At the Brewhouse Arts Centre Mellow Dramatics delivered an adaption of Charles Dicken’s novel Oliver Twist packed with talent and comedy.
The classic musical songs such as Consider Yourself and Food Glorious Food highlighted all the performer’s vocal talents.
Joe Wardle (a role shared with Joe Beckwith) gave a controlled and fitting performance of the title character Oliver, whilst Becky Stewart's Nancy was thoroughly captivating with a strong vocal and dramatic performance.
Two other notable strong acting performances came from Bill Sykes, played by Steve Wood, and Mr Brownlow, played by Trevor Davis. Both actors captured their characters well.
Oliver and the Artful Dodger, Callum Davis complemented each other well, as did Nancy and Bet, Hannah Smith. With both duos giving an entertaining and well-choreographed version of I’ll Do Anything.
Mr Sowerberry, played by Jack Broughton, garnered many a laugh from the audience. As did Mr Bumble, Melvyn Edwards and Widow Corney, Jean Edwards.
Artistically the costumes worked well and there was creative use of the stage space. The addition of rhythmic sound from numerous bowls and utensils incorporated into one of the songs was particularly striking.
The cast (with an assortment of ages), and production team, have worked well together to collectively to deliver an entertaining and confident performance.
Oliver runs at the Brewhouse until 17 September.
For this year’s production, the Crescent Theatre Company present The Lady in the Van. It narrates the autobiographical tale of writer Alan Bennett's relationship with the local homeless lady in the van.
A tale which parallels Bennett's own relationship with his depressive mother. Pat Dixon shone as the contrastingly emotional, yet comical Miss Shephard, who drives the narrative as Alan Bennett writes the play on stage. Dixon's educated Miss Shephard was at first glance very stern with a more emotional side that evolved as she soliloquised her past life toils. Further strong performances came from Jonathon Owen and David Harvey as Alan Bennett and his inner voice. The duo's dynamism on stage was particularly striking and made this abstract relationship really convincing.
Nick Owen’s direction was strong and although some moments were slower due to the dense text, this could easily be remedied with some additional movement.
The aesthetics of Keith Harris' set worked well enhanced by a split stage between Bennett's London house, garden and street outside. A striking red, later yellow, van added to the set well. In conjunction with Harris' design, the lighting further enhanced the setting of each scene allowing changes to smoothly fade from night to day, church to house in just one lighting cue. One thing that worked particularly well was the haze in the air which lifted the action's height from just the performers. As well as this the cyclorama upstage was a successful technique in creating a blue day skyline or a nighttime amber. Strong work indeed from the design team on this show.
The Lady In the Van runs at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, from 10-17 September.
The Belgrade Theatre brings another premiere to Coventry. This time it is an adaptation of the coming of age book, Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray.
Three friends, Kenny, Sim and Blake are struggling to come to terms with the unexpected death of their friend Ross. After a funeral which they feel is less than fitting for their best mate, they decide to embark on a journey to give Ross a proper send off; they will take Ross to Ross in Scotland. During the adventure we find out more about the people in Ross’s life while the boys find out more about themselves.
Narration is provided by the boys as they slip in and out of the adventure to tell the story of what happened. Flashback moments are shown with the four boys playing all of the characters to great effect. Shea Davis is Ross who is ever present in the background watching his friends and taking part in the flashbacks. Davis, Fred Haig (Blake) and Carl Au (Sim) all portray a group of girls that are met on the way. These characters are beautifully observed.
With the slightest change of posture and a look you have no trouble seeing three teenage girls. Moments like this add a humour to what could be a dark tale. The sensible Blake is contrasted with assertive Sim and the nervous Kenny (Faaiz Mbelizi), all are perfectly cast and give wonderful performances.
With minimal props and staging almost everything comes from the four actors. An interesting use of movement and music adds even more interest and an extra dynamic to the performance. There are some inspired staging moments which create stunning visuals while adding to the narrative.
