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Jan 27th

Chicago at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

headline

What a superb production this is! It makes murder, corruption, adultery and cheating look positively attractive!

Since its New York revival in 1996 Chicago has become the longest-running musical to play in the West End: a sure sign of its popularity. As a result there have been a number of touring productions, both good and not so good.
I suggest this particular cast makes this production one of the best of recent times. It must consist of some of the best looking actors currently on stage in the UK. Sure, the girls in this show have always been fabulous, long-legged, strong, sassy and sexy, but the boys this time – good heavens – they are clearly in the gym when not on stage – all abs, pecs and biceps, not to mention the lower halves! They certainly earned plenty of wolf-whistles of appreciation from the audience throughout the evening. Every member of the Company give their all throughout the evening and are completely convincing in their characterisations.


The choreography is sharp and tight (the original re-created by Gary Chryst) and the musical interpretation by Garth Hall exhilarating and performed impeccably and with great verve by the 10 piece orchestra, who are centre stage throughout and incidentally got the longest and loudest round of applause.

 

The billing has Marti Pellow as the main attraction. He has carved out a theatre career of late and his voice and stage presence are well suited to the part of Billy Flynn.

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Whilst he is excellent, and taking nothing away from him, the outstanding performances are really from Emma Barton (ex-Eastender Honey) as Roxie Hart and Twinnie-Lee Moore as Velma Kelly.

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Barton is a revelation but shouldn’t be. Looking at her experience she has plenty of theatre under her belt and was completely at home singing – what a gorgeous rich, full voice - and dancing. She is utterly hilarious as the conniving, flirtatious Roxie. Perfect!

emma

Moore is one to watch. She does not have a great deal of experience being only 22 but you would never know this from her extraordinary performance. She is captivating, self assured and doubtlessly talented. I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was on stage and her opening number ‘All That Jazz’ introduces her in fitting style. She is stylish and sophisticated, has superb comic timing and the stage presence of a real star. Someone to keep an eye on I have no doubt.

Twinnie


Matron (Wendy-Lee Purdy) it is fair to say suffers from comparison to Queen Latifah’s performance in the 2002 Rob Marshall film. It’s unfortunate but inevitable.

Amos (Adam Stafford), Roxie’s rather straight and trusting husband, was a clear favourite with the audience, particularly after Stafford’s superbly sensitive and touching performance of ‘Mister Cellophane’.

This is a sexy, strong, superb production of Chicago and very well worth booking tickets for. If you have always fancied it and never got round to it this production is the one to see.

Chicago plays MK Theatre Monday 25 –Saturday 30 January. MK box office 0844 871 7652 (Booking Fee)

Then on tour

February 1 – 6, Charter Theatre, Preston

February 8 – 13, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

February 16 – 27, The Mayflower, Southampton


Louise Winter on behalf or Catherine Brian

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/

Feb 16th

Finian's Rainbow at the Union Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin
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Follow the fellow who follows a dream.

After his success with Lost Boy, a new muscial about Peter Pan which recently transferred from the Finborough to the Charing Cross Theatre, Phil Willmott now presents the revival of a musical that hasn't been shown on a London stage in over 50 years. The mythical story about an Irishman who emigrates to a southern state with his daughter to bury a pot of gold, with a leprechaun in hot pursuit, is rather lightweight and cliched although it contains some criticsm about inequality in the US. Still, it is a fun musical comedy with an excellent score by Burton Lane and E Y Harburg that has brought us a number of standards such as Old Devil Moon and Look to the Rainbow.

A mysterious Irishman, Finian, and his daughter Sharon arrive in Rainbow Valley, a small Southern town of tobacco share croppers who have come from all over the country to find work. Finian intends to bury a crock of gold that he has stolen from a leprechaun to make it grow faster. He thinks the ground must be perfect for growing gold as the Americans have buried their gold in Fort Knox. But the leprechaun Og who is becoming more and more human because of his loss, has followed Finian to retrieve his gold. Meanwhile the evil Senator Rawkins, a racial bigot, intends to evict the workers with the help of the corrupt Sheriff. Local hero Woody Mahoney arrives just in time to pay the outstanding debt but there is still the interest to pay. Thankfully, Finian is happy to help the good folks of Rainbow Valley and saves the day. Sharon is instantly smitten by the dashing Woody, a feeling that is mutual. But Senator Rawkins now has an axe to grind with Finian, and there is still Og.

