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Apr 2nd

Tom A Story of Tom Jones at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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I never was one to throw my knickers at Tom Jones (for the youngsters who don’t know, that’s what girls used to do at his concerts in the sixties and seventies), but it would be a sad state of affairs if a show about a singer, put on by a theatre company from the Land of Song, wasn’t worth seeing.

I was right to go. theatr na nOg’s story of the early days of the silver-haired judge on BBC’s The Voice is as gritty as the coal from South Wales, but nicely balanced with comedic performances and some cracking good music.

Charting the time from when childhood sweethearts Tommy Woodward and Melinda Trenchard married and became parents at the age of 16, to Jones’ first hit with It’s Not Unusual in 1965, it is narrated by Phylip Harries who, like the rest of the cast, shows great versatility by doubling up on the baritone sax as well as playing several cameo roles.

Between them, writer Mike James and director Geinor Styles capture the struggle Tom Jones - as fellow Welshman and manager Gordon Mills christened him – had to get to the top, and the unconditional support and love of his wife, despite his little dalliances. I doubt he would be where he is today without her.

This is more a story than a tribute so, apart from a nod to Tom Jones with a curly wig, it doesn’t matter so much that Kit Orton in the title role looks more like Michael Ball than Jones. And while he can really rock and roll and swivel those hips, he doesn’t sound too much like him – until the final medley of Jones’ hits, when he reveals an uncanny resemblance and really does become a ‘sex bomb’ and turned me into a fan!

Throughout the show he is backed by a fabulous foursome of musicians – who alone are well worth the price of your ticket, while Elin Phillips as Linda is memorable for her convincing portrayal of a love-struck wife and mother.

Tom: A Story of Tom Jones is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until 5 April, and then continues touring:

April 8-12: Gwyn Hall, Neath

April 23-May 3: New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

www.thear-nanog.co.uk

 

Mar 22nd

Enchanted April at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood
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Matthew Barber won an award for Outstanding New American Play in 2003 for his adaptation of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel, Enchanted April, and yet I’ve never heard of it. This is a great shame as the story of two women who rent an Italian castle is, under the direction of Sally Hughes, absolutely enchanting and worth staging for many reasons.

Unhappily married Lotty impulsively answers an advert in The Times to rent the castle, ropes in Rose, an equally oppressed and hitherto unknown member of the Hampstead Women’s Club, and together they take on two more strangers - a high-minded elderly widow and a young socialite – to share their month-long escape from the British weather, the aftermath of the First World War, and their husbands.

It is a life-changing experience for them all and, hopefully for their audiences, as they each blossom, along with the wisteria for which the castle is famous.

The Mill at Sonning is renowned for its wonderful sets, courtesy usually of designer Eileen Diss, but on this occasion you are greeted with a completely bare stage; just a marbled floor and backdrop enhanced by a couple of tables and chairs – plain and lifeless just like the characters, except for Lotty, whose enthusiasm for sun and freedom starts everyone off on their journey.

The play begins quietly and slowly with almost poetic prose, but as the characters blossom so does the set and, in the second act, it is completely transformed into the terrace of the Italian castle complete with shuttered windows, stone archways and the famous wisteria. I was so pleased I stayed in the auditorium during the interval to see just how hard the stage crew worked to create such a metamorphosis. They deserve due credit.

Enchanted April has a stellar cast: as Lotty Sarah Edwardson portrays her spirit and optimisim perfectly; Melanie Gutteridge as Rose makes the biggest transformation, while Francesca Bailey’s Lady Caroline Bramble is a lost, almost ethereal, young socialite. When it comes to the final member of the quartet, I felt we were in the presence of royalty.

Hildegard Neil (whose husband Brian Blessed was in the opening night audience) just has to give one withering look to have us all quaking in our seats and she played the role of the domineering Mrs Graves to perfection.

Christopher Leveaux graduated only last year and already he has starred in two productions for The Michael Grandage Company. Now he is playing the owner of a castle, with charm and exuberance, ably abetted on the Italian front by Anna-Maria Everett, whose perfectly portrayed Italian mamma-type maid Costanza, had us chortling.

