Question: How to put on a musical with fully produced and choreographed numbers, a medium-sized cast and brilliant and perfectly executed dance routines in a space not much larger than your living room? Answer: Use every inch of the theatre and fill it with superb, beautifully timed, highly nuanced individual performances, whilst crashing through the 4th wall both figuratively and literally, all to triumphantly successful effect.
Set in a dystopian future where ecological disaster has led to a totalitarian states in which all use of toilets is centrally controlled by the dastardly UGC, or Urine Good Company, Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company’s Urinetown satirizes large multinational companies, as well as environmental activists and musicals themselves. The story features the downtrodden population of a community, whose lives revolve around Public Amenity #9, and the endless struggle to scrape together enough money just to use the toilet. Failure to comply with the strict laws set by UGC, and enforced by officers Lockstock and Barrel, (Richard Haines and Roddy Lynch), results in being carted off to the mysterious Urinetown, from where all offenders never return. Set against this is the hopelessly naïve and innocent Hope (Mairead Mallon), daughter of the head of UGC, Caldwell B Cladwell (Karl Steele). In the face of fee hikes, the tension boils over and the locals, led by Bobby Strong (Brad Walwyn) declare revolution and that they will now pee for free.
Having taken Hope hostage, and with the rebels baying for her blood, Bobby realises that the only chance of keeping Hope – who he has fallen in love with – alive, as well as himself, is to meet with Cladwell and his cronies before they are surrounded and all sent to Urinetown.
The plot plays out in an entirely predictable (although this is the point) yet hysterical fashion, with every cliché and archetype being satirized mercilessly by this wonderful company of actors.
Looking for standout performances in such a spectacular display of character acting is extremely difficult. All of the principals offered huge, sometimes ridiculous, but highly polished and precociously skilled turns in their respective roles. Haines’ Officer Lockstock who doubled up as the narrator was excellent at breaking the fourth wall between scenes in a way that kept the audience laughing all night. His dramatic delivery and “smell the fart” acting were a delight, as it was for the entire cast.
Karl Steele’s Cladwell was frankly ridiculous – a compliment of the highest order – and you will rarely see a more expressive actor on any stage. The two young leads also gave wonderful performances, worthy of any professional theatre.
Where this production really excels is the use of the whole company in such a small space. Each and every performance was thought out to the last detail, and was perfect, even less than a foot away from the audience. The dance numbers were exciting – OJSMTC have a skilled corps of multiskilled dancers – all the while maintaining pitch perfect harmonies. The lighting plot and set design worked extremely effectively in the space and added to the eerie, dystopian atmosphere.
Theatre at the Old Joint Stock is fast becoming synonymous with quality, and Urinetown does not disappoint. It’s a privilege to see.
Urinetown runs at the Old Joint Stock Theatre from 28 July – 6 August.
How do you measure a year? Well ask any musical theatre fan and they will simply respond: Love. Set in the American AIDS epidemic, a young group of artists question their experiences of love, passion and life. This internationally acclaimed production is brought to the Old Rep stage by Michael Neri and his wonderfully talented cast with a company ranging in ages and professional status.
A sparse, industrial set – comprising of scaffolding bars, steel deck and rope – presented itself from the off and set the tone for the aggressive, gritty realism of poverty and isolation; helping to stimulate the narrative before the show had begun.
One element that enhanced this industrialised set was Charlie Morgan-Jones' open rig lighting design which created some beautifully artistic images throughout the performance: this was particularly apparent in Seasons Of Love. There were some moments where the lighting made it difficult to see some of the performers expressions and some facets of the individual performances were missed.
The cast led the narrative well with some strong vocal moments – notably during Take Me or Leave Me with Ashleigh Ashton as Maureen and Sophie Poulton as Joanne. The two strongest vocals in the cast came into play here and they should be commended for continuing to such a high standard despite sound difficulties. This was an issue unto itself and was apparent that there were some sound issues throughout which distracted the audience on many occasions and contributed to confusing the narrative, but the cast handled the technical opening night glitches very professionally.
