Share |
Sep 21st

HAIRSPRAY

By Kirstie Niland

Blackpool Opera House, until Saturday 23rd September 2017

The fabulously coiffured UK tour of Hairspray arrived in Blackpool this week with an explosion of colour and choreography – and yet another standing ovation at the Opera House.

The Winter Gardens has clearly put the seaside resort firmly on the map as a popular stop-off for sensational shows.

The latest smash hit musical to transform the stunning Opera House stage takes us back to the 60s for the story of Hairspray's loveable heroine Tracy Turnblad. Played by newcomer Rebecca Mendoza with bucket-loads of energy and aplomb, Tracy's passion for dancing catapults her on to national TV, whilst her passion for equality finds her leading the way for black and white teens to dance together on the famous Corny Collins Show. She also lands the local heartthrob Link Larkin (with understudy Daniel Clift stepping expertly into the spotlight for press night).

Layton Williams and Annalise Liard-Bailey are well cast as cute couple Seaweed and Penny, and Lauren Concannon, Melissa Nettleford and Emily-Mae Walker are pure dynamite as…The Dynamites.

The songs are all sensational but my favourite was the duet by Tracy's Mum and Dad, You’re Timeless to Me, performed by a cross-dressing Matt Dixon as Edna and comedian Norman Pace as Wilbur. With lashings of old-time charm and a dance routine reminiscent of Morecambe and Wise this is a classic match made in heaven.

 

A close second was I Know Where I’ve Been by musical theatre and reality TV star Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, whose larger than life stage presence and powerful vocals demonstrate that she truly does have the X Factor.

The entire show keeps us and the energetic cast (literally) on our toes with excellent choreography by Olivier Award-winning Drew McOnie and direction from Paul Kerryson. The costumes and set are bright, bold and beautiful and the result is a kaleidoscope of colour rotating through a fast-moving, feel-good show that has us all cheering and up out of our seats to celebrate the happy ending.

In Maybelle’s words, Hairspray is servin' up the whole damn feast and there’s still time to see it this weekend.

Book tickets here

Tour dates here

Photographs by Darren Bell

 

Sep 20th

Deathtrap @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

Image result for deathtrap tour poster

If you’re of a nervous disposition, then be prepared for some loud noises that will make you jump out of your skin!  With so many plot twists and turns, Deathtrap is a play within a play with one set and five characters written in 1978 by Ira Levin.  It holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway and was also nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.  It has been revived many times and was adapted into a film in 1992 starring Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon.

Sidney Bruhl, a once-successful writer of stage thrillers is in the grip of chronic writer’s block, when young playwright Clifford Anderson sends Bruhl his brilliant new whodunit, Deathtrap.  Desperate to set Broadway alight once more, should Bruhl kill the newcomer and pass the play off as his own?

Playing the central role of Sidney, is Paul Bradley who is best known for his ten year role playing Professor Elliot Hope in BBC’s Holby City, as well as playing Nigel Bates in Eastenders.  Rarely off the stage, it’s a huge role and Paul gives a commanding performance as the complex, ruthless Sidney.

Playing Sidney’s wife, Myra Bruhl, is Eastender’s actress Jessie Wallace.  It was good to see that she could master an American accent, but at times she looked quite uncomfortable as the first scenes were a little stilted leaving her standing for long periods of time.  A bit more movement and chances to sit would have made all the difference I think!

Disrupting the proceedings is the arrival of Clifford Anderson (Sam Phillips), changing the course of their lives forever.  Beverley Klein relishes playing psychic Helga Ten Dorp and gets lots of laughs as she hams it up in spectacular style.  Julien Ball completes the cast as lawyer Porter Milgrim.

The play runs till Saturday 23rd at The Waterside Theatre, then continues to Birmingham and Richmond.

 

Reviewed by:

Yvonne Delahaye

19.9.17

 

@yvonnedelahaye

Sep 20th

Cilla the Musical at the Edinburgh Playhouse

By Clare Brotherwood

Cilla the Musical already has an impressive pedigree.

Penned by Jeff Pope and based on his award-winning TV mini-series Cilla, it is produced by those masters of feel-good, semi-bio music shows about past icons and eras, Laurie Mansfield and Bill Kenwright - who also directed the show.

Even so, Cilla the Musical is in a different stratosphere - thanks to Kara Lily Hayworth in the title role.

