Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific is a classic show. Traditional and pleasing. So it was lovely to see Solihull Theatre Company bring a new layer to their production. With the use of digital screens, the mood and place were swiftly set without clunky scene changes. It was simple yet clever - and very effective.
The band were joyful although there were some balance issues in the first act, however this seemed to diminish as the show progressed.
Leading the cast were Jonathan Busk and Helen Gibbs as Emile De Becque and Nellie Forbush. Busk's rich, deep, velvety vocals fitted the role perfectly whilst Gibbs's poise and character was a delight. Lovely cameos came from the two adorable children James Price and Eva Ghazanfari, who had the daunting task of opening the show.
James Gough made for a suitably hilarious Luther Billis and although there were moments where his accent slipped his performance was utterly engaging.
Supported well by Daniel Peet and Michael Greene, the entire male ensemble delivered strong harmonies from the outset. Equally impressive were the female ensemble and when the whole cast joined together for the rousing final number, arranged by Kris Chase-Byrne, it made for a poignant finale.
Fantastic performances came from Chris Johnstone as Lieutenant Cable and Leah Alcock as Bloody Mary. Both with excellent characterisation and lovely voices, they stole their respective scenes.
Under the accomplished direction of Andrew Johnson, the show was a mighty success. Congratulations to all involved.
Cole Porter’s Anything Goes burst onto Brewhouse’s stage, courtesy of local group, Mellow Dramatics. Since first premiering back in 1934, the glitzy musical is a perennial favourite and it is abundantly clear why. From catchy songs to exhilarating dancing, the show fizzes with glamour from the offset. Therefore, it was a joy to see such an exuberant group perform this show with the panache it deserves.
The endearingly cheeky Billy Crocker was played wonderfully by Tom Brassington – his dulcet tones rang through the auditorium and brought much of the humour throughout the night. He was paired well with Lucy Warner as Hope Harcourt and when their voices came together there were some touching harmonies. Another pairing that garnered many a laugh was Dan Robb as the suitably sleazy Moonface Martin and Natasha Ingham as the ditsy Bonnie.
However, stealing the show was the duo of Joe Bromfield as Evelyn and Lucy Robinson as Reno. Both excellent, their characterisation was delightful from the offset. A particular highlight was Let’s Misbehave, whilst Robinson shone in Blow, Gabriel Blow.
Under the direction of Andrew Warner and musical direction of Sara Kimber the pace was good, with a lovely touch at the beginning as members of the cast mingled with the audience (all in character of course!). Harmonies were tight amongst the whole ensemble, although there were a couple of moments where the ensemble were a little quiet.
Simple, yet very clever staging created an effective backdrop for the show and added to the versatility. It was, however, the breathtaking choreography that wrapped this show together into a thoroughly enjoyable package. With complicated dance routines, carefully executed by the competent cast, Anything Goes is a thrill from beginning to end.
Make sure to catch it, before it sails out of town.
The Grange Player’s production of Edith in the Dark at the Grange Playhouse really captured the darker recesses of E.Nesbit’s mind, a dramatically different portrayal to the happy and innocent figure she is generally perceived to be.
A couple of rocky moments notwithstanding (due to opening night nerves, no doubt!), this was a thrilling piece from start to finish. Any production with a cast of only three is always going to be a challenge, yet Samantha Allan (Nesbit herself), Lynne Young (Biddy Thricefold), and Rob Meehan (the mysterious Mr Guasto) should pride themselves on the creativity and skill with which they so fluidly became the other minor characters.
A flurry of changing accents, mannerisms and, at times, gender-swapping was executed well, creating great entertainment in the more humorous parts and an uneasy sense of foreboding in the more intense. The stories-within-the-play were especially dramatic, with good interaction between the three actors, and an especially enjoyable performance given by Lynne Young in her role as Cobbs.
Humour was generally used to good effect, asides to the audience and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall providing a sense of relief to the audience at darker moments, although sometimes this felt slightly out of place with the intense atmosphere built up by the action preceding and following it.
Lighting and music were wonderfully designed to give the audience a sense of unease from the word go. Flickering lights, eerie silhouettes, haunting musical renditions of familiar songs along with the incongruous animated chatter of the party ‘behind the scenes’ kept the audience on edge, never quite letting them relax and keeping them engaged with the story.
