Thursday, 28 May 2009

Lost Monsters - Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Lost Monsters by Laurence Wilson
Director: Matt Wilde
Reviewer: Kate Cotterell

‘The world would be a better place if we were all like bees’ is one of the memorable lines from Laurence Wilson’s Lost Monsters, playing at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool where images of bees adorn almost every available space and it is clear we are being asked to draw parallels between our human world and the insect world we know so little of. The parallels exist predominantly through each of the characters who, according to the programme, are each connected to an insect. Mickey (nick Moss) – the loud, brash, uneducated and insecure Scouser is the cockroach, while older, wiser and more worldly, yet some home insular, Richard – played beautifully by an almost unrecognisable Joe McGann – is a trapdoor spider. You have to look hard to find these insect parallels and draw the connections but there is some interest to be found in it if you’ve got the time and the energy!

The play centres around Mickey, Sian and Jonsey – three run-aways from diverse places and of different ages – young Sian, played by Shameless actress Rebecca Ryan – is just 16. Their life leads them around arcades where autistic Jonesy, who has a ‘computer brain’, gets to know the fruit machines and their systems, making them ready cash and keeping the dream of Las Vegas alive. As the play begins they’ve been involved in a fight with a group of hooligans who pick on an eight month pregnant Sian while she’s chalking pavement art. Mickey’s attacked the kids and cut his arm in the process. Their journey away from the police leads them to what they believe to be an abandoned house in the middle of a motorway and the story really begins.

Unlike many of the Everyman’s ‘home grown’ pieces, which focus on the eternal struggle of simply being a Scouser, Lost Monsters draws on broader and more worldly issues, making reference to Mps expenses, youth culture, guns & knives and global warming – to name a few. The references to global warming and our need for nature, in particular bees, is relevant and interesting and very much in keeping with a play that puts so much focus on bees. Some of the other ‘issues’ do feel a little bit crammed in and in a play driven by characters and relationships I would have liked less political agenda and more story – but that’s just my preference.

The performances from the small cast are strong throughout but the stand out performance comes from the most unknown member of the cast, with Kevin Trainor’s portrayal of Jonesy a real triumph. Jonsey’s dialogue is wonderfully drawn – he’s compulsive, engaging, intelligent yet childlike and just the sort of paradox that makes a character interesting. It is Jonesy’s relationships with the other characters that makes this piece so watchable and the revelation about his parents and the ‘missing part’ of his memory is the stand out moment of the piece.

There are many, many more aspects of the piece I could talk about here – the intriguing and beautifully designed set, Richard’s ‘magical’ qualities, the allusions to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the strange Mastermind moment that, for me, jarred with the whole piece, Kevin Trainor’s incredible David Attenborough impersonation, but I will simply say that I really enjoyed Lost Monsters and it is one of the only plays of recent years that has left me wanting to find out more, in particular about the characters and where they came from – and indeed ended up.
It’s clear that Lost Monsters is an important piece for the Everyman and, indeed, for Laurence Wilson who has taken the play through many incarnations and drafts over the last few years. If you like interesting topics, engaging writing and something that’s going to make you think then I would recommend it!

Lost Monsters runs at the Everyman until Sat 13th June

Hot Mikado - Queens Theatre, Hornchurch

Hot Mikado
Book and lyrics: David H Bellmusic
Adaptor and arranger: Rob Bowman
Director: Matt Devitt

The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch happens to be my local theatre, but for some reason I’ve not really been there much in recent years…In fact, my first theatre memory is of Peter Pan at Queen’s in about 1986, so it has a special place in my heart.#

Matt Devitt directs a ten-strong ensemble, actor/musician cast in their current production of Hot Mikado; the ‘jazzed up version’ of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. The story centres around Nanki-Poo (Sam Kordbacheh), who turns up in the Japanese town of Titipu looking for his love, Yum-Yum (Natasha Moore) who is engaged to her guardian – the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko (Shaun Hennessy). Unbeknownst to the townspeople, Nanki-Poo is actually son of The Mikado (Stuart Organ) and was previously betrothed to the ‘battleaxe’ Katisha (Kim Ismay).

I know the score to this musical fairly well, but unfortunately the sound balance was not quite right for the performance I saw, meaning that it was difficult to hear all the lyrics; which are very witty at times, and really tell the story in an almost recitative style. Despite this, the musicianship of the actors is excellent.

Jane Milligan who plays Pitti-Sing, and Rowan Talbot as Poo-Bah are particularly versatile musically whilst also turning out interesting performances. Milligan has a lovely voice, and really uses the lyrics during her solo sections whilst swapping between vocal and saxophone at lightning quick speed.

Georgina Field plays the squeaky schoolgirl Peep-Bo whilst performing with similar dexterity on various saxophones and clarinet. Shaun Hennessy delivers a very funny Bilko-like Ko-Ko, complete with slap-stick sections of physical comedy, and Phil Silvers intonation! Kim Ismay’s Katisha is like an old-fashioned cabaret star, singing her solos with Minelli-like signature movements.

Mark Walters’ set design was very elaborate and really gave us a feeling of an oriental town, but I felt the costumes were overly large, and made the actors feel quite pantomimic. Overall, the show was very enjoyable, and celebrates the versatility of actor musicians, as only Queen’s Theatre can do!
Photos: Nobby Clark
Hot Mikado runs until Sat 13th June

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Spiders Web - Floral Pavillion, New Brighton

Spider’s Web by Agatha Christie
Director : Joe Harmston
Reviewer: Marie Kenny

Admittedly, I may have concocted the odd elaborate lie or two in my time (ok maybe even three- at a push). But stumbling upon a dead body in my house and lying to the police about it is, fortunately, way out of my league.

Not so, for the heroine of Agatha Christie’s ‘Spider’s Web’, in fact Clarissa Havisham-Brown, is known for her over-active imagination and lies with incredible ease. Set in 1952, Clarissa is the wife of Henry Havisham-Brown, a foreign office diplomat. Their country manor home, Cobblestone Court, complete with secret levers and hidden drawers, is the perfect setting for a murder.

Lying on the floor of the drawing room, behind a chair, with his head bashed in, Clarissa stumbles upon Oliver Costello. Costello is Henry’s ex-wife’s new husband and had visited earlier in the day, threatening to take her step-daughter Pippa away. Her husband is working late, the servants have the night off and her ward Sir Rowland Delahaye and his friends Jeremy Warrender and Hugo Birch are at the golf club having dinner.

So all that leaves is step-daughter Pippa, who emerges from a secret cupboard leading to the library to announce that she hadn’t intended to kill him, well then, mystery solved? Of course not. The murder is committed by an unseen hand and so the scene is set for a classic whodunit. The play is filled with clues, red herrings and twists and turns only to be expected from the pen of Agatha Christie.

Directed by Joe Harmston, the decision has been made to draw on the comedy of the piece, each of the characters is a caricature of their time and status. From the obedient but mysterious butler, to the larger than life, intrusive, thigh slapping gardener, whose mad persona may not be all it seems. As such, the seriousness of a murder occasionally becomes a sideline in this borderline farce.

