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REVIEWS

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Beauty and the Beast

Lichfield Garrick until 7th January 2024

***** “Belle of the Christmas Ball…a lavish treat”

A wonderful welcome to the festive season is in evidence at the Lichfield Garrick. This co-production with Evolution and written by Paul Hendy glosses on the magic dust generously and is engaging and hilarious in equal measure. The relatively small company deliver the story with enthusiasm and believability. The humour moments, of which there are plenty are served up in style by Garrick favourites Sam Rabone as the Dame and Ben Thornton as Phillipe. 

The Beast (Melad Hamidi) has been confined to his castle and his new rather grim look by evil fairy Nightshade (Sarah Annakin) and can only be released when he falls in love again and of course receives that feeling back from someone else. Thankfully he has the Good Fairy Cupid (Natalie Pilkington) on his side, and she guides Belle (Kat Chatterton) to the Beast’s side. In amongst that Danton (Jacob Kohli) sees himself as the perfect suitor to all who comes his way and to Belle in particular. And then of course you throw the many comic deviations into the plot which are steered wonderfully by Sam Rabone and Ben Thornton. The Dame controlled the stage and certain folk on the front row from beginning to end a hugely entertaining and watchable performance from Sam. His foil was Phillipe and again Ben Thornton was warm, jovial, inviting and a good pal to the many younger members of the audience. Jacob Kohli is a delight and made the most of Danton’s belief in himself despite the incredulity of those around him.

The supporting ensemble are integral and are also on top form, as indeed were the merry band of musicians under the baton of Tom Arnold.

Pantomime tales are as old as time, yet this one will fire through with a refreshing smile and positivity and will keep you grinning right through into the new year.

Give yourself a lavish Christmas treat.

 

David Robinson

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The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Birmingham Rep until 28th January 2024

 

*****  “Pacy, punchy and Poignant.”

 

This timely adaptation of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe Direct from the West End comes to Birmingham and transports us to the awe-inspiring magical world of Narnia with this wonderfully creative production which engages our imagination and our senses in equal measure. 

At its heart it is a children's story from CS Lewis, but it is a tale that also looks at issues including the very real wartime anxiety of the four children, the battle between good and evil and the impact of the Second World War.

There is a lot of pressure and expectation with retelling such a well-known story, but this production doesn’t disappoint. A combination of impressive stage effects, unique puppetry and innovative costumes blend expertly in creating a seamlessly engaging and fresh take on this classic story. 

The music, skilfully played live by many of the actors stands out as one of the key elements of this spellbinding theatrical triumph. There is beautiful chemistry between the Pevensie children, (Daniel Apea, Kudzai Mangombe, Liyah Summers, Jerome Scott) and strong and accomplished performances from The Professor (David Birrell) and Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin) in particular.

The production is not for the faint hearted and holds on to many of the darker themes within the original story.  Younger audiences could vary with their response in how they felt about the convincing yet evil persona of the White Witch (Cath Whitefield) and her terrifying sidekick pack of wolves.

Despite some of its darker moments, the production also brought out the humorous aspects of the story and in particular, the delightful Mr & Mrs Beaver (Ruby Ablett & Samuel Morgan-Grahame) and Schroedinger the cat (Jonathan Charles) with his perfectly comically timed meows, delighted the audience.

The production was pacy, punchy and poignant. A must-see theatre experience and is a magical spectacular I will be telling everyone about.

 

 Reviewed by Freddy Goymer on the 17th of November 2023.

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The Nutcracker

 

Birmingham Royal Ballet

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until 9th December

 

**** “The Perfect Christmas Curtain Raiser”

We know the big day is approaching when the snowflakes begin to drop across the Hippodrome stage. The sumptuous and classy BRB production of Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker is back for another festive season. It has become the perfect Christmas curtain raiser and is a firm local favourite partnering with the German Market for popularity in the second city. It has been beautifully reimagined of late and now drips with Christmas style and sentimentality throughout. John MacFarlane’s designs sparkles and embraces the vast stage with deep richness and colour. Indeed, despite the snowflakes there is an atmosphere of winter warmth throughout.

Beatrice Parma was a delight as the student Clara combining a lovely stage presence with some detailed and precise footwork. Momoko Hirata gave us a beautifully crafted Sugar Plum Fairy contrasting superbly with Mathias Dingman who was a bold and believable Prince. The rather strange and commanding Drosselmeyer swept unnervingly across the stage on many an occasion with Rory MacKay in great form casting the odd spell.

The company members were on point and were flawless in their support. The brilliance comes from the production values, mixed with Wright’s towering choreography and the grand music of Tchaikovsky under the steady direction of Koen Kessels.

There was a couple of random lighting cues now and again and a pause for a technical problem and the interval was very long. But this seasonal treat is a generous one and one worth partaking in. Why not indulge yourself with some wonderful winter warmth?

 

David Robinson

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Jesus Christ Superstar

 

The Grand Wolverhampton until Saturday 18th November

                                                      

**** “A radical revelation”

 

Jesus Christ Superstar has arrived in Wolverhampton and causes quite a buzz.  Well before its stage debut in 1971 on Broadway it was released as a successful concept album. This version graced the open-air stage in Regents Park in 2016 and was lauded with many plaudits. And it is clear to see why, nevertheless it doesn’t forget its album roots with handheld mics, spotlights, and plenty of flight cases in evidence. The plot circulates around Judas (Shem Omari James) who is frustrated with his leader Jesus (Ian McIntosh) and the direction the disciples are being steered. The staging is in the main contemporised with a sprinkling of the traditional courtesy of Caiaphas and his legal team.

 

Attitudes, subversions, and political grabs have all stood the test of time and sparkle here with a radical revelation. It is the reimagining from director Timothy Sheader that elevates the production and provides the gold dust the revival needed. It is earthy, believable and an igneous blend of the harsh and the sentimental.

Ian McIntosh gives out a humble light as Jesus, sharply crafted and genuine, it’s a tough line to be a superstar and a man of the people but McIntosh gets it and so do we. And to top that his vocals are remarkable.

His betrayer Judas is rightly less comfortable as the deception goes on Shem Omari James shares incredibly openly the inner fight Judas has and again has stunning vocals worthy of a great deal of silver. 

Drew Mconie’s choreography does most to bring us into the contemporary, the pace, the tightness bound up in baggy clothes and hoodies transport us wonderfully out of the biblical pages.

The ensemble shines throughout, and there are several other excellent individual performances to mention, Hannah Richardson as Mary, Ryan O’Donnell as Pilate and a standout moment from Herod courtesy of Timo Tatzber.

The mic stands are ready throughout and there is a “ready to rock” feeling even though one or two of the numbers like many an old rocker is creaking a little.

 

The cross looms throughout and the bloody conclusion to the Easter tale is always coming, and yet 50 years on the show remains a bright star and can still manage a surprise. A worthy resurrection.

 

David Robinson

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The Box Of Delights

 

RSC Stratford upon Avon until 7/01/24

 

**** “A Warm Winter’s Tale”

 

A winter favourite based on the novel by John Masefield of the 1930’s which was followed up by a hugely popular television adaptation by the BBC in the 1970’s. And now the interwar story has a stage incarnation courtesy of the RSC’s Christmas offering.  A hearty feast for the eyes that fills the vast mainstage with many a magical moment. Young Kay Harker comes in possession of a magical box and at the same moment finds himself betwixt a fight between two rival wizards. It’s a long yarn and the first act in particular meanders a little slowly with the magical box feeling a little overfull. The adaptation is by Piers Torday with direction by Justin Audibert a fresh and ambitious incarnation of the production seen at the Wilton’s Music Hall in 2017. There is a lot to see and take in, and indeed enjoy, from puppetry and video projection to conjuring moments and seasonal musicians plus more than a dash of some hugely effective lighting from Prema Mehta.

The scenes are short and plentiful, and Kay’s adventure takes many a turn and twist encountering a good mix of good and evil characters as he goes. Callum Balmforth as Kay grabs the box and is a likeable and straightforward Kay, joined on the journey by gun slinging Maria, played with joyous 1930’s energy and gumption, and then there is the reluctant Peter crafted superbly by Jack Humphrey, he doesn’t waste a moment of his time on stage and savours every line to its last syllable. Claire Price is commanding and hugely watchable as the scheming Sylvia Daisy Pouncer, and Stephen Boxer as the avuncular Cole Hawlings sells his tales with a warm believability. There are some delightful cameos from Timothy Speyer as the jovial Bishop and a hilarious and at times an enviable scene stealing performance from Melody Brown as the Mayor.

The technicians earn their keep, with flying characters, and a rising Phoenix and a departing steam train. Some of the edges still need sharpening with the rising waters moment not quite giving the desired effect.

Christmas has arrived and the box of goodies on offer here is a generous one and will warm up many a dark night in the days to come. It’s a warm Winters tale, with much to catch the eye.

 

 

David Robinson

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Murder in the Dark

The Alexander Birmingham until Saturday
*** “Many shades in the dark, and plenty of twists”

 

New Year’s Eve has arrived already. A faded music star Danny Sierra needs accommodation for himself and the family for the night following an incident with his vehicle. And of course, the weather is bad, the cottage is miles from anywhere, the wi-fi is non-existent, the lighting is dodgy, and the host is somewhat odd to say the least. And so, we delve into a rather baffling storyline, we have shades of an Agatha Christie, a ghost story, and a tale of the unexpected. Put those shades together and the final colour that merges is mixed and unclear. The script from Torben Betts has some clever moments and does have you hanging on during the many twists and turns particularly as it speeds towards its denouement. But you exit asking yourself “What happened?” rather than “That was clever.” Or “I wasn’t expecting that.”

The cast is strong and plough on admirably, Susie Blake is Mrs Bateman the curious host, she conjures up a heady mix of darkness, sensuality, morality, and fun. A lovely mix it was too. And Tom Chambers as Danny works hard, rarely leaving the stage, and despite all that was thrown at him remains believable and summons up a sharp and crafted portrayal. His ex-wife Rebecca is one of the New Year visitors and gives a nicely controlled and thoughtful performance.

The set is effective, and the essential technical support delivered well.