Under the good direction by Rachel Waters, once the mood was set it was mostly kept there. The underlying darkness of the play was always quietly bubbling away; ready to lead the audience into a false sense of security following the darker sub-stories, before throwing them straight back into dramatic plot twists as new stories from Nesbit’s past came to light.
American Idiot is more a punk rock opera than a jukebox musical. Using the music of the band Green Day played by an excellent live band, it launches itself at you and doesn’t hold back for the whole show.
Three young men living in a small town are trying to find a purpose to their existence in America in the aftermath of 9/11. The story follows the trio as they head down different paths in life to find that purpose.
This show was not initially written to be performed as a musical; it started life as an album intended to take Green Day’s fans to new musical territory. Unlike some musicals based on existing ‘pop’ music, the songs help to tell the story, as in an opera. No song feels dropped in because it has to be in the show, they have a narrative purpose and weight.
There is a level of energy from the cast in this show that almost leaves you tired just watching. They are constantly on the move in energetic street dance style dance routines, which look organic and spontaneous, however they are obviously highly technical and skilled pieces of choreography and performance.
The whole cast are strong and engaging , it is hard to know where to look at times as you don’t want to take your eyes off anyone. There are two standout moments however in the second half. Alexis Gerred (Tunny) pours his heart into a solo fuelled by morphine. It is both beautiful and haunting in equal measures.
Another stunning acoustic solo piece (Boulevard Of Broken Dreams) was delivered by Newton Faulkner as Johnny. Faulkner’s performance throughout was polished as he delivered various song styles from acoustic to rockier numbers. Notable performances were given too by Amelia Lily as Whatsername, Lucas Rush as St Jimmy and understudy Karina Hind as Extraordinary Girl.
With a mainly fixed set that reflected the grimness of the times and situations the lads got themselves in, the lighting played a crucial part in setting the scene. It also struck the perfect balance between rock concert and musical.
This show tells it how it is, it is gritty and graphic, but that should be expected in a show with music by a group such as Green Day.
American Idiot is unpredictable, loud, visually stunning and powerful. If you go, to quote the song, “I hope you have the time of your lives”.
The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, (formally known as The Agatha Christie Theatre Company) brings a new play by the writers of classic murder mystery TV show, Murder She Wrote, to the Belgrade's stage.
This is an unusual play in that it doesn’t start with the murder. The story unfolds almost as flashbacks, these are actually part of rehearsals for a new play. In truth, the writer is using the play as a device to reveal the murderer.
All of the action takes place in a closed theatre, the set depicting a stage littered with disused props and furniture. This furniture however proves to be more than just old set dressing.
The determined writer Alex Dennison (Robert Dawes) commands the stage while going through a range of emotions.
Everyone is a suspect and everyone has a part to play in uncovering the culprit. Amy Robbins plays Monica Wells, an old movie star turned stage actress and bride to be of Alex, her role is unusual and varied as different aspects of her character are revealed.
Alongside Dawes and Robbins, other star names from TV such as Robert Duncan, Susan Penhaligon, Ben Nealon, Steve Pinder and Lucy Dixon appear in this production. With a cast such as this, strong performances are expected. Every member of the cast lives up to this expectation and portrays their character with conviction and panache.
A main feature of a murder mystery is that you, as an audience member can try to work it out before the big reveal. This production certainly keeps your mind working and changing at regular intervals. The clues are laid out in a beautifully subtle way that become obvious with the power of hindsight, but at the time can be easily missed.
This production is a gentle and enjoyable twist on the traditional murder mystery format. It will keep you intrigued and guessing to the end.
Splurge guns and pies at the ready. Forty years after Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone hit the big screen it remains a popular choice among youth groups everywhere.
Youth Onstage really bring out the show’s humour in a production at The Old Rep in Birmingham. The story is based on the mob rivalries of 1920s Prohibition America as Fat Sam and Dandy Dan go head to head for supremacy. Cue a gangland war, a love story and a lot of splurging.
Gibsa Bah shines as the protagonist Bugsy with natural stage presence, while Eboni Green has poise and a lovely voice as the sassy object of his affections Blousey. Thomas Ashen steals the show as Fat Sam with an accent which never once drops and strong characterisation. Needless to say it’s not easy for youngsters to look and act old, but Ashen gets the physicality of his character spot on.
