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Jan 29th

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake - Simply Stunning!

By Thia Cooper
Last night’s performance of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was simply stunning.

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

I saw this production of Tchaikovsky’s most famous and well loved ballet when it first took to the stage surrounded by controversy. How times have changed, and how the ballet has matured and developed! I enjoyed it then, but now I absolutely love it. Whatever ‘tweeks’ and changes have been made to this production have improved it immeasurably.

The dancers are awe inspiring with the beauty of movement (especially the Swans) and athleticism woven together to give the effect of a most dramatic and emotional performance. The Swans especially benefitted from the imaginative lighting by Rick Fisher It truly gave the impression of the swans were flying at times!

Adhering to the original story, it was told with excellent acting too by the company. They were able to bring the humour as well as tragedy to the fore with ease. Costume and set designer, Lez Brotherston, captures the atmosphere perfectly gives your eyes a visual treat too. Male or female designs are exquisite and so imaginative. The butterflies in the Opera House scene were particularly outstanding. Not a tutu in sight!!

Swan Lake

It is difficult to know what more to say about the dancers! They are all so amazing. However, the Principles (The Swan, Chris Trenfield, The Prince, Liam Mower and The Girlfriend, Carrie Johnson) are exceptional. Powerful, vulnerable and emotional! I have to admit a tear in my eye when the curtain came down.

As a modern day classic, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is no longer provocative and continues to dazzle audiences wherever it plays. Miss it at your peril!!

Thia Cooper Milton Keynes’s Theatre 29 January – 01 February Ticket prices £16.80 - £8.80 (plus £2.85 transaction fee) 0844 871 7652 www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes
Oct 3rd

Let It Be

By Kirstie Niland

Blackpool Opera House

Let It Be has been winging its away around the world and has finally stopped off in Blackpool, and if you’re partial to a bit of Beatlemania then this show is definitely for you.

The Fab Four (or Five if you count the excellent keyboard player) provide non-stop hits and an extremely authentic take on the iconic band that started off in Liverpool and became an international sensation.

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Like the real Beatles before them, the boys from Let It Be have travelled the world, stopping off in Germany and Monaco, and playing everywhere from Broadway to the West End, before returning to the Winter Gardens where The Beatles once played themselves.

Let It Be takes us on The Beatles’ musical journey through the years, while retro televisions show old footage to set the time-frame with adverts for shampoo and cigarettes, festival/flower power type scenes, a Twiggy fashion shoot, and best of all, some hysteria from real screaming Beatles fans as the boys sing Help. There was a small technical hitch when one of the TV screens stopped working but the main set more than made up for it, especially when the entire stage was transformed into a kaleidoscope for Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, complete with red stars and flying horses.

The show kicks off with a collection of early classics, such as Please Please Me and She Loves You, followed by Twist and Shout and Day Tripper which had the audience up out of their seats dancing.

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James Fox as Paul McCartney sings a lovely, haunting version of Yesterday, which was originally filmed in Blackpool. “The B side to the A side, written by the seaside” says John, played by Paul Canning. As well as having John Lennon down to a T with both his singing and movements, Paul Canning raises the most laughs. When he asks the audience what they’d like to hear next and someone asks for Imagine he replies that they haven’t been paying attention, joking: “I haven’t written that one yet.” The second half of the show has more rapport and this works well. However, as revealed in my interview with James and Paul, Let It Be is supposed to make the audience feel like they've stepped back in time, so the show is a compilation of excerpts from several Beatles concerts, right down to them shaking hands with a few lucky people in the audience at the end.

The backdrop is a cyclorama featuring pop art and images telling the songs’ stories, which proves a dramatic accompaniment to atmospheric tracks such as Eleanor Rigby and While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which warrants lots of psychedelic colour. My favourite set is the acoustic one, where the band sit down to play We Can Work it Out, Norwegian Wood and Here Comes the Sun.

