Tin Robot Theatre breathes new life into Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart in another bold production at the Old Joint Stock.
Like the company’s production of Dorian Gray this is brave and original theatre which takes Poe’s odd and gruesome tale and relocates it in a sterile, futuristic Orwellian world.
In what has become an enduring story, despite being just a few pages in length when it was published in 1843, an unnamed narrator tries in vain to convince the reader that all is well when in fact he is torn by the guilt of having murdered a man.
This production puts a fresh and interesting twist on the tale. All of the action takes place in the minimalistic surroundings of the narrator’s apartment and follows his inquisition by a series of visitors who are seemingly the gatekeepers of a futuristic world. They have ‘lost the signal’ emanating from the man and want answers.
Meanwhile the narrator gives us sporadic glimpses into what happened while the man’s ‘vulture-eye’ is quite literally haunting him in the form of a piece of moving art.
Touwa Craig-Dunn turns in a strong performance as the tortured narrator. He has a naturalistic style of acting which works so well with this production. His descent into madness as his inquisition progresses is utterly believable.
Jack Robertson impresses too as one of his emotionless interrogators, supported well by Joel Heritage and Vita Fox.
Meanwhile a simplistic but stark set, the use of regular blackouts and clever sound effects, cleverly generated by director Adam Carver himself on a microphone, put the audience on edge and help to move the story along well. There’s a palpable tension in the build up to a rather gruesome end.
It’s a little indulgent in places and though there is a clear intention to build the atmosphere, the start is still rather slow for a piece of this length.
Nonetheless this is another unique, bold and utterly original production from Tin Robot Theatre which is rapidly making a name for itself as one of the most inventive company's in the area.
Marking their 50th year as a musical society, Tamworth Arts Club continue their year of celebrations with a concert featuring songs from the popular classic and contemporary musicals. The Sound of Musicals Showtime features a good selection of well-known numbers from golden era musicals such as Singin’ In The Rain and Oliver! set alongside lesser known hits from more recent shows such as Avenue Q, Shrek and Matilda. The programme offers something to suit all tastes and ages in the opening night audience.
The staging was simple but effective throughout, with a split level set put to good use to vary blocking for both chorus and solo numbers. The choreography for the ensemble numbers was well-executed, with some particularly effective touches in the Joseph and Mamma Mia sections.
The production showcased the range of talent in the company well, providing opportunities for many of the adult and youth members to shine in solo, duet and group numbers. Perhaps it was due to opening night nerves, but the production began rather tentatively and lacked energy in the early numbers. All worries of this were set aside as the production progressed however and the later pieces had a lot more energy once the cast had relaxed. There were a few glitches with microphones and amplification which left some of the early numbers being overshadowed by the band but overall the production team (Jenny Barlow Jennings, Natasha Beckett, Sue Arthur and Alex Priestley) should be commended for creating such a smooth running and varied production.
There were a number of strong solo performances throughout the evening; particularly from Nikki Downs, Stacey Ward and Connor Brooks who all handled their demanding songs with just the right level of emotion. Yet, it was the performances from the youth members of the cast who really stole the show with strong ensemble work particularly evident in the Annie and Matilda sequences, while Maisie Chatfield, Caitlyn Jennings and Taylor Hill all impressed in their solo songs, both with their vocal ability and their characterisation. Without a doubt, the performance of the night award has to be attributed to Mia Scutt for her rendition of Quiet from Matilda: a challenging song for any young singer that was handled with great skill and maturity.
Playing predominantly to a family audience of parents, siblings, children and fellow TAC members, there was a palpable warmth from the audience towards the performances, but the true heart of this production is in the blending of adult and youth companies onstage; highlighting the talent inherent within the current company and giving the audience an exciting taster of the potential talent coming up through the ranks ready for future productions.
As Tevye proudly boasts within the first few minutes of Fiddler on the Roof, it is a story of tradition, and it could be argued that Fiddler is the traditional legitimate musical, performed on many a stage across the world... however this week at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford & District Operatic Society have breathed new life into 'tradition', and what a show it is.
