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Dec 12th

Aladdin at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

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With a lineup featuring celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager, Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Kevin Cruise, ex-Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan, and puppet Basil Brush, the cynic in me wasn’t looking forward to this year’s Windsor pantomime. But how wrong I was - oh yes I was!

After 20-odd years of reviewing several pantomimes each Christmas I confidently declare that this is among the best I have ever seen.

OK, Rosemary Shrager didn’t have much to say as the domineering Empress, but what she did say made us - and her downtrodden spouse the Emperor, played by Michael Winsor - sit up and listen. Peter Duncan veered between being too nice as Abanazar to being downright creepy, and then there’s the star duo - Kevin and Basil.

From the moment Basil Brush made his entrance the whole audience were shouting ‘boom boom!’ As Genie of the Lamp he added a new dimension to the role, doling out his usual cheek and quick wit. It’s amazing how, after 40 years, a puppet can have audiences eating out of his hand… paw? fake fur?  - but we were all smitten - and smiling.

The same can be said for Kevin Cruise. With orange tan, blond wig and dazzling white teeth, he looks pretty cheesy, but this man really knows how to work an audience, and as Wishee Washee, a wannabee inventor and explorer, we all loved his enthusiasm and energy. He’s not the best singer around but his charisma and talent for entertaining makes him a sure fired hit. Now in his fourth Windsor pantomime, this year he has taken on the role of creative consultant - which is, perhaps, why this production is so special. Steven Blakeley, who plays a marvellous Widow Twankey and also writes and directs the pantos, is brilliant, but this year’s production really went up a few notches.

There are some glorious and memorable moments in the show - and on the opening night, not all rehearsed! I wouldn’t have missed for the world seeing Kevin Cruise and Steven Blakeley sliding about on foam, to be followed by Peter Duncan making an entrance as the evil Abanazar, only to slip on the foam and fall flat on his back. And Steven Blakeley flaying around in mid-air on the end of a wire in the final scene was hilarious.
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There were plenty of laughs too to be had from the innovative and energetic Twist and Pulse who, as PCs Hip and Hop, combine street dance and comedy, while romance, good looks and tuneful voices are in abundance with Giovanni Spano as Aladdin and Jasmine Gur as the princess.

With dance routines, both funky and international, great music under the direction of Lindsey Miller, a flying carpet, a camel called Camilla, a mummy, and audience participation, this fast-paced, hilarious pantomime is one not to be missed.

Boom boom, Basil!

Aladdin, Theatre Royal Windsor

Aladdin is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until 5 January. Box office: 01753 853888

www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk
Aug 5th

Agatha Christie - Murdered by the sound guy

By Douglas McFarlane
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Yes it's true. Read on for a performance with a difference.

Firstly, I was excited.  As a reviewer, I don't often get time to read all the details of a performance in advance and headed off to the Richmond Theatre knowing I had to review an Agatha Christie play.  Great news, clearly a classic and as the Richmond Theatre always has a great choice of perfomances, what could go wrong ?  

When I arrived I noticed a familiar setting. There were several old style microphones in a row with spotlights on them. Some seats in the background and a table full of sound equipment that you'd normally find in a radio play. I remembered the exact setting when I performed in War Of The Worlds in Glasgow.  It was definitely exciting as a performer though I remember thinking that it may not be as exciting in the audience and working hard at my performance to give it my all and ensure it was as entertaining. This included improvising my own comedy routine with the microphone which worked well and brought the house down.  Well, got a few belly laughs anyway. 

So how was this production going to ensure a radio play captured their audiences attention ?   I was about to find out.

A nice way to engage an audience is to get on stage while they are taking their seats.  Meandering around and preparing for the radio play while treating the audience as the real audience of the radio play. Nice touch I thought. Jenny Seagrove and then Tom Conti, two well known and accomplished acting talent were the chosen guests at this performance.  Perfect.  Tom did his acting training in Glasgow, and Jenny was always on our TV's when I was a lad, so another big tick in the box.

As I settled into the first of three Agatha Christie plays, they had captured my attention.  My mind was on a journey as I took in the nuances of doing a radio play, while having the sounds played out in front of your eyes. Doors knocking, steam trains coming into a station and champagne glasses chinking at a party. All done to excellent timing and perfection.  What a delight for the ears and mind and I was enthralled.

The second of the plays came around quickly and in the first half of the performance and it kind of went downhill for the audience at that point. This was no longer a radio play, it was a musical interlude accompanying in the background. Well, it was supposed to be in the background. 

