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Feb 19th

Saturday Night Fever

By Kirstie Niland

The Grand Theatre Blackpool

Every night’s a Saturday night in Blackpool, and this week every night is Saturday Night Fever at The Grand Theatre as the iconic 70s musical hits the town.

Brought to life on stage by Theatre Royal Bath Productions in association with the Robert Stigwood Organisation, this explosion of glitter, disco lights and flares is one show that’s Stayin’ Alive throughout its UK tour.

Set in 1976 New York, Tony Manero spends his days squabbling with his family over food and religion and his nights tripping the light fantastic in his bid to become disco king.

Who on earth could follow in John Travolta’s footsteps as Tony, as he struts his stuff through Brooklyn’s streets in the stage version you wonder? And then Danny Bayne bursts into action.

No way is this man going to be dismissed, in Stephanie’s words, as a “nobody going to no place.” Danny Bayne and the rest of the 20 strong cast are about take us on “a stairway to the stars.”

The background story of Tony’s troubled family and friends is well played out, emphasising his need for escapism on the dance floor and ambition to secure first prize in a prestigious contest. In his bid to win, Tony reluctantly teams up with the eager Annette (Bethany Linsdell) before casting her aside for his dream partner Stephanie (Naomi Slights).

Each of the three in this love triangle are highly accomplished triple threats and make you warm to their characters and understand the passion behind their moves, as you remain transfixed by the routines which are beautifully choreographed. You Should Be Dancing is a fabulous, high energy display of disco dancing, accompanied by trumpet and saxophone players. More Than A Woman is mesmerising, with Danny Bayne and Naomi Slights perfectly in tune.

Tony and his gang manage to make you forget the Bee Gees with their own alternative version of Jive Talkin’, using a basketball and a wooden box as percussion. Meanwhile CiCi Howells provides powerful punctuation throughout as the Club Singer.

The 70s fashion flashback is spot on: jumpsuits, fur coats, Lycra leggings - and A-line skirts just like the ones we made in my Home Economics class at school. The set is authentic too - booths double up for the diner and disco scenes, and above them a platform houses the Odyssey’s DJ box, then becomes a bridge for the boys’ antics which finally lead to tragedy. A slide-on lounge and bedroom provide clever scene changes for the Manero family’s home, with the excact same embossed wallpaper my Mum used to have.

Each of the main characters performs powerful and emotive solos. Danny Bayne reveals his frustration and lessons learnt about women. Bethany Linsdell pours her heart and soul into the lovelorn Annette’s lyrics. Most moving of all is Naomi Slights’ song, where the feisty Stephanie allows us to see the vulnerability beneath her frosty veneer.

Tony and Stephanie’s duet of How Deep is Your Love is lovely, bringing us smoothly to the finale, which we didn’t realise had arrived! Thankfully we were able to redeem ourselves and provide this excellent, upbeat cast with some well-earned hand-clapping and appreciation as they performed an enthusiastic compilation as an encore.

There are just 3 days left to catch this classic in Blackpool. Saturday Night Fever runs until Saturday 21st February, so book it while you can.

Photographs by Nobby Clarke

Evenings (7:30pm and 8:30pm perfs) - £26.50 to £39.50
Matinees (2:00pm perfs) - All seats £30.50
Matinee (5:00pm perfs) - £16.50 to £26.50

Concessions £3:00 off all performances

Groups discounts available
Call Box the Office on 01253 74 33 39 or visit blackpoolgrand.co.uk

Jan 22nd

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road at the White Bear Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road (c) Gavin Watson (3).jpg

Flip (Michael Wade), Mitch (Robert Moloney) and J.D. (Keith Stevenson)

Noam Chomsky is the Jerry Lewis from West Virginia.

This was my first visit to the White Bear Pub and Theatre in Kennington after it had been refurbished and redecorated. It seemed far more spacious and brighter than before and made patrons feel welcome. The theatre is now upstairs and remains an intimate stage, about the size of a living room, which especially benefits this production, the European premiere of Keith Stevenson's hilarious comedy.

