Tackling RENT is a feat for any group, yet alone a company of 14-19 year olds, and Starbuck Theatre Company’s youth theatre group certainly impressed with their performance within the intimate walls of Malvern Coach House.
With strong voices from the outset, when the group joined together they created a powerful wall of sound. All individual performers shone in their respective parts and with no one older than 19, it proves how important youth theatre's are - providing an outlet to cultivate this exciting new talent.
Under the direction of Sarah Pavlovs, she has brought out the confidence in so many of these individuals, some of which had never performed in a lead role before!
At the centre of the story is Mark, the filmmaker, and Michael Hill was perfect for this role, from vocals to characterisation, he was Mark. Introducing the audience to the array of colourful characters, we quickly meet Roger (Jack Giblen). During an attempt to write ‘one great song’, a knock at the door introduces us to Mimi, the Catscratch Club dancer. In a very well conceived performance of Light My Candle, Jack Giblen’s suitably gravelly vocals complemented Olivia Mitchell’s rich tone and they brought out a pure poignancy in Goodbye Love in the second act. Giblen and Mitchell individually made their mark, with particular highlights including Out Tonight and One Song Glory.
Covering important social issues, including addiction and homophobia, the group approached the piece with utter integrity and maturity. Tears were welling as Angel passed away in the second half - a beautiful performance from 16-year old Josh Grainger in this challenging role. Paired exceptionally well with Sam James as Collins, his velvety tones resonated through the room. I’ll Cover You (Reprise) was exceptional, as the group joined together with rousing harmonies, it was incredibly moving.
Susannah Greenow packed a punch as Joanne, with a voice that soared above the ensemble numbers, whilst Katie McCann made for a feisty Maureen with an excellent performance of Over The Moon. But the shining moment came when they joined together for Take Me Or Leave Me, tight harmonies and cattiness aplenty resulted in a brilliant duet.
There were also some great cameos came from Lizzie Jones as Alexi Darling and Lucy Darby as Mrs Cohen, but the whole cast should be entirely proud of their achievements in this show, they performed with absolute conviction.
Singing with a track can sometimes cause difficulties, but it was abundantly clear that this group knew exactly what they were doing. Delivering a passion-fuelled performance it was an extremely touching show that I had the pleasure to witness. Watch out for these performers, they will go far. Congratulations Starbuck!
Set against the backdrop of its breathtaking Norman castle, Stafford's open-air Shakespeare festival has become an institution over the last 25 years. Although the programme has tended towards comedy in recent years, such a dramatic setting seems the perfect place to stage one of the Bard's darkest tragedies.
The setting for this particular production, the first for this very talented creative team, was the 1950's, when the British army was based in Cyprus. The set reflects Mediterranean village life beautifully, complete with it's own 2-storey house, cafe with its own jukebox and beach. The atmosphere is further enhanced by a wonderful lighting plot, which incorporates the imposing facade of the castle itself, and the tasteful and perfectly judged use of onstage actor-musicians, who performed contemporary pop songs and Venetian love ballads, usually between scenes, allowing the story to flow effortlessly. Despite a running time of nearly three hours, it doesn't once feel slow paced or laboured.
At the heart of this compelling production, however, is a myriad of powerful yet nuanced performances, even from the supporting characters. Niall Costigan's Iago was subtle in its intrigue and yet brutally immoral, especially when inviting the audience to be co-conspirator, without any attempt at justification as to his reasoning - his own convictions are enough. Howard Chadwick and James Lawrence as Brabantio and Cassio respectively were also particularly convincing. Whereas Desdemona has often been played as the victimised innocent who meekly submits to the hand she has been dealt, Madeleine Leslay's portrayal was full of life, vigour and love, and just before the moment of her death, her desperation to cling to life made her demise all the more tragic.
Commanding the stage and the audiences attention, Oliver Wilson's Othello was simply sublime. His transformation from the beloved general to the suspicious and hateful man was mesmerising, and seemed to come more from within than from the poisonous whisperings of Iago, and by the end his anguish was so great, his death felt like a release.
Everything about this production comes together beautifully, and despite being a huge departure from recent years, I would be thrilled to see more of Shakespeare's tragedies here, handled with the same deftness as this triumphant production. Go and see it while you can.
Two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical - it might not sound like much of a plot, but Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's autobiographical [title of show], brilliantly staged by the Old Joint Stock Theatre's in house company, is actually a witty and clever love letter to the creative process, where a writer faces so many challenges to write something truly original. From inner "vampires" to a lack of $10 million, Jeff and Hunter, also the main protagonists, must overcome them all to finish their show in just three weeks in time for the New York Music Festival, with the help of jobbing actor Heidi,and the wacky Susan, who gave up her career to become a "corporate whore". ToS's charm lies in the fact that although their show grows out of all proportion, and our budding creatives struggle to adjust, they fundamentally do not change, and stay true to themselves and their work.
