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Apr 24th

The Play that Goes Wrong at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Nothing is at all wrong with The Play that Goes Wrong; it has a talented cast, highly physical stunts, farcical action and great lines, but above all absolutely perfect comedic timing. It is this last quality that makes the play so right.

The story is simple: Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society at last has enough money to put on a decent production (previous ones have endured meagreness - The Lion and the Wardrobe, Cat, and Two Sisters, James and the Peach). The new play is a very early twentieth century Agatha Christy murder mystery – Murder at Haversham Manor - with the typical characters of the genre – a wealthy home owner, a beautiful girl, a butler, an inspector and, of course, a body. Before the play begins the audience knows the set is not all the Drama Society had hoped – the mantelpiece collapses, the door closes on whim, the broom breaks. The lighting and sound engineer, Trevor, (Gabriel Paul) seems more concerned about a lost dog, Winston, than he does about lights and sound.

The curtain opens on a body on the sofa and attempts to enter the room through the door fail; the butler, Perkins, (Benjamin McMahon) and the fiancee’s brother, Thomas, (Kazeem Tosin Amore) enter through the wings. This first entrance sets the scene for the action. And the mayhem of the play within the play continues with endless energy and great physicality - people are knocked unconscious by doors and trays, a stretcher disintegrates, the lift collapses, Florence (Elena Valentine) is manhandled out of a window This acrobatic activity is accompanied by great dialogue – double entendres, mispronunciation of words, lines repeated, lines mis-timed. The situation is chaotic, the antics preposterous, but the result is hilarious.

The Play that Goes Wrong was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of the Mischief Theatre. It is not sophisticated comedy but the writers have a  degree of genius. Praise must also be piled upon the set designer Nigel Hook and the choreography and stage mechanics of all the stunts by Mark Bell, as without the adaptable set and the precise moves the play would not be this ridiculously funny, razor sharp comedy.

The Play that Goes Wrong is a must see!


The Play That Goes Wrong is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 28th April

 0844871 7652

Booking fee applies


acters, the butler sofa and attemptsto enter the room through the door fail - the s oes is that makes the play so right.1111

Apr 19th

The Little Mermaid Northern Ballet at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith


David Nixon’s Little Mermaid – a reworking of Anderson’s fairy tale – is as atmospheric as it is absorbing. The underwater world is portrayed imaginatively by an aqueous set, resplendent with shimmering, weaving creatures in beautiful costumes, and undulating  waves in delicate shades of blues and greens . Most notable was the fluidity of the elder mermaids (Ailen Ramos Betancourt and Miki Akuta) held aloft by the male waves.

The little mermaid Marilla – a Celtic name echoing Sally Beamish’s Celtic musical touches –  was danced by Abigail Prudames who excelled in her role, both as a lithe rippling mermaid and a pained, physically and emotionally, two-legged creature. The weightless submarine world is contrasted with the heavier, dowdier appearance of humans. Again there are Celtic touches in the kilts and in the earthy colours of the costumes, drab shades of brown with the occasional red and pink.

 Prince Adair (Joseph Taylor) is the beloved of Marilla, but he falls in love with Dana (Dreda Blow), a human; Marilla, bereft returns to the sea. The duets between the prince and his beloved are joyful ; the couple are perfectly matched in precision and athleticism. The choreography of the duet between the prince and Marilla is doleful in comparison and transmits the sadness of Marilla. For this is a tale of unrequited love and of sacrifices made for love. It is not a happy-ever after tale.

The action is accompanied throughout by an eerie, folksy score played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia and ethereal  lighting – blue for undersea and yellow for land –  the filtering of  shafts of light into the sea was most effective.

This is a wonderful production. The story line brings with it many limitations for the choreography ; my one negative comment is the consequent  lack of vitality in the dancing – Lyr, Lord of the Sea ( Matthew Topliss) danced with verve and spirit,  but there was not enough of this . Beautiful and captivating as the ballet is, it is also somewhat soporific.


 The Little Mermaid is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday  21st April

 0844 871 7652

 Booking fee applies


Apr 10th

Hairspray at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith


Hairspray at Milton Keynes Theatre

One of the producers of Hairspray, Mark Goucher, says’ theatre has an obligation to both educate and to entertain’.  And the educational message in Hairspray is as relevant in 2018 as in the original 1988 film – that segregation and intolerance are immoral and that differences, be they of skin colour or weight should be a cause for celebration. On the surface such issues would not seem to be elements of entertainment, but with creators of the calibre of Waters, O’Donnell, Shaiman and Whittman, Hairspray becomes outstanding entertainment.

