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Feb 24th

Rehearsal for Murder @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

Following his phenomenal decade-long success with The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, which sold over two million tickets and played to packed houses around the UK, theatrical impressario Bill Kenwright created The Classic Thriller Theatre Company and is now touring its first production Rehearsal For Murder.

This murder mystery comes from the pen of the legendary award-winning writing team Richard Levinson and William Link, the creators of the unsurpassable mystery series Murder She Wrote and the award-winning TV detective series Columbo.

 

Photograph provided by The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury.

Playwright Alex Dennison is left heartbroken when his fiancée and leading lady Monica Welles is found dead from an apparent suicide after the opening night of her stage debut. On the anniversary of that ill-fated night, Alex assembles the same cast and crew in the same theatre, for a reading of his new play. But as the reading progresses, the play’s similarity to actual events becomes increasingly uncomfortable for the participants, and it soon becomes clear that Alex believes Monica was murdered and his new play is a devious cat-and-mouse chase to uncover her killer...

The production stars ROBERT DAWS (Poldark, The Royal, Outside Edge, Roger Roger), his wife and co-star from The Royal AMY ROBBINS (Casualty, Blood Brothers) and three of the most popular members of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company SUSAN PENHALIGON (Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A Fine Romance), ROBERT DUNCAN (Drop The Dead Donkey, Go Back For Murder) and BEN NEALON (Soldier Soldier, Black Coffee). Joining them are STEVEN PINDER (Brookside) and LUCY DIXON (Waterloo Road, Hollyoaks).

The production is directed by ROY MARSDEN who is best known as an actor, particularly in his role as Adam Dalgliesh in Anglia TV's P.D. James series, which he played for 15 years. But he has also been directing plays since he was 15 years old and had two successful West End runs with Noel Coward’s Volcano and Agatha Christie’s (under the pen name Mary Westmacott) A Daughter’s A Daughter. His most recent work for Bill Kenwright was directing a UK tour of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black theatrical follow up The Small Hand.

It seems that our fascination with ‘whodunnits’ will never wane and the theatre was very well attended.  It’s always good to see familiar faces from the TV and also to see plays touring as well as musicals. Robert Daws, as playwright Alex Dennison, drives the play forward in a huge role where he’s never off the stage.  The cast all do a great job in their roles, but the play is a bit slow, confusing and clunky at times.  As a jobbing actor myself, I enjoyed the ‘backstage’ setting and some of the in-jokes, particularly about actors and food, which are very accurate! 

The play runs to Saturday 27th at The Waterside and there’s still time to book tickets. Visit Aylesbury Waterside Theatre Box Office, call 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee) or visit www.atgtickets.com/Aylesbury (bkg fee).

Performances:                       Mon 22 – Sat 27 Feb

                                                Mon – Sat eves 7.30pm, Thu & Sat mats 2.30pm

Tickets:                                 From £10 (£11.90 when booked online or over the phone)

Box Office:                          0844 871 7607 (Bkg fee. Calls 7p per min plus phone company’s access charge)

Groups Hotline:                0844 871 7614

Access Booking:                0844 871 7677 (Bkg fee)

Online Booking:                www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury (Bkg fee)

 

Reviewed by:

Yvonne Delahaye

22.2.16

 

Jan 22nd

The Perfect Murder at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood

 

The murder in question may or may not be perfect, but this production certainly is.

It has all the ingredients of great entertainment in spades - side-splitting comedy, tragic pathos and spine-chilling horror.

Adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna from the first of crime writer Peter James’ series of novels featuring detective Roy Grace, it tells the story of Victor and Joanie, for whom marriage really is murder. After 20 years, all they do is bicker and Victor wants to make a new life with his mistress Kamila while Joanie’s unrequited passion drives her into an affair with cabbie Don.

James, whose books have sold 16 million and, after last night, will have at least one more avid reader, certainly doesn’t spare his audience with niceties. Victor - and to some extent Don - is a sexist chauvinist for whom I had no sympathy, and Andrew Paul, last seen as the evil Dan Jones in Coronation Street, is perfectly cast. He gave me the shivers whether alive or dead! In the hands of Aneta Piotrowska and Sonia Saville, however, prostitute Kamila and unloved wife Joanie get all my sympathy.

As with every tragedy laughter isn’t far from the surface and there are some real belly laughs to be had, not least Don’s propensity to using rhyming slang, even though he comes from Tunbridge Wells! Adam Morris is full of himself  as the uncouth Don but he does win me over in parts.

