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Oct 30th

Thrilling Dirty Dancing!

By Thia Cooper

It’s not often I don’t look forward to seeing any production at Milton Keynes Theatre!  However,  I have seen the stage version of Dirty Dancing and did not enjoy it.  I felt it didn’t convert to the stage very well and the performance was lack lustre.

Wow!  What a change!  All the things I missed are back in this performance.

The cast oozed enthusiasm!  Most of them played more than one part, showing their versatility and expertise.

Baby, played by Roseanna Frascona was superb and there was an obvious easy relationship between her and Johnny, played by Gareth Bailey.  What a fabulous dancer he is!  They both have great stage presence.

Claire Rogers, who plays Penny, is also an awesome, beautiful dancer.  It is impossible to take your eyes off her, even when others are on stage with her. 

The costume, set, video, staging and  choreography designers should also be congratulated. Completely beautifully coordinated.  The scenes with Baby and Johnny rehearsing in the corn field and water were very effective and I would be interested to know how they got the effect.

Lisa, played by Jessie-Lou Yates brought great humour to the evening.  Her portrayal of Baby’s rather goofy sister was excellent.  Her out of tune singing brought guffaws of laughter from us.

I imagine most people would recognise the iconic  ‘(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life’ scene, where Baby jumps into the arms of Johnny.  This was, this time, beautiful.  She looked as though she was gliding into his arms.  The anticipation of the audience was ecstatic, and then when the jump was executed the cheers were very loud!!!

I am still not convinced that if you need to have seen the film to be able to follow the story, but this performance left people on a high and a standing ovation was well deserved.

Another great success for Milton Keynes Theatre!!

Tuesday 21 October – (Friday 5pm & 8.30pm) Saturday 8 November

Tickets: £10 - £75

Box Office: 0844 871 7652

Aug 31st

Curtain Falls on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015

By Cameron Lowe


After 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across Edinburgh, the curtain falls and the house lights go up on the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.


The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has announced that by Monday afternoon, with hundreds of performances still to take place, an estimated 2,298,090 tickets had been issued for shows across Scotland’s capital. The number of tickets issued reflects a 5.24% increase in comparison to tickets issued by the same point last year. 


Kath M Mainland CBE, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society said:


“As this year’s Fringe draws to a close we can reflect on what a spectacular success it has been. Once again artists and audiences have travelled from across the globe to be a part of this unique cultural event. And with an estimated 2,298,090 tickets issued and many thousands of people attending the 800 free shows in the programme, I’ve no doubt every single person who watched a Fringe show, or experienced this wonderful festival city, will take away unforgettable memories. 


“With incredible talent from 49 countries from all over the world taking part this year, the Fringe has once again demonstrated itself to be both truly international and profoundly Scottish.  The 2015 season has firmly cemented Edinburgh’s reputation as the world’s leading festival city. “


Fringe Society Chair, Sir Tim O’Shea added:


“On behalf of everyone who visited and enjoyed this year’s Fringe, I would like to thank all the creative souls, both onstage and backstage, who brought their work here. Their courage, creativity and sheer hard work is unrivalled anywhere in the world, and without them, the Fringe simply wouldn’t be possible.”


Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs added:


“This has been another incredible year for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The festival continues to evolve and work with the city to expand and offer more and more to audiences from across the world. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe demonstrates the innovative spirit that makes Scottish culture so vibrant. “


One new initiative this year was a scheme launched by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, in collaboration with the City of Edinburgh Council and Virgin Money aimed at providing complimentary tickets to Fringe shows for children and young people who are being cared for by City of Edinburgh Council. The project called Access Fringe – Looked After Children made £173,172.00 worth of tickets from 233 shows in 38 venues available to children and young people whose circumstances would not normally allow them to participate in cultural activity. Access Fringe – Looked After Children is a part of the Fringe Society’s commitment to making the Fringe accessible to all and is one of a series of initiatives over the years to come to tackle the physical, economic, social and geographic barriers that prevent people from participating.


Other highlights in 2015 included the participation of a total of fourteen new venues across the city. These included the return of the famous St. Stephen’s Church in Stockbridge under the banner of Momentum Venues, Underbelly launching their Circus Hub on the Meadows in the city’s southside and SpaceUK debuting a new three floor venue called SpaceTriplex in The Prince Philip Building on Hill Place.


