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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

Jun 27th

Dry Rot

By Steve Burbridge



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DRY ROT

DARLINGTON CIVIC THEATRE

When Alfred Tubbe (Derren Nesbitt), a crooked bookie, and his two accomplices, Fred Phipps (Norman Pace) and Flash Harry (Gareth Hale), devise a cunning plan to ‘get-rich-quick’ by kidnapping the odds-on favourite horse and replacing it with their own decrepit nag, thus netting a tidy £10,000 in the process, you instantly know that they will have to jump more hurdles than they expect to get past the final post.

Written by John Chapman, and first performed in 1954, Dry Rot ran for more than three years in the West End and is listed in the National Theatres’ Top 100 plays. This latest production boasts a cast which comprises a line-up of odds-on favourites from the stage and the small screen – all of whom are under starter’s orders and raring to go. So, with such good form, why doesn’t Dry Rot romp to victory? After all, the essential ingredients required for a classic farce are all there: secret-doors; physical comedy; misunderstood situations; stock characters and blossoming love.

Part of the problem, I fear, is because the piece feels slightly dated. Add to that some dodgy directorial decisions from Ron Aldridge, which hinder the required split-second comedy timing and flaw the physical comedy, and the die is almost set.

However, it is the stellar cast who collectively save this production – and they do so with admirable talent, flair and panache. Neil Stacey is perfect as the ex-military man turned hotelier, Colonel Wagstaff, and his pairing with Liza Goddard (as his ‘home counties headmistress-type’ wife) works nicely. Evelyn Adams, as Susan, and Bob Saul, as Danby, make a charming love-struck young couple, whilst the slapstick is provided, of course, by Hale and Pace. Throw into the mix Susan Penhaligon as a delightfully ditzy housekeeper (who easily steals every scene she is in!) and you can hardly go far wrong!

Mention must also be made of Sarah Whitlock (Sergeant Fire) and Michael Keane (Albert Polignac) who both take relatively minor roles and make them altogether more important.

This production may not be a dead-cert winner, nor is it the underdog of the race. If you enjoy an inoffensive light-hearted farce then Dry Rot is probably something of an each-way bet.

Dry Rot runs until Saturday 30 June 2012.

Sep 23rd

THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL!

By Kirstie Niland

Smash hit MAMMA MIA! a huge success for Blackpool

Blackpool MAMMA MIA! has been declared a smash hit for Blackpool with ticket sales totalling more than £3.3m.

The International Tour of the global phenomenon ended a 12-week summer season at the Opera House last night and today it can be revealed that more than 100,000 people visited Blackpool to see the show.

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Blackpool Council cabinet member for tourism and leisure, Cllr Graham Cain, said it has been a great summer for the theatre and Blackpool as a whole.

Cllr Cain said: “We are thrilled with the success of MAMMA MIA!

“This was our first full summer season for more than 10 years and we are delighted to be a in a position today to reveal just how successful it has been.

 “It was a huge announcement for us to make last year and there has been a tremendous amount of work involved to ensure its success but I am happy to say, it's been great and we look forward to welcoming similar shows in the future.”

The Blackpool Opera House run of MAMMA MIA! was the only place people in the UK could see the show outside London during 2014.

A national multi-media campaign was used to promote MAMMA MIA! with extensive TV, radio, newspaper and social media advertising.

Just six weeks into the show it was revealed that it had broken Box Office records in Blackpool with ticket sales of £2m.

And now, with more than £3.3m of tickets being sold over the 12, weeks that equates to more than 100,000 people visiting the Opera House to see it.

Cllr Cain added: “There is no doubt MAMMA MIA! has been a hit for the whole of Blackpool.

“There has been a great buzz around the town firstly for the fact that we’ve brought back the Opera House’s full summer season and secondly because it is such a feel-good show that entertains the whole family and appeals to such a wide audience.

“To attract in excess of 100,000 people to a show is fantastic news for Blackpool because not only were those people coming to watch the show, they were also dining out in Blackpool, making a weekend of it and spending money in the town. That is a huge benefit to everyone.