Set in a shabby motel room on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. in West Virginia, the play focuses on the hapless Mitch (Robert Moloney) from Maine who, after moving down South, has lost his job, his girlfriend, and his apartment. Now he cannot even sleep in his car because it was torched in front of a Girls' Reform School. Desperate for shelter, he answers an ad for a roommate and finds himself walking all the way to a backwoods motel on Fried Meat Ridge Road. His future roommate turns out to be the amicable hillbilly JD (Keith Stevenson) who surprisingly knows Latin but has never heard of Maine. Before Mitch even has time to digest this upsetting news. Mitch's neighbours begin invading the small room - bigotted motel owner Flip (Michael Wade), the meth-head artiste Marlene (Melanie Gray), and her volatile poet lover Tommy (Dan Hildebrand).

Robert Moloney's Mitch is a neurotic character, very much like one of Woody Allen's creations, who throws up whenever he is upset and suffers from an unusual condition that cost him his job. The laid-back JD, portrayed by playwright Keith Stevenson, is your picture book hillbilly who turns out to be the hub of the motel community, being the go-to guy for everybody in need of help. Yet this should not be too surprising, considering his parentage. Melanie Gray's Marlene and her hot-headed boyfriend Tommy straight out of New Jersey, played with the unpredictablity of a loose-cannon by Dan Hildebrand, are the perfect ill-fitted couple who react to each other "like fire and gasoline". Michael Wade lends credibility to the gruff redneck Flip who has a treasure trove of insults for almost any ethnicity.

The approximately one-hour long play, directed by Harry Burton, is very much like a TV comedy show featuring a host of outrageous characters. After it opened in L.A. in 2012, it soon became a cult hit and two sequels followed.

This is a highly entertaining show with a good cast and a surprise ending.

A fun night out.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 4th February 2017

White Bear Theatre

Running time: 65 minutes

Photograph by Gavin Watson.

Jul 15th

Otway the Movie. Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

By Pete Benson
I was very eager to see ‘Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure: Otway the Movie’. ‘Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure’, remember those words. As we arrive at the screening Otway is there in person to mingle with the fans which is typical of this unique and generous performer. The movie opens in 1978 with an Otway gig in Aylesbury Market Square, it was the biggest event to hit Aylesbury since the trials of Mick Jagger and the great train robbers. I know because I was there. The film makers had managed to track down supposedly lost footage of the event, an ATV documentary called ‘Stardustman’ about a dustman who becomes a rock star.
‘Otway the Movie’ is a collection of archive footage and interviews both old and new telling the Otway story. It starts from his school days where he dreams of becoming a rock star. He teams up with another pupil at the school Wild Willy Barrett. Barrett is a near musical genius while Otway appears to have close to no musical talent at all. What Otway is clearly shown to have is utter determination and belief in himself.
John and Willy achieve their first hit record with ‘Really Free’ changing Otway’s life forever. We learn that while Otway and Barrett get a £250,000 advance from Polydor Records the Jam only get a £6,000 advance. Polydor, possibly on the strength of Otway crushing his testicles on the Old Grey Whistler Test, mistakenly think he is a punk rocker where as in fact Otway is actually … well he’s Otway, a name many people seem to miss pronounce throughout the film.



There is a brilliant interview in the film with Otway’s mum where she patiently explains that not only should John not be a singer because he is regularly losing his voice but also because his singing is terrible as is demonstrated by a recording of an early gig he performs while still at school.
The film takes us through various Otway schemes, cheques with self portraits on so that people might never cash them. Records with missing vocal tracks to which Otway will sing live in the purchaser’s own front room.  Gig admission with an Otway single, bought rather than a ticket, to boost his chart sales. With bitter irony his schemes are twice thwarted by the restrictive working practices of the Musician’s Union and an untimely strike.
There is the second hit, a truly heart warming story of the little man’s triumph over the corporate machine. Despite not having the backing of the big chain stores and supermarkets, in a very early demonstration of internet pressure group power, against all the odds Otway achieves a hit at number nine in the charts with ‘Bunsen Burner’.



