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Oct 13th

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Steve Burbridge

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Keith Jack, the hugely popular runner-up who finished just a hair’s breadth behind winner Lee Mead in the hit BBC TV series Any Dream Will Do, donned the famous coat of many colours to play the lead role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Darlington Civic Theatre last night and for the rest of this week, until Sunday.

Following in the footsteps of many others including Donny Osmond, Jason Donovan, Phillip Schofield, Ian ‘H’ Watkins and the late Stephen Gateley, Keith was in no way overshadowed by these big names. His portrayal of Joseph struck exactly the right balance of vulnerability and heroism and he made the part entirely his own. From his first appearance, right through to curtain call, Keith captivated the audience with his stage presence and vocal talents. He handled all his musical numbers with aplomb and hit each note with precision and perfection. Keith suited the role visually, too.

Trina Hill played the role of the Narrator. Her voice was as clear as a bell and her diction was impeccable. Trina’s natural charm and pleasing stage presence make her the perfect performer to move the story along.

Lachlan Scheuber gave a lively performance as the pelvis-thrusting Elvis-style Pharaoh. Other notable performances came from Henry Metcalfe as Jacob/Potiphar and Camilla Rowland as Mrs Potiphar.

Much of the dance action came from Joseph’s brothers. They all performed with boundless energy and enthusiasm, and there were some quirky interpretations of some of the songs. One More Angel In Heaven was performed in a country and western style, complete with Stetsons; Those Canaan Days was given a Parisian flavour and there was even a Caribbean Calypso number thrown in to extol the virtues of Benjamin, the youngest brother. I am not certain why the style and setting of these musical numbers was shifted away from Ancient Egypt but, you know what, it didn’t really matter anyway!

The sets are uncomplicated, yet extremely effective and riotously colourful. A real visual treat! The score is a sure-fire winner, having been penned by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber it couldn’t really fail. The real showstoppers, Close Ev’ry Door To Me; Poor, Poor Joseph and Any Dream Will Do are instantly recognisable and stand the test of time.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  is a real family show, full of fun and froth but with a moral of forgiveness and reconciliation at the heart of the story as well. It’s simply great entertainment and a Technicolor dream-come-true.

 Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Sunday 17 October 2010.

Oct 7th

Raising The Stakes

By Steve Burbridge

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Raising The Stakes

The Customs House, South Shields

Having been unable to attend ‘Good To Firm’, the first of Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood’s trilogy focusing on the exploits of Bob and Shirley Fletcher, I wondered how easy it would be for me to review the second instalment, ‘Raising The Stakes’. Had I missed out on some pivotal background events? Would a certain amount of assumed knowledge be required to fully appreciate the intricacies of the plot?

Thankfully, the answer was no.

It seems that, although the plays are best enjoyed as a threesome (no double entendre intended, by the way!), they can also be appreciated as standalone productions. Nevertheless, I had done a certain amount of research – or, at the very least, picked a fellow reviewer’s brains regarding plot history (see Linda Barker’s review of ‘Good To Firm’).

In ‘Raising The Stakes’, Bob Fletcher (Ray Spencer) reverts back to his old ways and is backing the gee-gees behind the back of his long-suffering wife, Shirley (Angela Szalay). He is egged-on by Clark (Louis Roberts), an Irish con-man with a line in blarney that would stretch from here to Dublin, to whom Shirley has offered board and lodgings after losing her job in a local factory. Throw into the mix Shirley’s entrepreneurial, sexually-voracious sister, Dolores (Arabella Arnott) and Suzie (Jill Dellow), Bob and Shirley’s cash-strapped student daughter, and you have all the elements necessary for a Brian Rix style farce.

Each member of the cast plays their part well and wrings every last drop of comedy from Waugh & Wood’s script, which had the audience in hysterics. However, Louis Roberts really shone in the role of Clark (could he have based his performance and accent on Ciaran MCCarthy, Keith Duffy’s ‘Corrie’ character?).

Mark Wingett returns to direct the play, giving up a holiday to do so, and his familiarity with the principal actors and their respective characters is evident.

‘Raising The Stakes’ is a fast, funny and farcical – a great evening’s entertainment.

Ian Cain.


Runs until Saturday 9 October 2010.

The third production of the trilogy is as follows:

‘Photo Finish’ – Thursday 28 October to Saturday 6 November 2010.

