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Mar 31st

When the Dove Returns at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Captain Ned (James Little) and the survivors 

I'm going to live!

Following their debut Bibs, Boats, Borders & B*stards about the refugee crisis in 2016, which opened to good notices, Backpack Theatre now present a devised piece about the long-term effects of climate change.

The survivors of an apocalyptic flood combined with poisonous smog have fled to a ship - "The Dove". After reluctantly saving their lives, the Captain enforces a strict regime, limiting food rations to the bare minimum to ensure the survival of the fittest. After 30 days on board the small ship, coping with storms, hunger, and unbearable living conditions, the refugees are ready to revolt - but Ned is the only one who knows the coordinates to reach land.

The performance begins with audio clips on the greenhouse effect, setting the tone for the production. An ominous shadow appears on the wall before the flood survivors arrive on a simple set by Brittany Stillwell representing the deck of a ship - a slightly raised platform covered with plastic, a bucket, and a few black bin bags. The cast splash around in stagnant water which adds to the atmosphere, along with sound effects of waves crashing against the boat and constant rain. Music by Ella Bellsz and pop songs are used for the lighter moments.

Duncan Rendall.jpg

Joshua (Duncan Rendall)

Alice Lavender's intense production focuses on the effects of hunger and extreme living conditions on a group of people. Are they able to keep their humanity or will their baser instincts take over to ensure their own survival?

The song "Tick, Tock" represents the passing of time on the boat as the flood survivors, convincingly played by the dedicated cast, become weak with hunger and frustrated by Ned's strict rules. The lack of privacy is demonstrated by the frequent use of a toilet bucket, an action that is repeated once or twice too often. Yet there are also funny moments such as the enthuasiastic welcome when the survivors arrive aboard the ship and a techno dance later in the performance.

Director Alice Lavender plays Victoria, a young mother who left her newborn baby behind. Along with James Little as Ned, Lavender's touching character has the strongest impact in this production.

A valid commentary on the social and envionmental consequences of climate change.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 1st April 2017 at the Blue Elephant Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes without an interval.

Contains some nudity. Recommended for ages 16+.

Tickets and further info: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/when-dove-returns

Images by Brittany Stillwell.

Mar 30th

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

Thoroughly Modern Millie tickets

What a joy it is to see a good old fashioned musical, with sumptuous costumes, an incredible set, brilliant choreography, dancing, singing and acting.  This musical has them all in abundance and you cannot fail but to be captivated by its warmth, energy and humour.

Strictly come Dancing’s Joanne Clifton, proves that she’s a very talented ‘triple threat’ and gives a delightful performance as Millie.

It’s New York in 1922 and naive Millie Dillmount arrives from the small town of Kansas, immediately getting mugged and losing all her money.  She bumps into Jimmy Smith (Sam Barrett), who gives her the number of a hotel to stay in, where he says the landlady will be understanding of her predicament until she finds work.  All is not quite as it seems though, as the wicked landlady, Mrs Meers (brilliantly played by Lucas Rush) is actually selling her tenants into the white slavery trade, with great acrobatic support from Damian Buhagiar and Andy Yau as the Chinese boys charged with carrying out her evil deeds.

Being ‘thoroughly modern’ in the 1920s, meant that Millie was in search of a rich husband and sets her sights on her new boss, Mr Trevor Graydon (Graham MacDuff), who is oblivious to her charms.   Graham has a chance to shine in the second half, shamelessly over-playing being extremely drunk and getting a lot of laughs in the process.

Jenny Fitzpatrick, as Muzzy Van Hossmere, has the most amazing voice, as does Lotty Somers who stepped in to play Miss Dorothy and seized the chance to make her mark. 

Based on the 1967 film which was written as a vehicle for Julie Andrews and co-starred Mary Tyler Moore, the stage musical opened on Broadway on 2002 and went on to win 6 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  The West End version opened in 2003 and starred Amanda Holden, with Maureen Lipman and Marti Webb sharing the role of the devilish Mrs Meers. 