I noticed that I couldn't hear what Tom Conti and the other actors were saying.  I thought it was supposed to be like that and it would somehow resume into a normal dialogue. The audience started to get restless. Two people in front of me started to murmur. The two women next to me started to murmur louder. The audience started to get more and more agitated. Then, finally a guy stood up from a few rows behind me in the stalls and shouted out "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE PIANO". 

Well, to have someone shouting out that loud in your play must be a nightmare.  Tom Conti was clearly startled. His part of the dialogue had conveniently come to an end.  He immediately got his composure back, and walked off stage at haste. When he came back on, he had a chat with Jenny, who was presumably wondering what was going on.  Jenny then walked off stage while Tom went back to his microphone and continued the dialogue. 

A few minutes later, the sound mixing was readjusted and the radio play continued at a normal level and the audience relaxed a little.  It had however, ruined the night.  Having missed most of the setup of the characters and storyline of the second play, it was impossible to re-connect with it.  The entire audience must've been the same and I heard a lot of chatter about it during the interval break.

I have to say, that Tom Conti did a fantastic job coping with it.  A top actor like him, taking on board audiences direct comments, and then taking action was very professional and heartwarming to see. We all felt for him, and I'm sure he must've been quite annoyed. For me, I questioned where the director was.  Why was he not in the audience. Did they have a run through prior to the performance ?  I didn't think it was the first night, but it felt like a technical rehearsal wasn't undertaken if something as basic as sound levels weren't checked.  

Another irksome thing for me, was with another accomplished actor who I won't embarass by naming and shaming. She was clearly very good at what she was doing and efficient at all the sounds she had to undertake and crisp in her delivery of dialogue with differing accents. However a basic mistake she made throughout the play was to have her script above her shoulders and practically hiding most of her face for the duration of the plays. It got worse and at one point we could see none of her face at all.

By this stage I had lost interest. I was going to walk out but persisted. Even if it was just to see what else I could find wrong with it. 

A truly remarkable performance for all the wrong reasons. Next time, get it rehearsed, get it technically checked and give the audience their money back. Tickets aren't cheap and I know a lot of people would've been thoroughly disappointed if that was their big night at the theatre with their friends and family.

As we left the auditorium, I noticed the sound guy in a box at the back with his head in his hands.  Poor guy, he knew he was heading for a tough discussion with his director. Whenever he decided to pitch up at a performance.

It's at Woking this week and Brighton next month. Go at your peril, and if you do, please remember it's not a traditional play. It's three radio plays performed  in front of you.

Review by Douglas McFarlane

Jan 7th

The Nutcracker - Moscow City Ballet - Lyceum Theatre

By Paul Tyree

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The Nutcracker

By Moscow City Ballet


Lyceum Theatre - Sheffield



What oh what to say?

Undoubtedly there must have been people within the audience that enjoyed this, (although I can't think why) as they were clapping at the end, but I have to say that if ballet as an art form ever dies then it will be precisely this sort of production that finishes it off.

Poorly staged - three backdrops a bare stage but no set of any kind.

Poor costumes - the Santa and the Wizard costumes being the real lows of the evening. (Dumbledore lives, but Santa looks to be on his last legs!)

Horrible choreography - twirling and pointing but no connection to the story whatsoever. In fact if you don’t read the synopsis in the programme (assuming you’re wealthy enough to buy one that is) then you will probably be completely lost in the first five minutes.

Sloppy and half hearted dancing - one poor tall calumphing redheaded principle dancer could hardly get off the ground and at one point nearly fell over, causing a sharp intake of breath from the audience. Even the main characters were falling out of lifts and struggling to maintain holds and positions. 

Acting ability – none! Not one of the ballerinas whether male or female managed to express a real emotion throughout the entirety of the production. Your average 5 year old would have managed to convince more than this.

All in all this was without a doubt the worst ballet that I have ever seen and what made it so much worse was that the company all looked so bloody pleased with themselves, even though this was only ever third rate at best.

The first ten minutes of this ballet are probably an object lesson in not how to tell a story.

The must have been 25-30 people all dancing around interminably in crowd scenes, mugging and pulling various faces at each other without anything actually happening. In fact this theme of ‘just dancing around without a purpose’ carried on throughout the evening.

