When George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer first opened in Drury Lane in 1706 it was an immediate hit. Three centuries later SSA Drama do Farquhar's classic Restoration comedy justice in this brave and imaginative production.
Based on Farquhar's own experience as a recruiting officer, the story follows the dashing Captain Plume (Ricardo Alexander), a recruiting officer for the Grenadiers, and his sidekick Sergeant Kite (Liam Thorley). The pair have returned from the Battle of Blenheim in order to recruit in Shrewsbury. Plume is in love with the county heiress Silvia (Emma Benton) and his friend Worthy, a local gentleman, is in love with Silvia’s cousin Melinda (Bethany Hughes). But both women have recently inherited large fortunes, putting them out of reach of their lovers.
Silvia’s father (Simon King) sends her away to the country to distance her from Plume, but she returns to town dressed as a man and offers to enlist in the army with him. Meanwhile Kite is dressing up as a fortune teller in order to recruit gullible young men into the army, Melinda is strategically flirting with Captain Brazen (James Johnston) and her maid Lucy (Georgie Yarham-Baker) is trying to recruit a husband of her own. Directors Jack Bushell and Emma Benton relocate the story in World War II Britain to great effect. The costuming is nicely done, the set simple but effective and the soundtrack cleverly chosen.
Co-director Emma Benton stepped into the role of Silvia at the last minute but you wouldn't know it - there's something very natural and compelling about her on stage and she is charming to watch. Bethany Hughes shines too as the frightfully posh and scatty Melinda - the antithesis of Silvia. Ricardo Alexander leads the cast well as the cocky Plume and he and Thorley have good chemistry in their scenes.
Elsewhere Georgie Yarham-Baker somehow steals the show as Melinda’s maid Lucy with a wonderful stage presence and great timing. And there's strong support from SSA elder statesman Simon King as Silvia's father, who always impresses. Joe McElligott is strong as Worthy and James Johnston impresses as a wonderfully eccentric Brazen.
Given its age there's something very antiquated and Shakespearean about the construction of the story and even some of the language. As in modern performances of Shakespeare, skilled interpretation and direction are needed to get across the plot. On the whole this was done very well, but there were times the dialogue felt a tad rushed and you occasionally felt a little lost in places.
Overall though, this was an ambitious and well thought out re-imagining of a 300-year-old play, boldly re-positioned to great effect.
Wing-It Theatre have come crashing into the Albany Theatre, Coventry this summer and it is quite clear that you can either ‘take them or leave them’ in this sparse, real and utterly stunning production of Jonathan Larson’s genius musical: Rent.
The musical opens with Josh Hale who excels as budding filmmaker Mark Cohen while he narrates the story of a group of young New York artists living a year under the shadow of the 1980s American Aids Epidemic. This dark subject expresses the contrast in beautiful art and the fallout of such a fatal disease and Hannah Farquharson's direction does not avoid this content. Farquharson direction places the chorus at the heart of the production as she successfully realises tale of the other artists in the city, not just the protagonists. The once silent chorus of characters - Junkie’s, Cat Scratch Dancers and Homeless - forms the core of this production producing some original routines and vocals.
Farquharson’s original direction is commendable, complemented by Connor Clifford’s symbolic choreography and Liam Walker’s soothing musical direction. The vocals produced by this chorus blend together in an almost united solidarity among the artists and brought a whole new life to a much renowned soundtrack of musical numbers.
Technically the show was also well supported. Despite a few opening night glitches this did not deter from the narrative or action of the performers who, very professionally, improvised out of these situations. A few adjustments of levels between performers and band were more noticeable and higher levels would have just strengthened the already phenomenal performances.
The Albany Theatre is perfect for this show. With a wide stage, it really helped to separate the story into isolated areas and strengthen the narrative. The building site/scaffolding set upstage of the deck reflected the poverty and sparse nature of the American aids epidemic, conjuring up some beautiful imagery throughout. Rory Beaton’s lighting design further reflects the desperate nature of the characters, powerfully reflecting the aim of this adaptation: “this is us, take us or leave us”. One moment that cannot go amiss was the company's rendition of Finale B – as lighting, sound and cast came together with strong vocals; it left a most powerful impression.
