Chronicling the true story of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, Side Show is the latest musical treat from the Old Joint Stock. Set under a circus tent, their wonderful studio space was yet again transformed for this utterly captivating performance. The audience was invited to ‘come look at the freaks’ and riding on ‘The Greatest Showman’ phenomenon, Side Show felt like an even more timely choice. With book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music from Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger, the soundtrack to this show is nothing short of goosebump inducing.
In traditional, immersive style, the Old Joint Stock placed the audience at the heart of their performance. Acting as spectators, eavesdroppers and more, we were sat amongst the ‘freaks’. With suspended Edison bulbs, the attractions were eerily lit around the space and they all superbly came to life in the hands of this extremely talented cast.
There were strong performances from Alanna Boden (Fortune Teller), Jessica Birtwistle (Venus De Milo), Joash Musundi (Dog Boy/Ray) and Maisie-Kate Robertson (Geek), led by the unnervingly creepy ringmaster Simon Peacock (Sir). It’s difficult to not list everyone in this review, because this show was, ultimately, an ensemble piece. However there were some standout performances.
Amongst the attractions, Vicky Addis as the Bearded Lady and Lizzie Robins as Three Legged Girl were completely enthralling. Whilst, a particularly special mention must go to Tattooed Girl (and Choreographer) Sarah Haines, who was the most stunning dancer. Bea Coleman was strikingly beautiful as Half Man / Half Woman, you couldn’t help but get drawn into Coleman’s performance. Bea’s raw emotion in Say Goodbye To The Sideshow really held with me long after leaving the theatre.
Patison Harrigan was excellent as Jake, with a velvety toned voice singing gorgeously through The Devil You Know, whilst the pairing of Buddy and Terry was sheer perfection. Bradley Walwyn and Richard Haines took on the roles with aplomb, both illustrating their talent as actors and singers - Very Well Connected was a certain highlight.
However, you can’t have Side Show, without Daisy and Violet…and my god did OJSMTC get this casting right. Elle Knowles (Violet) and Cassie Aurora (Daisy) were the shining stars of this production. They brought the characters to absolute believable life, there was no question in those two hours that we were watching Violet and Daisy Hilton. Elle Knowles was sublime, her sweetness, naivety and unassuming nature, juxtaposed her sister’s more outgoing and flirty nature and Cassie Aurora captured this perfectly. It was a masterclass performance from the duo and their breathtaking duet of Who Will Love Me As I Am sent tingles down the spine.
There is no doubt that Karl Steele (Director) and Nick Allen (Musical Director) have put an incredible amount of time, effort and work into making this show what it was. And, more importantly, it’s a show with such a powerful and relevant message. The Old Joint Stock have done it again and this superlative production is another one that will be remembered long after it has left the theatre.
Norton Canes High School Theatre
The Spotlight production team are staging Grease this week and the iconic film by Jacobs and Casey, featuring well-loved characters Danny Zuco and Sandra D, needs little introduction. This adaptation cleverly captures the main story lines from the movie and transfers as a brilliant, fast-paced, high energy stage musical. And the young performers from Spotlight Youth Productions have most certainly done it justice.
Directed by Charlotte Cowley and Michele Windsor, and with a most competent off-stage band conducted by Brian Hirst, the show was performed with total confidence and an awful lot of cool by the young performers who never dipped in energy and spirit - sporting wigs, layered costumes and leather jackets, all adding to the heat of the moment, which was commendable considering the current climate!
Set in the American 1950s the colourful show set was built for quick transition utilising single set pieces which left the dancers a good performance space. A nice touch was the screen and projected images that enhanced the location of the scenes and the physical scene changes in blackout were executed deftly.