I am aware that this is probably what most people would define as a traditional ballet, but at various points there were up to 18 female ballerinas on stage with absolutely nothing to do. No purpose, no impact on the plot or story.

This style of ballet and indeed of choreography probably amazed back in the 1800’s but if ever any company needed to be brought into the 21st century then it is without a doubt Moscow City Ballet.

This was simply uninvolving and most damning of all utterly pointless. No one would have been uplifted or amazed. No hearts would have sung, no tears shed as the story was so vague and utterly without meaning or depth as to render the telling of it more of a history lesson than a reason to enter a theatre.

At best you could say the plot involves an old man trying to seduce a young girl with gifts and getting a bit upset that she still prefers to play with toys instead of him. (Admittedly, it’s not the most forgiving of interpretations, but if you didn’t know the story and simply watched this ballet then that is probably the interpretation you would have come away with).

Most galling was how the principle dancers expected applause whether their efforts deserved it or not. They came time and again to the front of the stage their self satisfied faces gleaming with arrogance and self congratulation that we had been lucky enough to witness their jumps or pirouettes. They even went so far as to have the curtain lifted for a second bow at the half, which caused me to stop and laugh at their sheer cheek as I was hotfooting it to the bar.

What oh what to say indeed!?

AVOID AT ALL COSTS!!

(This too is their 25th Anniversary – and on this evidence I would heartily advise that they don’t go for 26. Maybe time to hang up those tutus, have a vodka and remember the good times eh!)

On the up side this bunch of chancers must be the best advertisement for Northern Ballet yet!

Northern Ballet will be performing Cleopatra at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from Tue 25th – Sat 29th March. I haven’t seen it yet but on tonight’s evidence I can already highly recommend it. Northern Ballet – for when you want your ballet to touch your heart and make you glad you saw it!! Northern Ballet – for when you still expect a ballet to tell a story!! Northern Ballet – for when you expect great staging and costumes!! Northern Ballet – for when you want great choreography and ballerinas that can dance!! Northern Ballet – ballet for people who exist in the 21st century. Northern Ballet – (did I mention they’re on at the Lyceum in March) – Book now for Northern Ballet!!  Not sure I can make it any plainer than that.

 

 

Mar 28th

Princess Ida by Gilbert & Sullivan at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Bridget Costello as Princess Ida

He who desires to gain their favour must be qualified to strike their teeming brains and not their hearts. They're safety matches, sir, and they light only on the knowledge box.

The Finborough Theatre is very skilled at unearthing hidden gems. Their latest find is a rarely performed work by Gilbert and Sullivan - their only 3-act opera and the only one with the dialogue written in blank verse. Princess Ida was produced between Iolanthe and The Mikado when G&S were at the height of their popularity and ran for 246 performances. As part of their "Celebrating British Musical Theatre" series, the Finborough presents the first production of Princess Ida in over 20 years in a slightly updated version by director Phil Wilmott.

Prince Hilarion and Princess Ida were married to each other when they were only babies. 20 years later, Prince Hilarion arrives at the castle to reclaim his bride who is now of age. Yet he is not alone. A long line of suitors are awaiting the lovely Princess as well, aware of the fact that the Princess is now eligible for marriage. However, Lord Gama has persuaded Princess Ida to leave the castle and head a university for women - men are barred from entering the institute. Prince Hilarion, Prince Cyril and Prince Florian dress up as women to gain access to the college. Yet soon their ruse is discovered and a battle ensues.

Wendy Carr, Georgi Mottram, Bridget Costello, Rachel Lea Grey, Laura Coutts, Victoria Quigley- ready for the fight.

Phil Wilmott cut the cast by six, reassigned some of the songs, and changed King Gama into Ida's Guardian Lord Gama who has acted like a father to Princess Ida but now has different ideas, which provides additional comedic possibilities - Gama is transformed from a protective father into a jealous suitor and Simon Butteriss makes the most of it.

It is surprising that Princess Ida has not been as successful as other works by Gilbert and Sullivan as the libretto is witty and there are many memorable tunes. True, Princess Ida makes fun of Darwin's theory of evolution and feminism, especially the idea that women could pursue higher education, which might rub people the wrong way. However, if one goes down this route The Taming of the Shrew could never be performed.