You can’t fault the musical performance, all of the band members are talented musicians and perform their respective Beatle character’s songs perfectly. The costumes and wigs have clearly been meticulously researched, and the mimicry is so good that they look more and more like the real Beatles as the show progresses.

The finale, as expected, is rousing, with virtually the entire audience standing up to sing, waving their arms and using mobile phones as torches to Hey Jude. This is The Beatles, 2014, Blackpool-style.

Let It Be is a fantastic family show and it’s only in Blackpool until the 12th October, so get your Ticket to Ride now!

Ticket Prices: Stalls - £20.50 - £31.50; Circle - £15.00 - £31.50. Available from Ticketmaster (booking fees apply), or from the Blackpool Opera House box office at Church Street, FY1 1HL, tel:  0844 856 1111 

Jul 3rd

ALL RISE FOR ANTONY COSTA!

By Kirstie Niland

TOMMY, Blackpool Opera House

12th-26th September

The announcement that Blue’s Antony Costa is to star in rock opera Tommy when it premieres in Blackpool is exciting news for North West fans. However they should prepare themselves because this role means no more Mr Nice Guy. For the boy band hearthrob is playing Tommy’s sadistic Cousin Kevin who bullies and tortures the deaf, dumb and blind pinball player.

And he can’t wait to get started. “People know me for being the Cockney boy, Jack the Lad, so this is out of my comfort zone,” says Antony. “If I can pull it off and do it to the best of my ability it’s another string to my bow. If you’re given the chance to play a different character you have got to audition. You’ve got to be able to act and not be stereotypical. Be resolute. I don’t want to get parts off the back of my name. For Tommy I have to play a psycho really well and I can’t wait to get my teeth into it.”

This is definitely a step away from the norm as Antony is more often seen in wholesome roles - such as Aladdin at the Kings Theatre in Southsea. Coincidentally this is the very same location Pinball Wizard was filmed in the 1975 movie version of Tommy, a number Antony performs in the show. Even more prophetic is that Antony plays the character made famous by the show’s director, stage and screen star Paul Nicholas. “Paul auditioned me, and I’m looking forward to him giving me advice. I will take everything he says on board.”

Born Antony Daniel Costa on 23rd June 1981, the 34-year-old singer/songwriter began his career in TV as a young boy playing pupils in Grange Hill and Chalk. In his late teens Blue was born, and his focus turned to music. Over the ensuing years Antony has done reality TV, modelling and the Eurovision Song Contest. Theatrical success began in the West End, 2006, when he starred as Mickey Johnstone alongside Maureen Nolan. In 2007 he played Roddy in Boogie Nights opposite Alvin Stardust. Then in 2010 he became Cal in POPSTAR the Musical. This Christmas he’s back in panto as Prince Charming at Dunstable’s Grove Theatre.

Meanwhile the boys from Blue are still going strong. Currently on tour promoting their album Colours they’ve just returned from Japan. So many bands have short-lived success, what is the bond that keeps the Blue boys together? “Laughter and friendship,” he says. “Come on the road with us for a couple of days and you’ll see we are worn out from laughter. If one of us is feeling down the other three picks us up. We love each other to death. We’ve always had respect for each other, it’s about staying together but letting each other do other things, encouraging and supporting each other” explains Antony. “When we started out we were non-stop for five years, we only had Christmas and Boxing Day off. You don’t get tired, you get drained. In 2005 we sat down and said we’re not enjoying it, let’s take six months off, let’s chill and do other things. That turned into six years."

It seems Antony has always been a bit of thespian at heart: “I got into acting first but you just don’t know where things are going to take you when you’re 17 or 18 – and 16 years later I’m doing another show and still gigging with the boys. It’s nice to combine the two. A lot of people think if one of us is doing something else then the band must have split up but look at Gary Barlow and Take That. It’s good to do other things, it keeps your mind active, and I don’t want to live with regrets and think I wish I’d done this or done that. I can’t wait to get on that stage and be someone else for a couple of weeks.”