 

 

 

Oct 7th

Disney on Ice

By Steve Burbridge

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Disney On Ice: 100 Years of Magic

The Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle upon Tyne

The Metro Radio Arena was full of budding Buzz Lightyear’s and miniature princesses, all looking as pretty as a picture, as Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and company brought the ‘Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic’ show to town.

This magical and enchanting production is, essentially, a chance to reacquaint yourself (and your children!) with all your favourite Disney characters on a whistle-stop tour through many of the most popular and famous animated feature films.

The kids sat mesmerised, occasionally coming out of their collective trance to let out a squeal of delight, whilst even the most cynical of adults eventually relented and allowed their inner-child to come out.

The show takes the form of fourteen vignettes, each with a different mood, tone and look. It kicks off with ‘Aladdin’ and not only one genie, but a total of 21! Other pieces focus on ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘The Disney Princesses’ , ‘Toy Story’, ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Mulan’, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘The Lion King’, whilst Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy link the sequences together.

With each of the two acts running at just over three-quarters of an hour each, the little ones never became restless or bored. It almost came as a surprise to them – and me – when the blue and white themed ‘It’s A Small World’ routine, which celebrates the culture and dress of a whole host of nationalities, heralded the interval.

But, let’s not forget that this is not just Disney – it’s Disney on Ice. So, what about the skating? Well, the choreography is stunning and it is executed with elegance and grace. I was particularly impressed by those who were required to perform as characters that required cumbersome costumes, such as The Beast, Mrs Potts and Lumiere.

This production is slick and stylish, magical and mesmerising and it’s all done as only Disney does best – with a passion for perfection.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Sunday 10 October 2010.

 

 

Oct 2nd

All Creatures Great & Small

By Steve Burbridge

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All Creatures Great & Small

The Gala Theatre, Durham

For the first time ever, so the Gala Theatre marketing material proclaims, the ‘tender and heart-warming tales’ written by Sunderland-born Alf Wight, who is undoubtedly better-known by the pseudonym James Herriot, have been ‘brought to the stage in a major new dramatisation that will be one of the theatrical highlights of 2010’. Talk about setting yourself a tall order!

The challenging task of adapting and directing the piece has been taken up by Simon Stallworthy who, since joining the Gala in 2005, has directed all of the Gala’s in-house productions. To be fair, it is not an easy undertaking: how do you represent the dales and moors, farmhouses and public houses of Darrowby and the surgery of the Farnon veterinary practice all on one stage? Well, Sarah Oxley is to be congratulated for having designed a set that is visually impressive and which works fairly practically, too.

That said, the production is let down by several other factors. Obviously, it is impossible to have real livestock on stage so cattle are represented only by sound effects, whereas stuffed toys are used in place of domestic animals. The lack of any presence of living creatures, whether they be ‘great or small’ does tend to hinder any attempts to suspend disbelief.

Furthermore, sloppy continuity errors (such as when Tristan has lost the payment receipt book, despite the fact that it sits, quite obviously, on the table in front of him) tend to niggle at the back of one’s mind.

This production is an adaptation of All Creatures Great & Small, the classic television series, which in turn was an adaptation of Herriot’s first two novels, If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen To A Vet. So, essentially, it is an adaptation of an adaptation and, as such, the quality has been diluted. The production feels achingly formulaic as it chronicles both Herriot’s professional journey, from being a newly qualified outsider to a trusted and respected vet, and his romantic encounters, through his awkward courtship of Helen Alderson up to their eventual marriage. It is hampered further by a pace that is slow rather than gentle.

On the positive side, there are some good characterisations from the cast, which includes Ben Ingles as James Herriot, Henry Everett as Siegfried Farnon, Jack Wharrier as Tristan Farnon and Samantha Phyllis Morris as Helen Alderson. However, the characters are so synonymous with Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Peter Davison and Carol Drinkwater/Lynda Bellingham, respectively, that the stage cast never totally convince in the roles.

Unfortunately, my diagnosis of this ailing production is that it would be kinder to put it out of its misery.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 16 October 2010

 

Sep 30th

Spring Awakening

By Steve Burbridge

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Spring Awakening

The People’s Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Reviewed by Steve Burbridge & Ian Cain

‘Spring Awakening’ is a vibrant and poignant story, set in the late nineteenth century, about a brilliant young student, Melchior (Dylan Stafford), his troubled friend Moritz (Thomas Whalley), and Wendla (Bethany Walker), a beautiful teenage girl – all on a voyage of personal discovery and sexual awakening. Along with their class mates and friends, experiencing changes and urges for the first time in their lives.