“This has been a huge summer for all the Winter Gardens staff who have had to ensure the Opera House and the whole Winter Gardens’ complex was ready to welcome thousands of people every day.

“There has also been a lot of work and commitment from people throughout Blackpool to ensure the show’s success and I would like to extend thanks to the many local businesses that have supported MAMMA MIA! from the beginning and done their utmost to promote the show to their customers and guests.”

Managing Director of the Winter Gardens, Michael Williams, said: “MAMMA MIA! has been a great success for Blackpool and we are delighted with the way it has been received. The show has been absolutely fantastic and our audiences have loved every minute of it.”

Nick Grace, Associate Producer of the MAMMA MIA! International Tour, said: “MAMMA MIA! continues to be a huge success around the world and we are thrilled that the International Tour has been such a huge success in Blackpool and leads the way for future summer seasons. 

MAMMA MIA! has proved to be the perfect feel-good summer show for Blackpool and we are extremely proud to have been invited to be part of it."

 

Following its hugely successful run in London’s West End, the hit Beatles show LET IT BE is the next show to hit Blackpool for 2 weeks only, from Tuesday 30th September – Sunday 12th October.

The show is packed with over forty of The Beatles’ greatest hits including: I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Hard Day’s Night, Day Tripper, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Strawberry Fields, When I’m 64, Get Back and many more.

Ticket Prices: Stalls - £20.50 - £31.50; Circle - £15.00 - £31.50 Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster (booking fees apply), or from the box office at 97 Church Street, FY1 1HL, tel: 0844 856 1111 

Mar 14th

Richard and Adam in Concert at the Cadogan Hall

By Clare Brotherwood

This week I went to a marvellous family party. Mum and dad were there, their two boys, the grandparents… Dad did a turn and Nan was singing along and having a ball - as always!

And therein lies a clue.

Richard and Adam in Concert

For Nan, Lorna Slack, is nearly as famous as her talented grandsons, known simply as Richard and Adam. But while she is famous for her exuberance, the boys are famous for their glorious voices, honed with the help of online Pavarotti masterclasses.

The brothers, from North Wales, were finalists in last summer’s Britain’s Got Talent, and, this week, they rounded off their first UK tour at London’s prestigious Cadogan Hall with a mesmerising medley of ballads and classical songs.

From the moment 20-year-old baritone Adam Johnson launched into This Is The Moment his Nan was not the only one in ecstasy. My skin tingled. When his 23-year-old brother, tenor Richard joined in, the experience was complete; with a wide range, from soft to downright powerful, these boys certainly have a God-given gift. The way they complement each other and harmonise is heavenly.

There is a lot to like about these two, apart from their voices. At the risk of sounding my age it is nice to see youngsters so well turned out - well-cut hair, smart suits, collar and tie and shiny shoes. They looked as if they’d made an effort. And I loved the way they looked a little in awe. Richard, especially, had an almost beatific look as he smiled broadly from time to time as if not quite believing where he was.

Nevertheless, although they may be young (in my eyes) and just starting out on what will most certainly be a great career, their presentation, patter and singing was very much grown up - and professional, even if it was like a family party! In fact, that made the concert extra special. There was a lot of banter between them and Nan - who in the second half had moved down to the front row, and when they brought on their dad, Paul, to join them in a moving rendition of Bring Him Home you could hear a pin drop. It was plain to see where they get their voices from!

A surprise performance from X-Factor’s Rhidyan was not the only welcome addition to the show. Eighteen-year-old Charlotte Jaconelli who, with Jonathan Antoine, reached the finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 as classical duo Jonathan and Charlotte, was a revelation, looking and sounding stunning and with a (surprisingly, seeing as she sings so magnificently) cheeky ‘Essex-girl’ rapport which made me want to adopt her. Her’s was another real grown-up performance!
Sep 24th

BEATLEMANIA IS BACK!

By Kirstie Niland

As Blackpool braces itself for Beatlemania “Paul McCartney” and “John Lennon” give us an insight into the world-famous smash hit show Let It Be

Let it Be has wowed audiences in New York, Germany and Monaco and will soon reach Japan and Moscow. Following successful stints on Broadway and the West End the Magical Mystery Tour is on its way to Blackpool.