The Fringe Society unveiled two new commercial partnerships in 2015; with Airbnb and the Caledonian Sleeper. Both these relationships offered new opportunities for Fringe participants and audiences.


The Royal Mail celebrated this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe by issuing a special postmark, applied to stamped UK mail from 07-31 August. Royal Mail’s postmarks are reserved for special occasions and are used to recognise significant events, historical anniversaries or support of charity. It was the first time in the Royal Mail’s 500 year history that a festival has been featured on a postmark.


Award-winning comedian and theatre-maker Bryony Kimmings delivered the 2015 Fringe Central Welcome Address to participants, organised by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. The welcome address, designed to welcome and inspire participants, was attended by a record number of people. Bryony Kimmings, an Associate Artist at Soho Theatre and a Fringe participant herself, encouraged participants to take advantage of over 85 free events hosted throughout August, to help develop performance skills, expand networks and advance careers. 


A wide range of awards were on offer throughout the festival organised by a range of organisations. Euan’s Guide, the disabled access review website launched their Fringe awards, acknowledging a show and a venue for their outstanding efforts to include disabled audiences at this year’s Fringe.

Aug 11th

La Cage aux Folles - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed 8th August

Les Cagelles

image Pamela Raith

Opening with a WOW performance by Les Cagelles of ‘We are What We Are’ the scene is set for a visually exciting evening. The troupe are wonderfully polished, beautifully made up (Richard Mawbey) in fabulous feather costumes (Gary McCann) and performing slick and stylish choreography (Bill Deamer). This highly professional, high energy start to this touring production doesn't carry through the whole show though.  

La Cage aux Folles was in many ways a groundbreaking story when it first came to the screen in 1978. Hugely successful it then arrived on stage in the early 80s. The story of a gay couple, Georges and Albin, running a drag club in sophisticated Saint Tropez oozed style, panache, and humour but above all love.  

Georges has a son from a previous relationship (Jean-Michele) and with the mother completely disinterested Albin has devoted the past twenty years to bringing him up as his own child. When Jean-Michele arrives home with the news that his fiancée Anne comes from a puritanical family who cannot possibly know that Georges and Albin are his parents, farce ensues as Georges and Jean-Michel try to keep Albin secret; Albin has other ideas!  

Albin and Jacqueline

image Pamela Raith


While the story remains in this productionthe presentation and treatment is uneven. In large this is down to the fact that John Partridge, who plays Albin, seems to be under the false impression that the show is only about Albin, and from his behaviour at the curtain call, him. Oddly, he is the weakest link in this very strong cast, lurching bizarrely between accents, volume and behaviour even well beyond the scope of his already temperamental stage drag character ZazaThe ill-fitting section of improvised comedy in which Partridge channels a cross between a poor Dame Edna and a pantomime dame is unnecessary, overlong, only vaguely funny and stops the show dead in its tracks. References to Primark and Tess Daly, the singling out of individuals in the front row for sarcasm and the crass and corny ‘jokes’ with the conductor are more suitable for a low-level talent show rather than a supposedly high class production. Why this section is included just before the key performance of ‘I am What I Am’ is a mystery and undermines the emotion and storytelling. 


Albin and Geores

image Pamela Raith


Of course all the visuals are fantastic and full credit to all the performers who are solid; Adrian Zmed as Georges, a class act from Marti Webb as Jacqueline, Dougie Carter and Alexandra Robinson are suitably fresh as the young couple Jean-Michele and Anne, Samson Ajewole as Jacob the butler/maid is a riot and won the audience's heart within seconds of being on stage. He is the scene-stealer here. A fabulous live orchestra led by Tim Whiting give the evening the feel of a real club throughout.


There are very amusing moments and there is no doubt that the audience in general thoroughly appreciated the evening. A little less ego and centre staging and a little more humility from Partridge would help balance the overall feel of the production.


At Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 12th August and then continuing on tour

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee)

Groups Hotline: 01908 547609

Access Booking: 0844 872 7677

 Online Booking: (bkg fee)

Apr 17th

Last of the Duty Free at the Theatre Royal Windsor

By Clare Brotherwood

duty free.jpg

Call me a snob, but I’ve always preferred Barcelona to Benidorm and the Northern mountains of Mallorca to Magaluf, so TV series about holidaymakers in the Costas have never interested me.