Inspired by Frank Wedekind’s 1891 masterpiece of repressed emotion and adolescent passion, which was banned in its native Germany for about a century, ‘Spring Awakening’ explodes onto the stage once again, driven by a thrilling contemporary score which was written by Steven Sater.

This magnificent production is presented by Nice Swan Theatre Company, a student based group in Tyne and Wear, which provides a stepping stone between amateur and professional theatre for young talent from all over the region.

The production values associated with Nice Swan’s staging of ‘Spring Awakening’ are first class. The young cast play their parts with an exuberance that is raw, fresh, honest and untainted. The principals are astoundingly good: Thomas Whalley, in particular, is fantastic as the gangly Moritz and he looks like a cross between Erasure’s Andy Bell and Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands. Dylan Stafford and Bethany Walker are equally as compelling as the young lovers, Melchior and Wendla, and the scenes that they share are genuinely tender and touching.

Jane Hutchinson and Lee Rosher both convincingly portray a variety of ‘adult’ roles and really get the opportunity to demonstrate their versatility as performers. The rest of the company, consisting of Carl Beeley, Dale Jewitt, Rebecca Withers, Ruth Hilton, Michaela Forbes, Lewis Jobson, Jess Brady, Sean Bell and Mahsa Bahary, are a tight and cohesive ensemble.

Director Ben Hunt and Producer Jamie Gray have bestowed this production with the standards that one would normally expect from a production in London’s West End. Not even the smallest of technical details has been overlooked: the acting is top notch; the choreography is slick and precise; the set is functional yet quirky and the sound and lighting effectively reflect the atmosphere and mood of the proceedings on stage.

Indeed, it is refreshing to see talented youngsters performing in work that is artistically stimulating. Surely, it must be far more culturally enriching to hone their considerable talents in live theatre than it would to enter into the sausage factory that is ‘X-Factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’?

‘Spring Awakening’ is an intense, gripping and enthralling production that is beautifully executed by a young Theatre Company who are destined to have a very bright future ahead of them.

Runs until Saturday 2 October 2010.

 

Sep 28th

The Naked Truth

By Steve Burbridge

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The Naked Truth

Darlington Civic Theatre


REVIEWED BY IAN CAIN ON BEHALF OF STEVE BURBRIDGE.

I must admit that I am becoming rather accustomed to being one of only a sprinkling of men in the theatre auditorium. Having previously reviewed ‘The Vagina Monologues’, ‘Women On The Verge of HRT’, ‘Menopause: The Musical’, ‘Hot Flush!’ and ‘Mum’s The Word’, I can now add another female oriented show to the list – ‘The Naked Truth’.

Set in a pole dancing class, it tells the stories of six very different women. There’s rough and ready Rita (Claire King), sweet and sympathetic Sarah (Maureen Nolan), big and bubbly Bev (Leanne Jones), tactless Tricia (Julie Buckfield), dippy and ditzy Faith (Alison Young) and gorgeous Gabby (Michelle Heaton), the class instructor.

Each of the women has their own reasons for taking up pole dancing – whether it be to restore confidence in their body, get a guy, keep a guy, lose weight or embark upon a potential new career. However, when one of the women receives some devastating news, the others soon pull together and decide to turn their new skill into a fund raising event.

Director Stephen Leatherland has assembled a rock solid cast, consisting of all the right elements to draw throngs of women into the theatre for an evening of raunchy, risqué and raucous entertainment. There’s a former soap superbitch, an ex-Liberty X pop princess and even a Nolan sister!

The entire cast deliver top notch performances and are equally as good with the scenes of poignancy and pathos as they are with the ones that contain the comedy and capers.

Writer Dave Simpson has succeeded in carving well crafted characters that are not only rounded and three dimensional, but also totally believable, whereas a less talented playwright may have fallen into the trap of regurgitating tired old stereotypes.

The script crackles along at a rip roaring pace with the laughs coming thick and fast. As you might expect, there are plenty of dirty jokes, suggestive comments and double entendres, but they are received in good humour by the audience and are not included with the intention to shock or offend. Indeed, with the obvious exception of the more tender moments, the auditorium rang with the sound of long and hearty laughter.

The entire evening seemed to be one great big girls’ night out and even scene changes were interspersed by diva anthems by the likes of Shania Twain, The Weather Girls, Lisa Stansfield and Gloria Gaynor.

Yet, for all its frothy frivolity, ‘The Naked Truth’ is a production that genuinely has heart and soul. It’s no surprise, then, that it is now enjoying its fifth national tour and still playing to packed houses. Although it is a show that is about women and for women, it is also one that men must see, too.

