Theatre Reviews 2022

The Stationmaster

Tall Tales Productions

Duchess Theatre

Long Eaton

December 14th 2022

Theatre Online doesn’t get to many premieres, so it was exciting to be at the very first performance of this locally written and produced musical drama. It was even more exciting to experience such a dazzling production that really does deserve to be seen a wider audience.

It’s 1938 and a group of passengers at Prospect Valley station on the East coast of England wait patiently to board a train to the Liverpool docks. Some are full of hope for a new life in America, others are not so sure, but what they all have in common is a need to escape the past and move on. But what is their past, what will be their future and is even their present what it appears to be…?

This is a rollicking good story, full of mystery, emotion and intrigue that although long (a performance time of 2hrs 30 minutes), is never less than fully engrossing. It’s a rich tapestry of interwoven threads, telling the haunting stories of a diverse group of people, through drama and music. There are foot tapping songs that stir and uplift, alongside moving ones with plaintive and beautiful melodies; it’s a wonderful score by Mark Jennison-Boyle.

The narrative keeps the audience on its toes, puzzles abound and there is some juggling of chronology worthy of J B Priestley. The first twenty minutes appear straightforward and then wham! – what just happened? Well, I strongly recommend that you go along and find out!

The cast are all polished performers, who get to show off not just their vocal talents, but their ability to create engaging and convincing characters. Not all are likeable: Sandy C Lane plays a self-described ‘harridan’, Miss Smith, who is setting off for America to pursue her academic career. A cross between Lady Bracknell and the ‘deaf woman’ in Fawlty Towers, her rudeness and intransigence are acidly portrayed and provide a few smiles. Sandy’s characterisation and diction are absolutely first class. This isn’t a one-dimensional character though, there’s an unexpected back story that is beautifully expressed and performed in her solo I Never Came Close. An emotional moment among many.

Miss Smith’s recalcitrant niece Beatrice is played by Lucy Gazzard with a gentle resignation that clearly hides suppressed passion; this is powerfully evoked in her splendid solo My Turn. Beatrice longs for her forbidden love, Captain Lawrence, but he may not be in time…

Captain Lawrence is played by Curtis Tipton-Taylor, with a wonderfully uptight military correctness, an irresistible performance. More first-class diction and a lovely voice, he has an intensity that radiates off the stage, bringing this enigmatic character completely to life. Quite where Lawrence fits into the action is a conundrum that bubbles along nicely until the denouement, when all is satisfying resolved. Time will tell.

Intensity isn’t always required and the opposite is true of Stationmaster Sam Henderson, played initially by Graham Buchanan with a laid back insouciance, that suggests the character has little agency. A master stroke by Graham, as it gives him scope to develop, leading us to gradually realise that this character holds the key to all the action. It’s only as more of his story is revealed and we witness his shocking anguish at the end of the first act that we begin to speculate on his true significance. It’s gripping stuff.

Mark Dennison-Boyle and Kim Harris the writers, prove themselves to be consummate storytellers, moving the action swiftly along and developing each character’s profile through vivid flashbacks. This is achieved smoothly with some side stage action and the minimum of changes to the set.

We’re even taken to scenes in Germany, from where passengers Rosa Leibovitz (Hilary Leam) and her daughter Katerine (Georgina Bateman) have fled from to escape the gathering threat of persecution that is sweeping Europe. Two most entertaining performances - from the careworn stoicism of the mother, to the shock of the back story of the delightfully flirty but clearly injured daughter - and the most amazing vocals. These songs are really worth hearing and when they are performed as well as this they are something special.

This cast have worked really hard to add extra polish and sparkle to this well crafted piece and this is clearly evident in their mastery of various accents and convincing vocal delivery. Probably the hardest job is that of Phil Deakin, playing the jovial Irish emigrant, Brodie. Phil maintains his lilting brogue throughout and nails his uplifting solo Life I’m Coming For You. There’s light and shade in this production, although the predominant emotions are love, loss and longing, there are some truly joyous bursts of music that get the feet tapping.

Sam Henderson’s wife, daughter and son are beautifully played by Julia Harris, Charlie Buchanan and Owain Jones. Charlie also manages the choreography, showing herself to have more than one impressive string to her bow; her portrayal of the teenager touched irrevocably by tragedy is first class.

More great quality acting comes from the supporting cast of Julia Harris, who plays two parts and Paul Makinson and Ben Sherwin, who both play three. This is only evident by checking the programme, by the way: their characterisations are so good I didn’t realise the parts were played by the same people!

Excellent period costumes and a brilliantly evocative set- the station signs are spot on -coupled with a clever lighting plot (David Coull) and absolutely haunting sound effects (Dave Martin), make this an immersive experience. Well done to Owain Jones who sets the scene before the action begins with some lovely method acting with a spinning top!

This is so much more than a ‘ghost story’, it’s a wonderful theatrical experience that grabs you wholeheartedly and keeps you guessing right up until the end. One of those that you discuss all the way home and ponder about for a while afterwards. Just what theatre should be.

This was the last production of the year for Theatre Online; there have been some crackers in 2022 and this ranks among the best.



Derby Arena

Little Wolf Entertainment

December 10th, 2022

My Rating 5*

My third panto this year and what a cracker it is. Aladdin is my favourite pantomime and after last year’s brilliant show here at Derby Arena, I was wondering if Little Wolf Entertainment could do it again. I am pleased to say that they did and I was treated to one of the most colourful and engaging productions so far.

Transforming such a huge arena into a comfortable performance space is not easy, but as soon as I went in there was very colourful stage setting and immediately, I felt at home.

This year’s panto was again written the fabulous Morgan Brind, who also starred as Widow Twankey. He is undoubtedly one of the best Dames around and certainly knows how to work an audience. He was not fazed by anything that happened on stage or in the audience. He soon chose the inevitable male in the front row to flirt with and so Simon, the bald hairdresser, was the lucky man tonight. He was even invited on to the stage to take part in one of the funny set piece scenes. The usual panto jokes were all there along with some new and topical ones. Anything written by and featuring Morgan is not to be missed in my opinion. His costumes were colourful and lavish throughout.

The cast of this pantomime is very well chosen and featured the popular TV actor John Thompson, who makes the part of the evil Abanazar his own, skilfully combining nastiness with comedy and therefore getting boos and cheers from the audience. He is a good singer and dancer, along with being an expert drummer.

Aladdin was played by local actor and director Kristian Cunningham and for me he is the perfect Aladdin. He is an experienced performer who sings, dances and acts brilliantly. He is also very good at interacting with the audience. There is a fantastic scene featuring him and a magic carpet, which is frankly an unbelievable bit of theatre.

Aladdin’s sidekick in this production is Marmaduke the Monkey, played by Ben Tanner and what an incredible physical actor he is. He has experience as a gymnast which is put to great use as he leaps, cartwheels, gyrates and roils across the stage, often in time to the music.

There must be a love interest for Aladdin of course and Nicola Martinus-Smith fills that role superbly. She has a beautiful singing voice, but is also a great comedienne in her own right. Incidentally, one of the super moments for me was a scene involving Aladdin, The Princess and Monkey sitting on and often falling off a wall while singing a song. It is very cleverly directed, choreographed and performed. Look out for that one - it is very clever and very funny.

Anna Doden is a very busy and talented member of the cast who plays three parts and is often quickly changing between them. She is Siri of the Ring (work that one out), The Genie of the Lamp (sometimes at the same time) and PC Brigade the local police officer. She is very funny in all three roles.

Completing the principal cast is David Djemal, as the often confused but very likeable Sultan. He is a splendid character actor with a booming voice both in his acting and singing. He is a very accomplished comedy actor.

I am pleased to say that supporting the action throughout the show and working very hard in several songs is a small but great ensemble. They are India Rich, Callie Coyle, Ellie Brewin, James Chantry, Hayden Woodcock and Sam Holden. There is also a young ensemble who were very good. The choreography by Rae Piper is superb and the whole cast take part in many of the routines brilliantly. The shows director, Mark Chatterton, made sure that the show moves at a very fast pace. No time is wasted and everyone has a part to play while on stage.

I love these Little Wolf Pantomimes for many reasons and in addition to the excellent cast performances there are lovely sets to look at throughout. The arena does not have the ability to fly scenery, but that did not stop scene changes being fast and slick. It really is a very colourful show enhanced by superb lighting by David Philips and great sound by James Cook.

What amazed me when I looked in the Programme is that that great sounding band only comprised of 4 people. They support the cast very well but were also able to fill the Arena with a glorious sound when needed. The Musical Director is Andy Booth who plays piano along with Corrina Etherington (Reeds), Natalie Light (Reeds) and John Clark (Percussion).

The show ends, I am very glad to say, with a fabulous finale which looks and sounds great. The audience took the opportunity to give the cast a well-deserved and sustained ovation with many standing.

I loved this production and congratulate little Wolf Entertainment for achieving such a high standard of panto. I would love to see it again and certainly am happy to give it a 5* rating. You will love it! Oh yes you will.

Aladdin continues at Derby Arena until December 31st. I can’t wait until next year’s production which is, I am glad to say, by the same company. It is Mother Goose and opens on December 8th, 2023. Oh yes it does!


Puss In Boots

Amanda Hall in association withNottingham Arts Theatre

December 8th 2022

It’s always a treat to visit the Nottingham Arts theatre, particularly now they have lovely comfortable seats, that you can just sink into and almost start to snooze… Not much chance of that while watching this dazzling production though, it’s a wonderfully lively pantomime that is full of laughter, music and family fun. It’s just what we’ve come to expect from this group, a very well written piece by Amanda Hall and Matt Wesson that the talented cast purrforms brilliantly. In fact, I positively sat up in my seat to make sure I concentrated and heard every word – the puns are so cleverly spun and the rhymes so ingenious that I didn’t want to miss any.

The plot of "Puss in Boots" is set in motion when Colin Pasta, a young man from Poppity Ping in Wales, bemoans the fact that his lowly status as the son of Dame Penny Pasta, a local pasta-making mill owner, means he can’t wed his one true love, the Princess Bethan. His clever cat, who after acquiring magic boots becomes even cleverer, sets out to help him achieve that dream - and by a whisker it all turns out well in the end.

One particular magic of this production is that it showcases the talents of an ensemble of young performers, all of whom act, sing and dance their socks off and are a joy to watch. Every single one of them, down to the youngest member, is totally engaged in their performance, whether chatting animatedly in character in the background or performing one of the many impressive dance routines. Congratulations to them and to those who have taught and rehearsed them so well. Watching them perform alongside experienced and in some cases, veteran actors, is such a pleasure.

At this performance they were Hermione Cumbers, Olivia Finch, Emma Price, Mia Jacks, Sahazra Peddi & Betsy Stevens, with the senior company members, Isobel Farr & Eliza Szejda.

Some of the main roles are taken by young performers, all of whom who have the talent and charisma to fully engage the audience. Emily-Hope Wilkins plays Colin Pasta in joyful principal boy style, she doesn’t quite slap her thigh, but she has a playful swagger and impresses with both the quality of her acting and singing; a very enjoyable performance.

It’s not easy to play a comic role that’s traditionally associated with a male performer, but Tilly Wishart completely nails the ‘Cheeky Chappie’ role of Mia Pasta and is an absolute delight. Women have to work harder to amuse an audience, but Tilly has no problem with that and quickly engages with her naturally funny and infectiously happy personality. Her routine with a couple of eggs is beautifully done and had me and others laughing out loud.

There’s charm and another lovely voice to be found in the performance of Megan Leahy - who played the role of Princess Bethan in this performance - and she’s aided and abetted by Gwen, played by Amelia Walton, who gets to sing and show off her great voice at the beginning of the second act. That’s four young performers who have shown their talents in this production, who will surely go on to do great things on the local theatre scene.

The role of Puss in Boots is played most intriguingly by Mason Hart; cat owners will immediately recognise the disdain and disinterest that he shows towards humans. Mason brings a lot more than that to the role though, he’s at once a sophisticated Glamour Puss, yet also clearly a street wise cat with the local nous to sort out any rats.

The villain in this production is Sir Hector, the Tax Inspector, played with relish and rigour by Joe Butler. The comic evil delighted the audience, particularly as Joe directs all of Sir Hector’s machinations directly to them and invites and enjoys every bit of approbation that the audience can muster. Audience participation is essential in pantomime and what with the booing, the shouted alerts to Mia Pasta and our long running verbal response to mention of ‘Gnocchi’, we were all ready for an ice cream by the interval.

The fun continues in the second act with more work for the audience, as this pantomime doesn’t leave any of the lovely traditions out and we were treated to an amusing set piece routine that involves the response ‘Behind You’. Oh yes, it does. Other set pieces involve pasta machine slapstick and a wonderfully convoluted verbal routine involving Colin Pasta’s brothers, Benito and Marco. They are played by Laura Ellis and Patrick McChrystal, who make a delightful double act and impress with their finesse and comic timing. Laura has a lovely clear voice and both have completely convincing and natural delivery.

The final old favourite set piece is the beautifully timed ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ which is given a modern twist while still conveying the joy and fun that is good old fashioned pantomime.

Pantomime also needs stock characters and none is more loved or stereotypical than a splendid Dame, in this case Dame Penny Pasta, played by Mike Pearson in some fabulous outfits by Jules Sheppard. Mike brings not only a convincing Welsh accent, but a warmth and rapport with the audience (particularly one called Bruce at this performance!), an ability to wander effectively off the script and the skill to deliver the most extraordinary song about pasta. Well done to Mike and the writers, such a clever song and most adroitly performed!

There also has to be a King in pantomimes set in Fairy Land and who better to play this role than Mike Newbold, who mentions the fact he’s playing another ‘pompous English twit’, in the programme. But he clearly enjoys it all and does it so well, crystal clear delivery of a bumbling but pleasant character who is happy to see everything work out well in the end. The audience were happy too – after Colin ruefully exclaims that he cannot marry the princess because he is a commoner, one small boy in the audience, who was obviously fully engaged, yelled out ‘You can still do it’. Now that’s the mark of a successful pantomime!

Choreography is by Charlotte E Barrington, Siân Hooton and Megan Leahy; they expect a lot of the cast with various dance styles, but they are all performed perfectly and are thoroughly entertaining. Likewise the singing, masterminded by the obviously hardworking Musical Director, Samantha Hedley; some songs I didn’t know- but that didn’t matter as they fitted the narrative and the performances were so enjoyable. The finale is a masterclass in how to do one, absolutely joyous, a vision in cream, gold and maroon, the stage full of beaming faces, inviting the audience to sing along with Jingle Bell Rock. So festive and so heartwarming.

Cassie Hall, the Director has pulled everything together in a production that although long, never drops pace and Rob Ketteridge’s work on sound – great amplification and perfect balance – complements this. Lighting is by Oliver Read, with support from operators and is completely unobtrusive, but completely essential as it makes a huge difference to the ambience of each scene.

Special mention to Donna Quarless-McGee the Costume Designer, who is not only responsible for a range of gorgeous costumes, but also stepped in to voice the Show Fairy at the last moment, owing to the disposition of Siân Hooton. Although off stage, her lovely Welsh lilt fitted the bill splendidly.


Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs

Theatre Royal Nottingham

December 4th 2022

Stepping into Pantoland at the Theatre Royal is like stepping into the pages of a beautifully illustrated pop-up picture book. It’s fabulously lit with a whirling kaleidoscope of colours and is full of fun, fairy tale characters and laughter, plus a few breathtaking surprises. It’s also full of naughty humour, made clear in the first few minutes when Joe Pasquale arrives on stage on a toilet. Much of the humour remains at that level; Joe certainly gets to the bottom of what makes people laugh. But there is quick fire banter and some hilarious word play too: if you want to know the name of a Frenchman who is walking along the beach in sandals, or a Spaniard with his trousers undone, well, get yourself along.

There is the usual slapstick Panto humour too, including a new one on me - a Trunk of Truth routine - which sees Joe’s character Muddles being stripped of his dignity in a way that delights the audience. By then we’d been whipped up into a frenzy with even us hardened old Grinches feeling obliged to yell out a greeting every time Muddles made an entrance. Joe’s experience shows, he gets the audience on side and keeps them there by being constantly entertaining and relentlessly naughty. He quite rightly gets the best prop and a great special effect, in the closing scene of the first act; suffice to say there were many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here.

There’s another great bit of slapstick in the second act which shows his mastery of timing – an old favourite this one – where four of the cast let us know what they might be doing if they were not in Panto. It’s a great song and a hilariously clever routine.

We’re not asked to suspend our disbelief much in Panto, we’re all in Pantoland with the actors - enjoying the traditions - and there are frequent references to this, plus the usual knowing nods to topicality. Fortunately, there’s just enough storytelling, magic and wonder to keep the little ones entranced. Much of this is supplied by the thoroughly sweet but thoroughly modern Snow White (Lucy Ireland), who has more agency in this version than she usually does. No issues of consent here! Lucy has a lovely voice which is showcased in the Disney classics ‘With a Smile and a Song’ and ‘Someday My Prince will Come’. The latter is a sparkling duet with Natalia Brown who plays the Spirit of Pantomime, the essential Fairy and a cheery narrator.

The Magnificent Seven, who Snow White encounters in the woods, are delightful and their refrain of ‘Heigh Ho’ takes us straight back into the magic of the Disney film. Some lovely character acting from these performers, too.

Faye Tozer acts her socks off as the wicked Queen Lucretia, living up to every storybook version of female wickedness. There’s just enough threat in her cackling scenes with the extraordinary ‘mirror on the wall’ (wow, great prop), to widen a few little eyes without causing panic.

Charm and integrity are supplied by Prince William of West Bridgford, played by Jamal Kane Crawford. He shows off his West End credentials in a polished performance, not just in his princely duties, but in some lovely physical comedy.

And so to the Dame, Mrs Nellie Nightnurse, who is absolutely splendid in her 12 changes of spectacularly brash outfits and fabulous wigs. They are a sight to behold and really rather beautifully detailed and co-ordinated. David Robbins, the performer, is also a costume designer and wig maker, so these wonderful creations are all his own.

All the costumes in this panto are gorgeous and, along with the enchanting sets, take us to a lovely storybook world -familiar to most from childhood -where love always triumphs. The ensemble contribute hugely to this and there are some lovely set piece dances. There are lots of familiar popular songs too, which plump up the narrative and fit seamlessly into the fun.

There is no community sing-along in the traditional sense, but who needs that when you have a huge crowd-pleasing finale, led by a member of Steps? All the old favourites including ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Stomp’, which brought the singing, clapping and fully engaged audience to their feet.


Merlin the Panto

Ilkeston Theatre Company

St. John Houghton School,

Kirk Hallam

November 30th, 2022

Once again it is Panto time here at the Saint John Houghton School and as the curtain is raised, we are instantly transported to a place somewhere near King Arthur’s Camelot.

This pantomime from The Ilkeston Theatre Company is a new one on me and is about a crazy wizard, Merlin and his apprentice, Harry. They are the magicians in this magical Arthurian-style romp. Romp it certainly is, as our two heroes try to prevent the evil Ravenclaw from kidnapping King Arthur's daughter, Princess Avaline. To find out if they succeed you will have to come and see this funny pantomime placed in a variety of traditional settings, with a new take on the Arthurian legend!

There are many familiar faces in this show including Steve Walton (Merlin), Zion Sears (King Arthur), Mandy Preston (Queen Guinevere), Lucy Tanner (Princes Avaline), Paula Richmond (Henrietta Cupcake), Lauren Bull (Harry), Jennie Walker (Ravenclaw), Rachael Flewitt (Neddy Night), Justine Haywood (Davy Day), Mags Revill (Gladys Night), Jackie Cooper (Doris Day), Jaqueline Dixon (Sir Cumference). The ensemble is enhanced by Marilyn Lucia Keates, Angie Jacks and Joe Wheatley. All performed with enthusiasm and obviously revelled in telling this comical story and being on the stage together.

In true pantomime style there are many well-known songs in this show to delight the audience who often have a chance to join in – nothing like audience participation, which is a must, of course, in traditional panto. There was a particular enthusiasm for the final song in Act 1, the ever-popular Sweet Adeline which provoked singing and arm waving in the audience. Other songs include “We are Family”, “Sixteen going on Seventeen”, “It’s a kind of Magic”, and “Bad Moon Rising.”

The panto is well produced by Sue Golds assisted by Mandy Bull and the lively choreography is by members of the cast. The colourful and impressive sets are delightful to see. Performing at this venue gives the company the ability fly backcloths, which makes quite a difference when it comes to scene changes. These are quick and smooth and I was particularly impressed by the set for the Blue Granite Mountains. Merlin’s Workshop is also splendid, with a lot of detailed props put into place almost invisibly. There are also some clever special effects which really made me wonder how they did them.

The sound and lighting are very good and specific sound effects are accurately placed in the scenes. Louis Beardsley and Steve Flavill do a great job with these.

If you like traditional pantomime with a slightly new story but also all the usual pantomime skits, why not get a ticket or three and go and support this very hard working and enthusiastic local theatre group. You will certainly enjoy all the fun and frolics that they are providing until Saturday.

Oh yes, you will.


The Wind in the Willows

Derby Theatre Production

November 29th, 2022

A few more comments to add to my pre and post show reports last night.

Productions at this theatre, particularly at Christmas, featuring actor musicians have become very popular over the past few years. This is no surprise as they have showcased highly talented performers. This production is no exception and is, I feel, one of the best so far. I marvel at the incredible skills the performers have which makes this production of The Wind in the Willows so wonderful to listen to and watch. Most of the performers perform multiple roles and often play different instruments, all to a very high standard.

This is truly an ensemble piece in which the principals and a talented Young Company excel. Directed by Trina Haldar and adapted from the original story by Kenneth Grahame, it is visually attractive and moves at a super-fast pace, which guarantees that youngsters in the audience are never bored. There are performers coming and going onto the stage from numerous entrances all the time. The Young Company bring a vibrancy to the action and were often responsible for bringing scenery and props onto an off the stage as well as singing and dancing extremely well! They were all very confident in what they had to do. Incidentally, the very attractive and well used set is a joy to look at.

There are some very tuneful songs in the show composed by Ivan Stott. The opening and closing numbers are particularly notable and gave the cast the opportunity to show how much they are enjoying themselves. Smiles all round, particularly at the end.

The costumes are just right- not being too twee or over the top - and allow the performers to not only be the animals, but themselves as well.

There are several clever special effects and props during the show that I will not describe as you really need to come and see them for yourself; they are well worth seeing.

This is a truly wonderful production in all respects and for the children it is an accessible adaptation of the original, but for adults I think there is so much more in terms of a brilliant script, fantastic acting and incredibly good musical performances.

For the record the brilliant actor musicians are Charlotte Dowding (Mole), April Nerissa Hudson (Squirrel/ Rabbit/Ferret/Duck), John Holt Roberts (Toad), Ines Sampaio (Black Rat/Rabbit/Duck), Ivan Stott (Badger), Isobel Witcomb (Ratty), Dylan Bull (Understudy). The six brilliant performers in the Young Company were from one of three teams.

The production continues here until December 31st and is one not to miss. I loved every minute of it, as seemingly did the rest of the audience, young and old. I am already looking forward to next year’s production which is Cinderella and opens on November 24th, 2023. I very much hope it is as good as this one.


White Christmas(Curve production)

Theatre Royal Nottingham

November 22nd 2022

It might be a cold and grey November in Nottingham, but inside the Theatre Royal this wonderful song and dance extravaganza certainly raised our Christmas spirits. With the sublime songs of Irving Berlin, which range from velvety ballads to huge foot tapping ensemble numbers, plus an irresistibly sentimental story, a dollop of nostalgia and some fast talking wisecracks, it’s a thoroughly feel good show. Warm glows all round.

Based on the 1954 film, the show tells the story of the hugely successful ex US army performers, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who meet the talented sister act, Betty and Judy Haynes. Bob & Betty don’t hit it off (of course they don’t), but Phil sees a chance of happiness for his uptight friend and along with Judy, schemes to bring them together. As the sisters are off to Vermont to do a Christmas show in a hotel, he arranges that they tag along, too. Cue big surprise that Pine Tree Lodge, which is run by the redoubtable Martha Watson, is owned by their old commander General Waverley. He has fallen on hard times due to unseasonal weather - no white Christmas yet - so Bob & Phil decide to stage a huge show that will draw the crowds, along with a surprise or two for the General. Bob and Betty’s relationship begins to look promising (the audience were right with them there and whooped delightedly), but then due to a misunderstanding, deteriorates even further…

This show is a masterclass in musical theatre performance, especially by Dan Burton who plays Phil Davis: he lights up the stage and it’s hard to take your eyes off him. He’s a brilliant all round entertainer whose long pedigree and experience really shows, especially in the classic, silky smooth ‘The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing’ and the fabulous ‘I Love a Piano’, which opens the second act. If you love tap dancing and a good old fashioned dance spectacular (think the pro numbers on Strictly), then don’t miss this.

