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Jul 29th

Love Me Tender at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Cameron Lowe

 

 

What a great way to start a week!

Last night’s performance of “Love Me Tender” at Milton Keynes Theatre was enough to give you a boost to last the rest of the week!

Based around Elvis Presley’s famous songs, this very humorous, happy musical featured 25 of Elvis’s back catalogue!  I could sing all the words, as I expect the rest of the audience could too.  They were cleverly woven into a story of a 1950’s, behind the times, small time American town.

The townsfolk were “All Shook Up” by the arrival of a charismatic, full of life biker stranger, who brightens up everyone’s lives.  This guitar playing Romeo, steals the heart of several young women, none more strongly than motor bike mechanic, Natalie, (superbly played by Laura Tebbutt).  The best in town!  She gets her man eventually, after posing as a male sidekick, and going through various funny adventures!

Although Mica Paris led the cast list as Sylvia, and as good as she was, others stole the show for me.

Chad, the afore mentioned gigolo, was brilliantly played by Ben Lewis.  He had everything going for him, good looks, Elvis projecting hips, good voice and well timed humour!  

His first sidekick, Jim (in love with Natalie.  An unrequited love!) played by Shaun Williamson was a perfect, soppy, intellectual, lacking in any romantic feelings man.  He tried so hard to learn from Chad, but unsuccessfully!

There was no-one in this cast who did not, dance, sing and act superbly!

The 1950’s costumes (designed by Vicky Gill) were excellent, as was the set.  It amazes me that now, in the theatre, there does not seem a need for stage hands to move the sets from one scene to another.  If it needs to be moved, and can’t be done by technology, it is done by the cast and hardly noticed by the audience.  Set designer, Morgan Large needs to be congratulated.

Lighting, by James Whiteside, too enhances the atmosphere.

Last, but not least, the choreography (Karen Bruce) was awesome, executed by a brilliant cast! 

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Jul 14th

Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, from Jeremy Brett’s tortured portrayal in the eighties and nineties to Benedict Cumberbatch’s tongue-in-cheek more recent interpretation. And as a fan of horror films, my fascination of Jack the Ripper has never waned.

So Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders is the perfect combination for me - and it gets better.

For it was written by Brian Clemens, most famous for creating the hugely popular TV series’ The Avengers. The Persuaders and The Professionals.

Clemens died in January this year at the age of 86, but he lives on, not only in his writing but in his sons Samuel, who plays Sherlock Holmes in this production, and George, who is the technical director. Together they also write, produce and direct films under the title The Clemens Bros.

Dad would be proud. This production is chock full of atmosphere, with special effects which will have you jumping out of your seats. Edward Patrick White’s terrifying original music and David North’s lighting add to the creepiness, though the changing backdrops are not always easy to decipher and Shaung Hu’s graphic animations don’t really work.

There is plenty for ghouls like me: in the first few minutes there’s a grisly murder, followed by the appearance of a clairvoyant, a wonderfully realistic scene in which Ewan Goddard as ‘the stranger’ has an epileptic fit, graphic graphics and insane and sinister characters.

And in true Brian Clemens tradition, it’s a damn good yarn which is not without its comic moments, especially from George Telfer as Dr Watson who resents being in the background and being taken for granted by Holmes.

Based wholly on stature, I would have liked to have seen the tall, slim, bearded Telfer as Sherlock Holmes, while Sam Clemens, though playing the part perfectly well, lacks the aloofness and tortured persona of the Holmes I’m used to seeing.

Not all of the characters are clearly defined. We don’t discover Sir William Gull, played by Andrew Paul (who is currently playing Liz’s ominous boyfriend Dan in Coronation Street - though it looks like not for long as he is now ‘on the road’), is the Queen’s physician until nearing the end of the play, and I didn’t always know which prostitute was which, but Kim Taylforth as a bustling Mrs Hudson certainly made her mark, as did Lara Lemon as clairvoyant Kate Mead, while Michael Kirk is excellent as the mysterious Netley.

All in all, under the direction of Patric Kearns, you will certainly get your money’s worth!

 

Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until July 18.