Now here’s the thing, ‘Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure’ actually reveals quite the opposite. Otway has spent a life time successfully doing what he loves on his own terms. He has created a masterfully slick inclusive act which may look like random chaos but I can assure you it is not. He has developed superb comic timing, and although not a brilliant musician he is now more than passable and has written some truly excellent songs in his career. And to cap it all his school boy dream is now replayed before our very eyes on the big screen, in itself surely a dream beyond schoolboy imagination.
I briefly roadied for Otway and I hope I am not revealing a magician’s secret here but the real life Otway is an astute, smart man who is brim full of high quality ideas. I have often said if John had chosen to be obsessed with finance rather than music he would be one of our leading multi millionaire bankers but luckily for us he loves music and we have a unique and much loved entertainer to brighten our lives.
This is a fun documentary with much humour and a great sense of past eras. Fans will love it for this is as much about the loyal fans as it is the star. But fan or not go and see it. Go and see Otway the movie: How to Succeed at Life.

14th July 2013 Pete Benson

Waterside Theatre “Box Office: 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline: 0844 871 7614 Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking: uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx (bkg fee)


All screenings marked * will include a Q&A session with Otway.
July
Wednesday 17th     BRIGHTON* Duke's at Komedia 9pm
August
Tuesday 13th     SHREWSBURY* Old Market Hall    
Thursday 15th     HEBDEN BRIDGE* Picturehouse    
Wednesday 21st     HULL Fruit    
Thursday 29th     NOTTINGHAM* Broadway Cinema    
Friday 30th     MANCHESTER* Cornerhouse    

September
Monday 2nd     EDINBURGH* Cameo Picturehouse    
Tuesday 3rd     LEICESTER* Phoenix Square    
Thursday 5th     CARDIFF* Chapter Arts Centre    
Sunday 8th     YORK* City Screens Picturehouse    
Thursday 12th     GOOLE* Junction Cinema    
Sunday 15th     KENDAL* Kendal Brewery Arts    
Monday 16th     GLASGOW* Glasgow Film Theatre    
Tuesday 17th     KENDAL Kendal Brewery Arts    
Thursday 19th     BIRMINGHAM Electric Cinema 8pm    
Friday 20th     DERBY* Quad    
Saturday 21st     BRENTFORD* Watermans    
Monday 23rd     CAMBRIDGE FILM FESTIVAL* Arts Picturehouse    
 Friday 27th     NEWCASTLE* Tyneside Cinema    
Saturday 28th     LONDON* Rio Dalston    
Monday 30th     FARNHAM* Maltings    

October
Friday 4th     LOWESTOFT* Seagull Theatre    
Saturday 5th     READING* South Street Arts Centre    
Wednesday 9th     COURT SHORT FESTIVAL Courtyard Theatre Tring    
Saturday 12th     PURBECK FILM FESTIVAL* Rex Cinema Wareham
    
November
Saturday 9th     GREAT TORRINGTON* Plough Arts Centre    
Friday 22nd     ALDERSHOT* West End Centre    
Thursday 28th     DEAL Astor Theatre
Jun 11th

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Radio Show, Live!

By Jon Cuthbertson

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Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy has become a cult phenomenon since it’s an initial outing as part of a series of radio comedies in 1978. Following the current trend for revivals and reunions, (Take That & Steps in the pop world, and re-workings of Abigail’s Party and Dandy Dick in the theatre world are just a few examples of this) this “live radio show” brings back the original cast as well as some of the cast members from the later versions too.