Two other luminous stars are Jessica Daley and Monique Young as Betty and Judy Haynes, who more than live up to their illustrious counterparts in the film. Monique even looks like the lovely Vera-Ellen, but unlike her doesn’t need someone else to do the vocals: she shines in both the dancing and singing. Jessica has the same gentleness with a touch of grit – and wit – as Rosemary Clooney, her rendition of ‘Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me’ is enchanting.

Jay McGuiness is a tad young for the part of Bob Wallace (just as Bing Crosby was a tad old in the film), but his rather grumpy yet still endearing character is a big hit with the audience. He has a lovely, sweet voice which he makes the most of in the beautiful ballad ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ and he gets the chance to show off the dancing skills that earned him the Strictly Glitterball, especially in the spectacular ‘Blue Skies’.

I didn’t realise that Michael Starke did musical theatre, having only seem him on TV, but he has a lot of experience which shows in his assured performance as General Waverley. A most convincing accent coupled with a bluff geniality that makes it easy to see why his men would follow him ‘wherever he wants to go’. Now there’s a rousing chorus.

I certainly knew of the musical theatre career of Lorna Luft and it was a thrill to see her perform, bringing those Broadway skills to Nottingham and to hear that hint of her mother, Judy Garland, in her voice. She brings real conviction to the part of General Waverley’s ‘manager’ (in more ways than one) and delights when she lets rip with her hidden musical talents in a joyous song and dance number worthy of Broadway. She’s aided and abetted by the General’s lively granddaughter Susan (Lucy Warway), another would be performer, small in stature but huge in character and voice.

The ensemble are the other stars of this show as Stephen Mear’s choreography is varied, demanding and visually stunning and they absolutely nail it. It takes you right back to those big old, glamorous Hollywood films - like those fondly celebrated in the film La La Land - and moves effortlessly from the mundane to the magical. The scene changes are so smooth, from a New York night club complete with neon signs, to a barn in Vermont complete with suspended old jalopy, from there to a big shiny chorus number, in a few seconds; all achieved by the quick moves of the ensemble and slick stage management.

Everybody looks fabulous too, whether in day wear (cinched waists, full skirts, tank tops) or sparkling stage outfits– the costumes, hairstyles and make up in this production are spot on 1950’s, just beautiful. Only niggle was the jellified champagne in the glasses in the night club, so drinking it had to be gamely mimed. Perhaps I was just a bit too near the stage, or I’m a bit too fussy about such things.

It doesn’t really matter where you sit in the theatre for this lovely production as the all round warmth of the story, the absolutely spectacular dancing and the wonderful sound of the full orchestra accompanying such talented performers, is totally immersing. There’s a sprinkling of Christmas magic at the end too and the audience, who had made their delight clear throughout, paused to add a few aahs and oohs, then got to their feet for a prolonged standing ovation.

Sadly, there wasn’t any Snow when we came out, so we couldn’t break into that particular chorus, but we felt full of Christmas cheer, anyway. Ready for the pantomimes!


Waiting for God

Riverside Drama Company

Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

November 17th 2022

They might be ‘Waiting for God’, but the residents of Bayview Retirement Village aren’t going quietly - particularly Diana Trent and Tom Ballard, the two main protagonists of this sparkling comedy by Michael Aitkens. Sparks fly when the happily eccentric Tom arrives in the village and meets the acid tongued Diana, sparks that soon ignite into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Liz Turner plays Diana, a feisty ex war photographer who has no time for sentiment and a healthy disregard for authority, which is particularly aimed at the self serving manager of Bayview, the ‘idiot Baines’. Diana has an absolutely delicious range of insults, scathing observations, colourful swear words and a sexual frankness that make her character irresistibly funny. Liz delivers all this beautifully, no mean feat as there are a lot of words to manage which will only hit the spot with skilful comic timing. Liz inhabits the character so fully this appears effortless and the odd verbal booby trap is negotiated in a completely natural way. She makes full use of facial expression and a slight change of tone to convey that Diana does have some well hidden feelings, such as when a new baby arrives or when she is compelled to negotiate with a God she doesn’t believe in.

There are all sorts of potentially uncomfortable issues in this piece, all of which are looked at and cheerfully tossed aside, either by Diana’s determination not to be bowed by age, or by Tom’s relentless optimism. Martin Holtom plays the slightly potty but fully self aware Tom, who regards being thrown out by his daughter in law as a chance to begin a new adventure. Whether he’s benignly sparring with Diana, cosmic surfing or wryly commenting on life’s absurdities, Martin’s well timed delivery and body language make him thoroughly entertaining, even delighting the audience with a flash of comic genius!

Tom’s son, the hapless Geoffrey is played by Paul Norris, who makes the most of the comedy in his lines, giving us hilarious descriptions of the antics of his nymphomaniac wife. He is belittled and slightly despised by others, but like his father, cheerfully resigned to it all.

Another despised character is Harvey ‘Idiot’ Baines, played with relish by Dan Bates, who borrows a bit from Only Fools and Horses for his accent and wonderfully spiv like delivery. This oily character has no self awareness and is completely focussed on his own advancement, to great comic effect. The audience don’t despise him, as he wields no real power and gets his horrified comeuppance in the final scene, when his nemesis Jane gets to do more than just touch him.

Sam Badman is so reminiscent of Janine Duvitski, who played the character Jane on TV and she is every bit as successful as this well written character. Jane is deeply religious, deeply in love with Harvey and deeply disapproving of Diana’s and Tom’s antics. There’s an honest integrity to her character and the odd witticisms that pepper her dialogue, plus her deranged passion at the end of the play - all of which Sam delivers brilliantly - make her thoroughly engaging.

Another engaging character is Sarah, Diana’s niece, played with warmth by Jenni Wright. Sarah is devoted to her aunt, yet despairing, putting up with her bad behaviour and wild accusations, which she recognises as defensiveness. She has her own problems with her partner Richard and there is much comedy to be had as Diana wilfully plays with the shortened version of his name…

The minor characters – of the Vicar, Doctors, the Undertaker, Millie and Basil are played by Celia Billau, Dave Wilson and Moya Magee, all of whom enrich the play and add to the comedy.

The pace moves fast, as this is based on episodes from the hit TV sitcom, so scene changes are swift: the action takes place in locations other than the Village including the seaside, a hospital, a cemetery and a church. Skilful stage management by Donna Osmond achieves this smoothly, we’re not kept waiting in the dark long before we’re transported, via a snatch of classical music, to another place, cleverly suggested by a few new bits of scenery. Sound effects (Keith Salway & Rob Osmond) inform this, it’s not intrusive, but birdsong, a siren or the screech of tyres are just the sort of prompts that fire our imaginations. Lighting plays a strong part in this too – the cemetery has one piece of scenery and the rest is created by lighting, clever stuff by Dave Martin.

The director is Lizzie Norris and she has a hit on her hands here, because she’s made the most of a well written and very funny play and found the talent to deliver it. It was so well appreciated by the full audience, who were laughing out loud throughout. Much of this comes from recognition – when I first saw the sitcom I was barely middle aged and thought it mildly amusing that old folk (although incredibly Stephanie Cole was only 48!) could be so anarchic and well, rude. Now I’m in that demographic I know that you can be anything at any age, health permitting, and you can retain a zest for life, a strong sense of self and a wicked sense of humour. That’s what this play celebrates.


The Nutcracker

Northern Ballet

Nottingham Theatre Royal

November 16th, 2022

While I am no balletomane, tonight at the Royal has for me been simply wonderful. Tchaikovsky's brilliant score combined with stunning dancing, a beautiful set, fabulous costumes, an outstanding orchestra and an enchanting story, it is an experience not to miss.

In the midst of a festive party, as the fire crackles and the pile of presents grows ever higher, Clara is caught up in the warmth and excitement of Christmas and becomes enthralled by her new Nutcracker doll.

But, as the clock strikes midnight, her Nutcracker proves to be no ordinary toy. After saving her Nutcracker from the wily Mouse King, Clara is whisked away on the magical journey of a lifetime through a winter wonderland of dancing snowflakes, fighting mice and the famous dance of Sugar Plum Fairy.

The ballet is choreographed and directed by former Artistic Director David Nixon CBE, He also designed the fabulous costumes. His concept for this traditional ballet is fresh and dynamic.

The score is played superbly by The Northern Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by the musical director Jonathan Lo. The sound of the orchestra soared around the theatre.

The brilliant principal dancers are supported by a highly talented and hardworking corps de ballet. That includes an incredible children’s ensemble from The Gedling Ballet School. They worked so well with the adults and I am sure that many of them will go far in the ballet world.

Charles Cusick Smith's set and Mark Jonathan's lighting work so well together and support the dancers’ performances perfectly, as do the costumes. The set is very attractive and the snow scene was breath taking.

This is a magical production of a seasonal ballet that has become for many an essential part of Christmas. I felt quite festive at the end and was glad to join in with the extended ovation.

This is a ballet for all and whether you are a ballet fan or not I am sure you will enjoy the evening of wonder, joy, excitement and fun that is at the core of the Nutcracker. I wish I was able to go and see it again before it ends on Saturday.


Checkout Girls

Arcade Players

Duchess Theatre

November 3rd 2022

There is often a lot of humour to be had when a group of women get together – as anybody who has ever been on a hen night will confirm. It’s that rich vein of female wit, warmth and friendship that is mined in this lively comedy by Louise Roche. It’s about checkout staff who ‘gossip, bicker, joke, laugh, cry, hug and fight their way’ to Freshways supermarket’s singles night, interspersed with some popular songs and sparkling dance routines.

This play is similar in style to the comedy dramas of Alan Ayckbourn and John Godber, but the writer lacks the finesse of those master craftsmen. However, there are laugh out loud moments, some real pathos in the narrative and many thoroughly entertaining set pieces. There’s a moral to be had too: the play may be superficially about the faltering lives of the staff, but it carries a strong message about finding the courage to move forward. The setting is realistic with an excellent back projection and detailed shelving, but there’s imagination required from the audience to create the checkouts: mime is used, which I found slightly distracting.

What grabbed my attention was the excellent interplay between the two checkout girls who have the most lines: Shaz and Tammy, played by Hayley Wood and Clare Toska. Both actors have worked hard on their rounded characterisations and on the delivery of some fast paced banter. They produce some comic gems, many of them involving Shaz’s acerbic wit and droll comments (would love to see that abseiling Indian goat), which Hayley makes the most of. Warm hearted Tammy is a little slow on the uptake - leading to much hilarity - but never played as a fool by Clare, she gives a nuanced and believable performance. Both actors get to show off their lovely voices in a range of songs including the splendid ‘Wishing and Hoping’ and ’I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’.

Another lovely voice is that of Grace Deakin, who plays the shy, put upon Shelly, yet gets to belt out some great songs. She is a sweet unassuming character who leads a sad life as a carer for her mother, while nursing her own grievances and unfulfilled ambitions; Grace gets her spot on. When Shelly finds her voice – in more ways than one – it’s partly due to the kind mentoring of Malcolm, the odd job man, played by Nick Hallam. Nick has excellent projection, we could hear every word in the balcony, so we enjoyed his ex military verbosity!

Malcolm’s potential love interest is Sylvia, the checkout supervisor, a role I think is underwritten, but this didn’t stop Lyn Jones bringing her convincingly to life. Like all the characters Sylvia has her own demons and regrets and we learn that her tendency to mother the girls has its roots in sadness.

The character with the most sadness is Pam, Shelly’s Mum, confined to the house with agoraphobia and constantly letting her daughter down. Despite this there is plenty of warmth and humour in this role for Sheila Poyzer; Pam can quote all the old films and isn’t averse to a bit of smutty inuendo. But the strength of the role is in Sheila’s portrayal of long standing grief and the way this is expressed through the plaintive ‘Over The Rainbow’ and ‘The Best Thing that Happened to Me’. They were really moving.

There’s a strong ensemble supporting the main cast, who get to sashay down Freshways aisles to join in with some of the songs. Carol Lawson has given them some great moves to bust and they do them in character, enormous fun. A fantasy sequence involving Shelly belting out ‘Man I Feel Like a Woman’, with the whole ensemble in fabulous sparkly outfits is a wonderful end to the first act. Congratulations to Chris Renshaw, the musical director for the all round quality of the singing and performance.

The director, Margaret Butcher, has looked for and found the comic highlights in the play, then made sure we can appreciate them. The second act sees Shaz and Tammy dressed to die with embarrassment at a bus stop and a later scene features Damon Pipes as a furtive customer, with more than one secret to hide; both great comedy moments. There were odd times when dialogue could not be heard clearly, but that may have been the case just for those of us in the balcony.

The action is overseen by the unseen but forbidding presence of Mr Worley (Keith Butcher) who uses the tannoy to communicate with the staff – an authentic touch, particularly when accompanied by the familiar ‘Bing Bong’ and piped music. Lighting was spot on apart from the odd miss and very much helped to move the action from one location to another.

The play ends with an uplifting finale featuring reprises of the crowd pleasing ‘A Little Less Conversation’ and ‘Holding Out For A Hero’. Well, the crowd last night really did seem pleased and there were certainly smiles on faces.


Shrek The Musical

The Good Companions Musical Theatre

Derby Theatre

November 2nd 2022

Shrek The Musical is based on the 2001 DreamWorks Animation's film Shrek and William Steig's 1990 book Shrek! It is set in a “once upon a time” sort of land.

It is about Shrek, and his loyal steed, Donkey, as they set off on a quest to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from her tower, guarded by a fire breathing love-sick dragon. There is an evil Lord Farquaad, a gang of fairy tale misfits and a cookie with attitude, all adding up to an irresistible mix of adventure, laughter and romance. What more could you ask for?

This very colourful and spectacular production will appeal to all the family. It is a very funny show as well as being a great musical experience. The band directed by Tom Bond. sounded full and rich and the costumes and set are a joy to see. Songs including “Big Bright Beautiful World”, “I Know It’s Today”, “I think I got you beat”, “Beautiful ain’t always pretty” plus an audience pleasing finale, make this a thoroughly entertaining production.

The costumes and make up are fantastic and the visual effects including a fierce dragon puppet are thrilling. I won’t spoil it by saying any more about them.

The whole cast is brilliantly led by Tom Banks as Shrek, the lovable Scottish ogre, Helen Perry as a captivating Princess Fiona, Jonny Saltas as the hilarious donkey and Martin Counter as the comically grim Lord Farquaad. Great casting all.

Surrounding them is a large and enthusiastic ensemble, who play all the other parts. It has been said that Shrek the Musical has some of the best ensemble musical numbers in musical theatre and I think that is true. Well done also to the junior members of the cast who did so well.

It was a fabulous show all round with great performances, excellent sound and lighting and slick stage management by Steve Cole. The direction by Phil Simcox plus Helen Oldham and the choreography by Jackie O’Brien is outstanding and keeps the show moving at a fast pace.

The show tonight was signed by a BSL signer who entered into the spirit of the show.

This is certainly one to go and see and is suitable for children of all ages. I really enjoyed it and the sustained ovation at the end was well deserved. I took my 14 year old granddaughter with me: she said it was the best thing she has ever seen on stage. Praise indeed!

I said in an earlier post that any amateur group deciding to take on the task of producing this huge show must be very brave. Well, for Good Companions their bravery certainly paid off, as they’ve produced a cracker. I believe it is sold out for the rest of the run, but maybe checking the box office for returns would take you to Shrek’s swamp after all. Give it a try.


Bugsy Malone

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

November 1st, 2022

There was plenty of splurging going on tonight when Bugsy Malone dramatically hit the stage of the Theatre Royal. This is the latest production of this popular musical which was first produced at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and is now a production of The Theatre Royal Bath Productions, Birmingham Rep and Kenny Wax.

Bugsy Malone is about the ambitions of nightclub singer, Blousy Brown, set against the rivalry of gangs in prohibition era Chicago. Given that the show is written for young performers, the prohibition is against coca cola rather than whiskey. This production features 7 teams of young performers aged from 9 to 15, supported by a great adult ensemble. The combination of both is a triumph and gives the production depth and vitality.

At tonight’s performance Bugsy was played by Shaun Sharma in his first professional stage role. He gives a fabulous performance, has a brilliant accent and interacts well with the audience. His prospective girlfriend ‘Blousey Brown’ played by Delilah Bennertt-Cardy gives a polished performance, with exciting stage presence, her singing is excellent and shows a mature level of emotion.

Another noticeable performance came from Fayth Ifil as the vampish Tallulah - wow can she belt out a song! I liked her performance throughout the show, as she kept up an air of mischief as well as mystery. A young Shirley Bassey I felt.

Isham Sankoh, as Fat Sam, is a powerhouse of an actor and he certainly dominates the stage as he tries to control his stupid gangsters. His sense of timing and comedy is excellent.

His arch enemy, Dandy Dan, the mobster boss, was played very well by Kit Cranston. He is quite scary at times but also has a good grasp of the comedy in the role.

Supporting are Elliot Arthur Mugume (Fizzy) and Kayla-Mai Alvaros (Lena/ Babyface)

The adult ensemble is excellent and the powerful dance routines are very well choreographed and performed. The scene in the Boxing club is particularly impressive and includes the great song “So You Want to be a Boxer.”

There are a many very tuneful songs in the show which it is hard to get out of your head including “Fat Sam’s Grand Slam,” “My Name is Tallulah,” “Down & Out,” Tomorrow” and “You give a little love.”

The ensemble works very hard to support the young principles and many have small cameo roles as well. There is so much enthusiasm and energy on the stage from start to finish, leading to the superb finale which is a dynamic conclusion to the show; it brought us to our feet to clap, cheer and give the whole cast a well-deserved standing ovation.

The chorus numbers “Fat Sam’s Grand Slam,” “My Name is Tallulah” “So and “So You wanna Be a Boxer?” are very well done and I particularly like “Down & Out” which was so smartly choreographed and performed. The costumes, hairstyles and props look very authentic, which added to the enjoyment.

The production by Sean Holmes is tight and fast moving which is helped by clever and swift scene changes often involving the cast, a great lighting plot good sound. The Orchestra was great, although maybe occasionally a little loud. The background set, mainly of the nightclub, was very evocative of the period in which the show is set. This is a technically tricky show as there are so many scenes, many of which are very short, which means the stage crew (and the cast) must be on their toes to avoid any pauses in the action. For the record, there were none.

The show itself is not the easiest to perform and I think could do with a few more songs and perhaps a little less dialogue, However, this production made it flow well and kept it moving.

I enjoyed Bugsy and can recommend it for all the family to see: to see the young performers working brilliantly with the adult cast is a joy. To be honest, sometimes it is hard to distinguish between them.

Bugsy Malone plays at the Theatre Royal until Saturday and in my opinion is one not to miss.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Nottingham Operatic Society

October 26th 2022

This is a real humdinger of a show, a huge musical spectacular that is performed so well it is hard to believe that this is an amateur group. But this is Nottingham Operatic Society, one of the leading groups in the East Midlands, who were founded in 1893 and have been performing at the Theatre Royal since 1925. They describe it as their ‘spiritual home’ and they certainly do it justice with this wonderful show that echoes to the rafters with an incredible sound. A sound made not only from the 18 piece orchestra and the beautiful choral harmonies of a choir and an ensemble, but also from five powerful leading roles – a cast of over 50 performers. It looks and sounds absolutely magical.

The musical is based on the Victor Hugo novel and includes the songs and Academy Award-nominated score from the Disney animated film, along with new songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. It tells the story of Quasimodo, the bell-ringer of Notre Dame, who longs to be Out There with all of fifteenth-century Paris. Held captive by his devious caretaker, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, he escapes for the day and joins the boisterous crowd at the Feast of Fools, only to be treated cruelly by all but the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo isn’t the only one captivated by her free spirit, though – the handsome Captain Phoebus and Frollo are equally enthralled. As the three vie for her attention, Frollo embarks on a mission to destroy the gypsies – and it’s up to Quasimodo to save them all!

Quasimodo is played by Zak Charlesworth and what a wonderful, heartfelt portrayal it is. Theatre Online remember Zak as a young schoolboy with a promising voice, just beginning to take an interest in performing. Wow, has that voice kept it’s promise. It’s absolutely beautiful, soars to spine tingling heights and with such breath control that notes are effortlessly, gorgeously held. His rendition of ‘Out There’ is glorious. Not only that, Zak acts this part with so much integrity and passion: his naïve Quasimodo is heartbreakingly honest and completely captivating.

Simon Theobald plays Claude Frollo, Quasimodo’s dark and manipulative master. This is an acting tour de force from Simon who gives such a gripping and nuanced delivery that the character becomes much more than just a villain. He’s a tortured soul who is continually battling with his feelings and justifying his cruel actions. Another vocal triumph, Simon’s voice is as usual, a joy to hear, particularly in the anguished ‘Hellfire’, beautifully accompanied by the choir.

The object of combined desires, Esmeralda the gypsy, is no blushing Disney princess. She’s played with the spirit she deserves by Sarah Thompson who also has a lovely, pure voice. Esmeralda is the moral heart of the piece, showing compassion and kindness and never compromising her principles, even in the face of death. Her vocal highlights include the heart wrenching ‘God help the Outcasts’ and the uplifting duet with Quasimodo, ‘Top of the World’, on the parapet of Notre Dame. Fabulous.

Esmeralda’s love interest and typical Disney heartthrob is Captain Phoebus, a character that shows the most development the story. Richard Groves completely owns this character development, going from a nonchalant and rather sleazy soldier who obviously thinks he’s irresistible to women, to a principled and loving suitor. Richard has a fine voice and the pairing with Sarah’s Esmeralda during the classic duet ‘Someday’ is sublime,

Another character who is not what he seems is Clopin, the gypsy leader, who often acts as a narrator. He’s played with just the right amount of cheerful menace by Chris Grantham; not an easy task, as it’s hard to tell if Clopin is one of the good guys or one of the bad. Chris brings out the humour in the character and gets plenty of chances to show off his voice in the stirring group numbers that feature the gypsies.

Another star of this production is the set - it’s simply splendid. It’s there in all its glory as soon you enter the theatre, a two level structure of towering stone that can be used either as the external facade of Notre Dame – beautifully enhanced by a splendid rose window - or the internal nooks and crannies of Quasimodo’s bell tower. It’s one of the best sets I’ve ever seen at the Theatre Royal; congratulations to Scenic Projects, who supplied it.

The set is well used by the large cast, the statues, gargolyles, priests and choir are often arranged on the upper levels, sometimes with parishioners and gypsies below, giving rise to that wonderful harmonious sound that characterises the whole production.

The musical director, Morven Harrison must have worked long and hard to perfect this quality of sound, but it must be so gratifying to achieve such a high level of performance. Likewise the Director & Choreographer, Andrew Miller, who has kept this production pacy and exciting – wonderful gypsy dancing! – yet paid full attention to the dark and uncomfortable moments that can be almost unbearably sad. There are flashes of humour in the dialogue though and the touching relationship that Quasimodo has with the animated gargoyles and effigies of Notre Dame is diverting.

So much goes in to producing the overall impact that a show like this has and credit to the enhancement provided by the varied and atmospheric lighting (Tom Mowat) and the complex sound (Michael Donaghue). The production looks gorgeous from the colourful sixteenth century gypsy costumes to the grey clad Kings and Queens.

This show retains some of the darkness of Victor Hugo’s writing and has the depth of an opera with the story telling power of a Disney film. Nottingham Operatic Society have waited a long time to produce it, but for me and all the others who stood up to applaud tonight, it was very definitely well worth the wait.


Our House

LEOs Musical Theatre Company

May Hall, Trent College

October 22nd 2022

It would be impossible to leave this production without smiling broadly, tapping your feet and humming. Also, in my case with a sense of wonderment that such high energy could be sustained for so long by so many performers! It’s joyous, ultimately uplifting and performed with breathtaking vitality by a talented cast. They have all risen splendidly to the challenge of wildly high expectations from the creative team; they dance their socks off, sing beautifully and are completely engaging throughout. It’s rare that everything comes together so well: the vision of the director - who has put the spotlight firmly on the cast - the range of exciting and beautifully choreographed dances and the superbly performed music.

Our House is a fast moving romantic drama featuring all the hits of Madness. The show tells the tale of Joe Casey and the two courses his life may take after committing a petty crime to impress his girlfriend. What would have happened if he stayed to meet the police when they appear on the scene of the crime? What would have happened if he had made a run for it? This delicious ‘Sliding Doors’ scenario gives rise to two parallel stories which raise some moral questions in a thoroughly entertaining way. The songs of Madness fit seamlessly into Tim Firth’s nuanced narrative, making this much more than a jukebox musical. It features catchy favourites such as Our House, Baggy Trousers, My Girl, Driving in My Car, The Wings of a Dove and the all-time classic It Must Be Love.

Director Rob Chilton keeps the pace rapid, the clever use of mobile shelving units that transform the set into various locations is not only visually effective, but makes scene changes swift. The action and the actors are the focus here and he draws us in to concentrate on them, whether it’s just two performers or a chorus number. No hiding places here and it’s to their credit that none of this cast need any.

