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Sep 6th

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter 4th September 2017

poster Dog

The Curious Incident phenomenon has been ongoing since the publication of Mark Haddon’s novel in 2003. Although it quickly became an international bestseller it wasn’t staged until 2012. Since then it has become an established fixture in theatre-land.

A most unusual book turned into a most unusual play; Simon Stephens’ adaptation is faithful to and respectful of Haddon’s story and Marianne Elliot has brought it to life with her challenging and stimulating direction. The treatment of the book by these creatives must be a primary element in the success of the play; Stephens has been true to Haddon’s novel and Elliot has created a visually innovative and utterly absorbing 3D world from her imaginings of Christopher’s experience of the world.

Dog Scott Reid

photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

When Stephens was asked during the construction of the play in 2012 if he was nervous that he was in part responsible for taking such a loved book to the stage, he responded that he comforted himself with the knowledge that nobody could love the book more than he, Elliot and all the performers involved did.  This love is tangible on stage, not just in the adaptation of the story line, direction, production and staging but in the performances of all the actors. This cast portrays a great compassion, integrity and drive in bringing the story and the ‘messy’ side of some of the characters to life and the depiction of Christopher’s perception and management of the world around him, and in turn that worlds’ perception and management of him, is extremely well crafted, neither trivialising nor stereotyping.

CI Dog

photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

Christopher, played with absolute passion and integrity by the utterly brilliant Scott Reid, is a fifteen year old with a collection of eccentricities which combine to create a set of complicated behavioural quirks. These make negotiating everyday life challenging for him and his family. Finding people very difficult to deal with, Christopher doesn’t venture out of his street unaccompanied but when he discovers his neighbour’s dog Wellington has been murdered, he turns detective in order to unearth the killer. A complex adventure/whodunit/family drama unfolds as the key players experience a journey of discovery. None experiences so much as Christopher who is, I suggest, a fitting hero for the 21st century. His travels outside of his comfort zone are gripping and realistically alarming accompanied as they are by an onslaught of ear-assaulting sounds, flashing lights and visuals which shake the auditorium. It’s this use of technology throughout the play that gives the play its uniqueness in creating an all absorbing, fresh experience.  

All is confined within a stage-filling, imposing 3 sided ‘box’, the walls of which serve as huge screens upon which images, text, video, and the mathematical equations that Christopher turns to in times of stress, are projected. Drawers and doors open to reveal props – the combined elements of Christopher’s slowly growing train set is a revelation at the close of the first half – and mobile entrances and exits for characters. The physical dynamism created by Movement Directors, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, is wonderfully creative, particularly so into the travel scenes.

This is a stunning production - challenging, exciting, uplifting, funny and heartwarming. It was packed at MK on Monday night and received a rapturous response. 48 hours later I am still excited and happy as a result of experiencing it!

Do get tickets – it’s on a longer than usual run in MK until Saturday 16th September

Box office 0844 871 7652

Groups Hotline 01908 547609

Access Booking 0844 872 7677

 

Online booking:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Aug 30th

Grease at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 

Reviewed by Alison Smith

We were hit full blast with nostalgia of the 50s tonight at the first performance of Grease at MK Theatre. There was upbeat music from the excellent 7 piece band led by Griff Johnson, innovative choreography thanks to Arlene Phillips and voice, energy and emotion from the talented cast.

Although Grease is over 40 years old – it first appeared on Broadway in 1972 and then the film became a box office hit with Travolta and Newton-John in 1978 – it still buzzes with fun. Partly this is through the simple story line: boy and girl meet, boy and girl part, boy and girl meet and don’t see eye to eye, and then boy and girl make up and the fairy tale comes to a happy ending and who isn’t a sucker for that ! Of course there is drama on the way, but not too much - this is only the beginning of the Rock and Roll, teen revolution after all. The Pink Ladies have their troubles, a school drop-out and a teen pregnancy, but Frenchy goes back to school and Rizzo’s guy sticks by her. And the black leather jacketed T–Birds are not so tough at all – this is not West Side Story.

