I was thrilled to have the privilege of experiencing Tin Robot Theatre’s production of A Clockwork Orange this evening, in conjunction with The Old Joint Stock Theatre. I use the word ‘experiencing’ with emphasis, as the show was advertised as ‘immersive’ - this performance certainly did not disappoint.
A Clockwork Orange, first published in 1962 by Anthony Burgess, is an iconic novel that deals with themes of violence and suppression in a dystopian society. The novel was later adapted for the stage and has remained a growing and changing entity, with Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation becoming a revered piece of cinema. With such controversial material at hand, I was intrigued to see how this would be presented in the show.
From the moment the audience steps into the theatre, they enter into the world of the play; they must shed their coats and become ‘players’ alike to the cast, who move and perform among the arriving audience. Throughout the show, the audience are regularly greeted up close by the six members of the cast within the clinically decorated black-box studio, which acts as the perfect canvas for this style of performance. The setting is exceptional: the combination of sound and lighting creates a detached and unfamiliar theatre environment. This audience are in no way there for passive viewing.
The Artaudian nature of the performance is explicit; the performers push their physical boundaries (notably, the exceptionally talented Jacob Lovick and Joel Heritage) which drop the audience into a space of insecurity, where they are forced to be a part of every moment. It was great to see every spectator, in some way, contributing to the progression of the story. The actors play a variety of roles which they opt-into in a computer game style format. This highlights how violence can be easily explored in modern games, making this production very relevant in today's society.
The character of Alex is shared amongst all six performers and they each apply their own unique style to the role. Touwa Craig-Dunn’s depiction is of a confident and frantic Alex, whilst Grace Hussey-Burd plays him with a subdued yet sinister narcissism. The balance between the comedy and moments of discomfort were finely crafted - entertaining, engaging, whilst provoking deep thought. Catherine Butler is unrecognisable from one character to the next – she is a chameleon on stage and hugely entertaining. The same can be said for Jack Robertson who committed to the role of Dim right from the start, even whilst working in the box office - a nice touch. This is a tremendously strong cast who clearly have a lot of dedication and passion for their work.
I was truly impressed with Director Adam Carver’s innovative treatment and design of the space. The floor markings, which could have been easily overlooked during the busy start of the show, later became a kind of map of the violent events taking place. Similarly, the yummy sweets offered, began to taste more nauseating as the events unfolded. These intricate touches helped to make this show a work of art, a show which I will not forget for a long time.
In summary, this really was a ‘horrorshow’, but for all the right reasons - gritty, real, daring theatre that doesn’t hold back. I will be keeping a close eye on Tin Robot Company’s upcoming productions from now on.
“You must think of something wonderful...a sight, a smell, a sound...” sings Peter Pan as he teaches Wendy, John and Michael the secret of flying in this adaptation of the classic J M Barrie story; and the audience does not have to search for long to find something to carry them away in this magical production from Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company (SCMTC).
The show has been brought to life by a particularly strong production team who have left no-one standing still, no part of the stage empty. Stiles and Drewe’s beautiful score runs from heart-warming lullaby and sweeping ballads to punchy fight songs and comic duets. In a space that can be tricky to achieve a balance between band and performers, the sound quality under Sheila Pearson’s musical direction is excellent. The company tackle each change with a vibrant performance that has been packed full of little details by director Faye O’Leary so much so that the audience barely know where to look first in a scene and there are constant surprises for the audience. The attention to detail is paired with meticulous, high-energy choreography from Maggie Jackson spanning warrior battle routines to pirate sword fights and even morris dancing – ‘The Lost Boys Gang’ was one of the best choreographed pieces I have seen in amateur performance for a long time. Overall, the result is a finely tuned production in which it is evident that each performer is relishing in their individual characters and every second of their time on stage.
Patrick Jervis gives a confident performance in the title role and is well-matched with Lucy Charnock as Wendy Darling, who shone particularly in the tricky argumentative duet One Big Adventure. Pete Beck’s Captain Hook has just the right mix of charm and villainy, while Craig Allen is the perfect cheeky counterpart as Smee. Aoife Kenny exudes stage presence in every scene for Tiger Lily and her Braves, Chris Buckle (John) and Alex Nicholls (Michael) are perfectly cast as the Darling children, while Carly Hyland brings warmth and emotion to the role of Mrs Darling and collectively the characterisation in the Lost Boys Gang was a sheer joy to watch.