It will be great to see Antony back up North again too. Blue were a huge draw at the 80s v 90s night at last year’s Lytham Proms (even though Blue are from the noughties!) Before that Antony’s last trip to Lancashire was in 2010 for a gig in Preston, before travelling through the night to Gatwick to find out who his surprise fellow guests would be in Channel 4's Celebrity Five Go To Turkey. “That was a wicked show! Russell Grant was there so it was nice to see a friendly face.” Out of his housemates Antony got on best with Russell and former 80s wildchild, Emma Ridley, now famous in LA for her Goddess Fitness Dance studios. “Emma’s a Piscean, Russell is an Aquarian and I’m Cancer,” he says. “All water signs. I’m not that into astrology but you have to listen. Russell did my astrological chart years before the show and said he knew I was coming to Turkey!”

Blackpool certainly seems written in the stars for Antony. Tommy looks set to be a sell-out, and Boogie nights also premiered in Blackpool. “Haha yes there is a bit of Blackpool vibe going on!” he admits.  “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been to a few parties there with Blackpool’s own Nolans, we used to have a right old craic.”

Now a father and engaged to dental nurse Rosanna Jasmin, Antony has put his wild days firmly behind him and is dedicated to family life. “I love to share my experiences and say Mum, Dad, Fiancée, baby – this is what I do.” All the Blue boys have children now, and recent Rat Pack style promotional shots reflect their album’s chilled lounge/Motown feel and a more mature, Hollywood image. Could a movie role be on the cards?

“You never know! My film heroes are Pacino and De Niro. I love their presence and performance. Robin Williams was an amazing actor. I played an extra in Secret Agent when I was about 12 and he was ridiculously good. I told him and he said “thanks man, thank you” in his Genie voice from Aladdin. My dream stage role would be Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys. Who knows after Tommy but as long as I’m auditioning and working I’m cool.”

So what would Antony’s advice be to anyone starting out? “Keep going. Learn your trade and work hard at it. Make sure you’ve got thick skin - and enjoy what you do.”

Last but not least, the most important question of all. Has he ever been on the Big One? “No but it’s got to be done,” he laughs.

Despite growing up near Blackpool I confess that neither have I. “That’s dreadful,” Antony says, “We’ll have to put that right! We'll do it together, I’ll meet you on the Big One in September!”

It’s a deal :-)

Tommy the film, based on The Who’s 1969 album, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Directed by Ken Russell it starred the band members, with lead singer Roger Daltrey in the title role, alongside Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John and Jack Nicholson. Antony will appear in the stage version at Blackpool Opera House with X-Factor winner Joe McElderry as Tommy.

For tickets prices and bookings go to www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk

 Photograph courtesy of Winter Gardens Blackpool

 

Mar 25th

The Finborough Theatre Presents the World Premiere of Caryl Churchill's The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution

By Carolin Kopplin

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I wouldn't forget a man I'd tortured.

UrgentTheatre in connection with the Finborough Theatre present the world premiere of Caryl Churchill's 1972 play, inspired by the life and work of Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), the Martinique-born psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose best known works include Black Skin, White Masks and his masterpiece The Wretched of the Earth.

Algeria, 1956 – a country is desperately fighting for independence from French colonial rule. Frantz Fanon is head of the psychiatric department of the Blida-Joinville hospital in Algiers, treating both oppressed and oppressor, but it is hard to tell who the real victims are. A civil servant takes his psychologically disturbed daughter to the hospital for assessment and insists on her admittance. An inspector demands treatment for his impotent violence against his own wife and child. Three in-patient revolutionaries are delusional and paranoid. The Hospital At The Time Of The Revolution is a forensic insight into the adjustment of morality for the sake of conscience.

UrgentTheatre was founded in 2011 to produce and champion the short play. Their object is to produce writing by established authors from across the world that are neglected or unperformed simply because of their length. So far, UrgentTheatre has produced ten short plays – five by the 2012 Wellcome Trust Award-winning Al Smith and five by the Samuel French Short Play Award finalist Bekah Brunstetter. Each of these plays were given presented at Southwark Playhouse, Arcola Theatre and Theatre503.

