Share |
Jun 16th

Guys and Dolls - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed 14h June 2016

Guys and Dolls Johann Persson

image credit Johan Persson 

This Chichester Theatre revival of Guys and Dolls is in MK until Saturday 18th June following an extended West End run and wide critical acclaimOriginally performed in 1950 on Broadway, the portrayal of Prohibition-era New York has proved consistently popular over the years. Damon Runyon’s tales of the more colourful characters of the time – the gamblers, hustlers and nightclub performers – are the inspiration for the story. Some of the best-known show tunes ever - Luck be a Lady, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boatdirection by Gordon Greenberg and choreography by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, means this should be a top show and a great audience experience, yet my impression last night was that this show must be quite different from the West End one that garnered all those incredible reviewsoverall it was enjoyable but felt rather lacklustre 

Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield)in desperate need of a thousand dollars to pay for an overnight illegal gambling venue, persuades hot-shot gambler Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman) to take him on in a wager – the seemingly impossible task of getting straight-laced missionary Sergeant Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne) of the Save-a-Soul mission down to Havana for dinner. In the meantime Nathan is trying to secure a venue, avoid Lieutenant Brannigan and deal with his long-suffering fiancé Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman) who is frustrated by their 14 year engagementwants him to name a date and specifically to ‘go straight’. The complications that ensue provide much of the humour.  

 
Guys and Dolls Johan Persson
 
image credit Johan Persson 
 
Caulfield is vastly experienced on stage and on both small and big screens and should fit the role – he looks right as the low level hustler but often seemed tired in both action and delivery. Fleeshman also looks right - super-cool and while demonstrating some elements of the charming, wise-cracking character of Skythere was a lack of consistency last nightO’Byrne (Sarah Brown), perhaps not the strongest actress or singer, doesn’t seem to have found her feet with the character. It is Dearman who is the outstanding performer - commits to each moment on stage, has the strongest voiceplays to the audience, pitches Adelaide perfectly between sassy, sweet and vulnerable, and has superlative comic timing. She left the other leads in the shadows when she was on stage and her performances of Take Back You Mink and Adelaide’s Lament were extremely funny.
 
Guys and Dolls Johan Persson
 
image credit Johan Persson
 
Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Jack Edwards) and sidekick Benny Southstreet (Mark Sangster) were both played with panache and energy and give much of the humour. A sharp, strong and very energetic ensemble were superb really adding to the action and making the most of the choreography and set pieces. Staging is effective with seamless prop changes to depict the Mission, the Hot Box, the club in Havana. A backdrop of advertising signage from the era – Lucky Strike, Coca Cola – serves in most scenes and is lit in various ways.   
Guys and Dolls is not a modern musical, in that it packed full of dialogue - the sharp wordplay of Runyon’s original prose, developed in the Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows book and transformed into Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics are key to enjoyment and need to be transparently clear to pick up on the pace and wit. Perhaps something technically was amiss with the sound last night. From the stalls it seemed that the only source was from the performers’ head mics and from conversation with those in the circle this also seemed so – just not powerful enough, difficult to hear at times especially when performers were turned away from the audience, with lyrics occasionally drowned out by the brilliant orchestra directed by Andy Massey
All the elements are present for a really superb show but last night perhaps there seemed some lack of enthusiasm from some.    
 
Performances: Tue 14 – Sat 18 Jun 
Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee) online booking. www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (bkg fee)
May 31st

Annie at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Poster Annie MKReviewed by Alison Smith 30th May 2016

This Annie is a polished production of the well-known musical of the orphaned 11-year-old, who finds security and happiness after years of living in squalor and misery. The musical is concerned, unfortunately, with circumstances which still exist almost 100 years later – the effect of poverty on people’s lives. There is a scene in a Hooverville, the 1920s American equivalent of a shanty town, inhabited by people who, because of economic disasters beyond their control, are penniless and starving. The exact details of the circumstances of Annie’s parents remain hidden, but it is to be imagined that theirs was the same as many fellow Americans; subsequent recessions have had the  same effects.

