Share |
Dec 10th

Peter Pan

By Steve Burbridge

David Essex as Captain Hook.JPG

Peter Pan

Darlington Civic Theatre

Although Peter Pan has never been one of my favourite pantomimes, I have to admit that Michael Harrison has penned the best adaptation I have ever seen. His decision to reduce the scenes in the Darling family’s London home, at the beginning of the story, which can often seem long and drawn-out, is spot on and means that the action can swiftly transfer to the magical Neverland. Some fantastic sets really help evoke a feeling of this enchanted land and, in terms of design, no expense seems to have been spared.

For the second season in succession, Robin Colvill and Graham Walker (two members of the one-time five-strong comedy group, The Grumbleweeds) return to the Civic. This time they are the daft duo, Starkey and Smee, who are shipmates aboard Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger. Once again, they delight the audience with their inimitable brand of comedy, music and impressions – ranging from Lady Gaga to Susan Boyle! Throughout the performance, the pair seemed to be having just as much fun as the audience.

Former pop heart-throb David Essex takes on the role of Captain Hook – a notoriously difficult role to crack. I have seen several actors make a complete hash of this part (including Leslie Grantham and John Challis) whilst others (such as Brian Blessed and Ade Edmondson) have triumphed in it. Part of the problem is that Hook has no redeeming qualities and therefore elicits no sympathy from the audience. As wicked as the evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs may be, at least you can connect with the ageing beauty who is being usurped by a younger model, threatening to oust her from a position of power and social superiority – and, at the end of the story, she is often shown as remorseful. Hook, however, is not given a plausible motive for his dastardly deeds and is not ‘cured’ of his villainy by curtain-fall.

Although it would be unfair to compare Essex to the larger-than-life Brian Blessed, I felt that his performance in the role was rather lack-lustre. It took him far too long to warm-up, lose his inhibitions and get into character – and the re-worked version of his own track, ‘Dangerous’ fell flat. He only really seemed to become animated in the sword fight with Peter Pan.

If Essex’s performance as Hook is best described as ‘understated’, then Susan Hallam-Wright’s as Peter Pan can only be termed ‘overzealous’. Visually, Hallam-Wright looked the part, reminding me of predecessors including Bonnie Langford and Anita Harris with her elfin-like appearance and mannerisms, but there were times when her smile seemed ‘painted on’ and a little disconcerting.

Sasi Strallen, as Tiger Lily, was more Indian Squawk than Squaw and her incessant nasal vocals became somewhat irritating very early into her performance. On the plus side, though, Louise Lenihan was a suitably naughty, roller-skating Tinkerbell, her appearance, voice and mannerisms reminiscent of a young Barbara Windsor, whilst Daisy Wood-Davis perfectly suited the role of Wendy.

Technically, there were some impressive moments in the show but none that actually drew gasps of breath from the audience. And, unfortunately, on two separate occasions I noticed backstage crew on the stage – once to facilitate a change of scene and again to fasten Peter and Wendy into harnesses for a flying scene. Tut-tut!

This production sees Qdos present its twenty-fifth pantomime at Darlington Civic and it should have been an anniversary to be celebrated. However, the opportunity has been missed, somewhat, by a combination of sloppy direction and a lazy performance by the leading man, resulting in a show that was only given a ‘silver’ lining  by the hard-working performers in what were, technically, supporting roles.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Sunday16 January 2011

 

 

Dec 6th

Cinderella

By Steve Burbridge

The Ugly Sisters John Carter (l) and Donald McBride (r).jpg

Cinderella

The Gala Theatre, Durham

In much the same way as the Customs House in South Shields does, The Gala Theatre in Durham presents a pantomime that adheres very much to the traditional values of the genre, and this year’s production of Cinderella is no exception. Assembling a cast made up, primarily, of North East actors and with references to locations in the surrounding area, this is a production that is situated very much in the locale.

Many of the characters are played by a ‘family’ of regular Gala panto performers. Neil Armstrong, of Seaham Harbour, Donald McBride of Fencehouses and Jane Deane return for their third consecutive season, whilst Paul Hartley has performed in all eight of the theatre’s in-house produced pantomimes, which is surely a resounding testament to his popularity and talent. South Shields born Helen Embleton, Spennymoor’s own John Carter, Australian Tom Caley and recently-graduated Sophie Michaels all make their panto debut at the Durham venue.