The show is playing for a limited run from 31 March 2013.

By Carolin Kopplin
 

Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Box Office 0844 847 1652 Book online at 
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk
Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 31 March, 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16 April 2013
Sunday and Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Tuesday matinees at 2.00pm.
Tickets £14, £10 concessions.

Performance Length: Approximately one hour with no interval.

Apr 24th

Tonight's the Night - MK Theatre

By Louise Winter

Tonight's the Night
Reviewed 22 April 2014

Tonight's The Night

This show, based upon the hits of Rod Stewart, written by Ben Elton and directed by Caroline Jay Rayner, is successful entirely due to the cast working extremely hard to flesh out this thin story line and weak script. It is a success in spite of these traits and I have to be honest and sorry to say that I think it is pretty poor of Ben Elton and the production team to present such an unimaginative and rehashed tale ... and why is it set in America?

We follow Stuart (Ben Heathcote), a Detroit mechanic whose shyness stops him communicating with the opposite sex and ultimately declaring his love for Mary (Jenna Lee-James). He strikes a deal with the devil (Tiffany Graves) through which he gains the soul of (you guessed it) Rod himself and after a few trials he predictably (yes, you guessed again) learns that in order to get the girl, being yourself is a better bet than trying to be someone else.

Slow to warm up, and with rather predictable and fairly uninspiring choreography and staging, the show lurches from song to song with them crow-barred into the ‘action’. The audience, clearly there because of a great fondness for Rod Stewart’s vast songbook, were also slow to warm up.

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It is ALL credit to Ben Heathcote that he had every audience member singing along and waving their arms in the air for the grand finale. He has boundless energy and is on stage practically the whole time. His voice resembles Rod’s on occasion and there are some interesting arrangements of the well known songs but he is given little character to get his teeth into.

Vocal performances throughout and by all the cast are strong but special mention must go to Jenna Lee-James and Rosie Heath who have gorgeous voices and held the audience’s attention with their beautiful, moving performances.

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Michael McKell as Stoner, a cross between Mick Jagger and Bill Nighy in Love Actually had the audience laughing out loud, again in spite of his predictable lines; full marks to him for fleshing them out.

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It’s almost impossible not to tap your feet and sing quietly along to the numerous classics here; Gasoline Alley, Stone Cold Sober, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? Maggie May, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, You Wear It Well, Hot Legs, Stay With Me, Sailing and, of course, the title song. These are all performed by a fabulous band who are slightly hidden away on the scaffolded staging for the whole performance - Griff Johnson, Steve White, Andy Taylor-Vebel, Lael Goldberg, ALex Meadows and Matt Bayne. Top notch and given rapturous applause by the audience at the end.
So, all in all weak story and production but outstanding work by the cast and musicians and of course the songs speak for themselves.

The show is at Milton Keynes until April 26
Box office 08448 717652 (booking fees apply) or on-line at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes
Sep 26th

The Nolan's Bid A Fond Farewell On Final Tour

By Steve Burbridge

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The announcement that The Nolan’s are going out on the road one last time marks the end of a showbiz era. Their 19-date farewell tour, which kicks off in February next year and includes a gig at Newcastle City Hall, is entitled In The Mood For Dancing . . . One Last Time and it promises to be a nostalgic and reminiscent affair. The sensational sister act decided to bow out in style after being overwhelmed by the reaction to their 2009 reunion tour, I’m In The Mood . . . Again! So, it seems timely to take a fond look back at the frenzied reaction to their reunion tour and a poignant look forward to their final farewell.

They put an entire generation in the mood for dancing back in the ’70s and ’80s with their wholesome brand of pop, which preceded The Spice Girls, Bananarama and Girls Aloud, and earned themselves a place in British chart history as one of the most successful girl groups ever.

