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Jul 4th

'Singing In The Rain' Spectacular!

By Thia Cooper

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Never have I come home from an evening at the theatre, beaming, and singing on such a high! That is the effect the production of ‘Singing In The Rain’ at Milton Keynes Theatre had on me.

The Musical is based on the1952 MGM film famously starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. In 2012 a pole by ‘Sight and Sound’ voted it the 20th greatest film ever made.

The story tells the tale of one studio’s struggle in Hollywood, to change from silent films to talkies. There is resistance from the silent star (Lina Lamont. Spectacularly played by Vicky Binns) with a grating high pitched voice. I don’t know how she managed to sustain her voice throughout!

It was clever technology that included the silent film screen coming down at times, as the story develops. It is obvious to everyone (except Lina) that Kathy Selden (Amy Ellen Richardson) would be the VOICE as she sang and spoke beautifully.

The songs written by Nacio Herb Brown and Adolph Green, have all stood the test of time! Singing in the Rain’, ‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’, ‘Make ‘Em ‘Laugh’, ‘You Are My Lucky Star’, ‘Moses Supposes’ and ‘Good Morning’! What a glut of beautiful music, beautifully sung.

Cosmo Brown, played by Stephane Anelli, was another brilliantly played part. He was so funny and was one of those people who only had to stand with an expression on his face and you had to laugh. His dancing and tap dancing showed excellent athletic ability.

The Company worked very well together with the singing and dancing showing how versatile each individual is too. Jenny Leg, the Ballet Girl, should get a special mention for her elegant, graceful dance.

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It was delightful to see the famous scene with romantic lead Don Lockwood (James Leece) singing and tap dancing his way through the rain and splashing the audience!! How the stages hands managed to clear the stage in 20 minutes ready for the second half, I really don’t know! They got their own applause!

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A show to delight all ages, this spectacular held the engrossed audience from start to finish, with the humour, fabulous singing, dancing, acting, scenery, costumes! Everything in fact!! There was not one scene that lacked sparkle.

There was a well deserved standing ovation for all the cast!

If this does not lift you spirits and send you home singing and dancing with a smile on your face, nothing will!!

Milton Keynes Theatre

Tues 01 – 12 July

Matinee Wed 9 and Sat 11 July

Tickets £15.00 - £49.50

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
Jun 18th

The Shadow of the Ghost at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Repertory was, back in the day, the way actors learned their craft, learning their lines for the following week’s production while acting in the current one.

Nowadays, if they don’t get at least four weeks’ rehearsal they are hard done by, so I greatly admire the members of the cast of the present production at the Theatre Royal who have leapt into other roles.

Now into the second week of their five-week Classic Thriller Season, these members of the TABS Productions’ company are proving just how versatile they are by presenting a world premiere which, while it has connections with last week’s play, sees them playing completely different characters.

Last week’s opening play of the season,The Ghost Train, is a classic comedy written by Arnold Ridley, set in a haunted railway station. The Shadow of the Ghost is set in a theatre where an inept am dram society is rehearsing the said play.

Co-written by Arnold Ridley’s son, Nicholas Ridley, with Chris Ponka, it is a melting pot of suspense, spookiness and side-splitting fun, a sort of Noises Off with more than one spine-chilling twists.

Tales of a manager who hanged himself and an actor’s death on the very stage they are rehearsing, unnerve the few amateurs who have turned up for a Sunday afternoon rehearsal, and when unexplainable things begin to happen, the plot thickens.

Be sure there is a bit of everything in this play; lots of surprises, lots of laughs, more than just a touch of Agatha Christie, and some sterling performances from, among others, Andrew Ryan as Jack Taylor (entirely different in character and looks from his character last week of the idiotic Teddie Deacon) and Susan Earnshaw as the super sleuth Miss Maple!

Slow to start but building up to yet another enjoyable evening, The Shadow of the Ghost has something for everyone.

