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May 4th

Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin
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Saturninus (Matthew Needham), Titus Andronicus (William Houston), Tamora (Indira Varma)

Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand, Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.

This is William Shakespeare's first great success and his most gruesome play. Obviously, several members of the audience fainted during press night. When I went to review it yesterday, one person had to be accompanied outside. Inspired by Seneca's Thyestes and possibly Philomel from Ovid's Metamorphoses, this revenge tragedy includes murder, rape, mutilation, and cannibalism. Seneca lived under Caligula's and Nero's reign so it is not surprising that his plays were somewhat dark. However, they were never performed, just read. I have seen a number of  Titus Andronicus productions: Some of them just hinted at the atrocities, others like Lucy Bailey's 2006 production, that now returns to the Globe, present realistic images. Bailey thinks that our experience of film violence today is so profound that a rituliased idea like in Peter Brook's production would not communicate so well. There is a touch of Quentin Tarantino in her Titus.

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Flora Spencer- Longhurst as Lavinia

Saturninus and Bassianus, sons of the late emperor of Rome, are competing for the succession. General Titus Andronicus has defeated the Goths and returns with their queen Tamora, her three sons and her black servant and secret lover Aaron as captives. Many Roman soldiers have died, among them sons of Titus Andronicus, and they demand a human sacrifice. Despite Tamora's pleas Titus Andronicus sacrifices her eldest son and Tamora swears to have her revenge on the general. Titus rejects the offer to become the new emperor and nominates Saturninus instead. Saturninus offers to marry Lavinia in return but she is already betrothed to his brother Bassianus. Hurt and rejected, Saturninus marries Tamora thereby making her empress. Tamora and Aaron now have the means to plot their revenge.

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The crucial mistake that Titus Andronicus makes is the sacrifice of Tamora's son. It leads to a chain of tragic events that could have been avoided by showing mercy. Yet there is no room for mercy in this cruel universe that Shakespeare paints in his horrible revenge tragedy.

Lucy Bailey creates a dark world - the stage, the columns, even the open ceiling is covered with black cloth. The audience is used as the Roman public, as supporters of either Saturninus or Bassianus, as assessories in the death of the jovial drunkard Bacchus, as the jublilant crowd during Titus Andronicus' victory parade or when the Goths present the captured Aaron to the crowd. Making the audience complicit could not work quite so well on a proscenium stage. The groundlings truly are part of the action.

William Houston is excellent as the gifted general who spirals into insanity due to the horrors he has to endure. The seeds for his madness are already laid by the death of his sons during the war against the Goths. He is so unstable that he stabs his eldest son just because he wants to prevent Titus from forcing Lavinia into a marriage with Saturninus. The ensuing atrocities regarding his children and himself seem to drive him into complete lunacy but he is sane enough to lay a trap for Tamora and her sons. There are traces of Shakespeare's later masterpiece Hamlet in Titus' play acting. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is exceptional as Lavinia, the most pitiful character in all of Shakespeare's work. Lucy Bailey ensures that Lavinia's suffering is clearly seen by all. Her clothes are drenched in blood, blood is splurting from her mouth when she attempts to speak, and she tries to hug herself with her bloody stumps. Her uncle Marcus Andronicus, read by Martin Turner as Ian Gelder was suffering from laryngitis, does not really need to tell us what happened to the girl. Matthew Needham plays Saturninus as a spoiled, childish boy who is looking for an attractive mother when choosing Tamora, who now rules through him. Indira Varma is seductive and calculating as the smooth talking Goth Queen. Obi Abili gives an outstanding performance as Aaron who indulges in his viciousness and regrets any good deed he might have done. 

This is a very powerful production of a play that is still very relevant today.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 13th July 2014
Shakespeare's Globe, Bankside
http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/titus

May 4th

A Handful of Stars at Theatre503, Battersea

By Clare Brotherwood

A Handful of Stars - Keith Duffy

Boy band fans could well faint at the sight of Keith Duffy in this revival of Billy Roche’s 1988 play.

But it would have nothing to do with him being a Boyzone star.

For Duffy has chosen to make his London stage debut in a gritty Irish play set in a rundown pool hall in Wexford where shotgun weddings are outnumbered only by random acts of violence.

In the intimate confines of the award-winning Theatre503, with testosterone exuding from the stage, audience members feel like they are part of the action, so real do the characters come across.

