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Oct 8th

The Small Hand at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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Even before the curtain went up we were shaking in our seats - literally - as the whole theatre throbbed with the first of Dan Samson’s many thrilling sound effects.

Susan Hill’s latest tale of terror to be adapted for the stage has been greatly anticipated, and it doesn’t disappoint.

For me, nothing can match the sheer horror that is The Woman in Black (the stage version not the film!) but The Small Hand has a lot to commend it.

Presented in a similar way to The Woman in Black, with the actors narrating in between scenes, this adaptation by the hugely talented Clive Francis tells the story of an art dealer who is drawn to a dilapidated Edwardian house where the sensation of being gripped by a small hand begins a nightmarish tale which I won’t divulge so as not to spoil the fun.

As the art dealer Adam Snow, Andrew Lancel is a far cry from British Soap Awards’ Villain of the Year as Carla Connor’s violent boyfriend Frank Foster in Coronation Street. His fear is palpable and his anguish had me filling up with emotion.

Lancel is very well supported by Diane Keen and Robert Duncan in a variety of roles, showcasing their versatility, with Keen playing everything from an American art dealer to a Scottish housekeeper, and Duncan drawing us in as Snow’s troubled brother while also playing an assortment of eccentrics. Though, on the first night of this national tour, he may have been trying a little too hard as his expressive voice rose and fell to such an extent that we couldn’t always hear what he was saying. As the Scottish laird he also ought to lose the shotgun. He wasn’t dressed for shooting and I doubt he would bring a shotgun into his drawing room and place it on his highly polished table. It serves no purpose but to give the scene authenticity, which it doesn’t

Inevitably, there is a ghost and I do worry for six-year-old Charlie Ward who plays him. With such eerie sound effects, Gary Hickeson’s atmospheric music and Lancel’s harrowing performance, I wonder he isn’t traumatised, and yet he played his part perfectly, with a stillness which must be so alien to one so young!

As in The Woman in Black, the set is sparse, but Nina Dunn’s back projection is stunning. The way one scene washes over the next and windows expand and contract is almost nightmarish in itself and adds a lot to the atmosphere.

Roy Marsden’s direction keeps the tension bubbling below the surface throughout the evening and once the production settles in I’m sure it will be even more enjoyable.


The Small Hand continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Oct 18 and then tours:

Oct 20-25: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Oct 27-Nov 1: Grand Opera House, York

Nov 3-8 Theatre Royal, Brighton

Nov 10-15: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Nov 17-22: Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

www.kenwright.com
Sep 24th

Double Death at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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Brian Capron and Kim Tiddy

Claps of thunder and flashes of lightning are staple ingredients for setting the scene in thrillers, especially ones set in creepy Cornish country houses. And the sound and lighting effects herald this thriller particularly well.

The first act doesn’t exactly kick up a storm, however - until you realise that it’s a slow build up to a surprising and stunning climax.

The plot is certainly novel:  the combustible relationship between twin brothers has already led to attempted murder - or what it an accident? - and when the now paranoid paraplegic victim of that incident returns home from hospital, a game of cat and mouse ensues - with tragic consequences.

Described as ‘volatile and schizophrenic’, wheelchair-bound Ashley seems rather mild-mannered  as played by Tom Butcher; while as Ashley’s twin, Max, he is not particularly threatening. Playing two roles must be difficult, however, and hard work in such an eventful storyline, and I gather Tom joined the cast at a late stage. Certainly he doesn’t miss a cue as he swaps between the roles, mostly by disappearing into a working lift - whose light as it descends adds to the creepiness. It must have been a logistical nightmare for director and designer Philip Stewart, but the lift and an intercom are valuable props, unlike the playing back of a childhood home movie whose dialogue was too muffled to be heard.

Brian Capron who, after more than 10 years, is still remembered as Coronation Street murderer Richard Hillman, is on the other side of the law this time, convincing as a local policeman (complete with accent) with limited intuition, while Kim Tiddy as Ashley’s nurse has something of  Nurse Ratched about her. It is Judy Buxton as the twins’ indulgent aunt who makes the most impression. Her spirited performance adds colour and not a little humour to the proceedings.

Written by the Windsor-born actor Simon Williams, who starred as the twins at this very theatre several years ago, Double Death certainly has plenty of thrills and spills but it is sometimes a little lacklustre. Perhaps a bolt of lightning may help!