Despite a feeble and cliched storyline about jolly Irish eccentrics and leprechauns, this is a thoroughly enjoyable show with many memorable songs, splendidly choreographed by Thomas Michael Voss, and beautifully sung by a very talented cast. James Horne convinces as the jolly and eternally optimistic Finian McLonegan. Joseph Peters and Christina Bennington are delightful as the starry eyed couple Woody Mahoney and Sharon McLonegan. Raymond Walsh is very good as the leprechaun Og who discovers that being human has its advantages. Laura Bella Griffin gives a very good performance as Susan Mahoney, who cannot speak but communicates by dancing. Michael Moulton is a charismatic preacher leading a wonderful gospel choir  - The Rainbow Valley Gospelists - with outstanding singers, most of all Sister Anne (Anne Odeke). Michael J. Hayes and John Last are comical villains as the Senator and his sycophantic henchman the Sheriff. 

A great show for a fun evening out.  

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 15th March 2014

The Union Theatre
204 Union Street, London, SE1 0LX
http://www.uniontheatre.biz/#/finians-rainbow/4582173026
Tel: 020 7261 9876 
Sep 10th

She Stoops to Conquer

By Kirstie Niland

The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster

9th September

Northern Broadsides’ novel twist on She Stoops to Conquer opens with a noisy explosion of animal print and spectacular ginger wigs – and it’s non-stop fun from there.

This is a period comedy of manners with a contemporary twist. The excellently cast characters capture the 18th century humour perfectly, whilst clad in elaborate costumes of canary yellow and shocking pink.

And best of all, it’s been relocated to the North.

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West Country accents are therefore redundant, making way for a bold and brash Mrs Hardcastle, whose portrayal by Gilly Tompkins has echoes of a Northern Barbara Windsor; and a fantastically bawdy Miss Neville played by Lauryn Redding. Then there’s Miss Hardcastle and the surprise Scouse accent she adapts to the audience’s delight when she stoops to conquer the shy Charles Marlow.

This classic romantic romp involves a rich countryman, Hardcastle, who wants his daughter Kate to marry his friend’s son, Charles Marlow; and Hardcastle's second wife who wants her son, Tony Lumpkin, to marry her niece, Constance Neville, in order to hang on to the family jewels. The problem is that Miss Neville has her sights set on Marlow’s friend, Hastings; and Marlow is too timid to woo Miss Kate Hardcastle. Meanwhile Tony Lumpkin and his mother are intent on stopping the course of true love run smoothly.

Director Conrad Nelson has done Oliver Goldsmith proud, with his talented ensemble of actor-musicians keeping us on our toes throughout. Scenes are punctuated with bursts of beautifully harmonised song accompanied by the piano, flute, violin and even a kazoo; and countless comedy interludes, including a simply hilarious pas de deux involving skipping and stags heads.

Jon Trenchard is a fabulously camp Tony Lumpkin in giraffe print with a pink cravat, and his costume and character blends beautifully with those of his flamboyant mother.

Hannah Edwards is plucky and forthright as Miss Hardcastle; and Guy Lewis as Hastings alongside Oliver Gomm as Marlow are both over the top and credible as the young men about town who are duped into thinking the Hardcastles’ home is a country inn.

Oliver Gomm’s twitching, awkward movements when faced with Miss Hardcastle make you cringe in all the right places, as does his jaunty gait when he thinks she is just a lowly barmaid.

Lauryn Redding and Jon Trenchard are a brilliant double act as the “kissing cousins”, with both of them inducing peals of laughter with a mere facial expression or movement.

The cleverly designed stage set creates a warm and inviting backdrop, with props, pillars and hidden doors providing some inventive opportunities for the cast to skip and flit around. The set changes are carried out by servants, and entrances and exits are slick, with cast members gliding on to the left as others glide off to the right.

Northern Broadsides’ first class production of mischief, mayhem and misunderstandings gains momentum brilliantly as it reaches its climax with an amusing bottle-wielding eruption from Howard Chadwick as Mr Hardcastle, a wailing, spread-eagled Mrs Hardcastle, and Marlow’s bewildered reaction to the big reveal:

 “Oh, the devil.”