Simon Butteriss as Lord Gama

The orchestra has been reduced to two talented pianists, Richard Baker and Nick Barstow, and the set consists primarily of a huge painting of a stag that actually can be opened into the haven of Princess Ida's university (design by Maira Vazeou). Bridget Costello is a sweet Princess, feisty if need be, dedicated to her vocation and has a beautiful voice. Simon Butteriss is hilarious as her Guardian, Lord Gama as he tries to stifle any interest in the male sex by presenting men in the worst possible light to increase his own chances. Simon Butteriss has great rapport with the audience as he includes us in his musings and even sits down in sombody's lap. The suitors have their comic moments when they dress up as women and try to fool the other students. Simeon Oakes is a charming and sincere Hilarion and Jeremy Lloyd, Raymond Walsh, Nathan Elcox and Jordan Veloso portray dashing young men but the focus is truly on the women - Laura Coutts, Georgi Mottram, Wendy Carr, Rachel Lea-Gray, and Victoria Quigley - who are enchanting as the studious ladies. The cast consists of highly skilled singers who do justice to this lovely operetta.

A successful revival of a neglected work.

By Carolin Kopplin

 

Until 18th April 2015

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439

e-mail admin@finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Runs 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

All photos by Scott Rylander.

Feb 16th

Fox and Symphony at the Battersea Arts Centre

By Carolin Kopplin

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You say bagels and I say beigels ...

The Battersea Arts Centre is one of the most innovative and intriguing theatres in London, hosting companies such as Ridiculusmus and Theatre Ad Infinitum and brilliantly subversive artists like Chris Brett Bailey. Slowly recovering from the devasting fire that destroyed a third of the building and the main auditorium, the BAC is going strong and Artistic Director David Jubb is trying his best to restore the erstwhile town hall to its former glory, brick by brick. Meanwhile the remaining spaces within the building are put to good use.

Foxy and Husk is a performance artist, a human/fox hybrid, that combines theatre with cabaret and interactive films. Her previous show Fox Solo won high critical acclaim and toured internationally. Her new show Fox Symphony is a compilation of stories by members of the public about their relationship to national identity and community. Foxy travelled across the UK for six months, interviewing people and recording their statements. The show weaves together some of these narratives to create a portrait of contemporary Britain.

The show begins with a projection on the curtain ordering us to rise. As we get up, God Save the Queen is sung by an invisible choir and lip-synched by Foxy. Yet the text is slightly changed as the hymn goes on and gets quite a few laughs from the audience. As we sit down, Foxy presents a hard rock classic, rocking across the stage. Soon we meet the first interviewees, all played by Foxy in various guises as she lip-synchs the text so well that you hardly notice that the voices actually are recordings. The stories are intertwined with musical numbers to make the performance even more varied and entertaining. The performer has a splendid rapport with her audience and there is some very mild audience participation.

Foxy portrays every single character in her solo show. If there is more than one character, you will find one Foxy on the stage and a few more Foxies on film, playing musical numbers together - Foxy also masters a variety of instruments - or sharing their stories with us. Foxy's characters represent many different facets of Britain - a middle-class English woman, a Scot and an Irishman, recent immigrants, a Jewish Londoner who loves his beigels and shares his story over jellied eel in a Pie & Eel Shop, or a woman who doesn't want to be posh. Foxy she also devotes some time to the quintessential Londoners and city dwellers: the London foxes. 

This is an unusual and quirky show presented by a skilled and original artist. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 17th February 2016

Battersea Arts Centre

Age Recommendation: 12+

Running time: 60 minutes

Further information on the artist and touring dates: www.foxyandhusk.com 

Image by Manuel Vason.

Apr 12th

AN EVENING WITH THE LEGENDARY JOHN CLEESE

By Cameron Lowe

John CleeseFor the first time ever, comedy legend and the most senile member of Monty Python will be bringing his "An Evening with the Legendary John Cleese” tour to the UK. Best known for his idiosyncratic turns in Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers, John Cleese will bring his unique comedic perspective to Glasgow audiences for three nights only: Mon 6 – Wed 8 June.

 

Cleese has achieved a lot in his career which started as a sketch writer for BBC Radio’s Dick Emery Show and then The Frost Report. After this stardom beckoned, and Monty Python was created with Cleese co-writing and starring in four series and three films.

 

He went on to achieve further great success as the neurotic hotel manager Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, which he co-wrote with his then wife Connie Booth. After huge UK success John went on to crack the USA with A Fish Called Wanda (which he wrote and starred in with Jamie Lee Curtis). The late 1990s saw the unstoppable Mr Cleese appear in the James Bond movie The World is not Enough and later Die Another Day. From writing to starring in plays, musicals, theatrical and comedy productions, to films and sitcoms, Cleese has done it all, and now it’s time for him to tell you about his jam-packed life.

