Friday, 30 October 2009

Arturo Brachetti, Change - Garrick Theatre, London

Arturo Brachetti - Change
Reviewer: Evelyn Downing

There was an audible gasp from the audience as this show opened; the moment we witnessed the first instant transformation was stunning.

Brachetti has taken what is essentially a very simple concept – changing costumes extremely fast – and turned it into an art form. He has a wonderful physicality about his performance which is very engaging and gives him the great presence essential for a one man show.

The big production pieces were slick, seamless and brilliantly executed. His routines take the audience around London (I particularly enjoyed seeing Sid Vicious become the Queen!), into sc
enes from the past, through the seasons and on a whistle stop tour of the movies.

The use of a wonderfully constructed moving set that opens and closes to provide scene changes and illusions of its own, projections, lights and sound all add to the spectacle, providing a solid backdrop onto which Brachetti can lay his blend of illusion and magic. There is even a wonderful bit of shadow puppetry using only hands that includes a rather risqué rabbit...

This said however the show lacked soul. The routines were tied together rather clumsily by a slightly ineffective narrative that told a version of the story of his life and the use of projections and films meant that Brachetti was actually off stage for long periods of time. It felt as if the writer couldn’t quite decide if it was a piece of theatre or a magical showcase and the build to the ‘final transformation’ was a definite anti-climax.

Although I walked away feeling it could have been so much more with the addition of a stronger plot or more emphasis on the routines as routines, there were plenty of laughs and the spectacle is well worth a look. Overall it was a very enjoyable evening out.

Runs until 3rd January 2010
More information at

Make-Believe - Contact Theatre, Manchester

by Sonia Hughes
Reviewer: Katherine Lunney

This production does not shy away from questioning the very precepts of theatre; illusion and reality, acting and non-acting. In the words of the company “Make-believe shows us how all the pretense has been been put together and asks us to believe in it anyway”

When entering the intimate studio theatre at the Contact we, the audience, were observed silently by one of the small company of actors as we sat and then began to watch her, watching us. This was the beginning of our confrontation with our own voyeurism as audience member and our preconceptions about theatrical etiquette. Particularly noticeable was the company’s choice to have a red velvet curtain concealing the stage and which was theatrically drawn back and forth to reveal/conceal different moments of action. The red curtain epitomises the traditional concept of theatrical illusion being contained by a barrier between audience and actor.

During Make-Believe the theatrical boundaries were not so much crossed as blurred. Each actor told a monologue of their life story at different points throughout the performance, however they didn’t tell their own story but the story of one of the other actors, as their own. This led to the bizarre and amusing site of a white, German woman proclaiming her name is Marcus Hercules and she is a 5ft 7 rasta. The performance was at times a bit too purposeful in highlighting the falsity of their ‘life-stories’ with over-the-top prompting, interruptions and stumbling over words. This served to detract from the stripped-down, bare bones style of performance used throughout by the actors; I found that these moments of theatricality were disjointed, and not in a purposeful enough way to make it completely amusing.

One of the highlights of the production was when the company made use of their guest star - Jeziel Hercules - the 2 year old son of two of the actors. We are introduced to Jeziel as he walks in through a back door onto the stage looking frightened and confused at the audience confronting him, and then informed that it is time for his dance routine. However, Jeziel runs away and hides with his mum, refusing to come onstage and do his performance. Instead his dance partner, Johanne Timm, descibes and reenacts every moment of their dance routine together to ‘Boom Boom Pow’ by The Black Eyed Peas. At first this appears to be a back-up plan for the evenings when Jeziel doesn’t want to take part (although he does stamp in time from the side of the stage) but we soon discover that there never was a dance routine because Johanne reveals “then Jeziel lifts me up from under my ribcage....then we’re holding burning torches”. This is a sparkling moment of fun and originality within the piece.

It seemed to me that Make-Believe attempted to achieve many of the aims that Forced Entertainment attempted in their 2008 production Spectacular, but Quarantine were, in my opinion, much more successful. I believe this was down to the pacing, and highly entertaining nature of their performance (combining song, dance, projection and cute kids) which blurred real-life and theatre. Not everything is black and white; neither is my opinion of this show, I enjoyed it, I’ve been made to think, but I think it still needs some editing and polishing.

Runs until 31st Oct and also 3-7th Nov

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Spanish Tragedy - Arcola Theatre, London

The Spanish Tragedy
Writer: Thomas Kyd
Director: Mitchell Moreno
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Suited and booted in dynamic Paul Smith tailoring this is a very English Spanish Tragedy; although even in the face of such stiff upper-lip gentility, it does pack a hefty emotional punch at its gory end. But whilst director Mitchell Moreno’s slick, sharp and smart aesthetic never bores, this is a production which does essentially lack a central heart.

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English theatre of the revenge play and it is nothing if not an abject tale in getting one’s own back. The Viceroy of Portugal has rebelled against Spanish rule and battle has taken place in which the Portuguese are defeated and their leader, the Viceroy's son Balthazar, has been captured. During the battle a Spanish officer, Andrea, has been killed by none other than Balthazar and the slain soldier’s love and Duke’s daughter, Belimperia, plots her revenge with her new beaux Horatio. When Horatio is also brutally murdered his father, Hieronimo, and Belimperia devise a way to seek vengeance once and for all on Balthazar and his manipulator the corrupt Lorenzo. All the while Andrea’s ghost and ‘Revenge’ itself, here personified by a little girl, watch on with a grimly inevitable finality.

Sprung like a stylish and well oiled machine Moreno’s direction is so tight it stretches across the depth of emotion potentially present in these highly strung characters like a piece of designer cellophane. This sadly leaves one feeling slightly distanced from the torrent of emotions presented in Kyd’s melodramatic text. Diagonals and clear cut restoration styling make for some iconic stage imagery but the whole thing feels a bit bloodless. In this modern setting of shirt and trouser androgyny the passion at play here is somewhat cooled with both sexes bristling under clean cut lines which both accentuate their status and but dampen their individual intensity. Charlie Covell’s Belimperia is dressed as an impishly boyish girl who marches around with the directness of any man making her feminine fury seem a little flat. Even in the face of this however Covell turns in a strong performance with her rich velvet tones centring her in a more sensual and womanly vein at points.

But revenge is a dish best served cold here and accordingly whilst there are some moments of bawdy joy in the consummate and hilarious puppetry of the first ‘play-within-a-play’, it is the cold hearted science of our heroes’ final revenge that is magnificent. Dominic Rowan as Hieronimo, who struggles to be truly convincing throughout the earlier stages of this production, really finds his feet here as he orchestrates the last act of vengeance in a piece of multi-media staging which is quite breathtaking and momentarily heartbreaking.

A little less style and a little more depth of feeling may have aided this tragedy to a more powerful effect, but it is impossible to ignore that this is a dynamic production of a bloodcurdling tale that moves a pretty pace; indeed for the end alone, it is definitely worth a watch.