 The story and dialogue are secondary in Grease. It is the music  - around 18 songs  - and dance which are spell binding. The best numbers are when the ensemble is on stage for numbers such as Shakin’ at the High School Hop and Grease is the Word. Individuals to mention are Kenickie (Tom Senior) who almost flew  in Greased Lightning and Rizzo ( Louisa Lytton), who pulled at the heart strings in There are Worse Things I Could Do .Teen Angel (George Olney),  gave a wonderfully polished camp performance of Beauty School Dropout. Of the two big names, Danielle Hope and Tom Parker as Sandy ‘goody-goody shoes’ and Danny Zuko , it is the former who gets the accolade. She has a stage presence and a powerful voice with a great range. Her transformation into a seductress, complete with 4 inch heels and skin tight trousers when she belts out You’re The One That I Want is amazing. Tom Parker is, unfortunately, the weak link in the show – his singing, dancing and acting do not reach the standard of most of the cast. I did wonder what Sandy saw in him! 

The set is simple – neon lights and moveable ranks of seats and a bar; the band, such an integral part of the show, is perched high at the rear – sometimes hidden but at other times a sight to appreciate. The lighting is extreme at times – bold, bright with a lit-up guitar and a flashing car. The costumes - 140 costume changes – give credence to the actors. Rizzo’s red and black dress, Sandy’s droopy dress and cardigan, the Pink Ladies net underskirts and  elasticated belts, the T-Birds black leather jackets and winkle-pickers –the rollered hair, the Brylcremed quiffs, the  red lipstick and the sequins , all layers of perection

 This is a show of real musical excellence – a first class production and a musical not to miss.

Grease is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 2nd September

www.atgtickets.com

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies

 

 

Aug 11th

La Cage aux Folles - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed 8th August

Les Cagelles

image Pamela Raith

Opening with a WOW performance by Les Cagelles of ‘We are What We Are’ the scene is set for a visually exciting evening. The troupe are wonderfully polished, beautifully made up (Richard Mawbey) in fabulous feather costumes (Gary McCann) and performing slick and stylish choreography (Bill Deamer). This highly professional, high energy start to this touring production doesn't carry through the whole show though.  

La Cage aux Folles was in many ways a groundbreaking story when it first came to the screen in 1978. Hugely successful it then arrived on stage in the early 80s. The story of a gay couple, Georges and Albin, running a drag club in sophisticated Saint Tropez oozed style, panache, and humour but above all love.  

Georges has a son from a previous relationship (Jean-Michele) and with the mother completely disinterested Albin has devoted the past twenty years to bringing him up as his own child. When Jean-Michele arrives home with the news that his fiancée Anne comes from a puritanical family who cannot possibly know that Georges and Albin are his parents, farce ensues as Georges and Jean-Michel try to keep Albin secret; Albin has other ideas!  

Albin and Jacqueline

image Pamela Raith

 

While the story remains in this productionthe presentation and treatment is uneven. In large this is down to the fact that John Partridge, who plays Albin, seems to be under the false impression that the show is only about Albin, and from his behaviour at the curtain call, him. Oddly, he is the weakest link in this very strong cast, lurching bizarrely between accents, volume and behaviour even well beyond the scope of his already temperamental stage drag character ZazaThe ill-fitting section of improvised comedy in which Partridge channels a cross between a poor Dame Edna and a pantomime dame is unnecessary, overlong, only vaguely funny and stops the show dead in its tracks. References to Primark and Tess Daly, the singling out of individuals in the front row for sarcasm and the crass and corny ‘jokes’ with the conductor are more suitable for a low-level talent show rather than a supposedly high class production. Why this section is included just before the key performance of ‘I am What I Am’ is a mystery and undermines the emotion and storytelling. 

