Share |
Sep 25th

Chicago Still Sizzles in Sheffield!!

By Paul Tyree

        Chicago

Chicago-UK-Tour-2012-200x300.jpg

Review by Paul Tyree

Lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

David Ian and Michael Watt in association with Barry and Fran Weissler

Lyceum Theatre Sheffield

From 24 September 2012 to 29 September 2012

Chicago arrived on its opening night in Sheffield to a torrential 38mm of rain in ten hours, which meant all throughout this production it had a slightly damp and ‘backs against the wall’ kind of feel to it. Its two leads Ali Bastian as Roxie Hart and Stefan Booth as Billy Flynn were both ill so their roles had to be played by understudies, which must surely have set a few nerves jangling.

However with music, lyrics and choreography such as this it has to be said that it would take some very poor performances indeed to ruin such a wonderful musical. Opening to a blank stage, a single light illuminating a chair with a black hat on the back of it, we are immediately plunged into the most wonderful of openings with ‘All that Jazz’.

Most wonderfully of all the orchestra are on stage as they would be in a traditional 20’s Chicago speakeasy and add wonderful touches throughout the performance. Too often are musicians of this calibre tucked away in the orchestra pit and completely forgotten about, so it’s nice to see them playing such an integral part of the show, not only in terms of the music but also in terms of performance as well.

Chloe Ames did a professional job standing in as Roxie Hart, although, perhaps because of nerves her voice seemed by far the weakest of any on stage – somewhat of a problem for the lead. This, however can probably most easily be explained by the fact that any actor taking over at the last minute may have trouble judging the levels that they need to attain. Apart from that she fitted in nicely enough.

Similarly, whilst Ian Oswald as Billy Flynn, had fine vocals he did seem to be rushing his dialogue and perhaps not enjoying his moment in the sun as much as he should. Again this was probably due to a little nervousness. In all other respects however he did a wonderful job and both understudies should be congratulated for fitting in so seamlessly.

The real star of this show it has to be said were the Cell Block 6 led by Tupele Dorgu, who is probably best known for Coronation Street, as Velma Kelly. Without a doubt this was her show as she demonstrated a great set of pipes and a nifty line in comic timing. If a star has been born then certainly on this evidence it was her. It’s also wonderful to see any actor proving their versatility and probably confounding the critics in the process. This was obviously not stunt casting as some may have previously thought but an actress that fully deserved to be there on her own merit.

The other five ladies making up the Cell Block 6 gave us perhaps the highlight of the evening with a wonderful rendition of the Cell Block Tango which was both thrilling, hilarious, wonderfully danced, sung and acted and raised the bar high for the rest of this production.

Special mention must also go to Jamie Baughan as Amos the sympathetic, long suffering husband of Roxie Hart, who’s performance of the song Mr Cellophane was a poignant and timely reminder that underneath all of the razzmatazz were real people suffering. Alex Weatherhill also gave a standout and hilarious performance as Mary Sunshine, a soprano who is not all she seems.

All in all this was a wonderful night at the theatre. It’s a shame that the understudies weren’t quite as strong as they could have been as this show really does rely on two powerful female leads going at each other, sparking off one another and leading us towards a marvellously high powered conclusion. Whilst we didn’t quite get that we certainly did have a wonderful (and dry) night in the theatre anyway.

 

Sep 19th

The Tearful Fluttering of Wings

By Paul Tyree

Madame Butterfly

by David Nixon and Northern Ballet

        19/9/12

Review by Paul Tyree
                                                        

madame butterfly.jpg

Northern Ballet’s Madame Butterfly seems that rarest of things, a work of art that actually becomes what its name suggests. This production is small, perfectly formed and a rare thing of beauty. Just seeing it makes your heart break and yet feel slightly better for all that.

I left with tears in my eyes and a renewed appreciation of dance and also of Puccini’s music, which is the strong centre from which David Nixon has been able to create this most heart breaking of ballets.

The story, whilst simple is expertly told by the choreography and you’re never in any doubt as to what is happening. The set design is elegant and effective as is the lighting, all designed to complement what we’re witnessing on stage.

It is, however, always in the performances of the dancers that productions such as this stand and fall. Not only do they have to master what their bodies are doing, but unless they can emote the emotions of the characters then ballets become simply dead exercises in technique. We have to ask the dancers to be the most skilful of actors as well, and it is in this that this production really takes flight.

Michaela Paolacci as Butterfly is beautiful and tragic. We feel her yearning, her hopes and ultimately her loss, but also and perhaps most importantly her dignity at the end of this production. She takes us expertly on every step of her journey and the signature fluttering of her wings, which is a motif throughout the performance is never more tragic than when the fluttering ultimately stops.