Obviously, I’m in the minority. Between 1984 and 1986, audiences of 12 million were watching a sitcom, written by the BAFTA award-winning Eric Chappell (Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh), about a working class man and an upper-middle class woman who fall in love in Spain while on holiday with their respective spouses.

Thirty years on and three of the original cast began an extensive national tour this week of a spin-off of the series, Last of the Duty Free.

If duty hadn’t called I would have gone to see it anyway. Keith Barron was one of the most memorable actors on television when I was growing up. He was in so many series, playing gritty Yorkshire characters. Now here he is doing more of the same and it’s a privilege to see him in the flesh; it’s unbelievable to think he’ll be celebrating his 80th birthday while on tour, but he is still looking good, and totally believable (and fanciable) as David, the object of the lovely Linda’s affections. It is only when he pretends - and he does have to pretend! - to be old and infirm that you can picture him in, say, 20 years time!

Also wearing well, looking nowhere near her 75 years, is award-winning actress Gwen Taylor, reprising her role as Barron’s wife Amy. A bit of a shrew, Taylor also shows her as a caring wife and her lively performance and comic timing makes her character’s lack of humour all the more funny.

For the final ‘original’, Neil Stacey, time seems to have stood still if photos from the series of Duty Free are anything to go by, and as Robert, Linda’s husband, he is both naive and menacing, while Carol Royle, as Linda, provides the glamour, looking at least 20 years younger than she is.

As is to be expected, The Last of The Duty Free is set in the same hotel where, 20 years before, David and Linda fell in love. The two are now meeting secretly for a lovers’ tryst, but when Amy and Robert arrive unexpectedly, the fun begins, with all sorts of lies and misunderstandings adding to the mix, not helped by newlyweds Jeremy (Keith Barron’s son James) and Clare (Maxine Gregory).

Despite its setting in the Costas, The Last of the Duty Free isn’t tacky at all! In fact, quite the opposite. Julie Godfrey’s set is tasteful (and makes me want to get on a plane) and, through gentle humour, the marriages of all three couples, are explored, from discovering to discovery and having discovered.

Last of the Duty Free is at the Theatre Royal Windsor until April 26 and then tours:

May 5-10: Hall for Cornwall, Truro

May 12-17: Theatre Royal, Bath

May 19-24: Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

May 27-31: Churchill Theatre, Bromley

June 2-7: King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

June 9-14: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

June 16-21: Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

June 23-28: Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

July 7-12: Theatre Royal, Glasgow

July 14-19: Arts Theatre, Cambridge

July 21-26: Malvern Theatre, Malvern

July 28-August 2: Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

August 18-23: New Victoria Theatre, Woking

September 1-6: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Box office: 01753 853888
Sep 26th

Where Did I Leave My Purdah at Watermans

By Edmée Sierts

Present Nazia (left) and past Nazia (right)

Mahesh Dattani's Where Did I Leave My Purdah is a comedy drama focusing on Nazia Sahiba, an actress who used to lead a theatre company and is looking to revive it with a modern performance of Shakuntala, the lead role of which Nazia herself was famous for playing. In her journey to get the new version staged, calling it “post-modern Indian theatre”, Nazia has to come to terms with her past, which is a source of inspiration but also of great pain as she relives some of the terrible, yet defining moments of her younger life.

In her past, Nazia travelled to India with her husband, Dushyant, because his Hindu background was putting him in mortal peril where they were. When they finally arrive in India after what can only be called a hellish journey, her troubles are not yet over as Nazia has to come to terms with the fact that neither she nor her husband will ever be who they were. In the present, an older, but maybe not much wiser, Nazia is trying to get actors together for Shaku, her modern interpretation of Shakuntala, while also having to deal with Ruby, who the audience is introduced to as being Nazia's niece. With a background in fashion, Ruby wishes to display some of the old costumes of Nazia's old company, but Nazia, bent on saying goodbye to the past in more ways than one, refuses to let this happen. This conflict of interest ultimately forces Nazia to look her past in the eye and try to come to terms with it.

The set is very basic, and anyone expecting to see great amounts of scenery and colour will end up somewhat disappointed. It does, however, fulfil its purpose of dividing the stage between the older and younger Nazia. The way it's set up is that both sides have the same types of furniture presented in a mirror-like configuration, which strengthens the idea that older Nazia still has unfinished business with younger Nazia.