Aneta Piotrowska is perfect as Kamila, a hooker with a heart, while Nick Lawson is suitably understated as DC Roy Grace, working on his first case.

Set in the sixties and accompanied by some well thought out songs from that era, The Perfect Murder also has chilling sound effects from Matt Smee.

Director Keith Myers and his cast have this exciting play really well balanced and, although another version of The Perfect Murder is currently touring the country, starring EastEnders favourites Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace, it is coming nowhere near Berkshire/Oxfordshire. Besides, it sits so much better in the intimate, atmospheric, and some say, haunted, Mill!

 

The Perfect Murder is at The Mill at Sonning until March 12.

Box Office: 0118 969 8000

www.millatsonning.com

Jan 21st

The Small Hours at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

January is not the best time for theatre. Post-Christmas, people may have to budget. Then, of course, it’s either too wet or too cold to contemplate going out in the evening.

So it was good to discover that Rehearsal for Murder, last week’s production at the Theatre Royal Windsor, not only sold out but is being brought back at the end of the month for those who missed it - or, indeed, want to see it again.

Such was the popularity of this murder mystery that, late in the day, the powers that be fitted in another play of the same genre, The Small Hours, by that most prolific of writers, Francis Durbridge.

Best known for his Paul Temple series, which began in 1938 and which I still listen to on BBC Radio 4Extra with the same fondness people have for Brief Encounter, Durbridge’s whodunnits are chock-full of red herrings - and surprises - and The Small Hours doesn’t disappoint.

Some members of the cast are well-used to coppers and criminals. Graham Cole, who plays Chief Inspector George Westwood, and Mark Wingett (millionaire Oliver Radford) are both easily recognisable from the TV series The Bill, and they each play their roles with gravitas.

Since his days as Robbie Jackson in EastEnders, Dean Gaffney has also played his fair share of murder mysteries, as well as appearing in The Bill, and in this production he plays a character so edgy that you are bound to think he is up to something. Is this one of Durbridge’s red herrings? You can only find out be going to see it! The writer is sure to keep you guessing throughout the play, though just before the interval an intruder at the hotel belonging to Carl Houston - played diligently by Simon Dutton - is identified. I think it would have created even more suspense if the audience had been kept waiting until the after the break before being named.

Despite having only fairly small parts, some actors of note add their expertise to the production. Deborah Grant, still memorable for her role in A Bouquet of Barbed Wire, which brought fame for Windsor regular Susan Penhaligon, is efficient as Houston’s PA, and we warm to Georgina Leonidas, Katie Bell in several of the Harry Potter films, as the long-suffering as the wife of philandering chef (Mark Curry). That only leaves Carol Royle as Vanessa Houston, still beautiful as the trophy wife.

With chilling music from James Wickens, The Small Hours is a fun night out for those of us who like to be kept guessing.

The Small Hours continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until January 30

Box Office: 01753 853 888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

Jan 21st

The Glenn Miller Story with Tommy Steele @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

What do you think you’ll be doing when you reach the grand age of 79?  Putting your feet up, perhaps playing a bit of golf or bowls to keep active, or touring around the country doing 8 shows a week of acting, singing and dancing?  If you’re Tommy Steele and showbiz adrenaline runs through your veins, then the fact that you’re now 79 years young holds no barriers!  OK, maybe your voice isn’t quite what it used to be and the dancing is little more than a shuffle and maybe this is a role that you should have played 40 years ago, but a packed theatre shows people still know and love you and want to see you perform, so why not?

Tommy Steele

Tommy Steele became Britain’s first teen idol and rock and roll star, when he reached No 1 in the charts with ‘Singing the Blues’ in 1957.  His film credits include Half a Sixpence, The Happiest Millionnaire and Finian’s Rainbow.  With a successful recording career of hit records, Tommy also has numerous West End credits to his name, including Scrooge, Singing in the Rain and Some Like It Hot.

Over dinner one evening in the summer of 2014, Tommy chatted with theatrical impresario, Bill Kenwright, about his admiration for Glenn Miller and said he has toured the world, following the orchestra.  ‘What a musical it could make, what dances, what tunes’  said Bill and so from those initial discussions, the idea of turning The Glenn Miller Story into a show began. 

It’s an intriguing story that was made into a film in 1954, which starred James Stewart.  Miller was born in 1904 and in 1919, created the innovative new sound with a high-leading clarinet leading over the saxophone section.  That was the year they released ‘Moonlight Seranade’ and ‘In the Mood’ which topped the Billboard chart for 13 consecutive weeks.  On 15th December 1944, Glenn boarded a flight from London to Paris and is reported missing and was never seen again.

