In this world where we live, there should be more happiness. The timeless comedy of Morecambe and Wise in Eric & Ern certainly brought joy and smiles to the capacity audience last night.
The show is a banquet of set comedy routines, familiar dialogue lines and recognisable physicality, and these were all rapturously devoured by the spellbound audience. Played out with vivacity and freshness, Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens masterfully shared this iconic comedy which must, in the rehearsal room, have been a labour of love. Their chemistry, timing and characterisation struck every right note with the audience, and indeed, in exactly the right order.
Up against such brilliance, Sinéad Wall also shone brightly. Engaging in the comedy as the invited musical talent, she rose to the expectation with aplomb with her Send in the Clowns. Later, she proved her impressive musical abilities with a fine solo that evoked enthusiastic applause from all.
The Stratford Playhouse venue richly enhanced this joyous performance. The circular auditorium space supported that sense of something special being shared amongst a theatre-going community. Impeccable care was extended to the patrons, encouraging a relaxed and jovial expectation of the show. The prowess of the stage management, in the movement of small set, was slick and seamless, whilst the technical folk exercised subtle, timely and restrained skill in terms of lighting and sound. The inclusion of late 70s and early 80s hits as prelude music was a touch that gently nudged the audience into the spirit of the age.
The show is now on UK tour. Any who have their seat booked are in for a treat. If you wish for a show to bring you sunshine, this is the show for you.
Alan Bennett’s The History Boys is a slick and effortless watch. The story focuses on a group of school boys who are applying for prestigious universities. Alan Bennett’s writing has been much celebrated, but this show doesn’t just rely on great writing.
With the clever use of a large screen high above the main stage and music, the audience was immediately engaged. The staging provided a believable classroom and the camaraderie between the boys felt genuine. The story was easy to follow through the writing, acting, comedy and the use of music.
All of the cast had great chemistry, giving excellent performances, complementing each other well. Hector, played by Ian Redford, is a central character to the story and he delivered a strong acting performance throughout. Frustrations between Hector and Headmaster, played by Jeffrey Holland, were well demonstrated, whilst Victoria Carling, who played Mrs Lintett, delivered a wonderfully believable performance. The relationship between Hector, Ian Redford, and Mrs Lintett, Victoria Carling, was particularly touching. The new teacher Irwin, played by Lee Comley, also illustrated his acting prowess as his character developed.
Timms, played by Dominic Treacy, and Posney, played by Thomas Grant, provided many laughs. They both had the audience laughing out loud on numerous occasions during the show. Thomas Grant also demonstrated his vocal talents while Frazer Hadfield, playing Scripps, showed his musical abilities with his piano playing. The character Rudge, played by Joe Wiltshire Smith, also stood out for his acting and for providing many funny moments.
The energy and pace was well maintained throughout and as the character Rudge would say “It’s one thing after another!”
The stage felt spacious, open and well used, with unnoticeable transitions, due to the clever use of the set, space and music. The entire performance showcased the impressive directing skills of Jack Ryder.
The History Boys provides quality, professionalism, an easy watch and many laughs. It plays at Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 22 February 2020.
Band of Gold was a popular TV drama in the 90s which showed the gritty world of Bradford prostitutes. Kay Mellor’s stage version now tells a story of the murder of a new prostitute. In doing so it offers both realism and adult humour.
The cast is full of some well-known names which includes Andrew Dunn (Dinnerladies) as Ian Barraclough, Shayne Ward (Coronation Street, Les Miserables) as Inspector Newall, Gaynor Faye (Emmerdale, Playing the Field, Calendar Girl) as Rose and Kieron Richardson (Hollyoaks, Heartbeat) as Steve. Unlike as advertised the role of Anita was played by Virginia Byron during the evening’s performance.
The main strength of the show was the quality of acting and Carol, Emma Osman, stood out for her strong presence on the stage in her portrayal of a feisty experienced prostitute. Gina, played by Sacha Parkinson, was also convincing in her role of an abused wife who was drawn into the world of prostitution. Believable tension was also created between Gina and her abusive husband Steve, played by Keiron Richardson. The character of Rose, played by Gaynor Faye, helped to add lightness and humour to an otherwise dark story.