The highlight of the play is Melanie Gutteridge’s performance as Clarissa, she takes on the character with charm and grace and it must be said that she carries much of the action and the pace on stage. From her cheerful hostess ways at the start, to her desperate cover-up story she holds the audiences attention throughout.

A definite low point on the other hand was Karen Elliot as Pippa. The incessant high pitched whining was enough for me to hope that there maybe another murder to come.

This is not the greatest of thrillers, I certainly wasn’t gripped at the edge of my seat. But if you’re after an old fashioned night at the theatre with a strong cast and an element of mystery thrown in, then this comedy thriller could be for you.

The Spiders Web runs at the Pavilion until Sat 30th May

Dreamboats & Petticoats - Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Dreamboats & Petticoats
by Laurence Marks & Maurice Green
Director: Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson

St Mungo’s Youth Club is the venue for this “jukebox musical” that takes us all back to the 1960’s and a night of rock and roll.

Although from the “jukebox” genre the book to this musical has a bit more about it than most other similar offerings because the writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Green, really have come up with some very witty lines between songs. Not that there is a huge amount of script as 44 hits are crammed into just over 140 minutes of foot tapping fun. It should be no surprise about Mark’s and Gran’s book as they have had many TV hits, such as “Birds of a Feather”, “The New Statesman”, “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “Shine on Harvey Moon”.

On the downside the characters are all given the normal “jukebox” names to give the excuse to lead from one hit to the next as Laura wants to be Bobby’s girl but of course Bobby can not bring himself to tell Laura he loves her and instead goes off with Sue, who predictably gives him the run around.

I know we have seen this concept far too often in recent years but at least there is some genuine comedy in amongst it, like when Bobby’s dad bursts into his room because of the noise of his music, and then when challenged to knock in future because the young lad of 17 could have been up to anything in his room, his Dad points out that at least “that would have been quieter”, well I laughed.

Bobby, our lead character, is played by “2008 X Factor Finalist” Scott Bruton, you know, the Pontins Bluecoat who was always breaking down and crying at every result stage. Well at least here when he fails an audition, right at the start of the show, he takes it well and doesn’t go off into a sulk. Scott is to me typical of so many of these reality show stars hitting our musical stages – can sing but not really there yet on the acting front (perhaps that’s why the programme notes tell us where all the others were “trained”).

Bobby is in a song writing partnership with 15 year old Laura (Daisy Wood-Davis), who is soon to have a 16th party (can you predict two or three songs this event may kick into), but he has had his head turned by “man eating” Sue (Jennifer Biddall), who, shall we say, is a little bit more “developed up top”.

The hunk in the club, Norman, played by Ben Freeman (Scott Windsor from Emmerdale), tries to catch young Laura on the rebound. But little does she know that all he really wants is to earn himself a song writing credit on the back of her efforts, especially now as he has found out she aims to enter the “Song Writer” competition being staged by the National Association of Youth Clubs. As I said to my wife as we left the theatre “not your run of the mill story line”.

Daisy does the Laura character great credit and belts out excellent renditions of “To Know Him is to Love Him”, “Teenager in Love” and “It’s Only Make Believe”, whilst our lad from the Yorkshire Dales proves he is more than just a “pretty face” and has the audience eating out of his hands on “The Wanderer” and “Let’s Twist Again”.

Of course all turns out fine and Bobby and Laura do manage to co-write “Dreamboats and Petticoats” (actually a Jason Donovan claim to fame in real life) and go on to lift the national crown for St Mungo’s. Whilst fun loving Norman finds he really has a lot more in common with fun loving Sue.

The five piece band double as actors when needed and a number of the actors double as musicians without ever being intrusive to the story line. Accapella renditions of “Poetry in Motion” and, later, “Donna” are extremely well delivered, whilst there are fine supporting performances from David Cardy as Phil our Youth Club Manager, Emma Hatton (in the role of Donna, best mate of runaround Sue) and Patrick Burbridge (playing Laura’s older brother Ray).

To sum up, I suppose I wouldn’t take the risk of “fiddling my expenses on my second home” to fund a ticket but I would certainly swap my Susan Boyle concert ones for what is unquestionably a very pleasant night out.

Dreamboats and Petticoats runs at the Mayflower until Sat 30th May

Monday, 25 May 2009

Shrek The Musical - The Broadway Theatre, New York

Shrek The Musical
Based on the book by William Steig
Book & Lyrics: David Lyndsay-Abaire
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Jason Moore
Choreographer: Josh Prince
Reviewer: John Roberts

Turning films into theatre seems to be the status-quo at the moment in theatre land, but why? Is it because it is a tried and tested vehicle? Is it an easy bet during the cloudy recession that hangs over us all? Or is it just simply because the best Ideas have already been used? Well whatever the answer is you can be sure that Shrek ticks all the right boxes and makes you leave after being entertained for two and a half hours knowing that theatre land is a much bigger, brighter and beautiful place because of it!

Originally adapted by Dreamworks as a family animated feature of William Steig’s children’s story that rocked the house of mouse at the box office are now going head to head again with this musical stage adaptation.
Avenue Q’s director Jason Moore has been brought in to take the helm on this project and his unique stamp of anarchic mayhem and fun that was very much instilled in Ave Q also finds a comfortable home here (and yes there’s puppets here too!.) Moore’s direction is tight and he makes sure the narrative stays focused and pacey, after all with fifty percent of the audience being under fourteen you had better make sure that you keep them engaged throughout.

The world of Shrek is brought vividly to live by Tim Hatleys set and costume designs, which are bold and bright and at times simply breathtaking, but staying very true to the animated world that we have come to love through the films.

Brain D’Arcey James is the man behind the green mask, and brings a performance of Shrek that is both warm and endearing, although maybe a bit too much – after all he is a terrible ogre with lots of built up rage, but I also understand that this is a family production and there is a very fine line between scary the living daylights out of a child and keeping them on the quiet and happy side!

Shrek’s noble stead Donkey (Daniel Breaker) Is played with great panache, Breaker is a powerhouse of energy and has the ability to draw your attention even when he is not doing anything, also providing us with most of the laughs of the evening is Christopher Seiber (who was last seen in London in the Original London Cast of Spamalot.) as Lord Farquarrd, his portrayal is much camper than the film and this only makes it even more enjoyable, especially when teamed up with the fantastic choreography that is given to him from Josh Prince that makes his costume come to life, how does he do it 8 times a week?

Normally Sutton Foster plays the role of Shrek’s love interest Princess Fiona but at the performance I attended this role was played by Sara J Everman – I am guessing as second understudy to Fiona, she hasn’t had much opportunity to perform the role, which did come across in the first few scenes, but once she had gotten into her stride her performance was fantastic .

This show isn’t the 24 carrat diamond in the pack of shows that litter the streets of Broadway, yes there are segments of the show that miss the mark – The dragon is a huge disappointment and doesn’t quite look like a finished article, however with a book that guarantees you are laughing throughout, which isexpertly delivered by a talent ensemble and music numbers that you will hum for hours after, I still have “I Know It’s Today” running through my head, what more could you ask from a night at the theatre?