Having mentioned her name as often as I have in this review, it is probably quite obvious by now that Nazia is the centre of everything. This befits the character quite well, but personally I would have loved to see more of the other characters. Nazia's younger sister, for example, barely gets any stage time, which is a pity since she is the topic of many a conversation during the course of the play. The same could be said for the actress who plays a girl auditioning for the part of Shaku, Selina Hotwani, who I would loved to have seen more of. 

However, it should be said that in terms of acting it was a great play to behold. Lillete Dubey was made to play the older Nazia and it's great to see her interact with any of the other actors. Sid Makkar, who plays the male parts in the performance, is confident in his interpretation, which makes him so great to watch. Soni Razdan and Neha Dubey are both well suited to their roles as, among others, Ruby and young Nazia respectively, and I was particularly impressed by the latter's emotional response about an hour into the play.

All in all, this play is well worth watching and I'll be looking forward to future productions from this company at the Watermans, where they are apparently regulars.

 Where Did I Leave My Purdah will be running at the Watermans in Brentfort until 29 September. More information about the play and ticket purchase can be found here: 

Nov 14th


By Kirstie Niland

An awardwinning Lancaster theatre is seeking new independent directors to help plan the next phase of its development.

The Dukes is a producing theatre, independent cinema and creativity centre and an essential part of Lancashire and Lancaster life. 

Following six years of audience growth and increased creative output, The Dukes needs new independent directors to join its board. 

Two vacancies have arisen which need to be filled and a third position will become vacant in May 2015.

As with the majority of publicly supported arts organisations, The Dukes is managed by a voluntary, unpaid board of directors. 

The company is looking for candidates with a broad background who are willing to offer their skills to enable The Dukes to achieve its ambitious goals.  It is particularly keen to recruit people who have experience of fundraising and in capital development.

To request an application pack, contact Jacqui Wilson, theatre secretary, on 01524 598506; email or complete an information request form at the Box Office.

The closing date for receipt of completed applications is December 3, 2014.

Sep 19th

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Steve Burbridge

Joseph Tour 1.JPG

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Darlington Civic Theatre

Having to write a review of a show that you have already reviewed on two previous occasions can be something of a daunting task. Will you find something new to say about the performance? Will you merely repeat and rehash what you have already written?

Thankfully, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat presents no such problems! Like your favourite perennial garden plant, it is a show which seems to come round every year. And, every year it looks stronger and seems to bloom and flourish with more vibrancy than ever before.

Former Any Dream Will Do contestant Keith Jack is still occupying the title role. Despite having settled into it very well, his performance shows no signs of complacency at all. At the risk of repetition, “his portrayal of Joseph struck exactly the right balance of vulnerability and heroism and he made the part entirely his own. From his first appearance, right through to curtain call, Keith captivated the audience with his stage presence and vocal talents. He handled all his musical numbers with aplomb and hit each note with precision and perfection. Keith suited the role visually, too.”

To add to my previous comments, though, Keith’s time in the role has strengthened his own confidence, which tangibly comes across to the audience in his consummate performance, and makes him a quintessential Joseph, in my opinion.

As with all long-running touring productions, there have been a number of cast changes since the show was last in Darlington, in 2010.

Recently-graduated Lauren Ingram makes a fantastic impression in the role of Narrator and shows great promise for the years ahead, whilst Luke Jasztal relishes his role as the pelvis-thrusting Elvis-style Pharaoh.

The actors playing Joseph’s brothers all performed with boundless energy and enthusiasm, and there were some quirky interpretations of some of the songs. One More Angel In Heaven was performed in a country and western style, complete with Stetsons; Those Canaan Days was given a Parisian flavour and there was even a Caribbean Calypso number thrown in to extol the virtues of Benjamin, the youngest brother. I am still not certain why the style and setting of these musical numbers was shifted away from Ancient Egypt but, you know what, it didn’t really matter anyway!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a show that has its tongue very firmly placed in its cheek for the most part and in no way takes itself too seriously. However, there is a moral of forgiveness and reconciliation at the heart of the story as well as all the fun and froth. It’s still a biblical box-office hit and a guaranteed theatre-filler!

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 22 September 2012.



Apr 17th

The Great Gatsby - Northern Ballet

By Louise Winter

The Great Gatsby
reviewed16th April

ed theatres

Whilst F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel appears to lend itself to adaptation, there are some problematic areas in the genre of ballet; not having the scope to explore the language creates some issues here. The central story thread is generally apparent and on the whole understandable. However, the issue of translating Fitzgerald’s language into dance is of course an almost impossible task. As a result, we have here a visual impression of the novel rather than a completely loyal, deep and perhaps fully satisfying production.