The stories and characters of Neverland have endured for over 100 years and showed no sign of disappearing at Lichfield Garrick Theatre this evening. A little girl in the queue for the bathroom just wanted to be Tiger Lily and had already mastered her warrior choreography, a grown-up gentleman leaving the theatre had ambitions to be Pan as he demonstrated his flying technique and there were many young boys walking tall out of the theatre with a look of rebellious lost boy – or piracy - about them... this is truly a show for the whole family and one not to be missed this half term.
As for this Love Midlands Theatre reviewer... I left a fully dedicated member of the Lost Boys’ gang and shall head to bed dreaming of the Second Star to the Right, pirates, crocodiles and awfully big adventures.
The production runs until Saturday with two special half-term matinee performances. Start your own adventure and book your tickets today!
With a West End revival that spanned two decades Blood Brothers is the third longest-running musical production in West End history, and if the packed-out opening night audience at the Wolverhampton Grand were anything to go by then this nationally touring production proves that the seminal Willy Russell classic is as loved today as it ever was.
Based around the 'nature vs. nurture' theory it follows the lives of twins Mickey Johnstone and Eddie Lyons who although separated at birth and unaware of the other’s existence, find their lives dramatically linked – much to the dismay of their biological and Eddie’s adoptive mother, and with tragic consequences.
Sean Jones and Joel Benedict as Mickey and Eddie respectively were truly superb, and transitioned through time and circumstance from childhood friends to bitter rivals effortlessly. Benedict’s Eddie was naïve and charming, but with just enough cheekiness throughout to keep him interesting and engaging. In beautiful but stark contrast Jones’ Mickey surfed a huge character arc playing each stage with candour and accuracy, particularly in the more challenging later scenes - with spectacular characterisation to observe.
A special mention but go too to Danielle Corlass as Linda - complementing the leading men she was a delight to watch and played a brilliant girl-next-door: a particular highlight to look out for being I’m Not Saying A Word, where the audience are able to fall just as much in love with her as the boys themselves.
Having previously played the role on West End, Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone gave a good performance but appeared to lose focus and stumble on some lines and vocals, causing a nearby audience member to question loudly in Act 1 whether she was at full health - perhaps if this were the case then that control would have made her performance less erratic and more sincere.
And although an obvious audience favourite, Marti Pellow as Narrator skulked purposefully in omniscient shadow for most scenes but never quite straddled the fine line balance of breaking the fourth wall to invite the audience in and being party to the action. He also (understandably) struggled at times with the necessary Liverpudlian accent, making his diction difficult to understand and lyrics sometimes inaudible.
A similarly admirable turn by Paula Tappenden as Eddie’s adopted mother also sadly felt underdeveloped – although her Stepford housewife routine and vocals were perfected, we saw only glimpses of her opportunistic and manipulative streak with Mrs J and Eddie, with her descent into madness also lacking conviction.
Throughout the movement and set changes were swiftly executed by the company and moved the narrative along nicely; the band also sounded great, providing great pace for storytelling too. The set was brilliantly utilised by all of the cast, and made for interesting backdrops for some of the more static scenes.
Altogether a very mixed-bag with a few too many falters and squandered potential to forgive a professional touring production. However, that said with a critical eye, it was still very well received and even garnered a standing ovation and a number of curtain calls – if you’re a fan of the show try and get along to make the judgement for yourself.
The Fellowship Players served up a Halloween classic in the run up to the 31 October. Bram Stoker's Dracula, adapted for the stage by Hamilton Deane and John L Balderston, is the chilling tale of the blood-sucking count.
The stage adaptation is incredibly compressed, with certain characters entirely removed from the plot. We are immediately introduced to Doctor Seward, who runs a mental institute in the English countryside. His daughter, Lucy, begins waking up pale, cold and void of energy, he turns to Van Helsing for help to solve the mystery. Numerous blood transfusions don't help and with two pin prick like marks on her neck, Helsing may already know the answer.