For more info on Shrek The Musical - Click Here

Friday, 22 May 2009

Company - Union Theatre, Southwark

Music/Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: George Furth
Director: Michael Strasson
Reviewer: Leon Trayman

The Union Theatre has been the place for excellent fringe musicals for the past few years, and their revival of Sondheim’s Company does not disappoint.

The Fourteen strong ensemble cast pull out all the stops for a memorable night at the theatre. Neil Lamont’s stark set gives a huge amount for the action, but it is rarely used fully by Michael Strassen’s otherwise excellent direction. Given the amount of space available, there are moments when actors almost fall over each other, struggling to get past each other down stage, without kicking someone in the front row. At times, the staging would be more suited to a production in-the-round, with actors facing upstage and out into the wings for extended periods.

Strassen has also employed a ‘neutral’ state for the characters; which at times is slightly odd. Lincoln Stone plays Robert, who’s friends; all either married, engaged or some variation therein, desperately try to get him married off. Stone has an excellent voice, that is full of Robert’s emotions, and has a wonderful tone throughout the show, despite some moments of very high vocal energy. His relationships with the other characters are always clear and he is utterly believable as 35 year old singleton.

Special mention must be made of Lucy Williamson who plays Joanne (originated by Elaine Stritch), and who performs a rendition of ‘Ladies Who Lunch;, the like of which I have never seen! Samantha Giffard’s Martha is also outstanding and “Another Hundred People Just Got Off Of The Train’ is delivered with aplomb. On the subject of voices and aplomb, Jane Quinn (Jenny) has phenomenal range of pitch and timbre, switching from cutesy, straight-laced New Yorker Jenny (both sober and stoned) to the Mother Superior of choristers!

The ensemble choreography, especially at the start of act two is excellent, giving us kick-lines, ‘Fosse’-esque fan hands, box-stepping, and even a cheeky little Charleston! This production fit a cast of fourteen, five band members (who are on stage throughout and do a sterling job!), and a really enjoyable show into one of the smallest and most versatile fringe theatre spaces in the capital.

Company runs at the Union Theatre until Sat 13th June

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Spongebob Squarepants - Liverpool Empire

Spongebob Square Pants -The Sponge Who Could Fly.
Book: Stephen Banks

Music/Lyrics: Eban Schletter

Director: Gip Hoppe

Reviewer: The Astbury Family

IIf you were to mention Spongebob Squarepants to any breathing child, you would probably get a very warm reception, so it is with no real surprise that this anarchic Nickleodeon cartoon has been given the onstage adaptation.

Telling the story of Spongebob’s failure to swim with the Jellyfish, he soon learns how to fly, but nothing ever runs that smooth in a musical does it? The start of the show gets off to a s
olid start with some enthusiastic audience participation by Patchy The Pirate and the fun doesn’t stop coming!

David Gallo’s wonderfully bright set designs felt like you were watching the TV show, the added effect on the bubble machine was a stroke of genius, and just one of the many parts the younger audience members loved. The set was complimented by Mirena Rada’s costumes which were exceptionally well conceived.

Director (Gip Hoppe) and Choreographer (Jen Rapp) have managed to produce a show the through its family friendly 90 minute length manages to keep the kids captivated. Rapp’s Choreography really helps push the story along and ‘The Flying Dutchman’ scene really is something special and aided with Nigel Plaskitt’s help with the puppetry really amazed us at the things you can achieve.

Although Spongebob is the central character, Chris Coxon’s portrayal became very annoying, trying far to hard to replicate Spongebob's trademark voice, turning into something that was had to understand and more like Joe Pasquale every minute.Charles Brunton as Squidward really stole the show for us, his character was nailed to perfection, from his comic acting, voice and mannerisms this was a faultless performance.

here is a lot to keep a family entertained in this production but we felt that at times although great, the dancing and singing at times went on a little too long and which meant that the children’s attention tended to wonder a little, but with a new scenic surprise just around the corner it was quickly brought back onto the stage.

Lloyd age 9 :
The show was good, but the singing was a bit long. The actor’s were funny I laughed a lot. The costumes were
really good and looked just like the cartoon characters.

Jamie age 9 :
My favourite parts was the use of scenery, this was very good and one part especially made me laugh. The singing and dancing was a little boring sometimes but I enjoyed myself lots.

Spongebob has a great storyline and there is plenty of interesting parts and jokes to keep even the hardened of us adults amused, and if the children's reaction at the end was anything to go by then this show is a hit!

Spongebob runs at the Liverpool Empire until Sat 23rd May

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Playboy of The Western World - Richmond Theatre

Playboy of The Western World by John Millington Synge
Directed by Garry Hynes
Reviewed by James Higgins

When first performed in Dublin in 1907 Synge's story of Irish patricide caused widespread outrage amongst angry Nationalists resulting in rioting during and after the opening nights performance.

The story begins on the wild coast of Ireland with the arrival of Christy Mahon, a lone fugitive who has murdered his father. To his surprise he is hailed as a hero and his attentions are much sort after by the local women. Interspersed between a commentary on love, loneliness and free will are clever comic touches throughout.
Returning to the play that was Druids first production back in 1975 Artistic Director Garry Hynes manages to encapsulate the tragi comedy of life in County Mayo at the turn of the century. Francis O'Connors tight boxed set of grey walled drinking den with tiny window and realistic earthen floor really helps create a sense of period.

Shawn Keogh, Pegeen's lanky scarecrow of a suitor who lives in terror of the local catholic priest is comically played by Marcus Lamb. Clare Dunne as Pegeen and Derbhle Crotty as the crafty widow Quinn looked solid in their roles, as did Andrew Bennett (Old Mahon) playing a character a lot older than himself, provides humour throughout in his numerous resurrections from the dead. Although lacking any obvious romantic charms, Aaron Monaghan as the hapless Christy gives a compelling and powerful performance and by the end of the play the effort was showing as he looked physically exhausted.

In early 20th Century Ireland, "playboy" did not have the connotations it has today. It referred to a hoaxer or trickster which explains why Christy is referred to by widow Quin as “the playboy of the western world” In 2009 the play quite remarkably still feels fresh and contemporary,belies the fact that it was written over 100 years ago and remains a great piece of theatre.

Playboy runs at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 23rd May

Encore - The Customs House, South Shields

Reviewed by: Ian Cain

One of the best things about being a reviewer is that you get to see some great shows. Seems obvious, right? Not always! All too often, theatre critics are derided for ‘panning’ or ‘mauling’ productions that don’t come up to scratch – so, imagine what a feeling of elation we experience when we leave a theatre and can, in all honesty, put our hands on our heart and say: ‘That was fantastic.’

Encore are a cabaret group that combine comedy, song and sketches in the manner that was once the staple of Saturday night prime-time television. Now celebrating their tenth anniversary, they have brought their brand new show to The Customs House for a week long run.

