Share |
Oct 25th

Cats at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 Reviewed by Alison Smith 24th October 2016


I have always loved  T.S.Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats for the cats themselves the curious Rum Tum Tugger, the ‘horrible cats’ Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, Skimbleshanks, who travels on the Night Mail train, and my particular favourite Jennyanydots, who sits and sits and sits – a cat after my own heart.

In Cats the Musical it is the characterisation of each feline which is exceptional. Partly this is done through the make-up, the wigs and the amazing costumes but in the main through the actors’ presentation of their cat alter ego, the prowling and padding, slinking and dancing. Each cat has its own idiosyncrasies brilliantly choreographed by Gillian Lynne – a mixture of ballet, jazz and acrobatics.

There is little story – but story is not missed as Cats is fundamentally a long, visually spectacular, dance sequence. John Napier’s stage is dark in Act 1; a few lights tantalise the audience.  But soon a colourful junk yard with a scattered array of disused objects – an old car, newspapers, a massive tyre, ladders and clothes, and in Act 2 a pirate ship and a train miraculously appear, the latter formed  from a tube of cloth a piston and a large parasol. Some of the discarded objects ease the entrances and exits of the cats at different levels but the cats are not limited to the stage and insinuate themselves into the aisles (to the delight of the audience.) The Jellicle cats meet in this junk yard for the Jellicle Ball on the night of the Jellicle moon to tell tales, dance, rejoice and await the decision of their leader, Old Deuteronomy, about which cat will be reborn. This gives all the felines the opportunity to be in the spotlight, in the moonlight, for a while. Deuteronomy, the wise old tom, is played impressively by Kevin Stephen Jones; the depth of his operatic voice reinforcing his rank. 

And so the cats present themselves in song and dance. I was particularly impressed by ‘magical’ Mistoffelees ‘the original conjuring cat…with surprising illusions and eccentric confusings’; Shiv Rabheru excelled himself in this technically demanding dance. Javier Cid plays Macavity: the Mystery cat, the Napoleon of Crime. His acrobatic routine demands great energy and stamina. Sadness and loneliness come in the role of Grizabella, (Marianne Benedict), once the most glamorous cat, now the social outcast. She also gives an outstanding rendition of the only memorable song of the show, the much recorded Memory.  And Jennyanydots, the old Gumbie cat, performed a wonderful tap dance routine with a clutter of beetles. Lastly Marquelle Ward’s Rum Tum Tugger is a modern twist on the role; he is a rapping, street dancing cat, a gymnastic wonder. But all the cast are excellent and come together to produce an unforgettable performance; their voices harmonise perfectly and their timing in the dance routines cannot be faulted, nor can the music. Lloyd Webber is due much praise for his ability to compose such memorable scores for Eliot’s poems.

This is an excellent show. All the performers are talented dancers and singers; they are energetic and enthusiastic and, importantly, never lose their individual cat personalities. But it is the audience that gets the cream.

 Cats is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 29th November

 0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies




Oct 17th

Footloose The Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith


Reviewed by Alison Smith 

Footloose is based on a true story – that of the town of Elmore City, Oklahoma, where dancing was banned. In Footloose the Musical there is a twist to the tale, the dancing is banned in Bomont by the vicar, Shaw Moore (Nigel Lister) after the deaths of four teenagers, including his son, driving home after a dance. Into this quiet hick town comes Ren McCormack. His father had uppped and left and, out of necessity, the family have come to live with an uncle. Ren was a student in Chicago – a place more unlike rural Bomont is difficult to envisage. So the scene is set and fireworks ensue when the young people, led by Ren, break the veto on dancing.

The main protagonist, Ren (Luke Baker), is a typical teenager, energetic, optimistic and rebellious and of course he breaks the rules of the community. His saving grace from becoming obnoxious is his charm and sympathy. Ren is aided and abetted by Ariel Moore (Hannah Price), daughter of the vicar, a fiery, trouble – seeking girl. Her previous beau was Chuck (Tom Hier), Bomont’s bad boy, and one result is confrontation between the new boyfriend and the ex. These three actors/musicians are extremely talented. As in many modern musicals, actors are expected to play instruments, dance, sing and act simultaneously. Luke Baker especially is a versatile performer who also skates and backflips and Tom Hier excels on both keyboard and guitar. However, occasionally, the individual performances- especially the dancing suffer from the multi - tasking (It is difficult to dance clutching an instrument!).