The Shadow of the Ghost is part of the Theatre Royal Windsor’s Classic Thriller Season and runs until June 21. It will be followed by:

Fatal Encounter from June 23-28

Murder Weapon from June 30-July 5

The Gentle Hook from July 7-12

Box office: 01753 853888
Jun 18th

Happy Days Milton Keynes Theatre

By Thia Cooper
Happy Days Are Here Again!
Have you got the summer blues? Rain one day - sun the next - no settled weather!! Children driving you mad? You need to go to Milton Keynes Theatre! You’ll come out of the new musical, ‘Happy Days’ performance with tunes annoyingly swimming around in your head and a smile on your face!
Set in 1959, if you’re one of the 50’s baby boomers like me, you will remember Henry Winkler as THE FONZ in the television version of ‘Happy Days’ in the 70’s. Good looking, sexy, full of himself with the perfect hair cut untouched by anyone but himself!! A mirror always nearby. Girls treating him like the star he thought he was. Compulsive viewing in the 70’s as there was very little of that kind of comedy programme around. Set in the late 50’s, it cheered us after the deprivations of Word War Two.
Originally based on the book by Garry Marshall he is still involved with the musical, Set mainly in Arnold’s Diner the Fonz (Ben Freeman) and Pinky Tuscadero (Heidi Range) relight their relationship. Arnold’s is on the verge of closure and need to raise $5000 to stay open. The group try to think of ways of raising this including the Cunninghams and the Leopards (Grrrr!) an all male Lodge.
You go to see it for the visual effect, superb dancing, singing and fun, not necessarily an intense story. Once again, the set design (I know I mention it in every review!) by Tom Rogers is stunning and innovative. It is a folding set, transforming the look over and over again. From Arnold’s diner, to the Cunninghams’ kitchen, the garage and Franklin Park etc.. The costumes were nostalgic as I used to wear dresses just like that!
It is very obvious is that the cast are having a ball and the audience responds appropriately and are happy to get up and dance at the end of the show, leaving everyone on a high.
The cast is well chosen, with Heidi Range and Ben Freeman, just right for the leading roles. They act, sing and dance beautifully and captured the imagination. I noticed that many of the audience, like me, were ‘of a certain age’ and will remember the times well!
Inevitably, with Cheryl Baker in the cast, we had the skirt whisked off whilst standing on a table so everyone could see! Actually she got on and off it rather gingerly and I wondered if the high heels were a hindrance? Nevertheless, it caused amusement in the audience!
As I said at the beginning of this review, if you want a light hearted, happy night out, you know where to go!!
Milton Keynes Theatre
Mon 16 to Sat 21 June 2014
Wed & Sat Mats & 18 & 21 June 2.30pm
Tickets from £17.90 to £42.40
£2.80 transaction fee
0844 871 7652
Jun 11th

The Ghost Train at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Shrieks of laughter as well as horror heralded the opening of the Theatre Royal Windsor’s first ever Classic Thriller Season.

Produced in association with TABS Productions and the Theatre Royal Nottingham, chilling tales from the pens of such writers as Francis Durbridge (creator of the Paul Temple detective series) and Brian Clemens (creator of The Avengers and The Professionals), will be showing over the next five weeks.

The season starts with the comedy thriller The Ghost Train, written in 1923 by Arnold Ridley, best known as Private Godfrey in the TV series Dad’s Army.

Set in 1925 - the year it was first performed - it concerns a group of stranded passengers who are holed up in a haunted railway station overnight.

David Gilbrook’s chilling sound effects together with Alex Marshall’s atmospheric lighting and Geoff Gilder’s station waiting room all help to set the scene for a good night of all-round entertainment, with ghostly goings on working well with the comedy to relieve the tension.

It’s very much a period piece, with old-fashioned manners and a stilted way of talking, rather like in Brief Encounter, though that was to come 20 years later. The language is rather quaint, with nothing stronger than ‘duce’ and ‘beastly’ - amusing in themselves - while the actors throw themselves into their roles with more than a touch of melodrama.

Andrew Ryan and Susan Earnshaw with Edward Parris. Pic: Mike Swift

My favourite character is Teddie Deacon, a flamboyant and rather idiotic figure played with verve and enthusiasm by Andrew Ryan. Susan Earnshaw also steals a scene or two as the elderly Miss Bourne, especially when she over-indulges on the brandy; Angie Smith adds to the hysteria as the neurotic Julia Price, while Adrian Lloyd-James really makes the most of his part as the station master.

The theme continues on June 16 with The Shadow of the Ghost, co-written by Arnold Ridley’s son Nicholas, which takes place on the set of a production of The Ghost Train in a theatre somewhere in the south west of England.

