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Oct 16th

Play Premier - Stuff ’em an’ kip ’em Safe

By G.D. Mills

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Strange goings on and a silver romance form the subject of a new, inventive play by Forest of Dean playwright Maria Edey. Stuff ’em an’ kip ’em Safe presents a macabre new world in which space at the graveyards is at a premium and where loved ones are stuffed and preserved to ‘live’ alongside those who can’t bear to be without them. As Maria explains: “The idea came to me when I read about the graveyards becoming full and I knew someone who just sat there like they were stuffed.  The story was formed. It is a darkly funny comedy, not for the sensitive or faint hearted.”  Explored within the play is the question of who will go for this new mode of living and how it will affect the progress of their lives.

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The play abounds with Forest of Dean humour and springs from the playwright’s long association with the area, which she has served as both local councillor and business owner. She currently operates a very popular dog grooming business which gives her plenty of opportunity to absorb the local dialect, or ‘Vorest Spake’, captured so well in the play’s musical dialogue. The plot follows a gentle romance as it blooms (their stuffed spouses in the background!) between wordly outsider, Charles Collard, and timorous Forester, Ethel Price. Ethel’s bluntly spoken old friend (awld butty) Gladys Jones, meanwhile, is always on hand to spice things up.

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Performed by a large, professional cast the ensemble is led by seasoned performers Penelope Wildgoose (recently Margaret Thatcher for Channel 5's Inside Balmoral), Anna Liddell (Jane Austen in the feature film The Dinosaur Hunters) and Paul Maguire (television credits include Casualty and Buffalo Girls). A comical yet grizzly presence, the stuffed spouses  - dressed, of course, to suit the décor - are played by Birmingham School of Acting graduate Alex Ranahan and local Lynne Murch. Supporting roles are filled by Sammy J Turley, Christian Rowbotham and Geoff Mills. At the artistic helm is veteran director Sue Bennett.

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Maria Edey is ambitious for the production and hopes it will play at other performance venues. You can catch the opening night at Lydney Town Hall on November 11th.

             Event listing here.                         Buy tickets online here

May 10th

Lost - an evening of new writing in Bristol

By G.D. Mills

This week the Alma Theatre Tavern hosts a trio of new plays from three award winning writers. OK, two award-winning writers and a compulsive liar.

'City' by Pippa Gladhill is a hard-boiled tale of noir fantasies, improbable chess moves and unrequited love. Homeless gumshoe Frank faces his toughest case yet: a missing canine, a demolition site and a hostile security force. But he always has a plan...

'The Pasta Machine' by Andy Alderson is set in the flaming wreckage of a relationship. As Poppy arrives to collect her things from Tim's flat, she finds him drunk and primed for battle. Acrimony, betrayal and kitchenware feature heavily in a play that critics are describing as "New" and "20-25 minutes long".



'Dummy' by Andrzej Wawrowski is a twisted comedy-drama about unhinged children's entertainer Dennis Turp. From humble beginnings on the local circuit, Dennis has taken his show – with 'co-star' Charlie Chimpington – to the top. Now, as America awaits, the pressure is on. With a Machiavellian girlfriend, an ineffectual agent and a toy monkey with ambitions of his own, Dennis is cracking up.



Like Mr Tumble directed by The League of Gentlemen. Welcome to the dark side of light entertainment.

They will be performed at the Alma Theare Tavern on the 11th, 12th and 13th of May. Visit the website here for tickets and more details:

http://www.almatavernandtheatre.co.uk/theatreWhatsOnMin1.php

Images: Andy Alderson

Apr 5th

"This beguiling ballet, this terpischorean treat" - The Red Shoes at the Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

Based on the 1948 Oscar winning film, which in turn takes its inspiration from the Hans Christian Anderson story, Matthew Bourne brings us a new, visually stunning, dream-like incarnation of The Red Shoes. For those who don’t know, the grisly fairytale is about a girl who refuses to take off her red shoes when she goes to confession. For her sins the shoes develop a life of their own and so she is doomed to dance, through streets, fields and graveyards, by day and by night. Even when her feet are chopped off she is unable to gain redemption - only death can give her that.