Matt McAuley plays Joe Casey and is (seemingly) effortlessly engaging. He has huge stage presence and manages to make Joe sympathetic in both his ‘good’ and ‘bad’ incarnations. It’s a very demanding part with swift changes and a lot of vocals, all of which Matt handles with skilful ease. He reminds me of a young James Corden; if anyone is producing ‘One Man Two Guvnors’, here’s your star!

Emily May Corner is also thoroughly engaging as Sarah, Joe’s morally upstanding girlfriend. The two have a lovely innocent chemistry and Emily May’s voice is just beautiful – her duet with Joe’s dad is a standout moment. Dad is played by Gavin Owen with a quiet poise that gives the phantom character a dark presence as he tries to oversee his son’s choices. Gavin gets the chance to show off his lovely voice too, in ‘Simple Equation’ and the haunting duet with Sarah.

Claire Collishaw plays Joe’s Mum Kath, another strong character performance (the director must have been thrilled by how good all these leads are) and some moving vocal moments, particularly in duets with Dad and Joe.

Joe has two friends, Emmo and Lewis, played by Jack David and Robert McAuley, who provide many laughs, even in the grim scenes. They may be a naïve comic pair, but Jack and Robert bring them successfully to life and are splendid in the numbers ‘My Girl’ and the fabulous light sabre enhanced ‘Driving in My Car’.

Sarah’s sidekicks, Billie and Angie are played with matching relish and equal success by Ellie Simmonds and Megan Fennell. These characters are a gift to any actors who like to do comedy with sass; these two performers absolutely understand that and deliver completely. There are shades of wise cracking Vicki Pollard and Catherine Tate’s snarky Lauren here, but neither of those could sing and dance brilliantly as well!

The folk at Theatre Online remember Ellie Simmonds as a little girl performing her heart out at school and it was wonderful to see her all round talent and success being celebrated in this production. Likewise, another fondly remembered classmate of hers – Harvey Latter. Harvey plays the villainous Reecey with enormous conviction, evident in both his physical swagger and vocal depth.

Another villain is the developer Mr Pressman, cleverly played by Simon Parker as a focussed businessman who just happens to employ a few shady tactics to get his way. Simon does the implied sleaze and menace very well and stops just short of eliciting boos and hisses from the audience!

The stand out moments for me were the big ensemble numbers, showcasing the talents of the performers across a wide range of dance styles, including jive, hand jive and tap. Honestly, they danced up a storm throughout and concluded with a breathtakingly exuberant finale, sending the audience (and themselves) out on a high. Many congratulations to the choreographer, David Page for imagining and then realising this very high standard of dance.

The ensemble are Quillen Parker, Arden-Caspar Jennison, Amy Parker, Molly Parkinson, Becky Morley, Charlie Buchanan, Nicola Adcock, Lisa Stone, Emma Collins, Mariko Jones, Grace Collishaw, Emma Weir, Chloe Brooks, Hayley Wood, Lottie Ludlow, Josie Coleman, Rachel Spence, Eleanor Harvey, Jordan Neary, Lilli White and Ali Langton.

Congratulations also to the Musical Director, Charlotte Daniel for the standard of both the vocal performances and the infectiously authentic sound of the 7 piece band.

None of this would have worked so well if the audience couldn’t see it or hear it properly, so well done to the Lighting and Sound designers, David Price and Sean Renshaw. Apart from a minor feedback issue a couple of times the sound was very clear and mostly well balanced with the orchestra. Lighting is important in this production, as it aids some sleight of hand and also adds considerably to the atmosphere, making those ensemble numbers even more vivid.

Theatre Online has seen two fabulous musicals this week, one professional and one amateur, and can honestly say that both provided wonderful entertainment and a great night out at the Theatre.

LEOs is a force to be reckoned with and certainly one to watch!


UK and Ireland Tour of Rodger's & Hammerstein's South Pacific

Theatre Royal Nottingham

October 18th 2022

Rodgers and Hammerstein weren’t afraid of difficult topics, in fact they positively embraced them in some of their greatest hits. Oklahoma features an accidental killing, Carousel loses its leading man half way through and South Pacific confronts racism. And kills off a romantic lead. Despite this all of these shows are an absolute joy and none more so than this sparkling version of South Pacific from the Chichester Festival and director Daniel Evans. It's packed with those wonderful songs that keep you humming for days, exuberant dance routines and a range of sensitively handled emotions.

The show, which premiered April 7, 1949 at Broadway's Majestic Theatre, is based on James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, combining elements of several of the stories in that book. Rodgers and Hammerstein believed that they could write a work based on Michener's stories that would be financially successful and, at the same time, send a strong social message on racism. They would not allow it to be performed in segregated theatres.

Nellie Forbush, a nurse on a Pacific Island during WWII, falls in love with Emile de Becque, a local planter. However, when she learns he is a widower with two mixed race children, she cannot accept the situation. Meanwhile, Lt Cable falls in love with a Polynesian girl named Liat. Cable and de Bacque go off together on a spy mission and the two women wait in hope of their return. There is romance and tension, but also humour, all of it gloriously expressed through classics such as "Some Enchanted Evening", "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair”, "Bali Ha’i", "Younger Than Springtime" and “There Is Nothing Like A Dame"

The sound from the full orchestra is absolutely lush and the quality of the vocals, both chorus numbers and solo pieces is superb.

I’ve seen South Pacific several times but have never felt as engaged with the characters as I did tonight, each one seems to have been given more depth and the time to fully express themselves. They’re not just there to sing, but to tell their stories.

Bloody Mary, the island vendor who is out to fleece the American Seabees, is played by Joanna Ampil as less of a caricature than usual. She’s younger and grittier, wears some western dress and is well aware of the racism that will prevent her daughter from making an advantageous marriage. Her poignant performance of ‘Happy Talk’ (a new arrangement by Theo Jamieson) elevates it from a merry ditty to a heartfelt plea to Lt Cable to go with his heart.

Nellie the ‘Knucklehead’ nurse is played with a tomboyish optimism by the wonderful Gina Beck, who doesn’t just belt a song out, she lives it. Her performance of "I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy" was the best I’ve ever seen, filled with emotion, humour and personality. Gina also vividly expresses Nellie’s realisation that the prejudice she has grown up with is wrong, can be challenged and should be condemned. Both her and Lt Cable (played by engagingly by Rob Houchen) reach this conclusion, beautifully expressed in his song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (before you are six or seven or eight/to hate all the people your relatives hate). Apparently, Hammerstein was asked to remove this song from early productions, but he refused.

Julian Ovenden plays the anguished Emile de Becque and is the perfect romantic lead, the chemistry between him and Nellie positively sizzles. He has a fabulous voice which is particularly showcased in the haunting “This Nearly was Mine”, watched by Cable, both perfectly placed on a darkened stage.

There’s plenty of humour to be had here, much of it supplied by the Seebee wheeler-dealer Luther Billis, played tonight by Dougie McMeekin. Again, a younger and grittier version than usual, but full of the same guile and amusing patter.

The dancing and chorus numbers are wonderful, the choreographer has kept them loose, giving a lovely fluidity to the big numbers, such as “Bloody Mary” and “There’s Nothing Like a Dame” from the Seabees and the fabulous “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair” from the Ensign nurses. Great use of bath towels! The opening dance by Liat (Sera Maehera) – who expresses herself through dance vividly in this version – is lyrically beautiful.

The set is starkly backed by a corrugated wall with only flashes of the idyllic Pacific setting; this is war and it’s brought home to us in the second act in a montage of nurses and pilots preparing to go into battle. The scene changes are so smooth – great use of detailed trucks, a revolving stage and skilful lighting – that they are almost filmic, keeping the pace up at all times.

I have happy memories of watching the technicolour film version of this as a teenager and of playing the LP; it’s amazing, but not surprising given the quality, that it has endured for so long and is still so relevant. It was an absolute joy to see it tonight.


The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Theatre Royal Nottingham

12th October 2022

This afternoon my nephew Jenson (aged 3) and I attended the theatre to watch The Tiger Who Came to Tea. The much loved children's book by Judith Kerr is bought to life in this stage adaptation and the synopsis promises a family friendly show, packed with oodles of magic, sing-a-long-songs and clumsy chaos.

This was Jenson’s first ever theatre trip and therefore I was a bit apprehensive. However, right from the start of the show he was engrossed and it quickly became apparent I had nothing to worry about! The cast do an excellent job of engaging with the audience from the beginning, starting with a song and encouraging plenty of audience participation. This theme continues throughout the show and the build up to the tiger ringing the doorbell kept all the young audience members captivated and their excitement when the tiger finally arrives was a joy to witness. The tiger himself was wonderful! Fantastic costume and great stage presence without being overbearing or scary. The special effects when he is eating are magical as promised and are so slick even the adults in the audience would struggle to see how they are done. The cast do a wonderful job of keeping the audience’s attention and are so enthusiastic. The songs are age appropriate with repetitive melody and lyrics; perfect for the young audience members allowing them to quickly join in and sing along.

The show certainly lives up to its promises and is a perfect introduction to the theatre for younger audience members. If you have young children I would urge you to go and see it if you can; you will not be disappointed.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea runs until Saturday 15th October.

Jensons review:

My favourite bit was the tiger. I liked his dancing very much and his roaring and when he ate all the food in the house and drank all the orange juice. I think he must have a very bad tummy ache but he made me laugh a lot. I would like to go to the theatre again.


The Girl From The North Country

Theatre Royal


October 11th 2022

Conor McPherson, the writer of this sublime piece got his inspiration from Duluth, Minnesota, where Bon Dylan was born in 1941. It is set seven years earlier, in the winter of 1934; America is in the midst of the Great Depression and nowhere is it more keenly felt than in a rundown boarding house. Proprietor Nick Laine is struggling to keep the house from being taken over by the bank, his wife Elizabeth suffers from dementia and he has been having an affair with Mrs Neilsen, one of the renters. His children have their own problems; Gene is going nowhere in life and struggles with alcohol, while adopted daughter Marianne is unmarried and pregnant. In an engrossing storyline guests and eccentric locals come in and out of the house, all with their own secrets and backstories. From jail time to blackmail to morphine addiction, their secrets are slowly revealed to the haunting backdrop of Bob Dylan’s legendary songs, including Hurricane, I Want You, Slow Train Coming, Forever Young and Like A Rolling Stone.

The best thing about this play is that it tells a cracking good story; it’s like a well written soap opera with a cast of immediately engaging characters. Incidental to this, yet vital to the overall feel of the piece are the brilliantly performed songs of Bob Dylan. The action takes place in a broadcasting studio, the story is introduced by a narrator and the performers are accompanied by an onstage band: The Howlin’ Winds. Yet there is no loss of realism, the dingy and oppressive nature of a 1930’s boarding house during the Depression is powerfully evoked. Exterior scenes are established with backdrops and lighting and a Thanksgiving party is convincingly created with background chatter, candlelight and real food - which is enthusiastically consumed! This play draws you in and takes you into the characters’ lives, wanting to know more about them; it’s never less than thoroughly entertaining and often moving.

There are mysteries surrounding the characters, each one is a little study in their own right and lots of questions about them are thrown up, but most are satisfyingly resolved at the end. Those that aren’t have kept me pleasantly thinking about them today! This writer knows how to create a story arc, how to flesh out characters and how to write relevant and pithy dialogue.

A story set in the Depression that contains such themes as dementia, poverty, disability and addiction could be relentlessly miserable, but while this play is dark in places it has an undercurrent of hopeful tenacity and is cleverly leavened with wit and humour. The stand out character for this is Elizabeth Laine, played brilliantly by Frances McNamee, whose loss of inhibition leads to some hilarious observations. This is very much an ensemble piece though and each member of the cast makes an impact; it’s so pleasing to see such a wide range of age and talent.

Some of the actors play instruments and the wonderful vocal solos are riveting; real spine tingling stuff. The dances, duets and group numbers are full of artistry, often with several of the actors singing in perfect harmony. Bob Dylan’s songs are packed with emotion and feeling and that is so well conveyed by these performers, adding expression and depth to their stories. The writer explains this as ‘a conversation between the songs and the story’.

This play has been hugely successful previously, running on Broadway, at the Old Vic and in the West End. It’s easy to see why: it’s packed with emotional potency and will please not just Bob Dylan fans, but anyone who enjoys great theatre that is beautifully executed.


Sunset Boulevard

Erewash Musical Society

Duchess Theatre Long Eaton

October 5th 2022

Review by Kev Castle - reproduced here by permission.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, you are guaranteed a lush soundtrack. That is exactly what you get.

"Sunset Boulevard", which is based on the 1950 film of the same name, tells the story of faded silent movie star Norma Desmond, a femme fatale if there ever was one.

Screenwriter Joe Gillis is down on his luck, struggling to escape from debt collectors, and enters her life and her mansion quite by accident and is asked to stay by Norma, whose only other human interaction is with Max, her butler.

There is a provision though to Joe boarding with Norma, and that is that he agrees to edit a script for a film that she has written called "Salome"; a film that she intends to star in as the teenage seductress.

Norma still believes that she is as beautiful and as in demand as she was in her heyday, and Joe does nothing to discourage this belief. As time passes, Norma falls in love with Joe, telling him that if he ever leaves her, she will commit suicide. The fragility of her mental health starts to show and when she discovers that Joe is not as interested in her romantically, things do not look good for the young writer!

This show positively oozes glamour and 1950s Hollywood style, it's like you have walked through the doors of the Duchess Theatre and have been transported back seventy odd years in time. The musical opens with a cinematic backdrop which is like visiting the pictures, or sitting on a sofa on a Sunday watching some classic old movie. In a strange way very comforting, all you need is a duvet.

Alex Tavener has immense style as Norma, a role that she was obviously born to play. Her vocals are the best that I've heard from her, and believe me, I've heard Alex sung many times in the past and she has blown me away with her understanding, delivery and feel for a song. Alex's manic, wide-eyed look, pierces your mind, and the final scenes make you feel quite uneasy. A real powerhouse of a performance.

Phil Deakin plays Joe Gillis. Phil's vocals, as with Alex's, are the best that I've heard from him. Phil is on stage for practically the whole show and anyone who has seen this musical before will know that it is almost all sung, so vocal stamina is out in force here.

Max Von Mayerling, Desmond's butler, is played by John Fletcher. His voice came as a bit of a surprise as it was a lot deeper than I had thought it would be, which works well in this role.

Betty Schaefer, Joe's lover and co scriptwriter, is played by Emma Barnes-Marriott. Now I keep going on about these fantastic voices, but Erewash Musical Society is blessed with some brilliant vocalists, and Emma is another with a wonderful clear voice.

Cecil B DeMille is played by Keith Butcher, and I love the characterisation that Keith brings to this iconic movie director.

Artie, Betty's fiancé, is played by a young man who has been away from the stage too long, and it's good to see him back, Hayden Fletcher Fletcher. Hayden has been showing off his other talents away from the stage for the past couple of years, but it's good to see that fun side of Hayden back again, especially as he doubles as a salesman.

It's a relatively large supporting cast, with bags full of talent in all areas. Jason Parker, James Christian, Martin Briggs, Sue Hagan, Tracey Renshaw, Paige Sisson, Laurie Fitch, Nick Buckthorpe, Hayley Wood, Megan Asher, Louisa Ward, Richard Dawson, Gabryl Oleshko, Barbara Bostock, Anna Fitzpatrick, Karen Robbins, Laura Dawson, Gary Fowkes, Andrea Kemish and Natalie Austen make up the rest of the talented and energetic cast.

Directed by Chris Moss, and assisted by Kathi Ludlow; this is a job, by both, well done and smoothly presented.

Sound design by Dave Dallard, and I know that I can sometimes be a bit critical with the sound at The Duchess, but not tonight; it was perfect. I heard every word from the actors and every lyric of every song. Not one sound cue missed either.

Lighting design by Dave Martin. I noticed one spot on an actor was not done, near the start when the actor was sat at the desk on the right of the stage, and the lines delivered were in the dark, but apart from that, the lighting was spot on.

The soundtrack contains a few songs that you may already be aware of. "As If We Never Said Goodbye", "With One Look" and "The Perfect Year" sit serenely besides songs like "The Greatest Star", "New Ways To Dream" and the epic title track, ensuring that you leave the theatre with these melodies whirling around your head.

The Musical Director for this show is James Bowden, and the fourteen piece orchestra sounds beautiful with this soundtrack.

The costumes are as gorgeous as the orchestra is lush. Norma has many costume changes and every one is as special to behold as the previous. Heather Weaver is responsible for making sure that Norma looks every bit the star that she is.

Laurie Trott has choreographed this musical and it has that feel of the old Hollywood classics in every step. Just delightful to watch.

I loved the props and attention to detail and era appropriate, especially the writing desk and the furniture adorning Norma's mansion. Tyna Burnett and the team are responsible for this.

A sumptuous set, mainly chez Desmond, and the cinematic backdrop really added that luxurious feel about the set design, especially with the storm outside the window at Norma's place, like a living back wall. There is a staircase, chaise longues, exotic drinking cabinet, and was that a harpsichord partly hidden?

There are many times that I sit down as a reviewer and leave as a reviewer. With this production I very quickly transformed from a reviewer to a viewer, settling in and just enjoying the show, its' wonderful cast, the lush soundtrack and that wonderful Sunday afternoon feeling from years ago watching the old black and white films with my parents.


Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Theatre Royal Nottingham

4th October 2022

Tonight I had the pleasure of being invited to see Beautiful The Carole King Musical. Having wanted to see this for a couple of years after hearing such good reviews, I was very excited to finally be able to do so. The musical charts the astounding success of Carole King from her first number one hit with her husband aged just 17, through to her pinnacle solo number one hit album 12 years later. The storytelling is gripping, this isn’t just a jukebox musical, it’s an entertaining bio-musical which is enhanced meaningfully by the songs.

Carole and her first husband Gerry started off writing hit songs for huge artists of the 60’s such as the Shirelles, the Drifters and the Righteous brothers. It struck me throughout the show just how many hits were actually created by Carole and Gerry: they have an impressive and illustrious back catalogue. The musical concentrates on the relationship between them and the ongoing rivalry that turned into friendship with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Sadly, while Carole and Gerry’s songs were climbing to the top of the charts, their own relationship was beginning crack.

This musical is highly energetic from start to finish and packed full of hits from the 60’s and 70’s. It feels like you are a guest at an exhilarating retro party! I wasn’t sure how many songs I would recognise, as many are from the 60’s and 70’s – a bit before my time – but these timeless classics have deservedly stayed around and are very familiar. ‘Up On The Roof’, ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’ ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘You've Got A Friend’. ‘Oh Carol’, ‘The Locomotion’, ‘Up On The Roof’, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ and ‘Take Good Care Of My Baby’ are just some of the hits belted out by the large cast: each one of them demonstrating huge talent. The soundtrack is played live on stage by the performers, using a wide range of different instruments.

Molly-Grace Cutler stars as Carole King with Tom Milner playing Gerry Goffin; Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick play the song-writing duo and long-time friends of Carole and Gerrry, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. They are ably supported by the rest of the cast, who not only treat us to the superbly delivered instrumentals and vocals, but to some great retro dance routines. It’s nearly impossible to stay in your seat!


The Mousetrap 70th Anniversary Tour

Nottingham Theatre Royal

September 27th 2022

Almost 70 years ago Agatha Christie sat in the stalls at the Theatre Royal Nottingham to watch her new play ‘The Mousetrap’ being performed for the first time. The date was October 6th 1952 and the play, which was an adaptation of a radio script called ‘Three Blind Mice’, that she had written for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday, starred Richard Attenborough and his wife, Sheila Sim. Agatha was hoping it would be a modest success, disagreeing with her producer, who predicted it would run for as long as 14 months, thinking 8 months was more realistic…

Following the initial tour, The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London in November 1952. There it remained for twenty-two years, when it was transferred to St. Martin’s Theatre in 1974, and it is still running there, with just one break during the pandemic. It has broken several records for its almost continuous theatrical run: it is estimated that more than four million people had seen it by the time the twenty-fifth anniversary was celebrated in 1977 and there have been over 23,000 performances to date.

The play opens at Monkswell Manor, the home of Giles and Mollie Ralston (Laurence Pears and Joelle Dyson), who have only been married a year and have decided to set up a guest house. Heavy snow is falling outside as their first ever guests arrive: the hyperactive and amusing Christopher Wren, (Elliot Clay), the rude harridan Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong) the jolly Major Metcalf (Todd Carty), the uptight Miss Casewell (Essie Barrow) and the unexpected stranger Mr Paravicini (John Altman). In addition to the guests an officious policeman, Sgt. Trotter (Joseph Reed), arrives later.

When the action begins there’s been a shocking murder just 30 miles away in London (which we hear about via the wireless) and by apparent coincidence, several of the people who turn up at the guest house are dressed in outer clothing matching the description of the murderer…

It was thrilling to think we were sitting where Agatha Christie sat all those years ago, watching this hugely entertaining play performed in almost the same way as it would have been then, with very few changes to the splendid set. There is added nostalgia now of course, nostalgia for the three act play with two curtain falls, for the glow of an open fire and the reassuring RP tones of a newsreader on the wireless; for the manners of an age long gone. There is also humour, some of it from the broad brushstrokes of the director (some lovely visual signposting) and some of it simply from the fun of recognising the familiar plot points and trying to spot the red herrings. Also, Elliot Clay makes the most of Christopher Wren, showing wonderful verbal as well as physical flair and probably finding more humour for a modern audience than Agatha Christie intended.

Like all of her plays, this is an ensemble piece and the whole cast give polished and engaging performances, ramping up their delivery as the tension increases and their characters’ secrets begin to emerge. There is a lovely period feel to the whole thing – the costumes and hairstyles are spot on – and lighting (you know when it goes dark someone’s in trouble) and sound (yes, distant piano notes and a creaking window!), complete the evocative setting.

So, whodunnit - who is the murderer? Sorry, but I can't tell you as at the end of the play, as tradition dictates, all of us at the Theatre Royal were asked not to divulge the ending. All I can say is, that like all of Agatha Christie’s plays, there is a satisfying denouement and even an extra little twist. It doesn’t do to think about the logistics of the plot, as it probably doesn’t stand up to scrutiny – but this is drama, well crafted and suspenseful drama that never fails to keep the audience amused and engaged.

As Agatha Christie said: “It’s the sort of play you can take anyone to. It’s not really frightening. It’s not really horrible. It’s not really a farce, but it has a little bit of all these things and perhaps that satisfies a lot of different people.”


The Wicked Lady

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

September 21st 2022

The Wicked Lady has just finished here at the Theatre Royal. It was indeed a scary theatrical experience. If you like ghost stories you will love this one. I was certainly kept on the edge of my seat for much of the production. I jumped once or twice too! Great special effects and frightening sounds. The build up to the action is slow and makes for quite a big shock when it comes.

This play with only two actors has many twists and turns and is very atmospheric. The actors, Nicky Davy (playing Alice) and Saul Bache (playing Sean)were outstanding and deserved the applause they received at the end.

The theatre was pretty full tonight signifying the interest this production has obviously generated, so my advice would be for you to grab tickets before they all go. It is a great ghost story and I doubt you will guess the ending.

I am off to catch my bus but will stay in the light and not stray down any dark passageways!






15th SEPTEMBER 2022

Oh what a night! Knowing very little about Franki Valli and the Four Seasons I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Jersey Boys. However, ten minutes in I was hooked and just knew it was going to be great!

This stage production charts the band’s quest for success, giving the inside story on the onstage and offstage antics of the members. It documents the band’s rise to the top from humble (and criminal!) beginnings on the streets of New Jersey, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The show is packed full of their greatest hits, including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like a Man, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry and many more. The show is fast paced, energetic, funny and moving. The dynamics between the band members and their differing personalities are expertly portrayed by the main cast. Michael Pickering and Lewis Griffiths play Frankie Valli and Nick Massi respectively, with Blair Gibson as Bob Gaudio and Dalton Wood as Tommy DeVito.

Also in the cast are Dougie Carter (Hank Majewski), Ryan Carter-Wilson (Swing), Emma Crossley (Mary Delgado), Jordan James (Gyp DeCarlo), Norton James (Norm Waxman), Michael Levi (Bob Crewe), Tom O’Brien (Swing), Nathan Routledge (Swing), George Salmon (Joe Pesci), Ellie Seaton (Lorraine), Daisy Steere (Francine), Amy West (Swing), and Damien Winchester (Barry Belson).

The acting, singing and dancing of all the cast members in this production is incredible; every one of them are supremely talented.

The show ended to raucous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation. A musical finale played by the band followed and looking round the theatre, the entire audience was singing and dancing along; a joy to witness.


The Shawshank Redemption

National Tour

Derby Theatre

September 12th, 2022

Despite the film version of The Shawshank Redemption being described as the country’s favourite film I have never seen it, so I came to Derby Theatre tonight with no expectations. By the end of the play, I can see why it has become so popular.