Double Death is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Sept 27 and then continues touring:

Sept 29-Oct 1: Civic Theatre, Darlington

Oct 6-8: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft

Oct 15-18: Haymarket, Basingstoke

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

www.talking-scarlet.co.uk
Sep 19th

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Twickenham Theatre

By Clare Brotherwood

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Preview pictures of next year’s production of Sweeney Todd at London’s Coliseum, where tickets will cost as much as £125, make Emma Thompson look like Mary Poppins and Bryn Terfel one of The Wurzels.

If you really want to experience this gory tale in all its glory however, for just  £15 you can see top West End performers up close and intimate and, at the same time, help the new Twickenham Theatre onto its feet.

For its inaugural production, this 60-seater above the London Road Pub (conveniently just one minutes’ walk from the station) is on to a winner.

To put it mildly, it’s a bloody good night as the demon barber scans the audience for victims and blood spurts freely in what becomes a claustrophobic but exciting space.

Did I say space? That there is not a lot of and yet in several scenes the cast of nine manage to create it as they act out their roles without falling over each other!

Don’t take this personally David Bedella but, the first time I saw you as the erring husband in Putting It Together at St James’ Theatre, I thought you looked like the Devil. I was right. One of your most famous roles, for which you won the 2004 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical, was as Satan in Jerry Springer – The Opera. So you’re made for the role of the demon barber!

But let’s not get as personal as the space in this tiny theatre…

As the wronged husband who returns to London to seek revenge for his wife’s death and to reclaim his daughter, Bedella runs the gamut of emotions. Haunted by the past, the pain and anguish in his face is heart-breaking, but as madness prevails it’s a wonder the blood that spurts from his victims doesn’t curdle.

Bedella, whose voice at times sounds like Anthony Newley, while at others sounding as if it was coming from the very bowels of the earth, more than meets his match in Sarah Ingram as Mrs Lovett. She may be the maker of those famous pies, and at times there are moments of pure madness, but mostly she comes across as an east ender (who won’t be out of place on Albert Square, to be honest) with a huge heart and a sense of humour just looking for love. It is her scenes which get the most laughs and the most applause.

Seeing as this is Stephen Sondheim’s musical version of the Victorian melodrama, the emphasis is on the music, and this production is strong on voices, expertly directed by Benjamin Holder. Special mention should be made of Genevieve Kingsford, making her professional debut as Sweeney Todd’s long lost daughter Johanna: though looking suitably waif-like, her voice is high, pure and memorable.

The production is the directing debut of Derek Anderson, who deserves his own round of applause, but there are just a couple of wrongs which ought to be righted. Mikaela Newton is utterly convincing as the young boy Tobias – except for her flowing blonde locks, which ought to be tucked away under her cap. And it was sometimes obvious that the actors were looking at the screen behind the audience where the musical director could be seen conducting – a bit off-putting.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street continues at the Twickenham Theatre until Oct 4.

Box office: 020 8787 5933

www.twickenhamtheatre.com

Sep 17th

Shakespeare’s Globe’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By Clare Brotherwood


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Janie Dee and Aden Gillett

To be perfectly honest, it won’t matter if the audiences in the Globe’s current tour of the Far East and Russia don’t understand Shakespeare’s prose. For Dominic Dromgoole’s production is a visual feast, exquisitely choreographed and dressed, with shed loads of beautifully crafted comedy from The Mechanicals and X-rated passion from the fairy queen.

It was such a joy to watch that, having seen it at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, I insisted friends join me for a second helping at the stunning Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury before it set off on its international tour (first stop Shanghai).

It was far from being too long (at two hours, 45 minutes) for 11-year-old Amelia’s first taste of Shakespeare. In fact she was disappointed the second half was only to be an hour and said she wanted to see it again!

The tale of four lovers who wander into the midst of a dispute between the king and queen of the fairies is magical in every way.

The production bursts into action as Theseus, mythical king of Athens, conquers Hipployta and her Amazonian women in battle.

As the Amazonian queen, Janie Dee looks every inch the warrior, fierce, focussed, foreboding and not a little wild, a characteristic she builds on when she later appears as Titania, the fairy queen who, clothed in animal skins and smeared with mud, is almost feral.

Meanwhile, hapless lovers Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius (played with youthful vigour by Beatriz O’Hea, Lizzy Watts, Jamie Chandler and Philip Correia) are in love with the wrong partners, with or without the help of the bungling sprite Puck, who has been entrusted by the fairy king, jealous Oberon, to bewitch Titania so that she falls in love with the first persons she sees – the tradesman, Bottom, on whom Puck has transplanted an ass’s head.