Runs until 14th Nov

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Winter's Tale - RSC at Theatre Royal, Newcastle

The Winter’s Tale
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director:David Farr
Reviewer:Ian Cain

The RSC’s annual residency at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal is always eagerly anticipated and their productions are invariably sold-out weeks in advance of the actual performance dates. The second production of the season, following on from last week’s ‘As You Like It’, is the Bard’s story of jealousy, paranoia, reconciliation and second chances, ‘The Winter’s Tale.’

When King Leontes of Sicilia (Greg Hicks) asks his friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Darrell D’Silva), to extend his visit to Sicilia, Polixenes initially protests. But after Leontes' pregnant wife, Hermione (Kelly Hunter), flirtingly pleads with him he agrees to stay a little longer. Leontes soon becomes possessed with jealousy and Hicks gives an extremely convincing performance of a man consumed by his own suspicions, stalking around the stage and even staring into the face of his son, Mamillius (Alfie Jones), looking for the resemblance of someone other than himself.

Convinced that Polixenes and Hermione are lovers, he orders his aide, Camillo (John MacKay), to kill the Bohemian king, but Camillo warns Polixenes and the two men flee Sicilia immediately. Furious at their escape, Leontes publicly accuses his wife of cuckolding him, and declares that the child she is carrying must be illegitimate. Kelly Hunter is magnificent as Hermione during the trial scene in which the accused queen defends herself with suppressed passion and quiet dignity. However, her husband is blind to reason and he throws her in prison, despite the protests of his nobles, and sends to the Oracle of Apollo for confirmation of his suspicions.

During her incarceration, the queen gives birth to a girl, and her loyal friend Paulina (Noma Dumezweni) brings the baby to the king, hopeful that the sight of the child will break his resolve. Dumezweni’s Paulina is the antithesis of Hunter’s Hermione, vigorously rebuking Leontes for his cruelty and stupidity and lighting up the stage with feistiness in the process.Leontes only grows angrier, however, and orders Paulina's husband, Lord Antigonus (James Gale), to take the child and abandon it. While Antigonus is gone, the answer comes from Delphi - Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, and Leontes will have no heir until his lost daughter is found. As this news is revealed, word comes that Leontes's son, Mamillius, has died of a sickness brought on by the accusations against his mother. Hermione faints at the news and is carried away by Paulina, who subsequently reports the queen's death to her heartbroken and repentant husband.

Having abandoned the baby, Perdita, on the Bohemian coast, leaving gold and other tokens with her, Antigonus is killed by a bear. Perdita is found and raised by a kindly Shepherd (Larrington Walker) and his simpleton son (Gruffudd Glyn).

‘The Winter’s Tale’ certainly seems to be a play of two contrasting halves. Act One is typical Shakespearean drama, filled with passion, betrayal and intrigue, whilst Act Two is somewhat more of a comedy, with stock characters, farcical situations and a good smattering of bawdiness. However, this juxtaposition is neatly explained by a change of setting and the passage of sixteen years.

During a sheep-shearing festival, in Bohemia, we learn that the son of Polixenes, Prince Florizel (Tunji Kasim), has fallen in love with Perdita (Samantha Young). His father and Camillo are attending the event in disguise and watch as Florizel and Perdita are betrothed. Then, dispensing with the disguise, Polixenes orders his son never to see the Shepherd's daughter again. With the aid of Camillo, however, who longs to see his native land again, Florizel and Perdita take voyage for Sicilia, after using the clothes of a local thief and vagabond, Autolycus (Brian Doherty), to disguise themselves. They are joined aboard the ship by the Shepherd and his son.

In Sicilia, Leontes, still in grief-stricken, greets the son of his old friend effusively. Florizel pretends to be on a diplomatic mission from his father, but his cover is blown when Polixenes and Camillo, too, arrive in Sicilia. What happens next is told to us by gentlemen of the Sicilian court: the Shepherd tells everyone his story of how Perdita was found, and Leontes realises that she is his daughter, leading to general rejoicing. They then go to Paulina's house in the country, where a statue of Hermione has been recently completed. The sight of his wife's form makes Leontes distraught, but, to everyone's amazement, Paulina summons the statue to life. Subsequently, Leontes and Hermione are reconciled, Paulina and Camillo are engaged, and the ‘miracle’ is celebrated.

This technically superb production is exquisite and breathtaking, no minor detail having been overlooked. Jon Bausor’s sets are magnificent and lend themselves fully and impressively to the staggering special effects that add significant impact to the piece. The performances are, as one might expect from the RSC, consistently excellent, and David Farr’s direction ensures that the pace never drags or falters. Quite simply, spectacular.

runs until Sat 31 Oct .

I Found My Horn - Chichester Festival Theatre

I Found My Horn
Writer: Jonathan Guy Lewis and Jasper Rees
Director: Harry Burton
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

Soon to be at the Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage (November 10-28) this play based on a Radio 4 “Book of the Week” garnered a full house with queues for returns at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre. The audience was expecting a hilarious one-man show and they were not disappointed. However, they got much more.

“I Found my Horn”, a quote from Flanders and Swan, is also a serious play about a man’s rise from the ashes of a broken marriage to a new flamboyant self-confidence. It is a true theatrical combination of tragedy and comedy.

Jonathan Guy Lewis plays not only the author, Jasper Rees, but also all the people he meets in his quest to play Mozart’s 3rd Horn Concerto in front of the annual gathering of the British Horn Society. This ambitious project is at least tempered by all the members of the society understanding that the French horn, that well-known bad boy of the musical instrument awkward squad, is, to quote Flanders and Swann again, “a bit of a devil to play”.

Beside Jasper himself we are introduced to his geeky school orchestra conductor, to himself as a teenager and his orchestral neighbour the nerdy 1st Horn, his first mentor Dave Lee, the three coaches at the American Horn Camp, his own sons and Mozart in his boisterous relationship with the Viennese cheesemonger for whom the concerto was written (in exchange for cheese?). In Jonathan Guy Lewis we have an actor not only capable of switching seamlessly between all these but who can play the horn well enough to perform the concerto and also well enough to play badly. No mean feat, as was recognised by the cheers and tumultuous applause of the grand finale.

Directed by Harry Burton the evening whisks us through the twelve months from one annual meeting of the British Horn Society to the next. We are taken from lonely practice times to the conviviality of the company of fellow students to the terrifying podium of the solo artist.

The lighting design of Jeremy Coney is slick and subtle and the sound, designed by Daniel Thomason, plays a huge part in the production. The snatches of carefully selected horn music which punctuate the evening are listed in the programme notes for the enthusiast to check off but none is so evocative as that orchestral tuning up which gives all soloists the jitters.

The set is simple and ideally suited to the round. A music stand and stool, a step ladder for the loft where the old horn is found, a rail of clothes for quick changes, a battered suitcase to denote travel, a table with a few props and a very necessary bottle of water.

High above, a collection of horns of varying ages makes us look upwards and this is the theme of this inspirational play. Do not be afraid to try the seemingly impossible. It is never too late to start again. While there is life there is hope. Take that plunge!