In it, they take the audience on a magical, musical journey through many of the West End’s biggest box office hits, from ‘42nd Street’ to ‘Wicked’ via ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Blood Brothers’ and ‘Mamma Mia!’ The group harmonies are perfectly arranged and delivered with polish and flair, while the solo performances allow individuals to shine out.

Songs are sorted into themed sections and performed as comedy sketches. A particular highlight is the pastiche of ’Allo, ’Allo, which incorporates songs such as ‘Thank Heaven For Little Girls’, ‘Je T’aime . . . Moi Non Plus’ and ‘My Cherie Amour’ and some risqué double-entendres with baguettes!

There is also a set devoted to Willy Russell’s devastating masterpiece, ‘Blood Brothers’ and a performance of ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ that is worthy of the West End. The group are backed by a fantastic four piece band that never hit a wrong note. Pianist Andrew Richardson even performs a couple of solo numbers, too.

In today’s fame-obsessed society, it is reassuring to note that Britain’s Got Talent – although you may not find it on Saturday night prime time television as much as was once the case. Instead, take a trip to your local theatre – you may be pleasantly surprised with what it has in store for you. One last question: Why don’t Encore have their own television show? They provide the kind of entertainment that we could do with a whole lot more of in recession-hit Britain.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Haunted - Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Haunted by Edna O'Brien
Director: Braham Murray
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

Edna O’Brien’s ‘Haunted’ which is currently playing at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, continues the long standing theatre’s tradition of promoting Irish dramatists. Although O’Brien is more renowned as a novelist rather than a playwright, this mesmerising memory play of love and betrayal sits comfortably alongside recent productions of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Widower’s House’ and Bridget O’Conner’s ‘The Flags’.

O’Brien is inarguably a writer of great beauty, description and subtlety and despite being set in England; ‘Haunted’ has a quintessentially Irish feel to it. The story centre’s around the lives and interactions of three lonely outsiders, whose musings and obsessions with love bind them together but also, ultimately drives them apart. Living in a sterile and passionless marriage on the outskirts of London, Mr. Berry meets and is instantly infatuated with Hazel, a shy yet bewitching young woman who has come to collect some clothing. When he finds out she teaches elocution, Mr. Berry uses this as an excuse to get her to return regularly, and in return for her tutoring, he gives her presents of expensive clothes and jewellery of his supposed late wife. However when Mrs. Berry – who is not dead as Hazel has been led to believe – starts to notice her diminished wardrobe, Mr. Berry’s fantasy slowly begins to unravel.

Braham Murray directs throughout in an assured manner, expertly treading the fine line between the comic and tragic elements of the play, and Simon Higlett's design is suitably sparse, allowing the symbolism of the omnipresent doll figure (which is a constant reminder of the couple’s inability to have children) and the frequently used Perspex door; to take centre stage. Johanna Town’s innovative use of under floor lighting also gives the characters a ghostly, unreal dimension adding to the heightened theatrical style of the piece.

O’Brien has undoubtedly written three terrific characters within this love triangle story-line and Brenda Blethyn, Niall Buggy and Beth Cooke truly excel in their individual roles. Blethyn, whom the part of Mrs. Berry was actually written for, turns in an effortless and truly heartfelt performance. Her comic timing is impeccable but she also has the enviable ability to tug on the audience heartstrings through a throw-away line or glance. Her constant yet deluded belief that a long anticipated holiday will sort out her marital problems, is played with heartbreaking empathy.

Niall Buggy is wonderful as the Shakespeare-loving manic depressive Mr. Berry and one cannot help but simultaneously delight and despair in the tragic ups and downs of the childless couple’s relationship. Buggy and Blethyn spar off each other with remarkable comfort and sincerity. Beth Cooke, recently seen at the Exchange in The Children’s Hour and Three Sisters, also gives a deliciously demure performance as the eloquent femme fatale Hazel.

As performances go, it is hard to fault the efforts of this three-strong cast and this coupled with a solid directorial and design concept, make this an evening of enchanting theatre.

Haunted runs at the Royal Exchange until Sat 13th June

Dinnerladies - Darlington Civic Theatre

Dinnerladies by Victoria Wood
Adapted & directed by: David Graham
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The immense popularity of ‘dinnerladies’ is a phenomenon that cannot be disputed. The cult television sit-com, written by Victoria Wood, ran for only 16 episodes over two series’ from 1998 – 2000, thus increasing its legendary status. When first shown, on BBC1, it rapidly attracted a legion of fans who held great affection for the show’s down to earth and endearing characters. It won numerous awards including Best Comedy at The British Comedy Awards in 2000. It also enjoys frequent repeat runs on the cable and satellite channel, G.O.L.D.

Now, over a decade after it disappeared from our prime-time television screens, The Comedy Theatre Company has lovingly revived this timeless and popular comedy classic as a stage show. The first national tour of the production boasts the added advantage of Shobna Gulati and Andrew Dunn reprising their roles as Anita and Tony, respectively.

Following the day-to-day lives of the kitchen staff in the canteen of HWD Components, a fictional factory in Manchester, audiences are able to relive the burgeoning romance between the canteen manager, Tony, and his deputy, Bren. As with so much of Victoria Wood’s work, the comedy is interspersed with bittersweet moments and sadder themes. David Graham’s adaptation does not dilute or diminish any of the emotion whatsoever and he has handled the scripts with a respect that seems almost reverential.

The characterisations are first class. The entire cast gave sterling performances, and it must surely be a daunting prospect to take on roles previously performed by consummate professionals including Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and Victoria Wood herself. Laura Sheppard’s performance as Bren is carefully crafted and about as close to Victoria Wood’s portrayal as any actress could ever hope to get. Surely, this must have been the result of many hours studying every nuance and mannerism that Wood originally injected into the character.
Liz Bagley and Stella Ross are a great comedy double act as the social climbing Dolly and acerbic Jean. Louise Dumayne captures Human Resources Manager Philippa’s dithering perfectly, whilst Emily Butterfield is suitably churlish as Twinkle. Barrie Palmer grumbles and gets his ‘dander up’ brilliantly as Stan and Jacqueline Clarke has a ball with the role of Petula. Joanna Lee Martin also puts in a wonderful cameo performance as Jane from the planning department.

Predictably, the biggest hits with the audience are Shobna Gulati and Andrew Dunn, and they each receive a rapturous welcome from the crowd when they make their stage entrances. Both performers slip comfortably and effortlessly into their characters as though they were putting on a comfortable pair of old slippers. Despite the fact that they are working with a new team, the camaraderie that was a joy to behold in the television series is blissfully evident in abundance.

Credit should also be given to Malvern Hostick for his set design, which is extremely authentic and to Frank Kershaw for providing authentically gaudy overalls, hats and tabards. This production supplies almost as many laughs as it does hot dinners, and one portion may not be enough to satisfy. Seconds anyone?

Dinnerladies runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 23rd May 2009.

Billy Liar - Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Billy Liar
By Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall

Director: Michael Lunney

Reviewer: John Roberts

In 1959 Waterhouse had created a hit that swept away the post war blues, a novel that centred around the highly
likeable character Billy Fisher: a bored undertakers assistant who is a compulsive liar, a true ladies man, hoarder of all things including over 300 of his boss’ calendars and the home to a hyper imagination.