Thirty years later, in 2009, The Nolan’s reunited for what would turn out to be the most talked-about tour of the year. When Bernie, Linda, Maureen and Coleen revealed that they were getting back together to tour the UK, the announcement even made the headlines on News at Ten.

Box offices around the country were inundated with calls and venues sold out in a matter of hours, as fans snapped up tickets like hot cakes, prompting a number of additional dates to be added onto the tour.

Packed with a combination of classic diva anthems - such as I Will Survive, It’s Raining Men and Holding Out For A Hero - and the biggest hits from their own back catalogue, including Attention To Me, Chemistry and everyone’s favourite, I’m In The Mood For Dancing, The Nolan’s took Newcastle by storm when they performed at the Metro Radio Arena that October.

But the Newcastle gig almost never happened.

“On the last tour, Newcastle wasn’t in there to begin with,” Bernie remembered. “But we went to Newcastle to do an interview for something else and there was murder – we had emails and letters asking: ‘Why aren’t you coming?’. So, we put a date in for Newcastle and it was absolutely fantastic.”

Having slung the spandex, banished the boob-tubes and parted with the platforms, the costumes were sophisticated, stylish and yet equally as sexy. And for those who still appreciated a bit of glitzy glamour, there were sequins, stiletto heels and curve-enhancing cocktail dresses galore.

The show was a spectacular mix of incredible vocals, beautiful harmonies, hunky male dancers and sensational choreographed routines and it quickly developed into an enormous party, with women of all ages taking to the aisles and dancing around their handbags.

The success of the tour wasn’t only due to the high production values associated with it, but also to the fact that the likelihood of it happening, in the first place, seemed slim. Each of the sisters was busy with their own highly successful solo careers.

Bernie had established herself as a serious actress, playing leading roles in series’ such as Brookside and The Bill. Linda and Maureen were scoring success in the world of musical theatre, most notably for their portrayals of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, and Coleen was a popular presenter on daytime television programmes such as Loose Women and This Morning.

So, the reaction to the tour far surpassed the expectations of the Irish sister act and they were genuinely overwhelmed by the loyalty and support of their fans.

“It was the most fun I think we’ve ever had,” said Maureen. “It was just amazing - pure unadulterated cheese and such camp fun! And the reaction we got from the public was just fantastic, we were so grateful.”

Bernie added: “We have high hopes for Newcastle on this farewell tour. We insisted that the city was put in this time, so I hope they don’t let us down.”

As if we Geordies would!

Steve Burbridge.

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 5th

CABARET

By Kirstie Niland

The Opera House, Blackpool Winter Gardens, until Saturday 7th October

Put down the knitting, the book and the broom…and come join the Cabaret in Blackpool this weekend. But prepare to be shocked as well as entertained because this dark, sometimes funny, often thought-provoking musical delivers much more than memorable song and dance routines.

Set in the seedy Kit Kat Club, during a time of tyranny in 1930s Berlin, the tangled lives of Cabaret’s main characters hurtle along a path of destruction in parallel with the horrifying consequences of the Nazis’ rise to power.

The award-winning team of director Rufus Norris and choreographer Javier De Frutos has created a spectacle of decadence and debauchery; underpinned by the unlikely love story of American writer Cliff Bradshaw, played with engaging intensity by Charles Hagerty, and the promiscuous, risqué English cabaret performer Sally Bowles - aka TV celebrity and singer Louise Redknapp. Famed for her success in 90s R&B girl group Eternal, Louise is a natural on stage. With a voice powerful enough to fill the massive Opera House auditorium, she is both distracting and inspiring. Perfectly Marvellous in fact.

As a fan of 80s TV sitcom, A Fine Romance, and the character Helen played by Susan Penhaligon, it was a real treat to see her on stage as the German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider, performing the amusing, sentimental duets with Linal Haft as the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz; and her rendition of So What? was just lovely.

But the biggest impact of all came from singer and Pop Idol winner Will Young, whose portrayal of the flamboyant, androgynous and ghoulish Emcee is simply mesmerising. I would see Cabaret again for his performance alone.