This is a superb production that will make you smile while also making you think. Ostrich Boys runs until Saturday 24 September, it would be a shame to miss it. This pride of Ostrich’s will leave you wanting more.
Following its acclaimed stint at the Leicester Curve, Sister Act offer salvation to those experiencing the post summer holiday blues as it hits Birmingham this week, and if the packed-out opening night audience at the New Alexandra Theatre were anything to go by then this nationally touring production stand to be an even bigger success that it’s inaugural run.
Based on the 1992 film of the same name and directed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood, the outlandish show centres around African-American lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier who flees to witness protection in a convent after witnessing her lover shoot an accomplice dead. Using her hunger for fame to her advantage she transforms the dull choristers from nuns to disco divas, and in doing so entices congregation back into the dwindling church – but at a cost.
2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke took on the role of Deloris, made famous in the film by Whoopi Goldberg. With more than a nod to the originator, she slipped wonderfully between fabulous sass and eccentricity to pull a very entertaining performance out of the bag. With the rich tone that made her famous she belted gospel numbers off the back wall, but in quieter moments – particularly in her lower register – she sadly struggled to be heard above the band. Any shortfalls were forgiven, however, on account of her excellent delivery and comic timing.
Experiencing no such trouble was loveable cop “Sweaty Eddie”, played by Jon Robyns. The eventual romantic interest, his impressive vocals, particularly in stand-out number I Could Be That Guy were only marred by the truly terrible moustache that adorned the lip from which they came. His love-struck, bumbling character worked brilliantly in contrast to Burke’s confident Van Cartier, and the pair had serious (and seriously adorable) chemistry from the outset.
Ably supported by the company of crooks and clergy – who also make up over half of the band – the company should be commended on their developed and engaging performances. Their collective vocals – nuns in particular - were divine in both the upbeat and choral music. Curtis, played by Aaron Lee Lambert, and the shady stooges could have stood to be a little more villainous, but it is musical theatre after all.
A special mention however must go to Karen Mann as Mother superior, and Sandy Grigelis as TJ: the former stoic and precise, and the latter a wildly funny oddball. Both actors embraced opposite ends of the behavioural spectrum and the show was better for it.
The staging and set changes were swiftly executed perfectly by the company, but - although brilliantly performed by the company - the choreography felt (surprisingly, for a Craig Revel Horwood production) a bit like an after-thought. A couple of brief disco interludes aside, even the ever-faithful glitter ball couldn’t detract from the feeling that there could have been more: a compromise of having musicians having to move on stage also, perhaps.
Nevertheless a heavenly show packed to the rafters with “feel good” factor, and one that deserves to sell-out auditoriums around the region on the rest of the tour!
13, the 2008 Broadway musical may be one of the most underrated musicals from the last ten years (not five, sorry.) With one of Jason Robert Brown's most energetic and funniest scores accompanied by Dan Elish and Robert Horns laugh a minute book, 13 is a treat for all. Selling itself as a musical about growing up, there was certainly nothing childish about the performance that BITA, one of the most exciting upcoming youth theatre groups in Birmingham, gave this week at The Palace Theatre, Redditch.
The very noticeable aspect of BITA, which was clearly demonstrated in this performance was the strong bond held within the cast, working as one large ensemble for the production, the faith that the cast held in each other allowed for a fast-paced, slick and daring production. The cast performed Brown's challenging score to perfection, under Chris Passey's musical direction the vocals flew off the stage. Attiye Partridge's energetic choreography was made to look like a walk in the park by the cast and was delivered flawlessly. The direction from the two creative directors, along with Assistant Director Ben MacSkimming had completely the right energy and drive for the musical comedy. The production zipped along without stopping to breathe. Not one line, joke or beat was missed and they were delivered faultlessly.
Billy Vale had the audience in the palm of his hand as the energetic Evan Goldman, his narration on turning 13 was not only engaging, but very funny! The ‘nerdy’ Patrice had wonderful vocal delivery from Leah Evans, who captivated the audience during her first solo The Lamest Place in The World. Completing the trio of the three lead roles was the brilliantly funny James Luckins as Archie, who's self deprecating humour was refreshing and extremely engaging for the audience.