One of the attractions of the musical is the presence of Gareth Gates as Willard, Ren’s unlikely, hill-billy friend.  Gates’ comic timing is excellent, as is his dancing, but the audience was short-changed with his performance – he should be given more solos. Maureen Nolan as the vicar’s wife, Vi Moore, is outstanding; her rendition of Can You Find It In Your Heart emotional.  Mention must be made of the actors who played  Ariel's friends,  Rusty, Urleen and Wendy-Jo; they  danced, sang and played instruments  with great skill. 

Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie have successfully adapted the story from film to stage with its limitations of space. The choreography by Racky Plews seems overly frenetic at times, but this may appear so as the performers are somewhat limited by the lack of space. It is lucky that the drummer, David Keech, who is also the musical director is perched almost out of sight up in the set. The set rates high for adaptability - the whole of small-town life is captured – church, diner, gym.

The story setting in the first act did at times feel slow, but there was a rise in energy in the second act. The music is energising and resonated with the audience – Holding Out For a Hero and Mama Says were sung with great effect and the final number Footloose had everyone on their feet moving to the music. Footloose is satisfyingly feel-good – it is rare in real life that people who believe in what they are fighting for actually win, so it is heart-warming, if fictional, to see Belmont’s teenagers’ success.

 Footloose is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 22nd October

 0844 871 7652

 Booking fee applies


Oct 3rd

The Full Monty at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 Alison Smith 3rd October 2016

The Full Monty is not about a group of men stripping off to earn a few well - needed pounds; it is about men divested of their self-esteem, families facing difficulties and communities ruined by closures. Unfortunately Simon Beaufoy’s play is not just a portrayal of the social upheavals of Thatcher’s 80’s; working class unemployment, and the despair and the fear this causes, are still rife in 2016.  The final scene, where the men go the full monty, can also be seen as a metaphor – albeit temporary – of the stripping away of the misery and the dismay of their joblessness and of the emergence of a new relationship between these men. But in fact none are any  closer to finding work and resolving their situation.

 The first scene plunges the audience into a disused steelworks complete with working crane and clanking metal. The stage design by Robert Jones is excellent – with a few changes a working man’s club, a dole office, a conservative club and a street emerge. In the empty plant Gaz (Gary Lucy) and Dave (Kai Owen) try to steal a girder to make some cash.  Gaz needs £600 for outstanding child support to be able to see his son, Nathan. Gaz is the lynch-pin of the group and the impetus behind the Chippendale-like strip is to improve the faltering relationship he has with his son.

 We are introduced to his mates including Dave, complete with beer belly and unhappy sex life, Gerald, (Andrew Dunn), a man with Conservative views, who is afraid to tell his spend thrift wife he is on the dole, and Lomper, ( Anthony Lewis), a closet homosexual.  Nathan, Gaz’s son (Reiss Ward on Press Night) plays his role with a realism not often seen in a twelve-year old and Jean (Fiona Skinner) is outstanding in her role of Dave’s understanding wife. What lifts the story from being depressing? It is the men’s respectful, generous, caring relationships, the raucous language and the earthy humour. The repartee and comic timing are excellent; all these factors come together to make an extremely watchable play. 

And of course there is the music – Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Things, Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff in the dole queue and Tom Jones’ You Can Leave Your Hat On in the finale were joyous and accompanied by some good moves. 

The Full Monty attracts many in its audiences for the stripping scene. The play is much more than this however; it is well written, well-acted and has an underlying message  - the extent to which political power can damage people’s lives.

