Derren Brown; illusionist, artist, hypnotist and master of the mind. I, myself have always been a big fan of this mysterious trickster, so when given the opportunity to review his new act Showman, I was beyond excited, but also a little apprehensive of what the night may entail.
Brown does not disappoint with this unique and touching show so be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster of an experience.
A genius combination of witty humour, skilful observations and unbelievable mind-bending manipulation, will have you questioning what you see, hear and feel. Whether on stage, or not, this show is all about us, the audience. You will feel a deep connection, to not only Derren, himself, but the strangers around you. Poignant and reflective, you will look at your own personal relationships and experiences.
The spectacle was accompanied by the clever use of lighting and sound, building suspense and keeping us all on the edge of our seats. Portable cameras and projection allowed for the audience to be fully submersed in even the smallest of tricks and capture the raw emotion and stunned surprise of those involved.
The audience are sworn to secrecy about the brilliance they witness, so to know the true feeling of a Derren Brown show you must experience it for yourself. Prepare for jaw-dropping, mystical magic.
‘No-one’s immune if you pick out a simple tune’ sings Arthur Kipps. I agree. Last night, the smiles and toe-tapping were contagious at the Youth Onstage West Midlands premiere of Kipps.
This fabulous musical - a reworking of Half A Sixpence - was the perfect vehicle for sharing the joy of performance. The skippy notes of a banjo always cheer and this, with a faultless orchestra, chimed the air with Edwardian charm. The costumes conjured the era well. Set design and its handling by stage crew was highly effective too, allowing for the rapid chapter-like telling.
The troupe love their craft and performing together. The ensemble numbers, composed of Aoife Freeman, Katie Hunt, Sam Turpin and many named-role performers, were superb. Given that early rehearsals were online, I applaud them all for the mastery of their dance and singing.
Conor Dodds and Caitlin Dodds as Young Arthur and Young Ann courageously opened with a heart-warming first scene of child’s-view innocence and play. Ellie Burley played Helen Walsingham with skilful variation of emotion. The money-orientation of Mrs Walsingham was notable from Esme Read, and Dan McCloskey carried James Walsingham’s financial bravado. Phoebe Mason and Ben Bremner worked the manner and physicality of Aunt Susan Kipps and Uncle Bert Kipps nicely. The socialist Sid Pornick was in good hands with Joe Burley. A counterpoint to James Berryman’s severe Mr Shalford, Lucy Forrester, Mark Cornaby and Erin Norman brought a jovial, endearing Miss Pierce, Buggins and Flo Evans. There was a charming effervescence to Nico Eynon-Colon’s Chitterlow. Gracie Evenden, Fran Hutchinson, Albie Moore and Paige Allen did stirling work bringing believable and entertaining characters Carshot / Lady Dacre, Lady Punnet, Hayes / Mr Maxwell / Barman and Miss Mary Ross / Miss Foster. Matty Brook and Lauren Chapman, as Arthur Kipps and Ann Pornick, brought charm, vitality and chemistry to the stage and like their fellow cast members, delighted the audience throughout.
The show closes tonight (Saturday 9 October) with a flash, bang, wallop!
Ordinary Days - originally developed by New York Theatre Barn in 2007 - is a delightfully charming story that centres around a small cast of just four, which can be at times, difficult to pull off by even the most experienced of companies. The Starbuck Theatre Company did not disappoint and once again proved that under Sarah Pavlovs' direction, the theatre company's aim of making small, new or not well known musical shows accessible to all has been taken to astounding new heights - yet again!
Taking place in 2011, the show introduces us to our four ingenious characters who are living, studying and working in New York City. Kicking off the show we meet Warren (played by Nathan Blyth), a cat-sitting artist who finds himself under the employment of a fellow New York artist who had been jailed for painting "pithy sayings" across the city! Blyth brought such a warm campness to the role that you couldn't help but love the sheer confidence Warren has of his determination to stay ambitious and upbeat in the face of rejection and his belief in looking at the Big Picture.