 

Cleese says: "It is an evening of well honed anecdotes, psychoanalytical tit-bits, details of recent surgical procedures, and unprovoked attacks on former colleagues, especially Michael Palin".

 

Ends/

 

LISTINGS

 

An Evening with the legendary John Cleese

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Mon 6 – Wed 8 June @ 7.30pm

Tickets: £21 - £33.50

Box Office: 08448 717 647 (bkg fee)

www.ambassadortickets.com/glasgow (bkg fee)

Apr 1st

Our American Cousin at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Solomon Mousley as Asa Trenchard

Wal, stranger, I don't know what they're going to do with me, but wherever they do put me, I hope it will be out of the reach of a jackass. I'm a real hoss, I am, and i get kinder riley with those critters.

President Lincoln was watching Tom Taylor's highly popular play about a British-American culture clash when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on 14 April 1865. Tom Taylor was a successful English playwright whose work entailed comedies, melodramas, burlesques, and farces. Our American Cousin deals with a distant American cousin who inherits a large British estate on the brink of financial ruin. Does this storyline ring a bell? Right, it resembles the situation in our beloved Downton Abbey which makes one wonder why Taylor's play has never been performed in the past century.

Florence Trenchard (Kelly Burke) and Sir Edward (Andrew McDonald)

Rustic American Asa Trenchard arrives at the Trenchard Estate to accept his inheritance. His rough charm soon clashes with the reserved manner of his English relations. Only his cousin Florence is amused by his behaviour. Her father, Sir Edward, is facing financial ruin unless he marries off Florence to his unpleasant agent Richard Coyle but Florence is in love with a captain without a ship - Harry Vernon. Meanwhile Lord Dundreary, a male version of Mrs Malaprop, woos Mrs Mountchessington's daughter Georgina, a very delicate girl who is harbouring quite an unladylike appetite. Mrs Mountchessington has chosen Captain De Boots as a suitable husband for her other daughter Augusta but now has got her eye on future heir Asa as a possible husband. Asa's cousin Mary, who should have been heir to the estate, is working as a servant.

Georgina (Hannah Britland) and Lord Dundreary (Timothy Allsop)

Our American Cousin is a comedy with a melodramatic form. Many of the characters are rather clichéd, such as the villain and the brides-to-be, which was normal in the 19th century when actors were cast to fit certain type parts - even more than today. Interestingly enough, the big star of this vehicle was not Asa Trenchard but the foolish Lord Dundreary, as played by the popular actor Edward Askew Sothern who invented much of his dialogue, thereby changing his part of a supporting player to a leading role. The production by Over Here Theatre has included some of Sothern's improvised text entailing misquoted proverbs such as "Birds of a feather gather no moss". Timothy Allsop certainly does his best to make his character funny but there is little humour in Sothern's rambling text although several members of the audience seemed to disagree with me.

Lydia Parker's production is a very good one and if there are shortcomings this is due to the play which seems rather dated at times but is saved by the enthusiastic cast. Solomon Mousley is a very likeable lead with a quick smile and an angelic face and it is very amusing to watch how he shocks the fossilized aristocrats and the butler Mr Binny who takes Asa's affronts with a stiff upper lip. Kelly Burke is a self-confident and intelligent Florence who pulls all the possible strings to help her seaman return to sea again. Olivia Onyehara is lovely as the impoverished cousin Mary Merideth. Andrew McDonald combines gravitas with helplessness as Sir Edward Trenchard and Andy Rashleigh is a very distinguished butler. Hannah Britland has one of the best one-liners in the play as the sickly Georgina. Popular contemporary tunes are provided by skilled pianist and Musical Director Erika Gundesen.

Don't miss out on this curiously entertaining play. Hurry, the run is almost sold out!

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 14th April 2015

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439

e-mail admin@finboroughtheatre.co.uk

All photos by Aoife Nally.

 

Feb 21st

The War Of The Worlds at the Dominion Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane

Jimmy Nail, Heidi Range and Michael Praed

 

After the end of We Will Rock You, the Dominion Theatre undertook an extensive amount of refurbishment and the result is a fantastic modern interior with great bars and comfortable spacious seating. 

With this new production, they've also shown how much electricity they can cope with, as the amount of lights, lasers and electronic special effects used would probably require as much power required to run a small village.

