Norton Canes High School Theatre
The Spotlight production team are staging Grease this week and the iconic film by Jacobs and Casey, featuring well-loved characters Danny Zuco and Sandra D, needs little introduction. This adaptation cleverly captures the main story lines from the movie and transfers as a brilliant, fast-paced, high energy stage musical. And the young performers from Spotlight Youth Productions have most certainly done it justice.
Directed by Charlotte Cowley and Michele Windsor, and with a most competent off-stage band conducted by Brian Hirst, the show was performed with total confidence and an awful lot of cool by the young performers who never dipped in energy and spirit - sporting wigs, layered costumes and leather jackets, all adding to the heat of the moment, which was commendable considering the current climate!
Set in the American 1950s the colourful show set was built for quick transition utilising single set pieces which left the dancers a good performance space. A nice touch was the screen and projected images that enhanced the location of the scenes and the physical scene changes in blackout were executed deftly.
Strong performances by principals and ensemble. It was lovely to see so many gorgeous, happy faces - little ones with cheeky smiles and self-assured older students with just the right amount of attitude. Some excellent characterisations - Tara Hill as Rizzo did a sterling job, retaining the Channing sultry demeanour throughout the show. Handsome Matt Windsor’s (Danny) vocal was excellent and competently accompanied by the very pretty Imogen Poole (Sandy), both well cast leads who played against each other with delightful chemistry. The good-lookin’ T Birds - Ben Walker (Kenickie) Ben Carr (Roger), William Heath (Doody), Callum Steed (Sonny), Sam Rushworth (Billy) and Kieran Banner (Bobby) entertained us with their lighthearted, school-boy angst, camaraderie, songs and slick dance routines. Pink Ladies Charlotte Ham (Frenchy), Kande Eden (Marty), Tash Pearce (Jan), Kimberley Beckett (Mary Lou), Jess Cavill (Barbara Ann) and Rebecca Cartwright (Peggy Sue) made a fabulous all-singing-all-dancing gaggle of hyper teens with dreams of boys, hair-do’s, cheeky cigarette trials, jealous moments and true friendships.
Robyn Ennis as the delightful Miss Lynch controlled the class as best she could and Rebecca Cartwright played a very pretty Teen Angel. Kieran Banner doubled up as the formidable Vince Fontaine who had the ladies swooning, Sam Rushworth owned the mic as Johnny Casino and Megan Rogers treated us to some sassy dance moves as Cha Cha DiGregorio.
Absolutely loved Lewis Kent’s portrayal of the bumbling Eugene. Great stage presence and a truly winning smile. Notable performances include the very comical Tash Pearce who competently immersed herself in her character and William Heath who I felt really connected with the audience and had a unique and very likeable upbeat confidence which I'm sure would transfer into any musical theatre production.
Congratulations to MDs Chris Allen and Ian Windsor, the team of choreographers and the set building, costume, prop and technical volunteers. A revisit of mic levels for lead vocalists against backing vocalists might be something to address but in all a good sound design and lighting scheme.
I really enjoyed every moment - the elements that made the movie so successful have been focused upon and the team’s vision really worked resulting in a great night’s entertainment. An established and talented group with a lot of love and friendship that is clearly apparent in their performances. It certainly was a Summer Night to remember!
Suitable for everyone.
Runs to 15 July with a Saturday matinee
The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors. I don’t think Union Theatre could have thought of a more musical theatre-y name if they tried (apart from their last musical theatre concert; The Sound of My Fair Sweeney and I on the Roof). So it is pretty clear what we are in for and it is exactly what Union Theatre delivers - a joyous celebration of musical theatre, and, in particular, this show that celebrates the classics that have swept the award categories such as the Tonys, Oliviers, Oscars, Grammys and even Pulitzers.
Director Victoria Ellery-Jones has done a splendid job in presenting this revue with delightful familiar show tunes and even songs that aren’t heard as much, played by the talented musical director and pianist John Gough, along with Matthew Firkins on percussion. These musicians are so wonderful that they bring the same effect as a 20-piece West End orchestra that gets to the stripped-back core of the songs. Not to mention of course the wonderful harmonies coming from the company whizzing through over 25 songs, it is hard for me to simply list a favourite performance as a great song would follow another great song and then another for the rest of the evening. Luckily they are a glorious mixture of both ensemble pieces, solo or small group songs which give us the wide and beautiful range of musical theatre heaven.