Runs until Sat 31st Oct

The Pitman Painters – Lowry Theatre, Salford

The Pitman Painters
Writer: Lee Hall
Director: Max Roberts
Reviewer: John Roberts

A group of miners set up an arts appreciation class, over the coming years they become world famous painters, and held as one of the singularly biggest movements in British art history. You would be forgiven if you thought it sounded like the world’s most boring play, and that might be the case if this production wasn’t based on the truth or if a different playwright had been commissioned.

The Pitman Painters has had unrivalled success since its first production at Newcastle’s Live Theatre in 2007.It has been staged by the National Theatre no less than three times, and after this current UK tour will get its fourth National outing, but what is it that has gripped the nation to take this play under its wings and make it the success it is?

One would argue that it is the story of the underdogs doing good, we as a nation are gripped by such stories every day, we like to hold on to the fact that although we live in the 21st century we are still plagued by racial issues and a class system where usually the middle classes are the privileged few, so when a play highlights the rise and fame of four miners, who through their paintings of what they know,( the pits and their village) one can’t help but feel that anything is possible, just as long as you put your heart and soul into it.

Lee Hall is probably best known as the writer of Billy Elliott, and has proven himself as the best candidate for the job of writing scripts based in the North East. Hall stays true to his roots and he ably manages to captivate the sense of real community, and companionship in the characters he writes. writing with a true sense of conviction and laden with northern charm and wit, which helps give the show a naturalistic and warm resonance to the show, balancing the fine act between the more human side of the piece (which is its strongest element) and the more lecture/fact based exposition.

Max Roberts’ direction helps keep the pace going, with swift scene changes in full view of the audience, he manages to keep your attention even through the saggy back end of the 1st act. With a great use of projection helping us keep track of the time scale of the piece (over 10 years) the screens also are utilised as a way of showing us on a larger scale the miners paintings.

Excellent performances are given throughout by the cast, who surprisingly still seem as fresh as ever even though they have been with the show since day one. Christopher Connell as Oliver Kilbourn is well cast and provides a much needed softer edge to the miners contingent. Dekka Walmsley as George Brown the leader of the group and WEA Rep is suitably proud and pompus throughout, but it is the performance of David Whitaker as Jimmy Floyd, the more simple minded member of the group that brings out all the comedy of the piece, and one can’t help but warm to his charcter throughout.

The Pitman Painters isn’t without its flaws though, without the use of the projection screens, one wouldn’t be able to see the change in the pieces timeline, with no discerning change in any of the characters physicality or costume as the years fly by. As previously said the funnier first act, starts to sag towards the end of its 70minute first half, and the second half seems even more serious because of it.

Overall The Pitman Painters is a great show, with excellent performances, and a heart warming script, and one to watch if you enjoy seeing the Underdogs do well.

Photos: Keith Pattinson
Runs until Sat 31st Oct

Beauty & The Beast - Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Beauty and the Beast
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book: Linda Woolverton
Director: Alison Pollard
Choreographer: Alison Pollard
Reviewer: Ruth Lovett

Half term would not be complete with out a trip to the theatre and this half term week sees the tried and tested Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast return to the Sheffield Lyceum. Ever popular with adults and children alike, this feel good show is always a crowd pleaser and serves as a reminder to the quality of Alan Menken’s work with a delightful score that continues to thrill audiences year on year.

Beauty and the Beast tells the tale of a young prince who is turned in to a beast as punishment for being selfish and spoiled by an enchantress disguised as an old beggar woman offering him a single rose in return for shelter on a cold, dark winter’s night. When the prince turns down the simple gift, the beautiful enchantress reveals herself and casts a spell on the Prince and his household which can only be broken if the Prince can learn to love and be loved in return. The rose offered as a gift was enchanted and to break the spell, Prince must learn to love before the last petal falls or remain a Prince forever.

To remain true to the Disney story the production requires lavish sets and relies quite heavily on strobe lighting (David Howe), pyrotechnics, animation and at times, rather excessive amounts of dry ice to create the feeling of magic and to bring the fairytale to life which delights the audience, particularly the children. The variety of costumes (Elizabeth Dennis) used bring the characters to life in a unique way, notably Lumiere the candlestick (Phil Barley) and the ensemble when portraying the various items if tableware, cutlery and crockery in the charming ‘Be Our Guest’ sequence.

This is a well rehearsed cast who, on the whole, produce a confident and well executed show and for me, the ensemble in this production really make the show, particularly in ‘Be Our Guest’ as the audience enjoy identifying the various kitchen items and the Chris Cage as the carpet is a pleasure to watch. Gaston (Ben Harlow) provides the slap stick comedy moments which can be a little excessive at times but perfect for children who find it hysterical when he routinely ridicules poor Lefou (Andrew Margerison at this performance) and Ashley Oliver as Belle and Shaun Dalton as the Beast capture the essence of Belle and the Beast respectively well although Belle does seem to be won over by the Beast very quickly and without much resistance.

Overall this production is charming and great viewing especially for families. Although not particularly emotionally challenging, Beauty and the Beast is a classic and will undoubtedly continue to thrill audiences for many years to come.

runs until Sat 31 Oct.

The Fastest Clock in the Universe – The Curve, Leicester

The Fastest Clock in the Universe
Writer: Philip Ridley
Director: Edward Dick
Reviewer: David Noble

One cannot fail to notice the Hitchcockian influence on The Fastest Clock in the Universe. Indeed, main protagonist Cougar Glass lives in a flat that contains a stuffed bird collection that Norman Bates would have envied. Yet these animals, rather than merely being the proud collection of an antiques dealer, represented instead the nihilism at the core of this performance. Philip Ridley creates an unsettling picture of one man’s quest to remain at the age of nineteen, and the appalling turpitude of his narcissistic attempts to maintain his youthful façade.

The action takes place in the rooms above an old furrier’s factory, and details the events of the umpteenth nineteenth birthday party of Cougar Glass. He is a man whose fear of wrinkles, and desire to remain on the cusp of manhood and responsibility, influences his every objective in life. This is a motivation which is extremely prevalent in modern society, but Ridley expertly twists this basic longing to look good into Cougar’s abhorrence of his age and his almost primal urge to be young again. The constant references to the cruelty of the fur trade express Ridley’s key thesis that Cougar is no different from the taxidermy mounted on the walls, perfect on the outside, yet with no personality or redeeming characteristics. The ideas portrayed are a sad, yet thought-provoking, indictment of our self-absorbed society.

However, whilst the concept of The Fastest Clock in the Universe was solid, the dialogue was not without flaw. Yes, there was the occasional beautifully opulent metaphor, and wonderfully engaging story; but one felt that, especially in first act, the conversation between characters was somewhat stilted.

Nevertheless, there were no such flaws in Mark Thompson’s marvellously intricate stage design, where the floorboards even squeaked underfoot! The clever implementation of a window, with curtain, allowed the lighting (as devised by Rick Fisher) to be cleverly disguised as moonlight and duly created a tense atmosphere.