 It is, above all, a feel - good musical; the main character Tracy Turnblad has not been endowed with the best physical accomplishments to become a dancer on the Corny Collins TV Show, but with youthful determination , optimism and a strong sense of right and wrong she succeeds, and, moreover, gets her man. It is a most pleasing example of the winning of good over evil, a battle accompanied with great dancing and music .Short, chubby Tracy (Rebecca Mendoza) with her school satchel is an unlikely heroine, but rather than change herself to fit in with the American ideals she changes the attitude of most of those around her; Collins says ‘put kids on the show who look like the kids who watch the show’ and as a result  the monthly Negro Day on his show is abolished and teenagers of all colours and sizes dance together. Hairspray is the professional debut for Rebecca Mendoza. She is almost continuously on stage and does not lose any dynamism throughout her performance.

The musicality of all the performers is exceptional, but most notable is Brenda Edwards with her rich powerful voice. She excels in I know Where I’ve Been – a story of hope, tinged with great sadness. And the Dynamite Trio – Emily-Mae, Melissa Nettleford and Lauren Concannon - in Welcome to the 60s are as good as the Supremes. The dancing is uplifting, but the prize for flexibility and athleticism must be awarded to Seaweed (Layton Williams), who back-flipped across the stage with ease.

The ‘different ’relationships of the characters play an important role in the musical –  especially that of Edna Turnblad  the overlarge, agoraphobic wife of the weedy Wilbur. Their well- practised ad-libbing caused hilarity in the audience and their good natured relationship caused, I feel sure, envy. Penny and Seaweed, Tracy and Link are also examples of how external appearances have little effect on love.

The setting is simple – the streets of Baltimore in the main; the lighting and wardrobe colourful and the band tucked in at the back played the rhythm and blues numbers with expertise and gusto. The choreography was impressive and the vocal numbers great. Hairspray is a wonderful evening’s entertainment of music and dance together with a thought provoore in the main; the lighting  'reography was impressive and the vocal numbers great. A wonderful evenong'de of most of those wking message.

 Hairspray is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 14th April 

0844 871 7652

 Booking fee applies


Apr 5th

TOSCA at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Quentin Fox

4th April 2018

TOSCA RIchard Huber Smithimage copyright Richard Huber Smith

Puccini was, in his time, derided for not being genius enough. Such a brilliant talent, contemporary critics said, should be shooting for the heaven of musical invention rather than dwelling in the verismo gutter of small lives and sordid passions. The Welsh National Opera’s production of Tosca explodes that notion and reveals a composer who was not only musically innovative but an absolute master of modern narrative, almost filmic in its construction and pace.

Tosca’s themes are simple: love and loyalty. How far, Puccini asks, would you go to save someone you loved? He poses this universal question a specific place and time. Set on a single day in the Rome of 1800, the background to the tale is one of political uncertainty. The Eternal City became a republic under Napoleon who drove out the forces of the monarchy and the Pope. With Napoleon’s retreat, these fragile states were re-occupied by the forces of reaction intent on revenge and rounding up the usual radical suspects.

A republican, Angelotti, breaks out of prison, pursued by Scarpia, head of the secret police, and rushes into a church to seek help from his old comrade, the painter Cavaradossi. In hiding his friend the painter arouses the suspicions and insecurities  of his jealous lover, the singer Floria Tosca. Scarpia tricks Tosca into going to Cavaradossi’s house where he is arrested while Angelotti escapes.

Scarpia tortures Cavaradossi but Tosca, in order to save her man, reveals Angelotti’s whereabouts, But with the news that Napoleon is victorious and set to return, Scarpia condemns Cavaradossi to death. Tosca begs Scarpia to save her lover's life. In return for staging a mock execution and arranging safe passage for the pair, Scarpia, who delights in rape, demands that Tosca yield to him. As he touches Tosca, she stabs him to death.