The other main characters and ensemble execute the script and choreography with just the right amount of abandon to shock – but not too much.

There are some brilliantly staged scenes, such as the Emcee looming above the dancers as a puppeteer pulling their strings, a fast and furious rendition of Money – and a very clever back to front sequence where Sally’s show at the Kit Kat Club goes on eerily behind a fringed curtain, as though we are backstage looking on.

The Opera House, which features one of world’s largest stages, is ideal for the dramatic set design, from the enormous WILLKOMMEN sign, to the dazzling giant letters spelling KABARET and live band perched on a light-framed platform in the backdrop.

 

In 1966 Walter Kerr was famously quoted in the New York Times as saying that Cabaret “opens the door to a fresh notion of the bizarre, crackling, harsh and the beguiling uses that can be made of song and dance.”

Today Cabaret still does that - this surprising, politically charged yet hugely watchable show, with whirling dancing and wry lyrics spinning the characters on a decadent high, before they fall, unravelling, as the Nazis become an oppressive presence, and a tragic finale shows the party is well and truly over.

Highly recommended.

Book tickets here.

Tour dates here.

May 23rd

A Midsummer's Night Dream at Milton Keynes Theatre

By Cameron Lowe
David Nixon’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”

Review by Thia Cooper

Northern Ballet

To say that I was mesmerised by last night’s performance of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” by Northern Ballet, is an understatement! From the moment the curtain went up, to the moment it went down, I was lost in the beautiful performances and amazing working of Mendelssohn's music, intertwined by extracts from Brahms, played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia under Nathan Fifield.
Then there was the interpretation of the original story by wonderful dancing, superb scenery, lighting and costumes.
Set in the 1940’s, the opening shows a classical ballet company rehearsing for a tour. The dancers are warming up for the final rehearsal and the personalities and emotions come to the fore, showing their various rivalries for both affection and dancing prowess in the company.
When the tour begins, the scene changes to the railway station and the Flying Scotsman to take them to their destination. Designer of the train, Duncan Hayler, has done a magnificent job. It’s surprisingly realistic and is technical wizardry of the highest standard.
I asked Mark Skipper, Chief Executive of Northern Ballet, about the logistics of moving such complicated scenery for a tour. He said they had five trailers and a good crew! I discovered he goes to every opening night and as far as I’m concerned that shows a terrific, supportive CEO. I’m sure the company appreciates that!
The dream sequence takes place on the journey and we see the fantasy dream world of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in all its glory!
Above the stage are sleeping-car bunks (I was quite nervous when I saw one of these swaying precariously with the dancers on board!), a spacecraft on its way to the moon and a huge eye.
Outstanding performances were given by Kevin Poeung (Puck, the ballet master), Javier Torres (Lysander in love with Hermia), Tobias Batley (Demetrius, also in love with Hermia), Pippa Moore (Helena, in love with Demetrius), Martha Leebolt (Hermia, in love with Lysander), Hironao Takahashi (Artistic Director, in love with Hippolyta) and Antoinette Brooks-Daw (Hippolyta, in love with Theseus).
Northern Ballet

The romantic confusion is choreographed so very beautifully by Nixon, testing the splendid versatility of the dancers. He demands some breathtaking manoeuvres which are delivered seamlessly!
There are lots of comical instances especially when Helena literally throws herself at Demetrius and when Bottom turns into the donkey, executed very well by Darren Goldsmith.
Everything ends happily with everyone engaged to the correct person after they snap out of the dream and come back to reality.
Let yourself spend a couple of hours being transported into fairyland and go and see this production. You won’t be disappointed!!
Milton Keynes Theatre
Tue 20 May 2014 to Sat 24 May 2014
Tue - Sat 7.30pm, Thu & Sat 2.30pm
Tickets from £12 to £37.50
0844 871 7652
atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes
Dec 14th

The Little Match Girl at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

You know what happens when you sing on Christmas –

Love and Magic fill the air.