In 1960 Waterhouse had joined forces with Willis Hall and in 1960 a production starring Albert Finney as Billy opened in London’s West End, receiving only lukewarm reviews, but it was the 1963 film version directed by John Schlesinger and starring Tom Courtenay proved that it did have an audience and that dramatically it did have legs and real comic potential.

Unfortunately this production by Middle Ground Theatre Company seems to be clouded by the fate that bestowed the 1960 London production, fantastic performances from the majority, but the play just sits there like a damp squib, where nothing really resonates with today’s audiences, the dreams of going to the big smoke t’do good, just doesn’t have the urgency to provoke a reaction any more…So what we are left with is a slice of Social commentary which leaves you with a small crease where one would hope a huge smile should be firmly placed as you leave the theatre. Nathan Hannan (please note that during the tour two actors will share the central role) as Billy Fisher gives a charming performance that is full of warmth and character, but one always feels not matter how hard he tries he is just too old to be playing a teenager, especially when there are some fantastic young actors out there who fit the bill more comfortably.

Sally Sanders as Florance the hard to do by grandma, is a delight and captivates the audience with her every wince and grimace, but it is Helen Fraser and Dicken Ashworth as Mum & Dad that really set the stage alight with excellent comic timing, and a demanding stage presence brings a much needed weight and authority to the proceedings. Credit must also be given to Victoria Hawkins as the strong and slightly menacing Rita.

Director Michael Lunney (who has also designed the fantastic cross cut two up two down set.) just doesn’t seem to find his stride with this production, each part, (yes that’s right, 2 intervals!) of this production feels like it has been directed by a different person, the first part seems to go smoothly but with no real attack of pace, the 2nd part was in this reviewers opinion the strongest section providing the audience with most of the laughs, but why couldn’t these two parts have stayed as one half? with no set change needed or shown, artistically one struggles to find reason. In the 3rd section Lunney starts to use theatrical devises which hasn’t been used so far and thus makes the play lose momentum and confuse the audience.

This production provides a pleasant enough night at the theatre, but it doesn’t set the world alight like one would hope.

Billy Liar runs at the Yvonne Arnaud until Sat 23rd May

Saturday, 16 May 2009

La Clique - London Hippodrome

La Clique
Conceived by Brett Hayback & David Bates
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Whipping cabaret into the 21st Century, La Clique is the most fabulous show in town. Filled with daring do and skill, all covered in a healthy dose of sexy charm and wit, this international band of performers has wowed audiences across the world in The Famous Speigeltent for years. They are now in their last month at London's Hippodrome before coming back to the Camden Roundhouse for a limited Christmas Season. Indeed London seems desperate not to let them go and it's easy to see why in a show which fills the drizzle of the current British climate with rose tinted, life affirming (oh and did I mention, incredibly skilled) fun and joyful possibility.

Circus is on the rise in England at the moment, with company's such as No Fit State and Ockham's Razor on cracking form with performances at the Roundhouse and the Lyric, and it is easy to see why. This magical blending of aerialism, acrobatics, juggling, thumping sexy music or just pure old fashioned magnetic showmanship is incredibly attractive. This is passionate, enthralling performance - prepare to be dazzled and you will not be disappointed.

Of them all La Clique are the queens of blending cabaret with burlesque with a show which will make you want to sleep with each and everyone of the performers on stage, from the breathtakingly sexy English Gents to the slight framed contortionist Captain Frodo (and yes he CAN do what you're thinking). The intoxicating Meow Meow will wind you around her vampiric and throaty performance, and Marawa's bootylicious hoopla act is fun and feisty. Bret Pfister's 1980's emo aerialist act is witty and impressive; marrying the swoopy feel of a flock of seagulls with the iron strength of a man who can hang from a hoop from just the bridge of his foot.

Of all these delightfully prancing peacocks, my personal favourite is the incomprehensibly charming Mario Queen of the Circus. Dressed like Freddie Mercury and performing a myriad of talents from crowd surfing to a wickedly funny juggling act to Another One Bites The Dust, Mario is a enchanting performer who could make Queen Victoria herself amused. But this is the point - my favourite may not be your favourite, but what I can guarantee is that when you leave this vibrant space you will not only have a firm favourite of your own but you will have taken every single one of these enthralling performers into your heart, making your journey home in the grey London night life just that little bit more sparkly.

A stunning escapade and an alcohol infused, popcorn/toffee apple spectacular to remember, La Clique is a show to take your friends and family to now before it closes. But make sure all are accounted for when you leave - you never know, one of your party may have submitted to the infinite temptation to run away with this circus, I know I nearly did.

Photos: Perou
La Clique is running at the Hippodrome until Saturday 27 June.
For Camden dates see their website

Cyrano de Bergerac - Chichester Festival Theatre

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostad
Adapted by Anthony Burgess
Director: Trevor Nunn
Reviewer: John Roberts

The story of undying love is timeless and has resonated through societies throughout time. It is perhaps this same feeling that we all have at one time in our lives, that draws and compels us to witness the story of Cyrano unfold in-front of us, making it one of the most performed plays in the theatrical world.

Anthony Burgess’ translation of this famous French novel about a soldier who has low self esteem due to being born with a tremendously large nose, but makes up for it in other ways, is first class. Burgess has managed to create a text that is full of lyrical beauty and witticisms that compel the audience to keep watching the action unfold. Saying that however it was also this same lyrical text that brings the show its biggest handicap and that is its length at just shy of 3.5 hours this is a theatrical epic that will make sure you stretch long and hard before you attempt to leave the theatre, I am sure that a few clever cuts could mean the narrative stayed in good form and shape and that a trim 40 minutes could be taken from the total running time.

Nunn’s first creative collaboration with Chichester see's himself throwing down the gauntlet by admitting he wanted a project to follow the current west end smash A Little Night Music and be given a project that would be both thrilling and challenging and staging this monstrous epic at CFT’s demanding thrust stage is no walk in the park.

Nunn’s direction is well thought out, with careful attention to even the smallest detail, there is so much going on at all times that it is near impossible to take it all in on one sitting, but one feels he may have overdone his staging by adding the 15 strong community element to the proceedings as at times the stage seemed a little cluttered and the noise generated from such a large ensemble on stage tended to drown out the dialogue especially during the opening few scenes.

Taking the mamouth task of bringing one of literatures biggest known characters to life on stage is Joseph Fiennes, who provides Cyrano with so much warmth and charisma that it looks and feels effortless. The verbal dexterity in which he delivers his speeches are a delight to watch and hear and really does give a theatrical masterclass to be reckoned with.