Duffy, who made his acting debut as barman Ciaran in Coronation Street 12 years ago, plays a boxer who, although a bit of a lad with the ladies, nonetheless tries to calm down the raging hormones of one particular teenage tearaway. His part isn’t the biggest but he plays it with authority and conviction, and has great stage presence.

Making the most impact is Ciaran Owens as said tearaway, Jimmy Brady, whose violent temper is the core of the play. Sitting so near the stage you can see the anger in his eyes - which makes him at times too close for comfort as he picks on his victims.

In stark contrast, Brian Fenton, who recently took part in the West End production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, is perfect as Jimmy’s sidekick, a shy, rather gauche boy.

There’s excellent support from the rest of the cast: veteran actor Michael O’Hagan gives a heavyweight performance as the elderly, characterful caretaker of the pool hall; Colm Gormley gets right under the skin of the big-mouth Conway; Maureen O’Connell, making her professional debut as Jimmy’s girlfriend Linda, is at times both fiery and submissive, while Michael O’Connor as the wily detective sent shivers down my spine.

A Handful of Stars is tightly directed by Theatre503’s joint artistic director Paul Robinson and makes rivetting entertainment.

A Handful of Stars continues at Theatre503 until May 24.

Box office: 020 7978 7040

www.theatre503.com
Jul 31st

Extravaganza Macabre by Little Bulb at Battersea Arts Centre

By Carolin Kopplin

(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Little Bulb - Extravaganza Macabre @ Battersea Arts Centre (_DSC8051).jpg

Clare Beresford, Alexander Scott and Dominic Conway

Tonight we have a tale!

On Tuesday 26th July, Battersea Art Centre's new theatre and activity space - the Courtyard - was launched with Little Bulb's Theatre's latest work Extravaganza Macabre. Designed by Stirling Prize winning architects Haworth Tompkins, the Courtyard is an intimate 75 m² open-air space that allows for close contact between performers and audience. Part of the audience is seated on wooden benches downstairs, part has standing tickets on a balcony walkway upstairs with a convenient railing to lean on. The removable stage floor is equipped with trap doors, which are used to great effect during the performance.

Little Bulb Theatre inaugurates the new space with a highly entertaining spoof of Victorian melodrama complete with evil arch rogue Lord London, a fair-haired maiden named Elizabeth Pureheart, her valiant young beau Ernest, clairvoyant servant girl Bertha, and a clever street urchin with a birthmark shaped like London who is accompanied by his loyal companion Dog Dog.

(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Little Bulb - Extravaganza Macabre @ Battersea Arts Centre (_DSC8084).jpg

Elizabeth (Clare Beresford) and Ernest (Dominic Conway) with the priest (Alexander Scott)

The performance begins with a brass trio and a song about "London - the Greatest City the World Has Ever Seen" before the theatre manager welcomes his audience to the theatre and introduces the lover, played by Hector, and his lady love, played by Nell. He himself will play the villain, Lord Octavius London, who will lead us into the depths of depravity.

The story follows two strings. The first involves a little orphan boy named Chipper who was found as a baby floating on a raft in the river Thames. Seven years later, in 1893, Elizabeth Pureheart and Ernest are going to be wed. But a terrible storm blows Ernest into the Thames never to reappear, leaving Elizabeth lonely and heartbroken. Trying to commute with Ernest's spirit world via her servant Bertha, Elizabeth receives ambivalent messages from her mother.

This highly imaginative and theatrical production is performed by three actors and several members of the audience who are selected to play the remaining parts. There is quite a bit of audience participation in this production and it is worth paying close attention to the story if you are (un)fortunate enough to be cast in a speaking role. It is all in good fun though and nobody is put on the spot. Being on the balcony, my only task was handing on a prop.

(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Little Bulb - Extravaganza Macabre @ Battersea Arts Centre (_D3C6338).jpg

Elizabeth (Clare Beresford) and Bertha (Dominic Conway) braving the storm

Little Bulb presents original compositions including opera tunes, acapella, chimes and euphonium with the cast playing a variety of instruments. Using wooly fake beards and a multitude of cheesy props, this show is a lot of fun and is never meant to be taken too seriously. You have to release your inner child to get involved in this production and it is well worth it. The actors are doing a very fine job. And watching Dominic Conway, I still remember his outstanding Django Reinhardt in the unforgettable Little Bulb show Orpheus which was performed in the beautiful Grand Hall of the Battersea Arts Centre before it became a victim of the flames.

Come to see this show for a fun night out. During the interval penny pies and a selection of gins are available.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 26 August 2016

Battersea Arts Centre

bac.org.uk ¦ 020 7223 2223

Running Time: 100 minutes with one interval

All photos by Alex Brenner.