It’s glamorous, glitzy and glorious fun, and puts the ‘E’ back into ‘Entertainment!’

For tour dates and tickets please visit http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/thoroughly-modern-millie-2017

Reviewed by:

Yvonne Delahaye

28.3.17

 

@yvonnedelahaye

Mar 28th

Shirley Valentine at Milton keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 27th March 2017

Poster SV 

I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be.’

This is just one of Shirley Bradshaw’s - née Valentine - lines by Willy Russell in his play Shirley Valentine and it encapsulates a universal truth – that we all have great potential within us. Jodie Prenger totally fulfils her potential in her role as Shirley Valentine.  It is true that she has an excellent script to work with, but alone on stage for two hours, Jodie captivates the audience with her sincerity, physicality and an obvious deep enjoyment of the part. Jodie becomes Shirley Valentine. 

Russell’s truthful portrayal of a middle-woman who regrets her dull existence is written with both wit and heartfelt emotion. Take away the quips and banter and what is left is the grey, lonely monotony of daily life for this woman who has few choices.  But Russell gives us a feisty woman with bittersweet lines and so we temporarily forget that her best friend is Wall, that her husband is domineering, that her children have left. The wit is earthy and northern… ‘I’m not saying she’s a bragger, but if you’ve been to Paradise, she’s got a season ticket’. ‘Sex is like supermarkets, you know, overrated. Just a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little at the end’.

SV imge copyright Manuel Harlan

image copyright Manuel Harlan

Jodie Prenger makes the script meaningful; her timing is impeccable, her delivery faultless and her body language truthful. The audience becomes her friend – much like Wall, and later Rock – and acts as her confidante – through flashbacks and clever impersonations we know Shirley, and so become complicit in her actions. 

At times the play seems somewhat dated; in 2017, 42 is not considered middle-aged, women do have choices and kitchens are not normally painted mustard.  There is also a great discrepancy in the settings of the Acts. In Act 1 the kitchen and utensils are carefully chosen to represent the 80s – a flowery cutting board, a round, white Fairy bottle,  sculpted pine doors. In Act 2, however, the setting is crude – large lumps of shiny black rock and a Marjorelle blue backdrop. 

None of this can detract, however, from the treat that this play is. It talks of the human condition, its loneliness and sadness and it underlines that with humour and drive, dreary lives can become exciting lives just as Shirley Valentine on her Greek island testifies.

'Dreams. They are never in the place you expect them to be'.

Shirley Valentine is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Monday 27th March to Saturday 1st April

 www.atgtickets.com

 0844871 7652 

Booking fee applies

 

Mar 26th

Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre - UK Tour from 8 April - 23 September 2017

By Carolin Kopplin

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Sally Cookson's imaginative new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's beloved novel Jane Eyre will tour the UK from April to September 2017. Nadia Clifford will take over the central role of Jane Eyre and Tim Delap will play Rochester.

Before the beginning of the tour, the National Theatre invited regional press and representatives of regional theatres to a second-week rehearsal with the opportunity to interview director Sally Cookson and members of the cast. 

A collaboration between the Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre, the production was originally presented in two parts in Bristol. Rufus Norris, Artistic Director of the National Theatre, asked to have it cut down to one part before it transferred to the NT. Director Sally Cookson agreed and got rid of the "not so good bits" which made the production "even more epic". The UK Tour will feature the third version of Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre.

After directing Peter Pan at the Bristol Old Vic, Sally Cookson was asked what she would like to do next and she immediately decided on an adaptation of Jane Eyre. Cookson had seen Orson Welles' film as a child and had been fascinated by the images and Bernard Hermann's music. When she eventually got to read the book, she realised that Jane Eyre was not a mere love story but a cry for equal rights of women, focusing on the importance of individual human rights and what is needed to thrive as a human: "Jane Eyre understands this from an early age and strives for it". Sally Cookson wanted to tell Jane Eyre's life-story, not a romantic costume drama with a love story at its centre.