 

It is a brave move, which could easily have backfired. As Douglas Adams himself said “radio is such an intensely visual medium”. And there are many who agree that it would be too much to try to create the images which many people have created in their own heads from his words. However, the clever way this show has been staged – with the actors carrying scripts, using microphone/script stands and with a foley artist (sound effects) on stage – really works. It allows the script to be the focus – and with an audience this keen on the script, you need to do it justice. Luckily, the original cast are more than up to the task – you can tell why Susan Sheridan coaches others in voice techniques, her delivery was perfect and had great clarity. Simon Jones (wearing his characters famous dressing gown!) and Geoff McGivern bounce off each other so well that the script seems as fresh as it would have been when they first performed it in 1978. As it was opening night, there was the odd stumble over some of the more difficult phrases (you try quickly welcoming Slartibartfast to Magrathea or Viltvodle Vi and you’ll see the challenge) however this only adds to the joy of live theatre and I hope that this freshness doesn’t fade out later in the tour.

 

Stephen Moore (the original voice of “Marvin The Paranoid Android”) couldn’t join the tour due to a previous commitment, however his voice is still there in recorded form and his absence has meant the addition of a new incarnation of Marvin in visual form. This works well, and with the minimal/token costumes and masks, it ensures that the visuals don’t detract too much from the humour within the dialogue. One of the items that works really well (despite a few technical hitches) was the live sound effects. Ken Humphrey works extremely hard both with and around the cast to create some very clever effects.

 

Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod completes the original cast and with Toby Longworth,Philip Pope, Andrew Secombe and Samantha Beart (from later “phases” of the show) we have an extremely talented vocal cast who seem to have slipped back into a natural rapport. Throughout the tour the cast will be joined by a guest artist as “The Voice Of The Book”. Billy Boyd was in Glasgow for opening night and really seemed to understand what the audience were looking for. His additional cameo as “The Meat” was a genius moment and it will be very interesting to see what the other guests (including, Phil Jupitus, John Challis, Jon Culshaw and  Andrew Sachs amongst others) will make of this role.

 

 

The addition of a live band was another clever idea by director Dirk Maggs, who also adapted and wrote some of the script, assisted with sound effects, played Zaphod’s second head – oh yes, and played drums in said live band!

 

Even for myself who has very little previous knowledge of The Hitchhiker’s Guide series, this was still a very enjoyable and fun evenings entertainment – however the fan I had taken along (who would very rarely set foot in a theatre) was even found to be joining in with the sing-a-long sections. This is testament to how clever the show is in drawing in all levels of it’s fanbase. Quote of the night however was from the young boy leaving in front of me – “I was laughing and crying at the same time – I was scared, but it was so funny I had to keep laughing!”.

 

Touring from 8th June until 21st July 2012

 

Tickets:

http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx

 

Tour Dates:

http://www.hitchhikerslive.com/tour-dates.html

Mar 9th

The Play That Goes Wrong at Theatre Royal, Glasgow

By Cameron Lowe

 

 

 

There are many famous stories of things going wrong in theatrical productions; Lawrence Olivier's very first professional performance started badly when he tripped through a door frame on his very first entrance. John Barrymore - drunk and rambling through a performance - forgot his line and staggered to the wings to ask the prompt "What's the line?". The prompt (obviously having had enough of Mr Barrymore's adlibbing and drunken behaviour) quickly responded with "what's the play?".

 

Mischief Theatre have realised how much everyone enjoys to see these little "mishaps" and have created a hilarious show that throws in as many theatrical calamities as you can imagine!

 

Featuring a show within a show, The Play That Goes Wrong tells the story of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society's production of Murder At Haversham Manor. This looks like a classic murder mystery, but before the show even starts there seems to be a problem. Seeing the stage manager in the audience looking for their lost dog and the technician looking for his lost CD is a great set up to the evening that lies ahead. With an open stage you get a chance to see the 'crew' setting up for the show with toolboxes on stage and various bits of set being repaired (including a particularly troublesome mantel piece above the fire!). If you get a chance - read the first few pages of your programme too. It has been designed to include some brilliant details from Cornley Polytechnic and gives you some insight into the onstage dynamics that adds an extra layer to the whole show.