Rhys Owen stole the show as Collins throughout. The character’s struggles were well realised by an actor who clearly knew this role. The role’s peak comes in I'll Cover You (Reprise) where Rhys shone and had the audience in the palm of his hand. A commendable performance also from the ensemble who provided a powerful backing during this musical number.
The band was good and although there were some timing issues, the cast pushed the narration and vocals and created real life in the Old Rep Theatre.
We are instantly intrigued by the three girls sitting in the dark, each giving a mysterious and panicked account of the situation that has led them to this point - a great way to foreshadow what was to come and keep the audience engaged.
Rachel Delooze was wonderful as the manipulative and spiteful Tamsin, and had some epic one-liners (which for censorship's sake I can't mention here!) that had the audience laughing profusely. A particular highlight was her fantastically awful audition for the role of Juliet in the school play and her consequent outrage at being cast as a servant with no lines.
As Kayla, Catherine Keats was hilariously airheaded, a loyal follower of Tamsin (totes!). Her character change from devoted admirer to scornful and bitter at Tamsin’s backstabbing was nicely done, and elicited real sympathy from the audience.
Billie, played by Leonie Carpenter was highly convincing as the nervous new girl, eager to impress teachers but desperately trying to be cool and fit in with her peers. Her darker side was occasionally revealed through cutting, pointed comments, hinting at there being something deeper to her character, and to the story.
Completing the cast, Benjamin Archer as Mr Holden was a good fit in his portrayal as the authoritative and no-nonsense teacher, bringing a good sense of realism to the play. His interaction with the three schoolgirls was done well, especially when berating them for not having done work – I’m sure we can all remember very similar situations from our own school days!
All played up very well to their stereotypical caricatures, embodying their personalities wholeheartedly and with great zest. All characters were relatable and it was great to revel in the comedy of the writing and the good interaction and natural chemistry between the actors.
Although the story itself was a little predictable and rather Mean Girls-esque, the plot twist at the end was certainly clever and made us suddenly reflect on all our preconceptions of innocent Billie. It would have been nice to see this go further and watch Billie transition fully into the figure we now know her to be.
If you're up for a night of light-hearted entertainment where you can sit back and get absorbed into the drama and fun of the catty squabbles and inane problems teenage girls have, this was definitely an enjoyable show!
Head Girl runs until 27th July at the Blue Orange Theatre.
We are swiftly introduced to the Dashwood ladies - suddenly thrown into poverty after their half-brother refuses to part with their fortune, their lives about to change dramatically as they move from their established home in Norland Park to a cold cottage in Devonshire. Through their misfortune we are introduced to a whole host of other characters, and in true Austen style a series of relationships and lies unfolds, with underlying stories never quite explained or resolved until the quintessential happy ending.
Stephanie Evans as the feisty and romantic Marianne Dashwood was wholly believable, a lovely fit with her older sister, the calm and sweet Elinor, played beautifully by Rachel Holmes.
As Edward Ferrars, Tomos Frater came across well as being humble and internally conflicted, and a charmingly awkward stuttering wreck as he tries to convey his feelings to Elinor. Matt Cotter as the initially loveable and endearing cad Mr Willoughby also transitioned nicely to the sober and contrite man he becomes through his deceit and revealed cowardice, while Colonel Brandon (Sam Evans), first introduced as the doting, pining suitor of Marianne, transformed excellently in the second act to become a man of passion, fury and justice.
All the couples were played beautifully with some really touching moments and natural chemistry between the actors. For a tale inescapably intertwined with romantic themes they did not disappoint and we were all enraptured by their charming and innocent displays of affection of young couples newly in love and sorrow.
Andy Jones performed well, both in his jovial kindly figure as Sir John Middleton, and as the suitably weedy John Dashwood, under the thumb of Liz Webster who was excellent as Fanny Dashwood, coming across as delightfully acerbic, snooty and condescending. The term ‘busybody’ is personified in the garrulous but well-meaning Mrs Jennings, brilliantly played by Jill Simpkin, whose infectious Devonshire accent provided great humour. Sam Allan also did well as the harried Mrs Dashwood and the unstoppable Mrs Palmer, keeping good separation of the characters. As Margaret, Katie Allen brought a great sense of fun and zest to the role, completing the trio of sisters who interacted nicely.
