Friday, 27 November 2009

La Clique - Roundhouse Theatre, London

La Clique
Reviewer: Ian Foster

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

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

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

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

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

Runs until 17th Jan 2010

Treasure Island - Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarbourgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days of Significance - Lowry Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runs until Sat 28th Nov

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Pride & Prejudice - Richmond Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runs until 28th November

Joesph - Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runs until Sat 29th November

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Christmas with The Rat Pack - Darlington Civic Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs Warrens Profession - Chichester Festival Theatre

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

Reviewer: Elizabeth Vile

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

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

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

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

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

Runs until Sat 28th Nov

Scrooge - Liverpool Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

runs until Sat 28th Nov

Monday, 23 November 2009

High School Musical 2 - The Opera House, Manchester

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

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

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

Runs until Sat 28th Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Henri Met Oscar - Barons Court Theatre, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runs until Sun 29th Nov

Insane in the Brain - Lowry Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Mother Goose - The Oldham Coliseum

Mother Goose
Writer: Eric Potts
Director: Kevin Shaw
Reviewers- Mr and Mrs Patrick. Phoebe (8) and Amanda (13).

Mother Goose is a pantomime I have never seen before and I didn’t really know what to expect. As with all pantomimes, there is a poor family trying to make money to pay rent and survive when their lives change for the better or do they really????? Well of course it wouldn’t be as easy as all that due to it being the season of all silly shows, where men play women and women play men.
The Goose family have become rich due to Priscilla their adorable goose laying golden eggs up to 10 a day. When Mother Goose is given a choice by the evil Baron to hand over Priscilla in return for eternal youth and beauty, the real show begins.

Director Kevin Shaw has put together a show with amazing effect’s, everything in the story emanates a well directed, well rehearsed and well performed presentation, from the dances, the fighting and the acting. You can tell the actors have worked together before as they have great chemistry between them, so even when they forget their lines it doesn’t matter they just adlib which only adds to the comedy of the performance.

Celia Perkins makes a welcome return to the Coliseum as a freelance designer and has done an excellent job on the scenery and the costumes they were outstanding. The scenery although very basic was multi-coloured and served its purpose very well. It was appropriately used during the show, with scenery changes taking place so smoothly they did not detract from the acting on the stage. The Dames dresses are always over the top in Pantos and they didn’t disappoint, with an all day breakfast dress, a Christmas tree frock and a Golden egg gown to name just a few. All of the costumes in the show are well made and really vibrant and Celia should be proud of this.

The musical director Dave Bintley and the Choreographer Beverley Edmunds have put together a fabulous set of songs and dances. With the songs making the audience want to sing along. The songs were up to date with Bad Boys by Alexandra Burke even making it in to the routine.

It would be unfair to pick out a particular member of the cast for outstanding performance as they all work extremely hard during the show and never once leave you feeling like they should get off the stage. Andonis Anthony who plays the Baron of Rochdalia is excellent and for the adults who watch him it is very comical in the way he portrays the evil Man in such a camp manner, thus making his character all the more entertaining.
Patrick Bridgman and Linzi Matthews played the parts of Squire Squander, King of Goose Land and Fairy Feathers and Priscilla respectively. Although these two actors played the smaller parts in the show they both deserve credit for their performance, I was amazed by Linzi’s singing, as Fairy Feathers she only gets to sing one solo during the show yet with her talent she should really be given more.

Mother Goose played by Fine Time Fontane and Billy Goose played by Richard J Fletcher are two of the most outstanding performers on stage, they interact with each other perfectly and with the audience as well. Amanda’s favourite part was the fighting scene as it was very realistic and very well directed by Renny Krupinski. Phoebe enjoyed the singing and dancing the most and especially loved seeing the new dresses Mother Goose kept appearing in.