Completing this talented cast are Jai Armstrong as Rose’s Bohemian husband and Martyn Stanbridge, very much a stuffed shirt as Lotty’s solicitor other half.

The Cast of Enchanted April

As flowers begin to blossom and the sun begins to shine, this is the perfect time of year for Enchanted April – such a lovely, heart-warming story that I am now going to rent the Oscar nominated film version, made in 1992 and starring Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Josie Lawrence.

Enchanted April continues at The Mill at Sonning until May 17.

Box office: 0118 969 8000

www.millatsonning.com
Mar 20th

Liza Liza Liza at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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Liza Minnelli’s colourful life is a gift for any playwright.

Judy Garland’s daughter is one of Hollywood’s living legends but, inevitably, she has had to live her turbulent life in the spotlight, battling publically her own and her mother’s depression, drinking and drug-taking, while her four marriages and divorces, and her physical ill-health, continue to make the headlines.

In the hands of many playwrights, her story (to date!) could well be sensationalised, as in the tabloids she hates so much.

But in the hands of award-winning Richard Harris, you just know she is safe: not safe as in bland, mark you, but in the knowledge that the man in whose film, Stepping Out, she starred, will have been meticulous in his research before presenting it to the public in a beautifully written work which is entertaining, profoundly moving, and real.

Harris says he has not invented anything, merely dramatized it, while Liza herself is quoted as saying, ‘We’re going to have some songs, some dance, some facts and, who knows, maybe some fiction.’

Staged just once before, its week-long run at Windsor just doesn’t seem to have caught the town’s imagination – which is a travesty. This is a quality show, and though the cast may not be household names their performances as Liza at key stages in her life are spot on.

On a set which features a bit of glitz and a huge Z, which no doubt highlights the song ‘Liza with a Z’, her story is re-enacted by newcomer Laura Jane Cook, Sabrina Carter (One Man Two Guvnors, The 39 Steps, Oliver! and Wicked) and Felicity Duncan (EastEnders, Holby City, Mamma Mia, Fiddler on the Roof).

Liza Liza Liza (Laura Jane Cook, Sabrina Carter and Felicity Duncan)

The production opens with Duncan as the older Liza, no longer slim and walking with a stick, but with a big, ballsy personality. She begins Liza’s story and is then joined by Cook as the young Liza and, later, by Carter as the Liza at the height of her career as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

With musical accompaniment by Neil MacDonald and the help of family photographs displayed on top of the baby grand, the three Lizas interact with each other, recounting memories as they remembered them during the times they represented, and sometimes squabbling like sisters. It really works, even though Carter is so much taller than the other two!

For me, Duncan was the most believable Liza, capturing her spirit as well as her physical appearance, but then Carter and Cook each add something special to their roles.

Carter is also memorable as Judy Garland – portrayed for much of the first act, sitting at a mirror at the back of the stage with her back to the audience, putting on make-up, and adding to the dialogue with great poignancy.

There are the inevitable song and dance numbers like Chicago and New York New York, but though show stoppers on their own, the dialogue and its execution were so compelling that I hardly noticed them.

Harris says that although he sent copies of his script to Liza’s people, he doesn’t know whether she’s seen it. But, like him, I would be very surprised if she didn’t recognise it for exactly what it is -

Liza Liza Liza is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 22 and then goes to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford from March 25-29.

Box office: 01753 853888
www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

Mar 14th

Richard and Adam in Concert at the Cadogan Hall

By Clare Brotherwood

This week I went to a marvellous family party. Mum and dad were there, their two boys, the grandparents… Dad did a turn and Nan was singing along and having a ball - as always!

And therein lies a clue.

Richard and Adam in Concert

For Nan, Lorna Slack, is nearly as famous as her talented grandsons, known simply as Richard and Adam. But while she is famous for her exuberance, the boys are famous for their glorious voices, honed with the help of online Pavarotti masterclasses.

The brothers, from North Wales, were finalists in last summer’s Britain’s Got Talent, and, this week, they rounded off their first UK tour at London’s prestigious Cadogan Hall with a mesmerising medley of ballads and classical songs.