The leads were supported very well by the rest of the ensemble, and it was wonderful to see everyone throw themselves so wholeheartedly into their respective roles!
A couple of lengthier scene changes did slow the pace a little - but what a set! Cunningly engineered to have cleverly rotating double-sided wall panels and a bench that magically unfolds to become a hill were two major highlights - my commendations to the design and construction team for a simple yet highly effective and creative product. The stage was used well by the cast, with good use of lighting, especially during 'split-level’ scenes.
Swale's adapted version of Sense and Sensibility is a pleasure to watch, retaining much of the classic story while allowing a quick turnaround of scenes to keep up the pace and the humour. The Grange Players have created an enthralling production that instantly captivates the audience with the charm and romance of the well-loved tale.
Sense and Sensibility runs until 30 July at the Grange Playhouse, Walsall.
Guys and Dolls comes crashing into the Wolverhampton Grand this week as it narrates the tale of Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman) a swish gambler with a bet that he can seduce young, innocent missionary Sarah Brown (Bethany Lindsell). Lying parallel to this, the story also follows the all but perfect, unconventional coupling of Nathan Detroit (Max Caulfield) and Miss Adelaide (Louse Dearman) all in a world of Gambling Guys and Dancing Dolls.
A propaganda-esque signage set the scene for a 1950s world of Coca-Cola, Wrigley’s Gum and Oreo sandwiches! A series of posters, billboards and signs – all surrounded by bulbs – filled the stage and were creatively used to change scene, setting and mood. Perspective within Peter McKintosh’s set furthered the depth of the stage and the illusion created by the signage. Some clean and aesthetically beautiful moments were created with the set through Tim Mitchell's lighting. A particularly striking moment was the gambling underground scene where patterns filled the stage and gusts of smoke, through the tunnel set, really helped to take the scene into the under passages of New York. Alongside the well-presented choreography leading into Luck Be A Lady Tonight, the audience was pulled in by the tension of the gambling game. A definite show stealer!
Overall, the cast was strong, with a show-stopping performance of Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat led by Nicely-Nicley Johnson (Jack Edwards), which enthralled the audience. Other standout performances came from the comically genius Louise Dearman who controlled the stage with her brash and melodramatic portrayal of Miss Adelaide.
Although there were some fine dance sequences, at times the stage felt sparse in the larger dance numbers. However, further excellence was delivered through the orchestra, who led the show particularly well with a perfect balance between music and dialogue.
Peter McKintosh's costume and set design coordinated beautifully, and successfully transported the audience into a world of 1920s New York with dazzling dresses and some dapper suits. In particular some beautifully period gangster shoes reflected nicely on the shiny deck of the stage.
Aside from the brash musical numbers, Gordon Greenberg cleverly directed some important moments and morals for gender roles within the show. These were contextually explored well with questions raised on what it meant to be a 'guy’ or a ‘doll' in scenes between Sky and Sarah where their roles in the show are under questioning. The scene between the two female protagonists - Miss Adelaide and Sarah Brown who, despite being in corrupt gambling relationships, decide to force their fiancés to elope and marry, furthers this underlying theme of gender stereotypes.
Be warned this show does swing well into the night with a long running time, so make sure you extend your car parking ticket as it was distracting for both performers and audience when several left during the finale to avoid a parking fine. Despite this, the performance was well received by the audience and this Olivier-nominated revival certainly lived up to its expectations. Luck be a ticket holder tonight at the Wolverhampton Grand!
Aber Valley Male Voice Choir treated the Oliver Bird Hall to a delightful evening of music as part of STAMP's Fundraising Celebration in anticipation of Thoroughly Modern Millie playing at The Core Theatre from 1 - 5 November.
On a warm Summer's evening the hall was filled with the beautiful tones of this impressive choir. Starting with a selection of traditional Welsh Hymns, alongside Au Fond du Temple Saint and Divine Brahama, the harmonies were spine-tinglingly good.
The evening was interspersed with performances from members of STAMP's providing the audience with a musical taster of what to expect from their upcoming show, along with providing a platform to showcase individual members of the group!