The genres in the end are too plentiful and the tension as a result is muted. But the steady performers are with you to delight and entertain.

We are asked not to reveal too much about the plot’s many turns and twists, so perhaps it may be worth you taking an early New Year’s trip yourself, see if you survive the Murder in the Dark.

Runs until November 11th at The Alexandra Birmingham

 

David Robinson

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Brown Boys Swim

 

Birmingham Rep until 4th November

 

**** Four Stars “Refreshing and Relevant”

 

Meet Kash and Mohsen, two adolescent Asian boys teaching themselves to swim. As they approach the end of their school lives together, and look to what lies ahead, they must learn to navigate the unknown waters of the end-of-school social - Jess’s pool party. 

Set between the pool, school, bus rides and the gym, James Button's simple but dexterous set, and Roshan Gunga's music score, transport us on the boy's quest for social acceptance. Khan's story is authentic, detailing Islamophobia today, which Kash and Mohsen wade through. They are labelled drug dealers, assumed to be shop lifters, and feel the stares of people in the pool. This is a story of brotherhood, the beauty of friendship, and the intimacy born from adversity. 

Kash (Kashif Ghole) and Mohsen (Ibraheem Hussain) perform with gentle generosity, towards one another and the audience. These are two performers who really listen to one another, and just as much is said in the powerful silences as when they're making Karim Khan's text sing. Sita Thomas' movement, within water and on dry land, are made to look effortless. At points they are synchronised in heightened physical movement, at others, they use their physicality to create humour in a shockingly cold shower sequence. Their comic delivery is often so natural, coupled with the vivid imagery they create (powerfully supported by James Bailey's lighting) that at points it holds the best of theatre and film together in the same space. 

 

This is a refreshing, timely piece of theatre, excellently directed by John Hoggarth, opening culture, religion, and history. Enriching, educating, gentle, honest, beautiful, and brutal. This is certainly worth a watch.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Rodda

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Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tré Copeland-Williams, Tarik Frimpong as The Drifte

The Drifters Girl

 

Curve Leicester until 4th November and then on tour

 

**** Four Stars: “Sharp sounds and Slick Storytelling”

 

 The story rotates around the hugely popular Motown band “The Drifters” and the woman who was responsible for pushing and pushing for their recognition and stardom, Faye Treadwell. She set the tone for other managers to follow and almost laser like moulded the act into not only a wonderful and timeless sound, but she also wanted them to be top of the pops in the business charts as well.

The Drifters can fill any jukebox with countless classics with an enviable back catalogue to call upon, their popular numbers are swept before us in double quick time ably presented by Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong, Ethan Davis, and Miles Anthony Daley who also covers as George Treadwell. The Drifters Girl herself for press night in Leicester was Loren Anderson a performance full of heart and some vocals that pack a hefty and emotional punch. The cast list is short, and the roles covered by the guys are numerous and quickly change before your eyes. The feeling throughout is one of interchanging, hardly surprising as The Drifters changed personnel at a regular rate, the result for the narrative is you don’t really invest or buy deeply into anyone’s story. The tightness of the choreography and the strong connection between the performers is clear to view and tangible and the set design from Anthony Ward is slick and clever in equal quantity.

In fact, the whole presentation is slick and smooth with some very sharp singing, the story arc though does sadly fade when it comes to gripping your interest.

Nevertheless, the songs power on and stage chemistry bubbles courtesy of some keenly crafted performances.

Get over to the Curve if you can.

 

David Robinson

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Twelve Angry Men

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

 

Runs until 4th November and then on tour.

 

**** Four Stars “The verdict is…. Gripping Stuff.”

 

This is yet another hugely commendable stage version of a classic black and white movie from Hollywood’s golden age. It’s gripping stuff from the opening scene with the twelve men good and true balancing the evidence and the life of the young defendant in their collective hands. It would seem straightforward at first with an eleven to one majority in favour of guilty. That is the cue for Juror 8 to begin his forensic unpacking of the evidence and if possible to slowly convince other jurors to stop and ponder again the evidence before them.

The pre-conceptions and indeed even the prejudices come to the fore and for some the examining of the case again becomes too much for them. Tempers and voices become raised a stark contrast to the dark and moody background of the set, a masterful design from Michael Pavelka, complimented by the delicate lighting design from Chris Davey. 

The rise in tension is also complimented by Patrick Duffy’s beautifully calm portrayal of Juror 8, he doesn’t force his view he just succinctly states his opinions and waits for the others, one by one to join him. It is underplayed nicely and is hugely watchable. At the other end of the scale when it comes to extreme excitability are Jurors 3 and 10 played respectively by Tristan Gemmill and Gray O’Brien, bubbling warmly throughout and in Gemmill’s case increases to a tangible boiling point. Both extremely well controlled portrayals.

The direction from Christopher Haydon keeps a very wordy piece rolling at a speedy canter and the second half in particular rolls along to its dramatic conclusion with admirable pace.

It’s a team event on stage and the ensemble work together well with some lovely nuances and crafty moments slipped in particularly from Paul Beech and Mark Heenehan as Jurors 9 and 4.

The exposition and the recollections work and draw us in because of the skill and timing of the talent on stage carefully corralled by steely director.

The themes are strong and relevant and the drama from film to stage remains gripping.

 

David Robinson

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The Good Enough Mums Club

 

Patrick Studio Birmingham until Saturday and then on tour.

 

**** “The Mums deliver on so many levels.”

 

It’s wonderfully refreshing to have champions and commissioners of new work particularly the ever-popular musical genre, so gratitude is due to the Birmingham Hippodrome and The Lowry Salford as well as a lengthy list of sponsors. The result is a tour of The Good Enough Mums Club, a musical on the strains and smiles of motherhood as seen and sung by five rather different mums. Their mission in their somewhat complicated and full-on lives is to be simply not only fit for the task of motherhood but to feel deep down that they are good enough for this job of a lifetime. A worthy aspiration, which with the help of the sisterhood they can push on and achieve.

There is a universal appeal about the piece despite a hefty chunk of its dialogue being navigated towards mothers in the audience. The humour is deftly crafted and timed with some clever storytelling from the quintet and a team spirit washed in warmth in defiance of the very different characters who turn up once a week at the council’s community centre. They become overcomers together, overcomers of some deep and real stuff, including depression, discrimination, loneliness, and child loss. But united they stand even when various dark clouds descend including the imminent closure of their comfortable community hall. The creation of the book and the song lyrics are courtesy of Emily Beecher, based very much on her own extensive experience as a young mum. The script is the result, a culmination of many stories picked up over many years form many mums.

 

The five mothers gather once a week with co-ordinator Bea (Joanna Kirkland) setting the weekly theme and giving out instructions with force from behind the kitchen hatch. Joanna Kirkland is a delight as the somewhat snooty Bea, balanced beautifully by Jade Samuels as Chantelle who is equally vocal and compelling and tops it by delivering a very different song choice when it came to her moment in the spotlight. Belinda Wollaston gives Esme spades of heart and emotion a superb portrayal.

There is much to enjoy, but still with a little room in the community hall for some development. The songs are in the main too samey and not hugely memorable, and then when it comes to the rolling out of the story it becomes at times too much to digest with a lot to take in with not enough time to allow us to dig deeper. More solo work from the mums away from the warmth of the hall would be a welcome fascination. It does though deliver on several levels, with the capacity to keep giving. The club should quite rightly attract more and more grateful members as the tour ticks on.

 

David Robinson

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Cowbois

 

Royal Shakespeare Company

 

Swan Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon until 18th November

 

**** Four Stars “It’s a golden rush.”

 

A wild and queer cowboy tale set-in small-town America boldly lands on the stage of the RSC’s Swan Theatre for a month. The boldness has many folds, it is an eager grab to reach over the core audience for something new as well as a wonderfully broad embrace around genders and rules. All are welcome it seems for most people in Frank’s saloon. The men folk are off in search of gold and have been absent for months, into the town wanders Jack Cannon (Vinnie Heaven) strutting and posing for all he is worth and turning many a head. But he is a bandit with a price on his head, and perhaps not all is as it seems with our Jack.

Charlie Josephine has created a wonderfully light narrative with strands of empowerment and passion entwined beautifully together with a few great tunes. Songs and movement pieces that were a bit on the truncated side. While Frank and the others are gold digging Lilian is the bar tender in chief. Sophie Melville crafts Lilian into many facets and is totally believable with her almost instant love for Jack. Their love scene is central and telling for all that follows for lovers. Vinnie Heaven gives us a controlled and patient Cannon, nicely portrayed, and delicately underplayed.

Act One is rowdy and at times a barrel of giggles with Emma Pallant as the God-fearing Sally Ann squeezing every ounce of comedic joy out of her character. Indeed, the comic joy of the romp continues apace until the grey and gruff husbands appear at the end of the act. Act two is little more problematic, it slows down considerably and has some preaching tendencies about it and has Jack inexplicably vacating the stage for some considerable time. The earnestness and darker tone do allow a list of other issues to be addressed but in no real depth. 

The jaunty and loud atmosphere returns courtesy of tightly choregraphed gun fight up and down the levels of the saloon.

There is plenty of charm, education, and heart about this little corner of the wild west and to go with it I suggest plenty of new patrons for the RSC. Long may the brave choices continue. Carry on Cowbois. It’s a golden rush, that will warm you right through in these Autumnal nights to come.

 

David Robinson

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Pretty Woman   

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until Saturday 28th October

**** Four Stars “Hooray for Hollywood”

The evergreen glitzy rom-com film has landed on stage, with a gala night in Birmingham this week prior to an extensive UK and Ireland tour. And Tinsel Town transfers to the West Midlands with smoothness and a touch of class. Hollywood in Birmingham…yes dreams really do come true.

Set in Los Angeles the musical follows two people with very different lives. Millionaire businessman Edward Lewis played by Oliver Savile and Vivian Ward played by Amber Davies. Savile is booming with dollars and confidence who alongside his lawyer Philip Stuckey played with assurance by Ben Darcy are intent on buying and breaking up the shipbuilding company of David Morse. At the other end of the money ladder struggling in a run-down apartment is Vivian Ward a portrayal full of heart and depth from Amber Davies. Vastly separate lives from different sides of the boulevard, but after all this is Hollywood, the city of dreams, a place where hopes can be achieved and for some people difficulties can be overcome. At least that is the steer given by an effusive and energetic Happy Man, a delightfully crafted performance from Ore Oduba.