I reckon I am well qualified to judge. As a young teenager I hung on Cilla’s every lyric and even travelled down from Carlisle to see her at the London Palladium. I still remember her mannerisms and how she delivered her songs so, for me, anyone playing her has to be spot on. And Kara Lily Hayworth is!

When she makes her first entrance, apparently giving an interview to Kathy (Kathy McGowen, I presume. She’s not introduced!), I am disappointed - she doesn’t look like Cilla for a start. But as the show progresses she quickly grows into the role, both physically and vocally. Hayworth may come from Buckinghamshire but she’d pass for a Scouser any day, and it’s not hard to see why she also has a career as a singer. She’s a real little belter! At times, I really think Cilla Black is there on stage, performing all her old hits such as Anyone Who Had a Heart, You’re My World, and It’s For You. It makes for an emotional evening, and is deserving of the standing ovation.

This fast-paced, vibrant show isn’t all down to her, however. Pope’s script contains more than a sprinkling of the humour Liverpool is so famous for (no doubt with contributions from Liverpudlian Kenwright - and as chairman of Everton FC did the reference to that team come from him?). Cilla’s son Robert Willis is executive producer, so with his seal of approval you know the story is authentic, and the cast really does bring to life the star’s early days.

As Bobby, Carl Au plays the role of Cilla’s soul mate with conviction, starting out as a swaggering youth with not much confidence but with a belief in Cilla’s talent which knows no bounds. Likewise, Andrew Lancel is a totally believable Brian Epstein, manager of both Cilla and The Beatles. In this role he is a million miles from Corrie villain Frank Foster, cutting a tragic figure as a man whose private life was a mess and who died from an overdose. His reprise of You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away comes as a total, pleasurable, though moving, surprise.

As in this type of show, the supporting cast are extremely versatile, acting, singing, dancing and playing various instruments. The Beatles are especially good, particularly Michael Hawkins’ cheeky portrayal of John Lennon, and Alan Howell, though looking nothing like him, sounds just like Gerry Marsden.

Cilla’s career spanned 50 years, and this is a fitting tribute to her, especially in the expressive hands of Kara Lily Hayworth - who is also making the transition to stardom.

 

Cilla The Musical continues at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Sept 23.

Box office: 0844 871 3014

www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh

It will then continue touring:

Sept 26-30: Milton Keynes Theatre

Oct 10-14: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Nov 7-11: New Wimbledon Theatre

Nov 14-18: Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Nov 21-15: Palace Theatre, Manchester

Jan 23-27: Grand Opera House, York

Jan 30-Feb 3: King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Feb 13-17; New Theatre, Oxford

Mar 13-17: Bristol Hippodrome Theatre

 

Mar 20-24: New Victoria Theatre, Woking

 

Sep 14th

Shirley Valentine

By Kirstie Niland

The Grand Theatre Blackpool, until Saturday 16th September 2017

"I used to be the Mother. I used to be the Wife. But now I'm Shirley Valentine again".

As Jodie Prenger delivers that well-known line you could be forgiven for thinking she really is in Greece, sitting by the sea wearing a sunhat, shades and a happy glow.

For the talented TV and West End star is so believable as the disenchanted, Liverpudlian housewife who flies off to Mykonos that the audience is behind her all the way - rejoicing as she discovers the life she never had and thought she’d wasted.

 

We’re not the only ones. Her previously snooty neighbour is so in awe of her courage she gives Shirley a glamorous silk kimono to take with her, and her swotty old school adversary, Marjorie Majors – now a high-class hooker - reveals she was actually jealous of Shirley at school.

So she always was "Shirley the Brave", she just doesn't realise it – until she finds herself skinny-dipping with Greek taverna owner Costas when he takes her out on his boat and several voyages of discovery.

Many will be more familiar with the film version of Shirley Valentine starring Pauline Collins and a host of other household names, including Julia McKenzie (Gillian), Joanna Lumley (Marjorie), Tom Conti (Costas), Alison Steadman (Jane, the friend who abandons her on holiday) and Bernard Hill as husband Joe.

But this is Willy Russell’s original one-woman play, so it's Jodie’s job to bring the characters in Shirley’s story to life. She does it so well I could picture Julia McKenzie telling her she’s marvellous and Tom Conti declaring her stretch marks lovely, marks of life…before she tells us, the audience, who have become her friends and confidantes by now: “Aren’t men full of shit!”

