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Jul 17th

Flashdance The Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 

Flashdance at Milton Keynes Theatre

Flashdance the Musical is the stage adaption of the film Flashdance by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary with music composed by Robbie Roth and  lyrics by Cary and Roth. Flashdance is the feel-good musical par excellence – the girl from hard circumstances achieves all she wishes – the career, the man, and one supposes happiness.  Alex Owens, a welder by day, dances in Harry’s Bar in the evenings. Her dream is to be a dancer; to do so she wants to enrol in the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy.  But Alex is filled with self- doubt, she is after all a manual worker. It is only after the death of her mentor, Hannah (Carol Ball) and an unwelcome intervention by boyfriend Nick (Ben Adams) that Alex goes to the final audition and wins a place.

Yet Alex’s success is highlighted by the failure of others – Gloria, who becomes a stripper addicted to booze and drugs, and Jimmy, who fails to make it as a comic in NY.  How does Alex do it? Through guts and determination, by being beautiful and compassionate. And who better to portray such a girl than Joanna Clifton, a living dynamo who can move at 200 km an hour and can sing? Joanna is accompanied by Ben Adams, a talented singer who showed some good, if restrained, dance moves, and a wonderful cast with great choreography (Matt Cole). The athleticism of the ensemble is remarkable; their energy and precision never wavers and in the audience participating finale to What a Feeling they demonstrated some extraordinary movements. The singing is also first-rate. There are twenty –six musical numbers including Maniac ,I love Rock and Roll and Gloria all performed with excellent vocals.

There were some negatives to the performance however. The set – although fitting for the industrial scenes - is large and cumbersome, and makes the stage area small. The cast spent much time in semi-darkness moving the set – especially the two unwieldy flights of stairs. It is also a shame that the very gifted band (George Carter musical director) is hidden away.

Flashdance  is performed by accomplished dancers and singers. The story is fairly stereotypical and trite, but the interpretation of the story by the cast cannot be falted.

 Flashdance the Musical is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 21st July

 www.atgtickets.com

0844 877 7652

Booking fee applies

 

Jul 10th

An Officer and a Gentleman at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

 

Reviewed by Louise Winter

9 July 2018

 

poster Off and G

 

This is a show that takes itself seriously and those superfans of the early eighties film had to exercise great restraint until the very end when they had a long awaited opportunity to whoop and cheer. Adapted by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper, this production is faithful to the original. Here the overall tone veers more towards the gritty and tormented rather than the soppy and feel good, which may account for the patchiness of the production overall. It feels sometimes as if the show doesn’t know which road to take.

Whilst based around a group of naval college recruits, it is only Zach and Sid’s characters which are fleshed out in any meaningful way. The other male characters are rather one dimensional and that includes Bryon Mayo and Sergeant Foley (the vastly experienced Darren Bennet and Ray Shell respectively). Overall, it is a story about the women and they are the slightly more interesting characters here. An excellent ensemble performance of It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World sets their frustration at their lot as exhausted factory workers with little chance of escape - not unless they can get an officer to literally sweep them off their feet. The older women, Paula’s mother Esther (Rachel Stanley) and Aunt Bunny (Corinna Powlesland) are jaded and world weary as they watch the younger girls become embroiled with the recruits time and time again; they of course know that disaster can be just round the corner. With little opportunity to move on in life, it is inevitable that the factory girls focus their attentions on the recruits as their ticket out. It is the desire for this that drives Lynette more so than Paula and the moral of this story is, of course, that only by being honest, good and true to yourself will you reap rewards.  

It’s a strong cast overall. Jonny Fines gives a good performance as Zach, Emma Williams is excellent as Paula and their pairing alongside Ian McIntosh as Sid and Jessica Daley as Lynette provide the centre of the piece. All have clean powerful voices and can belt out the power ballads that are woven through the show. Most convincing moments are the high energy scenes rather than the quieter more subtle ones, which are slightly uneven in part due to the acting and in part due to some song choices or arrangements seeming incongruous, neither fully fitting nor adding anything to the scene or narrative. However, those that do work well make up for it. Staging is fairly dynamic and inventive with good use of projections and a scaffolded staircase which is effective. Emma Williams at the top of this belting out Alone is the stand out moment of the show.

