REVIEWS

  

  

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Othello

Frantic Assembly at The Curve Leicester

Four Stars ****    “Wonderfully imagined and delivered, the company still fly high.”

 

Frantic Assembly director Scott Graham indicates in his programme notes that Shakespeare’s Othello is not a natural choice for them and is a play that brings with it too much unwanted baggage and too much risk of being told they had got a classic tale very wrong. Well, be assured they got it very right. It is in fact the most contemporary of the tragedies and thus dovetails with ease into the Assembly portfolio.

A story firmly positioned in the 21st century, an edgy and sharp take on the Shakespeare classic. And yet the world of manipulation, paranoia, and the arrival of the green-eyed monster of jealousy it seems are all timeless. The setting is some low-down lounge bar, adorned with a tired carpet, a fruit machine, and a multi-purpose pool table. Othello and Desdemona have a couple of passionate moments on the green baize.

Laura Hopkins’ design is clever and effective. Scott Graham adds lots of muscle to the production, squeezing the darker moments for all they are worth, the intents of Iago are superbly built, contrasting with the thinness of any reasonable friendships. Jealously and the climbing of the power pole, was and it seems is forever the driving factor. Both Acts open with some engaging and eye-catching moments of physicality, a hallmark of Frantic Assembly and still a shining one.

Iago is the schemer, pulling the strings and then standing back to admire his work. He seeks to drive a wedge between Othello and Desdemona and uses the hapless Cassio to do the driving. Joe Layton is Iago and brilliantly achieves the mantle of the cool and smiling villain of the piece, without for the most of it getting his hands dirty. Tom Gill eyes wide open as Cassio walks into dangerous waters, unknowingly getting a little too close to Desdemona, a nicely balanced and believable portrayal by Gill. The tragic lovers, Othello and Desdemona are crafted carefully and superbly by Michael Akinsulire and Chanel Waddock, the passion and the paranoia belong to both, finding new life in both characters I have rarely seen before.

This is a tale for today, with some radical edits and some memorably fierce and explosive moments. Re-telling’s are often done for the sake of it, and result in plenty of unwanted self-indulgence. Not the case here, the unwanted baggage is cast aside, and a pulsating new reforming production is revealed.

 

Runs at The Curve until 1st October and then on national tour.

 

The review with images will appear in The Midlands Arts Magazine.

David will also be talking about it on his radio show next week on Box Office Radio

 

David Robinson.

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Fisherman’s Friends

 

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until Saturday 17th September

 

 4 Stars “All aboard for a joyful ride”

 

The west-country scene is set, the seagulls are in low flying attendance the sea salt is in the air, and most prominently the wonderful sound of the fishermen’s sea shanties are making a beautiful sound. Welcome to Cornwall. Lucy Osbourne’s evocative set transported us immediately to the glorious Cornish coast, with all its romance, beauty, and tinge of danger. James Grieve’s direction jauntily kept the pace bobbing along with a bubbling mix of wit and west country style and some lovely moments of slow burn humour. In essence it is a joyful and hopeful ride full of positivity and light, a much-needed boost for us all.

The Friends are gathering to make a little money for their chosen charity in the picturesque surroundings of Port Isaac. Their popular repertoire of sea songs has been lovingly passed down from their forefathers. They are in Hollywood style spotted and transported as quick as you like to stardom. A documentary, a film and a run at The Royal Albert Hall fall into place with ease. The record deal is a major one, but their fisherman’s boots stay firmly on the ground. The style and the quality of the songs, alongside the brilliant acapella singing bring the magic in spades, with the sweeping backdrop and fishing extras doing their bit admirably. The on-stage musicianship is a clear winner with the audience and rightly so. It is very much an ensemble production, but a quick mention in despatches is very much worthwhile for Parisa Shahmir as Alwyn and Jason Langley as Danny, both brilliantly portrayed. 

It does have a generous sprinkling of regional references, the Cornish humour and accents and traditions are big part of the production, it is hoped that won’t cause it any difficulties as it embarks on its national tour. I think the affection shown at The Alexandra in central Birmingham tells me it should be more than ok. Quality will always win the night.

Enjoy a bit of Cornwall in the Midlands while you can.

Runs till Saturday 17th September 

 

Reviewed by Stephen Robinson

Midlands Arts Magazine

It will be featured in the Magazine this week with images.

It will also be discussed on The Musical Magazine Show on Box Office Radio this Thursday.

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All’s Well that Ends Well

 

RSC Stratford upon Avon

 

**** Four Stars “All is very well indeed.”

 

A late summer trip to Stratford may well be to see the rarely produced ‘problem’ play of Shakespeare All’s well that ends well …. And why not? It is curious to fathom why it is an infrequent addition to the schedule. It has humour, and action, and politics, and romance, plus a robust gender battle. In amongst all that the story it has Helena an orphaned daughter of a doctor using her rather mystical potions to cure the King of France of his ailments. For that she wins the prize of her choice the young and eligible hand of Bertram. He alas is less keen on the union and trots off to the wars instead.

There then follows revenge from Helena, including a clever bed switch with Diana and a final combined effort to tie up the loose ends and to live up to the play’s hopeful title.

Rosie Sheehy is a delightful and determined Helena, totally believable has she is taken completely by Bertram despite his off handiness and snobbery. His mother the countess is finely played by Claire Benedict and the King is in the safe hands of Bruce Alexander, who crafts some pointed moments of comedy. The energy is delivered by Jamie Wilkes courtesy of Bertram’s friend Parolles, a wonderfully breezy characterisation with refreshing energy and some nice engaging moments with the audience. Olivia Onyehara arrives at the rave as Diana and in amongst the noise and flashing lights takes Bertram home for the ‘swap.’ She has a deft delivery and a joy to listen to.

It is a very much a lively couple of hours, keeping you rolling along with the fast-paced dialogue and tale. The inclusion of the social media flashes and message and cameras etc were not hugely beneficial and jarred more than added.

It may well not be seen on the RSC brochure again for a while, so make the most of it and take a trip to see it and take in the delights of Stratford at the same time. Well worth the journey.

 

Runs until 8th October

 

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

Box Office Radio

 

The article with images will appear on The Midlands Arts Magazine website and social media platforms.

 

David will be talking about his trip on his radio programme on Box Office Radio next Thursday from 8pm.

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Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until 3rd September

 

***** Five Stars “A rich patchwork of wonderful songs.”

 

The Midlands Arts Magazine…………… David Robinson

 

 

The dazzling story of Carole King, from teenager to music superstar. It is a remarkable rise to worldwide stardom; the production begins and ends with her sell out tour of ‘Tapestry’ filling the iconic Carnegie Hall in New York. The lyrical journey began with incredible success with Will you still love me Tomorrow for The Shirelles in 1960, two years later she recorded her first hit song as a singer with It might as well rain until September. And then the rich patchwork of wonderful songs just kept rolling, providing hits for The Monkees and The Drifters and Little Eva, amongst many others. Her main collaborator was American lyricist Gerry Goffin, King and Goffin married in 1959, they went on to have two daughters before divorcing in 1968.

Nikolai Foster’s tight direction and Frankie Bradshaw’s effective design keep most of the action encompassed in a sound studio in New York belonging to Donnie Kirshner consummately delivered by Garry Robson. The playful and jovial rivalry between King, Goffin and Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann is a constant thread delightfully played out throughout, Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick serving up engaging and delightful chemistry. They also like the rest of the talented line up are all accomplished musicians. The talent on display is enviable and is in great depth. The orchestrations by Steve Sidwell are superb and are deftly controlled on stage by Dan-De-Cruz, who also has the time to have fun doubling as Neil Sedaka and one half of the Righteous Brothers. Molly-Grace Cutler encapsulates Carole King with grace, care and with huge appeal. Her vocals and musicality are sublime, we invest big time with her journey and her songs and her relationships, whether it be with her mother or with her first love Gerry Goffin. Chris Coxon brings a sharp and believable freneticism and vulnerability to Goffin, in love with King yes, but never fully satisfied with the relationship.

