Thursday, 3 December 2009


Please note The Public Reviews will no longer be based here, all reviews past, present and future will now be hosted on our new site.

We look forward to welcoming you onto the new site!

John Roberts - Editor

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

White Christmas - Lowry Theatre, Salford

White Christmas
By Irving Berlin
Director: David Morgan
Reviewer: Iris Beaumont

White Christmas is filled with so many fantastic numbers by Irving Berlin including Happy Holiday, Sisters and of course the unforgettable title song White Christmas and a snow scene which leaves you feeling warm throughout, you can’t help but be engrossed from the start.

It is war torn Europe, Christmas Eve 1944, three soldiers are trying their utmost to raise moral and bring a little laughter into the hearts of the troops they are stationed with, when a flying visit by their General (Roy Dotrice) to wish them all a Happy Christmas comments on wondering what they will be doing in ten years time we are sent forward in time to 1954.

Bob Wallace (Aled Jones) and Phil Davies (Adam Cooper) are busy working as a double act, singing and dancing their way across America playing in many of the local theatres, where upon chance they meet Judy (Suzanne Shaw) and Betty (Rachel Stanley,) otherwise known as the Haynes sisters.

Phil is swept off his feet in love and decides by hook or crook to follow the Sisters all the way to Vermont, tricking Bob to go along with the promise of Snow – only to find when they get there it’s not as white as they had hoped and the Hotel they are booked in is ran by their old General, with the hotel close to closing a plan hatches into place and the show really begins to move.

With stunning set and costume designs, that literally take your breath away by Anna Louizos, you are already whisked away in this lavish and engrossing production and with direction by David Morgan things are kept full of pace throughout with some extra splashes of Christmas sentimentality and comic moments splashed in for good measure.

Excellent performances are given by all the cast and one really couldn’t find fault with any of them, but Louise Plowright as Martha the receptionist really shines out strong with her powerful and beautiful voice and Emily Fitton as the General’s Grand-Daughter couldn’t help but touch your heart.

I have had many excellent experiences of productions over the years at the Lowry and this is the show that tops them all. White Christmas really lifts your heart and gets you ready for the festive season that lies ahead, a show for all the family, if you are stuck for present ideas this Christmas why not buy your loved ones tickets for this show, which is guaranteed to make an impact for years to come!

Photos: Alastair Muir
Runs until Sat 9th Jan 2010

Wintuk - Madison Square Gardens, New York

Writer & Director: Richard Blackburn
Choreographer: Catherine Archambault

Reviewer: Jeff Savio

As we enter the winter season, many children eagerly await the arrival of snow. Cirque du Soleil’s seasonal spectacular, Wintuk, follows Jaime, a young boy, on his quest to discover why winter has yet to bring much desired snow to his city. Along the way, he is joined by a playful young girl, a shy man, and a wise Shaman. Together they encounter a host of colorful characters as they make their way to the imaginary arctic world called Wintuk. The plot, while fairly loose and simple, presents a fun backdrop for the fascinating action that constantly fills the stage.

In typical Cirque du Soleil fashion, Wintuk’s story comes to life with jaw-dropping stunts and tricks that are beautifully choreographed, flawlessly executed, and seamlessly integrated. The result is nonstop action across the entire stage that provides an exciting and engaging family-friendly experience. Each act – whether juggling, balancing, bicycling, tumbling, or a variety of other acrobatic stunts – pushes the limit of what you thought was possible, leaving you all the more bewildered. In one scene, a construction worker balances high above the ground on a single board stacked atop teetering levels of pipes and cylinders. In another, acrobats perform a Russian bars act, flying into the air, tumbling, and then landing gracefully on the thin bar from which they were first launched. Each act is performed in character with immense energy and ease. If the laws of gravity do exist on the stage, they seem to not apply to the actors as they perform these seemingly impossible feats that leave you on the edge of your seat, grabbing the person next to you, and asking, simply, “How?”

Wintuk’s amazing stunts and tricks are further complemented by the show’s fun live music and dynamic stage. The whimsical set is vibrant and consists of skate and bike ramps, a long tumble track trampoline, and a variety of moving pieces that bring the stage to life and allow the actors to showcase their talents. Enormous puppets and extravagant costumes, including a quartet of “dogs” that comically jump and roll around the stage, add to the unique experience. The actors perform with energy and ease, leaving you laughing, gasping, and staring in wonder.

By the end of Wintuk, audience members of all ages are left smiling and wanting more. Throughout the 90-minute show, the audience is engulfed in a fantastic Wintuk wonderland where the seemingly impossible happens all the time. Seeing, or rather experiencing, Wintuk is a great way to jump excitedly into the winter season. The action-packed, beautifully produced Wintuk is an outstanding, fun show that will please all. Ultimately, as one of the show’s closing songs explains, in Wintuk, “nothing’s missing.”

Photos: Richard Termine
Wintuk runs through January 3, 2010.

The Snow Queen - Unity Theatre, Liverpool

The Snow Queen
Writer: Mike Kenny
Director/Composer: Patrick Dineen
Reviewer: Katherine Lunney

The Unity Theatre has a 21year history of family shows at Christmas, putting a contemporary slant onto traditional tales, from The Emperor’s New Clothes to Pinocchio. This year the director/composer, Patrick Dineen, has collaborated with children’s playwright Mike Kenny and Liverpool-based theatre company Ullaloom to create a piece of theatre which is “visually arresting and filled with magical music and song” (according to the Unity website.)

I will agree with the promotional flyer that the set is visually pleasing and they have created a set which adapts to the different settings of Gerda’s journey to find Kai at the Snow Queen’s palace. The company’s use of crooked doors, an upper level platform with shadow projection, a large white sheet to represent snowstorms, and miniature lit houses are very effective at conjuring up different environments and create a great sense of movement across a relatively small space. Aside from that it is hard to find much else to compliment this production of the Snow Queen.

This production has placed a great emphasis upon its use of music and dance, and decided to focus upon the people that Gerda meets upon her search for the Snow Queen’s palace. This production choice does create the comic moments in the production with the colourful characters of the hungry polar bear, the travelling group of performers and eternally partying couple, however it does overshadow the relationship between Kai and Gerda (played by Jamie Stuart and Lauren Silver.)

My main complaint with this production is that it didn’t really know what it is; pantomime or play with songs? It used elements of the traditional pantomime, i.e. sing-a-long and audience participation, yet all of these felt half-hearted, as if any shout of ‘he’s behind you’ would have been immediately shushed as inappropriate for this Christmas play with songs. The music itself wasn’t memorable and didn’t serve to advance the plot, and the funny moments appeared to raise laughter only from the friends of the actors sat near myself who found the Russian costumes/dancing/accents hilarious.

However, I fully admit that I am not the target audience of this family production. So I went and chatted to the Liverpool Boys Brigade who told me that they loved it. Nearly all of them would give it 2 thumbs up, except Joshua Lathan - who was pulled out to dance on stage with the polar bear – who said he would give it “infinity plus one thumbs up”. Their favourite character was Kai, “ because he’s sound” with a couple liking the polar bear best. Surprisingly none of them said they were scared of the Snow Queen, although this may have been male bravado! So, the kids loved it, and you can’t ignore that – so maybe just ignore my ramblings for a higher standard of Christmas show.