 

So far, so funny, but once the actual play kicks in - the humour is ramped up even more. Some small physical gags start the show off gently and this builds with some overacting, dropped lines and missing props that set up so many funny moments throughout the show. As with Les Dawson's piano playing - you have to be very good to then cleverly be able to play 'badly' and make it interesting and funny. I could not single out one actor involved as this is very much an ensemble piece that relies on every actor playing their part exceptionally well. The timing involved in getting the physical gags/falls/effects correct and safe is no small task and the set design and stage crew play a huge part in the success of this show under the swift direction of Mark Bell.

 

As actors become indisposed due to injury (usually happening onstage) stage crew are flung on in their place - using the script before the pages are sent flying, leading to some brilliant comic exchanges. Wall hangings on the set start to fall creating a brilliant physical gag that garnered huge applause from the audience on more than one occasion.

 

This review may seem very vague, and there is very much a reason for that. Unlike many murder mysteries where you are asked to keep the secret of who committed the murder - that is the least important thing in this show - the secret I want to keep is of every brilliant moment of this play! It has so much humour and is so excellently executed that words would not do it justice. If you watched their Christmas TV production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong, then you'll have a small indication of what the writing team of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields are about. However you should note that The Play That Goes Wrong was their first - and in this instance, the original is most definitely the best. Trust me, just take my word and buy a ticket - you can thank me later!!

 

The Play That Goes Wrong

Theatre Royal, Hope Street, Glasgow

Mon 6- Sat 11 March 2017

Mon-Sat Evening, 7.30pm

Thu / Sat Matinee, 2.30pm

Box Office 0844 871 7648 (bkg fee) Calls cost up to 7p per min plus phone company's access charge

www.atgtickets.com/glasgow (bkg fee)

May 27th

Pardon Me, Prime Minister - Theatre Royal Windsor

By Kate Braxton


 

 

We're just embarking upon a six week repertory run at Windsor Theatre Royal, kicking off with Edward Taylor and John Graham’s satirical farce Pardon Me, Prime Minister, writers of the BBC radio hit The Men From The Ministry. And I adore the idea of getting rep back into our historical theatres. But this might be a slightly controversial stance after last night's first night in the cabinet office sited in Windsor.

Plot: The Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. George Venables and his Chancellor are preparing a puritanical budget, taxing amusements such as bingo, gambling and night-clubs. On the afternoon before its presentation, however, George is ‘outed’ as the father of pretty young Shirley, the result of a post-party conference night many years ago. But is he? All is not what it seems. We have a nod to Gordon Brown in the Chancellor Rt Hon Hector Crammond and Rodney Campbell acts as deferential Parliamentary Private Secretary whose personal complications are added into the mix.

And sadly it's a thin plot. Farce for farce’s sake. Despite the odd reveal, the knicker-drops cause no jaw-dropping moments, and at last night’s opening, little more than a few titters teetered in the house.

We remain in the Prime Minister’s study at 10 Downing Street throughout the play across four scenes, which set scene one as a Spring afternoon, then five minutes later, then fifteen minutes later and finishing with ten minutes later. But quite honestly, this production provides 2 hours of wishing it was ‘laters’.

Our PM is played in a lanky Cleese-eque fashion by Jonathan Ray, jerking and spine-flipping awkwardly from door to door. Plenty of doors, as expected. Sarah Kempton’s Shirley is quite a fun watch, as is Nova Skipp’s Dora, the PM’s wife. But there it stops, I’m afraid.

You can’t excuse a professional company for not appreciating the timing required to make farce work effectively, and this doesn’t. It’s stilted and uncomfortable to watch. The actors should be virtually overlapping each other’s words to keep an appropriate tempo. But it was dis-engagingly staccato, with waaaaaay too many dialogue gaps, and it felt under-rehearsed.

Ray Cooney this isn’t, so I’d run for your life and wait for next week’s show, which I hope will flow, when we’ll get Sweet Revenge.

Running Tuesday 26 - Sat 30 May 2015

Theatre Royal Windsor, 32 Thames Street, Windsor, West Berkshire SL4 1PS
Box Office: 01753 853888

Mar 10th

Fences at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Lenny Henry -- Photo by Nobby Clark

You got more stories than the devil got sinners.