Educated at Elmslie School and Blackpool and the Fylde College, Jodie has gone a long way before returning to her roots at the Grand Theatre. After winning the role of Nancy in BBC1’s I’ll Do Anything, she’s played a wide range of high-profile roles and has recently finished a stint as Les Misérables' Madame Thénardier in Dubai. TV credits include Waterloo Road and a slot on ITV’s This Morning, and she’s even worked as an agony aunt.

Her bubbly nature and ability to engage and connect with the audience when she breaks the fourth wall, combined with an impressive talent for accents, keeps our attention and ensures the comedy drama pushes all the right buttons during the highs and lows.

You could have heard a pin drop when she explains as Shirley: “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. Why do we get all this life if we don't ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don't ever use them?”

 

We will her not to back out of the holiday when her horrified grown-up daughter Milandra stomps out, calling the idea of two middle-aged women going off to Greece “obscene".

Then there’s comic relief and we laugh uproariously when Shirley shouts out of the window at her departing daughter: That's right, Milandra, I'm off to Greece for the sex. Sex for breakfast, sex for lunch, sex for tea and sex for supper. A neighbour shouts back: “Sounds like a marvellous diet, love!” and Shirley responds: "It is! Have you never heard of it? It's called the F plan!"

The stage set follows Shirley’s transformation, beginning with the kitchen she has spent her life in, forced to talk to the wall, then changing to a bright Greek beach where a rock becomes her companion instead.

Shirley Valentine premiered at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in 1986 before becoming a hit movie in 1989. Willy Russell’s witty and moving mix of gentle humour and realism is totally in tune with the mindset of a married woman who feels taken for granted; and Jodie Prenger, under the expert direction of Glen Walford and with input from Willy Russell himself, steps deftly into the role and performs it perfectly.

The costume change and shift in Jodie’s demeanour show Shirley blossom and feel beautiful, reflective of the girl she once was and the more content woman she has become. When Joe comes to get her - regretting his neglect and the chips and egg he pushed onto her lap because there was no steak for the dinner he expected like clockwork - he doesn't recognise her.

Then he sees his young love Shirley Valentine, who has decided that she's alright, and that instead of saying: "Christ, I’m forty-two", from now on she’s going to say: ’Shirley, you’re only forty-two, isn’t that marvellous".

Shirley Valentine IS marvellous and so is Jodie Prenger. I hope between them they prompt a recognition that sometimes it's okay to live the life we want, not the one we have to - along with a surge in holidays bookings to Greece!

Book tickets here

Tour details here

Photographs by Manuel Harlan

Sep 11th

SPAMALOT TOUR OPENS IN BLACKPOOL

By Kirstie Niland

Until Saturday 16th September, Blackpool Opera House

The Tony award-wining musical Spamalot has kicked off its national tour in Blackpool - and it's funnier than the black death.

Lovingly ripped off from the hugely successful 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this spammier than ever brand-new show from Selladoor Productions is a riotous comedy full of misfit knights, killer rabbits, dancing nuns and ferocious Frenchmen. Join King Arthur as he travels with his hapless Knights of the Round Table on a divine mission to locate the illusive Holy Grail – with uproarious consequences.

Spamalot was the winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Best New Musical, while it enjoyed a victorious West End run. This hilarious show was written by Python legend Eric Idle, who has been entertaining the British public for over 50 years. The funnyman also wrote the score alongside John DuPrez, famous for his work on Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life amongst a host of other big-name scores.

Michael Williams, Managing Director at the Winter Gardens Blackpool comments “ We are delighted to be staging the opening performances of the brand new tour of the much loved musical Spamalot. The musical joins an eclectic mix of events at the Winter Gardens Blackpool which truly offers something for everyone.”

The new tour is produced by the award winning Selladoor Productions and Mercury Theatre Colchester. Selladoor’s recent tours include Footloose, American Idiot, Avenue Q and Little Shop of Horrors.

With comic tunes including Brave Sir Robin, We’re Knights of the Round Table and perennial favourite Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Spamalot audiences are sure to be dancing in the aisles. 

Book tickets at Blackpool Opera House here.

Full tour details here.

Photographs courtesy of Winter Gardens Blackpool

Sep 7th

Autumn Season at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

The final season of 2017 at the Finborough brings together vibrant new writing and unique rediscoveries, with three plays unseen in the UK for many years, and twelve new plays from the UK, the US and Canada. 