There was heightened tension in more dramatic scenes such as when Gina was being abused by her husband and another when her mother suggests that she should stay with her abusive husband. Light heartedness was also injected into the show throughout, with the use of adult humour and swearing. Despite there being no grand finale, the story ends with a reveal...
The costuming and staging aid in creating believable grit.
If you enjoy dark dramas, good acting and witty adult humour you’ll likely love this show.
Band of Gold is on at The Alexandra, Birmingham until 15 February.
Photo Credit : Robert Day
Based on the book of the same name by Alex Wheatle, Pilot Theatre brings the world premier adaptation of Crongton Knights to the stage in Coventry before it tours around the country.
Crongton is a fictional representation of an inner city. The Knights are the band of 6 friends that we follow as they embark on a mission to save the reputation of one of the group. Their mission takes them not only on a journey through the city and into dangerous territory but also into each other’s lives.
The action all takes place on one turbulent night in the city meaning the small cast are on stage for the whole time. The story is told through acting, music, rap and dance. In times of high drama, the action is slowed down to convincing slow motion, making sure nothing is missed. This stylisation is used to great effect to portray various things including running a distance, on a small stage this would otherwise be impossible. All of the songs dotted through the play are a Capella with the cast harmonising and beatboxing. The vocals are haunting when the tension is high and vibrant in the good times.
This small cast all bring something different to the stage. The characters are well observed and are totally believable, the way they move, talk and interact with each other means any young adults in the audience will relate to them. It is impossible to single any of the cast out, everyone is strong and on point no matter what part they play. Their vocals match the impeccable acting.
In a studio space the set has to represent all of the scenes, this set is a triumph of design as it rotates and changes angles showing stairs or doors or platforms that become everything from a school yard, a bus and a housing estate. Decorated in graffiti it gives the whole piece an edgy street feel that perfectly fits the play.
This production contains high drama and tension in a real-world setting. There are messages and lessons to be learnt but these aren’t hammered home to the point of preaching, they are subtly woven into the story. It is a vibrant tale of our time that beautifully illustrates the complexity of teenage life in an inner city. It will have you on the edge of your seat one minute and laughing the next. The tale will open the eyes of the adults in the audience and hopefully resonate with the teens.
On until 22 February 2020
"...surpassing every expectation..."
If there was a special youth theatre edition of Britain’s Got Talent then I have no doubt the Spotlight kids would win it, for once again, they have triumphed with a spectacular show, surpassing every expectation, cramming in just about as much talent and love that is humanly possible onto one stage.
Within the first minute I was captivated with a big old grin on my face, knowing this was going to be a good one. This was a re-work of a previous 2011 performance by the same group, written by the creative team and based on a concept by Spotlight Chairman, Steve Groves. The story, with a clever Halloween haunted-house theme, featured a healthy sprinkling of panto magic and, to be honest, was rather a refreshing alternative to the same old fairy tales we are offered from year to year.
The show featured dressed up Halloween characters (the monsters), an unsuspecting family and a bunch of rather good-looking resident ghosts. The costumes and make-up, especially the ghosts, were seriously good, with wonderful wiggery and excellently designed faces that complimented each character’s individuality and personality.
The sixteen, triple-threat principals professionally maintained an energy and commitment throughout. Even with around 20 songs and dance routines to perform they were as fresh at the end as they were at the start (or appeared so!).
Mum and dad, Joy (CHARLOTTE HAM) and Fred (MATT WINDSOR), played brilliantly together. Joy, the stressed-out mother who doesn't want to join any ghost-busting mission and the intuitively inquisitive Fred who does, arrive at their late Uncle’s house to hear the reading of the last will and testament. Seymour, the rather frail butler (KIERAN BANNER) tries to contain the chaos that ensues as Joy and Fred’s sweet and unassuming daughter Jill (CHARLOTTE FARMER) falls for the butler’s cheeky son, Jack (BEN WALKER).