It is also worth noting how glorious this show is as it sits in the St James Church. Though relatively intimate, its architecture is extravagant and epic that it almost feels like we are watching some high-budget scenery at the Palladium or the Hippodrome (and looks even more spectacular thanks to the colourful lighting by Gordon Justham). I couldn’t help but feel that there seems to be a natural link between hearing these musical theatre songs and being in this spiritual environment. I’m not one to discuss the debate this link between religion and theatre as theologians have done in the past, but what I realised is the common denominator about going to church or to see a musical is the sense of community and oneness. In my opinion, the human power of music and joyful song is far greater than religion, and that is what Union Theatre brings in this lovely night of musical theatre classics.
The Phantom of Saigon and his Thoroughly Modern Dreamcoat of Horrors runs at the St James Church, Shirley until Saturday 14th July.
There is something rather exhilarating about discovering new theatre for the first time, especially when you have the chance to be in the audience for the opening night of a brand new piece, performed by a young, modern company. That feeling of not knowing what to expect, not to mention whether you or your fellow-audience members will enjoy what you are about to experience together can set the scene for a thrilling evening. So, it is a shame that more often than not the audience numbers are a little on the low side and made up mainly of family and friends of the company.
This was very much the case for the Brew Makers Theatre Company’s opening night for The Egg Rumour at the Old Joint Stock Theatre, though admittedly a new musical-play about fertility timing and corporate egg freezing may not immediately appeal to everyone. Yet, anyone who did not see the performance missed an entertaining hour that was both comic, emotional and thought-provoking – a play that particularly resonates in the current #metoo and equal pay debate climate.
The story centres around Iva, a young woman in her 20’s who is offered a rare promotion in her corporate job, but on the understanding that she undergo treatment to freeze her eggs and delay any plans of motherhood for the imminent future. You might be forgiven for thinking this is some futuristic utopian world conjured in the minds of the author (Ellamae Cieslik, who also plays the role of Iva) but no! In recent years the ‘incentive’ of egg freezing has become a growing trend – particularly in the USA – for women who wish to have control over both career and family life. Whether ultimately they have that control is the question at the heart of Iva’s story.
The ensemble company of 6 performers take on all of the roles between them and never leave the stage, moving seamlessly from featured office-workers to medical staff to all-seeing Greek chorus. The performances are fresh, crisp and confident, with the whole company blending extremely well together. A particular highlight was the opening movement sequence which was in progress as the audience took their seats and when the company sang together, even the first night hitch of the music tracks not playing could not detract from the great sound and obvious talent within the group.
This is definitely a piece which will grow and shift as the company itself develops. There are some moments where the flow of the story begins to wane, but this is mainly because the whole performance rattles along at such a fast pace, some of the references get missed by the audience and it takes a while to catch up with what has changed. Indeed, there were a couple of moments early on that the audience went to applaud but were not given time before the action continued, which subsequently left us unsure whether to react and made us a very quiet (and probably unnerving) group of observers throughout! A slight relaxing of the pace overall would ensure that the dialogue has more clarity and that the audience have time to appreciate individual segments without losing any of the energy and exuberance that carries this production along.
Provocative, funny, some great harmonies and a story line that left you questioning your own thoughts – what more could you ask for from live theatre?
The Brew Makers return for another performance at The Old Joint Stock on Monday 9 July before touring to other venues across the country. Why not treat yourself to something new?
Something wonderfully wicked this way comes.... to Stafford Castle!
An outstanding, big-budget production of Macbeth awaits you at Stafford Castle, and this is as much an experience as it is a performance. The production team have indeed created something rather special, very human and very real. With the magnificent backdrop of Stafford Castle and its green, undulating grounds this outdoor play starts in daylight and ends in darkness. Set in a large, filmesque, 4-level set the actors have an excellent performing space and Shakespeare's words jump off the page from the very first second to the incredible end. No expense is spared - a rich array of luxurious furniture, peacock feathers, candles, fire, falconry and special effects are used to create unforgettable pictures, to draw in the audience and enhance the visual further. One can read this play, see a theatre production, a film maybe... but to produce something as wonderful as this a director and creative team must surely have lived and breathed the story - they have taken each and every line of Shakespeare's tragedy very seriously and have carefully crafted it onto the stage with first-class expertise. With music, soundscape, sumptuous costumes, a first-class lighting scheme, sound design and well choreographed fight scenes, the actors and producers truly deserved the standing ovation granted them.
