Dead Simple is Peter James' most famous work to date and the second of his books to transfer to the stage. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's story The Premature Burial the plot is dark, twisted, and far more gruesome than The Perfect Murder (which debuted as a stage production in Jan 2014). Set in James' hometown of Brighton, the action takes place over a week and inspires many questions throughout, keeping the audience on their toes and shocking at every opportunity.
The music used throughout the production is haunting and full of tension. With Direction from Ian Talbot the stage is well used and at times manipulated in order to mask identities. The set, designed by Michael Taylor, houses several settings allowing scenes to flow beautifully rather than going to blackouts or bringing the curtain down on a killing. Punctuated with much needed light humour, the show is dark but never too heavy for the audience to bear. Immensely entertaining, the play is refreshingly modern and incredibly well acted.
With great stage presence the show centres around the character of Ashley Harper (played by Tina Hobley). Ashley has a profound effect upon the lives of business partners Michael Harrison and Mark Warren (played by Jamie Lomas and Rik Makarem). The audience become quickly acquainted with a web of characters whose lives will soon intertwine. Sub-plots and unforeseen twists and turns provide a feast for the mind and though barbaric in parts the story explores misguided friendships, payback, deceit, and the danger of riches.
Dead Simple is a crime thriller that breaks the mould of the traditional format. It sets the standard for future crime writing and nails the lid on the coffin of the outdated classics. Catch it if you can. Dead Simple runs at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Sat 4 July. To book tickets click here or call Box Office on 0844 871 3011.
There are very few plays that can claim such a famous and elongated history as Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. Having enjoyed a seemingly never-ending run in London's West End for over 63 years, with 40 of those years seeing the play reside in its most popular location at St Martin's Theatre, it could almost be said to have somewhat supernatural qualities of longevity. However, there is nothing supernatural here - it is merely Agatha Christie in all her cunning murder mystery glory and any dedicated amateur sleuth will be delighted by such a production as this at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.
Before the curtain even rises, the tone and time period are clearly established through the use of excellent music and then intensified by the revealing of a gloriously decorated and lavish set. Everything is perfectly crafted, exactly as you would imagine it to be, from the expertly painted wood panelling to the old fashioned leaded windows and we are instantly transported to this ill-fated guest house in the middle of nowhere.
Our first suspects are house owners Giles and Mollie Ralston (played by Mark Homer and Esther McAuley). They are simultaneously an odd match and yet a very loving one with Giles' dry wit and Mollie's brisk efficiency and the tenderness between them is clear. This serves only to highlight the growing tension between them as the plot unfolds later and both are played with conviction and skill.
Our first guest explodes onto the stage in the form of Edward Elgood's Christopher Wren and the sheer energy and enthusiasm contained within his performance leaves us exhausted whilst watching. He is soon joined by the traditionally blustery Major Metcalf (played by William Ilkley), the dour, pedantic and increasingly irritating Mrs Boyle (played very expertly by Anne Kavanagh) and the tight-lipped yet charmingly self sufficient Miss Casewell. Special mention here must go to understudy Jocasta King who took on the latter role with excellent flair, balancing nicely between disdain and the clear desire to suppress her past wherever possible.
Last to arrive are Mr Paravicini (slimily and intrusively played by Jonathan Sedgewick) and the brash, direct Sgt Trotter (Luke Jenkins) who strives to solve the crime with dire consequences.
The story unfolds beautifully, with good pace and much room for humour, allowing us to view the interactions of the characters with a more than suspicious eye. The introduction of each plot twist boldly encourages the audience to become detectives as the play progresses and soon we are desperately consulting those 'little grey cells' , furiously assigning motives and alibis as they are revealed. The cast play an intriguing game of emotional tennis, diving between comedy and palpable tension with ease and the final ending is nothing short of brilliant.
I strongly advise you to don your deerstalker, take up your knitting and see if your sleuthing skills can meet the challenge so deftly laid at your feet in this production of quintessentially British brilliance.
The Mousetrap runs until 4 July. For more information and to book tickets, visit grandtheatre.co.uk or call 01902 429 212.
As I walked into the beautiful grounds of Stafford Castle there was already a buzz of excitement and, as I took my seat, I was greeted with a beautiful set designed by Dawn Allsopp, against the stunning backdrop of Stafford Castle.
This marks the 25th anniversary production for Stafford Festival Shakespeare, which is produced by Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, launching all the way back in 1991. It is now one of the largest open air Shakespeare festivals in Europe.