Strong performances by principals and ensemble. It was lovely to see so many gorgeous, happy faces - little ones with cheeky smiles and self-assured older students with just the right amount of attitude. Some excellent characterisations - Tara Hill as Rizzo did a sterling job, retaining the Channing sultry demeanour throughout the show. Handsome Matt Windsor’s (Danny) vocal was excellent and competently accompanied by the very pretty Imogen Poole (Sandy), both well cast leads who played against each other with delightful chemistry. The good-lookin’ T Birds - Ben Walker (Kenickie) Ben Carr (Roger), William Heath (Doody), Callum Steed (Sonny), Sam Rushworth (Billy) and Kieran Banner (Bobby) entertained us with their lighthearted, school-boy angst, camaraderie, songs and slick dance routines. Pink Ladies Charlotte Ham (Frenchy), Kande Eden (Marty), Tash Pearce (Jan), Kimberley Beckett (Mary Lou), Jess Cavill (Barbara Ann) and Rebecca Cartwright (Peggy Sue) made a fabulous all-singing-all-dancing gaggle of hyper teens with dreams of boys, hair-do’s, cheeky cigarette trials, jealous moments and true friendships.
Robyn Ennis as the delightful Miss Lynch controlled the class as best she could and Rebecca Cartwright played a very pretty Teen Angel. Kieran Banner doubled up as the formidable Vince Fontaine who had the ladies swooning, Sam Rushworth owned the mic as Johnny Casino and Megan Rogers treated us to some sassy dance moves as Cha Cha DiGregorio.
Absolutely loved Lewis Kent’s portrayal of the bumbling Eugene. Great stage presence and a truly winning smile. Notable performances include the very comical Tash Pearce who competently immersed herself in her character and William Heath who I felt really connected with the audience and had a unique and very likeable upbeat confidence which I'm sure would transfer into any musical theatre production.
Congratulations to MDs Chris Allen and Ian Windsor, the team of choreographers and the set building, costume, prop and technical volunteers. A revisit of mic levels for lead vocalists against backing vocalists might be something to address but in all a good sound design and lighting scheme.
I really enjoyed every moment - the elements that made the movie so successful have been focused upon and the team’s vision really worked resulting in a great night’s entertainment. An established and talented group with a lot of love and friendship that is clearly apparent in their performances. It certainly was a Summer Night to remember!
Suitable for everyone.
Runs to 15 July with a Saturday matinee
The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors. I don’t think Union Theatre could have thought of a more musical theatre-y name if they tried (apart from their last musical theatre concert; The Sound of My Fair Sweeney and I on the Roof). So it is pretty clear what we are in for and it is exactly what Union Theatre delivers - a joyous celebration of musical theatre, and, in particular, this show that celebrates the classics that have swept the award categories such as the Tonys, Oliviers, Oscars, Grammys and even Pulitzers.
Director Victoria Ellery-Jones has done a splendid job in presenting this revue with delightful familiar show tunes and even songs that aren’t heard as much, played by the talented musical director and pianist John Gough, along with Matthew Firkins on percussion. These musicians are so wonderful that they bring the same effect as a 20-piece West End orchestra that gets to the stripped-back core of the songs. Not to mention of course the wonderful harmonies coming from the company whizzing through over 25 songs, it is hard for me to simply list a favourite performance as a great song would follow another great song and then another for the rest of the evening. Luckily they are a glorious mixture of both ensemble pieces, solo or small group songs which give us the wide and beautiful range of musical theatre heaven.
It is also worth noting how glorious this show is as it sits in the St James Church. Though relatively intimate, its architecture is extravagant and epic that it almost feels like we are watching some high-budget scenery at the Palladium or the Hippodrome (and looks even more spectacular thanks to the colourful lighting by Gordon Justham). I couldn’t help but feel that there seems to be a natural link between hearing these musical theatre songs and being in this spiritual environment. I’m not one to discuss the debate this link between religion and theatre as theologians have done in the past, but what I realised is the common denominator about going to church or to see a musical is the sense of community and oneness. In my opinion, the human power of music and joyful song is far greater than religion, and that is what Union Theatre brings in this lovely night of musical theatre classics.
The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors runs at the St James Church, Shirley until Saturday 14th July.