Indeed, ‘The Naked Truth’ is a show that is even more uplifting than a Playtex bra. Don’t miss it!

Ian Cain.

Runs until Wednesday 29 September 2010.

 

 

 

Sep 22nd

In The Pipeline

By Steve Burbridge

In The Pipeline

Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

In collaboration with Òran Mór, Live Theatre has launched A Play, A Pie & A Pint, a programme which sees new writing company Paines Plough commission work by the UK’s leading and most important writers, including April De Angelis, David Harrower, Marie Jones, Linda McLean and Gary Owen, and tour the 45 minute plays to venues in Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast and, of course, Newcastle.

The five-week season commenced last week with the first play, ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ by Marie Jones, being performed in the Studio Theatre. This week sees the world premieres move to the Main House, with ‘In The Pipeline’ by Gary Owen.

‘In The Pipeline’ opens the doors on three residents who are caught in the path of a massive liquid gas line as it tears through the Welsh countryside. The play takes the format of three monologues – one from each of the characters – and although each of them are carefully crafted and beautifully written, the connection to the subject matter is tenuous at best.

Rhodri Lewis plays Andrew, a train refreshment trolley operative who strikes up a complex relationship with his neighbour, Ali, and her young daughter Louisa. Essentially, the character is a loveable buffoon and Lewis successfully strikes up a rapport with the audience.

Grahame Fox is Dai, a former power plant employee who struggles to cope with institutionalised ageism in the workplace and his soaring stress levels. Finally, Meg Wynn Owen plays Joan, a kindly but rather eccentric old woman.

The concept of A Play, A Pie & A Pint is a good one and I genuinely hope it catches on. It provides an ideal opportunity for busy people to take in a bite-sized chunk of culture on their way home from work, without breaking the bank. Tickets are priced at £10 each, which includes a meat or vegetarian pie (made by Dickson’s Family Pork Butchers who, along with Fosters UK, are sponsoring the event), and a pint (or a glass of red or white wine or a non-alcoholic beverage).

However, my one concern with ‘In The Pipeline’ is that the actors seemed somewhat under-rehearsed and there were one or two fluffed lines too many. I hope this niggling point will be addressed in the weeks to come.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Friday 24 September 2010.

Forthcoming plays are as follows:

‘The Uncertainty Files’ by Linda McLean             Mon 27 Sept – Fri 1 Oct

‘Calais’ by April De Angelis                                   Mon 4 Oct – Fri 8 Oct

‘Good With People’ by David Harrower                Mon 11 Oct – Fri 15 Oct

 

 

 

 

Sep 21st

Blood Brothers

By Steve Burbridge

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Blood Brothers

Darlington Civic Theatre

“So, did y’hear the story of the Johnstone twins?”

Well, if you haven’t you must! The phenomenon that is Blood Brothers has been captivating audiences for 25 years now and, although this musical is celebrating its silver anniversary, it can only be described as pure gold. Willy Russell’s moving tale of two twin boys who are separated at birth and grow up on opposite sides of the social-class spectrum, only to meet up again with devastating consequences, has established itself as a contemporary classic around the globe. From the West End of London to South East Asia the multi-award winning musical plays to sell-out theatres every night.

Having seen the show numerous times before, the characters and plot are familiar to me but, despite that, Blood Brothers grips me each and every time with its poignancy, humour, tenderness and tragedy.

The role of Mrs Johnstone is surely one of the most coveted in musical theatre and the struggling single mother “with seven hungry mouths to feed and one more nearly due” has been played by such well-known actresses as Barbara Dickson, Petula Clark, Kiki Dee, Stephanie Lawrence, Helen Reddy, Carole King, Lyn Paul, Marti Webb, Melanie Chisholm and four of the Nolan sisters. Niki Evans is the actress who is currently wearing the care-worn smile and cross-over pinny.

Evans presents the audience with quite a different ‘Mrs J’ – although she is maternal, understanding, compassionate, earthy and warm-hearted, she also displays a nervy vulnerability. In addition to a phenomenal acting performance, she delivers her musical numbers with meaning and conviction and her voice is clear, rich and full of emotion.

Sean Jones, as Mickey, and Paul Davies as Eddie are outstanding. It can’t be easy to convincingly play a seven year old child but both of them achieve it admirably, capturing every childhood nuance accurately. The transition to teenager, then man, is equally convincing. Both actors display great skill with the many poignant scenes that they share and the contrast between ‘posh’ Edward and ‘scruffy’ Mickey manifests itself perfectly in their performances. Jones makes the most of Mickey’s comedic qualities without ever over-playing them and Davies gives Eddie an endearing charm and vulnerability.

