[Photo by Phillip Ingham]
"..a wonderful achievement and huge fun to watch."
Mellow Dramatics are performing the award winning musical Spend Sp£nd Spend at The Brewhouse Arts Centre in Burton on Trent this week, and it is certainly a great way to spend an evening.
The story, set in 1961 Yorkshire, is based on the life of Viv Nicholson, a working class housewife whose husband won a £152,319 fortune on the football pools (equivalent to around £3.5 million today). Viv became a household name for her reply of "I'm going to spend, spend, spend!", when interviewed by a reporter about her plans for the windfall, and was soon the most envied woman of her time. But, her out-of-control spending soon ended in bankruptcy and her life spiralled downwards rapidly - from rags to riches and back to rags.
The musical by Brown and Greene, based on the book written by Viv Nicholson and Stephen Smith, is an account of Viv's life from childhood, through a whopping five husbands, fancy cars, boozy parties and, sadly, the tragedies associated with the inability to manage the lifestyle she was propelled into.
Mellow Dramatics have clearly worked hard to pull this off. And they have nailed it, as the expression goes. Musically it's a huge undertaking (hats off to MDs Sara Kimber and Alex Priestley). Directed by Andrew Warner, assisted by Caroline Betteridge and Chloe Lang on choreography, the show is so fast paced it keeps you on your toes from start to finish, with scene transitions that are hardly noticeable and a clever set design that enables rooms to almost pop in and out as the audience's attention is directed to spotlit areas upstage. With an excellent orchestra on an elevated level hidden behind a gauze also used for projected imagery, and clever choreography, it is technically a wonderful achievement and huge fun to watch.
Helen Thrupp plays the Viv of present time, hair dresser, telling the story directly as Natalie Veasey plays the young Viv - from ice-cream seller discovering her sexuality to international millionaire party girl. Both actresses play their Viv's brilliantly, with excellent singing vocals maintaining the 'Yarkshire' accent throughout. Joe Bromfield plays Viv's second husband, Keith, the kind and and gentle man who takes care of her in contrast to George, Viv's father, the alcoholic, controlling, 'beating but still loves her' miner played with conviction by Alan Rowe. Chris Moss plays Viv's first lover and 'accidental' husband, Matt, and Maria Smith plays Viv's mother, both portraying their characters well. It's a cast too large to mention individually but a cast that should take a bow for putting on such a fabulous show, keeping it exciting, and for mastering the complexity of songs and harmonies that make this production so unique.
Runs to 19 Jan
Contains adult themes
It’s that time of year again (oh no it’s not, oh yes it is). Pantomime is popping up left, right and centre and this year Wolverhampton Grand have delivered an absolute spectacle. From dragons and fairies, to magic before your eyes, this is the sort of theatre that makes children want to come back again and again. Serving up more double entendres than you could shake a stick at, Sleeping Beauty had all the ingredients to make this a pantomime to remember.
From the outset the children were enchanted as Fairy Crystal (Debbie McGee) was suspended above the audiences heads. Acting as protagonist, McGee soon locks horns with the evil Carabosse, played with flair by Julie Paton.
The much-loved story unfolds before our eyes, packed with humour, magic and music for good measure. McGee makes for an endearing fairy (even when she did forget her lines) - but that made it all the more funnier. She was supported well by an array of characters, including Bethan-Wyn Davies as Princess Beauty and Oliver Ormson as Prince Harry, who sang a lovely duet of Rewrite the Stars from the iconic Greatest Showman soundtrack. They also managed to weave in A Million Dreams and you could here echoes of little voices singing along in the audience.