This interpretation of the play opens in 1918, in Stafford, and actors had already taken their place on stage, presenting a revue to greet the soldier’s home from war. The wartime era was instantly evoked, with songs including Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow Wow and the audience-pleasing Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts. Adding to the proceedings was the inclusion of an array of talented actor-musicians, who skilfully aided the transition of scenes throughout the play.
Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, although elements of the storyline stray into a tragedy, particularly as Hero is jilted at the altar by Claudio, the emphasis is very much on love in its different forms. Benedick and Beatrice are the inevitable lovers that at first mock the idea of love, but are tricked by their friends into believing each are in love with the other.
Sherry Baines and Philip Bretherton took on the iconic roles of Beatrice and Benedick respectively. What made this exceedingly special is that they are a couple in real-life so the onstage chemistry was instant. Their bickering exchanges were hilarious and every line was delivered on point, making it one of the funniest interpretations of the show I have seen. A particular highlight was when they were each listening in on the ‘private conversations’ between their friends, who are discussing how much Beatrice loves Benedick and vice versa. Bretherton and Baines both had the audience in fits of laughter, as plant pots, lampposts and various other objects became their hiding places to listen in.
The charismatic Claudio was played by Tom Palmer who’s instant love for Hero (played superbly by Catherine Lamb) was endearing. However, when he is fed false information leading him to believe Hero has been disloyal, his character shift was utterly compelling. Palmer commanded the stage as he chastised Hero on their wedding day. Jake Ferretti was equally cold as Don Pedro, the normally generous and courteous Prince and even Edward York’s jovial Leonato turns on the wrongly accused Hero.
Jon Trenchard excellently played the devious Don John who orchestrates the plan to shame Hero, whilst the action was hilariously interjected by the bumbling Dogberry, played entertainingly by Phylip Harries. A particularly beautiful addition to the show was the music, including It Was A Lover And His Lass and Wedding Is Great Juno’s Crown famously in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Both sang enchantingly by James Haggie and the ensemble of actors.
With excellent support from David Westbrook, Kate Robson Stuart, Charlie Tighe, Genevieve Helson and Dan De Cruz, the show came together under the fantastic direction from Peter Rowe, musical direction from Greg Palmer and all of the input from the rest of the creative team, from choreography to costumes, lighting and sound design.
Much Ado About Nothing promises a stunning evening in a picturesque setting and it really is a must-see show.
Tickets for Much Ado About Nothing start from as little as £12. To book tickets click here or call the box office on 01785 619080. The show runs at Stafford Castle until Saturday 11 July.
BE FESTIVAL was formed in 2010 and its Co-Directors, Isla Aguilar and Miguel Oyarzun have returned to Birmingham Repertory Theatre with yet another exciting array of European performances celebrating diversity, culture, and equality. The theme of this year’s festival is contemporary democracy and the changing dynamic from an evolving society that is becoming more proactive in the fight for safety and justice.
The format of the festival is simple but effective: days are filled with workshops, exhibitions, and debates whilst a performance schedule runs every evening with dinner on the main stage between acts. No events clash and the ticket price covers all performances (dinner £8 extra). Everyone shares the same experience. International DJs and live music can be enjoyed until late, providing a thrilling festival vibe – I can hardly believe I'm in Birmingham!
I am experiencing BE FESTIVAL on the evening of Wednesday 24 June. Upon my arrival I witness an elated crowd enjoying Collage by the Spanish Bot Project. The free event has huge appeal and easily captivates the masses with light-hearted humour and skills honed to perfection. Using trampolines the performers jump through the air as if gravity is no object and funky tunes fill Centenary Square. Full of fun the performance inspires many smiles from the fixated spectators.
The evening’s theatre programme, performed in The STUDIO, opens with Acrophobia performed by Liv Knoche and Tobias Willasch, two incredibly talented performers who began their careers in youth circus. Using only movement and audio they convincingly portray a sweet and tender story about one woman’s journey to overcome her fear. Momentum builds, focus is never lost, and expression is well maintained. The young performers prove themselves phenomenal gymnasts as well as superb actors as the fear turns to fun.
The evening’s second performance Translating Lola is by Dutch writer, theatre director, singer, and actress Margo van de Linde and is nothing like I have ever experienced before. Exploring sex, ethics, power, and womanhood the audience are treated to what appears to be a spontaneous conversation across 2 languages. The tale is one of intrigue as the audience gain insight into the encounter which brought Margo and Lola (a Spanish prostitute in Amsterdam) together. A Spanish translator provides humour as she stumbles over certain expressions but all performers play convincing parts, comfortably removing the fourth wall and inviting the audience in.