The catalogue of songs is breath-taking and have stood the test of time with ease and will continue to do so without question. The storyline becomes the backing singer, it is there and contributes adequately but it is the songs that quite rightly take the lead, and we were more than happy to follow. It runs at until Saturday at The Hippodrome, don’t miss out.

 

Five Stars    *****

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

 

David will be talking about his visit to the Hippodrome this Thursday at 8pm on Box Office Radio.

It will also appear with images on The Midlands Arts Magazine website.

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Bugsy Malone

Birmingham Rep until 14th August and then on tour

 

*****   Five Stars.  “Gold Medals all round…a real knockout.”

 

 

Originally a hugely popular film for children and families from Alan Parker, and then subsequently a stage version in 1983, and now a sparkling new winning production and is gracing the stage of the Rep in tandem with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The production is worthy of gold medals all round with some real knockout performances.

The selling point for Bugsy Malone is the heavy reliance on child actors, who all cope admirably with testing routines and vocals, together with the occasional unpleasant covering from the splurge guns.

We are transported courtesy of a spacious and multi levelled set to prohibition time in New York. The rivalry between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan is reaching a potentially painful peak. Fat Sam needs Bugsy’s assistance, Bugsy needs to reconnect the trust between him and cabaret hopeful Blousey, as well as reassuring her about his innocent intentions towards Tallulah. Mia Lakha was bluesy Blousey on press night and displayed a delightful jazz timing to her numbers. Jasmine Sakyima was a confident and commanding Tallulah but with a lovely depth and touch of obligation and duty, to Bugsy and to Fat Sam’s club. Albie Snelson carved out a nice and rather apologetic Fat Sam who progressively had more and more burdens to carry on his shoulders. Gabriel Payne gave us a wide eyed and engaging Bugsy eager to please and a loyal friend to have in your boxing corner.

The speak-easy feel was tangible and the choreography and indeed the delivery of the songs was spot on. The adult ensemble were themselves superb with their multi roles and energetic dance numbers, “You give a little Love” was sublimely presented.

It is not the quickest show out of the blocks, but it is not a sprint and the second half in particular picks up the pace, and the finishing line is a joy.

 

Wonderful family fun.

 David Robinson

 

The review will appear in the MIDLANDS ARTS MAGAZINE THIS WEEK WITH SUPPORTING IMAGES.

 

David will be talking about the show on his Musical Magazine Show this Thursday from 8pm on Box Office Radio

Bugsy Malone

Birmingham Rep until 14th August and then on tour

 

*****   Five Stars.  “Gold Medals all round…a real knockout.”

 

 

Originally a hugely popular film for children and families from Alan Parker, and then subsequently a stage version in 1983, and now a sparkling new winning production and is gracing the stage of the Rep in tandem with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The production is worthy of gold medals all round with some real knockout performances.

The selling point for Bugsy Malone is the heavy reliance on child actors, who all cope admirably with testing routines and vocals, together with the occasional unpleasant covering from the splurge guns.

We are transported courtesy of a spacious and multi levelled set to prohibition time in New York. The rivalry between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan is reaching a potentially painful peak. Fat Sam needs Bugsy’s assistance, Bugsy needs to reconnect the trust between him and cabaret hopeful Blousey, as well as reassuring her about his innocent intentions towards Tallulah. Mia Lakha was bluesy Blousey on press night and displayed a delightful jazz timing to her numbers. Jasmine Sakyima was a confident and commanding Tallulah but with a lovely depth and touch of obligation and duty, to Bugsy and to Fat Sam’s club. Albie Snelson carved out a nice and rather apologetic Fat Sam who progressively had more and more burdens to carry on his shoulders. Gabriel Payne gave us a wide eyed and engaging Bugsy eager to please and a loyal friend to have in your boxing corner.

The speak-easy feel was tangible and the choreography and indeed the delivery of the songs was spot on. The adult ensemble were themselves superb with their multi roles and energetic dance numbers, “You give a little Love” was sublimely presented.

It is not the quickest show out of the blocks, but it is not a sprint and the second half in particular picks up the pace, and the finishing line is a joy.

 

Wonderful family fun.

 David Robinson

 

The review will appear in the MIDLANDS ARTS MAGAZINE THIS WEEK WITH SUPPORTING IMAGES.

 

David will be talking about the show on his Musical Magazine Show this Thursday from 8pm on Box Office Radio

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Billy Elliot

The Curve Leicester.

 

***** Five Stars

 

“Sparks fly…an electrifying new revival”

 

If you are looking for a modest and self-effacing out of town quiet revival, then look away, you will not find anything tentative in this blistering new Made at the Curve production. Artistic Director Nikolai Foster has brought out the scaffold and pulled out all the stops. He is ably assisted by Lucy Hind’s hugely watchable and dynamic choreography and the gritty and towering set design from Michael Taylor, who seemed determined to successfully utilise every corner of the cavernous Curve stage.

 

The film was a big BAFTA winning hit, and the West End run was a mega one, so inevitably we have a story that may seem familiar to many. And yet it’s abrasive tale of division, and loss and hope and aspiration seemed somehow to be refreshingly contemporary and untrodden. It is a revival with nods to its predecessor but with an eye on what new angles it can leap for.  This it does without ever forgetting it’s roots. The backdrop is the miner’s strike of the early 1980’s and their battle with the then conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher. The plan was to close the pits and seek cheaper coal overseas. For some considerable time both parties stood firm despite the hardships to places such as Easington in the North East. Boxing was a standard and popular deviation for the young lads of the town, and the local club opened its doors to all comers for 50p. Billy Elliot stays late and stumbles into a local dance class steered by Mrs Wilkinson (Sally Ann Triplett.) And there the enticement of dance and of ballet and of escaping the norm begins for Billy.

 

The production pivots and pirouettes on the skills and believability of Billy. For press night the shoes belonged to Jaden Shentall-Lee, he had all the choreographic skills in spades, as well as a more than pleasant singing voice, and most admirably a connection with his family and friends that was real, warm, and spilled with ease across into the stalls. An incredible achievement. Sally Ann Triplett stands firm amongst the masculine brotherhood dominating the local landscape, a wonderfully multi-layered portrayal full of interest, encouragement, and realism. Another joy. There were many, many worthy performances from a substantial cast, quick mentions of note for Joe Caffrey as Dad, Luke Baker as Tony, Jessica Daley as Billy’s Mam, and a delightful turn from Pearl Ball as Debbie.

Songs, story, dance, production values and performances all have high-flying West End value. Not forgetting the musical supervision and the admirable band under the baton of George Dyer.

In short the best of the West End has well and truly arrived in the East Midlands.

This is refreshing and a joy to behold, with brilliant lighting to ensure we don’t miss a moment. It has the legs for a long and successful run.

At the curve until 20th August.

 

David will post the review plus images on the Midlands Arts Magazine. He will also be talking about the show on his weekly radio programme on Box Office Radio.

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Richard III

RSC Stratford upon Avon

 

**** Engaging, approachable and reigning supreme

 

 

Now is certainly the Summer for a timely and wonderful revival of Shakespeare’s historical tragedy. It is famously one of the longest in the canon and often suffers from some rather brutal abridgement. This seemed not be the case with Gregory Doran’s current production, yes it is a lengthy first half but the distance run is eased by some stellar and mesmerising portrayals.

It is straight and uncomplicated retelling, feeling somewhat safe at times in the reliable hands of the outgoing Artistic Director. Nodding dogs, a plenty all trying to please the right person so they can themselves clamber up the greasy pole of power. A timeless tale. The simplicity allows for some occasional stand out visual moments, Stephen Brimson Lewis’ design and Matt Daw’s lighting providing ample atmosphere and realism, and plenty of admirable detail.

 

Arthur Hughes as the titular character gives a performance with much to enjoy and commend, a delightful blend of wit, and brooding evil and an enviable connection with his audience who are slowly buying in to his consuming ambition to rule.