It is a classic Hollywood story rich man saves a poor girl from a bad life. The show follows the 1989 movie with a close eye. Both main characters are comfortable in their roles. Happy Man/and Hotel Manager are both played by Ore Oduba and he manages with ease to bring some lovely comedy moments and he also treats us to his recently acquired and notable dancing talents.

Overall, the show is pacy and full of fizz, the opera scene is superbly staged and a great performance by Violetta played with considerable authority by Lila Falce-Bass. The sound was a little questionable in places particularly in some earlier moments.

The lights are bright at The Alexandra Theatre for a few more days, don’t miss it.

Reviewed by Stephen Robinson on 24/10/23

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until the 5th of November

 

 “ A Dream Ticket”  ***  Three Stars

 

Book, film and then stage musical that seems to be popular on the menu for Roald Dahl classics. For starters Matilda is still a huge hit in the West End, The Witches are heading for the National Theatre as a tasty Christmas treat this year and then we have for the very sweet course the touring production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Easily the most interpreted of his children’s classics but arguably also perhaps his most problematic.

The basis of the musical is of course the novel with a sprinkling of the Warner Brothers movie sparingly added from time to time. This is the Leeds Playhouse festive production from last year, the first revival since the Sam Mendes London version of 2013.  

There is a generous helping of talent on display all hoping for the golden ticket and a trip to Willie Wonka’s confectionary heaven.  Jessie Lou-Harvie is a steadfast and assured Charlie Bucket ably delivering the vocals whilst also balancing nicely her keen desire for the magic ticket with her admirable family values and fairness. She grabs the hand of Grandpa Joe played by Michael D’Cruze and heads for the factory gate with the final 5th ticket in hand. D’Cruze is a twinkly, avuncular, and nicely crafted Joe partnered well with the wide-eyed Charlie. Joining the family in the rather Dickensian dwelling is Christopher Howell as Uncle George, Howell also shines and swells when he becomes the rather pushy Mr Salt who believes a bit of cash is the route to happiness for himself and his obnoxious daughter Veruca a beautifully choregraphed performance from Kazmin Borrer. 

We are transported to the factory gates in the run up to the interval, the first half becomes somewhat predictable in its delivery, with news anchors reporting in on the success of an unlikeable quartet of golden ticket winners. Charlie is winner number 5 and has at last her dream ticket to the works and to meet Willie Wonka himself. Gareth Snook is the effervescent and energetic Wonka, somewhat over the edge as opposed to on it. There is a little lacking when it comes to the likability, vulnerability, and layers of Wonka. He does convincingly belt out the songs with ease and style and has an engaging and very watchable presence.

The chocolate story for me got sticky and slow was also lacking in layers and for the most part tasted rather similar except for some notable and cleverly projected creative moments. The orchestration, direction, and sound from the band under Ellen Campbell was superb, and the songs whilst not hugely memorable were executed with class and style.

And so, it remains a little problematic, but is still a dream ticket worth grabbing for a show with much to enjoy and lots to digest.

 

David Robinson

Annie

 

Wolverhampton Grand. Runs until Saturday 14th October

 

**** Four Stars “Flawless Family Fun” Midlands Arts Magazine

 

It is a familiar story of the good old American Great Depression. There runs a long dividing track with orphan Annie on one side enduring just the basic of care from Miss Hannigan (Craig Revel Horwood) and then on the other somewhat brighter side is billionaire Daddy Warbucks full of dollars and Christmas spirit. 

Nikolai Foster and the creative team polished and shined the production some years ago and the gloss still sparkles with some determined and hugely effective choreography from Nick Winston and a set that delights from Colin Richmond. Annie grabs an opportunity to flee the orphanage and with an obedient dog in tow heads for the bright lights. She is quickly deposited back to Miss Hannigan but remains focussed on tracking down her parents. The turning point arrives when Grace Farrell from the Warbucks empire offers Annie a Christmas seasonal break at the Warbucks mansion. Dreaming about tomorrow in the titular role on press night was Sharangi Gnanavarathan. One to watch for sure with an easy and watchable stage presence and vocals to match. Craig Revel-Horwood is back in familiar surroundings for him as Hannigan, he excels and eases across the stage with assured comic timing and style and with the odd swing and chassis to assist. He carves out just the right balance of realism and pantomime. The “Easy Street” number is a slick highlight ably delivered by Hannigan and joined by Rooster and Lily superbly characterised by Paul French and Billie Kay. French seems to relish the sly and plotting Rooster, creating the guise of Annie’s father. But never fear Warbucks saves the day and the orphan finally welcome her officially into the family arms. Alex Bourne is a stylish and accomplished Warbucks with the right measure of gravitas and believable affection.

 

The second half loses its way a little in plot development but still embraces the very definition of a family musical, demonstrated by a very multi aged audience cramming into the Grand on a Tuesday night.

That was last night, maybe “Tomorrow” it could be for you. It may not be “Easy Street,” 

but Lichfield Street is the place for some flawless family fun.

 

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

Hayley Tamaddon (Miss Hedge) in Everybody_s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre. Pho

 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until the 14th of October

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Lauren

 

***** Five Stars “Certainly worth talking about…. seek out a ticket quick!” The Midlands Arts Magazine

 

There is a reason why Everybody’s talking about Jamie 

 

This show has shot to the top since opening in Sheffield in 2017 and transferred straight to the West End. The story has resonated with thousands across the country and continues to tour to packed out audiences. The musical is vibrant, entertaining, talent filled and full of heart.  

 

Jamie, 16, has a dream to become a drag queen and wear a dress to the school prom. With supportive relationships from his Mum (Rebecca McKinnis,) best friend Pritti (Talia Palamathanan), and a fairy tale-like encounter with the once notorious drag queen Loco Chanelle (John Partridge) they encourage Jamie in his endeavours. Although Jamie not only has to face the bullies at school but has come to terms with the true character of his father. 

 

Every aspect of the production deserves praise, the score has a plethora of captivating songs, the design is delightful, and the choreography is fantastic. The plot itself is drawn from a true story. The writers have brilliantly captured the hardships of teen life, the desire to be accepted and the wonderfully joy that comes when people are able to be their real selves.  

 

The ensemble is strong throughout. Obvious mentions go to the lead Jamie played by enigmatic Ivano Turco. McKinnis is fabulous, bringing a lot of truth and emotion to the role of Mum, partnered by her loving friend Ray (Shobna Gulati) with superb comic technique. Palamathanan as Pritti is brilliant and has a wide range of skill, showing the struggle of her characters understanding of Jamie’s ambitions while also wanting to be his biggest cheerleader.  

 

This musical isn’t in the genre I would usually go to see but was won over before the end of the first song. I encourage you to seek out a ticket if you can find one, and take along your friends, family and the even the sceptics as you are all sure to have an uplifting, fantastic time.  

 

The review will appear in The Midlands Arts Magazine this week and David will talk about it on his radio show tomorrow night.

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Calendar Girls : The Musical

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until Saturday 7th October

 

Reviewed by David Robinson

 

**** four stars “It’s a welcome day of late Summer”

 

It is a transfer from screen to stage that doesn’t disappoint. It brings a few last days of summer sunshine to The Alexandra this week. Go and soak it up if you possibly can. The Women’s Institute musical recipe cooks up warmth, emotion, fun and female fellowship and simmers up the heart to a lovely temperature.

The story is a true one the local WI Chair, Marie (Paula Tappenden) likes to keep everything traditional, with plenty of Jam and Jerusalem on display and a yearly calendar is produced in similar a similar vein. It is all straightforward and plain in true Yorkshire style. Until Annie (Tanya Franks) reveals to the gang the tough time she is struggling with. Her husband John (Colin R Campbell) is suffering from leukaemia and eventually succumbs to the disease. The ever-effusive Chris (Amy Robbins) proposes a surprisingly daring way to honour John’s memory and at the same time to purchase some new furniture for the relative’s room at the local hospital. And so, the revealing new WI Calendar takes centre stage, as do the women and the buns, and fruit, and piano and a strategically placed watering can.

Amy Robbins and Tanya Franks are a beautifully believable and a real double act, engaging, likeable and driven with an admirable northern determination. It is a joyous cast that together bring a circle of heartfelt entertainment to their village hall. Marti Webb, Lyn Paul, Maureen Nolan, and Honeysuckle Weeks all are strong, light, and assured and with powerful delivered vocals when it came to their moment in the singing spotlight.

The narrative and the arc of the story are clear and delightfully delivered. The music and lyrics courtesy of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth are steady and honest if at times a little repetitive and lacking in energy. 

But all in all, the sunshine is let in, and the mood is bright and colourful, and ultimately uplifting.

Enjoy the sunshine

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. c. Brink
Keir Ogilvy (Boy), Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and the cast of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the end of the Lane

 

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre 

 

Runs until Saturday 30th September

 

***** Five Stars “Where does reality stop, and imagination begin?”

 

A night of magic and illusion, of heartache and memory. Joel Horwood’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s, The Ocean at the end of the Lane, enchants you from the moment the first ethereal lantern is lit, with a set that floats into being through the mist and an ensemble that quite literally builds every scene with a gentle yet powerful touch, affording respect to every moment.

The Ocean at the end of the Lane is a tale of the past, plunging us into Boy’s forgotten memories. At a time of grief and trouble at home, Keir Ogilvy’s Boy, meets the Hempstock women, 3 generations of farmers, who tend to far more than their farm. Their safe, lantern-lit, haven of a farmhouse is in stark contrast to the wooded outside “edges” where dark forces would enter the world if the Hempstocks did not keep them at bay.

 

Lettie Hempstock, played masterfully by Millie Hikasa, is the perfect storyteller to guide you on the journey through world building and understanding the otherness surrounding the Hempstock farm. She takes Boy securely by the hand to lead him through the dangers outside of the farm’s cosy safety. And she leads us too, playfully, commandingly, until our emotions are abandoned to her capable hands (my husband cried several times in Act 2).