Superb leading performances by Bil Stuart (Macbeth) and Rosie Hilal (Lady Macbeth). The very strong cast of professionals performed with equal passion, excellent diction, expression and pure emotion. The weird sisters were perfectly portrayed (Mairi Hawthorn, Nicola Jo Cully, Sian Mannifield) all supported by clever musical interludes, original compositions by David Hewson and the playing of live on-stage instruments including lutes and bagpipes. With exciting chants, singing, magic and sorcery you will be enchanted by pure brilliance.
Congratulations to Clare Penton and her talented team. Magnificent.
Runs to 14 July
Suitable for everyone
New York comes to Sutton Arts Theatre with the stage version of the much loved 80's musical film Fame.
Showing the lives of several students at a performance arts school over the course of 3 years.
Uplifting and fast paced, this show is staying true to the lyrics of the song Fame; "they'll make you forget the rest".
The talented cast all provide high-quality performances and created some real WOW moments.
The music is likely to appeal to most and the cast gave some stunning singing performances too. Highlights include their performances of Hard Work, These Are My Children and Fame.
Carmen Diaz, played by Phebe Jackson, gave a strong performance throughout and really shone in the big finale at the end.
Strong vocal performances also came from Sarah Riches (as Serena Katz) and Colette Forsyth (as Miss Esther Sherman).
The dancing is all well-choreographed and Tyrone Jackson, play by Kyle Henderson, led the way by showcasing his dancing talent.
Laugh out loud comedic performances also came from the character Jose “Joe” Vegas, played by Robbie Newton.
Fame has everything you could want for in an entertaining musical show. It's easy to watch, fun and fast paced with the occasional more poignant moment.
They left the audience on a high from their outstanding performance of the shows big hit Fame.
The costumes were perfect for helping to set the scene and create the feel of the show. Clever use has also been made of the compact stage with the use of a changeable movable set. Those behind the scenes have clearly been working hard to bring the show together.
The music is also delivered through a live orchestra working hard, out of sight, during the show.
A great evening of theatre. Remember my name, Fame!
Fame is on at the Sutton Arts Theatre till 30th June
The audience at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, were treated to a uniquely unusual evening out last night as Oddsocks presented the timeless Shakespeare classic 'The Tempest'.
Those of us who were familiar with the musical sci-fi take on the play 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' were not too surprised to see the cast dressed as members of the Star Ship Enterprise, but it is fair to say that Oddsocks definitely put their own stamp on what is reputed to be The Bard's last play. The music was there, as was the sci-fi, but it was most definitely an inceptive version which still used the original Shakespearean text whilst having all the other elements too.
It was a little startling to have settled into one's seat expecting the opening lines of this well known play, only to be greeted with the cast performing the musical classic 'The Final Countdown'! It certainly made the audience sit up, and reiterated the fact that this was indeed going to be an original interpretation.
Just six cast members played all the characters and in the main this worked in terms of the speed with which they swapped characters and costumes. The futuristic set, which remained static throughout, aided this process, and was designed most cleverly to allow the cast (particularly Ariel) to move up and down, in and out, and to perform the music on stage.
The play is set on a remote island, which is inhabited not only by the Duke of Milan, also the sorcerer Prospero, and his daughter Miranda, who landed there accidentally after being exiled, but also by some other interesting characters in the form of Caliban, a half human, half monster character, a drunken butler Stephano and a court jester Trinuclo. The Queen of Naples, Alonsa, her son Ferdinand, her brother Sebastian and Prospero's brother Antonio, who seized his Dukedom, are shipwrecked on the same island. They are separated on purpose by the faithful spirit Ariel,who serves Prospero, and Alonsa believes her son is dead. He in turn meets Miranda and they fall in love.