Nov 30th

Alice In Wonderland

By Kirstie Niland

The Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland is supposed to be a little bit mad but in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s sweet and clever adaptation for the Octagon things get curiouser and curiouser.

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Director Elizabeth Newman has teamed up with Michael Vale, best known for his wondrous designs for ‘Kneehigh’ and ‘Told by an Idiot’ to create this funny and magical Christmas show that has children of all ages smiling. Even the two adolescent rugby players and Dad who came to see the show with me.

The Octagon’s production is set in a classroom populated by the seven brilliant cast members who play all of the characters in the story, in between changing props which are inventively used: for example a stool doubles up as a drum and multi-coloured hoopla hoops become a butterfly’s wings.

Sarah Vezmar puts in a touching performance as Alice, who at first is too shy to speak up as she thinks she doesn’t know much and is too silly to be trusted with the class pet. And so begins the story, as Alice hurtles through a hoola hoop hole to find the school’s lost rabbit and ends up finding her voice.

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This performance takes fantastic advantage of the Octagon’s arena stage. Floor tiles come up to plant the flowers who don’t want to be picked, and to create a beach for the Caribbean Turtle who tells us his teacher was called Tortoise because he “taught us”. The hoola hoop hole swings down for Alice to use as a trapeze before falling through it, and the rabbit’s fur coat comes dangling down from the ceiling on a coat hanger. The cast pop in and out of doors all around and scurry up ladders to disappear behind the racing clock. They sit with the audience, much to the delight of the children, and there’s lots of audience participation with everyone keen to join in. “I’m Alice! Who are you?” sings Sarah Vezmar, pointing to a bloke in his 30s, who happily replies he’s Tom.

The multi-talented cast are incredibly agile. If they’re not swimming on a skateboard through Alice’s sea of tears, they’re switching instruments, singing a cappella, making sound effects, or creating a noisy bustle as they set up a tea party complete with clinking crockery and fairy lights.

There are catchy tunes and plenty of laughs and lessons as Alice meets the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, and the Dormouse, along with Dum and Dee portrayed as rappers in red tracksuits!

The original songs are perfectly performed, and I defy anyone not to smile at the uplifting Metamorphosis and its message that it’s always possible to find a brand new me or you.

This is a beautiful interpretation of the classic Alice in Wonderland. It manages to bring the unexpected to a story already full of surprises. As Alice begins to bloom an important moral is revealed that all of us parents want our children to believe. That just like the white rose who was bullied by the Queen of Hearts into thinking it had to be red, you don’t have to be like everyone else to be accepted. You are meant to be unique and special.

So get your tickets booked at the Octagon Theatre and find your own real colours with this heart-warming tale for Christmas.

 Photographs by Ian Tilton

Alice in Wonderland will be at the Octagon from Friday 14 November 2014 – Saturday 10 January 2015. Tickets are on sale now, from £23 - £9.50 with family tickets (minimum 2 children, aged 16 years and under) available from £50. There are morning, afternoon and evening performances – find out more from the Octagon Box Office on 01204 520661, or online at www.octagonbolton.co.uk/Alice. Suitable for ages five years and over.

May 19th

Brassed Off - Sheffield Lyceum

By Paul Tyree

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Brassed Off

Adapted by Paul Allen

Based on a Screenplay by Mark Herman

Review by Paul Tyree

 

Brassed Off, based on the 1996 movie, gives us a window into the recent history of miners strikes and the crippling poverty that taking on the ‘management’ can create. It is a stirring tale of how through all of the horrors that society can throw at you, how something as simple as music can lift the spirit and somehow give it meaning when you think all is lost.

There is a wonderful inherent dignity to this tale that comes through. Of course it had a lot to live up to when you remember the film, but in some areas this play is better than the movie. Here the female struggle to keep families going, but also to fight for the pit, shines through and gives us an understanding that the miners strike was so much more than an ideological and predominantly male battle. Here, in this play all sides are represented.

There are wonderful performances by Rebecca Clay as the put upon wife of Phil, the hopeless and permantly skint clown. Also Helen Kay and Gilly Tompkins are marvellous as two women on either side of the ‘should we or shouldn’t we take the compensation’ divide.

Clara Darcy as Gloria is wonderful as the young woman trying to bridge the gap between the men and management and strikingly in a play all about men and their struggles, it is the women that shine through best in this production.