John Hull as Pinkerton her husband manages to embody the spirit of the American GI, full of life, hope and very few brain cells, expertly but without making us lose sympathy with him. If there is a villain it is him, but we realise that his villainy is never of malicious intent but simply a lack of understanding.

Special mention must go to Ayana Kanda as Butterfly’s maid, who, certainly in the second act, is the real heart of the piece and expertly supports Michaela Paolacci’s butterfly throughout.

Amusingly, for a ballet, the best piece of movement in the entire evening came from a three year old child, played by Lily Doran as Butterfly’s son. Whilst the whirling movement of bodies expertly told the story around her, it was when this beautiful child sat on a step and simply swung her leg back and forth that you could understand the beauty and simplicity of movement. Indeed what every dancer and choreographer wishes to achieve. The audience became transfixed by this swinging leg, which, with the unreserved, unafraid and playful quality of a child perfectly captured the moment.
(And if that was choreographed then David Nixon truly is a genius). The point is that it was something as simple as that swinging leg which made this all feel truly real.

If I have any reservations at all about this production they are minor and trivial. One or two dancers out of step and behind time, an umbrella lagging seconds behind everyone else but these are not important. What is important is that this production transports you so expertly into the world of Madame Butterfly and gives you this play without words, this dance, this story and allows you to see it in a way you’ve perhaps never imagined before.

It really is worth putting aside any prejudices you may have about ballet and giving it a try. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd September

Sheffield Lyceum Theatre

01142496000 – www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

03-1280.jpg


Sep 19th

The Village Bike is worth a ride in Sheffield.

By Paul Tyree

                                              The Village Bike
                                  Written by Penelope Skinner
                                 Studio Stage - Crucible Theatre
                                  Thurs 13th Sept - Sat 6th Oct

                                         Review by Paul Tyree

 Christopher Harper as John and Amy Cudden as Becky in The Village Bike. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

Penelope Skinners comedy of rural sexual frustration, release and ultimate degradation seems both timely and yet also somehow set firmly in the past. The first half seems like an episode of ‘The Good Life’ with masturbation, pregnancy and porn thrown in for good measure. (Worth a watch then!) It harks back to the farces that we all remember from the past and gives voice to the sort of straightforward language that previously had only been hinted at through innuendo and the nudge nudge wink wink comedy of the 1970’s. Whilst the language of rampant sexuality is no bad thing in itself it does feel somewhat superfluous in the confines of what is otherwise a straightforward middle England sexual farce, the likes of which we've all seen before.

The second half takes us a little further in terms of challenging us an as audience and providing dramatic meat for the actors to thrive on, but yet again it ultimately fails, as the denouement can be predicted almost from the beginning.The heroine's emotional attachment to her lover, her desperation and ultimate sexual degredation in an attempt to win him back seem out of place, predictable and disappointing.

It would have been a far far better thing for her to say "thank you" to her lover for the sexual release he’d provided and she needed and perhaps at the conclusion have him pining for her. However a critic isn't here to say what should have happened, only what did. So instead, at the end of the play you cannot help but be left with the idea that she is the victim in a tragedy written only by herself – because ultimately she doesn’t truly know herself. This seems to be the point the playwright is trying to make – that pregnancy or indeed motherhood makes women lose sight of themselves. (If so, then sexual degradation and attempting to destroy what personality you have seems to be no more than a self-fulfilling prophecy and a pretty pointless one at that). Sexual freedom can only work if you believe in that freedom which ultimately the heroine spectacularly fails to do, simply hitching her self-worth to another man, which ultimately robs the play of any decent philosophical or feminist point worth making.

Confusing moral tone aside, this is however a play that I would recommend, because there is much to recommend it. The script, concerns aside, has moments of wonderful clarity and recognition for an audience who were largely appreciative throughout. There are passages of tight and hysterical comedy and yet also of a lightness of touch that were very impressive indeed. The direction too has obviously been an extremely productive process where performances of real depth have been drawn out.

This brings me to the performances themselves that are uniformly good, no more so than Amy Cudden as the heroine who is magnificent throughout. She is on stage throughout the play and make no mistake it rests on her shoulders, but she brings depth and a sure touch to every scene she’s in. As the pregnant sexually frustrated heroine we feel how real this is to her and it is the great work she does in the first half that brings dividends in the second. Caroline Harker is marvellous as the neighbour already castrated by motherhood and childbirth and is suitably scatty and hilarious throughout. (Such a shame she didn’t have more to do and more of her own story arc, but hey ho).