The music of The Glenn Miller Orchestra is timeless and no matter what your age you’ll recognise most of the songs.  This show perfectly recreates that iconic sound with a 16 piece orchestra on stage.

  

Supporting Tommy in this show is a fantastic troupe of singer/dancers, Zoe Nicole Adkin, Siobhan Diffin, Jessica Ellen, Nathan Elwick, Jordan Oliver and Alex Tranter with some brilliant swing and tap routines, choreographed by Bill Deamer.   Sarah Soetaert plays Helen Burger, the girl Miller courts and marries.

 

Cast

 

The theatre has been fully booked for the whole week, which shows the love of Miller’s music and the enduring popularity of Tommy Steele.  His joy and enthusiasm is infectious and, despite having to suspend a huge amount of disbelief, was a delight to watch.  When he came out of character at the start and end of the show, we saw the true showman working the audience and loving every minute of it!  Good for you mate, I hope I’ve got as much va, va voom when I’m 79!!!

The show runs till Saturday 23rd at The Waterside, Aylesbury and continues to:

Edinburgh Playhouse from 26th-30th

Bristol Hippodrome from 23rd-27th Feb

Liverpool Empire from 29th Feb-5th March.

Tickets available from www.atgtickets.com

 

Reviewed by:

Yvonne Delahaye

 

19th January 2016

Jan 13th

Rehearsal for Murder at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

 

When I discovered that Agatha Christie had been sidelined for ‘classic thrillers’, I was disappointed.

The Queen of Crime is a difficult act to follow and producer Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Theatre Company has sold over two million tickets during its 10-year tenure.

But Kenwright’s new Classic Thriller Theatre Company, which made its debut at Windsor’s Theatre Royal this week, couldn’t have got off to a better start.

Rehearsal for Murder, written by Richard Levinson and William Link, the men behind Columbo and Murder She Wrote, is a tremendously satisfying mystery chock full of my favourite things: It is set in a theatre - tick; it features a wonderful assortment of characters - tick; it has a good balance of humorous and hair-raising moments - tick. But most of all it is a cracking good yarn full of surprises, a complex plot through which director Roy Marsden skillfully guides his cast.

The action takes place in 1989 and opens in a West End theatre where, a year to the day, Alex Dennison’s latest play had opened to mixed reviews. A few hours later the leading lady and Dennison’s bride-to-be, movie star Monica Welles, had fallen to her death - but was it suicide or murder?

As Dennison and Welles, Rehearsal for Murder brings together again Robert Daws and Amy Robbins, who both starred in eight series of The Royal on ITV. Daws is almost frightening in his character’s passion to get to the truth. His emotion is palpable, especially in the closing scene, but, sadly, Robbins lacks the bearing of a movie star.

Susan Penhaligon undoubtedly steals the show as the affected producer Bella Lamb, closely followed by Robert Duncan as leading luvvie David Mathews. Lucy Dixon does a good job of reinventing herself from northern mouse to acerbic vamp in her role as young actress Karen Daniels, and Holly Ellis adds freshness in her almost comic performance as Dennison’s new and inexperienced assistant Sally.

This play within a play is fascinating stuff. On opening night it did drag a little in the first act but, nevertheless, it continued to sweep me along to I knew not where until the very end. But as they say on Through the Keyhole, the clues are there!

Well worth seeing.

 

Rehearsal for Murder is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until January 16.

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

Box office: 01753 853888

 

It then tours:

Jan 25-30: Malvern Theatre

Feb 2-6: Cardiff New Theatre

Feb 8-13: Richmond Theatre

Feb 15-20: Regent Theatre Stoke

Feb 22-27: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Mar 21-26: Kings Theatre, Edinburgh

Dec 17th

Dick Whittington @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

 

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a pantomime to get you into the festive spirit and this year at The Waterside it’s Dick Whittington.  It’s the tale of Dick and his feline friend Tommy, whose quest for fame and fortune is thwarted by the dastardly Queen Rat, but  he finds love along the way and strives to win the hand of the lovely Alice.

 

X-Factor winner from 2013, Sam Bailey stars as Fairy Bowbells.  We all remember the story of Sam, the former cruise ship singer who then worked as a prison officer, before shooting to stardom on X-Factor.  This is Sam’s first theatrical show and she makes a warm and sweet fairy and clearly the kids love her.  She’s got a lot to learn about acting and timing, but by the end of this run I’m sure she’ll have gained a huge amount of experience, which will prepare her for next year’s tour of Chicago, where she’ll be playing Mama Morton.