Notable performances came from James Kelly and Robert Bateman in the rocky Rent duet What You Own and an ethereal Bali Ha'i was delivered well by Angela Billingham.
Lucy Clarke and Michael Smith made a strong duo in There Was A Time from The Gondoliers before we launched straight back into the rousing sounds of the choir. Adopting a more populist programme for the second half of Act One, the audience were treated to This Is The Moment, Can You Feel The Love Tonight and Nessun Dorma all executed perfectly, with sublime harmonies in Nessun Dorma.
They kicked off the second act with the wonderful Fields of Gold and there was audience participation aplenty in their rendition of California Dreamin' - a crowd pleaser for certain!
A spot of humour from STAMP's as Philip Lovell and John Glasgow performed the Kiss Me Kate favourite, Brush Up Your Shakespeare and there was even more hilarity as Angela Billingham and Kathlyn Lovell had a 'diva-off' in Duetto Buffo Di Due Gatti.
Bring Him Home was turned into a trio performance from Smith, Bateman and Kelly - with Smith particularly shining and the whole group took to the stage to perform the opening number from Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Closing the night was the final turn of Aber Valley and if the audience thought they had already been treated enough, they delivered a sublime rendition of Bui Doi from Miss Saigon.
This really was a celebratory show, with a joyous atmosphere throughout the night. It was jolly good fun and a great way to raise money for local theatre. Here's to Thoroughly Modern Millie in November!
An Audience Gorgeous George
A lovely retelling of the famous wrestler's backstory, and the character he came to be.
Alex Brockie was fabulous (and gooorrrgeous!) as George himself - and all the other characters he made so believeable! Flawless accent and character changes kept the story engaging and thoroughly entertaining, and shows off the evident skill and passion of Brockie. The transition between George from the 'king of the castle' in his glittering cape and loud fluorescent suit to the comparatively depressed and isolated character he descends to become was done wonderfully, making us all feel true sympathy and pity.
Audience interaction was played well, with great light-heartedness from the start, keeping us involved with the story.
The amusing and frequent breaking of the fourth wall has cleverly been written in to become integral to the story, while giving nothing away to the audience until right at the end, when all loose ends are revealed, creating a moment of great poignancy as we reflected on the whole story.
Brief musical interludes also worked well to suggest the passing of time and change of location, setting up the scene for the next set of action, and working effectively as an aid for creating the necessary mood for George's next story.
Too Tall to Tribute?
A delightful story of the struggles of a young actress, told bold-faced and with great enthusiasm.
Laura Nicholson performed a hysterically funny set, which was instantly relatable and engaging to all. Confronting topical problems and 'guilty secrets' we all share head-on was very refreshing, and was done in such a way to illicit just the right amount of humour without pushing the boundaries too far (cue 'the box'!), effectively alleviating the tension with perfect comic timing where necessary.
Nicholson has a stunning voice, and the incredible ability to use this to become many characters - Marilyn Monroe, Britney Spears and Tina Turner being notable favourites! Her impressions were spot-on and had us howling in our seats, along with wonderfully awkward asides that made this hilarious performance totally believable and endearing.
The use of basic and sparse sets for both acts worked very well, allowing both to be properly creative and free with their space, using only props that added to and enhanced their respective performances without any unnecessary bumf purely for the sake of it.
Both acts must be commended - to present alone for almost an hour must be incredibly daunting, to do so amidst (good-natured!) heckling even more so - neither were fazed and performed very well throughout. The writing from both Brockie and Nicholson was creative, engaging and funny and a true delight to watch!
I look forward to more theatre from Alex Brockie Productions - they are not afraid to challenge concepts that others would shy away from, and try something a little different, with great success!
Set in San Francisco ahead of deployment for a group of young marines, Dogfight tells the very human story of going to war. Theatre1 delivers a conflicted tale of head vs. heart with aplomb, and introduces some incredible local talent to the MET stage.