We are then introduced to Deb (Ashleigh Aston), a mesmerisingly witty and often distressed grad student. Her inability to choose the correct way to phrase things, allows for some moments of subtle comedy but no so useful when trying to come up with excuses for her Professor after she accidentally misplaces her notes for her thesis on Virginia Woolf. Aston's fabulous rendition of Dear Professor Thompson and Don't Wanna Be Here had the audience at the edge of their seats. The delivery of her performance both physically and vocally was outstanding and really did make Aston the star of the show.
Before we were treated to a gorgeously well choreographed quartet in the form of Saturday at the Met, we were also introduced to our remaining characters in the form of Claire (played by the talented Sarah Pavlovs) and Jason (Starbuck Theatre Company favourite Dean Bayliss) - who are embarking on the next chapter in their relationship by taking the plunge and moving in together. Little did we know that it was this would trigger the events that unfolded. The way that Bayliss portrayed the hopelessly romantic but constantly thwarted Jason shows us once again why he was asked to return to the company. His extraordinary depth of character and his ability to show even the most complex of emotions throughout his performance really heightened the production and our understanding of the character.
Undeniably, the most poignant and emotionally diverse of all the characters lay in that of Claire - a woman whose true feelings and motives aren't immediately apparent. Whether blind to the reality behind the wall she has put up between her and any potential to move forward with Jason, or simply too scared to accept her past - Pavlovs' experience within the industry shines through her flawless performance where she manages to balance the finer concepts of her character through to fruition in such a rare and tantalising way. With her stunning vocal range, Pavlovs encapsulated the spirit of Claire in both Gotta Get Out and I'll Be Here and complimented the ensemble as a whole.
Whilst lyrically this musical isn't necessarily the most immersive that Starbuck Theatre has produced, the dynamic, confident tones of it's performers' and the raw but effective staging decisions culminated in this little gem of a production.
Nottingham Theatre Royal witnessed alchemy last night (Saturday 25 September) at the world premiere of Merlin. Within the elegance of this house, Northern Ballet’s new production produced gold of the finest quality.
I am not a regular attender of ballet and I blush at my lack of informed opinion. But Northern Ballet wishes to reach many just like myself, and reach me they did. This was powerful storytelling and tangible emotion portrayed through gesture, expression, movement, music and set. I've never watched a show before that suspended time so profoundly. A six year old in the seat next to mine was enrapt; the prolonged standing ovation at the close showed many others had been too.
The production values were spell-binding. Mesmerising orchestration conjured up a world of incantation, affection and aggression. Ingenious use of set, lighting and puppetry created labyrinthine dungeons, forests and blacksmith domiciles that evoked the emotional charge of each scene whilst encouraging the quick silver fluidity of the tale expressed. This is skilful work.
Characterisation through movement was an enchantment. The gamut of human emotion Kevin Poeung gave his Merlin allowed us to see ourselves, with our complicated lives, reflected here. As Uther, Lorenzo Trossello’s angular magic-conflict with Morgan (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) was palpable. Dragon puppeteer Ashley Dixon breathed an endearing charm to the creature in his care. The fatal struggle of the whole-cast battle scenes absorbed us completely. Between the earthy hammer blow of the Blacksmith (Minju Kang) and the other-worldly joyous water somersault of the Lady of the Lake (Abigail Prudames), we tasted the grit and the grape of Merlin’s experience to the full.
With a message that love is a potent magic too, this show does everything we beg of good theatrical expression. Be sure to book your seat.
Creators Theatre Company finally open their inaugural show on Friday 24 September at The Dovehouse Theatre and it’s safe to say that this company is unafraid of a challenge. Firstly, navigating a pandemic is no easy feat and to come out the other side, having faced reschedules, recasting and more, it’s practically a miracle. This story is likely to resonate deeply with many other local companies across the region and beyond. Following 18 months of uncertainty and many groups still rebuilding, to be able to sit in on Creators dress rehearsal tonight gave a real glimmer of hope for community theatre everywhere.