Contrary to Mrs Hardcastle’s grumpy complaint that this was “but the whining end of a modern novel,” the grand musical finale is a spectacle in itself, with an extra loud round of applause for scene stealer Alan McMahon as the crossing dressing man servant.

However every single member of the cast deserves praise for this superb performance.

Long live love and romance. And Northern Broadsides.

She Stoops To Conquer (recommended for aged 12 plus) tours until December 13th, and is at The Dukes until September 13th. Tickets, £8-£18.50, are available from the box office on 01524 598500, or from www.dukes-lancaster.org

 
 

Sep 11th

LAURYN REDDING PUTS A BAWDY NORTHERN KICK INTO SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER

By Kirstie Niland

Lauryn Redding is eating her tea when I call to interview her. Due on stage at 7.30pm after a long day of rehearsals, you could be forgiven for thinking she might sound stressed.

Not so. Lauryn is relaxed, friendly and full of interesting insights into Northern Broadsides’ production of She Stoops to Conquer, currently touring until December 13th.

The show has received some rave reviews so far; with The Guardian describing it as “absurdly funny”. Lauryn, who plays one of the most comic characters, Miss Neville, is enjoying the audience’s reaction, which is: “really responsive and open, lots of warm, smiley faces and belly laughs.”

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Oliver Goldsmith’s well-loved comedy of manners is “an amazing piece of writing,” says Lauryn. “A farce full of misunderstandings, miscommunication, and love. An amalgamation of things in everyday life as well as being true to the 18th century.”

What’s different about this production though is that it’s set in the North rather than the West Country.

“It doesn’t need to be West Country,” explains Lauryn, “and Northern Broadsides are a Northern voice. “There’s a mix of accents, some of the older cast members are more Northern, while the younger ones who have lived in London for a while might have flat vowels but more affected. It informs the story, and places the characters in their generation and class.”

Lauryn herself is from York but lives in London, and her portrayal of Miss Neville as a bawdy Northerner adds extra comedy to what is already a fantastically funny performance.

Her scenes with Jon Trenchard as a camp, ginger-wigged Tony Lumpkin are met with raucous laughter; their pairing is an expert choice of casting by Director Conrad Nelson.  

These two larger than life characters are injected with extra colour by the spectacular costumes. Miss Neville is bold in a bright yellow period dress, meanwhile Tony Bumpkin flits about the stage in giraffe print and shocking pink.

The costumes feature animal prints in restoration style, and much brighter colours than there would have been in that period, giving a contemporary twist to period designs.

“They’re phenomenal,” says Lauryn. “When you’re wearing something like that, in my case a frock, petticoat and a corset, it changes you. The way you walk and sit, it all adds to the character, the period and the relationship. They’re all made from scratch so they fit perfectly and are comfortable.”

Despite being a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl, Lauryn is used to big frocks and period costumes, having played Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria in Horrible Histories, and King Lear’s Cordelia. “It’s nice to dress up, it’s one of my favourite parts of the job.”

Lauryn is also used to raising laughs. “I find myself in comedic roles often but it (She Stoops to Conquer) has been a real challenge. You have to be 100% everything at all times, to want, need or feel everything to its height. You can’t wing it or it would lose momentum. It’s fast-paced but easy to follow. Conrad (Nelson) had a real vision of how he wanted it to be, and it’s so well written you can’t go wrong.

She added: “Northern Broadsides approach classical texts and Shakespeare with such gusto and that’s what I love about them.”

Lauryn also approaches her role with gusto. Every entrance she makes is a big one, drawing some of the biggest belly laughs. Her timing, facial expressions and movement all add to the comedy value.

Her dream role of Nancy in Oliver would be perfect for her; she has a great singing voice and the necessary depth and energy to put the oomph into Oom Pa-Pa, just as she does with the funny romantic Pa Pa Pa with Hardcastle in She Stoops.

Lauryn also has ambitions to play Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. The rebellious medieval heroine couldn’t be more different to Constance Neville but when Lauryn takes centre stage in the finale of She Stoops, you can definitely see her pulling it off. She has enormous presence at only 26.