In both the film and Matthew Bourne’s version we are presented with a dance company going through the processes of staging the old fairytale. And so what we see is a stage, on a stage, on a stage. Designer Lez Brotherston captures this complex dynamic beautifully with a series of complex and ingeniously conceived mechanical switches, which transport us across multiple locations in a matter of seconds. There is a filmic quality to the production too: we find our point of view being cleverly and unexpectedly manipulated as the onstage curtain reverses and we find ourselves treading the boards alongside the dancers, looking out towards another audience.

The story is told exclusively through movement and dance, as presented by a motley bunch of theatrical eccentrics: the impetuous, impressario director; the melodramatically fey, male lead; the muse-struck musician and, of course, Vicky Page, who simply flies through the air with a beautifully fluid grace. The set is rarely motionless and the stage is ceaselessly alive with movement.

Bernard Herrman, a Hollywood legend known for his musical contributions to Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver, provides a psychologically nuanced score. Always visually engaging the production is nevertheless narratively ambiguous. Despite having read the programme notes beforehand I wasn’t always sure whether I was watching the show within a show within a show, or merely the show within the show. With a complex premise of this nature, you can see where there is room for confusion, and discussion at the interval confirmed that I wasn’t the only slightly confused audience member.

 

The arrival of a steam train, which crashes apocalytically through the stage, marks the end of this dance delight, this beguiling ballet, this terpischorean treat. For those new to the world of ballet, as I am, The Red Shoes provides a marvellous introduction.

Go see the production at Bristol Hippodrome yourselves.

 Visit http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/matthew-bournes-the-red-shoes/bristol-hippodrome/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 17th

Delightfully kitsch - The Wedding Singer at the Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

 

 I arrived uncharacteristically early for this show and for twenty minutes or so, as I sat in the auditorium, projected trailers from classic 80s films (E.T. ,The Goonies, Desperately Seeking Susan) transported me back to my childhood. It was an oddly nostalgic experience and put me in exactly the right frame of mood for the 80s fest that was to follow. The musical reprises the outrageously kitch 1998 film version which, starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, grossed over one hundred and twenty three dollars worldwide.  

The story is simple: a wedding singer is jilted at the altar, hits the rocks, but is slowly drawn out of the doldrums by a waitress already betrothed to a shallow yuppie. I’m sure you can complete the narrative circle.

The music is pure 80s pastiche, and the backing dancers jolt frenetically to the synthesized beat with alarming savagery. The performances are exceptionally professional, seamless even, but like a perfectly iced wedding cake one longs to pierce the surface.

Jon Robyns as Robbie is amusing as the forlorn, broken figure living in his grandmother’s basement, thrashing out angry chords like a beleaguered teenager, while Cassie Compton plays an endearingly perky waitress with a delightful jounce in her step.

There is something mesmerising about the persistent backdrop: total blackness like deep space, dotted with stars. For all this, however, the storyline is drawn out and after a while each musical number begins to sound suspiciously like the last.

Overall, great fun while it lasts but instantly forgettable.  Catch it on tour now. Visit

http://theweddingsingermusical.co.uk/tour-dates

Mar 8th

Sunny Afternoon, Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

Ray Davies emerges as both genius and hero of a Sunny Afternoon, a razzle-dazzle, foot-tapping musical which traces the rise of 60s band The Kinks. There is much to admire in this kaleidoscopic production: the arresting wall-to-wall set composed entirely of speakers; excellent musicianship; a galloping narrative and of course a host of classic hits which, thanks to Joe Penhall, emerge seamlessly from the drama at narratively opportune moments.

Numbers like Waterloo Sunset, You Really Got Me, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Lola and Sunny Afternoon are themselves so full of character and story that they would be enough in themselves to sustain our attention. The wider drama, by contrast, seems a little too cliché ridden. We have the inevitable internal quarreling as well as all the familiar figures in the rock n’ roll rags to riches story: the Machiavellian money men, the sex crazed nymphets; the salt of the earth, working class parents, and so on. Not that they aren’t all entertaining, and deftly rendered, in a larger-than-life, comic sort of way. Lisa Wright is stand-out as Rasa, Ray Davies’ plaintive, stay-at-home wife, and Mark Newnham raises consistent laughter as Ray’s infantile, cross-dressing brother.