It's truly a spectacle of visual entertainment. From the opening bars of the now infamous song, Jeff Wayne commands the violinists, several guitarists, and a multitude of other musicians in the opening number and the chilling words "The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one he says......and still they come".  

Over the years, this show has taken on different guises on stage, and it's evolved extensively in this production. Every facet of it has been improved and enhanced, with more cast, more dancers, more lights, more scenery, and it works well.

I loved the artistic elements from the Red Weed, a dozen dancers giving the impression of the all encompassing killer weed.  It reminded me of the 'Hairy Panic' in Australia this week and brought it to life wonderfully.

The original HG Wells story is threaded through the musical composition and spoken by Liam Neeson on a variety of screens which pop up around on stage. He's telling the story years after the invasion and his character is acted out on stage by Michael Praed of Robin of Sherwood fame. There's a great cast including David Essex, Jimmy Nail, Daniel Beddingfield and Heidi Range of Sugababes fame. They each had great character in their voice and they complimented each other well. Much like Les Miserables or Jesus Christ Superstar, the parts required high quality singers with extensive range, and while their singing wasn't to the level of performers like Alfie Boe each of them held their own.

The original radio play of it was in 1938 narrated by Orson Wells, and it created panic across the UK as some listeners thought it was real. I performed in a version of this in Glasgow a number of years ago and it was clear that it would be easy to misinterpret if you'd missed the opening announcements.

The reviews haven't been good in their opening week. I'm not sure what everyone was expecting, but The Times gave it zero stars, and felt everyone was wooden. The Independent agreed and they both mocked the Liam Neeson screens popping up everywhere. Even the Evening Standard called it an "Overblown Display of Prog Rock Romp".

For me, this was great London entertainment and the audience were on their feet at the end which will surely help the production keep it's chin up in face of these negative and unnecessary presss reviews. What do they know anyway ?

 

Get yourself down to see THE WAR OF THE WORLDS at the Dominion Theatre and be prepared to immerse yourself in this 19th century classic brought to life with 21st century style.

 

http://www.dominiontheatre.com/theatre/war-worlds/

 

 

 

 

Jan 16th

Ivor Novello's Valley of Song at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin
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Katy Treharne as Lily and Lynford Hydes as David

Music settles the question.

After Perchance to Dream and Gay's the Word, the Finborough now presents Ivor Novello's unfinished work Valley of Song which was meant to be Novello's next Drury Lane musical when he suddenly died from a coronary thrombosis in 1950, The work was completed by Christopher Hassall - who had collaborated with Novello for many years - and adapted by Phil Park and Ronald Hanmer for the amateur stage. Set in Wales and Venice, this romantic musical revolves around young Welsh choirmaster David who is deeply in love with his leading soprano, Lily.

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Amira Matthews as Maria, Sandy Walsh as Nan Brewster
and Jill Nader as Olwen Jones.

Nan Brewster, a shrewd business woman, celebrates the 25th anniversary of her chain of stores. A reporter arrives to write an article about this spectacular event, titling the story "Valley of Song". David, the local choirmaster, and the village choir present the beautiful song Cambria and I Know A Valley in Nan's honour. Nan thinks David's talents are wasted in the valley - he is a gifted composer who could go far but David doesn't want to leave. 
Lily is still undecided about David because unlike him she is ambitious and more adventurous: Lily wants to see the world and find the ideal man. When Nan decides to retire: "25 years of Brewster's is plenty", she asks Lily if she would like to travel with her. Lily immediately agrees - to David's chargrin. Nan's "faithful factotum" Gwilim and her housekeeper Olwen are also to come along. The grouchy Gwilim is not so inclined: "Abroad, it's a bit foreign, isn't it?" When they arrive in Venice, Gwilim is very critical of Italy at first but soon the charming Maria, who thinks the name of his Welsh home sounds like a bad cough, changes his mind. Lily has fallen head over heels for the shady Count Ricardo. Nan is very suspicious of the count and hires a private investigator who presents his results on the night that could be Lily's big break. 

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Laura Allen, Ross McNeill, Richard Mark, Carla Turner, Katie Arundell,
Harrison Rose, Lee VanGeleen, Amelia Clay and Philippa Tozer


This romantic musical must have already seemed dated when Ivor Novello wrote it. The storyline is very corny and quite predictable and most of the songs cannot be counted among Novello's best. However, there is still a lot to be liked and it is thanks to the Finborough that we get to see a production of this rarely performed work.