The story is about Andy Dufresne - played brilliantly by Joe Absolom - who, despite protests of his innocence, is handed a double life sentence for the brutal murder of his wife and her lover. Joe gives a solid dramatic performance combined with great physicality.

Finding himself at the notorious Shawshank facility, he quickly learns that no one can survive alone. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with the warm, mischievous, and sincere prison fixer, Red, played by the superb actor, Ben Onwukwe. Things then take a slight turn for the better. However, when Warden Stammas - played with suitable menace by Mark Heenehan -decides to bully Andy into subservience and exploit his talents for accountancy, a desperate plan is quietly hatched. This plan leads to many twists and turns throughout the plot which kept me wondering for much of the play. The conclusion of this was, for me, very unexpected.

This is an engaging story with serious, violent and some sexual scenes but there are also moments of comedy provided by a tight and clever script. The play moves quickly and the talented cast of 12 are a joy to watch. There is also some appropriate incidental music and a relatively simple, sparse and at times threatening set.

The supporting cast is Kenneth Jay (Brooksie), Coulter Dittman (Tommy Williams), Joe Reisig (Bryan Hadley), Owen Oldroyd (Entwistle), Jay Marsh (Bogs Diamond), Jules Brown (Rico), Leigh Jones (Rooster), Kieran Garland (Dawkins), Samarge Hamilton (Ensemble)

The production, directed by David Esbjornson and Tim Welton, moves at a fast pace with excellent lighting by Chris Davey, a clever and well used set design by Gary McCann and clear, often atmospheric sound by Andy Graham. Scene changes are fast and help move the story on with no delays.

There was a whole theatre standing ovation with many cheering at the end which is relatively unusual at the end of a straight play but this one, in my opinion, certainly deserves it.


West Side Story

September 8th, 2022

Nottingham Arts Theatre

What a pleasure it was to watch one of my favourite musicals performed with such enthusiasm, energy and commitment from this talented group of young people. It’s no easy musical this, it’s filled with a brilliant but tricky score – almost operatic in places, yet jubilantly exuberant in others – and some huge dance numbers. The cast must have worked long and hard to master all of this and deserve huge congratulations, along with the production team of Marie Rogers (Director), Amy Rogers-Gee (Choreographer) and Sam Griffiths (Musical Director).

This reworked story of Romeo and Juliet concerns two warring factions in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the Fifties: the Jets (the native New Yorkers) and the Sharks, the immigrant Puerto Ricans. When Tony, a friend of the Jets falls in love with Maria, sister of the leader of Sharks, the ugly prejudice between the gangs leads to tragedy…

The director grittily captures the tension and hatred in the streets, contrasting it effectively with the sweetly intense relationship of Tony and Maria. Tony is played by Harrison Ince with a laid back gentleness that evolves into passion, becoming intensely moving during the wonderful ‘Maria’ and the plaintive ‘One Hand, One Heart’. A vocal highlight among many is the splendid ‘Tonight’ performed beautifully with Maria, played by Jamillah Wells. Jamillah captures the joyful idealism of the teenage Maria and makes the improbable ‘love at first sight’ entirely believable.

It was pleasure to see them both dance in the fantasy sequence of ‘Somewhere’, as this is often performed by others: it gave them a chance to show off their dancing. There is evidence of a triple threat right there in both of these talented performers! Another treat during this amazing dance sequence, which was performed so well by the company, was the beautiful voice of Daniella Rose Stringer (who also plays the wise Doc); with added echo her solo was absolutely spine tingling.

I so enjoyed the performance of George Young who plays Riff, leader of the Jets. He just inhabits this part, he’s got the swagger, the menace and perfect phrasing, which isn’t easy when maintaining an accent. A highlight for me was the brilliantly worded (well it’s Sondheim, after all) and highly amusing ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’. This gave the other Jets the chance to shine and they certainly made the most of it. Louis Barnes-Cupit, who plays Action brilliantly and with total conviction, brings the song alive. The skilled and perfectly timed contributions from the others, plus ingenious and very lively choreography that they make look effortless, make this a showstopper. The other Jets are Jamie Adlams (A-Rab), Eloïse Rees (Big Deal), Liam Brown (Baby John), Preston Nash (Snow Boy) and Amelia Watson, (the toughie Diesel). They are aided and abetted by Caitlin Robinson, Esmie Smith-Cockayne and at this evening’s performance, Elizabeth Kenny and Sofia Callaway. The Jet girls tonight were Olivia Bonham (Graziella), Harriet Campion (Velma) and Hermione Cumbers (Pauline).

This is a cast that covers a wide age range of young performers and gets the best out of them all – watching the younger ones at the back during crowd scenes I could see lots of quiet acting going on; no standing about here, they’ve been well coached and rehearsed. So nice to see some of these younger performers showing off their gymnastic skills too – this company has a huge pool of upcoming talent and must be excited about their potential for future shows. The outsider and lively tomboy ‘Anybodys’ is played by the dance captain Daisy Donohue, who must have been very busy and did a great job!

Someone who lit up the stage for me was Yara Johns-Ramos as Anita, such a passionate role that has flashes of humour, joy, anger and pathos. She nails them all and gives a wonderful vocal performance, ranging from the wild excitement of ‘America’ to the anger of ‘A Boy Like That’ and the gut wrenching poignancy of ‘I Have A Love’. The other Shark girls for this performance, who did a grand job performing America particularly, are Phoebe Bateman as Rosalia, Evie Martin as Consuelo and Kate Russell as Francisca. Hannah Wood, Lois Stevenson, Malikea Smith, Sienna Woods, Stephanie Booth and Torni Sloman were the rest of the Shark ensemble.

Anita’s boyfriend and powerful leader of the Sharks, Bernardo, is played by Brogan Haynes, an actor I last saw playing Kurt in the Sound of Music at the Duchess theatre. Wow - what a difference - how versatile he is! He’s another one who swaggers and conveys menace; the workshops to develop these characters must have been fun and they have certainly paid off. Playing the gentler Chino is Jonathan Jaycock, whose descent into violence becomes even more shocking because of the contrast with other gang members. The violence in this show and its rapid escalation is always shocking and is sadly still resonant today, making these themes anything but dated.

A bit of light relief comes from two other very well observed characters, the corrupt Detective Shrank, played by Jack Symington and the hapless Officer Krupke, played by Patrick Brannigan. Jack gives a really solid character performance and Patrick makes the most of the humour in the role, which delighted the audience. Another solid performance is from Katie-Mae Faulkner, playing Gladhand, who has the thankless task of trying to bring the Jets and Sharks together at a social event.

I am in awe at this huge cast and the work the production team must have put in to pull them all together. The music is difficult and Sam Griffiths has done a great job in training the performers to work with an unforgiving soundtrack which shows up every duff note and key drift. That they’ve been brave enough to try so hard augers very well for their future vocal performances. Amy Rogers Gee has also thrown everything into the dancing and the fight scenes; the choreography in the opening ‘Jet Song’ and the closing scene of the first act ‘The Rumble’ is exciting and affecting; the tension as those fingers click is palpable.

There was a sadness in the air as we arrived in Nottingham, but after a respectful two minute silence the audience were treated to a wonderful show that was life affirming.


The Book of Mormon

Theatre Royal Nottingham

August 17th 2022

This was a wonderful production of The Book of Mormon at the theatre Royal tonight which ended with a well deserved instant standing ovation and much cheering.

The show is a satirical musical with book, lyrics, and music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Best known for creating the animated comedy South Park, Parker and Stone co-created the music with Lopez, a co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q. It tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries sent to a remote village in northern Uganda, where a brutal warlord is threatening the local population. Naïve and optimistic, the two missionaries try to share the Book of Mormon, one of their scriptures—which only one of them has read—but have trouble connecting with the locals, who are more worried about war, famine, poverty, and AIDS than about religion.

When I first saw the show in London some years ago I was a bit unsure about it. Tonight, however, I loved every minute. This touring version has a great cast, superb set and is really very funny. The songs are very tuneful and keep going round and round in my head. The dancing often from the whole cast is very impressive too.

It was great to see a real orchestra in the pit in front of the stage instead of being amplified from back stage. Much better sound.

The audience really appreciated all that was going on during the show and laughed and applauded with gusto throughout.

Yes the show has much bad language plus adult humour and deals with many rather dubious topics but as Kenny Everett said once “it’s all done in the best possible taste” well actually not always I am glad to say.



Nottingham Playhouse

July 27th

Just back from the World Premiere of the latest musical from Stiles and Drew, 'Identical', at the Nottingham Playhouse. I loved every minute of it. The production, including a large cast of children, was unbelievable and the show has some wonderful songs in it which I am desperate to hear again. I have always loved the songs of Stiles and Drew in shows like Betty Blue Eyes, Honk, Mary Poppins and Kipps to name just a few. The set was amazing and included the best 3D projections I have ever seen and I am still wondering how they did it.

I am sure that come the Press Night the critics local and national will adore it as I have done tonight. This show is outstanding and I hope that in time it will be performed either on tour, in the West End or ideally, both.

It is described by the Playhouse as ‘The must see show of the summer’ and I agree with that wholeheartedly. The best new show I have seen for a very long time, excluding my beloved Billy Elliot recently in Leicester.


‘Stepping Out’ by Richard Harris

The Watson Players

Landau Forte College

22nd July 2022

So nice to be stepping out on a Friday evening to see the Watson Players perform this delightful ‘slice of life’ comedy. Since its first production in 1984, Richard Harris’s award-winning play ‘Stepping Out’ has been staged all over the world, even inspiring a film starring Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters.

Once a week, eight strangers assemble in a church hall to attend a tap dancing class led by vivacious ex-pro Mavis, accompanied by her tetchy vegetarian pianist, Mrs Fraser. Despite their lack of co-ordination, the students relish the chance to ‘tap, step, ball change or cramp roll’, as an escape from their private lives. The arrival of a new member, plus the chance to perform in front of an audience at a charity event, are the catalysts for the action.

We get a glimpse into the characters lives, watching from behind the fourth wall, which in this case is cleverly used as a mirror on the wall of the hall. Well done to the set designers, who have created a realistic and immediately recognisable space.

Tantalisingly, we’re given just enough information to form an opinion on the characters and speculate on their lives outside the class. We all love to hear about other people’s experiences – that’s why TV Soaps are so popular - and this has the added bonus of some entertaining tap dancing and many great tunes. We become privy to some secrets, watch conflicts arise, friendships develop and ultimately witness a tough challenge joyously met. It’s great stuff.

Hats off (straw boaters preferably) to this group who so vividly bring these characters to life, as well as learning to tap dance so well that they can also do it badly! Each performer must have worked so hard to interpret and develop their character, as well as master the complicated logistics of the play. Because the audience are ‘eavesdropping’, the dialogue shifts quickly around the stage to different pairings and groups, so perfect timing is essential. The cast have mastered this, the pace never falters and their excellent projection (aided by well balanced mics) means we don’t miss a word.

The loudly confident and cheerful Maxine is played by Liz Woolley and her performance is a joy. She’s motherly and generous, yet bawdily insensitive at times, while dealing with her own insecurities; Liz covers all this and dances up a storm too, a great performance.

Rose and Sylvia, Maxine’s friends, and often partners in fun, are played with absolute conviction and huge relish by Patricia Church and Rai Robinson. In this production Rose is Eastern European, Patricia nails the accent and delights with her outgoing personality, wild dance moves and problem hair.

Gum-chewing Sylvia must be such a fun character for Rai Robinson to play, she simply becomes the bubbly self deprecating personality who likes to break the rules. A crowd pleaser of a character who delights the audience.

The brittle and obviously unhappy Andy is played by Ciara Beighton with sensitivity and nuance. She is probably the saddest character in the group and Ciara does not shy away from making her unlikeable, yet manages to still be sympathetic, inviting us to share in the escape she finds in dancing.

The hapless lone male participant in the class, Geoffrey, is played gloriously by Wayne Perry, who exploits every bit of comic potential in the character. Nailing not just the vocal mannerisms, but the physical ones too, he embodies the shy shambling widower who is constantly embarrassed by the attentions of the others. Some great piano playing too!

Mavis is played beautifully by Sharon Stringer with a simple earnestness and an obvious genuine love for dancing and her frustratingly ragged group. Sharon gets to do a lovely solo and has moments of humour, drama and pathos that she makes the absolute most of.

Vera, the newcomer is a highly entertaining character, played so well by Ellie Mallinson, who astonishingly only had three weeks rehearsal for the part. The inveterate snob delights with her obsessive cleaning, her glittering dance wear and her crass insensitivity, all masks for the darkness in her home life. Many congratulations to Ellie for a wonderful accomplishment.

If light relief were needed it comes in spades in the character of Mrs Fraser, a real tour de force by Lynne Dickenson, who was hugely appreciated by the audience. The tunes she bashes out (in a very polished way) are foot tappingly familiar and her line of disgruntled irascibility is a joy. A fabulous character portrayal.

Dorothy & Lynne are the other two members of the group, who I feel are underwritten by the playwright. This doesn’t stop Karen Jones and Jessica Baird bringing them convincingly to life. We witness Dorothy’s obvious loneliness and desire to please, alongside some often ungainly taps (and great sneezing!), – and Lynne’s love of dance, which gives her an escape from her day job, movingly expressed by Jessica in a later scene.

As I said earlier, we only get a glimpse of these characters and many questions about them are left unanswered. This could be frustrating, but it does give us the chance to use our imaginations, as sadly, there won’t be another episode next week!

The finale of this production is show stoppingly good, it took me by surprise and confirmed that this group must have worked their socks off to get to such a good standard of dance. It’s lovely to watch and gloriously costumed and set – the audience all left on a high.

Well done to the cast, the director Regina Repton, the choreographer Patricia Church and all the production team for pulling together and producing a very entertaining show of the highest quality. Some tickets are available at the door tonight, if you are able to take advantage of them.



Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

July 18th, 2022

This is a stage version of the 2007 movie written by Adrienne Shelly with Music and lyrics by GRAMMY award-winning, singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. It tells the story of Jenna, an expert pie maker in a small town, who dreams of a way out of her loveless marriage; it celebrates friendship, motherhood, and the magic of a well-made pie.

The show last night should have starred Chelsea Halfpenny as Jenna, but unfortunately there was an announcement that she was indisposed and the part would be taken by the understudy, Aimee Fisher. The show started around 25 minutes late.

Aimee Fisher was excellent in the role of Jenna and as far as I could see her performance was flawless. She has a powerful singing voice and played the part with a confidence that belied the last minute change. She has great comic timing and has some lovely banter with her two waitress friends. They are Becky, played beautifully by Wendy Mae Brown and Dawn - who transforms from a timid frightened girl into a self-assured vamp -played by Evelyn Hoskins

The show is full of colourful and engaging characters who go some way to make up for what I feel is rather weak story. They include the splendid Ogie, (George Crawford), Dawn’s beau, played with a boundless enthusiasm that delighted the audience; the gynaecologist, Dr. Pomatter, (David Hunter) who falls in love with Jenna and her pies; Jenna’s abusive husband, Earl, played with nuanced menace by Tamlyn Henderson; Cal (Christopher D. Hunt), the much maligned but loved boss of the café and Joe (Michael Starke) the old regular customer whose words of wisdom are always there for Jenna.

The ensemble work in the show is excellent and I enjoyed the dancing, but I felt that some of it lacked context and bore no relation to the story.

I was impressed by the use of many “pie” props throughout the show; it looked like real cooking was being done. The set design is stunning, partly due to a huge realistic backdrop and the excellent lighting.

Although the performances of all, including the small but accomplished stage band were excellent, I have to say that the production did not really engage me. I know I am out of kilter with most, as this is a hugely popular show with a well-loved soundtrack, written by the talented Sara Bareilles. Powerful songs include the wistful She Used To Be Mine, Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me, Bad Idea, You Matter To Me and Everything Changes.

Some of my reservation is to do with the poor quality sound in the Concert Hall on this occasion. I found it hard to hear some of the dialogue and many of the lyrics of the songs, so for me essential clarity was missing.

I have to say that there was a whole theatre standing ovation at the end with considerable cheering, indicating that most of the full Concert Hall audience really enjoyed the show.

Go and see it and maybe the pies will be more to your taste than mine!


Billy Elliot the musical

The Curve Theatre Leicester

July 13th 2022


This wonderful show has ended with a richly deserved whole theatre standing ovation. It was a brilliant production with an incredibly talented cast. The youngsters were incredible. The Young actor, Sam Newby who played Billy, was outstanding and I am sure he will go far in the future. He sang, danced and acted with skill and confidence far in advance of his age. He worked very well with Lucas Haywood as Michael and Lola Johnstone as Debbie. Well done all the ballet girls and boxing club kids too. I also liked Sally Ann Triplett in the role of Mrs Wilkinson.

The production was very fast moving and retained the original script. However, there were some changes most of which I thoroughly approve of.

The stage at the curve is huge in all directions and this enabled the cast to bring bring the dramatic parts of the story such as the miners strike very much to life.

As I have been a fan of this show over the years I was concerned this new version might not come up to my expectations. However, it most certainly did. I loved it all and it brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. The children were all excellent as was the adult cast.

The Finale was great and almost identical to the West end original. Great to see the cast taking their bows for as long as the audience kept clapping. Always a mark of a great ending. So often, and my regular readers will have heard this before, the curtains fall far to quickly at the end of shows stopping all chance of a prolonged standing ovation.

This show at the curve is very well sold but if you can get a ticket get one or you will miss out on one of the theatrical highlights of 2022. I hope it might tour or perhaps return to the West End where it so deserves to be.


Who Killed “Agatha” Christie?

Tabs Productions

Theatre Royal Nottingham

July 12th 2022

Theatre Online loves a good thriller and the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season at the Theatre Royal is always great value; it’s often edge of the seat stuff and always a tale well told. Tonight was no exception, a black comedy thriller with some chilling undertones, ingenious plotting and a tour de force of acting from the cast.

The story is about failed playwright John Terry, who invites caustic theatre critic Arthur “Agatha” Christie to help him expose the suspected affair of their respective partners, but everything is not quite as it seems, and events take an unexpected and decidedly sinister turn. No more of the plot from me, as you need to go and see it for yourself to appreciate the twists and turns - of the knife - all delivered figuratively by John Terry, played by John Goodrum.

John Terry’s lively enthusiasm is immediately likeable and the audience are soon laughing at his easy humour and witty observations. As his dislike of Christie becomes more apparent and his intentions obviously more deadly, he becomes an evil bully, yet John Goodrum ensures he loses none of his charm. Essential if we are not to start to feel uncomfortable at witnessing a man teetering on the edge of madness, trying to destroy another. It’s a huge part – how do these actors learn so many lines? – and John Goodrum is never less than thoroughly convincing and completely engaging.

David Gilbrook as Christie gives a lovely character portrayal of a man who starts off with an arrogant swagger and ends up completely diminished. This play is a psychological thriller and the audience are teased and taunted along with Christie as Terry lays out his plans, then changes them again and again. The two actors hold the stage and keep us listening and wondering; their excellent diction and projection means we don’t miss a word.

Terry’s machinations are presented as the plot of a play, which fits neatly into the actual play and the literary and dramatic allusions come thick and fast. Christie made a living from words and Terry exacts revenge through words: a delicious irony.

The set by Sarah Wynne Kordas is delightfully 70’s, a drab brown and full of appropriate props - including some vital recording equipment – with yucky green floral curtains at the window; the scene is evocatively set. The sound and lighting enhance the tension: the climax of Act One is a beautifully lit and wonderfully satisfying piece of comic horror. Karen Henson, the Director, keeps it pacy yet isn’t afraid to leave an empty stage and keep us guessing what will happen next…

John Terry hates theatre critics and claims that they ‘judge with imprecise criteria’…and wield ‘venom tipped ballpoint pens’. Well, this humble reviewer admits to the former, but has no need of the latter. It was a pleasure to see this play and Theatre Online recommend both it and the following two plays in the Colin McIntyre Season – they sound cracking. They are ‘Spider’s Web’ by Agatha Christie (2nd-6th August) and the classic ‘Night Must Fall’ by Emlyn Williams (9th-13th August).


Singin’ In The Rain
Presented by Michael Harrison and Jonathan Church
Nottingham Theatre Royal
July 6th 2022
It’s tempting just to make a list of superlatives to review this wonderful show, which is a joy from start to finish. It’s lushly packed with fabulous singing and dancing – some very familiar songs and visually stunning routines – and has a first class cast. You’ll come out with a smile on your face, humming and looking for a few puddles to splash about in! There are 23 songs, many of which have become foot tapping favourites: All I Do is Dream of You, Lucky Star, You were Meant for Me, Moses Supposes and Good Mornin’, to name but a few.
It is set in Hollywood in 1927, when Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the stars of the silver screen with the silent film company, Monumental Pictures. However, disaster almost strikes with the arrival of the new-fangled invention (it will never catch on), the Talking Picture.
The transition to ‘talkies’ proves difficult for the golden couple, as their first foray, ‘The Duelling Cavalier’ is beset with difficulties, most notable being Miss Lamont’s hugely irritating voice and inability to sing. It takes a disastrous test screening for Lockwood’s best friend and partner in crime Cosmo Brown, to suggest turning the show into a musical, and for Lina’s voice to be overdubbed by the new hotshot starlet Kathy Selden…
The leading trio of principal performers are fabulous, with Sam Lips as a perfect Don Lockward. Fresh from some Broadway roles, Sam is every inch the dashing leading man and makes the challenging song and dance routines - particularly the iconic title song and the balletic sequences in Gotta Dance - look easy.
Charlotte Gooch as Don’s love interest Kathy Seldon has a lovely voice and she nails the character of the sweet but feisty wannabe in the most engaging way. She is a very talented dancer too, making light of the brilliant routine which nearly finished Debbie Reynolds off when making the film version (they rehearsed it for 13 hours), the splendid Good Mornin’.
The three principals are a terrific team and the term ‘triple threat’ – mentioned in a negative way in an aside by Cosmo about Lina, is certainly applicable in a very positive way to all three of them.
Ross McClaren performance as Cosmo, Don’s friend, is sparkling. For those who only know him from his role as Luca in the BBC soap ‘Doctors’, it’s a revelation to see him sing, dance and bring this comic character to joyous life. The hugely energetic Make ‘em Laugh is a show stopper, it’s amazing how he manages to sing so well while dancing with a number of props and even doing a back flip off the wall. It’s great stuff.
In fact it’s all great stuff, the time flies by as this lush production is relentlessly entertaining, one great song after another, fabulous routines and an amusing storyline; no wonder the film is often voted as the best film musical, despite being 70 years old. This production has lost none of the magic of the film and introduced some of its own with a talented ensemble and some impressive technical effects. Costumes are wonderfully evocative of the times and with the versatile set and colourful props - including a kaleidoscope of umbrellas - transport you to the glittering world of Hollywood glamour.
Jenny Gayner certainly brings the part of Lina Lamont to life with a fantastically awful New York accent, often screeching like a banshee – ‘I cayynn’t stayynd im’ – despite some desperate elocution lessons. She portrays a dumb blonde who is manipulative but pathetically needy in a thoroughly entertaining way, summed up in the amusing What’s Wrong With Me.
Sandra Dickinson plays Dora Bailey, the Hollywood Radio reporter, who waits outside the movie theatre to pass on the latest showbiz gossip. A lovely character role with her trademark ditzy voice deepened to a very entertaining fast patter.
The production team have ensured this iconic musical is every bit as dazzling as it deserves to be and produced something magical. All-time great musicals like Singin’ in the Rain are lauded for a reason, and this production from the Chichester festival and Sadler’s Wells ensures that it will remain loved. I hope it may also introduce new theatregoers to a timeless classic, which few modern shows come anywhere near to beating.


"Kipps - The New Half A Sixpence Musical"

Erewash Musical Society Youth Group".

The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

July 8th 2022

Review by Kev Castle

This year seems to be the year for seeing musicals and plays that I've not seen before, and this is another to add to that list. I've seen "Half A Sixpence" several times but this is the newer version. The writing team behind the stage version of Mary Poppins re-united to update this classic British musical concentrating on Arthur Kipps.

Arthur is an orphan, an over-worked draper’s assistant at Shalford’s Bazaar, Folkestone, at the turn of the last century. Along with his fellow apprentices, he dreams of a better and more fulfilling world, but he likes his fun just like any other. When Kipps unexpectedly inherits a fortune that propels him into high society, it confuses everything he thought he knew about life.

Watching him wrestle with his new identity is his childhood companion and his best girl friend, Ann Pornick, who sees how Arthur is being made over in a new image by the classy Helen Walsingham. She is always there with helpful hints on how Arthur could improve himself and make his life richer and more meaningful, if only he would believe in himself, and listen to her. Both of these young women love Arthur – there is no doubt about that – but which should he listen to? With the help of his friends, Arthur learns that if you want to have the chance of living the right life, you need to make the right choices.