There is something rather exhilarating about discovering new theatre for the first time, especially when you have the chance to be in the audience for the opening night of a brand new piece, performed by a young, modern company. That feeling of not knowing what to expect, not to mention whether you or your fellow-audience members will enjoy what you are about to experience together can set the scene for a thrilling evening. So, it is a shame that more often than not the audience numbers are a little on the low side and made up mainly of family and friends of the company.
This was very much the case for the Brew Makers Theatre Company’s opening night for The Egg Rumour at the Old Joint Stock Theatre, though admittedly a new musical-play about fertility timing and corporate egg freezing may not immediately appeal to everyone. Yet, anyone who did not see the performance missed an entertaining hour that was both comic, emotional and thought-provoking – a play that particularly resonates in the current #metoo and equal pay debate climate.
The story centres around Iva, a young woman in her 20’s who is offered a rare promotion in her corporate job, but on the understanding that she undergo treatment to freeze her eggs and delay any plans of motherhood for the imminent future. You might be forgiven for thinking this is some futuristic utopian world conjured in the minds of the author (Ellamae Cieslik, who also plays the role of Iva) but no! In recent years the ‘incentive’ of egg freezing has become a growing trend – particularly in the USA – for women who wish to have control over both career and family life. Whether ultimately they have that control is the question at the heart of Iva’s story.
The ensemble company of 6 performers take on all of the roles between them and never leave the stage, moving seamlessly from featured office-workers to medical staff to all-seeing Greek chorus. The performances are fresh, crisp and confident, with the whole company blending extremely well together. A particular highlight was the opening movement sequence which was in progress as the audience took their seats and when the company sang together, even the first night hitch of the music tracks not playing could not detract from the great sound and obvious talent within the group.
This is definitely a piece which will grow and shift as the company itself develops. There are some moments where the flow of the story begins to wane, but this is mainly because the whole performance rattles along at such a fast pace, some of the references get missed by the audience and it takes a while to catch up with what has changed. Indeed, there were a couple of moments early on that the audience went to applaud but were not given time before the action continued, which subsequently left us unsure whether to react and made us a very quiet (and probably unnerving) group of observers throughout! A slight relaxing of the pace overall would ensure that the dialogue has more clarity and that the audience have time to appreciate individual segments without losing any of the energy and exuberance that carries this production along.
Provocative, funny, some great harmonies and a story line that left you questioning your own thoughts – what more could you ask for from live theatre?
The Brew Makers return for another performance at The Old Joint Stock on Monday 9 July before touring to other venues across the country. Why not treat yourself to something new?
Something wonderfully wicked this way comes.... to Stafford Castle!
An outstanding, big-budget production of Macbeth awaits you at Stafford Castle, and this is as much an experience as it is a performance. The production team have indeed created something rather special, very human and very real. With the magnificent backdrop of Stafford Castle and its green, undulating grounds this outdoor play starts in daylight and ends in darkness. Set in a large, filmesque, 4-level set the actors have an excellent performing space and Shakespeare's words jump off the page from the very first second to the incredible end. No expense is spared - a rich array of luxurious furniture, peacock feathers, candles, fire, falconry and special effects are used to create unforgettable pictures, to draw in the audience and enhance the visual further. One can read this play, see a theatre production, a film maybe... but to produce something as wonderful as this a director and creative team must surely have lived and breathed the story - they have taken each and every line of Shakespeare's tragedy very seriously and have carefully crafted it onto the stage with first-class expertise. With music, soundscape, sumptuous costumes, a first-class lighting scheme, sound design and well choreographed fight scenes, the actors and producers truly deserved the standing ovation granted them.
Superb leading performances by Bil Stuart (Macbeth) and Rosie Hilal (Lady Macbeth). The very strong cast of professionals performed with equal passion, excellent diction, expression and pure emotion. The weird sisters were perfectly portrayed (Mairi Hawthorn, Nicola Jo Cully, Sian Mannifield) all supported by clever musical interludes, original compositions by David Hewson and the playing of live on-stage instruments including lutes and bagpipes. With exciting chants, singing, magic and sorcery you will be enchanted by pure brilliance.
Congratulations to Clare Penton and her talented team. Magnificent.
Runs to 14 July
Suitable for everyone
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