The strength of this production lies in the potent combination of Katy Rudd’s captivating direction of the ensemble and the addition of Jamie Harrison’s magic and illusions. Their blend of skill gives physical grounding to the fantastical story, making it delightfully, surprisingly, terrifyingly, real. The ensemble arranges the set pieces around each scene, hovering, lingering, and dissipating in such a way that you feel the very nature of memories, that they shift and change and cannot fully be trusted.

 

Two technical issues during the production did not ruin the atmosphere for one second. I remained fully emersed and delighted from beginning to end. A testament to the magic cast on us all.

 

Miriam Sarin

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The Merchant of Venice 1936

 

RSC RUNS UNTIL 7TH OCTOBER AND RETURNS IN 2024

 

**** Four Stars  | “A pin that points sharply and relevantly ”

 

If you drop into the East End of London in 1936 and put a pin in Cable Street then there is a distinct possibility that blood, antisemitism, and hatred will drip onto the streets. And so, it does for resident Shylock, who opens her door to Antonio, and as a result her dangerous world grows darker as a sinister loan for the Merchant Antonio is brokered.

The backdrop to this joint production between the Palace Watford, Home Manchester and the RSC is the rise of fascism in 30’s Britain. Oswald Mosley and his brand of British Fascists wrap themselves in the union jack and plan a march through the Jewish East End of London, right past Shylock’s front door. An uncomfortable recipe of love, money, greed, and prejudice is mixed before our eyes and our memories need not be long to understand the results that are served up become hard to swallow. The pin can point sharply in Brigid Lamour’s hugely relevant production.

The levels in what can be problematic play are not shirked, privilege, and class, and desire. The tricky outcome is the clamour to find a wholly likeable character is never an easy task. Nevertheless Tracy-Ann Oberman delivers the human side to the money lender Shylock in a way I have never witnessed before. Heartfelt, real, and fierce in equal measures. Hannah Morrish is a beautifully observed Portia, who could have easily drifted in statuesquely from a Noel Coward production next door. Reserved, cool and yet controlled when it came to her hapless suitors. Raymond Coulthard’s Antonio is a menacing presence never really dropping his guard and we are left feeling he has a slice of his life he is keen to keep wrapped up. Gavin Fowler as Bassiano is battling for likeability as the young and ultimately successful suitor to Portia a nicely engaging and rounded portrayal that partners ideally with the laddish and bar room antics of Gratiano enthusiastically played by Xavier Starr, a thoroughly enjoyable performance that demanded attention.

This is an accessible and important Merchant of Venice a journey that the audience needs and joins with from gentle singing and candle lighting to riots, and street battles and the trickle of blood. The cry is for unity and togetherness and from it come strength and a sense of overcoming.

The 1936 setting is a play for today.

 

David Robinson

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The Importance of Being Earnest?

 

Say That Again, Sorry?

 

The Pleasance for the run of the Edinburgh Fringe

 

****   Four Stars  “Wild and Wonderful. “

 

Oscar Wilde was a man known for his desire to take the occasional risk and so to it seems do the hugely entertaining Say it Again Sorry Company. So much so at one point I counted more audience members on stage than I did actors. And yet it held together throughout almost better than the flimsy set. The bones of it are the classic and delicious text of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the flesh and indeed the fun is the urgent need for audience members to be scooped from their seats to fill in for the indisposed actors. With a great deal of relief my nervous glances towards the floor meant I wasn’t hauled under the lights but a good many around me did, some with an eager star in their eye others reluctantly shoved by grateful neighbours.

They are all guided and steered by their new wide eyed professional colleagues, the show must go on, regardless of it seems of what is thrown their way, or indeed who. Trooping on in style are Rhys Tees who must play a multiple of roles and genders, and does so with an assured ease and sparkle, as does Guido Garcia Lueches who has a steely determination to plough on, as Algernon and has an admirable comic flair. Tom Bulpett plays the long suffering and increasingly manic director nicely building throughout, a lovely mix of control, but shuffling to the edge of blind panic at the same time.

 

Most fringe shows are of course desperate for a good audience, that is true here in more ways than one, and the new stars for the night rightly took their deserved bow at the end. It is fast paced frivolity and a shared piece of amusement that is worthy of a watch.

 

Runs at the Pleasance until the 27th of August 

Tickets via edfringe.com

 

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

Box Office Radio

08439. Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet. Cordelia Braithwaite 'Juliet' & Paris Fitzpatric
02856. Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet. Cordelia Braithwaite 'Juliet' & Paris Fitzpatric

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

 

Curve Leicester until the 8th July

 

Five Stars ***** “Star crossed and full of star quality”

 

The tale is timeless, the risks are sharpened the passion is front and centre and the youthful vitality is a joy to marvel at. It can only be a Sir Matthew Bourne interpretation of the classic Shakespearean tale of forbidden love. It is a divine retelling that is set to dazzle audiences again nationwide this year. This is a story that has been approached you would think by just about every clever and acute angle, well think again, Bourne drops us into the stark and clinical surroundings of the Verona Institute an uncomfortable location, a place it seems for young people to be held and to be pushed to conform, using various dark means. The new angle is sharp and different, and when combined with Prokofiev’s score and the orchestrations from Terry Davies, plus Lez Brotherston’s blunt and bare set it works, and it works very well. 

The choreography is full of punch and restrained anger at first, the captive youngsters frustrated by their incarceration are full of delightful and rhythmical jumps and twists. Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) shyly and reluctantly is introduced to the institute. He has a warm and welcoming unique welcome to the fold courtesy of Mercutio (Harry Ondrak Wright) Benvolio (Cameron Flynn) and Balthasar (Jackson Fisch). They make a dazzling trio full of infectious expression and passion. Meanwhile the brusque and moody Tybalt (Danny Reubans) is the ever-watchful prison guard with more than interesting eye cast on the youthful and innocent Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite)

The young lovers in amongst the angst and pain finally come close under a bewitching mirror ball. Young love is duly celebrated, but not for long, the tipsy Tybalt puts a damper on the party and the inevitable tragedy brings down the lights on the first half.

The sparkle and the drive are a little muted, probably not surprisingly in the second half, but the elements of surprise, passion, expression, and pure joy keep tumbling across the stage. Thanks in no small part to Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite who are determined, fresh and full of shining intricacy and connection. Star quality in spades from the star-crossed lovers.

Sir Matthew Bourne delivers again with something very new and original from something very old and familiar.

 

David Robinson

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As You Like It

 

RSC Stratford upon Avon 

 

Runs until 5th August.

 

Four Stars **** “There is a good deal to like about it.”

 

The wonderful, almost magical forest of Arden is securely positioned outside the typically wooden clad rehearsal space in this play within a play that brackets this early Shakespeare comedy beautifully. Here in this new light-hearted produced by Omar Elerian the jolly band of tearaways are compiled of a cast of veteran actors with an average age dropping into the mid-seventies and an admirable catalogue of experience to go with them. The combined age may be a mature one but the romance, the sweetness, the comedy and even the moments of slapstick are all hugely refreshing and at times touchingly captivating.

The experienced company slowly mooch into their familiar rehearsal hall all set to recreate the same comedy they were involved in way back in 1978. Some of the original cast we are informed are unable to make it, so some young new recruits are drafted in to assist with various supporting roles. The gang of old friends are delightful company, and we are welcomed into the rehearsal space with open arms, there are even moments of straight addressing to the front few rows of the stalls that deepens the joyous involvement. We relive the story and their memories together; it almost feels at times improvised, innocent and revelatory. Geraldine James is an impish delight as Rosalind, an encouraging purposeful leader to the veteran rally and yet at times also sweet and sentimental in her wooing of Orlando convincingly crafted by Malcolm Sinclair. Rosalind’s reliable cousin Celia is superbly portrayed with vigour and a slice of zest by Maureen Beattie. Touchstone is the fool with personality and warmth and a good deal of connection with the audience, James Hayes plays the rogue for all its worth and reaps the rewards courtesy of drumming up the best laughs.

It is a production full of warmth and heart and indeed hope. It slightly slows and deviates in the second half, but all in all there is a good deal to like about it, a meaningful, spirited, and fun evening.

 

David Robinson

Domonic Ramsden, Keir Oglivy (Boy), Aimee McGolderick and Millie Hikasa (Lettie) in The Oc
Charlie Brooks (Ursula) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. c. Brin
Keir Ogilvy (Boy), Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock) and Millie Hikasa (Lettie) in The Oc

The Ocean at the end of the Lane

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

 

Runs until Saturday 27th May

 

***** Five Stars “The 5-star lights are burning bright all down the lane.”

 

Imagination, magic, reality, and vivid memories all collide in the National Theatre’s mesmerising production of Neil Gaiman’s evocative tale for all ages. Joel Horwood adapts for the stage with grand style matched in the bravery and swagger stakes courtesy of the direction by Katy Rudd. It is a generous feast to the eyes and the ears, with the frequent physical theatre moments a real treat. The lighting, sound and illusions are clever and dexterous, and the puppetry is executed masterfully, all of which when you put it together you might think will overshadow the tale, but it doesn’t partly down to the adaption by Horwood, but in the main is down to some superbly crafted storytelling by the impressive cast. It is a theatrical event that sheds a spotlight on talent, both on and off the stage.

Boy (Kier Ogilvy) finds himself in the company of the Hempstock family, a simple trio of farmers, but not is all that it seems, which is evidently a running theme, the family are there to keep any darker forces at bay. Back home the boy’s father (Trevor Fox) is seeking to increase the family income by taking in a paying lodger. Boy has rightful suspicions about Ursula the new lodger played with an enticing and yet chilly charm by Charlie Brooks. Boy and the young Hempstock Lettie (Millie Hikasa) set about protecting our world from the persistent and rather sinister “fleas” of the other world. And in truth the acting and energy credits go to Ogilvy and Hikasa they produce brilliant, creative, and totally watchable performances. Finty Williams as Old Mrs H balances her humour and depth beautifully, a deftly crafted portrayal.