Paul Coltas Annie 1

Paul Coltas Annie 1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111image Paul Coltas

But this portrayal of 1930s America is not all doom and gloom – there is energy and optimism and ultimately this is a rags to riches tale. Orphan Annie, played by Anya Evans on the evening I saw the musical, dominated the stage and is a talent to watch; her dancing and singing were perfect.  Her orphanage friends (Molly, seven –year- old Andie Jordan must have a special mention) were Team Liberty and all excelled in their roles, portraying both vulnerability and strength. Their nemesis, Miss Hannigan, is brought to life by Lesley Joseph, who, apart from her accent, excels in the role of a  mean, drunken, self–centred harridan, who along with her detestable brother Rooster (Jonny Fines) and his sexy, lithe broad, Lily (Djalenga Scott) gratifyingly end up with their just deserts in the arms of the law. Oliver Warbucks is Hannigan’s ruination. Alex Bourne’s strength in this role is the care he takes of Annie (most notably when dancing) and in his imposing presence – this man must be trustworthy just through his height! The ensemble are lively; their roles are reminiscent of comic strip characters and with their delightful costumes and choreography exude exuberance and wit.

Paul Coltas Annie

Image Paul Coltas

The set design must be mentioned.  The design is simple – a map of NYC, hanging jigsaw puzzle pieces (Is it just Annie who is nie trying to fit the pieces of her life together11111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111 trying to fit the pieces of her life together?), moveable lights, gsaw puzzle pieces (  111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111beds and desks. The contrast between Hannigan’s squalid office, the orphanage dormitory and Warbucks’ gold , deco mansion office is marked. The orchestra is superb.  George Dyer’s interpretation of the well-known songs, notably Tomorrow and Easy Street is refreshing. My one negative comment is that at times the orchestra is so enthusiastic that it drowns the singers.

 This is a musical well worth seeing; the actors are talented, the production accomplished, and the direction exceptional.

Annie is at MK Theatre until Saturday 4th July

www.atgtickets.com

0844 8717652

Booking fee applies

 

Ani111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111 cingrom her accent, ge1111111111111111111111111111

 

May 16th

Avenue Q - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith

If you thought humans and foam puppets, together, on stage, would be a complete catastrophe, you were wrong. The musical Avenue Q proves this. What the puppets do is allow the actors freedom to be silly, shocking and shameless. The actors are not ventriloquists; they act, sing and move along with the puppets. The show – a long running Broadway production created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx – is in places funny and in others lewd, but still relevant to personal quandaries. What actual use is my degree?  Can I pay the rent this month? Am I gay? But in 2016 Avenue Q is dated as social satire; such stereotypical characters have long been laughed at (and with), have long challenged our preconceptions and attitudes, and  have long provided easy solutions to the difficulties of being human.

 Avenue Q is the street where the characters live – think Sesame Street with swearing – and the story line is the adventures of Princeton (Richard Love) in his postgrad world of self-doubt and torments, searching for his purpose in life. In his new abode he meets a succession of characters – Brian, an aspiring comedian, (Richard Morse) and his girlfriend Christmas Eve, an unemployed therapist,  (Ariana Li), Rod, a gay  banker (Richard Love) and his straight flatmate Nicky  (Stephen Arden), Trekkie Monster – he lives up to his name -  raunchy Lucy and sweet Kate ( Sarah Harlington) and the caretaker, (Etisyai Philip). The action is centred on the relationship between Princeton and Kate, but supplemented with comments on the wider society, including sexuality, pornography and racism. Just eleven actors portray all the characters, yet still give the feeling of a crowded inner-city street. The actors segue into the different characters; Sarah Harlington changes from girl-next-door (Kate) to harlot (Lucy) seamlessly. Stephen Arden’s two roles are clearly created by his voice adaptations.

 The puppets, created by Paul Jomain, are gaudy– green, yellow, and blue – and the monster puppets, hairy; the actors are dressed somberly so as not to distract from their charges. The puppets and the characters ignore the puppeteers, who become invisible to the audience too. Occasionally one puppet even has two puppeteers and at times a puppeteer may be animating one puppet while voicing another. The songs are verbally entertaining, especially I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today, It Sucks to Be Me and There’s a Fine, Fine Line. The music for the show is provided by a live band led energetically by Dean McDermott. The cast are talented – they can act, sing and puppeteer. The negative aspect of this musical is that the material is dated; if the actors (and puppets) were given more relevant subject matter, the outcome would be a fantastic musical, not just a mediocre one.