The corny and predictable ending is well anticipated and some of the audience attempted a little cheer when Zach arrives to ‘rescue’ Paula in his gleaming white officer’s uniform bathed in intense bright light. They soon stopped though as the cheer wasn’t taken up and I think this is a bit of a shame. This show might be better suited to embracing all that is kitsch with the eighties and with this film in particular, shifting the tone slightly towards humour and lightheartedness, which will give the darker aspects of some of the male characters and specifically Sid’s final act more power and pathos. Nevertheless, there were some of the audience standing at the end and strong appreciation for this cast and their  performances.

Plays Milton Keynes Theatre until 14 July 2018 and the continuing tour

Box Office 0844 871 7652

www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Booking transaction fee applies

Jul 5th

Love From A Stranger

By Quentin Fox

 

By Quentin Fox


Director Lucy Bailey has form in bringing thrillers such as Dial M For Murder
and Witness For The Prosecution to the stage. With Love From A Stranger she uses an expert eye for the Fifties aesthetic and mores to shift Agatha Christie’s 1936 joint work with Frank Vosper a couple of decades on from its origin to telling effect.

Rather than a tweedy whodunnit or Poundland Terence Rattigan, the spirit of this production is much closer to Peeping Tom, the Michael Powell Brit film classic about a murderous voyeur.

Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) feels stifled. A pokey flat in Bayswater; a going-nowhere office job; the snobbism of the time, embodied by her Aunt Lulu (Nicola Sanderson); and, worst, the leaden prospect of marrying her dull fiancé Michael (Justin Avoth), due to return to this petty England after three years in the Sudan.

Lucky breaks come in the form of a sweepstake win of £25,000 to break the surly bonds of boredom, and meeting Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum), a romantic free-living American who turns up to rent her flat. It’s lust at first sight and repressed Cecily lets her inner wild horse out for canter, much to the consternation of BFF Mavis (Alice Haig); the sorrow of Michael, who gets the schnitz from Cec before he’s even had time to get the desert sand off his brogues; and the cut-glass disapproval of Aunt Lulu.

But before you can say ‘High nigh, brine cau,’ Cecily and Bruce are married and living in rural isolation, with only comedy yokels for company, and you begin to suspect that it’s not only the vowels that are going to be strangled. Bruce moves to isolate his wife from friends and family (Run, Cecily, run!), sets up his darkroom in the basement to which entry is definitely verboten (Are you listening Cec?) and reveals his love of forensic science magazines, the Razzle of psychopaths everywhere (Cecily, are you dim, or what?).

After the long set-up of the first act the rapt audience is well on the last train to Creepsville, wondering what lies beyond that final curve.

It’s all hokum, natch, and as the evening progresses it’s easy to see that the individual parts of the production are actually better than the whole.

Mike Britton’s sliding wall set smartly reinforces the overall sense of unease by distorting perspective. The opaque panels, revealed by Oliver Fenwick’s clever lighting allow us to see Lovell’s true intent behind his honeyed words.

The way Helen Bradbury plays Cecily you get a real sense of how intelligent women become fodder for simpering psychos; Sam Frenchum effects a brilliant transformation from sensitive wooer to petulant narcissist; and Justin Avoth gives a real depth to the jilted Michael, giving him a range of feeling far greater than his lines would suggest.

And, ultimately, though we know who the perp is, the production is still full of surprises.

Milton Keynes Theatre:  July 5, 7.30pm; July 6, 7.30pm; July 7. 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Jun 9th

Matilda at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter  

7th June 2018 

WONDERFUL!  

Matilda Poster

From the fantastic floor-to-ceiling-wall-to-wall staging and lighting and the highly creative choreography, costumes and characterisation, to Minchin’s brilliantly original and engaging lyrics and music, this is a completely absorbing and immersive experience from start to finish; it is not in any way purely a children’s story. The dedication and attention to detail of Matthew Warchus, Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin over the years of planning that went into this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved story is evident in every element of this knockout show; one of the most fulfilling pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a very long time.  

On tour until Augustand for longer than usual runs at each venue, this is most definitely one of THE shows to get tickets for but they are selling very fast so act now! 

Matilda, on this night played by the exceptionally poised Poppy Jones, is the purest little sweetie. Jones, so very young, is stunning on stage playing her role without any mawkish or sugary sentimentalityMatilda waits to start school, enduring the derision and appalling treatment of her hapless parents -  Rebecca Thornill as her dance-obsessedlooks-driven mother and Sebastien Torkia as her ignorant wheeler-dealer father, who cannot comprehend how he has been saddled with a daughter and insists on calling her a boy. Thornhill and Troika are superb, both clearly having great fun with their deeply flawed characters.  