As Oberon, Aden Gillett has tremendous presence as a somewhat malevolent character, in sharp contrast to Molly Logan who, as the playful Puck, is a little powerhouse of mischief and mayhem. Indeed her performance is so captivating that one of my friends likened her to a young Judi Dench!

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The Mechanicals 

For Shakespeare first-timers especially, The Mechanicals and the play they perform in the last act is greatly entertaining. I don’t remember laughing so much as I did this time round when the assorted group of tradesmen clattered on stage in proper northern wooden clogs. Their characters are evident from the start, especially bossy Bottom, played with gravitas by Geordie Trevor Fox; Steffan Donnelly, whose awkwardness as the young Flute is a tour de force; John Cummins as enthusiastic Snout, and Richard Bremmer who, as Snug, created a work of art as an almost wraith-like vision whose mournful expression is so sad and yet had us howling with laughter.

Staged as it would have been in Shakespeare’s Globe, complete with Claire van Kampen’s at times emotive music played on instruments of the time, this is a production Great Britain can be proud to export.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now touring China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia until December.

Sep 4th

Dangerous Corner at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

A shot in the dark, followed by a scream, and the stage is set for the first of J B Priestley’s many plays.

Dangerous Corner

But the content is in stark contrast to the rich, warm tones of the Art Deco drawing room of the country house in which the play is set. For beneath the 1930s respectability of wealthy couple Robert and Freda Caplan, their friends and colleagues, lurks the darkest of secrets which are disclosed as the evening unfolds.

J B Priestley himself described the play as ‘pretty thin stuff when all is said and done’, but if it were a book it would be a real page-turner, and in the hands of director Michael Attenborough and his sterling cast it has its audience in suspense right up to the very last line as devastating revelation after devastating revelation is exposed.

Some, such as affairs and homosexuality, probably wouldn’t turn a hair in today’s society, but in the mannered world of the 1930s, beautifully recreated by set and costume designer Gary McCann and lighting designer Tim Mitchell, what unfolds appears to be somewhat shocking when the stiff upper lip collapses - with tragic consequences.

As Robert Caplan, Colin Buchanan (remember Dalziel’s Pascoe?) is the perfect host for most of the evening but shows his passionate side in the closing scenes with a powerful explosion of emotions. Robert’s wife, however, shows her feelings more easily from the very beginning and Finty Williams portrays her as both fearful and feisty with a presence she has obviously inherited from her mother, Dame Judi Dench, who was in the audience.

Though Kim Thomson’s Olwen is gentle and almost wan, her presence is just as striking, as is Lauren Drummond’s Betty, for completely different reasons - a playful, shrieking child well suited to her gauche, lumbering husband (Matt Milne).

Though the most contained of all the characters, it is Charles Stanton’s lack of emotion which makes him the most menacing and Michael Praed’s performance is memorable for its steely coldness.

All in all, a class act to be savoured.

Dangerous Corner is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until September 13 and then tours:

Sept 15-20: Clwyd Theatr, Mold

Sept 29-Oct 4: Richmond Theatre

Oct 6-11: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Oct 13-18: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Oct 27-Nov 1: Theatre Royal Glasgow

Nov 3-8: Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Nov 10-15: Malvern Theatre

Nov 17-22: Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Nov 24-29: New Victoria Theatre, Woking

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

www.kenwright.com

Aug 19th

Agatha Christie’s Murder on Air at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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This most original and unusual production is certainly among the most entertaining I’ve seen.

It’s classy, nostalgic, and features thrilling yarns with unexpected climaxes. It’s great fun and has a huge novelty factor but, most of all, it lifts the lid on just how complex performing a radio play can be.

Set in a studio, at a time when actors turned up in evening dress to perform on ‘the wireless’, three of Christie’s radio plays are read in the style of their original BBC broadcasts by members of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company.

Personal Call (circa 1954), surrounds phone calls a man is getting from his former wife - who died the previous year; The Yellow Iris (1937) features Hercule Poirot who gets a mysterious call to a nightclub to avert a crime, while Butter in a Lordly Dish (1948) concerns a KC and dedicated philanderer who, after another successful prosecution, arranges to meet his latest conquest. But he has a surprise in store.

All are superbly performed by a versatile and talented company, not least guest stars Jenny Seagrove and Tom Conti who, though reading the scripts as a radio actor would, hams up his performance by giving the audience knowing looks and appearing so relaxed that at one point on the opening night he seemingly missed one of his cues, much to the amusement of his fellow cast members.