Moon On A Stick are an emerging company focussing on puppetry and visual theatre for children and adults alike. Their production of Hans Christian Andersen's short story is geared towards young children and therefore has been changed somewhat to make it more suitable for a younger audience.

The performance begins with a snowball fight between the actors before the Little Match Girl emerges. It is Christmas Eve and the little girl is selling matches to support her sick mother but nobody seems interested in buying them. She is shivering in the cold but as she is conversing with the Narrator, magic things are beginning to happen: first a warming stove appears, then her late grandmother. When the little girl sits down to eat her few crumbs, a cat with an eye patch comes begging for food and she shares what food she has with the little lonely stray, whom she calls Pirate. She also befriends a Robin, who is a messenger from her grandmother, and protects him from the evil rats.

The actors/puppeteers manage to keep the attention of their young audience with their magical story. It is based on Andersen's tale but lacks the harshness and despair of the original. Instead the poor Match Girl makes friends with the cat Pirate and the Robin, meets Santa Claus, and takes a trip to the moon where she meets her grandmother again. In the end she receives a wonderful gift. Her story is a great adventure as she is fighting rats, riding reindeers and flying through the air. It is interspersed with Christmas carols and short playful scenes by the actors.

The puppeteers make all the characters in the story come alive and likeable. My favourite has to be Pirate because I cannot imagine anything cuter than a ginger cat with an eye patch. The production is geared towards children but it is exciting enough to hold the attention of an adult audience.

A delightful Christmas tale for smaller children.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 16th December 2015

Blue Elephant Theatre

www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk

Further info: www.moononastickproductions.com

For ages 3+.

Running time: 45 minutes.

Photo by Ellen Sussams.

Dec 16th

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL

By Elaine Pinkus

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL

Lilian Baylis Theatre

 

Based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale, Arthur Pita’s dance production is a piece of sheer splendour and wonder. This is the story of a poor little match girl who is shunned by the cruel people of her village somewhere in Italy on a bitterly cold Christmas eve. At all turns she is assaulted and abused and receives not a moment of  compassion, spending many a cold night in the snow with little more than her thin, torn garments to cover her. Despite it being Christmas Eve, no kindness is shown to her. Her only joy is the wonder of lights from street lamps or her matches; her only hope is one day being reunited with the person most dear to her, her dead grandmother.

Corey Annand as the little match girl, Flametta touches the hearts of adults and children as she portrays her desperate plight. She appeals directly to the audience, perhaps they may offer her the love she most craves. Her tiny, shivering frame could be almost blown away like the small flame in her matches. Contrasting highly is the vicious trio of callous and indifferent villagers who are almost cartoon like in their exaggerated cruelty. Valentino Golfieri is brilliant as both the ludicrously garbed Angelica and the bullying match boy who treat  little Flametta in the most sadistic manner.

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These colourful characters perform to the magical soundrack of Frank Moon whose haunting music and wondrous array of instruments creates the mood and atmosphere from the moment the audience enters the studio. He is an act in his own right and received well deserved appreciation from the gathering. Yann Seabra’s simple backdrop of the moon and the silhouettes of the village homes create the fairy tale quality of this magical experience.

There is not one moment when the audience will be distracted from the message of this story. The fact that it is conducted entirely in Italian does not detract at all.  This is a lesson in humanity and compassion. Despite the joy and humour of sequences interspersed throughout and the zany trip to the moon, the sadness permeates and endures well after the 70 minute production ends.  

It was a privilege to be part of the wonder of Pita’s The Little Match Girl. There are no words to express the joy and sadness and I can offer only a huge thank you to the superb performers who made this an evening to remember.

The Little Match Girl: a co-production with Dancefast

Playing at The Lilian Bayliss theatre, Islington, London until 3 January 2016

Running Time 1 hour 10 minutes

Tickets: Adults £18, children £12 (recommended for ages 6+)

Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000*; Monday to Saturday, 10am - 8pm.

Book online: http://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2015/arthur-pita/booking

Photographs: Phil Conrad