This new version of "Half A Sixpence", which returns to the H. G. Wells semi-autobiographical novel, “Kipps”, in order to reinvent the musical “Half a Sixpence” for the modern age, reunites book-writer Julian Fellowes, who everyone knows for writing "Downton Abbey", with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the musical team that co-creator Cameron Mackintosh put together to create the updated stage adaptation of Mary Poppins with Disney. Julian Fellowes returns the musical to its literary roots, in a timeless and contemporary way, and Stiles and Drewe’s infectious new score blends well the original score.

Joel Dawson, who I remember from his portrayal of The Mayor in "The Wizard Of Oz" for EMUS Youth Group, plays Kipps, and he is becoming the talented all rounder that I knew that he would be. He sings, he dances, he acts and he can maintain a reputable cockney accent as well. I, for one, can't wait to see what he does, not only next, but in a few years time when hopefully he will move up and out of the Youth Group. A faultless and very enjoyable performance.

James O Boyle plays Sid Pornick, and like Joel and all of this Youth Group, he is a talent to be reckoned with, with a brilliant personality on, and I imagine off stage. I can't wait to see James in a leading role as I know he will be a very competent leading male role.

Sky Stacey plays Ann Pornick, Sid's sister and Arthur's childhood friend. Sky really makes you feel sorry for the character and you can feel her anger and frustration about his choice of wife. Like Joel, she also kept the accent up all the way through.

Katie Chamberlain plays the other corner of the love triangle, Helen Walsingham. There are no bad apples in this large cast and everyone works so well as a team. Katie plays a very convincing upper-class beau for Arthur, and her accent could have been over the top toff, but it wasn't and I liked that.

Eleanor Cooper was Mrs Walsingham, and Eleanor really steals the scene in Act two when the revelation about James Walsingham, played by Bethan Moore, comes about and Mrs Walsingham's headache. Subtle comedy performed brilliantly subtle.

Chitterlow is played by Rosey Malins and what a performance Rosey put in tonight. A wonderful character and a brilliant portrayal of that character, she really put the "joy" into the "Joy Of The Theatre", one of my favourite new tracks from the soundtrack.

This is a large cast but I really wanted to mention a couple of the young actors especially. For me there is always one person that you notice, and you can't seem to un-notice because of their stage presence. In "Kipps" it was Ellis Moore, who played among other parts Mr Maxwell. His confidence, cheekiness and the look of enjoyment on his face when in ensemble pieces was just lovely to see. You could tell he was enjoying being part of this cast and being on stage. May you never lose that confidence and cheekiness because they will take you far young man.

Another young actor who I've spotted in other productions was Harry O Boyle. In this show he played the Photographer in the "Flash, Bang, Wallop" section, among other ensemble parts. Again, he shows his enjoyment for what he does and he delivers a wonderful and natural performance in whatever role he plays.

I said it was a large cast so let's tell you who they were....

Grace Sims (Aunt Susan), Lowri Moore (Uncle Bert), Evan Hagan (Mr Shalford), Angel Coles (Carshot), Livvi Hickling (Pierce), Carys Moore (Buggins), Amy Dawson (Flo), Izzy Cole (Lady Pinnet), Seth Gorham (Hayes), Lacy Swinburne (Miss Ross), Eloise Chamberlain (Foster), Katie Fitzpatrick (Lady Dacre), Sophie Forman (Mrs Bindo-Botting), Eloise Ludlow (Mary), Martha Smart and Yasmin Aldous (Ensemble). All deserving of a mention.

Directed by Richard Dawson, who I overheard saying beforehand that there was nothing now he could do. Quite right because he has done all the hard work and, like a parent whose child is leaving home, can now only watch that child hopefully blossom on their own. Well, Richard, if this was your child, I think they will do just fine. A brilliant show and a wonderfully talented cast who obviously listened to everything that you had taught them and gave everything that you asked of them.

Choreographed by Hayden Fletcher and Abigail Lagou; it's such a big show choreographically that it needs two talented choreographers. A massive amount of work has gone into these routines and I especially loved the big numbers. "If The Rain's Gotta Fall", "Pick Out A Simple Tune" which has Hollywood style choreography written all over it, and of course "Flash, Bang Wallop".

Musical Director is Martin Lewis. Knowing this, I knew straight away that there'd be no worries at all in the music department, especially with an eleven-piece band, who sounded great.

Sound Design by Dave Dallard and Jack Clark. Just a few missed mic cues but I also felt that if the volume of the band were turned down just a smidge, that would have been better in some parts. A couple of people have said to me that I am always hard on the sound people, but I know that they strive for perfect sound, and I know that opening nights are where they get the feel of how the sound sounds like with a full audience in; believe me there is a difference between tech run throughs and a full audience sound, and I appreciate that opening nights are where the sound people tweak, so I do apologise if anyone feels I am critical of the sound people. Where would we be without them?

Lighting Design is by Richard Chamberlain, and apart from one scene where Arthur was in the shadows and Ann was lit, all was hunky dory.

The wardrobe for this musical was marvellous and very colourful, and I loved it.

The set saw several scenes which were changed efficiently and unobtrusively with a video backdrop that placed us at the scene in question, and in parts added to the glamour, especially when it came to the Walsingham House and the scene of The Grand Hotel.

A large cast has to be staged managed to the second and so I applaud Stage manager Mark Robbins and the rest of the stage crew for a tight job.

My only other thing I just thought I'd add was that there was one scene, in Act Two, with a choreographed number that may have been better moved more stage central as Arthur and co almost disappeared stage right while there was plenty of stage spare on stage left. I'm sorry I can't remember the song or scene as I was enjoying it so much. Just a thought.

A talented young cast with real talent, and a brilliant soundtrack, "Half A Sixpence", "She's Too Far Above Me", "The Joy Of The Theatre", "If the Rain's Gotta Fall", "Pick Out A Simple Tune", "In the Middle There's Me" and of course "Flash, Bang, Wallop". Brilliant choreography and some excellent character acting; it may cost just a bit more than half a sixpence, but it's well worth it and you get more than your money's worth at two hours and forty minutes of class entertainment, including the interval.


Billionaire Boy

Theatre Royal Nottingham

7th July 2022

Joe Spud, is the richest 12 year old boy in the UK. His Dad, Len, made his fortune inventing ‘bum fresh’ the only toilet paper with both a dry and a wet side. Joe is a real ‘billionaire boy’ for whom money is no object. It seems that Joe has everything he could possibly want – fast cars, exotic pets and more money than he could possibly ever spend! However, Joe is desperately seeking the one thing that money can’t buy – a real friend. Somebody that just likes him for who he is and not for his money.

This heart-warming caper by David Walliams takes the audience through Joe’s journey from leaving his ‘posh’ school full of princes and lords, to joining the local comprehensive in an attempt to be more normal. Joe does a pretty good job to start with at hiding the fact he is a billionaire, until his Dad turns up to school in a helicopter! Joes is then once again left searching for the illusive friend that he so badly wants.

The whole cast work relentlessly throughout the show. A number of them play multiple roles, but they switch between them seamlessly and each character is distinctive from the last. Matthew Gordon plays Billionaire Boy Joe Spud. He is instantly likeable and gives a strong performance as 12 year old Joe. His angst and longing for a friend is almost tangible.

Matthew Mellaieu plays Dad and he expertly portrays the ‘bum fresh’ billionaire king. He also plays other roles including one half of the Grubb twins (who relentless bully poor Bob!)

Tuhin Chisti plays Raj. It was so nice to see Raj again and his not so special offers (buy ten get one free anyone?)

Emma Matthews plays Mrs Trafe. She gives a comedic performance as the dinner lady from hell, offering Joe a plethora of revolting dinners each day.

Jake Lomas plays the amiable Bob. It was a joy to watch his interaction with Joe and to see their relationship develop throughout the show.

Matthew Chase plays the charming Jayden. He gives a skilled physical performance demonstrating some impressive kung-fu moves!

Rosie Coles plays Sapphire, Dads much younger love interest. She also plays a number of additional roles, including the other half of the Grubb twins. Her mannerisms are flawless for each character.

Amy Hargreaves and Anthony Sahota give strong performances in the ensemble.

The set is impressive and amusingly toilet rolls feature heavily in the staging. The songs in the production are witty and catchy, very much in keeping with David Walliams’ style. The jokes are funny and resonate with both children and adults. The toilet humour in particular was a great hit (with all ages!).

The show finished with a raucous applause from the audience followed by a fabulous musical encore from the cast.


Madagascar Jr 

Leos Youth

June 30th Duchess Theatre

What is life like for animals in the zoo? Do they ever dream of escape? Well, in LEOs Youth’s production of Madagascar Jr that’s what a bunch of fabulous creatures do. The stage show is based on the 2005 DreamWorks animated film.

The story starts in New York's Central Park Zoo, where Marty the bored Zebra, aided and abetted by a group of not to be trusted penguins, talks his fellow inmates into escaping to the outside world. Once the decision to go is made all kinds of strange things happen, including stealing a ship and steering it to the exotic African island of Madagascar. There they meet King Julien and his very strange bunch of hangers-on. Things don’t always go well all the time in this musical, but it all works out fine in the end.

As always with LEOs youth, this production features a cast full of young and talented performers. There are outstanding performances from Jude Yellop as Alex the Lion, Grace Collishaw as Marty the Zebra, Lottie Ludlow as Giraffe, Roisin Parker as Hippo, Jake Lightbown as lemur King Julien and Findlay Parker as his sidekick Maurice.

Other members of the colourful and very hard-working cast are the fabulous Penguins played by Kate Whitaker, Nefeli Fryganioti, Flori Tasker and Holly Brooks. They were great fun as well as being somewhat unreliable and slightly naughty.

The rest of the cast play multiple roles and were superb. There are a lot of them, but they all deserve a mention for their excellent work. They are Emma Lowe, Charlotte Case, Darcy Boyd, Grace Agius, Quillen Parker, Joe Stewart, Chloe Brooks, Bella Syson, Elizabeth Rippin, Abraham Collishaw, Holly Chambers, Niamh Lee, Phoebe Mellor, Jessica Peel, Evie Radmore, Max Fuller, Naomi Thomas, Tom Lightbrown, Lucy Coulson-Jones, Frazer Brown, Ella Charlesworth, and Ivan Hager.

This production is packed with fabulous dance routines and foot-thumping tunes and is an uncomplicated and breezy musical adventure for all the family. The choreography by Siobhan Parker and Molly Parkinson is stunning, both in its conception and execution.

The production team led by Siobhan Parker ensure that there is plenty for everyone to do and the action moves at a fast pace. Musically, this show is great to listen to and is beautifully performed. The MD Sam Griffiths has obviously worked very hard with the cast and the result is first class. I particularly enjoyed the cast songs “It’s Showtime,” “Relax be Cool” and “I Like to Move it”.

The lighting by Dave Martin and sound by Dave Dallard were faultless, as were the superb back projections which added colour, effects, and context to the story. Well done to stage manager Katie Bird and her team, as well.

The costumes and the set are vibrant and great to look at. Producing a show with so many dressed as animals cannot be easy, but this group has risen to the challenge and proved how well it can be done.

This production is a wonderful example of a cast and production team that are totally “together.” This was particularly true during the large whole cast routines which were fab-u-lous! The final song “Together Forever” was just so descriptive of this great production.

So, the curtain fell at the end after a great finale, and we all returned to Long Eaton after a fabulous journey with this outstanding Youth Group. The audience gave the cast a very well deserved and sustained ovation.


Bad Girls- The Musical


Palace Theatre,

MansfieldJune 29th 2022

This is a real humdinger of a show that packs so many punches I left the theatre pleasantly reeling. It begins with a surprise, one that made me sit up in my seat and wonder what was happening and I stayed sitting up, captivated, throughout. It’s a vibrant, raucous and thought provoking production that has everything: a hugely talented cast, great songs, fabulous choreography and imaginative direction.

The action takes place in Larkhill prison where scared new inmate Rachel is humiliated on her arrival by the brisk and world weary officer, Sylvia ‘BodyBag’ Hollamby. Reema Frost gives a touching vulnerability to the troubled teenager, contrasted with Adela Green’s grim but thoroughly entertaining prison officer. Throughout, this is a show with light and shade: it could be relentlessly dark, dealing with such serious issues, but it has spirit, camaraderie and tenderness and is often very funny.

The rousing ‘I Shouldn’t Be Here’ is the first of many set routines which introduce us to the other inmates and, in this case, give us a taste of what these excellent performers can do. Each actor simply lives their part, they glower, they swagger, they grimace and, if I glanced at any throughout the show, they never lost their characterisations. First class acting.

Glowering, swaggering, grimacing certainly sums up the wonderful Alice Lindley, who plays Shell Dockley with such intensity she’s quite frightening. Aided and abetted by the more vulnerable but equally menacing Denny -Charlotte Bond - they hold sway over the other prisoners, due to their privileged position, earned by doing favours for Jim Fenner, the corrupt prison officer.

There’s a lot of overt sexuality in this show and the director and performers haven’t shied away from any of it, embracing the earthiness and raunchiness as part of the lives of the characters. It’s used to great comic effect in the songs ‘All Banged Up’, in which the women bewail their enforced celibacy and in the wonderful ‘First Lady’, where Jim Fenner gets his uncomfortable comeuppance.

Stephen Mura plays Jim Fenner and his understated evil is very effective. He’s almost genial at times, yet with a deeply unpleasant undertone as he schemes to usurp the enlightened prison Governor, Helen Stewart. Stephen has a lovely voice and his performance of the fantasy song The Future is Bright is excellent.

Marie Madej plays the prison Governor with a gentle authority and complete integrity, showing her growing unease at her developing feelings. Her beautiful duet ‘Every Night’ with Ella Greenwood - who plays convicted killer Nikki in a way that makes her so convincingly sympathetic - is a vocal highlight.

Comic highlights come thick and fast and none more so than when Yvonne, a gangster’s wife swaggers into the prison, complete with miniature bottles of alcohol for the inmates. What an entrance and what a part for Yvonne Taylor, who makes the absolute most of it. Great wig, great costume and great timing; her song ‘A-list’ is a real winner.

More comedy with some touches of pathos from the two Julies, played beautifully by Kelly Benniston and Sinead Parkin, a great pairing and again great vocals. Great vocals are to be found in abundance in this production, there are some spine tingling moments in the solos and moments of great joy in the duets and ensemble numbers. Two particular favourites of mine were the emotional ‘Sorry’ from Kelly Beniston and the poignant Freedom Road, sung by Amy Wicks, who plays Crystal.

There are three baddies in charge at Larkhill, Fenner, BodyBags and the authoritative No 1, who is played with conviction by Steve Dunning. They are balanced, not just by Helen the Governor, but by the principled and compassionate Justin Mattisson, played by Lucas Young. Lucas plays the part with just the right amount of gentleness and as usual, it’s great to see them dance and have fun in a couple of the numbers.

The ensemble are completed by Lauren Victoria Wells, Laura Taylor, Emily Coxhead, Cassie Barrett, Charmian McBirnie, Sabine Lakin and Kate Viles; lovely chorus work and that great attention to character detail.

I was so impressed with all the highly polished dance routines, visual spectacles that each help to tell the story. A highlight is The Future is Bright a fantasy sequence that sees the inmates elevated to showgirl status, demonstrating some fabulous tap dancing. An enormous amount of rehearsal must have gone into perfecting these routines, complete with cumbersome props in some cases, and I congratulate the choreographer – Kristian Cunningham - for this extremely high standard.

Many congratulations also to the director, Alysha Gomes, for the relentless, exciting pace -and some imaginative decisions that leave the audience to use our own imaginations to create time and place. Simply changing position on stage takes us to another part of the prison, disembodied voices take us convincingly to the ‘banged up’ prisoners alone in their cells. The set is suitably stark and imposing with some quick prop changes that seamlessly create new scenes.

The sound was spot on – always a relief -and it was a pleasure to see Tom Bond & the band behind the scenes playing the excellent accompaniment.

This production is a swansong for RAMTC and honestly, it could not be a better one. They have left a shining legacy behind and gone out in a blaze of glory. Well done.


"The 39 Steps - A Radio Play"

Riverside Drama Company

Duchess Theatre,

Long Eaton

June 24th 2022

Well, this was a first for me – watching a live performance of a radio play. I had an image before I went of smartly dressed actors standing around a large microphone, scripts in hand, something like those photos I’ve seen of BBC radio comedies from the Fifties and Sixties. Would it work? Would seeing the actors reading their scripts make imagining what is happening - one of the great pleasures of radio drama – too difficult?

I needn’t have worried, in the talented hands of this theatre company, plus a very entertaining and well written concept, this production is a winner. My imagination certainly got a workout, as I was taken, not only into the world of the play, but into the NBC theatre in Los Angeles in 1942, where it is being performed. Thanks to the excellent hosting of Mike Roe-Fone (Jonathan Graeves) the audience was whipped up into a frenzy of anticipation and instructed exactly how to behave during the live transmission of The 39 Steps. With his immaculate American accent and quickfire patter, plus I suspect a bit of ad-libbing, Mike was a big hit from the start. The cheerfully enthusiastic Coco Nutts (Moya Magee) is on Sound Effects – everything needed to create chiming clocks, banging doors and galloping horses.

The radio drama is sponsored by Lux soap and there are several delightful intermissions for advertising – mini plays in themselves. Who knew that Lux soap, as well as creating skin that pleases boyfriends, could prevent runs in stockings? Well done to the Lux teams: Gail Roy, Sam Badman, Amy Cannon, Donna Osmond, Jenni Wright & Bob Baron; perfect accents and suitably twee characterisations.

So to the play – it’s a potted version of Hitchcock's interpretation of Buchan’s thriller, which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Richard Hannay is visiting 1930s London when he meets Annabella Smith, who is on the run from foreign agents, after a disturbance at a music hall. Later that night, Annabella is murdered and Hannay must then try to break the spy ring and prove his innocence. During an epic train chase, followed by a fraught hike in the Highlands, Hannay has his work cut out for him, as he searches for the truth about the 39 Steps.

The cast are all authentically dressed, down to details such as drawn on seams on the back of legs and some natty Victory rolls. Most impressive are the accents: the beautifully rounded vowels, precise delivery and cut glass RP of Richard Hannay (Dan Bates) and Pamela Stuart (Lizzie Norris), the guttural East European of Annabella ‘Smeath’ (Liz Turner) some lively Cockney, and the broad Scottish of the crofters and police in the Highlands. It’s worth listening carefully to the pitch perfect script, as it has to modern ears, some toe curling phrases – such as Hannay describing Stuart as ‘a button-headed little idiot’- as well as some cheeky wordplay.

The actors have great fun with it all, camping it up slightly, but never descending into farce, so allowing us to enjoy the story that is being told, as well as watching the radio play being performed. I must admit to closing my eyes at times to concentrate on the story, but still enjoyed being brought back into the radio theatre, to clap, murmur or boo and even to join in with the cast singing some well known songs from the period. There’s surreal fun after the interval when the Duchess Theatre raffle becomes one at the NBC theatre, complete with some special wartime prizes.

The addition of illuminated ‘On Air’ and ‘Applause’ signs make the simple black set very effective and the skill of ‘Dave’, NBC’s Sound and Light man (Dave Martin), adds evocative background noise and atmosphere.

This is an ensemble piece and all the cast, completed by John Sully, Dave Wilson & Rob Sully, get a chance to play more than one of the 38 different characters, including farm animals!I really enjoyed it and plan to look out the film, although I know it won’t be half as much fun as sitting in the NBC theatre in Los Angeles, listening to this version.


High School Musical on Stage

The Young Performers

Duchess Theatre

Long EatonJune 16th, 2022

How nice to visit the giddy, dizzy fun filled world of the American High School, nicely peppered with a little bit of angst and a touch of jeopardy. And how nice it was to be accompanied by my granddaughter, who understands this world much better than I do and who shot me a few pitying glances when I showed my age.

East High is taken by storm when Troy, the star captain of the school's basketball team, and Gabriella, a brainy new student, connect through their secret love of performing, sending the whole school into a frenzy. The Young Performers brought this world to life with the catchy songs and exciting dance routines, while dealing sensitively with issues of relationships, friendship, first love, and acceptance.

There are solid performances from Louis Dexter as the popular Troy and Ella Charlesworth as the shy but loving Gabriella, whose blossoming relationship - and the possible consequences of it - were well performed. Their solos and duets were a pleasure to listen to and by the Finale they were very comfortably “together.” This progression from an uneasy relationship to establishing not only how they felt about each other, but also with their friends, was clear in their performances.

Playing the two “baddies” are Emilia Buxton as Sharpay Evans and Finn Boswell as her brother, Ryan Evans. They work very well together and the beautifully observed comedy between them is a joy to watch. The nastiness of Sharpay and the semi loyalty of Ryan is well portrayed. Versatile actors, who I am sure will be in many more productions.

In solid support of the principal actors are Joe Steward (Zeke), Lewis McDowell (Chad), Polly Snape (Martha) and Neve Saxton (Taylor).

I was particularly impressed by the dance routines which are dynamic, exciting and well performed. The choreography by Erin Hill is great and the cast, both principals and the very hard working ensemble, obviously enjoy performing it. There is a large cast in this production and the creative director, Vicky Byrne along with Erin, have ensured that they all use the stage well. There are too many of them to mention by my name - playing Thespians, Jocks, Braniacs, Skaterdudes, Cheerleaders or Adults - but suffice it to say they all worked hard and sang and danced with enthusiasm and skill.

I must mention a few scenes in which the cast were involved with basketballs. These were brilliant and I didn’t see one go astray, even while the “Jocks” were singing and dancing at the same time. This was very impressive indeed and showed how much work has gone into the excellent routines involving all the cast.

I enjoyed the performances of Drew Boswell as coach Bolton and Scarlet Hutchings as Ms Darbus. Both played these two adult roles with utter conviction. One other actor who was very well received by the audience was Freddie Cutts, as the DJ Jack Scott. He popped up many times and cheekily introduced several of the scenes, to everyone’s delight.

The young performers obviously enjoy being on stage and all look very comfortable in their respective roles - this certainly helps to make this a good show to watch. They all perform with gusto throughout and the show ends with a great mega mix, which led to a well deserved ovation tonight. This was very well devised and involved considerable movement on and off the stage, not easy to do. A standing ovation may have followed, but the curtain closed a little too quickly for that to happen. Had the cast appeared again together for a further curtain call or two, I for one would have been on my feet along with many others. Well done to all concerned.

The band conducted by MD George Parkinson and located in the side room, sounded very good and accompanied the cast sympathetically, although there were a few times when it was a little loud for the performers to be heard clearly. I am sure that will be addressed in the remaining performances. I have to say that I still prefer to see the band in the theatre, as I think this can help the performers, giving a better connection and sound. The staging was very effective as were the lights directed by Dave Martin. The sound was controlled by Dave Dallard. This is a very colourful show which is pleasing to the eye – partly due to the excellent set, which was designed and built by Roydon Charlesworth, who stage managed as well.

The show continues here at the Duchess until Saturday evening (there is also a matinee) and is well worth coming to see.

Well done to all concerned. I thoroughly enjoyed this evening at the Duchess and look forward to the next production from this enthusiastic and hard working group, who so obviously enjoy every minute of what they do.


The Cher Show

National Tour

Nottingham Theatre Royal

June 7th, 2022

From a young child with big dreams, to the heights of global stardom, The Cher Show tells the story of Cher’s meteoric rise to fame. It includes 35 of her biggest hits, including ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, ‘I Got You Babe’, ‘Strong Enough’ and ‘Believe’. Rick Elice’s book shows how this musical icon battled the men who underestimated her, fought convention and, above all, was a trailblazer for independence.

The wonderful ‘If I could turn back time’ accompanies Cher doing just that, taking us on a vibrant and exciting tour of her life, from her early days up to more recent times. It’s imaginatively directed by Arlene Philips, packed with fabulous singing and dancing from a large, very talented ensemble and the story telling is always thoroughly engaging.

It romps along at speed through the years, the main events of her life told not just through the songs, but in vivid vignettes, peopled with those who had the most effect on her. Sonny Bono, very convincingly played by Lucas Rush, is shown to be a brilliant showbiz entrepreneur who launched both their careers, and the later breakdown of their relationship is sensitively portrayed. The versatile Sam Ferriday gives wonderfully nuanced performances as two of Cher’s other partners, Greg Allman and Rob Camiletti, as well as her stepfather and her first music producer, Phil Spector. There are only two other main roles: Georgia (Tori Scott), Cher’s supportive and amusing mother and Bob Mackie (Jake Mitchell), her flamboyant costume designer. The ensemble, as well as performing the highly energetic and detailed dance routines (choreographed splendidly by Oti Mabuse), do a great job portraying many incidental characters.