Sharnna Benbow gave a stunning performance as the twisted Lucy, her characterisation and soaring vocals matched up perfectly, and the audience loved the evil nature of her character. Jack Christou played the deluded Brett perfectly, in search of ‘the tongue’, he captivated the audience with a witty and powerful delivery. He was joined by Matthew Perry and Liam Wragg who gave some of the funniest moments of the night as Brett's dimwitted sidekicks Malcolm and Eddie, respectively.
It would be criminal to not mention the three vocalists that led the rousing finale Brand New You. Martha Graham, Mollie Hallahan and Georgia Rabone were impeccably belting the fantastic number, the audience couldn't help but clap along after making such a vivid and wonderful connection with the company during the 2 hours on-stage.
From a creative standpoint, Andrew Exeter’s flawless lighting design was a treat for the eyes, especially during the Act Two opening number, where the stage is transformed into a cinema wonderfully, you couldn't help but smile due to the wonderful creativity behind it.
BITA has set the bar high with 13, for an opening production, it was incredible to see the commitment that had gone into making the production such a success, there was not one weak link in the cast or crew... and I am very excited to see what they can do next.
You wonder if all of the performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream, or any of the Bard's plays for that matter, were counted up, what the number would be now. Rather high I expect.
Needless to say it's rather difficult to bring originality to the table. Here to There Productions bring originality and much more in this cleverly reimagined version of this 420-year-old classic.
Part of the company's 1595 season, which features a parallel production of Romeo and Juliet, the company have fiddled with the numbers in the year these plays were thought to have been written to locate the stories in 1955.
The somewhat labyrinthine story, or rather four stories, portrays the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus (Lewis Jones), the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta (Adaya Henry). We follow the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors called the mechanicals, who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set.
It is clear from the outset the company possesses a number of very talented actors whose stage presence and delivery are ideal for Shakespeare's prose.
The standard of acting is high across the board. There are too many characters to list but a number of stand out performances include Lauren Winwood as Hermia, who is in love with Lysander (Alexander Macdonald-Smith) but is being forced to marry Demetrius (Liam Alexandru) by her father Egeus (Ewen Gibb). Winwood is excellent as Hermia with a very strong stage presence. Macdonald-Smith captures the romantic Lysander beautifully and Helena Devereux shines too as the feisty Helena, who pines after Demetrius.
Morgan Rees-Davis impresses as the king of the fairies Oberon, his deep, smooth delivery bringing out the best in Shakespeare's rich text. Meanwhile Bexie Archer as his mysterious and sensual queen Titania also impresses.
Elsewhere Andrew Whittle has great timing and leads his scenes very well as the piece's most iconic character, Nick Bottom - the lead among the players within the play. He is well supported by his fellow players.
Some clever lighting and staging add to the action nicely and help mark out each sub plot in turn. The costumes are well chosen with the Steampunk element particularly effective.
As the plot unfolds and the mortals stumble unwittingly into the realm of the fairies, the cast do well with Shakespeare's comedy and the pace, on the whole, was very good. Well done to director Carl Walker and his team on a brave and well-executed production.
A special mention must be given to the way this show and Romeo and Juliet have been packaged and promoted. This and the live-streaming element of the performance gave the productions a professional feel and shows the society is more than tuned in to the challenge and opportunity modern performances of Shakespeare present.
An excellent production… at least it seemed that way, perhaps it was all just a dream.
Many consider Romeo and Juliet as Shakespeare's most timeless play of forbidden love amongst feuding families, and Here to There Productions, thrusting the 400 year old play to the rocking 50s, proves this point with aplomb where crow bars replace swords and swinging soul singers replace the harp at masked balls.