There were of course some particular stand out performances, namely Ian Adams as Queen Wilhelmina and Doreen Tipton as Nurse Doreen. They were hilariously brilliant in their respective roles, with a great nod to Baby Shark squeezed in for good measure. However, the stars of this pantomime were Richard Cadell (Muddles), Sooty and the delightful, unexpected appearance from Sweep. Cadell’s warmth on stage was palpable and he really got the audience going. And with Sooty and Sweep, it felt as if the adults in the audience regressed back to their childhood as they excitedly called out “Izzy wizzy let’s get busy”. Meanwhile, Sweep’s Luciano Pavarotti performance is perhaps one of the greatest things I’ve seen in Panto. Laugh out loud funny.
However, it was the spectacular magic and illusions in this particular pantomime that took my breath away. Audiences were left in awe as magic happened before our eyes and to hear the audible gasps from children goes to prove why pantomime is such a brilliant way of introducing youngsters to theatre.
Sleeping Beauty is packed full of sparkle and wonder. What better way to show children the magic of theatre? And what a Christmas treat for Wolverhampton!
It might not be the greatest story ever told, at least not at this time of year, but it’s surely one of them. The Wizard of Oz follows the yellow brick road into The Rep in this immensely entertaining re-imagined staging of the classic story.
The story of Oz has become such a staple of storytelling that it’s hard to believe the film is now nearly 80 years old. But as this production demonstrates – a great story never gets old.
Liam Steel’s production is described as a ‘bold but faithful re-imagining’ of the classic story in the programme and that it is. The production is visually stunning and the striking set and wonderful costumes suck you into Dorothy’s world from the outset.
Matt Nicholson’s choreography is superb throughout, with a particularly wonderful sequence involving ingenious puppet Munchkins and a brilliant number in Emerald City.
Chisara Agor makes an excellent Dorothy; capturing her innocence and ultimate love for home quite beautifully. Meanwhile Ed Wade is terrific as Scarecrow and Lorna Laidlow impresses as Professor Marvel/Oz.
The standout performance comes from Jos Vantyler who makes for a fantastically horrid Wicked Witch.
There are some terrific vocals on display of which Kelly Agbowu (Lion) and Shanay Holmes (Glinda) stand out. And a gifted ensemble supports the production throughout.
And of course it wouldn’t be The Wizard of Oz without a Toto – played by the adorable Teddy in this performance. He even managed a little look out to the audience as the curtains came across at the end – a true professional.
This is an all-round thoroughly entertaining festive treat.
The Wizard of Oz plays at The Rep until Sunday 13 January.
"...every company member demonstrated a high level of talent and stage presence, stunning vocals and technical ability."
There is nothing more warming to the heart than being able to lose yourself in an evening of musical theatre bliss and the Guild Music Theatre’s Group’s recent production of Magic of the Musicals was indeed just that.
Following their recent production Legally Blonde, which, incidentally, was an absolute joy to watch, members of the group presented this one-night performance which featured many well-loved musical favourites including songs from classic shows such as Oklahoma to some from more recent West End productions such as the ground-breaking smash Hamilton.
The evening was opened by the delightfully entertaining compere Alastair Winning, who comically introduced us to a friend who was ‘just passing by’ and invited her to co-host the show. The addition of ‘Tash Llewellyn was an absolute highlight of the night. Llewellyn, clearly born to be on the stage, entertained us with comedy acts and singing and she had all the moves – what we might refer to in the business a ‘a true triple threat’!
Together, Alastair and Llewellyn carried the show along, introducing the acts and maintaining the pace and humour.
As you can imagine, there are far too many numbers to mention but I felt that each individual performance was excellent with every company member demonstrating a high level of talent and stage presence, stunning vocals and technical ability.
Highlights of the evening included performances from the incomparable Helen Parsons (who really had the audience in stitches) with a delivery of Adelaide’s Lament, Windy City and the hilarious Anything You Can Do which really showcased her ability.
We were witness to some beautiful harmonies particularly in the popular duet Can You Feel the Love Tonight, performed by Lizzy Ives and Thomas Kershaw-Green.
A lovely section of the evening was the company’s rendition of the Hamilton medley and the finale One, from A Chorus Line. The show was complimented by simple and understated choreography, directed by Cam Wilson.