As director David Nixon states ‘the challenge of course with any great work of literature is how to bring it to life through another medium while trying to heed to and express the magnificence of the language. This production does not intend to translate the book word for word but to capture the heart of the emotions, turmoils, loves and indiscretions of the people whose stories it tells’.

The stage design by Tim Mitchell and Jerome Kaplan is reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s painted depictions of America and effective in creating contrasting time and place. The switching between Gatsby’s mansion, Tom’s New York apartment, the Wilsons’ garage, and the juxtaposition of these is effectively depicted with seamless scenery changes which have a smooth elegance complementing the sophistication of the overall production. To say it is ‘simple’ staging sounds derogatory, but in this instance less is simply more. When one considers that the designers could have really gone to town with a sumptuous, complicated, overdressed stage, it’s refreshing to see they have resisted this, allowing instead Tim Mitchell’s lighting, the costumes and the choreography to balance each other with the staging the fourth element.

gg d

As always the Northern Ballet dancers are exemplary; faultless and particularly light footed this evening. Mastering their choreography, oftentimes intricate and furiously fast, they are an exceptional company as demonstrated by their ensemble pieces.

Giuliano Contadini is neat and tidy as Nick, portraying the newcomer clearly. Kenneth Tindall is well cast as the strong, solid and aggressive Tom Buchanan, and is dynamic on stage. Benjamin Mitchell as Wilson has some of the most striking of Nixon’s choreography and makes the most of it whereas Tobias Batley as Gatsby has little specifically unique to his character and suffers somewhat as a result. He is an enigma both in novel and on stage.

The female characters have less interesting choreography; Martha Seebolt, as Daisy, is graceful but much of her material is repetitive and this leaves a rather one dimensional image of her, whereas Victoria Sibson as, Myrtle Wilson has the more interesting part and more interesting choreography; her character is more developed as a result.

gg dm

All the elements are here to create a visually and aesthetically pleasing production, so why did I leave feeling strangely detached from the characters and the story? I feel it is because there are no moments that create any real emotional engagement for the audience. Events in the book that draw you into the story and enable you to empathise with the characters are here but lack the melodrama or pathos to allow the connection between stage and audience. I left feeling that I had thorougly enjoyed a perfectly executed and beautifully staged production but not that I had experienced the emotional depth of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Whilst not necessarily a criticism, if Nixon's intention was ‘to capture the heart of the emotions’ then this has not fully transferred into this ballet production.

at MK Theatre until Sat 20th April
box office 08448717652 or visit
for further tour dates see

Sep 26th

Nell Gwynn at Shakespeare’s Globe

By Clare Brotherwood

Jessica Swale’s new play, which has already won an award, is a delight for any theatregoer.

For not only does it have Gugu Mbatha-Raw leading a stellar cast as a ground-breaking actress, but it is also largely set in a theatre company, with all that fascinatingly entails, or at the court of a King of England who was doing all he could to revive the theatre. God bless him!

As with every Globe production, Nell Gwynn is sumptuously dressed and beautifully choreographed (by Charlotte Broom), with sublime music (this time composed by Nigel Hess) played under the direction of Emily Baines.

And although the king’s mistress ultimately acted at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, director Christopher Luscombe uses the Globe’s unique space to advantage, with hecklers among the groundlings setting the scene.

It is from the audience that Mbatha-Raw makes her entrance as Nell Gwynn, selling her oranges and starting a lively repartee with the actors on stage, an aspect of her personality which later attracts Charles II.

Mbatha-Raw, who won the 2014 BIFA Award for Best Actress for her lead role in the film Belle, will be memorable for this portrayal: bright, vivacious, quick, witty, and totally at home whether it’s singing, dancing or acting, she shines as a real life Cinderella.

But hers is not the only compelling performance. Amanda Lawrence was cheered at one point the night I was there for her comic portrayal of Nell’s dresser and confidante Nancy, while Sarah Woodward, who, as both Queen Catherine and Nell’s wayward mother, plays little more than cameo roles but steals her scenes. As Old Ma Gwynn she makes The Lady in the Van appear quite bland while, as the queen, she strikes fear into the entire theatre - if she ever wanted to, she could do panto for life playing the villain!