So how does she do it, having only graduated 5 years go? “You have to be an open, warm and kind person to be in this industry, and be willing to try new things and follow direction. I’m working with a cast with some in their 60s and I’m learning from them, and they’re maybe learning from me. Age and gender has no consequence. We’re all in it together.”

Asked what her advice to fledgling thespians would be, Lauryn suggests: “Be a sponge. Don’t say no; think what way you want to go and what you want to do.”

And finally...what’s her favourite line from the play?

One from Mrs Hardcastle:

“’Women and music should never be dated’ It’s true!”


She Stoops To Conquer (recommended for aged 12 plus) tours until December 13th, and includes Lauryn’s hometown of York. Currently at The Dukes Lancaster until September 13th. Tickets, £8-£18.50, are available from the box office on 01524 598500, or from www.dukes-lancaster.org

Feb 27th

Mozart Undone - A Theatre Concert at the Barbican

By Carolin Kopplin
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Mark Linn as the Soldier -- Photo by Tristram Kenton

Curious? What is it?

Denmark, the country most responsible for the popularity of Nordic Noir, now introduces Britain to the "theatre concert". Betty Nansen Teatret, Cederholm & Hallemann Bros. present 30 of Mozart’s works, sung by a chamber group of six singers backed by five musicians. If you think this sounds like a serene evening, delightful but with little surprises, you couldn't be more wrong. This is a "theatre concert", a term coined by director Nikolaj Cederholm who invented this genre in 1993. After tackling the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Beethoven, and many more, director Cederholm decided it was time to give Mozart a "revamp" and his production became a huge hit in Denmark. I was advised to expect a kind of performance the like of which I had never seen before, which is not quite true because the theatre in Germany can be very challenging and quite outlandish. But it was a very unusual evening, brimming over with creativity. Every musical component had been re-imagined and re-engineered into a synthesis of ancient and modern genres, from country and western to punk, folk to rock and indie with English lyrics by Neill Cardinal Furio. The orchestra was not hidden away in the pit but became part of the action on stage.

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Bjorn Fjaestad as the Beast -- Photo by Tristram Kenton

As the show opened, one of the actors/singers was tap dancing and shuffling across the stage in the dark and a dripping noise could be heard. As it became light somebody put a glass on the table to catch the water. Soon the glass had to be replaced by a bucket. Eventually even a tub could not hold the enormous amount of water that was pouring down from the ceiling while the cast frantically tried to battle the flood only to succumb to it in the end. 

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Photo by Tristram Kenton

There is no story or arc for any of the characters. In this mix of circus, puppetry, masque, MTV and Monty Python with some very serious undertones, Cederholm created scenes and images with every piece - some funny, most of them rather dark, all of them remarkable. In the scene "The Atheist" the Father (Claus Hempler), a man of the 18th century, receives a call from Moses on his mobile - he wishes to discuss the 10 commandments with him but the Father will not hear of it because horrible crimes such as child abuse, slavery, rape and "war after war after war" are not mentioned. Although the production appears very playful and happy at first there are very dark moments, particularly in the second half. 

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The singers and the orchestra are outstanding. Nordic Noir connoisseurs will recognise Lotte Andersen from The Bridge who plays the Mother in this production. Claus Hempler is impressive as the Father, Louise Hart is vulnerable and tough as the Daughter . Mark Linn performs acrobatic feats while singing his heart out as the Soldier, and Martin Greis is very good as the Lover. Bjorn Fjaestad created one of the most intense and disturbing scenes as the Beast. The costumes and the masks by Anja Wang Kragh added to the strangeness of the piece. Mozart's music had been changed so much at times that I thought I was listening to pop music but let's not forget that Mozart loved to entertain and had a wicked sense of humour. I am sure he would have appreciated Nikolaj Cederholm's approach.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 28 February 2014
Barbican Centre
http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=15059
Sep 15th

Richard Graham and Ciaran Kellgren lay down their arms to discuss Journey's End

By Kirstie Niland
With Kirstie Niland at The Octagon Theatre Bolton

It's great to chat with Ciaran Kellgren (Hibbert) and Richard Graham (Trotter) in their civvies over coffee after seeing Journey’s End. Apart from it being a relaxed way to meet the actors, it emphasises the difference in R.C. Sheriff’s play between the guarded men in uniform and the real characters beneath.