 

The season opens with the UK debut of acclaimed American playwright Keith Bunin with the European premiere of The Busy World is Hushed, directed by the founder of Theatre503, Paul Higgins, playing an eight week limited season from 3 October-25 November 2017. It is accompanied by the Finborough's new play celebration, Vibrant 2017 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights – now in its ninth consecutive year – which plays Sunday and Monday evenings and Thursday matinees between 8-26 October 2017, accompanied by the return of the ‘Introduce Yourself’ initiative for new playwrights.

 

This year’s Vibrant – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights includes new plays from the Finborough's Channel 4 Playwrights Scheme Playwright in Residence Carmen Nasr, three of their Playwrights on Attachment, Scots Gaelic author Iain Finlay Macleod, and June Carryl’s winning play from the ADAA $10,000 Saroyan/Paul 2016 Human Rights Playwriting Competition. And then by a controversial rediscovery, the queer classic Quaint Honour by Roger Gellert, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, and unseen in the UK for 60 years, playing Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees between 29 October-21 November 2017. 

 

The year ends with the first London production in nearly 70 years of The Passing of the Third Floor Back by Jerome K. Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat, playing from 28 November - 22 December 2017, running alongside the first London production in 80 years of Israel Zangwill's classic drama of refugees and immigration, The Melting Pot, on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees between 3-19 December 2017. 

 

Finborough Theatre Artistic Director Neil McPherson said: "In a financial climate that is making our continued work even harder to achieve, our new season continues to bring together the very best of new playwriting from the English-speaking world, with work from the past that has been unfairly neglected in an ambitious and idiosyncratic selection of work that you’ve never seen before and can’t see anywhere else. With the help of funding from our regular patrons, we have also recently completed the first stages of a refurbishment of the Finborough Theatre building. As always, please do consider supporting us by joining our Friends Scheme.”

 

The Finborough Theatre has had a superlative year to date with acclaimed sell-out productions, transfers in London and to New York City, and an Olivier Award nomination. Rediscoveries have included Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, B. S. Johnson’s You’re Human Like The Rest Of Us, a centenary production of T. W. Robertson’s Caste, Arthur Miller’s Incident At Vichy and Cicely Hamilton’s Just To Get Married. New writing has included the debuts of new playwrights Carmen Nasr (Dubailand which also won her our tenth Channel 4 Playwrights Scheme Playwright in Residence Bursary, supported by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation), Titas Halder (his London debut with Run The Beast Down which has just been nominated for The Stage Debut Award for Best Writer), and Canada’s most exciting new playwright Jordan Tannahill (his European debut with Late Company); as well as the English premiere of David Ireland’s Everything Between Us.Finborough Theatre productions have also transferred to New York City (My Eyes Went Dark) and elsewhere in London (Incident at Vichy to the King’s Head Theatre and Late Company to Trafalgar Studios). Last year’s It Is Easy To Be Dead by Neil McPherson was also nominated for an Olivier Award following its transfer from the Finborough Theatre to Trafalgar Studios.

For full information, please visit www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk 

Sep 6th

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Louise Winter 4th September 2017

poster Dog

The Curious Incident phenomenon has been ongoing since the publication of Mark Haddon’s novel in 2003. Although it quickly became an international bestseller it wasn’t staged until 2012. Since then it has become an established fixture in theatre-land.

A most unusual book turned into a most unusual play; Simon Stephens’ adaptation is faithful to and respectful of Haddon’s story and Marianne Elliot has brought it to life with her challenging and stimulating direction. The treatment of the book by these creatives must be a primary element in the success of the play; Stephens has been true to Haddon’s novel and Elliot has created a visually innovative and utterly absorbing 3D world from her imaginings of Christopher’s experience of the world.

Dog Scott Reid

photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

When Stephens was asked during the construction of the play in 2012 if he was nervous that he was in part responsible for taking such a loved book to the stage, he responded that he comforted himself with the knowledge that nobody could love the book more than he, Elliot and all the performers involved did.  This love is tangible on stage, not just in the adaptation of the story line, direction, production and staging but in the performances of all the actors. This cast portrays a great compassion, integrity and drive in bringing the story and the ‘messy’ side of some of the characters to life and the depiction of Christopher’s perception and management of the world around him, and in turn that worlds’ perception and management of him, is extremely well crafted, neither trivialising nor stereotyping.