From the moment 20-year-old baritone Adam Johnson launched into This Is The Moment his Nan was not the only one in ecstasy. My skin tingled. When his 23-year-old brother, tenor Richard joined in, the experience was complete; with a wide range, from soft to downright powerful, these boys certainly have a God-given gift. The way they complement each other and harmonise is heavenly.

There is a lot to like about these two, apart from their voices. At the risk of sounding my age it is nice to see youngsters so well turned out - well-cut hair, smart suits, collar and tie and shiny shoes. They looked as if they’d made an effort. And I loved the way they looked a little in awe. Richard, especially, had an almost beatific look as he smiled broadly from time to time as if not quite believing where he was.

Nevertheless, although they may be young (in my eyes) and just starting out on what will most certainly be a great career, their presentation, patter and singing was very much grown up - and professional, even if it was like a family party! In fact, that made the concert extra special. There was a lot of banter between them and Nan - who in the second half had moved down to the front row, and when they brought on their dad, Paul, to join them in a moving rendition of Bring Him Home you could hear a pin drop. It was plain to see where they get their voices from!

A surprise performance from X-Factor’s Rhidyan was not the only welcome addition to the show. Eighteen-year-old Charlotte Jaconelli who, with Jonathan Antoine, reached the finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 as classical duo Jonathan and Charlotte, was a revelation, looking and sounding stunning and with a (surprisingly, seeing as she sings so magnificently) cheeky ‘Essex-girl’ rapport which made me want to adopt her. Her’s was another real grown-up performance!
Feb 28th

Ghost Stories at the Arts Theatre

By Clare Brotherwood

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When I was 18 and working on my first newspaper, some friends and I were taken on a ghost hunt to a stone circle in the Cumbrian fells. It was so scary that, for the following week, I had to sleep with all the lights on.

Beforehand, we had been in a pub talking about how, in films, people like us started off the evening laughing it off but then ending up dead or mad.

Such was the build up to Ghost Stories that I was just as frightened. The press release warned that, as it contains moments of severe shock and tension, the show is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 15, while those of a nervous disposition are strongly advised to think very seriously before attending. Coupled with that was the fact that the hit show has been restaged and reimagined by Andy Nyman, co-creator and director of Derren Brown’s television and stage shows, and The League of Gentlemen’s master of macabre, Jeremy Dyson.

Among the celebrities attending the press night were Jonathan Ross, Sophie Ellis Bexter, Jill Halfpenny, and Davina McCall, who was proving she is plucky not just as a fundraising heroine (she swam, walked, ran and cycled 500 miles for Sport Relief). She had already seen the show, and when I asked her if she was up for this after her gruelling fundraising ordeal she replied: “Not really. I’ll probably use as many calories watching this.”

On the train into London I kept telling myself nothing could happen to me, that it was just a theatrical experience, but it was certainly an assault on the senses: sight, sound - and smell!!

That’s all I can say. Creators Nyman and Dyson describe Ghost Stories as ‘a modern experience you have to see ‘spoiler-free’’ and ask that all who see it keep the show’s plot and secrets to themselves… so that’s why I’ve been filling space with memories of my teenage years and who was in the audience!

If I’m allowed to say one thing - I did spend part of the show with my hands over my ears, but I didn’t need to leave the lights on!

Box office: 020 7836 8463

www.ghoststoriestheshow.co.uk
Feb 26th

The Play That Goes Wrong at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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During a lifetime of theatre-going I have seen some very funny plays. But I don’t ever remember laughing until I cried!

My face is still aching after watching what must be one of the funniest plays ever performed - and it’s all down to a trio of graduates from LAMDA who wrote it, and their fellow performers who began life as an improvised comedy group.

Award-winning Mischief Theatre may have been going for only a few years but its daring stunts,superb comic timing and sheer silliness is the stuff of legends, rather like Michael Green’s The Art of Course Acting, which I still remember Ealing’s Questors Theatre doing in the sixties.