This is a Panto that is really worth seeing. My family went last year to watch Aladdin and enjoyed that also. Considering there are no A list celebrities in this cast they do their job just as good as any all name cast can do if not better. We did a 100 mile round trip to see this panto and it was worth it! This show is amazing for all ages to see, the joking, the singing and the fighting are great for all ages. So if you don’t have the money this year to watch a 'Star Studded' pantomime (why would you?) then get yourself to The Oldham Coliseum and watch Mother Goose I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Photos: Ian Tilton
Runs until Sat 9th Jan 2010

Roger McGough, That Awkward Age Tour - Liverpool Playhouse

That Awkward Age Tour
Writer/Performer: Roger McGough
Reviwers T& L Andrewes

Faced with writing a review of a poet reading his own work one might wonder whether to focus on performing capacity or literary merit. With actors, the furthering of the literary value depends on the quality of the performance. With a poet maybe we are looking for something different. W.B.Yeats for example uttered his words in a most tedious monotone, while T.S.Elliot was elegantly expressive. Actors reading sometimes err on the side of the histrionic (the last thing you want) , although some, such as Tim Piggot-Smith or Timothy West hit absolutely the right balance,I suppose what we look for is a sort of authenticity of expression: poetry is in the mind but also in the voice.

Two current exemplars of this would be Ian McMillan and John Hegley, but before these were famously the Liverpool Poets, represented tonight by Roger McGough, introducing to his home town his latest publication.

In him we find the best qualities of this kind of presentation: conversational tone, unaffected manner and real clarity, receiving a very warm and enthusiastic response from his own people. As a poet he could be considered essentially a humourist - rather a Hillaire Belloc- with the added ingredient of unexpected and surreal plays on words. However, whatever comparisons one might make, he is one of the great originals who with his fellows set the form which was seen tonight.

This evening McGough drew mainly on his new publication, That Awkward Age - this being any point between birth and death!He began, cleverly, with poems on Health and Safety and mobile phones.We were then treated to poems which addressed the inanimate, ranging from Meccano through bed-time stories, contact lenses, planes and even Macca's trousers.His sometimes surreal and idiosyncratic sideways look at the ordinary everyday encourages the rest of us to view the mundane with new eyes and to find the humour around us. His quirky wit runs throughout, even when in more serious mood, 'I Am Sleeping' for instance.

We revelled in an example of McGough's sense of fun in an anecdote about Carol Ann Duffy. At a party two days after her appointment, McGough announced that The Queen had died - pure mischief. A further nod in the direction of Duffy is his selection of 'husband 'poems including Mr Nightingale, Mr Of Arc and Mr Mae West, a refernce to Duffy's The World's Wife' about the wives of famous men.

There is a contemplative note in 'A Fine Romance', which reflects on a possible future in which Alzheimer's transforms the loved into strangers.One's inevitable demise also appears in 'Payback Time' The humour is back, this is one for my kids to read!

In a way this evening was a reviwers nightmare - how could one jot down even one word during the programme, and risk missing any delicious piece of subtlety and wit. The Liverpool audience have held McGough in esteem since Scaffold days and demonstrated it in their response tonight. This was a memorable evening and if he was back tomorrow, we'd all be there.

Photo:Peter Everard Smith
Reviewed Friday 20th Nov at The Liverpool Playhouse for more info on Roger click here

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Jump! - Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Writer: Lisa McGee
Director: Max Roberts
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The English premiere of ‘Jump!’ – it has previously been performed in Northern Ireland and New York – is billed as ‘a fast-paced dark comedy . . . played out like a Tarantino movie.’The action takes place during New Year’s Eve on Tyneside. Ross (Harry Hepple) and Johnny (James Baxter), a pair of small-time crooks and novice hit-men meet for a pint as they prepare for a one-off contract killing to settle a gambling debt that they are unable to pay back.
Meanwhile, good-time girls Marie (Vicky Elliott), Dara (Laura Norton) and Hannah (Bronagh Taggart) are lining the drinks up, ready to celebrate a big night out on the town. And, on the High Level Bridge, two strangers, Pearce (Neil Grainger) and Greta (Frances McNamee), who are both intent on committing suicide, encounter each other and consider their fates.

As the plot moves along, we find out that the lives of these seven desperate characters are intertwined through a series of coincidental moments and that, during the course of the evening, each of their lives will be changed forever. The writing is fast-paced and the dialogue punchy, although there’s a considerable amount of unnecessary bad language.

With the crème-de-la-crème of talented young North-east actors taking on the roles, the performances – as you would expect – are of a high standard. Elliott, Norton and Taggart rub along wonderfully as they bicker, bitch and backbite, whilst Grainger and McNamee both give taut and edgy performances as they teeter on the ledge of the bridge. The least convincing performances came from Baxter and Hepple, who both seem to try to manufacture an onstage chemistry that didn’t occur organically.