Beatlemania is back and I’ve got a Ticket To Ride!

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Let It Be charts The Beatles’ meteoric rise to success, from their humble beginnings at Liverpool’s Cavern Club to the worldwide phenomenon that became known as Beatlemania. The story is told through music interspersed with dialogue and old video footage to set the time frame.

Ahead of their opening show at the Winter Gardens on 30th September I get the lowdown from James Fox (Paul McCartney) and Paul Canning (John Lennon).

Both of them are delighted to be performing in Blackpool, a town they both see as returning to its heyday, when TV comedy stars such as Bruce Forsyth, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson and Frank Carson drew the crowds.

James is an old hand at seaside entertainment and he’s happy to be back. He spent a few summer seasons at the Pleasure Beach and also formed Blackpool boy band Force 5 with his friend Kevin Simm, who later joined Liberty X.

“There are still great acts on the pier and injections of cash have brought about a revival. Blackpool has always been something to aspire to, so as an entertainer I’m excited to come and I’m looking forward to the reaction to Let It Be. The audience is responsive across the board but it’s even better in the regions.”

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The real Beatles were no strangers to Blackpool either, having played in the resort themselves. In fact the first televised recording of Yesterday was filmed there in 1964, so any original Beatles fans from Blackpool will really enjoy a poignant trip down memory lane with Let It Be.

But all ages groups would find it difficult to resist Beatlemania, which is why the timeless feel good factor of the show is energising fans throughout the world.

 “You can set your clock by it all...when the audience gets up to dance, when they sing along," says James.

Playing Sir Paul, a British icon for decades, is a huge responsibility and if James wasn’t a Beatles devotee originally he definitely is now.

“I was more of a McCartney and Wings fan in the 80s, then my Dad, who was a Beatles fan, told me to ‘check out the other band’. Sting, Billy Joel, REM were my chosen influences but with The Beatles you find them whether you’re looking for them or not.”

James is a singer-songwriter who “fell into theatre”.  He still writes his own material but is more than happy to focus on Let It Be for now. "It’s hard to juggle the two, theatre is so all-consuming and the appeal of a live stage is the instant reaction you get.”

For James, Blackpool is both a nostalgic return to his old haunt, as well as a nod to Blackpool’s history as the place to perform. “If you played Blackpool it was a step up, you knew you were doing something right.”

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Paul Canning, like John Lennon, has visited the town as a tourist, and is pleased to be finally appearing there too. “I’ve been on the Big One but I haven’t performed in Blackpool yet so I’m very excited to do so. My Grandpa played the Blackpool Winter Gardens in 1952 with the Morton Fraser Harmonica Gang so I’m proud to be following in his footsteps. If you were a performer and entertainer in Blackpool back then you knew you were going in the right direction. The TV special Blackpool Night Out featuring the Beatles in 1965 is a huge frame of influence for me, I use it to mimic the performance.

“You have to impersonate them as best as you can. We want the audience to feel like they’ve stepped into a time machine, make it as close to the real thing as it can get. There is incredible attention to detail with the costumes, the wigs... the research is intense.”

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Let It Be is clearly much more than a medley by a Beatles tribute band, and these guys are talented musicians in their own right.

Apart from The Beatles, Paul’s musical influences includes an eclectic mix of Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Billy Joel, Prince and Harry Nielson. “We are both singer-songwriters but like James said, coming into a show takes up all of your time. I’m in the process of recording my own album and enjoy writing for other people but I also enjoy performing in Let It Be. You get an injection of adrenaline with the safety net of The Beatles catalogue.

Celebrity fans of the show include Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine (who tweeted he’s seen it three times) and Cilla Black. Cilla is the talk of Twitter herself at the moment as ITV is currently screening a drama about her early career, which took off when she was introduced to Beatles manager Brian Epstein by John Lennon. In the first episode we see Cilla’s Dad refusing to let her to go to Germany on tour with The Beatles.

Do the boys have any gossip about Cilla and The Beatles? Paul does: "There was a TV show where John Lennon was on a sofa with Cilla, the presenter got up and John whispered in her ear something along the lines of ‘what I would do to you!’”