I can’t wait to see it!

Meanwhile, the Theatre Royal Windsor is not only offering special price tickets but also ghost tours. I’ve been on one and, believe me, that theatre is haunted!

The Ghost Train is part of the Theatre Royal Windsor’s Classic Thriller Season and runs until June 14. It will be followed by:

The Shadow of the Ghost from June 16-21

Fatal Encounter from June 23-28

Murder Weapon from June 30-July 5

The Gentle Hook from July 7-12

Box office: 01753 853888
Jun 8th

Stone Cold Murder at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood


With the wind howling through the branches outside French doors, the stage is certainly set for a spooky thriller - and you won’t be disappointed.

Atmospheric from the outset, actor James Cawood’s first ever play goes beyond being a frightener with special effects, however. Taking place in a remote (aren’t they always) Lakeland hotel which is closed for the winter, it’s a meaty story with plenty of action, twists and turns, and Sue Wilson’s direction makes sure it bounds along at a cracking pace.

There are just four characters: newly wedded Olivia and Robert Chappell, who recently took over the hotel and are now hunkering down for the winter; Ramsey, a stranded climber, and Sam Stone who, along with his ex Olivia, is harbouring a deadly secret.

As Olivia, Elinor Lawless is edgy and nervous as she attempts to leave her past behind her and start a new life, while Elliot Chapman as her besotted husband is mild-mannered, though he too has his moment.

Paul Brendan as the climber definitely has an air of mystery about him, and made me feel uneasy, while I couldn’t really get my head round the fact that Nick Waring was playing a villain until I began to think of smiling assassins and psychopaths who charm their victims into their lairs, and then I was scared. But there’s a very unexpected ending which proves that all is not as it seems.

As usual, the set, designed by Tony Eden, is superb, though considering the thunder and lightning outside, the patio remains remarkably dry.

Stone Cold Murder is good entertainment and with dinner thrown in, it’s a night out worth considering.

Stone Cold Murder is at The Mill at Sonning until July 26

Box office: 0118 969 8000
May 29th


By Louise Winter


Reviewed 27th May 2014


Touring since February the cast give the impression that they are fully confident with their roles and performances. Authentically staged with rather gorgeous sets and costumes (Jonathan Fensom) this is a rather lovely production to look at.

There are a couple of slight issues at times with the speed of the delivery by some of the cast, Eliza in the first scene and Alfred Doolittle’s speech in the second half but Shaw’s play is incredibly wordy with some lengthy monologues and perhaps it is inevitable that some of the content may be slightly unclear at times.

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Rachel Riley is sure to have quite a career ahead of her and she manages the contrasting aspects of Eliza’s character very convincingly. The shrieking and wailing at the start does grate very quickly but this is, of course, the point! She has great comic timing and is very funny, particularly in the tea party scene at Mrs Higgins’s, but also portrays Eliza’s vulnerability extremely well.

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Alistair McGowan is a fine actor. He is no stranger to the stage and the arrogant and often ignorant Henry Higgins is in safe hands here. Whilst playing up to the humour of his part he also shows the Higgins to be the overgrown public schoolboy he is, unable to show any empathy or love for another. Paul Brightwell as Colonel Pickering is a superb foil for Higgins although ultimately no less arrogant or unfeeling.

Rula Lenska fits very well as Mrs Higgins; a grand stage presence, expressing her frustration at her son’s behaviour and treatment of Eliza, she also shows a lovely tenderness and it is ultimately her to whom Eliza turns.

Jamie Foreman is fabulous as Alfred Doolittle and hilarious in his indignation of suddenly coming into money and finding himself in embroiled in the middle-classes. He has some of the funniest lines and makes the very most of them.


You find yourself laughing at the audacity of some of the sexist, classist humour and not without a twinge of discomfort at times. The uneasiness of this means the play remains just above the genre of farce.

This is a really strong production and definitely worth the price of a ticket.