He is well supported by Georgia Sheward as his moll Tallulah. An 11-year-old Jake Ashen impresses as Fat Sam’s rival Dandy Dan, alongside his wife Louella who is portrayed nicely by Phoebe Mason. Meanwhile Nicholas Eynon-Colon impresses as Fizzy, particularly in a delightful rendition of Tomorrow.
The action moves along at a good pace and there’s strong support from Esme Read and Bethany Leonard as Lt. O’Dreary and Captain Smolsky; the hapless police team trying to keep up with the ever-increasing number of splurge gun victims. And Gracie Evenden lights up the stage in There’s No Business Like Show Business as the showy, pompous performer Lena Morelli.
Well done to director Deb Brook and her team for creating this fun-filled version of a classic.
The Arcadians brought a slice of Sondheim to The Crescent last night in their production of Sweeney Todd. This iconic tale is popular amongst many theatre groups and is a prime chance to showcase a wide range of skills, from both the performers and the creative team, as well as the orchestra.
It is a challenging show and from the outset the cast tackled it head on. Simon Burgess instantly made for a menacingly brooding Sweeney Todd, with perfect diction throughout. His strong voice resonated around the auditorium and he exuded a dark charisma, which fitted the role excellently. He was paired well with the delightful Gillian Twaite as Mrs Lovett. She impressed in the role, but at times seemed to lack confidence. However, in the moments where she was entirely lost in her character, it was effortless.
Daniel Guzman and Eleanor Hewer excelled in their respective roles of Anthony Hope and Johanna. Hewer's operatic voice was a joy and matched with the rich, dulcet tones of Guzman they shone together. Equally impressive performances came from the initimidating John Clay as Judge Turpin, his deep, ominous voice was suitably eerie and Michelle Burgess held her own as the Beggar Woman – a huge favourite with the audience.
Another super cameo came from Robert Tilson as Pirelli – he captured the Italian's slimy demeanour brilliantly, all tied up with a fine voice. And Luke Price's Tobias was charming, evoking not only the innocence of his character, but his alarming descent into madness.
The show runs a little long at 3 hours, considering there are opportunities to abridge, but equally it is a great opportunity to showcase the orchestra – under the accomplished direction of Lauren Gilbert. Directed by James and Pam Garrington, the overall production is a treat with a wealth of talent in both the principals and ensemble. Rousing harmonies sent shivers down the spine and it made for a chilling night at the theatre!
This production of The Wizard of Oz is very faithful to the film, even the opening scenes are in muted tones making the arrival into Technicolor Munchkinland even more stunning. The duality of the characters is heavily hinted at before the twister hits and transports the house and Dorothy to Oz. Clever use of Ultra Violet depicts the difficult to stage tornado to great effect.
Dorothy (Chloe McDonald) captures the hearts of the audience instantly. Her voice soars in Over the Rainbow and masters the quick tempo Jitterbug. This young lady commands the stage with great presence. Dorothy’s three friends along the way are equally well cast. Matthew Sweet as Scarecrow, Joe Capar as Tinman and Ashley Clifford as Lion all performed their signature numbers with moments that made them their own. Their characters were strong and consistent throughout.
The battle between good and evil was fought out by Megan Caen (Glinda) and Emma Davies (Wicked Witch). The contrast between the two was marked, Davies wicked cackle rang through the rafters deliciously while Caen was goodness personified.
Coventry YOG always has a big supporting chorus, although there aren’t many numbers for them in this show, they were used to great effect when they did appear on stage. The Munchkins were delightful, the Mayor especially giving her all in her cameo role. A big number is the Merry Old Land of Oz, everyone gets a chance to shine in this routine, which they do with beaming smiles and enthusiastic moves. Although not one of the best known scenes, the Jitterbug was a joy to watch with unusual costumes and brilliant choreography.
The Wizard of Oz is a timeless piece of theatre; its morals are a valid now as they were when it was first written. This isn’t just a family show, it’s an escape for all ages into a world of colour and joy. It’s a chance to enjoy a favourite story performed by a talented group.
