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.
The only time I have been left speechless at the end of a film was when I watched 'The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas'. The horror of what had just played out, added to the fact that it was based in truth, rendered me gawping like a guppy fish at the screen.
That is exactly how I was struck after watching 'The System', written by Edward Loboda, who also starred as one of the characters, Blake.
Where to begin?
Firstly, I was amazed at how well the plot and the characters played out on the screen. This was recorded on Zoom due to Covid restrictions, and it was astonishing how powerful it was via a recording. In fact, some of the elements of live theatre which can prove cumbersome ie.slow scene changes and prop malfunctions, were not an issue, and led to a seamless, smooth performance.
Secondly, the originality of the writing made an immediate impact. It ostensibly appeared to be about an ordinary family, parents and a grown up son, chatting about the challenges of their day and how stressful and overwhelming their daily jobs are. The son has just returned from a job interview, and there is a clever exchange of dialogue about how the interview has gone etc.. All this gives it a completely contemporary feel, and brings it slap bang up to date. It will also resonate with most people, as it is about everyday life and everyday things which we all experience, and our usual responses to them.
Thirdly, the cast is incredibly small, only 6 characters, and there is an adage which says 'keep it simple'. The plot is simple but extremely effective, and the fact that there are only 6 characters makes it move effortlessly between scenes, and also introduces the audience to the storyline and the characters instantly, which just adds to the professional feel of the whole performance.
Where it truly scores, however, is in the tension -filled, jaw dropping revelation of the plot by the characters as they appear. It opens with what appears to be a mundane work based conversation between over worked Maisie, played superbly by Dawn Butler, and her slightly harassed looking husband Danny, played with distracted, 'stressed out' aplomb by Morgan Rees-Davies. Their son, Blake, played by the writer of the piece Edward Loboda, then makes an entrance, having just been for a job interview. Loboda strikes just the right balance between slightly arrogant son who's parents seem to do everything for him, and slightly vulnerable son who wishes he could be more independent.
On the heels of this exchange, we are introduced to Claire, who is Maisie's assistant. At this juncture, their work discussion just evolves around a pile of files which, at this point in the story, appears to be large in volume and which are causing some consternation as to how they will be processed. The exact nature of their work is not disclosed.
Finally, we are introduced to outgoing, outspoken seventy year old Iva, played to perfection by Ellie Darvill, and her grandson, a grandchild any grandparent would be happy to call their own, played brilliantly and sympathetically by Liam Alexandru.
Upon the revelation that Maisie and Danny work for a Government department called 'DOSE', I found myself clenching my fists, and sitting on the edge of my seat. There was something chilling about the way this was dropped into the dialogue, and it had a sombre and doom-filled edge to it, an Armageddon feel, which, as the plot is divulged, is completely borne out.
Phrases such as 'It's for the good of everyone' 'These laws have been around for centuries' and the inference that the State has a Big Brother style control to it, gives it a spine tingling parallel to a post -Covid world, and when the acronym DOSE is finally explained, the fist clenching is turned into eye widening horror.
Normally in a review, more of the plot would be revealed, but I can only say that a 'spoiler alert' is absolutely necessary here. It has to be that audiences see this without much prior knowledge of the plot line.
This piece is so beautifully and expertly crafted that it has all the tension of something like 'Time', written by Jimmy McGovern. It has an originality and modern feel to it, which is one of it's powerful hooks as a production.
The reason why some pieces make such an impact is because the scenario which they portray could be totally accurate and could actually happen in real life, and this is the key to the success of 'The System'. It is one hundred percent believable. As the viewer, you begin to think you grasp what is happening, but do not want to contemplate it. The way the plot is released is so cleverly done, as to make you convinced that you know what the outcome is going to be, but equally it is truly too awful to acknowledge, and, when your worst fears are confirmed, the real horror of what is unfolding leaves you cold.
Whilst this piece worked well online, I should imagine on stage it will have the brilliantly terrifying tension of 'The Woman In White', and it will be a crime if there is not a film made of this by 2025. You heard it here first!
It's a joy to witness the birth of new plays. Enter Stage Write, a showcase of short theatre works, brought five to the Birmingham Hippodrome. Natalie Edward Adele Yesufu created the platform for new writing in 2017; this year her competition once more brought finalist scripts to performance before a sell-out, appreciative audience and an industry panel of judges.
The event was preceded and followed by periods of 'networking', where folk mixed, shared experiences, and fostered new theatre working relationships. A red carpet photograph area was made use of by many in attendance. An atmosphere of bonhomie prevailed.
The evening's pieces, though short in duration, proved their worth. Stephen Davis brought Drop The Gun, a two-hander which see-sawed the position of power between the actors. Guardian, by Thomas Anthony Ellis, revealed with a supernatural twist the catastrophic climax of a fated couple. Louise Osbourne presented Just One Mistake, a fraught conversation in the aftermath of an unconventional death. Jonathan Skinner's dark comedy piece Indignitas placed a euthanasia-with-benefits dystopia under the spotlight. Britain for Breakfast revealed David Bottomley's very human view of the asylum-seeker assessment room. Cast with fine Midlands talent, these works rose off the page wonderfully.