So where are we? A murderous woman on the run is making a bid for happiness that depends on the word of a duplicitous secret policeman and a firing squad armed with blanks? Crumbs. The politics may seem remote but you know that this is not going to end well…

The production matches the simplicity of the themes and is a bitter-sweet delight. In the title role Claire Rutter (soprano) brings a real sense of coquettishness in her first scene which emphasises her eventual transformation into the resolute and tragic woman at the end. While her acting is strong, questions have to be asked about the power of her voice, though her rendition of the aria Vissi d'arte was well received. As Cavaradossi, a superb Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor) conveys tenderness, anguish and resignation by turns. In his hands E lucevan le stelle is hugely moving. His stagecraft is magnificent, too: a single look to the audience during Tosca’s jealous hissy fit in the first act is enough to say ‘I know, she’s barmy, but I love her.’

Mark S Doss sings Scarpia with a sense of restraint which makes him less of a pantomime villain than a malign but human figure who uses his position to slake his lusts. Praise, too, is due to Michael Clifton-Thompson who offers up a splendidly weaselly Spoletta, Scarpia’s henchman.

The WNO orchestra performs with real panache under the baton of Timothy Burke and the sets offer a richness that makes the production unforgettable. The church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, Scarpia’s room in the Palazzo Farnese and the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo are all rendered on a monumental scale emphasising the real power and the glory in a tale of small people.

This production offers us a Tosca for the 21st century: we’ve seen what power and chaos have done in Iraq and Syria and the debasement that has resulted in #MeToo. That’s the enduring genius of Puccini.

Tosca plays MK theatre April 6th 7.15pm. The conductor will be Carlo Rizzi 
and Cavaradossi will be played by Hector Sandoval
Don GiovanniThursday 5 April 7pm  
La forza del destino Saturday 7 April 6.30pm
Box office 0844 871 7652
Booking fee applies





Mar 22nd

Crazy For You

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter

20th March 2018Crazy For you Richard Davenport

image copyright Richard Davenport

Originally presented as Girl Crazy in the 1930s, this light-hearted Gershwin musical was designed to brighten up the Depression years with some escapism and razzmatazz. The storyline was reworked in the 1990s by Ken Ludwig and director Mike Ockrent, the score was rearranged to include more of the Gershwin catalogue, and the title became Crazy For You.  Opening in the West End in 1993 it garnered Olivier Awards for Best Musical and Choreography.

Despite the beefing-up of the original storyline it is still rather flimsy and predictable. Briefly, Bobby Child (Tom Chambers), the son of a wealthy New York banking family but only interested in song and dance, is sent to Deadrock, Nevada to close down a failing theatre. Bobby falls for Polly (Charlotte Wakefield), daughter of the theatre owner. She thinks he’s a fool. Bobby pretends to be the theatre impresario Bela Zangler (Neil DItt), who Polly does fall in love with. The real Zangler arrives in Deadrock as does Bobby’s fiancée, Irene (Claire Sweeney). You can pretty much guess the rest! There are some very funny moments, mostly revolving around mistaken identity and the ingenious scene between Bobby and Bela Zangler in the second half is a great hoot.

There is some wonderful Gershwin music: I Got Rhythm, Someone To Watch Over Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, among many others, all performed on stage by the actor-musicians. Nearly all the cast play a number of instruments and herein lies something of a problem for me. While it is wonderful to see such a multi-talented cast, the dominance of the instruments on stage and the frequency with which the cast are required to play them means the performance flow is interrupted and that there is somewhat of a lack in high energy, exciting ensemble dancing.  It's a conundrum; cost-cutting attempts here - losing the orchestra and moving the music on stage have a detrimental effect on this production I'm sad to say.

The cast are all great; the leads’ strengths are underused though. Tom Chambers is a brilliant dancer but this talent isn’t fully exploited. He does get the chance to show his talent for comedy and the quirky, silly, self-effacing slapstick moments were reminiscent of Eric Morecombe. Charlotte Wakefield is a great dancer and has a cracking voice – again underused here. There’s a Doris Day/ Calamity Jane feel to her character and Wakefield balances this sweet/fesity aspect well. Claire Sweeney is domineering fiancée Irene appearing in Act one and then not again until the middle of the second half. She has one major moment; her Naughty Baby performance.

There are not a great number of glittery costumes, with only the New York chorus line in anything shiny until the odd, brief end scene where Polly wears a Hollywood gown. As the majority of the play takes place in Deadrock the costumes are pretty much of the dull brown dungaree ilk for the men and day dresses for the visiting New Yorkers; unexpected when looking at the programme and poster which present a glitzy, stylish Hollywood musical image - at odds with the actual production.