Bearing in mind the cast comprised of exactly five people, it was an exceptional performance. Finbar Lynch was particularly outstanding in the role of the eccentric Captain Tock. He revelled as the play’s voice of reason, and although all the actors were accomplished, his timing and delivery was pitch-perfect throughout. Credit too must go to Jaime Winstone for her portrayal of the fantastically named Sherbet Gravel, as she took what could have been a unbelievably clichéd character and made it her own, intertwining humour and tragedy seamlessly.

The strange allure of this performance is that it seems better upon reflection. Ridley raises some intriguing ideas, and he leaves one pondering postmodernist notions; yet the play is at times disturbing, and is thus a difficult watch so to speak. In addition, there is an absence of a character with whom the audience can relate, and though the concepts are meant to be challenging, it is hard to become lost in the story, which definitely detracted from what was a provocative piece. Indeed, The Fastest Clock in the Universe is a rare case of the morning after being better than the night before!

Runs until November 14th.

Chicago - The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Book: Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Director: Scott Faris
Reviewer: Mathew Nicolls

Oh, Chicago. How much do I love Chicago? A lot. An awful lot. Frankly, it's bombproof, and feels like it's been around forever. This isn't actually the case, however. Bob Fosse's re-teaming with John Kander and Fred Ebb, their follow-up to the smash hit Cabaret (arguably the greatest musical of the 20th century), was met with critical bewilderment, and beaten in the awards season by the same year's A Chorus Line.

It took over 20 years, and a shift in cultural feeling, and Walter Bobbie's superb production, to ensure the world fell in love with it. Although the sleaze of crime, conspiracy and celebrity is rooted in the seamier side of 1920s Chicago, it took celebrity circus events of the '80s and '90s (think O.J Simpson) to allow this glittering black diamond of a show to connect with the public. And what a show.

Bob Fosse's ruthless vaudeville romp actually has a heart as black as coal, a snide sense of humour, and a gleeful lack of moral purpose at its centre. Even more remarkably, it doesn't have one single duff tune, and has some of the snazziest choreography you'll see on a stage all year. It's a simple story. Bored housewife Roxie Hart (Emma Barton) shoots her lover in a crime of passion. Sent to prison, she spurns the affections of her doofus husband, Amos (Adam Stafford), and dreams of a career on the vaudeville stage. But so does fellow inmate Velma Kelly (Twinnie-Lee Moore), and presided over by slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Gary Wilmot) it's a razzle-dazzle fight to the death to emerge as top dog.

I was lucky enough to see the original cast of the West End production (Ute Lemper, Ruthie Henshall, Nigel Planer, Henry Goodman) and the show's 12 year residency in London, and numerous tours - not to mention the Oscar-winning movie - is testament to its appeal. As a show, it's faultless, with a plethora of great showtunes (All That Jazz, Razzle Dazzle, Cell Block Tango etc) and whip-smart lyrics. This production steers clear of the visual excess of its 1970s predecessor, and plays all of its action on a small runway strip in front of the tiered orchestra.

Kander's score romps through rags, jazz, Charleston and tap, whilst Ebb's lyrics are as funny as they are brutal. Ken Billington's superb lighting highlights the sexy ensemble in all their glory, and the ten-piece band, conducted by Garth Hall are superlative, and the true stars of this current tour. Sadly, this time round, it feels like a three star photocopy of a five star original.

Quite frankly, and most disappointingly, none of the leads communicate the charm and charisma needed to carry off their roles. Emma Barton and Twinnie-Lee Moore tick all the boxes, but don't suggest a whisper of danger (they're playing convicted murderers), and are absurdly miscast as two ageing showgirls wondering why life has passed them by. Veteran Gary Wilmot is fine, but vocally underwhelming, and never entirely convinces as the most charming lawyer in a tough city. Adam Stafford's Amos is amiable enough, but doesn't strike much of an emotional chord. Elsewhere, accents wander, the diction isn't always clear, and this touring production's lack of va-va-voom means it pales when compared to its London incarnation (or, indeed, previous tours.)

I would have loved to report that this was as good as it's always been, but, sadly, it isn't. The ensemble are as taut and pneumatic as a chorus girl's garter belt, and give the evening some much needed oomph, but, all told, this has the distinct whiff of a poor relation who has turned up a bit late to the party. If you've never seen it live on stage, you definitely should, but if you like your musicals tight, snazzy, and dripping in energy, then it might be best to give this one a miss this time around. Oh, Chicago, how could you?

Runs until Sat 7th Nov

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Rain Man - Richmond Theatre

Rain Man
Adaptor: Dan Gordon
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Marie Kenny

Transitions from screen to stage don’t always work as well as you would hope. When Dustin Hoffman played Raymond ("Rain Man") Babbitt in the 1988 film, he gave a memorable and iconic performance. He was always going to be a really hard act to follow.

For the national tour, the producers have chosen Neil Morrissey, an actor best known for the long-running sitcom Men Behaving Badly and the voice of Bob the Builder. An interesting choice, brave or foolish I wondered.

Dan Gordon’s adaptation keeps the essence of the film, introducing us first to desperate businessman Charlie Babbit played by Oliver Chris. The play opens with a series of phone calls with clients and suppliers as he tries to avoid financial ruin. In the midst of this, he receives a call informing him that his father has died.
Emotionally he seems unmoved, but sees inheriting his fortune of $12 million as his way out of trouble. Instead, it’s revealed his father left him the car they had fallen out over many years before and some rose bushes.

The $12 million is left to the brother he had forgotten he had, his autistic brother Raymond who was placed in care when Charlie was a toddler. Motivated by his desire to receive half the money, Charlie virtually kidnaps Raymond from his doctors care and there follows a trip across the US. There begins their journey, the biggest one being the change in Charlie. As he gets to know his brother he warms to his ways, sheds his selfishness and by the end genuinely cares for the welfare of his brother.

Morrissey gives a touching performance as Raymond, establishing himself as an excellent character actor. I can’t think of the last time I went to the theatre and was truly moved by a performance. Watching Charlie teach his brother to dance, is a reminder to us all to appreciate the simple things.

Inevitably there are frequent changes of scene but thankfully Jonathan Fensom's design keeps them simple and quick. The dramatic tension is maintained with a minimum of fuss. Contrary to my expectation this play works very, very well.

Photos: Alastair Muir
Runs until Sat 31st Oct

Monday, 26 October 2009

High School the Musical 2 - The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

High School Musical 2
Writer: David Simpatico
Director: Jeff Calhoun
Choreographer: Lisa Stevens
Jim Nicholson

Something strange came over me on my way out of the theatre tonight, I think its called a smile. Well, how did that happen as I had just seen ‘High School Musical 2’. What a shock to realise I had actually enjoyed myself! What next, admit to having been a ‘Spice Girls’ fan or perhaps even to have voted for ‘John and Edward’.

Now lets think, why did I enjoy it? The plot has the depth of a tyre tread, Les Dennis is ‘Les Dennis’, most of the songs are easily forgotten (by me) and Disney have spent pence on this compared to the likes of ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

But what other stage musical could keep the attention of a thousand under nines in the audience for two and a quarter hours. These kids do not want a plot that calls for ‘Colombo’, in actual fact they get exactly what they want, a set of goodies, a horrid spoilt baddie funded by Daddies money who in the end sees the light and actually brings the boy hero, that she had wanted to steal, and our girl hero back together again.

