Friday, 17 August 2007

Get Happy - Kings Head Theatre

Get Happy: By Debbie Saloman
Kings Head Theatre - Islington : 31st July - 26th August
Directed by Adam Zane
Reviewed by Sarah Brown

Get Happy! based on Judy Garland’s return to the stage in the 1960s, must be a gruelling one for performer Debbie Saloman, comprising as it does 90 minutes of her as the main or sole actor. However, she was well rewarded for her stamina on the night I saw the show as rarely have I been in such an appreciative audience. By the time it got to the ‘interactive audience singalong’ I was half wondering whether I had stumbled across a little known cult based on the music of Judy Garland.

The show is highly stylised, with Saloman impersonating Garland in persona as well as song. As someone previously entirely ignorant about her life there were some interesting autobiographical details, including around her apparently somewhat tense relationship with the press. I had no idea they lambasted her for being fat. A female star criticised for being fat – you’d never get that nowadays would you? Some things don’t change much it would seem.

Saloman has an amazing and powerful voice and a small room at the back of the Kings Head Pub didn’t really do her justice. The show included a medley of favourites that even I had heard of including ‘When You’re Smiling’, and ‘Over the Rainbow’. The second half in particular was packed with hits, as it was set in a club just after Garland had finished her triumphant show at Carnegie Hall. A creative and economical mind had managed to transform the stage for the second half with the aid of silver drapes and the pianist and drummer were nattily dressed in 50s gear.

The Wizard of Oz reminiscences were great. I have no idea if they were based on fact or fancy but I rather liked the thought of glamorous make-up girls picking up the ‘munchkins’ and tickling them, especially the ’40-year-old German man’.

Saloman certainly seemed to have done her homework as the show was packed with details of this nature. Many of the details were sad but veiled in humour, such as the repeated theme of Garland’s drinking (she kept a bottle of Blue Nun on the stage – that’s the sponsors dealt with).

I left knowing much more about the life of Judy Garland than I had previously but also humming a few old hits. Despite the sadness of much of Garland’s life, the overall theme of the show is positive and uplifting.

Potential theatre-goers should mug up on the songs, however, so as not to be exposed as frauds during the sing-along section. And not just ‘Over the Rainbow’ either – the cult of Judy demands something more obscure. You have been warned.

Get Happy Continues at The Kngs Head until the 26th August for more infrmation visit or Visit Hope Theatres Website on

Friday, 3 August 2007

Hobsons Choice - Chichester Festival Theatre

Hobsons Choice by Harold Brighouse
Chichester Festival Theatre: 27 July - 1 September
Directed by: Jonathan Church
Music By: Matthew Scott

Reviewed by: Talisker Stuart-Gordon

Hobson’s Choice was originally written in 1915, set in Salford c.1880; this production retains the period costumes and Victorian shop set, adding an old-world charm to a timeless comedy.

The concept of the overbearing father, all mouth and not a lot in the way of trousers, is beautifully portrayed by John Savident, whose bluster continued throughoutHobson’s changing circumstances and added to the amusement of a man whollyunable to see himself as responsible for the consequences of his actions.
There is of course a darker side to such a character, but whilst one isaware of this, it is always firmly in the background and does not disturban otherwise light-hearted performance. Equally, the strong anddetermined Maggie (Carolyn Backhouse) is highly reminiscent of the toughNorthern woman, such as Nora Batty of Last of the Summer Wine. God forbidanyone should argue with her! Her man-management skills are what keeps theaction of the play moving onwards, in fabulous opposition to Hobson’s‘brakes’. Her ability to turn every circumstance to her advantage is suchthat one only wonders it has taken her until the then advanced age of 30to finally do so and get out from under the parental thumb.

Poor Hobson’s dismay when he loses his daughters to marriage (courtesy of Maggie’s machinations) is swiftly followed by glee at no longer being henpecked;when he falls ill he isn’t quite sure whether he is appalled or mightilyrelieved at the doctor ordering Maggie back to look after him. Savidentis remarkably adept at the conflicting emotions and one is left in littledoubt that this is a man who has no idea what he wants apart from his ownway, but doesn’t know what precisely that is until a woman tells him hecan’t have it.