Kelly- Anne Gower plays Linda, the girl both boys fall in love with. She, too, gives a fine performance throughout, especially in the scene where she tries to persuade Mickey to stop taking the anti-depressants that have transformed him into an empty shell of a man.

Robbie Scotcher plays the significant role of the Narrator, a spectral figure who personifies the moral consciences of Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons, and his performance is as strong and sinister as it should be. His ominous presence hovers around like a dark storm cloud on a sunny day and his strong and powerful voice is hauntingly beautiful.

The strong supporting cast includes Tracy Spencer and Poppy Roe who play Mrs Lyons and Donna-Marie respectively. Daniel Taylor is bad-boy Sammy and Tim Churchill is Mr Lyons.

Blood Brothers is a production that goes from strength to strength, its appeal growing over the years rather than diminishing. It is so powerful a play that it can be watched time and time again without ever losing any of its emotional impact or social relevance.

Wherever it is performed, Blood Brothers receives a standing ovation from an approving audience and last night was no exception. This production is heart-warming, tear-jerking, uplifting, devastating and, above all else, brilliant!

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 25 September 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 18th

The Lady Boys of Bangkok: Fantasy & Feathers Tour

By Steve Burbridge

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The Lady Boys of Bangkok: Fantasy & Feathers Tour

Sabai Pavilion, Times Square, Newcastle

They’ve returned to the ‘toon’ for the seventh successive year and are proving more popular than ever before. Yes, The Lady Boys of Bangkok are back by public demand and entertaining audiences with their own unique brand of burlesque, cabaret and revue.

The Fantasy and Feathers production encompasses sexy space-themed numbers, sensuous Latin rhythms and pulsating pop hits by Tina Turner, Madonna, Lady Gaga and The Saturdays. There’s even a side-splitting Britain’s Got Talent/X-Factor sketch, with appearances by Jedward, SuBo and Cheryl Cole (who waves the red card at her wandering ex, Ashley!). A tongue-in-cheek tribute is paid to the late great prince of pop, Michael Jackson, too.

A hallmark of the show is the traditional element of audience participation and, as usual, the artistes descended into the auditorium to locate an unsuspecting male . . . or three! It’s all done in a good-humoured style and the guys seemed to enjoy their moment in the limelight.

With just about a million quids worth of absolutely stunning costumes, painstakingly-applied make up and show-stopping choreography, it’s difficult to believe that the gorgeous ‘girls’ on stage are actually all men.

The show is two hours of terrific entertainment, performed with perfect precision and plenty of panache. It’s an irresistible, irrepressible evening that guarantees a great night out!

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 9 October 2010.

 

 

Sep 15th

Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance

By Steve Burbridge

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Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance

Darlington Civic Theatre

 If you love Lloyd-Webber, go ga-ga for Gershwin, or sing-along to Sondheim, then Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance is the show for you! In a nutshell, it is a celebration of all things musical – be it from the West End, Broadway or the Silver Screen.

Seven sensational singers and dancers take the audience on a memorable musical journey that encompasses seven decades in a mere two hours. Well, what’s not to like about that, eh?

You’d be hard-pushed to think of a show that is not included in this terrific, toe-tapping treat. Without leaving the comfort of the Civic’s plush red seats, you are transported to the American Wild West (Annie Get Your Gun, Oklahoma!), Olde Worlde London (Oliver!, Mary Poppins and Sweeney Todd), the streets of Liverpool (Blood Brothers) and the magical land of Oz (Wicked).

The cast work their socks off throughout and are backed by a band that never hits a note out of tune. Numbers are choreographed with panache and precision and executed with energy and enthusiasm.

Certain sections are used to pay homage to the best in the business, including Lord Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, whilst others celebrate the increasingly prolific ‘juke-box musical’ or provide a fast and furious four-minute round-up of the productions that ate currently wowing the West End.

Only a couple of minor irritations detracted from this production. One was a couple of old codgers at the rear of the stalls who talked incessantly throughout the performance, whilst the other was some sloppy production standards that resulted in a polystyrene beam that fell from the stage into the auditorium and projection images being shown out of synch with the musicals they were designed to illustrate.

If, like me, you’re a self-confessed musical junkie then you will want to ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ and head straight for the theatre. If not, then you’ll want to yell ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 18th September