What makes this pantomime particularly special, for me, is the fact that it has been produced with such honesty, sincerity and charm. Although there is no denying that the big-bucks productions that boast the most spectacular special effects, star-signings and all manner of gimmicks, gizmos and technical wizardry are truly breath-taking, it is rather refreshing for a pantomime to be led purely by the performances of its cast.

Simon Stallworthy has penned a script that allows each and every one of his talented team to shine. Neil Armstrong, as Baron Gristle, is a consummate villain and almost Dickensian in character and appearance. Indeed, many of the stock characters have been given a refreshing twist: Helen Embleton’s feisty Fairy Marigold is no sickly-sweet, saccharine do-gooder, but a no-nonsense, often irritable nymph – more Fairy Godmother-in-law-from-hell than anything else! Tom Caley’s Prince Charming is portrayed as the dimmest and drippiest royal in pantoland and his foppish buffoon of a namby-pamby prince is reminiscent of a Hugh Grant character.

Some characters are portrayed more conventionally, though, including the Uglies and Cinderella. Donald McBride and John Carter, as Sarah and Clara Gristle, respectively, are a delightful double-act. Physically, they complement each other perfectly – McBride’s scrawniness set against Carter’s heftiness works wonderfully and presents a comedic visual image. The pair milked their musical numbers – ‘It’s Raining Men’ and ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ – for all they were worth. Sophie Michaels struck the right cord as Cinderella, managing to engage the sympathy and support of the audience without being too simpering and saintly.

Paul Hartley and Jane Deane, as Buttons and Dishes, are undoubtedly the most popular characters as far as the kids are concerned. They provided much of the slapstick and physical comedy. Hartley’s background as a Pontin’s bluecoat is evident in the rapport that he is effortlessly able to strike up with the kids, whilst Deane’s circus skills enable her to provide great physicality and excellent comedy timing.

Once again, the Gala has come up trumps with a pantomime that has something for everyone.

Steve Burbridge.

                                    Runs until Saturday 8th January 2011

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 5th

Wind In The Willows

By Steve Burbridge

WWDSC_2157 - The Wind in the Willows - group shot - photo credit - Topher McGrillis.jpg

Wind In The Willows

Northern Stage, Newcastle

Wind in the Willows is a classic of English children’s literature, written over 100 years ago it tells the story of four animals and their escapades along a river in the English countryside. In 1990, Alan Bennett adapted the story for the theatre which was originally intended for the National Theatre, but this winter sees his adaption being played out in Newcastle at the Northern Stage.

The performance is much more than just bushy tailed characters ‘simply messing about in boats’, the show features a witty and interesting script, elaborate costumes and props and a really talented cast.

Just as we were seated for the performance I overheard a child asking “will they be completely dressed up? Will we even see the actor’s faces?” Something which I had also thought about, how do you bring to life four animals on the stage? A worry which was soon dispelled as we saw a mole burrowing through the bottom of the stage. A mole who although was clearly a human, left little to the imagination of what animal they were, many of the animals had bushy tails and were dressed in retro costumes that we have seen in many of the story’s original illustrations.

These costumes assisted what was a great cast. Many of the actors really did seem to fit their character and animal perfectly. The most exuberant character in the story is Toad, who is played by Mark Benton, who is recognisable from a number of television productions including Early Doors and Northern Lights. His performance can only be described as ‘larger than life’, with a fantastic stage presence and a really animated acting style Benton seemed to enjoy the character of Toad just as much as the audience did.

However many of the funniest lines in the performance were not from toad but a horse named Albert. Again no excessive costume was used to bring to life a horse on stage but simply a harness and some tied up trousers, not that it was needed anyway. Gary Kitching’s performance as Albert was brilliant and although it is not the biggest of roles in the show it was certainly a memorable one. Kitching performed a humorous role very seriously and incorporated much of Alan Bennett’s  dry sense of humour.