Isla Shaw is to be commended for her set design, particularly the eerily realistic portion of the High Level Bridge that looms over the rest of the stage. The two-tier set dominates the intimate main theatre, providing the audience with an increased sense of involvement. James Whiteside’s lighting design and Martin Hodgson’s sound design reinforce this, too.

There are some gaffes in the script with relation to geography that should have been picked up during the rehearsal process. Anyone from Newcastle or the surrounding area will confirm that when you cross the High Level Bridge, from whichever direction, you do not end up in Byker.

Although ‘Jump!’ is not the best thing that I have seen at Live Theatre – it follows productions including ‘The Pitmen Painters’, ‘Looking For Buddy’, ‘Me & Cilla’ and ‘You Couldn’t Make It Up’ – it is, nevertheless, a piece that contains some nice moments of black humour, numerous twists, and some lovely one-liners. That said, the success of the play on press night, I felt, owed more to the overall quality of the performances than it did to the brilliance of the writing.

‘Jump’ runs until Sat 5th Dec

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Adventures of Mr Brouček - Theatre Royal, Newcastle

The Adventures of Mr Brouček
Composer: Leoš Janáček
Conductor: Martin André
Director: John Fulljames
Reviewer: Ian Cain

If your taste in entertainment veers toward the zany, bizarre, surreal or downright nutty, then this is probably the opera for you. Be prepared to suspend your disbelief as you are introduced to Mr Matěj Brouček, a boring and opinionated property landlord and regular drinker at The Vikárka Inn.

The opera is created from two novels; ‘The Excursion of Mr Brouček to the 15th Century’ and ‘The Excursion of Mr Brouček to the Moon.’Brouček is a figure of ridicule at the Inn and his musings are scoffed at and berated by the student clientele - so much so that each night he drowns his sorrows in beer. After an argument about the existence of life on the moon, Brouček falls over and dreams of his theory.

At this point, we are transported to a futuristic society populated by a civilisation that does not eat, but finds nourishment from the scent of flowers. Brouček’s coarse view of women, his ‘cannibalism’ (resulting from a penchant for sausages) and constant reference to his nose offends the inhabitants and he is forced to flee the Moon – though not before we are treated to a musical scene that could easily have been mistaken for a pastiche of a Eurovision Song Contest entry routine!

The following evening, after debating the existence of underground tunnels in Prague, Brouček falls over in the cellar of The Vikárka and his alcohol-induced fantasy sees him transported back to 1420 and into the midst of a terrifying Czech battle. Here, he fares no better than he did on the Moon and ends up being sentenced to death for cowardice.

The humour is almost Monty Python-esque and Brouček is a kind of cross between an operatic Mr Bean and a drunken ‘Doctor Who’, travelling back and forth in time through beer-induced dreams. It’s as brilliant as it is barmy.John Graham-Hall is magnificent as Mr Brouček and, despite the fact that the character is an anti-hero, you do find yourself rooting for the nit-wit. He is supported by a fantastic cast and several are particularly worthy of a mention.

Anne Sophie Duprels, as Málinka had my fellow critics and I convinced that her constant limp was a quirk of the character – in actual fact she had sustained a nasty sprain of the ankle during a fall down a flight of stairs on the Paris Metro system! A trouper, indeed, she gave a vibrant and hugely enjoyable performance despite, undoubtedly, being in a state of considerable discomfort.

Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, as Mazal, Donald Maxwell, as Wϋrfl, Frances McCafferty, as the Housekeeper, and Jonathan Best, as the Sacristan, all added considerably to the fun and eccentricity of the piece.A true ensemble piece with a large cast and colourful characters, this major production – which is co-produced by Opera North and Scottish Opera – is a wholly enjoyable, if slightly bonkers, experience.

Photos: Alastair Muir
Reviewed at Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne on Thursday 19th November 2009.