Christopher Harper is an understated and sympathetic cuckold, hilarious too, and David Bark-Jones plays the sexual swordsman and lover with enthusiastic relish. Sean McKenzie as the plumber is both funny and sympathetic and was probably the character that the audience liked most of all.

Special note as well to the set designer for the marvellous traverse stage. Being bound on both sides by the audience really adds to how confined the the main character feels and is yet another sign of the real quality of this production.

Ultimately this falls somewhere in between Joe Orton and Brian Rix in terms of tone and risk. Don't let that dissuade you from seeing it, however, because it is in the details of our sexual lives as people living within Britain today that this truly succeeds. There are moments within this play that pretty much everyone will recognise and respond to, and if you don’t like or understand one then dont despair for there will be another along in a minute.

There may be people who find some of the language or images represented in this play as offensive, but that would be to miss the point and indeed to have no self-knowledge at all. There is nothing offensive about enjoying sex. What this play ultimately recognises however is that for all our porn, for all our ‘so called’ offensive language, social networking and the current ages ability to find whole new ways to debase ourselves, is that our morality and our understanding of ourselves as sexual beings hasn’t really progressed from the 70’s at all.

Amy Cudden as Becky in The Village Bike, photo by Johan Persson.jpg

I can only hope that's the point that this play is trying to make. Nudge nudge wink wink. :)

Mon - Fri - 7.45pm £15.00
Sat - 7.45pm £18.00
Matinees - Sat and Wed from 22nd Sep £13.00

Sep 11th

Shakespeare's time to shine once again!!

By Paul Tyree

 macbeth.jpg

 

                                                          Macbeth

                                    The Crucible - Sheffield – 10th Sept 2012

 

Oh what fresh hell is this? Macbeth doth murder all. Macbeth doth murder sleep. For why would I, why would anyone spend their time reviewing such sweet pain. As though the human condition should be placed on a stage for others to judge? We are such stuff as dreams are made of and how fallible, ridiculous and ultimately sad are we? For we are the ones given the task to review art. Art!!! Which is designed to give us pain, give us thought, make us wish to be better and ultimately designed to get us out of our seats and actually doing something with our lives. This is art. This is why we come to the Crucible of art. The Crucible. Sheffield! Home of not only snooker, but also of the most exquisite theatre.

Macbeth is a play you should see. It’s a play that your children should see. And also your grandchildren. The reason I know that is that your grandfather and grandmothers all took the time to see it. It’s not there because it doesn’t deserve to be. It does deserve to be!!  And we deserve to see it. We deserve, because all of us have the right to believe that one day there will be a day when we understand ourselves and this play, along with many other of Shakespeare’s, is proof that perhaps,…..perhaps…one day that moment of recognition for the human race might finally come to pass. We are such stuff. We are better than we believe ourselves to be and this play is also proof that possibility makes a man, just as much as destiny.

Rhetoric and all that stuff aside. This is bloody well done. My pain simply comes from the same place as any critics when presented with something that has the capacity to transcend what has previously been seen.  We know that Peter O’Toole’s Macbeth is a theatrical legend simply for being horrendously bad. We also know that it was sold out every night and a huge financial success.  This will not match those figures, but the funny thing, Peter O’Toole aside, is that it should do! It should be the most runaway success the Crucible has had recently because it has qualities that I would wish everyone to see. This is what theatre should be!!

This is an absolutely tremendous work of art happening right in the centre of Sheffield. And obviously if you live in Sheffield, then there is the possibility of you going to see it (or indeed, South Yorkshire based). Let me explain why you should – wherever you are.

All of the actors make the language seem understandable! (And you have to say – that isn’t really that common with most Shakespeare productions.)

All of the actors act well!

The direction is brilliant!

The sound and costumes and lighting are brilliant!

But………

For why should we live a life without a but…..

Just look behind you.

The play opens in the round. A conceit, we will happily live with, but, let’s be fair considering the Crucible stage and its history, entirely unnecessary. A circle of stones becomes our stage. Smoke rises.

All – and I mean all of the actors perform well.

And here is my hell! Here is my fresh….hell!

Macbeth is average. Macbeth is average……How much do I need to set this up? And it kills me to say it because pretty much everyone else of note within the play is absolutely brilliant.

Don’t get me wrong – he really isn’t that bad and actually improves throughout the play but hey….

Can you have a Macbeth without a Macbeth? Without a McDaddy to run the show? Without someone strong enough to run this thing?????