The plot is centred around a mythical amdram society which attempts to put on a 1920s murder mystery, The Murder of Haversham Hall. But lack of expertise both on and off stage means the entire production is a flop - literally! To list everything that goes wrong would take me ages - and give the game away - it has to be seen to be believed. Writers Henry Shields (who plays Chris and Inspector Carter), Jonathan Sayer (the company director who plays Dennis/Perkins), and Henry Lewis (the company’s artistic director/Robert/Thomas Colleymoore) certainly manage to pack a lot of hilarious material into the two hour show, and together with their co-performers Greg Tannahill, Charlie Russell, Dave Hearn, Lotti Maddox and Rob Falconer present a tour de force from beginning to end. There is so much in this play to commend but I took home with me Max’s (Dave Hearn) silly grin every time he realises he is centre stage (whether or not he should be!) and stage manager Annie’s (Lotti Maddox) ‘caught in the headlights’ expression when she first realises she’s on stage. Congratulations too, to director Mark Bell for keeping together what must be a nightmare of a show to perform, and designer Nigel Hook for his extraordinary set.

This is a company that is going places!


The Play That Goes Wrong is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 1 and then continues touring:

March 10-15: King’s Theatre, Glasgow

March 17-22: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

March 24-29: Theatre Royal, Nottingham

April 8-12: Theatre Royal, York

April 22-26: Malvern Theatres

April 29-May 3: Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

May 6-10: Rose Theatre, Kingston

May 12-17: Royal & Derngate, Northampton

May 19-24: Arts Theatre, Cambridge

May 27-31 Theatre Royal, Bath

June 17-21 Civic Theatre, Darlington

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com
Feb 4th

The Greatest Rock Tours of Them All at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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Anything with director and musical arranger Keith Strachan’s name on it is bound to have the wow factor - and he certainly doesn’t disappoint in this trio of concerts which form The Greatest Rock Tours of Them All.

The co-composer, with his son Matthew, of the theme music for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, has been responsible for some of the greatest musical shows in the country, so why, oh why, have three different shows been crammed into one week in what is only a four venue tour? I want everyone to see them, but unless you live in Oxford, Birmingham, Wimbledon or Windsor and you have the money to go to the theatre three times in one week (and who of us has?) you know you’re missing out on two great evenings of entertainment.

Obviously, I can only comment on 3 Steps to Heaven, the first of the three. And I’m still reeling from a magical trip down memory lane with Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.

From the moment the show bursts into life I am nearer to Heaven than just three steps!

Everything is just perfect: sound, lighting, content, and wonderful musicians fronted by three amazing singers: AJ Dean may not have looked too much like Elvis, but shut your eyes (no, don’t shut your eyes; his lip curling and hip swivelling are great and he has tremendous presence!) and you would think Elvis really is in the building.

Damien Edwards has been playing Roy Orbison since 2000 so it’s no surprise that his portrayal is spot on, while Ed Handoll looks and sounds so much like Buddy Holly it is spooky, especially as, on Monday night, he was performing 55 years to the day Buddy Holly died in a plane crash.

Each show is running for just two nights (shame!) and 3 Steps to Heaven is followed by Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, and Winter Dance Party.

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk


Jan 28th

Classic Ghosts at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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I am a big fan of actor Jack Shepherd and I love ghost stories, so I have been waiting impatiently for this Middle Ground Theatre production of two classic ghost stories starring the former TV sleuth Wycliffe.

I was disappointed.

MR James and Charles Dickens are masters of the macabre, but, because of cheap tricks, their short stories, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, and The Signalman, look to me just what they are - staged. Even a ghost which pops up in MR James’ story, though frighteningly unexpected, looks just like a kid at a Hallowe’en party. While shadows falling on a backcloth in The Signalman completely spoil the illusion that it is a railway tunnel. And through the wind was howling, a tree failed to move until halfway through the action.

The evening’s entertainment began with MR James’ Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, in which Shepherd, as a Cambridge professor on holiday on the east coast, finds a whistle in a graveyard which, when blown, releases all sorts of ghostly goings-on. But the set is cumbersome with the professor’s room and the inn’s reception area taking up most of the stage while his walks on the dunes are confined to a small area to the back of the stage atop boulders which look like sandbags.