On the eve of their embarkation aboard a ship to Vietnam, a group of young marines decide to celebrate their penultimate night of freedom with a game – the Dogfight: each man pays an entrance fee and sets out to pick-up the ugliest girl and take her to a party, with the “winner” being the one with the ugliest date. New recruit Eddie Birdlace thinks he has lucked out when he meets plain, Bob Dylan-loving Rose Fenny in a local diner, and convinces her to accompany him. When Rose discovers the cruel truth behind her invitation she flees devastated, just in time for Eddie to realise that despite his dishonest intent the connection he had with Rose was very real.
Sam Parton as Birdlace and Emily Di-Silvestro as Rose made an awkwardly charming pair, and as the on-stage relationship developed their exchanges became even more endearing. The vocals were complimentary but also stood alone where necessary particularly during Eddie’s lament Come Back, with a near faultless turn in every number from Di-Silvestro making impossible to choose a highlight. Her innocence and Parton’s balls-y pluck gave their interactions a naturalness usually lacking from amateur productions.
In contrast the exaggerated characters of Bernstein and Boland, played by Sam Simkin and Max Birkin, as Eddie’s platoon mates were also presented incredibly well. Their over-the-top bravado impeccably exposed the naivety behind their gung-ho attitude, and the comradery between the 3 B’s becoming the foundation on which every relationship in the show is built. Simkin’s eccentricities and Birkin’s commanding stage presence makes the pair easy to watch, and keep the audience engaged.
The chorus supported the principles well as a whole, guiding the audience and navigating scene changes impressively to further the narrative. That said individual performers did get chance to break from the ranks to shine. Their character work was particularly thrown – literally, in the ladies’ case – into focus during the dogfight scene. Choreography by Hannah Morris was ably performed by all, and any mistakes were hard to spot as it was delivered with such confidence.
Staging, although minimalist in parts, was never tiresome and goes a long way to demonstrate the subtlety and skill of David Reynold’s direction. In contrast however was the thumping band led by Laura Foxcroft belted numbers like Hey Good Lookin’ and Hometown Hero with appropriate drive and tenacity, but also guided softly through more tender moments played out beautifully on-stage, particularly by Di-Silvestro.
Special mention must finally go to Alex Smith as the feisty Marcy, who not only delivered some pretty tough vocals impressively during the titular song but gave the character enough depth to make a really memorable – and very funny - character. Of note too for sheer commitment to costume changes are the many performance(s) by Tom Gosling, including the insolent waiter and a suitably cheesy rendition as the lounge singer.
Theatre1 continue their reputation of staging high-quality alternative musical theatre, and with the solid presentation of challenging shows such as Dogfight this can only continue to grow.
Get along to see this talented new company in action if you still can!
More than thirty years after it first aired on television 'Allo 'Allo! remains one of Britain's best-loved sitcoms. And in this production of the stage adaptation Centre Stage charmingly captures the farcical goings-on which made the show such a hit.
Set in the smallest of small town cafés in occupied France during World War II, the story follows hapless proprietor Rene Artois as he finds himself unwittingly caught up in the midst of a series of plots to steal the town's valuable artefacts.
The café is also being used as a safe house for two British airmen for whom the Resistance hatches increasingly ludicrous escape plans - which Rene is, of course, always at the centre of.
Richard Saunders leads the cast well as the loveable, long-suffering and unlikely heartthrob Rene, channelling Gordon Kaye's portrayal with great comedic effect. The chemistry between Saunders and Diane Bennett, as his tone deaf ball and chain Edith, makes for some of the show's best laughs. Edith longs for things to be 'like they used to be' between the couple, but Rene is somewhat distracted by the two rather fetching young waitresses he has employed at Café Rene.
Kate Edmunds, as one of the fawning waitresses, Yvette, lights up the stage with an uncanny resemblance to Vicki Michelle who played the role in the television series. She definitely wins the prize for the production's best French accent. Meanwhile Suzanne Britain invents a great character as the pocket rocket Mimi (the other fawning waitress).
Rene is hiding a valuable painting (The Fallen Madonna with the big boobies) for Colonel Kurt von Strohm (Bob Solomon) who plans to keep it for himself. But Hitler wants the painting back and sends limping Gestapo officer Herr Flick (Simon Edmunds) to get it back. But to complicate matters further Herr Flick is, of course, also conspiring to keep the painting for himself.