Benji Sperring's imaginative production is set on a bare stage with only a backdrop as scenery. This makes sense because fifteen actors dance and sing on this intimate stage and provide all the colour and atmosphere to take you to a Welsh valley or the carnival of Venice. Linford Hydes and Katy Treharne make a lovely couple as the sadly romantic David and the sprightly and adventurous Lily and both have truly beautiful voices. Sandy Walsh is a charismatic Nan Brewster as she cares about her community, supports Lily in her endeavour and transforms her home into a hospital for wounded soldiers. Lee van Geleen, who took over the role of Gwilim on rather short notice, is very funny as the grumpy and proud "factotum", reminiscent of Malvolio. His scenes with the Italian hothead Maria, played with plenty of fire by Amira Matthews, are hilarious. Jill Nalder is endearing as the wise servant Olwen Jones. Richard Mark oozes charm from every pore as Lily's paramour Ricardo Favero. I Know A Valley, a very lyrical song celebrating Wales, and Rainbow In The Fountain are beautiful and memorable numbers. The choreography of Carnival in Venice is creative and playful. 

Don't miss the chance to see this rarely performed Novello! 
 
By Carolin Kopplin

Until 25th January 2014
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED 
http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2014/valley-of-song.php
 
Feb 24th

An Inspector Calls - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Lousie Winter 23rd February 2016

Inspector Calls poster

The core message of Priestly’s play, that of collective social responsibility, seems evermore relevant. First produced 24 years ago at the National Theatre, Stephen Daldry’s touring production was well received last night.

Using the device and style of a detective thriller it is fundamentally a philosophical play about social conscience, demonstrating how one person’s behaviour can have significant and even devastating consequences. The drama unfolds in stages as Inspector Goole arrives in the middle of a celebration and questions each member of the Birling family in turn as to their connection with a young woman who has committed suicide. Liam Brennan as Goole is suitably tenacious and commanding, gradually coercing each character to admit the truth and forcing them to consider their past actions and motivation.

An Inspector Calls Mark Douet

image copyright Mark Douet

Set and staging are most effective with an air of surrealism. The mini-sized lopsided house with tiny door and windows, perched high on stilts, contains the drawing room within which the Birling family are crammed toasting Shelia and Gerald engagement. This enclosed, too-small space gives a sense of discomfort and awkwardness, signifying the narrow, stifling middle-class conventions by which the family are all bound. The eventual throwing open of the front and sides of the house to expose the bright, sumptuous interior luminous among the bleak blitzed surroundings start the Inspector's exposure of the characters' secrets and misdemeanours.

Priestly’s dense text is key and Daldry’s production keeps this paramount not allowing any other elements to detract from this. Stephen Warbeck’s music is used sparingly to underline key dramatic moments and to heighten tension only. Daldry’s manipulation of time within the play: the events set in 1912, the 1940’s attired ‘Supernumeraries’ to witness the Birling family’s disclosures, and the moments where the audience is addressed, move the physical time around so as to place the central message in both the past and present.

AN Inspector Calls Mark Douet

image copyright Mark Douet

The cast are equally sharp and excellent, Caroline Wildi and Katherine Jack as Sybil and Sheila Birling are perfect. Wildi has some of the most amusing moments and the decline from her lofty, regal, and immaculate image to that of her sitting in the gutter disarrayed and dishevelled is symbolic of the collapse of the moral fibre of her character and all the family. Geoff Lesley as Arthur Birling is suitably gruff and inflexible, almost completely refusing to admit he has done anything improper. Hamish Riddle is superb as Eric Birling, his nervous energy, near hysteria and awkwardness perfectly pitched. Matthew Douglas plays with aplomb the falsely jocular and loud fiancé Gerald Croft and the realisation of the damage his past behaviour has done leaves him momentarily lost; only momentarily though. It is Sheila and Eric who you feel may have learned some type of lesson and who may go on to be better human beings. They are the only redeeming characters. However, the audience don’t escape. The play halts. The audience is addressed directly: think of and care about others instead of focussing on material possessions, power, and status. A message for our times and as pertinent as ever.

Priestly's theme is timeless. Daldry's production is full of suspense, thrill and anticipation.

At MK theatre until Sat 27th February

Tickets from

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/an-inspector-calls/milton-keynes-theatre/ 

0844 871 7652

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