It also provides contrasting views of the performance, from Ciaran’s perspective as a young actor working predominantly in the theatre, to that of TV veteran and movie star Richard Graham, known for his high profile roles in Titanic, My Beautiful Launderette, I.D.and Gangs of New York.

Based on Sherriff’s own experiences of the First World War, Journey’s End provides a gut-wrenching view of what life was like in the trenches, focusing on a group of exceptionally well-developed characters. Performed in the Octagon’s theatre-in-the-round, and directed by the award-winning David Thacker, the intimate set draws you in, so that you join the officers on their emotional journey as each individual faces the horror of war and waiting to die.

Neither Hibbert nor Trotter are on stage for huge lengths of time, however their scenes leave such an impression that you find yourself waiting with them and for their return. Will Hibbert remain “another little worm trying to wriggle home” or will he face the frontline? When will the funny and warm-natured Trotter come back and bring some much-needed light relief?

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Ciaran and I arrive at the Octagon at the same time, and the first thing that strikes me is that he looks even younger out of uniform and without the persona of Hibbert. It reminds me how young some of the soldiers sent to war actually were. In the play, Stanhope is only 21, and his school friend, Raleigh, just 18. How could the similarly young Hibbert
not be afraid of being gunned down? 

Ciaran agrees: “Hibbert is the most human. He’s real. Stanhope is the same in his head, Hibbert is a reflection of himself - Stanhope is scared and vulnerable too.

Is Hibbert an emotional part to play? “Yes. Under Dave’s direction we play ourselves. He told us to imagine these are people are you, in a trench and knowing you’re going to die."

The stage composition, particularly when Stanhope (James Dutton) points his gun at Hibbert, adds such tension I wonder if David Thacker dictates the blocking? “No, nothing is set, it’s improvisation. We’re in different positions every night. David tells us: ‘decide what your intention is,’ and in that scene (with Stanhope) I want to go and he wants to stop me. It’s an intense process. Every single night there’s a gun in your face. You really do feel you don’t want to go out there. You would rather die here than go out there.”

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“The assistant director (Alyson Woodhouse) says the main characters are the five faces of war. Hibbert is fear. He shows what they’re all thinking but covering up in different ways.”

Trotter, the play’s light relief, conceals his feelings by focusing on gardening and food and lifts the others with his cheery chat.

“If I was down there I would want someone like Trotter around,” says Ciaran. “Richard gets typecast as the baddie but he’s actually a lot like Trotter. Richard’s the nicest character I’ve met in my entire career. A lovely guy and a brilliant actor. He always has a story and a joke to tell.”

As soon as Richard joins us you see what he means. Despite his star-studded career, acting alongside the likes of Mel Gibson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio and Liam Neeson – he makes you feel at ease. Not at all what you would expect from the on-screen baddie.

“I’m enjoying doing Journey’s End,” he says. “It’s nice to play someone closer to my own character. Trotter is very light in a play that’s very serious. He’s the only one who’s come up through the ranks, he shows the class difference, he’s more down to earth. Every character is based on a real person so Sheriff obviously knew someone Trotter. I’d love to play Osborne, he’s a cracking character, he’s a good moral man who holds them all together but I’m perfect for Trotter. I’ve always gravitated towards the character roles.”

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 Journey’s End is Richard’s first theatre role in 8 years. “I’m here because of David,” Richard explains. He and the director last worked together in 1988, in David’s acclaimed West End production of An Enemy of the People, and it’s been a welcome return to the stage for Richard. “I’ve done more filming but I love the theatre. It’s more rewarding, there’s more feedback. With filming you’re surrounded by equipment and around 40 people and you never get to do the whole thing as a story. It’s disjointed.”

This is perhaps why Richard has never seen Titanic all the way through. “I didn’t think it would do as well as it did. It’s an old disaster story and we all know it sinks in the end!” he jokes.

Journey’s End is so well structured. There are no wasted characters and they all have their own way of coping. For Trotter food becomes all-consuming and he has a front of humour. The most moving part for me is when Stanhope says Trotter doesn’t feel anything and he’s on the brink and fighting it.”