Van Helsing was played with utter conviction by Sam Evans, there was solid support from Dale Roberts who excellently played the crazy and demented Reinfield, as well as Alan Lowe's creepy Dracula. Frances Corbett took on the role of Lucy, her character didn't have much chance to really grow, but her screams were blood-curdling. There was also a little comic turn from Gerald Joyce as the hapless Mr Butterworth.
The final scene plunged the theatre into darkness, with just oil lamps giving flickers of light. The heightened atmosphere and clever use of all entrances and exits, helped the audience to feel part of the action. The sound design was cleverly used to further build tension and it was clear that the group had worked extremely hard on bringing this gothic classic to life. All in all, it was a spooky evening that offers something a little bit different this Halloween.
Sister Act is a joyous production, filled with music and blistering comedy. It’s a challenge for any amateur theatre society to take on, yet to see such an accomplished production on stage at Stourbridge Town Hall was a real pleasure.
Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society threw all of their talent into this show and it was abundantly clear from start to finish.
The production can be a casting nightmare for some societies, but they had a strong cast in place who shone through the night.
Taking on the leading role of Deloris Van Cartier with confidence and sass was Laura Wynter who really grew into the role as the show went on. The first night nerves were soon diminished as she strutted her stuff and soulfully sang through the challenging score.
Raise Your Voice and Take Me To Heaven are always the crowd pleasers, but this fine ensemble took it up a notch with sparkling harmonies that never faltered through the whole show. It is perhaps one of the strongest ensembles I have seen on the amateur theatre circuit, which is also down to the excellent Musical Director Jonathan Hill and Assistant Musical Director Ian Room.
Dawn Shillingford was utterly charming as Mother Superior, with an hilarious comic turn from Mark Horne as Monsignor O'Hara and Juliet O'Brien as hip-hop Sister Mary Lazarus.
Sister Mary Patrick and Sister Mary Robert, played by Anna Hough and Salli Gage respectively, delivered brilliant performances with Gage's powerful vocal resonating round the auditorium in The Life I Never Led.
Jonathan Hunt was an endearing Eddie Souther, as he tries in vain to hide Deloris from Curtis (played by Mitchell Bastable) and his gang.
Bastable's velvety vocals dazzled in When I Find My Baby and he played a sleazy gang leader a bit too well! The rest of his gang was made up of the fabulous trio of George Stuart (TJ), Will Phipps (Joey) and Adam Partridge (Pablo), each shining in their individual roles.
Plaudits to Mike Capri for his excellent directing and choreography making for a slick production that SAOS should be thoroughly proud of.
Congratulations one and all, it was Fabulous, Baby!
Every theatre-goer is aware of the pulling power of a famous name. A packed out Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, tonight was a testament to the power of two. Tommy Steele is the man charged with bringing the story of notorious bandleader Glenn Miller to life and this born showman warms the audience with his fantastic personality and stage presence. I was initially sceptical about the casting of Steele (some 38 years older than miller at the time of his disappearance) but his experience really shone through and delivered a charming performance, which was part telling of the story and part salute to the veteran star.
The show opens with the moments just prior to Miller's departure on his final journey then flashes suddenly back tothe beginning of Miller’s career as a poor trombonist desperately trying to find an ear for his “sound”. Instead of the mellow tunes of the late 30’s, the beleaguered musician brings a new element to the music of the day – Swing. Enter the show’s unbelievably talented band, which are the lifeblood of this show. The balance, texture and richness of the sound they created had me on the edge of my seat all night. They treated us to all of Miller’s most famous hits as the show charts his rise to fame, his romance and marriage to Helen Burger (Sarah Soetaert) through his joining the military and his final moments before taking his final journey to Paris. The story was handled well, right until the ending which seemed somewhat rushed and extra scene showing her reaction to the news of Miller’s death would have been welcome. Following the conclusion of the story we were treated to more of his most famous songs which were excellently sung by a really tight company.
Particular mention needs to go to Sarah Soetaert as Helen Burger who gave an accomplished performance opposite Steele. She showed off her rich, powerful alto and exemplary vocal technique with a gorgeous rendition of At Last. The company were also extremely tight and delivered well-rounded harmonies and excellently choreographed routines. The two tap routines were especially pleasing on the eye and filled the stage, despite there only being six of them. I also enjoyed the onstage cameos from members of the band – Mike Lloyd in particular gave a hilarious turn as Ballroom proprietor Cy Schreibmann.