Matching in style and command is Minnie Gale as Queen Margaret along with Jamie Wilkes, busy spinning the plates in the background as the Duke of Buckingham. Indeed, the supporting family members are beautifully observed and together keep the intrigue and the struggles going at quite a canter.  

Hughes is rightly plauded for leading the fight for the crown, but together the company weave and plot and build an engaging and approachable production, that deserves a long reign.

 

Runs at Stratford until 8th October.

**** Four Stars

David will be talking about the production on his radio show this Thursday at 8pm on Box Office Radio

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Midnight Train to Georgia

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham  

7th July 2022

 

****   Four Stars…..A Warm and affectionate homage full of Motown magic

 

Seven-time Grammy winner and the recognised Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight with or without the Pips is recognised as one of the leading vocalists of this or indeed any generation.

She has shared the stage with some huge stars over the years and can still sell out massive stadia indeed she was recently over here on a successful UK tour. And now thanks to Hayley Ria Christian the Knight magic is recreated with this affectionate and warm homage tribute evening.

The look, the demeanour and the class are all there from Hayley, and more importantly so are the vocals, together with of course the treat of hearing most of the mega hits. The set up is straightforward, alongside Hayley are a couple of capable backing singers together with a semi-circle of brilliant m

usicians, brass, guitars, and keys. The resonating bass notably effective for the Northern Soul numbers.

The hits keep rolling out, ‘Help me make it through the night, Licence to Kill and The Way we were,’ favourites on the night with the Alex faithful.

The rapport with the audience is warm and cosy, although a little more backstory and narrative on Gladys and her glittering career would have been a fascinating distraction, it is very much more concert than show, but a grand concert it is, nonetheless.  

Gladys for Glastonbury anyone?

 

Check out the Facebook page for all the forthcoming tour details.

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We will Rock You.

Birmingham Hippodrome until the 30th July

Still a worthy Champion after twenty years…. top of the league.

 

***** Five Stars

 

A jukebox musical based on the wonderfully iconic catalogue of rock group Queen. Book and direction by Ben Elton, the music…. simply memorable. It was originally not universally over popular with the London critics but went on to be the eleventh longest running musical in West-End history, a considerable achievement as its home was the Dominion Theatre, with one of the largest capacities in the capital. Many productions, including this UK tour are still active all around the world. It’s secret of success is without doubt the sparkling long list of hits from Queen. 

The story it must be said is a little vague and contrived but becomes growingly acceptable. The dystopian world of IPlanet has created a uniformed world under the direction of Globalsoft, identical Ga Ga kids roam the land and of course musical instruments are not allowed and rock music remains an unknown. Defying the stringent orders is new graduate Galileo (Ian McIntosh) who continually dreams about lyrics from songs long since gone, without realising the significance. Fellow rebel Scaramouche (Elena Skye) joins the protest towards conformity, resulting in the pair of them being arrested by Chief of Police Khashoggi (Adam Strong). The rebels flee from hospital and end up at the Heartbreak Hotel where they link up with fellow bohemians, including Cliff, Brit, and Meat. 

Controlling the planet and with a plan to crush the bohemians is the Killer Queen. A joyous demonstration of vocal talent on display from Jennifer O’Leary. The bohemians finally are led to Wembley Stadium and are victorious in resurrecting rock music. We are the Champions being their conquering anthem. The narrative is a little circuitous, but the songs from the jukebox come thick and fast, with a brilliant company rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody as a much-demanded encore. Ian McIntosh gives a standout performance as Galileo with an energy level that is high throughout only matched by his incredible vocals. Similarly, Elena Skye delivers her numbers with power and a touching enchantment, together they held the show superbly. Michael McKell had great fun as Sir Cliff Richard, tongue in cheek, perfectly timed and a lovely rendition of These are the Days of our Life. The ensemble is sharply kept on their toes with routines and deft costume changes. The iconic music is in the hands of some incredibly able musicians under the direction of Zachary Flis. The show is a reasonably technical one, with impressive visuals throughout, and the visual backdrop complimented the impressive set admirably.  

 

The songs are the Kings and Queens of the show, pushing on the production at quite a pace, the principals conquer the tricky vocals with enviable ease, and the score is in more than capable musical hands with the experienced band of six.

 

‘A royal treat, fit for a Queen.’

 

This performance reviewed at The Birmingham Hippodrome on the 4th of July 2022

 

David Robinson

Box Office Radio

David will be talking about his trip to see We Will Rock You on his Musical Magazine Show this Thursday at 8pm on Box Office Radio. 

It will also feature in the Midlands Arts Magazine this week.

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Playboy of the West Indies

Birmingham Rep until 2nd July

 

**** FOUR STARS “A slice of paradise” 

 

It has been a substantial number of years (close to forty) since the opening premiere of Mustapha Matura ambitious Caribbean adaptation of the classic JM Synge classic theatrical piece The Playboy of the Western World. And now a musical version of the piece, directors are Clement Ishmael, Nicholas Kent, and Dominique Le Gendre, with music by Ishmael and Le Gendre. The clever set from Michael Taylor transports us immediately to the sultry Caribbean, the noise, the subtle lighting, and the rickety design of the bar all assists in conveying the West Indian ambience and feel.

The dialogue is delivered and spoken throughout in creole, and it must be noted is for some time difficult to pick up and may call for some adjustment particularly in the opening twenty minutes or so. But the reggae and blues musical numbers set the rhythm off in an upbeat and heart-warming pace.

Peggy (Gleanne Purcell-Brown) is tasked with hosting the bar, but her eyes and hopes and dreams are a more distant and different horizon. The thrilling arrival of the “playboy” may just be the ticket she has been looking for. Durone Stokes is Ken the “playboy” he is the bringer of light and life to a flat and inward-looking community. Finally, they have something and someone to talk about. Stokes has the right combination of exuberance and charm and glee, and a delightful and a sweet singing vocal to go alongside it. Gleanne Purcell-Brown is a very controlled and watchable as Peggy, a fascinating portrayal of humour and harsh reality of her pitch in life, superbly delivered. Mama Benin (Angela Wynter) also has her steely eye spied on the newcomer for her own reasons. Wynter owns the space and demands attention captivating and refreshing in equal measure.

The stranger of course has is own back story and issues to solve, and has a sniff of danger about him, which only adds to his fascination to some of the villagers.

 

It uplifts and charms, although at times is a little too pedestrian in pace, but the songs and simple renderings of them are absorbing and amiable. The light and life-giving moments would just benefit from a tad more urgency.

 

The warm weather is set to continue to the 2nd of July.  Enjoy the sunshine.

 

**** FOUR STARS A slice of Paradise

 

David Robinson

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Singin’ in the Rain

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until 11th July

 

***** Five Stars

 

“Glorious Sunshine amongst the very impressive rain.”

 

 There was another recent noteworthy Platinum Jubilee this year, 70 years since the iconic musical film Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly hit the big screen. It is the musical movie all subsequent ones strive to equal. Jonathan Church’s sumptuous new stage version may well be the new marker for all theatre productions that follow. Nothing is spared, certainly not the water, 14,000 litres of water on stage every night, guaranteed to make a splash…. look out if you are in the front row! The production oozes glamour and is a true Hollywood spectacle from beginning to end, the first act culminating with that iconic splash around the stage. Simon Higlett’s stage and costume design are perfection and allow for a touching tribute to the 1952 original movie from time to time. Andrew Wright’s choreography is full of energy, wit and just the right amount of sparkle and romance. And then there is the performers, all of whom look as though they are having the best time, and as a result, we willingly join the Hollywood party.