Playing Mk theatre until 31st May

See!tickets/c1t44 for tour dates

Tickets from MK Theatre 0844 871 7652 (booking fee applies)

May 28th

A Bunch of Amateurs at The Watermill Playhouse, Newbury

By Clare Brotherwood

A Bunch of Amateurs L to R Jackie Morrison and Mitchell Mullen. Photo Credit C Philip Tull 2014.JPG

Jackie Morrison and Mitchell Mullen. Picture: C Philip Tull

Many years ago, when Jeffrey Archer was starring in his own play The Accused, prior to being jailed for perjury, I happened to mention in my review of the first night that Ian Hislop, who had been sitting close to me, appeared to have enjoyed it. He, hitherto, mentioned my review in Private Eye (not altogether kindly). But if there were any hard feelings (which there weren’t) they would most surely have disappeared after watching the premiere of his uproarious play A Bunch of Amateurs.

Co-written with his long-term collaborator Nick Newman, A Bunch of Amateurs is a new version of the book by Jonathan Gershfield and John Ross, and 2008’s Royal Film Performance.

It’s a hoot from beginning to end and a must-see for theatre lovers. Caroline Leslie must have had great fun directing it.

Am dram group The Stratford Players enlist the help of a has-been Hollywood star to lead a production of King Lear and save their little theatre. Said star thinks he’s coming to Stratford-on-Avon and a professional company and the play charts his sometimes tempestuous relationship with a mixed bag of enthusiasts in Suffolk.

A Bunch of Amateurs takes place in a theatre not unlike the Watermill, which sets the scene perfectly and provides just the right atmosphere without even trying. And when the action moves to the film star’s bed and breakfast accommodation, designer Tom Rogers has created two rooms which cleverly unfold from the sides of the stage.

For the most part the main set is understandably basic as rehearsals (sometimes) proceed, though there is a small scene when the American gives a press conference at Heathrow and soundman Neil Starke ingeniously makes him sound like he’s speaking in a cavernous airport.

There’s a stellar cast, headed by Mitchell Mullen as the movie star Jefferson Steel, and Jackie Morrison as his director Dorothy Nettle.

Mullen exudes arrogance and egotism as the larger than life character whose insecurities are never far below the surface, while Morrison, while appearing gentle and ladylike, packs a punch when dealing with her demanding leading man. I loved it when replying to his requests for a dietician and personal trainer she exclaimed: “Eat less and walk more, Fatty!”

As the play progresses we see how the other members of the company - fawning Mary (Sarah Moyle), who is always saying the wrong thing; Denis (Damian Myerscough), a builder whose common touch wins round Jefferson; Nigel (Michael Hadley), a pompous solicitor whose arrogance and ego almost matches that of Jefferson’s, and who is far more theatrical, and Lauren (played by Emily Bowker) wife of the sponsor.

A sub-plot involving the arrival of Jefferson’s estranged and all-American daughter Jessica (Eleanor Brown), adds depth to the proceedings, as do other unexpected twists and turns... in all, a delightful and delightfully funny piece of theatre which is definitely not performed by a bunch of amateurs!

A Bunch of Amateurs is at The Watermill Playhouse, Newbury until June 28

Box office: 01635 46044
May 23rd

A Midsummer's Night Dream at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Cameron Lowe
David Nixon’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”

Review by Thia Cooper

Northern Ballet

To say that I was mesmerised by last night’s performance of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by Northern Ballet, is an understatement! From the moment the curtain went up, to the moment it went down, I was lost in the beautiful performances and amazing working of Mendelssohn's music, intertwined by extracts from Brahms, played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia under Nathan Fifield.
Then there was the interpretation of the original story by wonderful dancing, superb scenery, lighting and costumes.
Set in the 1940’s, the opening shows a classical ballet company rehearsing for a tour. The dancers are warming up for the final rehearsal and the personalities and emotions come to the fore, showing their various rivalries for both affection and dancing prowess in the company.
When the tour begins, the scene changes to the railway station and the Flying Scotsman to take them to their destination. Designer of the train, Duncan Hayler, has done a magnificent job. It’s surprisingly realistic and is technical wizardry of the highest standard.
I asked Mark Skipper, Chief Executive of Northern Ballet, about the logistics of moving such complicated scenery for a tour. He said they had five trailers and a good crew! I discovered he goes to every opening night and as far as I’m concerned that shows a terrific, supportive CEO. I’m sure the company appreciates that!
The dream sequence takes place on the journey and we see the fantasy dream world of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in all its glory!
Above the stage are sleeping-car bunks (I was quite nervous when I saw one of these swaying precariously with the dancers on board!), a spacecraft on its way to the moon and a huge eye.
Outstanding performances were given by Kevin Poeung (Puck, the ballet master), Javier Torres (Lysander in love with Hermia), Tobias Batley (Demetrius, also in love with Hermia), Pippa Moore (Helena, in love with Demetrius), Martha Leebolt (Hermia, in love with Lysander), Hironao Takahashi (Artistic Director, in love with Hippolyta) and Antoinette Brooks-Daw (Hippolyta, in love with Theseus).
Northern Ballet