The show also seemed to proudly incorporate a north eastern theme, with the countryside being set in Northumberland, a number of North Eastern actors including Mark Benton and a few well placed regional references. Something which worked really well and added a unique slant on the classic children’s text. The shows venue within Newcastle cannot go without mention, seating less than 450 people the show incorporated some really intimate scenes and allowed for audience interaction which was great fun. At times the audience really was part of the show.

You may at first think that Wind in the Willows is a story reserved for children, but Bennett’s stage adaptation is neither full of complex jokes which only an adult would understand or purely slapstick comedy which only a child would laugh at, instead it is a great story which will see the equal enjoyment from both adults and children.

Reviewed by James Dunnill on behalf of Steve Burbridge.

Runs until 8th January 2011

 

Dec 3rd

Puss In Boots

By Steve Burbridge

Cast and Hays 1.JPG

Puss In Boots

The Customs House, South Shields

Despite the inclement weather conditions, a capacity crowd turned out to see ‘the little panto with the big heart’ at the Customs House in South Shields. It was evident that several inches of snow and freezing conditions were not going to deter these stoic South Tynesider’s from enjoying an evening of festive frolics and family fun. As Ray Spencer ironically observed in his address to the audience at the end of the performance, ‘we used to have a word for this – winter!’

This year, for the first time, the Customs House is presenting the tale of ‘Puss In Boots’. As usual, the cast is a mix of Customs House stalwarts and fresh new faces. This season sees Ray Spencer and Bob Stott mark their 35th anniversary as a panto double-act – and their inimitable brand of slapstick comedy, ad-libbing and on-stage chemistry is as fresh and funny as ever. Undoubtedly, it is this perfect partnership that provides the bedrock of the Customs House pantomime, around which everything else is built.

Popular performers Peter Darrant and Graham Overton are also present in this year’s proceedings, whilst Lucy Rafton makes a welcome return for a third year and Afnan Iftikhar appears for his second panto at the South Tyneside venue. The newcomers are Alice Brown, Ryan Lynch and Craig Richardson.

The story revolves around Dame Dotty (Bob Stott) and her two sons, Tommy (Ray Spencer) and Much (Afnan Iftikhar), who are facing the threat of eviction from their mill by the evil Osborne the Ogre (Peter Darrant) and his two bungling henchmen Cammy (Craig Richardson) and Cleggy (Ryan Lynch), who are terrorising the town of Cooksonville. It’s up to kindly King Boris (Graham Overton) and Loreal the Enchantress (Alice Brown) – along with help from the audience, of course – to save the day and rescue Princess Cheryl (Lucy Rafton) from a fate worse than death.

Dame Dotty’s mill bakery may not be ‘rising’ to the challenge and bringing in the ‘bread’ but, yet again, the Customs House proves that it has the secret recipe for cooking-up a top-notch panto that is always ‘fresh’ and never ‘stale’. The ingredients are many and rich, including a sprinkling of satire, a pinch of pop music, a dash of double-entendre, and liberal amounts of madness and mayhem.

Once again the script has been penned by Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson and it is absolutely first-class. With just the right amount of political satire, topical gags and near-the-knuckle jokes weaved into a traditional tale of good triumphing over evil and love conquering all, it succeeds in entertaining each and every member of the family, across all generations.

The production values of this seasonal spectacular are to be envied, too. Paul Shriek’s costumes – of which, I am informed, there are approximately 100! - are riotously colourful and, especially in the case of Dame Dotty’s, boldly outrageous and fabulously flamboyant. Geoff Ramm’s scenic design lovingly depicts focal points from around South Shields, further reinforcing the fact that this pantomime is based firmly in the South Tyneside locale, whilst James Henshaw’s lighting design bathes the stage in a kaleidoscope of colours that adds warmth and magic to the proceedings.

The performances are commendable across the board, with each member of the cast having their own opportunity to shine as an individual. However, certain actors warrant particular praise – most notably Ray Spencer, Bob Stott, Graham Overton, Craig Richardson and Ryan Lynch for their consummate comedic performances, Alice Brown, Lucy Rafton and Afnan Iftikhar for their vocal talents and Peter Darrant for his carefully crafted, camp as Christmas, mad and bad villain. Not forgetting the troupe of bonny babes from the South Tyneside Dance Workshop, choreographed by Jacqui West.