Sally Cookson's imaginative production captures the spirit of the novel but is geared towards a modern audience. Cookson felt that costumes and a historical set limited the story. The Victorian period is referenced but the main purpose of Michael Vale's set is to reflect Jane's struggle. An obstacle course consisting of various platforms and ladders demands physical strength and fitness from the cast. Sally Cookson confirmed that the actors ran about 5 miles during every performance.

After working on the story with a dramaturg to achieve a basic structure, the play was developed by Cookson and the cast during an 8-week process through collaboration and improvisation, using dialogue from the novel as well as creating new dialogue. All songs in the production were written by Benji Bower and emerged during the rehearsal period, with the exception of "Mad About the Boy" and "Crazy". There is an orchestra on stage, creating an impressive soundscape. The production is miked to make sure that the actors can be heard over the orchestra and sound effects which include many percussive elements.

The actors performed some parts of the production that had already been rehearsed beginning with Jane's birth and her struggle with her aunt Mrs Reed after she is orphaned. The conflict is exacerbated by the death of Jane's kindly uncle and Cookson's production clearly shows Jane Eyre, now played by the charismatic Nadia Clifford, as a strong and determined character. It was also important to the director to do justice to Bertha who gets a bit of a raw deal in the novel. Bertha is always present at Fairfield Hall and finishes with a melancholy but very lyrical song.

This compelling and highly creative production can now be seen in many regional theatres after a sell-out run at the National Theatre.

By Carolin Kopplin

Running time: 3 hours with one interval

Tour dates: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/jane-eyre-on-tour

First stop Salford from 8th April 2017

Mar 26th

WNO's Madam Butterfly at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Alison Smith

by Alison Smith

Madam Butterfly

image copyright Jeremy Abrahams

Puccini’s Madam Butterfly (a Japanese Tragedy) is a passionate drama with beautiful music.  But it is also a tale of power and control, of abandonment, of despair and death. The words in the duet at the end of the First Act give a clue; the ironic ‘Love doesn’t kill, but brings life’ …and the more foreboding -‘If a man captures a butterfly he sticks it to a board’. Warnings of the tragic outcome abound, but the protagonists caught up in their love – love for Cio-Cio,  ownership for Pinkerton – ignore the implications.

The tale seems simple.  A relationship between a man and a woman, but the twists and turns of the tale are anything but. The man is an American naval officer in Nagasaki; the woman a very young, beautiful Geisha girl. The marriage is an arranged one, and for the groom a dissolvable one – an early example of sex tourism: cost 100 yen. Cio-Cio (Butterfly) believes this marriage will take her away from the difficult life she leads and open up new possibilities. She adopts Americanisms, calls herself Mrs B.F. Pinkerton, and changes her religion, for which she is rejected by her family. She is a faithful, loving wife, whereas  Pinkerton is  crass, shallow and lustful, playing with Cio-Cio until he marries a ‘real’ American wife. He is full of Western superiority with clear contempt for the Japanese and their culture. When he returns after three years with his new wife, Cio-Cio kills herself.

Madam Butterfly

image copyright Jeremy Abrahams

The setting is beautiful; the stage and costumes are in sepia shades. This lulls the audience into believing such tales only belong to nostalgia – like the old photographs of our ancestors; Pinkerton’s obsession with his camera underscores the idea that Cio-Cio is part of his holiday snaps. The technique of using shoji, the classical Japanese sliding screen doors, opens up the stage, but these screens also act to imprison Cio-Cio in her lonely married life.

Joachim Herz’s  version of Puccini’s opera, is a clever blend of delicate, oriental music and melodious occidental music; in the wedding scene the Japanese national anthem is incorporated and the Star Spangled Banner occurs frequently - this was the American Naval anthem until 1931 when it became America’s national anthem. The two stars of WNO’s Madam Butterfly – Karah Son as Madam Butterfly and Johnathan Burton as Lieutenant Pinkerton - excel in their roles.  Karah Son’s singing is first class and the expresses both innocence and heartbreak in a totally believable manner. Burton was so credible that he was booed at the first curtain call.