The set for Dickens’ The Signalman looks a little more realistic but having seen another production of this several years ago, this is a poor imitation.

Shepherd’s talents as an actor are well displayed as the slightly unworldly academic, followed by the troubled country signalman, and he is well supported by Terrence Hardiman. But Dicken Ashworth as the landlord in the first story and the police inspector in the second, is wooden.

Having said that, the press night performance was the first in a national tour, so I expect things will improve.


Classic Ghosts continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Feb 1 and then tours:

Feb 4-8: Lichfield Garrick

Feb 12-15: Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Feb 19-22: Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Feb 24-Mar 1: New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Mar 3-8: Palace Theatre, Southend

Mar 19-22: Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe

Mar 25-29: New Theatre, Cardiff

Apr 7-9: Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury

Apr 14-19: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Apr 22-26: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

www.middlegroundtheatre.co.uk
Jan 25th

Absurd Person Singular at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood

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The genius of Alan Ayckbourn couldn’t be better presented than in The Mill at Sonning’s current production.

His talent to turn everyday disasters into hilarious situations is finely tuned by director Tom Littler in three separate kitchen dramas, beautifully transported into the early seventies by set designer Michael Holt and costume designer Jane Kidd.

The action takes place over three Christmases when Harry, an ambitious small time businessman, architect Geoffrey and banker Ronald get together with their wives for Christmas Eve drinks.

We begin in Jane and Sidney’s pristine kitchen where Catherine Skinner’s mouselike portrayal of the slightly OCD and nervous Jane is perfectly offset by Harry Gostelow’s controlling and somewhat bullying Sidney.

The final act sees Ronald, beautifully understated by Ayckbourn regular John Arthur, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his two-faced wife Marion, is becoming a reclusive drunk. In fact, he is quite pleased that she is staying in her room. As in each act, Louise Jameson exudes a huge presence and really seems to get under the skin of her character.

My favourite scene, however, is that in womanising Geoffrey’s kitchen. With superb timing and extraordinary acting from Emma Davies as Geoffrey’s depressed wife Eva, this scene is both hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure. And couldn’t I just kill Geoffrey, played so chauvinistically by Ian Targett!


Absurd Person Singular continues at The Mill at Sonning until 15 March.

Box Office: 0118 969 8000

www.millatsonning.com


Jan 9th

Black Coffee at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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Hercule Poirot is dead. Long live Hercule Poirot!

Just as Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth breathes his last on television, on stage he begins an extensive national tour, beginning this week at Windsor.

It takes a brave actor to follow in the mincing footsteps of David Suchet’s Belgian detective, a part he has perfected over the last 25 years. But Robert Powell has risen to the challenge and is already making the role his own. The clipped Belgian accent is still there and many of Poirot’s mannerisms, but ‘the walk’ has gone, though Powell makes a neat little figure. However, his moustache is too black and looks altogether too false.

Set in Sir Claud Amory’s beautiful, art nouveau library (courtesy of designer Simon Scullion), Agatha Christie’s first stage play surrounds the theft of an atomic formula and a murder by poisoning.

This production, by The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, is a delight for Christie fans, with a boatload of red herrings and a cast of colourful characters, from Liza Goddard’s fussing spinster sister to Sir Claud, to Gary Mavers’ passionate Italian Dr Carelli. And Eric Carte deserves a special mention for stepping in pn opening night to give a faultless performance as Sir Claud while also playing Inspector Japp.

By the time Poirot appears the characters have already become established, but Robert Powell adds a frisson to the production, while Robin McCallum as Poirot’s sidekick Hastings is remarkably like his TV counterpart.

Black Coffee continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Jan 18 and then tours:

Jan 2015: Arts Theatre, Cambridge

Jan 27-Feb 1: Theatre Royal Bath

Feb 3-8 Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Feb 10-15: Richmond Theatre Richmond

Feb 17-22: Regent Theatre, Stoke

...
 

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

www.kenwright.com