 

Dora Bailey (Sandra Dickinson) is waiting to report on the newest film premiere, she eagerly chats to the big stars from Monumental Studios, Don Lockwood (Sam Lips) and Lina Lamont (Jenny Gayner.) Not all is well away from the camera and Don is keen for a cooling in any relationship between him and Lena. He decides to walk to the after-show party, and in doing so meets an aspiring new actress Kathy Selden, played with a true pleasurable charm by Charlotte Gooch. Jenny Gayner as Lamont squeezes out plenty of humour with her sharply timed performance. The advent of the talkies could spell the end for Lockwood and Lamont, due to Lina’s piercing voice and tuneless singing skills. Up steps Selden to save the day, dubbing in the voice for Lina. Picking up the wonderful Donald O’Connor role of Cosmo is Ross McLaren, a faultless comedy portrayal continually beaming and positive and when it came to his “Make ‘Em Laugh” number simply brilliant, on par with the great O’Connor himself. Lina of course gets her comeuppance, and Don and Kathy get together. Sam Lips as Don is accomplished in all areas required, vocals, acting and certainly dance, the Act One finale, accompanied by a brolly and torrential downpour has got to be one of the best endings to a first act I have seen.

 

Everything is polished to a gleaming shine; we even catch a glimpse of the superb band under the direction of Grant Walsh. The big numbers, and set pieces keep coming, you will be sent home with a smile on your face I guarantee it, whatever the weather.

 

So, get yourself down to the Hippodrome, and enjoy the rain and that sunshine feeling.

 

David Robinson 

The Midlands Arts Magazine

David will also be talking about his visit on Box Office Radio this Thursday from 8pm.

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MAGIC GOES WRONG 

BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME runs until Saturday.

 

**** 4 STARS - ‘Laughter in wild waves all night’

 Reviewed BY JONATHAN LOREN 

 

 In 2010, a group of LAMDA graduates took a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 11 years later, Mischief Theatre productions have been performed in 35 countries across the world, had a sell-out run on the West End and Broadway and become part of our Christmas Day TV watching schedule. This week they bring their show, Magic Goes Wrong to the Birmingham Hippodrome. 

 

Since the huge success of The Play That Goes Wrong, the company have created a trademark "Goes Wrong" style and treated classic stories such as JM Barrie’s Peter Pan to their hilarity. Now, with the help of Magic Circle royalty, Penn and Teller, they add their sorcery to Magic Goes Wrong. 

 

The premise of an inadequate magician, Sophisticato (Sam Hill) and his troop, desperate to follow in his father’s great footsteps, leaves the stage wide open for a host of tragic magic failures.  

 

A particular highlight was Rory Fairbairn’s Mind Mangler, who became a familiar tragic character, akin to the school Substitute Teacher everyone enjoys watching the demise of. His repartee with the audience was sublime. Spitzmaus and Bar made an excellent German acrobatic, stunt duo, with exceptional presence, comic timing and energy. 

 

The fun and the magic keep on coming and gets better as the show progresses. The balance between comedy, doomed magic and audience participation hits the sweet spot in the second half. (If, like the Magic Circle, you don’t want the game given away, turn away now) The trick of the night involves The Blade (Keifer Moriarty) being submerged in a locked water tank until the great Sophisticato finds the playing card an audience member has chosen and thus the key. As we have come to expect, this doesn’t go to plan, and the audience are in gasping for breath. The spectacle is on par with an act in Las Vegas, the audience is poised to be entertained, and Moriarty and the cast play the moment well. 

 

It was noticeable the female performers have considerably less stage time and text than their male counterparts. Although the traditions of Magic Acts often portrayed a male magician and a mute glamourous female assistant, it would be great to see the balance tipped and offer equal representation on this stage.  

 

The tying-up of the loose narrative at the end when it centres on reconciliation seems unnecessary. But if you came to watch a drama, you’d be bitterly disappointed. This is a laugh-a-minute, or should I say a magic-a-minute spectacular, and you can’t help but be entertained. The laughter in the Hippodrome hit like wild waves. The company had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands.

 

As Sophisticato acknowledged at the end of the night, it was "great to be back doing live theatre" and a show like this thrives on a stage with unedited, unpredictable, and unruly audience members. 

 

David Robinson will be talking about the show on his radio show on Box Office Radio this Thursday from 8pm.

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 Would You Bet Against Us?

***** Five Stars 

 “Not just for Villa fans, but a delight for everyone. “

The Midlands Arts Magazine

 

Forty years ago, this month Aston Villa became the third of now only five English clubs to win Europe’s highest honour in football, the European Cup Champions. The Artistic Director of Told by an Idiot theatre company and actor, Paul Hunter, uses this anniversary as a perfect opportunity to pay homage to this outstanding achievement. Paul entertains us with his local and personal journey, from his council house in Harborne into the business we call ‘show’. 

 

The play is performed at the intimate Door Theatre at the REP. It is a perfect uplifting story to be told at this time and place, with Villa’s triumph still talked about proudly amongst their fans to this day. Local references, that are not just for the Villa-faithful but Birmingham at large, makes this an endearing tale. 

 

On stepping into the theatre, two puppets, both balloon-headed footballers, one happy and one sad, greet the audience in their prams, wearing their vintage villa shirts. Their expressions sum up the companies’ objectives to create theatre that “inhabit the space between laughter and pain.” 

 

The audience instantly become active members within the story, taking on the role of journalists in the first scene. We are asking questions of Ron Saunders, the then Villa Manager, at a press conference before the big quarter final. This preludes another major event that turned Villa into a true underdog on their route to the final. 

 

The charm and humour that Paul exudes draws us into the story as he warmly recounts memories from his past. Scenes seamlessly move between honour and sadness meeting his dad in the local pub, revealing to his mum he wants to become an actor and a memorable moment with a schoolteacher, which was a particular favourite. 

 

The beautiful storytelling in “Would You bet Against Us” along with the company’s skilful manipulation of puppets, props and footballs will make you laugh one moment and pull on a heart string the next. There is something for all, although parents be warned the bleeping of expletives is rather late. 

 

This is an innovative, slick, five-star production which is a must see.  

 

Reviewed

By Jonathan Loren

Midlands Arts Magazine 

Boxer (puppeteers Elisa De Gray, Matt Tait and Rayo Patel) and Squeela (puppeteers Ailsa D

The Midlands Arts Magazine Reviews

 

Animal Farm

 

Wolverhampton Grand

 

A masterclass in puppetry is on stark display at Manor Farm as the animals take over the running of the place in this superb retelling of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novella.

 

Following the successful revolution, the bullish pigs take control and claim to create a fair and equal society for all four-legged creatures. Things quickly turn sour under the dictatorship and self-proclaimed leadership of one of the pigs…Napoleon. The story is all too familiar, the desire and dangers of too much power. A pertinent and relevant tale for today.

The production is a visual delight from start to finish, with a dexterous set design from Bunny Christie and wonderful authentic and plausible puppets from Toby Olie’. That believability and plausibility comes via the amazing skills of the commendable puppeteers. They bring shire horses to life as well as tiny birds with equal skill, not only do we believe in these animals, but we also invest in them, we sympathise with them, we smile with them and care for them. And indeed, at times we are shocked by their barbaric behaviour. Again, all of which is a huge testament to the skills of the team of puppeteers.  Voices are tracked and come from off stage, and the soundscape form Tom Gibbons adds more dark and ominous layers to the production. Technically it is complicated and the ability for all the components to be in sync is key, which for the most part was achieved.

 

A fresh, challenging, and inspired piece of theatre resounding loud and clear still for today’s society.

 

**** “Wonderfully crafted, and visually stunning

Reviewed by Stephen Robinson

Midlands Arts Magazine.

 

Runs till Saturday at The Wolverhampton Grand

The show will be discussed this Thursday on The Musical Magazine Show with David Robinson 8 pm on Box Office Radio

12. WAITRESS. Evelyn Hoskins 'Dawn', Wendy Mae Brown 'Becky' and Chelsea Halfpenny 'Jenna'

Waitress

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 21st May

 

With a book by Jessie Nelson, a motion picture by Adrienne Shelly and then to follow, is the superb topping which is the music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. Put the recipe together and you have an energetic and meaningful musical coming to the boil…. Waitress. Sara Bareilles tells us that it is a story that needed to be told, a story that urges us to get off the shelf if we feel we are stuck there, a story that reminds us we all deserve a second shot a life. In essence it is story of friendship, secret struggles and new beginnings set in the comfy surroundings of Joe’s Pie Diner in a sleepy American roadside town. The diner concept is very American, but its feel and ambience are familiar to us all. 