Photos: Matt Ford
Runs until Sat 23rd Jan

Dreamboats & Petticoats - Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Dreaamboats & Petticoats
Director: Bob Tomson
Reviewer: Sarah Lyth

Billed as ‘The Greatest Days of Your Life!’ the team of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran have written a musical that promises to rock and roll away the icy nights of Sheffield during its stay. Dreamboats and Petticoats bounces along with all the energy, passion and verve of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era and flounces through Sheffield on its jaunt direct from the Savoy Theatre in the West End.

Set in 1961, the action takes place in a youth theatre full of dreamers, singers and wannabe lovers. The heartthrob Norman breaks the heart of our Bobby as he whisks away his beautiful pin-up Sue as the boys compete for another prize...the fame that would come from winning a national song writing competition. Little does Bobby know but it is the quiet Laura who, along with her piano, who will take his music and his heart to the heights he is aiming for.

The colour, glitz and glittering lights echoed the rhythm and energy of the classic rock ‘n’ roll hits as the tunes weaved their wave through the believable narrative. From the very first song the audience were clapping and singing along, laughing and gasping and feeling the heartache in turn as the young dreamers created their music and dance on stage.

As Bobby, Josh Capper captured the aching of young people who fall in love, yearn to be free and capture their dreams. Peter Gerald used a heady mix of comedy and older wisdom to portray a father and a grandfather with many a story to tell. Clare Ivory’s Donna stood out as one of the performance’s stars who, along with Wayne Smith’s Ray, provided a depth and an edge to the story that made it all the more believable.

The musicians were in a class of their own, mixing powerful performances on the instruments with clever staging to impact the audience with the visual brilliance of the scene as well as with the immensely energetic sound. It seemed that as the visuals and the sounds were entwined, so the story and the hearts of the audience were caught up in the golden sumptuousness of the production. Every toe was tapping and every hip was shaking by the end!

This was a bright and warm production that left the audience dancing, smiling and singing their way out of the Lyceum, aware that they had experienced a truly classic treat.

runs until Saturday 5th Dec

Never Forget - Liverpool Empire

Never Forget
Writer: Danny Brocklehurst, Guy Jones & Ed Curtis
Music/Lyrics: Gary Barlow
Director: Ed Curtis
Reviewer: Jacqui Senaun

This show certainly opened with a bang. It captured the audience straight away and the audience fell silent and full of anticipation as the music started, and with it being Take That songs it was buzzing.

The show tells the story of a son, Ash (Mark Wilshire) setting out to help his mum, Babs (Penelope Woodman), save her pub from debt collectors. Ash, as just got engaged to Chloe (Aimee Atkinson) and together with her brother, Jake, (Adam C Booth) decide to enter a tribute band competition to win £10,000. They are then joined by another 3 young men, Adrian (Tom Bradley), Dirty Harry (Philip Olivier) and Jose (Scott Garnham) who are all from different backgrounds to form the Take That tribute band. The story is then told, rather slowly using either, quite long and drawn out conversations or rather more excitedly a Take That song, something with which Shameless writer and this shows Director should be able to avoid with ease,

The plot centres mostly on Ash and his relationship with Chloe. Him being lured away by a talent scout that promises him the money he needs so desperately, quicker. He then loses his friends, his mum but most importantly Chloe. The second half of the show moved faster. The band getting back together and Ash and Chloe’s relationship back of track, the song and dance scenes were exciting and superb. The actors really seemed to come to life during this half of the production and they had the audiences clapping and singing along to the songs.

The stage sets were very well designed and the changes between the scenes were effortless and well carried out, although I have to say there were an awful lot of scene changes. At one moment you were in a pub and the next in a dance studio and then back to the pub, which at times took you a while to work out what was going on. The rain scene towards the end of the first half was brilliant though, with the words never forget falling with the rain.

The Finale of the show, was by far the most exciting moment in the show. The whole Theatre were on their feet joining in with the singing and dancing and the atmosphere was fabulous and it was at this point where I did not want it to end. The children were brilliant and added so much to the song Never Forget.

Although this is just another Jukebox Musical with songs from a famous band, it was an entertaining show and is worth going to see.

Photos: Paul Coltas
Runs until Sat 5th Dec

A Christmas Carol - Birmingham Rep

A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
Adaptor: Bryony Lavery
Music & Lyrics: Jason Carr
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Rob Yates
A Christmas Carol is a classic christmas show and this adaptation is no different. Although it often features on the family circuit I would hesitate to take a young child (under 5) to this production. As a story essentially about Ebeneezer Scrooge's dreams with three very different spirits there are some dramatic scenes throughout.

The musical is ably narrated by a group of spirits who move keep the story moving forward at a steady pace. They are evident in many scenes as Scrooge meets Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas yet to come.

Brilliant choreography from Nick Winston ensured each scene that Scrooge experienced had a different dynamic and feel. Ranging from the quiet and simple choreography of christmasses past to bright elaborate dances associated with christmas present.

With some very good use of props and the space provided by a large stage each dance had a unique character that added to the story and the composition that it supported. For the performance on this night Poppy Tierney was brilliant as both Lydia Cratchit and Mrs Dabchick as she stood in for Rosalie Craig.

The performance that most caught the eye though was from Carl Au who stared as Nephew Fred, Fiver and one of the ghosts. In particular his performance as a ghost was most dramatic, and it was no surprise to read he is an accomplished dancer.

The set was clever while having all the necessary parts to ensure the scene was obvious it was often a minimalist set, with just a bed being sufficient to set the scene of Scrooge's bedroom. This was contrasted by large screens and elaborate decoration, the devil being in the detail. A clever revolving stairway functioned as Scrooge's office, and with the narrator ghosts functioning as stage hands it was easy to create two scenes one for the back and one for the front of the office.

Its no surprise that this show is clearly a family Christmas favourite especially with such a welcome ending. For an evening of high quality family entertainment it is definitely worth a visit to A Christmas Carol. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Photos: Manuel Harlan
Runs until 9 Jan 2010

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Petrushka - Little Angel Theatre, London

Writer: John Agard
Directed by Steve Tiplady & Lyndie Wright
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Petrushka is a puppet with no strings whose tale of daring do has been given a vibrant make-over at The Little Angel Theatre. With a delicate piano score by Stravinsky and sweetly rhyming language by John Agard the quality of this work is plain to see as are the charming performances from the undoubtedly talented Josh Darcy, Ronnie Le Drew, Mandy Travis, Rebekah Wild. These friendly performers manipulate their charges with a skill that impresses young and old and aren’t that bad at acting themselves either.

We follow Petrushka as he escapes from his evil puppet master who has been tormenting him with an unrequited love and heads out to create a better story for himself across Europe. Along his way he meets Stravinsky, who obligingly writes him a ballet, the music of which forms the haunting score which plays throughout this piece.

A long nosed jester, Petrushka is a Russian descendent of Punch and seems to have inherited many of his mischievous characteristics; this journey is a playfully funny one even though it ends in a more serious and poignant tone. Both when he has strings and when he is free, our puppeteers imbue Petrushka with a tangible sense of self and you are swept away in his story completely.

Alongside the emotive performances the puppets in this production are beautifully crafted with the whole thing feeling like a stunningly petit Italian renaissance show. From the ballet dancer who enthrals Petrushka to her muscle bound beaux each has their own temperament and style and the attention to detail is wonderful. My favourite were the steady worker puppets who float around tidying up after the others as they watch the mayhem unfold around them, but I’m sure you will have your own special choice.