Despite being self-referential almost to the point of obsession, this is a major device for the the show's funniest moments, where the fourth wall isn't so much broken down as blasted apart.
Any questions you may have about how a 5-man show with only four chairs and a keyboard as a set could possibly have reached Broadway are all dealt with in the show itself. Some of this may have been lost in translation, were it not for the outstanding comic timing of the faultless cast.
George Stuart's Hunter is simply magnificent. His lines were some of the funnest of the night and they were delivered to perfection. His soaring tenor gave richness to the company numbers and his turn as Blank Paper was memorable. Cecily Redman was equally brilliant as Heidi, and her rendition of the nostalgic A Way Back To Then was just beautiful.
Liam Sargent's Jeff was the perfect counterpart to Hunter. Where Hunter is lazy and insecure, Jeff works constantly to bring his show to life and never loses faith in it. Sargent's performance was equally standout with faultless vocals and wonderful timing. Aimee Fisk was superlative as Susan. Despite being more of a character role, she delivered every line and every note with utter conviction and came across beautifully as the slightly weird friend we all have.
All four of the company worked seamlessly with each other. Their comradeship was palpable and you cared for each character, not easily achieved in a 90 minute show.
Final mention has to go to Jack Hopkins, MD and the onstage keyboard player Larry. Though sporadic, all of his lines were hilarious and helped establish the paradigm of a show about a show. The music in the whole piece was of a professional standard and would not be out of place on the West End.
ToS is a triumph from start to finish and should be seen by theatre nerds and music lovers alike. I have been lucky enough to see OJSMTC a few times. I look forward with anticipation to their next.
Following their 2015 productions of Bugsy Malone and Cinderella, Birmingham Youth Theatre presented Cy Coleman’s Sweet Charity at the Old Rep. The story follows Charity Hope Valentine, a girl down on her luck and with an increasing list of unsuccessful male relationships… but will this one be different?
The cast narrated the story well and there were some individuals who excelled in their roles. Jenna Simpson shone as Charity, bringing strong vocals and acting ability to the role - her accent was particularly commendable. She was supported well by Ellie Jay Hawthorn as Nickie and D'Arcy Sparrow as Helene who’s costumes and hair really realised the 1960s setting and their comic ability particularly stood out in Baby Dream Your Dream.
Ethan Terry stole the show as Herman with his 'cheeky chappy' take on the role and throughout his scenes, audiences were totally engaged with his comic timing and quick witted nature.
Costumes and hair dazzled the audience and gave a clear setting of a 1960s Britain, which was accompanied by a series of flying drapes providing the backdrop.
Transitions were at times slow with visible stage hands distracting the audience - occasionally breaking the narrative - but despite this, the cast held the story well and there was some particularly nice characterisation from Scott Jennings as the nervous Oscar Lindquist.
As a youth theatre group there is always an opportunity to challenge the group further and the company should be proud of what they have achieved. Sweet Charity brought the 'rhythm of life' to The Old Rep tonight, well done to all.
Coventry Musical Theatre Society has become a group known for their high quality productions, this is no exception.
42nd Street is a traditional musical filled to the brim with tap dancing numbers. The song and dance routines usually masquerade as rehearsals or numbers from the show within a show ‘Pretty Lady,’ this makes the sparkly costumes and full stage tapping sit more comfortably than in some other musicals.
Peggy Sawyer is the new girl trying to get in a Broadway Show. Julian Marsh is the director of the new show ‘Pretty Lady’ – for him and everyone else involved it is important the show is a hit. It seems however that it is doomed as problems turn up along the way. Will everyone pull together and create a hit show?
The principals were all foot, note and word perfect, their characterisation impeccable and enthusiasm tangible. To single out outstanding performances is impossible as they were all polished to near perfection.
With a simple but effective set, the dancing took centre stage. The opening number set the bar high for the rest of the show with a stage full of tap dancers and a complex routine. The rest of the show matched the standard set with gorgeous colourful costumes and a grinning energetic cast. The enjoyment felt by those on stage was infectious; I defy any to leave and not have one of the well known songs from the show in their head.
This show blurs the lines between amateur and professional productions, my advice is to get yourself to 42nd Street and hear the lullaby of Broadway.
Based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Pirates of Penzance (The Australian Version) tells the same comic tale as its classic namesake, but with more than a nod to modern day storytelling. With this in mind, Artz Productions deliver a hilarious romp of buccaneers and beauties with confidence, and showcases some of the best local talent around.