Box office: 01753

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

It then continues touring:

Jul 21-25: Malvern Theatre

Aug 3-5:  Lyceum Theatre, Crewe

Aug 6-8: Empire Theatre, Inverness

Aug 11-15: Grand Theatre, Swansea

Aug 24-26: Buxton Opera House

Sept 28-Oct 3: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Oct 6-10: Dundee Repertory Theatre

Oct 12-13: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft

Oct 15-17: Millennium Forum, Derry

Oct 21-24: Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon

Oct 26-27: Hexagon Theatre, Reading

Nov 3-7: Grand Theatre, Blackpool

www.talking-scarlet.co.uk

 

Jul 11th

Puttin' On The Ritz - Windsor Theatre Royal and touring

By Kate Braxton

 

               
         
 

Who’s pining for ‘Strictly’ Saturdays? If so, foxtrot down to Windsor Theatre Royal tonight for a severrrrn of an evening. It’s not a 10, but it’s glitterball-loads of music, dance and thoroughly camptastic.

Puttin’ on The Ritz is swirling its way round the UK currently and Pixie Lott tangos into certain venues. She doesn’t grace the stage in Windsor, sadly, but we have three impressive performances from the Strictly couple Jared Murillo and Katya Virshilas, plus Britain’s Got Talent’s Becky O’Brien.

Puttin’ On The Ritz features music from George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. All classics, toe-tappers and from that point of view s’wonderful.

You can immediately recognise that this show started in the USA. David King, producer and director has had immense success across the globe and owns theatres in America. I felt this was designed for Vegas rather than UK suburbia. There were more sequins and glitter than Katie Price could cope with, and alas, no story. Any dance lover will drop their Beechdean ice cream, absorbed by the choreography. I may be steppin’ out of turn here, but I felt a little dizzy-sick, and it wasn’t the ice cream.

After 15 years as a conference producer I wasn’t keen on seeing projection screens flown in to advise us what the tune was in Death-by-PowerPoint on a bad night and day. Sometimes anything doesn’t go.

So…Costumes: fabulous. Choreography: strong. Experience: overwhelming. Glitter and feathers: everywhere. Music set: caters for all.

Mr Gershwin, I hope I ain’t misbehavin’ when I say the show offers incredibly colourful and suberbly executed dance to some of the best tunes ever composed, but on this occasion, not for me. Perhaps not my idea of The Ritz, but for glitz, you can’t fault it. My reviewing career on the other hand, may have just gone down the Swanee.

For anyone who has got rhythm, wants a sit-back-and-take-in music and dance spectacle, where sunglasses simply ain't necessary, anything goes at Windsor for its last night tonight and all tour dates can be viewed here.

http://www.puttinontheritztour.com/

Reviewed by Kate Braxton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 2nd

Amy’s View at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

 

 

Sadly, the popular six-week Windsor Repertory Season ends on Saturday - but it’s certainly finishing in style.

David Hare’s controversial play Amy’s View, which opened at the National Theatre in 1997 with Judi Dench, Samantha Bond and Ronald Pickup heading the cast, is no lightweight.

Though, on the surface, it charts the relationship between a mother and daughter over a 16-year period, it is packed full of social comment, so typical of the knighted playwright.

I was totally transported to the house in Pangbourne (not far from Windsor) where the first three acts take place. There is an atmosphere about David Shields’ set which makes it totally authentic - despite the fact that nothing in the room changes over 16 years.

Amy (of the title) is the daughter of famous actress, widow Esme Allen, and the play opens with Esme returning from the theatre to find Amy and her boyfriend, Dominic in the home she shares with her mother-in-law.

What transpires is most extraordinary, for Dominic, a wannabe film producer, has never been to the theatre, describing it as ‘boring’ and art as ‘snobbish’ - not what a theatre audience wants to hear, but it certainly makes them sit up and take notice.

Dominic is opinionated and subject to mood swings, and, to be perfectly honest, James Lawrence lacks the gravitas of such a character; he’s too nice. On the other hand Sarah Kempton, as Amy, is spot on as the totally besotted girlfriend who will do anything to keep Dominic, much to the dismay of her mother, played with great theatricality by Fiz Marcus.

In Act 2, Dominic has his own series on TV, a medium Esme disapproves of, but by Act 3 she is starring in a hospital series having lost all her money through investments made by her ‘companion’ Frank, a mild-mannered neighbour, played quietly and empathetically by James Pellow.

As Esme’s mother-in-law, the youthful Pearl Marsland does a grand job of playing an old woman, first as a sprightly, eccentric grandmother, then as someone who has dementia. But in the third act all she does is sit in a wheelchair with her back to the audience (maybe it isn’t Pearl!) muttering occasionally, and when the household goes to bed she is left there!