The play dips in and out of all the usual Shakespearean plot and sub plot lines of love, betrayal, people in disguise, master and servant relationships, and good triumphing over evil in the end.
Andy Barrow was a convincing Prospero (and also Scottie!) and had the air of authority required for a character who has been cast out by his villainous brother, lands on a planet named Babel and then is restored to his throne of Milan at the end of the play. This evil brother, Antonio, was played by Gavin Harrison and he conveyed the necessary level of nastiness required; his portrayal had an air of the Alan Rickman role as The Sheriff of Nottingham. Alice Merivale was an endearing Miranda and also doubled as Ariel with Amy Roberts and Matt Penson, which allowed for clever costume changes and movement around the set for this faithful and devoted spirit. Miranda's love interest, Ferdinand, was played by Matt Penson, and he fulfilled the role beautifully, with a nice balance of self assurance and humble attentive lover. Dominic Dee Burch shone as the cunning Caliban and also doubled up as Sebastian, Queen Alonsa of Naples' scheming brother, and Gavin Harrison doubled up as Trinculo, who was portrayed as a Droid reminiscent of CP30 from Star Wars. He had mastered the mannerisms of this latter character perfectly, which added some pleasant humour to this part of the play. Amy Roberts' interpretation of Queen Alonsa of Naples was original and delivered with conviction, and she also doubled up as Stephanie (who was portrayed as a Geordie 'lush') and also as Ariel.
The small setting made for an intimate evening and the cast interacted constantly with the audience during the performance. There was a substantial amount of ad-libbing away from the Shakespearean text and many musical numbers (including 'I Get Knocked Down' and 'Rule The World') and sometimes these two elements detracted from the text and interrupted the flow of the story lines and the production in general. They did, on occasion, seem to bring a halt to the plot line, and maybe for the casual observer, or for someone unfamiliar with the story of The Tempest, this could make following the story difficult. Due to the size of the space, the continual breaking away from the text to ad-lib in contemporary language, the audience participation and the musical numbers made for a slightly overwhelming experience which sat a little oddly at times with Shakespeare.
However nobody could deny the casts' energy and enthusiasm and the production was received with eagerness by the majority of the audience.
The Tempest runs from Tuesday 19th – Thursday 21st June 2018 at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
Bearing in mind that Compton Mackenzie’s farcical and quintessentially Scottish novel Whisky Galore has been around since 1947, as well as the subsequent classic Ealing comedy film released a couple of years after (and a recent remake released a couple of years ago), there are still a lot of people who are not familiar with it – myself being one of them. But also before the show had started I could overhear people who knew the book and film yet weren’t sure how this story could be achieved on stage. Sadly this stage adaptation by Phillip Goulding does not quite make it as engaging for those new audiences as the script is incredibly wordy and it is extremely challenging to follow the plot, other than the fact that there’s a war on, and there’s a whisky shortage then suddenly…it’s (surprise, surprise) whisky galore.
I suppose this could also be due to the extra complication of setting the story as a play within a play performed by the all-female troupe - the Pallas Players. According to the programme, this troupe is inspired by the real-life Osiris Players who toured schools and civic halls from 1927 to 1963 – which possibly explains the minimal set design (by Patrick Connellan) of crates, red curtains and cardboard cut-outs to give that both old-fashioned am-dram and Brechtian style of production – much like when I saw the National’s recent Threepenny Opera by Brecht in that a lot has gone into this production to make it look like not a lot has.
But by removing the high-tech aspects of modern theatre it enhances the performances and efforts of the ladies on stage, using comic timing, physical comedy and also physical theatre with a small amount of props to creatively display different locations. And like the recent smash hit The Play That Goes Wrong, lots of the comedy comes from breaking the fourth wall and reacting to the occasional mishaps. In fact I would say this approach is like a Goes Wrong play, but going right. It is a slightly mind-boggling concept but it is pulled off well with the direction by Kevin Shaw and the seven fantastic actresses; Sally Armstrong, Lila Clements, Isabel Ford, Christine Mackie, Alicia McKenzie, Joey Parsad and Shuna Snow who end up playing a total of 26 characters (and at some points a few actresses playing just the one character). Both individually and all together they absolutely light up the stage with their funny performances.