At MK Theatre until Saturday 21st May

www.atgtickets.com

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies

 

 

Apr 27th

Northern Ballet Swan Lake - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 26th April 2016

Swan Lake NB Emma Kauldhar

image Emma Kauldhar

David Nixon’s Swan Lake, performed by Northern Ballet, is far removed from traditional performances of this world famous ballet. This is a more contemporary Swan Lake set in New England in the early twentieth century, ‘La Belle Epoque’ – think Great Gatsby (or even Downton Abbey). The young men are dashing; the young women beautiful and independent. And yet for one young man this is a troubled world. Although there is no evil Von Rothbart or wicked spells, Anthony, the main protagonist, suffers. Since childhood he has been wracked with guilt over the drowning of his beloved brother in the lake. He is also unsure about his sexuality – is his best friend Simon the love of his life? Should he marry Odilia? His mental turmoil leads him into the arms of Odette, a beautiful swan-like creature who emerges from the lake – a reflection perhaps of his dead brother - and into marriage with Odilia, the human representation of Odette. The story begins with the lake and death and ends with the lake and death when Anthony, unable to face the realities of his existence, chooses a watery oblivion amongst the swans. 

Swan Lake NB Emma Kauldhar

image Emma Kauldhar

But the performance is not at all bleak because the dancing is exceptional. There is happiness and lightness in the antics of the men dancers - their skill and athleticism is remarkable -  beauty and grace in the perfect coordination of the swans, humour in some lake scenes and sensuality in the dancing of Odette (Ayami Miyata) and Odilia (Martha Leebolt). The change between the confident Odilia on her return from her travels and the suffering Odilia after her marriage to Anthony is beautifully choreographed. Simon (Giuliano Contadini) dances with repressed sexuality; the joy in his movements is almost tangible. Anthony (Javier Torres) expresses his conflicting emotions subtly through the choreography, at times light and delicate, at times dark and brooding; the slightest movement of his body conveys his deepest feelings. 

Swan Lake NB Lauren Godfrey

image Lauren Godfrey

The set is simple; reeds hide the lake until the third act when the swans – and Anthony - are in the water, which is luminously lit by a wafting blue sheet. The interiors are simple and classic, the lighting setting the mood. And of course the dancing is accompanied throughout by Tchaikovsky’s moving score, played flawlessly by Northern Ballet Sinfonia led by Geoffrey Allan. The original score has some omissions and some interpolations, but these changes seem to enhance the more contemporary version of this Swan Lake. 

Northern Ballet is an outstanding dance company and this Swan Lake a delight.

At MK Theatre until Saturday 30th April

www.atgtickets.com

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies

Apr 13th

The Bodyguard - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter 13th April 2016

Bodyguard Paul Colta

image copyright Paul Coltas

This national tour of the very successful London show has limited ticket availability for the remainder of its run at Milton Keynes. This is no doubt due to X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke in the lead role for the evening performances. She, along with Whitney Houston’s mega-hits, the nostalgia of the massively successful 1992 film starring Houston and Kevin Costner, and sharp direction and production create a sure thing here.

Starting X-Factor style and continuing with plenty of spectacle, pyrotechnics, very clever staging and fine performances all round, this show creates elements of a concert well balanced with moments of quiet storytelling. Such is the standard of polish, style and tip-top execution that this is definitely a show worth grabbing a ticket for.

The thin storyline of the film remains untroubled here; famous singer’s management team hire ex-secret service agent to protect said singer from obsessed stalker (played with effective menace by Matthew Stathers). Immediate mutual suspicion and dislike of singer for bodyguard and vice versa soon give way to passion and drama. 

The film is most certainly of its time featuring Houston and Costner at the peak of their careers and is looked upon with great fondness by many of us who were impressionable young women in the early nineties; those same women appeared with their daughters (and some male partners) to make up the majority of the audience at MK Theatre tonight and made their appreciation vocally apparent throughout the evening.