 The Full Monty is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 8th October 

0844 871 7652

 Booking fee applies


Sep 26th

Sister Act at Milton keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 Reviewed by Alison Smith

26th September 2016


Who would have thought that a tale of a diva living in a convent would generate so much fun? But this is exactly what Sister Act does. The tale in fact is ludicrous. Deloris Van Cartier is a night club singer and a gangster’s moll. Curtis, her sleazy, controlling boyfriend, (Aaron Lee Lambert) kills an informer. Deloris, a witness to the shooting, is placed by witness protection in a convent– the antithesis of Deloris’ normal hang-outs, and it is this contrast which causes much of the delight in the show. There are of course run-ins between Deloris, now Sister Mary Clarence, and the strict Mother Superior, wonderfully interpreted by Karen Mann, caution, and habits, are thrown to the wind, musical and dancing talents are rekindled, the congregation miraculously increases in number and the convent is saved from  threatened closure.

 Alexandra Burke plays the sassy, feisty female lead (aka the Godsend) and the success of the musical is, to a great extent, down to her. Her comic timing is excellent as is her voice – rich and strong; her delivery is faultless. Of course the music, gospel, Motown and soul, by Alan Menken is a gift to any musical star. Craig Revel Horwood directs and choreographs the show and fills the stage with great routines for the hoodlums, the nuns and the police. And they are a talented cast – proficient musicians as well as funky dancers and tuneful singers – nuns with saxes and violins, a trumpet playing priest, all strutting their stuff.  Mention must be made of the cop ‘sweaty’  Eddie, (Jon Robyns) who transforms to give a stupendous, John Travolta like performance of I Could Be That Guy, and the novice Sister Mary Robert (Sarah Goggin) touches hearts with The Life I never Led. 

The stage set, designed by Matthew Wright, is simple - gothic arches, a few steps and metal railings – but clever lighting enables the one set to be used as a convent, a night club and a police station. Similarly, the sound system marks the different locations with an echo being used effectively for scenes in the church.

 The musical highlights the simple emotions of sisterhood, friendship and love, all  enhanced by the joy of music. Sister Act is definitely a feel good musical.

 Sister Act is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Monday 26th September to Saturday 1st October.

 0844 871 7652 

Booking fee applies


Sep 7th

Keep Dancing at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith, 6th September 2016

Keep Dancing Poster

If you are a Strictly Come Dancing fan, Keep Dancing is the show for you – replete with fake tans, bare chests, sparkly sequins and big frocks. And some of the dancers from Strictly are on stage too – Robin Windsor, twirling and whirling with Strictly’s star Anya Garnis and last year’s winner Jay McGuiness hot footing it with Aliona Valani. They are supported by a fantastic dancing chorus of ten and three versatile singers-come- dancers Harriette Mullen, Adam Warmingtom and the amazing Lisa-Marie Holmes. 

The setting is simple, the band high at the back for the most part, two flights of stairs and the stage; the lighting is atmospheric, especially in the spectacular all - male Paso Doble, the dancers encased in red light.

The fast pace of the dancing is spectacular with sensational choreography by Emma Rogers. The Latin dances are where her routines excel most, especially the sensuous rumba ,swaying hips and legs, and Robin and Anya’s seductive tango, unbridled passion from the intimate abrazo to the precise ochos; the energy level stays way up in these dynamic South American routines. One ballroom dance which is just as dynamic is the quickstep; the dancers crossed and recrossed the stage effortlessly in a froth of blue. And I must mention my favourite dance, the Charleston, danced to the music of the same name; I thought the dancers would break into a tap routine, but I had to content myself with top hats and canes, chugs and helicopters amongst other vivacious moves! However, one of the most entertaining dances of the evening – which had no steps at all - was the Hand Dancing, the dancers, legs dangling off the stage, had perfect timing with their arms  and  hands. 

With such a talented group of trained dancers - Shane Seal and Yanet Fuentes are two to keep a close eye on - it was very noticeable that Jay McGuiness does not have the same talent as they do; he looked lumpy and heavy and made mistakes, which he gentlemanly acknowledged. It must be a daunting experience to take part in a show with so many professionals. On a positive note at least he will make the audiences feel that they too could take to their feet and kick up their heels! 