David Rintoul also sends shivers down the spin as the king’s advisor, but empathy must be felt for Edward Kynaston who, until the arrival of Nell, had always played the women’s parts. In the hands of Greg Haiste he is waspish, jealous and neurotic and yet he inspires sympathy.

As with all Restoration comedy - for that is what this is - this play is a rollicking good romp. It also charts the beginning of ‘actor-esses’ and how an orange seller from Cheapside uses her femininity and quick wit to become Charles II’s mistress. Once that happens her time with him until his death is dismissed in an instant.


Nell Gwynn has now transferred to the Apollo Theatre with Gemma Arterton in the title role. Booking until April 30.

Feb 13th

Being an actor – in opera

By Douglas McFarlane

Being an actor – in opera

By Gráinne Gillis

It actually came about by chance that I auditioned for the Royal Opera House.  One Friday afternoon, I got a call from the assistant chorus manager, Ruth Mulholland, asking me if I would be interested in attending an audition for an obscure (to me) opera called Die tote Stadt.  Funnily enough, just that week I had decided to take a year out from acting and focus on singing, which was always my first love – so my initial reaction was “Why not?”

Having read Music at University College Cork, and subsequently done a Diploma in Opera Performance at Birkbeck College, I was somewhat acquainted with the medium.  When I first came to London, I spent my last £20 one month to go and see one of the most amazing theatrical productions of my life, which was Der Rosenkavalier, starring the “dream team” of Renée Fleming, Susan Graham and Christine Schaefer – it was worth a month of beans on toast afterwards!  And I also occasionally had coaching sessions with one of the repetiteurs there as well, so it was not a complete novelty to go through that hallowed stage door.  Nonetheless, the day of the audition, the longer I was there, the more I knew I wanted the job.

You see, the Royal Opera House isn’t just an opera house.  In the days of Garrick, it was one of two great theatres in London, the other being Drury Lane.  Actors like Garrick and Charles Macklin would perform in both the rival houses, sometimes even on the same night; and in fact, the original house was funded by John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, commissioned by John Rich, which was a satire on opera seria. (Coincidentally a production of The Beggar’s Opera was playing recently at the ROH, with a further production retitled The Convicts’ Opera being performed in March at the newly opened Rose Theatre in Kingston).  The glorious history of British theatre was one of the reasons that, as an Irish actress, I wanted to train and work in the UK, and so I hoped that I might have the opportunity to appear on the great stage, which I had so often read about in the biographies of great actors and singers.

The audition itself was quite simple for this particular production – it basically consisted of walking across the room like nuns in a procession.  This became relevant to us later, as odd a request as it seemed at the time. We were told by Chris, one of the assistant directors, that it was not so much about acting skills per se, but the ability to work as an ensemble, and also to fit the costumes, as this production had been previously performed in Salzburg and Vienna.  The audition process in total took twenty minutes, and culminated, X-Factor style, with those who had been chosen being lined up and told on the spot.  Suffice to say, I was one of the lucky few, and totally delighted with the whole process – not the agonizing wait that one is accustomed to enduring as an actor, but a decision made on the spot.

A month later, on the 29th December, the company of actors, in total 20 male and 8 female, met in Opera Rehearsal Room 2 (ORR2) to rehearse.  Not knowing what to expect, I decided just to observe as much as I could on that first morning.  The boys were up first, to rehearse what in the opera is known as “Vision 2”.  Die tote Stadt (or The Dead City), to explain, tells the story of Paul, who cannot come to terms with the death of his wife Marie.  He is visited by an actress called Marietta, who is similar to his wife, and through various visions, he comes to believe that it is his wife. To give away the ending would be unfair – it is showing till February 17th.  It is also the first fully-staged production of this opera in the UK – another good reason for coming to see it. Korngold (the composer) is best known for having revolutionized film music, and there are cinematic flourishes a-plenty in this opera, in addition to heavy influences from the Richards, Wagner and Strauss.  It is a sublime piece, both musically and visually, and hopefully not the last time it will be seen in the UK. 