But the music. Oh yes, that music. Ray Davies has produced 14 top ten international hits: richly melodic and poetically nuanced, they are an established part of our cultural landscape. Sunny Afternoon is a very successful, paint-by-numbers musical, but the quality of that music takes it to a whole new level.

See it on tour. Visit the website here.

http://sunnyafternoonthemusical.com/

Mar 1st

Not Dead Enough, Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

 

 

 

The murder mystery play lends itself to a certain theatricality, indeed, may be considered an essential part of its DNA. Think Poirot with his silly Belgian accent and his equally silly hirstute upper lip, or Holmes with deerstalker, pipe and ornate turn of phrase – both singular eccentrics surrounded by outsized characters, with their lisps and their limps and their monobrows and their monocles, any one of whom may have ‘dunnit’, for revenge, with the meatcleaver, in the drawing room. Not Dead Enough unfortunately lacks many of the long established theatrical elements required to engage.

 

Apart from the deranged killer, whose favoured modus operandi takes on a sadomasochistic quality, the leaden characters and their clunking dialogue were as dull as the set: the clinical grey of a mortuary, and the granite grey of a police headquarters, do not an alluring backdrop make.

 

If I was on the edge of my seat at all it was to hear what was being said: I strained to hear much of the dialogue until the amplification system kicked in, and even then I struggled. Shane Ritchie is competent as the no frills detective with a troubled past (sound a little too familiar?) but he shares little chemistry with pathologist partner Cleo Morey (Laura Whitmore), a beautiful Irish girl who skitters carelessly across the stage in her unlikely portrayal of one who must deal daily with death. DC Roy Grace sleuths alongside Branson (Michael Quartey) who, perhaps mindful of the sound issues, bellows his lines across the auditorium as if he’s in a builder’s yard.

 

 

Based on the hugely successful novels of Peter James, this gritty procedural will transfer well to the television format. where the noir-ish elements can be explored and there is room to dig inside the characters’ skin. On the stage, however, it simply feels like a genre misapplied. Not Dead Enough was simply Not Alive Enough for my money.

You can catch Not Dead Enough on tour. For more details visit

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/not-dead-enough/

 

 

Dec 16th

Robin Hood at The Egg Theatre, Bath

By Clare Brotherwood

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the legend of Robin Hood has been around since 1377.

Greg Banks’ version, however, is bang up-to-date, opening with rough sleepers prowling the stage as one of them recalls the man who robbed the rich to feed the poor.

The characters may have been made homeless by Prince John but there are many today who are just like them, living on the streets and begging for food, while instead of Robin Hood we have charities such as Crisis and Shelter.

This production is far from downbeat, however. Yes, it’s got a heart. It’s a story with substance and some robust characters, but it is also rollicking, good entertainment, with a live band, songs, dancing and some audience participation. Banks, who also directs, is to be praised for fitting so many elements into 1 hr 50 mins, while the cast of four are to be applauded for their energy, physicality and all-round versatility.

Much of the fun is down to Thomas Johnson’s music, and lyrics co-written by him and Banks. It’s a mix of reggae, rap, Madness and The Proclaimers, with the cast belting out songs such as Liberation Day to rousing accompaniment from Amy Sergeant on guitar, Julie Walkington on double bass and Rhian Williams on drums. The fact that they perform these songs with hand-held mics and sometimes wear Blues Brothers-type sunglasses makes them extra-cool and identifiable to today’s young audiences

All four play a myriad of characters, only going to the side of the stage to instantly turn round transformed into a goodie or a baddie. But they each have major roles.

Peter Edwards is your archetypal hero, leaping from tree trunk to tree trunk firing imaginary arrows and being an all-round good egg (pun not intended). He’s brave but when he and Marion fall in love he is as soppy as you can get.