At point’s surreal ballet and at others straightforward narration it is sometimes hard to follow the story exactly but if you are prepared to sit back and delight in the sweetness of this Russian folk puppetry then it is easy not to care. As with all the shows I have seen at Little Angel, this piece works on both a child and adult level, and with all ages in the audience giggling with glee, this definitely seems to be a show that the whole family will love this Christmas.
Runs until 31st Jan 2010

Scrooge - The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Book, Music and Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
Based on ‘A Christmas Carol’
by: Charles Dickens
Director: Bob Tomson

Choreography: Lisa Kent
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson

Years ago I remember seeing the original version of this starring Anthony Newley and Jon Pertwee and on leaving the theatre feeling underwhelmed but with the one positive thought that ‘Thank You Very Much’ would have fitted very nicely into Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’.

Well I can report that not only must I have matured somewhat in those intervening years, so to has this show. What a great night out it now is. Still the score is not the strongest and still ‘Thank You Very Much’ stands out like a true anthem, but now the book, the staging, the cast, the choreography, the set and the illusions have all come together to provide a compelling two and a half hours which culminates with even this old stager trying not to show the wife that there is a tear in the eye.

The cast are wonderful, ‘every one of them’, led by the charismatic and seemingly ageless Tommy Steele, just two weeks away from his 73rd birthday. He scowls, he growls, his face is a picture of perfection as he really captures the soullessness of Ebenezer ‘miserly old grouch’ Scrooge. He can still hold a note that many youngsters of today would kill for and that smile, is it not the cheekiest ever.

Claire Marlow as the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ has a glorious voice and Suzie Chard as ‘Mrs Fezziwig’ is ‘laugh your socks off’ funny. The booming voice of man mountain James Head as the ‘Ghost of Christmas Present’ rocks the house sending out a moral message heard by all. Overworked and underpaid Bob Cratchit (played by Geoffrey Abbott) is charitable to all, ‘no matter what’, and has a great rapport with ‘Tiny Tim’. Our Tim along with other members of ‘the Babette Langford Young Set’ do their tutors proud. Always cheerful the Cratchet families finest quickens the pulse and stirs the heart with his show of supreme optimism.

Barry Howard gets all the best ‘how did they do that’ moments as the chain burdened Jacob Marley. Illusionist Paul Kieve has come up with a number of scenes to keep the kids talking for weeks. Paul Farnsworth has produced a fine set, with Cheapside, London 1860 looking very, very authentic, if perhaps short of a little seasonal snow.

The choreography on the big numbers fills the stage with grown ups and kids alike and helps keep that smile on your face. Lisa Kent can feel very proud of her work here with ‘December the Twenty-Fifth’, ‘The Minister’s Cat’ and, of course, ‘Thank You very Much’ being the stand out routines.

This really is a show that has improved dramatically with time and now not only tugs at the heartstrings but certainly does the genius of Charles Dickens great credit.

Runs until Sat 5th Dec

The Line - The Arcola Theatre, London

The Line
Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker

Director: Matthew Lloyd
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Line should to all intents and purposes be an engaging and enthralling drama. Based on the tempestuous relationship of a fiery and sexy woman and her infamous teacher, Edgar Degas, Line could have been a vibrant and passionate exploration of the master, pupil relationship or furthermore questioned the ideas of art itself. Instead what results is a tedious repetition of conflict and resolution which carries neither party further forward apart from in years.

Edgar Degas is a crotchety but deeply admired artist whose fierce house keeper, Zoe, keeps an iron grip on those people allowed to visit her precious artist in residence. Enter the spirited Suzanne Valadon, a model and ‘muse’ of such greats as Toulouse-Lautrec, and somewhat of an artist herself it transpires as she reveals her drawings to Degas. Degas, though reluctant at first, soon falls under Valadon’s spell and takes her on as a pupil in the beginning of a relationship that is to span the rest of his life and hugely influence the course of hers.

Degas is a deeply complex character who worked with and influenced some of the greatest artists in the 20th Century and Henry Goodman gives an admirable performance in the role. His is a man conflicted; an artist whose stringent beliefs lead him to cultivate the reputation as a ‘misanthropic bachelor’ that perhaps did not come as naturally to him as he wanted others to think. But he is not helped by a cumbersome script which gives him chunky passages of art theory or disconnected moments of ethereal prophetic ‘wisdom’. As he imparts these to his wilful charge, it is hard not to feel slightly cringy because they seem to come out of nowhere; would a real person speak like that?

As the charge Sarah Smart is suitably alluring although she seems to be constantly pushing too hard which lends her performance the appearance of slight desperation. Selina Cadell forms the third in this holy trinity of art with a solid turn as the sturdy Zoe but any moments of promise allowed to this wonderful actress are also kyboshed by a stodgy script. The cast though strong individually seem to find no flow collectively and the whole thing has a stuttering sense to it. Matthew Lloyd struggles to bring a continuous arc to a piece which stops and starts continuously and the whole thing feels very long.

At least William Dudley’s design is beautiful enough to distract for moments as it delicately encases the audience in Degas’ images. Translucent sheets hang everywhere, so that his voluptuous woman embrace us all with a lightness and fluidity which is so lacking from the production at hand.

For a play about a bohemian artist the whole thing feels very middle class and at times like a BBC sitcom and although there are points when Wertenbaker’s undeniable style and flair shines through, overall this is a very fudged line indeed.

Photo: Tristram Kenton
Runs until Dec 12

The Gruffalo - The Duchess Theatre, London

The Gruffalo
Writer: Julia Donaldson
Adaptor: Tall Stories
Music: Shock Productions
Director: Olivia Jacobs
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

Since its first incarnation in 2001, The Gruffalo has been entertaining audiences all over the globe, chalking up over 3000 performances worldwide. Returning to the West End for its third successive year, the production has lost none of its original charm, and continues to delight and excite children and adults alike.

Adapted from the extremely successful book (recently named the nation’s favourite bedtime story in a BBC Radio 2 poll), Tall Stories were faced with the daunting prospect of turning a five minute book into a fifty minute play whilst still remaining true to the essence of the story and without unduly padding it out. To say they have been successful would be a huge understatement, as the piece they are presenting stands alone, incorporating Tall Stories special brand of childrens’ theatre into the existing story: melding strong physical performances with superb costumes; oversized sets; and fun, catchy songs.

The performers are excellent – confident and versatile, with the ability to include the audience without being distracted by ‘helpful heckles’ from the younger, more enthusiastic spectators. By and large the children know the story (and text) better than anyone, so their interjections are encouraged and used to move the story along, and sometimes creating some unscripted yet hilarious comic moments.

Naomi Said is a bubbly, endearing mouse, and the audience warms to her immediately. Her physicality is strong and consistent, with lovely attention to detail. She completely avoids the pitfall of making mouse a timid character – rather she is plucky and resolute – and sings and moves extremely well. Napoleon Ryan is supremely versatile, effortlessly swapping between characters and costumes and making each one distinct and delightful. Each of the predators was presented with humour, both in characterisation and costume, but it was his rattlesnake (equipped with sparkly bolero jacket and maracas) that literally had the audience rolling in the aisles. Last but not least, Alan Park was a wonderful storyteller and Gruffalo, using his comic talent to build a rapport with the audience and add to the story as it went along, adding sound effects and amusing moments throughout. After a long build up, he re-entered as the Gruffalo, and played it to a tee – not too scary for the small children, yet enough to convincingly frighten the other characters onstage. His costume was superb, and the entire audience happily joined in with the Gruffalo song towards the end.