And unfortunately the answer is ………..no!!! NO NO NO NO NO!!!!

NO!!

And this show will kill every reviewer and critic simply because of how brilliant it could have been.

You will get reviews telling you that this show is brilliant. It IS!!! Don’t disbelieve them!!

You will get critics telling you that this is up there with the best. It IS !!! Don’t disbelieve them!!

Should you a a public come and see this??? Yes you should!!!!

Is it that good????? ……..Yes….

Lady Macbeth (Claudie Blakley) is by far and away the best thing about this production. Sometimes actors grace the plays they’re in. And you should be aware that Claudie – wherever you are – you grace this! You have made it better than it was. Smiley face!! (And if that is not the definition of what actors should do then I don’t know what is).

All of the other actors play their parts well., especially David Ganly as Banquo, who had a real earthiness and realism to his acting which grounded the play.

Unfortunately – and this is the key – and perhaps it may be Shakespeare’s fault!! Is Macbeth weak?? Or is he made weak by acting in a way that is wrong and goes against his nature??

The fact is that Geoffrey Streatfield as Macbeth begins weak and continues in that vein – he just gets weaker and more confused and ultimately doomed. The problem with this interpretation is that as an audience you never root for him – nor more importantly feel sympathy for him. He is unsympathetic – therefore we don’t care.

How is it that any actor believes they should present a character that we don’t care about??

We should care for Macbeth!

We should care for any person who believes they might have a chance at a better life. That is essentially all he and his wife want. They simply go about it the wrong way. But you should have absolute sympathy and empathy for what happens to them after the murder. i.e. guilt.

They present to us the eternal quest for happiness! That is what Shakespeare gives us.

However it only becomes a tragedy if you care about Macbeth in some way. This is the only failing of this play – and I asked both other audience members and other actors that I knew in the crowd.

This is absolutely brilliant. Macbeth is good. But – in keeping with the play – not good enough!!

But please go and see it!!!!

Macbeth’s the bad guy – but the others are great!!

It’s probably the best Shakespeare I’ve seen at the Crucible in twenty five years.

(So not bad then)

Well worth the ticket price. (But could have been legendary - the rest of it is that good)

Smiley face!! (And thanks for a wonderful night) .......

.......(Ah well.) .........  We are such stuff ...

Jul 25th

South Pacific Sizzles in Sheffield

By Paul Tyree

South Pacific

                     Sheffield Lyceum Theatre        25/7/12

                                               Review by Paul Tyree

 south pacific.jpg

On the balmiest of Sheffield Summer nights South Pacific seems the perfect musical to capture Britain’s renewed hope of getting a summer this year. Both director and set designer can be proud of a production that immediately transports you with the minimum of fuss to islands we all believe we’ve been to but most of us have only dreamt about. With one of the strongest openings of any musical, in quick succession we have ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, Nothing Like a Dame’ and ‘Bali Ha’i’, all hugely memorable and sang to perfection by a cast who all prove their professionalism time and again throughout the evening.

Rebecca Thornhill as Ensign Nellie Forbush is pitch perfect with an accent to match, although dare I say it, almost too polished, when the difficult subject matter of the third act and the denoument require a little more emotion. But perhaps I’m being picky because throughout the production you can’t help but be impressed by a class act working at the height of her powers. Matthew Cammelle (even with the cod French accent) is tremendous as her love interest Emile de Becque. His voice is superb throughout and never better than in the second act when he sings ‘This Nearly was Mine’. Both actor, singer and moment transcended what was already a marvellous production.

The real meat and depth of both the acting and feel of the production probably came from Alex Ferns as Luther Billis and Jodi Kimura as Bloody Mary. They created the biggest laughs of the night but also the greatest drama. They were the heart and lifeblood of a production that would have been so much less without them. Special commendation also to Dominic Taylor as Commander Harbison who has a real Kevin Spacey feel to his acting. (I’ve no doubt he’s had it said before, but seriously on stage – that’s not a bad thing).

The orchestra and conductor were probably the real stars on a night where their particular talents were hugely appreciated but as always largely unnoticed. The music absolutely supported what was happening on stage and the soundscape they created is one the best I’ve ever heard in a theatre.

There are times when reviewing musicals that have been on the road that you can tell just how jaded the performers and performances are. Luckily South Pacific will seduce, charm, amaze and seriously reinforce all that you thought was best in musical theatre. This is a production that wrings the best out of the material and the material wrings the best out of the performers.

Here’s an idea! – Go see it. They wont disappoint. Running until August 4th.