 

Albin and Geores

image Pamela Raith

 

Of course all the visuals are fantastic and full credit to all the performers who are solid; Adrian Zmed as Georges, a class act from Marti Webb as Jacqueline, Dougie Carter and Alexandra Robinson are suitably fresh as the young couple Jean-Michele and Anne, Samson Ajewole as Jacob the butler/maid is a riot and won the audience's heart within seconds of being on stage. He is the scene-stealer here. A fabulous live orchestra led by Tim Whiting give the evening the feel of a real club throughout.

 

There are very amusing moments and there is no doubt that the audience in general thoroughly appreciated the evening. A little less ego and centre staging and a little more humility from Partridge would help balance the overall feel of the production.

 

At Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 12th August and then continuing on tour

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee)

Groups Hotline: 01908 547609

Access Booking: 0844 872 7677

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

Jul 25th

The Judgement in Stone at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Poster AJIS

The stage adaptation by Anthony Lampard and Simon Brett of Ruth Rendell’s 1977 novel, A Judgement in Stone, gives a different twist to the crime. In the novel the first line - ‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she couldn’t read’ - gives the reader the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ of the ‘whodunit from the outset.  The interest in the novel lies in the psychology behind the criminal motive. In the Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s play the ‘who’ and ‘why’ are slow to be revealed, which should increase the tension throughout the play – is it the gardener, the cleaner, the boyfriend?

 The dénouement is through a question and answer formula – on February 14th two police officers  Detective Superintendent Vetch (Andrew Lancel) and Sergeant Challoner (Ben Nealon)  begin their interviews of  Eunice Packman (Sophie Ward). It is the day after the shooting of the four Coverdales. As their live-in cleaner for nine months Eunice was close to the family, at least in distance. Through Eunice’s and the other staff’s testimonies we are presented with the dead -  the parents, played by Mark Wynter and Rosie Thomson, and their children, in a series of flashbacks.  The past and the  present  are cleverly marked by lighting changes - a golden glow for the past and a cold blue for the present.

 The setting is very Agatha Christie – a country estate – Lowfield Hall  -with a collection of stock characters – upper class and lower class, a character with previous , a reformed  bible-bashing prostitute. The set is a reflection of upper-middle class life – comfortable but not luxurious. The Coverdale’s tastes are also discerning – opera, overseas travel, shooting and they employ others to look after them – Meadows the gardener, Eva the cleaner and Eunice the housekeeper. It is the Coverdale’s buying power which catches the killer in the end. Throughout the play we are told  about their modern devices, of the large TV in the sitting room, the one in Eunice’s room and the cassette player on which Melinda was recording opera when she was shot.

 The novel is well adapted to the stage to show the passing of time with the characters’ slick exits and entrances. The cast are word perfect. Their gestures and voices bring individuality to their roles. The most amusing and lively is the Post Mistress, Joan Smith (Deborah Grant) who brings, at least during her first appearance, liveliness and amusement. Unfortunately the characters relationships are not fully developed. I was unconvinced by the relationship between Joan and Eunice and unconvinced by the sudden killing -  Eunice had not expressed revenge towards anyone in the family except Melinda; moreover, her reaction to her dismissal by George was too accepting. In fact there was too little weight put on the psychology of the characters – the story was not believable. Perhaps the stage is not the right setting for A Judgement in Stone – television may do it more justice. 

A Judgement in Stone is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 29th July

 www.atgtickets.com

 0844871 7652

 Booking fee applies

 

Jul 12th

Jane Eyre - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter

10 July 2017

JE poster

Having seen Sally Cookson’s creative re-imagining of La Strada earlier this year it was with very high expectations and great anticipation that I settled into my seat for her take on Jane Eyre.  What a thrill! Absolutely nothing in this production disappoints; it is stupendous and utterly satisfying on all levels.

Charlotte Bronte’s novel, which brought to the page much of her suffering and anguish as a young woman, was originally titled ‘An autobiography’ and published under the name Currer Bell. No one initially believed a woman would be the author of such an angry and passionately intense book and it created a huge stir at the time. There are numerous connections across Bronte and Eyre’s lives; the north-country origins, early deaths of siblings, and desperately unhappy times through boarding school and early work-life. The power of the story and its autobiographical elements, married with Cookson’s unique presentation and the powerful elements of the production design, combine to create an absorbing and mesmerising three hours.