Do they encounter any Beatles hysteria from girls on tour? “No,” laughs Paul. “But we do have good fans of the show and people there that are very keen.”

The song Paul most enjoys performing is In My Life. “John wrote that at just 24. I like Here Comes the Sun for backing vocals, and listening to and watching. Hey Jude as a piece of songwriting is phenomenal. The words and sentiments are lovely, wonderful and very uplifting with a rousing chorus. And if you listen and take it in, Help is a pop masterpiece, an incredible bit of writing. The lyrics are sad, asking for help but covered by Beatlemania happiness.”

Despite playing the same songs night after night James also has his favourites: “The Long and Winding Road is my favourite to perform as I can sit down and play the piano. To listen to I like the more raucous, rockier stuff from The White Album. I'm not a fan of Yellow Submarine but it isn’t in it!” (I have to admit I’m happy to hear that too).

Just like the big acts in Blackpool before them, James, Paul and the other band members are obviously doing something right.

“We definitely create the magic,” promises Paul. “The chemistry on stage is phenomenal, we laugh and enjoy ourselves and have as much fun as The Beatles did but musically we try to remain tight. They were cheeky lads who made the best of it. We do the same and that resonates into the audience.”


Let It Be is at the Blackpool Opera House 30th September  to 12th October.
Ticket Prices: Stalls - £20.50 - £31.50; Circle - £15.00 - £31.50. Available from Ticketmaster (booking fees apply), or from the box office at Church Street, FY1 1HL, tel:  0844 856 1111

 

Sep 25th

Madalena Alberto sparkles in Evita

By Dan Zbijowski
The recently renovated Dominion theatre buzzed with anticipation for opening night. Having been there for one of the last performances of the twelve year resident “We Will Rock You”, the difference inside is marked. A once tired venue has been revitalised. The work undertaken clearly in evidence from the atrium to the stage, even the staff seemed reinvigorated with an extra bounce in their step.

To my mind the Dominion has always been one of London’s more impressive theatres.  A show with the pomp and historical significance of Evita perfectly lends itself to the vast performance space at the Dominion and proved to be a great choice to celebrate its re-launch. It is incredible to note that this is actually a touring production, such is the scale.

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Photographer Credit - Darren Bell

The opening moments in an Argentine cinema announce the death of Eva Peron (Evita), and segue effortlessly to a grandiose mausoleum for her burial. Evita first appears almost floating above her tomb, dressed and bathed in white light, all of which serve to make her appear as the “spiritual leader” for which she was heralded. This is a highly effective opening that demands audience attention. It is a real statement of intent for the productions exploration of the life of one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century. The scene is set beautifully, placing Evita on the pedestal before carefully dissecting just how justified that position actually is.

Madalena Alberto gives a flawless performance as Evita, starting with her humble beginnings as a brunette, before charting her progress to the side of Argentine dictator Colonel Juan Peron.  Whilst somewhat cold and unsympathetic in her portrayal as first a harlot, and then an increasingly fame and power hungry woman, she fully explores the essence of Evita’s character and brings the audience with her all the way. Her lust for, and, use of men is handled with humour, but there is also genuine chemistry between her and Colonel Peron, excellently played by Matthew Camelle. It seems that both may have met their ideal match and a cleverly choreographed tango crackles with tension. 

When Evita appeared on the balcony at the start of the 2nd half, the audience fell silent and became eerily still, as if entranced. Dressed in white gown and jewellery both of which shimmered and sparkled brightly, Alberto’s voice dazzled with an impeccable rendition of “Don’t cry for me Argentina” that brought some to their feet.

Evita is never more powerful or broken than with the line “the actress hasn’t learned the lines you’d like to hear”, uttered first in defiance at the masculine military world she finds herself in and then in despair at her own body’s failings. Dying tragically young, at the age of 33 and before her ambitions had been fulfilled, Alberto completes a compelling transformation in the final scene.
 