The final act is a revelation, on various levels, and director Stuart Burrows really ups the ante as Esme enjoys a comeback in the theatre. Until then, although theatrical, Fiz Marcus has been a bit one dimensional but her closing performance leaves the audience emotional and exhausted. Just why, you’ll have to see the play to find out.

Although only joining the play in the last act, Toby Cole certainly makes his mark with an energetic portrayal of an admiring fellow actor - and helps to make the final scene as spectacular as it is.

 

Amy’s View is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until July 4

Box Office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.o.uk

Jun 10th

September Tide at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

 

 

 

Half way through its six-week season, the Windsor Repertory Company is proving very popular.

 

It’s a mixed bag, with plays by Francis Durbridge, David Hare, Noel Coward, and Alan Ayckbourn among them. And this week’s offering is Daphne Du Maurier’s moral tale, September Tide.

 

The play, written and set in 1948, charts the relationship of Stella Martyn, a middle-aged widow, and her new son-in-law, famous artist Evan Davis, who fall in love without telling each other until the tide turns, and a turbulent September storm runs parallel with their emotions.

 

Set in designer David Shields’ authentic Cornish cottage, it is easy to be drawn into this riveting tale. Ellen Verenieks as Stella, although not my idea of a mother of two grown-up children, is caring, sensitive and lonely, and an obvious target for the self-obsessed artist, played by James Lawrence.

 

Her children are monsters. Jimmy (John Askew) on sick leave from the Navy, orders her about, while her daughter – and Evan’s wife – Cherry is selfish and spoilt, and Sarah Dungworth portrays her to a T, even to stomping around like a petulant little girl.

 

James Pellow as family friend Robert Hanson, although looking out for Stella, really is depressing, wonderfully so, while Julie Ross as Mrs Tucket, is everything a housekeeper should be.

 

I was riveted by this production, even though there were some things which weren’t quite right, and which director Max Reynolds may like to address. Having just finished a painting, which looked like oils, Evan props it up against another – surely the paint would have still been wet. And when he burns his painting of Stella he rips off a flimsy piece of paper from the frame, when you’d expect him to be painting on canvas. And why, when Stella had made her attic into Evan’s studio, was he painting in the living room? The men’s clothes didn’t match the period, either.

 

But these are minor points which didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this intriguing play.

 

September Tide is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until June 13 and is part of the Windsor Repertory Season which continues until 4 July.

 

Box Office: 01753 853888

 

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

May 20th

Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

 Peter Pan Goes Wrong

 

When three graduates from LAMDA got together to form Mischief Theatre and write The Play that Goes Wrong, I knew they were going places.

The Play That Goes Wrong has now been in London’s West End since last September, and is this year’s winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, while their second production, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, is making the rounds of regional theatres including, I am delighted to say, my local theatre in Windsor.

I don’t know where to begin with my praise for this company. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields are comic genii and, under the direction of Adam Meggido, their actors fly (or not) through this uproariously funny play with the precision of brain surgeons and the skill and energy of Olympic athletes.

It’s a tour de force from beginning to end as amdram society Cornley Polytechnic attempts to put on a Christmas Show which, due to a booking error, is being staged in May! This follows previous shows such as Jack and the Bean (funding ran out) and Rumpelstiltskin who, following a disastrous haircut, was imprisoned in a bungalow.

There is so much to commend this production, but to go into detail would spoil the fun of being surprised by the next death defying stunt as things go disastrously wrong. Every member of the cast is brilliant and, together with the ingenious set designed by Simon Scullion, makes what must be a frighteningly difficult  piece look so easy – and so funny I thought I was going to laugh myself sick.

As I said to a doctor this morning: You should send all your patients to see this. It’s the best tonic ever! Roll on Mischief Theatre’s next production.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until May 23.

 

Box office: 01753 853888

 

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

 

It then continues touring:

May 25-30: Leicester Curve

June 1-6: Dartford Orchard Theatre

June 8-13: Swindon Wyvern Theatre

June 18-21: Leeds Grand Theatre

July 1-4: Newcastle Theatre Royal

July 6-11: Nottingham Theatre Royal

www.mischieftheatre.co.uk

 

Apr 13th

Dead of Night at The Mill at Sonning

By Clare Brotherwood

They often say that the best things often come in small packages, and The Mill at Sonning certainly comes into that category.

Winner of a Most Welcoming Theatre award, this 215-seater dinner theatre also generates its own electricity and is completely self-funded.