I always feel confident taking children to any Tall Stories show, knowing that the production values and performance levels will be high, but The Gruffalo is one that will be enjoyed by any age group, so even if you haven’t got kids I suggest you go and see it – it’ll undoubtedly be the brightest 50mins of your day!

Runs until Jan 4th 2010

Confessions of a City - Sheffield Crucible Theatre

Confessions of a City
Writer: Richard Hurford
Director: Ruth Carney
Reviewer: Sarah Lyth

How well do you know the city you live in? How do you know?

I came to Sheffield a decade a ago not knowing that I would fall in love. Yes, I’ve had personal experiences of heart ache and heart break, but it was Richard Hurford’s Confessions of a City, performed in the new look Crucible Theatre, that made me recognise exactly what it is that makes Sheffield irresistible to those born here, and to newcomers like me. Sheffield is both a normal city and an extraordinary one that glitters with a dark underbelly.

Literally travelling around the theatre, able to glimpse normally unseen parts such as the Green Room that are usually out of bounds, the audience were invited to participate in the revelations made by each of the principal characters of the piece. Coming from a range of experiences within Sheffield, the people shocked, repulsed, amused and moved their audience in turn. The four included a homeless young man, an elderly resident who hailed from Crookes, a Burmese immigrant and a Polish woman trusting in the power of love. The close proximity to the actors, and the placing of the audience actually within the scenes themselves, made for an intimate and profoundly challenging experience. I heard fellow audience members discussing their relation to the homeless and to the immigrants on our streets in a new light as I sat on the bus home.

Set within the context of a tram journey around the city, we were welcomed through the new automatic doors of the Crucible by our guides. There were never any clues as to what to expect, the actors simply welcomed the audience as new members of the scene and continued on with the stories, whether it was into a party disco atmosphere or into an eerie forbidden room that wouldn’t have been out of place in a James Bond movie.

The Company portrayed a rich and diverse city, impregnated with magic, mystery and power. At times frighteningly dark and disturbing, at times beautifully heart warming and nostalgic, Confessions of a City challenged the audience to view their personal part in the daily life of the city of Sheffield. We are all intertwined and we all contribute to its essence, no matter how or who we are. Ciaran Dowd as Leonardo brutally forced us to engage with the devestation of addiction and shot it through with a colourful ray of hope. Sally Evans encouraged us to recognise that the human heart can overcome all with its trust in the power of love. Fiz Marcus’ Rita led us into a rediscovery of the power of memory within each of us, and the impact this has on our daily lives. As the immigrant Quack, Alex Tilouche guided his audience into a recognition of the blessings many of us have in having the simple gift of freedom to live without fear simply because we were born UK residents.

As the journey ended and the tram tannoy guided the audience along to one last stop, I found myself walking along towards the famous Crucible stage. We had an actor’s eye view underneath the twinkling lights of the iconic stage out towards the seats in the round. We celebrated the characters of the confessions we had experienced and they in turn celebrated the rich diversity of people in the Steel City with applause.

A truly magical experience, in a truly magical theatre, in a tuly magnificent city. Bravo Sheffield!

Confessions of a City runs at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield until Sunday 29th November 2009.

The Devil Has Quentins Heart - Birmingham Rep

The Devil has Quentin's Heart
Devised and written by Benji Reid, Peader Kirk and Ray Shell
Reviewer: Helen Chapman

A one-man musical (or perhaps dance-ical) telling the story of a Wall Street alcoholic waiting for Satan to arrive – sound bizarre? Perhaps. But it works. Very well.

The Devil Has Quentin’s Heart combines storytelling, theatre and dance in a modern tragedy, based on the Ray Shell’s novel Iced. It tells the tale of Quentin, a high flying Wall Street city boy who is desperate for success, and achieves it but at the price of his heart, and ultimately his soul. After being framed for fraud, he finds himself losing everything he has held so dearly, and struggles to hold himself together as an alcoholic living rough. The play explores his feelings of desire, greed, despair and loss, and begins to uncover the roots of his need to achieve success, with occasional insights into his upbringing and relationship with his father.

I can honestly say I have never seen a play of this kind – not just because of its original storyline. Benji Reid, partly responsible for writing the play gives an incredible performance as Quentin, portraying almost every emotion from anguish to elation. His ability to engage the audience, without a supporting cast, is impressive to say the least. Add to that the ease with which he flits between comedy and tragedy, monologue and dance, and things are even more impressive. Reid is one of the UK pioneers of hip hop theatre, and he demonstrates in this play how dance can be used to add depth as well as humour. The play isn’t particularly fast moving and there is no advancement in the plot, the variety of styles in the play however keeps you engaged. And a treat to see a quality hip hop dancer on stage.

New to me was the presence of the sound desk on the stage. Andrew Wong, responsible for the music composition, cleverly used a mix of sounds, noises and well known songs to bring the play alive. The set was otherwise fairly simple, just one room in Quentin’s house, but this in itself reflected the anxiety and claustrophobia he was feeling on his demise, the use of props highlighting the sad reality of the life of an alcoholic. A poignant scene for me was Quentin with a birthday cake, celebrating his birthday with three imaginary guests. The Devil Has Quentin’s Heart speaks pretty clearly: money isn’t everything. In fact in Quentin’s case, it amounted to nothing.

Breaking Cycles presents here an original play that will grip you, shock you and make you laugh.

Friday, 27 November 2009

La Clique - Roundhouse Theatre, London

La Clique
Reviewer: Ian Foster

If Avenue Q is best described as an 18 certificate version of Sesame Street, then La Clique is just like the circus, albeit reconceived for an adult audience. After a highly successful 9 month run at the Hippodrome near Leicester Square, including winning the Best Entertainment Olivier Award, and then a world tour, La Clique has returned to London for an 8 week season at the Roundhouse in Camden: not bad for a show which has its beginnings at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Described as a "heady cocktail of cabaret, new burlesque, circus sideshow and contemporary variety", what makes La Clique unique is that no two shows are the same. They have a rotating roster of entertainers and performers with a variety of tricks and stunts which ensures each evening has its own special spin. It is set up like a circus in the round, with various options for seating in different rings: chairs at ringside, cabaret tables with waitress service, standing, and of course, regular seats, which means you can pick what kind of evening you would like to have, a nice touch.

And so to the show: it is a rapid-fire collection of turns ranging from acrobatics, illusions, songs and insane roller-skating antics. Highlights for me were Carl-Einar Häckner’s hysterical Swedish illusionist who had me in tears of laughter each time he came on, Ursula Martinez’s highly revealing striptease with disappearing handkerchief and the incredible roller-skating acrobatics of the Skating Willers which quite literally needs to be seen to be believed.

The changes between the acts were seamless, big credit to the backstage crew for executing these with lightning speed and efficiency, and this helped to maintain the party atmosphere which permeated the entire venue from the moment the lights went down.