The Customs House has triumphed with a ‘purr-fect’ ‘meow-sical’ about a magical moggy. Don’t ‘paws’ for thought – book your tickets now and you’ll be as happy as the cat that got the cream!

Steve Burbridge.

‘Puss In Boots’ runs until Saturday 8  January 2011.

Nov 24th

White Christmas

By Steve Burbridge

267.JPG

WHITE CHRISTMAS

SUNDERLAND EMPIRE THEATRE 

Sunderland Empire kicks off the festive season in the North East of England with a magnificently-staged production of White Christmas. Based upon the 1954 musical film of the same name, which starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, this slick, sassy and sophisticated stage show premiered in San Francisco in 2004 and toured America before taking Broadway by storm in the 2008/09 Christmas season. Here, in the United Kingdom, it debuted at Plymouth and Southampton during the 2006/07 season and went on to play at Edinburgh and Cardiff (2007/08 season), Plymouth and Manchester (2009/10 season) and it is now here in Sunderland until the beginning of next year.

It tells the story of two Army buddies who make the big-time with a regular slot on the Ed Sullivan show but then decide to put on a gala concert in an effort to save a magical Vermont inn, owned by their former General, from financial ruin and find their perfect mates in the process. The plot is straightforward and simple yet also engaging enough to keep the audience interested throughout.

Tom Chambers (fresh from his success at winning the 2008 series of Strictly Come Dancing and lead roles in Waterloo Road and Holby City) takes on the role immortalised by the legendary Bing Crosby, whilst Adam Cooper (from Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Billy Elliott and a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet) steps into the shoes of Danny Kaye. Both can certainly sell a song and a dance, but it was Cooper who seemed most comfortable on stage and somewhat outshone the lead male.

Rachel Stanley and Louise Bowden take on the parts of Betty and Judy Haynes, a singing sister act who provide the main romantic interests for Bob Wallace (Chambers) and Phil Davis (Cooper). Much of the comedy relief comes from Ken Kercheval (who is still instantly recognisable from his days of soap super-stardom playing Cliff Barnes in Dallas) as the kind-hearted blustering buffoon, General Henry Waverly, and his larger-than-life Ethel Merman-esque hotel concierge, Martha Watson (fantastically portrayed by Kerry Washington).

However, the efforts and abilities of the stellar cast were almost outdone by the huge personality of little Millie Thornton – a true star-in-the-making – who stole every scene she appeared in as Susan Waverly, the General’s granddaughter.

It has to be acknowledged that Irving Berlin’s score is as much a star as any of the performers, boasting some of the greatest songs ever written – Happy Holiday, Sisters, Let Me Sing and I’m Happy, Blue Skies, How Deep is the Ocean, I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm and, of course, White Christmas. Each and every one of them are impeccably delivered by the principals, a tap-dancing ensemble of more than thirty and a dynamic 17-piece orchestra, under the musical direction of Robert Scott.

Special mention must also be made of the stunning sets, designed by Anna Louizos, authentic costumes by Carrie Robbins and breathtaking choreography by Randy Skinner, which all add an element of additional pizzazz to the proceedings.

This evergreen sentimental yuletide yarn is a sumptuous seasonal spectacular that brims with the festive feel-good-factor, guaranteeing that ‘the days be merry and bright’ until New Year’s Day, 2011.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 1st January 2011.

Nov 16th

Witness For The Prosecution

By Steve Burbridge

Witness2-1353.JPG

It goes without saying that Agatha Christie is ‘Queen of the Whodunnit’ and a literary force to be reckoned with. Only the Bible is known to have outsold her collected sales of roughly four billion copies of novels. ‘The Mousetrap’ is now the longest-running play in the world and it has been performed at St. Martin’s Theatre in the West End of London since 1952.