Rachel and Frank bodyguard Paul Coltas

image copyright Paul Coltas

Alexandra Burke is so well suited to the role of diva Rachel with a powerful voice and singing performance that is spot on. Her acting is believable and her on stage chemistry with Stuart Reid as bodyguard Frank Farmer is palpable. They have some very funny moments – look out for the Karaoke bar scene. Reid plays it cool and is smoulderingly sexy as the alpha male protector. Burke’s spoken sections have a tendency to be a little quiet at times. Being on stage throughout almost the whole show and performing most of the sixteen numbers, including the iconic ‘I Will Always Love You’ which is BRILLIANT, requires unlimited energy and Burke paces herself carefully. It is unfair to compare anyone to Houston and there is no sign that Burke is doing an impression; the more subtle interpretation of the numbers by her as a result of the musical direction and vocal arrangements by Mike Dixon are preferable in some instances; not to worry, the really big numbers are BIG!

Rachel John as sister Nicky is outstanding with a beautifully clear voice. Burke and John’s shared performances are stunning, their different tenors and ranges complement each other fittingly.

Rachel and Nicky - Bodyguard Paul Coltas

image copyright Paul Coltas

Staging is inventive with sliding frames, projections, screens and highly effective lighting to create depth of space and changes in mood and atmosphere.

A dazzling, sensational production and well worth a visit.

The Bodyguard is at MK Theatre until Saturday 23rd April

0844 872 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (bkg fee applies) 

Apr 5th

Hairspray - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

 

Reviewed by Louise Winter 4th April 2016

What an absolute BELTER of a show!

How I have managed to not see either of the films or any of the London or touring theatre productions of this show is astounding especially after the evening I have just spent in Milton Keynes Theatre! The original film with Divine and Rikki Lake came out in 1988. The musical opened on Broadway in 2002, winning eight Tony awards. The London musical opened in 2007 picking up four Olivier awards and the film remake with John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer in 2007 was a box office hit. It’s been around for ages! My niece (my occasional reviewing partner) has seen the 2007 film and saw it on stage during its last run through Milton Keynes. She enjoyed it so much that she opted to come to this offering too. So, here we were, me with a rough idea of the story and vaguely familiar with one of the songs, my niece knowing the story well and songs almost off by heart. We were like the aficionado and the newbie but after an exhilarating couple of hours we are both confirmed fans of this warm and witty show. What an utter treat! 

Hairspray Lisa Kurttz

image Ellie Kurttz

Set in early 60’s Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins Show, the teen dance show of the time. Although not fitting the image of the show or conforming to society’s image of young women Tracy is reassuringly resilient in the face of the vile behaviour of the spoilt prom-queen-type Amber Von Tussle (Lauren Stroud) and her equally unpleasant mother Velma (Claire Sweeney) who directs the show and engages in a fair amount of nepotism. Sweeney is hilarious, particularly in the final scenes. 

This outstanding musical is packed with fabulously strong numbers – not a duff one among the twenty crammed into the show. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman clearly deserve their multitude of awards for the music and lyrics. Stellar turns from every committed, talented and believable performer of this exceptional cast, plus a six- piece band of superb quality, led by Liam Dunache, and we have an absolute crowd pleaser. Paul Kerryson has combined a team who gel brilliantly on stage and who were at the top of their game last night. I can’t recall the last time the whole audience was on their feet applauding and shouting with such enthusiasm at the curtain call.  

Tracy, played in such a lovable and warm way by the truly delightful Freya Sutton, is undeterred in her dreams for herself and for her friends. Her statuesque matriachal mother (played with great humour and style by the 6'4'' tall Matt Rixon) and diminutive kooky father (Peter Duncan) portray a loving and tolerant family who have overcome obstacles and maintain a positive attitude to themselves and to others. Rixon and Duncan have great stage chemistry and the fun they are having is infectious.

Every single member of the cast puts their all into it; standouts are the leads and the immensely powerful Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle. Her moving rendition of 'Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)' filled the auditorium and had us looking at each other with complete astonishment. She really is something else. Seaweed, played by Dex Lee is funny and sexy and his dancing/acrobatics are breathtaking. Ashley Gilmour as Link Larkin, the love interest for both Amber and Tracy, is just right. High energy and sharp choreography  by Drew Mconie, Simple, effective sets and fabulous costumes and make make for a riot of movement and colour on stage.

Hairspray Ellie Kurttz

image Ellie Kurttz

Though a high-energy musical and a pastiche of the times there are pertinent messages for today wrapped up in this all singing, all dancing bundle: racial integration, tolerance towards others, removing prejudice, body image issues for young women. Ok, so it's all over-simplified but it's not schmalzty, insulting or disingenuous; it's pitched very well.

An extremely energetic and entertaining show and a must see!