Entering the theatre, you could be mistaken for walking into a performance of West Side Story, scaffolding with bright blue beams running down them tower over the darkened stage. This most certainly sets the tone for the modern adaptation, along with the rock band performing an original score, which is certainly in-keeping with the 50s theme with some brilliant music. Sometimes, however, the music did overpower Shakespeare’s most beautiful soliloquies, particularly the balcony scene. This being said, the band were a particular highlight of the production.
The opening shows the first clash between the Montagues and Capulets, involving a brilliantly directed fight scene, but with accents ranging from American to British, it is hard to initially establish its setting. Once recognised as 1950’s Britain, the show begins to pick up speed.
Ewan Gibb as Capulet gave a particularly notable performance, his clear communication to the audience about the message Shakespeare intended, was shown through his fantastic characterisation of the corrupt character. Romeo, played by Alex Curry held himself well onstage, however a slightly lighter tone on scenes with Juliet would have showed a greater divide between head and heart towards the beginning of the production. That said, his performance blossomed, as did his relationship with Juliet - played by Hannah Pritchard, her innocent yet headstrong character made her a Juliet more fitting for the 50s.
Alex Lacey gave a scene stealing performance as The Nurse, with a character akin to Alice Tinker from The Vicar of Dibley, the audiences eyes were transfixed to her whenever entering the stage and her physical and vocal comedic skills showed excellently throughout her small but albeit crucial role.
Here to There’s production of Romeo and Juliet skillfully transferred seamlessly to a 1950s setting, illustrating as plain as ever that the story of star-crossed lovers is as relevant as ever in society. A challenging production told brilliantly.
Sunny Afternoon seemed to sweep the West End at a similar rate to The Kinks themselves, winning Best Musical at The Olivier Awards and enjoying a sell-out run. This week, Sunny Afternoon has rocked its way to Birmingham to spread its rays to the New Alexandra Theatre.
The first thing that is so beautifully striking about the production is Miriam Beuther’s set design. Wooden speakers cover the stage, stacked on top of one another. The enclosed nature of the staging really does feel as if you are sitting in the recording studio with The Kinks themselves, a stroke of design genius.
Sunny Afternoon relies on an ensemble of actors taking on several characters throughout the production, and what an ensemble it is! Characterisation is so strong between each role that it is a challenge to work out which actor has played each of them. A strong relationship can be felt onstage throughout the production, no more so than with the four members of The Kinks themselves. Ryan O’Donnell gives a dazzling performance as Ray Davis, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, as you could feel the pressure of a boy chasing his ever growing dreams. Mark Newnham gave a stunning performance as the deluded Dave Davis, a perfect foil to his brother. Andrew Gallo played the frustrated drummer Mick Avory wonderfully, his physicality during his drum solo near the start of Act Two showed so much of Avory’s struggle that it was given rapturous applause by the audience. Garmon Rhys played the ‘forgotten’ Pete Quaife, his performance during A Rock n’ Roll Fantasy was easily accessible with the audience and proved to be a hit number.
A special performance came from Michael Warburton as Eddie Kasner, who when he opened up about his past, made for a beautifully tragic monologue. The theatre seemed to stand still, as Warburton had the audience enthralled. The show stealing performance of the night, however, came from Lisa Wright as Rasa, a beautifully considered performance as the innocent schoolgirl who’s world is shattered. Rasa was played so captivatingly that the audiences eyes flicked to her whenever she entered the stage. Wright and O’Donnell had the perfect chemistry, and their songs together were delivered with such sincerity that you couldn’t help but wish for more from the pair.
The biggest draw to Sunny Afternoon however, is of course the music of The Kinks, and you would not be disappointed with the songs on offer, with all the music taken from The Kinks back catalogue, its hit after hit after hit, all performed faultlessly under Elliott Wares' supervision and Barney Ashworth’s Musical Direction. The highlight of the show is those stunning chords of You Really Got Me ripping through the air. Sound Designer Matt Mckenzie must be praised as the songs are so loud, so full of energy that the vibrations can be felt in your seat, in the floor and in your chest, it was truly thrilling, but sometimes the music drowned out the actors onstage, making the singing itself hard to hear. The music was so wonderful however, that you couldn’t help but beam from ear to ear during those fantastic production numbers.