Werther - Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Writer: Jules Massenet
Conductor: Richard Farnes
Director: Tom Cairns
Reviewer: Ian Cain

For an opera novice, such as myself, Jules Massenet’s ‘Werther’ is the perfect introductory piece. The plot is remarkably uncomplicated, there are no complex sub-plots to try to keep track of and, although it is performed in French, there are English titles provided on screens at each side of the stage. What could be easier or more patron-friendly?

A rarely performed opera, ‘Werther’ is based upon Goethe’s novel, ‘The Sorrows of the Young Werther’ and beautifully staged in a new production, directed by Tom Cairns for Opera North. The story unfolds in an idyllic, pastoral village during the summer. Charlotte (Alice Coote), the eldest daughter of the local magistrate (Donald Maxwell), promised her dying mother that she would raise her brothers and sisters, look after her ageing father, and take charge of the running of the house. Before her untimely death, Charlotte’s mother also found time to indulge in a spot of match-making and has betrothed her daughter to Albert (Peter Savidge) – well, you know what mother’s are like!

Enter Werther (Paul Nilon), an outsider with an impressive reputation and promising prospects, who has been asked by the magistrate to accompany Charlotte to the local ball because Albert is away on business. The pair develop an attraction to each other immediately, but Charlotte reveals that she is to marry Albert upon his return. Werther is devastated.

After a brief interlude to allow for a change of scene, Act Two is set during the autumn. Albert and Charlotte are now married, and in a private moment during the local Pastor’s golden wedding anniversary, he asks her if she is happy. Overhearing this conversation, Werther’s despair deepens at the thought that Charlotte might have been his.

Rather smugly, Albert tells Werther that he understands how lucky he is and how his good fortune is also Werther’s bad luck. Graciously, Werther reassures Albert that his feelings for Charlotte are now strictly platonic, yet he still seeks out Charlotte in an attempt to force her to reveal her true feelings for him. Bound by her overwhelming sense of duty, Charlotte refuses and asks Werther to go away for a while and return at Christmas, believing that the separation will allow them to get over one another. Werther leaves, vowing never to return.

Act Four picks up the story on Christmas Eve. With Albert away again, Charlotte is poring over letters that she has received from Werther during his absence. Her sister, Sophie (Fflur Wyn) visits and is concerned at Charlotte’s distress and persuades her to join the rest of the family for Christmas. After Sophie leaves, Werther returns, pleading Charlotte to confess her love but she resists him once more and he leaves. Shortly after, Albert returns home and demands to know if Werther has visited Charlotte. She is spared having to answer by the interruption of a servant who brings a letter from Werther, asking to borrow Albert’s gun.Charlotte races from the house, hoping to reach Werther in time to declare her love for him and prevent him from taking his life and the story soon reaches its dramatic climax.

‘Werther’ is a stunning piece with much to applaud. Although the dialogue plunges deeply and unashamedly into the realms of hyperbole, it is beautifully poetic and littered with glorious similes and metaphors. The performances are of the highest standard, particularly those of Paul Nilon (playing the title role) and Alice Coote (Charlotte). Indeed, it is difficult to believe that Miss Coote has only recently recovered from a bout of swine flu. It certainly did not show in her performance.

The huge orchestra, conducted by Richard Farnes, sprawls out of the pit and occupies a substantial portion of the stalls, adding to the dramatic impact considerably.Hildegard Bechtler has designed settings that are stunningly simplistic, yet extremely effective and they are exquisitely lit by Charles Balfour. ‘Werther’ is an engaging story of star-crossed lovers that I cannot recommend strongly enough. I loved it!

Photos: Clive Barda
‘Werther’ is at Theatre Royal, Newcastle on Wednesday 18th November and Saturday 21st November 2009.

Jest End - Jermyn Street Theatre. London

Jest End
Writer/Director: Gary Lake
Musical Supervisor: Gareth Ellis
Choreographer: Rebecca Howell
Musical Director: Bob Broad

Reviewer: Elizabeth Vile

If you are a fan of Musical Theatre, know a bit about the current situation of the West End and enjoy watching actors lovingly send up their profession then this is the show for you.

The Jermyn Street Theatre is the perfect space for this production which only uses the bare essentials. With a cast of four actors, two male & two female, a pianist and a variety of costumes the audience are presented with a high paced selection of songs from the musicals that are either currently in the West End or have recently closed.