JE BM

photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Michael Vale’s stage design is understated and dynamically effective.  A centre stage series of wooden frames, platforms and ladders, which remain immobile but are dynamically utilised by the players, serve as a child’s climbing frame, various residences and institutions and rooms within these. Depending on how this frame is lit and populated, the atmosphere veers from the oppressive to the expansive. Further suspended or carried frames suggest outside spaces through to imagined vistas and the changing of the seasons. A background of white drapes on 3 sides serve as screens for Aideen Malone’s colour projections creating shifts in emotional and physical space; the foreboding and punishment of the red room, the cruelty and starkness of the orphanage.

JE BrinkhoffM+Âgenburg

photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Benji Bowers’ compositions and Dominic Bilkeys’ sound design, are integral to everything that happens on stage. All original apart from three pieces, it is eclectic and performed centre stage by a small group of musician/actors. Far from being a distraction they are absolutely vital to the story and lend a further element to the story and atmosphere. There is often a hypnotic sense to quieter moments on stage created by the soundscape until contrasting speeds, genres and volume shift the timings and dynamically propel us again through Jane’s journey and emotions. The fully integrated and balanced use of the designers’ use of all elements of structure, sound, space, colour and movement ignite the audiences’ imagination fully in Cookson’s take.

JE BM

photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

 

A very small cast with actors playing multiple parts means everyone is on stage for most of the time. Outstanding one and all, this group of  actors and their sense of unity creates the completeness of the experience rather than the relying on lead players. Melanie Marshall, at first appearing to be an understated narrator or commentator later emerging to be Bertha Mason, is still and poised emerging from the shadows to perform with the most entrancing operatically powerful voice. Her stillness symbolising her trapped life perhaps, with not a hint of chaotic madness about her but rather a measured clarity of purpose.  Nadia Clifford as Jane is brilliant and the difficult and tumultous relationship between her and the excellent Tim Delap as Rochester is palpable, never veering into caricature but believable and true. Paul Mundell (Mr Brocklehurst/ Pilot/ Mason) is markedly different in his roles, very funny and unusual as Rochester's dog. Evelyn Miller (Bessie/ Blance Ingram/ St John) is outstanding and proves her versatility in this range of parts as does Hannah Bristow in her five roles.

A dynamic, energetic, absorbing and stunningly presented piece of physical theatre which brings a new dimension to Bronte’s book. 

Jane Eyre is at MK theatre until 15 July and then continues on tour 

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee)

Groups Hotline: 01908 547609

Access Booking: 0844 872 7677

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

 

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Jul 5th

Dreamboats and Petticoats at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 D&B poster

Dreamboats and Petticoats is either, for the baby boom generation a nostalgic trip back to their youth or, for their grandchildren, an introduction to the revolution in music and fashion of ‘teenagers’ - a term surprisingly only coined in 1957 - in the late 50s and early 60s.

The story line of the musical is simple and somewhat hackneyed; a garrulous grandfather is giving his old Fender guitar to his granddaughter - and through a series of flashbacks we learn that Bobby, the grandfather, had been an aspiring singer and song writer, a member of St Mungo’s youth club, that he had been smitten by an unsuitable girl, but that he had eventually realised his true love was the sister of his best friend.  We are presented with the angst of teenagers – pimples, lack of money, jealousy. However, this uninspiring scenario is just an excuse for some wonderful musical hopscotch of the pop and rock songs from that era, such as Bobby’s Girl and Runaround Sue, Only Sixteen and Teenager in Love, sung and played with energy and confidence by a very talented cast. Norman, (Alastair Hill)  a Billy Fury lookalike, with swivelling hips, wonderful voice and a Brylcreemed quiff is a most believable ‘bad boy’, while Bobby (Alistair Higgins) portrays a good, yet foolish, teenager. The two female characters that partner these young men are sexy Sue, (Laura Darton) and  demure Laura, (Elizabeth Carter) – who play their respective roles endearingly.