Although she gives in to the Sheriff of Nottingham to save her father, the character of Maid Marion is a lot more spirited, and her bravery, loyalty and love makes her a perfect role model for girls of today. It would be a better message to send out  if Robin had fallen in love with her because of her bravery rather than her beauty but, whichever, audiences will fall in love with Rebecca Killick (who also plays Much, an adolescent member of Robin’s Merry Men), a cracking little actress who has huge presence and even makes turning cartwheels look easy.

Nik Howden and Stephen Leask are at opposite ends of the scale. As the Sheriff of Nottingham, Howden is perfect as a thin, black-leathered, streak of evil, while Leask shows his comedic skills, playing Prince John as a figure of fun.

Performed in the round with Hannah Wolfe’s set of a clump of frosted tree trunks presenting challenges to the actors, this production for six-year-olds upwards is a real Christmas cracker, while The Egg, built specifically for use by young people inside a Grade II listed Victorian building, is a star in its own right.

Robin Hood is at The Egg Theatre, Bath, until January 15.

www.theatreroyal.org.uk

Box office: 01225 448844

Apr 11th

THE WESTENDERS – with guest-star Tracie Bennett - Princess Theatre, Torquay

By Cameron Lowe

By Leonie Wilde.                                                                               April 9th.

 

According to the programme the basic cast of this show have, between them, appeared in 25 major musicals, and formed their original six-singer group whilst all performing in LES MISERABLES in the West End.  Their voices are solidly well-trained and varied, combining well for the largely ensemble presentation of medleys of songs from musical shows.  A pleasing choice of the romantic, the dramatic and pure fun - ranging from MARY POPPINS to the caucus of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows,  all presented with breakneck speed and vivacious aplomb.


The Westenders

In traditional concert style, movement is basic, relying on ‘positioning’ in lines and smaller groupings, slickly accomplished throughout.  Possibly overall content might have been enhanced with some choreographic ‘hints’ in numbers such as SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS, plus a little less dependence on solid down-lighting and a few more ‘costume suggestions.’  Joseph’s actual Technicolor Dream coat was a welcome addition, as were the colourfully outrageous female costumes in the final section of the show.  As hand-held microphones were a constant, the occasional use of a microphone stand, particularly for solo ballads,  would have freed up both arms for greater expression.

Musical support was superb. A fine 7-piece band was led by Jae Alexander who occasionally left the stand to act as compere, also exhibited panache plus vocal prowess in a spirited portrayal of Monsieur Thenardier. There were some spine-tingling vocal pyrotechnics from the whole cast throughout the show; in particular  the purity of Frances Fry’s soprano voice and the power and acting ability of Stephen Weller.

Tracie BennettAs guest-artiste, Tracie Bennett appears to present a fairly short solo spot, consisting of songs from her multi- award winning performance as Judy Garland in the play END OF THE RAINBOW.  This material, coming from a different era to that of the rest of the show’s content is a complete contrast, so it was a pity that her introduction was perfunctory and there was much ‘page-turning’ as members of the audience attempted to find mention of her in the programme – which doesn’t contain even a ‘slipped’ CV of this artiste who has dozens of Stage/Television/Film appearances to her credit, plus two Olivier Awards, a Tony and other theatrical awards/nominations. Her characterisation of Judy was splendid.  Accurately observed tensile movement and gesture  in the ‘powerhouse’ numbers contrasting perfectly with the emotionally-charged stillness in her delivery of Over The Rainbow.

The Westenders

The final part of the show featured a very strong medley of songs from Les Miserables, bringing a section of the audience to its feet. The rest of the audience then joined  in with hand-clapping, arm-waving participation during the MAMA MIA finale.

In spite of the minor criticisms which I’ve noted here, this was an energetic, entertaining and polished production which sent the audience out of the theatre in an obviously happy mood.


Tour details on THE WESTENDERS website.

Oct 17th

Feline Frenzy in the Neighbourhood: Cats at the Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

CATS, Bristol Hippodrome

16 - 26th October 


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When T.S. Eliot published his whimsical collection of poetry
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats in 1939, he could hardly have imagined how it would later be transcribed and transformed into one of the longest-running musicals ever to grace the West End. Andrew Lloyd Webber, however, wasn’t the first musician to melodise these verses: composer Alan Rawsthorne did so in 1954, as did Humphrey Searle some time later. Eliot’s work, with its addictive rhythms and reiterative cadences, evidently lends itself to musical adaptation.