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I love radio plays and this really opened my eyes as to how they are performed. At times though I had to close them and listen to the story. There is so much going on on stage that I was distracted… which makes me want to see it again so I can take in more.

Timing is of the essence, particularly when it comes to the sound effects, expertly provided by foley artist (one who creates sound effects) Alexander S Bermange, whose work was so fascinating I could watch on entire show centred on him alone. Adrian Metcalfe also deserves a special mention for his wonderful imitation of trains, while Elizabeth Payne proved she had a worthy extra string to her bow as a singer, ably accompanied by the aforementioned Alexander S Bermange.

A step back in the history of the BBC, a lesson in broadcasting, and hugely entertaining, this really is a must see!

Just one thing: why did dedicated animal lover Jenny Seagrove wander on stage at the beginning of the evening with an elderly dog who walked up to its own little microphone and then walk off? No-one seems to know!


Agatha Christie’s Murder on Air is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until August 23

Box Office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor

The tour then continues:

September 1-6: Theatre Royal Brighton

September 16-20: Salford Quays Theatre, Manchester

www.kenwright.com


Jul 24th

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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Matt Lapinskas, Lloyd Daniels and Danielle Hope

Forty-five years after it made its debut, the first musical by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice to be staged in public opened its latest national tour in Windsor this week – to great applause and a standing ovation.

First generation Joseph fans, who know every song, clapped alongside youngsters who may even be coming to the theatre for the first time in this most enduring of all family shows.

Given its fame and popularity throughout the world and the stars who have played the title role before him (Donny Osmond, Jason Donovan, Paul Jones, Phillip Schofield, Lee Mead…), it must have been quite daunting for 21-year-old Lloyd Daniels on the first night. Not only was his boss, producer and, on this occasion, director Bill Kenwright in the audience, plus press, but he was also making his musical theatre debut.

The former X Factor finalist started off a little shakily with a fixed grin showing gleaming white teeth, but in no time at all he was into his stride, portraying the favourite of Jacob’s 12 sons as if he was born to it, though with a freshness and endearing innocence.

Kenwright’s production is, not surprisingly considering how long he’s been producing it, slick and fast-paced, a kaleidoscope of colour and favourite songs, moving seamlessly from one effervescent scene to the next; an upbeat show when even Joseph’s sad tale of banishment, slavery and imprisonment comes second place to talking camels and a Pharaoh mask with flashing eyes.

The whole thing is held together by the Narrator, this time round played by Danielle Hope, who made her professional debut as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium after winning the BBC’s talent series Over the Rainbow. Hers is an impressive performance, her singing powerful and precise, and she has an authoritative air.

Joseph’s brothers are a bunch of high energy, entertaining dancers and singers, led by their ‘father’ Henry Metcalfe as Jacob, whose presence commands respect – not surprisingly as this 70-year-old is also the choreographer and associate director.

It’s always lovely to have a live band in a production and musical director Tim Whiting’s musicians don’t disappoint. Neither does Matt Lapinskas as Elvis, aka Pharaoh. A really spirited performance.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Aug 2 (box office: 01753 853888 www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk) and then tours:

Aug 4-10: Cliffs Pavilion, Southend

Aug 12-23: Bord Gais Theatre, Dublin

Aug 26-30: Hall for Cornwall, Truro

Sept 2-6: New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Sept 9-13: Hexagon, Reading

Sept 16-20: Regent Theatre, Stoke

Sept 23-27: Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Sept 30-Oct 4: Opera House, Cork

Oct 7-12: Sands Theatre, Carlisle

Oct 14-18: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Oct 21-25: Palace Theatre, Manchester

Oct 28- Nov 1: Theatre Royal, Norwich

Nov 4-8: Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

Nov 11-15: Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold

Nov 25-29: Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe

2015

Feb 10-15: Watford Palace Theatre

Feb 17-21: Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

Feb 24-28: Southport Theatre

May 19: Swindon Theatre

May 26-30: Curve Theatre, Leicester

www.kenwright.com

Jul 16th

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at the Battersea Barge

By Clare Brotherwood

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Bobbing about on the Thames is the perfect way to spend a sunny summer’s afternoon. But on the river, between Vauxhall and Battersea, there’s a different experience on offer.

With blinds drawn, plush red velvet seats to sink into and fairy lights twinkling, the Battersea Barge, which has been offering live entertainment since 1999, is this week presenting a celebration of the mating game through a series of songs and sketches.

It’s a shame the production is only running for four nights (and some afternoons). With director Drew Baker and musical director Ben Holder at the helm, a lot of work has obviously gone into this revue which, incidentally, holds the record as the second longest running musical in Off-Broadway history with 5,003 performances.