I must also congratulate MD Zoe Farrow who conducted her orchestra beautifully.
This very talented group is certainly one to watch out in the future, possibly one of the most talented I have witnessed, and I certainly look forward to watching their forthcoming productions.
'Tis the season to be jolly..........
If you needed reminding that it is December, then all that was required to remedy this was a trip to The Dovehouse Theatre in Solihull to see Youth OnStage's Christmas production of Hansel and Gretel. Alan P Frayn's original pantomime brought the timeless children's fairy tale to life, and there was festive fun aplenty as all the characters within the tale were brought magnificently to the stage by this talented and energetic group, accompanied by some unusual and not quite so well known ones, as is to be expected in a pantomime!
The title characters were played beautifully by ten year old twins Conor and Caitlin Dodds. Their composure and assurance on stage was made all the more surprising by the fact that this was their first production with Youth Onstage. Out of a cast of very strong young people, there were some stand out performances, including Mark Cornaby as Wally, Alicia Flint as Witch Nightshade and Alex Currie as Peggy Pumpernickel.
With it being officially 'silly season', there was an abundance of audience participation and corny jokes, all of which added to the overall enjoyment of the production. There were some excellent song choices, including the iconic 'I'm A Lumberjack', 'Black Magic' and 'The Woodcutter Song'.
The entire cast worked brilliantly as a team and their enthusiasm and dynamism were as infectious as they were tangible, so much so that everyone left the auditorium still singing the final musical number 'Reach'! It was plain to see from the audience perspective how much these young folk enjoy performing together, and they maintained their energy levels and focus right until the very last note was sung and the very last bow was taken.
Credit must go to the entire production team of Deb Brook (Director), David Jones (Musical Director) and Amy Evan (Choreographer) for the well drilled and animated acting, singing and dancing. The Dovehouse provides an excellent performing space and it was utilised well, with a colourful, eye catching set and some very cheery costumes.
If you are still feeling a bit 'bah humbug' about the festive season, grab yourself a ticket and you'll soon be feeling completely in the mood for some Christmas cheer!
'Hansel and Gretel' runs at The Dovehouse Theatre until Saturday 8th December.
Photo Pamela Raith Photography
"...brilliantly written, perfectly cast and it ticks every possible Christmas family entertainment box you can dream up."
There are only three pantos based on true stories – Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose and, of course, Dick Whittington. Okay, so I’m kidding about Stalk and Goose, but I understand that the traditional British Dick Whittington pantomime is actually based on real historical events of 1300s+ (quickly refers to ‘Fact or Fiction’ section of souvenir programme) and the extra bits like Tommy the Cat and the be-tailed baddy, King Rat have since been added to the story (phew). And the guys at Evolution Pantomimes, who already have a great reputation, have indeed pulled a great panto cracker this year, with their Lichfield Garrick production shining with splendifourousness, oozing with hilarity and seriously racing along the best of the Midlands track, on rocket fuel and in top gear. Yes, this year’s delivery is definitely one to rival the bigger theatres - brilliantly written, perfectly cast and it ticks every possible Christmas family entertainment box you can dream up.