Following the success of ‘The Hollow’, ‘The Unexpected Guest’, ‘And Then There Were None’ and ‘Spider’s Web’, the Agatha Christie Theatre Company presents the next instalment in the highly acclaimed series, Christie’s undisputed masterpiece, ‘Witness For The Prosecution’, under the direction of Joe Harmston.

Having originally began its life in 1925 as the short story ‘Traitor Hands’, ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ only became a play when, in 1953, Peter Saunders, the producer of ‘The Mousetrap’ convinced Agatha Christie that the piece would adapt well to the stage. After detailed research on all the legal aspects, she wrote the play quickly and it opened on October 28th in London. The success of the London production was swiftly followed by a production on Broadway and then, in 1957, by the celebrated Billy Wilder film starring Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Charles Laughton.

The story begins when Emily French, an ‘elderly’ woman who recently left her considerable estate to the handsome and charming young Leonard Vole, is found dead. Though he strongly protests his innocence, all the circumstantial evidence points towards him and Leonard (Ben Nealon) quickly becomes the prime suspect. His plea hinges not only on the testimony of his German wife Romaine (Deborah Grant), but also on the skill of the renowned barrister, Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (Denis Lill).

Ben Nealon, who will be recognised by many for his role as Lt Forsythe in ‘Soldier, Soldier’, is excellent as the plausible and slightly naive Vole and quickly has the audience rooting for him. Deborah Grant (‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ and ‘Not Going Out’) grabs the part of Romaine with both hands and is magnificent as the frosty foreigner. Denis Lill is brilliantly blustering as the feared and respected barrister.

But this is a production that boasts perfect performances right across the board from a stellar cast. Robert Duncan (‘Drop The Dead Donkey’) as the affable solicitor, Mr Mayhew contrasts well with the sometimes irascible Robarts, whilst Mark Wynter, as his courtroom adversary, Mr Myers QC drives him to distraction with his constant interruptions and annoying mannerisms. Comedy relief comes in the form of Elizabeth Power (‘EastEnders’) as Janet McKenzie, Miss French’s bitter housekeeper, and Hannah Redfern as Greta, Sir Wilfrid’s ditzy secretary.

The stunning set, designed by Simon Scullion, is almost a character in itself, the attention to detail is exquisite and, combined with the authentic 1950s costumes by Brigid Guy, lighting design by Douglas Kuhrt and sound design by Ian Horrocks-Taylor, a powerful atmosphere is evoked that really sets the tone of the piece.

The dialogue is beautifully written and harks back to an era when words were chosen to employ and convey meaning, rather than just strung together as they are nowadays. The cast, seeming to realise this, never waste a single word or carelessly throw away a wonderful line.

Christie’s London of the 1950s is a world where everyone seems to be harbouring a dark secret, and this gripping courtroom drama will keep you guessing until the final, fatal moment. Don’t miss it!

Steve Burbridge. 

Runs until Saturday 20th November 2010.

Nov 10th

George's Marvellous Medicine

By Steve Burbridge

George’s Marvellous Medicine

Darlington Civic Theatre

Roald Dahl’s amazing story about a boy who concocts a marvellous medicine from an astonishing array of household ingredients is vibrantly and vividly brought to life in The Birmingham Stage Company’s production of ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’.

Newly adapted by David Wood, it tells the story of George, a likeable young lad who is a little put-upon by his parents who run a farm. Matters are made worse for the young lad (who is wonderfully played by an energetic and enthusiastic Clark Devlin) when he learns that his cantankerous and crabby grandmother will be coming to stay with the family while she convalesces. This really puts the dampers on his school holiday and deprives him of the chance to finish his book about a boy wizard.

Deciding the medicine that his demonic and demanding grandmother must take three times a day is not making her any ‘better’, George decides to come up with one of his own. But when his grandmother drinks the special potion, the most incredible things start to happen and George’s adventure really begins!

Designer Jacqueline Trousdale has come up with a set that is both visually impressive and extremely functional. The ramshackle farmhouse is really as much a character as George, Mum, Dad or Grandmother. Gillian Malster’s costumes give the characters an authentic and colourful comic-book look.