After dinner, dancers from Costa Rica, France, Brazil and Spain thrilled in Atávico by Cia Poliana Lima, exploring the memory and how violent experiences stay with us. A profound piece of physical theatre it stirs emotion; intense, uncomfortable, and thought provoking. Music builds and becomes loud, sharp, and uneasy on the ears. The human body is used as a climbing frame as a man attempts to break free from his demons, with time he challenges them but they embrace him all the more. Powerful and subjective the performance inspires so many questions.
Comedy concludes the evening’s performances in the form of Jamie Wood introducing O No!, a strange homage to Yoko Ono. The piece is insanely brilliant, engaging the audience and taking humour into the unknown. Bizarre, random, and somewhat surreal Jamie captures the audience with his creative writing and likeable personality. Receiving the biggest cheer of the evening it is clear to see how much all performances have been enjoyed.
Followed by the sounds of rumba, sebene, zouck jazz, and gospel mixes from Didier Kisala Band the evening’s entertainment continued until late concluding with the feel good beats of DJ Ginger Dread.
BE FESTIVAL continues at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 27 June. To find out more about events and to book tickets visit www.befestival.org or call Box Office on 0121 236 4455.
Merrily We Roll Along is a musical with a book by George Furth and lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim. Following the life of Franklin Shepard, the play moves backwards through time, making for a bitter-sweet story. We are introduced to the characters at the ‘height’ of their career. However, as the play rolls backwards to 1957, the audience begin to realise the sacrifices Franklin has made in order to be in the spotlight. His passion lay in song-writing, he was a talented composer of Broadway musicals and had a fantastic group of friends, but all this has been abandoned to pursue a career in producing Hollywood movies.
The show is strongly led by three incredibly talented individuals. Elliot Lolley takes on the role of Franklin Shepard, with Lee Fisher playing Charley Kringas and Georgia-Kate Abnett as Mary Flynn. The three of them together are a joy to watch, with superb stage presence, excellent character acting and voices to match. Harmonies were tight and the trio bounced off each other splendidly. Old Friends was a particular highlight of the first act and It’s A Hit, in the second half, was fantastically tackled by the trio, which included much of Sondheim’s verbal interplay. They were supported well by Nathan Hughes as Joe Josephson and Emma Percival as Beth, with Nadine Bailey’s Gussie successfully displaying the shift in her character, from that of a Hollywood diva, to a humble secretary.
The staging is simple and effective, with direction from Laurie Asher that aided the smooth transition of scenes, and choreography from Katie McDonagh to further help with this shift of time. The band was fantastic under the direction of David Bebbington with strong principal harmonies.
This performance marked the final one of the year for SSC Performing Arts students and it has been brilliant to watch these performers grow over the past few months. Hear, hear to the class of 2014/15.
At Ease is a brand new play written by Rod Dungate. Based on true events, this touching story was brought to life in the quaint studio theatre at the Old Joint Stock. Presented by DD Arts, a theatre company established in 2015, an extremely talented cast of actors expertly depicted this poignant show.
Written in documentary style, the play tackles the extremities of the human condition and looks at the long road to equality. It is compelling, heart wrenching and hard-hitting.
The story itself is an extraordinary one. The audience are first introduced to Rod Dungate (played by Jack Richardson) and Michael Cashman (played by Denny Hodge) as they reminisce, suddenly stumbling upon a conversation about Alex Rees, a young man who was imprisoned for attempted murder of a homosexual. Rees had been sexually abused in the army, whilst Cashman was trying to end the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, leading to Rees’s deep-seated hatred of Cashman. The police discovered clippings about Cashman in Rees’s belongings and from then on Cashman was instructed to inform the police of his movements and any change of address.
However, what happened next could never have been expected. Cashman reveals to Dungate that he has received correspondence from Rees, from behind bars, painting a different image to the man that was initially thrown into prison. His story is a tragic one, experiencing abuse from a young age, to then eventually be abused at the hands of the military. He hit rock bottom. However, his own self-discovery through writing to Cashman is a remarkable thing to see unfold. As Rod continued to piece together the puzzle of Alex Rees’s troubled life, he didn’t just have letters, he managed to interview family members, namely Alex’s mother and sister.