Scott Handy as Le Comte de Guiche gives a compelling and slightly creepy performance which at times made me shudder with vulgarity. Stephen Hagan as Baron Christian de Neuvillette also proves faultless in bringing the love lorn soldier to life and has a tremendous comic flair to match. Alice Eve’s Roxane brings a much needed feminine charm to this testosterone filled fable, and at times produces a performance that is mesmerising and at times truly heartbreaking.
But the real star of this production is the set designed by Robert Jones whose versatile set pieces move the narrative through several locations smoothly and pretty much unnoticeably, it is not everyday you leave a theatre being blown away by the set and aided by an atmospheric lighting design by Tim Mitchell this production is a visual smorgasboard that leaves you feeling delightfully full.
All in all apart from the length, this production is what theatre is all about! A great story beautifully told and thoroughly captivating from start to finish, but hurry there is only two weeks left to catch this production at the CFT...but one can only keep their fingers crossed that following suit of other productions from past years that this manages to find a limited season in the city.

Cyrano runs at Chichester until Sat 30th May

The Doorbells of Florence - Rosemary Branch Theatre

The Doorbells of Florence By Andrew Losowsky
Director: Tom Wright

Reviewer: Honour Bayes

In the humid haze two children are playing with storytelling, jumping onto playing cards on the floor and embodying the spirits which infuse them there. Doorbells flash up on an ornate frame propped up at the back of the stage, each one a gateway to eccentric worlds of tender unconventionality. It is the owners of these doorbells whose stories the children inhabit, telling us tales of unemployed pedantic diarists, of conspicuous private detectives who turn their very obviousness into a maudlin advantage, of mirror houses for rent. Slowly but surely just as these two strange narrators are infused by these stories so to are we, in a piece which will take you for a brief moment out of the crushing mundanity of everyday life and into a world filled with wonder .

Inspired by photographs taken whilst he was in Italy, The Doorbells of Florence is a collection of short stories by Andrew Losowsky to be published at the end of May. Reminiscent of the delicate delight of Haruki Murakami, Losowsky's language walks the fine line between the real and the extraordinary, making even the most pedestrian situation seem magical and poignant. Director Tom Wright and actors Samuel Collings and Jennifer Jackson have chosen a selection of doorbells that spoke to them and thrown these tales together to create an hour of inverted Merchant Ivory storytelling.

Collings and Jackson charmingly gambling about the stage as our two young guides. Emerging from two cupboards they begin to tentatively explore the slide projector and tape players around them with an artless and childlike curiosity. Like silent film actors they gesture to each other with wide eyed wonder at the adventures before them, only to flip into consummate narrators whose clear cut English accents echo around the space as they channel each doorbell's secrets. A clear affection and sibling closeness floats between the two during this silent playing and they are engaging to watch, but when they speak it is Collings who is of particular note; rooted to the spot his body is none-the-less a vivid bundle of expressive moves, each gesture underpinning each sentence, a flick of an eye or realignment of body weight bringing to life these varied and vibrant characters. A brilliant storyteller, he holds out his hand and you go with him completely.

Wright succeeds in translating the bewitchment inherent within these exquisite stories from page to stage in a production which is nimble and intricately detailed with an elegantly light touch. From the assured performances of his actors to the enchanting Italian rhythms of his taped musical interludes, he has infused the Rosemary Branch's stage with Losowsky's sense of adventure and possibility. The physical extensions are subtle and the visual moments of play are delightful; if anything it would have been exciting to see more of this play, to break free of the rhythm of story, interlude, story and to interlink these moments more organically, but this is possibly something that could be developed further in time.

The design, from Liam Shea's paint dripped room to Pete Bragg's and Dinah Mullen's subtle but infinitely enriching lighting and sound, turns the space into a bizarre 'room with a view', perfectly encasing these little vignettes of story in a setting which suitably makes the ordinary extraordinary.

A gentle piece of work, The Doorbells of Florence won't start a revolution or change your life, but it will infuse your world view for a moment with the same joie de vivre that Amelie had in spades. This joie de vivre will stay with you for a while after, popping up when you're walking down the street or sitting on a park bench, and prompting you to view the world with childlike eyes; to look beyond the flat surface of things and ask yourself 'why?'.

The Doorbells of Florence runs until Sun 31st May

Friday, 15 May 2009

Looking For Buddy - Live Theatre

Looking For Buddy
Writer: Alan Plater
Director: Mark Babych

Composer: Alan Barnes

Reviewer: Ian Cain

Tim Healy makes a welcome return to Newcastle’s Live Theatre, the company that he co-founded in 1973, to star in a quirky jazz musical, ‘Looking For Buddy.’
The play is ostensibly a pastiche of the styles of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane and Healy plays Phil, a struggling architect and ‘Geordie’ version of Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer.

The playwright, Jarrow-born Alan Plater, weaves themes of regeneration, corporate corruption and Northern grit into the storyline and wraps them up with plenty of local references and liberal sprinklings of nostalgia.

The unexpected arrival of Ella, a beautiful bottle blonde (Jayne MacKenzie), who turns up in Phil’s office under the misapprehension that he is a private detective, is the catalyst that leads to Phil becoming embroiled in a search for a recording by Buddy Bolden, the late-great jazz trumpeter from New Orleans, that was thought not to exist. Subsequently, Phil is plunged into danger as he takes on the corrupt Good Earth Corporation, intent on regenerating much of Wallsend, to the detriment of its Roman heritage.

As he becomes increasingly aware of the implications of the situation, Phil enlists the help of his Marxist sister, Bella (Jane Holman), Frank the Fitter, an ex-shipyard worker who now makes gourmet sandwiches (Phil Corbitt), and Fat Jack, owner of The Blue Note Jazz Club in Wallsend’s ‘lower east side.’

He encounters the coldly efficient Zelda (Jacqueline Boatswain), the representative of the Good Earth Corporation and is warned not to interfere with their plans by her henchman.

The cast give great performances that incorporate drama, comedy and song and the evening rolls along at a perfect pace. Alan Barnes has penned a score that suits the piece perfectly and encompasses jazz, blues and skiffle. The numbers are performed by an on-stage three-piece band.Director Mark Babych has given the piece an intimacy that perfectly suits the venue and Healy’s ‘asides’ to the audience contribute further to the effect.

This is a play that is designed more to entertain than to make political points and it does so handsomely. The audience are constantly kept guessing as to whether Phil will find Buddy Bolden’s rare recording, how he will deal with the sinister and menacing Good Earth Corporation and if he will succeed in getting the girl. To find out, take a trip to Live Theatre – you won’t be disappointed!

‘Looking For Buddy’ runs at Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne until Saturday 13 June 2009.

Tick, Tick, Boom - Duchess Theatre

Tick, Tick, Boom
Music/Lyrics Jonathan Larson
Director: Hannah Chissick

Reviewer: Leon Trayman

Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick, Boom! is the musical that preceded Rent, and tells the story of a “promising young composer” on the cusp of turning 30, John (Paul Keating), who’s musical ‘Superbia’ is being workshoped and showcased to the great and good of the New York musical theatre scene.

Julie Atherton plays John’s girlfriend Susan who decides to end the relationship after her request to move to out of Manhattan causes friction in the relationship. The final member of the cast is Leon Lopez, as John’s best friend Michael, who has recently bought a new BMW and apartment, leaving John feeling as though he hasn’t achieved anything significant in the last three decades.