Katrina Bryan (Nina in CBeebies Nina and the Neurons) as a Scottish Fairy Bow Bells is a glittering tutu’d delight, whether she is flying across the stage or appearing in a puff of pyrotechnic sparkle, she is beautiful to witness, has an exceptional singing voice and maintains a mischievous charm that only a real fairy could surely harness. Sam Rabone plays a brilliant ‘blokey’ Dame in the form of Dolly the Cook, modelling an array of perfectly outrageous costumes including the most hysterical fat-suit I’ve ever seen, playing alongside comic Ben Thornton as Billy. Ben is a true legend, has an incredible onstage warmth and energy which he generously shares wholeheartedly with the audience. Their super-smart sketches are fast-paced, daring, messy and always very, very funny. Principle Boy and Girl are played respectively by the dashing Ashley Emerson as Dick and very pretty Beccy Lane as Alice. Ashley occasionally reminded me of a young Hugh Grant – and if the proof of the voices is in the singing then these two nailed it to supremo standards. Loved it. Nice character twist as the gorgeous Joanne Heywood is cast as panto-baddy Queen Rat, complete with a tail, a cracking pair of legs and, again, an excellent singing voice that will enchant. Alice’s dad, Alderman Fitzwarren, is played by Evolution regular Ieuan Rhys, who is clearly no stranger to the stage and plays the sensible and doting father with just the right amount of silliness. Lucy Parry plays Tommy the Cat, or on this occasion, Gertrude the Cat (long story) and gives a prize-winning, feline performance with unsurpassed energy which I know must have been enduring in that furry cat-suit. Supported by an excellent ensemble - Rebecca Thomas, Hannah Dettmer, Tom Strang and Nicolais Kerry, who also played the Sultan of Morocco – and three teams of fantastic youngsters, its a quality cast with a wardrobe from heaven, songs to get you moving in your seat and jokes that will make you laugh out loud and forget the outside world for a couple of hours.
Not giving out any more spoilers (except for the wonderful 3D scene) - just get yourself a ticket and allow these clever people to entertain you.
(Oh, btw, get hold of a programme, turn to Ben Thornton’s biog page and lift it to the light – he magically appears with glasses!)
Runs to 5 Jan. Oh yes it does!
Since the rights were released for amateur performance, Legally Blonde has graced many a local stage. With music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, this show is exuberantly brought to life by a stellar cast courtesy of GMTG (Guild Musical Theatre Group) based at University of Birmingham.
There was a brilliant energy from the very beginning and this group is certainly not short of vocal talent. The excellent trio of Margot (Meg Russon) Serena (Lizzy Ives) and Pilar (Annabel Parsons) ensured a punchy opening with Omigod You Guys and set the audience up for a night that showcased exceptional talent.
It was clearly a monumental ensemble effort, with every member of the company delivering assured performances. Leading this cast was the practically faultless Emily Taylor as Elle Woods. Vocally stunning, she was a force to reckoned with. She was paired well with the lovely Jacob Marshall as Emmett Forrest. His honest portrayal and brilliant voice made for an endearing performance. There was great support from Helen Parsons as the quirky Paulette Bonafonté, Rob Russo was a suitably sinister Professor Callahan with a superb rendition of Blood in the Water, Lucy Robinson vocally impressed as Vivienne Kensington and the sheer athleticism of Gaby Songui was a feat in itself in her role as Brooke Wyndham.
Further support of note came from Zoe Farrow as Kate and Lara Sprosen as Enid Hoops, plus a shout out to Dan Gray who excelled in his multiple roles.
Some of the scene changes felt a little clunky and with the level of talent this company has, they could get away with reducing the amount of set used to help assist in ensuring slicker transitions. However, that aside, many congratulations to the creative team of Thomas Kershaw-Green (Director), Alice Brown (Musical Director) and Lauren Shirley (Choreographer) who have brought this show together. It was an absolute pleasure to witness such an immense amount of talent on stage.
Here’s to the next.
‘Grease is the word’ and has been for over 40 years; a story of friendship and teenagers in love. It's 1959 and the students of Rydell High School are starting a new school year.
After a summer romance on the beach Danny Zuko, the leader of the T-Birds, a gang of greasers and Sandy Dumbrowski, the new girl in town who is befriended and hangs out with the Pink Ladies, discover they're both unexpectedly at the same High School. We follow them through the ups and downs of trying to fit in with their piers and eventually trying to be like each other so they can be together. Will they rekindle their summer loving?