A magical night at the theatre doesn’t come around too often. There are several references to other children’s fantasies throughout the piece, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and CS Lewis’ Narnia stories. Gaiman can add his name to the impressive list, climb through the 

window and experience the world at the end of the lane and be prepared to be captivated.

 

David Robinson

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Heathers: The Musical

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

 

Runs until Saturday 20th May

 

Four Stars **** “Straight to the top of the class.”

 

An acute and decisive teen movie of the 80’s is now for a certain generation a must-see musical for today. And it is easy to spot why, whether you catch it in London or during its current extensive national tour, you have until Saturday this week to grab a ticket in Birmingham. So, what is on the curriculum? Well not St Trinian’s that is for sure more of a rather outrageous snapshot of an American High School and the sharply defined communally accepted social strata that exists within it. Top of the pyramid are the Heathers themselves, Chandler, Duke, and McNamara, they may well dress in plaid and swing the odd croquet mallet but there is nothing “jolly hockey sticks” about them, together they form a rather unscrupulous trio. But it seems that to be in their exclusive club is the place to be and Veronica Sawyer doesn’t hesitate when given the opportunity. Sawyer is superbly crafted by Jenna Innes a characterisation that develops its believability even as the story creeps more into the realms of incredulity. And on top of that she belts out the ballads with considerable force.

 And then courtesy of handy little open window Veronica climbs in and discovers the rather mysterious young man in black casually reading some intensive poetry…. meet Jason “JD” Dean. There is a tinge of the unknown about the man, but his unusual charm is attractive to Veronica and chemistry is very much on the timetable. JD is smoothly portrayed by Jacob Fowler he is never one to give much away and he builds the mystery of the character with great patience. As with Innes, he delivers his musical numbers with a vivid and sparkling finish. The friendship between the two quickly hots up and thanks to his steer the need for the Heathers dwindles. Veronica steps away from the girls, that doesn’t go down well with the sisterhood, and so a rather dark cycle of revenge and counter revenge must begin.

In at times a rather chaotic tandem the narrative and the songs canter along at quite a pace. The balance of high energy numbers and poignant ballad is just about right. For the most part it is animated and playful, paused occasionally with more thoughtful moments such as Kingsley Moreton as Martha who beautifully conveys her Kindergarten Boyfriend number transporting us briefly away from the non-stop high school energy.

It is in the end power and humour that push on the show relentlessly, Verity Thompson has both qualities in spades as Chandler a keenly observed performance blended with fun and menace in equal measure. Fun is also capable of being choregraphed via timing and sparking with each other, this is nicely on display thanks to Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson as the “jocks,” Kurt and Ram.

The film of the 80’s is now a musical for today and is top of the class. There is a lot to get in and some of the musical numbers feel a little rushed and squeezed in, but it is no doubt soberingly relevant and despite the school’s flaws it’s an institution you strangely wish you could spend some more time at.

 

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

Box Office Radio

Matthew Douglas and Cassie Bradley - Home I'm Darling - UK Tour 2023 - Design by Anna Flei
Jessica Ransom and Neil McDermott - Home I'm Darling - UK Tour 2023 - Design by Anna Fleis

Home I’m Darling

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until Saturday, 29th April

 

**** “A modern-day classic, and a must-see”

 

 A modern classic that will stand the test of time. 

The booming years of the 1950’s with no mobile phones or the internet might seem appealing to some and is the actuality for our lead couple in Laura Wades show at The Alexandra, Home, I’m Darling. 

The play explores the costs of living out a dream, and we see cracks appearing in Wade’s characters when persevering when their fantasy goes too far. It’s woven together with wit and whip-smart comedy, with the actors relishing Wade’s writing.  

Tamara Harvey’s direction brought the nostalgia of the 1950’s in style, transitioning from one scene to the other with excellently articulated jives and jitterbug dancing. 

The play was well cast, with Jessica Ransome taking the lead role playing the high-achieving housewife Judy. Around her were a strong and versatile cast, and Neil McDermott, playing Johnny, Judy’s adoring husband and Cassie Bradley playing their friend, Fran, was brilliant; their energy, and focus was a joy to watch. 

It’s a must see. The talent is abounding. Laura Wade won an Olivier for her script, and director Tamara Harvey is soon to take up her appointment as Co-Artistic Director at the RSC. 

It’s runs at The Alexandra from 26 – 29 April.  

 

By Jonathan Loren

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Titanic: The Musical

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, 22nd April

 

**** Four Stars “A first-class journey”

 

It is a musical with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston a book by Peter Stone and a story known universally, the tragic maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. A liner that sank in the Atlantic on a still cold night in April 1912. That voyage from eager anticipation and warmth to the inevitable icy cold conclusion is steered with care, poignancy, and passion courtesy of a first-class cast. Indeed, the whole journey is first class. The tragedy unfolds amongst the touring classes as well as the gallant crew and representatives of the White Star Line. Their dream is a fast and smooth crossing to New York City, for the unfortunate 1,500 of them their destination was the freezing depths of the ocean.

The story is huge and has waves of drama throughout, and yet is a brave choice for a musical, but they dared, and they achieved. David Woodhead’s set and costumes take us to the decadence and white star luxury synonymous with the time and the liner, building up to the moment of disastrous impact and the following slide to the watery grave. The dream for a new life drowned for ever.

Yeston’s music and lyrics are not an easy whistle, but they are full of vigour and clever narrative with real heart and delivered with care and precision and no little affection.

It’s a big musical with it seems little room for deep characterizations but in time, we come to care with some depth for the crew, the passengers, and the ship. All go full steam ahead for the bright horizon, up on the deck, sat around the dining table or gathered in the radio room.

Mr. Ismay the White Star official, is keen for an early arrival and pushes for step up in steam from the captain. Martin Allanson carves out a smooth operator as the pushy executive and Graham Bickley is a solid and worthy Captain Smith. And then to the classes, Ida and Isidor Straus are an elderly couple of socialites devoted to one another and determined to be with each other whatever the future has in store; separation was never an option. Valda Aviks and David Delve serve a beautiful double act and their rendition of “Still” is heartrending and touching highlight. And then in the engine room Frederick Barrett is working his crossing and endeavouring to earn money to support the love of his life. A brilliant scene unfolds in the radio room as operator Harold Bride assists Barrett in sending a message home. Adam Filipe and Alastair Hill as Barrett and Bride are superb and hugely watchable. 

Power and poignancy in equal measure. A journey to the Hippodrome before Saturday is well worth the trip.

Grab yourself a first-class ticket.

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Of Mice and Men

 

Birmingham Rep runs until Saturday 8th April

 

Three and a half stars “Uneasy and unconventional.”

 

John Steinbeck’s novella is never far from a school reading list, a classic that has become a little incongruous within today’s contemporary society. A relatively swift read which has been impressively stretched to over two hours plus in this new production at the Birmingham Rep directed with utmost care and detail by Iqbal Khan. That desire for reality is palpable, the dust, the thirst, the toil the struggle is all there to breathe in. All aided by Ciaran Bagnall’s set of wooden slats and flexible bunk beds. It’s a tough old life on the land, and field workers George and Lennie set off for new work and to fulfil their dream of owning a 10-acre plot of their own. George is tasked with a duty of closely caring for his friend. That relationship underpins the plot throughout, it’s a simple friendship and no matter the difficulties on the road ahead they strive to keep in step with each other, wide-eyed and at times lost in a world of ruggedness and masculine farm work.

One must cheer the efforts of The Rep for utilising actors who live with experiences of disability. It is a remarkable piece of casting particularly regarding William Young and his volatile and yet timid portrayal of Lennie.

Tom McCall as George presses on with the pace when allowed and produces a believable and compelling and at times pleasantly avuncular figure. That pace that he pushes is a little lacking at times, and in the early scenes feels a bit uphill and slow. As with many things on the land we must wait and be patient for cultivation and life. A little more variety in pace would be a welcome consideration.

Due to cast sickness, there were some late changes required on the night I attended. Which allows for another Rep cheer for James Clyde and Jake Benson who had to cope with covering roles they had not prepared for and delivered admirably. Maddy Hill as Curley’s wife was like so much of this production unconventional and a touch radical, Reece Pantry is engaging and watchable as Crooks.

There are moments that are far too pedestrian, but also at times it is a piece of praiseworthy theatre that soars evocatively and movingly.

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Julius Caesar

 

RSC ………Stratford upon Avon

 

Runs until Saturday, 8th April, then on tour.

 

3 and a half stars “A bold interpretation for today.”

 

 Appropriately just sneaking into March is the latest in the power shift programme…. Julius Caesar. Atri Banerjee’s production is set in that ancient political melting pot of ancient Rome. Although the setting is somewhat obscure and could indeed for all we know be anywhere. But perhaps the intrigues and conspiring moments could also settle anywhere. And indeed, they could equally settle with numerous well known power grabbers of today and not just those wishing to dislodge the crown from the ancient head of Julius Caesar. In stating that there is little ancient about Rosanna Vize’s set and conversely is in more ways than one squarely modern. The choices throughout are of today and challenging with a big pot of ideas thrown vigorously at it, some pay off, some fall disappointingly and confusingly short of the target. The cast are like the set somewhat boxed in and give a frustrated flavour of being unable to fly.

It is a production that is likely to divide, there are notable highlights, the splattering of the black blood and the clever knifing of the main man himself, and indeed many other bodies all of whom end up with a free ride on the revolving box.

Thalissa Teixeira’s Brutus is elegant poised and grapples for the power with belief and a heightened credibility. Kelly Gough’s Cassius clashes with most of her neighbours but digs out a formidable performance. Other notable displays of angst and power struggles come from Matthew Bulgo as Casca and William Robinson who seems to avoid the grappling but grabs the power as a wide-eyed Mark Antony.

It is bold, it is an interpretation for today, and will surprise and stretch its audience, particularly when it sets out on a national tour next month. Some will be satisfied, some will long for a different road to Rome.