The kids know all the songs, they sing along to every last lyric and this is when the show really does win over the likes of me and each and every child’s parents because the enthusiasm of the youngsters is passed onto us ‘olduns’ and this combined with such high energy on stage means you can not help but enjoy the night.

Kenneth Foy, the set designer, has come up with some simple but effective painted drop down scenery which gives a very unusual effect, such as the pool allowing our sunbathing beauties to be stood whilst appearing to sprawl on their lilos and the baseball diamond allowing a bases loaded home run with the aid of revolving doors.

The true songbird of the show is the fantastic Niki Mae, who as ‘Gabriella’ is the melodic pinnacle of many scenes. Liam Doyle also gives a good performance as our star pupil having won the GMTV ‘Search for a Troy’ competition.

Lisa Stevens choreography is high octane and a number of the dance routines also result in the full chorus sounding at its very best. Dance stars Matt Kennedy as ‘Ryan Evans’ and Spin (what a stage name!) as ‘Zeke Baylor’ lead the company in a fantastic staging of ‘Humuhumunukunukuapua’a’ where the volcanoes erupt in grand fashion. Spin, along with Carlton Connell, who plays ‘Chad Danforth’, bring foot tapping percussion to the kitchen as every utensil plays its part in a great version of ‘Work This Out’.

Although not a big fan of Lauren Halls, ‘Sharpay Evans’, singing voice (was I meant to be?), there is no doubt she really gets the spoilt Daddies girl off to a tee.

If you have a nipper badgering you for a night out at HSM2 and you are thinking ‘not a chance’, think again, you will actually enjoy it. Ps I did not really vote for ‘John and Edward’, honest!

Photos: Eric Richmond
Runs until Sat 31st Oct

One Little Word – M6 Theatre Company (Tour)

One Little Word
Devised by M6 Theatre Company
Director: Andy Manley
Composer: Tayo Akinbode
Reviwer: John Roberts

M6 Theatre Company have over the past 30 years gained a reputation of producing shows that are highly engaging and captivating for a younger generation of theatre goers, and One Little Word is no exception, proving that M6 are not only the best at their game but still highly original in their delivery of such plays.

One is always amazed at watching children play at how imaginative and resourceful they are in coming up with new ideas and using the simplest of things in many amazing ways, and one is also amazed at how quickly children who play together quite contently can so quickly become the worst of enemies.

In this production two children come together in a playroom, and share in ideas and objects in creating a captivating journey across the sea, but their friendship is really tested as jelousy and biterness come between these friends and disrupts their joyous play...until all there is left to do is say that ‘One Little Word.’

Eve Robertson and Luke Walker must be highly congratualted at their performance of the two children, without the use of any spoken language, they manage to hold the attention of all the children in the theatre in awestruck wonder, boucning around the stage with endless energy, their mannerisms were sharp and facial expressions bright and animated.

The simple playroom set, of pastel blue and white props, give the production a nursery/dreamlike feel, and through the sharp attention to detail by director Andy Manley the audience are always guessing and anticipating what item is going to be used next and how it is going to be brought to life/morph into new and exciting things.

The production is underscored by an original soundtrack by Tayo Akinbode which helps contain the emotional depth and playful nature of the production in an uplifting and charming composition.

One Little Word weaves the fragility of childhood playtime, friendship and jelously in a dreamlike 30 minutes, that gaurentees to touch the hearts, imaginations and fun adventures of many children and adults alike. The redeeming nature of One Little Word has never been so beautifully or creativly imagined before.

for more information on the tour: Click Here

A Small Town Anywhere - Battersea Arts Centre

A Small Town Anywhere
An audience made piece by Coney

Reviewer: Honour Bayes

It starts with an email exchange between myself and a social historian called Henri Georges, a charmingly Gaelic man whose written tone is a mixture of witty gentility and probing exploration that sets the style of the upcoming reenactment of A Small Town Anywhere. It is a correspondence founded on bartering; give me something of yourself and I will reveal something of this small town and it engenders a sense of warm familiarity between you and this place and its ancestors. But the last question posed to me ‘when you play, do you play to win or play to play?’ sends a shiver down my back; just what is my new friend Henri going to expect of me?

For this is not a theatre piece as we know it. Given the monika of a ‘theatre playing’ there are no actors involved, only audience members who are thrown into a room to play through the lives of the town’s folk during a 2 hour concertina like week.

Armed with our roles (and incredibly fun signature hats) we are given acts we must commit as a town and have to deal with the consequences of these acts. A softly spoken town crier leads us through the day and notes are delivered which serve both as external reminders of daily practicalities (talent contests, sermons, best business competitions to win) and little prompts from fellow small towners, which are both friendly and occasionally laced with a blackmailing menace. It accounts for a fairly hectic schedule to follow which at points crushes the space needed for exploration in play whilst undoubtably being a fairly necessary way of prompting interaction. Also rather puzzlingly Georges and his assistants encourage divisions and whisperings to inspire conflict which may make for good drama but could be seen as contradictory to the idea of neighborhood that we are being asked to create.

But in spite of all this gossip a small community is formed from these previously disparate strangers. Suddenly my initial worries about my skills as a performer seem silly - it is no longer about if it’s entertaining or good but if it’s the right thing to do for this town, about morals and social choices and roles which you carve out for yourself. Whether you are a bombastic official, quietly unassuming church goer, socially upstanding member of society, scathing journo or town clown, each person drives their own narrative within a communal weave which is slowly grown around us.

A theatre playing may seem like a scarily demanding idea but it is actually a very gentle experience and one in which you can be as proactive or reactive as you want. Left in our hands this leads to some unfocused moments, as with all improvisational lead experiences, but it is one which wholly engages you and puts you at the heart of the question ‘what is community?’. Most importantly the connections that are made are ones which continue after the piece has ended; at the end when we all say goodbye to each other it’s like we’re familiar friends.

A Small Town Anywhere may at points be muddled and lack the polish of a crafted piece but in this individualistic world, experiences like this are wholly important in highlighting that it is still possible for each of us to be part of something and not just to be pulling apart in different directions. I still may not know what a community is, but I know now that it potentially lies within any group and we simply need to put ourselves in the right place to find and form it.
Photos: Briony Campbell
Runs until 7 November

wAve - Greenwhich Theatre (Tour)

wAve by Sung Rno
Director: Jonathan May

Reviewer: Gareth Ellis

British East Asian theatre company, Yellow Earth’s new play is described as a madcap farce which veers to tragedy, loosely based on the Medea myth.

When a Korean housewife’s American life starts to crumble around her, and her unloving husband is propelled to fame, she is forced to face herself and is completely overwhelmed by what she finds. Although this may sound reasonably straightforward, it is packaged in a production of strange script and greedy direction.

At the opening of the play we are shown what seems to be the start to a promising night, with a matrix-style Greek chorus and a man who can seemingly control time and space; but then they disappear for the entire play until the final two minutes, which leaves us wondering was there any point in having them there at all?