Although it is, undoubtedly, Clark Devlin as George who carries the entire piece and has the youngsters in the audience joining in for all they are worth, he is ably supported by the rotund Alison Fitzjohn as Mum, the madcap Richard Mullins as Dad and villain-of-the-piece Erika Poole as Grandmother.

The farmyard occupants are brought to life with sound effects by Tom Lishman and amusing puppets by Roman Stefanski. Matthew Scott’s music matched the pace of the on-stage action and was quite catchy, too.

Despite the fact that ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ does not stand up as well against other Dahl classics such as ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ in terms of imagination and plot development, as an individual piece of children’s theatre it succeeded in keeping the kids entertained throughout – and perhaps it is being churlish to ask for anything more than that?

Steve Burbridge.

Runs Until 13th November 2010.

 

Oct 30th

Photo Finish

By Steve Burbridge

PF 2.JPG

Photo Finish

The Customs House, South Shields

Maintaining the backdrop of a horse-racing theme, the world premiere of ‘Photo Finish’ follows hot on the heels of ‘Good to Firm’ and ‘Raising The Stakes’ (see reviews by Linda Barker and Ian Cain, respectively). The third and final part of the Waugh & Wood trilogy focusing on the flawed Fletcher family is surely the best and funniest yet.

Once again we catch up with Bob and Shirley Fletcher and are privy to their marital trouble and strife. Ray Spencer reprises his role as the good-for-nothing gambler with the heart of gold but, due to the indisposition of Angela Szalay, the role of Shirley is being performed by Jane Holman.

As usual, Spencer is spot-on with his comic-timing and he never misses the opportunity to shine with his wonderful deliverance of Wood & Waugh’s witty one-liners. However, the show was well and truly stolen by Jane Holman’s star-turn as Shirley. Her deadpan delivery of the most withering put-downs was a joy to behold. And, without any disrespect to Angela Szalay, Holman gave the impression that the role had been created with her in mind.

Jill Dellow returns to the role of Suzie, Bob and Shirley’s irritatingly dipsy and ditzy daughter, whilst former star of ‘The Bill’ and ‘EastEnders’ Russell Floyd makes his debut as Suzie’s sugar-daddy, BJ (yes, you’re right – the double-entendres abound!).

I don’t quite know if it were due to the introduction of a new leading lady, the input of a new director (Jack Milner takes over from Mark Wingett, who directed the first two instalments), a more finely-honed script from Wood and Waugh – or the combination of all those factors, but somehow this production had enough crackle and sparkle to put Bonfire Night in the shade.

The energy and enthusiasm that emanated from the stage was palpable and the piece went with a great pace. If I were to be picky and highlight one small fault it would have to be with the lighting. I am not sure if the problem lay with the design or operation, but there were some strange effects during which certain scenes were fully lit and then darkened and lit again without any obvious reason.

Nevertheless, ‘Photo Finish’ is a riotous comedy that went down a storm with the audience on opening night.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 6th November 2010.

Oct 26th

Keeping Up Appearances

By Steve Burbridge

keepin11.jpg
Keeping Up Appearances

Whitley Bay Playhouse

‘Keeping Up Appearances’ is one of those programmes that is so deeply embedded in our cultural consciousness that it seems difficult to believe it aired for only five years, between 1990 and 1995, and a total of 44 episodes. The programme was ranked 12th in a survey of ‘Britain’s 100 Best Sit-Coms’ and has been transmitted all around the world. It also enjoys frequent repeat showings on the cable and satellite channel, G.O.L.D.

Now, almost fifteen years after it disappeared from our prime time television screens, The Comedy Theatre Company has lovingly revived this timeless and popular classic as a stage show.

Following the attempts of the social-climbing snob Hyacinth Bucket (that’s pronounced Bouquet!) to land the role of Lady Malvern in the local amateur dramatic society’s latest production, theatre audiences are treated to a bouquet full of laughs (pronounced bucket).

The action takes place in the church hall during rehearsals, therefore Elizabeth can rest assured that she won’t be responsible for breaking any of Hyacinth’s cherished Royal Doulton china ‘with the hand-painted periwinkles’.