Hairspray is at MK theatre until Sat 09 Apr and then continues on tour.

0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkenes (bkg fee applies)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 14th

Chicago The Musical - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

 Chicago logo Glitter.jpg

 By Alison Smith

 Reviewed by Alison Smith 14th March 2016

The song Razzle- Dazzle sums up the musical Chicago. The audience is dazzled by the music and pace of the dancing, beguiled by the dishonesty, and mesmerised by  the characters into thinking that Chicago in the ‘20s was a sexy, sassy, exciting city. It was, however, a place of greed, gangster and murder. In the musical, murder and justice become a form of entertainment; and what entertainment!

The stage design is simple; the set is stark, just a few wooden chairs, two ladders, some feathers and the band, but this plain, dull setting offsets the action. The story is loosely based on the lives of two women, Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan who were accused of murder, but acquitted. In Chicago The Musical their personas have become Velma Kelly ( portrayed by Sophie Carmen-Jones) and Roxie Hart ( Hayley Tamaddon); the former is accused of shooting her husband and sister when she caught them in flagrante, and Roxie of killing her lover when he threatened to leave her -  her defence cleverly and masterly sung in We both reached for the gun. Velma and Roxie, aided by the corrupt gaoler, Mama Morton (Sam Bailey), hire the high-priced slick, sleazy criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn (John Partridge). Roxie understands that her trial is a show-biz opportunity which will bring longed for fame and fortune. In court Flynn convinces the judge and male juror– helped by the woman’s charms – of her innocence. The journalists in the court scene are not so different from those of today – hungry for an exclusive story and paper- selling headlines.( A D Richardson gives voice to a wonderful Mary Sunshine.) The four main characters shine and sizzle. The now classic songs, especially All I Care About and Cell Block Tango, are sung with confidence verging on abandon. This is a story of unlikeable, self-centered  people and the audience should take against them and yet, strangely, the show, through the music and energy is wonderfully cathartic

The band occupies centre stage throughout and this gives immediacy to the music, composed by John Kander with unforgettable lyrics by Fred Ebb. The musicians seem to be straight out of the ‘20s. The 2nd Act opens with Entr’acte  and for once the musicians become movers too -  with some great individual styles. This piece is one of the highlights.

The choreography by Ann Reinking is in the style of Bob Fosse and the dancers’ interpretation of the music is superb; their synchronisation is step perfect. The female chorus in short, sequined dressed are brash, sexy and gutsy; the male dancers, rippling and grinding, match them in sexiness, energy and athleticism.

All in all, this musical is brilliant, forceful, sexy and gutsy. It should not be missed. 

 CHICAGO. Sophie Carmen-Jones as 'Velma Kelly'. Photo by Catherine Ashmore (1).jpgimage copyright Catherine Ashmore

At MK Theatre until Saturday 19th March

www.atgtickets.com

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies

 

Mar 2nd

Goodnight Mister Tom - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 1st March 2016

Mister Tom promo poster

The portrayal of child cruelty in Michelle Magorian’s 1981 novel, Goodnight Mister Tom, is, heartrendingly, still relevant in 2016; but in the portrayal of an old man’s love for a battered child  we are shown the positive side of humanity, the resilience of human beings and the value of love. Although the story has a traditional happy ending, issues such as bullying, mental illness and death are dealt with unsentimentally.

The story is set in the years of World War II. William, an evacuee from Deptford, East London, is placed in Dorset in the home of unsociable Tom Oakley, an elderly widower, whose wife and infant son had tragically died 40 years previously. Tom, or Mister Tom as William calls him, is taciturn and antisocial.  The arrival of William, bruised physically and mentally, a boy scared of his own shadow, who quails at the sight of Sammy the sheepdog, awakens in Tom feelings of kindness and altruism. In the old man’s gentle care William blossoms; he learns to trust, he makes friends ( Zach, played by Sonny Kirby is confident and extrovert,  a future entertainer, and a most unlikely friend for William)  and  from such human closeness and through the knowledge that he able to learn and, more importantly, that he is  valued, William’s self- esteem rises. This happy, rural idyll is shattered when William’s mother demands his return. The poverty and misery of William’s London life with his religious fanatic of a mother are heart- breaking; the woman is a hypocrite – she follows the bible strictly yet she has had a daughter and there seems to be no husband. She leaves the children locked up and the baby dies of starvation. Tom, sensing the situation is dire, goes to London and against ‘the regulations’ kidnaps William and eventually adopts him.