Lovely music, old jokes, not enough dancing and a happy ending is the order of the evening.

Plays Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 24th March

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies


Mar 5th

Hedda Gabler at Milton Kenes Theatre

By Alison Smith


Hedda Gabler at Milton Keynes Theatre

 Hedda Gabler is a timeless, distressing portrayal of a self-centred, purposeless woman.  Although the play was written by Ibsen in late 19th century  such female ‘victims’ still exist in the 21st century -  women  whose lives are desolate – echoed perfectly  in Jan Versweyveld’s design of the Tesman’s empty, cold, grey apartment, the only colour the flowers scattered by the neurotic Hedda.

 The other female roles in the play  - the New Women in the 1890s– Mrs Elvsted and Juliana, Telsman’s aunt, have found  their roles in society – the former in writing, the latter in caring; but Hedda can find no justification to her life. She married to avoid being alone and to have a comfortable existence, but she finds herself isolated , with a husband  who is not living up to her societal expectations, and she is pregnant. None of this matches the vision she had of her life.

 The other men in Hedda’s life, Brack and Lovborg, were once her lovers; Lovborg still feels affection for Hedda; Brack, a brute, abuses her. Does Hedda bring this on herself? To some extent she does. She is cruel, manipulative and dishonest .Even  the fact that she is beautiful can in no way justify her treatment of others – her disdain towards her academic husband, her contempt towards Mrs Elvsted and her manipulation of Lovborg, leading to his death. But the men are also controlling – physically as well as mentally – they feel they can caress her at their whim, and, in the case of Brack, violently .

Lizzy Watts gives an excellent portrayal of Hedda; angular, cold, scantily dressed in a dressing gown and silk shift – perhaps too depressed to dress. Tesman  - why doesn’t Hedda take his name? – is acted by Abhin Galeya. He gives a very rounded performance and clearly delineates Tesman’s obsessive yet caring and humane nature, the antithesis of his wife’s character.

One modern touch was Joni Mitchell’s Blue,  music which only Hedda heard. The words ‘crown and anchor me, or let me sail away’ echo her feelings as do the words by Cohen in Hallelujahe words  crown and anchor me or let me  dressing gown and silk shift - , ‘the only thing I’ve learned from love is how to shoot somebody’. Hedda was not alone in her despair.


Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Patrick Marber is at Milton Keynes Theatre until  1111111111111111111111111111Saturday 3rd March

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies


Feb 22nd

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter 20th February 2018Tour poster Carole King

This musical takes us from King's teenage years, around 1958, to the release of the 'Tapestry' album and her subsequent performance at Carnegie Hall in 1971. It's a short period of her life under the lens here but goodness did she pack in a hell of a lot!

King really was a gifted young woman with an incredible talent for songwriting. She knew she had something to share and when she was sixteen recorded 'The Right Girl' to showcase her talents to prospective labels. Falling for Gerry Goffin and marrying him in 1959 meant these two brilliant writers formed a personal and professional partnerhship. Taken on by the impresario Donnie Kirshner at the Brill Building they became part of his songwriting business and together wrote for The Shirelles, (Will You Love Me Tomorrow), Bobby Vee, (Take Good Care of My Baby) Little Eva, (The Locomotion), The Drifters (Up on the Roof), and The Monkees (Pleasant Valley Sunday). Others who recorded Kings music are The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and the list goes on. As a solo artist she has recorded 25 solo albums; Tapestry, the first, was at number one for 15 weeks in the US, sold over 25 million copies and remained in the charts for six years.

This show depicts what must have been a hugely exciting time professionally and doesn't shrink from the drama of her personal life with Goffin and his infedilities and mental health issues. King had two children with Goffin and despite divorcing him in the late sixties continued to work with him intermittently over the years. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Working in the Brill Building at the same time as King and Goffin were Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The friendship and 'competetive' drive of the two couples is a central theme to the storyline.