How fitting that SMTC should chose the 40th anniversary of the film Grease to be the year to put on their production of Grease the Musical. A slightly different offering than the film, the stage musical has songs and scenes pop up in different places to where you’d expect and the storyline isn’t as strong as the film which makes it rather interesting to try and follow at points, especially if you’re overly familiar with the film. Despite this SMTC seem to have bought on board a good Director in Tim Willis whose ensemble approach with minimal scenery and staging made the scenes flow from one to the next very well with all cast members moving scenery and props and staying in character whilst doing so. A great team effort that looked great on stage.
The casts’ group musical numbers were vibrant and enthusiastically delivered with lovely little touches of doo wop backing vocals which the audience responded to with encouraging giggles as it was perfect for the songs where it featured putting us firmly in 1950s America. Great bursts of harmony from the cast and well rehearsed moves on the bleachers and for iconic full cast numbers such as Summer Nights were a credit to Musical Director Sam Young and Choreographer Julie Bedlow-Howard.
The cast was strong with great solo vocals and from Ian Meikle (Doody) and Doug Gilbert-Smith (Kenickie/Teen Angel). Although a little unsure in the first half Zoe Hobman (Sandy) really made up for it in the second half with flawless vocals in Hopelessly Devoted to You and the reprise of Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee and when she smiled with determination before her transformation from girl next door to bad girl Sandy, she came alive.
Casey McKernan (Danny) played some familiar characteristics to John Travolta’s Danny Zuko but brought his own coolness to the part and Bex Lou Walton (Rizzo) was as feisty as Stockard Channing’s Rizzo, especially in the fight scenes with Kenickie and she led the girls throughout the show setting the acting bar very high for the whole company.
Some great performances from all the cast but perhaps the loveliest for me was the comedy and blossoming on stage relationship between Nicola Noble (Jan) and Isaac Alun-Jones (Roger); a lovely vocal duet in Mooning, great comedic line delivery by Noble throughout a great on stage chemistry between them both that you could see unfolding. It was really lovely to watch and totally endearing.
If you’re looking for a fun filled, action packed, exuberant, fast paced and feel good evening then this is a must see show by SMTC. A young cast full of energy and all those songs we love right through to the Grease Megamix at the end that’ll have you singing along.
Runs until 1 December 2018 at the Bridge House Theatre, Warwick.
"...absolutely guaranteed to delight the whole family".
Christmas city lights are on, trees are up, panto season is truly upon us - and Coventry’s magnificent Belgrade Theatre has certainly switched on the shimmer this year with writer/director Iain Lauchlan’s very entertaining family panto Sleeping Beauty.
Iain Lauchlan has been in charge of Belgrade’s panto for many years, and its easy to see why. He is well known for his writing and production talents - Tweenies, Boo!, Jim Jam and Sunny, Playschool, Fun Song Factory etc. etc., to name just a few. The man is super talented and knows exactly how to put on a show of quality and the Belgrade audiences are in for a treat this year.
This is the tale of Princess Belle (not Aurora!) who is cursed at her Christening party by the wicked Fairy Carabosse (who, incidentally, had been previously banished from the Kingdom and now has the hump for not being on this guest list). She casts a wicked spell to ensure Belle will prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her 18th birthday and die but Carabosse’s sister, Fairy Azuriel offers some hope to the King and Queen, and helps to change the spell so that the Princess, and all those in the palace, will just fall into an enchanted snooze for 100 years… with a warning that the spell can only be broken by a true love’s kiss.
Nanny Fanny McWheeze (Iain Lauchlan), the Princess’s new nanny, arrives at the Palace of King Hugo (Declan Wilson) and Queen Hyacinth (Vicky Field), to learn that Carabosse (Laura Judge) has cast the spell. As a solution, King Hugo orders the destruction of all spinning wheels in the Kingdom and the palace-folk return to their normal day-to-day. A little magical panto time-hop and we move on to Belle’s (Melissa Brown-Taylor) 18th birthday party. Carabosse and her sidekick, Grunge, (Vicky Field) hide a spinning wheel in the palace and enchant Belle to a remote room where she pricks her finger on the needle. A delighted Carabosse retreats to her lair, Nanny McWheeze, Prince Valiant (Joanna Thorne) and Muddles the Jester (Craig Hollingsworth) find Belle, and everyone else at the Palace, in a deep sleep and the adventure begins as the friends travel through time, battle past dragons and cut through thorny forests to find Belle and break the spell.