It’s pure New York with accents to match from the English, Irish and New Zealand cast who run the gamut of emotions as they sing and act their way through relationships, from Adam and Eve through to funerals and an elderly couple who ponder, ‘Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You?’

On the surface, this show (the title is a little long!) is light and frothy with a lot of laughs, but in the hands of West End musical stars Chloe Taylor and David Ribi, Nic Kyle and Sarah Goggin, the subjects of first dating, shyness, egos, rejection, heartbreak, sex, marriage, parenthood and old age, make for some very well expressed and moving moments. They all point to one thing, however: You meet someone you think is perfect and then spend the rest of your life trying to change them!


I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change continues at the Battersea Barge until 17 July. www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/59057k
Jul 2nd

Murder Weapon at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

I rather hope the Theatre Royal Windsor has started a new trend or, rather, revived an old one.

Back in the day, actors cut their teeth on rep, with one company performing a different play each week. It was a good way for actors to hone their skills, learning a new play while performing another.

Murder Weapon

For the past month TABS Productions have been doing just that, and without any big names to draw them, the audience at this week’s opening night was healthy - and hearty. As we left the auditorium I saw one woman turn to another sitting behind her and say, ‘See you next week?’ ‘You bet!’ came the reply. There was a feeling of camaraderie, and the warmth towards the now familiar actors was palpable.

Murder Weapon, written by creator of The Avengers Brian Clemens, is indeed a worthy contender for the theatre’s Classic Thriller Season.

The ingenious plot is centred around Charley Mirren who, having already served 10 years for murder, is found with gun in hand standing over a dead body. Whodunnit? The fun is finding out!

The culprit, if you’re paying attention, is not too hard to spot. However, how the play gets to its conclusion is chock full of twists and turns which will certainly have you on the edge of your seat.

The members of TABS Productions have already proved their versatility and this play is no exception.

Karen Henson, who directed last week’s production, plays the police chief Jessica Bligh in charge of the murder investigation. Being new at the job and ex-Army, she wants to do everything by the book, but she’s not sure of herself and Henson plays her as lacking in confidence and authority.

In complete contrast, Inspector Fremont is a old hand who just wants to get things over and done with, and Michael Sherwin makes the most of his character’s cynicism; his deadpan delivery is a comic masterpiece.

Jeremy Lloyd Thomas’s portrayal of the murder suspect is another tour de force. Charley isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and Lloyd Thomas brings out his vulnerability and confusion, agitated and with nervous ticks.

Next week TABS Productions present Francis Durbridge’s The Gentle Hook. I’m sorry it’s their last play in Windsor.

Murder Weapon continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until 5 July, and the Classic Thriller Season concludes with The Gentle Hook from 7-12 July.

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk
Jun 28th

Thriller Live at the Lyric Theatre

By Clare Brotherwood

 

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Photo: Irina Chira

Every night for the last five years theatregoers have been rising to their feet to applaud the ultimate tribute to Michael Jackson that is Thriller Live.

This week was no different as the West End audience welcomed into the Thriller Live family Cleo Higgins, she of the nineties girl group Cleopatra and semi-finalist in last year’s The Voice who, having cut her teeth on a national tour of the show, burst onto the Lyric stage as if she’d been there all her life.

A cool mover as well as a superb singer, she fits right into a show which continues to amaze, with director Gary Lloyd’s stunning choreography, seamlessly performed by a company of highly motivated dancers. I would happily see this show just to see them perform, but when you’ve got Michael Jackson’s powerful hits executed with passion by the likes of Cleo Higgins, the hauntingly beautiful Ricardo Alfonso, Haydon Eshun and John Moabie, backed by John Maher and his wonderful musicians, it becomes an obsession. I know!

And as the show is forever evolving, there are new treats in store every time you see it. Take Jonathan Park’s set and Nigel Catmur’s lighting, for instance: a kaleidoscopic explosion of colourful graphics which seem to get bigger, brighter and bolder.

Highlights - and there are many - always include the young Michael Jackson, performed on this occasion by the adorable 13-year-old Kyle Johnson, which leaves the main man David Jordan as MJ. His whole persona is full-on Jackson, his moves spellbinding, sending shivers down the spine, especially his moonwalking which results in screams of delight from the audience. Thrills there are a plenty. Can you feel it? You certainly can!

Thriller Live is at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, and is now taking bookings until April 2015.

Box office: 0844 412 4661

www.thrillerlive.com