Unfortunately, what lets this production down is that the director, Jonathan Man obviously was not critical enough of his own direction. What we are left with is too many clashing theatrical devices and no clear concept to link the play from beginning to end; there were serious, expressionistic monologues delivered right next to wacky comedy acting and pastiche musical numbers…this sounds exciting, but it was cringe worthy.

The ensemble acted well (despite some dubious US accents) and did the best they could with a lousy script and 2D characters, especially Louise Mai Newberry as M. The writing is probably one of the reasons Man had trouble putting it on stage convincingly, the comedy acting (way too OTT) combined with impossible scenarios and characters we don’t believe in meant the laughs were too far between and chuckles at best. I found myself groaning at all the computer/robot puns concerning the robot actress created from the DNA of Marilyn Monroe (don’t ask).

The one good comedy element came from Tina Chiang and Jay Oliver Yip as TV hosts Chinky and Gooky, although their stand-up style scenes did nothing for the plot and stole the show.

On the whole, what we have here is a night of utter confusion for all involved which could have benefited from stricter direction, more conceptualisation and a leaner, more consistent and believable script.

Photos: Manuel Harlan

For more info on the tour, Click Here

The Nolans: I’m In The Mood Again - The Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle upon Tyne

The Nolans: I'm In The Mood Again
Creative Director: Kim Gavin
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The recent reforming of The Bay City Rollers, The Osmonds, Kajagoogoo and Spandau Ballet seems to suggest that the ‘getting-back-together’ of seventies and eighties pop groups is a road well-travelled. Now one of the UK’s greatest girl groups, The Nolans, are proving that their revival path is paved purely with gold as they perform to sell-out venues across the country.

The wholesome Irish girls first took the pop scene by storm in 1974 and subsequently had a string of hits, the most notable being ‘I’m In The Mood For Dancing.’ They also supported both Frank Sinatra and Engelbert Humperdinck on major tours and sold more records than The Beatles in Japan.

The current line-up – Bernie, Linda, Coleen and Maureen – were responsible for the group’s most successful period between 1980 and 1982, making hits out of songs including ‘Don’t Make Waves’, ‘Gotta Pull Myself Together’, ‘Who’s Gonna Rock You’ and ‘Chemistry.’

Looking fabulous in their forties and fifties, the girls have now adopted a more stylish and sophisticated look. Gone are the spandex jumpsuits, the platforms and the boob-tubes and in come figure-hugging, curve-enhancing trouser suits, killer-heels and cocktail dresses.

The concert is billed as ‘the ultimate girls’ night out’ and that’s exactly what it is, incorporating all their biggest hits and best-remembered songs with the greatest girl anthems of modern times and a few surprises, too. Time has not diminished their ability to put on a show of the highest quality and their immaculate harmonies and clever choreography still result in women of a certain age leaping to their feet and dancing round their handbags as though they were still sixteen.

Technically, the concert is spectacular – a stunning set, great lighting design, a terrific sound system, pyrotechnics and even seven gorgeous, scantily-clad male dancers to cavort around the girls and spice up the show. The Nolan treatment is given to classics such as Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, ‘It’s Raining Men’ by The Weather Girls, The Bangles’ ‘Eternal Flame’, ‘Chain Reaction’ by Diana Ross, Girls Aloud’s ‘The Promise’ and disco diva Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive.’

Another highlight of the show was the segment in which the ladies step forward, individually, to perform a solo. Each of the songs seemed to match the voice and personality of the singer. Coleen gave a flirty version of Alesha Dixon’s ‘The Boy Does Nothing’, Linda sang an emotionally-charged cover of Duffy’s ‘Mercy’, Maureen opted for Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’ and Bernie rounded off with Pink’s ‘So What.’

But, as you might have guessed, it was their own back catalogue that really raised the roof and ‘Attention To Me’, ‘Don’t Love Me Too Hard’ and ‘Crashing Down’ were rapturously received. One of the nicest moments of the show came when the group took their bows and left the stage. Not having performed their trademark track, ‘I’m In The Mood For Dancing’, the audience spontaneously erupted into an impromptu chorus of the song and were rewarded with the reappearance of the divas to deliver the number they wanted. Magical.

The Nolan’s family motto has always been ‘family first, showbiz second’ and they remained true to form with this show. Bernie’s husband, Steve Doneathy, was on drums, whilst Coleen’s husband, Ray Fensome played guitar. The sensational support act were family members, too, in the shape of Coleen’s son’s, Shane and Jake.

After an amazing evening’s entertainment, one thing is certain – I’m definitely in the mood again!

The tour continues at Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Sheffield, Hammersmith, Doncaster, Edinburgh, Dublin, Killarney, Castlebar and Belfast.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Dorian Gray - Lowry Theatre, Salford

Dorian Gray
Devisor/Director: Matthew Bourne
Composer: Terry Davies
Reviewer: Laura Asbury

Sexy, stylish and elegantly conceived, Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray is a modern day exploration of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, first published in 1890. Bourne’s Twenty First Century injection into this gothic tale cleverly readdresses themes of alienation, beauty and sexual repression by exposing the sinister superficiality of the idealised image of the modern celebrity and the futility of hedonism.

Although this production has faced tough criticism in the past for its overt homoeroticism and in-your-face references to sex (in comparison to the hidden subtleties of Wilde’s poeticism), Bourne is basking in his choreographic comfort zone here and the delightfully conceptual transgression from the novel deserves much critical acclaim. Bourne’s Dorian becomes the anti-hero: avariciously hungry for fame, dangerous adventure and glamorous reputation, whilst slowly, with the devious influences of Lady H (Lord Henry in the novel) and Basil Hallward (painter in the novel, now fashion photographer), sinks into a life of debauchery with fatal consequences.

Basil, played magnificently by Jason Piper as the sexually arrogant and sleazy photographer, creates the striking image that lingers around the memory of this work: a poster image promoting the young, attractively masculine Dorian for a male perfume, Immortal pour Homme. This is effectively followed by a celebrity appearance for Dorian: a send up of the chat show by Jonathon Ross (including the tacky flamboyancy of the four puffs and a piano) and is an ingenious spectacle of Bourne’s inventive skill and imagination. Throughout the production, the poster begins to physically distort as the relationship between Dorian, his lover Cyril Vane, Basil and Lady H begin to reveal the sinister undercurrents of strange rumors, curious affairs and whispered scandals.

Intimate moments of sculptural movement between Dorian and Basil echo images of contact improvisation; a careful investigation and unraveling of their naked flesh that mold, twist and violently wrap around each other in deep affection and sexual tension. Bourne’s use of quirky gesture, colourful imagery and immaculate execution of imagination contrasts these erotically hypnotic sections with high-energy ensemble sections in unison. Beautifully embodied by Richard Winsor as Dorian, this production will appeal to both lovers of the novel and theatre enthusiasts with its ability to capture varying essences of our modern world.