On a final note, if you have ringside seats, make sure you wear something washable! I was splattered with beer, bits of banana and even some blood, all in the name of entertainment, and even helped one performer, Mario Queen of the Show, to crowd-surf over our heads! It all added to what was a hugely enjoyable experience, and one which feels genuinely fresh and unique, but above all, good fun.

Runs until 17th Jan 2010

Treasure Island - Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarbourgh

Treasure Island
Writer: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adaptor: Andrew Pollard
Director: Adam Sunderland
Reviewer: Richard T. Watson

At roughly forty minutes on each side of the interval, this Treasure Island is undeniably snappy. Northern Broadsides have been making successful forays into children's theatre for a while now – last year's Heidi – A Goat's Tale was nominated for the TMA Best Show for Children and Young People Award – and Treasure Island is the latest in this line, currently playing at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre.

For years, the Broadsides have had a reputation as a strong touring company who present gritty, no-nonsense versions of classic texts in a distinctly northern vernacular. Their hallmarks are the northern voice, minimal set, minimal technical wizardry and spades of live music. They like audiences to imagine locations and won't patronise them.

That, then, is Treasure Island's greatest strength: here is a show for children that takes its audience seriously. There's no painful attempt to start a piratical sing-a-long or to get the kids up onstage. Instead, the Broadsides tell their story as though their young audience is mature enough to handle just watching and being treated as sensible people. The schoolkids lap it up. Two especially sinister characters appear in puppet form, assembled in front of our eyes, so they're seen to be evil, but not scary. Blind Pew – one leg a crutch, the other a saw – is a particularly good one.

There's a lot of set for a Broadsides show; more than usual anyway. Their wardrobe and desk with drawers are used to great effect – hardly ever still, they keep this a fluid, fast-paced production that never lets the attention or interest wander. With rapid re-configuring of the set, the scene isn't allowed to be in one place for long, and becomes a bewildering variety of places. Meanwhile, across the back hang props on ropes, an ever-present reminder of the nautical theme.

Also crucial to that pace is the effortless multi-rolling of the five-strong cast. A Georgian wig and a stoop are the only physical differences between Leigh Symonds' Doctor Livsey and pirate Israel Hands, but there could be two different men onstage. Focusing on the notorious Long John Silver (rather than multi-rolling) David Tarkenter gives us an engagingly human villain, even as he schemes with honeyed guile worthy of a politician. Graeme Dalling's cabin boy hero, Jim Hawkins, may start off anaemic and a bit of a wet drip, but he perks up in the second half, gets some colour in his cheeks and finally convinces as the idealistic, eager lad who finds the map that reveals the location of that infamous treasure.

It's a well-known story, adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson by Andrew Pollard, awash with double-dealing and mutiny. What's interesting here is how the establishment figures (Doctor Livsey and Morgan George's Squire Trelawney) are seen to have no less honourable motives than Silver and his crew. It's a shame more isn't made of the possible unearthing of corruption and greed in the Georgian establishment (but maybe that's not the important point for a children's show, however seriously it treats its audience).

More importantly, it's a tale of action and adventure, subtly but effectively underscored by Jenni Molloy on double bass. Throughout, the actors commandeer instruments to play her music in the corners, which makes the whole thing that much more alive and raw. Live music is the most noticeable Broadside hallmark on display, unfortunately it sometimes overpowers these actors' voices – several of them working on their first Broadsides production.

Treasure Island might not be the magical success of Heidi, but it is a mature work, intelligently and capably told, pitched perfectly to its young admirers.

21Nov-5 Dec- Stephen Joseph Theatre, -Box office: 01723 370 541,
8 -19 December -Lawrence Batley Theatre-Box office: 01484 430 528,
22 December – 9 January-The Stables, Milton Keynes-Box office: 01908 280 800

Days of Significance - Lowry Theatre

Days of Significance
Writer: Roy Williams
Director: Maria Aberg
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

Roy William’s blisteringly topical play ‘Days of Significance’ first opened at the Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon in 2007, four years after the war in Iraq began. The Royal Shakespeare Company has now embarked upon a nationwide tour of the piece (with a few re-workings by the playwright – notably to the third act) and thanks to the withdrawal of troops from Iraq earlier this year, ‘Days of Significance’ remains a relevant and stimulating way to spend a cold November evening.

‘Days of Significance’ is not your typical war play and it covers a variety of modern-day issues but William’s writing is at its most effective when questioning the impact that war has on the grass-root members of society (whether soldiers or civilians) as opposed to the politicians; the young boys who fight in a war they barely comprehend and are ill-equipped to deal with the horrors and eventual repercussions they will undoubtedly experience. William’s brings the piece bitingly up to date with a commentary on who exactly is to blame for the illegal war crimes in Iraq whilst juxtaposing this with some nice classical parallels from Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ namely in the relationship between Ben and Trish, a Benedict and Beatrice for the binge drinking generation.

This is certainly a play of three acts, and whilst the booze-soaked town-centre location of Act One is as far away from Basra as one can possibly comprehend, a short second act powerfully and harrowingly displays to us the first-hand account of the war in Iraq whilst Act Three deals with the aftermath of the young soldiers and their loved ones experiences.

William’s complex and highly empathetically characters are certainly brought to life by a strong cast. Joanna Horton’s subtle portrayal as Hannah is beautifully measured and there are some moments of lovely tenderness and chemistry between her and Jamie (played with electrifying intensity by George Rainsford). David Kennedy also turns in a compassionate performance as Hannah’s step dad Lenny and the delivery of his line ‘Hannah, you’re breaking my heart’, the upshot of a very uncomfortable proposition by his daughter, is a moment of real show-stopping emotion.

Lizzie Clachan’s imposing set is also complimented wonderfully by a rousing lighting and sound design by David Holmes and Carolyn Downing, which coupled with a superb fight sequence by Malcolm Ranson created one of the most gripping and exciting opening sequences I have seen in the theatre in a long time.

Maria Aberg’s direction is also slick and the well paced dialogue creates a lightning-fast dramatic force which sits well in a piece of this nature, whilst effectively choreographed moments of calm (Jamie and Hannah’s alcohol fuelled slow dance outside Len’s chip shop being a prime example) punctuate this and bring a much needed element of tranquillity to what is ultimately an exhausting and tense 110 minutes of theatre.

There are moments of the production that feel less effective, for example the filmic elements, which despite being visually dynamic, do seem a little gratuitous and don’t add a massive amount more to the narrative context of an already lengthy piece. Nonetheless, this is an important piece of writing brought to life by a talented and passionate cast and crew, and its merits certainly outweigh its flaws.

Runs until Sat 28th Nov

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Pride & Prejudice - Richmond Theatre

Pride & Prejudice
Writer: Jane Austen
Adaptor: Simon Reade
Director: Toby Frow
Reviewer: Diane Higgins

Simon Reade's adaptation directed by Toby Frow, brings together the classic text of Austen's work, with all her well loved characters plus music (Richard Hammarton) and dance (Sam Spencer-Lane).

The set design by Christopher Woods was minimal. Its raised and angled circular platform, few pieces of furniture and chandelier relied totally on the actors to set the scenes and create the action/atmosphere of the late 1790's.

