50 and 60somethings in, there's a story with real merit here, and acting performances to match.
It’s a triumphant slice of the 70s which taps into an enduring love for the music of the decade and weaves it with great success into a new story.
Leave your troubles at the door and sit back and enjoy this beautifully put together piece of musical theatre.
Jackie the Musical plays at New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday.
There was a tangible buzz in the air at the Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock last night, as the opening night audiences - some dressed to impress in 1920s costume - took their seats for Aldridge Musical Comedy Society’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie and they were not to be disappointed. AMCS have tackled the challenges of this show head-on and created a charming production with strong performances throughout.
Despite winning numerous awards and garnering great critical acclaim when the show premiered on Broadway 14 years ago, this rags-to-riches story of a young hopeful pursuing the American dream in New York still remains largely unknown to amateur audiences. The music is catchy but very little (other than the title number) has made its way out of the confines of the show to be instantly recognisable or to have the audience humming as they leave. The plot too is a little threadbare in places, with few surprises to keep the audiences guessing. Overall, the show lacks substance in the writing to turn it into a long-running hit and so it relies on the commitment to performance to carry it along successfully. This was very much in evidence across the board in AMCS’ production.
From the exuberant conducting of Musical Director Mark Bayliss, keeping an excellent band in fine energy and achieving just the right sound balance for the space, to the simple but effective choreography by Sarah Hemming, and the understated detail of the costume design (Sarah Carter), the commitment and hard work from the production team was easy to see. Andy Poulton’s staging is uncomplicated, making good use of the set in the confines of the small venue and his casting is just right with every single cast member suiting their roles well. All this provides a stable platform for the comparatively small cast to tell their story.
Chloe Hancox and Danny Teitge are triple-threat delights in the roles of Millie and Jimmy; each with excellent voices, a natural acting ability and an energy that carries the whole show along. Together they have a great chemistry on stage which brings light and shade to the story, while each shine in their individual solo numbers. They are well supported by Mark Nicholls (Trevor Graydon) and Hattie Sketchley-Bates (Miss Dorothy), both handling the almost cringe-worthy comedy scenes with assurance and poise. After an opening scene where lines were very rushed and difficult to understand, Kerry Flint settles well into the role of the villainous Mrs Meers, excelling particularly in the switch between her true character and alter-ego.
A special mention too for Linda Bloxham as Muzzy Van Hossmere, who managed to turn a role that can sometimes get a little lost in this production into the memorable performance of the night. Her vocals on both numbers were perfect.
A few lighting and projection issues on opening night sadly left some of the comedy scenes slightly missing the mark but hopefully this will improve over the rest of the run. This is a minor issue in what is overall a pleasant, slick and well-executed production.
This production of Save The Last Dance For Me at the New Alexandra Theatre really wowed through an incredibly talented cast.
The story is of two sisters on holiday in Lowestoft in 1963; when they are invited to the nearby American base, romance blossoms between 17-year-old Marie and American GI Curtis, interspersed with many popular 60s songs.
Having a live band for a fabulously 60s show such as this really builds the atmosphere; having a live band formed of the cast members themselves was truly spectacular. This was especially fun in scenes involving the sisters' parents, Mildred (Rachel Nottingham) and Cyril (Kieran Kuypers), where seconds after their scene had ended their saxophones were thrust upon them and the audience were launched into the next toe-tapping number.
The vocal talents of the entire cast were stunning, and this was especially evident and effective in the a capella numbers such as Sweets For My Sweet and Hushabye - a special mention must be given to Sheriden Lloyd in his role as Johnny: his tremendously low voice was an audience favourite. Elizabeth Carter performed wonderfully as Marie, engaging very well with her romantic lead Jason Denton as Curtis, who also gave a fantastic performance. Lola Saunders as Jennifer also delighted in her renditions of Be My Baby and Little Sister. The vocal talents of Antony Costa (Milton) and Sackie Osakonor (Rufus) were also demonstrated beautifully in several musical numbers throughout.
A mention must be given to Bill Deamer for his dazzling choreography that felt authentic and was expertly performed by all.
The only criticism is that occasionally accents slipped a bit - however this was usually quickly recovered and certainly did not detract from what was a fun-filled and engaging production, stuffed full of wonderful tunes.
It was lovely to see audience participation encouraged in the songs, and many were bopping around in their seats singing along, allowing the audience to really become absorbed in the story.
The Trinity Players’ production of ‘The Producers’ at the Sutton Coldfield Town Hall was tremendous fun from beginning to end!
Physical comedy and impeccable comic timing with lines raised the bar high and resolutely kept it there throughout. The audience interaction from Carmen Ghia (Ed Mears) and Max Bialystock (Matthew Collins) were also very effective, and especially funny. The Nazi-saluting pigeons were another major highlight and were used to great comic effect.
An inspired idea was the ‘Benny Hill’ theme with the chase scene at the end; yet another moment that had the audience roaring with laughter.
The orchestra were wonderful, though perhaps slightly overwhelmed the volume of the action on stage on some occasions, but through them and the cast the musical numbers were brilliantly executed. Creative choreography (although it could have been slightly sharper at times) really shone through in the chorus numbers.
Particular favourites were Along Came Bialy and Keep It Gay - the comedy, enthusiasm and energy of the cast was incredible which really made these showstoppers and a great joy to watch.
The entire cast should be very proud of themselves – the production was entirely professional and certainly did justice to the recent tour.
Not a single lead disappointed: from the wonderfully camp Roger (Elizabeth!) De Bris (Mikey Grant), the marvellously flamboyant Carmen Ghia (Ed Mears), the enchantingly innocent Ulla (Chloe Rawson), the hilariously audacious Franz Liebkind (Bob Atkins), the delightfully naïve Leo Bloom (Kieran Corrigan) to (before I run out of positive adjectives!), the outstandingly cunning, yet endearing Max Bialystock (Matthew Collins). All were talented vocalists and created believable, lovable, and very funny characters.
The chorus members were all fantastic support for the leads, and clearly were all enjoying themselves immensely throughout the production, which was lovely to observe and really made the performance a delight to watch!
Rugeley Musical Theatre Company brought a slice of the Pacific to the Rose Theatre last night as they performed Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic, South Pacific.
The story follows Nellie (Natalie Leighton), an American nurse, who falls in love with French plantation worker, Emile De Becque (Matthew Hunt). Whilst a sub-plot romance between Lieutenant Cable (Dan Smith) and Liat (Maria Bolan) bubbles away.
Set in WWII, the musical candidly explores racial prejudice, causing moments of discomfort that are equally hard-hitting, which juxtaposes the bright, airy musical numbers.
Natalie Leighton's portrayal of Nellie was pleasing. Her strong vocals held the role together and she could have probably let loose a bit more in A Wonderful Guy, because her voice was more than capable. Matched up with Matthew Hunt, he beautifully captured the role of Du Becque, again with a powerful voice that resonated through the room.
Leading the sailors was Jacob Bishop as Luther Billis, who's starring moment came in Act 2 as 'honey bun' - which garnered many a laugh from the audience. There was support from Victoria Smith as Bloody Mary, who's good voice gave an ethereal lift to Bali Ha'i and Emily Rogers and Alice Robinson were a strong double act in the roles of Captain George Bracket and Commander William Harbison.
Considering the cast was fairly small it was great to hear harmonies shining through in numbers such as There's Nothin' Like A Dame - a credit to the hard work of each and every person. Accompanied by a lovely band it was, overall, an enjoyable evening in the company of RMTC.
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