The WNO orchestra conducted by Andrew Greenwood is flawless.

 www.atgtickets.com

 0844871 7652

 Booking fee applies.

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 25th

Bemusing and nutty - Antony and Cleopatra at the RSC

By G.D. Mills

Iqbal Khan’s swiftly moving, ever-bustling production of Antony and Cleopatra superabounds with sex, death and exoticism. From the outset we are invited into a world that is Other: a hypnotic tribal dance dissolves suddenly to reveal a sexually-charged, post-romp exchange between two radically divergent figures.

This spectacular clash of cultural and physical difference sustains our wonder for a good while: a tall, black, slender Cleopatra prowls the stage like a feline on heat, while the pink-skinned, ginger-haired Antony lumbers, heavy as an ox. While opposites, as the adage goes, attract, this takes us to a whole new level.  

And while Josette Simon’s performance is undeniably memorable, perhaps even show-stealing, it is difficult to get a grasp on. Her voice does unusual things. At one stage she mimics a squeaky pitched little girl, and at others drops to a heavy, African bass, but even at her normal register she gives us a kind of rarefied Jamaican lilt, with heavy stresses hurled onto every fourth or fifth word.

This is not Shakespeare as I know it, or Cleopatra as I know her, but something quite Other, which is, to be fair, exactly what Cleopatra is meant to be. And so what we are given is a performance that is quite wonderful. Or not.  

Antony Byrne’s gritty Mark Antony, meanwhile, gives us something more rooted and familiar, not least in the occasional, accentual nod towards Yorkshire.

Robert Innes Hopkins' lush, ever dynamic set punctuates an uneven production which doesn’t always engage. And the famous asp scene is both intentionally and unintentionally funny. It isn’t Josette Simon’s fault that the toy snake she removes from the basket looks like a toy snake. But we are being invited to laugh, presumably, when she impatiently provokes the snake into biting her with a punch to the chest. 

Yes, even her dying moments are bemusing and nutty. Simon is always working her Cleopatra, but I’m not sure her Cleopatra always works. On this, I think, there will be a neat divide. To quote Puccini, “Let the audience decide”.

Catch Antony and Cleopatra now. Visit

https://www.rsc.org.uk

Mar 25th

Surprising and occasionally shocking - Julius Caeser at the RSC

By G.D. Mills

Majestic collonades and a raised statue of a lion attacking a horse, a Roman symbol of elected government, form the simple, striking set for the first three acts of Angus Jackson's compelling new production. Ceaser (Andrew Woodall), tall, rangy and patrician, pumped up after triumphant battle with Pompey, looms over his adoring subjects while Brutus and Cassius mither and fret on the fringes.

In fact these two make for unlikely conspirators, more closely resembling peevish, put-upon clerks complaining of their manager’s untenable demands than senators with a taste for regicide.

James Corrigan, in what was perhaps a stab at abject resignation, instead gives us a surprisingly relaxed and matter of fact Mark Anthony as he stands over the deposed leader’s body and invites the co-conspirators to strike him down. Corrigan, rugged and charming, captures the duality of a man who must martial language as strategically as he martials his troops.

 By Act 4 Anthony and Brutus are at war and de Bella’s Lion Attacking a Horse, a symbol of nobility and justice (despite itself being unjustly pilfered by the Romans) has been removed from its plinth. The alliance between Cassius and Brutus is beginning to fracture and behind the colonnades the clouds bruise and the sky weeps blood. 

Terry King offers us a disappointingly tokenistic battle scene but there is a moment of true unanticipated horror at the end of the fighting when Lucius (Brutus’ boy servant, played endearingly by Samuel Little) is chased down and swiftly dispatched with a brutal and audible snap to the neck. There is a collective intake of breath from the audience as the young boy drops like a ragdoll to the floor.