Does Richard feel Trotter’s emotion? “It’s the audience’s job to feel it,” he says. And he’s right, we do.

If Richard could choose any theatre role it would be Proctor in The Crucible, or Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. I personally would love to see him in either and it’s not impossible since David Thacker’s West End productions have included Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and Broken Glass.

The American playwright himself has high regard for David. In an interview with The Independent Arthur Miller said: “He throws his whole personality into what he’s doing and before he ever sees an actor he has a strong idea of what a play is expressing and why it exists in the first place.”

Cairan agrees; “We all do it David’s way and that works.”

Cairan has ambitions to play Eddie in A View from the Bridge, or anything Shakespeare. “The great thing is that every job is different. This time last year I was playing Robin Hood at The Lowry and now it’s war season.”

Ciaran is currently rehearsing for Early One Morning, another hard-hitting war drama running from Thursday 9th October to 1st November at The Octagon.

As for Richard, once the current play has reached its journey’s end, we could just as easily see him on the big screen somewhere exotic as we could back in Bolton, his acting locations are so varied.

I.D. was my best acting experience but my best film experience was making The Bounty in the South Sea Islands, “ he says, smiling. “I was 22 in Tahiti with Mel Gibson, swanning around on the beach all day playing one of his mutineers, and someone said ‘it’s downhill from now on’.”

Well you can’t get much less tropical than Bolton but Journey’s End is still a masterpiece, and modest though he is, Richard brings charisma and star quality.

As Ciaran says: “He’s brought a bit of sparkle to Bolton.”

You can see Richard and Ciaran in Journey’s End until Saturday 4 October 2014. Tickets are from £26.50 - £10 on 01204 520661, or at www.octagonbolton.co.uk

Photographs by Ian Tilton
Sep 16th

Melanie Hill gets her teeth into CROCODILES at Manchester's Royal Exchange

By Kirstie Niland

Melanie Hill has made her name playing loveable, down-to-earth characters like Aveline in TV sitcom Bread, taxi-driver Stella in Candy Cabs, and dinner lady Maggie in Waterloo Road.

While Aveline may not have made it as a model, Melanie has achieved stardom in the appropriately named Stardust, filming alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro.

What is less well known about her is the breadth of her stage career. Since attending London’s RADA she has appeared in a variety of plays, including the stage version of Bread, Women Beware Women at the Royal Court, Twelfth Night and Under Milk Wood.

Melanie is now rehearsing for what she describes as one of the best pieces of work she has ever worked on - the world premiere of a “ferocious Northern fable” called Crocodiles at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

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Melanie plays Cornelia Glass, an overbearing mother who spends her time spinning yarn, both literally and with the frightening tales she tells her family to scare them into staying with her. The irony being that the real danger lies right on their doorstep, where burning witches every Thursday is a normal activity.

Cornelia lives on an isolated island on the North East coast and everyone works at the local factory. Despite being brave enough to escape to the city at 16, her son Vincent has returned from his TV job with CBBC because something terrible has happened, and nobody knows what.

Melanie says: “The play is very dark and very funny. The mother is completely insane. She knits throughout the play, it’s her escapism. She spins yarns, never shuts up, she puts the fear of God into the family to hold them to her. Her son comes home and she is desperate not to let him get away again but it all unravels. She has a granddaughter who she keeps in the attic. Lucy is psychic and communicates by whistling and when she comes down they start to ask her the truth about each other and it blows everything apart.”

Melanie is clearly going to be fantastic as Cornelia. I’m already captivated and I’m only talking to her on the phone.

“On opening night it will be really interesting to see how the audience take it, what they find funny and what they could be offended by,” says Melanie. “It’s really near the knuckle stuff. In rehearsals one minute we’re laughing, the next it’s hard-hitting.”

It definitely sounds different to Melanie’s long-running stint as a dinner lady in Waterloo Road. “After three years you get lulled into the same part,” she agrees, “so it’s nice to have something fresh and challenging. Every day with Crocodiles there’s something new and exciting.”

Something else new and exciting is Cilla, the three-part ITV series that started this week, in which Melanie plays another mum, Big Cilla.