So with all that said, this production deserves full marks for finding a fresh new way of interpreting a classic story, however as it was a comedy I was hoping to laugh more than I did. And perhaps the performers were hoping to hear more laughs from the audience too (thus prompting a funny line about a joke misfire in one scene). As mentioned it really is due to the script which lets the performance down, however the Pallas Players look like they are having an incredible amount of fun on stage and their take on this production adds cheekiness and joy that fits brilliantly with these Scottish characters and a nostalgic wartime feel to the story.
Whisky Galore runs until Saturday 23rd June at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
Although this play made its premiere only at the start of last year, it feels like the subject matter of Murder, Margaret and Me and Phillip Meeks' writing sits somewhere in the middle of being a gripping modern play or an established classic. It may tilt towards the latter as we witness the rocky relationship between the iconic film star Margaret Rutherford and iconic author Agatha Christie at the time when Rutherford was cast as Miss Marple, turning Christie's stories into, as she anxiously describes early on, a "brand". Or at least the relationship might have been rocky, it is difficult to tell as the supporting character of "The Spinster" informs us that;
“The only real truth in what you are about to see is that Miss Margaret Rutherford didn’t want anyone to know the truth.”
At this point, we know we are in for a story that is full of uncertainty concerning these two well-known figures in literature and cinema, as their secrets boil beneath the surfaces. But it is also quite funny and frankly a light-hearted evening thanks to both Meeks' writing and director Christine Bland's intimate and honest production, performed terrifically by three ladies.
I admit I did go into this quite blind, as I don't really know any of Christie's work nor have seen Margaret Rutherford on screen. So I cannot make any comments on accuracy, but Ros Davies' portrayal of Rutherford is simply joyous to watch. She brings natural warmth to the role, with charming mannerisms, a sense of humour and Received Pronunciation that makes her believable as this well-known figure. But at times it is a heart-breaking performance as we learn the truth about Rutherford's back story. Davies brings a unique brilliant performance which perfectly gels with this British black comedy genre.
Mary Ruane also brings warmth to her portrayal of Agatha Christie, as her relationship with Rutheford begins as slightly bitter, only for her to turn into her friend and saviour. She naturally adopts a loving and caring persona with a hint of dark humour as she seems slightly obsessed over the fate of her characters in her famous stories and their methods of murder.
Playing various other characters but mostly as "The Spinster", Louise Price guides us through the story between these two iconic characters and dives every now and then into the scenes with them. She probably has the most stage time of the three, knitting away in a subtle but omnipresent manner.
This play however isn't without its flaws. At times I felt myself drifting off and missing parts as it does feel quite long, especially as there are only three characters in it – ideally it could’ve been a lot shorter as a one act play, opposed to two. But nonetheless this is a charming production by the company at the Hall Green Little Theatre whose efforts are well paid off throughout this marvellous performance. Whether you are a Christie and Rutherford fan or not, this play is a lovely observation of the protection of art becoming the protection of friendship with hints of nostalgia and a good few laughs along the way.
Murder, Margaret and Me runs until Saturday 23rd June at the Hall Green Little Theatre.
Murder and murky family secrets are laid bare in an entertaining and well-constructed production of The Case of The Frightened Lady at the Belgrade Theatre.
When Inspector Tanner (Gray O'Brien) is called in to investigate a ruthless murder at Mark’s Priory, the grand ancestral home of the Lebanon family, he quickly discovers that nothing is quite as it seems.
Needless to say, the story falls firmly into the 'good old murder mystery' category, and while it demonstrates author Edgar Wallace's impressive thriller-writing pedigree, Agatha Christie this isn't.
Set in the 1930s, the action all takes place against the same backdrop - the courtyard of the stately home of the Lebanons. That helps it move swiftly and, aided by clever lighting, creates a strong sense of the passage of time, but it starts to feel a little dull on the eyes in the second act.
Nonetheless, Bill Kenwright's snappy production drives the story along at considerable place and the strong cast delivers a thoroughly enjoyable show which keeps the audience guessing until the very end.
Gray O'Brien excels as the stoic Tanner and Oliver Phelps adds a lighter note to proceedings as his assistant Totti.