 

David Robinson

The article will appear in The Midlands Arts Magazine this week. David will also be talking about it on his radio show on Box Office Radio

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The Rocky Horror Show

 

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham  

 

Runs until Saturday, 1st April

 

**** Four Stars………. “Unbridled Joy”

 

It is and has been for half a century a production of starkness, sensuality, bawdiness, and unbridled joy, all of which is driven with power and a sack full of fun. It hits you right between the eyes, and you can’t keep your eyes away from it. It may well be celebrating half a century, but it shows no obvious sign of slowing down or losing any of its cult status. It is a delight and is attracting new followers at every new venue. What was clear at the press night at The Alexandra this week was that the auditorium was well populated by loyal fans. It shocks still, despite its middle age, and may even embarrass but laughter and plenty of it is very much guaranteed. 

Janet and Brad have the misfortune on calling on the home of Frank N Furter and the gang after their car malfunctions. And then the outrageous adventure begins, courtesy of the residents, Frank, Riff Raff, Magenta, and Rocky and co. Christopher Luscombe directs with a whip like pace cleverly utilising a simple but smoothly effective set from Hugh Durrant.

Stephen Webb dominates in every sense of the word as Frank N Furter a superb, energetic, and brazen performance brimming with brashness.

Philip Franks delivers a pleasing portrayal as the Narrator, as smooth and silky as is jacket, coping effortlessly with the barbed comments from the audience members who helpfully shout out cues and lines at regular intervals. All part of its cult following. Franks deals with it all with a consummate style.

Haley Flaherty and Richard Meek capture Janet and Brad perfectly a nice mix of casualness and innocence, capturing the early awkwardness that blossoms to enthusiastic acceptance beautifully. Kristian Lavercombe is a contorted and finely observed Riff Raff, as is Suzie McAdam as Magenta.

It is a production that seduces and summons you in with a persistent charm and no lack of chaos.

Enjoy that blaze of chaos if you can, whether for the first time or the 50th you won’t be disappointed.

 

David Robinson

The Midlands Arts Magazine

Box Office Radio

 

David will be talking about the show this Thursday on Box Office Radio. 

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Death drop: Back in the Habit

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until Saturday 18th March.

 

**** 4 stars “The stage is alive with the sound of cheeky laughter.”

 

This current franchise scooping up the great and the good from the world of drag is proving a popular night out full of fun, frolics, and cheeky innuendos galore. This new incarnation is on the road after a successful dash in the west end. The huge draw of Ru Paul’s Drag Race has made some of the alumni box office hits, donning the nun’s habits are amongst others JuJubee and Kitty Scott Claus. It’s a habit that is difficult to kick.

We are promised Scary Movie meets The Sound of Music, with a bit of The Exorcist thrown in for comic measure! It takes some doing but we are in the hands of some classy artistes who parade and perform superbly in equal measure. Father Alfie Romero is tasked with visiting St Bab’s to sniff out a holy relic and investigate a series of unusual happenings. And with that the sniggers and the scares begin. The Mother Superior and her band of nuns are determined to stand in his way and deflect him from getting to the truth.

If you are seeking a gentle Julie Andrews sing along with pleasant little story to follow, then I suggest leaving those possibilities at the abbey door. It is so long farewell to that and a warm welcome to physical gags, feisty humour, and a sprinkle of some well-choregraphed routines.

LoUis CYfer crafts his performance as Father Romero beautifully, great timing and the right balance of audience interaction and physicality. The sparring with the Mother Superior is a delight, the Abbess is delightful turn by Victoria Scone. The rest of the ‘nunsense’ comes from the hugely entertaining supporting nun’s chorus courtesy of Kitty Scott-Claus and Cheryl Hole. JuJubee is charming and engaging as the rather frustrated Sister Maria Julie Andrews.

It’s not a Sunday School outing but it can give you a good laugh. The nuns are on the run until Saturday at The Alexandra Birmingham.

 

David Robinson

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

The Musical Magazine Show on Box Office Radio.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until the 25th of February.

 

*****   Five Stars. “A hotel that deserves to be fully booked for the foreseeable”

 

A novel, a film, a TV documentary and now a theatrical and updated outing for Deborah Moggach’s delightfully warm tale. It is a new and refreshing treatment that once again sees a motley crew of British senior citizens searching for a new life and a well of happiness at The Marigold a hotel in Bangalore an establishment that saw its better days many a year ago.

The switch from a drizzly evening in Birmingham to the heat and humidity of Bangalore is revealed to us courtesy of the stunning set design by Colin Richmond, we are eagerly transported there, to the tawdry reception, the gardens and much used courtyard all beautifully depicted with enviable detail.

It is a narrative ploughed on a stately pace by the characters, the hotel guests, and their hosts. The first half gently paints the background to them all and their reasonings for their extravagant journeys. They have their issues, problems, foibles and a few aches and pains.

Hayley Mills is a subtle delight as Evelyn casting a caring and gentle eye to her fellow travellers as well as the hapless employees of the local call centre. She is warm and engaging throughout, and an ideal foil to Madge played with an enjoyable spark and relish by the superb Rula Lenska. She is seeking fun and if possible a rich maharaja. Marlene Sidaway highlights her delightful comic timing as Muriel, she digs deep and uncovers some poignant sympathy within which is a joy. Paul Nicholas and Eileen Battye arrive as those type of Brits abroad you try and steer away from particularly Jean played with acerbic zest by Eileen Battye. Nicholas is more understated and sensitive as Douglas his scenes with Hayley Mills are lovingly observed.

The transportation in the second half slows a little, and then zips along at the end to deliver an uplifting and exuberant finale.

The Marigold Hotel has many good days ahead and deserves to be fully booked for the foreseeable.

 

David Robinson

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The Midlands Arts Magazine Reviews

Swan Lake

Birmingham Royal Ballet

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until the 25th February

 

***** Five Stars….” A sumptuous production, a Swan Lake with hidden depths.”

 

Despite it’s initial failure Tchaikovsky Swan Lake has become a staple of most ballet company repertoires across the world and is arguably the most popular classical ballet of all time. Helped in no small amount by sparkling productions such as this current outing by Birmingham Royal Ballet, choregraphed with style, breadth, and no small dash of grandiosity by Sir Peter Wright. The company are very much at home on the vast stage of the Hippodrome, and the courtiers and swans alike make wonderful use of every inch. 

Prince Siegfried is mourning the loss of his father and is told in no uncertain terms that he must marry to be crowned King. He becomes despondent over his lack of freedom, and so some entertainment is arranged to cheer the lad up. A present of a handy crossbow is given to the young Prince and they dash off to go in search of some passing swans. He comes across Odette who has been transformed into swan form by the evil Baron von Rothbart. She is only human during the night hours. We go from the lakeside to the castle ballroom, where a bit of cunning disguise work by the Baron deceives the young Prince. But finally with a quick return to the lake the rightful lovers are reunited, and eternal love for the duo is guaranteed. Yes, you guessed it the story is not the key driver here, but the narrative is crystal clear and the engagement with the characters is real and heartfelt.

That in the main is down to Siegfried and Odette themselves, performed with patience, and accuracy and with enviable care and with huge talent by Cesar Morales and Miki Mizutani. They both serve up a classical treat worthy of the majestic production. Haoliang Feng provides delightful and excellent support as Benno the Prince’s friend.

Philip Ellis keeps the orchestra swimming along with an elevated and fresh style, and the choreography of Sir Peter Wright is as thrilling a feast as ever. Go and dip in if you can, it runs until the 25th of February at the Hippodrome and then on tour.

 

David Robinson

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The Mirror Crack’d

By Agatha Christie adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until the 18th of February 

 

 ***** Five Stars  

 

“The cast and crew ‘Crackd’ this case… it’s a smash hit!”

  

This new adaptation, by Rachel Wagstaff, is a wonderful example of why Agatha Christie’s legacy endures. Not only is this plot captivating and entertaining, but this production’s subtle touches on issues will resonate with modern audiences making the story even more compelling. A list of suspects is drawn for movie star Marina Gregg, as it is unlikely the sad death of the poisoned Heather Leigh was truly the target of a murderer.   

Heather Leigh (Jules Melvin) has been poisoned and killed but everyone is certain the tainted strawberry daiquiri was intended for movie star Marina Gregg (Sophie Ward) who has a whole line of suspects each with plausible motives. With the case being so high profile, the recently promoted Chief Inspector Craddock (Oliver Boot) has been sent from Scotland Yard to preside over the case himself. He makes a courteous call on his ‘aunty Marple’ but he nor a sprained ankle can hold the infamous Miss Marple (Susie Blake) back from pursuing her own line of inquiry. 

Susie Blake’s performance is everything you want from a Miss Marple and more; warm, witty and whip smart. Her stage relationship with Veronica Roberts is a joy to watch, Roberts is superb as Dolly. It is a strong ensemble, Sophie Ward and Oliver Boot are marvellous, but the whole cast deserves a mention.   

The second act is where it really takes off. The scene when Dolly questions Marple on her past is beautifully poignant and makes the unfolding plot feel even more touching. The only thing I could say is that the opening movement montage wasn’t executed to its full potential, and understandably it takes time to establish the points of view of each witness. Although we are rewarded as the motives unfurl, with some clever staging, the half heats up with the scene just in before the interval leaving us eager for more. 

A thoroughly brilliant production of Marple and a great night of theatre. 


reviewed by

Jonathan Lauren

On the 15th of February 

 

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Strictly Ballroom

 

Wolverhampton Grand. Runs until 18th February 

 

**** Four Stars.

 

 Take your partners, a wonderful and spectacular treat.”

 

The ballroom glitter and glamour continues to spread its magic, courtesy of this new production of Strictly Ballroom, currently waltzing around the country on its extensive tour. Based on the popular film by Baz Luhrmann, this new take is directed by Craig Revel Horwood, with the sparkling choreography by Jason Gilkison and Revel Horwood. A winning dance partnership.

Scott Hastings Kevin Clifton) is anxious to add his new and distinctive stamp to the traditional dance competitions, to do this he must coach and encourage a new and hopeful partner Fran (Masie Smith). The fun is in the preparation, the spectacle is in the execution and its finale. The dance styles are varied and wide, at times perhaps a bit to widespread for the Grand stage, the songs are sharply and superbly delivered, particularly by Masie Smith, who will no doubt have a musical stage career ahead of her should she so desire. The ensemble of dancers had a lot of fun and enthusiasm with the show list of dances to navigate. Jose Agudo giving us a standout moment as flamenco dance pro Rico.