Sunny Afternoon is the story of four boys from Muswell Hill, who didn’t accept the fact society told them they couldn't achieve, and they went on to be one of the biggest rock and roll bands in UK Music history. It provides the Kinks's generation with a warm nostalgia, but also provides a powerful message for the younger generation, and one that needs to be told more often - in a world focused on achieving grades, it's wonderful to see the proof of what many would consider fantasy. Whatever the generation, Sunny Afternoon is a show for all.
Sunny Afternoon plays at New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 10 September.
With echoes of both Bob Carlton’s Return to the Forbidden Planet (adapting Shakespeare with a rock and roll score) and The Heather Brothers’ A Slice of Saturday Night (pastiching very specific pop songs with very recognizable hooks), Bob Eaton’s Roll Over Beethoven rocked into the Belgrade Theatre this evening.
It is 1956, and “sensible” music still rules the roost in England. It is also the year Chuck Berry released the song that gives the show its title. Denmark Street, London’s answer to Tin Pan Alley, becomes the jumping off point for a plot, loosely based on Hamlet, that centres on how Rock and Roll usurped other more traditional musical styles, and with it came the arrival of the Teenager.
From the opening strains of classical piano, through Skiffle, lyrical dance band music (with a beautifully restrained muted trumpet solo from Oliver Beamish) and Connie Francis teen-pop to the concluding Chuck Berry style finale led by the rocking Matt Devitt, the music throughout this production is simply wonderful. Bob Eatons’ songs, with very specific resonances towards songs by the likes of Elvis, Danny and the Juniors and Jerome Kern, are given fantastically idiomatic arrangements by Ben Goddard, and are delivered with real panache by this talented company of actor-musicians.
This is a show that deals in broad, bold colours. The music is designed to raise a smile, the book is lighthearted and knowingly corny at times, and the cast are fully committed to the cause. Performances are universally excellent, with Devitt as a delightfully lugubrious Ghost providing many of the evening’s best moments. But there is also time for a moment of pathos and social comment midway through Act 2 that was beautifully judged and performed (no spoilers here!).
The simple but effective set is supported by good use of projections, often cartoonish, to support the action. And special mention to Sound Designer Charlie Brown; we could hear (almost) every word, which is crucial in a new musical with no previous familiarity with Eaton’s witty and heartfelt lyrics.
The audience clearly enjoyed the show, but had one small complaint; when encouraged to stand up and dance during the encore, the music was far too short for them to get a good boogie in. I’m sure Ludvig Van B would want them to get even more of this wonderfully warm entertainment.
Roll Over Beethoven plays at the Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 17 September.
Youth on Stage transported the audience to a A Night on Broadway at Dovehouse Theatre this weekend. Featuring numbers from some of the most acclaimed musicals, there were many standout performances from this talented group. One in particular, was a comical combination found in the relationship between Matty Brook and Hannah Brook during their rendition of Legally Blonde's Serious and Dan Peet’s stunning performance of Not My Father’s Son from Kinky Boots, captivated the audience - his emotionally powerful delivery was beautiful.
Further hilarity ensued as Kia Gates and James Woodward took to the stage for Baptize Me from The Book Of Mormon. This amusing take on an already ingenious musical was brilliant. Woodward’s comical characterisation shone as Elder Cunningham and he excelled in his rendition of Hard To Speak My Heart from Parade.
One particularly delightful moment, to break up the solo performances, was a tap routine to A Chorus Line, featuring Ellie Burley, who later showcased her impressive vocals with a song from The In-Between.
A live band and some additional set would have enhanced the show, but despite a few technical difficulties the cast held their songs well, with a show-stealing performance of Beggin from Jersey Boys. Complete with full dance routines and some super singing, it received a well-deserved rapturous applause at the end.
Congratulations to all for a lovely evening of entertainment: be sure to catch their pantomime later this year at the Dovehouse Theatre!
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