The star draw for the crowd should have been Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet fame. However, dressed in military uniform it is unclear whether he is supposed to represent infamous revolutionary Che Guevara or not - if so it isn’t successful. His omniscient narrator, whilst cynical, never really convinces, lacking the power the role should carry and remaining disappointingly flat throughout. 

Overall it is a sharply co-directed production by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright. There is careful attention to detail throughout; period advertising of Argentinian lager Quilmes, clever staging and the costumes all serve to create a real sense of time and place. The choreography is especially impressive and the scenes featuring the military are some of the most effective.  
 
Fans of Evita may note that nothing particularly new is offered in this production, however, for the careful stage management and star in the making Madalena Alberto, this is an impressive production and a thoroughly entertaining watch. If you are unfamiliar with the Evita story I would highly recommend catching it during its very limited 7 week run. 

By Dan Zbijowski
Until 1st November.
268-269 Tottenham Court Rd, London W1T 7AQ
Box Office: 020 7927 0900
More information: http://www.dominiontheatre.com/theatre/evita/
May 17th

UK Theatre Network Announces Resignation of North East Editor

By Cameron Lowe

It is with sadness and regret that I have accepted the resignation of Steve Burbridge as UKTN’s North East Editor. Steve leaves us to focus on ever-more-demanding family commitments in parallel with his career as a theatrical writer and producer.

Steve has occupied this role for an amazing 8 years following recruitment by UK Theatre Network Founder, Douglas McFarlane in 2008. His contribution to UK Theatre Network will certainly be missed - not merely his prolific works, which are recorded on our pages, but also his contribution to the culture of UK Theatre Network driven by his infectious spirit and his passion for theatre and the creative industries.  His influence will, indeed, be long-lived. However, that being said, UKTN will not be the same without him.

I would like to thank Steve for his years of service and wish him the very best for the future.

 

Cameron Lowe

Editor, UK Theatre Network

Jun 30th

Thriller Live (King's Theatre, Glasgow 29 Jun – 4 Jul 2009)

By Cameron Lowe

This celebration of Michael Jackson’s music and unique dance style has become something of a tribute in light of his untimely death last week.  Topical issues aside, the quality of this performance is good enough to turn your socks white and blow one glove off your hand!

 

Thriller Live delivers the MJ magic in spades with a loosely chronological review of his music from the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” through to his 1995 release “Earth Song”.  The presentation style was unusual for a stage show, delivering a documentary of Michael Jackson’s musical history and record breaking achievements rather than a more traditional biopic.  This lent itself to a focus on the music and dance rather than the star’s controversial live story.  With such a rich back catalogue of music to choose from over a 30 year period, the delivery did not disappoint the audience.  The deceptively simple fixed set proved to be incredibly dynamic as a huge movie screen featuring dazzling effects, movie clips and photos became transparent on several occasions to reveal the live onstage band.

 

The unique Jackson 5 sound was authentically reproduced from the off, but the glove (quite literally) came off in the second act as tens of millions of pounds of the worlds most expensive music promotion videos were reproduced live on stage!  The choreography, styling and effects of “Smooth Criminal” were just mind blowing with particular emphasis on the astonishing talents of Michael Anthony Duke.  A short, dedication was made to the ‘King of Pop’ before a very moving performance of “Man in the Mirror” by fellow lead vocalist Ian Pitter – the song likely to top the UK charts next week (it reached number 11 back in 1988).  Other MJ high notes were hit by TV’s Popstars finalist Hayley Evetts and talented fellow vocalists Peter Murphy and Dwayne Wint.  The signature fedora hat should also be tipped forward in recognition of the amazing talents of 11 year old Tyler McLean who played young Michael.

 

This production was so slick it had my “click track” senses tingling (particularly in reference to the backing vocals), however I was won over by astonishing solo vocals and high energy dance routines that followed the unique MJ style flawlessly through three decades of hits.  This show will have you moonwalking in the aisles.  Shamone!

 

Listings Info:

Thriller-Live

King’s Theatre, Glasgow

29 June to 4 July

Mon –Fri eves 7.30pm

Sat 4pm & 8pm

Tickets: £12 - £27.50

Box Office: 0844 871 7648(Bkg)

www.ambassadortickets.com/glasgow (bkg)