 Going back to Vision 2: this consists primarily of the character Marietta transforming herself and being held aloft by the company of actors.  One of the actresses, Holly Walters, stood in for Nadja Michael, who was yet to arrive for rehearsals.  Not knowing that some of the actors had already worked several times at the ROH, I was completely blown away at how quickly they picked up what had to be done, and how already, within an half hour, this scene was taking shape, under the watchful eye of Adrien Mastrosimone (choreographer) and Karin Voykowitsch  (the assistant director to Willy Decker, the great German opera director).  What was clear was that, although the ensemble playing was important, so too was the fine detail – which was confirmed for me later when I had the opportunity to watch this scene from the auditorium.  It seems to me just from this one experience, that being a director of opera must be a little like being a great artist who paints moving pictures on a huge moving canvas.  There is very little theatre anymore that does that, even musical theatre; and the sumptuousness of opera lies in the daring of these grand concepts.

That first morning, we also rehearsed a scene, which for us as a company is one of only two scenes when we are on stage together.  It has caused great hilarity, as the male actors are transformed from handsome young rakes in top hats and tails into – nuns.  And not any old nuns, but nuns in white habits (so likely novices).  For some reason, there is a proliferation of Irish accents backstage just before going on (I can’t think why), and then we push a huge white cross which is on its side, with the wonderful British mezzo-soprano Kathleen Wilkinson, singing while lying on her side on the cross, while we look reverentially (or as reverential as a bawdy company of actors can ever hope to be!) on.  

That first day also, I was asked to stand in for one of the singers in another scene.  Eager to acquiesce, I agreed to do it – little did I know that I was to be held aloft, on another, smaller wooden cross, on the set which was on a rake – and I have a dread of heights! It is no exaggeration to say that even going up a ladder can cause my knees to buckle!!  It was at that point in time that I realized the superhuman creatures that great soloists are – not only do they have to sing, and act, but they also have to have stamina to cope with the demands that opera productions require to make a great spectacle for the audience.  Later on, in rehearsals, when I watched Nadja Michael cope with what is a huge “sing” and all the stage business that she performs incredibly, I felt totally humbled – there is a huge difference in being an actor in a show and remembering lines and moves, and being an opera singer, who has all that, and more, to deal with.  In the end, I took a deep breath, and quite enjoyed the experience of being on the cross – which, even for a lapsed Catholic, was quite a strange sensation….

They are like great athletes, these singers; and yet, despite their huge talent(s), it seems like they are generally very sweet and humble and just willing to do what it takes to get on with the job in hand.  In fact, I would say that is an attitude that generally pervades the Royal Opera House, and one feels like a small yet important cog in the wheel of a greater enterprise.  In fact, when occasionally something or someone didn’t work in rehearsals, it did stick out quite conspicuously – as opposed to straight theatre, where to keep it interesting, one is always trying to develop ideas and try new things.  That is not to say that I think that opera is a static art form – but there have to be certain things set in place to highlight the spectacle and sheer grandeur of it.  And despite our fleeting walk across the stage, the nuns have garnered rather a lot of mentions in the reviews of the production that I have seen – which shows there are no small parts in opera….

As a place to work, the Royal Opera House is second to none.  It is a  sprawling labyrinth of a building, filled with people who are hugely enthusiastic about what they do, enormously friendly, and surprisingly egalitarian.  You are likely to sit next to someone like Carlos Acosta (Principal with The Royal Ballet) or Ingo Metzmacher (Conductor of Die tote Stadt) in the canteen, and not bat an eyelid (well, I maybe fluttered my eyelashes a little….) It also seems the ROH is very loyal to those it employs on a freelance basis – some of the actors have been there 20-30 years, as have the extra chorus.  What is striking as well is that the actors and singers tend to be skilled in more than one area: among our company of actors alone, there are several dancers, acrobats, models, singers, musical theatre performers, some writers – and that is just a very generalized overview of the talents that I am aware of.  Speaking to some of the permanent staff, their starting point in working there seems to have been a passion for either music or dance or both, and in fact, the house seems to actively encourage the development of talent, with signs in their practice rooms inviting their staff to use them unless they have been booked in advance. 

As an actor, it is an ideal job – the contracts are relatively short, unless one accepts several operas in advance, which is always an individual choice; and the conditions, both artistically and financially are fantastically rewarding.  It has been an immense honour and privilege to be part of a world-class company; and I can honestly say (with no disrespect to any previous work in the straight theatre) that it has been the most fun I have had professionally in a long while.  As an actor, this has been an experience to relish and recommend; and though it has been my first experience of working in this way, I am hopeful that it will not be my last.