Founded in 2020, Creators aim to stage the overlooked shows, the shows that accommodate smaller casts, the ones that are brilliant and unique. So, what better way to start, than with Jonathan Larson’s RENT. Marking 25 years since its premiere on Broadway, the show follows the intertwining lives of struggling young artists as they navigate bohemian life in the East Village, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
The Dovehouse Theatre is unrecognisable as scaffolding fills the space and the audience is instantly transported to Mark and Roger’s flat in Alphabet City. Documentary-maker Mark acts as narrator, taking us on the journey through the lives of these various characters. Matthew James embodies the role of Mark, with brilliant comic timing and great vocals, he effortlessly breaks the fourth wall with the audience and draws you further into the story.
Ash Clifford brings a pleasing raspy, rock vocal to his performance as Mark’s roommate, Roger, a struggling musician. As Roger tackles his drug demons, Ash brings a warmth and care to the character. This is not only reflected in his friendship with Mark, but also his relationship with Mimi, played by Faye Harvey-Smith, who makes her leading role debut in this show. Ash and Faye complement each other well and their performance of Without You is hauntingly beautiful.
Meanwhile, another storyline unfolding is that of the tumultuous relationship between lawyer Joanne (Jenne Collins) and performance artist, Maureen (Kendra Foster-McBride). Jenne brings sass to the role, with a fantastic performance of We’re Okay. It’s not until the latter half of Act 1 that the audience finally meet Maureen and it’s worth the wait. Kendra astonishes with Over the Moon, a predominantly unaccompanied song, nailing every note and when her voice joins with Jenne’s it makes for a stellar performance of Take Me or Leave Me.
The final pairing of Jaii Andrew and Dan Peet is quite honestly remarkable. They possess a beautiful, believable chemistry on stage and it is utter perfection. Jaii breathes a joyous life into Angel, from heart-warming to heart-breaking moments, they don’t miss a beat with comic timing and are enthralling to watch on stage. Dan Peet complements in the role of Collins, his gorgeous vocals fuse with Jaii’s for I’ll Cover You, whilst the gut-wrenching reprise of this song sends tears rolling down the cheek.
Other highlights include You'll See, with standout vocals from Mike Bentley as Benny and the energy mustered up by the company for La Vie Boheme was infectious. Each individual performance is well crafted, but when the whole ensemble unite their voices, it really is something special. From Seasons of Love to No Day But Today, the harmonies are tight and glorious.
The cast and creative team have clearly worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make this production come to life and thanks to the dedication of Richard Agg (Director), Chris Davis (Musical Director), Suzanne Ballard-Yates (Choreographer) and Adam Tullett (Stage Manager), there is no doubt that their first show is a resounding success.
At the very beginning of the programme it is noted that Creators ‘create unforgettable theatre experiences’. Well, if this is just the dress rehearsal, it’s a certainty that once this show opens no one will forget it. Get your tickets if you haven’t already, because it’s not to be missed and not to be forgotten.
RENT plays at The Dovehouse Theatre until 2 October, with performances everyday except Monday.
Heathers is a black comedy based on the 80s cult film Heathers starring Winona Ryder and Cristian Slater. It is the winner of the ‘Best New Musical’ award from WhatsonStage and has enjoyed two smash hit seasons in London. It is a boldly unique show with potential for a massive cult following.
The show opens, transporting the audience to standard teenage life at Westerberg High and we are soon introduced to the three Heathers, with a striking entrance. The main character, Veronica Sawyer, craves the status and popularity of the cruel bullies, the ‘Heathers’, and all her dreams soon come true. When she becomes popular her other friendships suffer and she happens to meet a mysterious teen called JD. Veronica and JD are drawn to each other, but their blossoming romance takes a dark, sinister turn before quickly escalating. After all, it might kill to be a nobody, but it’s murder being a somebody.
Rebecca Wickes as Veronica Sawyer played the lead role perfectly and she delivered enchanting and impressive vocal performances, whilst Maddison Firth (Heather Chandler) was hilarious in the role, with a standout strong character. The other two Heathers, played by Merryl Ansah and Lizzy Parker, were both well cast and the three Heathers worked well as a power trio.
Mhairi Angus was believable in her misfit role as Martha Dunnstock and her vocal performance of Kindergarten was captivating. Kurt Kelly (Liam Doyle) and Ram Sweeny (Rory Phelan) had strong chemistry as a dopey duo of jocks. The pair spent most of their stage time in just pants, injecting plenty of goofball humour.