Originally from Sunderland, and now living in Glasgow, Melanie enjoyed filming in Liverpool: “It’s been fantastic going back. I haven’t been there since Bread. Jeff Pope is such a good writer and Sheridan (Smith) who plays Cilla has nailed it. The series shows part of Cilla's life that no one knows about. She knew the Beatles, Marc Bolan...all these edgy people...in the days when you had to ask permission to do things. Cilla asks her dad if she can go to Germany with the Beatles and he says no. Nowadays they wouldn’t ask, they would just bloody go. As Cilla’s mum I had to improvise with John Henshaw who plays her dad, it was an absolute ball.”

Another little known fact about Melanie is that she had a part in the US horror film From Hell which starred Johnny Depp. “It was a small part but I was told it was integral to the whole film so wouldn’t be cut out,” says Melanie, “but it was and they didn’t tell me.”

“That was one of those sobering jobs where they put your feet firmly on the ground and remind you not to  get too far up your own arse. Then one day I got chatting to two blokes on a train and they said that’s where they knew me from - From Hell. I said I’d been cut and they said they’d got the DVD with the Director’s Cut and I’m in it!”

You get the impression that Melanie is far too level headed not to keep her feet on the ground: “I had a year and a half off when I had the kids and I wondered if I’d get another job but I’ve been very lucky with work. I make the most of it and balance it quite well. When I’m off with the kids I’m 100% with them. I always say things can change so quickly, just enjoy being with your family in between because next week you could have a big amazing job.”

Like Peter Howitt, aka Joey, her on-screen brother from Bread. One minute he was struggling, hoping for someone to finance a film called Sliding Doors he had written. The next he was directing Gwyneth Paltrow in it.

Would Melanie like to do more roles in big movies? “Stardust was the most exciting and thrilling job. There was a woman on set and her only job was to mend belts. The director snapped his fingers and 20 people would be there. It was just another world to me but film roles? There’s nothing that I hanker at. I really love doing ensemble pieces like Candy Cabs with a lot of women. I enjoy it when there’s a good team.

“You’re not so much ambitious when you get older; you want to have a nice time.”

I’ve read that Melanie has been vocal about the lack of interesting roles for older women, and having missed out on roles she would have liked – Hamlet’s Ophelia and Nancy in Oliver - what would she still like to do? “I’d love to do Lady Macbeth, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to do Crocodiles straight after mainstream TV I have to pinch myself hard every day.

“I’ve just done two plays with Live Theatre in Newcastle who sponsor new artists and writers, and The Royal Exchange has a similar ethos so it’s great to mix the two up.”

She’s had such a huge variety of acting jobs, what does Melanie put her success down to? “Every part I get I put 100% into getting it right,” she replies. “We had the costume fitting for Crocodiles yesterday. Mine is horrific but so right. That’s what I enjoy. Morphing myself into these crazy women, and that lends itself to getting interesting parts rather than lead roles.

“I’ve got a great feeling about Crocodiles,” predicts Melanie. “It’s quite scary. Terrifying but honest and that’s why I like it. The rest of the cast are amazing, the writing is brilliant. Hopefully we’ll do it justice.”

Somehow I think they will.

 

 

Crocodiles, directed by Ng Choon Ping, winner of the inaugural Royal Exchange Theatre Hodgkiss Award,  runs from Wednesday 1st October to Saturday 18th October at The Studio, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Age Guidance: 16 plus (contains strong language and adult content).

Ticket Prices, £12 / £10 concessions, are available from the Box Office: 0161 833 9833, or on-line: www.royalexchange.co.uk/bookonline  

If you missed the first part of Cilla you can see it on CatchUp www.itv.com/itvplayer/cilla/series-1/episode-1

Sep 17th

Shakespeare’s Globe’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By Clare Brotherwood


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Janie Dee and Aden Gillett

To be perfectly honest, it won’t matter if the audiences in the Globe’s current tour of the Far East and Russia don’t understand Shakespeare’s prose. For Dominic Dromgoole’s production is a visual feast, exquisitely choreographed and dressed, with shed loads of beautifully crafted comedy from The Mechanicals and X-rated passion from the fairy queen.

It was such a joy to watch that, having seen it at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, I insisted friends join me for a second helping at the stunning Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury before it set off on its international tour (first stop Shanghai).