And then there is the presence of Kevin Clifton as Scott, he owns the dance floor and seems to revel in his dream role, a brilliant and hugely energetic portrayal.  The plotting and villainous Barry Fife is safe in the capable hands of Gary Davis, who displayed some impressive vocals.

A show that keeps rolling, the songs are protracted, and it is the dances that are kept very much in the limelight under the ever-present glitterball. The staging and production values are not the most stunning you will ever see, but the warm feeling you have as you foxtrot out of the theatre is worth the ticket. Take your partners and get along to the Grand. Runs until Saturday the 18th of February.

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The Tempest

 

RSC Stratford upon Avon runs until 4th March

 

**** Four Stars “Reimagined, recycled and remarkably good.”

 

The RSC stage props department no doubt had an inventive and fun session sourcing the large number of twisted and recycled items scattering the mainstage throughout this bright and contemporary version of The Tempest. This late offering from Shakespeare is given a green and voguish slant from director Elizabeth Freestone.

Prospero the “duke” of Milan is exiled on a remote island with little company. The “duke” in this case is portrayed with a non-conformist spirit that is a freeing delight by Alex Kingston. Her fellow islanders prior to the storm are her daughter Miranda (Jessica Rhodes) Ariel an athletic spirit (Heledd Gwynn) and despondent slave Caliban delivered with a superb mix of awkwardness and defiant integrity.

The visitors are washed up and come slowly to terms with their new surroundings, and hosts. The young Ferdinand is quickly taken with Miranda, all choreographed closely by Prospero, Joseph Payne and Jessica Rhodes are a refreshing and touching pair, nicely observed. Simon Startin does an entertaining and bracing turn as Stephano, who is never too far from his petrol can of liquor.

The character work is clear and rigorous throughout and without exception, which is needed, much like the effective set the storyline for The Tempest is a little unkempt and muddled at times, but the islanders keep us enthralled and Kingston particularly is a revelation and an inspiring piece of casting.

A Tempest for today and for quite a few tomorrows I would suggest.

Until 3rd March at the RSC Stratford

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Girl from the North Country

 

Alexandra Theatre Birmingham | Until the 11th of February and then on the national tour.

 

*****   FIVE STARS. “A rare musical full of depth and beautiful shades.”

 

Girl from the North Country allows an exhilarating breath of fresh American air to be punched through the jukebox genre of musicals, thanks in the main to writer and director Conor McPherson, and not forgetting the genius that is Bob Dylan. That high bar is sustained by a hugely talented company of actors, singers, and musicians.

At his core Dylan is an accomplished storyteller full of reality and depth, McPherson’s talent is to weave them into intriguing characters all of whom stumble into a rather seedy boarding house in Duluth Minnesota. The atmosphere is a bleak as are some of the guests, they seem to have their heels well and truly caught in the mid-west depression, with no sign of a cheery exit any time soon.

The Dylan back catalogue unfolds with ease in front of Rae Smith’s simple yet evocative design, and the song arrangements from Simon Hale allow for a variety of colourful styles, from psalmed spirituals to catchy dance numbers. A superb mix of sounds.

The company work hard, and it is very much an ensemble piece, with admirable care taken with each crafted song. Frances McNamee is worthy of note for her thoughtful and beautifully observed portrayal of Elizabeth Laine a woman battling dementia and surrounded by some with a lack of understanding and sympathy. Joshua C Jackson as boxer Joe Scott and Justina Kehinde as Marianne bring a touch of tenderness and no small amount of real emotion to their roles and songs. Some real highlights to savour.  

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Dick Whittington

 

The Birmingham Hippodrome until 29th January 2023

 

***** FIVE STARS: A pantomime that is paved with gold, go, and find some festive fun.”

 

The hugely successful Commonwealth Games in the summer brought lots of joy and dished out a lot of pleasure as well as gold silver and bronze. It put the sporting focus very much on Birmingham. And now the pavement is gold this Christmas all the way to the doors of the Hippodrome. A sparkling, extravagant and lush Michael Harrison production courtesy of Crossroads pantomimes. They have become known for glamour, and glitz and the occasional wow moments. Once again, they do not disappoint, this is a pantomime production with West End values threading all the way through it.

Dick Whittington himself is in the hugely capable hands of Hippodrome favourite, Matt Slack. The narrative and indeed the standout moments centre around his perfected pantomime skills, which are considerable and not easy to deliver with such warmth and connection. It is a masterclass in pantomime hosting. The story as ever in this genre is somewhat secondary, but basically Dick is charged with seeing off the Ratman and his rats from the town, whilst at the same time endearing himself to his potential love interest Alice Fitzwarren. His guide along the way is the sympathetic and amiable Spirit of the Bells, played with a pleasing innocence and truth by pantomime newcomer Dr. Raj. The gaps in any storyline allow Slack to show off his variety skills brilliantly on one of the biggest seasonal stages, impressions, the “12 days” number, the chat in front of the tabs with the children, a touch of gymnastics and he even dabbles with a bit of bus driving to give a breath-taking end to Act One.

Matt Slack being in the unfamiliar titular role does mean that several of the supporting cast are a little under used, Suzanne Shaw as Alice has little to do, and even Marti Pellow who has star billing as Ratman could do with a little more stage time. Hippodrome regulars Doreen Tipton as The Cat and Andrew Ryan as Dame Felicity make the very most of their limelight and are as ever a reliable delight.

Ian Westbrook’s set design is a sparkly cracker, with some eye-catching costume design from Teresa Nalton.

The golden glow will shine bright in Birmingham in the hands of this incredibly talented cast and hard-working ensemble. Find the festive fun on stage until the 29th of January 2023.

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Dreamgirls

 

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until the 31st December 2022

 

“Dazzles and sparkles, the place to go if you are dreaming of a musical Christmas.”

Five Stars *****

 

This is a touring production that doesn’t skimp on the glitz and the glamour, there is more than enough festive sparkle on display at The Alexandra, and you have until New Year’s Eve to catch it. And I would say that in amongst the normal seasonal fare on offer this is well worth your consideration. This current tour of Dreamgirls follows acclaimed success on both Broadway and in the West End.

The dreamers are Effie, Deena and Lorrell who together are hopeful contestants in a local talent show, they rub shoulders with new folk who claim to have all manner of plans and new dreams for the girls. James ‘Thunder’ Early and Curtis Taylor Jnr. are looking to elevate the girls and maximise their potential as well as looking to make a quick dollar if they can. Pursuit of fame and power doesn’t always dovetail with happiness and creative satisfaction for the trio, and a split is inevitable. Effie is without doubt the centre on which the show spins and is played with enviable power and heart by Nicole Raquel Dennis, a voice of unswerving clarity and command and worthy of the plaudits and standing ovations. Natalie Kassanga and Paige Peddie as Deena and Lorrell plot their journeys respectively both showing considerable warmth and raw honesty and again displaying superb vocals. Matt Mills carves out a crafted performance as the driven but flawed Curtis, shaded with a flavour of vulnerability that was deftly portrayed. Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early is hugely watchable and on first class form throughout.

Casey Nicholaw’s direction is pacey and slick, and the choreography mirrors the time, and the mood brilliantly as does the smooth and uncomplicated set from Tim Hatley, and his costume designs are outstanding.

The music is in vary capable hands courtesy of the pit orchestra and leader Simona Budd, persuasive, robust and yet at times touchingly gentle.

If you are dreaming of a musical Christmas then this is very much for you, it dazzles and sparkles in all the right places.

 

Reviewed by Stephen Robinson on the 7th of December

Runs until the 31st of December 

 

David Robinson will be talking about the show on The Musical Magazine Show on Thursday at 8pm on Box Office Radio.

And it will feature in The Midlands Arts Magazine this week.

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An Inspector Calls

 

On National tour until May 2023

 

**** Four Stars “Still visually stunning and socially significant.”

 

 

This revival of the JB Priestley classic produced by Stephen Daldry opened at the National Theatre in 1992, it was arguably responsible for rediscovering Priestley and launching a renaissance in his catalogue. The concept is to reference two eras, post war 1945, when the play was written and its historical setting that is pre war 1912. The production garnered many awards and has since toured regularly and returned to the West End on many occasions as well as a trip to Broadway. Goole is the inquisitive Inspector in question, who observes with a critical eye the behaviour of the Birling family, whose attitude to those in other social classes was far from acceptable not only to Goole but to Priestley himself. The mysterious caller is played with a cool and comfortable presence by Liam Brennan, persistent, sharp, and convincing with his enquires.

The plaudits for this production begin before a word has been spoken, the set design from Ian MacNeil has a foreboding living existence that is tangible, coupled with the lighting design from Rick Fisher and the forceful and authoritative music from Stephen Warbeck all combing to make a stirring and unforgettable opening.

The Birling family are visited by the Inspector, who tells the unfortunate story of a young girl called Eva, who has just died in the infirmary, the questions circle around her suicide and the connections the family have with the deceased. It is unashamedly a swipe at English Edwardian society, and a scathing attack on the class system, which Priestley was convinced was something that had not dissipated. The copious numbers of school parties around me in the stalls underlines its continued relevance and its established place on the list of texts for English Literature GCSE.

George Rowlands shone as the young, troubled son Eric, a nicely observed and crafted portrayal, with admirable control. Christine Kavanagh worthily demanded our attention as Sybil. Jeffrey Harmer, as Sybil’s husband Arthur stoically attempted to keep a steady hand on proceedings as his life and his home literally slipped away from him. Kavanagh and Harmer gave hugely enjoyable performances. It is a drawing room drama which has been transformed to something quite extraordinary.

It was at the time of writing considered one of the classics of mid twentieth century theatre, now well into the next century this production will no doubt go some considerable way to prolonging that status. And so, it should.

 

This performance was reviewed at The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham on the 29th of November it runs in Birmingham until the 3rd of December.

 

David Robinson

 

David will be talking about the production on The Musical Magazine Show this Thursday at 8pm on Box Office Radio.