Keep Dancing is good entertainment – wonderful music and dancing, but what it lacks for me is a story line, a fiction where all the songs and dances segue into a narrative 

 Keep Dancing is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 10th September 

0844 871 7652

 Booking fee applies.


Sep 1st

Sunny Afternoon at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 Reviewed by Alison Smith

Sunny Afternoon Poster

The 1960s was a time of counter-culture; the old social order was dying and the young were installing a new order with personal freedom in dress, drugs, sexuality (The Pill!), politics and music. And up there in the music revolution were The Kinks. In 1964 The Kinks released their first hard rock hit, ‘You Really Got Me’ and it climbed to number one in the UK charts.  By the end of the 60s The Kinks had had twelve Top 10 hits. 

The musical Sunny Afternoon, written by Joe Penhall with story, music and lyrics by Ray Davies, follows the stories of The Kinks, working class, North London lads, headed by Ray Davies with his brother Dave, drummer Mick Avory and bassist Peter Quaife. Theirs was not an easy journey – banned by American unions, exploited by middle-class managers, riven by brotherly quarrels – but the group survived, with some changes in the line-up, until 1996.

But it is The Kink’s music, not the journey to fame, which is exceptional. Ray Davies moved away from hard rock and began to write narrative songs, reflecting the London that he knew – Waterloo Sunset – and songs of social observation  - Dead End Street and Where have All the Good Times Gone - and character studies - Dedicated Follower of Fashion and A Well Respected Man. Ray Davies is an outsider, a commentator on society and best when communicating through his music and lyrics. 

In Sunny Afternoon, Ryan O’Donnell plays Ray Davies to perfection; dissimilar to Ray in looks he still manages to convey a feeling of Ray’s shyness and awkwardness, of always being a misplaced person. The role of Dave Davies, ‘Dave the Rave’, the insecure, crazy little brother, is taken by Mark Newnham with a suitable wildness. The band is completed with Andrew Gallo as Mick Avory (mind-blowing drum solo) and Garmon Rhys as Pete Quaife. Throughout the musical the four main actor-musicians play, sing and move with passion.  They are truly a talented quartet. They convey the rebelliousness of the 60s, but also their concern with the material issues of life. The money rich managers, upper class, patronising toffs are typified excellently by Richard Hurst and Tomm Coles. They are also extremely talented singers and actors and add a constant stream of humour. Mention must also be made of Lisa Wright as Rasa, Ray’s wife; a beautiful actor with an enchanting voice. 

The production is delightful and joyful; from the screaming fans to the banks of speakers, from the kinky fashion to the dancing style, the 60s are perfectly captured. There was no down moment in the musical; the audience’s attention was held from beginning to end, and what a rousing  end with the whole theatre on its feet moving to the music.

A really wonderful experience; Sunny Afternoon should not be missed. 


Sunny Afternoon is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 3rd September.

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies.




Jul 26th

After Miss Julie - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 18th July 2016

After Miss Julie - image Nobby Clark

The three characters in After Miss Julie represent, to some degree, the unmoveable class positions, not only in 1945, but also in 2016. There is Julie, the rich girl, who takes advantage of her position, John, the angry young man, who sees no future for himself in a class bound society and Christine accepting of a system which enables her to create a decent enough life for herself.  After Miss Julie is an ‘unfaithful’ reworking of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, written in 1888. Strindberg’s Miss Julie was set in the estate of a Swedish Count while Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie (1995) is set in the country house of a left-wing peer in 1945, a time of social upheaval.

Julie, the daughter of the house, is attracted to John the butler- cum- chauffeur. Julie, newly free after breaking up with her army officer fiancé, is a vulnerable, needy, sensual woman. But she plays the rich girl card of power over the servants, while looking for happiness among them. Helen George, who plays Julie, is an insufferable, brittle character, at times desperate and menacing, at times restrained and arrogant. I was not totally convinced by Helen George’s Julie because, although beautiful and glamorous, she lacks intensity and passion. Her ex-soldier conquest John, (Richard Flood) is more believable, calculating, money grabbing and misogynous he no more cares for Julie than he does for Christine. Christine (Amy Cudden) is the voice of common sense. Her attitude highlights the dangerous game being played by Julie and John. Fully aware of John’s infidelity, she accepts the situation and makes the best of it as she will do in any future life with John. When John realises that his future is not with Julie because there is no money to fund their new life in New York, he quickly loses interest.   For me the relationship between Julie and John lacks substance and zing. It is because of this that I was not convinced of the cliff hanging ending. However, the play is engrossing and I did not lose interest in the blossoming relationship, in the change of roles of the protagonists and in the class struggle that they represent.