The key friendship is between the trio of serving staff at Jo’s. Chelsea Halfpenny as central figure and pie maker Jenna grows her character before our eyes, full of boldness, cheek, determination, and empathy. Her vocals are stunning and moving in equal measure. She is more than ably aided in the trio by Wendy Mae Brown and Evelyn Hoskins. Brown brings wonderful expression and humour to Becky and her ‘I didn’t plan it’ number was a wonderful kickstart to the second half. Hoskins’ Dawn was rounded, accomplished and hugely watchable and enjoyable. Love interest for Jenna came in the form of her local doctor who began seeing her as a patient when she fell pregnant. Busted star Matt Jay-Willis donned the stethoscope and white coat and delivers a beautifully careful and crafted performance, with again some admirable vocals. Additional performances of note came from George Crawford as Ogie an over enthusiastic poet and diner owner Joe charmingly observed by Michael Starke.

 

This a musical with a message and proper narrative, with an inventive set design from Scott Pask and some fabulous orchestrations from the Sara Bareilles Waitress Band with arrangements from Nadia DiGiallonardo. There are some top-class songs on the menu.

 

So, get yourself along to the diner, it runs this week at The Hippodrome and then on national tour. You will not be disappointed with what is on offer.

*****   Full of wonderful ingredients

 

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

 

David will also be talking about his visit to Waitress on his Musical Magazine Radio Show this Thursday from 8pm on Box Office Radio.

Helen Anker (Tanya), Sara Poyzer (Donna), Nicky Swift (Rosie) in MAMMA MIA! .P_c_Brinkhoff

Mamma Mia

 

Birmingham Hippodrome Runs until 14th May.

 

“Still a winner that outshines them all.”

 

It is the sixth longest running musical in West End history and has been a huge success on the national and international touring scene for many a year. And its popularity shows no sign of waning. On a grey Wednesday evening in Birmingham, it is just what the travel agent ordered, bright blue skies, a welcoming taverna, and an endless loop of ABBA hit on the jukebox.

Sophie Sheridan is on the verge of marriage to Sky, she has been brought up by single mother Donna, Sky is keen to have her father take her down the aisle and summons up the three most likely candidates, Sam, Harry, and Bill to join her on the island for the big day. Also on the guest list are Donna’s former bandmates Rosie and Tanya. So, the list is complete, and the story unfolds neatly as we all shuffle diligently towards the cliff-top chapel.

But in truth the story is the backdrop, the focus is the magnificent back catalogue of the Swedish quartet. So many huge hits, beautiful narratives, and such comfortable bedfellows with the musical theatre genre. None of the numbers seem awkward or out of place, particularly in the capable of hands of some accomplished performers. Jena Pandya is delightfully innocent as Sophie, her relationship with her mother Donna creates some sparkling and at times moving moments.  Sara Poyzer is in full control as Donna, creating big stand-out moments with The Winner takes it All, as well as touchingly vulnerable when she delivers Slipping through my Fingers, a powerful and rounded performance. She is ably assisted by Nicky Swift as Rosie and Helen Anker as Tanya, both squeezing out every drop of summer fun and sunshine. Richard Standing is in great commanding form as Sam one of Donna’s previous beaus and a potential Dad for Sophie. Again, in line with all the principles, he serves up some top-notch vocals. James Willoughby Moore is certainly worthy of a quick mention, he is hugely energetic as Pepper and cleverly balances some nice humorous moments.

None of the summer shine has been lost over the years from this mega-hit. So don’t wait for the height of Summer for some much-needed warmth and rays, just check out the Mamma Mia tour website and go and soak in the sun, with ABBA blaring loudly front and center.

It runs until the 14th of May at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

 

*****

 

“Soak in the Sun, it still shines very brightly.”

 

David Robinson reviewed Mamma Mia at The Hippodrome on the 4th of May 2022

www.midlandsartsmagazine.com

6. Tom Babbage, Judith Amsenga, Wesley Griffiths, Michelle Collins, Daniel Casey, Etisyai

Cluedo 

 

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

Runs until Saturday 7th May

 

Four Stars “Playful and full of escapist energy”

 

You’ve played the game now you can immerse yourself in the ballroom, billiard room, and conservatory in this mischievous new stage version of the classic parlour game, lead piping is provided.

This new comedic whodunnit is from the same stable as The Play that Goes Wrong with director Mark Bell taking the murders at quite a gallop, pacey, visual and at times taking ingenious hurdles. Cluedo is coming home to Birmingham this week, it was Anthony Pratt during an air raid on Birmingham in World War Two who came up with original Boddy Manor, with its copious rooms and wonderful characters. The board game has gone through several reinventions and twists, and has had a successful movie script, Clue, devised from the game, and now with another throw of the dice we find ourselves on stage.

It works, and it’s a good game, the characters arrive at the Manor, with no sign of their host. A connection is discovered between the guests, they have a political tie, and it seems they all have rather shady secrets to conceal. And then the unfortunate murders begin to pile up, as do the slapstick chases from one room to another, David Farley excels with his revealing set-design. Michelle Collins and Daniel Casey take on the colours of Scarlett and Plum respectively and although by no means over used bring a lot of sparkle, glow, and undertones to their roles. Jean-Luke Worrell commands as the butler Wadsworth, admirable physicality, and expression with deft comic timing. Tom Babbage as the bumbling Reverend Green has a lovely control of all the farce going on around him, and his experience in the Play that goes Wrong stable is clear to see and enjoy. Harry Bradley brilliantly picks up a few of the extra characters and collects a few fatal blows at the same time. 

Post interval, the canter picked up even more, as indeed did the nonsense and enjoyment, the first half lacked the fizz it needs and was a little repetitive and indulgent.

But save getting the board game down from the loft until Christmas. Instead allow the game to roll out in front of you and indulge yourself with a very competent cast and a bright and merry night at the theatre.

 

David Robinson

www.midlandsartsmagazine.com

 

David will be talking about his visit to Cluedo on Thursday on his Musical Magazine Show on Box Office Radio at 8 pm.

REVIEWS

Patrick Duffy ( Daniel Corban) and Linda Purl (Elizabeth Corban)- Catch Me If You Can- Pho

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

Midlands Arts Magazine Reviews

Alexandra Theatre until April 30th

Writers Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert

Director Bob Thompson

Reviewed by Stephen Robinson

A delightful and ingenious script and a lovely and surprising addition to the current touring schedules, certainly different to your run of the mill stock thriller and ably presented by a stylish cast.

Catch me if you can is a comedy thriller, with plenty of twists and turns. The play is based in a remote house in the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York. Inspector Levine is called to investigate the disappearance of Elizabeth Corban. Her newlywed Husband Daniel is frantic and demands Levine investigates thoroughly and try and locate her after she had left the house following an argument some three days earlier. Soon after the Priest Father Kelleher calls returning his wife to Daniel, but Daniel states that the woman is not Elizabeth but an imposter. Everyone else supports the fact she is Elizabeth which then makes Daniel question his sanity The script continues to provide more twists and turns throughout and provides a surprising turn of events to conclude the play.

Patrick Duffy famed for his long-term run-in Dallas as Bobby Ewing plays concerned husband Daniel, he commanded the stage for much of the evening equally at home with the tongue in cheek humour as he was in gently warming up the temperature of the tension. Linda Purl plays Elizabeth Corban, she skilfully found some fascinating layers to the character and bounced off Duffy’s character brilliantly. Gray O’Brien arrives as the rather acerbic police inspector, a nicely balanced and observed performance, who does little to slow the roller coaster of twists and turns. There are pleasing supporting roles winningly detected by Ben Nealon as Father Kelleher and Hugh Futcher as Sidney the rather eccentric food store owner.