Aspects of the production really enhanced the telling of the story, in particular the decision to have the band on stage really added to the authenticity of the piece, as well as giving us an unadulterated sound which was so enjoyable to everyone in the theatre. The only flaw with this was that there were large spells where Steele was left with not much to do. He excelled, however, when he was either delivering his traditionally powerful vocal performances, or when he was breaking the fourth wall and engaging with the audience.
All in all, this was a charming and fun production where the performer’s energy and enjoyment swept the audience along and gave them a great night out.
The Glenn Miller Story runs at the Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 24 October.
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 Musical Thriller is a real bravura piece of theatre requiring a large, talented cast to perform. The musical demands are extreme, particularly for the chorus, and the dark subject matter and highly comic moments can be very difficult to balance.
Stafford and District Operatic Society tackled the score with real energy, and pinpoint precision on Sondheim’s fiendish harmonies. The opening Ballad of Sweeney Todd really set the scene for a brilliantly sung performance, with a number of solos from company members, all with excellent diction and dark foreboding character. The first appearance of the famous Dies Irae theme (Swing your razor wide, Sweeney) was suitably strident and chilling. And the chorus remained on vibrant form for the whole evening, the opening of Act 2 (God, That’s Good) being the particular stand out of the whole evening for me. Credit must clearly go to Musical Director Bill Moss and his team for the commitment and effort to perfecting Sondheim’s music.
The principal performances were all strong, with Calum Robarts leading the company well as a brooding, full voiced Sweeney. As his nemesis Judge Turpin Jonathan Down could have been a little bit more disturbing and we did miss his chilling solo Johanna, cut on this occasion. But his duet with Sweeney, Pretty Women, was full of lugubrious joy. Hannah Morris and Mark Phizacklea made an appealing young couple and there was excellent support from John Wilson as the chillingly stern Beadle, and Will Wood with an excellent cameo and she show-off Italian barber Pirelli (shame there was no Irish accent later on, though). Jessica Smith made a real impression as the Beggar Woman, and I’m glad they included her Ballad (often cut from the show). It was a real winner in this performance.
The stand out performance of the evening, as often happens with this show, came from Mrs Lovett. As Todd’s accomplice and erstwhile lover Tracey Brough was utterly convincing (worryingly so, given the nature of the character!) and in spectacular voice. With mannerisms reminiscent of Catherine Tate she brought the stage to life every time she appeared. And inspired use of props during By the Sea was a great touch.
A special mention must be given to 14 year old Joseph Straw (Tobias Ragg), who tackled Sondheim’s complex words and music like an old pro. Plaudits for the company for being brave enough to trust this difficult role to young performers (Joseph is sharing the role with 12 year old Greg Wood).
Rachel Millar’s production was efficient, with a few excellent touches. Personally speaking I thought the very basic, spare set only just worked, and the Barbers’ Shop not being above the Bakery is a problem in the final sequence when the murdered bodies are meant to immediately appear below and scare Tobias. And I did miss the shaving soap and, especially, the blood, although this bothered me less as the evening went on, and was handled sensitively. However the use of the chorus was excellent, and the unusual curtain call really worked.
Overall a brilliantly sung production of a really challenging piece of theatre. Well done to all at SDOS.
The internationally acclaimed One Man Two Guvnors has enjoyed unprecedented success in recent years, winning countless awards as a a glorious celebration of British comedy, packed with satire, songs, slapstick and glittering one-liners. An ambitious show to choose, perhaps, but the fearless Union Theatre rose to the challenge to more than do it justice.
As ever, an accomplished ensemble cast gave effortlessly polished performances. Sharp delivery of clever wordplay allowed a demanding script an air of sophistication without detracting from the hugely accessible humour that defines the show. Hilarious physical comedy was expertly delivered by the lovable character of Alfie, played to superb comic timing by Malcolm Clark. The unmistakeable fun on stage certainly translated to the audience, with lots of laughter and utter captivation throughout.