After Miss Julie is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 23rd July 

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies




Jul 25th

Rocky Horror Show - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 25th July 2016

Poster Rocky Horror Tour

Well, The Rocky Horror Show is a ‘mind flip’ to beat all mind flips, and the MK Theatre audience certainly flipped tonight!  Many in the audience were sexily clad in stilettoes and suspenders, boas and basques to rival the on-stage guests at Frank N Furter’s party; the audience even had the dance moves and kept The Narrator (Norman Pace) on his toes with their heckling (dealt with by Pace with skilful aplomb and topical repartee, although at times looking slightly embarrassed).

In 1973, Richard O’Brian’s Rocky Horror Show challenged audiences with its portrayal of sexual fluidity; now over 40 years later transgender issues have become mainstream and this spectacular musical entertains more than shocks.  And it entertains impressively because of its enduring mixture of Sci-Fi, horror and rock and roll. The show is visually stunning - a great set, atmospheric lighting, spectacular choreography, weird and wonderful costumes; it is raunchy and surreal, but mostly just hilarious.

The plot itself is weak. Brad (Richard Meek) and his fiancée Janet (Diana Vickers), clean college kids, seek help at the mansion of Frank N Furter, a crazy, cross-dressing scientist. That evening he is hosting a party to unveil his new creation, gold booted, skimpily dressed, Rocky Horror (Dominic Anderson), a man to surpass all men, if only physically. And into Frank’s alternative sexual world come the naïve, geeky pair, who are both quickly seduced by Frank and enticed into his alien, ghoul filled universe, rather like a pantomime for consenting adults.

Frank is portrayed convincingly by Liam Tamne. Tamne is  wonderful as Frank. He has a powerful voice with a great range, sharp comic timing, and his movements and gestures are outrageously camp but throughout the musical he also manages to maintain an undercurrent of malevolence. His entourage are also exceptional, Riff Raff, the swaggering servant (Kristian Lavercombe) and Columbia (Sophie Linder-Lee) are both weird and wonderful.  All the cast throw themselves into their roles with enthusiasm and energy and convey the idea that to be different from mainstream society is perfectly acceptable.

This musical, produced by Christopher Luscombe, is a real theatrical experience.  Long may it continue to entertain. 

 The Rocky Horror Show is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 30th July 

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies


Jul 11th

Present Laughter - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 11th July 2016

Present Laughter

Laughter is what is needed in Britain at the moment and this light, frothy comedy, Present Laughter by Noel Coward, written in 1939, still induces mirth in 2016. The play makes fun of British society in the 1930s and, semi-autobiographically, of Coward himself, the ageing actor who feels that the world is passing him by, that all the fun is being had elsewhere. Coward himself played the role of Garry Essendine many times, but it is Samuel West who now has that part and steps into Coward’s shoes most successfully. His timing is ‘spot-on’ and his delivery of the sarcastic barbs, ‘ripping’. 

For this is High Society England between the wars; the actor, Essendine, lives in an elegant town house complete with butler and maid. He wears a variety of flamboyant silk dressing gowns, drinks preprandial sherry in the morning and is hounded by beautiful women. Essendine’s every appearance on stage is an entrance, and every conversation is an extravagance. In the first act he dismisses the previous night’s lover, Daphne, with curt tenderness and is ready to face the problems of a fading, egotistic celebrity – the fan mail, the ardent young playwright, the ex-wife, the affairs of his entourage. The problems Essendine has to deal with are not world-shattering, the aspiring actress (who turns out to be Daphne), his manager who is reputed to be having an affair with his producer’s wife (Joanna), but Joanna in fact lusts after Essendine and so on and so forth. Ultimately, the ex-wife, Liz, and ex-husband, Garry, reunite. All these issues are dealt with comically, even farcically, but with superb style. West is able to slip naturally from the role of caring boss to irritated ex-husband, and it is because of this ability to change personality that one begins to wonder if there is in fact a Garry Essendine, or if his whole life is just a performance. 