The device of having three Chers, representing her at various stages of her life, yet interacting with one another, is a clever way of showing us the development of different aspects of her character, from the shy but determined ‘Babe’, through the battered but triumphant ‘Lady’ to the Goddess of Pop, ‘Star’. It’s amusing to see Cher not just be informed by her earlier life, but give advice to her younger self, too.

It's worth going just to hear these three Chers belt out her hits and some lesser known songs, all of them giving fabulous performances and nailing Cher’s distinctive vocal style. Jasmine Jules Andrews is making her professional debut in the role of Babe at the Theatre Royal, a wonderful chance for her to show what she can do and goodness, does she make the most of it. Danielle Steers is a huge hit with the audience as Lady, a gritty but warmly humorous Cher, with a sublime voice. Debbie Kurup as Star is the glittering Cher we recognise now, owning the stage, particularly in the gloriously uplifting finale which had the audience up on our feet, singing and dancing.

The set is a cleverly detailed recreation of backstage and the numerous scenes are created with very few props. A lot is left to our imaginations but this is such evocative stuff, we easily hurtle through the years. We travel from Los Angeles to London, from Top of the Pops to Las Vegas; we witness triumphs, disasters and many comebacks, from empty theatres to packed stadiums, from infomercials to Golden Globe winning films.

This glittering production (and it does glitter, all look amazing in Gabriella Slade’s dazzling costumes) is more than a juke box musical, it’s a homage to a global superstar that is full of heart and humour and incidentally, wonderful music.


Agatha Christie’s ‘A Murder is Announced’

Middle Ground Theatre Company

Directed and Designed by Michael Lunney

Theatre Royal Nottingham

May 31st 2022

Oh, I do love a good Whodunnit and even though I’d seen this play before, I couldn’t remember who did it (there are advantages to being old), so I was intrigued throughout. The usual carefully constructed plot from Agatha Christie keeps us guessing right until the end when the denouement is genuinely surprising. Just when you think all has been revealed…it hasn’t!

The play is adapted by Leslie Darbon from the 1950 novel and has necessarily been stripped back of some characters and plot points, which means that some lengthy exposition is needed to fill in the story. There are times when this can slow the pace, but it’s well worth listening carefully, as the historical and biographical details provide clues which all piece together nicely at the end. Watch out for innocuous particulars such as the character’s names, their mannerisms, the ornaments in the room and even the jewellery: they may be more important than they first seem…

This is a big ensemble, in fact at times the stage seems a bit crowded – we’ve become used to plays like these only having a small cast. It’s a treat to have 12 characters and to watch these skilled actors bring them to life and with excellent projection; no mics here. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Barbara Wishere who plays Letitia Blacklock, the owner of the country house in which the action takes place. A challenging role with some interesting character development.

Some familiar faces in this, actors who are known for their television roles, such as Sarah Thomas (Glenda in Last of the Summer Wine) who plays Miss Marple and Karen Drury (Susannah in Brookside), who plays ‘Bunny’. Both shine, Miss Marple is delightfully prim and on the ball and Bunny delightfully dim and off the wall.

Miss Marple does her usual sleuthing and expert analysis of the available clues, but there’s some clever policing from the engaging Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher) ably assisted by Sergeant Mellors (Jog Maher), which moves the action forward. None of the usual antipathy between the professional policeman and the amateur sleuth which is the usual trope in dramas of this type: Inspector Craddock is glad of Miss Marple’s constructive help.

Miss Blacklock’s house guests become suspects when a murder is committed: the brittle and wryly amused siblings Patrick & Julia (Will Huntington and Lucy Evans) and the uptight Phillipa (Emma Fernell), carefully drawn bright young things who seem to be motive free. The list of suspects increases when the bohemian Edmund Swettenham (Tom Gibbons) and his inquisitive mother (Dot Smith) visit, intrigued by what they have seen in the local paper.

There’s a lot of humour in this play, some gentle and incidental, but much of it from the character of the cook and ‘Mitteleuropa refugee’, Mitzi, played brilliantly by Lydia Piechowiak. Looking like Mrs Overall and as rude as Basil Fawlty, she steals all her scenes.

There’s a real Fifties vibe to both the costumes and the set - a faded, once grand country house with mismatched furniture. I was a bit irritated by the chairs all facing the audience in what seemed like an unlikely arrangement for a living room, but with so many characters speaking it’s probably unavoidable.

The plot relies on coincidence, but this is such tightly written stuff it doesn’t jar; the audience are too busy trying to figure it all out, grateful for the good old fashioned curtain falls at the end of each scene, which give us time to think. At the final curtain there were a few murmurs of self congratulation, but mostly bemused mutterings of ‘I didn’t see that coming’…

It's a great night at the theatre, a traditionally British play that transports you back to the Fifties, keeps you totally absorbed and guessing until the end.


All the Fun of the Fair

Peoples Theatre Company

Nottingham Arts Theatre

May 25th 2022

All the Fun of the Fair was first produced in in 2008 as a national tour, followed by a London run in 2010. The show follows Levi Lee, a recently widowed father with a rebellious teenage son. There is a gypsy future teller who is in love with Levi and tells him there is danger and mysticism in his future. There is also lots of angst concerning the closure of the Wall of Death Ride, all accompanied by many songs made famous by David Essex.

Fans of David Essex will not be disappointed by the songs on offer. Most of Essex's famous hits are incorporated cleverly into the show. 'Winter's Tale', 'Hold Me Close' and 'Silver Dream Machine' to name just a few. Great foot tapping tunes that lift the spirit and bring a warm glow of nostalgia: it’s worth going for this alone!

It was good to see the cast of People’s Theatre back on stage after such a long time, including some old and quite a few new performers. They so obviously enjoy being back and creating a new dynamic with a different team.

The cast is led by confident newcomer Sam Howard as the fairground owner Levi: his powerful singing voice fills the theatre. Playing the part of Jack, his wayward son is another newcomer to PTC, Shantanu Bhumbra, who is loving the role, as the twinkle in his eye shows. His voice is also powerful, with some real resonance of David Essex and some accomplished dancing.

I particularly enjoyed the performance of Pippa Ward as Rosa the fortune teller, who is in love with Levi. She sings beautifully, both in her solos and the duets with Sam. A heartfelt performance combined with some cheeky comedy, enhanced by a lovely Irish lilt.

Dominic Mills plays Jonny, another nuanced performance strong on character; I get the feeling that there’s been a lot of work done in this production by the director and the performers to establish just who these characters are and why they act like they do. Producing a musical isn’t just about great singing and dancing, but also about bringing personality and conviction to the characters: that has been recognised here.

There are other good performances from Daisy Donaghue as a sensitively portrayed Mary, Amy Rogers-Gee as the lovelorn Alice, Emme Gunn as Sally and Lindsey Jaycock as Rita her bubbly buddies, Chris Teasdale as the volatile, but again carefully nuanced Harvey and Adam Firth as the dark and menacing Druid.

There is a hard working ensemble who perform Amy Rogers-Gee’s sparkling choreography well. There is a particularly stunning routine involving small bumper cars which is very precisely arranged.

The staging of the show was well planned, but there were some too slow transitions between a few scenes which slowed things down occasionally last night; I am sure this will be sorted as the week goes on.

The fairground set is colourful and well designed by Alison Russell and Mark Russell and is enhanced by excellent lighting and smoke effects. The lighting designer is Oliver Read and the sound designer Peter Hodgkinson. The costumes are also very varied and strongly evocative of the period in which the action is set.

There is no in-house band for this show which I think is a pity. In my opinion it lacked some of the light and shade that a live band can bring along with good connection with the cast via the conductor. However, the arrangements of these great songs were fresh and uplifting and the Musical Director, David Hails, has obviously worked hard to ensure the singing was of a good standard.

The Director of the show Chris Teasdale also performed, as mentioned above. He and his team have produced a very entertaining show which just needs to flow from scene to scene more quickly. A little more incidental music would have helped too, but I appreciate that with tracks this is not easy.

People’s Theatre have worked very hard to make All the Fun of The Fair enjoyable and very entertaining and it’s great to see them back in their rightful place in Nottingham.


Variety is the Spice of Life

Arcade Players

Duchess Theatre

May 4th 2022

Theatre Online has been treated this week – a fabulous American musical on Tuesday night and a thoroughly entertaining night of home grown British drama on Wednesday. From the Theatre Royal to the cosy comfort of the Duchess Theatre, for the Arcade Players’ ‘Variety is the Spice of Life’: four lovely playlets that dip a toe into different aspects of everyday life and introduce us to some fascinating and amusing characters.

The first short play ‘Mother Figure’ by Alan Ayckbourn is probably the one that got me thinking the most. It’s about Lucy, a woman so beleaguered by the demands of motherhood and the neglect of an absent husband that she completely loses her identity as anything other than a mother. What could easily be a serious drama or even a tragedy is, in Ayckbourn’s hands and those of the three talented actors, a quirky and very enjoyable comedy. It’s skilfully produced by Rob Byatt and is full of visual interest, there’s lots to look at in the convincingly domestic set and the actors make full and naturalistic use of the props. Rachel Ludlam and Phil Deakin as Rosemary and Terry, are thoroughly engaging as Lucy’s neighbours, who experience the full force of her determined mothering and undergo some changes as a result. (Or at least begin to realise that they must stop showing off and do what they’re told!) Rheema Orme-Hawksley is perfect as the obviously troubled yet oblivious mother, blithely unaware of how she appears to others, unconcerned that she hasn’t got dressed for three weeks and aggressively focused on caring for others.

With a cast of 21, this production has given the Arcade players the chance to showcase almost all of their membership; it was a novelty and a pleasure to move from one play to the next, to a different but familiar setting, and new actors.

The second play takes place in a refined sitting room, where the members of ‘The Book Club of Little Witterington’ (by Joan Greening and produced by Margaret Butcher)) are holding their monthly meeting. They are all deliciously recognisable: the harassed and easily flustered host Jenny (Beverley White) , the domineering local snob Belle (Christine Hewitt), the ageing hippie Ruth (Roberta King) and the glamorous ex actress Sarah (Laurie Trott). The characters are carefully drawn by the actors, getting the most out of the witty writing and the discomfort that ensues when a new member joins their group. Alex Chalk plays Paul, the dramatic catylyst who shakes them all up and challenges their pretensions. Alex has lifted this uncompromising character off the page and made it his own; a wonderfully comic creation who has you slightly squirming as well as laughing.

The first play after the interval was possibly my favourite: ‘Talk in the Park’ by Alan Ayckbourn, produced by Rob Byatt. This is a cleverly constructed piece which gives the five actors an opportunity to deliver a dramatic monologue each, and the audience a chance to eavesdrop into the lives of strangers. No easy task to hold the stage with very little input from other actors, to remember a large chunk of text, while creating a recognisable character. All five did this admirably, word perfect, flawless diction and so believable as the lonely, bored, or troubled people they created. Many congratulations to Grace Deakin (Beryl), Alister Langton (Earnest), Nick Hallam (Charles), Ellen Horton (Doreen) and Keith Butcher (Arthur).

The final play had us speculating in the interval whether we would have seen it all before – it’s a bit of a comic trope a slimming club (think Little Britain, Victoria Wood etc;) – but ‘Slim Chance’ by Peter Gordon has some well drawn and original characters that keep it lively and amusing. Each character gets the chance to shine, from the world weary Jean (Sheila Poyser), trying to understand why her club members gain rather than lose weight, to the various members who all have their reasons for being there – and for not trying very hard. Delightful and engaging character portrayals from Miriam Deakin as Betty, Caroline Byatt as Irene, Hannah Draper as Ann and Hayley Wood as Debbie. The latecomers Marjorie (Jeanette Speak) and Edna (Sheila Patching) are an hilarious, totally natural double act, much appreciated by the audience. In contrast, the brittle nervousness of new member Louisa (Margaret Butcher) brings a note of seriousness which becomes the catalyst for an amusing and satisfying resolution of everyone’s problems. An excellent production by Beverley White and Hannah Draper.

This was a great evening’s entertainment - much better than watching TV! - and so satisfying to see amusing contemporary drama so well produced on our local stage. ‘Variety is the Spice of Life’ continues at the Duchess Theatre until Saturday May 7th, tickets are available from the website.


Shrek, The Musical

Carlton Operatic Society

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

May 3rd, 2022

I must admit to having a sneaky appreciation of fantasy and fairy tales, in my opinion they’re certainly not just for children. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of escapism and the chance to enter a magical world where anything is possible (including talking donkeys) and good always triumphs over evil? Shrek has all this and more: loads of cleverly worded adult humour, knockabout japes for the kids, wonderfully colourful characters and big song and dance numbers that have a magic all of their own. But it takes a hugely talented cast, plus expert direction, musical prowess and imaginative choreography to pull it off, and Carlton Operatic have all that in bucketloads. It’s no exaggeration to say that this production is of professional quality – it is honestly that good. It’s a huge spectacle from start to finish and an absolute joy to watch.

Visually it is stunning – there has been no expense spared to recreate the fairy story setting, the costumes are sumptuous and the props gloriously effective. The crowd of fairy tale folk that people the stage are beautifully realised: including the Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears, Gingerbread Man, Peter Pan and Pinocchio - who is so engagingly played by Bara Erhayiem. Like all the members of this cast he has great physical characterisation and vocal delivery, it can’t be easy to maintain a puppety falsetto voice in an American accent, while operating a long nose, but he absolutely nails it.

None of these characters are easy to play, some requiring prosthetics and heavy make-up and in the case of Lord Farquaard, played by Graham Ward, it’s brought him to his knees… A fabulous villain who owns the stage, managing the challenging physical delivery of the character with ease and relishing the pantomime evil and some delightful one liners, a great characterisation.

The other leads are all fabulous and were so appreciated by the audience tonight, many of them children, who were obviously familiar with the story and had high expectations, which I can confidently say were more than met. The delightful wise cracking Donkey, played by Mark Coffey-Bainbridge was a huge favourite – I heard a child behind me say, towards the end of the show, ‘He’s wonderful’ and I completely agree. A highly energetic performance, with slick rapid fire vocal delivery and simply very fine acting, make the character irresistible and thoroughly engaging. Like all the lines and song lyrics, adults need to listen very carefully, so they don’t miss the wonderful word play and double entendres that litter this libretto. That’s not to say they won’t enjoy the physical fun and some hilarious toilet humour - that will appeal to many of all ages.

Shrek is a big character in all senses of the word, an uncompromising ogre, who wants to be left in peace in his swamp, away from the disapproval of the world. Chris Wilson gives such a powerful performance, keeping the hard edge of the character while making the most of the wonderfully dry lines he is given and getting every bit of emotion out of the songs. He has a lovely voice, and a vocal highlight is the hilarious yet moving ‘When Words Fail’, which is beautifully delivered.

It's a pleasure to see Princess Fiona as she grows up, bemoaning her fate stuck in a tower guarded by a dragon, for thousands of days, with only books for company. The charming ‘I Know It’s Today’, sung by her along with her younger selves (performed so well by Isabelle Griffin and Emily Holder) is charming. Less charming is the wonderfully feisty adult Fiona, played with enormous gusto and fun by Charlotte Barrington. She knows her own mind and might want a fairy-tale ending, but isn’t prepared to be ladylike along the way. Charlotte has the physical demeanour of this character exactly right and has a fantastic voice with a lovely tone: all her solos are a joy. There’s tremendous chemistry between Shrek, Fiona and Donkey, they’re having a ball on the stage; it’s infectious, it’s compelling and it’s great entertainment.

The whole cast song and dance numbers are spectacular with some fabulous choreography, shades of Busby Berkeley even, and some accomplished tap dancing. There are too many lovely cameos to mention them all, but there is some very clever prop work and some impressive vocal pieces - which show off the broad range of talent in this company. The skilful puppetry with the dragon provides a stunning visual highlight which is made even better by the astonishing vocals by Ella Greenwood - can this dragon sing!

Huge congratulations to the Director, Amanda Hall whose renowned pantomime work and other illustrious projects in the past must have informed this production and helped to give it such a glittering edge. Assistant director is Cassie Hall, choreography is by Abby Wells, the Musical Director is Chris Rees, Stage Management by Vicky Johnson and Nigel Newton, Lighting by Tom Mowat and Sound by Rob Kettridge. A great team effort!

This is a lavish piece with an enormously talented cast and the highest of production values, that is doing the Theatre Royal proud. I urge you to go and see it, if you love theatre, are uplifted by fabulous acting, singing and dancing, or simply want a fun night out with the family; this has it all.


Wuthering Heights

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

April 26th, 2022

This is a new production adapted and directed by Emma Rice and is a co-production with the National Theatre, Bristol Old Vic and York Theatre Royal. Emma is Artistic Director of her company, Wise Children.

Rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights. He finds a kindred spirit in Catherine Earnshaw and a fierce love ignites. When forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.

I am not familiar with the book by Emily Bronte or any previous stage productions, so it was an interesting experience for me. The play is a passionate and powerful production with a very talented and hardworking cast. The acting is excellent throughout and is combined with a great musical score by Ian Ross. There is also a very good three-piece band which was just right, plus some additional instrumentation from members of the cast. There are quite a few songs that are from a variety of musical genres and there is some quirky puppetry. This adaptation of the classic is certainly as described in the pre-show literature “a powerful and uniquely theatrical experience.”

The cast, including Liam Tamne as Heathcliff, Lucy McCormick as Cathy, Sam Archer as Lockwood and Edgar Linton are incredibly good, but I particularly enjoyed the performances of Katy Owen as Isabella Linton, whose physical comedy was fabulous, and Craig Johnson as Dr Kenneth - his monologue about not being able to prevent death is classic. The rest of the cast play many parts and are particularly good in the dancing, which is so well choreographed by Etta Murfitt.

The set is relatively simple and uses the whole open stage with a large and effective black and white projection at the back, which is often used to add darkness to the already bleak events on the stage. The lighting, sound and set adds to the dramatic and threatening nature of the play.

Wuthering Heights ended with a standing ovation showing that the production was appreciated by so many in the audience.

For me, although I enjoyed the individual performances and the music and dancing, the play seems overlong and it was hard to maintain concentration in some parts. Act 1 is 90 minutes and at times rather slow; Act 2 is an hour and does move faster as the plot becomes more intense.

I think I might read the book now to see how I really feel about this production which is well worth seeing for its theatricality and stage craft.


Private Lives

Theatre Royal Nottingham

April 19th 2022

The Nigel Havers Theatre Company

What a pleasure it was to be transported back to the 1930s and the mannered comedy, cutting wit and perfect diction of Nöel Coward. But it’s always a pleasure for me to see a good old fashioned three act play, particularly one as good as this, with such an illustrious past. The first production in 1930, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, starred Nöel Coward himself, alongside Gertrude Lawrence with Adrianne Allen and Laurence Olivier. Over the years it has featured many stars of the theatre including Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton in 1983, Alan Rickman & Lindsay Duncan in 2001 and Matthew Macfadyen & Kim Cattrall in 2010.

It's not hard to see why actors must relish playing Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne, a divorced couple who, while honeymooning with their new spouses, discover that they are staying in adjacent rooms at the same hotel in Normandy. Despite always bringing out the worst in each other, they realise that they are still strongly attracted. The play makes the most of the ensuing action, with delightfully crisp interplay between the four characters and Coward’s trademark sparkling repartee.

Nigel Havers almost seems like a natural choice as Elyot, used as we are to seeing him play the quintessential suave English gent, often with a hint of caddishness. In this part he is more than a hint of the cad, he’s an out and out bounder, delivering the wonderful barbs in the writing with the force they deserve. He has a twinkle in his eye throughout though, perfectly expressing Elyot’s trenchant wit and frequent bursts of passion, both verbally and physically.

Patricia Hodge, like Nigel Havers, has the excellent diction so resonant of Nöel Coward; both actors are an absolute pleasure to listen to and every word is perfectly clear. She is a poised but feisty Amanda, a full equal to Elyot and just as inclined to lose her temper. The verbal volleys between them are delivered at a rapid rate, yet not one of the superbly crafted lines is dropped. At other times there are silent truces, held immaculately by the actors and punctuated delightfully by some familiar Nöel Coward tunes. Honestly, it’s not to be missed.

The roles of the spouses, Sybil and Victor, were seen as slight by Coward to begin with, but he later insisted that they must be credible new partners for the lead characters. Natalie Walter, who plays Sybil starts off as an earnest, but rather soppy ingénue, expressed beautifully through a wonderfully plummy accent, reminiscent of the Mitford girls. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, is the equally earnest Victor: a highly principled but rather pompous prig who, like Sybil, gradually finds some mettle. Along the way both actors also find the fun in their characters, making them thoroughly entertaining and perfect foils for their partners.

The sets are evocative of the Thirties, from a sun bleached, sea front hotel, complete with canopied balconies, to a sumptuous Art Deco Parisian apartment. The splendid incidental music takes us back in time and the sound effects give a strong sense of place. Clever direction ensures that interest is maintained in the second act, where the pace of the action slows, but both the verbal and physical comedy more than compensate. A final, beautifully mannered breakfast scene is a fitting conclusion to what has rightly been billed as a ‘gloriously entertaining’ play.

Private Lives caused a bit of a stir when it was first produced, owing to a bit of sauciness in the second act - between a divorced couple at that - and the play was threatened with censorship from the Lord Chamberlain. Nöel Coward himself managed to convince the esteemed Lord that it was all in good taste and the threat was averted. The critics were happy but rather derisive, they described it variously as 'tenuous, thin, brittle, gossamer, iridescent, and delightfully daring'. As Coward himself observed this “connoted in the public mind cocktails, repartee and irreverent allusions to copulation, thereby causing a gratifying number of respectable people to queue up at the box office."

Well, many are still queueing at the Box Office (albeit virtually now, probably); how wonderful for a play that is 92 years old! Good writing never goes out of fashion though and when it’s acted and produced as radiantly as this, it’s no surprise at all.


Blood Brothers
April 19th 2022
Derby Theatre
National Tour
I first saw Blood Brothers some time ago and enjoyed it, but I must say that over the years, after seeing it several times, it’s grown on me to become a firm favourite. It’s an emotionally gripping and tragic tale, but one that is also full of humanity and humour. No wonder it won an Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1983 and many other awards since.
Willy Russell’s story has a nature versus nurture plot, revolving around fraternal twins Mickey and Eddie who, following a decision forced on their mother by poverty, are separated at birth. Reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, the story follows the effect of this on their relationship, narrated in this production by the powerful voice and forbidding presence of Robbie Scotcher who has the pivotal role of Narrater. His perfectly pitched delivery wryly describes and foretells the events that lead to catastrophe. He dominates the stage whenever he appears, even if he has nothing to say.
Niki Evans is superb as the twins’ careworn mother. She has pure and powerful singing voice and I particularly enjoyed the hits “Marilyn Monroe” and the tremendous ‘Tell Me It’s Not True.”
Paula Tappenden gives a beautifully nuanced performance as Mrs Lyons. Her insecurity, pain and descent into despair are palpable. Her duet with Mrs Lyons, “My Child”, is touchingly evocative.
Playing the role of her emotionally inhibited husband is Tim Churchill, who like many of this versatile cast, also features in some amusing minor roles.
The actors playing the twins have to portray the physicality of children, then develop into time wearied adults, expressing a range of delivery and a whole gamut of conflicting emotions. These are accomplished perfectly by Sean Jones as Mickey and Joel Benedict as Eddie. They take the audience on the journey with them and, however many times you have seen it, you wish it could end differently for them although you know it won’t. They also work well with Jacob Yolland who tonight played Mickey’s wayward elder brother, Sammy.
There is an excellent supporting cast including Carly Burns as Linda, the partner of Mickey, whose despair at his mental illness is so well expressed.
The ensemble, Grace Galloway, Melissa Potts, Andy Owens, Jacob Yolland, Nick Wilkes and Josh Capper work their socks off, providing some lovely characterisations, lively cameos and flashes of humour amongst the gritty stuff. There are shades of Shakespeare as well as Greek tragedy here and the cast make the most of the wonderful writing; it’s musical theatre at its best.
The production team of Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright (directors), Matt Malone (musical director), Dan Samson (sound), Andy Walmsley (set and costume design) and Nick Richings (lighting) have produced a stunning production which looks and sounds great.
The final scene featuring the iconic song "Tell Me It's Not True", by the whole cast is spellbinding, and it ended with an instantaneous whole theatre standing ovation, which is justly deserved. Bill Kenwright’s production is certainly worthy of all the plaudits and success it has received.
Go and see it if you can get a ticket before it ends on Saturday. However, they may be in short supply.

Mamma Mia

Royal Concert Hall Nottingham

National Tour

April 13th 2022

Who would turn down the offer of a trip to a beautiful Greek island for some sun, sea, sand and songs? Well, not me, and this wonderful production of Mamma Mia, with its great tunes and huge feel-good factor certainly transported and uplifted me. It’s probably impossible not to come out of the theatre smiling contendly and humming the familiar, catchy songs which made Abba so popular.