Following the rise and untimely demise of Eva Peron, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice's musical, Evita, is lesser performed on the amateur circuit. Therefore, it's an achievement in itself that the courageous Brownhills Musical Theatre Company tackled this spectacle.
Charting her short life, the musical captures snapshots as she ultimately becomes the ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation.’ The audience were transported to Argentina almost instantaneously, drawn in by the clever direction from the offset. The cyclical nature of the play results in the opening being the announcement of Evita’s death and that same image is what you leave with at the end.
The dark, solemn beginning lulls you in and then the stage explodes with colour as Alison Room’s Eva takes centre stage in the thrilling Buenos Aires. Room was a joy. She transitioned from the young, vivacious Peron, to the determined leader into the fragile woman. It was utterly captivating, to the point that by her last number you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium. Strong in both character and voice, many of the iconic numbers shone through. Don’t Cry For Me Argentina was beautifully understated, it wasn't a show-stopper, but this was a good thing – it was well-crafted and sumptuously delivered. Compared to the vibrancy of Rainbow High and And The Money Kept Rolling In – which were colourful, delightful ensemble numbers, led confidently by Room.
Richard Ainslie’s Che held his own amongst the bustling stage; with many complicated numbers he narrated the action exceedingly well. However, with moments of such quick melodious exchanges, there were times where words became lost, but this is only a minor point in what was an overall accomplished performance.
Jamie Norgrove was well suited to the role of Peron. Commanding on stage, it was a strong pairing between himself and Room. Meanwhile, Brett Dewsbury as Magaldi and Emma Annis as The Mistress were both excellent supporting principals. With Annis’s glorious rendition of Another Suitcase In Another Hall and great vocals from Dewsbury in On This Night of a Thousand Stars.
Karl Steele’s production was suitably elegant and visually stunning. It was a well-executed and sophisticated show, with each member of the cast, whether principal or ensemble, playing their part. A shining example of this was during the opening of Requiem, as four mourners gathered and harmoniously sang (Emma Annis, Leigh Haywood, Helena King and Linzie Booth).
Under the musical direction of Ian Room the band glowed and with choreography from Jill Horne and Elizabeth Hill, it added yet another layer to this impressive production. The whole company should be mightily proud.
As the house lights came up at the end of this one act drama I turned to my wife and asked if an hour and a half had really past. I had completely lost all track of time, so drawn in was I to the world of André, the elderly man at the center of Florian Zeller’s play. Given that the play deals with André’s descent into ever increasing confusion and bewilderment brought on by dementia, my bemusement was totally apt.
We see a dizzying series of scenes from André’s point of view. Everything in front of us is designed to enhance the effect of the central character’s disorientation. The tiny single room set (Miriam Buether) immediately shows the size of André’s remaining world. The blackness that suddenly interrupts the action and shows some sort of passing of time is likewise symbolic. The darkness, and the gradually distorting Bach Partita that accompanies it, are powerful characters in the drama.
Christopher Hampton’s translation is both extremely funny and completely heart-breaking. Hampton and Zeller have conjured moments from the protagonist’s life that may, or may not, be sequential. The visitors to his life may, or may not, be who they say they are. The play’s confusing structure is deliberately misleading. This is not a play that offers any easy solution to the difficulties of trying to care for someone with this most impersonalizing disease. Rather it asks us to try and empathise both with the daughter struggling to cope with the increasing demands of her Father’s condition, and with the man whose behaviour is becoming more and more unpredictable, and with it increasingly infuriating. It is a balance the text manages dazzlingly well.
At the centre of James MacDonald’s production is an Olivier Award-winning performance by Kenneth Cranham, utterly convincing in moments of lucidity and agitation. The impression conjured up by Cranham in the final scene will live with me for a long time; 50 feet away in the centre of the cavernous REP auditorium we could see deep behind his eyes into what remained of his character. It was a remarkable image.
Cranham is supported brilliantly by Amanda Drew, as his principal carer, who clearly loves André and wants to do the right thing for him, but also has a new partner who sees things rather more in black and white.
The Father is not an easy play to watch, but neither is it grueling. The amount of humour in the Zeller / Hampton script allows us to enter a difficult but very human world, brought thrillingly to life by a truly great performance.
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