 

Another X-Factor finalist, Melanie Masson who appeared in 2013 belting out Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby, plays the role of Queen Rat.  Melanie trained at Queen Margaret University and gained a Diploma in Dramatic Art and her training and theatrical experience shows, as she relishes the role and gives a strong performance as the villainous Queen Rat.

 

Aylesbury’s favourite resident, Andy Collins, returns to play Idle Jack and keeps the energy up throughout.  There were jokes along the way setting up The Twelve Days of Christmas, which has become a tradition now for Andy to perform.

 

The diminutive Rachael Louise Miller plays Alice Fitzwarren,(who we all thought was one of the school-children initially)  the love interest of Dick Whittington played by Kristopher Milnes.  Jason Sutton is Sarah the Cook, with Indi-Jay Cammish playing Tommy The Cat.  Chris Nelson is Fitwarren/Sultan and also directed the show.

 

Some of the cast were having vocal problems, which can happen with the demands of  intensive panto rehearsals and performances, but hopefully they’ll all make it through the run!

 

There are some beautiful costumes and sparkly sets, which all help to create some magic for the children and the show runs until 3rd January 2016.

 

Dick Whittington Performances:  Fri 11 Dec 2015 – Sun 3 Jan 2016 (Times vary.)

 

Tickets:                              £10 - £27.75 (£11.90 - £30.65 when booked online or over the phone)

 

Box Office:                         0844 871 7607 (bkg fee) Calls 7p per min, plus your phone company’s access charge

 

Groups Hotline:               0844 871 7614 Access Booking:   0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)

 

Online Booking:               www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury (bkg fee)

 

Reviewed by:

 

Yvonne Delahaye

 

14.12.15

 Images courtesy of Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

Dec 6th

One Snowy Night at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead

By Clare Brotherwood

I know I’m always extolling children’s theatre and declaring my admiration for the puppeteers and performers who travel the country injecting magic into the lives of little children. Well, here I go again!

Short and simple are two main ingredients to keep little ones engaged, so I am amazed at just how much substance there is to Slot Machine’s production of Nick Butterworth’s world-famous tale of Percy, the animal-loving park keeper while keeping it short and simple.

Essentially a heartwarming story about animals coming in out of the snow to snuggle down in the park keeper’s bed, One Snowy Night is 55 minutes packed with original music and songs, dance, comedy and puppetry, with underlying messages to enjoy the simple things in life, like parkland, and to be kind to your friends. My little companions (aged three and five) were transfixed!

TV, film and West End actor Clive Hayward exudes kindness and enthusiasm as the cheerful park keeper, but it is Rebecca Killick (who has toured extensively in War Horse) and Will Guppy who bring most of the animals to life, giving each of them a personality of their own - from the posh badger to the excitable ducks, the Welsh fox and the Scottish mice, often working more than one puppet at a time. Though imaginative and slick, Amelia Pimlott’s set is not huge, so things could easily become chaotic. However, the emphasis is on teamwork and, under the direction of Nicola Blackwell, Fiona Creese and Nick Tigg, this tightly orchestrated show passes off with military precision without losing its sense of fun.

One Snowy Night continues at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead until December 27. Box office: 01628 788997

www.nordenfarm.org

 

Nov 27th

Stepping Out at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood

I love tap dancing, and as a failed tap dancer (so unco-ordinated am I I don’t think I got beyond two or three classes!) Richard Harris’s feel good classic is one of my favourite shows.

Of course, those taking part really do have to be able to tap dance, though on opening night I thought I saw some real looks of relief at the end of the glittering finale!

What is probably even harder is being able to dance but making it look as if you can’t, which The Mill’s entire company does with aplomb, and not a few twisted limbs.

But Stepping Out is not just about a tap dancing class. Under Sally Hughes’ tight and sympathetic direction, as the night goes on we learn something of the lives of the dance students and why the class is so important to them.

They all have their demons and in this ensemble piece every single performer brings his or her character to life, making us roar with laughter at their idiosyncrasies and bringing a tear with the eye as their stories unfold.

I can’t single anyone out. I love them all: Michelle Morris is sassy and extrovert as the joker Maxine; Elizabeth Elvin wonderfully irritating as the bossy, organising Vera; Janine Leigh as the gum-chewing chav gives us the most laughs, and Belinda Carroll has us all on her side as Dorothy, who wants to please everyone. Yvonne Newman is a big, warm bundle of love as Rose, who unexpectedly steals one scene with a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace, while our hearts go out to Andy (Angela Sims) and Geoffrey (Richard Gibson), both of whom are so uptight you think they are going to break - rabbit in the headlights comes to mind! And adding some calmness and normality is Lynne, played with great sensitivity by Ruth Pownall.