The show was impressively choreographed, in-keeping to the storyline, whilst the songs were also a pleasant first listen. They have potential to become even more likeable on further listens, as there is such an interesting variety, from the emotive Seventeen to the comical Blue. Memorable moments of the show include the slow-motion fight and the song My Dead Gay Son which amplified the level of dark humour.
The musical does cover some difficult and dark topics, but the intensity of such topics is balanced well with humour. The well-timed comedy, songs and dance creates a nice pace to the show too.
Well-received by the audience, the cast garnered a lengthy applause. The love of the musical could also be seen by the queue for ‘Heathers’ merchandise after the show had ended.
This unique, black comedy musical is full of talent and well-timed comedy within an otherwise sinister story.
Heathers runs at The Alexandra, Birmingham until Saturday 25 September 2021.
Since debuting in the West End back in 2017 the dazzling story of a teenage boy’s dream of becoming a drag queen has enraptured audiences all around the globe. Inspired by the 2011 television documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie delivers a healthy amount of sass, laughter, and copious amounts of heart wrenching moments.
Layton Williams takes on the role of Jamie New, the Northern teenager who at the age of just 16 looks to defy social norms and attend his school prom in a dress. Williams shines in the lead role really bringing us into his character’s journey throughout the show. His vocals were smooth, his acting sublime but the real showstopper comes in Williams dancing ability which oozed high energy and all whilst in a pair of high heels.
Joining Williams is Sharan Phull who portrays best friend Pritti Pasha the Muslim schoolgirl with high hopes of becoming a doctor. Phull brought us a meek but yet quietly affirming depiction wowing the audience with her rendition of It Means Beautiful. The unlikely friendship between Jamie and Pritti is the perfect example of how we should learn to accept people for who they choose to be even when faced with derogatory remarks from school bully Dean played by George Sampson.
We also get the opportunity to explore Jamie’s relationships with both of his parents. Cameron Johnson briefly stars as Jamie’s dad and his non acceptance of who Jamie has grown up to be is devastating to watch. Watching Amy Ellen Richardson portray suffering mum ‘Margaret New’ was the treat of the evening. Richardson’s Act 2 number He’s My Boy teaches us that whatever struggles and pain that parenting brings, a mother’s love never falters. An outstanding vocal with equal amounts of emotion brought many a tear to the audience.
Supporting cast comes in the form of Shane Richie as veteran drag queen Hugo/Loco Chanelle the mentor to Jamie who pushes the teenager to never give up and always chase the dream. Richie provides many a laugh whilst balancing his characters past struggles. Soon to be also starring in the film adaptation playing Ray is Shobna Gulati. Most famous for her role in Coronation Street Gulati gives us brazenness and an untouchable razor wit.
The show from start to finish is bold, bright and shows us what modern musical theatre ought to be like. From an incredible ensemble to a simple yet effective set, everybody does need to be talking about Jamie and not miss an opportunity to experience this glorious show.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie plays at The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until 18 September.
Theatre is boldly back with the banging of drums and the sound of White Snake in Rock of Ages. This comedy musical is packed with rock anthems such as We Built This City, The Final Countdown, I Want To Know What Love Is, Can’t Fight This Feeling, Here I Go Again and Don’t Stop Believin’. With a live band, a talented cast and every stage and technical detail planned perfectly this performance was faultless.
The comedy strength of this show quickly hooked the audience in for this effortless watch. The caricatured German Franz, played by Andrew Carthy, was laugh out loud hilarious. One standout comedic moment was when Franz and Regina, played by Gabriella Williams, were prancing around on stage in their rainbow attire. Joe Gash, as Lonny, provided plenty of adult humour as the narrator of the show. Joe Gash and Ross Dawes, as Dennis Dupree, also worked well as a comedic duo in their blossoming relationship together.
Rhiannon Chesterman (Sherrie) and Luke Walsh (Drew) were captivating in their lead roles and showed great chemistry together. Rhiannon was well cast as the innocent Kansas girl turned stripper and Luke was believable in his role as the young man with dreams of being a rock star. Both also gave enjoyable and talented vocal performances.