The power of this performance lies in the principle of the phalanx, a formation in which Roman soldiers interlocked their shields: no one performance stands out, but it holds together by the strength of its parts.

See this production now, visit

https://www.rsc.org.uk/

 

Mar 24th

The Matt Monro Story @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

Click for more details and to book tickets for The Matt Monro Story at Theatre Royal Brighton, Brighton

‘Surely you’re too young to remember Matt Monro?’ a lady asked me after the show.  I explained that my parents had been fans of ‘The Man with the Golden Voice’ and played his music a lot, so how could I not have fallen in love with that silky smooth voice?

The Matt Monro Story is not just a tribute to Britain’s answer to Frank Sinatra, it’s a very personal journey which has taken his son, Matt Monro Junior, 30 years to put together.  The show features him singing some of his father’s iconic songs ‘Born Free’, ‘Walk Away’, ‘Portrait of My Love’ to name but a few. 

Matt Monro Junior opens the show singing with a 3 piece band and then introduces Danni Bentley, who narrates the life story of Matt Monro Senior, to a backdrop of pictures and video footage.  Danni also has the chance to show off her beautiful voice singing ‘Yesterday’ and later duets with MMJunior. 

It’s a very interesting life story, as Matt Senior was born in Shoreditch in London in 1930 and was first noticed while serving in the British army in Hong Kong.  His singing career took a long time to really take off, as he worked his way around the clubs and his first few records failed to make a mark.  Strangely enough it was a Camay soap commercial that got his gorgeous voice noticed and his partnership with George Martin and EMI eventually gave him his first huge hit with ‘Portrait of My Love’.

Matt’s signature tune, ‘Born Free’, almost got cut from the film, but thankfully it was kept in and went on to win an Oscar for best song.  The first Bond film to feature a title song ‘From Russia With Love’ especially written for the film, was sung by Matt and set a trend which continues to this day.

Matt Monro achieved international fame, making albums in Spanish as well as English and in the Philippines he filled a stadium of 26,000 people and had to put on 4 more shows selling those out too.

Tragically, Matt Monro’s life and career were cut short as he developed liver cancer and he died in 1985 at the age of 54.

Frank Sinatra dubbed Matt ‘The singer’s singer’ and his rich, velvety voice is so effortless and full of emotion, I defy any singer not to be amazed at his natural, untrained skills with perfect breath control and phrasing.  His son admits that it’s impossible for him to compete and emulate his father, but it doesn’t matter as this touching, very personal celebration of the great singer is very moving. The video footage of Matt Monro Senior singing ‘Softly as I Leave You’ had me welling up, as it brought back memories of my dearly departed parents.  Whatever age you are, if you’ve never even heard of Matt Monro I urge you to listen to this track to hear something very extraordinary and special.  The show is very emotional and it’s a gentle evening of nostalgia for music lovers everywhere.

Further dates can be found http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-matt-monro-story/

Reviewed by:

 

Yvonne Delahaye

21.3.17

@yvonnedelahaye

Mar 22nd

'A glorious, colour-drenched riot of joy' - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at Malvern Festival Theatre

By G.D. Mills

There were a couple of ill omens prior to the start of this performance and I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake. First there was a long, rather cheesy musical prelude as we stared at the faux-ancient arras masking the stage, and second, the music itself was reproduced on a keyboard, albeit played live, by an almost manically enthusiastic figure, his head bopping along frenetically to the tinkety beat. When the arras lifted to reveal a ziggurat, populated by tiers of small children, a number of inflated sheep, and Jacob, the superannuated sire, being loaded with a growing number of stuffed dolls to denote his alarming fecundity, I wondered if perhaps now was the time to slip out quietly 

And yet...and yet...by the end of the first half I was halfway convinced, and by the end I was as totally swept up by this glorious, colour-drenched, riot of joy as the audience were. Yes, there is a childish element to this production– a talking camel, speech bubbles, a moveable feast of primary colours  - these all feature, and yet they are all of a piece with an explosively visual production that delivers to audiences right across the age range. 