The intimate nature of the theatre meant that every word could be heard. This is particularly important when the audience have no idea what the lyrics are going to be and because the success of the songs all depend on the audience hearing the punch lines.

The enthusiasm and enjoyment of the actors was faultless and they all looked tired by the end of the show. This exuberance was contagious and enhanced the enjoyment of the audience by making them feel comfortable. The laughter was constant throughout and the jokes, which ranged from themes of reality TV to the trials of an undiscovered actor, were fresh and relevant.

Some stand out performances for me were Michael Ball and Me, a parody of Good Morning Baltimore from the musical Hairspray performed by Chris Thatcher, Jodie Jacobs and Laura Brydon. Special mention must go to Chris Thatcher's impersonation of Michael Ball in this number, it had me giggling, as well as his performance of John Barrowman in I Am Barrowman, a parody of I am what I am from La Cage aux Folles.

Superchoredodgitastic which included the above three actors and Stuart Matthew Price, was a brilliant way to close the first act. Its slick choreography and witty lyrics left the audience on a high. The high point for me in the second act was the song Savoy which charted the Savoy Theatre's recent history.

This show may not be for everyone as it has many 'in' jokes about the West End Theatre scene that some people may not understand, but if Musical Theatre is an interest for you then you will have a very enjoyable night. The show was the perfect length and I left the theatre wanting more as well as singing the lyrics all the way home.

Photos from previous production
runs until Sun 20th Dec

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Pub - The Royal Exchange Studio, Manchester

Producer: Richard Morgan
Reviewer: John Roberts

Something interesting and unique is taking place in the Studio at the Royal Exchange Theatre, an original and entertaining way of showcasing some of the best new writing and talent that the local areas has to offer. Studio producer Richard Morgan has delivered the concept of turning the studio space into a fully working and authentic Pub with its own bar and yes they are serving drinks. Through the evening various pieces of new writing is performed around the space. Every week is a new programme and promises something for everyone throughout its run.

I reviewed this production on the 18th November, which had three pieces being performed, interlinked by some lines of dialogue from our resident Landlord played by TV regular James Quinn, although I felt more could have been made of the role on the evening. A bit more mingling with his customers and sharing a landlord anecdote or two, instead of sitting on a stool by the bar texting all night might have lifted the evening a bit more.

You Do It All Again by Ben Fowler and Yann Seabra

This is a fast paced and witty look at the effects of alcohol during a first date, Tom and Anna, (played by Tom Hall and Anna McSweeny) have only just met – although they have swapped photos and exchanged numerous messages through the internet, what is slowly revealed through this piece is how each of them use alcohol to release built in tension and to really find themselves.

There are some interesting ideas used in the piece, especially the use of contemporary dance as an inner monologue for the physical effects the alcohol has on each of the characters, but one couldn’t help be distracted by several moments where bizarre changes in the direction take place, but this can be overlooked as the performances although slightly overplayed for such an intimate space were on the whole excellent.

If I Could Show You by Act One

This was perhaps for me the highlight of the evening, running at just 15 minutes this group of 16-21 year olds working with the Education Department of the Royal Exchange created a poignant and personal insight of a group of friends meeting at the Local for a goodbye party as they all head off into the big bad world of work and university.

Using the whole space throughout helped make the audience really feel part of the action, There was not one weak member of the cast, each shining in various ways throughout, but Jenny Campbell’s larger than life character and booming voice stood out proud. Harry Egan as his rolex watch wearing suit provided many moments of laughter and performed with real comic panache, and Josh Goulding also provided a more subtle and calmer performance with his Greek Mythology loving student, there are some definite stars of the future in amongst this group.

All Right by Copland Smith and Directed by Rebecca Courtney

Unfortunately this is the damp squib in what otherwise was an excellent evening – the script is littered with highly witty observations of two males meeting in the pub, being observed by a Psychologist, where the performance falls flat is the delivery of the material, it seemed being right next to them, that 95% of the laughter of this piece came from the directors friends and not those sat bemused around the space.