Jenny Fitzpatrick as Justice the owner the local ‘gentleman’s club’ delivered a particularly powerful vocal performance. Her singing was impressive, well controlled and a vocal highlight of the show.
There has also been great attention to detail and the performance was to the highest of professional standards. Rock of Ages highlights the talents and dedication of everyone involved in the show on and off stage and of the director Nick Winston. Everyone involved contributed to a great evening of entertainment.
Having Covid documentation checked by the theatre was also reassuring and allowed the theatre experience to be fully enjoyed. As the checks were swift it also brought no extra inconvenience. The energy of theatres being back could be felt immediately when entering the building from all the staff, audience, and the cast.
Rock of Ages had the audience up on their feet rocking out and the cast enjoyed a well-deserved standing ovation and a lengthy applause. The cast also delivered an emotive message before the audience left about how they are back doing what they love and how theatre is now back and yes it most certainly is!
Rock of Ages runs at The Alexandra, Birmingham until Saturday 11 September 2021.
As theatre continues to return up and down the country, it was fantastic to be back at the Old Joint Stock Theatre after the longest ever interval.
The team at OJS have kick-started their Summer double bill with the rip-roaring Avenue Q and it doesn’t disappoint. This sparkling cast deliver a polished performance, navigating the intimate space effortlessly.
Avenue Q is not the simplest of shows to pull off. With intricate puppetry and multi-roling in abundance, each member of this talented company brought the characters gloriously to life.
Thomas Cove made for a brilliant under-the-thumb Brian, sprinkling humour through the show, whilst Hannah Victoria’s Gary Coleman had the audience chuckling away. Bradley Walwyn’s distinctive voice and excellent comic timing was perfect for Nicky/Trekkie, strongly supported by Matt Bond and Tabitha Rose.
Causing chaos from their first entrance, the Bad Idea Bears were played hilariously well by Alex Wadham and Bella Bowen, whilst Etheria Chan captured the funny, yet fiery Christmas Eve superbly.
Ben Hutt (Princeton/Rod) and Rebecca Withers (Kate/Lucy) led the way with their standout performances. Hutt’s silky vocals breathed new life into the songs, whilst Withers captured the heart of Kate Monster’s character, with a stunningly beautiful There’s A Fine, Fine Line. Smoothly slipping between their roles, it was a joy to watch.
The tight harmonies and slick choreography, under Musical Direction from Jack Hopkins and choreographer Pippa Lacey, elevated the production. Directed by Adam Lacey, Avenue Q was a bold challenge, expertly handled and wonderfully performed.
I can only end this review on two words “That bitch” - sheer genius!
Go see. Running at Old Joint Stock until 21 August.
I have missed live theatre. As such, King Lear's opening night (Monday 21 June 2021) at Stokesay Court evoked a heightened expectation. The show did not disappoint.
Beforehand, you should allow a little time to meander the private road of this stunning country house, and to cover the short walk from the car with your chair, coat and picnic. The site staff are extremely welcoming and be reassured that a take-away refreshments cabin and toilets are close at hand. In these times, it gives peace of mind to know there's plenty of space to maintain what social distance is appropriate.
As the longest day of the year waned, the production's 1980s iconography took the zenith. Bold red and black set design, power suits, Dynasty dresses, dosh in briefcases... every emblem of the greed-is-good decade blazed the stage. Power-grabs, violence, swindle and the disintegration of family and authority were given a Cockney voice in this production, and drew comparison with that TV soap Eastenders when it first dramatically splashed across our screens almost 40 years ago. A deft piece of choreography cued the collapse of Lear's world as one Smooth Criminal after another pursued their own advantage to the ruination of society.
A true ensemble piece, all brought their best to make this a very watchable show. There were tender moments, such as those between Gloucester (Mark Topping) and Lear (John Deeth) at the play's closing. The artful cunning of Edmund (Dan Wilby), Regan (Emily Summers) and Goneril (Livia King) brought savagery, in word and deed, cutting deep into the emotional heart and of course, the eyes. Amongst the human wreckage, Lear's Fool (Kevin Dewsbury) quipped the hollow humour of the 80s social commentary comedian with aplomb. With exceptional sound and lighting to boot, this is a fine piece of meaningful Shakespeare.
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