All in all, however, from the direction, the music and  the performances, this is a stirring, hugely funny, touching and thoughtful tribute to the times and the men and women that loved, laughed and cried through it all. A night at the theatre you wont regret.

(*This review appeared in The Sheffield Star and I therefore delayed its publication on this forum*).

 

May 19th

One Man, Two Guvnors - Sheffield Lyceum

By Paul Tyree

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One Man Two Guvnors’

Sheffield Lyceum

Playing until Sat 24th May

Review by Paul Tyree

The smash hit National Theatre production based on Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters does what it says on the tin in terms of plot. One man, Francis, serves two masters, or guvnors and the ensuing conflict as he is pulled in opposite directions lends itself to quite hilarious farce.

What is amazing about this play and stands head and shoulders above any other achievement we may claim about it is the genius of the writing and its understanding of theatre. Richard Bean has created a play that manages to break the invisible wall of the theatre and involve the audience quite literally at several points of the play.

Whilst that too is a falsehood it is the awkward hilarity of the audience believing in its own contribution that gives this production a depth and a worth that goes far beyond most farces that you are likely to see.

Gavin Spokes is flawless as Francis the central cog around which all the other characters revolve. His is a performance that shows a great understanding of comedy and whilst you know he is working incredibly hard it all comes across as effortless and absolutely in the moment.

It would be wrong to single out anyone else from the cast as they all perform beautifully and there is not a weak link amongst them but together they all manage to give to the audience an evening frequently interrupted by huge belly laughs and a sense that they are witnessing something truly remarkable.

Sometimes the reputation of a play damages it terribly as living up to people’s expectations is sometimes the most difficult thing in the world. Here, this cast, this play not only live up to your expectations but far exceed them. If you can get a ticket, you should!

Oct 23rd

ENB Romeo and Juliet - Milton Keynes Theatre

By Louise Winter

Reviewed by Alison Smith

22nd October 2015

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image credti Annabel Moeller

The story of Romeo and Juliet is still as relevant today as it was in the 16th century when Shakespeare wrote the play, in the 1930’s when Prokofiev composed the music and in the 1970’s when Nureyev created the ballet. Verona, the ballet’s world, is a place of disease, conflict and violence, coexisting with humour, joy and love.

The contrast between these two aspects is highlighted from the outset when the death cart trundles across the stage and Romeo, young, handsome and lustful makes his first entrance. And throughout the ballet, the set design, lighting, music, costume and choreography all work together to show the dichotomy - andante and allegro, light and dark, blood red and palest pales.

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image credit Laurent Liotardo

The dancers are technically and emotionally excellent. Erina Takahashi as Juliet is a fragile, innocent bride, vulnerable yet stubborn in the face of her conventional, dull parent’s demands. Romeo, Isaac Hernandez, love-struck, dreamy or bereft, epitomises a young lover. They dance together with abandon and passion. The joy and tragedy which enfolds is visible not only in their young bodies but on their faces. I was moved by their freshness and fervour. Cesar Corrales and James Forbat ,as Mercutio and Benvolio, add humour and camaraderie , while Tybalt, James Streeter, is strong and sexy. The sword fighting is breathtaking in its speed and dexterity.The corps de ballet gives the performance exuberance and drama.

This production is thrilling. It sparkles with wit, entrances with emotion and devastates with tragedy. I will see it again.

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image cedit Patrick Baldwin

Romeo and Juliet plays MK Theatre until 24th October

Box office 0844 871 7652 

Online booking www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (bkg fee)

Dec 16th

Little Shop of Horrors

By Kirstie Niland

The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Until Saturday January 31st 2015

Director Derek Bond promised us “a gory, scary, glitter and sequins treat” and he delivers exactly that and more.

Little Shop of Horrors at Manchester’s Royal Exchange is a masterpiece of superb performance and puppetry starring an outstanding cast. A macabre yet feel-good, foot-tapping show that has you grinning right from the start.

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The cult rock musical, featuring Alan Menken’s mixture of 50s rock ‘n’ roll and 60s girl group harmony with lashings of R&B and soul, continues to prove as perennial as the carnivorous Audrey II herself.

The Exchange arena is the perfect platform for us to be engulfed in both the story and the “strange and interesting” plant that becomes a monster.

Nuno Silva is genius as the voice and puppeteer of Audrey II. He sounds and looks a little like the hapless Ross in Friends, so there is enough vulnerability to make Seymour, played endearingly by Gunnar Cauthery, give in to the “Feed Me” pleas for blood...and more!