Joy’s rather naughty sister, Cruella (CHARLOTTE GOUGH), wants the house for herself. She unleashes a spooky plan to scare the other family members away by recruiting local actors to play the parts of Frankenstein (CALLUM STEED), Immy (JESS CAVILL), Drake (KIMBERLEY BECKETT) and Luna (NATASHA PEARCE). But the real resident ghosts – Uncle Ted (WILLIAM HEATH), Nicky (BECKY CARTWRIGHT), Long Joan Silver (BETH CROSBY), Vicar (LEAH GALLAGHER), Sir Cumference (SAM RUSHWORTH) and Wailing Bride (KANDE EDEN) - hae a plan of their own and good eventually triumphs over evil and peace and harmony is restored to the house… and all with a surprising twist at the end!
The show featured some truly electrifying dance routines and musical numbers and everyone who sang, performed to perfection, harmonies et al. Great tech, lighting and set with cleverly filmed talking paintings and lots of little surprises. Loved every single musical number, especially Charlotte Gough’s Rotten to the Core, Thriller (Heads Will Roll) and the exciting, choreographed fight-scene to Knights of Cydonia.
The whole cast must be very proud – from little ones to big ones – every single company member performed brilliantly, and I know how much time and effort goes into producing a show of this size. Too large a cast to mention individually but I thank you all for bringing such happiness to everyone in the audience.
Special mention goes to Kieran Banner who played the part of Seymour and executed so well and to William who has such great stage presence and played a marvellous Uncle Ted.
Congratulations of course to the Production Team, the Directors, Musical Directors and Choreographers. I take my hat off to the dance designers and applaud the live band for a faultless performance.
Oh, and a raspberry to the little ghosties who soaked me with a water gun without a care in the world!!
If I could see this again tomorrow I would.
The group will be performing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat from 9th-12th July 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org Norton Canes High School Theatre.
A SPARKLING AND ORIGINAL PRODUCTION OF THIS TIMELESS CLASSIC
There is always a danger when staging a production of a well known tale that the performance will not quite live up to expectations, be a little flat, lack originality, or just have that general tired old feel about it.
Nothing could be further from the truth with SSA Drama's annual trip down Pantomime Lane with their slick and entertaining take on the on the familiar tale of Dick Whittington and his attempts to make a fortune in London and become Mayor.
What made this performance particularly fresh and original was the fact that it was written by Chairman and Director Chris Cooper and fellow cast member Matt Barnard. By not merely adapting an already existing script, the show was able to stretch the boundaries of entertainment, and the audience found themselves delighted with renditions of 'In The Navy' and 'A Millions Dreams' and being dazzled with some lovely dancing by Rochelle Dance Academy between scenes, as well as meeting a very large fluffy spider and a huge inflatable octopus along the way!
SSA Drama have a reputation for polished and enjoyable productions, and their 2020 panto certainly did not disappoint. From the excellent costumes to the set, everything about this show was of the highest quality. This well loved story was delivered with the precision and smoothness which we have come to expect from Chris Cooper's expert directing, and it was clear that the cast was well drilled and disciplined, but most of all, having the time of their life on stage!
In a strong line up of Principals, it is hard to pick out any individual performances for special mention, but as usual the co-writers Chris Cooper and Matt Barnard were as professional as ever in their roles as Sarah The Cook and Alderman Fitzwarren respectively. Laura Parker shone in the title role of Dick, delivering a particularly pleasing rendition of 'A Million Dreams' with Georgia Fair as Alice Fitzwarren. Georgia in turn wowed the audience with her vocals when telling us how she wanted to really be a rock star, not a cafe waitress, and Jennifer Alton had the audience laughing throughout at her disdainful and exasperated one liners as Tommy The Cat, Dick's companion; it was a very assured performance from her. Helen Gibbs had the audience booing and hissing at her extremely convincing and nasty portrayal of Queen Rat. All of the principals acquitted themselves with confidence and aplomb, there was not a single weak link, and were beautifully complemented by the considerable number of youngsters in the cast, who sang and danced with gusto and enthusiasm. The between scenes dancing from the beautiful and talented dancers of Rochelle Dance Academy just added the icing to a cake which was worthy of Alderman Fitzwarren's cafe itself.