August Wilson is one of the great American dramatists. In a series of ten plays, he described the African American experience in the United States throughout the twentieth century. Fences was created in 1965 as the fifth part of his Pittsburgh Cycle and won the New York Drama Critics’ Award, two Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Set in the late 1950s, Wilson tells the story of Troy Maxson, an embittered man who considers himself a failure and the victim of an unjust society. Once a gifted athlete, he played baseball in the Negro League but was already in his 40s by the time the National League opened to African American players. After a spell in jail and other complications, Troy is now working as a garbage collector and seems to be happily married to Rose, a wonderful homemaker and mother. Having grown up with an abusive father, Troy tries to take responsibility for his family and will do almost anything to provide a good life for his wife and sons. Their older son Lyons, a failed musician, has left long ago but their younger son Cory is still going to school and is a very talented athlete, which leads to conflict with his father. Troy’s brother Gabe suffered head injuries fighting in WW II which left him mentally ill. Troy refuses to have Gabe locked up in hospital because he wants his brother to be free but he didn’t have any qualms to use Gabe’s compensation money to build his own house, leaving Gabe with nothing.

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Colin McFarlane, Lenny Henry and Tanya Moodie -- Photo by Nobby Clark

As the play begins, Troy has just come home from work and is having a friendly chat with his best friend Bono on his front porch. It is payday after all! They are drinking, laughing and generally having a good time. Troy is bragging about having challenged his boss, which might well cost him his job, and then dares death to come and get him, swinging a baseball bat. When his wife Rose emerges from the house, he chides her for listening in on men’s talk but acts as if he was still very much in love with her. Rose laughs about his silliness and is pleasant enough but she obviously doesn’t support Troy’s theory that he didn’t make his career as a baseball player because society was against him: “If you could play, they’d have let you play” and she reminds him to do some work on the fences. This doesn’t go down too well with Troy. When Lyons comes to ask for money, well aware that Friday is payday, Troy treats him with derision but lends him the money after all, not expecting to get it back. He is less amiable towards Cory whom he considers competition and a reminder of his own failure. Although Cory might have a great career as a football player ahead of him, Troy insists that he work in a shop and help him build the fence instead of going to football practice. The only character that Troy truly seems to love is his friend Bono who is detached from his family and therefore cannot be regarded competition nor show him off as a failure.

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Lenny Henry and Ashley Zhangazha -- Photo by Nobby Clark

August Wilson’s play is not easy to watch, it can be very verbose at times. Yet director Paulette Randall creates a remarkable production with an impressive cast in many memorable scenes. Fences centres on the leading character and Lenny Henry is fantastic as Troy, an ambiguous man who is actually hard to like although one has to admire his courage and tenacity. The final scene with his son Cory is almost unbearable in its cruelty but Lenny Henry also shows the vulnerability and pain of the character. Tanya Moodie conveys the warmth and decency of Troy’s wife Rose who has resigned to living Troy’s life instead of her own. Ashley Zhangazha is excellent as Cory who sees his dreams crushed by his jealous father.

A wonderful and well rounded production!

By Carolin Kopplin
 

Tour dates: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/fences/

 

Mar 19th

Noel Coward’s 'Fallen Angels' - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Thia Cooper

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Jenny Seagrove & Sara Crowe

When the curtain went up on Fallen Angels last night, the first thing that struck me was the magnificent scenery and lighting! It didn’t change for the duration of the play and it was beautiful 1920’s style. The subtleness of the lighting outside the windows might not have been noticed by some of the audience, but had a very positive affect on me and the friend who came with me.

Two best friends Julia (Jenny Seagrove) and Jane (Sara Crowe) are married to two straight laced, boring husbands.

While the men are away playing golf together, French ex - lover of both girls, contacts them and wants to meet up. This possibility throws Julia & Jane into a spin. Alcohol in the form of Champagne, to calm them down, is the only answer!!

Large amounts of Champagne, encourages lose talk and jealousies, kept under control over the years. These surface and with the addition of alcohol are magnified.