Runs until Sat 24 Oct

The 14th Tale - Battersea Arts Centre

The 14th Tale
Writer: Inua Ellam
Reviewer: Marie Kenny

At some point we have to stop being children and grow up. At some point we stop falling over and being scooped up by our parents, at some point the tables turn and it’s quite scary.

Written and performed by Inua Ellam’s, ‘The 14th Tale’ is a 55 minute monologue which tells the tale of his transition from boy to man. His performance is a montage of moments from his early childhood in Nigeria and then the move to England for the remainder of his school years. He shows us a mischievious youth, always looking for the next practical joke with an unstoppable energy for life.

His story is inter-laced with flash forward scenes of him anxiously pacing, anxiously waiting. The tension is raised by the fact that throughout the performance he appears to be wearing blood stained clothes. Piece by piece the story unravels and as the tension builds we are left expecting something more dramatic than his father having a stroke. And yet, in hindsight, in youth, what is more scary than seeing a parent ‘fall’?

Ellam’s shows us how life takes us by surprise. In one particularly funny moment, he recreates sneaking into an unfaithful ex-girlfriends’ apartment in the middle of the night and taking out his revenge by filling her shower head with red acyrilic paint. He’s caught by his phone ringing, his phone ringing to tell him his father has been admitted to hospital.

This is a simple performance piece, one chair and one man, an impressive storyteller.

Runs until 31st Oct

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Boom - Greenwhich Theatre (Tour)

Writer: Jean Tay
Director: Philippe Cherbonnier
Reviewer: Gareth Ellis

Yellow Earth are a British East Asian theatre company, who mix Western performance styles with stories and themes inspired by the East, and this was done particularly well in Boom. The story follows a young property developer, trying to persuade his mother to move out of the old family apartment and into a new development. Meanwhile, a government worker who can talk to corpses (yes, you read that right) is trying to solve problems of his own.

Boom started with a bang, Cherbonnier’s stylised direction worked well to set up the play and introduce the various characters quickly, and the script made sure that a succession of short, sharp scenes with slick changes kept the audience’s interest. The script was at times very funny with a number of witty one-liners, and a touch of depth was brought with flashbacks, indicated very effectively by Chapman’s music.

At times I felt the fun script was a bit too simple, lacking the mental engagement required to grab an audience and without any major unforeseeable plot twists – except the odd fact that one of the characters can speak to corpses, which was revealed bluntly and did not sit well within the course of the play.

Wai Yin Kwok’s stylised, symbolic set was successful in showing the relationship between new and old, reflecting the story line, and the simplistic lighting worked very well to evoke setting and mood, especially during the flashbacks.

The strength of the small ensemble was evident in bringing the play to life and all suited their roles, but the best performances of the evening were given by Tina Chiang as Mother, who immediately won over the audience with great delivery of lines and facial expressions, and Ashley Alymann in his lively variety of pocket-sized roles.

On the whole, Boom is a warm evening of light entertainment, with a good cast and a clear direction, though at times it could benefit from a few twists, especially towards the end where the play just seemed to arrive without much of a climax at all. If you are looking for an uncomplicated comedy for all ages, then Boom may just be the thing you are looking for.

Boom is currently touring the UK for more info click here

Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall - Chichester Festival Theatre

Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall
Adaptors: Ben Power and Tim Carroll
Directed by Tim Carroll
Reviewer: Jonathan Lewis

The voice of the twentysomething collective cries out, Spike who? As I recall someone important said something along time ago about Spike Milligan, "Never in the field of alternative comedy has so much been owed by so many to just one man. A man who not only crafted the bar of alternative and anarchic comedy but raised to a level that many tried and are still failing to reach.

To understand the comedian is to understand the traumatic events that he experienced as a young man during world war two. Spike was exposed to many violent events that shaped his humour and allowed him to develop comedy as a defence against personal tragedy and loss.

The adaptation by Ben Power and Tim Carroll of Spike's book, Adolf Hitler my part in his downfall, takes us on the journey from conscription, to the frontline of battle in a British field artillery unit, Battery D. The audience is invited to join the emotional rollercoaster that is Gunner Milligan and his mates experiences battling the forces of Nazi Germany. From El Alamein to Monte Cassino we follow the trials and tribulations of Battery D, Milligan played by debutant, Sholto Morgan and also Dominic Green, William Findley, David Morley Hale and Matthew Devereux, the splendidly multi talented, MC.

The waltz through world war two is delivered in monologue, dialogue, song and dance. The audience gain a developing sense of empathy and understanding for the hell that is warfare and the tedium that is the impending wait for warfare. The musical numbers are at regular points and often interrupt moments of sadness, loss or reflection. You genuinely feel uplifted by the singing and playing and gain the sense that no one died in vain and that life must carry on. The part of Milligan played by Sholto Morgan in his professional debut was delivered with high levels of excitement. Morgan grew with the confidence of a soldier who becomes accustomed to the falling shells.

Morgan was ably supported and accompanied throughout by the wonderfully talented boys of Battery D. Such high levels of ability in both song and playing was a fine reflection of the talent we have available in British theatre today. The versatility of the boys in playing various instruments was commendable.

Occasionally the transitions between sketches were protracted, but this seemed to become an irrelevance, the performances were always worth waiting for. The relationships between the "boys" was handled with great sensitivity and the support for injured comrades both physically and psychologiocally was exceptional. The bonds of friendship carved in war were believeable and reflect a very slick preparation, production (Greg Ripley Duggan) and direction (Tim Carroll)

The musical performances are in themselves a reason that you have to experience this show. The audience were humming, some even singing and foot tapping to old time favourites such as Pennies from Heaven, Tangerine and Ive got a girl in Kalamazoo. The highlight though was the "ballad of tommy trinder" lyrics by Harry Edgington 1943 and music by Oliver Jackson 2009. A wonderfully entertaining song that showcases the talents of the cast exceptionally, all performed to pile suffering Milligan who is lying vertically in his sick bed!

Power and Carroll have resurrected comedy genius and enabled a new generation to experience the genius of Spike Milligan. Whilst Carroll's direction enabled the boys of Battery D to recreate the amateur NAAFI canteen performance through slick numbers and occasional ad lib. This is a performance for both the Wii Collective and Need a Wee generation to laugh the evening away together.

Runs until Sat 24th Oct

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Caucasian Chalk Circle - Richmond Theatre

The Caucasian Chalk Circle
by Betrolt Brecht
In a new translation by Alistair Beaton
Director: Nancy Meckler
Reviewer: James Higgins

This new version of Brecht's famous play is a joint production between A Shared Experience, Nottingham Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse. The original version was written in 1944 whilst Brecht was in exile from Germany in America. It is based on a reworking of the old 14th century Chinese play The Circle of Chalk.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is not an enquiry into the dispute over ownership presented in the prologue but a celebration of the assignment of the land to "those that are good for it"In the prologue the people from two farm collectives debate their respective titles to ownership of a piece of land.

A singer arrives who agrees to tell the tale based on an old legend but this time set among the ruins of a war ravaged Caucasian village. The workings of this complex play begin as the singer starts to set the scene, aided and abetted by a cast of 11 playing over 50 different roles all whilst a full choir provide ample backing vocals.