The strength of this production is in the strong characterisations and powerful vocal performances of the principals, plus some high energy and very entertaining ensemble numbers. In fact, it is the early group numbers that get the audience fully warmed up and foot tapping. This isn’t the film, of course: the characters are a bit different (there isn’t an American in sight) and there can be no technicolour sweeps over stunning Greek scenery. But this live performance creates its own magic - and a versatile sunlit set places us right on that Greek island, smoothly changing from exterior to interior scenes.

The story is about Sophie Sheridan, played charmingly by talented newcomer Jena Pandya, who invites three of her mother’s old boyfriends to her wedding, in a bid to discover which one of them is her father. The story doesn't really matter, as what is at the heart of the show are the well known Abba songs, cleverly crafted into the story that you can join in with, plus great dance routines and a lot of humour. It is uplifting, pure entertainment - you go out feeling better than you went in. That for me that is what good musical theatre is all about. 

From the poignant solo ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ to the cheery ensemble number ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’, there are so many numbers which move, amuse and entertain and they are performed brilliantly by this cast.

Sarah Poyser, who plays Donna Sheridan is an absolute powerhouse of a performer and she has so many stand out moments, including a fabulous rendition of ‘The Winner Takes it All’ and other favourites such as ‘Super Trouper’ and ‘Chiquitita’. She’s well supported by her old friends Tanya and Rosie, played by Helen Anker and Nicky Swift, who both have the chance to shine in their own comic solos: ‘Does Your Mother Know’ and ‘Take a Chance on Me’.

The principal cast also includes Richard Standing (Sam Carmichael), Phil Corbitt (Bill Austin), Daniel Crowder (Harry Bright),Toby Miles (Sky), Jasmine Shen (Ali), Mariella Mazzilli (Lisa), James Willoughby Moore (Pepper), Corey Mitchell (Eddie) and Sarah Harlington (Alternate Donna Sheridan).

There is no better feeling than being part of a whole audience standing and joining in during an excellent finale. That was what we experienced in the packed Concert Hall in Nottingham: behind me to the back of the stalls and up to the highest tier, everyone was on their feet. It was not just about giving the cast the well deserved ovation, it was also about joining in with the spirit of the show. I think it is fair to say that we all felt uplifted by the great music and stellar performances of the cast, who certainly put their hearts and souls into this production. There were many broad smiles on audience faces as we left the theatre at the end.
Watching it tonight it was obvious why after 23 years this is still one of the most popular shows in London and on tour.

This touring version is excellent in production, presentation, musicality and performance and is quite definitely a 5 star show in all respects. It is directed by Phyllida Lloyd, with fabulous choreography by Anthony Van Laast.


The Emperor’s New Clothes

Derby Theatre

April 12th 2022

A thoroughly enjoyable time at Derby Theatre watching The Emperor’s New Clothes this evening. The classic fairy tale was expertly told by a group of incredibly talented actors. There was some audience interaction before the show began which was a hit and added to the excitement. One unique aspect of this production was the seamless incorporation of British Sign Language, with the actors not only speaking their roles but also signing throughout the show. It was a joy to watch. The use of puppetry within the show was impressive and there were some catchy songs with the music being provided by the actors themselves playing different instruments.

The cast was small but perfectly formed starring Ivan Stott as the gregarious Emperor, Inês Sampaio and Raffie Julien as the villainous tailors , Becky Barry as the long suffering advisor to the Emperor, Rishi Maunuel as the loveable Jumble and Brooklyn Melvin as the shrewd Bobbin (who knew the tailors were up to no good!).

The show is suitable for all the family and is highly recommended.



Heanor Musical Theatre Company

Mansfield Palace Theatre

April 6th- 9th 2022

Chess is a difficult piece to produce and I salute the company for how well they’ve risen to the challenge and completely done the material justice. There is little light and shade in the story and a high level of tension is present throughout, but this production is never less than thoroughly entertaining. It’s down to the cracking pace, the superb digital back projection and above all the excellent vocal power of the principals.

I love the music and have been familiar with the songs for many years, so it was wonderful to hear them performed so well, with such passion and, when appropriate, sensitivity. A highlight was the well known duet ‘I Know Him So Well’, which showcases the beautiful voices of Sara Evans-Bolger as Florence and Alana Moran as Svetlana. Absolutely spine tingling.

This show more or less totally sung through with very little dialogue: there are complex individual pieces but also narrative recitative singing. This requires performers of a very calibre, to not only cope technically with the material, but to act convincingly, portraying character and emotion through song, while telling a complicated story. These principals do that brilliantly. They are ably supported by the ensemble, who play several groups of complementary characters, including a splendidly jolly opening number and a drinking song; all very well directed and strongly performed by the cast.

Basically, Chess takes the rivalry, subterfuge and political plotting of two global super-powers and transfers the action to the World Chess championships, where gamesmanship and espionage are rife. It’s the story of two World Class players, who are just pawns in the bigger game and have their lives and loves torn apart by forces they can’t control.

Andy Quinn plays the arrogant and temperamental Freddie with enormous power and conviction, he has a splendid voice and is a huge presence on the stage. So many great vocal moments; I particularly enjoyed the belting ‘Pity the Child’, where we learn more about Freddie’s life, dramatically illustrated by back projection. Andy also belts out that other big hit ‘One Night in Bangkok’, gently underplayed here to avoid racial stereotypes and giving the ensemble a great dance number.

Kyle Fearn is the troubled, gentle, but quietly ruthless Anatoly, a contrast to Freddie, but with equally passionate vocals. His ‘Anthem’- another wonderful and well known song -closes the first act on a stirring high.

Sara Evans-Bolger brings a composure to the role of Florence, Freddie’s Second, that I haven’t seen before, without losing her passion and personality. It’s a hugely demanding part vocally and dramatically and Sara absolutely nails it. I would have loved to hear her sing ‘Heaven Help My Heart’, but sadly it doesn’t feature in this version.

There’s a difference in Svetlana too – Anatoly’s deserted wife, played not with down trodden diffidence, but with strength and glamour by Alana Moran. She makes an impact in the second act with more fabulous, belting vocals.

It was such a pleasure to see a performer I have known for many years - Kheenan Jones - playing Molokov, the Russian Second. This part was made for Kheenan, he inhabits it completely with a strong physical presence, perfect body language and a convincing Russian accent to boot! His voice has an impressive maturity, shown off wonderfully in the amusing ‘The Soviet Machine’ and in the skilful Counterpoint ‘Quartet’ with Florence, The Arbiter and Anatoly.

Jack Readyhoof plays the Arbiter, who oversees the action and often acts as a narrator, with a lightness of touch, yet he never seems less than an arch manipulator. He conveys a smug, self-satisfaction particularly in his big number ‘The Arbiter/Hymn to Chess’.

Walter de Courcey, a shady member of the American chess delegation is played with suitable steely inscrutability by Ben Sherwin, expressed beautifully in his songs with Molokov, Freddie, Anatoly and Florence.

This show is almost like a concert – I have never been able to follow all the intricacies of the plot, but don’t care – Bjorn and Benny’s songs are gorgeous and when performed like this, with Ben Ward’s excellent live orchestra plus some great track vocals, a real treat.

The set by Paul Young is appropriately stark and well served by a raised gantry, behind which his clever projections add colour and context to the story. With a change of vivid projection we can go from a mountain range in Italy to a hotel room in Thailand, or witness a character’s inner turmoil. The setting appears to be the original eighties, but modern media and technology are apparent, which puzzled me, but perhaps this shows that these themes are still sadly relevant today.

This successful production is a great achievement for the whole company, but the director, Paul Andrew Young and the choreographer, Cat Howourth must be particularly congratulated for quality and pace of the production. The chess scenes are tense, but mercifully short and the spotlight is always on the characters and their reactions, giving these talented performers the space to really shine.


The Wizard of Oz

Leos Musical Theatre Company

May Hall – Trent College

April 6th, 2022

In addition to my two posts last night:

“This is a spectacularly good production from Leos …. which I enjoyed immensely.”

There are some excellent performances from the main principals in the cast, supported by a hardworking and well directed ensemble, many of whom played several parts. It’s a real spectacle of show, full of colour, great music, huge dance numbers and a magical story well told.

Amy Parker, in her first main role for Leos as Dorothy, starts the show off with a charming performance of the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” From then on, her strong acting ability also becomes glitteringly evident. I must congratulate her on skilled handling of the wonderful pooch, Peggy (Toto) – more about her later!

Amy forms a wonderfully entertaining partnership with her three friends: Harvey Latter (Scarecrow), Gavin Owen (Tin Man) and Matthew McAuley (Lion). There is a considerable amount of physical acting as well as voice characterisation for all three of them; they must have worked very hard to develop such convincing and engaging portrayals.

Milly Bould as the nasty Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the west is superb. I loved the way in which she relishes and almost makes light of her evilness in both roles, which cleverly accentuates it. Her downfall at the end of the show is very imaginative and so well performed.

It’s not really a Leos show without the fabulous Adam Guest who is very funny and entertaining, both as Professor Marvel and the Wizard. He is also to be seen in a few smaller roles.

Supporting the main performers brilliantly are Amy Glover (Glinda), Alistair Langton (Uncle Henry), Angela Walters (Auntie Em) -who is celebrating her 55th year in amateur theatre and still dancing and performing like the best of ‘Em - and Jack Woolley, whose very camp portrayal of the Emerald City Guard is perfection!

There are some stunning dance routines in the show, involving mainly the whole cast. One of them is “The Jitterbug”, which has performers entering and exiting the stage from left, right, centre and above, fabulous stuff. There is even a high-quality tap routine: well done to the whole ensemble for that! The choreographer, Rachel Murray, obviously has a flair for large scale routines with lots of people and I congratulate her on her sterling work tonight.

The show is directed by Emma Collins and Dave O’Neal, whose realised vision keeps things moving quickly throughout and always maintains interest. The production team supports this well, scenes are changed smoothly and with no fuss. The lighting and sound are excellent, and I am glad to see that there is clear distinction between Kansas and Oz as in the 1939 film. The lighting for the Yellow Brick Road is just right

Finally, I must mention Peggy (Toto) once more. I think she is one of the best animals I have ever seen on the stage. There are times when I thought she was going to actually join in with the dancing and do the steps! She knew exactly where to be and what to do and quite rightly received great applause at the end. Well done to her owners, the cast and whoever trained her.

This show is a real credit to the Company and is worthy of the 5 Star Rating I gave it last night.


Magic Goes Wrong

Mischief Theatre

Theatre Royal


March 29th, 2022

Having seen Mischief Theatre’s previous shows here at the Royal including The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery and Groan Ups, I have become a real fan. They also produced the very funny tv series The Goes Wrong Show. Their reputation of producing fast moving physical comedy disasters has grown both in the West End and during their National Tours. Tonight’s production, Magic Goes Wrong, is no exception and indeed is in many ways a masterclass in disastrous theatre.

This was a show within a show and quite correctly is billed as Mischief’s biggest and most daring comedy catastrophe to date. We watched in awe as the hapless cast attempted to raise money for a magician’s charity only ending up losing more than they raised. I cannot talk about what happens throughout the show, as that would spoil it for you but there are many disastrous magic tricks and illusions. There are also some that actually work, leaving us asking the age-old question “How did they do that?” Brilliant stuff.

Much of the humour revolves around physical comedy, although there are some cracking one liners as well. Also, the frequent looks of horror on the faces of the performers when things go dramatically wrong is delightful. There are also some running jokes throughout the show often aimed at Mind Mangler, a terrible mind reader, played wonderfully by Rory Fairbairn. He was the butt of some wonderful changes of script on the teleprompter and sound effects. He was so bad that by the end, the audience were reading his mind instead of the other way round!

Sam Hill plays the role of Sophisticato, whose Father had died crushed by his own magic tricks and illusions. He comperes the Charity Fundraiser and is very funny in a manic Basil Fawlty kind of way.

The rest of the cast are equally brilliant in what they do. They are Daniel Anthony (Mickey), Valerie Cutro (Eugenia), Kiefer Moriarty (The Blade), Jocelyn Prah (Spitmaus) and Chloe Tannenbaum (Bar).

The show also relies on help from some in the audience, but I am not sure who are real and who are stooges. However, the interaction with the cast is brilliant, clever and very funny.

The technical side of the show both magical and set wise is first class. There were some slower moments in Act 1, but Act 2 moves at an incredibly fast pace, as the disasters quite literally reach incredible heights.

There is no doubt that this is one of the best Mischief Theatre productions I have seen and was greeted by a sustained ovation from the audience.

The show is written by Penn Jillette, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Teller and is directed by Adam Meggido, with set design by Will Bowen, magic consultant Ben Hart, costume designer Roberto Surace, lighting designer David Howe, sound designer Paul Groothius, video and projection designer Duncan McLean, composer Steve Brown, movement director Ali James, associate director Hannah Sharkey.

This production team magically brings together acting, singing (yes there is a bit), physical comedy, complicated sets and props, which is by no means easy. However, tonight it all worked perfectly – at least I think it did!! But then that’s the Magic of the theatre even when it’s a total disaster!

I am delighted to be able to recommend this brilliant show which runs at the Theatre Royal until Saturday and returns to London at the Apollo Theatre in October.


Looking Good Dead

Theatre Royal Nottingham

March 21st 2022

Looking Good Dead has just finished here at the Theatre Royal and true to form the play kept me guessing, gasping and on the end of my seat until the very end.

A strong story line keeps the audience engaged and eager to reach the expected denouement, yet shocks with some unexpected and thrilling revelations. Absolutely great stuff - and enormous fun trying to spot the twists; I managed to anticipate one, but was truly astonished by the ones I missed.

I have never read any of the Roy Grace books or seen the TV series Grace which was based on them, but I now think I need to.

This is a romp of a play with a script full of intelligent writing and clever plot construction; it is tightly directed to maintain a cracking pace and delivered beautifully by the cast.

I really enjoyed the performances of Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett who have featured in Eastenders as husband and wife. They are very natural in their performances, creating just the right domestic atmosphere, then slowly ramping up the tension as the mystery deepens. 

The excellent cast also features Harry Long as Roy Grace, Armani Watt as Jonas, Leon Stewart as Branson, Gemma Stroyan as Bella, Luke Ward-Wilkinson as Max Bryce, Mylo McDonald as Mick and Natalie Boakye as Janie. Some lovely character portrayal here, with the darkness of malevolence lightened by humorous touches.

The clever split level set and lighting contributed to my enjoyment of the play and the atmospheric music is just right. There were a couple of times when I hardly dare look – a mark of a good thriller!

Looking Good Dead” is directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, Designed by Michael Holt with Lighting Design by Jason Taylor. The Composer and Sound Designer is Max Pappenheim.

If you are a fan of the murder mystery/thriller genre you will love this play and if you are a fan of high quality theatre this is one for you, too.


The Memory of Water

Riverside Drama Company

Duchess Theatre Long Eaton

March 16th, 2022

The Memory of Water is a play by Shelagh Stephenson which tells the story of three sisters who meet again after years of separation on the eve of their mother’s funeral. As they attempt to organise her funeral, their memories of their childhood run together, and the secrets of their separate lives are revealed.

The play is described as a “bittersweet comedy” which was first staged at Hampstead Theatre in 1996 and won the 2000 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. It has recently been revived in the same theatre.

So what was this play actually about? Grief, fond remembrances of a lost relative, family relationships? Well, certainly the last, but not the first two, as there is very little grief in evidence and the memories of the departed are far from fond. No, this is a study of tense family relationships and the memories each sister has of their past life in the family home.

It’s hugely entertaining as the banter between them is razor sharp and, in the skilful hands of these actors, their personalities and motivations are gradually revealed to tell a gripping story. The nature of memory is examined, from the analytical: the title of play relates to the theory that purified water retains a chemical memory, to the mundane misremembering or misappropriation of past events. Memories are shown to vary enormously depending on the individual’s viewpoint and some are revealed to be too painful to fully recall.

Water is a common theme: the family house is likely to fall into the sea due to erosion, the mother’s dementia is likened to being adrift in a black sea. Memories can be swept away, but they will linger long after the events - and the consequences of them - were thought to be dealt with. Deep stuff, but it’s served with such lightness of touch and sometimes such joyful hilarity that it’s never maudlin.

All of the actors are to be congratulated for making such a success of this wordy play, it must have been a challenge to not only learn so much dialogue, but to fine tune the characters in the way they have. Well done to the director, Rachel Bates, who obviously fully understands the piece and has brought it to life so convincingly. There is a lot of movement in the play and this is skilfully managed – a delightful scene in which the sisters try on their mother’s clothes is beautifully choreographed and during soliloquys all the actors in the background are reacting realistically. The set is evocative of a past age, the dressing table, the candlewick bedspread, the period telephone; all the props, including an album of funeral flowers and a birth certificate are fully authentic, which I always appreciate. The black picture frames add a clever touch of the surreal, the pictures have gone, just like the mother’s memory. The set could be claustrophobic, all action taking place in the bedroom, but the writing cleverly justifies this and the comings and goings of the characters seem natural.

Theresa, the put upon and careworn eldest sister is played with just the right amount of agitated hectoring by Lizzie Norris. Her fussiness is beautifully balanced by the ditzy Catherine, played by Alex Dornan, a fun character who has hidden her pain at feeling unwanted and overlooked, by a life of excess. Alex makes the most of this amusing extravagance, yet at the same time conveys vulnerability and some growing self awareness. Mary, played by Jane Harris, is the pivotal character, she occupies her mother’s bed and is able to communicate directly with her, laying some ghosts in the process, yet opening some painful wounds. A hard role to play, as Mary is a high achieving academic, a successful doctor, yet with her sisters is a resentful middle child again, given to petty squabbling. Jane achieves the balance between these sides and delivers some genuine pathos. Her scenes with Vi, the mother, played by Donna Osmond, are a delight, shedding some light on the sisters’ early lives and her inability to understand them.

In some ways this is like a soap opera – a glimpse into the lives of characters that we recognise and want to know more about; the arrival of the partners of two of the characters introduces more fun and added interest to the story. Dan Bates is Frank, a bluff northerner who can’t quite understand the family dynamics – a gift of a part for Dan , who as usual, makes the most of it. Jack Workman succeeds as Mike, the rather bemused but slightly shifty partner of Mary, who attempts to introduce some calmness, yet is thrown into his own panic.

Also to be congratulated are Dave Martin (lights and sound), Mina Holtan (costumes), and Jonathan Greaves and his stage crew, Moya Magee and Janet Wyatt.

This production from Riverside Drama is of a very high quality and deserves the sort of recognition given enthusiastically by last night’s audience.


Gangsta Granny

Theatre Royal Nottingham

March 9th 2022

Gangsta Granny has just finished here at the Theatre Royal with a truly fantabulous finale. It has confirmed that Grannies are most definitely not boring!

I was joined this evening by my son Lucas (10) and we both enjoyed this production very much. It was hilarious, heartfelt and, according to Lucas, ‘simply brilliant’. Just as promised, there were plenty of laugh out loud moments and delicious jokes that resonated with both the children and adults in the audience. Lucas particularly enjoyed the eye watering side effects that came with Granny’s love of cabbage. His favourite part of the show (and mine!) was a ballroom dance competition - it was extremely funny with audience participation, which really added to the fun.

The costumes and props used in the show are spectacular. Scene changes are slick and entertaining and feel integrated into the show. This is a great experience of well crafted and engaging theatre for a young audience – they’ll want to see more.

Justin Davies gives an exceptional performance as 11 year old Ben. The excitement of discovering his Granny is in actual fact a Gangsta shone out; you could really appreciate how their relationship blossomed throughout the show, as they share a thrilling caper. Isabel Ford plays the loveable Gangsta Granny. Her performance was captivating and a joy to watch.

Jason Furnival expertly switches between playing both Ben’s Dad and the very irritating and extremely nosy Mr Parker. His annoying yet comedic demeanour as Mr Parker was a big hit with the audience.

Irfan Damani plays the shop keeper Raj who always has a ‘bargain’ for Ben. He also plays the eccentric ballroom dance teacher Flavio - and can certainly perform a fantastic fandango Jess Nesling plays Ben’s mum. Her love of ballroom dancing (and Flavio!) was clear to see throughout. She also gave a strong performance as the Queen.

The rest of the cast were all excellent – Paul Duckworth (Doctor and Policeman), Jemma Geanaus (Matron and WPC), Iskander Eaton (Ensemble) and Mared Lewis (Dance Captain and Ensemble).

This fun packed, delightfully silly but warm hearted show is perfect family entertainment and we can highly recommend it. We’re off to read some more David Walliams books now and look forward to ‘Billionaire Boy’, which will be at the Theatre Royal in July.



Theatre Royal Nottingham

February 28th 2022

That’s it from the Theatre Royal and we now know who did it, where and with what but … you must come and see it yourself to find out. Was it Miss Scarlett, with the revolver in the dining room, or Professor Plum, with the lead pipe in the library…? Well, my lips are sealed and in fact I did not know until the last few minutes of the play anyway!

There are many twists and turns throughout which made trying to play detective difficult but it is very amusing and enjoyable to try . This is not a serious play anyway and it is best just to go with the flow.

During the interval I suspect many members of the audience are discussing who is responsible for the mayhem. The script is very witty and the performances of the actors is very good.

There are excellent performances from Michelle Collins as a very sultry and somewhat smutty Miss Scarlet and Daniel Casey as Professor Plum. The rest of the characters are well characterised by Jean-Luke Worrell as Wadsworth, Laura Kirman as Yvette, Wesley Griffith as Colonel Mustard, Etisyai Philip as Mrs White, Judith Amesenga as Mrs Peacock and Tom Babbage as Reverend Green. Ensemble players are Harry Bradley and Meg Travers, with Georgia Bradley, Liam Harrigan and Edward Howells as understudies.

The production is very interesting with all kinds of scenery changes and manic movements around the house by the cast. The play moves very fast as a consequence. The set is great but best not revealed on here. The lighting and sound effects are of course very important in a play like this. All were precise and linked to the characters and their movements.

The end of the play is amazing as things finally are revealed and for me, and I suspect many others, not as expected!

This is indeed a hilarious spoof of a thriller, that will keep you guessing right up to the finale as both the guests and audience try to work out whodunnit…. with what… and where plus why?

I am sure Cluedo fans will enjoy this along with lovers of good comedy. There is both spoken and a great deal of high quality physical comedy to enjoy throughout.

Cluedo is based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn, the play is written by Sandy Rustin with additional materials by Hunter Foster and Eric Price and for the UK production, Mark Bell.


Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

February 23rd 2022

Everybody’s Talking about Jamie has just ended here at the Theatre Royal and unsurprisingly it has ended with a whole theatre standing ovation with a lot of cheering. This show is a joyous celebration of being oneself and has the lot - good performances, a very witty script, catchy songs plus energetic and beautifully choreographed dancing. There are many dynamic performances from the principals and the ensemble. The show written by Tom MacRae (Book and Lyrics) with music by Dan Gillespie Sells has a witty script, some excellent one liners plus some catchy tunes.

This is a story for our times as we follow Jamie, who, supported by his brilliant loving mum and his friends, overcomes prejudice, beats the bullies, and steps out of the darkness, into the spotlight. The result is wonderful and along with the drama and humour there are also tears.

The part of Jamie was played very well by the alternative Adam Taylor. Leyton Williams will be back on stage tomorrow. I was sorry not to see him but I have to say that Adam was very good in the role and I liked his performance.

The rest of the wonderful and hard working cast are Amy Ellen Richardson as his Mum, Margaret,Shane Richie as Hugo/Loco Chanelle, Lisa Marie Holmes as Ray, Lara Denning as Miss Hedge, George Sampson as Dean and Sharan Phull as Pritti Pasha. The cast also includes Richard Appiah-Sarpong (Cy), Simeon Beckett (Levi), Kazmin Borrer (Vicki), Alex Hetherington (Swing), Lisa-Marie Holmes (Understudy), Ryan Hughes (Mickey), Cameron Johnson (Jamie’s Dad), Jodie Knight (Fatimah), Garry Lee (Sandra Bollock) John Paul McCue (Laika Virgin), Talia Palamathanan (Becca), Adam Taylor (Sayid/1st Cover Jamie), Rhys Taylor (Tray Sophisticay) and Emma Robotham-Hunt (Swing).

The staging is very good and scene changes are very well managed making this a very fast moving show. A back projection wall designed by Luke Harris is superb well designed and effective.

The band, conducted by Ben Holder, is positioned above and at the back of the stage and sounds great.

The show is directed by Matt Ryan from original direction by Jonathan Butterell with superb Choreography by Kate Prince, Musical Direction by Ben Holder with supervision by Theo Jamison, Design by Anna Fleischle, Lighting design by Lucy Carter and Sound design by Paul Groothuis.

This is a show to see but unfortunately it is fully booked here at the Royal throughout it’s run. However, the tour continues to Norwich next week and will be back where it all started in Sheffield from Aprill 11th to 16th plus 7 other venues. It continues here until Sunday.