He and his fellow puppeteers, CJ Johnson and James Charlton from the ensemble, operate Audrey II with such expertise and expression that they virtually merge into her tentacles, making her incredibly lifelike.

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The costumes, make-up and performance are so faultless that at times you feel like you’re watching a soft focus all-American movie, and you are treated to close-ups of all the cast as they change positions in the round throughout.

We were blown away by the powerful singing, from the very beginning when the girl group commentators Crystal (Ellena Vincent) Chiffon (Ibinabo Jack) and Ronnette (Joelle Moss) burst into Little Shop of Horrors in an explosion of gold sequin.

Gunnar Cauthery is brilliantly funny and touching in his duets as the geeky Seymour. His flower shop colleague and crush Audrey (Kelly Price) falls convincingly in love with him during Suddenly Seymour, when she realises he can see the real girl “beneath the bruises and the handcuffs.”  Meanwhile his match with the marvellous Sévan Stephan as Mr Mushnik is pure Jewish comedy, as they waltz around the stage as well as the issue of him adopting the increasingly famous Seymour as his son.

More brilliance comes from Ako Mitchell, aka Orin Scrivello DDS the sadistic dentist - bullying boyfriend and self-proclaimed “leader of the plaque” who makes death by laughing gas extra funny.

Kelly Price is funny and heart-warming as the down-trodden Skid Row girl, whose yearning for happiness as a perfect pie-baking housewife almost comes true. Until she utters the immortal words: “something’s very wrong here.”

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The finale is a spectacular surprise and a befitting end to a show that seriously rocks. In fact tickets sales and standing ovations have been so plentiful that the run has been extended until January 31st .

Book your tickets now, before they get up snapped up quicker than Audrey II can shout Feed Me!

Photographs by Jonathan Keenan

Ticket Prices: Standard tickets from £15 (Concessions Available). Contact the Box Office: 0161 833 9833, or book online at: www.royalexchange.co.uk/bookonline  www.royalexchange.co.uk

Sep 14th

The Little Shop of Horrors @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye

Little Shop of Horrors Tickets at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

The classic moralistic story of Dr Faustus signing a deal with the devil in blood is re-told in this quirky, hilarious 1950s musical comedy, Little Shop of Horrors which tells the story of Seymour, the assistant at Mushnik's Flower Shop in downtrodden Skid Row, who becomes an overnight sensation when he discovers a strange and exotic plant. He names it Audrey Two in order to impress glamorous Audrey, the shop assistant he’s secretly in love with. But Audrey Two has a mind of its own, and soon grows into a bad-tempered, foul-mouthed carnivore with an appetite that can’t be satisfied. Seymour must keep the meals coming to stop his prized plant from wilting, but how far is he willing to go to get the girl of his dreams?

Little Shop of Horrors originally opened Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 before moving to the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway later that year, where it ran for five years and won numerous awards including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. It opened in the West End the following year, and in 1986 was adapted into the now iconic cult film starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. Other notable stage productions include the 2006 London revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory and in the West End, starring Sheridan Smith as Audrey.

Little Shop of Horrors features music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. They are best known for their collaborations on iconic Walt Disney films including The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, for which they received Academy Awards.

The ultra-talented cast features Sam Lupton (Boq in Wicked, West End, Avenue Q, UK Tour) as Seymour, Stephanie Clift (Mamma Mia!, West End) as Audrey, Paul Kissaun (Calamity Jane, Fiddler on the Roof, UK Tours) as Mushnik, Sasha Latoya (Rent, Greenwich Theatre, Britain’s Got Talent) as Crystal, Vanessa Fisher (Hairspray, UK Tour) as Chiffon, Cassie Clare (Cats, West End) as Ronnette and Josh Wilmott (Spamalot, We Will Rock You, UK Tours) as Audrey II. The cast also includes Phil Adele, Stephanie McConville and Neil Nicholas.

X-Factor winner Rhydian was unable to perform the role of Orin, the sadistic dentist, but was brilliantly replaced by Josh Wilmott.  Josh has a powerful voice, great comic timing and energy and certainly ‘owned’ the roles he created.  Stephanie Clift also has superb comic timing and relished her role as Audrey as did Sam Lupton, as the hapless Seymour whose life changes dramatically because of the blood-sucking plant.