It was far from being too long (at two hours, 45 minutes) for 11-year-old Amelia’s first taste of Shakespeare. In fact she was disappointed the second half was only to be an hour and said she wanted to see it again!

The tale of four lovers who wander into the midst of a dispute between the king and queen of the fairies is magical in every way.

The production bursts into action as Theseus, mythical king of Athens, conquers Hipployta and her Amazonian women in battle.

As the Amazonian queen, Janie Dee looks every inch the warrior, fierce, focussed, foreboding and not a little wild, a characteristic she builds on when she later appears as Titania, the fairy queen who, clothed in animal skins and smeared with mud, is almost feral.

Meanwhile, hapless lovers Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius (played with youthful vigour by Beatriz O’Hea, Lizzy Watts, Jamie Chandler and Philip Correia) are in love with the wrong partners, with or without the help of the bungling sprite Puck, who has been entrusted by the fairy king, jealous Oberon, to bewitch Titania so that she falls in love with the first persons she sees – the tradesman, Bottom, on whom Puck has transplanted an ass’s head.

As Oberon, Aden Gillett has tremendous presence as a somewhat malevolent character, in sharp contrast to Molly Logan who, as the playful Puck, is a little powerhouse of mischief and mayhem. Indeed her performance is so captivating that one of my friends likened her to a young Judi Dench!

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The Mechanicals 

For Shakespeare first-timers especially, The Mechanicals and the play they perform in the last act is greatly entertaining. I don’t remember laughing so much as I did this time round when the assorted group of tradesmen clattered on stage in proper northern wooden clogs. Their characters are evident from the start, especially bossy Bottom, played with gravitas by Geordie Trevor Fox; Steffan Donnelly, whose awkwardness as the young Flute is a tour de force; John Cummins as enthusiastic Snout, and Richard Bremmer who, as Snug, created a work of art as an almost wraith-like vision whose mournful expression is so sad and yet had us howling with laughter.

Staged as it would have been in Shakespeare’s Globe, complete with Claire van Kampen’s at times emotive music played on instruments of the time, this is a production Great Britain can be proud to export.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now touring China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia until December.

Jun 27th

Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? at the Tristan Bates Theatre

By James Buxton

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Claire Dowie’s 1990 play, Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? is brought to life with incredible exuberance and imagination in this one woman show starring Joanna Griffin. Dowie’s play is set during the start of the Feminist movement during the Sixties and Seventies and follows a young girl who refuses to be pigeon holed by society's conventions of what it is to be feminine. Griffin captures the hyperactive energy and restless imagination of a girl on the cusp of puberty, who can’t identify with the way the girls around her act. She'd rather be climbing trees or pretending to be John Lennon than play with Barbies and dress up. However the whole concept of being a Tomboy is brought into focus by Dowie, who explores the idea that there is a certain way, girls and boys are expected to behave and if you don’t conform to society's stereotypes, you will be labelled a “boy”.

Griffin’s performance is exceptional, full of comedy and thought provoking quotes on the nature of what is to be feminine. Her vivacious charm and unquenchable energy shine through the piece and the natural comedy inherent in Dowie’s play is brought to life with great gusto and enthusiasm. Griffin has a highly expressive face and she uses it to the fullest of her ability to express the myriad emotion she feels growing up; from excitement to deflation, humour to depression, she expresses the frustrations of adolescence and her reluctance to become ‘feminine’ with admirable skill. This is a passionate play which requires an impassioned actor and Griffin’s confidence is palpable; we enter into her world, where she tears at the seams of her skirt and protests against the status quo of sexuality.

If one thing’s certain, Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? would definitely win the award for the play which requires the most amount of costume changes! Griffin wrestles with shiny tights and French skirts, flowery dresses and military uniforms, as Dowie illustrates the sartorial manifestations of feminine repression. You can forget the chastity belt, the bra is enough of a repressive tool that only helps to reinforce gender stereotypes. Paradoxically, Griffin finds freedom by dressing up in military uniform, because it allows her to achieve an asexual status and appear efficient.

In many ways, we are still victims of our appearance and that is the criteria upon which we are often judged. Griffin brings Why is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? to life with formidable energy and hysterical humour, exposing just how unfair it can be to grow up as the fairer sex.

 

http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/Also_on.asp