All of the young cast performances further enhanced the quality of this production, with some particular standouts from the leads. Nathan Routledge brought an emotional performance as Collins and a stunning take on I’ll Cover You (reprise). His on stage partner, Josh Smith, brought a much needed comic relief to the stage as Angel and left the audience entertained with his contributions to Today for You, I'll Cover You and Santa Fe. Ellie Moloney's feisty Mimi erupted on the stage with a bold presentation of Out Tonight, captivating the audience from the off. Later she contrasted this beautifully with her tear-jerking rendition of Without You during Angel’s death. Her romance with Ben Murphy's Roger – a struggling musician –was electric and sparked powerful emotions parallel to Joanne and Maureen (Leah Vassell and Charlotte Blakeman). These two actress’ shone in Take Me or Leave Me with a rocky performance and strong onstage chemistry, with Blakeman’s comical talents shining in her solo monologue Over the Moon.
A phenomenal take on a stunning musical, you would be at a real loss to miss Rent this week, so listen to the cow and jump over the moon to the Albany Theatre, Coventry!
Grease is the word as Stage Experience's talented young cast wows with another showstopper. The much-loved musical was brought to bright, hand-jiving life with great energy that was shared by both cast and audience alike.
Rizzo (Sofi Robinson) stood out as one of the major highlights of the show, with fantastic renditions of Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee and There Are Worse Things I Could Do. Her sass and tough nature came across beautifully, along with a fiery relationship with Kenickie, both sharing great chemistry throughout. Kenickie (Caven Rimmer) was utterly wonderful in Greased Lightning with a powerful performance as the lead vocalist, played with great confidence and panache.
There were lovely vocals also from Jordan Ricketts as Danny Zuko in Sandy, conveying well the romance of Zuko's true feelings towards Sandy; ably played by Georgia Anderson, she clearly is an exceptionally talented vocalist with confidence and a love of performing that really shows.
The rest of the Pink Ladies group were wonderfully fun, Marty (Jasmine Sheen), Jan (Melissa Huband) and Frenchy (Georgina Steggles) keeping the pace up with some great comic timing along with their well-matched counterparts in the T-Birds with Sonny (Harry Sheasby), Roger (Harry Chapman) and Doody (Charlie Howell). There some beautiful solo and group performances from all in Freddy My Love, Those Magic Changes and Mooning, whilst Mark Walsh as the Teen Angel performed a fabulous and funny rendition of Beauty School Dropout – a great hit with the audience.
A mention must be given to the stunning and complex choreography, particularly in Greased Lightning, We Go Together and You're The One That I Want, and was performed ably, with endless enthusiasm by the entire cast. Lighting was also used brilliantly, with vibrant colours and bright beams building up the bubbly atmosphere that Grease is so well known for.
Director and Choreographer, Pollyanna Tanner, certainly knows what she's doing – to whip up such an ultra-professional show in only two weeks is impressive, and Stage Experience’s performances never fail to deliver.
Grease runs until 20 August at the New Alexandra Theatre.
A ticket out of loserville – that is the ultimate goal for the lovable cast of characters of Elliot Davies and James Bourne’s fun-filled and energetic musical, brought to life by the company of Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s Summer School. Instead of conforming and fitting into the clichéd stereotypes of a typical US high school, in the vain and hopeless pursuit of girls, the only way out of Loserville is through acceptance of who you are.
The story revolves around a young group of computer nerds who are trying to change the world – specifically by inventing the internet. Despite the fact that they are shunned at school, they are essentially happy in their own bubble of programming, Star Trek, and coming up with the script for a certain other space-based entertainment franchise. Their world is turned upside down, however, when Holly (Cassie Curno) walks into their life, who has both brains and looks. Obviously, both the young programmer Michael Dork (Charlie Bishop) and would-be Star Wars creator Lucas Lloyd (Sam Simkin) fall hopelessly in love with her, despite being best friends. Despite the nervousness and tension around her, they allow her to join their project as they work to complete what Michael started at the nefarious Arch Industries.
