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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

Feb 2nd

Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Priscilla Tour 2016 

Reviewed by Alison Smith

On a damp, dreary Monday evening in February in Milton Keynes, what better way to lift the spirits than to see the outrageously entertaining Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. From the outset the audience is catapulted into the zany world of a bunch of social misfits, drag queens and transvestites on a journey through the Australian desert, literally and figuratively. Tick (Mitzi Mitosis), a drag queen, is travelling from Sydney to Alice Springs to perform in the casino of his estranged wife and, importantly, to meet his son. His two travelling companions are Adam (Felicia Jollygoodfellow) and Bernadette Basinger. The mode of transport? A bus, christened Priscilla.

Divas and cast Priscilla

Experiences through bizarre, and sometimes cruel, encounters with locals such as Bob the mechanic and his Thai bride lead to self-knowledge and the realisation that there is a place in the world for everyone whatever their sexuality, colour or size. The story line is uplifting and compassionate towards people who are not main stream, but what captivates  the audience in the musical is the glitz and the glamour from the wigs, the colours, the make-up, the ridiculous costumes, the shoes, but most importantly, the songs: I Will Survive,and What's Love Got to do With It, are the most remarkable, sung with passion and energy. The Divas are wonderful, and descend on the stage like singing angels, albeit fesity and sexy angels. The band, under the musical directof Matthew Loughran, has great musicality. 

Priscilla Mitzi

The three leading men Mitzi (Jason Donovan), Adam/Felicia ( Adam Bailey)  and Bernadette (Simon Green) perform their roles with joy, exuberance and  humour. Simon Green is exceptionally talented and  plays his role of Bernadette with depth of feeling and sensitivity. The contrast with Felicia is notable; he is young, spoilt and self-centred - always aiming to be top dog. Mitzi, less outwardly energetic than his companions, has an air of resigned acceptance of his persona. This trio are supported by a wonderfully step-perfect, energetic cast with certificates in hip swivelling and thrusting, but who are all also perfectly in harmony and with great lung capacity.

This is a song and dance bonanza, frivolous and fun. Who would have thought that jocks in frocks on a rock could give so much joy?


Priscilla,Queen of the Desert Plays Milton Keynes Theatre until 6th February

 

http://www.atgtickets.com

Bookings 0844 871 7652

Booking fees apply

 Images courtesy of Milton Keynes Theatre

 

Jan 27th

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith

mbsb

There are many excellent versions of the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and Bourne’s ballet is no exception. He introduces a gothic atmosphere through supernatural elements, dark and picturesque opulence and melodramatic devices. The story is not just a love story; the story is a battle between good and evil. 

Bourne’s variation spans from the 1890s – the year of the ballet’s first performance in St Petersburg - to the modern day. Princess Aurora is a long-awaited child; in fact it is Carabosse, a fairy of the dark arts, who has facilitated the arrival of the child. However, Aurora’s parents, King Benedict and Queen Eleanora, are not grateful enough to Carabosse and at Aurora’s christening, while six of the fairy godmothers bestow gifts such as passion, spirit and temperament on the child, the wicked fairy curses the baby and condemns her to die from pricking her finger. Count Lilac (a vampire) can only reduce the spell to a 100 year sleep. 

sb

The years pass and the wilful, capricious baby – the puppet baby is the joy of the 1st Act – turns into a wilful, capricious 21-year-old of the Edwardian era.  Aurora is courted by Leo, the palace gardener, but also has eyes for handsome, sexy Caradoc, the evil son of the wicked fairy Carabosse. Caradoc gives Aurora a black rose and it is a thorn from this rose which results in the long sleep. Leo can awaken Aurora after a100 years because he has become a vampire after being bitten by Lilac. 

The span of time and place in Sleeping Beauty enables Bourne to choreograph a variety of dance styles – the solo dances of the fairies, Aurora’s barefoot Isadora Duncan sequence, the sleepwalking scene, the Edwardian tennis match, the pas de deux of Caradoc and Aurora,  – and each era’s dances have a  wonderful naturalness to them. The dancers are physically and musically perfect, full of vitality and charm; leaps and steps echo Tchaikovsky’s magnificent music flawlessly. Ashley Shaw, is out-standing in her role of Aurora; her movements sinuous and fluid, her interpretation of joy and sorrow exceptional. Tom Clark excells as Carabosse and Caradoc – a dark ,menacing figure who fills the stage with foreboding. 

The designer Lez Brotherston delights the audience with the stage settings – the full moon, the fairies magically weightless entrance on a conveyor belt, the enchanted forest – and through the richness of the costumes, from embroidered brocades to soft linens to delicate chiffons and the use of a whole gamut of colours from clashing pastels and greys and blues to  garish red and soft rose pink. Visually, Sleeping Beauty is a masterpiece. 

 However, I must finish on the one negative note. That is the lack of an orchestra. Although the recorded music filled the theatre and was masterfully edited, a live orchestra would have added another dimension to this entrancing ballet. 

Plays Milton Keynes Theatre until 30th Jan and then on tour

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/matthew-bournes-sleeping-beauty/milton-keynes-theatre/

Bookings 0844 871 7652

Booking fees apply