Director Nicholas Maxwell-Earnshaw's beautifully touching modern day morals for the production show the audience from the pre-show exactly why they should sit and watch this production unfold, it would be a disservice to ruin the stunning visual metaphors within this review, however the moment that the parallels come full circle acts as a chillingly thought provoking tale of morality. A masterstroke.
The main cast themselves are a treat to watch, despite the differences in setting, every single member of the cast gave a performance that was not only relatable, but completely true, the decision to drop the Russian accents of some characters worked in favour of the production, and you really did feel every moment of emotional joy, pain and loss within their respective journeys.
Rob Mincher played an astoundingly good Tevye, and was perfect leading man material, his breaking of the fourth wall to speak out to the audience in his prayers to God were heartfelt yet humorous, he held the audience in the palm of his hands, as even in some of his characters more unlikeable moments, you couldn't help but want the best for him, his chemistry with his onstage wife Golde, played by Jane Steed was perfect, you could see the two of them were enjoying their scenes together so much onstage!
Kelly-Marie Edwards, Michelle May and Emily-Jayne Nicholls make a fearsome trio as Tevye's unmarried daughters Hodel, Tzeitel and Chava, their vocals soared from The Gatehouse stage, and Edwards' delivery of Far From The Home I Love was beautifully sang, ringing every piece of emotion of the song, as we saw Hodel's tentative choice.
They were joined onstage by a wonderful supporting cast, including Craig Chesters as the stern faced Lazar Wolf and the wonderfully wimpish Motel, played by Mark Phizacklea. Both of these characters had tremendous journeys throughout the show, that were executed wonderfully, and characterisation for both roles were completely on the nail.
For this production, SDOS were joined by their younger youth group MYTS, and it would be criminal to not mention the astounding talent that they have on display, every single member that took to the stage, ranging from 7-17, were confident and understood their place within the piece perfectly, it was a joy to watch.
The future looks bright for Stafford Operatics, who will now be changing their name to Musical Theatre Stafford, to take a show that everyone knows, and to show it in an inventive new light, is not an easy task, but they made it look easy. We see hope, loss, laughter in this production but the true metaphor that I took away, is to treasure individuality, along with tradition, and at such a turbulent time in the world, Fiddler on the Roof has shown it has a very important message to share.
Lichfield Operatic Society have pulled out all the stops for their latest production at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre and the results are fantastic. The attention to detail across the board is palpable and combined with an array of excellent performances, the company breathe new life into this old classic of a show.
Guys & Dolls is based on short stories by author and reporter Damon Runyan. He was celebrated for recording snapshots of New York City life in his writing. From the opening sequences, the audience for this production are treated to similar snapshots of the busy city and its inhabitants, with the strong chorus portraying tourists and city workers from the upper class to the down at heel. Jessica Lambert’s clever choreography combined with superb direction from Julie Mallaband ensures that the audience are drawn in to the scene from the outset and swept into the Broadway storyline. Completing the production team, musical director Mark Timms ensures that both vocals and the wonderful instrumental score are well-balanced and in tune with each character.
Performances across the board are extremely strong, with many small cameo roles drawing a great reaction from the audience; particularly on the repeated parade of lost souls in the Salvation Army brigade. Some wonderful characterisation here which really made individuals stand out despite a lack of lines or time in the spotlight being scripted. There are good supporting performances too from Patrick Jervis as Benny Southstreet and David Madeley as Arvide Abernath, while Oliver Rowe as Nicely Nicely Johnson ensures that the popular and always highly-anticipated Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat fulfils the audiences expectations for an energetic, foot-tapping routine.
It is the quartet of principles that really shine however and who take the production to a near-professional level. Charlotte Middleton (Sarah Brown), Pete Beck (Sky Masterson), Nathan Detroit (James Pugh) and Vickie Beck (Miss Adelaide) are a joy to behold. Each perfectly cast and creating a wonderful working partnership that is particularly apparent in the duet combinations; together they presented fantastic vocals and wonderful comic moments throughout.
This production proved that Lichfield Operatic Society have a lot of talented, creative members both on and offstage and it will be interesting to see what they do next.