And its latest coup is hard to beat.

Dead of Night

The picturesque venue on the banks of the Thames is currently undergoing a £300,000 refurbishment but, while other theatres may go dark, the Mill’s managing director Sally Hughes has made the most of the situation by commissioning an entertainment which has been written especially for the theatre in its current state.

Dead of Night is devised by Hotspur Theatre (founded in 2013 by Tam Williams, son of actor Simon Williams, and currently a star of the Olivier New Musical winner Sunny Afternoon), which specialises in creating site-specific, small-cast productions.

And boy, do they deliver!

To give away the plot would spoil it for any future audiences, but what I can say is that the action starts in the newly installed Waterwheel Bar where the actors have to perform Macbeth because the theatre is… being refurbished.

But after 40 minutes of mayhem and egotistical meltdown, The Scottish Play gives way to a ghost story which slowly comes to life in a promenade production which takes the audiences through the darkened - and some say haunted - theatre.

It’s thrilling stuff. For someone who laughed their way through Ghost Stories in London’s West End, I was shaking in my shoes.

Hotspur Theatre is a company to be reckoned with. Dead of Night was written by Luke Beattie and Nick Malinowski, who both appear in the play, and marks actor Chris Myles’ directorial debut. It’s imaginative, innovative and has lots of laughs to get us into a false sense of security, while there is just the right amount of horror – well, for me, anyway. I was scared, not quite to the point where I had had enough, but almost…

The entire company deserves praise for its spirited (and I don’t mean the ghostly kind!) performances, enhanced by magician Paul Daniels’ help as illusion consultant. I can’t wait to see their next production.

Dead of Night is at The Mill at Sonning until May 2.

Box Office: 0118 969 8000

www.millatsonning.com

 

Apr 9th

Macbeth at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Macbeth may have been written over 400 years ago but, Tara Arts’ thrilling interpretation, notwithstanding Shakespeare’s sublime prose, could have been written last week.

Set within an extended British-Asian family (some with northern accents and wearing tweed coats over their traditional dress), director Jatinder Verma’s production explores the consequences of relentless ambition, and fanaticism such as that seen in the Taliban and ISIS.

But what is especially topical is the portrayal of the ‘Weird Sisters’ as transgenders. Louis Theroux may have made the headlines by investigating transgender children for his BBC series, but Hijras, or the third gender, have been around for thousands of years and are legally recognised in India where, appropriately for this play, they see themselves as part of the spirit world.

In this production, made in association with Queen’s Hall Arts, Hexham, and Black Theatre Live, they are bearded (as they were described in the original text) and brightly dressed in glittering saris, adding even more depth to an already colourful  presentation (especially if you like blood red!). As the witches, Deven Modha, John Afzal and Ralph Birtwell are mischievous rather than evil, but nevertheless intimidating even though their taunts and sinuous dancing raise many a smile.

As Macbeth, RSC actor Robert Mountford commands attention; Shaheen Khan really comes into her own when, as Lady Macbeth, she becomes mad, while Shalini Peiris is gloriously funny as the servant.

Just eight actors portray all the characters, making for a versatile and very capable company, but mention must be made of Rax Timyr, without whom this production would not be so special. Paul Bull’s sound effects and Hassan Mohyeddin’s compositions are stunning, but they are made even more so by Timyr’s musicianship. On stage throughout, his playing of the drums and cymbals, not to mention his beat-boxing (or vocal percussion) is exhilarating and fascinating. He deserves a show of his own!

Claudia Meyer’s set is simple but so effective. As in any Asian production, there are lots of bling, music and dance, a perfect antidote to the deadly deeds which are at the heart of the play. I loved it!

Macbeth continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until April 11.

Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

It then continues touring:    

April 14-18: Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

April 21-25: Derby Theatre

April 28-29: Key Theatre, Peterborough

May 5-9: Harrogate Theatre

www.tara-arts.com

www.queenshall.co.uk

www.blacktheatrelive.co.uk

Mar 17th

Dreamboats and Miniskirts at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Shows such as this are a double-edged sword. While taking you back to your youth you are constantly reminded of the present day just by looking at the person next to you, if you know what I mean. We are all of an age.

Dreamboats and Miniskirts

But what great entertainment these shows deliver. There was no-one dancing in the aisles, as there often is, for the opening night at Windsor, but I could hardly contain myself as I tapped my feet and sang along to all the hits of the early sixties. Oh how I wish I could remember things today as well as the words of the songs I grew up with!