Matilda copyright Manual Harlan

image copyright Manuel Harlan

By the time Matilda gets to school she is far in advance of her peers, having read Dickens and Dostoevsky, and immediately draws attention from her gentle, morally responsible teacher Miss Honey and, unfortunately, the psychopathic headteacher Miss TrunchbullIt’s not really fair to pick out any individual among this immensely talented and consistent cast, yet special mention must be given to Craige Els who, having played the role for three years in the West End, has perfected his take on the maniacal Trunchbull and clearly relishes in her grotesque darkness; he gives depth and truth to the character’s twisted malevolence far beyond any two dimensional imagining and does not play for quick laughs.  

Matilda Manuel Harlan

image copyright Maneul Harlan

There are some superb set pieces, the gym class is magnificent and just wait for the swings! Among Minchin’s memorable score is the addictive ‘Naughty (which has been my earworm today), the beautiful, ‘When I Grow Up’, and the moving ‘This Little Girl’ among consistently fabulous songs.   

matilda Manuel Harlan

image copyright Maneul Harlan

This is powerfully creative theatre, rock solid in every aspect, fabulously entertaining, very, very funny but above all emotionally uplifting.  

SENSATIONAL! 

Matilda plays MK Theatre until 30th June then continues on tour 

Box office 0844 871 7652 

www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes 

Booking transaction fee applies 

May 30th

Legally Blonde at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

By Quentin Fox

Reviewed 28 May 2018Legally Blonde poster

The audience at the Milton Keynes Theatre returned a unanimous verdict on the courtroom spoof-fest that is Legally Blonde - The Musical: it’s a guilty pleasure so enjoyable that it could turn us into repeat offenders.

Most people will come to this show as fans of the 2001 movie that starred Reese Witherspoon as the ditzy Californian fashion major Elle Woods who, on being dumped for someone more serious, ups her intellectual game to follow him to Harvard Law School to try and win him back.

But here’s some advice: forget Reese and the film because the stage version brings out the huge comedic power of the show to much greater effect. It’s so good that it may actually spoil the movie for you – in the best way possible.

This is a musical that shows its historical pedigree from beginning to end: Broadway smash, West End winner of three Olivier awards and then world-wide accolades. In this, its most recent iteration, cast, book and design come together in a production of preposterous pink perfection.

Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin's words and music are distinctly ‘new school musical’ with little to offer in terms of show-stopping classics but much to give in terms of witty and punchy lyrics that will have you snickering on your way home: "Keep it positive/as you slap her to the floor. Keep it positive/as you pull her hair and call her whore," the sorority sisters of Delta Nu belt out in ‘Positive’, their hymn to peppy enthusiasm; or "Gay or European?/ So many shades of grey/ Depending on the time of day, the French go either way,” sing the courtroom throng in determining the how truth of the testimony of Nikos the pool boy. It’s a high-camp zinger. You get the feeling throughout the production that the writers had a blast putting it together and the cast are enjoying themselves too – it’s infectious stuff.

As Elle, X Factor & Eurovision entrant Lucie Jones shows the warmth, spirit and optimism that fuels the fluffy freshman. She’s got a great voice that could have been genetically designed for musicals but just as important in this show is her sense of comic timing. She’s not a born dancer but she admirably keeps up with the supremely well-drilled hoofing of the ensemble.

There’s more immaculate timing, too, from EastEnders’ Rita Simons, who excels as Paulette Bonafonte, the lovelorn beautician who first becomes Elle’s BFF and then first client. It’s a role that demands both hard-boiled and soft-hearted and she well merits the cheering that greets her every number.

Bill Ward, late (and I choose that word carefully) of both Coronation Street and Emmerdale is also on top form as Professor Callaghan, whose Rat Pack-style numbers are models of slickness and power but with a splendid underlying greasiness essential to the character.

A mention in dispatches, too, goes to Helen Petrovna who does a star turn with the skipping rope as fitness guru Brooke Wyndham. Note to producers: next time her abs get their own billing.

Legally Blonde: The Musical runs at Milton Keynes Theatre at 7.30pm from May 28 to June 2. Matinees are at 2.30pm on May 30 and June 2

Box office 0844 871 7652

http://www.atgtickets.com

Booking fee applies


 

May 22nd

The Case of the Frightened Lady at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 A thriller by the Classic Thriller Theatre Company.