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The Wizard of Oz

 

The Leicester Curve

 

***** Five Stars “pure gold at the end of the rainbow.” 

 

The wonderful Leicester Curve continues to solidify its reputation for producing big and bold musical productions, and long may it continue. Artistic Director Nikolai Foster this time links arms with a wonderful production team to guide us down the yellow brick road to the weird and wonderful world of Oz. Colin Richmond’s all out design is a visual treat ably assisted by some eye-catching animation by Douglas O’Connell and some hugely commendable costume design courtesy of Rachael Canning. Nothing is ever quite what it seems in the wonderful world of Oz, and Foster’s direction capitalises on it with vigour, freshness, and a touch of the zany…lots to admire and applaud. We have a moving Route 66 style yellow brick road, dashing motorbikes and huge cans of corn to contend with, your attention is perpetually being pulled from one side of the huge Curve stage to the other. The company for the road trip are wonderfully entertaining companions, led by the homesick Dorothy a beautifully crafted performance by Georgina Onuorah oozing with hope and optimism. The other travellers, The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are a delightful trio carrying most of the humour and lightness, played deftly with the right dash of vulnerability by Jonny Fines, Paul French, and Giovanni Spano, and not forgetting the faithful Toto touchingly brought to life by Ben Thompson.

The respective witches dash on via low flying motorbikes, the pink one belonging to Glinda, Christina Bianco in brilliant form vocally as well as having bags of fun with the character. The other scooter belongs to the Wicked Witch of the West, for press night played by 1st cover Ellie Mitchell, she grabbed the broomstick for all its worth and gave us a wonderfully powerful and greedy portrayal. “Red Shoe Blues” from the new Lloyd Webber and Rice version is a superb opener to the second half. All the other familiar songs from the 1939 classic film are on display, as are some nice little nods to the Judy Garland movie. The story has had many a transition and adaptations since the book was first published in 1900, this is another commendable staging post, and the obsession will continue, Wicked: Part One the movie is due for release in 2024.

 

The plaudits are widespread and deserved, the pace is a little frantic at times, we are at the gates of Oz before you know it, and the demise of the Wicked Witch is a wee bit rushed, although it is true to say our attention is never lost for a moment.

All in all, I was blown away by it, a visual Christmas treat for all the family, all roads lead to the Leicester Curve.

 

David Robinson

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The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

***** FIVE STARS

 

“Pure class, a sumptuous and sparkling production. First class”

 

You know the big day is getting closer when you take up the invite to attend the 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 10th of December. This new reimagining has choreography by Peter Wright and a production dripping in style and class. And it is first class. 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 David Finn, which complement and enhance John MacFarlane’s elegant and alluring set design. The design is simply sumptuous and sparkling and at times breath-taking.

The corps, and supporting dancers are flawless and the principals are on point, full of style and individual brilliance. Worthy of mention amongst many are Celine Gittens, Brandon Lawrence, Rory Mackay, Reina Fuchigami and Yijing Zhang.

 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. The production values are amongst the highest I have witnessed in many a year.

 

***** FIVE STARS

 

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

 

Birmingham Hippodrome until the 10th of December.

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Saturday Night Fever

 

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until 26th November

 

**** Four Stars “Making all the right moves, a great party night out.”

 

The room is swaying and singing to the unmistakeable tunes, the strutting begins and the 70’s flares are neatly pressed. Welcome to the dazzling stage version of Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gee style trio are in pace and the disco is open once again and all the wonderful hits are on display. This touring Bill Kenwright production hits all the right falsetto notes, it honours the iconic film and yet establishes its own style and relevance. It is a great party night out, and the party is on at The Alexandra until Saturday.

Dance shows and tributes continue to be all the rage, in many ways due to the huge success of Strictly Come Dancing, this is high quality dance with more than a few strokes of nostalgic paint brushed in for good measure. Worthy of some “10’s” from the judges are the leading couple, Jack Willcox and Rebekah Bryant rightly come away from the floor with plenty of plaudits, they guide us ably out of a gloomy November night and into the joys of disco and competitive dance at the very high end of quality, they are both a joy to watch.

There are some bleaker moments to the storyline, but as often the case the storyline is a little superfluous and at times crafted a little awkwardly. But Willcox remains hugely watchable and convincing. The choreography by Bill Deamer carries the show to at times enviable heights and the music transports us back to by gone often unfashionable 1970’s. The Bee Gee’s trio were superb with one or two stand out acoustic moments.

So, look out your flares and head down to the Alex and join a great party. 

 

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Noughts and Crosses

 

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham 

Runs until 19th November and then on national tour.

 

*** 3 stars “Vital and relevant lines are drawn.”

 

A hugely successful and lauded book by Malorie Blackman is adapted for the stage by Sabrina Mahfouz and directed for Pilot Theatre Company by Esther Richardson. Pilot aim to create a cultural space where young adults can encounter, express, and interrogate the big ideas that are relevant to our lives right now. This is certainly a relevant story; it depicts a world segregated by race and social divides. With a nod to Romeo and Juliet we are introduced to Sephy from the Crosses played by Effie Ansah who is falling in love with her long-term friend Callum from the Noughts depicted by James Arden. Their affection for one another is not warmly accepted particularly from both of their dysfunctional families. Ansah and Arden draw us in to their worlds with believability and almost wide-eyed desire to see the best in our fellow men and women despite any preconceived differences.  

The world closes in slowly on the young, crossed lovers, as does at times the hugely effective walled set designed by Simon Kenny. The layers of sound and stark lighting together with efficiently used video effects build a harshness and an almost Orwellian tone to the piece.

The script seems not only to be in the two worlds but also seems in two minds, the dialogue battles between stark realism and a rather abstract poetic nature and sadly falls between the two. The company without any doubt commit fully and admirably to the production and the cause behind it, and there are some inspiring physical moments with their use of the set around them, particularly when it comes to the constant and clever use of the ever-present desks. But the foreboding danger and peril and indeed risk required to play what was considered such a dangerous game never quite peaked. But those vital and relevant lines drawn are hugely important, and Pilot are to be congratulated for continuing to interrogate the big ideas. Stark truths are faced and some searching questions asked. 

 

***  Vital and relevant lines are drawn.

 

David Robinson.

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A Christmas Carol

 

Royal Shakespeare Company

 

Runs until 1st January 2023

 

***** Five Stars. “It is the very best of times, a warm Christmas treat.”

 

The RSC sure fire festive winner is back. Following huge success in 2017 and 2018, David Edgar’s hugely popular adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic is back for another welcome return to the Stratford stage. It may only be November, but the carols are playing in the shops, the décor is up in the restaurants and now we have the perfect accompanying guest, the timeless tale of pity and redemption in the company of the antithesis of festive cheer…Ebenezer Scrooge. The master of the misery is in the delightful hands of Adrian Edmondson a superb portrayal full of mischief and open-eyed wonder as his past present and future is laid out before him on the Christmas table. Edmondson creates a warming and hugely enjoyable characterisation delivered with a twinkle through the lens of darkness and reality embedded in Victorian poverty.

Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction doesn’t shy away from the abjectness and hopelessness of the social support system of the time, indeed it is pointed out at length at times, which in turn allows the lighter moments to shine brightly along with the featured and sparkling dance routines. Scrooge must learn in a limited time to turn away from his desk and his accounts and look towards his needy neighbours and employees. 

The design from Stephen Brimson Lewis evokes all we need to transport us not only to the foreboding surrounds of the urban Victorian city but gives up enough hopeful Christmas indications to keep us content and cheerful to the end. This is very much a brilliant company effort, with incredibly slick scene changes and indeed some admirably smart and quick character switches. Some wonderfully crafted characters worthy of note are portrayed by Rebecca Lacey (Ghost of Christmas Past, Lady Tibshelf, Jane’s Aunt), Mitesh Soni as Bob Cratchit and Clive Hayward as the effusive Mr Fezziwig. Gavin Fowler is a likeable and confident Charles Dickens keenly observing and penning his own best-selling short story before our eyes. His tale of care and sympathy and justice continues to resonate.

It brings the very best of times to the Stratford stage and serves up a fulfilling Christmas treat for all ages.

It runs until the 1st of January 2023. Don’t miss out.

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The Shawshank Redemption

 

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until 12th November

 

***** Five Stars “A story of hope, freedom and worth that soars high.”

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption, based on a novella by Stephen King, and adapted and directed for the big screen by Frank Darabont, broke free (and box office records) in cinemas worldwide with resounding praise in 1994. You can imagine the curiosity surrounding this stage adaptation, and what the company felt they could offer in reprising this much-loved story for a theatre audience.

 

Reservations be damned, this is a play well worth watching! The creative team have struck the vital balance between creating something new which also honours the moments people hold close from the original. 

 

The play follows Andy Dufresne, a hot shot banker, who is served a double life sentence and sent to Shawshank Penitentiary for the alleged murder of his wife and lover. The adaptation is excellently penned by Owen O'Neill and Dave Jones. The star of the show is the story itself, and David Esbjornson's direction, the actors and design elements work together to serve this timeless classic. The themes of hope, freedom and worth at the core of the play soar higher than any prison wall.

 

The 12-man production has a cast that play well, led by Joe Absolom (Andy) and Ben Onwukwe ('Red'), with each of the ensemble carving out a unique and engaging take on their characters. Absolom plays Andy's dignity and honesty, self-worth, and reserve superbly and sensitively. Onwukwe's 'Red' is charismatic and our friend and holds a lens up to 'the shank'. A special mention goes to Joe Reisig who plays the ice-cold Hadley, the "meanest prison guard Shawshank has ever seen." And another positive note to Leigh Jones and Samarge Hamilton who stepped into their understudy roles with assurance.

 

The set design (Gary McCann) and lighting design (Chris Davey) worked hand in hand, creating a realistic brutal prison and all the rooms within it. The costuming (Johnny Palmer) and music (Andy Graham) were also excellent, setting the historical context and playing into the tonal elements of the show. 

To anyone who holds the story dear, this is a must-see, you will be enthralled, and be assured that the narrative is still as powerful and told with as much heart as the original.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Loren on the 7th of November at the Alexandra Theatre, it runs until the 12th.

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