In the meantime, you can still catch the rolling dice game at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre until Saturday.
Blood Brothers first came to the stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome by accident in 1995 when a run of another show was cancelled at the last minute. And what a very happy accident that was. Willy Russell’s story has captivated audiences ever since, and this latest production is no exception.
The story is beautifully simple; Liverpudlian twins Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Joel Benedict) are separated at birth because their working class mother (Lyn Paul) can only afford to feed one more mouth. Mickey grows up in hardship with his mother and siblings while Eddie is raised in a wealthy family nearby and the two find each other by chance and become best friends, their lives taking different but intertwined paths.
Lyn Paul has owned the role of Mrs Johnstone since she first played it nearly 20 years ago. You can’t help wondering exactly how many performances that equates to - from the way she effortlessly belts out the numbers you’d guess several thousand, but by the raw emotion she displays you’d think it was her first.
Near the start of the story Mrs Johnstone announces she’s pregnant (again) with the twins - a bit of an eyebrow raiser when she looks more like Mary Berry than mum-to-be. But the truth is it really doesn’t matter; Paul has adapted to play a Mrs Johnstone you feel is taking you back to tell you the story. She is quite simply masterful; a delight to watch - good luck to whoever follows in her footsteps when she does finally call it a day.
Sean Jones and Joel Benedict impress as the protagonists; Jones is particularly striking as Mickey - making a believable and saddening descent from a loveable childhood scamp into an increasingly bedraggled and tragic figure. Meanwhile life is much better for Eddie who goes to a nice school while Mickey struggles at his, who gives Mickey his sweets when he has none, and who goes to university just as Mickey gets and then loses his first dead-end job.
Russell’s story might have debuted more than 30 years ago, when a second Thatcher government had just been elected and the gap between the poor and the rich had widened significantly, but this exploration of nature versus nurture is every bit as relevant and poignant today as it was then.
As the plot works its way to a tragic conclusion the action is narrated with gravitas by a crooning Dean Chisnall, who helps the story along at a lovely pace.
Elsewhere there’s strong support from Danielle Corlass as Linda, the simple girl who unwittingly gets caught in the middle of this tale of woe and Sarah Jane Buckley as the tortured Mrs Lyons, who all but forces Mrs Johnstone to give her Eddie and is forced to live with it every day.
The final iconic number, Tell Me It's Not True, left barely a dry eye in the house and not a single person on their seat.
Blood Brothers is a tragic and immensely poignant exploration of how a person's life is shaped by the circumstances they are born into. Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s beautiful and moving production does Russell’s enduring story justice, and then some.
South Staffs Musical Theatre Company present their dazzling 2016 production of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 at the Wolverhampton Grand this week. SSMTC narrate the tale of three young women as they strive to make their workplace fair from the bullish boss ‘Franklin Hart Jr.
Due to unexpected circumstances, Marina Shee was unable to perform in tonight's show, leaving Zoe Wiltshire to valiantly take up the role at very short notice. Wiltshire’s performance was not one of an understudy, but a leading lady and should be commended for performing so professionally at late notice. A strong performance to match her on stage leads Doralee Rhodes (Lexie Bennett) and Judy Bernly (Abbie Rai) who were also strong. In particular, Abbie's performance as the confused innocent Judy was impressive and brought some much needed comic relief to the scene. In particular, her rendition of Get Out and Stay Out was the show stealer tonight with some strong vocals enhanced by the band. Other strong performances came from the deluded secretary Roz (Natasha Bennett) and the love struck 'Joe' (Daniel Handdon) who had a nice strong vocal presence. Finally, Simon McGee played the womanising, misogynistic, biggot Franklin Hart Jr well, bringing a panto-esque comical performance to the role.
The orchestra was strong and tight giving a real energy to the soundtrack. However, some sound problems hindered the performance, with full songs happening with no microphones and moments of comedy were missed due to muted or crackly microphones.
The large ensemble supported well - with pleasant choreography from Maria Shee - lighting was basic and worked well (despite a lighting designer not being present in the creative team) and aside from some opening night glitches, congratulations to all involved, I know I’ll definitely be singing this soundtrack 9 to 5 each day.