Sophie Aná opened the proceedings in fine song. After the plays, Make It Happen Dance Company took the floor, with the energised, synchronised movements of a fine Swiss watch. In ticker-tape parade spectacle, both audience and panel winner awards were presented for the best writing piece at the evening's close. Writing, the bedrock of quality theatre, needs such explicit appreciation, and it's heartening to see it happen in the nation's second city.
An evening dinner party amongst close friends provides comedy, drama and plenty of surprises.
The friends begin jovial, but after just one joke disagreements, resentment and sibling rivalry surface. The civilised evening soon ends up being a drink fuelled evening, airing some home truths.
The show is well written, unpredictable and it also builds to a big surprise for both the characters and the audience. The comedy helped maintain the pace of the show, providing many laughs and it also helps to balance the tension. All five characters were well suited to their roles, delivering strong acting and comedic performances.
The play includes Vincent, played by Inbetweeners Joe Thomas and Peter, played by Miranda Bo Poraj. There was also Carl, played by Alex Gaumond, Elizabeth, played by Emma Carter, and Anna, played by Louise Marwood. The friction between the characters felt realistic and tense. One of the highlights of the evening was a particularly exaggerated outburst by the character Elizabeth, Emma Carter, showing a woman pushed to the edge.
After an evening of arguments, snipes and surprises, will the firmly close family and friends be able to survive afterwards?
Joe Thomas acts as narrator at the beginning and the end, setting up the story and drawing it to its conclusion. The set (the inside of a house), was impressive and realistic, with atmospheric lighting that flicked from the warmth of a lounge to a spotlight on Thomas as he shared his asides.
It felt as though the audience had been invited to the evening dinner party and we watched the awkward events unfold.
What’s In A Name? is an easy watch, full of tension and laughs.
What’s In A Name? plays at The Alexandra until 14 March
It was a dark, stormy evening outside, as I took my seat for the opening night of The Cat and the Canary at Lichfield Garrick Theatre. The inclement weather had failed to put a dampener on the spirits of the Monday night audience in attendance. Settled by the warm welcome of the theatre staff and the comfortable surroundings, 1930s melodics and atmospheric strings sought to both underpin and undermine that comfort, in anticipation of the murder mystery to come.
This production is bejewelled with recognisable talent taken from across the entertainment industry. Mark Jordon's bumbling vet was particularly well received by the audience, but all brought their prowess to the piece, creating a household of tangled familial relationships. As a whodunnit with supernatural undertones and comedic episode, the show as a whole seemed to fall between too many stools. The exposition-work ran to just shy of the interval. However, some notable action at this point roused the expectations for later, and these were satisfied in the second half with humour, intrigue and discovery, at pace.
One can often expect a touring production to travel light, but nothing was spared in terms of mise-en-scène. Beyond the plush red curtain, this proscenium stage lavishly recreated the two 1930s country manor house interiors in which the action takes place. So extensive were these sets that over two minutes of curtain-close were needed for the scene change after the interval. Nevertheless, the glorious scope and detail of these spaces gave plenty of playability for the cast, and furnished the audience with a believable and enjoyable setting for spooky shenanigans. The soundscape and lighting were equally impeccable.
The Cat and the Canary plays at Lichfield Garrick Theatre until Saturday 14 March.
As far as musicals go, very little beats the power of The Sound of Music for me. Brought up on it from an early age and having performed it twice, it has a very secure place in my heart and I jump at any opportunity to indulge in its music and storyline. For some it may be old-fashioned now, perhaps too saccharine-sweet for modern tastes but I adore it and will happily wallow in it every time Julie Andrews appears running up that mountain on screen at Christmas! How disappointing then to start watching a production with such anticipation and leave feeling completely cold and lacking emotion at the end.
First impressions were promising, this production boasts an impressive opulent set for both the Abbey and the Von Trapp house and the orchestra under the musical direction of Jeremy Wootton brings an excellent pace and vibrancy to the score. The opening Nun’s Chorus paved the way for some excellent harmony singing throughout from the female ensemble, but the cracks in the production began to show when two (rather tall) members of the male ensemble appeared dressed as additional nuns in the back row. Placing them in dimly lit areas of the stage was not enough to disguise them and we left the venue questioning whether a little less spend on the set and more invested in giving two more young actresses their first step on the professional ladder might not have been more worthwhile.