The opening dance and music introduced us to the plays many Characters with Mary Bennet playing solo violin. The first scene introduces us to Longbourn house, home of the Bennet family. Susan Hampshire was entirely plausible as the neurotic Mrs Bennet, anxious to marry off her daughters with Peter Ellis as the long suffering Mr Bennet resigned to being the father of five silly daughters. His eldest daughter Jane was convincingly played by Violet Ryder, whilst his acknowledged favourite the feisty Elizabeth was played by Katie Lightfoot in a very creditable professional theatre debut.

The other sisters being a predictably quiet and musical Mary (actor/musician Victoria Hamnet) and Leah Whitaker and Lydia Larson as the youngest Bennets. Nicholas Taylor was a haughty Darcy with Alex Felton and Leo Staar as Bingley and Wickham. Carolyn Pickles was an imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Tom Mothersdale as the obsequious Mr Collins seemed to somehow overplay the role with his stiff comedic actions, when Austen's words would have sufficed.

The comedy aspect of this whole adaptation has been given a much greater emphasis. Austen's Novel is full of subtle humour, but with hobby horses, chairs framing Pemblerly portraits, scuttling around with props and the general noise it has a feeling that is a cross between an 15 minute version of an Austen play with a splash of panto.

I think it can be universally acknowledged that this is a very successful production as this Richmond audience were enjoying every minute with anticipatory laughter before the words had even been uttered. Jane Austen fans were here in force and appreciated this bold new adaptation.

Runs until 28th November

Joesph - Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
Music: Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Bill Kenwright
Reviewer: Laura Wardell

What can you say about Joseph that hasn’t already been said, even after 40 years this show is still pulling in the punters and is still the show that so many people have a soft spot for.

This lively and upbeat show takes a whistle stop tour through the popular bible story in which Joseph is the favourite son of Jacob who is given a technicolor dreamcoat by his father, much to the despair of his brothers who sell him in to slavery. Joseph has dreams which appear to predict the future and ultimately, get him out of a tricky situation. Along the way Joseph encounters a baker, a butler, seven fat cows and an Elvis inspired Pharaoh as well as running in to his brothers again after a long period of absence.

As this production began touring around the same time as Lee Mead began his West End run as Joseph following his win on the BBC programme ‘Amy Dream Will Do’, it is difficult not to compare this production to the slick polished show at the Adelphi Theatre that charmed audiences for 2 years however the wardrobe department provide a great range of costumes which vary from what the audience might expect given that the show is set in Ancient Egypt and the lighting design (Mark Howett) used during ‘Joseph’s Coat’ are quire impressive. It is also worth noting that Joseph’s chariot of gold is also perhaps not what you imagine it to be but is certainly an entertaining moment!

There is very little that can be done with Joseph in terms of reinventing it however this production has taken the comedic approach and run with it throughout the show, proving popular with the audience and even with the suited businessmen in the auditorium! It is hard no grin at the various inflatable sheep, neon signs and light up halos that adorn the stage at various points.

Everyone is familiar with the music and songs from Joseph, given that it was short musical piece written to be performed in schools and is often many people’s first introduction to musical theatre. The orchestra are faultless and it is difficult not to tap your foot along to the upbeat numbers which follow one after another.

Craig Chalmers is a very typical Joseph, he looks and sounds the part and is certainly very comfortable on stage and still seems to be enjoying the role even after this extensive tour. He excels with the comedy elements of the show however fails to capture the emotional required to pull off a convincing ‘Close Every Door’ which is one of the shows most iconic songs. Tara Bethan as the Narrator demonstrates a strong vpoice with a good range however is hampered by an awful costume which makes her look more like a magicians assistant than a leading lady. The rest of the cast certainly give a 100% and help to keep the show moving at a blistering pace although the Apache dance in Canaan Days is slightly disappointing and should be made more of a feature.

Joseph has once again proved itself to be a popular family favourite and a guilty pleasure of many a theatre goer. This current production is no doubt still riding on the coat tales of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ and has lasted longer than the most recent West End revival and long may its success continue. This show is 2 hours of entertainment and should be viewed as just that. It is one of my personal favourites despite not being the most intellectually challenging show and this production has managed to capture the essence of Joseph well – pure fun and tongue in cheek humour that will prove to popular for many years to come.

Runs until Sat 29th November

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Christmas with The Rat Pack - Darlington Civic Theatre

Christmas with the Rat Pack
Director & Choreographer:Mitch Sebastian
Musical Director:Dominic Barlow
Reviewer:Linda Barker

Celebrating the incredible singing talent of three legends of the twentieth century, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, this spectacular festive production transports you back to the glamorous, glitzy nights of The Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, in the late 1950s and early 60’s.

Collectively known as ‘The Rat Pack’, Frank, Dean and Sammy were a force to be reckoned with. Now, their talent, energy, charisma and mannerisms are stunningly recreated by Stephen Rashbrook (Sinatra), Mark Halliday (Martin) and Matthew Henry (Davis Jr). The guys are also joined by Robyn Currell, Nikki Stokes and Rachel Parrott as the fabulous Burrelli Sisters.

In terms of sheer sophistication, nothing quite compares to the sound of a big band and three great singers. The camaraderie between the three performers was evident and they clearly enjoyed every minute of the show as much as the audience did. The talented twelve piece band was also in fantastic form, although they sometimes seemed to drown out some of the vocals.

The show began with a selection of ‘Rat Pack’ hits including ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘Mr Bojangles’, ‘Sway’ and ‘New York, New York’, before taking a more seasonal turn.

Classic Christmas songs such as ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Let it Snow, Let it Snow’, ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’ and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ were also given the swing treatment.
The show authentically recreated the perfo
rmance styles of each crooner. Numbers were performed with a cigarette in one hand and a large scotch in the other and Sammy Davis Jr was the butt of a couple of mildly racist jokes. Although this may have offended or upset some of the more politically correct members of the audience, I felt it was a necessary element that had to be included as a matter of historical accuracy.

The crooning continued with those stalwarts of every Italian trattoria, ‘That’s Amore’, ‘Volare’ and ‘On an Evening in Roma.’ Also included, for good measure, were a couple of songs from the musicals: ‘Mack The Knife’ from ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and the title song from ‘Guys And Dolls.’

As you might expect, the evening was rounded off with one of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ biggest numbers, ‘That’s Life’, much to the delight of the audience, most of whom were swaying, swinging and singing along.
Photos from previous production
Runs until Saturday 28 November 2009

Mrs Warrens Profession - Chichester Festival Theatre

Mrs Warren's Profession
Writrt: George Bernard Shaw
Director: Michael Rudman

Reviewer: Elizabeth Vile

Mrs Warren’s Profession was first written in 1894 and the content so shocked the press that it wasn’t performed publicly till 1925. Victorian audiences were unable to cope with Shaw’s frank and honest portrayal of a woman who chose prostitution over starvation. This choice is seen only as a business venture by Mrs Warren and her partner in the business Sir Croft, but it is not so black and white to her daughter Vivien.

The production at Chichester Festival Theatre followed the original script and went for realism at all times.

Felicity Kendal and Lucy Briggs-Owen were very strong in the roles of Mrs Warren and Vivie Warren respectively. Their powerful characterisations and emotional depth of performance meant the audience felt truly sympathetic towards the pair as they tried to rescue their fragile relationship. Max Bennet in the role of Frank was enjoyable to watch but also slightly irritating. This mix of tenderness and childishness was well balanced and allowed the audience to sympathise with his sadness of loosing Vivie but to also understand Vivie’s reasons for refusing him. I felt Praed and Crofts characters were slightly underplayed. Mark Tandy’s speech needed a little bit more colour in it as it was in danger of becoming monotonous, while it took me a while to realise the true viciousness behind David Yelland’s character.