Carl Thornley took on the role of Alex Rees, a challenging character to convey. Thornley brought out the humour of Rees and he not only depicted Alex’s volatile personality, but also his vulnerability. The performance he delivered was utterly captivating. Denny Hodge’s Cashman, much as Jack Richardson’s Rod Dungate, were eloquent performances. Richardson acted as narrator, leading the audience through each and every discovery, the missing links, you were there with Rod, experiencing his journey. The first half ends with a stirring monologue, expertly captured by Richardson.
Hodge’s performance was enthralling and did justice to the beautiful words that Cashman originally spoke. Alison Belbin and Shannon Anthony played Alex Rees’s mother and sister respectively, and their performances were not only convincing, they were heart-felt and moving.
Bearing in mind this is a verbatim piece; the words packed that extra punch. These were real people, with real stories. The dialogue was interspersed with news stories and as extracts from the press were read, it eerily echoed events that are only just surfacing now; celebrities embroiled in provocative activities, exploitation and cover-ups.
Every single performer made this story so incredibly engrossing, and I would urge you to go and see it. It is an essential watch for anyone and everyone. A story that must be seen, heard and appreciated.
Performances run at the Old Joint Stock Theatre Birmingham until 20 June. For ticket information visit http://www.oldjointstock.co.uk/whats-on or call the Old Joint Stock Box Office on 0121 200 0946.
Find DD Arts on Facebook here.
Find DD Arts on Twitter here.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is not an easy story, exploring the horror of a World War II Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of two young boys; one a Jewish captive, the other the son of the camp’s Nazi commandant. It is tender, uncomfortable, and thought provoking. Written by John Boyne and first published in 2006 the tale has found mass recognition, being made into a successful motion picture in 2008. The current production, produced by The Children's Touring Partnership has been adapted by Angus Jackson whose skills have allowed the text to transfer to the stage with ease.
The play opens in Berlin. It’s 1943 and we are introduced to a wealthy German family who are clearly benefitting from the events of the War. Later we are introduced to a compelling little boy from Poland whose family has been devastated by the War. Though worlds apart in social standing, circumstance triggers an unlikely friendship.
The set is minimal and the stage feels accessible; there are no barriers between the players and the audience creating a much needed intimacy for such a heartfelt tale. Projection is used effectively, providing a timeline and setting each scene, making the story easy to follow. I have the pleasure of attending a school’s performance and I see many small faces beam with excitement as they soak up the live performance, observing every detail and digesting every word.
The performers are exceptional, expertly cast by Julia Horan CDG & Lotte Hines. As expected the stars of the show are the 2 small boys, Bruno and Shmuel, played respectively at this performance by Jabez Cheeseman and Colby Mulgrew. The audience watch their relationship grow, from humble introductions to an adventure that ensures they are eternally bound. Though fictional, the drama is based on historical events; the backdrop of the known horrors of World War 2 creates reality, encouraging a strong human connection and inspiring a compassion that is not easily conjured.
With stunning compositions by Stephen Warbeck and expressive lighting design by Malcolm Rippeth the show delivers on a number of levels. Powerful and moving, the production allows us to think on the past and look to the future. The sound of a slamming execution chamber door has a profound effect upon the audience; it is important we understand that theatre is not always there to uplift and enlighten, sometimes its purpose is to inspire and encourage us to consider our actions and choices in order to help right the many wrongs that came before us. Though we cannot rewrite the past, the future is in our hands.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas runs at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 20 June. To book tickets call 0247 655 3055 or visit http://www.belgrade.co.uk/.
West Side Story is an iconic musical, with an incredibly successful history, receiving 6 Tony nominations and later, when the film was released, it won 10 Academy Awards. So it’s no mean feat for any group to take on this musical.
Sutton Arts Theatre embraced this challenge head-on. With a 31-strong cast it was hard to imagine how all the action would fit on such an intimate stage, but this is what made the performance special. The added intimacy drew you in as an audience member, and you were engrossed from the overture.
Following the story of the bitter rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, we are introduced to an array of characters, played wonderfully by the cast. Maison Kelly expertly leads the Jets in the role of Riff, with superb vocals and a commanding stage presence. He is strongly supported, with a brilliant rendition of the Jet Song and a fabulous injection of humour with Gee, Officer Krupke. Leading the Sharks was Richard Haines, his dominating presence on stage, added to the threatening, hot-headed nature of his character.
As we meet the two central characters of the story, Tony and Maria, they instantly sparkle with passion. Played respectively by George Stuart and Phebe Jackson, their vocals were deliciously delivered, with a dazzling chemistry to match. Particular highlights included Stuart’s Something’s Coming, Jackson’s I Feel Pretty and their delightful duet of Tonight.