Julie Godfrey’s 60’s upstate New York design is a delight, and Bob Thompson direction is agreeably pacey and results in harmony between tension and humour, not always easy to equate but done with considerable spirit in the hands of this seasoned and accomplished company.

You need to keep focussed but hang on tight and enjoy the guessing and the giggling in equal measure all the way through to the surprising finishing line.

Midlands Arts Magazine

Runs at The Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 30th April

www.midlandsartsmagazine.com

Footloose - 2022 UK Tour - Photo Mark Senior-20.jpg

FOOTLOOSE

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until 23rd April

“You cannot fail to enjoy this infectious and breezy couple of hours.”

 

Feel good musical is much banded about popular description. It doesn’t always ring true, but for this 80’s classic it is a very fair description. The narrative is not peppered with gripping twists and turns, in truth it is that well known road trod before by similar singing pilgrims. A family down on its luck decide to give up the big city lights and give it a go in a backwater village, where the local church minister is the king pin, and yes, you guessed it music and that evil dancing is severely frowned upon. The stage show is based on the American musical film of the same name. The 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon received mixed reviews initially from the critics but went on to be a huge commercial success at the box office. Much like the movie, it is the song anthems and some incredible dance routines that save the day. Time for choreographer Matt Cole to take an extravagant bow.

That feel good atmosphere works best, as it did last night when we experience and share the joy of the performers. Joshua Hawkins is the city boy Ren, with a deep desire to break the ban on dance and music. He delivered a stunning performance full of innocent joy and pacey humour, topped by delightful vocals and dazzling moves. Lucy Munden as Ariel, the prodigal daughter of the Reverend takes a shine to young Ren and delivers an equally well rounded and powerful portrayal. Darren Day as Rev. Moore allows us an insightful glance into his world and the tangible struggles he and his wife played by Holly Ashton are grappling with. Both deliver beautiful solo numbers. Jake Quickenden does a great deal to keep the feeling light and bright and gifts us a charming version of Mama Says.

There were a few too many technical slips, but nothing that diluted the Footloose Feeling for very long.

 

Whatever era you like your music served up from, you cannot fail to enjoy this infectious and breezy two hours. Go and enjoy the feeling

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

David will also be talking about the show on his radio show this week.

Paula Kay, Jay Marsh, Yazmin Belo, Dale Mathurin, Connor Ewing - credit Geraint Lewis.jpeg

Coming to England

Birmingham Rep until 16th April

 

Floella Benjamin’s hopeful and honest biographical tale is brought to life with compassion and joy as part of the Rep’s current Commonwealth Season. We are prompted to be compassionate to others and ourselves, to like ourselves, and to greet the world with a smile. That smile was evident across Baroness Benjamin’s face as she thanked the first night audience at the end of the performance. Her desire was to create a family musical about her life, through a child’s eye, but with a resounding and current message for families and schools of today. This she has achieved with considerable style.

That joy was carried with enviable energy by the cast, steered by Paula Kay as Benjamin, she oozed confidence and satisfaction, a jubilant mix of wide-eyed optimism tethered by a realism of racism in 60’s Britain. A tricky combination deftly handled by Kay. Her take on the classic Nat King Cole number “Smile” was a touching highlight.

A family musical can be a difficult beast, but with David Wood they have a skilled and very experienced adaptor, it’s light and yet does not sway away from being acutely educational and at times uncomfortable for a 2022 audience. The family leave Trinidad, an island full of carnival and fun and music and seek the opportunities they hope will await them in the motherland of Britain. The welcome is mixed, harsh and at times abusive. The family provide a lesson to us in contentment and perseverance. Omar F Okai both directs and choreographs with a jaunty warmth, a pleasurable understanding not only of the book but of the expected audience. The child like vision of the unfolding narrative is never overlooked. The songs are perhaps understandably a little uncomplicated and obvious, but pleasing nevertheless, as is the exuberant chorography. Tarik Frimpong, as younger brother Roy, doesn’t relent in his contribution to the joyful routines, and adds some nicely observed comic moments to his role. Bree Smith is a delight as Marmie, combining those much-discussed family traits of compassion with commitment with desirable artistry and finesse.

The journey is the centrepiece and rightly so, but it did leave me wanting to know how she managed to be a Play School presenter, and how did she develop into politics and become such a prominent campaigner, the modesty of the storytelling inevitably may leave you asking for a little more depth.

Coming to England is at The Rep until the 16th of April, it has arrived, now I would encourage you to go see. 

l-r Connor Curren (Christopher) and Tom Peters (Ed) in 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Rarely do you experience such a superb theatrical lesson in storytelling conducted with such speed and intricacy and with a technical backdrop to wonder at.

The stage adaptation by Simon Stephens is a significant re-working of the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon. The unfolding plot concerns an investigation by young Christopher Boone following the rather gruesome demise of his neighbour’s dog.

 

The plot develops into a play within a play and circles around Boone’s detective work, his autism, and his relationships with his parents and his teacher. The teacher, Siobhan played with a delightful trusting affection by Rebecca Root picks up a fair piece of the storytelling alongside Christopher. Trust is not in evidence between Christopher and his father, resulting in the young lad leaving Swindon and taking for him a rather confusing and hazardous journey to West London to see his mother. The ensemble came brilliantly to the party recreating the perilous trip, through major rail terminals, packed tubes, and dark London streets. Wonderful collaborative work from design, sound, video, light, and movement directors. Take a bow, Bunny Christie, Paule Constable, Finn Ross, Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett, Adrian Sutton and Ian Dickinson. Top of the class was director Marianne Elliott moving along the narrative with a phenomenal and admirable pace and clarity. The ingenious set is an ever-giving box of tricks continually surprising the audience as well as providing sliding drawers that are forever enlightening and meaningful to Christopher.

 

Connor Curren is a revelation as Christopher, his physicality, his pace, his huge concentration, and stamina results in providing to us a remarkable and gifted storyteller. We have a growing investment in him and his story and are happy to join him in a gentle cheer when he gains the “A star” results in A Level maths. It mattered to us and him, and this production matters as well to all ages. “A Stars” all round. It runs at the Hippodrome until Saturday. Go and see why it matters.

“A superb theatrical lesson, remarkable storytelling.”

 

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

Dylan Moran: We Got This 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham 

On National Tour

 

Whether you’ve watched him play Bernard Black in cult classic Black Books, dug into his Off the Hook stand-up aired on BBC in 2020, or familiar with new sitcom Stuck, Dylan Moran is back, but this time, live on stage again. 

There is palpable anticipation and buzz as the crowds wait for the doors to open at The Alexandra Theatre. This is Moran’s first live stand-up since “the thing”, a coded phrase in exchange for the life-sapping term, “lockdown”. 

Moran’s welcome is warm, genuine, and regardless of his scathing style, he acknowledges how good it is to be back on tour again. A shared feeling permeates across the auditorium that we’re all slightly fragile and changed from the events of the world over the last two years. The evening takes on a confessional approach and the audience is drawn right in. 

A master of voicing taboo observations, a section on life during “the thing”, bought the house down. He conjured up some knowing and suppressed laughs when regaling the traumas of being locked indoors with our supposed loved ones; “Have you always breathed like that?” and “is that really the way you chew?” 

The second half was a pacier number, with the addition of a section where he chatted with the ‘psychotic’ front row. Soon enough others from the audience were drawn to heckle, in several languages, to which he responded with sharp wit. One of Moran’s most charming qualities is his playing of a man baffled by the world around him, yet under that exterior, pulling the strings and commanding the stage. 

He performs his set with his trade-mark ease, charisma, and presence, qualities that won him the Perrier Comedy Award, the second youngest winner to date. But this act feels different from his previous work. He admits he’s still trying material out, “I could swing off so many ropes right now and I’m not sure which one to go for”. But who cares about the rougher edges, it’s equally nourishing to see the process. What makes this set different? There’s something intoxicating about the mix between the playful child and the worldly-wise comedian that makes this set feel somewhere between comedy, therapy, and church.  