It was a crisp and modern take on an old tale, which kept the audience enthralled until the very last note was sung, the very last line was delivered, and the very last dance was danced.
The backstage team did a sterling job in moving scenery seamlessly and effortlessly, ensuring a smooth and streamlined performance.
'Dick Whittington' is still on tomorrow Sunday 19th January at 2.30, The Dovehouse Theatre, Langley School, Kineton Green Road, Solihull B92 7ER.
As part of its 120th birthday celebrations, Birmingham Hippodrome, together with QDOS Entertainment, have mounted possibly the most lavish show outside London. Starting life at the home of variety the London Palladium last year, where it stared Julian Clary as the Spirit of the Mirror and Dawn French as the Wicked Queen, Michael Harrison’s production has been revived and revised for a Midlands audience, and the result is a sparking evening’s entertainment.
It’s true to say that the actual Snow White story probably took up about 20 minutes of the show, but when the pantomime entertainment crafted to surround it is of such high quality, it’s hard to complain too much. I really would have liked to have spent more time with the dwarves however (or The Magnificent Seven, as they are labelled here). They appear to be a supremely talented bunch of performers, but are not allowed to develop any real individual characters.
Instead the star of the show is undoubtedly Birmingham Panto favourite Matt Slack, now in his seventh year playing the comedy role at the Hippodrome. Slack is clearly in his element controlling the action and the audience, and the script gives him plenty of opportunity to display his talents. A fine series of impressions of comedians went down well, but it was the sequence with numerous lip-synched song phrases, all perfectly chosen and timed for prime comic force, that brought the house down. And some of the jokes do, I hope, go over the heads of the younger members of the audience, and straight to their parents who, in the performance tonight were rolling in the aisles, while wondering how he got away with what he’d just said. Slack treads a fine line at the smutty end of the humour scale but judges perfectly how far to push it. Just be prepared to explain to your 6 year old what a Gynaecologist does!!
Alongside Slack it takes a performer of real skill and experience to hold their own, and Lesley Joseph is an absolute hoot as Queen Dragonella. Not the nastiest of panto villains, although she can summon up a great dark incantation when she needs to, Ms Joseph is allowed to play with the audience, and the other cast members much more, using her comedic timing to create a very funny villain.
As often with panto some of the funniest moments are when things go wrong, and Slack and Ms Joseph were involved in a moment of comedy gold involving a serious wig malfunction in the middle of the panto classic reworking of 12 Days of Christmas. It stopped the show for almost a couple of minutes as everyone on stage, as well as in the audience, were trying to pull themselves together.
Supporting these two were Joe McElderry, in fine voice as The Spirit of the Mirror, Andrew Ryan, sporting a fine array of damish costumes as Nanny Annie Aspirin, and, for particular local flavour, the acerbic Doreen Tipton (Gill Jordan) as The Lady in Waiting.
Faye Brookes and Jac Yarrow are ideally cast as Snow White and Prince Harry of Harborne (you can guess where one or two jokes about Prince Harry are headed!) and the dance troupe Flawless are even shoehorned in for a couple of routines, nothing to do with any vague sense of plot, but it’s all good entertaining stuff.
The set, lighting, and particularly costumes are lavish and the live band, under the direction of MD Robert Willis, keep everything sounding fantastic. The special effects by The Twins FX are also spectacular.
If you fancy a great evening’s entertainment that will keep the whole family entertained, and manages to combine 7 Dwarves with a flying Reindeer Sleigh, dancing snowmen and hip hop dancers, then you will not be disappointed.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 2nd February.
Albany Theatre Coventry
Until Sunday 5th January 2020
This is Phoenix Theatre Productions first pantomime, if the audience reaction and quality of this performance is anything to go by, it won’t be their last.
Aladdin is a traditional pantomime, it has everything in it, the audience participation, slap stick, good versus evil and a good mix of jokes for the children and the adults. The costumes and sets are colourful and are brought to life by an enthusiastic cast, a cast that has many years of stage experience between them, and this shows.