The production, an adaptation by David Wood and directed by Angus Jackson is spell binding. Tom, played by David Troughton captivates from the outset. His goodness and gentleness are apparent. William, Joe Reynolds on the evening I saw the play, transforms seamlessly from frail waif to independent boy. Zach’s character captivates with humour, singing and dancing (although he can be somewhat annoying!)  And Sammy the dog, controlled skilfully and charmingly, by Elisa de Grey, adds a touch of canine humour to the story. The stage setting is simple; apple boxes, chairs, an  easel  and a bicycle are the main props.  The 1940’s atmosphere is obtained from posters advertising rationing and Dorset, from the songs made famous by Gracie Fields, and from the girls’ games and plaits.  But it is through the relationships of the main characters that we realise the impact war can have on children and in Goodnight Mr Tom the impact of war on one child in particular.

At MK Theatre until Sat 5th March

www.atgtickets.com

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies

Feb 24th

An Inspector Calls - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Lousie Winter 23rd February 2016

Inspector Calls poster

The core message of Priestly’s play, that of collective social responsibility, seems evermore relevant. First produced 24 years ago at the National Theatre, Stephen Daldry’s touring production was well received last night.

Using the device and style of a detective thriller it is fundamentally a philosophical play about social conscience, demonstrating how one person’s behaviour can have significant and even devastating consequences. The drama unfolds in stages as Inspector Goole arrives in the middle of a celebration and questions each member of the Birling family in turn as to their connection with a young woman who has committed suicide. Liam Brennan as Goole is suitably tenacious and commanding, gradually coercing each character to admit the truth and forcing them to consider their past actions and motivation.

An Inspector Calls Mark Douet

image copyright Mark Douet

Set and staging are most effective with an air of surrealism. The mini-sized lopsided house with tiny door and windows, perched high on stilts, contains the drawing room within which the Birling family are crammed toasting Shelia and Gerald engagement. This enclosed, too-small space gives a sense of discomfort and awkwardness, signifying the narrow, stifling middle-class conventions by which the family are all bound. The eventual throwing open of the front and sides of the house to expose the bright, sumptuous interior luminous among the bleak blitzed surroundings start the Inspector's exposure of the characters' secrets and misdemeanours.

Priestly’s dense text is key and Daldry’s production keeps this paramount not allowing any other elements to detract from this. Stephen Warbeck’s music is used sparingly to underline key dramatic moments and to heighten tension only. Daldry’s manipulation of time within the play: the events set in 1912, the 1940’s attired ‘Supernumeraries’ to witness the Birling family’s disclosures, and the moments where the audience is addressed, move the physical time around so as to place the central message in both the past and present.

AN Inspector Calls Mark Douet

image copyright Mark Douet

The cast are equally sharp and excellent, Caroline Wildi and Katherine Jack as Sybil and Sheila Birling are perfect. Wildi has some of the most amusing moments and the decline from her lofty, regal, and immaculate image to that of her sitting in the gutter disarrayed and dishevelled is symbolic of the collapse of the moral fibre of her character and all the family. Geoff Lesley as Arthur Birling is suitably gruff and inflexible, almost completely refusing to admit he has done anything improper. Hamish Riddle is superb as Eric Birling, his nervous energy, near hysteria and awkwardness perfectly pitched. Matthew Douglas plays with aplomb the falsely jocular and loud fiancé Gerald Croft and the realisation of the damage his past behaviour has done leaves him momentarily lost; only momentarily though. It is Sheila and Eric who you feel may have learned some type of lesson and who may go on to be better human beings. They are the only redeeming characters. However, the audience don’t escape. The play halts. The audience is addressed directly: think of and care about others instead of focussing on material possessions, power, and status. A message for our times and as pertinent as ever.

Priestly's theme is timeless. Daldry's production is full of suspense, thrill and anticipation.

At MK theatre until Sat 27th February

Tickets from

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/an-inspector-calls/milton-keynes-theatre/ 

0844 871 7652

booking fee applies

 

 

Feb 10th

Gangsta Granny - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

 Reviewed by Louise Winter 9th February 2016 

Gansta poster

The phenomenal success of David Walliams as an author looks set to continue with the adaptation of several of his books into TV productions and now this theatre production by The Birmingham Stage Company. On tour throughout 2016 this adaptation will win the hearts of both children and adults.