Little Shop of Horrors is directed by Tara Wilkinson (Associate Director of Motown the Musical, Memphis and Sunday in the Park With George, all in the West End) with choreography by Matthew Cole (Footloose The Musical UK Tour), design by David Shields, lighting design by Charlie Morgan Jones and sound design by Gareth Owen. The Musical Supervisor is Mark Crossland. It is presented by Sell a Door Theatre Company and Damien Tracey Productions by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited. Sell a Door Theatre Company have previously toured critically acclaimed productions of Avenue Q, The History Boys, American Idiot and Seussical the Musical.

This is a fantastic night’s entertainment that will have you laughing all the way through and singing along with its iconic songs. The show is extremely slick with strong performances from everyone and if you loved the film, you’ll love the stage show even more.  Go and see it, have fun and escape into a fantasy world of craziness for a while; it’ll uplift your spirits and keep you smiling for a long time after the curtain comes down.

There's still time to catch the show in Aylesbury:
Performances:      Tue 13 – Sat 17 Sep
            Mon – Sat eves 7.30pm, Thu & Sat mats 2.30pm
Tickets:         From £15*
Box Office:         0844 871 7607 (Bkg fee. Calls 7p per min plus phone company’s access charge)
Groups Hotline:     0844 871 7614
Access Booking:    0844 871 7677 (Bkg fee)
Online Booking:    www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury (Bkg fee)
Facebook:         www.facebook.com/aylebsurywatersidetheatre
Twitter:         @thewaterside1


Full tour details can be found on:
www.littleshopuktour.com
@LittleShopTour

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye
13.9.16
@yvonnedelahaye

Dec 27th

Ian Kershaw's Adaptation of Cinderella is Totes Reem!

By Kirstie Niland

The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster

This year’s festive show at The Dukes is sure to have delighted two young girls in particular, as well as the many theatregoers who’ve been enjoying Ian Kershaw’s novel re-working of Cinderella.

For the award-winning writer and actor wrote it for his daughters, aged 13 and 10, transforming “Ella” into a gutsy character who likes climbing trees, just like his own girls.

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And you can’t help but think that the catchy theme tune and moral to his modern day version - Live Life to the Toe Top Full – must be the family motto promoted by both Ian and his wife, Julie Hesmondhalgh, well known for playing the equally gutsy and positive Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street.

Ella’s world is a Northern farm, where she lives with her Dad. She misses her Mum who’s passed away but nothing comes between her little family and their daily chores on the farm. Until her Dad remarries the Essex equivalent of Cinderella’s wicked Stepmother who brings her stroppy daughters Greta and Grizelda to live with them.

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Performed in the round, with the pretty farmyard set populated by animals brought to life with some fantastic puppetry, Ella’s world begins to fall apart when the “ high end” trio arrive with demands of jewels and other “stuff” they want. Taking advantage of her new husband’s kind and gentle nature, the wicked stepmother rides roughshod over him and his beloved Ella, played by the likeable Rachael Garnett.

Amidst a blackmail plot and the arrival of Ella’s Prince Charming, good conquers evil as even the ugly sisters realise the error of their money-grabbing mother’s ways, finally leaving her to begin a sentence as a cleaner at the palace rather than face jail.

The cast of six double up on roles and all perform with enthusiasm and aplomb. However special mention must go to Josie Cerise, whose expressions and dance moves as the posturing little Grizelda are hilarious.

Meanwhile the wannabe Princesses' costumes, from the peach velour Lispy tracksuits to the ballgowns with fascinators, (brilliantly reminiscent of the ones worn by Beatrice and Eugenie at William and Kate's wedding) are genius.

The story is punctuated with lovely songs accompanied by a range of instruments, including a trumpet and ukulele, as tomboy Ella falls for the Prince and rescues her Dad from his greedy wife’s clutches.

Cinderella’s missing shoe is replaced by a pair of patent Doc Martens, and a touching and thought-provoking scene set in the haven of Ella’s late Mum’s tree, whose branches wrap around her and keep her safe, reminds us what real family is all about.

The story is told by a Grandfather to his Grandaughters, as a diversion for the girls who are anxiously awaiting news from Mum and Dad about their poorly pet dog. At first they are put off by the idea that Cinderella is a baby story, before being assured by the appearance of Ella, who says: “this one is a little bit different.”

Which it is, and all the more wonderful for it. What a magical gift Ian Kershaw has given his daughters and lots of other delighted children this Christmas.

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There’s still time to see this enchanting adaptation of Cinderella with its poignant message to take with you into 2015 – Live Life to the Toe Top Full.

Cinderella runs until January 10. To book tickets ring The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or visit www.dukes-lancaster.org

Photographs by Darren Andrews