The script by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran closely harkens back to everyday life of the 60s with mention of a twin-tub, the opening of the M1, Butterkists, and Formica. The scenery and costumes emphasise those years – advertising posters, elasticised belts, a duffle bag, the caretaker’s brown coat and polka dots on the girl’s skirts. Two memorable scenes are the slow- motion fight and the dodgem car on Southend pier – although more could have been made of the latter.

But the real stars of the show are the songs – performed by a great band and singers; it was easy to forget that the cast were singing and dancing and playing throughout and never once did the quality of the performance lapse. Three noteworthy renditions were Poetry in Motion, Only the Lonely – great hand movements – and the perfect harmonies of Sweet Sixteen.  In the finale the participation of the audience to C’mon Everybody, Hey Baby, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans and At the Hop showed that the music had struck a chord with those who had been around when the songs first hit the radio. A very enjoyable evening.

 

Dreamboats and Petticoats is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 8th July

 

www.atgtickets.com

 0844 871 7652

 Booking fee applies

 

 

 

May 4th

MAMMA MIA! - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed 3rd May 2017

MAMMA MIA! poster

Oh, what a delightfully uplifting evening! The Milton Keynes audience collectively skipped out into the cold night, warm and energised by the Greek sun and sing-a-long finale! Truly an international stage phenomenon; running in the West End for almost twenty years, and a film adaptation which is still the highest worldwide grossing live-action musical film, MAMMA MIA! is cross-generational and resonates on a number of levels. This touring production is just wonderful and well worth a visit if you can get a ticket; MK was jam-packed last night with an enthusiastic, vocal and appreciative audience.

Judy Craymer creator/producer has said it was difficult to convince people initially that the play was to be an original story using ABBA songs and not the story of the band itself.  Incredibly, this particular play is so established that it is seems hard to imagine there was ever any doubt. Strikingly female-centric with the respective love lives of mother and daughter on show, it is also a story of a mother’s love for her daughter and the poignancy of that relationship. Craymer states that she noticed the songs by ABBA’s writers Bjőrn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson ‘fell into two generations: younger more playful songs such as ‘Honey, Honey’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ and more mature, emotional songs such as ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ – the latter in the style of story-telling, conversational songs that can be interpreted as between two people or the dialogue of inner turmoil. They might be ‘pop’ songs but there is so much more to them and this is what creates the synergy between the story, the songs and the performances in this production; credible, honest actors here tell stories through poignant and meaningful lyrics. There is an integrity at the heart of this show and ABBA’s music is universally loved, as evident both on stage and in the auditorium last night.

MAMMA MIA - Donna, Tanya, Rosie

Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

A strong cohesive cast, led by Donna (Helen Hobson) and Sophie (Lucy May Barker), are obviously having a blast every night and are spot on with dramatic and comic timing. Hobson is sexy as hell and Barker is charming. Both have strong voices and a lovely on stage chemistry – believable as mother and daughter. Their performance of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ was emotional and touching. 

MAMMA MIA! boys

 Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Sophie’s ‘fathers’, Harry (James Hogarth), Bill (Christopher Hollis), and Sam (Jon Boydon’ are perfect. Donna’s ‘girl group’ friends Tanya (Emma Clifford) and Rosie (Gillian Hardie) are a complete hoot. Their rendition of ‘Chiquitita’ created guffaws and snorts from the stalls and ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and ‘Take a Chance on Me’ were laugh out loud funny; reminiscent of ridiculous elements of French and Saunders in their prime.

MAMMA MIA! Hobson and Barker

Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

The ensemble, a young and very dynamic group, are strong of voice, exceptionally fine of figure – particularly the young men(!) and exuberant from start to finish. Setting and staging is straightforward and refreshingly uncomplicated, costumes a combination of flippers, flares, sequins and sandals, choreography (Anthony Van Laast) cheeky and superbly executed and the live band led by Richard Weedon are superlative. 