Will the suave, charming Maurice Duclos (Philip Battley) turn up? Speculation is rife!

When husbands make an early return confusion ensues and this is exacerbated by the arrival of Maurice. The play ends with the two ladies going off to see Maurice’s new apartment, just above them in the same building! The men know they have been outwitted, but are not sure how it happened!!

All the actors, apart from Jenny Seagrove, were of the Coward style.

Fred Sterroll, Julia’s husband, played by Tim Wallers, Willy Banbury, Jane’s husband, Saunders, (the maid with an irritating amount of knowledge about everything and everyone) were excellent. They have obviously done a lot of stage work, were relaxed and their humour natural. Their voices were clear and projected with ease.

I was disappointed with Jenny Seagrove, a wonderful actor on television. I equated her performance with opera singers trying to sing jazz. It just doesn’t fully work. She looked uncomfortable and her part didn’t flow like those of her colleagues. Her voice seemed to be shouting rather than being comfortably projected.

Having said that, the production was very enjoyable and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Milton Keynes Theatre

18 – 22 March

Ticket prices £15 - £35

(plus £2.85 transaction fee)

0844 871 7652

atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

 

Oct 3rd

1984

By Kirstie Niland
The Grand Theatre, Blackpool

George Orwell’s novel set in Oceania - a totalitarian state which is permanently at war under the rule of Big Brother - had me gripped as a student in the days before mobile phones and webcams existed. Imagine a place where everyone is under surveillance, where people can be deleted, where you are never alone, not even in your head.

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I was excited to see how this could be brought to life on stage and still do George Orwell justice and I wasn’t disappointed. This is an incredible performance, which violently brings home the fact that Orwell's fearful predictions when he wrote Nineteen-Eighty Four 65 years ago have become very real indeed. We may not have the Thought Police on our case just yet but one thing is for certain...freedom is most definitely close to slavery in 2014. 

“Doublethink” is exactly how I feel about today’s Big Brother, and how it has become the norm for our private lives to be exposed, both voluntarily and unwillingly. I hate it but it’s horribly compelling. Whilst today’s all-consuming desire is to give public narrations of our life on social media, I’m sure most of us are uncomfortable with being monitored in ways we know about, like CCTV and Google, and in many we’re probably not even aware of. So much contradition.

Contemporary doublethink, terrifyingly two-faced. Just like the nightmarish scene where O’Brian, brilliantly orchestrated by Tim Dutton, exposes Winston for his willingness to commit heinous acts for the Inner Party in order to bring Big Brother down. Winston has been unknowingly filmed confirming he would throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face, admitting he is willing to do anything except be separated from his lover and partner in crime Julia. Both hero and anti-hero. Dutton conducts the audience with aplomb during the dramatic crescendo, where the lights come up and he breaks the fourth wall to include us in condemning Winston. As he cowers in the spotlight of shame, you feel not only Winston's humiliation but also revulsion that he is prepared to maim a child yet woud fulfil his own needs. You also feel like a voyeur, like you shouldn’t be involved at all.

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This hard-hitting scene alone is worthy of the critical acclaim received for Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. That, and the cast of Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse and Almeida Theatre. The eight adults and one child create nail-biting suspense and tension amidst the confusion of flashing lights, black-outs and dreamlike scenes. Matthew Spencer is entirely credible as Winston in his blend of bravery and cowardice, and Janine Harouni as Julia manages to display detachment and neediness without it seeming contradictory. In Winston's words: "only a rebel from the waist downwards."

As for the set – pure genius. The play begins in a deliberately dreary archives office filled with books, and Winston and Julia’s scenes in the back room they believe is private are played on the backdrop like an old movie from a projector. Their sudden exposure and capture surrounded by the loud confusion of white noise and blinding lights is accompanied by a jolting set transformation. Winston reappears strapped to a seat in the stark white Room 101 where he is tortured into betraying Julia, his blood a bright red splash on the set, like the scarlet dress Julia wears after she becomes his lover. Big Brother finally succeeds in deleting their bond when he threatens to let rats eat Winston’s face and he shouts: “Do it to Julia!”. As Julia says when they meet, brainwashed, after their mutual betrayal and surrender: "And after that, you don't feel the same towards the person any longer."