Carole King Weil and Mann

Image copyright Graig Sugden

Bronté Barbé as King has a cracking voice when she really lets go but is a little shrill and fast with her dialogue at times. Kane Oliver Parry as Goffin is a good match for Barbé and they work well on stage together. Amy Ellen Richardson as songwriter Cynthia Weil is wonderful and her relationship with Barry Mann (Matthew Consalves) is a source of much of the humour; they have the best lines among some very funny ones throughout. Weil and Mann had some major hits too with 'On Broadway', 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling', 'We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place', which all feature in the show

Carole King Craig Sugden

image copyright Craig Sugden 

Centre to this show is song after song after song, performed by a very energetic ensemble moving the story on dynamically. They have numerous parts and are chopping and changing characters  throughout. Strong of voice and exuding confidence, they bounce on and off the stage as The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers. 

A really good evening out with a crowd pleasing playlist and a high energy cast who are committed making this a show well worth seeing.

Plays MK Theatre until Saturday 24th Feb and then continuing on tour

Tickets from

Box office 0844 871 7653 Booking fee applies

Feb 7th

The Play That Goes Wrong, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.

By Pete Benson

The Play That Goes Wrong has only one purpose and that is to make you laugh uproariously. Everything you need to know about it is in the title. This is an Olivier award winning comedy written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields for their Mischief Theatre Company.

TPTGW Kenny Wax Ltd

Images courtesy ofKenny Wax Ltd

The conceit is that we are watching a murder mystery play staged by the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society. The plot of the murder mystery is of little interest to us because we are here to enjoy hapless actors and stage crew thwarted in their endeavour by varying measures of bad luck and incompetence. Much of the humour comes from broad physical set pieces and indeed the actual set does end up in pieces and what an amazing set it is.

The idea of a play, presented ostensibly by amateur actors, going wrong is not a new one. In the 80s we had the Farndale Ladies, a series of plays about a fictional village company destroying popular theatre genres and before that was The Art of Coarse Acting, a book by Michael Green which was the journalistic equivalent.

Portraying two stage crew, Gabriel Paul and Catherine Dryden, establish the tone of the play in a pre-show set piece as they try to make final adjustments to the set which defies them at every turn, leaving us in now doubt as to the tone of the performance. Their characters both have story arcs within the ensuing chaos. Catherine’s shy, lowly stage crew member transforms through reluctant actress into megalomaniacal leading lady while Paul’s laid back technician builds an endearing relationship with us in the audience.

The play is introduced with an almost stand up comedic monologue by the company director played by Jake Curran. He has also cast himself in the lead part of the detective. Gradually his controlled but self-important demeanour is slowly worn away until he finally snaps as he harangues the audience for laughing at his ‘serious work’.

Kazeem Tosin Amore portrays perhaps one of the more proficient actors and he moves nicely between his actor character and his real life persona which intrudes more and more as his life on stage reaches new heights of absurdity. My personal favourite was Bobby Hirston who plays, the young love interest and also the variously aged gardener.  There is something of the clown about Hirston who is want to smile broadly, abandoning all illusion of acting, whenever he feels he’s pleased his audience. His monologues are illustrated with nonsensical mime and at times he is paralysed by the intimate presence of his female performers. One of which is played by Elena Valentine who undergoes some of the most physically punishing trauma of the show. She gives a brilliant physical comedic performance as an enthusiastic over actor.

TPTGW Kenny Wax Ltd

Images courtesy ofKenny Wax Ltd

It’s good to hear a company tackle the large, impressive Waterside theatre without any radio mics. The portrayal of their amateur oration allows the actors to comfortably project without sacrificing subtlety, because there mostly is none though one of my favourite moments was a just audible whisper.

If I have to criticise, and I don’t really want to after being made to laugh so much, it is that as the play reached its frantic crescendo, volume perhaps was sacrificed for speed and chaos. Arguably this doesn’t matter as the play is now irrelevant and bedlam is everything but strangely it hindered my focus. It is a huge ask to keep up two hours, less an interval, of such broad comedy and for the most part this was achieved. Perhaps there were a couple of dips in comic energy but mostly the big set pieces were well paced giving a constant topping of what had gone before.

If you don’t like broad farcical slapstick taken to the limit and then way beyond, this is not for you. With that one proviso, this show will make you laugh with more fulsome gusto than you have in a long while.


Waterside Theatre

“Box Office: 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)


The Play That Goes Wrong - Theatre tour dates.