11 year old Ben, from whose perspective the story is told, is SO bored of having to visit his Granny’s every Friday while his Strictly-obsessed parents go to their dancing sessions. Having failed to realise their own dreams of becoming professional dancers, Ben’s parents thrust their desires onto Ben whose ambition of becoming a plumber is met with despair and disbelief and in an attempt to keep the peace Ben agrees to take part in a dance competition which mixed consequences.

Despite being bored with visits to Granny, games of scrabble and the interminable variations of cabbage based recipes, Ben is polite, well-mannered and obedient; he’s a good boy – not spoilt or rude and this is a clear message to the target audience.

Gangsta Granny family

image copyright Matk Douet

The pace of the story picks up rapidly when Ben comes across jewels hidden at Granny’s and learns that she was an international thief in her younger days. This captures Ben’s imagination and suddenly Granny is the most interesting and exciting person he knows. Obviously, Granny now believes that stealing is wrong and only ever committed her crimes for the thrill of it and not for the money, although if this is trying to carefully tread a moral line I'm not sure it works. When Ben learns that Granny never managed to acheive her ultimate dream-heist of stealing the crown jewels he sets his mind to masterminding the plan using his plumbing knowledge of the drainage systems of central London. 

Sharp adaptation and direction from Neil Foster, economical and inventive staging by Jacqueline Trousdale and Jason Taylor’s lighting combine to create dynamic story-telling superbly delivered by a small but talented cast who perform a multitude of genuinely funny characters.

Almost every actor plays at least two parts. Benedict Martin as Dad and Mr Parker, the fabulous Neighbourhood Watch obsessive, who is the source of numerous laugh out loud moments and a great favourite with the audience. Umar Mailk as Raj and Flavio has a great comic turn, particularly as the camply extrovert dancer giving the audience some panto-style moments during the competition scene. Alison Fitzjohn is on stage almost constantly as a whole host of characters including a police officer, matron and dance judge; she is a standout born entertainer. Mum, played by Laura Girling, is suitably self-centred as are both parents. Girling perhaps misses some of the comic opportunities as the Queen but to be fair there had been a changing around of cast. Usual lead Gilly Tompkins had been replaced by Louise Bailey as Granny. Bailey was super and makes the most of all her lines and characterisation. She's the source of much amusement among the younger members of the audience with her cabbage diet induced trumping bottom although my eight year old companion was unconvinced there was enough of this; apparently there is a deal more in the book. Goes to show you can’t please everyone when it comes to toilet humour! 

Ashley Cousins as Ben is the most fleshed out character. Cousins does a great job of portraying the initial frustration and sudden exuberance of a young boy who, though at first hating to stay with Granny eventually can’t wait to see her and join her for adventure. He is credible, identifiable and relatable to the younger members of the audience despite being several years older.  

Gangsta Granny and Ben

There are some lovely moments and scenes, the ‘superfast’ mobility scooter, wetsuits and snorkels donned to traverse the Thames and scale sewage pipes – more references to crowd pleasing bottom related dialogue, the poignancy of Granny’s ‘confession’ and her final departure.

Gansta Granny holds a central message which is creatively told and far from saccharine or patronising. It’s a fairly subtle depiction of some of the issues surrounding the perception of ageing, and the experiences of loneliness, death and loss; both adults and children were in tears at the end and despite the upbeat finale of effusive dancing and singing the sense of sadness did remain. My young companion commented on the way home ‘everyone is important’ and ‘old people aren’t boring’, asking me if I could remember when my grandparents died and speaking about how he might feel when his own nanas and grandads die. These were the thoughts that were running through my mind too. That these where what remained from the show for both of us, despite a forty year age gap, is telling and a testament to this production. 

This is a fun yarn, with a valuable message which perhaps helps children grow up just a little bit. Highly recommended! 

Two shows a day at Milton Keynes until 13 February and then on tour until December 2016. For times and bookings visit http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/gangsta-granny/milton-keynes-theatre/

For full details of all theatre dates visit http://www.birminghamstage.com/shows/gangsta-granny-by-david-walliams-comes-to-the-stage/tour-info