The costumes were beautiful and very authentic to the era, as was the set. Although the set added to the realism and it was lovely to look at it did have its disadvantages. The long black outs during scene changes slowed down the momentum of the play too much. The audience were left sitting in darkness for minutes at a time while recorded classical music was played at a level that I felt was slightly too loud to be comfortable. The scene changes also seemed to be long for no reason, with gaps between each item being placed on stage.

This production was of a high quality and kept the audience interested in the plight of the characters right till the final blackout. I only wish there was a wider age range in the audience as this production has characters and a strong message that society as a whole should listen to and understand.

Runs until Sat 28th Nov

Scrooge - Liverpool Empire

Writer:Leslie Bricusse
Based on Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Director: Bob Tompson

Reviewers: Sarah & Reece O’Toole
And Julie & Grace Proudfoot

At this time of year it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a poster for Pantomimes or in this case Dickens’ Classic Scrooge (A Christmas Carol). Where Pantomimes are out to bring laughter and humour to Christmas, Scrooge brings its own story and morals to the stage.

Bill Kenwright The Liverpool born musical producer has bought 73 year old Tommy Steele in to play the cantankerous miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in this touring production. It's a wonderful story, with a bit of everything. There's beauty, wonder, belief, magic and hope – what actor wouldn't want to work with something that had all those? And to do it as a musical is even better.

The production opens in the dusty offices of Scrooge and Marley – a Victorian moneylenders – where Scrooge pecks through the coins and harasses his meek employee, Bob Cratchit(Geoffery Abbot). It’s Christmas Eve and Bob Cratchit is working, while all the time wanting to get home to his wife and family, but Scrooge as other ideas, all he cares about is money and profit margins, he keeps his workers poor while he lives a lonely life of luxury. It is after the day’s work when he has retired to his bed that this story comes alive. Scrooge is visited by 4 ghosts each one with a different message for the tight-fisted old miser, and each one must get their message through before the dawning of Christmas day.

Containing a total of 14 songs, done brilliantly, in the old cockney style, the musical also features illusions from Paul Kieve – the man behind the "magic" of the Harry Potter films. Within the towering stage-set, by Paul Farnsworth showing the rotting tenements of Victorian London, Kieve creates a series of clever visual tricks – not least the appearance of Marley's face within Scrooges' door knocker, a magical moment that left us gasping with disbelief.

The 4 Ghosts the first being Jacob Marley played by Barry Howard was loud and totally made his presence felt on the stage. The ghost of Christmas Past and Christmas Present Played by Claire Marlow and James Head respectively gave a very convincing performance but it was David Lindon’s Ghost of The future that really bought the illusions and magic out in force.

Tommy Steele used a lot of humour in his role and sang and danced around the stage incredibly well, almost like a man half his age.I cannot finish this review without mentioning The performance of the boy who played Tiny Tim (no name in the programme) he was fantastic and really put his heart and soul into his role, He had me in tears more than once, and certainly deserves to be named in the cast list.

A magical and enchanting production that has real heart and soul, proving that the magic of Christmas isn't all about 'he's behind you's' and 'oh no it isn'ts'

runs until Sat 28th Nov

Monday, 23 November 2009

High School Musical 2 - The Opera House, Manchester

High School Musical 2
Book by: David Simpatico
Director: Jeff Calhoun
Choreographer: Lisa Stevens
Reviewer: Poppy Helm

Since the original film in 2007, the High School Musical series has fast ascended into the ranks of cult classic. Released in 2008, the originally titled sequel, High School Musical 2, plays at the Opera House on the Manchester leg of it's 2009 tour.

We join the Wildcats as they begin their summer holiday by securing jobs at an exclusive country club. Troy, Gabriella and the rest of the gang have their plans disrupted by the devious Sharpay with her determination to win both the resort talent contest and Troy's affections. Friendships are tested and loyalties stretched as the gang struggle to understand what they want and how to find it together.
With a plot that is more sweet then sophisticated, this is an ideal introduction to the theatre for little ones. This show is at it's best when the cast work together as one; the energetic dance numbers and colourful costumes cannot help but bring out the child within. The ever-changing set (Kenneth Foy) is a triumph of slick simplicity with intelligent design; the vertically hung 'swimming pool' that seems to be viewed from above is particularly effective.
Although the relationship between Troy and Gabriella is a little lacking in chemistry, it doesn't seem to temper the enjoyment of the young audience at which this production is targeted. Lauren Hall is the outstanding performance, throwing herself into the role of the selfish and demanding Sharpay with relish.
Ian Reddington as Mr Foulton provides some almost Basil Fawltey-esque comedy, ensuring that the adults stay as interested as the kids.
The orchestra occasionally overpowers the vocals but, despite this, the cast seem to really hit their stride with the musical numbers in Act 2, delivering a mixture of lively ensemble pieces and downbeat duets.
It's near impossible to restrain even the most stoic audience member from tapping their toes to 'I don't dance' or 'Bet on It'. The finale, complete with beach balls and streamers thrust out into the audience, has the kids jumping in their seats. And as long as they're happy, this show has achieved everything it set out to do.

Runs until Sat 28th Nov

Stewart Lee: If You Would Prefer A Milder Comedian...- Richmond Theatre

If You Would Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One
Writer/Performer: Stewart Lee
Reviewer: James Higgins

"Can anyone one tell me the name of their favourite high street coffee shop ?" asked Stewart Lee. "Starbucks" Came the reply from Candice in the front row. "Why is it your favourite ?".... Silence, Candice had fluffed her lines and Mr Lee looked exasperated. He looked even less impressed when after trying something else on the other side of the row that broke down as well. Eventually we got back on track and he started to slowly flow once more in his usual drawn out, over analyzing style with cutting re post and high intellect.

Earlier this year he returned to our TV screens for the first time in a decade with his BBC Show Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle and this date at Richmond was part of his nationwide tour culminating in a month's slot at The Leicester Square Theatre in December.

He has much to say about our dumbed down culture and the ability of today's more mainstream comedians to go for the easy observational gags (a nod to Michael Macintyre) and crude boring jokes (a nod to Boyle), especially on the panel shows that clearly infuriate him. He mentions fellow comic Frankie Boye's recent comments, that once comedians are past 40 they lose their anger and subsequently their edge, referring to him as '38 year old Frankie Boyle'. He admits he is less angry these days but as ever this observation comes with steely irony. It is at this point that Lee seems to become stirred by this anecdote and the rage starts to return fully. Jeremy Clarkson, his faux crusade against 'political correctness gone mad' and his Topgear side kick Richard 'the hamster' Hammond are given both barrels.

He rants at the emigrants who are after "a better quality of life" that only seems to amount to their ability to source larger prawns in former British colonies. He shares with us his disappointment with the media, culture and with the Government. We get urban vs country dwelling and discover how not even Otters will persuade him to abandon Hackney. The anger returns once more at full throttle and he leaps from the stage abandoning the mic, storming up the stairs to the dress circle and shouting madly at the audience. "Stop bit torrenting my DVD's" he yells "that is my living", we wouldn't dream of it Stewart. He meets a startled lady on the way back down and implores us to wait for a wee. He finishes on a touching song number, with a link to family and the onslaught of corporate advertising nonsense.