The play The Case of the Frightened Lady purports to be a thriller. It is not. It is dull and tedious. It was written by Edgar Wallace – the king of the modern thriller novel – at the beginning of the 20th century and then it may well have been thrilling, but in urce material of the play en thrilling, but the anytrethe 21st the material of the play is dated and irrelevant.

The first act is ponderous; the action takes place offstage – the murders, the screams, the affairs – and the audience is presented with much repetitive dialogue. The setting is the hall of a grand mansion owned by Lady Lebanon and her son. The doorways of this hall afford the cast the ability to exit and enter and eavesdrop continually. The story is simple Lady Lebanon (Deborah Grant) is obsessed with her family’s dynasty and so insists her son (Ben Nealon) marries his cousin, Isla ( April Pearson), although neither are keen on such an arrangement.

The play improves somewhat in the second act. There are revelations of blackmail, hidden marriages, murders in India and madness.  Finally the truth of the murders is disclosed and the culprit takes his own life – at last action on stage.

There are some positives – the setting is impressive, the costumes are appropriate and the actors all play their parts well. It is just a shame that the parts are not enthralling.

 The Case of the Frightened Lady is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 26th May.

www.atgtickets.com

0844871 7652

Booking fee applies

 

May 17th

Summer Holiday - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Quentin Fox

16th May 2018

Summer Holiday

‘We’re going where the sun shines brightly, we’re going where the sea is blue…’ Now that’s a helluva promise to make on a less-than-balmy mid-May evening in MK, but this new production of Summer Holiday: The Musical gets us to a joyous destination even though ride is a bit bumpy from time to time. 

Based on St Cliff’s 1963 cinema smash hit, the lightest and frothiest of plots has become part of British culture and serves as a reminder of more innocent times, when to be young was to be possessed of boundless optimism and opportunity rather than weighed down with social media expectation and high rent. This background certainly makes the show a cut above often directionless jukebox musicals.

Faced with a grim, damp English summer Don and his fellow bus mechanic chums persuade London Transport to lend them a double-decker, which they kit out camper-style for a trip to the South of France. En route they rescue a plucky Brit female singing trio from breakdown hell. The gals have a gig in Athens to get to; the lads don’t need much convincing to oblige them with a lift. Add to the mix a runaway pop princess who stows away on the bus dressed as a boy (the pop princess, not the bus – do keep up) to avoid the pursuit of her pushy showbiz mum and her agent.

The show doesn’t start well: the choreography is ragged and the opening number, The Shadows’ Foot Tapper has been transformed from a catchy instrumental into a rushed nightmare of jumbled lyrics that the bus mechanics all but stumble over.

But the arrival of Ray Quinn’s wholesome Don immediately ups the game and the energy levels. Quinn is a stylish performer: a clear, pleasing voice and an athletic, graceful yet muscular dance style. He also affects one of those extraordinary transatlantic accents so beloved of Cliff and those other early 1960s icons such as Billy Fury and Marty Wilde – a real connection with the source of the show. He leads the ensemble into one dynamic and slickly performed set piece after another as well as getting the chance to belt out Cliff numbers such as Move It, The Young Ones and On The Beach that didn’t appear in the original movie.

That’s not to say he’s the star of the show. That accolade is reserved for the big shiny red bus that dominates the action and which well merited the round of applause it received from the audience. Honourable mentions, too, for Taryn Sudding as Stella, the showbiz mother from hell who handles her role with real comic aplomb, and Gabby Antrobus as Mimsie, leader of the girl trio, who impressively transforms from girl-next-door to black-clad vamp in a dream sequence.

A salute, too, for Bobby Crush as Jerry, the henpecked agent, who survived the delivery of gags that were passed over by Roman comedians of the third century BC. But in the end he got to tinkle his ivories and the audience delightedly got on its hind legs to bop to a slam-dunk finale.

Note to writers: we love the dancing, we love the songs, but the comedy needs a session in the vehicle bay before it gets its MOT and is on the road again.

Box office 0844 871 7652

http://www.atgtickets.com

Booking fee applies

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

 www.atgtickets.com

 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

 

  www.atgtickets.com

 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

 

www.atgtickets.com 

0844 871 7652

 Booking fee applies