“OH MY GOD YOU GUYS” Coventry Youth Operetta Group close their 2016 season with the stunning Legally Blonde. As Elle Woods seeks out to get back her man, she follows him to Harvard Law School and unexpectedly becomes 'Legally' Blonde herself.
Libby Simpkins led the piece well as the 'blonde' Elle Woods and was accompanied well by her on stage tutor Luke Bingham as Emmett. Another notably strong performance was from Jess Dorian as Vivienne who really shone towards the latter end of the play.
Overall, proscenium's set covered the Albany's challenging stage well and with the lighting it created a really strong feel of the glitz and glam of Malibu, and contrasted well to be scenes in Harvard Law School. The band tackled the complex score well and kudos must go to the ensemble for their performance in the challenging Whipped Into Shape. Although at times it was a little overcrowded on stage, it gave a great effect. One special mention goes to the two animal stars of the production Indie as Bruiser and Pablo as Rufus as they smothered the audience with love - a nice touch.
As with many opening nights, there were unfortunately sound issues in the performance. This resulted in dialogue and some parts of songs being missed. Hopefully these are just some opening night glitches, which can be easily ironed out.
The strongest lead male was undoubtedly the stunning performance of Callahan by Nathan Routledge. After experiencing this young actor stun as Collins in Wing It Theatre's Rent, after tonight's performance I am looking forward to seeing where his career takes him.
Despite a few opening night glitches, the overall production was well presented with some strong performances from individuals, as well as the large ensemble – a production well worth catching before it closes Saturday!
Take the master storytelling of Michael Morpurgo and blend with the remarkable vision of Kneehigh Theatre Company and the result is an absorbing, beautifully crafted piece of theatre that will stay with you long after you leave.
The story has all the hallmarks you would expect from a Michael Morpurgo text - humour, wonderful descriptions, identifiable characters and a story that tugs at every emotional cord you can imagine. As with so many of his works, this is not just a children’s story and Kneehigh’s production is far from being ‘just’ a children’s show.
946: The Story of Adolphus Tips is adapted from Morpurgo’s 2006 children’s novel of the same name. Set in a sleepy seaside village in 1943, it tells the story of World War 2 through the eyes of 12 year old Lily Tregenza as she encounters stories from the Front, the arrival of evacuees and the posting of American GIs to the area. When her beloved cat Tips goes missing, she must rely on her new found friends to help find her; paving the way for a remarkable journey of friendship that is to remain for the rest of their lives. It is a story of war, loss, displacement and hospitality in times of need, and one which has particular resonance against the tales of war and refugee aid today.
From such a description you would be forgiven for imagining a rather sombre production. Far from it! The audience are swept along by an almost party-like atmosphere from the moment they step into the auditorium as a group of cleaners engage them in conversation as they sweep around the rows of seats, accompanied by music from a stunning blues band who are to provide the live soundtrack for the show.
The production goes on to mix music, dance, physical theatre, puppetry and more in a seamless way that sweeps the audience along from start to finish. The small ensemble cast play many roles between them with clever use of costuming allowing for a change in role from adult to child and back again so slick, that it makes you wonder that there are not more cast members hiding in the wings. The entire cast is to be commended for their tour de force performances, which are more “multi-threat” than “triple-threat”; combining acting, singing and dance with highly skilled puppetry and musicianship.
To highlight any particular individual would be a disservice to the rest. This production has achieved that rare thing when every single element from performance to design and direction works to perfection. Everything completely in harmony, places this among the best of the Kneehigh shows I have ever seen and more to the point ranks it among the best I have ever seen.
If I could be at The REP to watch it again this week I would be. Just go! You will not be disappointed.
My knowledge of Elton John’s music can be gleaned from teenage parties, Candle in the Wind and the children’s animated film Gnomeo and Juliet. So when I knew that West Bromwich Opera Company were staging a modernized version of the Verdi classic, I wasn’t quite sure what I was letting myself in for. What I did know was that WBOS aim to please and they have picked winners in the past; so I allowed myself to be persuaded.