The play feels as if it revolves around Hobson and Maggie, although Maggieherself makes it clear that she wants everyone to think she revolvesaround her husband, the eventually brave but always terrified Mossop(Dylan Charles). However the supporting cast obey Maggie magnificentlyand provide excellent foils to her often raucous determination. Watchingthe sisters Alice (Katharine Kingsley) and Vickey (Annabel Scholey)attempt to wheedle past their irascible father and then get entirelywrapped up in their husbands, who they have only married courtesy ofMaggie’s brilliance, gives a timeless example of the children torn betweenparent and spouse who very definitely have an eye to the financial mainchance; I found that my sympathy with their horror at having to go back to look after a grumpy father was balanced by much amusement at theirunsuccessful attempts to ensure the ultimate reward. How very human!

This play was highly entertaining, and a charmingly timeless comicvignette of family life which one can simply enjoy, or dig into for awealth of meaning and social comment of the period. The production andquality of the acting certainly allows for and indeed encourages both. Ihighly recommend a visit to Chichester Festival Theatre to see this –especially as one could also bring a picnic into the neighbouring park fora quintessentially English summer evening out.

Hobson Choice Runs at Chichester in Rep with Twelfth Night until the 1st September for more information visit

Photos by: Manuel Harlan: Top - Dylan Charles (Willie Mossop), Carolyn Backhouse (Maggie Hobson)
Bottom Carolyn Backhouse (Maggie Hobson), John Savident (Hobson)

Twelfth Night - Chichester Festival Theatre

Twelfth Night (Or What You Will) By William Shakespeare
Chichester Festival Theatre – 14th July – 31st August
Directed by Phillip Franks
Designed by Leslie Travers
Composed by Matthew Scott
Reviewed by Jo Sharp - Theatre Studies Student

Directing and producing a Shakespeare play as famous as Twelfth Night is a challenge to the best in the trade. Most of the audience know the romance driven plot, so are craving for a newer fresh angle on the script. Therefore, visual, aural and spacial elements are vital to creating this atmosphere.

The opening set certainly steals your attention with interesting lighting and mystical objects hanging from the ceiling to create a unique acting space. It was evident from the first dialogue that the acting was of a
high quality – however I was in anticipation of how the comedy characters would be handled.

It was obvious that a few members of the cast were struggling to fill the auditorium with their voices but generally the dialogue was clearly audible. The musical numbers had no struggle in volume but did seem to take over moments in the play, the performance could’ve done with cutting one or two musical numbers. The director also used the musical elements to enhance the hilarity of the play – he definitely succeeded in doing this. The large audience reacted well to the comedy with the odd chuckle from the slightly slower members of the audience!

The acting was generally superb with the better contributions coming from the older members of the cast. Patrick Stewart (Malvolio) was extremely strong in his role and kept the audiences attention with every sound, expression and twitch. Martin Turner gave a charming performance as Orsino, although the age gap between him and Laura Rees (Viola) was slightly distracting!

Visually, there were subtle changes in lighting - most to indicate times of day; the costumes were fairly plain – neither overly elaborate nor suggesting a particular time period. This is one of the only Shakespeare plays where he insists on certain costume specifics (Malvolio’s yellow stockings cross gartered). Occasionally a gramophone would be lowered to centre stage; this would be the backing track to which the characters would sing (live!).

My general enjoyment of this performance surprised me…I thoroughly enjoyed watching the older characters, but the younger ones were struggling to match their expert acting and this made them less easy to watch. With tickets ranging from £10 to £32, if this experience of Shakespeare and/or Twelfth Night will be your first, I would highly recommend it. However, if you have seen a few Shakespeare plays staged and are familiar with the plot of Twelfth Night, you may be disappointed by this performance which lacks a fresh approach to the play.

Twelfth Night runs at Chichester until 31st August in Rep with Hobsons Choice for more information please visit

Photos by Manuel Harlan
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