The Daily Mail maybe preparing their own cute version of 'Minority Report' style justice but before they do someone should tell them Mr Lee isn't really going to murder 'the Hamster', it was as Jeremy would say, 'just a joke'.
Stewart Lee is not everyone's cup of tea and doesn't create as many big laugh out loud moments as he could, but he is very clever and full of cutting satire. As he said whilst standing in a row of seats with no mic and out of breath, "am I not entertaining ?" To that I would say he certainly is, after all if we had preferred a milder comedian then we know what we should have done !

On Nationwide tour until 29th November 2009, In London 7th December 2009-17th January 2010
For more info click here

When Henri Met Oscar - Barons Court Theatre, London

When Henri Met Oscar
Writer: Michael Gannon
Director: Sinead Kent
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

This new play is an examination of the friendships between the artistic elite in 1890s Paris and the characters’ subsequent fall from grace and favour. Oscar Wilde visits the rooms of the post-impressionist painted Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and also meets his companions: the prostitutes Marie and Yvette, Fouché (the brothel owner), and La Goulue (darling of the Moulin Rouge and creator of the ‘Can-Can’).

The audience enters to Henri painting the lovers, Marie and Yvette, as they pose for him in his rooms at a high-class brothel in Paris. The two actresses looked uncomfortable with touching each other, and this in turn was uncomfortable to watch, however their relationship became marginally more believable as the scene progressed. Henri (Steven Rodgers) was well played, with an intensity and integrity that made him extremely watchable, and he dominated the opening, setting up the physical challenges that the character had to live with and his aggressive temperament (Henri was beset with illness as a child and was left with under-developed legs and grew to only 5ft tall). We also discover that he has contracted Syphilis, a condition that noticeably worsens in the second act, with Rodgers amping up the bitterness the character feels and skillfully showing his slide into insanity.

The entrance of Oscar Wilde (Adrian Francis) was a strange affair. Sporting discoloured teeth (despite the prostitutes having clean white teeth), he was introduced as being an Irishman who had lost his accent. Presenting neither the expected RP nor a credible Irish accent (though a teeth-clenching one was attempted), Francis set forth - with a distinctly Midlands accent - to squash the vowels of some of the best prose and poetry in the English language. Despite this I sympathised with him as he was terribly miscast, and was certainly listening and reacting nicely. The main issue is that Oscar Wilde was known as a genius with a biting wit - a real raconteur - and Francis’ performance gave none of this. His Wilde lacked charisma and he, like many of the actors, lacked conviction and pace while speaking.

The scene between Francoise (played by Sinead Kent, who also directed) and The Client (John Mcleod) was extremely uncomfortable to watch, partly because Mcleod is clearly not an actor, and partly because it was poorly directed - perhaps a result of having the director in the scene – and included a cringeworthy nod from Francoise ‘through the 4th wall’. Mcleod also played Michel and Edward Carson, roles he was hugely underequipped to play.

Eamon Griffin gave a slightly shaky performance as Fouché in the opening scene, however he soon redeemed himself with a strong portrayal of the lecherous priest Father Murphy, and the waiter in the final scene. Despite my misgivings at the opening, both Marie (Amy Malherbe) and Yvette (Liz Balmford) developed as characters, and both actresses gave stronger, more believable performances in the second act, with Balmford making a pithy final speech and a splendid exit.

Literally bursting onto the stage in act one, Jessica Martenson breathed some much needed life and energy into the piece just at the time it was beginning to stagnate. Portraying the outrageous, audacious La Goulue, Martenson showed a star at the top of her popularity, just as arrogant and pompous as the two men, and even threw in a ‘Can-Can’ and the splits to top it off. In direct contrast, this larger than life character reappears in the second act, drunk and disheveled, depressed and virtually penniless. Although Henri and Oscar have suffered similar twists of fortune (Toulouse-Lautrec has been institutionalised and Wilde incarcerated), it is hard to feel any sympathy for their characters, yet the change in La Goulue was sensitively and subtley played, and brought the first genuine, heartfelt emotion to the stage.

The Barons Court Theatre is a small thrust space, so was always going to pose a challenge for the director, and by and large the actors were well placed to allow the majority of the audience a clear view. The closing tableaux was beautifully set, but the play should have finished on La Goulue’s final, poignant line, rather than through a narration that felt tacked on to the rest of the production. The script held promise, as did some of the performances, but overall the pace and energy of the piece were lacking and made large sections feel superfluous, or worse, tedious. The production needed stronger direction within the scenes, rather than just attention to the overall picture, and with more appropriate casting could have been a far better piece than the play that was presented.

Runs until Sun 29th Nov

Insane in the Brain - Lowry Theatre

Insane in the Brain
Adaptors: Bounce Streetdance Company
Based on the book: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Writers: Ken Kensey and Dale Wasserman
Artistic Coach: Peter Storm
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

For a show that aspires to be cutting-edge this uses one of the oldest clichés in the book as its premise .The idea of using the anarchy inherent in modern music to challenge the established order was used in most of those awful rock and roll films that came out in the 1960s.Still, although it has rough moments, ‘Insane in the Brain’ is an excellent show.

This is a street dance version of ’One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Randall P. McMurphy (Joao Assuncao) is incarcerated in an asylum where he clashes with Nurse Ratched (Letitia Simpson) who feels that teaching the inmates the discipline of ballet will be therapeutic. McMurphy instead introduces them to the freedom of street dancing with ultimately tragic results.

One of the problems with the show is a poorly spoken opening scene, which makes clear that English is the second language of some of the company and that inflection is an unknown concept. The comic elements are uneven .A very funny filmed interlude is off -set by a puzzling sequence featuring songs from Flashdance and Fame. The purpose is unclear and it interferes with the mood of the show by introducing unnecessarily broad comedy elements such as the male dancers in Borat – style leotards.

The dance moves reflect the characteristics of the individuals. The Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from which Dale Harding (Alvaro Aguilera) suffers is shown in a repetitive series of movements. The repressed and dominating Letitia Simpson has robotic movements and her solo (ironically to Missy Elliot’s ‘ Joy’) is performed in a tightly enclosed space .The exhibitionist Miss Martin (Bianca Fernstrom) has a bouncy, cheerful series of moves. McMurphy sometimes seems motivated by anger as much as the desire for freedom and his duet with Nurse Ratched (to ‘Libertango’) shows that he might have more in common with that character than those he seeks to inspire. The final scene of Chief Bromden (Daniel Koivunen) taking on the mantle of McMurphy’s street dancing is deeply moving.

The real strengthen of the show is, however, the ensemble dance scenes. A disturbed night’s sleep leads to a striking dance on, and around, the beds. ’Express Yourself ‘ is the perfect backing music for the characters to experiment to find their preferred dance moves. Best of all is a scene of electro-shock therapy to System of a Down’s P.L.U.C.K. which is performed by the cast as a semi-bungee jump with them ricocheting up and down a wall.

Despite the odd rough moment ‘ Insane in the Brain’ is an inventive way of telling a story which definitely appeals to a young audience.

‘ Insane in the Brain ‘ was reviewd on 21st November 2009, and its UK tour has now finished.
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