This traditional production really does contain every pantomime treat you could dream of with a breath-taking set and sumptuous wardrobe by Terry Parsons, animatronics and clever gauze projections. It is fast-paced with thrill after thrill and delight after delight, lots of brilliantly choreographed slapstick, subtle adult jokes that the kids won’t notice and songs to make you feel festive, even in November.
Anna Mitcham as Good Fairy Azurial captures everyone’s hearts with her graceful, yet cheeky beauty offering plenty of reassurance for the younger viewers. Laura Judge as Carabosse plays a magnificent baddy, with a powerful singing voice and stunning Maleficent-styled costume. I applaud Vicky Field’s Grunge character and her exceptional dancing, and routines with fellow dancers Ivano Turco and Katy Anna-Southgate were really exciting. Melissa Brown-Taylor plays a charming Princess and sings beautifully with Joanna Thorne as the Prince and Declan Wilson is full of love, life and song as the King. A bubbly ensemble includes some very confident and charming young performers.
Hollingsworth and Lauchlan’s comedy double-act is a joy to witness - the hilarious cake decorating messy scene, chats with ‘Morag’ and the ‘If I was not in pantomime’ routine are laugh-out-loud, memorable show highlights not to be missed.
Lauchlan has written an outstanding and hilarious pantomime, full of love and fun, which is absolutely guaranteed to delight the whole family.
Runs to 5 Jan
Rugeley Musical Theatre Company
“...a fun-filled family treat”.
Rugeley Musical Theatre Company are bringing a panto version of The Wind in the Willows to Staffordshire this week and it really is a fun-filled family treat.
Directed by Claire Hughes and Dan Smith, with Matthew Hunt as MD and Hana Bradbury and Claire on choreography, the show is full of traditional panto gags and just about as much silliness as you can imagine.
The story centres around two naughty, scheming weasels who succeed in getting Toad and his housekeeper into trouble (and into jail!), then move into Toad’s house to throw wild rodenty parties. An adventure ensues and, with the help of Otter, Badger, Ratty and Mole, Toad and Mary Twinkle escape and the friends save the day.
Its a lovely plot and is easy for children to follow. The show is full of dancing, singing and traditional panto jokes that will make you giggle from start to finish, along with a few fun innuendos for the grown-ups and some well-known singalongs.
Matthew Hunt played a fabulous Otter, who is the energetic and very funny spokesman for the story. Mole and Ratty were very well played by Kittie James and Emily Rogers and grumpy old Badger was played hilariously by Jacob Bishop. Loved the Weasels - scheming Weasel One was played by Judi Whitehouse and daft Weasel Two was played by Pat Giles and they worked really well together as the comedy duo, earning their boos.
Dan Smith kept the show, props and scenery running smoothly playing Kenneth, and Ellie-Mae Taundry gave a delightful performance as Froglette. Lewis Thompson really was the most perfect Toad, larger than life, gentlemanly and as daft as can be and David Stacey was super as Mary Twinkle the dame, traditionally played, and brought a lot of humour to the story as well as a glorious pair of finale knickers.
Supported by a competent live band and full cast of furry friends, some excellent character make-up designs and costumes, it is a charming production worthy of the applause it received on opening night and the Society's production team have ensured a lot of love was shared with the enthusiastic Rose Theatre audience.
In all a great amateur, laugh-out-loud pantomime that will warm your heart and set you up ready for Christmas.
Runs to 24 Nov
Suitable for everyone but be wary of weasels
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