Solomon brings out the comedy in his role well, especially in a series of gags involving his rather terrible toupee (or 'viglet'). And Martin Pryce is excellent as his flamboyant Italian officer accomplice, Alberto Bertorelli, delivering some of the best gags of the evening.
Elsewhere Simon Edmunds steals the show with great comedy timing as the robotic Herr Flick, well accompanied by Julie Badder as his double agent Helga. And Keith Parry delivers a hilarious Lieutenant Gruber, another of Rene's unlikely admirers. Parry's physical acting is excellent and the audience was laughing before he even opened his mouth.
Carl Hemming is strong as one of the show's most iconic characters, the idiotic undercover agent Crabtree, who poses as a Gendarme and speaks in perhaps the oddest French accent ever heard. Hemming's delivery really made the most of the comedy which his character's musproninsiation creates.
Among a number of very able supporting performances Charlotte Pagett stands out as brooding resistance agent Michelle and Dennis Hoccom got some big laughs as the world's worst 'master of disguise' Leclerc.
On the whole the story moves along at a nice pace with only a couple of scenes feeling just a little laboured. Elsewhere a couple of somewhat questionable accents don't detract from the humour (if anything they add to it!) and the action comes to a close with a suitably farcical and funny ending.
It is impressive that director Dani Godwin and her cast pulled this show together in just two months. You certainly wouldn't know it and they should be extremely proud of what they have delivered here.
This is a charming slice of nostalgia that goes down every bit as easily as the bread and cheese served at the interval.
For a well-known and loved family story, many groups would shy away from the challenges that The Sound of Music presents – Arden does no such thing, confidently pushing ahead and creating a truly wonderful and very professional school production that lives up to the prestige that Arden shows have come to claim.
As Maria, Olivia Saunders provides stunning vocals and good interaction with the other characters, creating lovely intimate scenes with the Mother Superior (Carmen De Pons). As both Mother Superior and Elsa Schraeder, Carmen De Pons excelled, managing to keep her characters separate and engaging, with particularly enjoyable renditions of No Way to Stop It and the beautifully sung Climb Ev’ry Mountain. Both interacted very well with Callum Beddoes as Captain Von Trapp, who performed authoritatively as the stern and forbidding Captain, transitioning nicely to the softer and more romantic character we see as his relationship with his children and Maria flourishes. Additionally, James Dunbar as Max Detweiler really brings the character to life and expertly carried out all the asides and jokes with great comic timing and joviality; a much-needed drop of humour and light-heartedness in the quickly darkening story.
Katie Davie was enchanting as the innocent Liesl, performing a lovely rendition of Sixteen Going on Seventeen and sharing great chemistry and charm with Ben Harley-Mason, who portrayed the smitten yet politically conflicted Rolf well.
Making up the rest of the Von Trapps: Rachel Evans, Lucy Bugg, Hannah O’Leary, Archie Spittle-Maguire, Georgia Fair and Rosalie Carter all worked very well together, easily slipping into their roles as playful younger children and coming together with great vocals and enthusiasm for their well-known numbers Do-Re-Mi and So Long, Farewell.
A veritable crowd of nuns/Nazis and servants support the leads very well and certainly fill the group scenes in the Abbey and the party with hubbub and life that a small cast would struggle to achieve – it was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and energy so many of you shared! Well done to all for deftly managing some very quick costume changes, large set moves and many different small dance and music segments – a particular highlight being the Nazi plate dance!
While a minor criticism would be that the energy dropped a little nearing the end of the first act, we were immediately boosted back up going into the second half and it did not detract from the story. Although the use of the stage was slightly limited due to the sheer volume of cast members, it was fantastic to see such hard-working and like-minded people all coming together to share a love of performing!
A special mention must also be given to the ‘backing singers’, whose gorgeous harmonies perfectly melded with the voices of the cast, as well as the live band conducted by Dr Seago; their joint efforts really enhanced the talents of the cast.
Congratulations to all cast and crew for working together to create such a smooth and enjoyable production!
The Sound of Music runs until Saturday night at Arden Academy, including a matinee, and is definitely well worth watching.
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