MAMMA MIA! stags

Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

All in all, a perfect night out!

 

MAMMA MIA! is at MK Theatre until Saturday 20th May

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee)

Groups Hotline: 01908 547609

Access Booking: 0844 872 7677

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

 

Apr 21st

Casanova at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

By Alison Smith

Casanove copyright Guy Farrow

image by Guy Farrow

Giacomo Casanova is renowned for his sexual exploits but in the eighteenth century he was famous for so much more. He was, amongst other things, a translator, a violinist, a papal knight, a trainee priest, a spy and a philosopher. Casanova’s own memoirs - not intended to be published apparently - are the reason that more is known of his sex life than his other activities. He was, significantly, an adherent to the ideas of the Enlightenment and hence a participant in a revolution of freedom of expression, tolerance of sexual differences and escape from the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church.

This ballet is adapted from the 2008 biography, Casanova, by Ian Kelley. Casanova, the ballet, depicts the man’s life from postulant to gambler to writer, from virgin to Lothario to broken hearted lover, through a series of delicious vignettes. But it is impossible to convey the richness and sensuality of the dancers, the atmosphere created by the music, set, costumes and wigs, which make the ballet an outstanding experience, in mere words.

Casanova CDB Copyright Emma Kauldhar

image by Emma Kauldhar

The curtain opens on an austere stage – gloom, chimes, an incense burner, gilded pillars, but from this moment the audience is transported into many different worlds by small shifts of stage furniture and a remarkable use of lighting (Alastair West). The music (Kerry Muzzey) is so closely integrated with the movements on stage that it becomes as one with them and each scene segues into the next seemingly effortlessly as we are transported from one location to another. And what dancers! They are skillful not only in dancing but in conveying emotion through each bodily movement; especially notable were the beautiful lines made by the male dancers’ arms when they were clad in priestly vestments.  Of course the scenes with less clothing – the masquerade, the seduction by M.M., the party in Paris, allow an appreciation of bodies which move with the fluidity of water, which are expressive and beautiful. Accolades must be given to Kenneth Tindall the choreographer. It is difficult to portray sex scenes without falling into the trap of indecency and lewdness, but Tindall’s choreography has created a world of sensuality and intimacy.

Casanova image copyright Emma Kauldhar

image by Emma Kauldhar

The most sensuous was Giuliano Contadini as Casanova. He shone in the duets and trios with both male and female partners. His relationships with Bellino (Dreda Blow) and Henriette (Hannah Bateman) expressed the joy of their close, physical contact, an intimacy very different from the relations with Madame de Pompadour and Senator Bragadin.

Casanove Courtesans Caroline Holden

image by Caroline Holden

The corps de ballet in their roles as priests, guests at the ball, courtesans and gamblers filled the stage with movement and drama ; there was the occasional mistiming but whatever their dancing expertise - soloists, leading dancers or ensmble – all portrayed a world of grandeur, hedonism and beauty, which is unforgettable.

Casanova is at Milton Keynes theatre until Saturday 22nd April

www.atgtickets.com

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies

 

Mar 28th

Shirley Valentine at Milton keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 27th March 2017

Poster SV 

I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be.’

This is just one of Shirley Bradshaw’s - née Valentine - lines by Willy Russell in his play Shirley Valentine and it encapsulates a universal truth – that we all have great potential within us. Jodie Prenger totally fulfils her potential in her role as Shirley Valentine.  It is true that she has an excellent script to work with, but alone on stage for two hours, Jodie captivates the audience with her sincerity, physicality and an obvious deep enjoyment of the part. Jodie becomes Shirley Valentine. 

Russell’s truthful portrayal of a middle-woman who regrets her dull existence is written with both wit and heartfelt emotion. Take away the quips and banter and what is left is the grey, lonely monotony of daily life for this woman who has few choices.  But Russell gives us a feisty woman with bittersweet lines and so we temporarily forget that her best friend is Wall, that her husband is domineering, that her children have left. The wit is earthy and northern… ‘I’m not saying she’s a bragger, but if you’ve been to Paradise, she’s got a season ticket’. ‘Sex is like supermarkets, you know, overrated. Just a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little at the end’.