The romantic confusion is choreographed so very beautifully by Nixon, testing the splendid versatility of the dancers. He demands some breathtaking manoeuvres which are delivered seamlessly!
There are lots of comical instances especially when Helena literally throws herself at Demetrius and when Bottom turns into the donkey, executed very well by Darren Goldsmith.
Everything ends happily with everyone engaged to the correct person after they snap out of the dream and come back to reality.
Let yourself spend a couple of hours being transported into fairyland and go and see this production. You won’t be disappointed!!
Milton Keynes Theatre
Tue 20 May 2014 to Sat 24 May 2014
Tue - Sat 7.30pm, Thu & Sat 2.30pm
Tickets from £12 to £37.50
0844 871 7652
May 22nd

All Creatures Great and Small at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

As an animal lover I had my doubts about a stage version of James Herriott’s heart-warming tales as a vet in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales.

All Creatures Great and Small

But from the moment the curtain went up on Simon Scullion’s superb set, complete with panoramic view of the Dales, I knew the lack of animals wouldn’t be a problem. After all, Herriott’s tales, which he started writing at the age of 50 and which have since been made into two films and seven BBC TV series (between 1978-1990), were much more about the characters he met on his rounds and not the animals he treated.

And there are certainly plenty of characters in Simon Stallworthy’s adaptation, performed heroically by a cast of just eight.

Most of them are dour farmers and farm managers who take umbrage to the new vet, and these are played, most realistically, by Rob Maloney, Michael Palmer and, I think, Lee Latchford-Evans, the former Steps star who doubles up as Tristan Farnon and brings just enough mischievousness and gaucheness to the part of head vet Siegfried Farnon’s wayward brother. I say I think because it was hard to know at times who was playing who, so diverse were the performances. And in the programme it just said ‘other roles played by members of the company’.

Harriett Hare, who graduated from stage school just last year, also shows her versatility, not only playing the schoolgirl sister of Herriott’s future wife, but also a very young child and a good time girl.

Oliver Mellor, until recently Dr Matt Carter in Coronation Street, is believable in the title role, starting off as a shy rooky vet who is even shyer when it comes to his love life, through his dealings with grumpy farmers and the contrary Siegfried when his confidence grows, to a happy ending when he marries his love and becomes a partner in the practice.

Mark Curry, meanwhile, turns in a good performance as the somewhat erratic Siegfried, and Clare Buckfield is enchanting as the object of Herriott’s desires.

I’ve loved Susan Penhaligon ever since 1976 when she starred in A Bouquet of Barbed Wire. In fact, I remember it so well that it always astounds me when she plays older roles, especially as she’s only three days older than me! And once again she doesn’t disappoint. As the vets’ secretary Miss Harbottle, she is a straight-talking, plain Yorkshire woman, but as Mrs Pumphrey, eccentric owner of the over-indulged Pekinese Tricki Woo, she is wonderfully plummy and over the top.

Almost as much a star of the show is the set, divided into a barn and farm yard and Siegried’s house. With Douglas Kuhrt atmospheric lighting and Dan Samson’s music of yesteryear, you feel you’re right in the Yorkshire Dales.

All Creatures Great and Small continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until May 31 and then tour:

June 2-7: Theatre Royal Brighton

June 9-14: New Theatre, Cardiff

June 16-21: Kings Theatre, Edinburgh

June 23-28:Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

June 30-July 5: Arts Theatre, Cambridge

July 7-12: Hall for Cornwall, Truro

July 14-19: Devonshire Park, Eastbourne

July 28-Aug 2: Richmond Theatre

Aug 4-9: New Victoria Theatre, Woking