Courtney makes some strange directorial decisions having the Psychologist portrayed as a pointed and more hard edged David Attenbourgh only serves to put the audience on edge and grate throughout, but the saving grace comes from the physical performances of the two males played by Guy Hepworth and Michael Peace.
In Summery The Pub is a conceptual success and provides a unique atmosphere to enjoy material which we perhaps wouldn’t normally see, but the success lies in the material that is put on and this unfortunately ranges quite considerably.

The Pub runs Weds-Sat 7pm-10:30pm until the 5th Dec for more on what is being performed click here

Scouts in Bondage - Kings Head Theatre. London

Scouts In Bondage
Writer: Glenn Chandler
Director: Terence Barton
Reviewer: James Higgins

A directorial debut from Terence Barton promised camp fun filled satire. Written by Glenn Chandler, author of the record breaking TV Detective series Taggart this is the second boys own style adventure he has brought to the King's Head after the acclaimed Boys Of The Empire last year.

This time round the setting is 1935 and 1st Little Poddington Scout Troop have assembled at Croydon Airport about to embark on the Adventure of a lifetime. They are to fly Imperial Airways to the Kingdom of Mystic India, a journey some 18 refueling stops away. It all starts off in Jovial mood as the troop say goodbye to their leader and banter with flying ace Captain Curruthers but there is danger on the horizon. Things take a dastardly turn for the worst and before you can say dib dib they have crash landed into the hostile environs of Afghanistan. Soon they realise that they are in a hostile wilderness where friend and foe are hard to tell apart but all seem intent on plotting against the Raj.

The backdrop (designed by Mike Lees) of a map of The British Empire crudely drawn with a line to plot their adventure does the job and also provides additional stage exits. Narration is provided by the talented Mark Farelly who as the Editor of Scout Magazine is fed up with the tedium of his job and the pedantic letters from pestering Scouts. He also seemed unamused with a smug heckler sat in the front row whom seem intent on disrupting the performance. The Editor stayed in character whilst delivering the ultimate putdown: Sir what is your name ? Heckler then replied 'Ian" The Editor then said 'That's funny, Ian ? I looked at you at the start of the show and thought you looked more like a Dick' cue hilarious laughter from the audience and no more unfunny quips from 'Ian'

Stephen Fry provided the voice of the Chief Scout and Christopher Timothy the voice of Kipling. There were very good performances from all the cast with Brage Bang convincing as the sole German member of the troop Henry Schmit, Christopher Finn was entertaining as the blundering Donald Pretty as too was Alastair Mavor as the awkward Lance Featherstone. Dick Greenways (Christopher Birks) made a very good Head Scout and provided a level of seriousness to counter the tomfoolery.
Timothy Welling was excellent playing multiple roles seemlessly as he convinced first as dastardly Russian Yuri Andropovitich then hilariously depicted tribal leader Ali Ban Bagar in a Carry On style send up before returning as Scout leader (Mr Dent)Despite all this it was still Farelly that stole the show, not only thrilling as The Editor with magnificent improvisation but playing the Intelligence Officer (Stiffy Malarkey) with comedic aplomb.

The storyline was good but could have been better for I feel that it had something deeper to say and some of the subtexts weren't exploited fully. There were some serious points to be made about Colonialism, British Imperialism and the ongoing nightmare that is the barren land of Afghanistan where still we have still not learned the lessons from history. This was touched on at the end but in a crude somewhat sloppy way. That said this was an thoroughly entertaining show from start to finish that was laugh out loud funny and full of double entendre and satire throughout. If you find yourself at loose end and have the Winter blues then gather round the campfire chums for a real cheerful tonic.

Runs until 10th January

Secrets - The Cock Tavern, London

A devised show
Director: Danielle Coleman
Reviewer: Evelyn Downing

The evening started quite promisingly; I found the Cock Tavern and the box office was obvious even if the entrance to the theatre was less so. As we entered the theatre the actors were all on stage waiting. So far so good, I thought. Some stylisation makes for good theatre.

It turns out you need to see how many actors there are because you don't actually meet some of them again for another 20 or so minutes. Which isn't necessarily a problem except I was wondering all of that time when the play was going to get going. It turns out it doesn't.

The premise of this devised piece is that it works with the idea of secrets, the secrets we keep and share, even the nature of secrecy itself. After a few rambling scenes full of scripted 'ums' and 'ers' and awkward conversation however there is still no sign of any kind of plot emerging. The vague connection between characters provides a path but no driving story leaving nothing to engage with and noone to empathise with.