The show opens with a rousing cheer from the pirate band led by Mark Hilton as the commanding Pirate King, as they bid farewell to Frederic – a young man of 21 years, who was entrusted to them as an apprentice by his ungainly nursemaid at the age of only 8. Once free of their charge Frederic renounces his life of piracy and declares to eradicate their swashbuckling existence, but his priorities go awry when he meets Mabel: daughter of the eccentric Major General. All set to escape his outlaw past with his beautiful maiden Frederic’s delight is short lived, as the King employs one last trick to lure him back into his life of sin – a bind he cannot refuse…
Gareth Ridge as Frederic and Shelley Hilton as Mabel are a terrific partnership, with Hilton’s grace and soaring soprano and Ridge’s impressive belt and charming - but ultimately naïve - rogue making an endearing but not too sickly-sweet pair. Both got to show their comedy chops too, with playful jibes and physical nuances delivered with perfect timing, especially in numbers like the schmaltz laden ballad Poor Wand’ring One.
That being said, the two were up against some stiff competition in the entertainment stakes, as Kate Malkin, Sarah Jones and Rachel Millar as Mabel’s wayward sisters proved a force to be reckoned with; with their alternative portrayal of the General’s brood. Their wit was on-point, choreography well executed and harmonies throughout of such good quality that you wouldn’t usually expect of an amateur production. Jones in particular embraced her character – and anyone else within grabbing distance – with vigour, demanding the audience’s attention from the start.
The pirate and policeman chorus too should be commended on their commitment to the roles, as their actions on stage never stalled or looked forced. Rollicking Band of Pirates We and Cat-like Tread bought the house down and (with gentle encouragement) had the audience baying for more, and with each encore they delivered a bigger and better rendition than the last until finally – understandably – they could rollick no more.
Credit too must certainly go to the direction of Rachel Millar: the cast were undoubtedly talented, but the production as a whole was slick, well-constructed and interesting – not the easiest of achievements with G&S - and (having seen much of her work) possibly Millar’s greatest triumph to date. Pace too was kept within tight reigns by Liz Talbot’s musical direction and the odd cameo by the lady herself worked a treat, although should things have got nasty we’d not have fancied the pirate’s chances against that baton!
Special mention must go to Rob Lawton as the oddball Major General who not only delivered that song faultlessly and in perfect pitch, but whose rapport with Hilton’s Pirate King had the audience howling with laughter and totally engaged. The to-and-fro of punchline and slapstick between the pair was a joy to watch, and supported by the able cast they captured the heart of this nautical caper.
Artz took a risk with this cult adaptation of a traditional tale, but their hard work has returned a bounty with this fantastic show. Get tickets if you still can!
In the hands of Kander, Ebb and Fosse you’re more than guaranteed to have a sparkler of a show on your hands and this was abundantly clear in the most recent UK tour of Chicago. Playing at Wolverhampton Grand until 25 June, the show is a sure-fire audience pleaser.
Exploring the notion of celebrity criminal, this sharp, satirical musical comedy is packed with iconic show tunes. Not only that, there is no room for error as everything takes place right in front of the audience’s eyes. The band is revealed centre stage as we’re transported to mid-1920s Chicago and Velma (Sophie Carmen-Jones) introduces the audience to the evening’s events with a fine performance of All That Jazz. Carmen-Jones shines as the murderous vaudevillian; with sublime vocals she was matched well with Hayley Tamaddon, who was a little firecracker as Roxie Hart. Tamaddon’s acting shone through, with a strong voice to match; a particular highlight was her brilliantly funny interpretation of Funny Honey.
John Partridge made for a swish Billy Flynn. Aside from some moments where lines were lost in the first act, it was a swagger-filled performance. A standout moment came in We Both Reached for the Gun, which was superbly executed by the whole company.
The endearing Neil Ditt made for an adorable Amos Hart, whilst Sam Bailey illustrated her striking versatility as 'keeper of the keys', Matron ‘Mama’ Morton - from belting out a fantastic rendition of When You’re Good To Mama to a beautifully harmonised performance of Class with Carmen-Jones.
Another unforgettable performance came from A D Richardson as Mary Sunshine, from vocal range to comic timing; it was a superbly executed cameo.
A big mention must go to the perfectly crafted choreography (Ann Reinking) it was truly impressive and with a vibrant band it really brought the show to life.
If you have a night free, it's well worth a visit to the Grand, you will leave flailing jazz hands and humming a damn good tune!
In the compact space of Sutton Arts Theatre, there was a sense of anticipation as the audience awaited the beginning of the show... and they weren't disappointed. Packed with energy, humour, talent, a great script and lots of quirky songs, the standard of acting and singing was high.
The story itself takes place in the 80s and with the clever use of television screens on the stage and 80s costumes you were instantly transported back in time. Robbie (Tim Gough) meets Julia after being dumped by his fiancée Linda and Julia is meant to be marrying materialistic Glen.
Robbie and his two sidekicks Sammy (Robbie Newton) and George (Chris Commander) are a trio of wedding singers and we watch their antics together whilst attempting to resolve Robbie’s love life.