Deborah Grant is a terrific Lady Lebanon; capturing her tortured character's all-consuming obsession with tradition and family lineage.
Meanwhile, Ben Nealon is delightfully daft and upper class as Lord Lebanon and Denis Lill brings a very humorous dose of pomposity and grandeur to the role of Dr Amersham.
There's some good supporting performances from the staff of the household too. Philip Lowrie gets it just right as the subservient Kelver, Rosie Thomson shines as Mrs Tilling and Glenn Carter and Callum Coates make a good double team as the omnipresent and ever-shady footmen, Gilder and Brook.
There may be no fireworks (just a few extremely loud gunshots and screams) but this still makes for thoroughly enjoyable theatre.
The Case of the Frightened Lady runs at Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 15 June.
Stoke Rep Players
Nell Gwynn is currently delighting audiences at the Stoke Rep and, if you happen to be after an utterly entertaining night out, then this is without doubt the place to be. This play, penned by British playwright Jessica Swale, who deservedly won the Best New Comedy Olivier Award in 2016, is a 5 star hit.
Director, David Bryan, has triumphed with a joyous production, staged with hilarity, cleverness and with a warmth that will capture and draw you in whether you are a theatre veteran or a newcomer. It is a fast-paced play about theatrics, a love affair, the relationship between stage and audience and in conclusion results in a hilarious and colourful celebration of historical theatre life.
Set in the 1600s, King Charles II (Tom Waldron), has decreed that women may appear on the English stage for the first time. Charles Hart (Leo Capernaros), a leading actor at the theatre, spots Nell’s (Shelley Rivers) potential as an actress. With guidance and lessons from the heart by Hart, Nell, a former prostitute from London’s Cheapside, is soon flaunting her charm, beauty and assets on the main stage. She catches the King’s eye and soon after an amorous adventure ensues between actress and monarch.
Shelley Rivers as Nell seizes the part with beauty, conviction and the right amount of mischievous charm, delivering bawdy one-liners and hilarious songs to perfection, playing out the more serious and emotional scenes with gripping confidence. Her beautiful singing voice is put to the test, sometimes in cappella, and she sails through without falter.
She is joined on stage by a truly brilliant, all singing all dancing cast that includes the glorious Tom Waldron as the King, John Wicks as the baffled playwright, Ian Birkin as the impassioned director, Caroline Wicks as Nell’s very funny and full-of-character dresser and Leo Capernaros as the dashing actor, Charles Hart.
With so much talent on stage I felt spoiled - but I have to confess I was absolutely glued to Philip Jackson playing Edward Kynaston, whose very stage presence was reminiscent of a younger Rowan Atkinson. I was delighted by his very funny rant ‘no woman can play a woman as well as I can play a woman' and his was a perfect casting as his comedy timing, expressions and unquestionably brilliant performance proved.
Superb portrayals by all; Georgina Goodchild (Rose Gwynn), Dawn Huxley (Old Ma Gwynn/Queen Catherine), Angela Dale (Lady Castlemaine/Louise de Keroualle), Peter Taylor (William/Ensemble), Steven K Beattie (Lord Arlington) and Joe Wood (Ned Spiggett). Dawn Huxley’s performance of Old Ma Gwynn was particularly notable, as was Steven K Beattie’s wonderful Lord Arlington, but with actors of such talent and a show of such high standard I could bullet point an endless list of favourite moments that would stretch from here to London – so it would be better to witness this for yourself.
With a gorgeous set of drapes, red and gold half-circle of arches and royal box of the King’s auditorium, this production is heavily and luxuriously costumed by the RSC and excellently wigged. The simple charm of two musicians (Richard Foxcroft and Jane Duff) playing varying sizes of acoustic recorders is surprisingly sufficient to support the whole show, even for the big song and dance numbers, yet it does so and it creates the perfect soundscape for the era.
With excellent tech by Malcolm Rushton and Mike Adams, engaging choreography by Julie Wood and competent musical direction by Lorraine Hunter, the Stoke Rep Players have a winning team who have pulled out all the stops to ensure this show is as uplifting as it is entertaining.
A great show results in a happy audience and this audience left with a happy smile on their faces celebrating an evening well spent. Stirling!
Runs to 16 June.
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