Be sure to catch Dylan on his UK Tour We Got This, running from March – June 2022. You're in for a great night.

Nigel Richards as Cogsworth, Sam Bailey as Mrs Potts, Gavin Lee as Lumiere in Disney's Bea

Birmingham Hippodrome until 26th March

It may well be a tale of old, but no one tells a familiar story in a spectacular way quite like Disney. It felt like Theatre was well and truly back in Birmingham, with lights, glamour, music, roses, and a wonderfully warm razzmatazz. 

 

The tale in question has been reassessed and revised in this sparkling new production from Matt West and his creative team. An ungenerous Prince is dismissive to an elderly visitor and as a result is cursed with his beast like disfigurement. A curse that can only be broken when mutual love is found between him and another. Meanwhile time has stopped in his remote castle, where he only has clocks, and teapots and candlesticks for company. In the village Belle (Grace Swaby-Moore) is doing her best to avoid the unwanted affections of Gaston played with swagger and great aplomb by Tom Senior. Following some misadventures in the forest, Belle persuades The Beast (Shaq Taylor) to release her father from captivity, this he does but only if Belle agrees to stay in the castle with him. And so, the relationship between beauty and beast begins.

The production is a rich visual treat for the eyes, no expense is spared, it is as though all the big numbers are underlined in bright colourful pen. The “Be Our Guest” number is pure magic and comes straight out of a Hollywood classic musical movie. It also allows Gavin Lee as Lumiere and Nigel Richards as Cogsworth to shine brightly, they are both amusing delights throughout. Grace Swaby- Moore stepped in to play Belle, and provided innocence and power, alongside Shaq Taylor’s Beast, who not only delivered some superb vocals but also delivered a performance of sympathy and detail I hadn’t quite expected.

 

But then the whole show is an extravagant eye opener, and worthy of an extended run in the magnificent surroundings of somewhere like the Birmingham Hippodrome. Get along there and join the magic. 

‘Wonderfully warm Razzmatazz”

David Robinson

 

The Midlands Arts Magazine

Beauty and the Beast
 

Joanne Clifton as Morticia Addams & Cameron Blakely as Gomez Addams in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.

The Addams Family
 

This performance reviewed at The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham | On national tour see theaddamsfamily.co.uk/tour/ for details.

 

From a single panel cartoon created by Charles Addams to a TV American comedy series, to a film and then from 2009 a fun filled musical. After some revisions the gothic hit is up and running again heading out on a long UK tour. The Addams Family have rightly become a very welcome devilishly good addition to any theatre schedule.

At the heart of the story is family, a strange and rather macabre family unit, yes that’s true, but amongst the darkness and the swirling smoke is heart and a desire to follow the truth for the sake and love of those close to them. The spooky warmth is tangible.

The cardinal theme is family, and the central spot of the family wheel are Gomez and Morticia. But there is a threat of a severe diversion when the eldest child Wednesday declares to her father that she has fallen in love and plans to marry Lucas, someone who is far from what the Addams see as the norm. 

Cameron Blakely is a wonderfully twinkly Gomez enticing us into the kooky world of his family, he is dapper, fresh, and mischievous in equal measure. Sliding to his side is creepy Morticia. A sensational display by Joanne Clifton, juggling with skill humour, vocals and of course dance. The tango finale from Blakely and Clifton is a sparkling delight.

Scott Paige as Uncle Fester managed some excellent comedic timing, a joy to observe, ably partnered in the comedy stakes by Valda Aviks as Grandma. The vocal talents of Kingsley Morton as Wednesday Addams were both delectable and a joy.

That desire to follow the truth comes to a frenetic head when both families come together for a family dinner. The Full Disclosure number is a rousing accompaniment to any dinner and gives an opportunity for Kara Lane as Alice to close the first half in rousing style.

The set, costumes and make-up are rightly worthy of a commendable mention. Technically there were a couple of uncomfortable moments with the lighting spots not quite making their marks. But the bottom line is that it is a fun night out, with some catchy tunes, slick movement, and a cabinet of top-drawer performances.

So, if they come to your neighbourhood anytime soon, go and make a visit, you won’t be disappointed.

“a cabinet of top-drawer performances, and a fun night out.”

 

David Robinson

 

David will be chatting about his theatre trip on his Musical Magazine Show this Thursday form 8pm on Box Office Radio.

AF_042_Jersey_Boys_Alex_Theatre_Aston_Hall_JHP.jpeg

Jersey Boys

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham runs till 1st January 2022

There is no doubting that Jersey Boys is a worldwide smash hit, it had an amazing nine year run in the West End from 2008 to 2017 and is currently back amongst the West End lights this time in the recently refurbished Trafalgar Theatre. And now the mega hit embarks on another UK and Ireland tour including a Christmas residency at the Alex. It proves to be a very welcome seasonal visitor, without question one of the top jukebox musicals of all time. That jukebox kept sounding out the hits, much to the delight of the audience, underlining the continued popularity of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons, four guys from New Jersey who produced an amazing sound and an enviable back catalogue of hits.

 

You get four stories from the Four Seasons, “Don’t listen to them” they cry “Listen to me, this is what really happened.” From the backstreets and jails of New Jersey they all came, and they ended up in TV studios, with a string of Number One hits and eventual global fame. Entwined through it came deception, tragedies, break-ups, and near bankruptcy. Throughout it all particularly because of Bob Gaudio’s song writing and Valli’s superb and original vocals came a gift of incredible and unforgettable songs.

 

For the press night we were entertained by five seasons. Unfortunately, Michael Pickering who plays Frankie Valli became indisposed at the interval; he was obviously struggling with some throat issues in Act One, we wish him well with his recovery. He has a wonderful talent. He was replaced by Luke Suri for Act Two, he grabbed his opportunity brilliantly and was equally effortless in producing some exquisite vocals and injecting some nice belief into a couple of very touching moments.  Lewis Griffiths is very polished and calm as Nick Massi, Blair Gibson and Dalton Wood make up the rest of the line up as Gaudio and DeVito. Both sparkle without being showy, which I think sums up the success of the show. The music and the songs are the big stars, there are no big production effects or lengthy dance numbers, it is a masterful musical celebration of a great sound, with an earthy and real story thrown in for good measure. 

Give yourself a musical treat this Christmas and get along to see The Jersey Boys.

“A masterful musical celebration, and a treat for Christmas.”

 

David will be talking about the show on The Musical Magazine Show 

Thursday 8pm 16th December on BOX OFFICE RADIO

The Snowman (credit Herbie Knott).jpeg

The Snowman

The Snowman runs at The Birmingham Rep until 9th January. 

 

What could be better than a trip to see Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman coming to life on stage at The Birmingham Rep? Give yourself one last festive treat before tucking away the tinsel for another year.

 

The Rep first produced their stage version of Briggs’ 1978 picture book of the same name in 1993, since then it has been a staple of their Christmas fare, normally post New Year, with a run in London in December. It has had some revisions and additions over the years, but in essence remains a play of images with no words echoing the original book and the 1982 British animated film version. The only words we hear are those sung in the hauntingly familiar Walking in the Air. The music of Howard Goodall is beautifully befitting and slides along with graceful taste under the eye and baton of musical director Costas Fotopoulos.

 

The snow falls heavy, and The Boy gets dressed and runs downstairs with one task on his mind, to roll up the fallen snow and to build himself a snowman, with a floppy hat, buttons, eyes, and a vegetable nose. He and his parents are thrilled with the result, but the responsible adults coax their son to bed, with the promise that his new friend will be waiting for him in the morning. The temptation to check on The Snowman in the night is too strong, The Boy awakes, and soon after so does The Snowman, and so the night-time adventure begins for both. Ethan Sokontwe as The Boy had commendable stage presence for a nine-year-old he had just the perfect mix of awe, and mischievousness together with some smartly polished moves.  His new snow-clad friend somehow brings a beguiling warmth to such a cold companion, and again showed some accomplished dance moves. The Boy gave his new friend a tour of his home including dancing fruit in his kitchen and playful toys in the nursery, which incorporated a beautiful solo from Ana Freire as The Music Box Ballerina. And then after re-energising himself in the deep freeze, The Snowman was ready to take The Boy’s hand and together they could fly to his land accompanied by Goodall’s spot-on score. It was a strangely magical and emotional flight by the duo as they floated and flew to an Arctic landscape.