A perilous, capital risking enterprise in 1981, with Trevor Nunn directing and Elaine Paige starring as Grizabella, this strange, narrative shy, dance heavy experiment was regarded my many as doomed to failure. Trevor Nunn, in fact, recalls people having ‘trouble disguising their amusement at the seeming badness of the idea”.

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Cats
is now, of course, a familiar part of the cultural landscape and in this tour version many of the signature elements of the original production have been reprised, including the junkyard setting scaled to the cat’s point of view, the madcap feline costumes, the mottled lighting effects and, most notably, the recreation of the original dance choreography by Gillian Lynne. As she once explained, cats were “at once aloof, hyper-sensual, cold, warm, completely elastic and very mysterious”, characteristics she manages to capture  “in an exciting, theatrical, witty yet feline way”. Certainly there is more variety and ingenuity of movement here, in the first ‘danced through’ musical ever devised, than you’ll see for a long time yet. 

Sophia Ragavelas’ rendition of Memory tears the night sky with its searing sadness, while there is something inescapably touching about Paul F Monaghan’s trembling, melancholic evocation of theatrical times gone by. Like the musical itself, Gus the Theatre Cat is a venerable cat, a very proud cat, and one with a great dramatic history behind him. Unlike the musical, however, it is clear he is not long for this world.

When the show first closed in London back in 2002, Andrew Lloyd Webber said “Obviously, I am very sad but, by my calculations, 21 years is a great age for a cat and, after all, it does have eight lives left.” He was right to predict its longevity; the musical has been performed in over 26 countries and seen by over 50 millions people: less a neighbourhood cat than a global cat, you can catch it on Bristol's doorstep until the 26th October. 

 

CATSBristol Hippodrome

16th - 26th October
 
 
http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/cats/bristol-hippodrome/

Oct 8th

"I Will Come Again" - Evita at the Bristol Hippodrome

By G.D. Mills

EVITA
BRISTOL HIPPODROME

7TH OCT - 12TH OCT 2O13

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita has a long established performance pedigree and this revival, with Bill Kenwright at the helm, can only serve to strengthen it. It begins with an august requiem, sung at the funeral of the much loved first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, whose story we will shortly come to know. The opening set  - marble floors, majestic colonnades, a stately spaciousness - captures the grandeur of Eva’s final circumstances, thus throwing into relief the modesty of her beginnings – for Evita is a rags to riches story, as well as a romantic and political one. 

This is the story of an actress’s rise from provincial obscurity, via numerous opportunistic and mercenary love affairs,  to glamorous dynamo on the political world stage. Marti Pellow, formally of Wet Wet Wet, plays Che, the hard-nut revolutionary chorus who guides us through the action. Despite some obvious macho posturing - Pellow isn’t from an acting background after all – his is an irresistibly muscular presence and the rich authority of his voice contrasts pleasingly with the girlish timbre of Eva in her skittish early years.

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Hannah Grover portrays Eva’s graduation from naïf to dictator’s wife with lively credibility, managing to capture both the Hollywood grace that made her so popular with the descamisados (shirtless ones) as well as the steely drive that fuelled her rapid ascent to the top. Joe Maxwell is less memorable as the president, but his pitch carries a severity and gravitas, more pronounced still as the frail Eva, cowed by illness into a withdrawal from public life, withers with cancer. Sarah McNicholas is astonishingly poignant in her performance as Peron’s ousted mistress, her delicate, soaring pitch reaching out for an emotional solace that will never come.

More perhaps than any other musical I’ve seen, the numbers seem to slide seamlessly into each other, weaving a lush musical thread through the grandest of narratives. “I will come again, and I will be millions,” Eva once said at the height of her powers. Thanks, in part, to the success of this remarkable musical, she never really went away. 
 

     EVITA - BRISTOL HIPPODROME  
             7th Oct - 12th Oct 2013
 
http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/bristol-hippodrome/
 

Evita