The trio created a lot of laughs, with great comedic personas and timing – a particular highlight was the ‘drunk man’ who went down a treat. Whilst it is obvious that Robbie and Julia are meant for each other, we watch to see whether the pair will finally resolve this. Not one joke fell flat as the audiences could barely contain their laughter throughout the evening.
The stand-out performance of the night came from Gemma Smyth (playing Julia). Smyth's performance and vocals were truly remarkable - she is one to watch! Strong performances also came from Louise Conway (Linda) and Phebe Jackson (Holly), also showcasing their impressive voices.
In this small space, the group certainly packed a punch, with a show filled with talent and fun.
Cockroached was performed at the Old Joint Stock Theatre on 18 June. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, we are introduced to the few remaining survivors.
It was an inspired idea using the old radio equipment with the two actors in separate rooms, and it worked very well. Portraying the difficulty (yet at some times the carefree ease) of communicating with a relative stranger when one has not met in person was done very effectively, enhanced by the breaking of the fourth wall where the characters themselves discussed this.
As ‘Radio’, Alexander George was fantastically drawling and dry, immediately creating a sense of a more superior character. Whilst George, who was never seen, did excellently well to convey his character through voice alone.
Taylor, played by Freya Sharp, was wonderfully profound, speckled with moments of glorious ‘weirdness’ that most could relate to, stemming from cabin fever and years of isolation. From muttered monologues to herself, to sarcastic and cutting retorts to ‘Radio’, to her final outburst and meek acceptance of death, Sharp never failed to portray the quirky and lonely Taylor.
The story created a great sense of conflict from the audience during darker moments, where sudden flippant comments were made – we all laughed then quickly sobered as we reflected on the situation Taylor was in. Additionally, by not initially giving away the full backstory of why Taylor and Radio are in their separate bunkers etc., and gradually revealing the story of the end of the world and of ‘the things outside the door’ it kept the audience fully engaged, eager to learn more.
Lighting was used well, getting darker at more intense moments to create a more enclosed space. Music was also used very effectively, eerie backing tracks intermingling with the more upbeat tunes ‘Radio’ plays for Taylor, to constantly keep the audience on edge. A minor criticism would be during Taylor’s mad dash to meet ‘Radio’, it was accompanied by loud klaxons, which somewhat obscured the dialogue.
However, we were thoroughly gripped by the story and atmosphere throughout, and fantastic writing, directing and performance have come together to make an excellent show – the cast and crew can rest assured that they have created a very successful and thrilling production.
Probably one of Wilde’s most enduringly popular plays, The Importance of Being Earnest was brought to Sutton Coldfield Town Hall last night for a short run, presented by Richmond Ward Productions.
The first thing that instantly sprung out was the clever use of staging, in the vast Town Hall a play could quite easily be lost amongst the grandeur of the space, but in this case it most certainly wasn’t. A simple, yet clever use of levels allowed the audience to become completely immersed in the action.
Similar to many other typical farces, the first Act serves as an introduction to each of the characters and their stories. The two protagonists (Algernon Moncrieff and ‘Ernest’ John Worthing) were portrayed excellently well by Neil Jacks and Steve Hayes. As both of their double-dealings unravel, it transpires that Worthing leads a second life in the country, whilst Algernon visits his ‘sick friend’ Bunbury to avoid social commitments. Jacks and Hayes made for a solid duo, leading the production with confidence and conviction they shared many a humorous quip that left the audience chuckling.
We quickly learn that Worthing is in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (feistily performed by Catherine Keats) and under the assumed name of ‘Ernest’ a pithy little scene ensues as Worthing professes his love and Gwendolen accepts, mainly down to the fact his name is Ernest. There are only two problems: firstly, his name isn’t Ernest and secondly, Lady Bracknell, who refuses the marriage. Patrick Ward superbly steps into the shoes of Gwendolen’s formidable mother, following in the footsteps of actors such as David Suchet. He plays the part extremely well, not falling into the trap of playing up the drag element, but instead acted with utter conviction.
As the play continued into the Manor House garden, the curtains parted on the main stage and there was much positive chatter as the audience were greeted by a beautiful set. Here we are introduced to Worthing’s ward Cecily Cardew, played exceptionally well by Jazzmin Letitia. As mistaken identity ensues and the gentleman’s stories unfold, there is much hilarity, beautifully conjuring up Wilde’s signature wit.
Leading into the revelatory Act 3, it is clear that this show has lost none of its original charm. With strong support from Elizabeth Brooks, Peter Brooks, Alfie Kentesber and Stephen Green, the whole company proved their talent admirably. Even the smallest parts garnering a giggle from the audience.
Under the sound direction of Patrick Ward, this particular production was tackled very traditionally, and although there is much scope to modernise it, this superbly competent cast illustrated that sometimes nothing beats the original.
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