There are no surprises in the story, Abanazer wants everything, Aladdin and his brother and mum work in a laundry, Aladdin loves the Princess but is too poor to marry her until he visits a cave.
Harry Laidlaw takes the title role in his first pantomime. He is every inch the cheeky chappy, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. Another stand out performance is Steve Cowley as Abanazer, sinisterly evil and beautifully overacted, he is a joy to boo. Rachel McDonnell is a beautiful princess Jasmine with a beautiful voice to match. The ladies of the audience appreciated the Genie, Leon Carty, its just a shame that his character wasn’t used more.
The young dancers were a delight to watch, their performances were polished and full of energy.
The overall production values in this pantomime are high. The lighting enhances each scene and there are none of the sound issues that can occur at this venue. There was even a flying carpet. This panto could hold its own against some of the professional productions.
This is a perfect post-Christmas treat for all the family. With only one performance left on Sunday, rush to get a ticket!
Skid Row has arrived in Rugeley this week as Rugeley Musical Theatre Company bring to life the cult classic Little Shop of Horrors. Penned by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken, the show is defined as a comedy, rock, horror musical. Blending multiple genres, the show is a whirlwind from beginning to end and is a hard task for any group to undertake.
RMTC have valiantly rose to the challenge of this show, with an enthusiastic ensemble filling the stage. Matt Hunt took on the endearing role of Seymour, paired with Claire Hughes as Audrey, supported by Roger Teece as Mushnik.
The Crystals, Chiffons and Ronnettes sparky performances got the toes tapping and when the whole cast were on stage there was a brimming energy. Juxtaposed to the brooding Jacob Bishop as the Nitrous Oxide inhaling dentist.
There were a few moments where dialogue got lost over the band and some points where accents became intelligible, but for an opening night performance the cast really pulled together showcasing a warm camaraderie on stage.
The highlight of the show, rather aptly, has to be the looming, impressive Audrey II that practically grows in front of the audience’s eyes. Manipulated by Dan Smith, the man-eating plant is vocally brought to life by the brilliant Alice Robinson who oozed sass. Quite a feat as she was never actually seen until the bows!
Congratulations to all involved.
Nobody could ever claim that The Producers is a musical that is lacking energy. Regardless of whether you consider Adolf Hitler dancing around the stage in tight black lederhosen to be uncomfortable, it is without a doubt, entertaining at least. The Producers tells the tale of two producers who try to make a fortune by putting on a flop musical. Mel Brooks' movie masterpiece which was adapted to the stage in 2001 received rave reviews and I can certainly say that the same will happen again based on St. Augustine's MTC's production at The Core Theatre, Solihull.
Leading the way with relative ease, a convincing John Morrison played Max Bialystock with all of the quick bursts of a changing personality when he's not getting his way. Max is such a difficult part to act, let alone sing but John delivered when expectations were so high. His performances of The King of Broadway and Betrayed! were excellent. Matching John every step of the way was the lovable Leo Bloom. Richard Perks plays the nervous bumbling accountant who wanders into Max's life and decides that he too wants to be a Broadway producer. Richard gives a touching performance throughout, with particular stand out performances of I Wanna Be A Producer and 'Til Him. The pair bounce off each other with their quick timing and rapport. An excellent partnership that is bound to get even better as the run continues.
Very strong performances from both Nicki Willetts and Nick Salter who played Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson and Franz Liebkind respectively; both singing their individual numbers with power and full of charisma. A couple of other stand-out performances from Mike Bentley as Roger De Bris/Hitler, but I won't tell you why, you'll have to see for yourself, and to Daniel Morris who demonstrated excellent vocals. The orchestra were fantastic throughout, expertly led by Musical Director Stephen Powell. The ovation received at the end of the show was well deserved.
Plus a quick mention for Stage Manager Tony Walsh and his crew. You would usually allow for a few mishaps with set changes as it's opening night but his team were slick and on point so congratulations to you all backstage. The show cannot go on without you.
A really great musical about a really awful one runs until Saturday 24th November.
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