The first thing to notice was the sparse modern setting. The opening was a museum, made possible by the small tight-knit, beautifully tuned chorus members acting ‘tourist’ all dressed in various pure white casual attire. They gave the stage life, using the steps at the back of the stage to add levels and height. This in turn allowed the simple material canvas and lighting techniques to move and to become the different settings throughout the entire show. The opening number, performed beautifully by Olivia Jones (Amneris), set the high standard for the evening, quickly followed up by Lyndon Flavell who had the right tone of voice to convey the familiar Elton John style as the Egyptian Captain, Radames. The audience fell into the world of the Egyptian capture of the Nubian slaves and was transported with them, back in time into the court of the Pharaoh. John Wetherall’s direction and Claire Flavell’s choreography worked well together ensuring the stage was never dull. Tasheka Coe provided Aida with a soulful voice in the number The Past is Another Land, adding the elements of conflict and rebellion to the story.
The entire cast brought an energy to the show which meant that a balance was achieved with the soft rock ballads and story-telling. In another company’s hands, some of these ballads may have been sluggish, but the music was spot on, thanks to the leading of the Musical Director, Tim Harding and his band.
Before this, I have to admit that I knew none of the numbers in the show. I went away recalling with satisfaction the numbers that really impressed me; Fortune Favours the Brave, My Strongest Suit and the spine tingling ending to act 1 The Gods Love Nubia. And so did we.
The surprising moments of the show came from the humour with which Princess Amneris delivered her lines. Olivia Jones’ timing was impeccable and she helped to add colour to the love story, and showed the Princess as a well-rounded and intelligent character, when she may have been in danger of appearing one sided or flat.
The finale made use of the full circle effect and took the audience right back to the museum, where we started. A love story with a strong beginning, a tense middle and heart tugging ending. I went not knowing what I was going to witness and left glad that I had made the effort. Another fine performance from WBOS.
Almost entirely sung-through and comprising of notoriously difficult pieces for soloists and chorus alike, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Sunset Boulevard is a challenge for any company – professional or amateur, adult or youth. Telling the story of the relationship between a penniless script writer and a faded star of the silent movie era, the show is blessed with a sweeping orchestral score, beautifully crafted characters and a barrage of well-known numbers that many have heard but do not instantly associate with the show itself. A show of such magnitude requires a strong team to pull it off and Lichfield Garrick Youth Theatre really step up to the mark in this production.
The production is ably led by its team of four principles in the roles of Joe Gillis, Norma Desmond, Betty Schaefer and Max Von Mayerling. Dominic Sterland (Joe) gives an assured performance from the start, guiding the audience through the story with plenty of charisma and drive. His vocals were excellent throughout and showed an impressive range. Emma Charnock as his love interest Betty also impressed vocally, handling the challenging duets and conversational songs with ease and maturity. Taking on the hugely demanding role of Norma Desmond, Sophia Ford displayed an excellent singing ability from the outset and her two key solos With One Look and As If We Never Said Goodbye were particular highlights, proving that she could handle the switch between both belting sequences and emotional songs without concern. Completing the quartet, Nathan De Giorgi was well-fitted to the part of Norma’s butler Max, with the ability to blend into the background of a scene contrasting with a vocal dexterity that showed a brilliant range. Together they form a formidable team.
There are strong performances too from a number of ensemble soloists, indicating that LGYT have a number of potential leads waiting in the wings to step up into the bigger roles, while overall the chorus were confident and well-rehearsed making for a very slick production. Jessica Lambert deserves recognition for the simple but effective movement choreography which pervaded the show.
The capable orchestra under the direction of Oliver Rowe tackled the complex score well. It would have been great to hear some of the instrumental pieces really given the freedom of tempo and volume to soar - but understandably there is always the ongoing struggle of the music not over-powering the singers.
This is however a minor note to what was overall a highly enjoyable evening, that drew a great a response from its audience and even had them singing as they left the theatre. Always a sign of a successful performance!
Runs until Saturday evening.
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