LEOs Youth

Duchess Theatre Long Eaton

February 17th 2022

Tonight’s performance of Grease has just finished and it was truly “electrifying!” The LEOs Youth group have just performed another brilliant show. It was a dynamic, energetic and stunning production of this feel good show.

The show ended with a great finale and sustained applause from the enthralled audience. Regular readers will know that I love a good finale and this was one which brought many in the audience including me to our feet! It just needed a couple more curtain calls which the cast thoroughly deserved.

This show had its own style and the ensemble choreography snd direction In particular was brilliant both in concept and execution.

There were some excellent individual performances but for me it was the brilliant way the cast worked together. The standard of singing and dancing was impressively high. The chorus numbers sounded great and the lead soloists were of a high standard. Nice to see the Hand-Jive. I could never do it but these kids did it with ease. Their enjoyment of being back on stage was obvious and infectious.

Well done to all concerned and Grease certainly was the word here tonight.

Another very enjoyable evening here at the Duchess.


Rapunzel the Panto


The New Horizon Church

February 16th 2022

The show ended with an absolute blockbuster of a finale with the whole cast on stage giving 200% to the song and fabulous dance routine. The cast were obviously loving it and so were we! It was wonderful to watch and listen too. Well done all the performers, band and production team. Such energy and enjoyment from all on the stage. Very impressive.

This has been yet another good production from NOWMADS in their new venue - The New Horizon Church. This is my first time in this venue and although it hasn’t got the usual wings and curtains it does provide a adequate performance space. There is limited scenery possibilities but in a way that meant that the cast had to make it work mainly by their performances alone and the show was able to move at a fast pace with no delays for scene changes. The phrase less is more is relevant here.

Penny Perm, played by Haydn Tailor is indeed the fabulous Dame and is so ably supported by and her side-kicks Hairy Mary (Hannah Chamberlain) and Brainless Bob (Jack Kendall), who are tasked with planning Rapunzel’s 18th birthday party. They are both excellent and their performances were very accomplished. I loved the performance of Susanne Heydon as Fairy Dreadlock. She certainly got the audience booing and had just the right amount of charm and evil intent. She is the ideal opposite of Fairy Hair-do played splendidly by Kelly Henderson.

What a delight is Nicole Horsley as Rapunzel. She really looks the part and charm the audience with her lovely singing voice. Danny De Martino her suiter Flynn Perm and delighted the audience with his great performance. He natural style is great to watch and he sings very well. Playing King Quiff is Richard Harvey with Kathy Taylor as Queen Curley who are both ideally suited to the parts.

Completing the principal cast are Laura Collins as Britney Spurs who was fabulous in the role and Waddington Taylor as the dragon whose deliberately understated performance was a delight.. There were also two Chorus groups who sang and danced well.

The show had a witty script containing all the usual Panto and local references and contained, as promised, some excellent singing and dancing from the ensemble cast. Popular well known songs were enjoyed by all.

I along with the rest of the audience really enjoyed it and am glad NOWMADS are back after the pandemic with a well done and enjoyable show. There was a prolonged ovation at the end proving that the casts efforts had been greatly appreciated.


Fatal Attraction

National Tour

Theatre Royal

February 15th 2022

Fatal Attraction is certainly a fine psychological thriller providing us with suspense and moments of genuine surprise. It was easy at first to guess what is going to happen next but then that just isn’t what actually happens. This makes the audience, including me gasp sometimes, in surprise. Fatal Attraction is a tale of seduction and suspense that asks the question; what happens when desire becomes deadly? Tonight this question was answered but not as I may have thought.

Kym Marsh gives a powerful performance and shows what a talented actor she is. Her performance is sexy, seductive, sometimes frightening but always genuine and believable.

Equally Oliver Farnworth gives a super nuanced performance as Dan. He is on stage almost all the time. Both he and Kym are well supported by Emma Laird Craig (under study tonight for Susie Amy) who is good as his wife and John Macaulay as his friend.

The excellent cast also iincludes John Macaulay as Jimmy, Troy Glasgow as O’Rourke and Emma Laird Craig as understudy Beth / Alex.

The set is superb consisting of projections and some furniture which is brought on and off smoothly by the cast. There is a very well designed and effective lighting plot. There are some short extracts from the opera Madame Butterfly used during the performance along with some original compositions. All fitted in very well and added to the atmosphere.

This brand-new production is directed by Loveday Ingram and features set and costume design by Morgan Large, lighting design by Jack Knowles, sound design by Carolyn Downing. Paul Englishby is the show’s composer and Fatal Attraction has been cast by Anne Vosser.

This is a very powerful and engaging play which certainly lives up to its description as “a provocative new stage thriller of the iconic movie phenomenon.” I would suggest that both lovers of the film and people like me who have never seen it will enjoy this production.

The Director summed it up quite correctly by saying “We have an exceptional cast, led by Kym Marsh, together with a first-class creative team, and set against the glamour and romance of Manhattan, the show promises to provide an evening of passion and debate.”


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
National Tour
Theatre Royal Nottingham
February 8th 2022
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a masterclass in theatrical performance. Beautifully crafted and one that anyone interested in acting and the theatre should go to see. It is now 10 years since the play appeared at the National Theatre and since then it has been developing in London and through national tours. I have seen it before in London and here in Nottingham and have always in enjoyed it - tonight was no exception.
The play is based on a 2003 mystery novel by British writer Mark Haddon and it won the Whitbread Book Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.
It is about fifteen-year-old Christopher, who has an extraordinary brain, is exceptional at maths, but is ill-equipped to interpret and enjoy everyday life. When he falls under suspicion of killing Mrs Shears’ dog, it takes him on a journey that upturns his world. It is a frightening journey that the audience take with him, challenging him at every turn and giving new perspective to those watching.
It is hard to describe this stage adaptation further as you really need to see it for yourself: it uses many elaborate special effects and moves at a very fast pace. The use of huge video screens and very effective lighting brings it vividly to life. I have seen this production twice before and each times the technology seems to have been developed further.
The cast is led tonight by Connor Curren (David Breeds shares the part) as Christopher. He is a gifted actor. The part requires him to be on stage throughout and his hugely energetic yet beautifully nuanced performance never falters. I was also very impressed with his teacher Siobhan, played by Rebecca Root , who sympathetically narrates the play and skilfully guides Christopher to make sense of the world around him. There are also powerful performances from Tom Peters as Ed, Christopher’s Dad and Kate Kordel as his Mum. Their frustrations when dealing with Christopher’s problems with the world are effectively balanced with their great love for him.
There are other excellent performances from the rest of the cast:
Marc Benga, Jacob Coleman, Connor Curren , Kofi De-Graft-Jordan, Ashley Gerlach, Joanne Henry, Siu-See Hung, Kate Kordel, Sibylla Meienberg, David Monteith, Joe Rawlinson-Hunt, Hannah Sinclair Robinson, and Rebecca Wilson.
The production team led by Director Marianne Elliott is Bunny Christie, (design), Paule Constable (lighting design), Finn Ross (video design). Scott Graham (Movement) and Steven Hoggett (Frantic Assembly). The dramatic music is Adrian Sutton with sound by Ian Dickinson.
This production has great acting, incredible lighting and effects plus a story that will not only entertain you, but also make you think, laugh and at times maybe shed a few tears.
This is yet another show that I can recommend without any doubt - 5 stars.

"Seussical the Musical”

Nottingham Arts Youth Theatre

Nottingham Arts Theatre.

February 5th 2022

Seussical holds so many memories for me as it was the last Primary School production I produced before retiring. I just love this show with its fabulous characters, colourful costume and sets and very memorable songs. It is ideal for both adults and children; a fun show, but with a very complicated and obscure story. However, it never ceases to entrance and entertain audiences of all ages.

I am always a little nervous when going to this show as I am afraid it might not be as good as I expect, but I need not have worried today. This production was simply stunning and perfect.

The show basically follows the story of Jojo, a tiny 'Who' - living on a planet the size of a speck of dust- and Horton the elephant, who finds this planet and vows to protect the Whos. Seussical is, in the main, taken from the Dr Seuss story "Horton the Elephant", but other characters and themes are also taken from other stories.

Director Christopher Mundy and Choreographer Jessica Royce have assembled an incredibly talented cast and fully utilised this by giving them really complex things to do.

The central character of The Cat in the Hat has to be a very talented and all round performer, as he holds the whole thing together. Well, Louis Barnes-cupit is just that. He can sing, dance, work the audience, use a variety of props, change character and voices and has a twinkle in his eye throughout. I am certain he will do very well on the stage in the future and I look forward to seeing him in more shows.

Oliver Halford who played Horton the Elephant was superb in the role. His empathy with the “small speck of dust” and its inhabitants was so well crafted. He has a splendid singing voice, too.

I really enjoyed the performance of Eloise Rees who played Jojo. She had huge amounts of energy, a great singing voice and her facial expressions were a joy to watch.

Supporting these main characters were other very talented performers who were hugely entertaining and obviously enjoying everything every minute of the show.

Freya Rhodes as Gertrude McFuzz with a super strong voice and personality, Emily-Hope Wilkins as Mayzie the bird who also sang beautifully, George Young as Mr Mayor along with Caitlin Young as Mrs Mayor, both very much into their characters and with physicality that was most impressive.

The bad girls and the naughty Wickersham monkey boys delighted the audience with their singing and engaging movement - Charlotte Fisher, Hattie Campion and Kate Russell (girls) - Charles Beckett, Megan Holder and Zach Silcox (monkeys).

The two kangaroos Sophie Benner (Sour) and Florence Everitt (Little)were marvellous, injecting just the right amount of disdain at the right time.

Louis Elliment, who plays General Gengus Khan Scmitz obviously loves the part and strutted around the stage in very comical ways much to the delight of the audience and Jojo, who worked so well with him.

Julian Magda who played Yertle The Turtle and Vlad Vladikoff, showed a great deal of versatility in his thoroughly entertaining performance.

The rest of this large and multiple aged cast played their parts very well making this such a memorable production. The ensemble scenes were fantastic and the choreography of Jessica was by no means simple, but was executed so well by the younger performers as well as the older. This showed how possible it is to use children of all ages in youth productions successfully.

For me it was very significant that during this matinee performance the large number of young children in the audience were totally engrossed from start to finish. There was really no noise or fidgeting throughout. That is testament to the high quality of performance and production and how it captivated young and old.

The 11 piece orchestra sounded very good, conducted by Jon Orton at this performance owing to the illness of Gareth Wynne, the MD. The balance between the band and the cast was absolutely perfect and the sound quality was spot on. Well done to Rob Kettridge, the sound operator. The technicals by Oliver Read and Peter Hodgkinson were great and Cris Brawn and his team did an imaginative job on the stage design. The set, enhanced by the fabulous and well executed lighting plot, was wonderful to watch.

I have to admit that I had tears of joy in my eyes many times during the show due to the sheer brilliance of it. Well done to all and they so deserved the ovation - with many standing at the end, including me of course. Had I been able I would have stayed in my seat ready for the evening performance!

I look forward to their next production which is Footloose.


‘I Love you, You're Perfect, Now Change’

The Cabaret Theatre Company

The Brewhouse, Burton.

February 5th 2022

The thoroughly engaging and witty script of 'I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change' remains as fresh and relevant today as it was when it premiered in 1996. It’s the longest running off-Broadway smash hit - 1996-2008 for over 5,000 performances. It’s been described as ‘A witty musical revue that tackles modern love in all its forms… including everything you have ever secretly thought about dating, romance, marriage, lovers, husbands, wives and in-laws, but were afraid to admit’

This updated version includes modern technology and a wider range of relationships, but the central premise remains the same - relationships can be fun, all consuming, difficult, embarrassing and life affirming, and often all at the same time!

Every age or stage in life is included here: awkward dates, meeting parents, being parents, family trips, and love in the twilight years — all explored through dialogue and song with delicious humour and some true poignancy. It takes a skilled cast to manage all this convincingly and this cast have skill in spades. Not only do they act and sing brilliantly well, they do it all with perfect American accents and with lightening character changes.

There must have been a huge amount of work done with the director & choreographer to get so many characterisations up and working so well – being a cast of only eleven people many of them play several parts. They are required to change not just character, but age and demeanour, and they do it seamlessly. All this while singing a total of 22 complicated songs!

The pace never falters as the action moves from one vignette to the next; there is no linear narrative, just the link of relationships between different people at different stages. Every song is full of detail, from the hilarious ‘Cantata for a First Date’, which recommends simply whizzing through the awkward bits, to the achingly poignant ‘I will be Loved Tonight’, it’s all richly described. No holds barred here, the humour is delightfully risqué at times, such as when lawyers are invited into the bedroom to oversee proceedings, or when a text is unexpectedly graphic…

The talented cast take all this on with gusto, they make the most of the songs and shine in the sketches with great comic timing and some lovely physical humour. They are supported brilliantly by the excellent musical accompaniment which is almost continuous and a demanding task for the musicians. Ben Ward stepped in at the last minute due to the indisposition of MD Charlotte Daniels and did a terrific job. The four piece band, also including Clair Mott, Dan Emery and Nick McCann sounded great and was well balanced with the performers.

The staging is simple but hugely effective, using two levels and moving the action smoothly between different vignettes, with enough detail to set the scene. The costumes are casual, as befits a revue style musical, becoming more elaborate with the big group numbers at the end of the acts, and what a treat those numbers are. In fact this whole production is a treat – many congratulations to the cast and creatives for what they have achieved. They are: Daniel Carter, Will Evans, Nick Holburn, Hilary Lean, Andrea Osborne, Elena Foster, Lauren Bishop, Kyra Dudson, Emily Moss, Sally Everson and Chris Moss, who also directed the show. I look forward to the next production from this excellent theatre company.


Legally Blonde

Duchess Theatre

February 3rd 2022

Kev Castle - Published here by permission

"Legally Blonde" by Erewash Musical Society Youth Group - Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

In my review I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, blah blah blah, so here goes.....

Elle Woods appears to have it all. Her life hits the skids when her boyfriend, Warner Huntingdon III, dumps her so he can attend Harvard Law and to match the image expected of a Harvard Law student, he needs someone "serious". Determined to get him back, Elle ingeniously charms her way into the prestigious law school. While there, she struggles with peers, professors and her ex. With the support of some of her new friends, though, Elle quickly realizes her personal potential and sets out to prove herself to the world.

One thing that really impressed me in this production were the quick costume changes from the start. One change did take just a bit longer than expected with Emmett, but I'll come to that later.

Alice Renshaw (Elle Woods) is a perfect casting and her voice is so modern and natural. Think of a young Christina Aguilera with that power and tone and you will be in the right area. Alice lights up the stage and looks completely stunning in every costume she wears.

Oscar Hugenholtz (Emmett Forrest) is charismatic and instantly likeable. The scene where he changes from his corduroy suit to the smart suit that Elle has chosen for him when shopping in the department store took slightly longer than expected but what I loved about this was the professional way Oscar, and Alice dealt with it.

Sky Stacey (Paulette Buonofuonte) played the hairdresser, one of my favourite characters in the musical, and I love the highlight song that Paulette performs called "Ireland".

Stephen Perry (Warner Huntingdon III) gets to play the very smarmy beau of Elle's who sees a partner as a social climbing prop. There are so many brilliant songs in this musical and Stephen gets to perform another of one of my favourites in "Serious", which also gives Stephen a chance to show his sense of comic timing within song.

Katie Chamberlain (Pilar), Livvi Hickling (Margot) and Emma Foster (Serena) may seem to be figments of Elle's Greek tragedy imagination, but there was no missing this trio with their bust out moves and harmonising.

Bethan Moore (Enid) plays the closeted lesbian character who enrols into Harvard Law, but in this production is played down somewhat, especially with the omission of the scene where Brooke Wyndham, fitness guru's fitness video is showing in the full production. Bethan manages to hint at the character's leanings, but the omitted scene does not detract from the overall story at all.Francesca Foster (Vivienne Kensington) gets to show a nice change in character, first as the "serious" new girlfriend for Warner, who then witnesses Professor Callaghan's sexist behaviour towards Elle, and also sees warner for who he really is and..... well go and see what the result of that epiphany is! Francesca also has a really strong voice and a powerful duet partner for Alice.

Amy Dawson (Brooke Wyndham) is the fitness guru accused of murdering her husband and the case that Elle and Emmett manage to crack. There is a difficult dance routine to "Whipped Into Shape" that Amy and some of the cast have to perform to open Act Two involving skipping ropes, which they all got through without missing, or should I say skipping a beat!

Gabryl Oleshko (Professor Callaghan) is one of several stand out young actors within EMUS Youth Group. I've seen Gabryl perform before and he always gets under the skin of the character and he does not fail to do so with Callaghan. proof of this was when he took his bows at the end, he received a few boos, a tribute to his character acting skills. Loved his highlight song "Blood In The Water".

There are a couple of other actors I really need to mention.

Joel Dawson plays a couple of parts, both very memorable. As Kyle the UPS delivery man he is described by Paulette as "walking porn" and I loved the irony of this as normally the role is played by a more ripped actor. Joel cannot be described as "ripped" but he plays the role with all the swagger of a hunk. This created lots of laughter from the audience and also gained Joel some fans for his obvious sense of humour.

The second character is Carlos, where he throws himself totally into this role. I'll not describe the character any further because if you go and see this production, Carlos is one of the "surprise" characters, but Joel's performance is definitely one to watch!

Another young actor who doubles up his roles is William Robbins who plays Paulette's ex, who Elle and Emmett manage to get Paulette's dog back from, using their legal know how. William also plays Nicos, Brooke Wyndham's European "pool boy". Again this character creates a brilliant comic scene as part of Elle's "Bend and Snap" test in the hilarious "There Right There" number.

Harry O Boyle also gets to play several characters, and once more an audience favourite in his role as the prison guard. He received comic appreciation from the audience due to the physical appearance of his role. More than that I won't expand on but again, a lovely touch of irony.

A large ensemble who presented some impressive vocals and moves.

And we must not forget the two canine co-stars who behaved impeccably on stage and extracted plenty of adoring sounds from the audience. They say never work with children or animals but whoever said that have never seen an EMUS production!

Zak Charlesworth directs and is also Musical Director for this production and has created a very mature production with good pace, highlighting the cast's comedy abilities.

Ellie Simmonds choreographs this upbeat show, and I loved the energy that all the cast put into the dance routines. Both Ellie's and the cast's hard work have most definitely paid off here.

There were a few issues with mics but the sound for the majority of the production was excellent, thanks to Dave Dallard and Phil Holland.

This show is very pink and bright and the lighting by Dave Martin accentuated the colourful, bright show perfectly.

The costumes were also excellent, especially Elle's.

The set design, by Mark Robbins was relatively sparse but it was nice to see a "less is more" outlook with an uncluttered stage, giving all actors the freedom of the stage. The scenery and props used though were well used.

In short, and there's more irony for you, this is probably one of the best productions that I have seen by Erewash Musical Society's Youth Group. I know that some parts were omitted to trim the performance times down but the time flew, always a good sign that you are loving what you see on stage. Full of energy with some brilliant performances and a great way to start your weekend off.

In the words of Elle and co. "Omigod You Guys" this is a Seriously just What You Want, so Find Your Way to Long Eaton, that's it, There, Right There on the map and experience this Positive piece of theatre. Go on, Take It Like A Man, it's So Much Better than stopping in, and much more fun!


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Theatre Royal Nottingham

February 1st 2022

I am delighted to say that we have all returned safely from Narnia tonight.

This has been a spectacular retelling of the classic C S Lewis book which I am sure tonight has been enjoyed by the adults and children in the audience alike. There are Great performances from all led by Samantha Womack as the White Witch. This is truly an ensemble spectacular which involves the whole cast. Actors, musicians, dancers and puppeteers are fantastic.

This new production is a visual feast, and director Michael Fentiman has certainly captured the magical world of Narnia, and all its inhabitants superbly. The show speeds through the adventures of the Pevensie Children, war-time evacuees who find themselves in the home the eccentric Professor Kirk. The contrast between the bedroom and the frozen Narnia is stark but in many ways beautiful.

There are wonderful visual displays with great lighting and some incredible special effects that combined with fabulous scenery and sound make this a very special night at the theatre. This production has everything including superb puppetry and wonderful costumes.The sheer speed of the show, at times very fast, is I guess great for the youngsters in the audience as this clearly helped to keep their attention from start to finish.

The music in the show is also great with actor musicians providing the accompaniment. How they manage to act and play their instruments at the same time certainly amazed me. Particularly in the second act there was powerful and very entertaining dancing to add to the creative mix.

This is one of those shows that you can and will be immediately immersed in. I can’t say that I was really a fan of the book until now. This production though has given me a new perspective on it and I enjoyed the experience immensely.

There was a sustained ovation at the end with many in the audience standing and cheering.

This is yet another show at the Royal that I can recommend wholeheartedly.


The Palace of Varieties

Derby Theatre Production

January 25th 2022

This Derby Theatre production is outstanding. Bringing Dennis Skinner’s life and times to the stage are three talented actors and they do it exceptionally well. Gareth Williams plays the central role of Dennis Skinner, while Jack Brown and Lisa Allen play all the others. All three are a joy to watch and in the future, I will go to see anything that they are in. The way in which each actor transforms instantly from role to role, age to age and place to place is convincing and thoroughly engaging. There are some insanely quick changes of costume and props which are very well directed and executed. The production flows with no stops continuously for 90 minutes (no interval).

The writer of the play, Kevin Fagan, cleverly combines scenes in the pits with the House of Commons and a Miners’ Welfare club. There is even a working bar and a pool table on the stage! Being so close to the action was amazing and made me feel very much part of the unfolding drama. There is also some lovely A cappella singing, dancing and physical acting, too. This show literally has everything!

Congratulations to the Director, Jimmy Fairhurst and his production team including - Omar Khan (Assistant Director), Jean McGinley (Set and costume design), Daniel Ellis (Sound), Benny Goodman (lighting), Stacey McCarthy (Movement) and Patricia Logue (voice coach).

This play brought tears of laughter and sadness to my eyes and created lots of other emotions as well. For anyone interested in theatre, politics and life itself this production is one not to miss. You will be treated to live theatre at its finest and enjoy a super night of quality entertainment.

This quote from Dennis Skinner sums the play up. “I hope to make people laugh, cry, think and send ‘em home happy.” It does all of that.

The Palace of Varieties continues until Saturday February 5th. Tickets may be in short supply as the capacity of the stage is restricted, so do not delay.


Nativity the Musical

The Young Performers

Duchess Theatre

January 20th 2020

Nativity the Musical is yet another very enjoyable production from The Young Performers. This is a glorious and enjoyable romp from start to finish. I enjoyed the songs and the ensemble routines.

The show is based on The 2009 film of the same name.It follows a Coventry based primary school, St Bernadette's, where teacher Mr Maddens and his assistant, Mr Poppy mount a musical version of the nativity with the students, promising it will be adapted into a Hollywood movie.

The musical features songs from the film including "Sparkle and Shine", "Nazareth", "One Night One Moment" and "She's The Brightest Star".

The principals are very good and very well supported by the large, hardworking and enthusiastic ensemble. They sing with gusto and dance with enthusiasm. They certainly sparkle and shine when ever they come on stage.

The in house band is superb and sounds great being well balanced with the performers.

The set is simple but effective and enhanced by the complex lighting plot. The sound is well crafted too. There are a lot of costume changes which were managed well and they look great.

Well done to Zak Charlesworth, Vicki Byrne and their production team for producing a fast moving, lively and visually attractive show which contains some great special effects which I will not mention.

Christmas may be over according to the calendar but here tonight the festive spirit was over flowing on stage and in the auditorium.


The Da Vinci Code

Theatre Royal Nottingham

January 18th 2022

The Da Vinci Code is a book by Dan Brown, I really enjoyed reading it some years ago.

This new production stars Nigel Harman as Robert Langdon, Danny John-Jules as Sir Leigh Teabing, Hannah Rose Caton as Sophie Neveu and Joshua Lacy as Silas.

This is a major UK tour and is a world premiere production directed by Luke Sheppard, who also directed the award-winning West End musical ‘& Juliet’.

The cast also includes Basienka Blake (Vernet), Alasdair Buchan (Remy) Alpha Kargbo (Fache), Leigh Lothian (Collet), Andrew Lewis (Saunière) and Debra Michaels (Sister Sandrine/Marie).

This is an explosive, fast moving, exciting and at times, frightening version of the book and is a pleasingly different experience to the film. An excellent cast takes us on a turbulent journey that never slows down. The production is fresh and intriguing - even though I have read the book I was never quite sure what was going to happen next. The imaginative use of an ensemble that supports the main characters and the story is inspired. It transforms what is a quite complex story into a rational but visually exciting experience. There is some choreographed movement included throughout which establishes plot, time and place very effectively.

The production uses technology in addition to more conventional props to tell the story, with at least three overhead projectors that enhance the simple set in many innovative ways.

Fans of Dan Brown will love this version of his book; unsurprisingly it is endorsed by him.






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