The matinee idol is attended by a selection of excellent co-stars. Phyllis Logan excels in the part of Monica, his drab, unflappable secretary. Rebecca Johnson has the role of the down-to-earth ex-wife, who is not only self-aware but clearly aware of Garry’s pandering entourage, and Patrick Walshe McBride is outstanding as the gauche, fixated writer. Simon Higlett’s set design is appropriate, the costumes exemplary, the lighting first-class. 

The play is just triviality, frivolity and fun, but it is a well-performed, well-executed production. It made me laugh, and I was grateful for the opportunity.

Present Laughter is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 16th July. 

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies

Jul 5th

THRILLER LIVE - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter 4th July 2016

Thriller LIVE poster

A BRILLIANT show with a very young, extremely talented, and supremely professional cast.  

I was dubious. I’m not a great Michael Jackson fan and I’m not a fan of the ‘jukebox musicals’ that have filled theatres of late, many of which are variable in quality to say the least. I guess I felt Jackson’s image and credibility had gradually been eroded by the bizarre and damaging tales of his behaviour that seemed to dominate his latter years and as a result he had lost a large part of his integrity. For me, this perhaps leached into the ability to appreciathis music. However, once in the theatre and bombarded (in a good way) with the noise, light show and brilliance of performers and band it is difficult not to put aside any negative thoughts. 
When experiencing the broad scope of his work (and there are an incredible 30 songs in this show), as interpreted by Adrian Grant (Executive Producer) who worked closely with Jackson for many years, the realisation of what a ground breaking and influential artist he was, and still is, hits home. His music is such a part of the fabric of a number of generations as demonstrated by a very diverse and very appreciative audience. The combination of the enthusiasm from the stage and that of the audience was intoxicating!
There is a 'concert' feel to the show, a true sense of celebration and tribute and thankfully not an attempt to present any of Jackson’s personal life or to look too deeply behind the musicThere are a couple of moments of narrative to highlight Jackson's achievements but in essence it is a presentation of some iconic moments of music history.   
The leads are superb - on-stage almost constantly, maintaining the same level of high energy throughout and never missing a beat. This is a group who clearly live and breathe their roles, gel together wonderfully on stage and deserve the highest accolades. Ione Townsend, Tyrone Lee, Shaquille Hemmans, Adam J Bernard and Sean Christopher are all outstanding and hugely talented. Indeed, no praise is high enough for their performances last night. They are supported by a fabulous live band consisting of Rob Minns, Allan Salmon, Jo Phillpotts, Davide Giovanni, and Tom Arnold, directed by Mike Lindup. This outstanding group underpin the show and further elevate itbrilliance with their terrific ability to play any genre of Jackson’s music – soul, funk , pop, rock, disco. Add in an incredible ensemble of dancers supporting the leads with the same level of high energy, and filling the stage with colour and vibrancy (as well managing numerous, speedy costume changes) and this is a troupe who truly deliver the audience's expectations and more.  
Set and lighting design is stadium-show like – scaffolding creates levels so that oftentimes there is a ‘wall’ of performers – pyrotechnics on occasion, glitzy, huge screen projections and bright, dazzling lighting. The audience are lit for their participation which happens in the middle of the first half and again extensively at the end of the second. This is what the audience is here for and it is the ‘truer’ renditions of numbers like Billie Jean, Thriller and Smooth Criminal where Sean Christopher’s uncanny likeness to Jackson and his moves gets the audience near hysterical! 
A true crowd pleaser and DEFINITELY WORTH A TICKET! 


THRILLER LIVE is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 9th July

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee) online booking. (bkg fee)