It’s clear that Rent is stronger musically, and shows the extent to which Larson grew in his compositions between the two projects. Unfortunately, you don’t find yourself humming any of the melodies after the show…

The piece is semi-autobiographical, and has considerable nods to the brilliance and esteem in which Larson held Stephen Sondheim, who could almost be considered as the fourth cast member!

Larson’s ‘Sunday’ parody is worth the ticket price alone!

Paul Keatings performance is honest and emotional, has a beautiful lightness of touch, and yet us still muscular, athletic and energetic. Leon Lopez beautifully transforms between characters, and brings the sadness and loss of his character’s former life as an actor home with the delicately placed “I wasn’t good enough!” Julie Atherton is exceptional, as always. Her comic timing is exemplary and her elderly Jewish New Yorker Agent (think Estelle in Friends…), air-headed receptionist, and market-research executive had me helpless with laughter. Her vocal dexterity brings a wealth of rich characterization to the sung and spoken sections of the piece in equal measure.

Hannah Chissick’s direction serves the piece and actors well, and clearly defines the different spaces, situations and characters we meet along the way. My only reservation is the sound balance between the band and the vocals, which occasionally makes it difficult to hear the actors clearly.

It’s a good night at the theatre, but Rentheads be aware that it’s a VERY different show…where Rent has cocaine, Tick, Tick, Boom! has Twinkies!!!! For those who know about Jonathan Larson’s story, this show is heart-wrenching, and his voice is clearly heard throughout.

Tick, Tick, Boom! runs until Sun 17th May at The Duchess Theatre

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Mate - White Bear Theatre

Mate by Feargus Woods Dunlop and Josh Golga
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Feargus Woods Dunlop, Joshua Golga and Andrew Dawson are working their socks off to get a laugh out of a fairly quiet audience. Stuck with appalling timing and armed with nothing but an incredibly patchy script and only the remnants of some derivative humour, these laughs are understandably few and far between – but bless them, at least they’re trying.

Based around the story of two flatmates, Will and Toni, and their interloper friend, Wesley, Mate is like every bad BBC sitcom ever made, with an added twist of the completely incomprehensible loopy. We are not talking loopy in the Python sense, or Mighty Boosh style loopy, no this is the
kind of loopy where one is actually left wondering what on earth these performers are doing (sometimes to disturbing lengths), and more importantly why. Faced with such ponderings the impulse to laugh does come occasionally, but not for the right reasons and sadly this confusing and frankly messy plotting covers the few moments when this company actually have the potential to be amusing.

The cast (this was the first night so in all fairness they will probably loosen up much more as the run progresses), starting off on the wrong foot, hop frantically along for the remaining 89mins in performances which constantly hit the wrong note, yo-yoing between massive gaps of silence (presumably meant to be filled with laughter?) or garbled monologues.

The one wacky ray of sunshine is Dawson’s disquieting but somehow adorable portrayal of Wesley. Although clearly robbed from Rhys Ifans’ nightmare flatmate in Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill, Dawson’s comic timing is for the most part down to a tee and this, combined with his smooth nonchalance, manages to raise some of the only laughs of the evening. And herein lies the answer to why this piece fails; Dunlop and Golga simply seem to be trying too hard and no audience wants to see the hint of desperation in a comedian’s eye.

A mish mash of direct audience address, time jumping, random fishing reports, a kidnapping and a case of mistaken cancer, Mate really doesn’t make sense and more importantly it’s not very funny. Maybe if the cast slow down slightly and at least look as though they’re enjoying it then the fraught cloud haunting this performance will ease and the charm that they seem capable of will shine through. As it is all you’re in for is a very befuddling and sadly serious evening.

Running at The White Bear Theatre Club till Sat 16th May 2009

Singin' in the Rain - Sunderland Empire

Singin’ In The Rain
Book: Betty Comden & Adolph Green

Music/Lyrics: Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed

Director: Alison Pollard

Choreographer: Graeme Henderson

Reviewer: Ian Cain

Frequently described as ‘one of the best musicals ever made’, the 1952 comedy-musical ‘Singin’ In The Rain’, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, enjoys a timeless, evergreen appeal.

Now, the iconic movie has been adapted for the stage by Peter Frosdick and Martin Dodd for UK Productions, the team behind successful stage revivals of ‘Seven Brides For Seven Brothers’ and ‘Fiddler On The Roof.’

It is an extremely stylish production that is visually stunning. The sets, designed by Charles Camm are wonderfully simple whilst also being extremely functional and interchangeable. Elizabeth Dennis has provided costumes that look authentically glamorous – top hats, tails, feather boas and sequinned gowns.

The plot, which is fairly straightforward, surrounds Hollywood’s somewhat awkward and tentative transition from the era of the silent movie to the ‘talkies.’ Although there is plenty of slapstick comedy, dramatic moments and big musical numbers the piece is a little slow to start with. However, it soon finds its feet and there is no looking back.

‘The Scotsman’ newspaper claimed that: ‘When God created musicals, it was because he knew that Tim Flavin would come along.’ I have to say that I endorse this comment, too. Combining considerable aplomb as an actor, singer and dancer, he suits the role of Don Lockwood perfectly.

Jessica Punch steps into the shoes that were once filled by Debbie Reynolds, as Kathy Selden, and brings to the role a charismatic warmth that is easily likeable. She has a wonderful singing voice, too.

Graeme Henderson not only takes on the role of Cosmo Brown, but that of choreographer, as well, and he excels in both. The routine that he performs for ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ is fantastic and contains some astounding elements of physical comedy, which are perfectly executed.

Amy Griffiths hurls herself wholehearte
dly into the role of silent movie diva, Lina Lamont. Her screeching voice and grating Bronx accent are honed perfectly and she plays her solo, ‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ strictly for laughs.

A couple of other performers, in minor roles, made big impressions. Firstly, Vivienne McMaster is brilliant as the gushing entertainment reporter Dora Bailey. Secondly, Billy Mitchell excels when he leads a big chorus number, demonstrating that he has a strong, smooth voice and the certainty of a successful career ahead of him.

The big chorus numbers are audience-pleasers and fill the stage with riotous colour, movement and energy. The title
number was hugely anticipated in the auditorium and when it came it drew breaths. Tim Flavin performed it with flair, charisma and pure enjoyment, and the real rain was the icing on the cake.

This is a big, bold, sassy show that retains all the charm of the original film and sends the audience on their way home smiling and looking for puddles to splash about in!

‘Singin’ In The Rain’ runs at Sunderland Empire until Saturday 16th May 2009.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Look Back in Anger - Richmond Theatre

Look Back in Anger by John Osbourne
Director: Erica Whyman
Reviewer: James Higgins

John Osbourne’s Look back in Anger was first performed at the Royal Court theatre in 1956 and the theatre’s press agent thought people wouldn’t take to it and coined the now well known phrase angry young man when expressing his dislike of Osbourne. Author Alan Sillitoe wrote of its first performance “John Osbourne didn’t contribute to British theatre he set off a landmine and blew most of it up.”