Welsh National Opera performer Megan Llewellyn took the role of the Mother Abbess. Undeniably a strong singer, she belted out all her numbers with immense power. Sadly this overpowered the beautiful harmonies of the other nuns in How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria and although her rendition of Climb Every Mountain brought the first act to a climax it was less an emotional one, more a matter of sheer, deafening volume as the final notes played. Her characterisation of the Mother Abbess was the bounciest I have ever seen and while this made for a friendlier relationship with Emilie Fleming’s Maria, it just did not seem to possess the required reverence needed.
As Maria, Fleming sang well throughout but I did not get the sense of her wild, rebellious spirit that underlines the whole reason for her being sent away from the abbey. Andrew Lancel’s diffident, broken Captain Von Trapp brought a refreshing change to what can become a slightly wooden role, but the overall insipid characterisation between the two left the later romantic moments feeling far too tentative. In places the gestures and delivery of the lines was almost mechanical, as if the show was still in the early stages of rehearsal and that the direction had not quite explored the motives behind the movements.
This was symptomatic of the whole production which felt more like a ‘paint-by-numbers’ effort to recreate the film on stage than something which had seen real attention to the emotion and sentiment of the storyline addressed in rehearsals.
The children’s cast were all strong, with well-executed, slick performances throughout and there were enjoyable performances from the supporting company but overall this production feels mis-cast and as if the producers were looking for a quick way to make money.
Given the standing ovation in the audience on opening night, I may be in the minority in my thoughts and I hope that anyone who sees the show this week enjoys the performances. However, if you were thinking of taking someone to see it soon, I would recommend not paying into the commercial tour and instead look to support local amateur companies due to perform it near you. Find a production where every adult and child on the stage has worked hard in their spare time to retell this story for you and hopefully you will find a performance with genuine heart to it.
Usually once every season, there is something special that is the talk of London's theatre scene that seems to shake up its audiences and spread terrific word of mouth. Summer 2018 saw an example of this being A Monster Calls during its Olivier-Award winning run at the Old Vic, following an opening at the Bristol Old Vic. Now, this play is hitting the road in its first UK tour and frankly rightly so as this is an extraordinary piece about the human condition that ought to be seen by everyone.
Following her interpretations of La Strada and the National Theatre's Jane Eyre and Peter Pan, director Sally Cookson is yet again proving to be one of Britain's most exciting theatre makers bringing her devising process to this story concerning a boy facing his mother's terminal illness by Patrick Ness, following on from an idea by Siobhan Dowd before her death. Her theatrical "stamp" on these stories is certainly not going stale as it sheds a whole new perspective in adapting a piece for the stage in a way that only theatre can do, therefore the emotions in the Belgrade Theatre are intensely high, not leaving a dry eye in the house.
Cookson's "stamp" comes from approaching the story fresh without a script as it is collaborated by the actors in the rehearsal room. It is fascinating how a piece that relies mostly on the talented ensemble can feel so contemporary and move us in an extraordinary way. At the centre of this ensemble is Ammar Duffus as thirteen-year-old Connor O'Malley, who throughout the entire play does not leave the stage nor has much resting time. In his blazer, shirt and stripey tie, Duffus embodies the mannerisms of a thirteen-year-old who is carrying the weight and sadness on his shoulders. He also presents great rage and anxiety in his character, allowing the unspeakable emotions of this tragic story to be displayed quite clearly as he deserves all applause for his performance.
Connor's mother, played by Maria Omakinwa despite her deteriorating health is a beacon of hope as someone clinging onto the last moments surrounded by her family, while Kaye Brown plays his Grandma who speaks the more honest reality of the situation but with a great amount of unconditional care. We also see Connor's everyday struggles through his bullies Harry (Greg Bernstein), Sully (Jade Hackett) and Anton (Kel Matsena) and his battle for independance against the forigiving nature of his friend Lily, played by Cora Kirk. But one of the standout performances comes from Keith Gilmore as the monster who brings a skin-crawling, unnerving quality about him as he haunts Connor. Gilmore's performance doesn't require any monster like make-up, costume or effects but his sheer physicality as his moves and climbs around the stage is something of pure acrobatic standard making him both an intimidating monster but also an approachable guardian.
As with Cookson's previous productions, the technical aspects all gel together with the performances to create an undeniably unforgettable experience. Dick Straker's blood and fire infused projections fill the canvas which is Michael Vale's blank set behind with many ropes used by the ensemble to run around as branches of the recurring theme of the yew tree. While the sound design by Mike Beer works well in time with the actors' actions and the soundtrack composed by Benji Bower, who creates a contemporary but epic score performed live by Luke Potter and Seamas Carey.
All these ingredients are the key to this production becoming a mind-blowing piece of theatre, but ultimately it is a story with a long-lasting effect that really hits home. It is a story which explores what it means to be in pain and afraid, showing how we can and should cope with tragedy but explores humanity in all of its complicated forms. Having said that, it is truly an unforgettable night at the theatre worth seeing to provide us with hope and acceptance in life.
A Monster Calls runs at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 7th March.
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