Elizabeth Power as pianist Mrs Fraser is certainly a force to be reckoned with - her withering looks and put downs almost rival the queen of withering looks and put downs, Dame Maggie Smith!

Last but certainly not least, Amber Edlin is so believable as teacher Mavis that I really felt like I was observing a real dance class. Local to East Berkshire, how she appears to teach tap dancing with such skill and confidence is beyond me, and still act.

The Mill at Sonning is a unique experience. Past winner of the most welcoming theatre, it includes dinner in the price of your ticket, and with turkey and all the trimmings on offer, you couldn’t do much better than celebrate the festive season there.

 

Stepping Out is at The Mill at Sonning until January 16.

Box Office: 0118 969 8000

www.millatsonning,com

Oct 19th

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

I have tremendous respect for puppeteers. They make inanimate objects come alive. Just look at the affect War Horse has on its audiences.

Now I’m in love with baby dinosaurs. Don’t ask me their names, but in the foyer after this show I found myself stroking one!

The babies were just the right size for younger members of the audience. The show is said to be for all ages from the age of three, but my five-year-old companion was scared, even though he’d seen the show before, clamping his hands over his ears when the bigger dinosaurs roared.

I put this down, in part, to zoo keeper Shaun Morton’s presentation. His gung ho attitude, encouraging young volunteers to befriend the dinosaurs and then whipping them away at the last minute, declaring, ‘I didn’t think you’d do it!’ while his colleague shook his head in amazement, may have been exciting for older children but I did see a couple of younger ones in tears while my little friend was huddling under my armpit.

Having said that, it is down to the skills of puppeteers Jeremy Hancock, Rhys Jennings, Rafe Young and Sophie McBean, not to mention designer Steve Howarth, that the models are so realistic. Shaun’s commentary, though delivered at a rate of Aussie knots, is informative and, for the most part, fun, but it is the puppets, or rather, the puppeteers, who are the real stars of this show.

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo continues touring:

Oct 25-26: Croydon Concert Hall

Oct 27-28: Chelmsford Civic Theatre

Oct 30-Nov 1: The Lowry Salford

Nov 3-4: St George’s Hall Bradford

Nov 6-7: Lighthouse Poole

Nov 8-9: St David’s Hall Cardiff

Nov 10-11: Princes Theatre Clacton

Nov 13-14: The Stables Milton Keynes

Nov 15: Theatre Royal Bath

www.dinosaurzoolive.com

Oct 5th

Miss Dietrich Regrets at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park

By Clare Brotherwood

Gail Louw’s remarkable account of Marlene Dietrich’s last days is heart rending in so many ways. It presents one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars as a sad, scared, lonely old woman, and her daughter as confused, abused, angry but still caring. Its inclusion in the Windsor Festival also marked the final performance of a show which had been produced and directed by Tony Milner, who died this summer.

He can rest in peace knowing that it will always be greatly lauded.

Marlene Dietrich spent the last 11 years of her life in bed, relying increasingly on her daughter Maria. In this play their relationship is explored in a poignant and revealing two-hander set in and around a large, untidy bed - which makes Tracey Emin’s (questionable) work of art look almost neat - from which Dietrich conducts her life.

Elizabeth Counsell, with unkempt hair and smudged make-up, and wearing only a nightdress, is magnificent in the title role; it can’t be easy delivering lines while sitting in a bed, legs outstretched for almost two hours, but with apparent ease she trips from Dietrich’s deep throaty growl to the lisping, childlike voice she uses on the phone when warding off prospective visitors. In addition, her authentic renderings of Dietrich’s most famous songs also single her out as a masterful impersonator.

Louw’s play not only gives us an insight into the private life of a great actress, however. Liberally sprinkled with fascinating tales of Dietrich and her many lovers, in Counsell’s skilful hands we see how cruel old age can be, especially for someone who had lived such a glamorous life and who was famous for her ‘eternal youthfulness’. It is especially sad when Maria tries to entice the increasingly reclusive star into a nursing home, telling her how she would be looked after. Dietrich can only think that she would not be looked after but looked at.

Beside her manipulative, alcoholic but vulnerable mother, Maria appears strong and grounded. But during the play we hear of her life as the daughter of a promiscuous bisexual whose parenting seemed to be an afterthought. And yet, Moira Brooker not only convinces us of her anger, hurt and frustration but also of her passion and warmth.