BATH Theatre Royal Mon 12 - Sat 17 Feb   01225 448844            

GLASGOW King's Theatre   Mon 26 Feb - Sat 3 Mar          0844 871 7648           

DARLINGTON Hippodrome            Mon 5 - Sat 10 Mar     01325 405405            

EDINBURGH Festival Theatre         Mon 12 - Sat 17 Mar   0131 529 6000           

COVENTRY Belgrade Theatre         Mon 19 - Sat 24 Mar   024 7655 3055           

BIRMINGHAM Hippodrome           Tue 27 - Sat 31 March            0844 338 5000           

DERBY Theatre         Tue 3 - Sat 7 April      01332 59 39 39          

MOLD Theatre Clwyd           Mon 9 - Sat 14 April   01352 701521            

TRURO Hall for Cornwall     Tue 17 - Sat 21 Apr    01872 262466            

MILTON KEYNES Theatre Mon 23 - Sat 28 Apr   0844 871 7652           

CARDIFF New Theatre         Mon 30 Apr - Sat 5 May         029 2087 8889           

YORK Grand Theatre            Mon 14 - Sat 19 May 0844 871 3024           

HULL New Theatre   Mon 21 - Sat 26 May 01482 300 306           

CAMBRIDGE Arts Theatre Mon 28 May - Sat 2 June        01223 503333            

COLCHESTER Mercury Theatre      Mon 4 - Sat 9 June      01206 573948            

SWINDON Wyvern   Mon 11 - Sat 16 June 01793 524 481           

BRADFORD Alhambra Theatre        Mon 18 - Sat 23 June 01274 432000            

MANCHESTER Opera House           Mon 25 - Sat 30 Jun    0844 871 3018           

NEWCASTLE Theatre Royal            Mon 2 - Sat 7 Jul         08448 11 21 21          

LIVERPOOL Empire Theatre            Mon 9 - Sat 14 Jul       0844 871 3017           

BRISTOL Hippodrome          Mon 16 - Sat 21 Jul     0844 871 3012           

SHEFFIELD Lyceum Theatre           Mon 30 Jul – Sat 4 Aug          0114 249 6000           

BLACKPOOL Winter Gardens         Tue 7 - Sat 11 Aug      0844 856 1111           

MALVERN Theatres Mon 13 - Sat 18 Aug 01684 892277            

TORQUAY Princess Theatre             Mon 20 - Sat 25 Aug 0844 871 3023           

BRIGHTON Theatre Royal   Mon 27 Aug - Sat 1 Sep         0844 871 7650           

LEICESTER Curve    Mon 3 - Sat 8 Sep       0116 242 3595           

LLANDUDNO Venue Cymru           Mon 10 – Sat 15 Sep 01492 872000            

BILLINGHAM Forum Theatre         Mon 17 - Sat 22 Sep   01642 552663            

PORTSMOUTH King's Theatre         Mon 24 - Sat 29 Sep   023 9282 8282           

POOLE Lighthouse    Mon 1 - Sat 6 Oct       01202 280000            


Jan 24th

The Jersey Boys - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter

24 January 2018

 The Jersey Boys 1 Brinkhoff

Image copyright Brinkhoff M+Âgenburg

This hugely popular, multi-award winning show, at an early point in this second national tour, wowed Milton Keynes last night. I was definitely one of the few in the audience that was seeing this show for the first time and am delighted that I finally have. I had never been that keen before as I had the impressions it was 'just' one of those jukebox musicals that do the rounds. How wrong I was!

This show tells the story of the hard won success of The Four Seasons from their very earliest days. Definitely not a run of the mill jukebox musical but a fully rounded play about the lives and music of this band. Told from the viewpoints of all four members there is a weaving together of their individual perspectives and  as a result, no clear, definitive account is presented at the end. What you have are left with are different versions of events which further add to the element of intrigue about some areas, particularl where Tommy Devito's links with crime and the mafia are concerned. There is a real grittiness to this show and no glossing over of the the bad times. Instead a light is shone on the tensions and difficulties in sustaining intensely creative and personal relationships over a long period of time. It seems quite incredible that the three surviving members, Valli, Devito and Gaudio allowed the writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice to have full access and a pretty free rein over the storyline and interpretation; it certainly makes for a very interesting and informative couple of hours.