This production of 1984 is more than just a masterpiece of theatre, it also poses a chilling question about our own society. Is freedom slavery? Was George Orwell right in his predictions? I think he probably was. DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER!

1984 is on at the Grand Theatre Blackpool until Saturday 4 October

Tickets from £18.50 (£1.50 booking fee is applies)

Call the Box Office on 01253 74 33 39 or visit blackpoolgrand.co.uk

 

 

Mar 14th

Abigail's Party at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Katie Lightfoot, Hannah Waterman, Martin Marquez and Emily Raymond.

Mind you, Ange, your house is smaller than this one, yeah, because I know they are smaller on your side, yeah.

Mike Leigh's play on suburban neuroses premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in 1977 and was an instant smash hit. Suburbia has been used by many writers as a setting for their plays, Alan Ayckborn for one, but in Leigh's play the setting is the driving and destructive force, it wouldn't work anywhere else. Leigh described the new middle-class in 1970s Britain - materialistic and bourgeois. Though considered a period piece, this play is as relevant now as it was 36 years ago.

Director Lindsay Posner leaves the action in the 1970s - the set is held in warm brown and orange colours. Beverly and Laurence are expecting their new neighbours for welcoming drinks. Their old friend Susan, the divorced wife of an architect, is going to join, too, as soon as she has organised everything for the party of her teenage daughter Abigail. Laurence is an estate-agent and considers himself more cultured and educated than most people, certainly than his wife, who used to work as a beauty consultant and oozes self-confidence from every pore. Beverly looks with great pride upon her big house and all her belongings, and she is sure to let people know how she feels, including Angela and Tony. Angela is a nurse in Walthamstow and very talkative - in stark contrast to her rather monosyllabic husband Tony who works shifts as an IT operator. Beverly can't help but take the seemingly naive Angela under her wing immediately by providing some life-saving beauty tips that Angela obviously is in dire need of.

Abilgail 2.jpg
Hannah Waterman

Beverly dominates the evening. After putting Angela in her place, she proceeds to fill up Susan's glass with G&T until she becomes sick. Laurence is interrupted continuously and treated in a demeaning way. However, Laurence knows that his intelligence is superior to Beverly's who exclaims, when Sue brings a bottle of red wine as a present, "Beaujolais? Fantastic! I'll pop it in the fridge." After all, Laurence owns Shakespeare's complete works and knows his Dickens. He considers handing one of Dickens' novels to Susan so she can read a few sentences an act of boundless generosity. Susan is more interested in what is going on at her daughter's party and Beverly does nothing to calm her down. Instead she invents horror scenarios of all the things that might go wrong and then attempts to seduce Tony in front of Laurence, dancing with him in a very sensual way. 

Mike Leigh describes the shallow materialism and lack of concern for others spot on. Caged in an unsatisfying marriage, Beverly tries to find her fulfillment elsewhere - her status as a home owner and the occasional flirt. She loves Laurence in her "own way" which means that it is fine to bulldoze over him in front of their scandalised guests. Hannah Waterman is excellent as the seemingly obnoxious but unhappy Beverly. Martin Marquez convinces as the long suffering husband who loves Beethoven and art but has to cope with Demis Roussos and kitschy paintings in his bedroom. Katie Lightfoot and Samuel James are very good as the young couple who might end up like Beverly and Laurence one day. Emily Raymond conveys the bewilderment and helpnessness of Susan who finds herself caught up in perfect mayhem.

This is a satirical comedy with a message and a lot of fun!

By Carolin Kopplin
 
Until 16 March 2013 at the Richmond Theatre, then touring.

Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1QJ
http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx
1 - 6 April 2013 at Theatre Royal Brighton
13 - 18 May 2013 Milton Keynes Theatre