There are too many stories to keep track of, none of which are given time to fully develop. The thread through the first act provided by the psychologist who doesn't know how to connect with people soon becomes repetitive and is too obvious a devise for a play about revealing hidden parts of ourselves.

The continual scene changing and clumsy use of props and a multipurpose table and chairs also becomes very tiring. There was one occasion where a character swapped over two identical chairs during a scene change for no apparent reason. A montage of headlines and graffitti at the back of the stage was never referred to and seemed a bit gratuitous. The atmosphere was broken continually by noise floating up from the pub below, glasses being knocked over, even what sounded like scripts being dropped at the lighting/sound desk.

That said, there are some wonderful scenes including a particularly touching and humorous couple sat on medicine balls chatting online, which incidentally features the two stand out performers of the piece. Shireen Walton and James Dutton both give wonderfully natural, and in the case of Walton incredibly moving, perfomances in all the characters played.

In fact, it is overall a very strong cast, and they need to be strong to sustain the amount of monologues and drawn out passages in this overly wordy script. A lot of the dialogue is beautifully natural and contrasts sharply with the more 'staged' scenes, attributable perhaps to the devised nature of the piece.

There are some lovely ideas in this play, some touching scenes, some great little snippets that mirror life beautifully. There are perhaps enough ideas to sustain a pretty good one act play for about 6 characters. As it is the piece meanders through two acts with very little direction or dramatic purpose and I walked away feeling bombarded, confused and very unsatisfied.

Runs until Sat 5th Dec

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Annie - Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Book: Thomas Meeha
Director/Choreographer: Roger Hannah
Reviewer: Robert Yates

Annie is now considered a classic family musical, with productions of broadway leading to a much loved film. This production from Chris Moreno is now in its eighth consecutive year, with several members of the cast repeat performers. Birmingham is the last stop of a 5 month UK tour.

The musical opens in the orphanage with Molly and Annie taking leading roles. Both Lydia Tunstall (Annie) and Holly Delaney (Molly) put in sterling performances with plenty of character and strong voices to match. It bodes well for a show for which the lead is a young 10 year old girl.

Following the story of Annie as she is taken in by the billionaire Oliver Warbuck and instigates a nationwide search for her parents the musical races through a number of classics including "Tomorrow" quite early in the script. The ever drunk owner of the orphanage Su Pollard (Miss Hannigan) is way over the top in a pantomime esq performance. Much more could have been made of the comical side of this role in her interaction with the orphans.

Despite not being the headliner Simone Craddock (Grace Farrell) is undoubtedly the star of the show. With a winning smile and a very convincing performance Simone Craddock added a touch of quality to the limited amount of acting that was scattered throughout the show. David McAlister (Oliver Warbuck) only provides fleeting moments of the awkardness that defines his relationship with Annie when they first meet.

The marine guard played by Oli Sills was brilliant and the reactions of the other characters to his cameo is fabulous. Danny the Dog (Sandy) in his eighth tour added to the murmurs of laughter and excitement with a well timed chase across the stage. The climax of the musical in Oliver Warbucks mansion when Annie is reunited with her orphan friends is a heartwarming ending that will leave you with a feel good factor.

The choreography for the opening scenes with the orphans is a clever mix of dance and use of props. The choreography for the adults left more to be desired and became a little predictable and appeared repetetive. It is clear from this production that both Chris Moreno and Roger Hannah have had much recent experience in pantomime. By the interval some of the cliche dance moves were beginning to appear for a second time and by the end of the show it seemed that every song had very similar choreography. The orphans did provide some relief in the shows climax, acting as reindeer to the Presidents sleigh.

The constant changes in the set designed by Alan Miller-Bunford were very effective with some of the changes appearing to occur in seconds, this led to a very smooth performance. No complaints can be made about the musical direction of John Donovan either after a fine performance from the musicians.

Its no surprise that this show is clearly a family favourite with some of the younger members of the audience overly excited often calling out the name of Annie. For an evening of family entertainment and a night singing the memorable songs as you leave the theatre it is definitely worth a visit to Annie.

Runs until Saturday 21st November
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