Along with this faschinating story is an absolute onslaught of the hits of the Four Seasons brilliantly woven through the storyline and performed to perfection by the cast - all excellent actors, singers and musicians. Particularly outstanding are Simon Bailey as DeVito who brings a real swagger and dynamism to the stage as the cocky gambler, James Winter as Bob Gaudio, the man responsible for so many of the compositions, is excellent as the calmer, steadier character and Joel Elferink as the lyricist and innovative producer Bob Crewe gives a very stylish performance. Central is Valli played by Michael Watson here; his vocal performance is superb.

Jersey Boys 2 Brinkhof

Image copyright Brinkhoff M+Âgenburg

Extremely fast paced storytelling with never a pause, there are moments when the dialogue is not completely clear in the auditorium, a combination of the speed of delivery and the acoustics, The music in contrast is loud and sharp as a pin.

Klara Zieglerova's scenic design is fabulously creative and is almost constantly in motion as it is changed to depict different envirnonments from intimate domestic scenes, to the the Ed Sullivan show, to the recording studio. These changes all happen as part of the on stage action and are part of the play so appear natural and seamless. Add in Howell Binkleys creative lighting design and the plentiful costume changes and you have incredibly dynamic and highly effective staging. 

There are six consummate musicians on stage throughout giving the production integrity and authenticity; it is the standard of musicianship of all the performers in giving us brilliant renditions of over 30 of the bands fantastic hits over the course of the show that is the abiding memory of this excellent production.

Highly recommended.

The Jersey Boys plays an extended run at Milton Keynes Theatre until 3rd February.

Box office 0844 871 7653

Booking fee applies

Jan 18th

The Snowman at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter on 17th January 2018

 The Snowman and Boy

image copyright Alastair Muir

A charming and gentle production.

This iconic story is enchantingly presented here and there were plenty of appreciative children and adults in the theatre last night.

Spanning all generations, Raymond Briggs’ book appeared in 1978, the film was released in 1982 and the iconic music ‘Walking in the Air’ topped the charts in 1985. Birmingham Repertory Theatre first staged the story in 1993 with the show making its London debut in 1998 where it has continued to run each year since, making it the longest running Christmas show in the UK.

This show has been tweaked over the years,and now includes the roles of the Ice Princess and Jack Frost. Generally though, it is pretty faithful to the book and film as a result of the creative team remaining steady - Bill Alexander directing and Howard Blake as musical supervisor and joint executive director.

Presented here using a pretty straightforward set; floor to roof two-dimensional snowy covered fir trees frame the centre stage. There are a couple too many set changes in the first half where the audience sit in darkness waiting but this could be addressed by using the front panels to project imagery, as is done at other times during the show, mostly to depict falling snow.

ensemble snowman

image copyright Tristram Kenton

There are plenty of little instances of physical humour throughout. My nephew loved the penguins especially and the delightful woodland animals with their quirky and amusing movements and particularly wonderful costumes.  

When extending a show for the stage there are often, inevitably, moments that don’t appear in the story or film and whilst these felt a little bit out of place the children, most importantly, seemed unconcerned with this.

The much anticipated flying is enchanting and really well done with great reference to the imagery of the book and film. There’s quite a bit of it thankfully and it is magical and for many in the audience was emotionally nostalgic; there were tears!  The book and the film both depict the world below the Snowman and the Boy as they fly but this was not made the most of here which seemed  a mixed trick. The story is about the Snowman taking the Boy to a faraway place, another world in a sense, but this was not fully imagined in the staging. Again, employing projected imagery on the back drop or the foreground set could have added to this sense of travel and other-worldliness.

A cast of 17 dancers means there is some dance, but I was surprised that this element seemed underemployed.  This is movement to music mostly rather than a full dance production. There is a marvellous orchestra led by David Quigley but it was disappointing that the carol singers and on stage musicians appeared to be mostly miming.

My nephew commented that the Snowman was not fat enough and I agree; his costume was flapping around him sometimes and I initially thought that this was because he would need to move and dance extensively but this was not so. Indeed all the snowmen and women were rather lean. Although avuncular, they could do with a few more mince pies!

This is a sweet, nostalgic 90 minutes of escapism that rekindles thoughts of the magic of childhood.

The Snowman plays Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 20th January (There is are three performances on Saturday including one at 10.30am). This year’s tour finishes in Brighton on 28th January.

Box office 0844 871 7653

Booking fee applies