They are on the brink of completing their project when the heir to Arch Industries, Eddie (Thomas Oakes) instigates a scheme to steal the credit for himself, using Lucas’s jealousy and writing ambitions to drive a wedge between Holly and Michael and steal their work, whilst blackmailing Holly to fill in the missing pieces and finally invent the internet. Little does he know, that Holly has been scheming from the start and has engineered the whole situation. Flushed with their success, the geeks now find themselves the most popular kids in school with everyone trying to emulate them. They have well and truly left Loserville for good.
This production is very much led from the front with some outstanding performances by the principals. Charlie Bishop as Michael was innocent and sweet yet brimming with youthful energy in equal measure and commanded the stage well. Cassie Curno had depth beyond her years, as well as spot-on vocals throughout. Sam Simkin was both hysterically funny yet gave a heartfelt performance, especially during Holly, I’m the One. The supporting characters were all excellent as well. Thomas Oakes was the perfect spoilt brat, and had wonderful chemistry with his cronies. The other 2 geeks in the show, Marvin (Josh Labron) and Francis (Gus Espinosa) were wonderful Trekkies and Lucy Palmer also shone as the ditsy Elaine.
The huge chorus was also used to excellent effect and at no point did it feel as if anyone was being shoehorned in. The dance corps created some beautiful moments, telling the story using beads of light which looked stunning. My personal highlight was the joy on each and every one of their faces as they bopped and bounced from one number to the next.
Packed with really catchy tunes and riotous dance routines, Loserville is a fantastic night out – get yourself a ticket whilst you can. Loserville runs from Wednesday 10 August until Saturday 13 August at the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre.
Before being whisked away on a journey of colour, laughter and mayhem, the words Summer and Pantomime was a questionable concept… however this week, in The MET Studio (Stafford Gatehouse Theatre) Creative Stage Productions bought forward a show that left the tinsel in December and instead presented a show that was quickly paced but was full of fun for children and adults alike.
The fun very much began as soon as you enter the intimate venue with Director (and Scarecrow) Scott Bagnall throwing the audience into the madness with a preshow that allowed you to get comfortable with the tongue in cheek tone of the evening.
Standout performances were given from Ian Hill playing the Cowardly Lion who was able to give the warm nostalgia of the 1939 movie, while tickling the funny bones performing the role with a strong Stoke-On-Trent accent. His vocal and physical characterisation was held throughout and made for an entertaining performance. Dan Dayle made for an extremely slimy Flesh-creep, he nailed his performance with children and adults alike squirming at his performance, while beaming with a smile at his very funny comic delivery.
Lewis Warren & Scott Bagnall provide plenty of laughs during the production playing the Tin Man and Scarecrow, respectively. Two special moments without giving two much away involve a very funny scene involving a certain BBC quiz show and the story of an unfortunate meal! Emily Oakes played the wide eyed Dorothy perfectly, the young children in the audience were attached to her performance the moment she entered the stage and delivered a show stealing performance, of Home from The Wiz.
An army of young dancers flooded the stage to provide brilliant chorus numbers, with the chorus playing an array of fantastic characters, from Munchkins to Monkeys and Ghosts to Ozians, they provided fantastic moments in the show, however a greater focus on emotions, simply smiling during the upbeat numbers would have lifted the overall essence of fun during these numbers.
The MET Studio was cleverly transformed through scenes with projections and lighting, however some of the action was missed due to the staging of the production, and it is certainly worth making sure that you are able to get to the venue early, and sitting in the middle of the seats, to make sure that children do not miss out on any of the magical action.
With fast paced humour and plenty of songs for all the family, Creative Stage Productions have delivered a fantastic two hours of escapism for families this summer, with lots of humour improvised on the night (watch out if you don’t turn your phone off!), it’s a perfect treat for children, to be swept over the rainbow!
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