 

Other wonderful Snowman characters awaited in this new land, including Fred Astaire and a Cowboy, together with of course Father Christmas played with a delightful avuncular nature by Antony Edwards. The only dark speck in the snow comes from party pooper Jack Frost winningly played with a touch of menace and nuisance by Barry Drummond. 

Christmas Day brings a thaw, and the magic drains away to leave just a scarf and a floppy hat and some wonderful, extraordinary, and enchanting memories for The Boy, and indeed for all of us.

The set and staging are simple, the story and the festive warm feeling begins with a walk and ends with a triumphant flight.

It’s place in the Christmas calendar is rightly secure and should be on your seasonal to-do list for next year.

​“Strangely magical, emotional, extraordinary and enchanting”

David Robinson

 

David will be talking more about his visit to The Rep next Thursday 13th Jan from 8pm on The Musical Magazine Show on Box Office Radio.

46. CHICAGO. Darren Day 'Billy Flynn' and The Company. Photo Tristram Kenton.jpeg

Chicago

The Grand Theatre Wolverhampton

And then on a national tour.

 

The Kander and Ebb classic continue to roll and dazzle, with a relentless forthcoming tour currently running including dates well into the Spring of next year. The obvious popularity is there for good reason it still manages to entertain and cast a broad smile from it’s simple set to the stalls up to the circle and beyond. I caught up with all the jazz at the opening night in Wolverhampton this week.

 

The arrangement and indeed the sound from the on stage live band is superb, ably directed by Andrew Hilton, who manages to build himself a wee cameo dramatic role into the piece as well for good measure. The brass section is a particular sweeping highlight.

The songs are in essence vaudeville in style and move on at a pace giving little time to dissect the rather loose story of…. murder, bribery, jealously, justice and showbusiness. Just another regular day in 1920’s Illinois. The music and the movements however are worth dwelling on for a moment, some of Bob Fosse’s original ultra-sharp choreography quite rightly remains front and stage centre of the production. All the principals were on their toes and on top form. Special mention to Billie Hardy who had stepped into the shoes of Roxie Hart for the evening, and they fitted perfectly a great acting balance of humour and desperation coupled with her heartfelt and sincere vocals. Djalenga Scott as Velma covered and indeed commanded the Grand stage with ease poise and a very watchable believability.  Darren Day had fun with Billy Flynn the lawyer, bringing all his experience to the role, he had admirable natural timing and stage presence. The supporting cast are worthy of a notable mention with brilliant and tight dance routines throughout and nice little portrayals by Joel Benjamin as Fred and Ishmail Aaron as a juror.

 

There was a little battle between band and vocals at times, with one in fifth gear and the other staying in fourth. But in essence the razzle dazzle very much remains on the streets of Chicago. And long may it be so.

 

Chicago is at the Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday and then continues its national tour. https://chicagothemusical.com/international-tour/

 

​“Strangely magical, emotional, extraordinary and enchanting”

David Robinson

 

David will be talking more about his visit to The Rep next Thursday 13th Jan from 8pm on The Musical Magazine Show on Box Office Radio.

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The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

You know the big day is getting closer when you take up the invite to attend Tchaikovsky’s seasonal classic The Nutcracker. The snowflakes, Christmas Trees and sugar plums are all on display here courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, gracing the Hippodrome stage until the 11th of December. This new reimagining has choreography by Peter Wright and production by David Bintley. All the traditional ingredients, much like a plum pudding are there to see and enjoy and indeed contribute warmly to a festive feel drifting across the stalls. And yet it is a couple of things not normally listed at the top of the ingredients list that add a much-appreciated taste to the delights, mainly the superb and evocative lighting from Peter Teigen and the effective and encompassing projection effects from 59 Productions, which complement and enhance Dick Bird’s elegant and alluring set design.

 

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia are perched up high on a mantlepiece overlooking the proceedings in the Country House and the Snow Kingdom. Conductor Paul Murphy steers with great skill from his lofty position, with the harpists in particular rightly and deftly making the most of their moments.

 

There is little hiding place for the dance soloists in the second half, and to the most part all blossomed in the spotlight and the snow.  Yasuo Atsuji was controlled and confident as The Prince, with Reina Fuchigami glowing and extremely watchable as Clara. Karla Doorbar displayed great poise and discipline as The Sugar Plum Fairy. Valentin Olovyannikov had much merriment making magic out of his role as Drosselmeyer.

 

That lack of hiding place does mean the occasional slip in control and precision was there to be noticed, but the ingredients for a pre-Christmas treat are all there to be seen as well and the result is a treat to indulge yourself and your family and friends with this December. It will do you good.

“A warm festive feel and a pre-Christmas treat,”

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until the 11th of December.

 

David Robinson

Box Office Radio

The Musical Magazine Show Every Thursday at 8pm.

 

David will be reporting back on his trip and his review this Thursday at 8pm on his Musical Magazine show on Box Office Radio

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

On National Tour.

It is the most wide read and popular of the seven books that make up the Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy novel for children of all ages, by CS Lewis, that has captured the imaginations of generations and has rightly never been out of print and sits proudly on many bookshelves around the world. 

This new stage production by Michael Fentiman, based on the original Sally Cookson version does not shy away from creating fantasy and jaw-dropping images that will live long in the memory. The tour set and costume designs from Tom Paris are stunning and detailed created with enviable and painstaking precision. It all works and at time flies wonderfully.

The four Pevensie children are evacuated in World War Two to Scotland, and to a large rambling country house. In turn the children visit the land of Narnia, via the spare room and courtesy of the wardrobe. Lucy is first to discover Narnia, and she befriends a faun Mr Tumnus, who is later turned to stone by the White Witch for treason. Edmund is next to visit; he succumbs to the guile of the Witch and the offer of Turkish Delight and promises to tempt his siblings to all return to Narnia after falsely being offered a Princedom for his loyalty. The quartet return and benefit from the companionship of Mr and Mrs Beaver. A thaw is slowly drifting across Narnia, Aslan the Lion is on the move, and the Witch fears her powers are draining. The lion sacrifices himself for the sorrowful Edmund. But the children witness Aslan’s resurrection with the aid of the deeper magic. The witch is defeated, and the children become proud Princes of Narnia.

This is a delight to eyes and ears and heart. The ensemble and indeed a scattering of the principles are adept at singing as well as seamlessly playing a joyous variety of carried instruments, from cellos to penny whistles. There is it seems something to observe and enjoy in every corner of the space, nothing is wasted, every inch of the huge stage depth is capitalised on and never wasted.

Robyn Sinclair, Karise Yansen, Ammar Duffus and Shaka Kalokoh are the Pevensie siblings, they take us with them on their magical journey, wonderfully wide eyed and always believable.

Samantha Womack flies high as the White Witch, a beautiful balance of fear, frosty determination, and power grabbing. The power she fears is Aslan’s summer warmth. The lion is an elegantly crafted considerable puppet, ably steered and accompanied by the embodiment and voice of Aslan, powerfully portrayed by Chris Jared. There are many moments of note and satisfaction, the Beavers bring a nice sparkle, winningly brought to energetic life by Sam Buttery and Christina Tedders.

The winter has been long in the theatre world, this is a production that is loyal to Lewis and his heart felt allegory and brings a warm thaw and a glow that will you will carry and feel for some time to come. Long live Narnia. And as Lewis himself wrote in his poem The Planets, “Woes are mended, and winter has passed.”

Take a trip through the wardrobe before Spring comes.

Reviewed at The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham.  Runs until Saturday 12th March.

 

David will be talking about his trip to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on his Musical Magazine Show this Thursday from 8pm on Box Office Radio.