The first national tour of this production boasts the added advantage that Roy Clarke has penned a brand new script especially for the stage. So, unlike some other stage adaptations of popular television sitcoms that are currently touring the provinces, it is not made up of four separate episodes sticky-taped together. This brings a refreshing element to the proceedings and some clever new catchphrases. Because Hyacinth is removed from her home environment, she is unable to answer callers on her ‘white slim line telephone with last number redial’ with her shrill greeting: ‘The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!’ Instead, she accepts calls on her mobile with the equally pretentious: ‘You have reached the personal mobile telephone of Hyacinth Bouquet, this is she speaking!’

The cast, which includes Rachel Bell as Hyacinth, Gareth Hale as Onslow, Kim Hartman as Elizabeth, Steven Pinder as Emmet (who was indisposed and understudied brilliantly by Jonathan Andrews), Debbie Arnold as Rose and Christine Moore as Daisy, give sterling performances and each of the characterisations are first-class. It must surely be a daunting prospect to take on roles previously played by the likes of Patricia Routledge, Geoffrey Hughes, Josephine Tewson, David Griffin and Judy Cornwell. Debbie Arnold also has the unenviable task of playing a character that had been previously portrayed on screen by two different actresses, Shirley Stelfox and Mary Millar.

Sarah Whitlock and David Janson (who, incidentally made recurring appearances as the postman in the original television series) complete the cast as two new characters, Mrs Debden and Mr Milson.

Despite the fact that Hyacinth’s long-suffering husband, Richard, does not appear, he is constantly referred to throughout. The same applies to Hyacinth’s third sister Violet, the one with ‘a Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony’, and her beloved son Sheridan.

Credit should also be given to Malvern Hostick for his effective set design, and to Frank Kershaw for designing the kind of floral dresses and hats that Hyacinth would thoroughly approve of.

Those who are socially less fortunate than the illustrious Hyacinth should book their tickets immediately. After all, she is imparting her accumulated wisdom of years of candlelight suppers and charity sub-committee meetings because she is a giving person and a pillar of the community. It is nothing less than your social duty to attend and ensure that, in future, you too are capable of ‘Keeping Up Appearances’.

Ian Cain.

Runs at Whitley Bay until Saturday 30th October 2010.

 

Oct 17th

Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri: An Acoustic Experience

By Steve Burbridge

K&C on stage.jpg
Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri: An Acoustic Experience

The Customs House, South Shields

Kiki Dee may never escape the legacy of her 1976 chart-topping duet with Elton John, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ but, nevertheless, she is a singer-songwriter whose contribution to the music industry cannot - and must not - be underestimated.

Her latest acoustic concert demonstrates the versatility and integrity of an artist who, despite the fact that she no longer sells-out vast arena’s, still has much to offer an industry that is becoming ever-more formulaic and increasingly driven by commercial success rather than creativity and talent.

The concert combines a mixture of Dee’s own material, hits from her back catalogue and collaborations with her musical partner and producer, Carmelo Luggeri, from their two most recent albums – ‘Where Rivers Meet’ and ‘Walk of Faith’ – with stunning cover versions of hits by artists including The Lotus Eaters (The First Picture of You) Frank Sinatra (A Very Good Year), Buddy Holly (True Love Ways) and Kate Bush (Running Up That Hill). The result is an intimate evening that encompasses pop, soul, ballads, swing and rock.

 Of course, many in the audience secretly yearned for Dee to perform the classics that cemented her status as a star performer, such as the sensuously beautiful ‘Amoureuse’, ‘I Got The Music In Me’ and, of course, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. When she did, they were rapturously received.

However, Kiki Dee has constantly developed and moved on and this is reflected in her more recent, though lesser-known compositions. Numbers including Everybody Falls (Habit of a Lifetime), ‘Like Nobody’s Child’ and ‘Soul Man’ certainly have the potential to be hits – if only they were given the radio playtime.

Dee does not need to hide her sensational voice behind the might of a full orchestra and, instead, relies on only the backing of Carmelo Luggeri’s guitar, her own keyboard and the vocals of Annabel Lamb.

Kiki’s ‘acoustic experience’ is one that, for all the right reasons, will linger long in my memory. Truly Terrific.

Steve Burbridge.