Having been played by such iconic actors as James Corden, the lead role of Francis could be a daunting role to play. Yet Jamie Moore showed no signs of intimidation in his confident and pleasingly acerbic portrayal of the charming chancer juggling two masters. Strong support came from Dominic Wilson as Stanley Stubbers, Lucy Williams as Rachel Crabbe, Rosie Jewell as Pauline Clench and Victoria Ellery-Jones, a force to be reckoned with as the feisty yet vulnerable feminist Dolly.
Music is also used to full effect to heighten the infectious energy of the piece. Lively songs, with many instruments played onstage, and enjoyable singing from the majority of the cast took the entertainment to another level. Tom Bowkett in particular had a stand-out voice. In less capable hands the busy plot could seem confusing and chaotic, but here it is skilfully performed by the cast who make it an overwhelmingly joyous experience to watch.
An exhilarating ride from start to finish, don't miss this latest production from the talented Union Theatre, who continue to go from strength to strength. You're guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face.
Union Theatre's production of One Man Two Guvnors runs at Solihull URC, Christ Church until Saturday 17 October. For more information or to book call the Box Office on 07949 508 478 or buy tickets on the door.
I had the pleasure of seeing Lichfield Operatic Society's production of The Full Monty at the Lichfield Garrick last night. Whether amateur or professional it is a challenge to fill such a beautiful, yet vast stage - but Lichfield Operatic triumphantly succeeded.
The high energy opening juxtaposed to the slower paced introduction of each of the leading men. Down on their luck - the men have been unemployed for months and they're desperately seeking jobs. After stumbling across a stripper club and watching all of the women happy to spend their hard-earned cash on such frivolities, they turn their hand to stripping.
The cast is led strongly by these 6 men, each individually shining in their roles; Phil Bourne as unemployed Dad, Jerry Lukowski, Ben Green as the body conscious Dave Bukatinsky and David Hill as ‘under-the-thumb’ Harold Nichols are all excellent. Patrick Jervis is endearing as Malcolm MacGregor, with an impressive voice to match and Fidel Lloyd as ‘Horse’ is completely delightful, with a velvety voice and suave dance moves, which were thrust into the spotlight in Big Black Man. Completing the group was Mark Johnson as Ethan Girard, who shone in his role.
A dazzling turn in the show comes from Julie Mallaband as Jeanette. Utterly hilarious, each of her entrances were anticipated by the audience and every line was perfectly delivered. Musical highlights included Bourne, Green and Jervis forming a comical trio in Big-Ass Rock and the finale number Let It Go.
The smooth scene changes make for a fast-paced production, which are a credit to the director, Helen Gilfoyle. It is abundantly clear that she has had fantastic support, in a show that includes superb choreography by Charlotte Middleton and crisp harmonies under the musical direction of Jack Hopkins.
Lichfield Operatic Society is overflowing with talent. From the ensemble to the principles, the creatives to the backstage crew, The Full Monty guarantees an enjoyable evening out.
Packed full of well-known songs including Deadwood Stage, Whip Crack Away and The Black Hills of Dakota; Calamity Jane is one of those classic shows guaranteed to have the audience humming their way out of the theatre, and Tamworth Arts Club’s production is no exception.
It is the singing throughout the production which really stands out and carries the show along. Full credit is due to Sue Arthur for her sympathetic musical direction. The principal performers grasp their solo moments with great energy and their voices blend well together in duets, while the ensemble deliver powerful, balanced harmonies in all their numbers.
Funny and brash; Jenny Barlow-Jennings is perfect in the title role with a strong voice that really comes into its own in Secret Love. Excellent vocals too from Andrew Gilman as Wild Bill Hickok and Nicola Downs as Katie Brown, while Connor Brooks adds a near-show stealing performance as Francis Fryer.
The set is simple yet works well and avoids the need for clumsy scene changes. The Assembly Room stage is small for the cast of 35 which leads to some static staging in places and this can slow the pace of the action a little. That aside, this is a warm, charming production which gives everyone on and off-stage a moment in the spotlight – the front of house staff in western costume setting the tone of the evening from the first entrance into the building.
This is a classic show that is so well-known, so iconic in Doris Day’s career that it is difficult to take it in a new direction, but Tamworth Arts Club have succeeded in creating a show with just the right balance of slapstick, showbiz and timeless romance to satisfy old fans and new audiences alike.
Runs until Saturday 17 October at Tamworth Assembly Rooms.
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