As tension brews between the rival gangs, the first half ends with a deadly fight, which was excellently directed/choreographed and utterly gripping.
Other special mentions must be made to Sarah Haines as Anita and James Mateo-Salt as Action. They each stood out in their supporting roles, with Haines’ passion-fuelled A Boy Like That and Mateo-Salt’s swagger-filled rendition of Cool. Barrie Atchison assuredly took on the role of Doc, interjecting the action with a touching plea for peace between the gangs.
Throughout, the ensemble executed powerful, solid performances, with some outstanding male harmonies. The show was brought together under the wonderful direction from Dexter Whitehead, set across a stunning backdrop created by John Islip and Mark Nattras with atmospheric lighting from David Ashton and Richard Pardoe-Williams. Anna Forster took on the daunting role of filling the stage with elaborate dances that not only evoked the West Side Story era, but somehow managed to fit onto the intimate stage. And last, but certainly not least, with the splendid musical direction from Tom Brookes, this timeless musical was stunningly captured by a group of extremely talented individuals.
West Side Story runs at Sutton Arts Theatre until Saturday 20 June. For more information and to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0121 355 5355.
With 129 years of experience under their belt The Birmingham and Midland Operatic Society (BMOS) are a well established amateur society with over 100 members. Serving the community they inspire public engagement and confidence in members, both those on and off stage. Their current production Fiddler on the Roof is being staged at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, a large professional theatre which promises to deliver 'world class entertainment'.
The production is traditionally staged and showcases an abundance of committed performers. Costume design is consistent and fits well with the feel of the small village, pleasant and homely. The audience are soon acquainted with the shows main characters; there is laughter throughout.
A highlight of the evening is the live orchestrations of the Midland Concert Orchestra, directed by David Easto (who has previously worked with Lichfield Operatic Society). Powerfully delivered with perfect timing the musical pieces enhance the quality of the performance on stage, providing an air of professionalism. Lighting is simple, but effective, with warm washes illuminating the stage.
The star of the show is Abigail Wells; though not at the forefront of the production she shines in her role as Hodel, one of Tevye's five daughters. Wells is a natural, interacting and engaging with her audience, at times using just her eyes to convey all the emotion needed.
The plot centres around family values and the lifestyle imposed by the devout practice of Judaism. Couples are matched through parental agreements - it is a world where free choice is frowned upon. BMOS appear well supported and generously funded and they always put on a good show, striving to improve and encourage amateur players.
This heart-warming production of Fiddler on the Roof runs at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, until 13 June. To book tickets call 0844 871 3011 or click here.
“Don't make it worse by thinking it's more painful than it actually is,” we are told by the Jewish doctor who tends to Bruno's knee wound, in a moment that perfectly encapsulates the play's moving juxtaposition of childhood against the terror of the Holocaust.
Being one of the few people who haven't read the book or seen the film, I wasn't sure what to expect when I watched the world premiere of the The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas at Wolverhampton Grand. What unfolded before me was a beautiful production of a story that everyone needs to experience.
Produced by the renowned Children's Touring Partnership, the impressive credits of which include acclaimed productions of Swallows and Amazons and Goodnight Mister Tom, this is an engaging adaptation of the thought-provoking and poignant novel by John Boyne.
Set during World War II, the production plays out through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the nine-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with Shmuel, a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence, has startling and devastating consequences.
The story is told by a talented cast, particularly Tom Hibberd, who plays the role of Shmuel. At just 9 years old, this marks his theatre debut and he gives a captivating performance as the young Polish Jew imprisoned in Auschwitz. Helen Anderson, as the feisty Grandmother, also has a commendable stage presence in the relatively short time that her character appears.
The staging, which features a revolving set, provides a minimal yet versatile platform on which the story is cleverly played out against a backdrop of interesting projections. Well choreographed movement, notably when Bruno goes exploring, gives the play a dreamlike quality at times, the childlike nature of which contrasts effectively with the ever-present horror of the Holocaust throughout.
The relationship between Bruno and Shmuel is sadly not always given enough time to develop, with too much emphasis placed on setting the scene in the - sometimes slow - first half. Since the play primarily focuses on the loss of innocence and the importance of friendship, this was an unfortunate weakness in an otherwise enthralling production.
The Children's Touring Partnership production of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas runs until Saturday 13 June at Wolverhampton Grand. For more information or to book, click here or call the Box Office on 01902 429 212.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.