To 1956 audiences the setting of Look Back in Anger, a grubby, seedy flat and its dialogue heralded the beginning of what became known as the kitchen sink dramas. John Osborne's play was to a large extent autobiographical based on his family background and his relationship with his mother and with women.

This Northern stage production, directed by Erica Whyman and designed by Soutra Gilmour brings to us the classic performance with the authentic fifties bedsit setting, dirty peeling wallpaper and cramped space, the reality of post war living for those unable to afford the middle class lifestyle.

To a present day audience it is not the text or the setting that is likely to instill the same sense of shock experienced by theatre goers in the l
ate fifties but the plays somewhat monotonous length (3 hours 10 minutes)

Jimmy Porter, (Bill Ward) the angry young man around who the play is centred gave us an almost continual rant which at times made us want to stand up and shout back. This was a very worthy performance which occasionally
got lost in the anger amongst the constantly over eager gesticulating. The Colonel (Robert East) contrasted beautifully with Jimmy, with a clear audible and dignified delivery. Alison, (Nia Gwynne) Jimmy’s wife must in 1956 have elicited much audience sympathy for her abject humiliation. In 2009 this just serves to illustrate Jimmy's extreme misogynistic attitude and you wish Alison’s character would stand up for herself and give him an earful. Laura Howard as Helena gave an excellent performance as Alison’s scheming friend. Rob Storr came across as slightly unconvincing as Jimmy’s mate Cliff, with his Welsh accent appearing sporadically from scene to scene.

Look Back in Anger seems very much to be a cutting edge play of its time, and now appears to have lost its resonance with the public and its ability to shock.Overall this was a good performance of a very difficult slow moving play but all in all just far too long for the modern audience.

Look Back in Anger runs at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 16th May

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Women On The Verge Of HRT - Darlington Civic Theatre

Women on the Verge of HRT by Marie Jones
Director: Noreen Kershaw

Reviewer: Ian Cain

Darlington Civic Theatre seems to have gone all ‘womany’ of late. With productions of ‘The Vagina Monologues’, ‘Hot Flush!’ and ‘Women On The Verge Of HRT’ all being staged in one season, it’s enough to make a man wonder if his patronage is wanted anymore!

The latest offering, ‘Women On The Verge Of HRT’, is a three-hander that stars Louise Jameson, Janet Dibley and Aidan O’Neill. The premise sees two menopausal Belfast women taking a trip to Donegal to see the object of their infatuation, Daniel O’Donnell, perform in concert. During the trip, Vera (Louise Jameson) and Anna (Janet Dibley) come face to face with the realities of their lives – loveless marriages, husbands in mid-life crisis and the menopause.

It started out promisingly. The first act involved the two best friends having a heart to heart in their hotel room and seemed to offer the perfect setting for a conversation that should have been frank, funny and poignant. Instead, writer Marie Jones wasted the opportunity and buried the best one-liners amongst a heap of cliché-ridden dialogue. The performances of Jameson and Dibley were marred by Irish accents that were unconvincing and, because of the absence of microphones, some of the dialogue was inaudible. Miss Jameson was also required to repeatedly ‘smoke’ one of the most unconvincing fake cigarettes that I have ever seen.

The conversation between the two women was frequently interrupted by Fergal (Aidan O’Neill), a waiter ‘who looks like Daniel O’Donnell’ providing room service. This produced some good comedy moments as Vera tried to ‘come on’ to the naive young man. However, it all went wrong when, out of the blue, he burst into song with a tribute to ‘The Dawn Over Donegal’, complete with revolving glitterball and mood lighting.

The second act took the characters out of the hotel room setting and placed them on the beach of Donegal Bay. The plotline became more and more preposterous as the three characters found themselves haunted by the restless soul of a wailing banshee. It turned out that she was once a young and beautiful fairy who lost the love of her eternally youthful beau as she withered with age. The collision between the present and the past became even more barmy when the banshee gave Vera and Anna the power to call up the spirits of their husbands and rivals (who aren’t even dead!) and take temporary possession of Fergal’s body. This resulted in Aidan O’Neill having to play three male and two female characters in quick succession. This he did with consistency – they were all badly acted.

It is a shame that this production degenerated into crude farce as it could have been a funny, feisty and fearless glimpse into the world of the menopausal woman. Instead, the drama, comedy, farce and songs were never integrated into one dramatic narrative and the dominant theme seemed to say that the only male worthy of a woman’s love is Daniel O’Donnell, because ‘he makes women feel special.’ Tosh!

‘Women On The Verge Of HRT’ runs at Darlington Civic until Saturday 16th May 2009.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Jane McDonald in Concert - The City Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne

Jane McDonald In Concert
Musical Direction/Arrangements by: Jarek Pyc
Reviewer: Ian Cain

After spending fifteen years singing on the stages of working men’s clubs in West Yorkshire, Jane McDonald graduated to entertaining passengers on board luxury cruise ships and was catapulted to stardom by a fly-on-the-wall documentary, ‘The Cruise.’

Since then, she has carved out a hugely successful career and has sold hundreds of thousands of albums, performed at many of the world’s most prestigious concert venues including The Royal Albert Hall and The London Palladium, sold-out the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and earned a place in The Guinness Book of Records for being the first artist to top the album charts without a prior release.

Now in the middle of an extensive UK Tour, she took Newcastle upon Tyne by storm with a sensational concert at The City Hall.

To say that Jane has a loyal fan-base would be something of an understatement. She is absolutely adored by her followers and they weren’t afraid to let her know it as they called out ‘We love you, Jane.’

The concert was a mix of hits from her albums, her own compositions and a selection of some of the biggest and best-loved belters ever to have been recorded. Jane made each and every song entirely her own with a vocal prowess and versatility that was nothing short of phenomenal.

From the hits of Dusty Springfield to Duffy, Motown to musicals and Barry Manilow to Burt Bacharach, the mesmerising Miss McDonald wowed the crowd with a powerhouse performance that seemed almost effortless.

She looked as stunning as she sounded, dressed first in a pink gown that complimented her curvy figure, and later in a shimmering silver gown that sparkled almost as brightly as her personality.

Backed by three fabulous backing singers, Jo Boyne, Stephen Foster and Sue Ravey, and a fantastic live band, under the musical direction of Jarek Pyc, Jane took the audience on a journey through virtually every musical genre.

The power and clarity of her voice combined with a heartfelt deliverance made the ballads, including ‘You’re My World’ and ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, all the more poignant. This was demonstrated to greatest effect in ‘Not A Day Goes By’, the song that Jane wrote in the wake of her grandmother’s death. The emotion that she injected into this tear-jerker was tangible throughout the auditorium.

Of course, always a performer to end on a high note, Jane rounded the evening off with ‘Disc Inferno’, ‘Voulez-vous’ and ‘Dance Yourself Dizzy.’

The thunderous applause and standing ovation seemed to genuinely take Miss McDonald by surprise, although it must surely have left her in no doubt that she’d be welcome back to Newcastle any time soon.

Photos by kind permission of Charles Bashworth
further information and tour dates/venues visit
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