As war rages, a maid (Grusha) to the governor's wife rescues baby Michael, the abandoned heir left behind in the wake of the destruction. She plots a lonely path through desolate countryside in a bid to find safety for herself and her adopted child in the mountains.

The set (designed by Colin Richmond) was large and quite overpowering. The choir sat among the wooden set looking down onto the stage as if a mirror image of the real audience giving the actors a very limited area in which to perform. A large choir wasn't really needed and served only to sometimes distract from the main action.

What main action there was though, the singer (James Clyde) was in fantastic voice throughout the first half as the hypnotic sound track drifted off the expertly played accordion that accompanied his tale. I wish they had dispensed with the hand microphone both for the singer and confusingly for some of the other roles later as they were unnecessary props, especially considering that half the songs were performed without and performed well. James Clyde and Matti Houghton (Gruscha) especially, sang with strength and feeling.

The first half of the play flowed quite slowly and was fairly long, in the second half the action really picked up and the audience was kept on its toes. Despite the plays sombre context some beautiful comedic touches were displayed throughout that really helped to lighten the mood.

The cast gave all round excellent performances in what must have been a real test of endurance for them. The pick of the bunch was Matti Houghton who gave an amazing and spirited performance as Grusha and was the only member of the entire cast to play a solitary role. Not content with already wowing with his vocal ability, James Clyde then assumed the role of Azduk (the judge) during the second half and was outstanding. Peter Bankolé was charming and convincing as the soldier that returns to seek his sweetheart Grusha, Christian Patterson (Fat Prince/Lavrenti/Innkeeper) moved in and out of complicated roles with ease and Nicholas Asbury was brilliant as the evil sergeant/Jussup/Governor.

This is a story that has everything for the audience; a tale of conflict, morality, peace, war and poverty. If you go and see it, and if you can keep up, you may even find it has a happy ending too !

Photos: Keith Patterson
Runs until 24th October.

The Fahrenheit Twins - Unity Theatre, Liverpool

The Fahrenheit Twins
Director: Matthew Dunster
Reviewer: Kate Cotterell

It is unusual to see a story so slowly told and intricately crafted but Told by an Idiot’s Fahrenheit Twins, at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre until Saturday 24th October, is ninety minutes in which to completely lose yourself in the magic of theatre and the worlds that it can so simply and yet so distinctly create.

Having never read (or even heard of) the Michel Faber short story ‘The Fahrenheit Twins’, I had no preconceived ideas about what Told By An Idiot’s new touring piece might be about. The story is a simple one – two arctic explorers take off to study the mysterious Gooey Inouye tribe in their natural habitat, they leave with excitement and anticipation and their years in the icy wilderness, during which they bear two children (the twins of the title), learn much about their unusual subjects and fall out of love with each other. It is the twins, Tainta-lilith and Marco-caine, who are the real stars characters and their explosion onto the stage – climbing up the large snow slop in the middle of the set and sliding down with childlike joy and giddy laughter – can’t help but bring a smile to your face.

The performance is not filled with action or stand out moments of emotion or drama, it moves slowly and with purpose between each interesting and innocent moment of the children’s lives – as they learn about what lies beyond their home, kill foxes and grow trees and record all of their new understanding in their Book of Knowledge. A bath time story from their mother fills them with fear about the future and their sole purpose becomes stopping time, a quest that is punctuated by the ever present sound of the cuckoo clock and culminates in the death of their mother – the ultimate end of their childhood innocence. As they embark on a Hansel and Gretel style journey to reunite their mother with the Universe and find a final resting place for her their understanding of life, family and love changes – giving an interesting message about the loss of innocence that we must all face in the end.

The two actors, Paul Hunter and Hayley Carmichael, who play the 4 characters of Mother and Father and the Twins, do so beautifully – at times switching between the characters almost seamlessly and within moments. The brilliantly designed costumes add to this effect, but it is the physical portrayal of the characters by Hunter and Carmichael that is so expertly done and makes the four different characters so believable. The two actors also play the family dogs and the foxes that live on the periphery of the story – appearing at intervals to add moments of comedy and light relief, though after much deliberation I am still a bit baffled as to their real purpose!

The whole production is exquisite and has clearly been carefully and precisely put together, from the delightful and versatile snow set designed by Naomi Wilkinson to the wonderful lighting and sound. A perfect show for those who love physical theatre and are looking for a light and comfortable journey through an interesting and intriguing world.

Runs until Sat 24th Oct

Joseph - The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Joseph & his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Music: Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Bill Kenwright
Reviewer: John Roberts

Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been a family favourite for many years, thrusting many male celebrities into the colourful coat and loin cloth, including Jason Donavan, Philip Schofield, Darren Day, Donny Osmond and the late Stephen Gately but for the last two years producer Bill Kenwright has used Craig Chalmers one of the finalists from BBC’s search for the West End Joseph (which was won by Lee Meade.) This formula has worked a treat for producer/director Kenwright in past shows but unfortunately this current lead falls remarkably short and flat compared to the high quality of the rest of the production.

The first thing that strikes you with this production is the set designed by Sean Cavanagh, which is vibrant and has a feel of an illustrated book, and the brilliantly colourful costumes, some of which wouldn’t look out of place in a carnival really stood out. The show also excels in some of the best stage lighting seen in a touring production for a long time designed by Mark Howett it really helps to add to the atmosphere of the production, one especially liked the LED lights on the staircase and the down lights used as prison bars in Go Go Go Joseph.

Director Bill Kenwright has littered the show with many light and comic moments, from the Inflatable sheep, to moments of comic voice over’s and parodies of Elvis and American High School Jocks and Cheerleaders, these element keep the show feeling fresh and never lacks in pace...that is until the very end of the production when we are greeted with the Mega Mix, one can understand having a few verses as a reprise during the curtain call but the gratuitous and indulgent megamiz goes beyond the pale, after all why do we need fifteen minutes of songs we have only just listened to sung to us again with a dreadfully loud 90’s club mix backing track?

Uniformly the cast are excellent throughout, Tara Bethan gave a stunning performance as the Narrator, again another contestant from a BBC talent show this time the search for Nancy, her vocals were warm and seductive and her innocent like charm shone in her eyes as she led the audience through the story of Joseph. Stephen Webb as the Pharaoh could shake his hips like no other, seductively weaving his Elvis like charms to all the women in the audience, relishing his time on the stage. Richard J Hunt is also worthy of high praise as the Baker/Judah being highly animated throughout and displaying excellent comic timing he really has excellent stage presence and a real scene stealer.

But this Is Joseph...and you really do need an actor that has charm and charisma to hold the cast together but Craig Chalmers is more wooden and less enigmatic than a mannequin in Marks & Spencer’s and he really does pull the energy and overall impact of the show right down especially with his weak and overly nasal vocals...Mr Kenwright it is time for a change, let the loin cloth and coat grace someone new and bring a new life to what otherwise is a highly enjoyable evening.

Runs until Sat 24th Oct
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