SV imge copyright Manuel Harlan

image copyright Manuel Harlan

Jodie Prenger makes the script meaningful; her timing is impeccable, her delivery faultless and her body language truthful. The audience becomes her friend – much like Wall, and later Rock – and acts as her confidante – through flashbacks and clever impersonations we know Shirley, and so become complicit in her actions. 

At times the play seems somewhat dated; in 2017, 42 is not considered middle-aged, women do have choices and kitchens are not normally painted mustard.  There is also a great discrepancy in the settings of the Acts. In Act 1 the kitchen and utensils are carefully chosen to represent the 80s – a flowery cutting board, a round, white Fairy bottle,  sculpted pine doors. In Act 2, however, the setting is crude – large lumps of shiny black rock and a Marjorelle blue backdrop. 

None of this can detract, however, from the treat that this play is. It talks of the human condition, its loneliness and sadness and it underlines that with humour and drive, dreary lives can become exciting lives just as Shirley Valentine on her Greek island testifies.

'Dreams. They are never in the place you expect them to be'.

Shirley Valentine is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Monday 27th March to Saturday 1st April

 www.atgtickets.com

 0844871 7652 

Booking fee applies

 

Mar 26th

WNO's Madam Butterfly at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

by Alison Smith

Madam Butterfly

image copyright Jeremy Abrahams

Puccini’s Madam Butterfly (a Japanese Tragedy) is a passionate drama with beautiful music.  But it is also a tale of power and control, of abandonment, of despair and death. The words in the duet at the end of the First Act give a clue; the ironic ‘Love doesn’t kill, but brings life’ …and the more foreboding -‘If a man captures a butterfly he sticks it to a board’. Warnings of the tragic outcome abound, but the protagonists caught up in their love – love for Cio-Cio,  ownership for Pinkerton – ignore the implications.

The tale seems simple.  A relationship between a man and a woman, but the twists and turns of the tale are anything but. The man is an American naval officer in Nagasaki; the woman a very young, beautiful Geisha girl. The marriage is an arranged one, and for the groom a dissolvable one – an early example of sex tourism: cost 100 yen. Cio-Cio (Butterfly) believes this marriage will take her away from the difficult life she leads and open up new possibilities. She adopts Americanisms, calls herself Mrs B.F. Pinkerton, and changes her religion, for which she is rejected by her family. She is a faithful, loving wife, whereas  Pinkerton is  crass, shallow and lustful, playing with Cio-Cio until he marries a ‘real’ American wife. He is full of Western superiority with clear contempt for the Japanese and their culture. When he returns after three years with his new wife, Cio-Cio kills herself.

Madam Butterfly

image copyright Jeremy Abrahams

The setting is beautiful; the stage and costumes are in sepia shades. This lulls the audience into believing such tales only belong to nostalgia – like the old photographs of our ancestors; Pinkerton’s obsession with his camera underscores the idea that Cio-Cio is part of his holiday snaps. The technique of using shoji, the classical Japanese sliding screen doors, opens up the stage, but these screens also act to imprison Cio-Cio in her lonely married life.

Joachim Herz’s  version of Puccini’s opera, is a clever blend of delicate, oriental music and melodious occidental music; in the wedding scene the Japanese national anthem is incorporated and the Star Spangled Banner occurs frequently - this was the American Naval anthem until 1931 when it became America’s national anthem. The two stars of WNO’s Madam Butterfly – Karah Son as Madam Butterfly and Johnathan Burton as Lieutenant Pinkerton - excel in their roles.  Karah Son’s singing is first class and the expresses both innocence and heartbreak in a totally believable manner. Burton was so credible that he was booed at the first curtain call.

The WNO orchestra conducted by Andrew Greenwood is flawless.

 www.atgtickets.com

 0844871 7652

 Booking fee applies.