CI Dog

photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg

Christopher, played with absolute passion and integrity by the utterly brilliant Scott Reid, is a fifteen year old with a collection of eccentricities which combine to create a set of complicated behavioural quirks. These make negotiating everyday life challenging for him and his family. Finding people very difficult to deal with, Christopher doesn’t venture out of his street unaccompanied but when he discovers his neighbour’s dog Wellington has been murdered, he turns detective in order to unearth the killer. A complex adventure/whodunit/family drama unfolds as the key players experience a journey of discovery. None experiences so much as Christopher who is, I suggest, a fitting hero for the 21st century. His travels outside of his comfort zone are gripping and realistically alarming accompanied as they are by an onslaught of ear-assaulting sounds, flashing lights and visuals which shake the auditorium. It’s this use of technology throughout the play that gives the play its uniqueness in creating an all absorbing, fresh experience.  

All is confined within a stage-filling, imposing 3 sided ‘box’, the walls of which serve as huge screens upon which images, text, video, and the mathematical equations that Christopher turns to in times of stress, are projected. Drawers and doors open to reveal props – the combined elements of Christopher’s slowly growing train set is a revelation at the close of the first half – and mobile entrances and exits for characters. The physical dynamism created by Movement Directors, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, is wonderfully creative, particularly so into the travel scenes.

This is a stunning production - challenging, exciting, uplifting, funny and heartwarming. It was packed at MK on Monday night and received a rapturous response. 48 hours later I am still excited and happy as a result of experiencing it!

Do get tickets – it’s on a longer than usual run in MK until Saturday 16th September

Box office 0844 871 7652

Groups Hotline 01908 547609

Access Booking 0844 872 7677

 

Online booking:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Sep 3rd

How the Other Half Loves - Alan Ayckbourn (Theatre Royal Windsor & UK Tour)

By Kate Braxton

It was Bill Kenright who produced the first UK tour of this hit comedy in 1973. This week, with 44 years of mileage, he waves it off on a new run from Windsor following an acclaimed West End revival.  

Its success as a work today proves Ayckbourn’s entertainment value to be timeless.  Although the language, social status commentary and hard-wired telephone props tie it to the late Sixties/early Seventies, the underlying human traits strike today’s virtual chord good and clearly.

The action involves 3 couples of varying age and standing, and both Bob Phillips and William Featherstone are employed by Frank Foster. At the centre of the piece, Frank is tirelessly trying to fathom out what is going on around him. Although he fails to see it, his own wife Fiona is having an affair with Bob, who is in constant conflict with his wife Teresa who feels neglected while raising their baby and is suspicious of his behavior.

The contrasting relationships here help the audience to follow the intertwined plot: one polite, evasive and ‘listening-not-listening’, the other screamy-shouty Corrieastenders styley and we cleverly find ourselves in both living rooms at once, experiencing two different home lives in full simultaneous flow.

A third couple, William and Mary Featherstone, are essentially used as alibis surrounding the affair and both Bob and Fiona have sworn their respective spouses to secrecy over the rumoured red herring infidelities of the innocent couple. All a bit of a ‘Whodunnit?(Ooer)’ for Frank.

The first act culminates in a brilliantly choreographed dinner table scene, which is actually two parties happening on successive nights, with The Featherstones attending each one. Genius!

Robert Daws is exquisite as the flummoxed Frank. He, with Caroline Langrishe as wife, Fiona, provide rich comic artistry and stage experience, along with glorious performances from Matthew Cottle, reprising his role of William from the West End and Sara Crowe’s hilariously awkward Mary. 

Leon Ockenden, best known for his role of Will Chatterton in Coronation Street strides onto the stage with a pec-load of presence, and Charlie Brooks’ Teresa is brash and feisty. While both will appeal to the popular soap audiences, their appreciation of Ayckbourn’s comedy is noticeably less mature than the other actors.  

 

Director, Alan Strachan has worked alongside Ayckbourn for many years, and the depth of his appreciation of the piece is reflected in its slick coordination.  This is a very challenging play to direct, with two scenes taking place simultaneously, and in his own words, “it’s one of the most difficult I’ve ever come across. The concentration required is just extraordinary.” Yet he makes it look easy. 

To top off the enjoyment of the show, Theatre Royal Windsor has just had a full interior refurbishment in partnership with paint and decoration specialists, Farrow & Ball.  However, the dominating delight of this play is in its quickfire action and reaction, so any of the tour venues deserve to have a full house.

How the Other Half Loves runs at Theatre Royal Windsor from 30 Aug - 9 Sept 2017

Booking: 01753 853 888

For full UK tour details see www.kenright.com