But the songs then really were special and, as in this instance, you really can create a story around them. I must say, I’m not the greatest fan of Dreamboats and Petticoats - I find it too cheesy – but because it is set a little later, I warmed to its sequel, Dreamboats and Miniskirts so much more.

The show takes up the story of Bobby and Laura who, in Dreamboats and Petticoats, win the Youth Club Association’s first national song writing competition.

Bobby is still gauche, and not overly confident, while Laura is streets ahead and becomes a sort of fictional Cilla Black.

We journey with them as their relationships and those of their friends develop, illustrated by songs such as I Only Want To Be With You, A Groovy Kind of Love, If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody, You Really Got A Hold On Me and Baby I’m Yours. In fact, there are 38 songs to get your teeth into and, as always in co-director (with Bill Kenwright) and musical supervisor Keith Strachan’s shows, the musicianship is second to none while the entire company produce a seamless, fast-moving show. I do find the Essex girls’ accents irritating but once those girls start singing it’s a whole different ball game, and I especially liked Louise Olley who, as Sue, really lit up the stage with her bright, vivacious performance. She really looked as if she was having a ball.

Written by heavyweights Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, I love the references to the sixties which are dotted about in the script: Thank Your Lucky Stars, Ready Steady Go!, Wimpy Bars, the Golden Egg, Radio Luxembourg, C&A and New Musical Express. It’s an uplifting trip down memory lane which sent me home with a spring in my step.

Dreamboats and Miniskirts is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 21.

Box Office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The tour will then continue:

March 23-28: New Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl

March 30-April 4: Marina Theatre, Lowestoft

April 7-11: The Hawth Theatre, Crawley

April 13-18: Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon

April 20-25: Palace Theatre, Manchester

April 27-May 2: Victoria Theatre, Halifax

May 11-16: The Embassy Theatre, Skegness

July 13-18: The Grand Theatre, Leeds

July 21-15: The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

August 10-15: Kings Theatre, Glasgow

www.kenwright.com

 

Mar 11th

The History Boys at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

Since it was first staged at the National Theatre in 2004, Alan Bennett’s comedy about a sixth-form’s rite of passage has won more than 30 awards and been voted the nation’s favourite play.

The History Boys

It’s not hard to see why. We have all been teenagers, at school (except for the growing number of home-educated!), so we can all relate to the story and the characters in some way. But Bennett takes it further. His teachers and pupils cover love, sex and death. His teachers don’t seem to adhere to rules and the boys are wittier than a lot of ‘real’ teenagers. And, as it was written by Bennett, the language is sublime, though it does degenerate (as in real life).

It’s not an easy ride. Often it is quite deep, though there are plenty of lighter, almost pantomimic, moments. But Sell A Door Theatre Company’s cast carries it off as well as the actors who starred in the 2006 film – which is quite something as several of the ‘boys’ are making their professional stage debuts. I especially like Hollyoaks’ Steven Roberts’ sensitive performance as Posner, a boy who is struggling with his sexuality and often breaks into song with a thin, reed-like voice which has his audience in stitches.

Because of today’s current climate there are elements which may have been funny in 2004 (though I doubt it) but which I now find uncomfortable – namely English teacher Hector’s ‘fiddling’ with his pupils – especially as he remains popular among both staff and pupils. Nevertheless, I found Richard Hope’s portrayal of the motorbiking lover of language far more likeable (how many victims of abuse have made that mistake?) than that by Richard Griffith in the film version, while Christopher Ettridge as the hypocritical headmaster is far more creepy. Meanwhile, it seems Mark Field has been made to look like Alan Bennett for his part as the supply teacher Irwin, which is unfortunate as he too has his dark side.

The History Boys is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 14.

Box Office: 01753853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The tour then continues:

March 17-21: Kings Theatre, Edinburgh

March 23-28: The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

March 31-April 4: Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

April 14-18: The Grand Theatre, Blackpool

April 22-25: Kings Theatre, Portsmouth

April 27-May 2: Churchill Theatre, Bromley

May 5-9: Lyceum Theatre, Crewe

May 12-16: Millenium Forum, Derry

May 19-23: Opera House, Buxton

May 26-30: Northcott Theatre, Exeter

June 1-6: Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

June 8-13: Grand Opera House, York

June 16-20: Darlington Civic Theatre, Darlington