 

Stripped almost entirely free of spoken dialogue this well known Biblical tale, of a favoured, prodigal son brutally dispossessed then reclaimed by his brothers, is presented entirely through music and movement. And what the backing track lacks in authenticity is more than made up for by the sugary, full bodied vocals. And those tunes, by now so familiar, are given their own stylised tweak so that we are taken on a musical journey to ancient Cairo by way of 1920s Paris, 1950s America and even 21st-century clubland.  

Joe McElderry, much acclaimed winner of The X Factor in 2009, inhabits his role entirely and seduces with a face that is angelic and a voice that is rich and syrupy. His stage presence grows ever larger as the show hurtles towards the finale, by which time he is almost flouncing and shimmying across the stage. He clearly draws a large and vociferous following – never before have I seen this auditorium so prone to spontaneous outbursts of standing applause. Lucy Kay sings boldy and bodaciously as the narrator and Ben James-Ellis delivers an awesome, hip grinding version of a regal, rock n’roll king.  

Credit must also go to Henry Metcalfe (Jacob and Potiphar) whose patriarchal decrepedness stands in stark contrast to the fluid waves of youthful energy that flow around him. 

Exaltant and exuberant, this high-octane production will fuel all your family’s musical needs for months to come. Go see Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat now.

 http://www.josephthemusical.com/uktour/

Mar 21st

Northanger Abbey at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds’ production of Jane Austen’s late 18th century novel may only have three backlit panels and a couple of benches to set the scene, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the performances of a young and vibrant company.

I was completely enthralled by the story of the teenage Catherine, who thinks life is like one of the Gothic novels she so loves to read. But through her adventures while taking the waters in Bath and her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, we see her develop and grow into an admirable young lady who, of course, looks set to live happily ever after.

It’s a wonderful part for a young actress, for though Catherine and her friends are somewhat immature and vacuous, she goes through so many changes, and Eva Feiler plays her so well, beginning as an awkward child and becoming a loving and lovable companion.

Eva not only has Jane Austen to thank for her role, but also accomplished writer Tim Luscombe, who has already adapted two of Jane Austen’s novels and manages to condense a classic with 30 characters into a play with only eight actors.

While retaining the essence of the book, he presents it as a lively, theatrical and often funny entertainment which has intrigued me enough to want to read the original. The characters walk, talk and act as if in the 1700s but they appear fresh and can easily be identified with young people today.

Joe Parker gets my vote as the most obnoxious, swaggering, selfish youth John Thorpe who lies through his teeth to get what he wants. Annabelle Terry lights up the stage with her vitality as Isabella but this so-called friend of Catherine’s soon shows her true colours as manipulative and selfish and I loved her petulant outbursts.

In complete contrast, Henry Tilney, the object of Catherine’s affections, and his sister Eleanor, are blonde, beautiful and sweet-tempered, and Harry Livingstone and Emma Ballantine play them to perfection. Quite the opposite is their father General Tilney, and Jonathan Hansler’s portrayal as a gruff, mean and selfish man would make him at home in any story of monsters.

Talking of monsters, the play sometimes reverts to scenes from Catherine’s favourite book, The Mysteries of Udolpho, as her imagination runs away with her, and this gives director Karen Simpson carte blanche to have a bit of fun. Melodrama rules as thunder bellows, lightning flashes, and strange, bent, hooded figures scurry around the stage wielding daggers.

Credit must also go to Mark Dymock who is kept pretty busy as lighting designer, and though I feel there is a little too much dancing, movement director Julie Cave certainly puts the members of the cast through their paces with authentic-looking dances of the day.

Northanger Abbey continues at the Theatre Royal Windsor until March 25

Box Office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The tour then continues:

April 3-6: Northcott Theatre, Exeter

April 1-13: Derby Theatre

May 2-6: New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

 

May 9-13: The Dukes, Lancaster